Something nagged, yet she couldn't quite figure out what.
Like a faint recurring ache somewhere in your body.
Or a man on the street behind you as you near your apartment...Was he the same one who'd been glancing at you on the subway?
Or a dark dot moving toward your bed but now vanished. A black widow spider?
But then her visitor, sitting on her living room couch, glanced at her and smiled and Alice Sanderson forgot the concern -- if concern it was. Arthur had a good mind and a solid body, sure. But he had a great smile, which counted for a lot more.
"How 'bout some wine?" she asked, walking into her small kitchen.
"Sure. Whatever you've got."
"So, this's pretty fun -- playing hooky on a weekday. Two grown adults. I like it."
"Born to be wild," he joked.
Outside the window, across the street, were rows of painted and natural brownstones. They could also see part of the Manhattan skyline, hazy on this pleasant spring weekday. Air -- fresh enough for the city -- wafted in, carrying the scents of garlic and oregano from an Italian restaurant up the street. It was their favorite type of cuisine -- one of the many common interests they'd discovered since they'd met several weeks ago at a wine tasting in SoHo. In late April, Alice had found herself in the crowd of about forty, listening to a sommelier lecture about the wines of Europe, when she'd heard a man's voice ask about a particular type of Spanish red wine.
She had barked a quiet laugh. She happened to own a case of that very wine (well, part of a case now). It was made by a little-known vineyard. Perhaps not the best Rioja ever produced but the wine offered another bouquet: that of fond memory. She and a French lover had consumed plenty of it during a week in Spain -- a perfect liaison, just the thing for a woman in her late twenties who'd recently broken up with her boyfriend. The vacation fling was passionate, intense and, of course, doomed, which made it all the better.
Alice had leaned forward to see who'd mentioned the wine: a nondescript man in a business suit. After a few glasses of the featured selections she'd grown braver and, juggling a plate of finger food, had made her way across the room and asked him about his interest in the wine.
He'd explained about a trip he'd taken to Spain a few years ago with an ex-girlfriend. How he'd come to enjoy the wine. They'd sat at a table and talked for some time. Arthur, it seemed, liked the same food she did, the same sports. They both jogged and spent an hour each morning in overpriced health clubs. "But," he said, "I wear the cheapest JCPenney shorts and T-shirts I can find. No designer garbage for me..." Then he'd blushed, realizing he'd possibly insulted her.
But she'd laughed. She took the same approach to workout clothes (in her case, bought at Target when visiting her family in Jersey). She'd quashed the urge to tell him this, though, worried about coming on too strong. They'd played that popular urban dating game: what we have in common. They'd rated restaurants, compared Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes and complained about their shrinks.
A date ensued, then another. Art was funny and courteous. A little stiff, shy at times, reclusive, which she put down to what he described as the breakup from hell -- a long-term girlfriend in the fashion business. And his grueling work schedule -- he was a Manhattan businessman. He had little free time.
Would anything come of it?
He wasn't a boyfriend yet. But there were far worse people to spend time with. And when they'd kissed on their most recent date, she'd felt the low ping that meant, oh, yeah: chemistry. Tonight might or might not reveal exactly how much. She'd noticed that Arthur had furtively -- he thought -- been checking out the tight pink little number she'd bought at Bergdorf's especially for their date. And Alice had made some preparations in the bedroom in case kissing turned into something else.
Then the faint uneasiness, the concern about the spider, returned.
What was bothering her?
Alice supposed it was nothing more than a residue of unpleasantness she'd experienced when a deliveryman had dropped off a package earlier. Shaved head and bushy eyebrows, smelling of cigarette smoke and speaking in a thick Eastern European accent. As she'd signed the papers, he'd looked her over -- clearly flirting -- and then asked for a glass of water. She brought it to him reluctantly and found him in the middle of her living room, staring at her sound system.
She'd told him she was expecting company and he'd left, frowning, as if angry over a snub. Alice had watched out the window and noted that nearly ten minutes had passed before he got into the double-parked van and left.
What had he been doing in the apartment building all that time? Checking out --
"Hey, Earth to Alice..."
"Sorry." She laughed, continued to the couch, then sat next to Arthur, their knees brushing. Thoughts of the deliveryman vanished. They touched glasses, these two people who were compatible in all-important areas -- politics (they contributed virtually the same amount to the Dems and gave money during NPR pledge drives), movies, food, traveling. They were both lapsed Protestants.