I took another tension filled drag from my cigarette, filling my lungs with it's comforting warmth, staring in disbelief at the message on the glowing screen.
"RE: INVISIBLE MAN", it read.
The email header alone sent my heart pounding with anticipation... and anxiety. It had been so long that I'd nearly forgotten the message I'd sent, a message written in a moment of vulnerability... mixed with a couple of scotches. I had been feeling the frustration of loneliness and wrote on open and honest invitation on one of the countless chat room boards, fully expecting it to collect dust among the other countless messages posted by other countless lonely men; a reality I'd become all too resigned with.
But there it was.
With nervous anticipation, I slowly hovered the cursor over the words before gently pressing, sending my computer off to retrieve the email. I felt the need to take a deep breath, amazed at my own reactions and giddy nervousness, as I sat watching the cursor spin as it worked to display the message.
As the screen snapped to blank, then slowly began to recreate itself with it's new message, I closed my eyes and released a soft sigh before beginning to read the reply.
I have been thinking of your message for some time, reading and re-reading your words, filled with excitement of it's suggestion, but until now, overcome with my fears and trepidation's.
But today, right now, I'm willing to take a chance. Willing to take a chance that you are the man of your words, and willing to respect my wishes. Like the moonlight, be gone by morning. And like a shadow in the night, silent and untouching.
Friday night, Giovanni's restaurant... Ask the bartender for a yellow rose along with your drink, you'll understand... a yellow rose
I sat back in my chair, struggling to catch my breath. Was it possible? Can this be real? These things don't happen to me. They never happen to me.
And yet, there it was. A response to fantasy I'd held onto for more than twenty years. To be a spectre, a shadow in the midst of a woman alone, an apparition, free to experience a woman enjoying her own body, ...an invisible man.
And as I sat, overwhelmed by exhilaration, it suddenly dawned on me... today was Thursday!
How long had this message been waiting for me? It had been a long and exhausting week, returning home late and lacking the energy to do much of anything, I hadn't checked my messages in nearly a week.
The message was three days old, and it would be almost too late to expect that she, this mysterious answer to my secreted dreams, would receive my reply. God, had I blown my chance?
"John...?" The sound of my name snapping me out of yet another daydream.
"Um, yeah?" I replied, recognizing the voice of Sally, the office secretary, calling out my name.
"Is everything okay?" She asked politely.
"Yes?" I answered, uncertain of what she was asking, but able to see the puzzled look on her face.
"Your phone...?" She said, "... it's Jenkins...?"
"Right... I'm sorry Sally, I've got it..." I fumbled out.
Jesus! I couldn't seem to hold a single thought all day, save one. Sally gave me an odd look before stepping out of my office doorway and back to her desk.
"Bob, I'm sorry..." I apologized.
"No... I can't... something's come up... Yeah... All right, I'll talk to you on Monday... All right... You too... Hey, Bob, you've been to that Italian place downtown... Yeah, Giovanni's... real nice, huh?... jacket and tie?... All right, thanks... Yeah... See ya Monday..."
I felt a relief in having asked, imagining the embarrassment of showing up at the restaurant under dressed. Being able to dress casually to the office had both it's advantages and disadvantages, one of which was always wondering what kind of impression to make with which client, but I suppose that's it's only human nature.
Attempting to finish the work on my desk proved pointless, my thoughts still hopelessly wandering away, until I finally decided to call it quits. Grabbing my coat, I locked my office door, informing Sally that I was going home for the weekend, and headed out on the long drive home. Too nervous to sit still, I spent the remainder of the afternoon working on the simple chores of life; cleaning, laundry, trying to pass the time away as best as I could, before finally deciding it was time to get ready for the evening.
After a quick shower, and carefully selecting a suit to wear, I found myself suprised at the nervousness I felt. Standing in front of the mirror, inspecting the details of my appearance; shirt and slacks neatly pressed, the tie neatly tied and straight, a chance to wear my only real piece of jewelry - a dress watch given to me as a gift from my father before he passed on, ...shoes look okay, shave looks clean, mustache neatly trimmed, could use a haircut soon but it looks fine...
"Enough... you look fine... besides, everyone looks good in black, right?"
The trip into downtown was actually pleasant, the Friday rush hour traffic having died down, the throngs of workers having fled the city for home in the suburbs, leaving the few late nighters and people seeking entertainment behind. I began to feel a rush of nervous energy as I made my way through the downtown lights, finally finding the restaurant amid the tall towers of the downtown business district.
The place was abuzz with the after hours business crowd, eagerly ushering themselves in the door from the sidewalk entrance as I pulled into the valet station, slipping the young valet a twenty to have the car close and quickly.
"Yes Sir!" He snapped with a smile as he hopped into the car and sped around the corner.
Stepping through the dark doorway, I was suprised to find the size of the restaurant more than I'd expected, deceptively small from the street, but opening once inside into a large room with an impressive horseshoe bar adjoining the dinning room. Bathed in warm light, the dark wood paneled walls and rich leather gave the place an air of sophistication, energizing the excited hum of people at the bar. A mix of both young and old, the bar was alive with the excited voices of downtown office workers eager to blow off a little steam and start off the weekend with a bang.
I worked my way along the crowd and was fortunate enough to find a seat at the far corner of the bar, sitting myself to view the room, and ordered a drink.
"Dewers on the rocks, please." I asked, thinking to myself of the message that'd been floating in my head all day.
A yellow rose... not just yet.
The cool, familiar taste turned to warmth as I sipped slowly at my drink, taking my time as I people watched, enjoying the energy of the people around me and thinking of the strangeness and excitement I felt myself.
Who could it be? Was I too early, not seeing obvious? Was I too late, missing my chance?
It was an amusing game, this yellow rose was playing, and I almost chuckled out loud at the thought of it. And as I finished my drink, feeling that the slightest of edge was beginning to melt away, I felt the time was right.
The bartender arrived to give an asking nod as he took my drink.
"Please... " I replied,
" ...and I'd also like a yellow rose."
To my suprise, he merely nodded and walked down the bar, returning in a few moments to set my drink in front of me, then dutifully set down a small envelope next to it on the bar.
"Is there anything else, sir?" He asked courteously.
"No, thank you." I replied, sliding a bill across the bar to him in appreciation of his discretion.
Had he done this before? His reaction seemed almost routine, but somehow I felt confident that in this setting perhaps it was. Jet setters and high rollers, that was his crowd and he worked them like a professional.
picked up the small manilla envelope, not much larger than a business card, and held it in my hand. Judging by it's weight and bulk, I could immediately tell that there was more inside than just a note, and my curiosity was piqued, as if holding a unexpected gift.
Taking a small sip of my scotch, I gently lifted the envelope flap and poured the contents out into my other hand. It was a pin, a tie pin, shaped in silver and gold... a small yellow rose.
And I suddenly began to understand, it was to identify me.
Was I being watched? Was she already here? I could feel my heart begin to beat just a little bit harder at the thought as I rolled the small pin between my fingers.
"How brilliant.", I thought to myself, and smiled.
This was one smart woman, giving herself an opportunity to check me out, to give herself the option to continue or to simply disappear unseen, unknown, without embarrassment or complications.I was beginning to enjoy this game, this woman, even more.
Leaving my drink at the bar, I slowly made my way to the men's room, the proper destination for a gentleman to adjust his attire, as well as an excuse to properly expose myself to the disguised eyes in the room, her eyes.
After taking advantage of the facilities, and feeling a sense of relief as I felt the comfort of tension flush from my body, I stood in front of the mirror and secured the small pin to my tie. It's soft gold and silver colors contrasted well against the darkness of the black tie, and looking up at my reflection, I felt good about myself. It wasn't often that I had the occasion to dress to the nines, and I hesitantly admitted to myself that it suited me well.
Over the years, I'd managed to avoid the curse of the desk job, and although I was admittedly not as athletic as I once was, I was still slim for my age. After having tried to disguise what I felt was a boyish looking face for so many years, I began to feel that the years were a help, putting a little hardness to my looks that I found comforting. But as I smiled to myself at the vanity of my thoughts, I suppose I realized it was only a subconscious and silent pep talk, and perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing. We all needed it at some time or another, to rationalize away some truths and overlook the flaws to make ourselves feel better, and I smiled again.
"Lookin' good, sir. Lookin' good." The porter said, catching me off guard and feeling a bit embarrassed as he handed me a towel and offered a dash of cologne.
"Thank you." I said with a laugh, and a handshake as I handed him a tip. "I needed that."
Opening the door to the noise of the crowded dining room, I tried to fight the self conscious thoughts of feeling as if on stage as I made my way back to the bar.
Who could it be? Was she watching? It was a strange new feeling for me, to feel the weight of the eyes of strangers, and I tried to disguise my nervousness as best as I could.
It felt almost a relief to take my seat, sipping again at the comfort of my scotch, slowly and discreetly looking about the room. I shook my head in disbelief at my own emotions, trying to squelch my self doubts and just let it happen. What was it that I was getting so worked up over?
The crowd at the bar rolled in and out like the tide, each new group of animated workers replacing the next, and before long I was beginning to feel a bit out of place, the loner at the end of the bar. Not to mention that the effects of the scotch were beginning to take effect, and I quickly realized that this was a dangerous situation; anxious, alone at the bar, and killing time by sipping on scotch, a recipe for getting hammered before you knew what hit you. And as I finished the last sip of my scotch, having sat at the bar for nearly two hours, I decided that it was time to go.
Maybe it was best, meant to be, that whatever was going to happen didn't. Maybe it was her way of politely letting the both of us off the hook, letting me down easy. If I were leaving too soon, it would have to be as I felt if I stayed too much longer I would either end up too drunk to leave, or worse, make a fool of myself if she did arrive.
"Shit." I thought silently to myself. I gave the nod to the bartender, wanting to settle up my tab, and finishing with another customer, he walked down to the end of the bar.
"Sir?" He asked politely.
"Thank you" I said, sliding my money across the bar to him.
"Sir, your tab has been taken care of." He replied with smile. In keeping with his professional manner, returned my baffled look with a quiet nod and quick glance toward the door, then simply said, "Have a good night, Sir."
"Uh... right. Thank you." I replied, still taken aback. "Thank you very much.", and left him a handsome tip for his service.
I made my way down the crowded bar, not wanting to appear anxious, yet wanting to find the door, ...to find her.
Standing outside were several people, most waiting for their cars as the valet's hustled back and forth, with yet another group making their way inside. I tried to look, tried to see if she was there, realizing I had no idea who I was looking for. But I hadn't a clue. Several cars pulled up, the crowd of people dispersing and saying their good byes, and very quickly I was standing alone with the valet captain.
"Can I get your car for you, Sir?" He asked politely.
"Yes, I'm sorry. Here you are." I relied, handing him the ticket.
"Yes Sir." He replied, the young valet I'd tipped volunteering to retrieve my car with a recognizing smile. But as he grabbed the keys from the captain, I heard him say something before dashing off.
"Um, excuse me, Sir?" The captain called to me, "I believe I have something for you."
Reaching under the counter of his station, he pulled out an envelope and handed it to me.
"Here you are, Sir."
"Thank you." I replied, suprised once again.
This was possibly the most interesting night of my life, a true mystery, and I was feeling the excitement and tension build as I stared at the envelope.
The valet pulled to the curb with my car, and as I stepped around to enter, he refused my tip, saying that the first was more than enough.
Pulling away from the curb, I headed down the street for almost two blocks before finding the convenience of a gas station to pull into, and nervously pulled the envelope from my jacket pocket. I hadn't noticed before, but in the confines of the car, I could detect the scent of perfume on the paper, it's aroma tickling my senses and curiosity.
Carefully lifting the unsealed flap, inside was a small note, folded neatly and carefully.
"Remember... like the moonlight and it's shadow...", was all that it said.
Had I missed something? The message was unmistakably hers, but... there had to be more. Searching the envelope again proved fruitless, and I began to despair, having come this far only to stumble from my own stupidity.
A challenge of wits and I was failing the test.
And then it dawned on me, the envelope... flipping it over, sure enough there was a small logo printed on the back flap,
Another mystery? Could I be reaching, just stabbing in the dark?
I had to try, so grabbing some change from the console, I turned off the car and walked to the phone booth.
"Yes, Operator, do you have a listing for a "Windmill"? I asked.
"One moment, please..." She replied, "I'm sorry Sir, I don't have any names listed under "Windmill".
"I see." I replied, discouragingly.
"I do have a listing for a "Windmill Apartments", the Operator chimed in.
"Yes, that might be it." I answered, my spirits once again lifted.
"Would you like the office number or the sales?" She asked.
"Actually, could I please have just the address?" I asked.
"Certainly... 4598 North Harbour Blvd. Will that be all Sir?" She asked politely.
"4598... No, I mean yes. That will be fine. Thank you very much." I said with a smile.
Letting out a sigh as I hung up the phone.
"This is crazy..." I thought to myself, "... crazy!"
I couldn't believe how excited I felt, like a sleuth on the case. Or was I being cast the dupe in some sort of strange mystery. Or worse... But for that brief moment, I didn't care. I didn't care what might happen, I hadn't felt this excited and energized for a long time and I was determined to follow this though to the end, wherever it lead.
"And beside..." I convinced myself, " ... there's no reason to start getting paranoid. This was MY idea, and so far it seems that this Yellow Rose is willing. She's obviously put a lot of thought into this, so she must be as cautious as I am."
And the more I thought of how much she'd staged this so far, how thorough she'd been, it only heightened my desire to at least gather a glimpse of this mysterious and clever woman.
Harbour Blvd... that was down by the river, where the city was spending scads of tax money renovating the old waterfront into a new SoHo of sorts; riverfront shops, restaurants, and overpriced coffee houses, in an effort to lure 'Boomer' money back into the city limits. The drive down to the river went quickly, most stores and businesses long since closed, leaving the streets empty, and my excitement began to build again as I made my way up Harbour Blvd.
It was an interesting mix, old and abused buildings and businesses slowing giving way to new and modern shops and storefronts as I made my way up through the streets, past the newly hip and bustling Riverfront Centre, and eventually into the residential end of the boulevard with all of it's waterfront condos and apartment buildings. I slowed heading into the 40 Block and eyed carefully the addresses before spotting the entrance for the Windmill Apartments.
It wasn't one of the newer high rises, but looked to be an attractive place just the same; well kept, and judging by the the courtyard it surrounded, probably an upscale building in it's day. Pulling into the lot, and slowly finding a visitors spot, I began to realize once again that I was approaching another crisis.
Had this been a wild goose chase? I had no clues left.
That's all I would need, just one more clue.
Locking the car doors in an effort maintain the routine, to slow down my thoughts and clear my mind so as not to miss the obvious, I walked slowly to the apartment entrance. I couldn't tell you what it was that made me look, or how it was that the light caught my eye, but a glance over to the apartment mailboxes, lined and stacked along the lobby wall, and the slightest glimmer of light reflecting from a box near the end froze my attention.
A few tentative steps closer, and I began to feel another flush of excitement as I recognized the object of my attention; a small medallion hanging from an un-named mailbox, it's chain emerging from the opened drop slot.
It was a rose, a yellow rose.
My feelings of triumph and excitement sent my heart racing, and my adrenaline pumping as I gently lifted the medallion from it's precarious perch to reveal a key attached to it's end.
319... the number stamped on it's end, Apartment 319.
I stepped out into the courtyard, admiring it's simple yet gardenesque beauty. There were a few small benches tucked amid the lush hedges and flowers, a small path winding it's way through, looking more like an aviary as its two trees reached up into the open sky above, the building horseshoe shaped around the tranquil setting.
Taking the elevator to the third floor, I realized as I stepped from it's opening doors that I'd forgotten to bring along any sort of gift, a thank you of sorts, and cursed myself. It might not have mattered much, but I felt like a rube just the same. ...315 ...317 ...apartment 319.
I stood in front of the apartment door and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, attempting to temper my enthusiasm and prepare myself for what was to come.
So many unanswered questions, I didn't even know what this woman looked like. Christ, I didn't even know if it was a woman! What the hell was I getting myself into?
Of course it was, it had to be. Why the hell was I feeling so paranoid? She'd given me every opportunity to walk away, to change my mind without complication, and yet I was feeling intimidated by the mysteriousness of it all; the secretive clues, keeping herself hidden from me... Yet, I was asking for the same; to play the part of the invisible man, to lurk the shadows and see the unseen, and expect total anonymity in return.
I suppose it was fitting that I felt the way I did, and swallowing away my doubts, I carefully pressed the key into the lock, giving it a gentle twist, and slowly opened the door... If I'd had doubts standing in front of the apartment, questioning the wisdom of what I was doing, where I was, what I was getting myself into, questioning my very sanity as I slowly entered into the apartment door, they were only to be magnified tenfold as I stepped through the darkened doorway, into a silent and empty room.
The only light shining coming from a small night light on the kitchen wall, casting it's warm and soft light across the counter and gently into the room, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. It was an eerie feeling, standing in the darkness, my heart racing with both fear and excitement, as my eyes slowly began to reveal my surroundings. I was hesitant to flip the light switch at the doors edge, unfamiliar with the room, but also out of cautious doubt.
Closing the door carefully behind me, thinking twice before deciding to leave it unlocked, I slowly walked into the one place in the apartment I could see; following the soft light into the kitchen. I tried to find something, anything, that would put to rest my subconscious fear that somehow I was in the wrong place, the wrong apartment, another clue to alleive the squelched fear that I was only moments away from stepping into a charge of breaking and entering... or worse...
And as I stood silently in the darkness of the kitchen, my confidence loosing the debate which raged on in my mind, I heard someone approaching the apartment door. I stood nervously still, fighting the instinct of flight as I listened to the jingling of keys, followed by the sounds of the lock as it twisted open and the door opening with a confident push. A moment of terror such as I've never known in my heretofore mundane and ordinary life, grabbed hold of me, squeezing my chest tightly and held me in a paralyzing grasp as I stood motionless, watching the figure step through the door and walk toward the small dinette table just inside the room.
It was a moment of truth that I found myself completely unprepared for, as I watched in the darkness the unmistakable silhouette of a feminine physique, gently unload her belongings onto the table and turn back toward the door, snapping the light switch , it's sound sending a jolt through me with the same power that surged to the light overhanging the table.
This was it, there would be no turning back now. What ever might happen, there would be no mistaking the sight of a very nervous man standing in her kitchen, frozen with what I could only image was a look of fascination and terror.
But to my astonishment, and stupefied relief, it was neither. Balancing herself against the door, she gently reached down to remove the delicate high heeled shoes she wore, a sense of relief washing over her face as she stretched her toes in the comfort of the carpeting before turning to face the kitchen, only to right through me; her expression never skipping a beat.
I stood in total fascination, my heart pounding feverishly, as she walked into the kitchen, stepping past without a whisper of recognition to my existence, and set her shoes carefully on the counter next to me.
In one brief instance, with one defining movement, one calm and confident gesture, she had done it...