Portrait Of My Desire
By Rhonda Findling
Sharon shivered from the biting, icy cold, draft coming through her bedroom window. Another dreary, lonely, Wisconsin winter night, she thought to herself as she sketched the dark, exotic looking man from the fashion magazine. The frenzied lashing of the howling wind, intensified Sharon's growing restlessness that she'd been trying to stave off for the past few months.
She put her new "Saturday Night Fever" album on the record player to keep her company while she drew. Inspired by the Bee Gee's romantic songs of love and longing, Sharon went back to sketching the model's almond shaped, deep, brown eyes, that almost appeared to gaze back at her. Examining the model's picture more closely, she thought he was beautiful in a masculine way. As she drew his full sensual lips with charcoal, she imagined him kissing her passionately, then touching here, she could barely hold the charcoal anymore, as she felt his lips on her neck, her breasts, her stomach, her ...
"Stop it!" she thought. "You can't do this. You're not a teenager. You don't even know what making love really feels like, Frantically, she took off the "Saturday Night Fever" album, scratching the record with the needle. Her eyes burning with shame, she went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. She looked searchingly into her violet eyes, framed by thick black lashes, reflected in the bathroom mirror. She knew she was pretty, because her father always said so. Standing sideways in front of the mirror, she admired her petite but shapely figure, grateful that she had at least made it to 5'2". Anything less would have been way too short she thought.
"Sharon," her mother yelled from the kitchen. "Can you help me get the Christmas ornaments down? I want to start decorating the tree before Nina and Ned get here."
"In a minute," Sharon yelled back. Although Sharon was happy her sister Nina would be here soon, she was besieged by hopelessness that his was her 26th Thanksgiving in the house she grew up in, and wondered if her life would ever be any different. Nina, who was two years younger, had married Ned last year, and moved with him to New York where he had just begun working as an attorney in a large corporate law firm.
Holding a flashlight she lowered the ladder to the attic and climbed up. Shining the light over the dusty dark attic she saw her old Barbie dolls. She got a lump in her throat remembering how her father always bought her Barbie doll clothes when she was sick. Her father had mysteriously left her mother, Nina, and herself fourteen years ago when she was only twelve and Nina was ten. He has just taken off and never contacted them over again.
She still felt like crying when she thought of her father, even now after all these years. The loss of her had was like a festering wounded that never healed. Unfortunately her mother refused to talk about him, so they all pretended that he never existed.
Sharon found the Christmas decorations near her old dollhouse. She reached over to get it, accidentally knocking over a box hiding a large old yellow envelope. Christmas cards and letters fell out of the yellow envelope. She thought it was her over active imagination when she saw a white envelope with her father's name on the return address part. She opened the envelope and took out a birthday card with flowers. Her hand trembled as she opened the card and realized it wasn't her imagination at all. It was definitely her father's distinctive handwriting next to the card's poem.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY
Sorry I haven't written for so long, but I've been going through some difficult times and I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday. I figured things must be going well for you or else you would have written or called me. I've been moving around a lot, so the last phone number I sent you has changed. My new phone number in case you need me or want to talk is 213-IN9-0902. Hope to hear from you soon.
All my love,
P.S. Give my love to Nina.
The card was dated 7/12/66. Twelve years ago. Oh my God! My father had tried to contact us! Frantically Sharon searched through the yellow envelope and found five other envelopes with her father's name and different addresses in the upper left hand corner. They were all birthday cards. Six altogether. Three for Nina and three for herself. All the cards had short notes from her father asking why they didn't call him, along with different phone numbers where they could reach him.
Sharon held the birthday cards to her chest. This meant her father hadn't just disappeared. He had been trying to contact them. She had to speak to him immediately and explain that she had never called him because she had never received the cards. The most recent was postmarked 7/12/76. Two years ago!
Sharon hurried back down the ladder and ran to her bedroom. She dialed one of the numbers in the card. A recording came on announcing the phone was disconnected. Damn! She called the rest of the phone numbers but they were disconnected too. She tried New York information.
"Hello? Could you tell me if there's a Michael Walters listed?" shared spelled out his name and gave the address.
"I'm sorry there's no Walters listed with the first name Michael."
Sharon hung up the phone wondering who could have hid her father's cards in the attic? She ran down the stairs and found her mother in the kitchen seasoning the turkey.
Her mother was all dressed up for the holiday, wearing a brand new brown, lined slacks outfit and genuine pear earrings that Sharon had bought her for Christmas two years ago. Most people said they looked so much alike they could pass for sisters.
"Did you find the Christmas ornaments?" her mother asked, seasoning the turkey.
"Did you hide these birthday cards from daddy?"
Her mother dropped the spoon filled with corn bread stuffing when she saw the cards in Sharon's hand. "I thought it was better that you didn't see them."
"This was addressed to me." Sharon waved the letters in the air.
"He didn't deserve to see or hear from you."
"That was my decision to make."
"There were no checks with them," her mother snapped. "Why should he have talked to you when he didn't care if you were hungry or had a root over your head?"
Maybe he thought we moved and we'd never get the cards, so he didn't put money in them. Remember you changed the phone number and put it some other name when he left?"
"He could have come back here to see why you weren't answering the letters."
"You told us that loan sharks were after him."
"If he wanted to support his children, he would have figured out how to get money to you. Have you forgotten how we struggled after he left?"
"Of course I haven't, but don't you remember how much I missed daddy after he was gone? You know how close he and I were!"
"He certainly shows his love for his children in a strange way. By abandoning them!" her mother exclaimed, as she put the turkey in the oven, slamming the door shut
"Look, no matter what you say I want to talk to him. The last card was from new york. I'm going to try and track down these addresses."
"Sharon, it's a holyday and your sister and Ned are going to be here soon. I don't want to hear anymore about your father and those cards."
"You never want to discuss daddy. It's always been a closed subject. We can't pretend he doesn't exist anymore. He's obviously alive and I want to talk about him!"
"Leave me alone Sharon. It's a holiday and I want to have a nice time."
"You know you're just as selfish as daddy. You don't care about my feelings. All you care about is hating daddy for leaving you."
"How dare you speak to me like that!" she grabbed the cards from Sharon. "I should have done this years ago." Her mother tore up the cards and threw them on the floor.
"This is all I have left of daddy," Sharon screamed, picking up the torn pieces, "and you even try to take this away from me?" she stoop up defiantly. "You bitch! No wonder daddy left you."
Her mother's face contorted, taking on an expression of horror Sharon never saw before. Her mother's hand lashed out and slapped Sharon across the face. Sharon wanted to hit her mother back but controlled herself.
"You ungrateful child! Did you see me deserting you and your sister? Did you forget that we had to go on welfare until I could get a job? And then we could barely make ends meet. All the years of struggling and this is the thanks I get?"
"I am not ungrateful! I could have left home and made something of my life. Gone away to school. Gone to New York or Paris and studies art." Sharon was no longer able to contain the words spilling out. "But no, I stayed here with you because I was afraid to leave you here alone."
"You could have left any time you wanted," her mother answered back sharply.
"Every time I even talked about leaving, you'd tell me I was better off staying here with you in Wisconsin because I would have a hard time making it on my own."
"I was trying to protect you."
"Protect me. You've crippled me!" Sharon cried out.
"How dare you say that."
"It's true. I'm twentysix years old and I've never even had a real boyfriend. If I could have talked to daddy maybe my life would have turned out different. Maybe I wouldn't have ended up in this boring, Godforsaken, loser town."
"Then go. Go to and Paris. Go to New York and go find your father. Your marvelous loving father who walked out on you. Go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!" she shrieked.
"I can't believe I gave up all my dreams for you. I hate you!" Sharon yelled, then stormed up to her room slamming the door. She was stunned that she had told her mother things she had thought and mulled over all of these years but never dare say. Trying to calm herself she went directly to her dresser and took out two photographs of her father. She looked at her favorite picture. The worn out black and white one, where he was holding her around the shoulder when they were standing outside a restaurant on her twelfth birthday. She was wearing a corsage with a pink carnation her father bought for her. It was comforting to se that she resembled him around the eyes and nose.
She studied the other picture where her father was standing outside the car dealership where he worked. She remembered how happy e was because he sold three cars that day and make a gigantic commission. They gave him a free TV set for being such a good salesman, and took his picture. She figured he'd be fiftyseven now. Still handome she was certain.
While she scotch taped the birthday cards back together, she wondered what her life would have been like if she had been in touch with him all these years. Maybe she'd be in New York instead of living with her mother. She lay down on her bed and cried for all the years she lost with her father because her mother hid the birthday cards.
The sound of knocking on her bedroom door startled Sharon. Figuring it was her mother coming up to apologize she put the pictures back in her drawer.
"Sharon, it's me, Nina."
"Nina!" Sharon squealed with delight when she opened the door and hugged her sister tightly. "You look as beautiful as ever miss fashion plate," Sharon said, admiring her sister's beautiful navy blue Chanel suite and designer pumps. Nina was the spitting image of her father, which made Sharon love her all the more.
"You look great too," Nina responded, hugging Sharon again. "What's going on? Mother's all upset and you've been crying."
"I found these birthday cards daddy sent us with notes and phone numbers in them," Sharon said, handing what was left of the cards to Nina. "Mother hid them in the attic."
Nina read the cards. "I guess he's in New York," she responded flatly, showing no emotion.
"Aren't you even upset Nina? Those cards were addressed to you too."
"Even if mother did hide the letters, he never even came to look for us when we didn't answer him."
"He thought loan sharks were after him."
"Do you really believe that?"
"That's what mother told us. He was gambling all the time and a lot of people money."
"What a loser. Maybe it's better that he left."
"How can you say that?"
"With all the illegal street stuff he was into, I just think it's better that he wasn't a part of our life anymore."
"Don't you want to talk to him at all? Tell him about Ned?"
"No. It's been so long since he left us. I agree mother should have given us the letters, but I still can't forgive him."
"Well I'm leaving Wisconsin to go look for him."
"Just like that?"
"What's holding me back? Besides mother told me to go."
"She didn't mean it. She's just upset."
"Well I pretty much hate her now. She tore up daddy's cards. And if that wasn't enough she slapped me across the face."
"I can't believe she hit you. It must have been because you were talking about daddy. She always gets crazy if you even mention his name. Remember after daddy left how she wouldn't get out of bed for weeks? We had to go grocery shopping by ourselves. We'd hitch like to the store because she couldn't even handle driving the car. It was almost as if she had a nervous breakdown."
"I remember," Sharon responded, unwilling to allow herself to feel any compassion for her mother.
"Sharon, all we had was each other. It was like we were orphans. That's why I hate daddy for leaving us like that."
"I know what he did was terrible, but I still want to find him."
Nina read the birthday cards again.
"Do you remember our making a pact that when we grew up I'd become an artist and live in Paris, and you'd come visit me and buy designer clothes?"
"How can I forget?" Nina asked, looking up from the cards.
"Well maybe this is my chance to follow my dream."
"You're going to go look for him in Paris?"
"No. I want to go to New York. I won't be able to go to Paris or anywhere for that matter if I don't finally leave here once and for all."
"What about your job?" Nina asked matter of factly.
"It's just an assistant manager job in an art supply store. Nina, my life is going nowhere. I still don't have an agent. I don't have a boyfriend. I need to get out of here, " Sharon said emphatically. "It'll be wonderful. I'll take art classes in New York and meet artists from all over the world. Look, maybe finding daddy's letters happened for a reason. Maybe looking for daddy is what I need to give me the strength to finally leave home."
"Okay, then come back to New York with Ned and me. You can stay with us."
"Until I find my own place. I've got some money saved up."
"Don't worry about it."
"Nina are you sure it'll be okay if I stay with you guys? I don't want to be burden to you."
Nina got Sharon's suitcase out of the closet and threw it down on the bed. "Big sister, this year you're staying with me in New York, but next year I'm visiting you in Paris!"
"It's a deal," Sharon said enthusiastically, holding out her hand to Nina. Laughing, they both shook hands and for a brief moment Sharon felt hopeful.
As Sharon closed her suitcase she thought about how horrible this past three days were. She and her mother barely spoke to each other. Nina and Ned tried to be cheerful but everyone just seemed to be making an effort to get through the holiday.
Sharon rechecked her wallet and saw the $4800 worth of traveler's check that she bought with the money she withdrew from her savings account. That was one of the benefits of living at home so many years she thought. You got to save money.
She could hear the car running. Nina and Ned were waiting outside for her. The plane was leaving in a couple of hours. She put her wallet away and examined her bedroom for the last time. The bed she slept in since she was a little girl. The colonial furniture her father ought, when he won some big money on horse race. Her mother insisted he spend his winning on a new bedroom set for Sharon because she still only had nursery school furniture. She got a lump in her throat when she remembered how much her mother did love her in her own way. Picking up her bag of art supplies along with her suitcase she went downstairs. Sharon saw her mother in the living room dusting the piano.
"I'm leaving now. I'll be staying with Nina for awhile until I get my own place."
"Did I ever tell you that your father was going to sell this piano to pay off a gambling debt? He told me a loan shark was threatening to break his legs. I sold my diamond engagement ring and the jewelry grandma left me when she died. I gave him the money so he wouldn't sell the piano. I wanted you and Nina to keep taking piano lessons."
Sharon breathed in deeply, thinking of the sacrifices her mother had made for her and Nina. Remembering how much she loved her mother, she yearned to run to her and make it all better. The way it was before. She knew she had to be strong and lave though. Being a new life, before it was too late.
"I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I know daddy was horrible for leaving and not supporting us, but I still need to find him."
Sharon's mother kept dusting in silence.
"Mother, don't you think it's time I left home? I'm twenty six already."
"You've never been on your own." Her mother's voice quivered, but she didn't look up.
"Nina will help me. Aren't you going to even wish me luck?"
The sound of her mother's silence deafening. The cruelty of her mother's inability to wish her all the best, created a hatred inside of Sharon that she didn't think she could even feel for her mother. "You know maybe the problem is that you're afraid you'll have a hard time making it without me."
Her mother looked up from dusting. "You'll see how hard it is our there."
Sharon picked up her suitcase and art supplies. "Goodbye mother." She walked out the door and didn't look back.
David was sitting at the dinette table in his parent's kitchen eating a half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar, reddened by the Marachino cherry juice his mother had just poured from the bottle. He noticed an old purplish looking stain on the freshly washed worn out tablecloth, and wondered if it was from the time he spilled a glass of wine at Passover Seder when he was 14. David glanced at his father who was hunched over his accounting books.
"The store's just not making money like it used to," his father blurted out.
"Maybe it's the recession Pop."
"Nah! It's the neighborhood. It's getting very bad. Besides a lot of our old customers are moving away."
"Pop, forget the store. I'm telling you if you invest in Temporal Oil you'll make so much money you won't have to work anymore."
"How do you know so much about this Temporal Oil?"
"I've got a good tip, that's all."
"You know your mama and I don't like to gamble."
"It's not gambling. It's the stock market, besides, I'm sure of it."
"How are you so sure?"
"I just know. Trust me."
"Enough talk about money already," David's mother said. "Supper's ready." She served David and his father homemade chicken soup in bowls decorated with flowers he remembered from when he was a little boy.
"Gut Duvid?" she asked, finally sitting down.
"Yes mama." David said, breaking a matzo ball in half with his spoon. "No one in the whole world cooks as good as you do."
Her face broke out into a big smile, which made David feel better.
'When was the last time you had a home cooked meal?"
"The last time I was here," David laughed, putting his hand over his mother's.
David's father tore off a piece of challah bread. "When we were in the camps this piece of bread was like a feast."
"I know Pop. You've told me a million times." David couldn't understand why he was forever reminding him of his imprisonment in Auschwitz.
"I haven't talked about it a million times," his father argued.
"Mendel stop . . . shush . . . David please. Fress! Eat! Let's just enjoy the food.'
They all finished the soup silently. David's mother got up and served roast chicken, boiled carrots, green beans, kasha and varnishkas.
"Where are you going so dressed up?" David's father asked, his mouth full of kasha.
"So who's giving the party?"
"A partner of Heskel who owns a modeling agency."
"Models. Feh! Why don't you go to Shule and meet a nice Jewish girl already." "Mendel what's with you tonight?" David's mother yelled.
"I want him to settle down already. He'll be 33 soon."
"Why are you getting on my case tonight Pop? Because I'm giving you advice on making money in the market?"
"I don't need your advice on money. Who do you think worked 18 hours a day to put you through college and law school?"
"How can I possibly forget when you're always reminding me. I'm trying to give you and mama naches, make you proud. I'm making more money than ever. What do you want from me?"
"A family, grandchildren. Money isn't everything. Feh, I don't want to argue anymore." David's father said, abruptly getting up from the table.
"You always start it Pop," David said loudly, watching his father storm out of the room. David went to the kitchen and poured some Manischevitz wine from the refrigerator into a glass, drinking it in one gulp.
"I don't know what's with him lately. He's so irritable. Maybe he's working too hard," David's mother said, starting to cry.
David went over to his mother and hugged her. "He wouldn't have to work so hard if he'd invest in the stocks I tell him to."
David's mother blew her nose into some tissues she was carrying around in her apron. "David, what's with you and these stocks?"
"I've just been studying the stock market more closely lately."
"Your father and I don't want any aggravation with the stock market."
"There wouldn't be any aggravation. I'd never do that to you and pop."
"Oy, I forgot all about the noodle pudding. I made it yesterday."
He watched as she put a large helping of pudding on his plate.
"Remember Duvid, when you use to help in the store after school?"
"Yes, I remember Mama," David ate the raisins he picked off the top crust of the pudding like he use to when he was a little boy. He remembered how he hated stocking and delivering for the store. He wanted to play baseball with his friends but his parents always told him how much they needed him to help out.
"My little Duvidal. You were such a good boy. Some lucky girl who gets you. What a catch you are."
David hated when his mother babied him like this. He didn't say anything though. He didn't want to hurt her feelings.
"Mama I've got to leave in a little while."
"So soon! All of this food. I want you should take some with you."
"No mama. I can't carry around food tonight. I'm going to a party."
Excusing himself, David went to the bathroom that he shared with his parents throughout his childhood until he graduated from law school and left home. As he brushed his teeth he looked at the reflection of his swarthy handsome face with his dark bedroom eyes, long lashes, and jet black hair . He was grateful for his movie star looks because he knew it helped things come easy for him. Especially women, who were almost always enamored with him. David went back to the kitchen and had cup of Sanka coffee and sponge cake with his mother before getting ready to leave.
"Promise you won't forget to call?" his mother asked, getting his coat from the closet.
"I won't." He hugged his mother.
"Guy Gizzint," she said, holding him tightly.
David kissed his mother on the cheek and left.
Lighting a cigarette he walked into the cold night feeling free, as if he'd escaped. On the way to his car he spotted a pay phone. It was the exact time for the call. Heskel picked up on the first ring. "It's me," David muttered into the phone. "Sell everything I've got and put it into Temporal Oil. Lafayette is making their offer the day after tomorrow."
"You've got it buddy," Heskel responded, sounding distracted. "Listen, I've got somebody with me. I'll buzz you tomorrow."
"Don't forget Heskel. Dump everything except Temporal!"
"Ciao," Heskel said, then hung up.
David thought about the takeover as he drove across the Triborough Bridge to Manhattan. He could actually feel an adrenaline rush when he thought about how he just invested every penny he ever earned in Temporal Oil. What if the information was wrong and Lafayette doesn't make the offer? So the stocks wouldn't shoot up and he wouldn't make any money. Not so bad. What was really frightening him was the possibility of getting caught. He and Heskel could go to jail for trading on the market with inside information. But just like Heskel kept reminding him, other people traded on the stock market with inside information all the time and never got caught. Besides if they did get busted they'd probably just get a slap on the wrist. It was definitely worth taking the chance he reassured himself. I've got to let it go and not worry so much. Heskel wasn't sweating it.
Trying to relax he switched his thoughts to his steamy night with Stella, the stewardess he met two nights ago when he flew to Toledo on business. By the time the plane landed they decided to meet for drinks. He met her at her hotel bar and within 20 minutes they were in her hotel room. Got excited just remembering the red lacy garter belt and low cut bra she was wearing underneath her sterile stewardess outfit. She wasn't very pretty but there was something very sexy about her.
Then she had to ruin it by closing in on him the next morning. Even though she lived in Florida she began planning flights she'd make to New York so they could keep seeing each other. He lied and told her he was married, but even that didn't stop her.
David loosened his tie just thinking about all that relationship talk. Even the women who gave the impression that they were just out for a good time always ended up wanting more than sex? It seemed as if women were into nesting no matter what their story was. He wondered why he never met a woman he really wanted to settle down with. He hated disappointing his father but maybe he just wasn't cut out for marriage.
Making a right turn on 1st Ave heading for 63rd street David's thoughts wandered to the party tonight. His buddy and stockbroker Heskel was a silent partner of the modeling agency throwing the party and invited him. David had already been to a few of the agency's events and even dated a couple of their models. He hoped to see some new faces tonight. Maybe a new woman he'd never met before.
"These are excellent sketches, Sharon. You've made a lot of progress in the few weeks you've been here," her art instructor at the Art Students League commented, while scrupulously examining her drawings.
"Thanks Sam," Sharon responded enthusiastically, knowing that Sam's reputation for honest criticism could border on bluntness. His hoop earrings, shaved head and tall stature was exactly how Sharon envisioned a male New York artist to look. He was middle aged, Black, and said to be known in Paris for his outstanding abstract art. Rumor had it that he was married to an opera singer, who was famous throughout Europe.
" I hope you're sketching a lot outside of class, because the more you practice the better you'll get," he added, still looking at her work.
"I've been sketching a lot at museums."
"Good," he said in a very serious tone. " Because I'm going to be on your case." He walked over to another student who was working furiously on his drawing.
Thrilled by Sam's positive feedback, she barely noticed that the class was breaking up. She looked at her watch. It was almost noon. Nina was expecting her at 12:30. After packing up her art supplies, she quickly left the building.
It was a beautiful, brisk, sunny January afternoon, so she decided to walk uptown to Nina's apartment instead of taking the bus. Looking at the the monstrous, tall buildings precisely lined up for blocks on end, still gave her goose bumps. Sharon couldn't imagine ever getting tired of noisy, turbulent, crowded, dizzily energetic, New York City. She literally breathed in the sight of all the bustling stores and fabulous restaurants, filled with people from all over the world.. Everything about New York was amazing. She just wished she had come here sooner.
She knew how incredibly lucky she was to find an apartment in Manhattan so quickly. A friend of Ned's was a journalist, who had just got a year long assignment in Europe, so he sublet his Greenwich Village apartment to Sharon. The apartment was perfect since she was able to convert the small bedroom into a studio, and sleep on the couch in the living room that opened up to a bed.
Nina was on the phone when she got to her apartment. Helping herself to a cup of tea, Sharon admired the homey kitchen with old-fashioned cabinets freshly painted white, filled with hand painted ceramic coffee mugs. The window sill was covered with a whole array of colorful plants at different states of blooming, giving the room an exotic flair.
Nina hung up the phone. "That was Ned. He's been representing a modeling agency and the owners are giving a party tonight, so we have to go. There's going to be skinny models there so I should probably start dieting immediately," Nina said, getting out cream cheese and lox from the refrigerator.
"What are you worried about? Ned loves you. He'd never leave you for a model," Sharon reassured her, putting out fresh bagels she bought in a bakery on the way over.
"I know but I've gained almost twenty pounds since we've been married." Nina sat down at her small colonial kitchen table sighing loudly. "I've got to lose some weight."
"You always look fantastic," Sharon responded, layering her bagel with lox.
"Thanks, but I'd do anything to be like you. Eat anything I want and never gain weight," Nina replied, pouring skim milk from a container into her coffee.
"Well I'd rather be taller. I'd do anything to have longer legs."
"I'd give up the four inches I have on you to not have to diet," Nina answered smearing a thin layer of cream cheese on a cinnamon bagel. "So what's going on with your search for daddy?"
"Can you believe I've gone to every return address from the cards and talked to all of the supers and landlords? No one's ever heard of him. I think I may have to get a part time job so I can hire a private investigator."
"Shoot, I almost forgot," Nina reached for her purse on the floor. "Mother called this morning and told me she remembered that one of daddy's cousins lived in Westchester County. She's a second cousin, and we met her one time when we were little kids. I have her name and address here somewhere," Nina explained, fumbling through her purse.
Sharon could feel the hurt that was still fresh from their parting words, at the mere mention of her mother. "I didn't think daddy had any relatives who were still alive."
"Well, all mother remembered was that she use to live in Wisconsin, and moved with her husband to New York around twenty years ago. I found it," Nina said handing Sharon the paper with the information.
"Did she ask about me?"
"Just if I see you and then she changed the subject."
"She always has to be so in control," Sharon commented, while staring at the paper. "Ethel O'Reilly. I don't think I remember her."
"Either do I," Nina responded. "But try it anyway."
Sharon called information. "It's listed!" Sharon shrieked, when the operator immediately gave her a phone number. She dialed the phone number but no one answered. "I'll keep calling and send her a letter. I can't believe mother gave me this lead."
"Mother still loves you, even if she did act like a jerk. At least she's trying to help."
"Hey, what are you doing tonight?" Nina asked, refilling their tea with hot water. "Working on my portraits. One of my art instructors complimented my work today. He told me I've already made progress."
"Why don't you take a break and come to the party with us tonight."
"The party for the modeling agency? Isn't that a lawyer kind of thing?"
"No, it's just a regular cocktail party. They'll be lots of interesting of people there. Maybe even celebrities!"
"I don't know if I'll fit in."
"Sharon, remember you wanted to come to New York to meet interesting new people? Maybe a man. I think this could be a great opportunity for you." The memory of all the lonely, depressing nights she sat in her bedroom in Wisconsin sketching men from magazines and her imagination flashed threw her mind.
"Okay, but help me figure out what to where so no one can figure out I'm from some little hick town in the Midwest."
After stepping out of the shower, Sharon brushed her shoulder length, stick straight, brown hair, and wondered why she never did anything special with her hair like Nina did. Her sister always had different hairstyles and even changed the color once in awhile. She searched through her wardrobe, finally settling on a black wool skirt to go with the pink angora sweater that Nina lent her.
When Sharon arrived at the address where the party was being held, she was taken aback by the towering, high-rise building. Two doormen watched over the lavish lobby, decorated with a fountain and crystal chandeliers.
When the elevators doors opened at the penthouse, she could hear music and loud chatter coming from the only apartment on the floor. The door was slightly open, so she walked into a humongous room, crammed with glamorous looking people, mingling and drinking cocktails.
While searching for Nina and Ned, Sharon wandered into a less crowded, dimly lit room. There was a pianist dressed in a tuxedo at a baby grand, next to sliding glass doors leading to the terrace. She walked over to a bar at the other end of the room and ordered a white wine Spritzer from a bartender. She turned her attention to the pianist singing Frankie Vali's "Swearin To God."
While scanning the room looking for Nina, she saw a strikingly handsome man who resembled the type of man she drew from her imagination all these years. He had dark, Mediterranean coloring, blown back black hair, and a mustache. His blue, pin stripe, three peice suit, emphasized his tall, well built physique. He looked like he just stepped out of GQ magazine. Sharon wondered if he was a famous model or actor. He was speaking to two women at once, and seemed to exude an air of confidence mixed with a hint of arrogance.
Through the people standing between them, Sharon strained to examine two women who appeared to be staring at him with open adoration, competing for his attention. One was a statuesque blonde wearing a mini skirt and the other had a white, clingy dress that looked like a slip. They were beautiful, so Sharon figured they must be models from the agency Ned was representing. Now, they were laughing as he spoke.
David listened to Susan drone on and on about some modeling assignment she had in Mexico. Margo, who worked at the same modeling agency, seemed to be interested in Susan's story. David had slept with Margo a few months ago following a casual dinner in a new French restaurant that had just opened. Despite her cold unavailable demeanor she eagerly accepted David's invitation to his apartment. He was disappointed when they made love and she lie motionless on his bed as if she were doing him a favor. He wondered if Margo thought that her beauty was enough to excite a man. But looks wasn't enough to keep David interested. He preferred women that were responsive and passionate. Even though he never called Margo again, she was all over him since he arrived at the party tonight.
Unable to listen to Susan's self absorbed monologue anymore, he excused himself escaping to the bathroom. He took out his vial and a little gold spoon, inhaling some coke through each nostril. He leaned against the wall enjoying the rush. Then he took a sip of scotch and water and left the bathroom. Carefully he scanned the crowded room, when suddenly he saw her. Who was she? She didn't look like one of the models from the agency. Somehow she resembled his sister Rifka, who he still thought of everyday even after all these years. He had to go over and meet her.
Oh my God, that gorgeous man talking to the two women is actually coming over here! Sharon looked the other way, not wanting him to notice she was staring at him. He was standing right next to her now, ordering a drink from the bar.
"Great song," she heard him say.
Realizing they were the only two people at the bar, Sharon knew he was talking to her. She tried to respond but couldn't seem to get any words out. She could actually feel her blood racing through her body. " Yes, I love this song," she said, looking up at him shyly. "Frankie Vali is one of my favorite singers."
"Sounds like we have something in common," he said smiling at her.
"Guess so," Sharon responded, smiling back at him for a moment, then nervously looking away.
"I'm David Kaplan." He held his hand out to her.
"I'm Sharon.... Sharon Walters," she said tentatively, extending her hand to shake his. The mere touch of his hand felt warm and wondrous. His handshake firm and confident.
"It's nice meeting you Sharon." His hand lingered on hers for an extra moment. "Are you here by yourself?"
Okay, calm down, calm down, and just answer him. Don't let him see that you can barely hold it together she told herself. "I'm trying to find my sister, Nina, and Ned Miller. He's the lawyer representing this modeling agency."
"Sophisticated Beauty?" David asked.
"Yes. Sophisticated Beauty Incorporated. Are you one of their models?"
"No," David grinned. "But thank you. No one ever thought I was a model before."
"Oh, I thought maybe your were a famous actor or something." Trying to calm herself, Sharon drank the rest of her wine in one big gulp
"I'm just a boring old attorney. But thanks for the compliment." David laughed, charmed by Sharon. "Are you from New York?"
"Is it that obvious that I'm from out of town?" Sharon answered, feeling more confident from David's attention.
"No. I was just wondering."
"I'm from Wisconsin. I just moved here a few weeks ago."
"I represent a company from Green Bay. In fact I've been there a couple of times on business. Actually, I just got back from Toledo."
"What kind of law do you practice?" Sharon asked, even more self assured from drinking the wine so quickly.
"Cooperate law mergers and acquisitions." He pulled out a business card from his jacket and handed it to her.
Sharon studied the card. "Mills, Mills, and Cohen."
"They're one of the best law firms in the city," David said, then launched into a detailed explanation of this work. Sharon tried to pay attention but was too nervous to follow everything he said.
"What brought you to the big apple?" he asked, snapping her out of her daze.
" I'm studying at the Art Students League."
"So you're an artist, that's interesting. What kind of art?"
"Painting. I'm a portrait artist."
"I bet you're very talented."
Sharon felt herself blush again.
"I'm terrible at drawing myself but I've always wanted to be a writer. Actually there's a novel I've had in mind that I always wanted to write."
"Really, about what?"
"My family," he answered, hesitating for a moment. "My parents were in a concentration camp, and I was hiding with my sister during the war. I want to write about everything that happened to us."
Sharon was stunned that he had gone through so much. "How come you never tried to write about it?"
"I work around 80 hours a week. I don't have any time to write a book right now."
"Wow. That's a lot of hours!" Sharon exclaimed. Suddenly her wine glass slipped from her grasp. "Oh my God, I am such a klutz! I can't believe I just did this," she said, when she saw the wine dripping all over Nina's pink angora sweater.
"Don't worry, I'll get something to clean it up," "David replied, and left.
David found some paper towels in the kitchen above the sink. Looking into the living room he saw Susan who was smiling at him from across the room. He smiled back feeling a pang of guilt for leaving right in the middle of a conversation. But he wasn't Susan's date.
He saw Sharon still sitting on the chair looking so lost and vulnerable, and wanted to get back to her. There was something so adorable and down to earth about Sharon that he found so appealing. She certainly wasn't the kind of women he usually dated. He never even knew an artist. Most of the women he got involved with weren't very creative or deep for that matter. In fact, some of them were pretty damned shallow. But he could take pride in the fact that almost all of them were knockouts. Sharon wasn't a knockout, but she was very cute. Actually pretty was the right word to describe her, in an innocent kind of way. Sort of like his sister Rifka. Even after all these years he could still remember how pretty his little sister was with those beautiful violet eyes. Yes, that was it. Sharon and Rifka both had beautiful violet eyes.
Sharon noticed that David was watching her closely as she wiped up the wine from her skirt. She wondered if he was evaluating her clothes, thinking that they were plain next to the high fashion clothes the other women were wearing.
"Don't be so self conscious, okay?" he said, as if he could read her thoughts. She looked up feeling faint at the sight of his warm, deep brown eyes, with lashes so long they were almost feminine.
"So tell me more about the Art Students League. I've never even heard of this place."
While Sharon told him about her classes, she couldn't stop herself from wondering why he was staying with her for so long. Why he didn't go back to the beautiful models?
As if he could read her mind he said, "I really like talking to you Sharon." Overwhelmed by his words, Sharon could barely look at him.
He gently lifted her chin.
Sharon could barely breathe now as she looked directly into his eyes. Her body was on fire from the mere touch of his hand.
"You're a very pretty lady." His voice was deep yet soft.
She couldn't believe he said she was pretty. The pianist began to sing "We've Only Just Begun".
"Dance with me," he said extending his hand to her.
As if she were in a trance, Sharon took his hand and followed him to the terrace where another couple was dancing.
He held her to him now, body to body. It felt so thrilling being in his arms. Unlike anything she'd ever felt before. She glanced up at him as they moved slowly, in rhythm to the music. He was looking down at her, with a serious, intense expression. He gently pressed her to him. She would never in her whole life forget the moment his lips touched hers. It was as though an electrical current shot through her. Waves of desire rushed through her body making her dizzy.
"No . . . no . . . stop please. I'm sorry, I have to go."
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I . . .I just have to go," she said, pulling away from him. She found her coat on a couch and left quickly, totally forgetting all about Nina and Ned.
Too upset to wait for the bus Sharon flagged down a taxi. Leaning her head back against the seat of the cab, she pulled her coat around her for comfort. "What have I just done?" Sharon thought. "I've dreamt my entire life of meeting a sexy, glamorous man who is actually interested in me, and now that it's happened I blew it. What's wrong with me anyway? Am I completely out of my mind?"
A wave of relief washed over Sharon when she opened the door to her warm, cozy apartment. She put some water on for tea and changed into her old, worn out, flannel nightgown. The tea kettle began to whistle. Sharon poured some water into a styrofoam paper cup, along with milk from a container that she had accidentally left out before leaving for the party.
She went to her studio and turned on the lamps. The five-hundred watt bulbs lit up the room. Her art supplies, turpentine, linseed oil, paint thinner, brushes, jars and tubes of paints were scattered on a large table. A large easel stood in the middle of the room. Her paintings and sketches were everywhere. Some were finished, but most were in various stages of completion. Newspapers cluttered the studio floor, covered with dust from the colored pastels she was using. She put the radio on, turning to a station that played romantic love songs. Removing the sketches of a vase from her easel, she put on a fresh sheet of paper. Blocking out David's face in charcoal she tried to remember everything about him, as if he was standing right in from of her.
"We've Only Just Begun", the very song Sharon danced to with David came on. Overwhelmed with frustration she began to cry. What caused her to run away like that? It was as if she had panicked. Maybe it was from years of hearing her mother cautioning her to be leery of men. "Don't fall in love with men! They'll destroy you if you let them!" Her mother had been drilling her about the dangers of love ever since her father left. She could still remember her mother getting especially upset on the night of her very first date, as if it were yesterday.
She was fifteen, and standing in front of the bathroom mirror applying eye shadow for the first time. The saleslady at the makeup counter told her that afternoon that she should use blue eye shadow because she had violet eyes. She was never really interested in makeup before. Sketching and painting was all she seemed to think about. Then she got to know Jerry, the most handsome boy in the tenth grade. The new chemistry teacher made the class sit in alphabetical order and she ended up sitting next to Jerry. He told her how hard it was for him to understand science. He had even been left back a year. Sharon felt sorry for Jerry and let him copy off her on their next test.. Sharon got a 92 and Jerry got an 84. He began talking to her after class. Yesterday he asked her to go to the movies. Sharon opened the box with the mascara and applied it cautiously. She blinked, surprised at how different she looked now. Her mother knocked on the door. "Sharon, you've been in there for over an hour. Nina has to use the bathroom. What are you doing in there?" "Nothing."
Sharon realized she left the lipstick in her bedroom and opened the door.
"What's that stuff all over your face?" her mother asked.
"Why are you putting on makeup?"
"I have a date."
"Some boy at school."
"You didn't tell me you were going on a date."
"I didn't think I had to."
"I warned you about the boys at school. They'll distract you from your schoolwork, and only cause you pain in the end."
"Like daddy leaving?" Sharon asked, immediately wishing that she had never said such a cruel thing. But her mother had gotten her so angry.
"Yes, like your father. I met him when I was in high school, and I gave up all of my dreams to marry him. Look at where it got me. He up and left me."
"Well I want to have a boyfriend and fall in love."
"Love is a big waste of time and energy."
"Mother, I'm just going on a date."
"That's how it all starts."
Sharon applied the lipstick in front of her bedroom mirror, thinking that she was not going to let her mother ruin this date. Her excitement returned when she heard the doorbell ring. "I'll get it," she called out.
Her heart fluttered at the sight of Jerry standing on the front porch. "Hi. I'll be right there." She ran over to her mother and kissed her on the cheek. "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
Driving his mothers' car, Jerry spoke to Sharon about wanting to get on the varsity football team. Sharon listened with rapt attention. During the movie, Sharon could barely concentrate she was so nervous. She turned around to look at Jerry three times, but he was always watching the movie and eating popcorn.
Afterwards, Jerry drove to a secluded area in the woods and parked the car. He leaned over and kissed Sharon. She felt his tongue in her mouth and it felt awkward. Maybe, because she had never kissed a boy before.
"Jerry," Sharon said, pulling away. "I'm a little scared."
"Come on Sharon, it was just a kiss."
He kissed her again. Sharon was figuring out how to kiss back and even starting to like it, when she felt his hand underneath her blouse.
"No, stop Jerry. We have to know each other better."
"I thought you liked me?"
"I do, but . . ."
"If you really liked me then you'd let me touch you." He kissed her more forcefully, while trying to open her blouse. Sharon didn't resist this time. He took her hand and put it between his legs. It felt hard and lumpy.
"No. Stop," Sharon said firmly.
"Aw, come on!"
Jerry unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis. It looked long and pink in the dark. He took Sharon's hand and put it on his penis. "Come on, make me feel good."
"No!" Sharon yelled, pulling her hand back.
Jerry tried to climb on top of her.
"Stop it!" she yelled.
"What's your fucking problem?"
"I don't want to do this."
"You're a God-damned cock tease! I should've known better than to go out with you," he said, getting off her. "Everyone at school thinks you're weird, with all the long skirts and weird earrings."
"I made those earrings myself," Sharon responded, trying to hold back her tears.
"I thought you liked me?" he said.
"Then come here." He lurched at her again.
"No!" she exclaimed, opening the car door and getting out.
"Sharon, get back in here," Jerry shouted, starting the car.
"No!" She felt safer by herself in the woods than alone with Jerry.
"Okay, see if I care," he said, the tires screeching as he sped off.
Sharon began to walk on the country road in the dark for about an hour, until she reached the highway. It started to rain. Shivering, Sharon continued to walk, until she finally found a gas station. She called her mother who came and picked her up.
When they got back to the house, Sharon went to her bedroom and slammed the door. She examined the clothes in her closet. It was true. They weren't like the other girls' clothes. They were her own special style. Long skirts and loose, flowing tops, like Indian women wore.
She especially loved her earrings which took hours to create, with her own beads she collected from local crafts fairs. But Jerry and the kids at school thought she was weird! Maybe if her father had never left she would have been different. Maybe she'd be like all the other girls and Jerry wouldn't have been so horrible to her.
She pulled all her skirts off the hangers and threw them across the room. She didn't stop until all of her clothes were on the floor "I'm ugly, I'm not pretty," Sharon said out loud. That's why Jerry did that. If I were prettier, he wouldn't have made me try to touch him or left me alone like that.
She began to cry loudly into her pillow so her mother and sister wouldn't hear her. When there were no more tears left, she went into the bathroom and wiped off her makeup. She took a shower vigorously scrubbing her body. Afterwards, she went to the living room, where her mother and Nina were watching "Saturday Night Live".
"I made a cup of hot chocolate with fresh whip cream for you," her mother said gently.
"And I baked some chocolate chip cookies for you while mommy went to get you," Nina chimed in enthusiastically.
"Thanks," Sharon responded wearily, taking the cup from her mother, deeply inhaling the comforting chocolate aroma. Sharon sat down next to Nina who was sitting cross-legged on the couch, in front of the television. Her mother sat down next to Sharon and Nina on the couch. They all watched "Saturday Night Live" together.
As Sharon sketched David, she thought about how she never seemed to do so well with men after her date with Jerry. Occasionally she'd go out with men who showed interest in her, but they never gave her that magical feeling she desperately hungered for. Despite her mother's warnings, Sharon longed for a great passionate love. The kind that famous women jazz singers sang about. She 'd listen to Sarah Vaughn and Billy Holiday for hours, while she drew men from her imagination.
Now that she finally met a real man who she experienced feelings for that she always dreamt of, she had spoiled it by running away! How could she live with herself she wondered? She closed the lights and went to bed. Clinging to her blanket, she listened to love songs on the radio until she fell into a fitful sleep. She woke the next morning to the phone ringing.
She recognized his voice instantly. She couldn't believe he was calling her.
"It's David. Are you okay? You ran off so suddenly."
"I know, I'm ....I'm really sorry. I just wasn't feeling so well. But I'm fine now."
"I got your phone number from Ned. I found out who he was last night and introduced myself. I hope you don't mind."
"No. I'm...I'm really glad you called."
"I really enjoyed talking to you last night." Sharon tried to think of the right words to say. She was determined not to ruin things this time. "I liked talking to you too."
"I'm sorry I scared you off. I'd like the chance to make it up to you. Would you like to go out for a drink tonight?"
"Sure," she replied, thrilled to get another chance. Then she remembered her painting class with Sam later. "I have a class tonight."
"Why don't I pick you up after class?"
"My class doesn't end till ten."
"I'll be waiting outside."
Sharon tried to act calm as she told him the address of the Art Students League. Sharon heard a secretary on an intercom telling David he had a call on another extension.
"I've got to go," he said. "See you later."
"Bye," Sharon answered.
The phone rang the moment it was back on the receiver.
"What happened to you last night?" Nina asked, sounding annoyed. "I was worried about you!"
"I'm sorry. I was dancing with this guy I met, David, and I don't know why, but I just freaked out and left."
"You freaked out?"
"I don't know what happened. It was like I had a panic attack. You must think I'm so weird."
"I don't think you're weird, and David doesn't think you're weird either because he asked Ned for your phone number."
"I know. He just called me and asked me out for a drink."
"Are you going to go?"
"Yes! He's going to pick me up after class."
"You've got to wear something spectacular. If I could get off of work I'd go shopping with you."
"That's Okay. I'll find something myself."
"My boss just walked in. I've got to go. Call me later and let me know what happens."
"And don't freak out again!"
Sharon headed straight for Bloomingdales. After trying on clothes for hours she settled on a short clingy designer dress that showed off her figure. Afterwards, she went to the Revlon makeup counter and bought fifty dollars worth of makeup. She knew she was spending her next month's rent money, but didn't care. She was determined to look fabulous. At least as good as those models who were talking to David at the party.
She went to her class all dressed up, wearing a clean smock over her clothes. She tried to work on her painting, but had a hard time concentrating.. Relieved when class was finally over, she walked quickly through the hallways, praying that David would be there when she got outside.
Shivering with anticipation, she stepped out of the building. Relief and excitement swept through her, when she saw David leaning on a sports car outside the building.
"Wow! You look absolutely gorgeous," he said, opening the door for her.
"Thanks," Sharon answered, feeling more sure of herself with her brand new stylish clothes and makeup.
"Where would you like to go?" he asked, starting the car.
"I still don't know many places to go to at night."
"Have you been to Studio 54 yet?"
"You'll love it," he said, and they sped off into the night.
There was a large crowd of people standing in front of the nightclub when they arrived. A doorman was standing at the front entrance deciding whom he would let into the club. David took Sharon's hand and led her through the crowd. When the doorman recognized David, he waved his hand for them to go in.
David helped Sharon take off her coat then checked it in at the coatroom. He led her though the lobby doors to a huge multilevel dance floor. Sharon got goose bumps at the sight of hundred's of colorful, glamorous looking people dancing under flashing multi colored strobe lights in a haze of cloudy smoke to Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes singing "The Love I Lost".
"So what do you think?" David asked.
"It's fantastic. I've never seen a place like this before."
"There's no other nightclub like Studio 54 in the whole world. Look there's Cher," he said pointing her out on the dance floor.
"Oh my God. Cher! I can't believe it. Wait till I tell Nina!"
"Celebrities come here all the time. Would you like a drink?"
"I'll be right back."
While David was at the bar Sharon continued to watch the crowded dance floor enraptured, as the beat of the soulful disco music pulsated through her. She watched Cher dance and looked for other stars. Everything here was magical, as if she were in another world. It was all so different from her life she left behind only two months ago.
David handed her an icy glass. "I got you a white wine spritzer. I remembered you were drinking that last night."
"Thanks," Sharon said, taking a large sip. She hoped the wine would help her relax. "Do you come here a lot?"
"Once in a while. How was class tonight?" he asked, lighting a cigarette.
"Okay." Sharon decided to quickly change the subject. She didn't want David to know she could barely concentrate in class because she was obsessing about their date tonight. "How was work today?"
"Actually it was pretty awful. One of the corporations we're representing is a takeover target. We've been meeting with the Board of Directors nonstop for the past two days. A few of us may have to fly out to LA to meet with the takeover company's in-house attorneys." David flicked the ashes from his cigarette into a glass ashtray. "Enough about me. When did you decide to become an artist?"
"I've been drawing and painting ever since I was a kid. When did you decide to become a lawyer?"
"In college. I wanted to be a professional and make a lot of money. My parents wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer, and cutting up cadavers didn't seem like an option for me. Law seemed to be more up my alley. I regret that I don't have a creative outlet though. I admire that about you. After I make enough money, I'm going to retire and write that novel I told you about."
"Hey Kaplan," a wiry looking, short man, with intense brown eyes, came over and shook David's hand. "Long time no see."
"Hi Steve. I want you to meet Sharon. Sharon this is Steve Rubell. He's one of the club owners."
"Hi Sharon," Steve said, shaking her hand. "Nice meeting you."
"Hi," she responded.
"I've got some people I've got to talk to now, but let's get together soon. I wanted to run something by you. A legal problem."
"Give me a buzz at the office tomorrow."
"You got it." Steve responded, then walked off disappearing into the crowd.
"Want to dance?" David asked.
Exhilarated, Sharon felt herself melt into the music as she spun round and round dancing free style. David was making a decent attempt at keeping up with her. "Lady Marmelade" came on and everyone started shouting out the words to the song. Sharon could feel herself losing herself to the music and the whole party atmosphere. After the end of "Knock On Wood", David led Sharon back to the bar and ordered more drinks.
"You're a great dancer," he said, handing Sharon another white wine spritzer. "Thanks," she responded, taking a large sip. "So what law school did you go to?"
"I heard law school is very hard. My brother in law Ned told my sister that he almost flunked out the first year."
David laughed, "I came pretty close to that myself." He told her about one of his professors who was particularly hard on the students in his tort class. "So what made you decide to move to New York?"
Because David was a good listener, and she had a buzz from drinking on an empty stomach, she poured out the entire story about her mother's hiding her father's birthday cards.
"You'll find him Sharon," David reassured her. Just then, the music got much louder making it almost impossible to hear him.
"Would you like to go back to my place? Its quiet there and we can talk?" he asked, his voice raised. "I'll open a bottle of champagne."
Sharon froze. She had never been alone in a man's apartment before. David wasn't just any man though. He was her dream man. She couldn't afford to mess things up again. She needed to be strong and let go of her past, once and for all.
They walked to David's car parked three blocks away. Within a few minutes, they pulled into a garage in a high-rise building. They took an elevator to the 28th floor. David opened the door to his apartment and turned on the lights.
Sharon was instantly impressed with the suave looking apartment. The living room was furnished with a large, slick, dark, leather looking couch, several matching plush chairs, and a glass coffee table. An entire wall was covered with shelves filled with books.