When Anastasia awoke to find James still at the breakfast table the next morning, she was quite surprised, for he usually took off before she came downstairs. She scowled at the sight before he met her gaze, and when he did, she quickly turned her attention elsewhere. She walked to the fridge, trying to stall so that if he was about to leave, she could spare herself the few dreadful minutes of contact with him. She opened the fridge and scanned it with her eyes, pretending to look for something.
"Margot, where is the milk?" She looked up to see Margot washing dishes.
"Already on the table, Miss."
"Ugh," Anastasia muttered under her breath. "Orange juice?"
"It's already here, Anastasia." She heard James say behind his newspaper. "Now please sit down. I need to talk to you about something."
He sounded as if he were her father and she did not appreciate it. But she decided not to provoke her blood pressure at such an early hour. She shut the fridge and walked to the table, pulling up the chair across from him. James set his newspaper down and looked at her as she looked down, transferring fruit onto her plate.
"I'm going to be away for business for a few days to handle a corporate deal." He said to her. She did not look up at him, in fact, she went about her breakfast as if she did not hear him at all. Despite this, he went on. "I know you're a grown woman, and I know you hate being treated as if you weren't...but I just wanted to make sure that you could handle being on your own for awhile. Of course, Mrs. Hutton and Margot will be here."
"You needn't ask me permission about every little thing you involve yourself with." She looked up at him whilst spearing a strawberry. "As you said before, I have no business in all matters that concern you."
He wanted to strangle her. It was merely a way to let her know where he would be. Why did she have to be so God damn snotty about every little thing? He sighed and ran a hand over his chin, sitting back in his chair.
"Indeed, that smart mouth of yours might be correct." He bore a serious, unaffected expression on his face despite his annoyance. "I'll be headed to New York tomorrow morning."
He was a man of patience and she sure knew how to test him. He picked up his newspaper and read on. Her demeanor changed at what she heard. She slowly set her fork down and looked at the newspaper that acted as a barrier between them.
"Did you say you were going to New York?" Her mind flashed back to the map inside the old tin box she used to keep under her bed. She felt a fool for feeling a certain way about the place, but there she was, still remembering Mitchell and the way he had promised to take her there. "Which part?"
"The city." He took a sip of coffee, not taking a liking to her at the moment, or any moment at all for that matter. "Say, why the sudden interest?"
She felt a witty response about to roll off her tongue but she held herself back at the request she was about to make.
"Just a question." She cleared her throat, wondering why she was even about to ask what was coming. "May I...may I come with you?"
His face relaxed upon hearing her question, dropping his newspaper to look at her. Why was she all of a sudden showing interest in accompanying him to an affair she knew nothing about with a man she despised? He couldn't fathom.
"You're joking," He said. "Are you not?"
"No, I-I...I want to go." She had to be nice, and she was finding it quite challenging. "I've never been as a girl. Believe it or not."
He was silent for a moment, contemplating the idea as she watched him.
"I promise not to get in the way, and you can do whatever you're going there to do. I'll find ways to entertain myself so you needn't worry." She wanted to smile, though all she could muster was a half, toothless grin.
James eyed the clock on the wall, getting up as he lost track of time. And without another moment to think it over, he grabbed his blazer off his chair.
"Well, alright." He told her as he hurried to leave. "Bring a few days worth of clothes, not your whole closet."
"You didn't marry a typical girl, so that's something you'll never catch me doing." She rolled her eyes at this.
And with that, he left. Anastasia sighed, pushing her plate away as she sat in confusion at what she had done. What was she coming to New York City to do, anyway? Even though she very well knew that Mitchell was nothing more than a distant memory in her past, it was as if she was still looking for something that was missing, as if what they had remained an unsolved puzzle. Only there was nothing to solve. And even if there was something missing, she very well knew that she would never find it. Whatever it might have been.
Anastasia watched them load the cars with their belongings, the water trickling down the window making the scene blurry from her bedroom. She felt like running downstairs and telling James she had changed her mind, that she no longer wanted to come. The rain fell hard that morning, with gray skies to match. She swallowed the lump growing in her throat and picked up her purse.
"You ready?!" She heard James yell from downstairs.
"Yes! Yes! I'm..." Her voice simmered down to a whisper. "Ready as I'll ever be."
She made her way downstairs and found James saying goodbye to Margot and Mrs. Hutton, who assured him that everything would be taken care of. Once they were out and inside their cars, they made their way to the airport. Anastasia and James rode in separate cars, much to her own relief. She had only been to New York once as a child when her Father had a business venture, despite lying to James that she had never been there before. She held on to her hat tightly in her little hands, sudden regret washing over her as she immediately wondered why she volunteered to come besides the fact that she was nothing but a lovesick girl.
"You'll love it there. It's nothing like Rhode Island." She could hear Mitchell say in her ear when he came back from vacation a couple summers ago. "Central Park was my favorite. I'll take you there first."
Her vision grew blurry as she looked out the window, the rain hitting hard against the roof of the car. Then she tortured herself more with her restless imagination, picturing Mitchell taking his new bride there. She hated the power he had over her regardless of the lack of his presence. It was then that she finally allowed herself to be vulnerable, after trying her best to mask her broken heart. How she ever thought they belonged together made her feel foolish and naive, and though she always knew how to get exactly what she wanted, she found that life wasn't so easy to win over.
When they finally arrived at the airport, they pulled into a secluded runway area for private planes. She stepped out of the car as the chauffeur held an umbrella over her head. She saw James already in the distance speaking to several men as they stood next to a white jet. She watched as men loaded the plane with their luggage, adjusting her hat on her head from the light drizzle that became of the rain. She approached them as she saw James break away and head towards her.
"You've ridden on a plane before, I take it?" He said to her.
"Of course, what do you think-"
"I mean have you ever ridden on a private jet before? It's much different than riding a regular airplane."
"Both are forms of transportation that obviously share the common act of flying, how different could they be from each other?" She shrugged.
"Due to the weather it's a bit risky to fly, but since the rain has calmed down I'm going to go through with it. Now if ever we receive any turbulence I don't want you to panic." He looked back at the plane and then up and down at Anastasia. "You have the option of staying behind if you'd like."
"If we die," she smirked at him. "Then we die together."
She walked off as James followed her, suppressing his chuckle at her comment. Everyone boarded the plane, and as Anastasia sat in her seat, she felt a bit claustrophobic at how tiny the space inside seemed to be. She looked to her left, where James sat pre-occupied with looking over documents on the pull out table in front of him. She took a deep breath and remembered what her Mother told her in her room on the day of her wedding. This was her life. A businessman's wife. Whatever he was, was what became of her. The days of getting dirt on her knees or secretly sharing a cigarette with her old friends after class were long gone. She closed her emerald eyes and tried to picture herself somewhere else. And the last thing she saw, were the clouds surrounding the plane.
She took off her coat, walking up to the huge window of her suite overlooking all of New York city. Her eyes searched for a cluster of trees, hoping Central Park wasn't too far away from their hotel. She set her coat down on a grandfather chair that sat next to the window in front of a cherry wood desk.
"This will be your room." She heard James say in the distance as he stood by the door, dropping her off to her suite. "We've got houses out in Long Island and Glen Cove where our New York offices and ports are located. Now I usually stay there when I'm out here but it's too much of a drive to the city so I hope you don't mind being in a hotel."
"No, no." She turned around. "I'm fine."
"My room is right across from yours if there's anything you need." He looked down at his watch. "I have to meet the President and Vice President of Sherwood & Company at 3 o'clock which is in about a half hour. You'll be alright, won't you?"
"As I promised," she undid her hair as it fell to her back. "It'll feel as if I'm not even here. Do as you wish."
He nodded and with that, he left. She kicked off her shoes and sat on the foot of the bed, pulling out the free map she took from the hotel lobby. She searched for Central Park and examined a route to get there from the hotel. She frowned at the fact that it was a few miles away for which she had not packed any comfortable walking shoes to explore the city. Thank God for New York's taxis, at least. She decided she would make the best of the situation and settled for a pair of leather and suede oxford shoes with low heels as she rifled though her suitcase. She fastened a headband on and positioned her finger wave bangs to the side of her forehead. She shed the uncomfortable dress she had on and slipped on a pair of black Capri pants and a sleeveless top with a high neckline. She finished it off with a beige trench coat and grabbed her umbrella, folded map in her pocket. On her way out, she found herself face to face with what looked to be a slightly nerve-wracked James, who was coming out of his room as well.
"James," Anastasia uttered in surprise.
"Anastasia," he looked at the umbrella in her hand. "Where are you off to?"
"I stay out of your hair and you stay out of mine." She was about to hurry off, only James' sloppy demeanor caught her for a moment. She eyed his crooked tie and his usually perfectly combed hair out of place. "Are you alright? You look a bit..."
"I know," he sighed. "I'm due for my meeting in a few minutes but I accidentally fell asleep and lost track of time so my only focus is on getting there, I'm-"
She pushed him back into his room and ordered him to sit on his bed, which he did so as he was told. In amusement, he watched her disappear into the bathroom before coming back with a cup of water, his pomade, and a brush in her hands.
"If you want to make an impression, you can't look as if you've just trampled through a damn tornado for crying out loud."
She dampened her fingers with water and smoothed over the kinks in his hair. He winced at her touch, which he expected to be quite blunt and rough, just like her nature, but surprisingly her hands moved gently enough to almost put him to sleep. He tried his best to also ignore the fact that she smelled like sweet lilacs and freshly washed linen, her shampoo giving off a pleasant scent in the air as her long, thick, raven black hair swayed with her movements. He looked at her and examined the determined expression on her face as her thick eyebrows crinkled together while she groomed his hair. She was so concentrated on it. Next, she undid his tie and slipped it off his neck with such swiftness that it startled him a little. He focused his attention on the painting hanging on the wall in front of him as to avoid looking at her. She put it back around his neck, looping here and there before finally looking at him.
"You'll be good." She suddenly said, his eyes never leaving the picture. "You've been a punctual man all your life, I take it. One little tardy episode won't cost you your life's work."
He looked at her, almost transfixed at her eyes. Almost. He wouldn't allow himself.
"And where did a girl such as yourself, being as you are," his gaze was unfaltering. "Gather the knowledge of doing a tie?"
"My father was a man of few words," she set her eyes on the tie, which she gently tightened around his neck. "But when it came to teaching me a thing or two, it was always in his nature to demonstrate."
They looked at each other for a moment.
"And besides," she lifted her eyebrows, her voice low but smooth as velvet. "You didn't expect a woman like me to get married first without knowing how to put on a man's tie, did you?"
He didn't say anything for awhile as he studied her.
"I suppose not."
"There. You're ready." She said, briefly placing her hands on his chest, his eyes still on her.
She then quickly turned away and grabbed her umbrella, coming to a realization that the situation they were in at that moment made her feel married. Very married. If that were even a term. Not wanting to linger any longer, she dashed out of the room and down the hallway into an elevator. And then he would sit there for just a second, puzzled at how such a girl could even have the slightest ability to polish a man. He was amused by the person he married, but even more so amused by the fact that she was someone who, he was starting to believe, he knew nothing about.
She looked down at the map and then back up at the buildings around her, wondering how such a place could be so big, so busy, and so full of people. She had just gotten off a taxi and she could feel autumn arriving in the wind as it caressed her cheek. And with this, she closed her eyes, not being able to help but picture what it would have been like if Mitchell were standing right next to her, whether he would have known a quicker way to get to Central Park or whether he would have embraced her from the cold. She felt an ache deep in her chest as she opened her eyes, still standing alone in a city that was foreign to her. She walked on, crossing a street along with a huge throng of people, the map in her hand flapping in the wind. Of course, she got looks and double takes from several people, even getting mistaken for a movie star out in hiding as she popped her collar to cover half her face. Even then, she still got asked for an autograph. She focused on the route whilst soaking in all her surroundings, now knowing what Mitchell meant by saying that the place could come off a bit overwhelming but otherwise entertaining and beautiful in its own way.
Through the hustle and bustle, the sound of buses, taxis, and cars honking and wheezing by, the tall buildings, food stands and family owned businesses, businessmen in their suits, kids playing in a nearby alley, mothers pushing strollers, and the whole entire city going about their day, she soaked it all in, finding everything so refreshing after being under her family's roof all her life. So when she finally reached Central Park, she couldn't help but smile at the sight of children playing, people riding their bikes, couples falling in love as they rode inside boats on the pond, men playing golf, women gathered in gossip with other women as they sat in benches, old women crocheting across from them, old men playing chess, and vendors selling different goods and items. She ran towards the bridge, watching the ducks stay afloat in the water, wondering if Mitchell had been in the very same spot she stood in.
She circled around the park, admiring its landscape and the people that basked in it. She passed by a man selling roses from a bucket, who, just by seeing her beauty, offered her a rose, free of charge.
"For the girl with the emerald eyes." He nodded to her, holding out the rose in his hand.
Anastasia hesitated a little, not knowing if she should, but after a few convincing looks from the old man with the kind eyes, she thanked him with a smile and took the rose.
PART 2 TO FOLLOW