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They met at a party. Paul came with another girl but spent so much time staring at Margot that his date became angry, threatening to walk out on him if he didn't stop. He tried to tear his attention away from Margot but he simply couldn't.
She wasn't the best-looking girl he'd ever seen. She had a dainty, heart-shaped face with an appealing, upturning mouth and prominent cheekbones. But her eyes, he thought, were really fantastic. Big, wide-set, hazel. Eyes that flashed with life, with amusement, with a kind of excitement. She seemed to be constantly moving even when she wasn't. He couldn't stop watching her, she seemed so totally alive. His eyes returned again and again to observe how her head tilted back when she laughed, how her eyes seemed to glow and get bigger when she talked. He considered ways of approaching her, things he might say. He had to meet her, find out if she was as good as she looked.
Having him watching her was a little embarrassing, but exciting. Something that had never happened to Margot before. She'd had boys come marching up to her with remarks they'd obviously carefully prepared, but she'd never been the object of such an intense visual study.
Maybe he was staring because there was something wrong with her, something she hadn't noticed. A strap showing, her slip hanging down. Or a button undone. She discreetly checked her clothing, then became impatient. With herself. With him. She wished he'd stop. There was nothing wrong with her. But his staring made her feel there was.
As the party progressed, she became more and more acutely aware of his eyes following her until there was no excitement left, only the embarrassment. If I was that girl, she thought, glancing at his date, I'd be furious. And hurt. I'd feel so terrible. She was glad not to be that girl, but felt a little sorry for her.
She was rescued by Roy, the brother of the girl who was giving the party. She turned away to talk to him, making herself listen closely to what he was saying. She helped herself to a sandwich and some potato salad and continued chatting with Roy, wishing, as she often did, she could be in love with him. He was very good-looking, very intelligent, very open-minded, very kind. Very everything, it seemed. But the few times they'd dated had been nothing more than fraternally pleasant. His end-of-the-evening kisses and tentative caresses left her feeling empty, unaffected. You couldn't force feeling where none existed. It was too bad because Roy was someone she believed it'd be easy to live with, get through time with.
Somebody stacked records on the turntable and dancing started. It was a good party. Suzanne's parties always were. She laid on a lot of food, coerced each of the guys into bringing a bottle, then got out of the way and let things happen. She didn't bother with hostessy efforts like introductions and fussy arrays of food. She just got everything and everyone together, then moved into the middle of the action and enjoyed whatever evolved.
Margot danced. She loved dancing, loved knowing she was graceful and completely uninhibited in her movements. She loved the flow, the rhythm, the freedom. She danced when leaving movie theaters, danced alone in her room to the radio, danced at a party with anyone who asked. She'd been nicknamed Sunny in high school and liked that. She felt happy. She was twenty-one, in her senior year at the City University and, for the most part, unconcerned about the future. She had no idea what she'd do after this year but felt sure something would come along. Something would. So there wasn't much point worrying about it the way a number of her friends did. She was having too much fun to worry about careers or the future.
Her mother encouraged her to be relaxed about her future. "In time, the future will come to you. There is no point in hurrying to it."
Her mother gave her one of her infrequent smiles that were like rewards. As a small child, Margot had worked for those smiles, doing things she believed would win them for her. Her mother was serious, very clever - Margot had sensed this without ever being told - and very realistic. Listening to conversations between her parents, Margot had at various times heard her mother say, "I grow so tired of the people who constantly complain of their problems. In that sense, I have no problems." And, "Perhaps I was too unaware, or disinterested, but my childhood and adolescence were happy times. There were problems but I didn't see them. Only later could I see. And by then, it was as if I had become insulated. There was an amazing perspective to what I saw."
Periodic remarks like these led Margot into quiet corners to think. The things her mother said seemed to require thought. Margot concluded her mother was, in some indefinable fashion, attempting to make Margot's childhood as happy as she remembered her own to be.
Her father volunteered money for her education, occasional unexpected bear hugs and a placid acceptance of his daughter's exuberance and his wife's clear-eyed evaluations of life around them. There were times when he wondered how Margot could be so aware academically yet so blithely gay in the face of life's realities.
Margot considered him to be a pessimist, and had once spent a season attempting to force a more optimistic outlook upon him. He resisted gently, saying, "We are not all blessed, chére Margot, with eyes such as yours. Not all of us are able to see so much good in people as you would see in them. You must learn it is not possible to force people to look with your eyes. You cannot make changes by force."
She loved them both. When she listened to the complaints of her friends about their families, she wondered why they couldn't simply accept their parents as being people; why they couldn't take what was being offered and stop expecting more; stop being so overcritical. But Papa was right. You couldn't force people to see. So she taught herself to stop trying.
There were moments when she felt frightened, apprehensive about the future. Because the future was such a vast, indefinite place that seemed to stretch into infinity; it seemed it would take an enormous amount of concentration and effort to work your way inch by inch toward it. When the doubts came, she faced them down or danced them out of her system. Her life would solve itself eventually.
She knew her father thought her a little too lighthearted. She wasn't. She simply believed it was easier being pleasant.
Roy went out to the kitchen to get more beer. Margot noticed with relief that the "starer" and his date seemed to have left. She went upstairs to the bathroom to splash water on her face and neck, cool herself down. When she returned, Roy handed her a bottle of beer, then went to change the records. She was standing by the window drinking the beer, hating the taste of it, when the "starer" came back. As she watched him make his way toward her, she was suddenly nervous. It was a rare, unpleasant sensation. Few people made her really nervous, but this man did. Something was about to happen; something different, something serious. She had no idea how to handle this situation and it worried her.
The "starer" leaned against the wall beside her and lit a cigarette, saying, "Pretend like you don't know me, Louis. Make like you ain't never seen me before. Don't look! Just keep on looking over there like you was, Louis. I got a message for ya from the chief."
She burst out laughing and looked at him wide-eyed.
"Are you nuts?" she laughed. "What's that?"
He glanced around straight-faced. "Jeez! Did I tell ya, Louis! You wanna blow this whole thing? The chief wants ta see ya. He's got a job for ya. You're the only one's got the right kinda fingers for this kinda safe, see." He took hold of her hand and studied her fingertips. "Aw, jeez, Louis! Didn't I tell you to keep on sanding down them tips?"
She laughed harder and he smiled, folding his hand around hers. He was nice-looking. Sandy brown hair, blue eyes. A cheeky, mischievous face. She was slightly taller than he. Which made him about five-seven. Of course, without her shoes ... What difference does that make? she asked herself impatiently.
"Dance?" he asked, smiling, his eyes on her like an intimate caress.
"Okay." She smiled back. He took her bottle, dropped his cigarette into it, set the bottle down on the window sill and fitted her into his arms.
"Say, Louis!" He laughed softly, directing her here, here, moving her over the floor. "You're a female, Louis! How come ya never clued me?"
"You're really out of your mind!" she said, smiling into his face, experiencing a breathless, sinking sensation. Excited. "Is this your usual routine?"
"Quiet!" he whispered, letting his eyes suspiciously rove over the faces of people nearby. "Everyone's a spy. D'ya see that mike in the beer bottle? Killed it with my cigarette. Lucky thing for you, Louis. Ya gotta keep your eyes peeled every minute. Never know when they'll get the drop onya."
Her sides were beginning to ache from laughing.
"What's your real name, Louis?" he asked softly into her ear so that his voice seemed to echo inside her skull. She could feel his breath on her cheek, in her hair.
"Margot Seaton. What's yours?" She looked into his eyes feeling suddenly wonderfully happy, high.
"Don't give it away, see! I'm Paul. Code name. Rayburn. I've got an escape route planned outta this joint. Soon's this number's wound down, grab your stuff and I'll get you out. We've got forty minutes to make that boat to Calais. They're watching all the terminals. It's our only chance."
She couldn't stop laughing, smiling. They looked at each other for several moments and she felt everything inside her expanding receptively.
"Great dancer, Lou!" he said. "Just great!"
"You're not bad yourself, fella." She was swinging easily into this game. "For a crook."
He hugged her and laughed delightedly. "I knew you were the one," he said, his right hand low on her spine. "Knew it the minute I saw you. You're not too old for me, are ya, Louis?"
"I don't know. I'll be twenty-two in April."
"Thank God!" He sighed dramatically. "I got closeta six years on ya. It's gonna be okay."
"That's lucky," she said, making a sober face. "I'm not ready yet for that older-woman stuff."
"You wanna get married tonight or wait 'til next Thursday?"
She laughed. "What's next Thursday?"
"Only free afternoon," he said, maneuvering her between two chairs and out into the hallway.
"I see." Her face was flooded with heat, color. "And I've got to make up my mind fast. Right?" She was drowning beneath her clothes.
"You got it!" He smiled again and she looked at his mouth. She dared look at his teeth, his soft-looking lips. His face seemed to be changing before her eyes, becoming familiar, becoming important. "Live at home with the folks, Louis?"
"That's right. It's a good cover."
"Smart! Very, very smart."
"I thought so."
"I'm nuts about your eyes," he said, then quickly, managing to look furtive, glanced around. "Quick!" he whispered urgently. "This is it! Grab your gear and let's make it out!"
Smiling giddily, she grabbed her coat and bag and they hurried out. Their laughter seemed to ring in the deserted street. He took her arm, looked up, then down the street, then said, "Now!" and started running with her, pulling her to a stop in front of a white Thunderbird. He unlocked the door, she quickly climbed in as he raced around to the other side, arriving just as she dived across the seat to unlock the door.
"Great!" He laughed, fitting the key into the ignition. "You always was a great getaway man, Louis!"
They pulled away fast from the curb as he asked, "Hungry?"
"I've already eaten. At the party," she said, studying his profile. She liked his face, liked the bright color riding in his cheeks. He looked so good, so happy.
"Okay," he said, "we'll cruise a little."
She sat back, enjoying herself; her chest feeling strained, overfull of laughter, anticipation. She thought perhaps she'd always wanted somebody to come along and create excitement this way.
"What do they call you?" he asked, fiddling with the dials on the radio.
"What do they call you?" she countered, finding it natural to fence words with him.
"What do they call me?" He looked over at her. "Paul. What else?"
"Unimaginative. They call me Sunny."
"Oh, now that's highly imaginative," he said. "Wonder-fully original, clever."
"And you could do better," she challenged.
"Anybody could. Let's see. I've got to be able to come up with the absolutely perfect, simply adorable nickname. There must be a million. Muffy. Buffy. Fippy. Tippy."
She laughed. "God! They're pretty awful, aren't they? Call me Margot. I'd be embarrassed now being called Sunny."
"See! Told you I'd come up with the perfect name. Now," he said, "come on over here a little closer and tell me about Margot. You at school? Or do you work?"
"I'm a senior."
"Which interests you?" he asked, lighting another cigarette, offering her one, which she refused.
"It's your turn. What do you do?"
"Me?" He laughed. She liked the sound of it better and better. "I am what is known as your junior executive."
"Impressive. Doing what, junior?"
"Pushing around a lot of paper right now. Eventually, I'm supposed to get right down into it and push people around." He laughed again. "Not literally, naturally. Management."
"What sort of company?"
"Ah!" he sighed. "There's your proverbial fly in the ointment. Investment banking. All that beautiful money and none for me to play with."
"You're not exactly starving from the looks of it."
"True. Anyway, how about Saturday night? Dinner? You're the best with the footwork, Louis. We could do a little tripping of the old light fantastic. 'Course I don't know how I'll make it through an entire week without seeing you."
This is where I'm supposed to play hard to get, she thought, not show I'm too eager; lie about another date, stall him, force him to call a couple of times.
"Saturday's too far away," she said, a helpless smile taking shape on her mouth.
"I knew it!" he declared, reaching out to put his arm across her shoulders. "I just knew!"
"What did you know?" she asked softly, overwhelmed.
"That I'd fall for a girl with big flashing eyes and all kinds of rhythm."
"Okay," he said solemnly. She was fascinated by his ever-changing performance. "The truth. I must give the truth. Then I will bite down on my cyanide capsule. They plant them cleverly in the lower rear molar, you know. On the left. Did you know that? One of our men accidentally killed himself one time eating a hamburger."
"I didn't know that."
"Oh yes. It's always there, ready for moments like these. The truth." He took a deep breath. "I adore you, Natasha. The sun rises and sets with you. I cannot breathe when distances separate us. Poor little Leon Leontovich cries for his mama. The family falls apart without you. Come home, Natasha. We need you."
"You must stay up nights thinking up this stuff."
"Only once or twice a week. So listen, how d'you like the car?"
"It's beautiful," she said, swiveling to look at the interior.
"Isn't it? This machine's going to be a classic. I take care of it like a baby."
"Seriously. It's going to be worth something. Where do you live?"
She told him.
"Okay. I know where that is," he said, breathing in the faint scent of her cologne, deciding he'd buy her some good perfume. All kinds of things he'd buy for her. But first some perfume. Something to go with her small features, her heavy-looking hair.
"Parents Scandinavian?" he asked.
"My mother's Norwegian. Why?"
"Oh! Everybody asks me that. It's natural. But you should see my mother's hair. It's almost white. Compared to her, mine's dirty-looking."
"What about your father?"
"Seaton doesn't sound French," he said.
"Originally, the family name was Saint-Antoine. It got changed to Seaton. What about your family?"
"Nothing. English way back. My father took off when I was a kid. I lived with my mother until I was old enough to get out on my own."
"How old was that?"
"Really?" She looked at him with interest. "That's pretty young to be out on your own."
"It kind of depends on which way you look at it. It felt plenty old enough at the time."
"What did you do?"
"Worked, had a scholarship, made my way. No big deal."
"But it is," she said. "It must have been rough, having to work and going to school at the same time."
"Aw, but you're a kindly wee lass, Eileen," he said in a lyrical Irish brogue. "First time I set me eyes upon ye, I said to meself, sure, Paul, that's a kindly wee lass."
"I'm not so wee. And you're a cast of thousands, aren't you?" She smiled again, intrigued by his sudden changes.
"Which house?" he asked in his own, neutral voice.
"Fourth up from the corner on this side."
He pulled over and took the car out of gear.
"Lived here long?" he asked, looking at the tidy brick house.
"What's your father do?"
"He's on the editorial staff of The Press."
"And your mother?"
"She works there too. It's where they met. She's secretary to the managing editor. She's been there twenty-three years. Papa's been with them twenty-one. I used to work with them during vacations. In the office. I liked it. They're all crazy." She paused, her eyes glinting. "Like you."
He turned her around and looked into her eyes for several seconds before placing his mouth over hers. He was so self-assured it was overpowering. And being held against his chest, having his mouth pressing lightly against hers was too nice to fight against. She touched his cheek. His mouth came away from hers and again he looked into her eyes.
"When?" he asked.
"Tomorrow," she whispered.
He kissed her again, easing her mouth open. Her heart was pounding as her arms slipped around him. Involuntarily. Her arms simply reached out and wound around him as his tongue slid into her mouth and seemed to go darting right down through the center of her body. It was unlike any other kiss she'd ever received. And she might have stayed there indefinitely in the smoky warmth of the car with his tongue moving in her mouth if he hadn't eased himself away and kissed her on the side of the neck, saying, "Tomorrow. I'll pick you up at seven."
Hoarsely, she said, "Yes," and groped for the door handle, then walked, trembling, to the front door and inside. Dazedly, she unbuttoned her coat, listening as he drove away. Thinking. This is it. It was all going to happen. The future was extending an open invitation. She could scarcely bear the idea of having to wait out the next fifteen or so hours. Because, just like that, without even trying, she was in love.
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