There are times when the thing we least expect, but secretly hope for, happens. And when it does, it often takes us more than a moment to recognize it.
Audra’s divorce was only fourteen days and eight hours old when she decided to walk to the corner Laundromat in an attempt to recreate her laundry day. Arthur had always done the laundry with her. It was those memories of laughter and the resulting sex on the laundry room floor that had caused her to journey out on this cold October day. She loved the smell of the leaves as they changed colors and fell to the ground. Arthur had always laughed at her for this, one of her many quirks, as he called them. It was his contention that leaves in and of themselves hadn’t any smell at all. He would grab a golden leaf from the ground and hold it gingerly in front of his nose and sniff noisily, winking at her as he did so. “Oh”, he’d whisper quietly, “nothing like the smell of old Chevy exhaust.” And then he’d laugh as heartily as possible, which even after seeing this routine for more than seventeen years, still made Audra laugh just as hard. She could feel the ache in her side just remembering it. She chuckled to herself, wondering if it were the memory or the fact that she was actually making the seven block walk to this place that was causing the ache in her side. She stopped for a moment to stretch and the clothes basket she’d so carefully perched on top of a wagon, toppled over, spilling her “whites” onto the side walk, and out into the gutter. She sighed. Staring down at the clothes, she toyed with the idea of leaving them there when a decidedly sexy male voice behind her spoke, “Here, let me help you with that.” She turned to see a golden skinned young man bending over and picking up her bra from the gutter. Audra felt a scream playing at the back of her throat, but fought against letting it out. Instead, she took a deep breath and squatted down to pick up the clothes nearest her. “Thank you, Sir.” She said politely. She stole awkward looks at the side of his face, a handsome one, if she must say so herself. She could see that he was young, much younger than she was, maybe by 10 years or so. Audra frowned. She shook the thoughts from her head. Art was the only man for her and she was standing on her Christian beliefs for restoration. She would not, could not allow herself to be swayed or distracted, besides, this man, this young, nubile, sexy man would never look at her in the way she was looking at him. In fact, the whole affair took only moments to pass through her mind. She was satisfied, of course in this fantasy she’d had to push him away, his will too weak to let go of her, his first true love. She allowed herself to imagine his tears as she walked out of his life forever. She imagined that he would be the only one in her life to ever truly love her – just because she was her.
“Hey”, he said touching her gently on the arm. “Can I help you up? The clothes are all gathered.” Audra looked up into the oddest color brown eyes she’d ever seen. She stood up without assistance, quickly, to show him that she wasn’t half as old as he obviously thought she was. He smiled brightly at her and held out his hand to shake hers. “My name’s Bryan. It only makes sense that you know the name of the man who’s had his hand on your underwear.” He chuckled nervously. “I hope your husband slash boyfriend won’t hunt me down.” Audra squinted. She knew a fishing line when she heard one; she turned up her nose; is he trying to…? No, she quickly decided and did not answer the question. She just smiled back at him trying to match the friendliness she saw in his face.
“How’d you know I needed help?” she asked, quickly pushing the flirtatiousness out of her voice. The man had to be ten years her junior. He laughed. “I could see you through the window.” He said pointing to the Laundromat behind her. She smiled. “Oh”, was all she could come up with. So she simply turned away from him and toward the large glass doors. He rushed to open one for her, still smiling as brightly as before.
Once inside, he silently followed her to the washers she chosen for their proximity to the television. He stood there watching her, saying nothing. He hurried to get change for her when she laid her twenty dollar bill on the counter. He’d simply picked up the bill and pointed to the change machine and walked toward it.
“So, Bryan, that’s your name right?” Do you come here often?” She cringed at the way the question had manifested itself as an old dusty pick-up line.
He chuckled. “Every day, I own the place.”
“Really?” how long?” she asked trying hard not to sound too surprised.
“Eight years”, he replied readily. “It was a present from my grandfather on my twenty-first birthday.”
Audra grimaced; this bronze Adonis was only 29 years old and she was almost forty. No, she thought to herself, Audra was not going to try to get her groove back here. There was too much going on in her life to even be fantasizing about this young boy and she was determined to give this standing thing a true try.
“So”, he said moving closer to her. “Sorry if this sounds forward, but are you married? Seeing someone?” He said softly, his voice sounding much deeper than it had a minute ago. Audra studied his face. This must be a game he played with the older ladies to get them to come back to his place and spend money. She just stared at him. What if he was sizing her up to rob her, or worse? When she didn’t answer readily, he continued speaking. “I apologize for my forwardness; it’s just that I feel like if I let you walk out of here, I’ll never see you again.” Audra frowned. “Look, I don’t understand why you’re here hitting on me, and you are, aren’t you, hittin’ on me?” He smiled and nodded. Audra looked around the room and spotted a young blond woman sitting in the corner reading a book. She nodded toward her with her head, “Why not her? She’s pretty and she’s much closer to your age. I’m newly divorced and no, I’m not seeing anyone, nor am I looking to see anyone. But, and I ask this out of sheer curiosity, why me?”
Bryan tilted his head in the direction of the girl Audra had made reference to. “She is common. Her look is common, I mean. There’s nothing interesting about her to me. Besides, I like women of color and yes, I’m attracted to beautiful older women.” Audra frowned and made a noise that voiced her discontent with the conversation. “Older or old?” she asked folding her arms. “Older”, he said matter of factly. “I try never to approach anyone who appears to be within five years of my mother’s age.” Audra laughed. “So, how old is your mother?” Audra wanted to retract the question the moment it left her mouth. Bryan was quiet as he studied her face. “She’s at least, the very least more than five years older than you are, she’s forty-three years young.” Audra laughed softly. “Well, Bryan, you’re off a couple of years, but it was nice to be noticed after all these years.” Audra reached over and patted him on the hand. Bryan didn’t move, nor did his expression change. “So you’re what, lying to me now? How can someone as beautiful as you, lie to someone you’ve just met?” He sounded hurt. Audra furrowed her brow. Arthur had hated when she did that, he said it added five years to her face. “Bryan, I’ll be forty years old this year. Honestly.”
He again appeared to be studying her face. “No matter”, he said. “What kind of food do you like?”
Audra chuckled and looked toward her clothes, which were still washing. “Look, Bryan, I have no intention…”
“Audra!” A voice shouted angrily from behind her, “If you can pull yourself away for a minute or two, I need to speak with you!” Audra turned to see Arthur standing in the doorway, his hand gripping the handle so tightly that his knuckles were white. Audra turned to look at Bryan, who was now frowning. “That’s Arthur”, she said in a whisper. “He’s the one who divorced me.” Bryan reached out and squeezed her hand. “I’ll be right here.” He said, not taking his eyes off of the man still standing in the doorway.
Audra took a deep breath and moved slowly, nervously toward the door. She made her hand fight the urge to touch her hair. Arthur liked it down and she’d pinned it up in a loose bun. She tried to smile at him, but failed and this made her stomach feel as if it would empty itself of its contents.
“Audra”, Arthur said sternly, not even trying to lighten the mood. “I tried my key in the door at the house and it doesn’t work, why? I still have things there and I need to go and come as I please until the house is sold. Do you understand?” Audra looked passed him and saw that “she” was sitting in the car pretending to freshen her make-up. She remembered that Arthur had told her that pretty girls never wore make-up.
“Audra, are you listening to me?” I need to get into the house now!” He said angrily. Audra felt shame creep up her back and turned to look back at Bryan who was now visibly bothered by what he was seeing. She could see that the blood had rushed to his face. She turned to look back at the woman sitting in the car she and Arthur had picked out together and then back at the man she’d thought she’d spend the rest of her natural life with. Words escaped her. She just couldn’t seem to form a coherent thought in her head. “Art, I-I,” she stammered.
“You what…?” Arthur moved closer to her now. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. Audra stepped back from him and felt Bryan at her back. He placed his hands gently at her waist and kissed her softly on the back of the neck. The implied intimacies of this action cause her to catch her breath and close her eyes. It’d been almost a year since she’d been touch intimately, let alone a kiss on the back of the neck! The action of this young white man also caught Arthur off guard. Bryan placed himself between Audra and Arthur. He stood defiantly, hands clasped lazily in front of him. “Arthur today isn’t good for us. Maybe we could arrange something for this weekend.” He stood staring at Arthur for a moment before turning toward Audra, showing Arthur his back “Is that going to be okay, Nena dulce?” He walked back to Audra and took her hands in his. She allowed herself to look into his eyes, trying to find something in his eyes that would tell her why he was so valiantly coming to her rescue. She could only see a quiet manly strength, one she’d never seen in Arthur’s eyes and she drew from this strength. She nodded weakly. He leaned into her and hugged her. He turned to Arthur and said, chuckling, “So what time this weekend? Saturday’s out so you’ve got Sunday after church.”
Arthur smiled calmly. “So, you’ve found one with big balls, huh? When did you get the nerve to let another man touch you, Audra?” The question caught Audra off guard and seemed to punch her in the middle of her chest. She looked Arthur in the eyes, he was staring straight at her, and she could swear she saw hurt playing around the corners of his mouth, but it disappeared quickly. “Arthur, that’s no longer any of your business. Now when on Sunday are you coming by?” Bryan spoke up allowing a more bass tone to ring through.
Arthur grunted and turned to leave. He stopped and turned once again to face them. “You know, boy, there are some things she just won’t do…in bed I mean. Are you sure you want to sacrifice great sex, for her?”
Bryan took a step closer towards Arthur, “Well, sir, not that it’s any of your business, but a real man doesn’t have the problems you’re speaking of so publicly.I’ve found that butterflies like to fly, so all you have to do is give them the space to soar.” Bryan stood looking Arthur in the face. Audra couldn’t see the look on his face, but she could see that his statements had hit home with Arthur. He tightened his jaw and pointed at Bryan, “You just stay away from me and mine, boy!” He yelled angrily at Bryan.
Bryan turned and smiled at Audra. He reached out his hand towards her and she took it, she needed to hold onto something right about now. “Lucky for me, you threw away the best of what you had.” Bryan said stopping to kiss Audra gently on the forehead. “Yes, I’m a blessed man, truly blessed.”
The sound of the door slamming into place startled them both. Audra had allowed herself this fantasy and closed her eyes when Bryan leaned in to kiss her forehead. She’d breathed in the smell of him and embraced the feel of him against her. The sound of the slamming door brought her cold lonely reality rushing too soon back to her. She let go of Bryan and tried to step away, but he hadn’t let go of her yet. He was still looking out of the door at the man pounding on the roof of his car. Audra noticed that the woman in the car was now staring inside. She watched as the very pregnant young woman slowly got out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side. Bryan tightened his grip on Audra. She could feel his heart beating against her cheek. She closed her eyes, not wanting to watch the scene outside. She turned toward this young man she’d just met and buried her head deeper into his chest. She felt the tightness in her shoulders relax as Bryan wrapped his arms around them. This made it easier to push down the tears. “God, why can’t I have this?” she said in her heart?
“They’re gone now.” He whispered softly. “I’ll hold you ‘til you stop shaking.” He said to the top of her head. Audra clasped her hands behind his back and wondered had he always been this tall and just when had she allowed him into her heart? Audra sighed. She raised her head and looked him in the face. What had just happened? Could it be that this beautiful young man wasn’t playing a game with her? She put her hands at his waist and tried half-heartedly to push away from him. He looked down at her, loosening his grip only slightly. He smiled at her. “Wow, I guess we’re a couple now.” He said jokingly. His eyes searched her face for approval. Audra smiled back at him, trying to ignore that this was the perfect moment for a kiss. Bryan chuckled softly, “This would be the perfect moment for our first kiss, wouldn’t it? Audra stepped suddenly back from him. The sounds and smells of the Laundromat removing her from the fantasy she’d allowed herself to fall into for a moment. She looked up at him, wanting to say something clever or cute, but again the thoughts in her head weren’t anything she wanted to say out loud. Her mind was trying to understand the sensory overload, while her body was protesting loudly the removal of the warmth of his body against it.
“Thank you, Bryan. I don’t know how I would have handled that if you hadn’t stepped up to help me. He intimidates me so.” She said shaking her head.
Bryan’s eyes seemed to smile at her, “Have dinner with me, Nena Dulce. Let me be there for you for real, well, as real as I can be for right now.”
Audra dropped you eyes from his shyly, “Bryan, I could be your mother.”
He raised her chin so that their eyes met once more, “but you’re not and I really want to get to know you better. I want you to know me.”
The buzzer on the washer sounded rudely, sparing Audra the task of trying to find the words that said, no to this beautiful man. He followed her to the washer and helped move the wet clothes to the dryer. “Have dinner, with me, Audra. Please, I’ll cook, so you don’t even have to worry about getting all dressed up. I can pick you up or you can meet me here after 5pm.”
Audra looked toward the hours of operation that were posted on the wall behind him. He smiled at her, “I’m the boss remember. I can close whenever I want.”
Audra smiled weakly. “I don’t eat pork and I’m tired of chicken.” Bryan laughed. “Good, I was thinking about grilling steaks tonight anyway. Am I picking you up or are you meeting me?”
Audra liked the feeling in her stomach. She recalled feeling it when she’d first met Arthur. The memory sent a sharp pain running from her brain to her heart and she shook her head to remove it. “I’ll stay until five and you can take me home. If I know Arthur, he’s sitting in the driveway waiting for me to get back there,” Audra said sadly.
Bryan tucked a stray hair back into the bun that was slowly trying to undo itself and allowed his hand to brush her cheek. “Now, that I’ve held you Nena Dulce, it’s going to be hard not to want to all the time.” He smiled sadly at her. “But then dinner is all I asked for.”
Audra nodded, “And dinner is all you’ll get mister.”