Cara gives the driver a twenty, which makes for a generous tip, and gets out of the cab. It’s raining lightly. She stands in front of the steps leading to the brownstone as the car sneaks away. The mist on her face feels good, and she closes her eyes for a few seconds just to luxuriate. When she opens them she can feel a rivulet making its way down her forehead, fast at first, and slowing as it reaches the precipice of her eyebrow, and then just disappears without a trace. She feels the same as she always does here, on the sidewalk, in front of the man’s house: excited about the prospect of spending time in a home other than her own, but also a little weary of the whole racket.
The brownstone is semi-detached, and Adam’s half is better kept. The heavy wooden door (California oak, he says it is, specially made) is flanked by tall thin slashes of stained glass (“Got those in Prague”). The outside light at the top of the stairs turns itself on as Cara approaches. It always surprises her: for an instant she feels like she has been caught.
She rings the doorbell and a light goes on inside. The door opens and Adam is standing there with red wine in a huge goblet. He’s wearing a brightly colored sweater and black pants, his feet comfortably enclosed, as always, in red silk slippers.
“I thought you’d changed your mind,” he says, reaching for her, pulling her close and hugging her carefully so as not to spill the wine.
“Traffic,” she says.
Adam closes the door in a two-part sequence behind her: it touches up against the jamb and then he whooshes it shut, sealing them both in.
Cara always feels like she’s making an entrance when she walks into Adam’s living room. Her own living room triples as bedroom and dining room, too, in her comfortable but small bachelor apartment. It’s a very practical setup: she generally leaves the sofabed unfolded, and when she climbs in at night the TV is right there in front of her, and the remote to her right, so that she can usually catch the first half of Letterman before she starts dozing off. She has pictures on the walls—one of a cat she had as a kid, one of her and her boss Jason and a bunch of co-workers at a staff picnic, one a reproduction of Magritte, one of her sister Amy—but they’re all in haphazard locations with no order or theme—a small one lost in the middle of a wall which is otherwise unadorned, and a large one which takes up nearly the whole area of another wall. It hangs precariously and she is always afraid that it is just going to come crashing down.
She expects muted applause when she enters Adam’s living room, as if she’s walking onto a set and the appreciative stagehands are congratulating her in advance for what they know she can do, what she can pull off, what she can summon from the depths.
“Wine?” he asks.
She doesn’t even remember taking off her coat and her wet shoes. They somehow just magically disappeared, probably into a closet, during her trip from the outside to here.
Adam comes back with the wine.
“It’s a merlot. I hope it’s OK.”
“You know I don’t know anything about that. It more or less all tastes the same to me. Though I can tell red from white.”
She laughs lightly, and Adam smiles as he settles himself in beside her on the couch. His slippers fall lightly to the rug which covers most of the hardwood floor, and he curls his feet up under himself. Cara’s feet are still on the rug but she can feel herself loosening up even after only a couple of sips of wine.
“What did you want to do tonight? Can you stay?”
“Yes, I was hoping I could, if that’s OK.”
“I’d love you to.”
“Did you eat already?”
“Yes. I—oh, did you not have dinner yet?”
“I’m fine. I had a big lunch, and then a snack before I left. I’m fine.”
“So what did you want to do?”