“I know you don’t want to hear this again,” David started to say to Zeke.
“So then don’t say it,” Zeke told him.
“But if you want to get anything from your bosses,” David continued, oblivious to Zeke’s suggestion, “You have to go to him on a Monday morning, before the higher-ups have berated him for not meeting quotas or whatever sadism they thrive on.”
“Could you let me enjoy my day off and not discuss work?” Zeke asked him. “We don’t want the lady to think we have nothing better to talk about.”
Sharon smiled as a gesture of thanks for being mentioned. She was accompanying Andy, Zeke, and David on their traditional July 4th trip, squished into a downtown 2 train, to see the fireworks by the Statue of Liberty, . She was the only one of the four sitting while the others hovered over her, hanging onto the bar. The train had been traveling slowly since filling up at 34th Street and the weary strap-hangers were looking irate as the air conditioners barely alleviated the body heat of holiday travelers. Andy, in particular, looked beat, or at least preoccupied, silently staring above the heads in the crowded subway car, once in a while offering a statement of arbitration between the bickering David and Zeke. Still, he did dress up for the occasion, sporting a multi-colored striped collared Oxford, dark denim and brown yachting shoes, contrasting with Zeke’s T-shirt and khakis and David’s polo and jeans. Sharon had no idea how they could all be friends.
“We have to get off at Chambers,” David was telling her, “because the 2 train turns eastward after Chambers. We’ll have to walk a bit, but it’s better than transferring to the N-R. There’s a bridge by Stuyvesant. That’s where the park begins.”
“Will we be able to see the fireworks from there?” she asked, looking at Andy.
David answered her question with a shake of his head. “We’ll have to walk down to the Financial Center, maybe even to the Holocaust Museum.”
“Is that far?” she asked politely.
David shrugged. “It’s not a very long walk, but it depends on the crowd. I see that you have semi-comfortable shoes. That helps.”
She wondered what else of her outfit he had noticed. Though she had spent two hours deciding exactly what to wear, she didn’t need the whole world to appreciate the effort she had taken to look as if she was going to an out-of-town country club on a Sunday afternoon. She was still swooning from Andy’s simple comment of “very elegant” when they met at the train station.
Sharon wanted to nudge him to get his attention, but held back, having never touched him once in the month or so of knowing him. After Shabbat and another light dinner on Tuesday night, Andy must’ve felt confident with where they were standing to invite her to intrude upon his group’s ritual trip to Battery Park.
“Are you feeling all right?” she asked him.
He nodded his head slightly. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he assured her, returning his gaze to the station they were approaching. She watched his eyes as they shifted back and forth rapidly as the train was slowing down. Her feminine instinct understood that he was distracted, but she wasn’t going to prod.
She started a new subject. “I’m worried about Joey,” she said. “He completely blew us off Saturday night.”
“Maybe something did come up,” Andy suggested.
“It’s completely not like him. I’ve known him for almost four years, and he’s never acted this…sneaky. He’s always been straight with me. OK, one time he went to Boston to meet some girl he knew from high school and I only found out days later when he came back all depressed, but otherwise…” she trailed off with a shrug and a sigh. Andy looked at her and shrugged too.
“One more stop,” David sang. Andy thanked him.
“I thought Erica was perfect for him,” Sharon continued. “They seemed to be getting along so well. I mean, Joey even came to the park.”
Andy hummed. Absently, he asked, “have you spoken to him since?”
Sharon clicked her tongue. “That’s even weirder. He hasn’t been answering his phone, and the one time I caught him he got off right away.”
“Weird,” Andy agreed. “Maybe he didn’t really like Erica and he’s scared to tell you.”
“I don’t think so. You saw the way he was acting with her. It reminded me of how he would be with other girls he’s liked.”
Andy pouted. “He doesn’t seem like the type to be into meeting girls like that.”
“He never had much experience.” Lowering her voice, she added, “He was kind of dorky in high school. I’ve tried to help him, but he just never got the confidence.”
“Maybe he should meet a shadchan.”
“Oh please,” Sharon scoffed. “He doesn’t need to waste his money on something that he could do if he got his act together. He’ll get there someday.”
Before Andy could respond, they were at Chambers Street and exiting. Sharon kept close to him as they followed David up to the street level and towards the river. Zeke was asking Andy about something baseball related, so Sharon silently tried to keep pace with the men as they hustled. After crossing a footbridge over the West Side Highway, they passed a large high school and entered the park by descending a rounded stone staircase with a dry fountain at the base. Like a tour guide David described the park’s features as they headed towards the river. They walked around a large lawn where small groups had placed picnic blankets down in anticipation of the fireworks.
“We should’ve brought a blanket, and made a picnic too,” cried Sharon.
Zeke crushed her dream with a shake of his head. “By the time the fireworks start the crowd is so thick you don’t see anything unless you’re standing by the barriers.”
She pouted, prompting Andy to say: “I thought it was a nice idea.”
With his compliment she warmed up, trotting along with new energy as she imagined how she would cater her fantasy picnic. They had reached a path along the river where many people were already congregating, their attention turned towards the river. Finding an empty spot along the railing she broke off from the party and nudged through the crowd to her spot and leaned slightly over the railing to see the water. The high-tide waves crashed against the barrier and Sharon could feel a few cold drops splash against her cheeks. Andy came and stood alongside her and the wind was blowing hard enough for him to have to hold his kippah.
“We’re going further,” he yelled to her over the noise of nature.
“How much?” she asked him, squinting in the wind.
“This path ends at the marina about five minutes ahead, but we normally go around it and continue down.”
She was nervous to take their relationship to a new level, but she figured that someone had to. She leaned over the railing, as if trying to see the marina. As hoped, Andy asked, “Do you want to stay here?”
“Will I be ruining your evening?” she asked coyly. “Will we still see the fireworks?”
“Sure,” he said expressionless.
“So go ask them,” she requested, adding, “we can also meet up later, if they want to keep going…”
Without responding he disappeared, leaving Sharon to enjoy the breeze. She was relieved that he had passed the test of loyalty, however minor it might have been. It wasn’t as if she was seeking a boyfriend who would submit to her demands, if she could even call him a boyfriend at this point. Still, it was nice that someone was considerate enough to fulfill her whim.
He returned alone. “Yeah, they’re going on,” he said out-of-breath.
She gave him the nicest thanks she could muster. “I didn’t expect this much walking,” she explained. “It was really thoughtful of you.”
“Don’t think anything of it,” he replied. “I wanted to spend some time with you anyway.”
I would hope so. “How much longer?”
“They wait until it’s totally dark.”
“Do they turn off all the park lights?”
Andy laughed. “That would make the fireworks much better, but no.”
“Do you like the dark?” she then asked him. “Like, were you afraid of the dark when you were a kid?”
He looked at her interestedly. “Why do you ask?”
“Just curious.” She stared into his eyes to the point that he seemed overwhelmed with her directness.
“Uh, I guess it’s a bit weird,” Andy admitted. “I’ve heard of too many axe murderers in the woods to sit comfortably in my parents’ house late at night anymore.”
“What do you think will happen?” Sharon asked. A tall blond girl nudged into her. She promptly raised her hand in apology, muttering something in an unfamiliar language. “It’s so crowded. Good thing we got a spot here.”
“Yeah. I don’t think that it’s a realistic fear. Why, you like the dark?”
“Not necessarily, but I did the day all the power went out. Were you here then?”
He shook his head sullenly. “I was a counselor in a sleep-away camp in the Poconos. Once the sun set, it got pitch dark and the campers got scared. We put them to sleep early and when my flashlight died after ten minutes, I went to bed early too. Not that much of a story.”
She frowned sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I won’t need therapy.”
She smiled. “Well, I was in Manhattan Beach, which is strangely enough at the southern edge of Brooklyn, about as far away from Manhattan as one can get while still in the city.” She caught his eyes closing, then opening wide as he woke himself. “Whatever. I had slept over at my cousin’s house the night before and we were all set to go shopping at 4 PM and we walked all the way to the train station and found that there was no power.”
“You didn’t notice the traffic lights?”
She tilted her head, as if it helped her think. “We did see them out as we passed through Sheepshead Bay, but we thought it was just a local problem. My uncle made a barbecue that night on their gas grill, because what else could we eat?”
Andy nodded. “Same by us. In the morning the cook barbecued all the meat for Shabbat.”
“What I remember most though,” she said over him, “were the stars. My cousins lived on a dead end and there was a path to the rocks by the water and from the light of the moon we climbed to a spot where we just sat. It was the first time I saw the stars—hundreds of them. Like, really saw them. There was no light to block them out. I just sat there, amazed at how I’d lived under the sky for so many years and never really knew what was up there.” She paused. “I remember it being very quiet too.”
“All the air conditioners were off,” he yawned.
“Yeah, but there was a breeze from the ocean. It was fantastic.”
“I take it that you like the water.”
Sharon looked out at the Hudson River in the thickening twilight and could only hear the water as it collided with the concrete retaining wall. She was a long time answering, the din of the crowd filling in the silence between them. “I guess so. It’s not like I have any fond memories of water specifically. Maybe it was just that one time.”
“I hear that people who live by the water never get tired of it.”
She looked at him incredulously. “And someone with a view of the Alps will find it boring?”
He held his hands up in defense. “Hey, I’m just telling you what I hear.”
She smiled widely. “Don’t worry,” she assured him.
They were both leaning their arms on the railing and shared an extended glance. They both inhaled deeply and Andy opened his mouth to speak. Then, all of a sudden they heard the first explosions coming from their left. Sharon turned her gaze in the direction of the fireworks, catching the streaming tail of the first redness as it cascaded in the sky. The already dense mass of people hovering behind them started to come closer and someone was pushed into her from behind, pressing her against the railing. Then the tall blond girl on her side squealed as she lost her balance and toppled onto Sharon. She was much taller and almost knocked Sharon back before an arm from behind grabbed the railing and helped the girl balance herself. People were shouting to stop the pushing, but the jostling continued for about twenty seconds while Sharon was in effect shielded by the figure behind her, until he was also pushed and collided into her from behind.
Eventually the crowd settled but her protector was still directly behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist. “Andy?” she asked nervously, but he didn’t respond. She looked down at the arm and when the lit up sky allowed her to make out the same pattern as Andy’s striped shirt, she was startled, then pleasantly content, then strangely terrified. A sensation passed through her body as if she was going to start shaking all over and suddenly her private space was hers again and the arm disappeared. She didn’t immediately turn, but continued to watch the fireworks intently until they finished. When finally the crowd started to dissipate, she slowly turned to see Andy behind her, standing very straight and staring down at the marina, pensively avoiding her gaze.
“I really enjoyed the fireworks,” she said, her mouth suddenly very dry.
He didn’t look down at her. “I’m glad,” he replied blankly. “Let’s go. The guys are probably looking for us.”
Who was Sharon’s protector? Was the blond girl from Scandinavia? How did Andy and his friends first start going downtown for July 4th? The answers to similar questions can be found by getting your copy of Outdated TODAY! Available from www.nathanwolff.com, Amazon, or the YU Seforim Sale through March 3rd!