A few minutes later a cab pulls up, and she pays the driver, then escapes. I squeeze my eyes shut when I see what she’s wearing. Then I open them.
“Hi.” She offers a meek little wave as she sinks down next to me. I close the sketchbook.
The cab races off, kicking up exhaust into the night breeze, mingling with all the other scents nearby. This is New York for you – I can smell Harley’s wild cherry lotion and I can smell garbage that needs to be picked up tomorrow, the fume from cabs, and the trailing scent of cigarettes. The ugly with the beautiful.
“You look guilty,” I say. “But you don’t have to look guilty on my behalf.”
“I feel guilty.”
“Why? Are you going back to him?” I ask in a strangled voice. The thought makes me sick.
She shrugs. “He made me an offer.”
I recoil, then stand up quickly as if I can’t even be near her when she’s like this. When she’s in this zone. “Are you going to take it?” I ask with a sneer. I don’t mask my disgust. I can’tmask my disgust.
“I don’t know,” she says, and her voice breaks, and I fucking hate that she can be like this.
I push both hands through my hair, grabbing hard. “You’re not a fucking whore, Harley.”
“It’s not like that,” she spits back.
“Fuck that,” I shout through clenched teeth. I pace down the block, walking away from her, far away. To the end of the block, where I stop and slam a hand against the street sign. I take a sharp, deep breath, then turn around. She’s still on the stoop, and she’s fiddling with her shirt, shakily fastening the top two buttons.
When I reach her I bend down and grip her knees. I stare hard at her, her brown eyes like pools. One lone tear streaks down her face. “You are better than that,” I tell her, never breaking her gaze. “You are so much better than that.”
“But what if I’m not?” She chokes out in the tiniest voice.
I wipe the pad of my thumb across her cheek. I want to kiss her tears away, but I can’t go there right now. For a million reasons.
“You are,” I say firmly. I want to shake her. I want to smack some sense into her. “How can you even say you’re not?”
She drops her head so I can’t look at her. “Because I’m not. Because I went to see him. Because you’d never do this. You’re stronger than me. You’re never even tempted.”
“You think this is easy for me?” I crouch on the sidewalk, my hands still gripping her knees. I glance down at her socks, then shake my head. “I hate these socks,” I mumble, as I peel the right one down her leg. She lets me, lifting her calf for me. My fingertips brush her skin, but I manage to resist running my hands up and down those calves. The mission to get her out of this awful costume is stronger than my desire to touch her. I unbuckle one shoe and take off her sock. I do the same to the other leg, rolling down the white knee-high, undoing the shoes, and tugging the sock off her foot, ignoring how smooth her perfectly shaven legs are. I hand her the offending items, and she stuffs the white socks into her purse. Out of sight. Somewhat out of mind. “I can’t stand seeing you dressed like this. I wish you were wearing a t-shirt and jeans right now.”
I earn a small laugh for that, and she lifts her head, flashing a quick lopsided smile. The Harley smirk that makes me want to wipe it away with my mouth. Kiss that sexy smirk right off of her. Hear the sweet sighs she makes when I kiss her.