I unlocked the door for her and pushed it open. Shania strode in as if she owned the place. She walked straight to the window, placed her clutch on the sill next to the two glasses left from earlier in the day.
Without a word, I grabbed the glasses and carried them to the kitchen. I rinsed them under cold running water, swiped them out with paper towels and grabbed the bottle. I returned to the living room to find Shania standing as I had left her, looking out the window into the street. I uncorked the bottle and poured two fingers into a glass for her and held it out. Her delicate fingers wrapped around it. She held it, waiting for me to pour my own portion. When I completed that task, I set the bottle on the low coffee table.
“To new beginnings,” she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
I held up my glass. “To new beginnings,” I repeated.
Shania seemed to magically shrink three inches right in front of my eyes. Then I realized she had stepped out of her heels and stood flat-footed on my floor. She actually smiled at me, a half-sad, half-brave smile, then tilted her glass and drank half the contents in one gulp. She looked at the amber liquid remaining and said, “I hope you’ve got another bottle of this.”
“Actually,” I said, “I don’t. If you want more than what remains in this bottle we’ll have to go out to get some.”
“Let’s finish this one,” she suggested, “and see if we need another.”
“You were marvelous today,” I said, taking a seat on the sofa behind the coffee table. “I couldn’t have been prouder of you than if I were your Uncle Eric.”
“I don’t have an Uncle Eric, you know,” she said.
“Well, then,” I smiled gently, “I’d be pleased to fill the bill.”
Shania stepped back to the sofa and sat next to me. “I neither need nor want an Uncle Eric from this point forward. You’re just Eric.” She took another sip from her drink.
“So tell me,” she said, leaning back against the sofa, “what did you think of Jerry’s pals?”
I waved my glass noncommittally. “An eclectic bunch. Some better than others.”
“How about the one who wanted me to be his bitch?” she asked.
I chuckled. “Him I wanted to clock,” I admitted.
“Were you jealous?”
My guts twisted. Presented that way, I realized that jealousy had been among the various emotions I was experiencing. “Pissed off,” I nodded. “Offended, mostly for you.”
“And jealous,” she said, emptying her glass and holding it out for a refill.
“Maybe some,” I admitted, pouring a generous helping from the bottle.
“You want me to be your bitch?” she asked, in more of a statement than a question.
I shook my head. “No, sweetheart,” I ventured. “I don’t think you need to be anybody’s bitch.”
Shania took a long pull at her refreshed drink.
“You’re right, Eric,” she said. “I’m never going to be anybody’s bitch.”
She held up her glass and examined the liquid remaining.
“I like this,” she said. “I don’t usually drink, but this I like.”
“You better go slow,” I warned her. “You’re going to have a hell of a headache tomorrow, or maybe even tonight.”
She stuck her nose in the glass and inhaled deeply. She tilted it up and took a taste.
“Won’t be tonight,” she said assuredly. “I don’t intend to stop tonight.”
I looked at the blond beauty on my sofa, her legs encased in the black stockings tucked neatly under her. The desire of my heart was to gather her in my arms and simply hold her until all the hurt had gone away. I wanted to let it all flow into me and out of her so that the pure beauty of her would simply explode, engulfing and surrounding us both. Yet, as I studied her, I recognize that the aching was mine. It wasn’t apparent in her appearance. Surely, it was there, I reasoned. My own pain for her, my empathetic reaction to her nearness testified to its presence. Yet, perhaps my agony came from a different source. Surely not, old man, I argued internally.
“What do you intend to do?” I asked, half afraid of the answer she would give.
She picked up the bottle from the table. “I intend,” she said, with just the tiniest bit of a slur beginning to affect her speech, “to finish off this bottle of your very fine whiskey. Then I shall either accompany you to the nearest package store to replenish our supply, or root around in your cabinets for another source of numbness.”
I chuckled, not at her desire for numbness, but at the image of her rooting around in my cabinets.
“There’s a bit of gin,” I said.
“Uck,” she replied quickly.
“Some rum, a little vodka, and an untouched bottle of tequila,” I completed the inventory.
“Tequila, huh?” she said, smiling slyly over the top of her glass. “I’ve done some pretty bizarre things under the influence of tequila.”
“Shania,” I said, “while you have every right, I’m quite sure bizarre behavior would lead to regrets tomorrow.”
Her eyes grew wide and she looked square at me. “Say my name again,” she commanded.
“I’m sorry? What?”
“Say my name, Eric. Say it.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, looking at the table where the now-empty bottle of bourbon sat. “Shania.”
“No, dammit,” she said vehemently. “Look me in the eyes and say my name,” she demanded.
I looked at her. “Shania,” I nearly pleaded.
She stared at me. “Holy shit!” she said, finally. “No,” she said then, taking a sip from her glass. “That’s not…that can’t…” She stopped.
“What is it?” I asked. “What can’t?”
“I have to go,” she said suddenly. She unloosed her legs and planted her feet on the floor. “I’ve imposed on you all day. I can’t continue…” She cast around for her shoes, akimbo on the floor next to the window.
“Stop,” I said as firmly as I could without sounding mean, standing up next to her. “My time is my own. I set this day aside for you. You may have as much or as little of it as you want. Sit down. I want you here. You need the presence of another human right now, especially another human who will make no demands of you.”
The raw bourbon was starting to affect her reasoning abilities, I could tell. She stood there between the sofa and coffee table in her stocking feet, looking up at me. The processing of thoughts was inhibited by the effects of alcohol. Finally, she sat back down. I sat back down on the sofa next to her.
“You’re not my Uncle Eric, are you?” she said.
“I’m not,” I admitted.
“You’re just Eric. You’re the guy who lives in 2B, the quiet one; the nice one.”
“I’d like to think so.”
“I buried my husband today and you were there to help me get through it.”
“If I hadn’t buried him I would have divorced him.”
“You told me that,” I admitted.
“He was a selfish, hateful son-of-a-bitch.”
I sat silent, realizing that confirming her statement would be callous, especially in view of his youthful and tragic passing.
“So, I was going to leave him and be all alone. Except he left me first.”
“I know,” I said, trying to be calm as her intensity seemed to be climbing. “And, even so, it hurts.”
“I was thinking I was going to be all alone.”
“Not for very long, I’m sure.”
“No, I’m not, am I? I’m not going to be alone at all. I can always call on the nice, quiet guy in 2B, just like I did when Jerry got killed.”
“Easy, baby,” I said, trying to calm her. “I’ll be here. You can come to me anytime you need to.”
“No, I can’t,” she said with a shake of her blonde curls. “And you know why I can’t? Because the nice, quiet guy in 2B is a hypocrite!” She nearly screamed the last word.
I was astonished. “What? What in the…How did you come to that conclusion?” I said.
“Say my name again!” She slammed the directive at me.
“Fine,” I said, my own voice rising in dispute. “Shania!”
“I asked you to sleep with me tonight and you told me you wouldn’t!” she shouted in triumph.
“Okay,” I chuckled. “Maybe you’d better back off the booze. You’re not making any sense.”
“Oh, no, Mister nice guy in 2B,” she said with a sneer. “I heard you. You said my name like it was some sort of jewel. You said it, and I heard you, you hypocrite. You really want to be with me. But you won’t comfort me when I need you. What kind of love is that?” She sat back triumphantly and crossed her long, lovely legs on the coffee table.
“Hold on there, little lady,” I said, my belly tumbling with what was essentially embarrassment at the discovery. “That’s quite a leap, there. I’m just a neighbor helping out another neighbor. Nobody said anything about the ‘L’ word.”
“Bullshit!” she spat.
“Sure, I think you’re gorgeous, but you’re also about half my age.”
“That doesn’t matter, and besides, it’s not half. Maybe fifteen years.”
“Maybe a little more,” I chuckled. “And, truth be known, I do care. But that’s more about hating to see you in such pain.”
“I heard you. And, I was wrong. You say my name like it was velvet.”
“Shania,” I protested gently.
“See?” she said. “Velvet.”
I shook my head.
“No, I think you want to love me. But, why won’t you let me stay with you, sleep with you?”
“I told you earlier,” I said, trying desperately to remain calm. “You’re very, very vulnerable right now. You hurt a lot. I’m in a position to take advantage of that, and I’m not going to do it.”
“But I need you,” she whined, “and I want to stay with you.”
“You can stay for as long as you like,” I told her. “But you are not in the best condition to make any decision about sleeping with somebody.”
“You love me,” she accused. “You wouldn’t hurt me.”
“I care about you,” I countered, “and that’s why I won’t sleep with you.”
“Tonight,” I said. “I already told you I won’t sleep with you tonight.”
“When will you?”
I laughed, in spite of the incongruousness of the situation. “I don’t know. I don’t know if ever. In a couple of months you’ll probably find somebody closer to your own age and fall madly in love. You’ll move on without a second thought about me.”
She sat back hard against the sofa. It looked a lot like a pout. “Fuck,” she said.
“Shania,” I reproved her with my tone. “Honey, you just buried your husband today.”
“Yeah,” she said, her forefinger tapping her lips, “but the marriage has been dead for more than a year.”
“That may be,” I said, somewhat amazed at my own clarity, “but you’ve been emotionally ripped wide open and are a mass of raw nerves.”
She sat silently. Finally she said to herself, “Eric, the nice guy in 2B loves me.” She nodded. “That could be the best new I’ve had in years.”
“Stop it,” I said softly. “Stop saying that.”
She picked up her glass from the table, drained it, and held it up to me. “It’s empty.”
“I think we’ve both had enough,” I told her.
“You want me to switch to tequila?” she challenged. “I do fucked up things on tequila.”
I shook my head.
“Then let’s get some more of the warm, brown stuff, Eric,” she suggested.
“Please, baby,” I said in almost a whisper.
“I don’t hurt right now, Eric, and I like that. I don’t want to get drunker. I just want to stay where I am. But I can’t if I don’t have more.”
I sighed. “All right.”
“You need money?” she asked. “I’ve got a shitload of money coming from Jerry’s insurance. About ninety grand after the funeral expenses.”
“I don’t need money,” I said. “But I don’t think you should come with me. What with your condition and those heels, you’ll be staggering around the street.”
“Fine,” she said. She reached for her clutch and took out a business card. I recognized the logo of the funeral home. She flipped it over, dug a pen out and scribbled down a number. “While you’re gone, I’ll go to my apartment and change out of this dress. Call me when you get back.”
“You want me to walk you back to your apartment?” I asked, standing up and retrieving her shoes and handing them to her.
“That would be very gentlemanly of you,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Might also keep you from slamming into a couple of walls.”
“I’m not that drunk,” she protested, snapping her clutch shut and taking the shoes from my hand.
“Nobody’s ever that drunk,” I chuckled. I led her to the door, through it, and locked it behind me.
“You’re going to have to give me one of those,” she said.
“One of those what?” I asked.
“Keys to your apartment,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” I said. “We’ll talk about that later.”
I helped Shania up the two flights to her floor. She stood in front of her door and fished for her own keys. She found the right one and twisted it in the lock. She turned to face me.
“I want you to know that I’m really grateful for what you did today,” she said.
“Anything to help out,” I began. Shania put a finger to my lips.
“I know. You love me.”
“Shania,” I began to protest again. She replaced the finger on my lips with her own lips. They felt like they were the temperature of molten steel, yet made of the softest satin. She tasted like bourbon, lavender, and violets. Her arms, hands holding the clutch in one and the shoes in the other, wrapped around my neck. My own hands rested lightly on her waist. She pulled away slowly, her tongue flicked across my lips.
“Hurry home, darling,” she whispered. She spun around, pushed the door open and disappeared.
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<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/shania-pt-2.aspx">Shania, Pt. 2</a>