THE PAINTED LADY – EXCERPT
There was no way to know his wife was going to be murdered; the most horrific twist of irony when considering a discussion that took place on their second date some thirteen years earlier. They had been sharing stories of the worst dates they’d ever been on. The kind of thing two people talk about after too much wine.
He spent much of that night staring across the table at the woman he believed far too beautiful for him. This wasn’t Miles selling himself short, thinking she was way beyond his league; it’s just that he wasn’t a complete idiot to the fact that he was the luckiest guy sitting in Tony’s Restaurant (and made sure to pray his silent thanks when she got up to use the bathroom). To further drive this point forward came numerous sly gestures of the congratulatory kind from other patrons sitting nearby—winks and nods, even a big ol’ thumbs-up from an older man in a pink polo two tables away, he who also licked his rubbery lips suggestively at the same time. Of these silent manners of congrats directed his way Miles was appreciative; of the old man a bit weirded out. It’s always nice to know when other people think you’ve scored well beyond your means.
This girl was indeed beautiful. Stunning, even. Dressed in simple black and pinstripe slacks over leather boots that itched the curiosity as to how high they traveled up her calf, along with a turquoise wraparound sweater that matched her eyes. Her shoulder length auburn hair had been straightened. This, he learned through a prior conversation, took considerable time and patience and effort to rid the natural kink she maintained fresh out of the shower. The enticing image of her stepping out of the tub that popped in his head resulted in another considerable itch of curiosity.
Such distracting thoughts, however, needed to be shoved out of mind. If she caught him not paying attention because he was too busy picturing what she looked like naked there would be a sharp decline in the possibility of that fantasy becoming a reality. He’d already missed out on something she said about her mother having Lyme disease. Or maybe that her mother was allergic to limes. He couldn’t remember.
So instead he lingered on the beauty he could see rather than imagined. Her makeup was simple. No bold raccoon eyes, no rosy enhancement of the cheeks; her lipstick was non-existent, only a sheen layer of Blistex to keep them from chapping. She was nothing like the lineup of painted women dolled up in fishnets in the bar at the front of the restaurant, whose heavy application rivaled rodeo clowns and left behind thick residues of ruby red on their downed glasses of Chardonnay.
Those who also sported purchased tans. In the middle of winter.
Miles would not call Stephanie hot by any means. He always regarded that term as derogatory. A woman’s hotness factor was determined by the amount of add-ons and touchups; tucks here, there, everything defying gravity and age. Barely-there clothing that barely covered up what really wasn’t there underneath it all, beneath the glossy surface. Being hot never improved upon a terrible personality. And hot women tended to have more mileage on them than a New York City taxi, along with a comparable amount of work performed under the hood.
This woman, Stephanie, wasn’t supplemented, augmented, or boosted. She wasn’t fake. No Plain Jane either, she was simply beauty and comfort. From her clothes to her fair skin to the way she carried herself. Humble, casual, and confident without an air of pretentiousness. Everything he had been looking for. Everything that made him feel relaxed, feel grounded, when his anxiety wanted to skyrocket him through the paneled ceiling.
And thank God when it came time to order she gave the waiter actual items off the entrée list. If she had ordered a salad, Miles may have gone back to picturing her naked. At that point who cared if he paid attention?
The topic of their worst dates came up midway through their last refill of Pinot Noir. Both were on their fourth glass.
Miles went first.
“Well, does it count if I got stood up?”
Stephanie flashed a pouty frown full of sympathy. “Oh no, that really happened to you?”
He took a shallow gulp from his glass and shrugged in a manner that said yeah, oh well, what can you do?
“Why didn’t she show up?”
Miles explained, “I should tell you first that this girl had been divorced for a while. We went out a couple of times and things were going really well. She was an NP over at Wilson. We were going to meet up for coffee on a Sunday afternoon after her shift ended. So I got to the café, an hour passed. I tried texting, I tried calling. Nothing.”
“So she never said anything?”
“Oh she did,” Miles said. He took another sip of wine. “About four days later. She sent me a text and apologized. She said she just couldn’t go through with our date because right as she was leaving work she got really sick. Turned out she was pregnant. With her ex-husband’s baby.”
The reaction was priceless. Stephanie’s eyes doubled in size. Her mouth almost made a perfect O, the awe lowering her jaw like a shocked cartoon character. “No way!”
Full of pride, Miles lifted his glass by the stem and tipped it in his date’s direction. “Beat that, if you can.” He drained what red was left.
Before Stephanie began the story of her worst date she drained the remainder of the wine in her glass as well, about two fingers full, and said she’d need another refill on hand while telling it, but asked, “How long ago were you stood up?”
Miles got the attention of a waiter. “About three weeks ago.”
“Did you meet her on the site?” She was referring to LocalSingles.com, the online dating pool where she and Miles had begun conversing a week ago.
Miles nodded. A waiter arrived at their table with a fresh bottle of Pinot. He went through the process of unwrapping the cork and opening the bottle in front of them. Their glasses were filled three-fourths to the rim. Miles paused until the waiter was gone before resuming their conversation. “With the exception of you, that site’s been a bust.”
Stephanie smiled. “That’s nice of you to say, but I saw all the winks and pokes you got on your profile page. There were a lot of girls interested in you. What if I’m keeping you from one of them, maybe the one you’re supposed to be with?”
He waited for the rush of the wine to hit his senses. There was the feeling of slick warmth sliding down his throat. He felt a quiver in his stomach that was begging for food but fueling on red. It took a few seconds before the fog of the alcohol blossomed inside of him. “I don’t think it works that way,” he said.
After a healthy swallow of her own, Stephanie reapplied a thin layer of Blistex. “You don’t, huh?”
“There’s always a reason for things,” explained Miles. He could see it then on her face, that pretty face tinted by the burst capillaries in her cheeks. By the adorable twitch in her nose something had clicked in Stephanie’s mind. She leaned in closer, their conversation turning exclusive. Private. The remainder of those in the restaurant were cut off. It was only the two of them that existed now. Miles felt a distinct rise in the temperature around him. That likely had to do with the fact that when Stephanie leaned toward him the V in her sweater opened slightly, revealing a bit more of her skin and the top of the line that began her cleavage. He fought to keep eye contact.
“So then,” she said, “are you implying there’s a reason you and I are here right now?”
The provocative way she worded the question, the emphasis and soft tone she used made him wonder if she was feeling out their situation. She was being quite forward, and this was likely due to her own skimming under the veil of her own alcoholic haze. He liked her, definitely. A lot. But in his current state—where the lights in the room were just beginning to glow soft and puffy—he didn’t want to assume anything. This—their second meeting and first official date—had been going perfectly so far. No need to scare her off.
“I just think there’s a reason for everything,” he said. He then took up his glass in a private toast. “Even the strangest things happen for a reason.”
The Painted Lady. Excerpt courtesy of Joseph Falank (author) and Winter Goose Publishing (publisher).
All rights reserved. 2015.
Joseph Falank lives with his wife and daughter in his hometown in upstate New York. He is the author of SEEING, a quiet coming-of-age tale, and the upcoming THE PAINTED LADY, a fractured supernatural mystery/thriller that sees a widower encounter strange happenings after meeting an unusual woman. THE PAINTED LADY will be available on August 5thwherever books are sold.