Uptown Girl, Downtown Boy


august_icon.gif kay4_icon.gif

Scene Title Uptown Girl, Downtown Boy
Synopsis August and Kay decide to follow a new lead neither is sure they're prepared to handle.
Date June 12, 2021

Merlot Joe's

Dinner followed by a walk on the beach have led to sitting at Merlot Joe’s for a couple of glasses of wine and more conversation. Brighton Beach has been a repeat offender for what might be called dates between a rather unlikely pair.

August hasn’t yet asked to meet Kay within the borders of Yamagato Park; she might have questioned whether he’s registered or not, though keen eyes likely spotted the marker on his ID when he opened his wallet at some point in the last few weeks. And while she obviously can go to Staten Island, it’s not the safest place, nor the most romantic – at least not in his neck of the woods. Rossignol may be nice, but he’s yet to wear anything that would be appropriate for a club.

Not that he’s dressed poorly; he has a good sense of style and the sort of broad-shouldered, narrow-waist physique that makes clothing look nicer than it may be. Still, he favors casual clothing and given the repetition of a shirt or two, he probably doesn’t have that many options.

As their server pours them their wine, an oaky Syrah, he chuckles. One hand rests lightly on hers as he replies, “The word that got me out was fuchsia. It was only years later that, still mad, I went to look up the etymology of the word because it offended me so much that it defies logic. It’s named after a botanist named Fuchs. I’m still mad.”

Kay laughs easily, her eyes creasing at the corners, smile wide. The sound is bright.

She hasn’t been like this in ages. Sometimes with Asi and Marlowe, but not with this quality. “Really?” This time her eyes close entirely when she laughs anew, bowing inward just a little until she breathes in again. It’s a short burst, but it came naturally. She isn’t forcing herself to have an expected reaction. “I had no idea.” She shakes her head.

Looks down to his hand over hers.

This started so randomly. Just being curious about a man engaging in a somewhat unusual pastime in a bar. He was helping her look for what she lost. Who she lost. And while it’s been a bust, they keep meeting. At first, it was because she thought it was just because she wanted to follow up on any leads he may have been able to chase down.

It isn’t that anymore.

Rides on his bike have been thrilling. It’s been nice to share dinners with someone who isn’t connected to her job, or knows what happened to her months ago. It’s been a long time since she’s felt like she can simply be.

Looking up again, her smile isn’t quite as easy as it was, but that doesn’t make it less genuine. “Ya ever think about moving back across the river?” she asks, a casual enough question that she’s just never touched for no reason at all.

His brows lift at the question, not expecting it. He looks out at the water, not that it affords him a view of Staten or the river, but there is water out there.

“I’m not sure. I can help people over there that I can’t help here, you know?” he says quietly, almost apologetically. “Not everyone’s got an HMO or even a bank account, and over there, I may not be doing things legally, but no one’s trying to stop me, either.”

Kay tips her head. She grants him that.

He offers her a smile. “Maybe once the government sets up shop there and tries to regulate things, which… will probably happen sooner rather than later. They’re probably content to let d’Sarthe clean it up and do the dirty work for them, then plan to swoop in and make it legit.”

After a sip of wine, August glances around the wine bar, and chuckles. “I’ve probably spent more time on this side in these past few weeks than I have in the last year, to be honest.”

His companion smiles at that, a warmth in her eyes. “That so?” she asks with a hint of amusement. They’re both in on this joke. “I’ve probably spent more time out of my office in these past few weeks than I have in the last… five years?”

Again, Kay glances down at their hands. “It’s been nice,” she admits softly.

His laugh is low, a little self conscious, and he looks down at their hands when she does. “I know you probably would want someone who’s a bit more… public facing, or at least public faceable,” he says, glancing up at her face, with brows lifting. “For optics and that sort of thing.”

August sets down the wine glass, studying the deep red hue of the remaining wine in the glass. “So I get if this is just, you know. Just this. I don’t expect anything else, if you’re worried about that. About hurting my feelings or anything like that.”

He looks a little sheepish, but smiles as he seeks her eyes again. “Uptown girl, downtown boy, that sort of thing. Who sang that song?” He doesn’t know. “I like you and I’d see you happily every day you want to see me, but I know I’m not exactly Yamagato gala material. I don’t even have a tie, let alone a tux.”

Kay’s brows slope when August admits he doesn’t know Billy Joel sang Uptown Girl. Even more when she thinks about what he’s saying, about public presentability. Maybe she has a type there. “I don’t honestly… care,” she says softly, turning her hand so she can properly hold his. “I’m the queen of spin.”

She hasn’t had someone tell her they want to be seen with her in more than a decade. It feels a lot like when her late husband asked if she’d like to officially call themselves boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s uplifting, brings a flutter of excitement to her chest.

“I can buy you ties and tuxes,” she assures him. “And you never have to go to a gala if you don’t want to.” She laughs softly, lifting her wine to her lips, to give her an excuse to take the space to think. When she sets it down again, she can’t help but ask, “You really wanna keep seeing someone like me? Suits and Yamagato galas and press conferences?” Anxiety gnaws at her guts, starting to drag her down again. “And… PTA meetings?”

It had to come up sometime.

One corner of his lip tips upward in a smile when she calls herself the queen of spin, and he lifts his glass as if in a toast. He’s about to answer the question when she drops that tiny bombshell. She’s not a teacher or an association, so that only leaves parent.

Brows lift, and he takes his own sip of wine.

“I mean, what I’m saying is I don’t feel comfortable in those things – press conferences or galas. But I do feel comfortable around you.” Despite that assertion, his cheeks grow a little flushed and he looks down, long lashes dipping before he looks up again, then around the bar. “I don’t…”

Merlot Joe’s is not exactly a crush of people, but there are enough to make him a little anxious. “I don’t like crowds. I don’t trust society to do the right thing. At least on Staten, I know what I’m getting, you know? I don’t have to wonder if I can trust someone because I know I can’t. Here it’s less clear, and there’s more people not to trust, and it feels like…”

He looks down at his wine, brows drawing together. “A lot, sometimes. And you deserve better than that, I think, but as long as you want to see me, I’m not going to say no.”

Gray eyes lift to find her and August smiles. “I should have figured that last bit out. That doesn’t bother me, Kay. And I bet you’re an amazing mother. He? She? They? Are lucky to have you.”

He has no idea how much Kay empathizes with him and his lack of trust in others. However, she doesn’t feel it’s beneficial to either of them to tell him that. That she essentially lives in the den of vipers because it’s just what she’s grown used to, if not comfortable with. She settles for a sympathetic smile anyway, even though her spirit is rapidly losing altitude.

She feels stupid to have gotten hope up for even a moment that he might want something more than what this is, but knows it makes perfect sense at the same time. She just got caught up in it all. Rather than dwell on it, she renews her smile and decides to lean into talking about her child for a moment. “She. She’s a New Yorker through and through, but like me, she’s got two first names like a good southern girl — Coleen Marcella, but she goes by ‘Ella these days.”

Tipping her head, Kay further explains her situation. “As always, you’re very kind. She’s, ah, actually eighteen, but with the war and everything, she really needs another year of school, so she’s still with me.”

And now, she’s just tipped her hand a bit more as to her age. Another subject she hasn’t brought up, but only left to be read between the lines in the references she makes that go over his head at times. But then, maybe he’s spotted her ID when she pulls out her wallet to pay for their dinners. If learning she has a kid doesn’t bother him, it’s likely whatever he suspected her age to be hasn’t bothered him either.

“And I’m not askin’ you to present yourself for any of that… crap that I do. That’s my work, not my life.” Which is spin right there. Kay’s work often is her life. These little meet-ups of theirs are part of her attempt to make that less true. “But… if it’s never more than this, then…”

Kay smiles and leans in a little bit. “Well, I ain’t said when.

His brows rise as she gives the age, but he doesn’t pull away; his hand curls around hers as he responds, “What? No. Do you have a painting locked away that does your aging for you, or you got one of those fancy abilities that makes you age at the speed of molasses in winter?”

He definitely had someone southern in his life growing up, for a time, anyway.

The work-life divide has him sobering, and he nods, finding her eyes. “I don’t know what ‘this’ is, exactly, or where the boundaries are, Kay. I think you are amazing and deserve someone who can do that crap beside you, and I wish I were that guy. Right now? It’s a struggle for me to be in a low-key wine bar, but it’s a struggle I find worth it, if that makes sense?”

One hand reaches up to weave a lock of her hair behind her ear. August’s gaze shifts away for a moment, outside at the waterfront, then back to her. “I find you beautiful and interesting, Kay Damaris, and I enjoy spending time with you. I’d enjoy spending more time with you, but I know a back-alley doctor in Staten isn’t something most people over here – your daughter, your friends? – are going to understand for you. They’ll want you to have better.”

He smiles, reaching for his wine to take a sip. “But I’m all right with you settling for me as long as you want to.”

The compliment makes her laugh softly, surprised and honestly pleased by it. Color creeps into Kay's cheeks. For as well as she can keep a straight face in most things, when she wants to, she can't hide the way the touch of his fingers along the shell of her ear affects her in tandem with those words. “What other people think of my choices is their problem,” she tells him, a little more breathily than intended. "Not mine, not yours."

Taking a breath to pull some of her slightly unraveling composure back together, she adds further context, “I spent plenty of time on Staten Island and in places like it before the war. I’m not scared of it. I don’t mind meeting you where you are, where you’re comfortable.” Her head dips as she smiles ruefully. "As long as you still want to keep this up…”

Kay gives her head a small shake. “I'm a widow.” Which tells him there isn't an ex out there to take exception to her choices. Not an ex-husband, anyway. “It's been just me and my daughter, for the last ten years now, and that was by design.”

Feeling suddenly awkward, she takes another sip of wine, taking that second to think. “What I'm trying to say is that if I didn’t want to be here, trying out what it feels like again to… Have someone say sweet things about me and want to spend time with me when they aren’t angling for something, I wouldn’t be.” Kay feels her breath hitch and her mouth pulls into a frown briefly for it. “I think you're smart, charming, and,” she sighs in an exaggerated way, “just so handsome.” Has he looked at himself? “I am constantly amazed you want to keep seeing me. Amazed and grateful.”

Her gaze dips again. “But it’s been ten years and I’m nervous, but I’m not desperate. I like you a lot, and I want to keep seeing you. I’m not trying to shape this into something you have no interest in.”

He listens, his gray eyes dropping down to their hands, then back up to her face, and when she compliments him, he chuckles, dipping his head; when he laughs, he seems boyish, younger than his years. When he’s serious, he seems older than his age – not that they’ve compared notes on those birthdays.

“So… dating,” he says, as if it’s an unfamiliar word in his mouth, and his eyes narrow a little as if he’s trying out the taste of it. “I think I remember what that is.”

His mouth curves upward again, and August reaches for his glass to take a sip – For all his height and broad shoulders, there’s a delicacy in the way he holds the wine glass that is probably useful in his line of work – if a bit wasted in stitching up criminals on Staten Island.

“I’m going to be honest – I’m a bit of a coward,” August says, chuckling to soften the blunt words. “There’s reasons I’m a med school drop out living on Staten, and they aren’t all that flattering.”

He sets down his glass again, only a little of the deep color left in the bottom. He looks back up to find her eyes, and he offers a small smile.

“I can’t promise you much, Kay, except that I like you and I don’t plan to ever hurt you. It doesn’t mean I won’t accidentally do it, because I’m not all that great at this sort of thing – I was a little better before the war, but…” he trails off, shakes his head. “Never good at it. I was always more into my books and experiments as a kid than I was figuring out the girls.”

Reaching for his wallet to try to beat her to the bill, August adds, “Do we discuss rules? Expectations? Are we casual or exclusive? What do we call each other? Jesus, I feel like I’m thirteen.”

“Makes two of us. I feel like I'm in school all over again.” Kay glances toward the windows overlooking the beach, the tip of her tongue briefly showing between the press of her lips as she admits, “Which I kinda like, honestly.” With a rueful grin, she goes on to clarify, “I’ve spent a long time feelin’ like an old maid.” She pauses for a moment, taking her time drawing in a breath to speak again. “Look, I’m rusty at it too.” Dating. “I’m not gonna promise you a rose garden either.” Tentatively, she squeezes his hand, looking down while she does it, like if she doesn’t watch him, she won’t be flustered while she organizes her thoughts. “I don’t wanna screw this up, but I probably will from time to time.” She trails off, jaw shifting as she’s pushing her tongue against a wisdom tooth behind closed lips.

She brings his eyes back to his. “But I really like you, August.” There’s a tremor of nervousness that she isn’t sure can be seen, even though she’s already said as much. “I’d like to be… dating.” Her lower lip rolls under, captured by her teeth briefly. “I’d like to make this… a thing.” Her eyes roll as she says that, silently chiding herself for using such a vague word.

Drawing back her hand, she lets August keep his pride and allows him to handle the bill, even as she reaches into her purse and pulls out a pair of bills that she sets on the table. She’ll take care of the gratuity.

The wine still left in her glass is eyed thoughtfully, shoulders coming up in a shrug as she does. “If casual makes you feel more comfortable, I can do casual.” It’s not like she expects to be dating anybody else, and after both their admissions, she’s not sure he does either. “As for expectations… If we’re unsure about something, we ask. If there’s something we want, we tell the other. Something eatin’ at us, we talk about it.” Kay’s head tilts to one side with a little half-shake. “Simple communication.” Her brows lift, a glimmer of light in her eyes. Maybe hope. “Sound good so far?” She ponders if she can down what’s left of her Syrah in one go without it looking like she’s doing a shot and decides she’ll split it into two. Just one for now.

He watches her, a gentle smile on his face as she speaks. There’s a keenness in his eyes, an intensity that seems at odds with his slouched posture and lifestyle. His mouth turns up at the corners into a smile, and he chuckles when she rolls her eyes, but it’s not at her.

It’s August’s turn to drop his gaze when she mentions his being comfortable, and he lifts a shoulder. “I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable in my life, if I’m honest,” he says with a small, self-deprecating smile. “I guess when I was very small, but I don’t remember much of it. My mom died when I was five, and I went to live with my aunt, but got pulled out of there by social services. College was better, but then 2011 happened.”

He hasn’t spoken much about what he did or where in those troubled times, just vague allusions to ‘before the war’ or ‘after the war.’

“I’m not seeing anyone else right now, so it’s easy for me to say exclusive,” August says, looking up again. “The odds are in your favor there, but I just… if you meet someone that ticks all the boxes and isn’t a disaster in career and social life like myself, I don’t want to hold you back. I’m one-hundred percent aware you’re out of my league, Kay, but you’ve decided to grace me down here in the minors for some reason.”

Curling his hand around her smaller one, his eyes flicker left to right and back again, as if he’s reading her expression. “I don’t want you to miss someone better for you than me because of a label, you know? So let’s say… it’s a ‘Thing.’” He uses that vague word deliberately, smile turning a bit more wry. “More than friends by a whole heap. Like, it’s time for you to meet my dog level. Because he’s a great judge of character.”

College. 2011. Kay smiles ruefully at her own expense. It shifts into a breathy chuckle and a shake of her head when he tells her she’s out of his league. It’s clear she disagrees, but she’s pleased with the way things are going, and it shows in the way the light in her eyes grows brighter and she tries not to let her smile get beyond the level of demure.

And she has to press her lips together to really keep that at bay when he decides what their not-label should be. “You have a dog?” Kay asks with a barely restrained breath of laughter. “I hope he likes me, then.” She loses the battle finally and smiles wide, showing her teeth.

But it starts to fade after a moment. “Look, I know that you think I’m too good for you, and that’s… Not it. You’re the back-alley surgeon with the heart of gold, right?” She keeps her voice down as she says that, not out of any sense of embarrassment or shame, but as a courtesy to him, not broadcasting his business. “Don’t be so quick to put me on a pedestal. I’m a corporate bitch.” She won’t mince words there. “And I’m older. Probably boring.” Kay shrugs. It is what it is. “You’ll probably come to your senses eventually. Don’t miss out on something that makes you… I don’t know. Happier? More comfortable? Someone better for you than I may be. Not on my account. This street goes both ways.”

Despite all the self-deprecation, her expression softens, showing some vulnerability; it doesn’t include worry. “Listen to us, falling all over ourselves to give the other an out. I think we're on the same page by now. So, that just leaves me with one question…"

A little smirk forms again. "Are you asking me to come back to your place, Mr. Yeats?"

He fiddles with the bill wallet as she speaks, dipping his lashes to chuckle as she lists all the reasons she’s not good enough for him. “Not gold, but maybe copper,” he corrects, but quietly, then chuckles and shakes his head.

“I think we’re both right in that we’ve forgotten how to date. I think we’re supposed to be trying to impress one another, not give a litany of our greatest faults. Can you imagine that as a dating app? Maybe I’ll invent it, and make loads of money. And you have to swipe left, just to make things utterly backwards and upside downsy.”

Setting the vinyl wallet on the counter, August offers a smile to the server and a small nod of acknowledgement that’ll serve as their thank you and goodbye. Standing, he glances at Kay, and offers her his hand. “Argos will be delighted to meet you. I, on the other hand, am mortified because I’m trying to recall if I cleaned the bathroom in the past week. I’ll have to leave you to play with Argos in the downstairs while I make a mad dash around the living quarters upstairs to get rid of the evidence.”

Kay takes that last drink of wine before taking August’s hand and getting to her feet. She slings her purse over one shoulder and navigates through the rows of tables between them and the exit. “You might be onto something there. Lay all your cards on the table and see who still wants to nibble on that hook, right?” When they reach the door that leads them to the boardwalk, she waits for him to get the door. He always gets the door.

“Argos, huh?” She steps outside and lets her hand hang loose at her side, just subtly angled out if he decides he wants to take it. “Great name. Greek mythology?” She’s guessing, clueless but interested in the story, if there is one.

August grins as she talks up the idea, letting the door swing behind them and reaching for her hand again. “You probably read the story and just forgot. It’s why you know it’s Greek, I bet,” he says, as they walk. He looks out at the water, studying the horizon for a moment.

“It’s from The Odyssey. When Odysseus returns home after twenty years away from Ithaca, he disguises himself as a beggar. He finds that the hunting dog he’d last seen as a puppy has been left outside the palace to fend for itself. The dog, Argos, recognizes Odysseus when he defends the dog from the suitors who were beating him or throwing things at him – I forget. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it.” He smiles apologetically. “Argos wags his tail for Odysseus and then finally dies, at peace, having waited all that time for his master to return home.”

August glances down, then over at her in a sidelong glance. “I don’t know. When I read it in, what, ninth grade English class? It stuck to me. I think because I don’t really remember ever having that sort of unconditional love. On either side of the equation.”

“I can imagine,” Kay says softly, with a sympathy she hopes isn’t mistaken for pity. “It can’t have been easy growing up like that.” Unconsciously, she holds August's hand a little tighter. “You spent a lot of time escaping into books, huh?” She smiles, hesitant at first to continue her thought, but she decides to take the chance. “My daughter did that, after her father died.” She hopes it conveys some measure of understanding, rather than (further) highlighting a potentially unattractive reality of her.

She smiles, turning her face so she’s sure he can see it. “It’s a good story, even if it’s bittersweet. Dogs are great for that; we used to have one. Biiiiig Irish Wolfhound. He made it through the war with us, an’ he was old for one’a them. Was kinda like he had to wait until he saw we were gonna be okay. So, not so much unlike Odysseus’ Argos, I guess.”

He reaches where he’s parked his bike, handing her one of the helmets they have to wear when they’re in the Safe Zone. “I think Argos might have some wolfhound in him, actually. Something big, lanky and scruff. Sort of like me, come to think of it,” he says with a chuckle.

Pulling the helmet on over the head, he hands her the keys. “If there’s anything you’re going to want besides bottled water, beer, body soap that does double duty as shampoo, or dry Honey Nut Cheerios, we should either pick up a bag or swing by a Duane Reade,” he advises.

There’s a self-conscious moment taken to arrange her hair just so before she puts on her helmet. It looks like pointless vanity, but it also serves as a subtle check to make sure her port’s properly covered before she puts it in place. “Quick stop at the drugstore, then.” If she stops home for a bag, she knows she’ll lose her nerve. So she seizes the opportunity, along with the keys. Tossing them up in the air, she catches them by the little blue Tamagotchi hanging from the ring.

“Let’s ride.”

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