To Shandi Fossey, the sky was the limit. And if there was
one thing she missed about Round-Up, Oklahoma, that was it. The sky.
Pinpoints of white light twinkling in an inky black bowl. Cotton-ball
clouds scooped high on a pale blue plate. Butter spreading at dawn. Orange
Julius at sunset.
The sky above Manhattan was about wedges
cut between buildings, streetlights reflected in windowpanes and flashing
neon colors — or
so it seemed, sitting as she was, cross-legged and lights-off in front
of the floor-toceiling windows of her sixth-floor West Village apartment
at three-thirty in the morning.
But that was okay. The wedges thing. Really. Because there
were lights a whole lot brighter and much more meaningful here in the
Big Apple than found anywhere in the sky over Oklahoma.
And that was why she was here, wasn't it? For the lights
on Broadway as well as those off. The theaters and cabarets, sets and
stages and clubs. All of those myriad places offering canvases for her
Eyelids and lashes and lips. Brows and cheekbones.
The slope of a nose. The line of a jaw. These were the
landscapes she transformed, shaping and coloring and creating, turning
the ordinary into the fantastic with her brushes and sponges, her pots
and tubes and jars of colors and creams.
She leaned her upper body to the left, stretching dozens
of muscles as she draped her right arm as far as she could over her head
and down toward the floor. Her shift as bartender at Erotique in the
hotel Hush meant long hours on her feet at least five nights a week,
many times six.
Afterward, unwinding beneath her own
personal wedge of what sky she could see had become her routine. She
enjoyed the silence,
the dark, the sense of so much life teeming around her — even though
what life she could see from here was so very, very still.
She imagined patrons talking long into the night, discussing
and arguing over the shows they'd seen. She pictured the ushers, hostesses
and attendants waiting for the venues to empty so they could kick off
their shoes, along with their frozen smiles.
She thought of the actors easing out
of their roles much as she eased from hers when she sat here each night,
leaving behind the
Shandi who mixed martinis and margaritas for Erotique's sophisticated
clientele and slipping — reluctantly? regretfully? naturally? — back
into the role she'd lived so long.
That of a long-legged, willowy cat's
tail of a filly from Oklahoma — the description she'd been tagged
with by the beer-and-whiskey crowd at the Thirsty Rattler, her family's
bar in the small town of RoundUp.
One of these days she would figure out which of the two
women she was, whether she needed to make a choice between them or combine
them. Had she left Oklahoma to encouraging farewells instead of predictions
that she'd return in six months, her tail tucked between her legs, she
might find that integration a whole lot easier.
As it was, there was a big part of her that just couldn't
let go of the doubts planted by her family when she'd announced her decision
to leave Round-Up for a life in New York City.
For the last year she'd been pursuing
a bachelor of science degree in cosmetics and fragrance marketing at
the Fashion Institute
of Technology. During that time she temped for a living — most
recently at the law firm of Winslow, Reynolds and Forster — until
hearing whispers around the office about the opening of Hush.
And for the same very long year she'd been satisfied with
the status quo of her studies, her work schedule and her friends, needing
nothing more. Or so she had thought.
Until tonight, when he had sat down at the bar.
She realigned her body to stretch her left side, her fingertips
hovering over the hardwood floor at her right hip. Oh, but if he hadn't
been the most gorgeous thing she'd ever seen. Better even than the actor
from that television show about Navy investigators, who had stayed at
Hush during the hotel's grand opening.
Only this guy was real, not an elusive Hollywood fantasy.
One who'd wanted to talk to her. Thankfully Erotique had been busy beyond
belief, giving her a legitimate excuse to walk away and catch her breath
when their flirtation took on a sexually dangerous edge, as it had so
At least walking away had worked tonight.
But he was a guest at Hush, meaning
the odds were that she would be seeing him again. And the bar wouldn't
always be as hopping
as it had been this evening. He was going to lose interest if she couldn't
get her act together and keep her mind — and her ever-wavering
sense of self-worth — out of Round-Up.
Keeping her mind out of the bedroom was an entirely separate
matter. It was hard to talk to the man when she couldn't stop herself
from thinking about getting him out of his clothes, but that's exactly
how she'd spent a large chunk of the night's long shift.
His hair was blond, or had been when
he was younger. It had darkened, leaving him with lo-lights instead
of high. And it was
long, a bit wavy — a leonine mane. He wore it pulled back and wore
a goatee and soul patch, as well.
His smile twinkled. His eyes twinkled. His personality,
too. She'd had the best time exchanging bantering quips and innuendo.
She'd appreciated his wit. Appreciated, too, calls from the other patrons
allowing her to step away and gather her thoughts while mixing drinks
She'd asked him what had brought him
to the city and to the hotel. He'd told her it was a business trip — the business
of money, music and women. She'd teased back that she wasn't much for
helping him with the first two, but the third….
For a long moment then he'd held her gaze, and she'd imagined
his fingers that were slowly stroking his glass stroking her instead.
Her body had responded, her filmy bra beneath her sleeveless black tuxedo
shirt doing little good to keep her private thoughts private. He'd noticed.
He'd lifted his drink, his eyes on her as he'd swallowed, his throat
working, his jaw taut, the vein at his temple pulsing.