After the hot, oppressive day, a storm brewed. Dark gray clouds on the southwestern horizon rushed toward the city. Thunder rumbled ominously. He took a step back in the entryway when a hot wind rushed down the street, bending some of the young saplings lining the sidewalk until he wondered if they’d snap. The air—his very blood—felt charged with electricity.
Joy walked out of the café with her friends when the dry squall remitted slightly. She planted her long, bare legs as she shouted a cursory good-bye. The Weismans did the same, clearly as intent on getting home before the storm hit as Joy appeared to be. He heard Max’s deep voice before it was carried away by another gust of wind. Joy’s short hair whipped around her head, and the T-shirt she wore plastered against her breasts. She nodded, waved and hurried in the opposite direction from the couple.
He sprang out of the entryway. He ran down the street holding his hat in his hand, hurling himself against the wind like a running back against a monster defensive line, keeping Joy’s pale T-shirt in the center of his vision the entire time.
He was behaving purely on instinct.
It started to rain when he got halfway down the block. Thunder cracked, and a second later it started to pour so heavily he was blinded. He flopped on his hat, the bill providing his eyes the chance to blink out the water so he could see. Joy opened a wrought iron fence gate and dashed between it, her head ducked against the torrent.
The rain pounded on the pavement so hard, she couldn’t hear him. She raced toward the front steps of a brownstone. He was about to lose her . . . again.
“Joy,” he bellowed, running down the wet sidewalk, holding his hat in place.
She still didn’t appear to hear him. She opened the heavy wooden door and ducked her head out of the downpour. His heart dived. He opened his mouth to give one last desperate shout, but she paused suddenly on the threshold and hesitated. She turned and looked back. The wind whipped water into his eyes, but even in his half-blinded state, he felt her stare on him. For a second as he ran, he held his breath.
Would she turn away?
She backed into the doorframe, her front facing him, waiting. Electricity made the hair on his forearms stand on end. Lightning split the gray sky, and thunder boomed. He raced up the front steps, squinting to see her. Her exquisite face gleamed with moisture. Water dripped from her lips. Her hair spiked onto her cheeks and clung to her head. Her new haircut emphasized her elegant neck and the graceful shape of her skull. Earlier, when he’d been talking to her at the café, he’d felt an urge to cup the back of her head in his palm.
“Come in,” he thought he heard her say when he stomped up the last step.
He entered a stuffy foyer with a hallway to the right and a flight of stairs to the left. Joy shut the door behind him, and the roar of the rain became a muffled hum. He took off his hat and wiped his face of dripping water before he turned to her. She was watching him, her arms crossed loosely beneath her breasts. He read the question in her large eyes.
“I’m not usually so impatient,” he explained, swiping his hand over his wet hair. “But tomorrow night started to seem like an awfully long time when I’ve been waiting since last year.”
Her lips quivered. He found himself longing to witness her full-out smile. There was something a little sad about her . . . poignant. Lovely. Looking at her was like glimpsing a crack in the matrix of the universe. The world really was a larger, more incredible place than he’d ever considered. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She dropped her arms, and his gaze dropped to her breasts outlined in clinging, wet fabric. He felt his body stir.
“I’m upstairs,” she said, pointing, her voice tickling in his right ear. She had a low, melodic voice that reminded him a little of the actress Kate Winslet’s, whom he admired greatly. B
ut Joy’s voice was even sultrier . . . sexier.
“You’re sure it’s okay?”
She walked in front of him and headed up the stairs. Her legs looked smooth and damp, well-muscled and slender. When she got to the landing, she dug in the pocket of her jean shorts, the action tugging wet fabric against the juncture of her thighs. He stared at the numeral 3 on the front of her door and made himself consider the Dodgers-Mets series opening in New York today.
The door swung open and he followed her inside. Cool air hit his wet body.
“Oh . . . I’m sorry,” she said, kicking off her sandals and rushing through the foyer. “I left the air-conditioning on high. It was so stifling when I left this morning.”
He stood there, dripping. He could see Joy straight ahead of him, standing in a hallway, fiddling with a thermostat. She turned to him, shivering.
“Come in,” she said, beckoning.
“I’m going to get your floors all wet,” he said, nodding at the gleaming hardwood.
“I already did. It’s nothing a towel won’t dry up.”
He entered a large expanse, consisting of a living area to the right and a kitchen and dining area to the left. Three windows at the end of the living space had a long, cushioned window seat beneath them and were bracketed by two well-stocked, built-in bookshelves. Water pounded against the windowpanes and on the roof above them.
“Come on,” she said with a wave, sounding breathless. She led him down a dark hallway and took a left. She flipped on a light. He poked his head through the doorframe and saw her pulling out towels from beneath a bathroom sink. When she stood, towels in hand, her gaze ran over him dubiously.
“I’m not sure I have any dry clothes that would fit you,” she said.
“That’s okay,” he assured her, wringing his soaked hat out in the sink. He took one of the towels and started to wipe off. “I’ll be fine. You get into something dry. Get in the shower. You’re shivering,” he said, gesturing toward the tub while he rubbed the towel over his wet head. “I’ll go to the kitchen and drip on the tile there.”