She slid on her coat, Michael helping her with the sleeve that seemed to have developed a mind of its own.
“Well, a very crowded dining room,” she said as she picked up her purse. She stopped walking toward the door. “Well, not that crowded. They don’t have room.”
Michael grabbed her hand and kissed her cheek. “It will be fine. Shall we go? Got your keys?”
He opened the door for her, waited while she slid the deadbolt and followed her down the four flights of stairs to the street.
The streets around Tompkins Square Park were bustling with people coming home from work and going out to dinner. A basketball game was in heated progress and dogs romped in the dog park. Jane breathed in the sweet blend of budding trees, packed humanity and car exhaust. Whatever it was to the rest of the world, New York’s Alphabet City was home to her.
She waved at the few people she knew on the street, ignoring their curious glances at Michael. They could wonder.
“Seems like a very busy place,” Michael said while they waited for the light.
“Reminds me of some of the arty districts in London. Have you lived here all your life?”
She shook her head. The light changed and she strode across the avenue, Michael keeping up with her long stride.
“The restaurant’s right here,” she said and trotted down the flight of stairs leading to the basement eatery.
“Oh, Jane!” A buxom woman grabbed her into a massive hug. “With a young man as well!” Michael received the same greeting. Jane noticed a hint of red creep into his cheeks.
“Here, here.” The woman led them to the back of the restaurant. “Your favorite table is open. Such luck!” She tossed plastic covered menus on the laminate table top. “You know my best foods. You make sure he eats right!” She pointed an arthritic finger at Michael before storming back to the front of the store.
Jane looked at Michael’s expression and laughed. “Mrs. Shevchenko gets a little exuberant.”
“I’ll say.” Michael pointed at the menu. “I’ll trust you to make sure I eat right.”
An hour later they were well into their dinner of borscht, cabbage rolls and pampushki. Michael once again entertaining her with his life at Eton and Oxford.
“Are you an only child?” Jane asked.
“One sister. Ten years younger. Her name is Alice.” Michael buttered a roll and handed it to Jane. “Have another…what do you call it?”
“Pampushki. What does your sister do?”
“Artist. Say, did I tell you about the time I was at Oxford.” Michael was off again.
They lingered over dark coffee and sweet cookies.
“How long will you be here?” Jane asked.
“Another month or so. I’m soaking up the American atmosphere. Since it’s Britain’s strongest ally, I need to really understand the culture. Someday I want to be the American Ambassador.”
“Really? I don’t know any ambassadors.” Only farmers.
“Well, then you should meet some.” He drummed his fingers on the table and then snapped his fingers.
“I’ve got it! There’s a reception at the embassy on Friday. I must go–remind people who I am–why don’t you come with me?”
Jane stared at her coffee. “How many people will be there?”
“A few hundred or so. It’s in some great monstrosity of a mansion by the United Nations. Please say you’ll come. You’re such fun.”
Right. The drab writer masquerading as the glamorous society woman. “I don’t think so.”
“Why not? It will give you lots of fodder for your book. Didn’t you say you were stuck again?”
“Look, Michael. It’s a very kind offer, but it’s not something I do. I don’t have the clothes to wear, I wouldn’t know how to behave. I’d be uncomfortable. I like my life the way it is. Besides I really have to get this book to the publisher so I can get an advance.”
“To cover your rent.”
Her breath grew short. It was time to end the night. He was getting to know too much about her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He covered her hand with hers. “I shouldn’t have said that. It’s none of my business. Sure you won’t come to the party? You’d be fine.”
She shook her head.
“Tell me about your problem in the book. What’s your heroine supposed to do next?”
“Kiss the hero.”
He smiled. “I’m sure we can give you some ideas for that scene.” He tossed some money on the bill. “Shall we go?”