New York parties were always like this. Especially the trendy downtown parties. The night would meander along with pretentious indies or retro music, a little weed and people hooking up on the rooftop until sooner or later some minor celebrity would show up—the friend of a friend who was on Broadway, or in some movie being filmed uptown. And there would be electricity in the air while everyone waited to see who the lucky person would be, who would bag themselves a star for one night.
This time, the news had spread like wildfire among the guests that a famous athlete was there so that by the time someone whispered the name into Dylan’s ear, everyone else was already scoping out the room, hoping to get a glance of the short stop everyone said was going to bring the Mets back to their former glory.
After a few minutes of scanning the room, caught up in the hype like everyone else, Dylan lost interest and climbed out onto the fire-escape to light the joint someone had slid into her palm earlier in the evening. It was chilly out, that time in the season when you could just begin to see your breath. Once the window was shut, Dylan could just make out the voices of a couple in one of the apartments below, arguing. She considered for a moment whether she might not be better off inside since listening to a domestic spat was no more her idea of a fun Friday night than this party had been.
The night promised to be a long one because Ava was with her sometimes-boyfriend Jacob and had made Dylan promise not to let her go home with him, no matter what. This usually meant that sometime around one a.m. she would have to intercede when a drunk Ava tried to make the case that she’d only been kidding, and that it was fine to let her leave with Jacob, because he’d promised things would be different this time.
As she looked at the joint in her hand, Dylan considered whether or not to light it. She didn’t feel like getting high. She felt like going home and getting into her pajamas and watching cable with a pint of ice cream. The skinny jeans she’d borrowed from Ava dug into her thighs and the shoes—platform pumps—were beginning to hurt her feet. If she’d followed her instincts, she would have gone straight home after work and done a few more practice LSAT tests. No way was she getting into NYU Law with the scores she was showing now.
She sighed and sent the joint sailing over the balcony and down into the alley below.
“Good move,” someone said.
She hadn’t even heard the window reopen and was momentarily startled, believing herself to still be alone on the fire-escape. He was standing at the window, wearing a white dress shirt and jeans with trendy black loafers and Dylan recognized him right away. Mark Acosta. His face had only been plastered all over the back sports page of the Daily News for the last three weeks or so. “The Rookie” was what they called him, even though he hadn’t officially signed yet.
“Well, who needs it?” she said. “I’m already lightheaded enough standing on this fire-escape.”
He peered over the edge and down to the ground ten stories below, stepping out to join her and shutting the window behind him.
“If you’re scared of heights, this might not be the best place to hang out,” he said.
“I’m even more scared of boring party conversation and bad nineties music,” Dylan said. “So I thought I’d be better off taking my chances out here.”
“I think we might be in the same boat,” he said. “Who dragged you here?”
Dylan’s gaze shifted to the room just behind him. Through the glass pane, she could see about a dozen pairs of eyes watching them, including Ava’s and Jacob’s.
She smiled at him. “My friend, Ava. How about you?”
“My brothers,” he said, nodding in the direction of the apartment.
Dylan was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that she was standing on a fire-escape in a grubby downtown apartment making innocuous party chatter with Mark Acosta. He was all anyone in New York was talking about these days; the phenom who was being called up from the minors because he had out-performed everyone’s wildest expectations at that level and was clearly meant for greater things. According to the news, he was in talks with the Mets for a contract that was rumored to be in the tens of millions. And here he was, in the flesh.
“I’m Mark,” he said, extending a hand.
“Dylan,” she said.
He had large hands that were calloused, in some places, and remarkably soft in others. His forearms, exposed because he’d partially rolled back his sleeves, were impressive. Dylan tried not to imagine what was beneath the white shirt, although you would have to be dead not to notice how well his chest filled it out.
“I think I might escape before you though,” he said.
“Oh yeah? Why?”
“You’re right, the music is bad. And my brothers like to dance, so I would say I have another twenty minutes or so before they find me and drag me to a nightclub or something.”
“Not your scene,” she asked. “Nightclubs?”
“No, it’s not that. I just have to get up really early most mornings.”
He had an uptown Dominican accent; that interesting mix of the Bronx and Santo Domingo. Dylan was tempted to ask him why he had to get up early, just to see whether he would let slip who he was, and that he was famous. But somehow, even in these few brief moments, she got the impression that he wasn’t that kind of guy.
Mark Acosta came closer, leaning next to her, after peering over the edge once again as though checking to see just how high up they were. He smelled really good. Good enough that she imagined what it might be like to press her face into his chest and inhale.
“My brother’s girlfriend is about to have a baby,” he continued. “Their first. So this is his last hurrah for awhile.”
“So you’re taking one for the team,” Dylan shrugged.
Taking one for the team? Hopefully he didn’t interpret that as some oblique reference to his profession.
“Does he know what he’s having?” Dylan asked, trying to hastily cover up the sports reference.
“A boy. He’s really excited. I think he’s planning on getting really drunk tonight.”
Mark Acosta shrugged. “Honestly, I’m kind of excited too,” he admitted. “Can’t wait to meet our new little man.”
Our new little man. At that, Dylan looked at him full-on for the first time.
About six-foot-one or so, he was well-built but not beefy, and handsome, in that almost-but-not-quite-pretty-boy way. He had a deep, dark caramel complexion and eyes that seemed as black as coal framed by long lashes and smooth, velvety eyebrows that made her want to reach out and touch them. His head was almost clean-shaven as was his face. In the papers he looked older, but in person he looked very much like the twenty-six year old he was.
“You like babies then, huh?”
“Other people’s,” he clarified. “But also, my baby brother is having a baby. Makes me feel a little . . . nostalgic, y’know?”
Dylan smiled. “How old is he? Your brother?”
“He’s hardly a baby anymore. He’s twenty-one. But you know I was almost six when he was born so I remember when he my mother came home with him from the hospital. With them. He has a twin. My two baby brothers, I should have said.”
How cute was he, calling his twenty-something year old brothers babies?
“I don’t have any siblings, so I don’t have those kinds of memories,” Dylan said.
“No siblings?” Mark Acosta shook his head. “I can think of a time when that would have sounded like heaven to me.”
“Why, how many do you have?”
“I have my two brothers, Matt and Peter—they’re inside—and my sister, Miri.”
“Mark, Matthew and Peter,” Dylan said.
He laughed. “You picked up on that, huh? Devout Catholics, my family.”
“But Miri?” Dylan asked.
“Short for Miriam.”
“Listen, I’m going to grab a beer,” he said. “You want me to bring you something?”
“A beer as well would be great. Thanks,” Dylan said.
“Back in a sec.”
He lifted the window open once more and hopped back inside. The sound of TLC earnestly complaining about “scrubs” drifted out, and behind them came Ava. She was already somewhat beyond tipsy, and had a time of it, getting her long legs through the window. Ava was five-nine and thin as a rail with a heart-shaped face and fair, creamy complexion. She kept her hair short and spiky, which accentuated her long neck and waifish frame.
“Was that you-know-who?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Is he into you?”
“We’re just bonding over our mutual dislike of parties like this one.”
“Well, that’s good, right? So long as you bond over something.”
“Ava, it’s just a little friendly conversation. I’m still ready to leave whenever you are.”
“Well, I was going to talk to you about that. Jake and I . . .”
“Please don’t do this to me tonight,” Dylan groaned. “I hate having to figure out whether it’s you or the rum and cokes talking. Do you want to go home with Jacob or not?”
“I kind of do,” Ava said grimacing. And before Dylan could protest held up a hand. “Now I’m not saying I’m taking him back or anything. Just that I want to spend the night with him.”
“Ava,” Dylan said. “Whenever you want to get off the merry-go-round, you just let me know.”
“Don’t be so judgmental, Dylan. Not everyone can lock it up like you. I actually want to have sex every once in awhile.”
Of course that would be the moment that Mark Acosta returned. He was carrying two bottles of beer and had a jacket draped over his arm. He looked from Dylan to Ava and then at the small space of the fire-escape.
“Here’s your beer,” he said, handing a bottle to Dylan.
Then he nodded at Ava who smiled.
“I’m going back in,” she said to Dylan. “And I am leaving with Jake. I’ll call you in the morning. If you want to take a cab, I’ll pay you back for it.”
Dylan rolled her eyes and let her go. Mark Acosta stepped back outside and set his beer at his feet, putting the jacket about her shoulders.
“Thank you,” said, surprised.
“Out here with no sleeves, I thought you might be a little cold,” he said. He picked up his beer and took a swig. “So that was the friend you came with?”
“Yup. That was Ava.”
“So she’s ditching you?” he asked.
“Pretty much. For a boyfriend who is so not worth it. That’s the story of our friendship in a nutshell.”
“So why do you put up with it?”
Dylan shrugged, feeling disloyal for her flip comment. “It’s not really like that,” she admitted. “We put up with each other. I have my foibles as well. We’ve been friends since we were eleven years old, so . . .”
“Great to have friends for that long, huh?”
“Yeah. I guess she’s as close to a sibling as I’ve got. So not putting up with each other isn’t really an option anymore.”
Mark nodded. “I know what you mean. I come from that type of neighborhood. I think everyone there I’ve known my entire life.”
“So I guess I escaped before you after all,” Dylan said. The last thing she wanted was to get into a prolonged conversation about her upbringing. “Now that Ava’s leaving, there’s really no reason I have to stay.”
Mark looked at her. “Maybe there’s no reason you have to stay, but maybe there’s a reason you want to stay.”
Dylan returned his smile and tried to decide whether she was reading him wrong. Was he asking her to stay?
“Okay,” she said briskly. “I can’t do this any longer.”
Mark looked at her curiously. “Do what?”
“Pretend I don’t know who you are,” she said.
For a moment, he looked disappointed, and Dylan realized that what he’d probably been enjoying about her company was just that—she didn’t seem to know who he was and didn’t care.
“It just seems dishonest to act like I don’t,” she hastened to add.
But still he said nothing. Instead he put his beer bottle to his lips and tipped it back, taking a long swallow.
“Look, it doesn’t make any difference,” Dylan plodded on. “I just . . .”
“No, that’s fine,” he said, sounding like it wasn’t fine at all. “I should get used to it, I guess.”
“Get used to what? Being recognized? Yes, I would say you should probably get used to it.”
“Not that,” he said. “I mean, having people look at me and not knowing what they see. Me, or ‘The Rookie’ or whatever the hell they’re calling me this week.”
“I see you,” Dylan said quietly.
He looked at her. “Oh yeah?” he asked, his voice equally subdued. “What do you see?”
“I see a guy who doesn’t like loud house parties but who came out anyway, to be with his baby brothers to celebrate the birth of his nephew,” she said.
The barest hint of a smile teased the corner of his lips.
“I actually do like loud house parties,” he said, and Dylan could tell from his voice that she had succeeded in assuaging his fears somewhat. “Everything’s just been . . . different lately.”
“I can imagine,” she said. “Okay, well no I can’t. But we won’t talk about that anymore. I just thought I should come clean and not pretend I thought you were just some guy who wandered out here.”
“I didn’t wander,” Mark said. “I kind of followed you.”
Dylan stared at him.
“The look on your face when you climbed out here was like a perfect expression of how I was feeling. I sensed we were . . . kindred.”
How often did guys say stuff like that to you at a party? Or use words like ‘kindred’. Maybe never? If it was a line, he sure sounded sincere saying it, and the way he was looking at her? There was a cloud of sexual tension between them so thick her vision was almost obscured by the haze.
“Turns out you were right,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. “Seeing as how we both hate the music.”
Mark’s hand, which was next to hers on the railing, slid a little closer and their fingertips barely made contact. He didn’t even seem aware that it had happened, but for Dylan, it was as though he’d burned her with a match. Her fingertips became hyper-sensitive, as though straining to feel even more of his touch.
“But now that your friend is gone, you’ll probably leave me here to the mercy of, what did you call it, bad nineties music? To the mercy of bad nineties music and a roomful of people staring at me like I’m a lab specimen.”
“I can hang out for a little,” Dylan said. She raised her bottle. “At least ‘til I finish my beer.”
He nodded and leaned over the railing again, looking out into the night. “Drink slow.”
“So do you know these folks?” he asked. “The ones having the party.
“Nope. Ava’s friends of friends or co-workers. Something like that.”
“Same here. I don’t know them either,” he said smiling. “You think they actually know anyone who’s in their apartment right now drinking all their beer?”
His smile was infectious, just a slight parting of his lips and the barest glimpse of perfect white teeth. That natural charisma was probably part of what had the press acting like locusts.
The New York sports rags were overdue a new crop of ridiculously attractive star athletes to torment with endless speculation about their personal and professional lives. And this guy’s face would definitely sell a lot of papers. It wasn’t often you saw this mixture of ruggedly handsome and adorable in the same package, but Mark Acosta had it in spades. Realizing that she was in danger of actually staring, Dylan turned to join him in looking over the railing at nothing at all.
The couple a few floors down who had been arguing earlier seemed to have reached a ceasefire and the night was punctuated only by the occasional sound of car horns and Friday night revelers. Dylan tried to remember the last time she had actually enjoyed a party, or met someone worth talking to at one. At least a year. Mark Acosta was a find. She turned to look at him again.
“So tell me all about this enormous family of yours,” she said.
By the time Dylan’s beer was done, they both seemed to have silently conspired to pretend not to notice and just kept talking. Mark liked talking about his family, and Dylan liked listening. But more than that, she liked the look in his eyes as he described how smart his sister was, or how funny his Dad was, how bossy his mother. He told stories about them with such a lack of self-consciousness that it was clear they were his entire life. Baseball never once came up.
And then after awhile he stopped, seemingly embarrassed that maybe he’d been doing too much talking and he blushed. He actually blushed, and asked her about her and Ava and their friendship, and about her family. Dylan was touched by the effort, but realized that she was sorry not to hear more about his family and get to read and marvel at the depth of emotion Mark felt for them as she watched it cross his features.
Still, she told him about her and Ava growing up together in Queens, six doors down from each other, and being each other’s constant, even through different high schools and colleges, ups and downs. She didn’t talk much about her parents and he seemed to sense that she didn’t want to, and did not press her to say more than she did on her own.
Inside, the music changed from a dance hit to something slow and soulful and Dylan felt inexplicably shy. It was like that moment at a party in junior high standing next to a cute boy when the slow jam comes on, and you ache as you wait for him to ask you to dance.
Mark bent at the waist and glanced inside.
“They’re changing the pace,” he said. “Maybe means the party’s about to break up?”
He sounded almost regretful, like he didn’t want to go. But before Dylan could even fully examine the thought the window was flung open again and two young men who could only be his brothers stuck their heads out. This was one genetically-gifted family. Both were dark and good-looking like Mark, but not as solidly built. And yes, clearly they were twins, though they seem to have gone out of their way to make sure they didn’t look too much alike. One had a clean-shaven almost boyish face and the other had a moustache and goatee.
“Segundito . . .” Mark held up a hand, Dylan thought a little impatiently.
“Well, it looks like it’s definitely breaking up for you,” Dylan said.
She reluctantly shed his jacket and handed it to him. His scent lingered about her for a moment, and she wondered if she would still smell it on herself when she got home. She hoped so.
Satisfied that progress was being made, Mark’s brothers went back inside, but stood vigil at the window, waiting for him.
“Can I walk you down and get you a cab?” he asked. “Or we could share one so I could drop you off.”
Dylan shook her head. “No thanks. It’s early enough that I’ll still be okay jumping on the subway.”
“Positive. I love the subway.”
Mark smiled at that, and looked at her curiously, as though it was a thought he wanted to explore further. Most people complained about the subway, after all. Though he seemed reluctant to leave, Dylan resisted the thought. Clearly she was flattering herself. If you could get past the body—and that would take some doing—there were those dark, sexy eyes.
Still, this had been . . . nice. Really nice. And when was the last time she’d met a guy who she thought was “nice” without it being code for “boring” or “unattractive”? When was the last time she’d had an actual conversation with a man that had been unencumbered by the usual bullshit lines and gamesmanship? It would sound corny to say out loud but meeting and talking to Mark gave her . . . hope. Even though she may never see him again, the fact of there being men like him out there, made her feel happy. It was that simple.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she said, proud of how casual she sounded. “It was great meeting you.”
“You too,” he said, then as he turned to climb back in the window he smiled at her one last time. “Don’t stay out here too long.”
“Nope. Right behind you,” she said, holding up the long-empty beer bottle.
“Okay. G’night, Dylan.”
He hesitated a moment at the window before climbing back in until one of his brothers said something to him in Spanish, clearly hurrying him along, and so he was gone.
Dylan turned and smiled out into the dark, thinking about how many times she would replay this in her head. It was going to be utterly impossible to see his picture in the papers or images of him on television without remembering his incredible, musky, man-scent, and the way he made her want to press her legs together. Oh well, a girl could dream.
Minutes later, Dylan climbed back inside and pushed through the remaining crowd to get her jacket from the pile on the bed in one of the back rooms. Everything was beginning to get a little dicier now that folks had a few drinks under their belt. There was grinding passing itself off as dancing and a few couples making out like it was a high school party. Dylan shook her head and shrugged on her jacket, wondering how Mark Acosta had wound up here in the first place.
The West 4th subway was only three blocks away, so she would be home in less than forty-five minutes. Glancing at her cell phone, she saw that it was only just past midnight—still early enough to do a little LSAT practice before crashing. Nothing like a thrilling close encounter with a hot guy to wake you up.
She turned and stared. Mark Acosta was coming toward her, almost as though she’d conjured him up just by thinking about him. Several paces behind him, his brothers waited, clearly impatient.
“Hey,” Dylan said.
He stopped in front of her and she looked up at him. On the fire-escape he’d been leaning on the railing most of the time, but standing upright like this, right in front of her, she got the full impact of his height. Her earlier estimate was wrong. He was more like six-two, and much more impressive than she thought. Imposing even. Mark was the kind of man who—even if not the handsomest in the room—would almost always command the most female attention. And with him so close, it was impossible to look anywhere but right at him.
“I thought you’d left,” Dylan said.
“I was about to. But then I thought I’d wait for you to come out.”
“Oh,” she said, shaking her head. “Seriously, don’t worry about the cab. Hopping on the train is . . .”
He let out a deep breath, his chest heaving before he spoke. Was he was nervous?
“I want to call you,” he said in a rush. “If that’s . . . something you would want . . . too.”
“Yes,” she said after a moment. “That’s something I would want.”
“Turn on Channel Four,” Mark said. “Right now. Quick.”
Dylan was sitting on her sofa, reviewing her LSAT answers when the phone rang. She’d programmed Mark’s number into her phone with a special ringtone so she would always know when it was him, especially since he was so slammed with meetings that she never knew when he might call.
“Channel Four? Why? What’s going on?”
She reached for the remote, balancing the phone between her head and shoulder.
Mark was standing on a dais a few feet behind beside his agent, Corey, who was speaking into the microphone. There were a couple other men in suits nearby but her eyes had gone directly, instinctively to Mark. Dylan smiled. She could hear the echo of Corey speaking in the background of their call, as well as on television.
Wearing a brown suit with a periwinkle blue shirt underneath, Mark was without a tie but instead wore a white t-shirt peeking through at his neck-line. He was balancing his phone against his shoulder just as she now did.
“How can you be on the phone during a press conference?” she asked. “Can you even hear what Corey’s saying?”
“He’s saying what he always says. That we haven’t reached an agreement and that there’s nothing to announce.”
“So you’re having a press conference to tell them there’s no news.”
“Pretty much.” Then he looked up and smiled and Dylan smiled back as though he could see her. “Apparently that’s how it’s done.”
“Still. Shouldn’t you at least look like you’re paying attention?”
“I don’t care about paying attention. Not while I’m listening to you smile at me.”
“You can’t hear a smile,” Dylan said, smiling wider.
“I heard that one,” Mark said, and the tone of his voice sent a surge of heat directly to a very specific spot between her legs.
They hadn’t had any real time together since the party; at least not time alone. Though it wasn’t for want of trying. One afternoon a week ago he’d stopped by her job to take her for coffee and been mobbed as soon as he got out of the cab so had to leave without seeing her.
Then there was the quiet lunch they attempted downtown. That time they’d orchestrated it so she would meet him outside and jump into a cab where he was already waiting. They were home-free for awhile, until they got to the restaurant in Chinatown and a couple of Wall Street traders had stopped by the table to debate the whole Mets versus Yankees thing. Mark had politely entertained them in conversation for a time, all the while looking apologetically across the table at her. By the time he was able to get rid of them Dylan had to go back to the office.
Just as she was about to jump out of the cab, Mark leaned forward as though to kiss her when a car behind them honked impatiently because they were double-parked. It was just enough to cause Mark to pause, and Dylan leapt out and waved from the curb, the bitter disappointment threatening to eat a hole through the pit of her stomach.
“Corey’s looking at you now,” Dylan warned him. “Maybe he’s about to . . .”
As Dylan watched, Mark raised his eyes and his agent turned and extended an arm toward him, calling him up to the podium.
“I’ll call you later,” Mark said quickly, and ended the call.
Dylan watched as he put his phone in his jacket pocket and joined his agent.
He leaned in to answer a question she hadn’t heard.
“I just want to play some good ball. And of course, I would be honored to play for the Mets organization,” he said. “But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
She turned off the television and picked up her LSAT books again, but after a couple of minutes, unable to resist the urge to just look at him, Dylan turned it on again, just in time to see Mark exit the stage ahead of his agent.
At first her sleep-clouded mind didn’t recognize it for what it was, wondering why someone in her building would be playing Maxwell’s ‘Get to Know Ya’ over and over again. Finally, it penetrated that the song was the ringtone she’d chosen for Mark and she reached over, unplugging her phone from the charger and answering it.
“Hey,” she said, her voice hoarse. She glanced at the clock. “Are you alright?”
“I signed with the Mets,” he said. “We reached a deal about an hour ago.”
Dylan sat up. “An hour ago? It’s after two in the morning. Negotiations go that late?”
“When they’re close to a deal, yeah.”
“And it’s happened?” she confirmed. “It’s done? They signed you?”
“Mark, that’s great! Are you excited?”
“Yeah,” he said, sounding strangely subdued.
She listened to the silence for a few moments and sat up, turning on her bedside lamp.
“But it’s a little scary too, I guess,” she said finally.
Dylan lowered her voice. “You’re going to be amazing.”
“How do you know?” he asked, a hint of teasing in his voice. “You told me you don’t even understand baseball.”
“I do now. I bought Baseball for Dummies and read the whole thing in one day.”
He laughed. “Oh you did, huh?”
“I did. I even know what a short stop does. You’re on defense, between second and third base.”
“Yeah, that’s right . . .”
“And d’you know what else I learned this week?”
“That you’re the best at it. And that people are already comparing you to Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ernie Banks. Because you’re that good, even though you haven’t even played in the majors yet. So you have no reason to be scared, Mark,” she said quietly.
“But that’s what makes it scary,” he said, his voice barely audible. “Those names you mentioned? Those are big shoes to fill.”
“I’ve seen the size of your feet. You’ll fill them out just fine.”
Mark laughed again. “You’re pretty quick for someone who got woken up at two-thirteen in the morning.”
“I try,” she said.
“Sorry I woke you,” he said. “I just got this crazy idea in my head, that if I heard your voice I’d feel better.”
Dylan tried to ignore the little thread of pleasure she felt at his words. “You should be feeling great.”
“I do,” he said. “It’s just that now, everything changes.”
“For the better, though.”
“Anyway,” he seemed to want to change the subject. “You better go back to sleep. Need to stay sharp to study for those LSATs. When are they again?”
“Then get back to sleep. What’re you doing up so late?”
“There’s this pesky guy that keeps calling me at weird hours of the day and night.”
“Next week I might not have as much time,” he said, his voice serious now. “So if I don’t call you, I don’t want you to think . . .”
He broke off and said nothing more.
“I don’t know. That I’m going to fall off the radar or something.”
“I won’t think that.”
“And don’t you disappear either,” he said. He was trying to keep his tone light, but Dylan thought she detected real concern there.
“I’ll be busy studying anyway.”
“You’re going to be amazing too, y’know? When you’re finally a lawyer I mean.”
“How do you know?” she said, mimicking the same question he’d asked her earlier.
“Because you completely talked me out of the funk I was in. Thank you.”
“Sweet dreams, Dylan.”
The next morning, it was all over the news that the Mets had reached a deal with Mark Acosta for a figure in the tens of millions. Dylan sat at her kitchen table, momentarily staggered by the sum. After the exhilaration, she could only imagine the pressure that came along with that kind of money, and the expectations. The fear he felt suddenly made perfect sense.
On the subway, as other commuters read the city papers, Dylan couldn’t help but see the Sports section on the back, announcing the deal between The Rookie and the Mets. The New York Post had a shot of Mark getting into a car with Corey. He was ducking his head and squinting, probably against the flash of cameras in his face. He didn’t look the way one might expect someone to look when they’d just been made a multi-millionaire.
“Dylan. Are you listening?”
She looked up at Grant’s face, realizing that she’d missed just about everything he’d said.
“Are you not feeling well?” he asked. “You don’t look yourself today.”
“Probably nervous about the LSATs,” she said.
Grant smiled at her. “You’ll do fine. I’m sure of it. Hey, if you want I’ll sign off on you taking a few days . . .”
“No,” Dylan held up a hand. “No need. You’ve been so supportive already. And I think I’m all burned out on those practice tests honestly.”
“It’ll be done before you know it,” he said. “Hang in there a little longer and it’s going to pay off, I promise you.”
Grant was a partner at Greenbaum, Tate and McAffey, the firm where she’d worked for the last couple of years, and the first person who’d suggested to her that she go to law school. After a relatively short time working as a legal assistant, Dylan had begun to see that it was a lot less challenging than she expected. She’d taken the job right out of undergrad because it was the first one she was offered and she’d been thinking only of how she might support herself. Having never been particularly focused on school, it was a shock to her to discover that what she really wanted wasn’t a job, but a career. And more shocking still was that Grant thought she was more than capable of going to a top tier law school. Over time, he had become a friend and a mentor.
Dylan wondered now whether she could confide in him about Mark. But it wasn’t as though there was anything to confide. After all, she and Mark weren’t even really dating. Right now, all they were was telephone buddies. And if his life took off at the rocket speed it appeared to have assumed, they might not even be that much for long. In a couple of months, he would probably be going to the ESPYs with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. That thought alone caused her mood to sour even further.
“Go grab an early lunch,” Grant suggested. “Have a leisurely cappuccino afterwards, and then come back prepared to work.”
Dylan nodded. “Okay. I’ll pull it together and come back around two or so?”
“Good,” Grant said. “That’ll be fine. And look, don’t sweat the LSATs, okay?”
Dylan left his office and went to the Ladies Room. She looked at herself in the mirror, taking herself apart critically; first of all, she was short—only five foot four inches tall; and while she kept in great shape by running and working the elliptical machine at the gym, she had no room for error to maintain her precarious hold on a size six. And then there was the hair; it was long and untamed, wiry, curly and constantly all over the place. She kept it out of the way with a variety of scarves and headbands.
Her complexion she was proud of however; it was smooth and flawless polished ochre, unblemished probably because of her obsessive drinking of water. And she had high cheekbones and full lips which Ava kept trying to get her to accentuate. But there was no getting around the fact that she was more accurately described as “cute” than beautiful, or even pretty. There was nothing in this mirror that would hold the interest of someone about the live the life Mark Acosta was about to live.
After lunch she managed to regain her focus and get the work done that Grant wanted. Back in her office, she tried to ignore her phone, which sat silent on a stack of papers, within easy reach if it should ring. But it didn’t. So Dylan buried herself in her task and even finished it early, and was able to make plans to meet up with Ava for dinner.
Ava didn’t have a doorman, so when she got to her building, Dylan went right up. It felt like going home whenever she visited; she was almost as comfortable in Ava’s apartment as her own. When Dylan banged on the door Ava opened it barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a white tank. She was on the phone, and had it cradled between her shoulder and head while she looked through a tattered delivery menu.
“. . . last time was spicier than even a native Thai person could stand, so easy on the pepper. And spring rolls. Oh, and Dylan, what do you want?”
“Just Shrimp Pad Thai,” she said, dumping her bags near the door.
“Shrimp Pad Thai,” Ava repeated. “For two. Great. Thirty minutes? Thanks.”
She hung up and hugged Dylan briefly before returning to her favored spot on the sofa. Ava had a large studio apartment with a mini-fridge of the type usually found in hotels, so she rarely cooked. The floors were oak and the walls exposed brick. There were beautiful floor to ceiling windows through which you could just spot the Brooklyn Bridge. The shabbiness of the building’s exterior belied the fact that inside it had been newly renovated and cost a pretty penny to live there. Ava’s job as a television producer meant so she could easily afford the $2,500 monthly rent. She was thinking of buying it when it went co-op in the next few months.
The most dominant piece in the room was an immense bed which, like a futon was low to the ground. Ava kept it covered with pillows of all sizes, in lush greens and gold and it doubled as a place to sit when she had people over. It was Dylan’s favorite place in the apartment, apart from the breakfast bar where, sitting on the tall art deco stools, she’d consumed many a glass of wine and cup of coffee while trying to figure her life out.
“I thought we were going out for dinner,” she said.
“I got too hungry,” Ava explained. “Why? Did you have your heart set on going someplace” And then a non-sequitur, “did you see how much money they’re paying him? How crazy is that? You have a rich boyfriend, Dylan.”
“He’s not my boyfriend. We’ve never even been on a proper date.”
“He calls you three hundred times a day. I’d say that makes you a little more than friends.”
“No, all we are is friends.”
“For now. I don’t know a guy who would call you every single day, for three weeks without being romantically interested. And besides, he already has a sister. So we know that’s not what this is.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Dylan said, testily.
Ava looked at her. “Why? What happened? Did you two have a fight or something?”
“No, he’s been exactly the same.”
“Then what’re you so cranky about?”
“Well,” Dylan sat at the breakfast bar. “Let’s face it, he can have anyone now . . .”
“Oh my god,” Ava groaned. “Let’s not have this conversation again, please. You are so insecure, and I mean, look at you! You have a body most women would kill for. The legs of a dancer, the tits and ass of a lingerie model and the cutest face.”
“Yeah. Cute.” Dylan said.
“Dylan, he chose you. Out of all the women at that party, he decided he would stand out on that cold-ass fire escape and talk to you. That has to count for something. And he calls you so often, he’s practically a stalker.”
Dylan laughed in spite of herself.
“Settle down, will you? Just let it happen. He likes you.”
Dylan shrugged. “I haven’t heard from him today.”
“Aww. Are you going through Mark withdrawal?” Ava came over to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. “I’d imagine he’s a little busy today,” she said, “wouldn’t you?”
But Mark still hadn’t called two days later, and Dylan had just begun trying to resign herself to not hearing from him again when she heard the welcome sound of his ringtone. It was muffled because her phone was in her pocketbook as she was sitting in a staff meeting. She considered for a fraction of a second not answering but couldn’t do it and finally grabbed it, dashing out of the conference room, followed by the disapproving stare of the Legal Assistant Coordinator.
“Hello?” she said, walking quickly toward the privacy of her office.
He sounded so casual, it almost made her angry at him, but then she remembered that he had warned her that he was going to be busy. She had no reason to be annoyed, but for some reason she hadn’t anticipated just how agitated it would make her to not hear from him and honestly, a part of her hadn’t quite believed he would just stop calling cold-turkey; not after weeks of constant phone calls.
“How are you?” she asked, shutting the door to her office.
“I’m good,” he said, sounding rushed. “I know it’s not cool to ask you to go out with me at the last minute,” he said. “But I swear I didn’t have a spare minute to myself this entire week.”
Dylan admitted to herself grudgingly that it was probably true. He was all over TV, sitting through countless interviews as sports reporters rehashed his road to signing with the Mets. She’d been trying not to pay attention to the details, but only because it made her stomach twist with longing when she saw him on television.
“There’s this thing I have to go to tonight. I want you to come with me. If you’re free,” he said.
“It’s the night before the LSATs, Mark,” she reminded him. “Can we have a rain check?”
She couldn’t believe she was turning him down, but it was true—she was going to need to be well-rested for the marathon exam on Saturday.
“What if I promise to get you home before midnight?”
“Even midnight is kind of late.”
Dylan sighed. She did want to see him. And not talking to him had disrupted her concentration somewhat. Seeing him would set her right again, she rationalized. It would put her in a positive headspace for the exam on Saturday.
“Okay, but for sure, you have to get me home by eleven. No later.”
“Text me your address. I’ll pick you up at seven. Wear something really nice.”
“Like cocktail party nice?”
“Fancy dinner, nice. Look, I have to go, okay? Don’t forget to text me your address.”
When he hung up Dylan was left looking at the phone wondering whether she’d imagined the entire conversation.
Promptly at seven that evening, Mark was standing at her apartment door, dressed up in a pale gray suit and blue tie, and even better looking than she’d remembered. Dylan was glad she’d chosen her best little black dress and tamed her wild hair into a chignon. Mark’s only guidance that it would be “someplace really nice” didn’t give her too much to work with, so she decided that the classic look was probably the best option. She’d even bothered to dig out her jeweled clutch and put on make-up.
“You look beautiful,” he said, looking her over.
“Thank you. D’you want to come in for a little bit?”
The apartment was a mess, so she was relieved when he said he would rather do that some other evening if the invitation was still open.
“There’s kind of a time crunch for this thing,” he explained. “Don’t want to be late. And I only have you till eleven, so we should probably go.”
When she’d locked her apartment door, she turned to find that he was holding out a hand to her. She hesitated for only a moment before she took it. This was only the third time they’d laid eyes on each other, and yet it felt so natural for him to extend his hand, and even more natural for her to take it.
Downstairs a car was waiting and they got in. During the drive, Dylan didn’t think to ask where they were going and it was only when they pulled up in front of the Waldorf Astoria and she saw the cameras, banners and Mets colors that she realized where they were. The “thing” Mark mentioned was his signing ceremony and dinner.
She turned in her seat to look at him with raised eyebrows as the car came to a stop.
“Are you kidding?” she laughed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to over-think it and say no,” he admitted.
“Of course I would have said no,” Dylan said. “Isn’t this something you should be doing with your family?”
“Oh, they’ll be here too,” he nodded. “My brothers, my sister, my Mom and Dad, my uncles and cousins. Everyone should be inside by now.”
“Mark,” Dylan leaned back in the seat. “That’s a lot of pressure for a first date.”
“I feel like this is our second date,” he said. “Since that party I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”
Dylan looked at him and couldn’t come up with a single coherent thing to say.
The driver got out of the car and was walking around to open their door.
Outside, flashbulbs were already popping, the photographers going wild in anticipation of his emergence from the car. She had been thinking about him—the way they so seemed to fit together so effortlessly. She’d been hoping she wasn’t imagining it, this pull she felt to him, this weird connection. She was hesitant to label it; all she knew was that something felt familiar when they were together, unforced.
The way he’d smelled that night at the party, the way he looked at her, and the way he’d once slid his hand toward hers on the railing, the tips of his fingers just barely brushing hers, she’d thought accidentally at the time, but now was no longer certain hadn’t been on purpose. She remembered how at the time she had chalked it all up to one of those almost unbelievable moments that you look back on and wonder ‘what if’. She’d imagined telling people later about the time she’d shared a moment with that famous new ballplayer. But it had turned into so much more than that, and now here she was.
“Have you been thinking about me?” Mark asked, lowering his voice.
“Good,” he said.
Then he leaned in to kiss her, and it was perfect.