She slowly opened her eyes and tried to get them used to the daylight. When she succeeded, she noticed that the sun filtering from behind the curtains was now high in the sky, a sign that it was probably already late morning. On the other hand, she had gone to bed very late the night before and therefore there was nothing wrong with having recovered some sleep: it was also Sunday, she didn't have to work and she could enjoy the day.
She looked for the glasses on the bedside table, put them on and then took the phone to check the messages, obviously hoping to find some from Shuichi: her wish was granted. On the way home the night before they had agreed to return to Forest Park the next afternoon, Shuichi would pick her up after lunch. Probably he must have changed his mind, since in the message he had sent her about forty minutes ago he asked her if she would like to go out for lunch before going to the park. Smiling happily, she immediately replied to the message:
"Sorry if I answer you just now but I woke up a little while ago. How about we stop for sandwiches and then eat them at Forest Park? I haven't had a picnic for a while :)
His answer wasn’t long in coming:
"I think it's a good idea. I'll pick you up at 12:00"
She put the phone back on the bedside table and her eye fell on the box with the bracelet that Shuichi had given her. She took it and opened it, taking out the bracelet and turning it over in her hands as if it were the best of treasures. The star-shaped pendant sparkled in the daylight even more than it did last night with the artificial city lights. His words came back to her mind:
"Maybe you’re a bit like Manhattan too: you can shine even in the dark and anyone who looks at you can't help but be fascinated"
She smiled biting her lower lip and enjoying that moment of pure happiness: it was rare that Shuichi let himself go to such comments, so distant from his stoic and apparently insensitive person, devoid of any predisposition to romanticism. Perhaps, after all that he had been through, he too had managed to change and polish a little that rigid side of his character. After that gift and that evening spent together she felt more sure about the feelings that Shuichi had for her and his intentions, although still some doubts hadn’t completely disappeared. That "I love you" she had been waiting for since years hadn't arrived yet, as was the official request to be his girlfriend again. For a moment, when she saw him take out the box, she imagined in her head an engagement proposal with a ring like the ones you see in the movies, but then she managed to maintain enough clarity of mind to realize that it was too early to a request of that kind.
She picked up her cell phone again and took a photo of the bracelet, sending it to Shiho who viewed it after a few seconds. The young scientist didn’t reply to the message but preferred to call her.
- Hello?- she greeted her cheerfully.
- Did he give it to you?- she asked point blank, without even saying hello.
- Good morning to you too, uh?- she pointed out the thing.
- Sorry, hello Jodie-
- Very good!- she exclaimed satisfied in her mother tongue - So, do you like it?-
- It's very nice, but did Shuichi give it to you?- she asked again, looking for confirmation.
- Of course, who else should have given it to me?-
- Clay who came back again?- she joked.
- You are tremendous!-
- Did he give it to you for a particular reason?-
- He said he had seen it in the same jewelry shop where he got the photo frame I showed you the other day and he liked it. Since things are going well between us he came back and bought it-
- But when he gave it to you what did he tell you?-
- That the star-shaped pendant reminded him of the night we watched the comet rain and that my surname reminds him of the stars. And then he said that I remind him of Manhattan and that I glow in the dark fascinating everyone who looks at me- she said those words with an almost childlike tone - It was really sweet considering we're talking about Shu-
- Did he compare you to a city?- she asked skeptically.
- Hey, Manhattan is beautiful!- she replied proudly.
- Yes, but I don't find anything romantic in comparing your woman to a city. Usually you make those sappy comparisons like "you remind me of cherry blossoms" or "you remind me of the waves of the sea", but not "you remind me of Manhattan"-
- We are talking about Shu, what do you expect? For me it’s more than enough that he tried to say such a thing-
- Yes, maybe you’re right. We appreciate his attempt. Did he tell you anything else?-
- You mean when he gave me the bracelet? No, just this. But we had a beautiful evening yesterday-
- I prefer not to know the intimate details like if you slept in his bed or in yours-
- Stop it now!- she was scandalized - We didn't do anything you think!-
- You said that you had a wonderful evening…from the tone I was thinking of something spicy-
For the next few minutes she told her friend all the details of their date, from the first to the last, including the not very nice meeting with the three drunk boys. Shiho listened to her in silence until the end, and then asked a single direct question.
- And after all of this he didn't ask you to be his girlfriend in the end?-
She opened her mouth to reply but no sound came out. Shiho had just given voice to what until recently had been one of her thoughts, but she couldn’t admit it openly, perhaps because doing so was equivalent to admitting that Shuichi didn’t love her enough to consider her as such. This was her greatest fear.
- I told you, it's too soon...this was our first date in public- she justified herself, trying to convince herself as well as her friend.
- So, let's take stock of the situation: he takes you to get an ice cream, which teenagers usually do; all evening he berates you for the dress you wore instead of feeling honored that you are semi-showing him parts of your body that he doesn’t yet have full access to. Then he proposes you a walk equivalent to the New York marathon while knowing that you’re wearing heels that aren’t really suitable. Finally, he gives you a bracelet saying that you remind him of Manhattan: for heaven's sake, a beautiful city, but are chaos and light pollution on the positive side? And in all this he didn't ask you the only thing he had to ask you, which is to be his girlfriend! But the most surprising thing is that you’re excited about it all. At this point I honestly no longer understand if he’s the one having problems or if it’s you. Or maybe both of you have problems-
She lowered her head and assumed the expression of a little girl who had just been scolded for doing something she shouldn't have. When she decided to share her joy with Shiho she didn't think the conversation would turn against her, dulling her enthusiasm. Perhaps there was a grain of truth in her words, but she, who had known Shuichi for much longer, saw things from another perspective.
Her prolonged silence made her friend understand that perhaps she had exaggerated a little with the hasty judgments.
- I'm sorry Jodie, I didn't want to destroy your happiness- she sighed - Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for you if you're so happy, but I would like him to do more for you. What the hell, you deserved a proper courtship after you waited for him for six years!-
- He's already doing it, in his own way- she answered flatly - Shuichi is like that-
- Then he’s wrong and you have to understand it. If you always justify him, his attitude will never change-
- You don't know him- she declared - Ok, in the past year you have bonded a lot but there are many things you don't know about him-
- I actually met him when he infiltrated the Organization...-
- You met Dai Moroboshi, a person who didn’t exist. I don't know how much of the real Shu there was in the role he played and I honestly don't think I want to know- she made a veiled allusion to his relationship with Akemi - I knew the real Shuichi before all of this and I can assure you that he’s far from being the romantic man who makes open-hearted statements or spoils and cuddle you. I don't care if we go for ice cream instead of going to an expensive restaurant, I don't care if he makes me walk an hour on the heels to show me a breathtaking landscape and if he scolds me for a low-cut dress it's only because he cares for me. I know he’s sorry for how he behaved with me six years ago and I know he’s doing his best to make up for it and I really appreciate that. We had so many things to talk about and so many things to solve and even if we did it doesn't mean that what we went through was erased away. It’s not enough to throw each other into each other's arms to heal old wounds: this is why I can understand why he hasn’t yet asked me to be his girlfriend. But this doesn’t mean that I’m burying my head in the sand, my understanding will reach a certain point and then he will have to tell me, otherwise there will be no future for us-
This time it was Shiho's turn to remain silent, not knowing how to reply. She hoped she hadn't been too hard, she knew that her friend was on her side and wanted only the best for her, but perhaps she idealized love a little too much as any girl would do at her age.
- I'm happy Shiho, really. What I got from Shu in the last week is much more than I expected- the silence broke.
- I'm sorry- she could only say.
- You don't have to be sorry, I know you're worried about me and I appreciate it, but have a little more confidence in Shu and above all respect his times. It's true, they are long and nerve-wracking times, but no one is perfect, right? - she joked.
- He certainly not - she sighed.
- Now I have to get dressed, he will soon come to get me. Today we go back to Queens, to Forest Park- she said happily.
- I've never heard you so enthusiastic, I'm really happy for you Jodie-
- I know darling-
- To tell the truth, everyone here is happy that you are dating-
- All of whom?- she asked, a little alarmed.
- Your future parents-in-law, your future sister-in-law and also your future brother-in-law who can't wait to meet you in person-
She was paralyzed for a few seconds, unable to find an adequate reaction to the idea that the entire Akai family was eagerly awaiting updates on her relationship with Shuichi. It made her a little embarrassed to know that at their next meeting all eyes would have been on her.
- What exactly did you tell them?- she asked, afraid of the answer.
- I told Masumi that her older brother woke up from hibernation and asked you to go out together, then she told her parents that you were engaged. When she made the big announcement Shuukichi, the other son, was also present and started asking questions about you; so I showed him a picture of you and he said that you are very beautiful and that he absolutely wants to meet you-
- You realize this is embarrassing, right?- she sighed.
- Why? If that man get a move on and ask you to become his woman, you will be effectively part of the family, so it seems right that they know. And then everyone had understood that there was something between you, they had been expecting this news for a long time-
- I know but it would have been better to wait for Shuichi to tell them-
- There are only six months to Christmas and my aunt would like to know if she should set the table by adding an extra seat- she ironized, pointing out that waiting for Shuichi was equivalent to postponing things forever.
- Say hello to everyone then- she gave up.
- If you want I can go back into the house for a moment and activate the camera, today is Sunday so I'm with them-
- I'd like to but I really have to go, it's very late. Let's do it another time, ok? -
- Go, make yourself beautiful for your date- he teased her a bit.
- Count on it! See you soon sweetie-
She closed the call and ran to the bathroom to rinse her face, then went back to her room and made up the bed. Finally she looked for comfortable clothes for the day at the park, a wide-shoulder top and a pair of shorts that left most of her legs uncovered, while on her feet she wore simple light sneakers since she was still affected by the long walk on the heels that she made last night.
Just in time to finish getting ready, the intercom rang.
Shuichi parked the car near the park area where it was possible to organize barbecues and picnics, located just behind the bandshell in front of which they had watched the comet rain. It was now lunchtime, so they would immediately consume what they had bought just before at the small convenience store that was also open on Sundays. They got out of the car and walked inside, where other people were sitting at the wooden tables or had spread a cloth on the lawn in the shade of the oaks surrounding the dining area. The scent of meat cooked on barbecue grills hung in the air.
- What if we go and ask someone to give us some meat?- she suggested, attracted by that smell more than by the sandwiches they had bought.
- With what excuse, since we have a bag with food?-
- Well let's just tell them the truth-
- Which is?-
- That their meat is better than our sandwiches- she feigned an innocent expression, which made her partner smile.
They sat in the shade of one of the oaks, side by side, extracting their lunch from the bag she had brought with her purposely: a couple of sandwiches each, bottles of water, the inevitable canned black coffee for Shuichi and some fruit. Summer had arrived and the heat was increasing, so they had chosen fresh and nutritious foods.
She took a first bite of her sandwich, watching disconsolately as a family man lifted a well-cooked steak from the grill and placed it on his son's disposable plate, who waited impatiently. She continued to bite the sandwich and stare at the man intent on preparing more meat, until she felt Shuichi's gaze weighing on her.
- I'm sorry, I didn't want to ignore you- she smiled at him - I was distracted-
- A blast from the past?- he asked her indirectly but clearly referring to some memory of her father.
- No, nothing like that. We had barbecues in the garden, but dad didn't do it often. If I have to be honest I was staring at their lunch, I'm jealous- she admitted.
- Typical of you, when you are fascinated by something you become obsessed with it- he grinned.
- Are you referring to you Mr. "I think I'm the best of all"?- she mocked him.
They exchanged the second kiss of the day, the first one had been in front of his car before getting on and heading to the convenience store. When they parted, Shuichi's green eyes fell on her wrist, where the bracelet he had given her shone shyly. He smiled and looked over her eyes, making her blush.
- Did you wear it to come for a picnic and a walk in the park?-
- Why? What's wrong with that? I don't have to chase a criminal or exercise, it's just a quiet day at the park. And then I like it and I wanted to wear it, is that a problem? - she pretended to sulk.
- Not at all, I'm glad you like it- he admitted openly.
They finished their meal by exchanging a few kisses from time to time, nothing too passionate since they were surrounded by other people including children. From time to time Shuichi's hand touched her thighs: even though she had never openly confessed it, she had always had the impression that Shuichi really appreciated her legs. Ever since they'd been together six years ago, she'd noticed his tendency to touch her legs when he could, obviously always respectfully and without falling back into the vulgar. This thing, useless to deny it, made her happy.
- Well, from where do we start?- she asked, clapping her hands.
- From where you want-
- Yes, but you have already been here, do you know if there is anything particularly interesting to see? -
- Let's see ... - he thought about it - Behind us there is a tennis court and next to it a space used for dogs. Moving on there are fountains, a small space for children and one to fly model planes. In front of us, beyond the golf course, there are a basketball and a baseball field. Immediately to our right, in the visitor area, there are the famous carousel, a skatepark, some baseball fields, a handball field, a soccer field and finally a football field. This is the part of the park where we are, then there is the other part where there are more trees, a trail to ride and other basketball courts, baseball fields and everything else which is in this side too, excluding the golf course-
- I wonder why I downloaded a map of the park on my phone when I have Shu the human navigator- she joked, making him smile.
- So, what do you want to do?-
- I would say to take a ride around the golf course to see a bit of everything, until we get to the carousel. Then if we still have time, let's take a ride to the other side of the park. What do you say?-
- I agree-
They started walking side by side along the path, Shuichi kept his hands in his pockets and this made her miss his hand that she had held all evening last night. It had to be said that the park was really full of people and she knew that Shuichi didn’t like being too sappy in public, especially if the crowd around them was as large as in that case. So she decided to take the initiative and took him by the arm, hugging him more; Shuichi let her do it without arguing.
They passed the pond where someone was fishing and past the tennis court, since neither of them was interested, and then stopped in front of the space dedicated to dogs. Shuichi would also have passed on, but she had stopped walking forcing him to stay there. She liked watching those little four-legged friends happily wagging their tails, it put her in a good mood.
- Don’t tell me that I have to give you a puppy too for your birthday- he teased her, referring to the little dog they had bought together for Shiho.
- I wish I could afford to keep one, it would keep me company- she made her lower lip stick out, assuming a sorry expression - Look at their faces-
They stayed there for a few minutes, and then headed to the area used to fly the aircraft models where they stopped again, since Shuichi seemed particularly interested. As he followed the flight of a particular model with his green eyes, she thought she saw a veil of melancholy in his eyes, as if an invisible and silent memory was passing through his mind.
- You like it?- she asked, wanting to know what he was thinking.
- Yes, it's a bit like taking a dip in the past- he admitted.
- Did you play with it as a child?-
- My dad got me one and we went to Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon to fly it. When my brother got old enough he started coming with us. Then dad disappeared and we moved to Japan. Shuukichi wanted us to continue that tradition and asked me several times to take him to the park, but I never did. Without our father it made no sense-
Instinctively, she took his face in her hands and forced him to look into her eyes, then approached and kissed him without caring about the people passing by or looking at. At that moment she didn't care about anything other than trying to erase the pain of those memories. He had confided in her and for that she had to do her best to thank him.
It was a simple kiss, but it lasted for a few seconds. When she pulled away from him she saw his puzzled expression.
- Thanks Shu- she smiled.
- For what?-
- For confiding this memory to me. I promise you I'll keep it here- she put a hand to her chest.
- It's just a memory like many others-
- No, it's a very important memory and I'm glad you chose to share it with me. But you don't have to be sad anymore, now your father is back to you-
- Yeah, but no one will give us back those fugitive days without him-
She remained silent for a few seconds, respecting his pain. She could understand him better than anyone else, no one would return to her the days spent without her father. But Shuichi could still hope to spend new days with his father.
- True, but you can always catch up. Next time you go back to Japan, why don't you go with your father and brother to a park to fly an aircraft model?-
- Maybe because I'm not seven anymore?- he glared at her.
- What's that supposed to mean? Do we have to be of a certain age to do what we like? -
- It depends, if at seven you go with your father and your little brother to the park to play with remote controlled models no one is surprised, but if you go there at thirty-three with your brother of twenty-nine and your father in the middle of fifty then you may not be taken seriously-
- And what do you care what people think? Let them talk, the important thing is that it makes you happy. You're lucky to still be able to do whatever you want with your father- she tried to smile at him, but a veil of sadness still clouded her eyes, which Shuichi didn't miss.
- Then when we go back to Japan you will come to the park with us. If we have to make a bad impression at least let's do it all together- he smiled mockingly.
- I gladly accept!-
She knew he had said that joking phrase to cheer her up, but there was much more behind the lines. It was as if he had told her that he had every intention of taking her with him to see his family again, with the difference that this time perhaps he would not have presented her as a colleague or as a friend but as his girlfriend. She too would have been part of that family and maybe she wouldn't feel so alone in the world anymore.
They resumed their walk until they reached the area where the basketball court, the baseball field and a small play area for children were located. Without hesitation, she released her grip on Shuichi's arm and walked over to the basketball court, where some of the boys were playing. They were very young, probably high school boys, but their unusual heights made them look like adults already. She watched in fascination as one of them, with a single jump and an outstretched arm, effortlessly touched the basket as he put the ball in it. She would have liked so much to play too, but she realized that the height wasn’t helping her. Not that she was short, but her inches weren't enough for that game anyway.
- Are you still a basketball fanatic?- asked her Shuichi, who in the meantime had joined her.
- Of course!-
- Why don't you ask them if they let you play?- he teased her.
- Pretty funny!- she grinned.
They remained in silence for a couple of minutes, both watching the game, until Shuichi asked her a question.
- Can I ask you what do you find in this sport? Don't get me wrong, not that it's bad, but I've never found anything more interesting than so many others-
- The players jump so high that sometimes I have the impression of seeing them fly- she explained - But it's not just that, it's something I can't explain to you. When I see them play they excite me-
- Have you ever been to an NBA game?-
- Once with dad, just before he died. One night he had seen me glued to the TV watching a basketball game and a short time later he bought tickets: New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Lakers. It was one of the best days of my life-
- It means that at one of our next dates I will invite you to see a basketball match-
- But you said you don't find anything special in it!-
- Maybe I’ll change my mind seeing it-
They watched until the end of the game and then decided to go straight to the skatepark where they paused to observe the stunts that young teenagers were doing on their colorful skateboards, while from time to time some of them fell and made the others laugh. Beyond it they could see the lighted carousel, full of children with their parents.
- So, shall we go for a ride on the carousel too? - she winked.
- If you care so much, I'll accompany you. On the other hand children must be accompanied by adults to get on it- he played along by teasing her.
- If I say I'm your mom nobody will believe it-
- Do you want me to call James to ask permission to let you get on the dangerous carousel?-
- Better not, daddy doesn't know I went out with a guy-
She loved when they teased each other like that, it all came naturally and spontaneously thanks to the chemistry that there had always been between them. She had the impression that time had never passed, that those last six years spent as simple colleagues had been just a bad nightmare. Even though she was aware that the reality was very different, in her heart she hoped in the future to live only days like the ones they had spent in the last week.
Finally they decided to go into the forest following one of the many paths. They walked side by side admiring the nature around them: small lakes and ponds, small bridges to cross, flowers and shrubs, dragonflies and butterflies that fluttered around them, small wild animals and birds of various species. For people like them used to living in the chaos of Manhattan, that place seemed a little corner of paradise where you could breathe fresh air and regenerate.
After an hour of walking, they stopped in a secluded space on the shore of a pond and sat on a large boulder that was right there in front. Her feet definitely needed to rest, in the past twelve hours she had put them to the test. Silence reigned around them, interrupted only by the chirping of birds. Shuichi looked around, as if he wanted to make sure that there was no one near them, then he fixed her with that look he made every time he wanted to kiss her. They hadn't had the opportunity to share much affection since they arrived, there were always too many people (and especially children) to flirt without restraint as if nothing had happened. So she took the initiative and decided to please him, getting as close to him as she could and pressing her lips against his. In a few seconds that kiss became very, very passionate, to the point of making her emit faint moans of pleasure. She felt her breathing accelerate from the lack of air but also from the excitement that grew more and more in her, her chest rose and fell, rubbing against Shuichi's, who seemed to like it. She felt his skilled fingers make space under the top she was wearing, caressing her side and then her lower back: to that gesture her body responded by making her feel a tingling in her lower abdomen, combined with the desire to be touched more and more by him . She was trying with all her strength to hold back those impulses, but at every date she felt more and more the desire to make love with him. She ran a hand across his chest and felt his muscles under the short-sleeved shirt he was wearing, which snugged perfectly to his body. They had almost reached the absence of restraint with those kisses and caresses, even if they were apparently alone someone could have passed suddenly and there was no need to be found such intimate attitudes, not to mention that if he wouldn’t have stopped immediately she probably wouldn’t have been able to stop and she didn’t want to give in to the weakness of giving herself to him, not until she would have heard him saying those words she wanted to hear.
It was Shuichi who interrupted their effusions when he heard voices and footsteps that were approaching them quickly: someone was running and would have joined them soon. She adjusted the top that had remained a bit raised and tried to compose herself, while Shuichi continued to keep an eye on the situation. When the voices were close enough to hear the words distinctly, she widened her eyes and stared in alarm at her partner, who looked back at her in response. She could see the same concern in his eyes, despite he was trying to mask it by keeping calm. They knew very well who those voices belonged to: Camel and Jonathan. Of all the people they could meet in that park, fate had wanted it to be two of their colleagues, one of whom was closely related to them. They had nowhere to hide and couldn't escape, so they had to find a plausible excuse and they had to do it in less than three seconds. Their only hope was not to be seen.
- Akai, Jodie-
The stamping of the running feet stopped abruptly and Camel's deep voice spoke their names. The hope of not being seen had just sank. She prayed that Shuichi had a solution because her mind wasn’t clear enough at that moment to make too complex arguments. They both turned to their colleague and she tried to make one of those fake smiles she made every time she had to put on a little theater and pretend to be innocent.
- Camel, Jonathan, are you here too?- she said, feigning surprise.
- Yes, we took advantage of the beautiful day to do some training in a less chaotic place than the corners of Manhattan where we usually go- replied Jonathan, who like Camel was obsessed with physical fitness - You two instead what are you doing sitting on the sidelines , away from everything?-
She understood from the expression on his face that he was clearly alluding to the fact that they had isolated themselves on purpose and this wasn’t a good sign. If he would have spread the word at work they could have say goodbye to privacy and welcome to free unwanted comments.
- I wanted to see the horses- she came up with the first thing that came to mind.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Shuichi had given her a dirty look and he had every reason to do it: that excuse was leaking everywhere.
- But the path to do on horseback is on the opposite side...- pointed out Camel, who wasn’t helping at that moment.
- In fact, but Shu kept saying it was on this side and look where we ended up!- she crossed her arms over her chest, pretending to be pouting - We stopped to take a look at an online map and to rest my poor feet-
- Akai, I didn't think you had orientation problems-
Damn Camel, why didn't he stop to rain on her parade and resume his training instead?!
- I just got confused in the midst of all this greenery, it had been a while since I came here- Shuichi replied, with enviable calm.
- Well, better if we go back to our training before the muscles cool down, right Camel?- Jonathan saved the day - Let these two find the right path for the horses-
She had the impression that the colleague had emphasized the last word with the tone of his voice, as if to insinuate that he had not believed a single word of what they had said. Jonathan was sharper than Camel, it probably hadn't taken him long to understand the situation.
- Then see you tomorrow at work- Camel greeted them with a wave of the hand, followed by Jonathan.
- Bye bye- she gave again a fake smile to which Shuichi replied with another glare.
When the two colleagues were gone again, she let out a long sigh. She felt tired as if she had run with them for miles too. Lying was difficult for someone as honest and transparent as she was.
- Do you think they bought it?- she asked, turning to look at her partner.
- "I wanted to see the horses" - he quoted her words, with a note of reproach - You really haven't found anything better?-
- And what do you think we could tell him? They caught us all alone in a secluded corner of the park! -
- Actually I was going to tell him that we were walking and that you were dizzy from being too hot, so we stopped so you could rest and drink. Then you came up with "I wanted to see the horses"-
- Sorry, I was under pressure - she admitted, looking down - Of all the people we could meet, we met Camel and Jonathan?! What the hell!-
- I don't care about Camel, but I don't know Jonathan enough to guarantee he won't spread unfounded rumors at work-
- Yeah, and the problem is that while Camel didn't seem to have suspicions, Jonathan gave us little glances the whole time-
There followed a few seconds of silence in which both probably reflected on the matter.
- What do we do now Shu? I don't want more talk about us than has already been done-
- Unfortunately, I fear that we can’t do anything about it, sooner or later it will come out. We have to try to limit damages to a minimum-
- What do you mean?-
- Perhaps for a while it’s better if we don’t go to crowded places where we have more chances to meet some of our colleagues. I'm not saying that we have to lock ourselves in the house, but we have to act with the utmost discretion. We have to find quieter places-
- You're right- she nodded - I'm sorry again about the story of the horses-
- It doesn't matter, they would have been so suspicious anyway- he reassured her.
- How do you know? If I had let you talk I'm sure you would have found a much more credible excuse than mine-
- This is true, but even telling him the story of the low blood pressure there would still have been another primary and fundamental question to answer. And maybe even I wouldn't have been able to find a really convincing excuse-
- And what would it be?-
- Why did we come here together?-
- Then we could have asked the same question to Camel and Jonathan- she shrugged - They can and we can't?-
- They are two men, two friends and colleagues who came to train together in the park-
- There are gay couples, Shu. We are in the twenty-first century, it’s something normal- she pointed out.
- So tomorrow at the office ask Camel how he kisses Jonathan. I'm curious- he joked - It's a different situation, Jodie. They haven’t had a previous relationship nor have they ever expressed interest in each other. And above all they didn’t seclude themselves in a corner of the park-
It cost her to admit it but Shuichi was right: their background certainly didn’t help to resolve the situation. They had to accept the reality of the facts, which is that they couldn’t hide their frequentation forever. The idea of hearing inappropriate comments again made her feel a sense of anxiety, which joined that given by the thought of what James would have said if he had known. Not that in the past he had rain on their parade or opposed their relationship, on the contrary he had turned a blind eye with the sole condition that love wouldn’t have to interfere with work. This time, however, it was different: he certainly wouldn't have been so permissive after seeing her crying and suffering all that time.
- Don’t worry, nothing serious has happened- he took her face in his hands, smiling at her to try to reassure her - If this thing will cause problems, we’ll think about how to solve them at the moment. Maybe Jonathan doesn't care and he'll keep it to himself-
- Let's hope so- she tried to smile back, but she hardly managed to do it.
- So, you want to go and see the horses?- he grinned.
- Stop it now! - she gave him a small pat on the shoulder.
- I thought you really wanted to see them-
- No, actually I preferred what we were doing before being interrupted- she admitted without even realizing it, and then blushed.
- I agree, but apparently it's not a quiet enough place for certain things-
- If you want we can go back to Manhattan and go to my house or to yours, to feel more at ease-
She realized only after saying them that those words sounded like an invitation to go further, a thing that absolutely shouldn’t have happened despite the desire that had caught them just before. She blushed and looked down when she saw him grinning at those words: she had just checkmated herself.
- Then I'll take you back and I’ll stop at your home. As long as you're okay- he accepted the proposal.
- Sure- she nodded, unable to withdraw what she had just said.
She felt her cheeks on fire and it was certainly not just the afternoon heat that produced that effect on her face. They had promised to take it easy, but they hadn't reckoned with their irrational desires.
Shuichi put his arm around her shoulders and she stretched one of hers behind his back. Thus embraced, they retraced their steps to return to the parking lot. As they walked she tried to mask her embarrassment by finding any topic, even the most futile, just to make conversation: if silence fell between them she wouldn’t have known how to get out. In her head the thought of what would have happened soon, as soon as they would have reached her apartment, continued to struggle.