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The Gentleman

As we head into Father's Day some chatter about me has suddenly stirred. On Tuesday we had Women's eNews that featured a blurb on me and now my blogging hermana, Carol Cain Alvarez, a.k.a. NYCityMama has done a feature article about my family and I on her blog today. Make sure you check it out.

So for now, enough about fathers. It is POURING and dark in New York City. I've gotten so accustomed to blogging I sometimes forget that I write fiction. If you've visited here before you know I have a thing for the rain. It's relaxing, it provides a great opportunity to read and it can be the backdrop for romance.

With that said, I'd like to share a micro-fiction (very, very short) story that I wrote for Spindle Magazine back in February of last year. I think it's appropriate for a day like today.

So here it is:

The Gentleman
by Eric Payne
Copyright 2008, Spindle Magazine - A New York State of Mind

The orange glow of a smoldering cigarette cast light on the smooth brown cheeks of the woman who stood, facing me.

"Smoking's bad for you," I said quietly outside her front door into the darkness that separated us.

"For all I know..." the woman said out of one side of her mouth while holding the cigarette in place with the other, "...you are too."

A few hours earlier we had been complete strangers sitting across from each other on the F Train from the City to Queens. I couldn't help but stare. She was gorgeous and I was nearly drunk after a night out with friends. Thirty years old and unconcerned with failure, it was easy to introduce myself. She told me her name was Jean, pronounced it the way the French do. From there I managed to talk her off the train at my stop to join me for a cup of coffee at a diner near my apartment. It got late quickly and she accepted my offer to drive her home.

"I only smoke outside every once in a while, but you're right, you know," Jean admitted with a sigh. "I actually quit a month ago...been holding onto this last pack...a crutch, I guess." She took two deep drags before letting the white stick fall from her fingers. We both watched the cloud of smoke rise and fade beneath the streetlights. She shrugged her shoulders and uttered a whimsical, "Oh well," then popped an Altoid.

"Maybe I make you nervous," I said smiling.

Jean gave me a sly smile as she bent down to collect her half-smoked cigarette. "Maybe," she admitted coyly.

She stood to open her door -- a heavy piece of oak attached to a well-manicured, brown brick Tudor on a treeless street in Laurelton. A bark sounding more like a question than a statement or a warning greeted us.

I peered over her shoulder.

"My boyfriend," Jean explained, smiling. "He doesn't like it when I'm out late."

"Big or small?"

"Medium...he's a mutt." Jean paused to glance up and down her block. "Well, what a pleasant surprise for a Thursday! I'm glad I didn't ignore you on the train...but it's getting late."

Before I could say anything, she grabbed the lapels of my jacket and pulled me close. Her funky, Flapper's bob tilted back as she gazed up at me. The full moon overhead floated as a reflection in her large brown eyes.

Jean stopped, seemingly suddenly aware of the mixed signal she was sending. She hastily let me go, leaving behind her prints in the black velvet of my jacket.

"Thanks for everything," she said in a restrained tone. "The conversation, the coffee, the ride home. And thanks for walking me to the door...you're truly a gentleman."

"Don't be a stranger," I said. "You have my number. Maybe we can get together for more coffee...or something."

"Or something. Goodnight, Elijah."

"Goodnight, Jean."

The door closed behind her. I stayed on the porch long enough to hear the lock click.

"Don't be a stranger," I muttered sarcastically to myself. Definitely not one of the smoothest things I've ever said to a woman. I took a deep breath, catching an unexpected soft whiff of her perfume on my jacket.

I descended the four gray stone steps of her porch headed for my car, cold and night nipping at me every step of the way. I appreciated Jean's self-restraint. I, myself, had given up one-night stands and all other kinds of meaningless sex at the beginning of the year.

But it was late and cold, and I was lonely. I would've taken her if she had taken me.

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