A man waiting for the Number 7 bus, already annoyed at having to travel by bus, was additionally annoyed to find a woman approaching the covered waiting area. She was running from the sudden downpour and he could tell by her momentum and the four-inch-heels she was wearing that she wasn’t going to simply come to a neat stop.
The sky had darkened in an instant and the pelting fat drops that normally precede a great pour came down with a gust, just before the water fell in sheets. He’d forgotten his umbrella, which he had specifically placed by the front door so as not to. As soon as he felt the first few drops he could hear the voice of his ex-wife Broomhilda, “You always forget your umbrella.” How stupid to use the term “always.” That is so annoying. The woman rushed in under the overhang and slightly into him to escape the drench.
She smiled; fully amused at herself as she apologized for almost running him over.
“This rain!” she said breathlessly. “I nearly barreled into you. Did I get you wet? I’m so sorry.” She managed to look repentant, relieved and beautiful at the same time.
“No,” he replied with only the smidgen of a smile; which was an awful lot for him. He’d conditioned himself to not allow any benign looks to visit his face as he walked the city streets. No friendly every-man, Mr. Rogers-esque smiling at strangers for him. He usually did not wish to be engaged by anyone with whom he was not already acquainted. Her abrupt entry into his personal space caught him off guard. She imposed even further by grabbing onto his forearm to steady herself as she checked the heel on her left shoe.
“Oh no. This heel is about to go.”
Now he smiled a little at her unabashed imposition. She touched him without permission or any apparent hesitation. The rain came heavier, but blowing, mercifully, away from the bus stop enclosure.
“Are you okay?” he asked quietly; intending to bring her attention to the fact that she still held his arm and to not just stand there stupidly while she used him as a steadying post.
“I’m okay, thank you,” she finally stood still and upright on her own. “I’m seriously thinking about hailing a cab instead of waiting for this bus though. Has the number 40 come by yet?”
“One just passed,” he answered her.
“Well, that settles it. Doesn’t it?” She had a wholly disarming manner. She spoke to him familiarly and looking as if that last question weren’t rhetorical. “I’m going uptown to 30th and Linkin, in the Park,” she continued. “Where are you going? Would you like to share a taxi?”
His first thought was “NO, you annoying, imposing woman;” but, her exuberant, sincere brown eyes, her plump full lips twisted in disgust at the fact of the already passed bus, and her curly mane of brown cottony hair which seemed to be in perpetual motion though it was still– all joined in together to make him reply… “Um, yes I would.”
“Where are you going?” she asked again innocently.
“I’m, uh, going uptown as well. Yes, I’ll just hail a cab.” He stepped out a little from the enclosure just in time to see a Yellow Cab going by. He waved his arm and gave a sharp whistle and the cab stopped a few feet past them. He hunched his shoulders against the pelting rain and stepped over to the curb to open the door for her. She darted out from under the overhang and rushed in, letting out a squeal as she jumped in quickly.
“Ahhh,” she sighed, settling herself into the back seat, shaking her hair. He got in after her and closed the door, arranging his trench coat so as to keep the wet off his pant legs.
“30th and Linkin, in the Park, please,” he said to the driver.
“30th and Linkin, in the Park,” the driver returned.
Suddenly brilliant strobe lights and a blaring sound of unusual musical horns startled them both. They looked around and at each other. He instinctively grabbed the door handle.
“YOU’RE IN THE CASH CAB!” The driver turned full in his seat to them and shouted.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously and stared at the driver. Behind him, she burst into laughter.
“God nooooooo!” she laughed.
“What?” he asked confused. She continued to laugh as the host of the Cash Cab explained what was happening and then finally asked if they wanted to play.
It took a moment for him to clearly understand. But then he relaxed his alarms and consented, after looking searchingly at her. She seemed to be giving him her assurance that everything was alright. She shook her head in amazement at their good fortune and turned to reassure him. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” she giggled.
“Well,” he gave in as he finally understood, “yes, we’ll play.”
Obviously they would have to be in this together, he realized.
“What are your names?” the cab-driving game show host asked them.
“Sonya,” she answered.
“William,” he said. So her name was Sonya.
The forty-six blocks to 30th and Linkin had William bewildered, yet increasingly excited. Here he was taking a cab ride with a strange, albeit eerily familiar woman; appearing on a television show which was taking place in a moving vehicle; and, apparently, making money all at the same time. His head swirled.
As they rode he had a chance to look directly at his accidental partner. She was captivatingly beautiful. He hadn’t noticed how much under the bus stop overhang, what with all the rain and the near-collision.
“My God,” he said to himself, “she’s gorgeous.”
Then he was even more pleasantly surprised to find Sonya was not only beautiful, but brainy. They kept up steadily with one another answering the questions. They didn’t waste any time celebrating their correct answers. Besides, he was only comfortable enough to nod his approval. He did shake her hand once when she correctly answered the question, “The character Dracula, made popular by the writer Bram Stoker is loosely based on what actual Transylvania prince?”
“Vlad, the Impaler,” she answered confidently and winked at him.
“You’re up to fourteen hundred and seventy dollars!” the driver slash host proclaimed.
At that announcement, Sonya gave William an alluring smile, cocked her head to the side and said, “Well, well” in the sexiest voice he’d ever heard. He almost forgot the host until the man burst out in affirmation of them coming to a red light, which meant they had an opportunity to double the stakes.
The traffic was horrible, which gave them plenty of time to rack up the cash. When they finally reached 30th and Linkin, in the Park they had accumulated $4280. They had risked losing $2140 and exiting the cab with nothing but a free ride. Upon reaching their destination without eliminating themselves with wrong answers, the host offered them a double or nothing chance based on answering one more question. A video question, no less, which the host showed them on a dashboard screen, and they got it right.
He never would have taken that last offer of double or nothing on his own. He didn’t take chances like that. Besides, it made no sense at all for them to chance upon losing over two thousand dollars each for doing absolutely nothing but taking a ride in a taxi and risk going away with zero. Why would anyone do that? He started shaking his head “no” the minute he started to understand what the host was offering. Conversely, Sonya’s eyes started to brightened even more than they already were as she remembered the last deal they would be offered. “Yes, yes. Let’s do it? Come on. Why not? We can’t pass it up. We’re going to win this, William. We’re on a streak.”
William didn’t say the word “no.” He just slowly starting shaking his head with his eyes closed, until Sonya put her warm hand on his forearm, stunned him with that incredulous stare and said “What is there to lose, William? We came in with nothing.” He conceded.
Then it was over and they excited the cab. It was still raining. He was excited, but understandably, leery of their surroundings. “Let’s get off the street,” he said and pulled her into the Green Rock tavern when he realized they were standing on a street corner counting out four thousand dollars.
They made their way inside and fell into one side of an out-of-the-way booth. He was struggling out of his wet trench coat when she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips onto his jaw. “Omagawd!” she squealed again. He laughed and nodded his head, “This is kinda crazy,” he said.
The waitress came over to the table silently. “Let’s get a drink,” Sonya said to him, “Anything brown. I’m going to the ladies’ room.” She turned to the waitress, who pointed toward the back right corner of the tavern, and then she took off in that direction.
The very bored waitress looked to William. He ordered Scotch & water, folded his trench coat and stuffed it down beside him. He felt lucky. More than lucky, he felt implausibly fortunate. Like, finally, a door to life was unexpectantly unlocked to what he’d always deserved, but had so far been denied. Good fortune, a beautiful woman. Yes, they hadn’t even really talked to each other yet, but she was obviously attracted to him. They had just teamed up by chance, and five thousand dollars was just dumped into their lap. Was this the beginning of an upturn in his life? It had to be.
He had been on his way to look at an apartment. He was pretty sure he was going to take it. He just could not bear to bunk in his brother’s basement any longer. His ex-wife was in the home that he’d busted his ass to pay for over the past four years. He couldn’t even think about that without wishing the house would burn down with her and his dog and her new man inside it. Dogs were supposed to be loyal, but the bitch had growled at him the last time he was there. The security deposit and first month’s rent was in his wallet. $1800 to secure two-and-a-half rooms, and he was loathed to do it because that was all the money he had. Well, it was all he had. Now he was rolling in the dough. He was already thinking of things he wanted to buy for his new place. He was going to invite Sonya over the minute it was all set up. “Sonya,” he mouthed her name as he thought it.
The dull waitress came, smacked two napkins down on the table and placed the glasses of Chivas Regal on them. She managed to eke out a weak smile at him when she asked him if there would be anything else. He looked around her in the direction of the back of the tavern. Where is she? He wanted to wait for his lucky partner to come back so they could toast to their victory and turn the glasses up together.
He picked up his trench coat again to get his wallet out and pay the lady. It wasn’t there. He felt in his back pockets for no reason, he could already tell his wallet wasn’t there. The waitress shifted her stance and gave him a hollow and totally unaffected stare.
William brushed wildly through his trench coat pockets again. He looked up pitifully at the waitress, “The lady…,” he started.
“The lady left, Sir,” she interrupted him and pronounced without feeling.
“But…,” he started to rise and then deflatedly flopped back down in the booth. He sat there feeling victimized for about a thirty seconds. That all too recently familiar carousel of emotions went by him – humiliation, anger, exhaustion. A stream of profanity played through his mind, but somehow he didn’t feel like bothering to say the words out loud. He looked up resignedly at the waitress, picked up one of the drinks, threw his head back and swallowed the whole glass in one gulp like a Boss. The liquid brownness stung the back of his tongue a little and heated up his chest and his stomach for a quick three seconds. He slammed the empty glass back down on the table, looked back up at her and said, “Now what?”
The waitress rolled her eyes tiresomely and turned her head, “Hey Charlie!” she shouted over her shoulder, “We got us a deadbeat over here!”
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