The Stranger (part 4)

This is an interactive story. I’ll be writing short bits and then asking for input from readers about where it should go next.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The inside of the old theatre had been completely redone since she’d visited last. The red velvet chairs and curtain now shone brightly and promised plushness upon touch, and private theatre boxes had been installed along each side, which made it look much more upscale.

“This way, Miss. Watch your step.”

Emily appreciated his use of “Miss” rather than “Ma’am,” a term which always made her skin crawl. “Ma’am” threw her age in her face, but “Miss” allowed her to remain youthful. “Miss” offered possibility. And possibility was exactly why she was here.

Up the red-carpeted stairs they went, slowly, careful footing in those kitten heels, to the second floor.

Malcolm led her to a set of closed curtains, reached out his white-gloved hand, and pulled the left curtain back far enough for her to enter without mussing her hair, if she ducked a little. The theatre box was just large enough for two seats and a small table, which was set with a bottle of champagne, two glasses, and a bowl or mixed berries, glistening with droplets of water.

“Charles will arrive shortly. Shall I pour you a glass of champagne?” Malcolm asked.

“Um…sure…yes, that would be lovely,” Emily stuttered a bit, as she looked around. The theatre lights were still bright, as people milled about below, looking for their seats. Chatter and laughter rose and blended into a pleasant rumble.

Malcolm poured the champagne and disappeared through the curtain, closing it, and leaving Emily to soak in her surroundings. She sipped the champagne and noted the similarity between the feeling of the bubbles on her tongue and the nerves in her stomach.

“I like a few fresh berries in my champagne….how about you?”

The voice came from behind her, as the curtain opened, and the man from table four entered, his grizzled beard now trimmed close, a stylish, modern shave that accentuated the strong line of his jaw.

“Oh…it’s you?” Emily found herself pleasantly surprised and yet happily comfortable with the reveal. Not only was he handsome, his presence and reaction proved to her that this was indeed meant for her. His smile and demeanor set her somewhat at ease, though the bubbles on her tongue met the bubbles in her stomach and the excitement of this new encounter kept her body vibrating.

He sat beside her, picked up a plump raspberry, and dropped it in her glass. The champagne danced around it, fizzing at the intrusion, then dying down in acceptance.

“Yes, it’s me. Charles Parker…no relation to the famous saxophonist – though my mother loved him and hoped I might take after his musical prowess,” he smiled to himself as he paused, “I didn’t.” He let out a quiet, short laugh.

And there they sat, in a private theatre box, ten minutes before curtain, dancing around the odd way in which they had come together. Small talk was never Emily’s strong suit, but she engaged in the banter she expected was necessary anytime two people began to make their acquaintance. She learned that he owned the theatre and that he’d been an actor and a director and dozens of other things in his life, that he’d been married for 12 years, that his wife had died young, and that he had two sons who lived in California. In that same space of time, he learned that she was widowed, had a daughter in New York, that she’d own the coffee shop for ten years, and that she was a photographer.

And the the lights dimmed.

“Have you seen this play before,” Charles asked quietly, leaning in, his breath warm against the side of her face.

“I’ve seen the movie…with Cary Grant…a long time ago. I’m not sure I even remember what it’s about,” she also leaned in, to whisper her response, highly aware of her own breath, wondering if it had the same affect on him that his did on her. It had been a long time since the simplicity of breath on skin had made parts of her body come awake, since well before Robert had passed. The sensation startled her.

She felt goosebumps rise on her arms and knew, without seeing them, that her nipples had become hard.

Jesus, she thought, if a breath does this to me, how will I ever make it through a kiss?

They sat through the first act, sipping champagne, the heat of his body radiating against her…her own heat rising to meet it. They laughed, leaned into each other, and she felt the movement of his arm on the back of her chair.

When the final scene faded to black, and the house lights rose, Emily knew she was flushed, from the alcohol, the warmth of him (and her heightened sense of it) beside her, and the laughter.

“Oh, that was wonderful!” Emily exclaimed. “It’s been so long since I came to the theatre…and maybe longer since I laughed so much.” Her eyes sparkled all shades of green as the crystal chandeliers reflected against her irises.

“I would love to continue our conversation, Emily…would you dine with me tonight?”

Emily bit her bottom lip lightly and smiled as coyly as a girl, “Why, Charles, I thought you’d never ask.” She batted her eyelashes, and they both laughed at the silliness of her response.

Charles stood, took hold of his cane, and held out his hand to assist Emily as she stood. The sparks were there. Emily could feel them, all the way up her arm. She wasn’t sure if it was simply because it had been so long since she’d been with a man, or if there was something legitimately electric between them, but she decided it didn’t really matter. She was having a good time, and she was determined to keep that up as long as she could.

Charles led her through the crowds of people exiting the stairway from the main balcony, but they didn’t follow them down to the lobby. Instead, he led her to a door on the second floor, where they already were.

“This is where I live…do you mind coming in? We could always go out, if you’d prefer.”

Emily briefly considered the implications and waved her free hand dismissively, “Oh, I don’t mind. Actually I’d be interested to see what your home looks like. Our spaces say so much about us.” She thought about her own tiny apartment and what its contents would say about her.

He paused to fish a set of keys from his pocket, unlocked the door, and let her enter before him.

What should happen next? What will Charles’s home be like? Dinner? The rest of the evening? Things are definitely heating up! Share your ideas, and let’s see where the story takes us…

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