Shadow Dancer

You just don’t go knocking on someone’s door and tell her you’ve been watching her for the last couple months. They have a word for that. Even so, until Jacob Kahn formulated his plan for their “chance encounter,” that’s what he’d kept coming back to. Then, picturing himself at both extremes of that scenario—first a Norman Rockwell, foot-shuffling geek and then, fleeing that image, none less than the grand Gatsby himself—he decided the tactic was just too desperate. Too needy.

Also to be considered: his (self-acknowledged) ineptitude for any kind of artifice. Having always relied—humbly, he liked to think—on what the women of his family referred to (and the men conceded) his “irrepressible charm”—aligned with his talent for “fussing with words”— Jake had failed to cultivate the skills of his peers: the posturing, the verbal tag, the juke and jive of the dance; which, truth be told, he sometimes enjoyed watching, the flirtations, even if not original, so deftly executed as to strike awe in the observer.

A skirt swishing toward the water cooler, placed conveniently just outside the courtroom door; a sweat-drenched breast bobbing to the juice bar at the gym—even his female clients seemed poised for possibility, ready for action at a moment’s notice. It made Jake laugh to think they probably thought he was shy; when in reality, it was just this: In the forty-two years of Jake’s life, a kind of reserved confidence had surfaced in him; he wore cool and calm like a well-tailored suit. And as far as he could recall, neither the need nor the interest in cultivating anything beyond that had ever presented itself. Until now.

In line with this guileless approach to matters—his unintended (and virtually inescapable) voyeuring aside—Jake knew there had to be some normal way to approach her—under normal circumstances. He paused on something in that thought, flicked it aside. If nothing else, he owed her the knowledge of his presence on those mornings. But he would not rehearse what he’d say. Or surmise her response. The circumstances of their meeting would dictate the discourse. After all, if he could persuade a jury…. Jake laughed to himself. He was always prepared to improvise.

As fate would have it, by pure, incredible happenstance, as Jake was leaving the courthouse one afternoon, he saw her—actually her head—as she entered a news van outside the Gazette building. So now by a simple twist of fate (a good omen, Jake decided), her place of work was revealed, and—as naturally as any employee or visitor to the building—he showed up early next morning to check out the scene.

It took only two days to establish her routine. Between 9:30 and 9:45, her elevator descended to the lobby. After a few pleasantries with the security guard, she went straight to the bagel kiosk, then to the lounge at the center of the lobby, where she spent the next fifteen minutes or so with her coffee and half bagel (she took the other half with her)—as she perused a manuscript. Granted, a bagel stand was not the most “normal” place for Jake—a toast-and-butter man, himself, he had little appreciation for boiled dough—but it was a small concession to make. And it was either that or the gumshoe routine, which, at this point, seemed a bit perverse.

Yet, he’d tried that role on, too, picturing himself—like an Antonio Banderas or Brad Pitt (but better dressed)—propped against a pillar, hand in his pocket, newspaper at his face, as he watched for her. And then he’d—what? Throw himself at her? He dismissed the notion as inane, considered instead the last-minute, jump-the-elevator routine. But with a face full of people, what would he say to her? He envisioned their sniggers, her wide-eyed amusement. The comedian: not his style.

Somehow, he had to do this within his own context. With some dignity. After all, he’d never had trouble talking to a woman before—probably due to the fact that he didn’t put himself into these absurd scenarios, thus sparing himself the contrivances and clichés which went with them.

Ultimately, he would bring himself to think of the bagel stand as a chance for a second cup. After all, they did sell coffee. Nothing extraordinary about that. Between there and the lounge area—barely a dozen steps away—possibility bloomed abundant.

At 9:15 sharp, Jake arrived, took up his station. From a high-backed, overstuffed wingchair—with those tufted buttons that gouge you if you don’t sit just right—he glanced alternately at his newspaper—which he would have been reading anyway, he reminded himself—his watch, and the bay of elevators directly ahead across the short expanse of cool, slick, marble.

Catching his reflection in the hard gleam of the floor, Jake had the fleeting thought that his jeans and sport coat might be too casual. He leaned forward to check his hair, and paused there, envisioning her spanky red sneakers pacing off the smooth squares of floor, lapping the imposing columns as she did the pin oaks and pines on his hill; the black orbs of her sunglasses floating above the fine lines of her nose and cheekbones, overshadowed by the visor which protected the fair skin and lips parted in proportion to where she was on the incline of the hill—treadmill hill, Jake had dubbed it—sometimes speaking into what had proved to be a tiny recorder in her palm. He’d given in to the temptation of the binoculars he used for birding and theater.)

At 9:47 on the dot, just as Jake was considering moving to the un-tufted couch to his left, the entire bay of elevators hit the lobby in a bizarre orchestration, their conjoined bells rending the air like a cry for help, doors rumbling open on a startling sea of people. Amid the surge of elevator three, her head rose and fell toward the perimeter of the crowd, where she emerged—a complete stranger in her slim, black suit and pumps, her halo of hair wound into a resplendent knot at the crown of her head, where a pencil struck through it, giving it the odd aspect of…a skewered squirrel.

Without a word to the guard, a glance toward the bagel stand, or a second for Jake to compose himself, off she glided, through the revolving door—snapping the dubious detective abruptly to his feet.

 

It had all started a little over a month ago, on the hill not a dozen yards from Jake’s back porch. On that first morning, he’d actually thought he’d heard the breathing before he saw the body.

“What now?” he’d mumbled to himself. After the neighbor’s dog barking half the night and trash trucks at three in the morning—what was this? He lowered his feet from the edge of the table, leaned back in his chair to peer around the edge of the awning. And yes, there on the hill was a woman: a serious walker by the look of her, arms raised in a ninety-degree angle, as she pumped up the hill along the line of trees. What was surprising, though, beside her speed on the sharp incline, was the fact that she didn’t walk up the hill and move on, but rather turned at the summit and retraced her steps.

Jake watched for a few moments, but when she’d replicated the pattern several times, he went inside to freshen his coffee and grab his Wall Street Journal—without the slightest thought that she might still be there when he returned. But there she was, big as life, determined for some strange reason to stay on his hill, regardless of the possibility that her proximal huffing and puffing might be an intrusion this early in the morning.

He’d take the city any day. City people knew how to respect boundaries. He peeled off his socks, pulled his sweat-drenched t-shirt over his head, arranged them on the banister. “That’s what parks are for,” he muttered at her across the expanse of turf between them, as he placed his running shoes on the steps in the sun. He flung himself into the rocker, pulled it closer to the table. But ruffling the business section into position, Jake found himself disgruntled and distracted. He peered out from behind the awning, again. Obviously, he was meant to have no peace this morning. Rolling the paper into a club, he tucked it under his arm and went inside to prepare his first case.

The next morning, at 7:30 sharp, there she was again. And the next.

On the third day, Jake rolled the awning down to the porch floor and sat at the table in his underwear. For the first few minutes, he ignored her, dunking his toast, kneading a muscle in his thigh, circling stock prices—all the stuff he normally did between his workout and first client.

The phone rang. Jake snatched it up before it could ring twice, leaned back to peek past the awning, half-listening to Mrs. Golatta, calling to move her appointment. Again. “No problem,” said Jake, his client being one of those who thought that as he often worked from home, she could just pop in any old time.

He scooted the phone back onto the table, tilted his chair back against the column. The walker looked different today. On previous days, her hair had been tacked up off her neck. Today, it flowed behind her, a burst of curls that brought to mind the wind flares depicted in mythology books, frothing from Poseidon’s mouth—except hers were golden, the color of home-combed honey. Her clothes looked different, too. Usually, her shorts and t-shirts looked like tennis clothes, white or blue or soft yellow—and always something red like her shoes. Her visor was different on different days, too, but never matched her clothes, as if she cared little about the effect.

It dawned on Jake that he liked that she didn’t match, didn’t put together an outfit, as though she didn’t need the look. Jake, also, for some reason, liked the fact that she was alone, not entangled in a gaggle of chatter-mongers.

On the eighth day, his walker appeared in a banana-tinted t-shirt announcing Your Earth Needs You; and it struck Jake that she looked like an enchanted daisy wafting along the edge of the trees.

At the two-week mark, if finally struck Jake: the reason she walked the hill was the trees. At that time of morning, the pin oaks and pines cast a deep shadow along the slope. No dummy, he decided, inching his chair away from the sun-drenched awning.

The next day, he found himself watching her almost the whole time—well, not really watching, he told himself, just taking the day off; and unlike most other mornings, allowing himself a little time to just hang out. So, from 7:30 to 8:15, she just happened to be in his line of vision. Life was full of coincidence.

It was obvious she was accustomed to being beautiful. It showed in the way she walked, the smooth, even gait, the subtle sashay of her hips, head high—almost a smile playing on her lips. She liked herself. Had a right to, Jake imagined, for reasons of which he could only dream.

It was also obvious she had no thought of giving up the hill. No thought he even existed—not an inkling she wasn’t alone: by the way she pulled up her t-shirt to wipe her face, or rolled it up to tuck it into the bottom of her bra, the waistband of her shorts rolled down to her navel, midriff bared to the breeze; but then, as she turned toward the street to leave, arranged everything back into place—no one with those scruples would be baring her belly if she thought someone was watching.

Day after day, she came with such regularity that Jake could practically set his watch by her. Sometimes he found himself counting her footfalls, like a timekeeper or coach. The walking obviously did the trick, he thought absently, and his mind shifted to his Emily, her small, pert breasts, her exquisite body so perfect in all its delicate dimensions—none of which had spared her.

He unrolled an ace bandage from his knee, reached inside the doorway to snap off the radio, terminating the prez in yet another of his remarkably uninformed harangues. Why was it that bad people didn’t seem to get taken as often as good ones? Only the good die young: just as the stupid song said.

Jake tossed the bandage onto the swing, refocused on the hill, telling himself to lighten up, to not spoil the day with things he could do nothing about.

 

About three weeks in, he spied her talking into her tiny recorder. It made him smile to see her so intrepid on his hill, never missing a beat. He lingered awhile longer that day, his face lifted to the scent of honeysuckle, as he considered the regal Queen Anne’s lace at the edge of the woods, nodding so amiably on their stems, and tried to imagine what serious, secretive things she might be saying into that lovely fist of hers.

She was like…his morning entertainment. He had his shadow dancer the way others had Survivor or Oprah. And all these intriguing, little details—something new every day, it seemed. These mornings were, in fact, much like theater; where, as the performance progresses, the lead adds her own little nuances, those subtle airs and effects that draw you in—and suddenly it dawned on Jake: he’d like to see her eyes. But she never took off her sunglasses, except for the seconds it took to wipe her cheeks or blot her eyes. Blue, he imagined, judging by the fairness of her skin and evident sensitivity to light.

His wife had eyes like that. So affected by the elements that she looked as though she’d been crying, even when she hadn’t—the cruelest part: there was nothing Jake could do about it in either case. And his knowing that Emily knew this was what had made it even harder…

 

On the Friday that marked what would have been the first day of his shadow dancer’s second month on his hill, she was a no-show. Except for that two-month marker, Jake didn’t think much of it. There had been other days when she hadn’t shown. Life happens, he would tell himself and go on about his business, being sure to use the time for something productive, like an extra run or starting work early. Or, when his sister, Bekah, could go with him, visiting their parents’ and Emily’s graves.

On those days, Jake and Bekah would have lunch together. Each matching the other’s effort, as they’d try to recapture what they’d had growing up, the joys they shared, always careful not to touch on subjects that, although they’d brought them together for the day, could only rekindle the loss, so that when they parted, Jake felt enervated but soothed by knowing they cared enough to try, had the courage to show up—what the counselor, in the weeks after Emily passed, told Jake he must do. Show up. One hour, one day, at a time.

When his shadow dancer didn’t come the next day, Jake thought a vacation might be the reason. Where would she go? he wondered. The beach was the first thing that came to him. But she didn’t seem like much of a beach bunny. Although, perhaps, like him, she simply liked the ocean. To be near the water, watch it billow and roll, listen to its rumble and hiss, as though it had some secret, powerful message to deliver to those who knew to listen.

The solitary knock of a woodpecker sounded from the trees. Jake raised the awning a smidge, watched a cardinal couple cavorting among the lower limbs along the crest of the deserted hill, their tick tick tick like a secret code between them.

He could picture her there, his shadow dancer, floating over the cool, smooth sand, the dawn dance with the sea, before the sun enticed out the oiled-bodies and family broods with their scampering children. For a moment, Jake saw himself there, with her, as he used to be with Emily, holding her hand, turning to brush her hair away—

A rustling of brush, and a deer sauntered into the sunlight. She swung her sweet face toward Jake, orbs fixed on him as though questioning his presence there. Then the white flip of tail, and into the woods she slipped. Disappeared like a magician’s trick. Or as though she’d never been there at all.

Then again, what if she were injured? A sprained ankle, shin splints or—maybe she was ill. Don’t overreact, he told himself. And for some reason, Jake couldn’t picture her sick. But himself he saw clearly: Nurse Jake, towel tucked into his jeans, tie stuffed between shirt buttons (away from the chicken soup), as he ran back and forth, taking her temperature, serving tea, juice, toast.

What would she have on? Pajamas? Certainly not a negligee. His flannel bathrobe? And where is she? In his bed snuggled under the sheets? He couldn’t imagine it. On the sofa in the living room? Maybe. But then she’d be in the path of his clients on their way to his office. So that wouldn’t work. The porch swing would be best: birds, fresh air—much better than inside, anyway. And perhaps—and this made him laugh out loud—he could entertain her by imitating her performance on treadmill hill.

It was actually with this vision playing in his head, that Jake, on his way home from a hearing downtown several days later, spotted her. There she was, in the flesh—alive and well and living in the world at large—directly across from him at the intersection of Fifth and Liberty; in a spanky red Volvo, chrome wheels winking in the sunlight, sunroof thrown open to the universe; her cherry lips bobbing oh-so-merrily in her lovely face, which she rotated between the traffic light and her passenger—a male of some variety—as though she had not a care in the world.

It was in that moment of revelation that Jake found himself so seriously and surprisingly pissed that when the light changed, he turned the car away from home and cruised right up behind her.

Volvo, huh? Cars are like shoes: they tell you about a person. Safe, dependable, smart. A sleeker version of his trusty, old Jeep, he thought with an unexpected pulse of satisfaction. But all that chrome: what was that about? Contradiction on wheels, this vehicle of hers. What else was she hiding? And where was her chummy buddy when she was on Jake’s hill?

A bus grumbled by, belching oil. Jake slammed his hand on the control panel, and the windows whirled up.

And how was it that she was out flitting about so freely at two in the afternoon?

Once across the Smithfield Street Bridge, she pulled off at the entrance to the first parking lot. Jake hesitated a beat, then avoiding the sludge of a litter-clogged drain, pulled onto the gravel a dozen feet behind her. Heart hammering in his head, he snatched his phone from the glove compartment, smashed it to his ear, and feigning a call, watched the passenger lean over to kiss his shadow dancer on the cheek. A perfunctory move, like some distracted husband’s, Jake thought, and felt a thud in the middle of his gut as he realized what he’d failed to consider.

A trio of crows plunged into the lot, their crazed cackling like a hatchet through what was left of his sanity. Jake palmed the phone from his head, screwed it onto his other ear.

The guy—a tall, dark, handsome type—sauntered along the back row of vehicles, turned in at a black BMW, an older 7-series, probably 1985 or so—in mint condition, of course.

A Humvee roared by, its radio thundering base through the spine of the Jeep. Jake tugged off his tie, threw it on the seat.

Once Mr. BMW was inside, he and Miss Volvo wagged hands through their sunroofs, and she was back on the road, whereupon Jake jettisoned the phone and, maneuvering around a gaping pothole, pulled into traffic, three cars behind her. When they stopped at the light at Carson Street, a voice in his head said, What in green hell are you doing, man? He turned the rearview mirror on himself, pressed a fist on the pleat between his eyes.

To Jake’s way of thinking, she’d taken an awfully convoluted route to Grove Road, where she was now turning. But some people seemed to have a habit of doing that—taking the long way home. Yet, the extra miles had served him well, the thrum of the road under the tires lulling him away from his stunning pissiness.

Her turn signal blinked, and he followed her into the parking lot of the Giant Eagle. But before he’d even turned off the key, she was out of the car, headed toward the market. He should have been quicker. But then again, what was he going to do, pounce on her the second she opened her door? Stroll up alongside her, a fellow shopper headed for the weekly specials—who just happened to have followed her for the last half-hour. Right.

He’d meet her inside. It was easy to comment on over-ripe bananas or ask if she’d seen any cherry yogurt—or whatever. He’d had lots of women do that with him. Easy as pie. No one took offense or felt uncomfortable, not that he could see.

Jake took a breath, blew it out, trying to look as normal as possible as he sidled around dregs of Slurpies and clots of gum and headed toward the Volvo in the shade of the building, where he paused only long enough to secure the thought: He was not her husband. There was not one sign of another human presence in that car. Although what that might have been, he couldn’t have said, exactly.

Then suddenly she reappeared at the market door, a single bag of groceries clutched to her breast as she strode back toward the Volvo. Jake whirled away, bolted along the row of cars, checking the ground as though he’d lost something and chastising himself for being such a coward. But then again what could he have said? Just checking your car to— But no, wait! What an idiot—the car was the perfect premise. Jake swirled on his heel, loped back toward the Volvo—only to find it wasn’t his shadow dancer, after all. Just some redhead—dyed, undoubtedly, by the root-beer glint of it in the sun—now passing treats through the windows of a minivan of screeching kids three rows down.

“Cut me a break,” Jake said, looking up into the wide, blue sky—and could have sworn he heard a quiet okay. Or it could have been the wind.

The wind it must have been, for by the time he’d made three tours around the market and returned to the lot, the cherry-bomb Volvo with its snappy chrome wheels was nowhere to be seen.

 

You should never judge anyone by any single impression—not the first one, certainly, regardless of what they say. Jake knew that all too well, was hoping beyond hope that his shadow dancer shared this not negligible wisdom.

Jake had never in his life run after a woman—certainly not in the literal sense. But here he was in the middle of the city’s rush, panting like a thief caught in daylight, hair wind-whipped to his sweat-slicked forehead, embarrassment stinging his razor-burned cheeks—he never should’ve shaved his beard, stray grays be dammed!—Old Spice oozing from his heat-pricked skin like a sailor on shore leave.

Only moments ago, they had been trotting along so promisingly, the rhythm of their advance playing in Jake’s head—like Chopin’s “Rain Dance”—which Jake, on his way to the city that morning, had had the pleasure of enjoying: another strikingly good omen, he thought again, smiling as he followed her lovely head, now bobbing along a mere arm’s length away.

He wouldn’t lose her this time. The very next time, he’d promised himself—and his best pal, Simon (who, it turned out, knew her from her column in the Gazette—to which Jake had instantly subscribed)—he would absolutely meet her. Somehow. Although he wasn’t sure exactly how that would play out after the market flub.

“Bump into her on the street?” he’d suggested during his weekly racquetball game with Simon.

“Too busy,” Simon said in his most pragmatic tone. Simon leased half of Jake’s firm’s seventh-floor suite. He was an orthopedic surgeon with a proclivity for analysis and advice—and anything that involved a ball—which made him instantly likeable and, on both counts, set him apart from Jake’s other friends.

“Too hard to make any concentrated impression,” Simon counseled between spikes. “Not a good place for any reasonable discourse.”

“The lobby of the paper where she works?”

“Feasible,” Simon agreed. “Logistically, that’s more amenable to the moment’s needs.”

“Right,” Jake agreed, ignoring the ironical edge of his friend’s advice and the grin he attempted to suppress. The lobby was perfect. A place where people paused to buy a newspaper or grab a cup of java, chat.

He should have been more alert, more focused on the elevators—and on his feet, not his duff.

He had, in fact, been reminding himself of exactly that—how he’d do better to apply his court form—in the exact moment Rachel Avedeen, without any warning whatsoever, cut across the swarm of people and walked directly up to the cop controlling the light at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Cherry Way; where she halted, reached to touch the skyscraper shoulder of the man, then still speaking into his down-turned face, pointed toward the approaching, unwitting Jake, her lovely arm with its lovely hand and fingers aimed at him like an unsheathed arrow.

The officer splayed a meaty palm into Jake’s path.

Jake halted mid-stride, his brain already scrabbling to reconfigure his strategy now that she’d made this unexpected stop.

“He’s been following me for seven blocks,” she announced to the policeman.

“That so?” said the officer, making Jake part of a tidy street-corner triangle, one close point, the immense policeman—the pinnacle, his shadow dancer.

People on the sidewalk kept banging into Jake’s briefcase—a sensation he thought for a second was the clatter of his knees—so he bent down to place it between his feet, his eyes making an inadvertent leap to Rachel Avedeen’s trim ankles and tawny, round-toed pumps. Then, pushing out a breath as he rose—to his full height, he hoped—he squinted up at the officer, trying to appear calm and confident, an even more arduous task given the wind funneling the street and the blasts of sunlight fired at him from the metal badge of the cop’s cap.

His cheeks simmered. Something gritty stung the corner of his eye, but he wouldn’t dare make a move to remove it. What were those things people do when they’re lying? Suddenly he couldn’t remember. Rub their eyes? Blink a lot? Look left—or was it right? He had to maintain eye contact. More importantly, he had to be careful how he presented this particular truth. About Rachel Avedeen he knew little at this point; but he knew enough—courtesy of Simon, who indulged in her articles on a regular basis, and had even seen her on the local PBS channel (Jake now had cable)—that she would (Simon’s exact words) “leap on any semantical jazz like a panther”—one of those elegant creatures, Jake was thinking as Simon expounded, who drain your heart while caressing your jugular.

“That so?” the policeman repeated, leaning into Jake’s space, his tone more confirmation than question.

Jake turned up his palms, tried to smile. “I think following has a…somewhat pejorative connotation.” And there it was. The stupid words were out of his stupid mouth before he could stop them.

Rachel Avedeen laughed, threw back her head in a lovely, little wag of arrogance, which served only to expose her delectable neck. “Somewhat pejorative?” She pressed her fine, crimson lips together, gave a roll of her cerulean eyes, and pushing up a sleeve of her black-silk jacket, plunged her slim, white hand with its perfect, oval nails—like glossy, mauve dinner mints—into the voluptuous leather folds of her shoulder bag, where she rummaged as though looking for a gun.

“Excuse me,” she said to the policeman, and hurled another sapphire dagger into Jake’s face, before turning her back to the men.

The larger, having assumed a new stance, legs akimbo, hands on hips, nodded in acknowledgment—and, Jake saw, allowed his eyes the pleasant journey of Rachel Avedeen’s back and surprisingly broad shoulders.

“A few minutes late,” she was saying into a small, ruby phone pressed to the perfect, little ear tucked into the amber waterfall of hair, which, with her tug on the anchoring pencil, now inundated her shoulders. She pressed a hand into the hair on the opposite ear, trying to shut out the clamor of the city. “Have to stop to deal with”—and here she made a half turn to hurl another spike of contempt at Jake—“a stalker,” she said, spitting out the word like spoiled sushi.

Jake startled, his hand suddenly in the air toward Rachel Avedeen. “No. I’m not—”

“Hold on there, Mac,” the cop cut in, stepping forward on a heady wave of Brut, prepared, it appeared, to give his life for the lady if need be.

Finally, Rachel Avedeen turned back to the men. The wind gusted, fingering the tendrils around her face, as she stood there, measuring her pursuer, one hand on the trigger of the phone, the other clutching Jake’s heart. She looked away toward a spot above the throng, and for a moment, Jake thought he saw the slightest shimmer of emotion—pleasure? amusement?—pass over her face.

Then suddenly she lifted her chin, swirled her face up to the cop, again. “I’ve been through a few versions of this, Officer Hobart.” She shot a glance at Jake, her fine eyes steely with determination. “And I have not this much tolerance”—her hand punched into the space where Jake’s breath should have been, her index finger and thumb fused in a pinch—“for anyone who thinks I’ll tolerate one freaking bit more of such idiocy for one billionth of a second.”

Officer Hobart shifted his gaze to Jake, an expression on his face that hinted he was a bit less amused than a moment before.

Jake’s heart slammed the wall of his chest. He tucked his hands into his pockets, unshrugged his shoulders. A piece of waxed paper reeking of mustard and onions found its way to his face, scudded across his cheek before blowing into the intersection. Jake batted at the air, trying to dispel the stench, gazed up at the sky where the tower of the courthouse rose over the pedestrians below—as it abruptly struck home that Jake just might find himself on the other side of one of its cool little cells.

“But I’m only—” He swallowed the knot in his throat, forced out a breath, trying to formulate a thought from the mess in his brain. “I’m only trying to…to meet you!” he blurted in a gush of frustration.

After what seemed like eternity, Officer Hobart cleared his throat. He looked at his feet, then at Jake, trying to keep a straight face. Yes, you are the idiot you think you are, his expression told Jake. Not criminal, perhaps, but fully committable, all the same.

Rachel Avedeen stood silent, studying Jake as though trying to discover something in him that would tell her what to think of all this. After a few torturous beats, her expression softened, her lips parting ever so slightly, as if she’d come to some decision. She snapped the phone shut, lifted a hand to brush an unruly curl from her cheek; and with a look of half amazement, half amusement, she took a miniscule step toward Jake, and placing her lovely face a breath from his, said in a near whisper: “That is just too pathetic not to be true.”

And with that—and what looked like a glimmer of relief in her eyes—Rachel Avedeen tilted her lovely countenance again to the officer; and with the ethereal lilt of her voice—and what was surely the bloom of a smile—caressing each heavenly syllable, told him: “Forgive me, Officer Hobart. My mistake.”

Then, with a barely perceptible pause, she turned on her slim-heeled pumps and danced back into the crush, leaving the nectarous shards of her words embedded in Jake’s heart.

 

For two days, no shadow dancer on the hill.

She wore only one ring, Jake told Simon. A winking opal on the middle finger of her right hand.

Not the practice of a “committed” woman, they agreed.

“You’re just rusty,” Simon said, shaking his head over Jake’s stunning ineptitude. “At this point,” he prodded on, “not much to lose, right?”

So on day three, Jake cancelled Mrs. Golatta’s appointment, kicked himself off the porch and took his sorry ass downtown.

The man at the bagel kiosk said he might remember seeing Miss Avedeen earlier.

“Right,” Jake snarked under his breath as he shuffled through the crowd toward his post. As if anyone—although he was grateful for the additional Miss—might not remember her.

      Then suddenly, through a clot of chatting women, Jake realized someone was in his chair, the floating newspaper—his own device turned against him!—partly obscured by the high back of the chair…near the foot of which, he saw as he drew closer, a spanky red sneaker bobbed rhythmically…on a slender ankle…at the end of a silky limb—

Suddenly, the paper dropped. The sneaker stopped, joined its mate on the floor, as a pearly face with a pair of cerulean eyes and a crimson grin looked up at him.

Jake closed his mouth, swallowed hard.

“Good morning, Mr. Kahn,” said the cherry lips. The creamy cheeks flaunted their set of dimples. “And lest I forget, Simon said to be sure to tell you, Hey.” She cocked her head, a perplexed expression taking her face. “And…thanks for showing up…?”

8 Responses to “Shadow Dancer”

  1. Anna S.

    A wonderfully crafted story! I am a student of your husband’s and he recommended it. So glad I took time to read it, absolutely remarkable! Thank you so much for sharing your talent!

    (I was also told to leave you a joke in the comments. How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give a surprising twist at the end)

  2. Janice Gladden

    This is fantastic! You captured the dilemma of the sexes. I’m still wondering about that Jake, though. Very entertaining, Dar.

  3. Cindy

    Wow, Dar! The pacing, the characters, the plot. All just lovely. A great read. But I’m especially captivated by the way the words you select create a signature style. If this were a painting, they would be the distinctive brush strokes that instantly tell the viewer it was your creation. Like a Seurat, where each point of color beautifully blurs with the next to reveal the overall picture.

    PS, canvassed with you enough to know you are Rachel, complete with visor cap to shade your lovely face!

  4. Benjamin Thomas

    Just reread the story and YES it does works, I see it and hear it, smell it and feel it.

  5. Nancy Robinson

    I just read your story. Masterful, masterful, masterful wordsmith, you are! I enjoyed it from the first word, and laughed and smiled a lot…not only at the story itself, but at your ability to tell it. Great descriptions of the scenes and a wonderful ability to ‘get inside’ a guy’s head. I also noted the moment when you moved from ‘inside’ his head to Simon; that was surprising and enjoyable.

    Your use of ‘red’ is so you. I smiled at that because I know you and your splashes of red. I also LOVED the setting in Pittsburgh. Also, the piece has high energy….it reflects you…..kindof a staccato which I like a lot.

    You also built some tension into the early part…..for a moment I thought it was going to turn dark….and then the sun came out again and I knew it was NOT going to go there. Whew! 🙂

    I hope the happy couple lived happily ever after. 🙂

    THANKS for sending this. It’s great.

  6. Janis McKinney

    I didn’t see that coming. What compelling characters. This short story leaves me wanting to know what happens next. Jake is complicated and I’d like to find out if he does have a tendency toward the perverse, or if perhaps he is just so full of bravado that once he sets his sights on something he consciously employs methods that would seem unconventional, odd even, to the rest of us.

  7. BJ McCarthy

    Love it, Dar. Especially the details and twists and turns.
    Who knew? Thanks for sharing!
    Rock on.

  8. Benjamin Thomas

    Wow. What a great read. I felt like I was in the story, standing nearby watching this poor stricken guy, like a friend — could smell his socks sweating! And great reversals throughout — plus the ending like an O’Henry! Will check out some of the other stories, too. Kool lit mag. Congrats! Keep rockin and send me more ->
    Ben

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