Frank finished the story. It was sunny in the courtyard between boutique restaurants, a bakery, and Peet’s Coffee. The weather was cooling in the shade. He was relaxed and comfortable. He could see through a screen door a woman working with flour in the back of the bakery. The woman reminded him of Nicole, who would be starting her life, working in a field that would never make money. What made Frank think of this was working in the restaurant business and how an ex, a pastry chef, worked long hours filling measuring cups to add to pastry recipes and how beautiful she was in her white outfit. She made about $13 an hour and lived in a house in the back of another house. Her house looked like an oversized chicken coop with a shower as small as the standing area in an airplane restroom. The three women, his ex, this woman in the back of the bakery, and Nicole, were svelte and thin-faced. Their hair was straight and strawberry blonde to light brown in color. He could see the three of them with their hair pulled back in a pony tail. Nicole was young and probably starting out at work. He knew if she started a job like the pastry baker’s, she couldn’t afford it and eventually the idealism would be eroded. He knew this too coming to the end of his life, that life cost more than it seemed and that you really had to sacrifice if you wanted to make it. Sacrificing also spoke of having to pick a line of work that you didn’t particularly like. Still, it would give you an income to buy a house and then to buy another. You couldn’t stop until you had enough money for the rest of your life.
Frank contemplated his life, work, cafes, short trips to San Francisco via BART to merely walk around and perhaps buy a meal that sometimes cost over $100. He imagined how much more it would cost if he weren’t working. Plus, he never traveled anywhere beyond the three cities: Oakland, San Francisco, and Walnut Creek. He wanted to travel abroad after everything was done.
Frank had eaten, read, he had slept earlier, and now he was staring into space as various people were walking by, catching the yellow leaves that littered the ground and moving them ever so slightly. Just off the edge of the curb was moisture from the rain over the past few days. It was still gray overhead as scattered clouds blocked a sunny blue sky.
Nicole was 19 and had a smile that indicated terror and derision. Why Frank thought this was because his architecture professor said that you could read the faces of people by isolating quadrants: Each eye and each half of the mouth. When you did this you could surmise their personalities based on words that came to you. The professor said that we could have predicted Hitler and serial killers using this method. When Frank did this to Nicole’s picture, he saw terror and derision.
Frank held up his hand and made a circle with his index finger and thumb, an “OK” sign, and enclosed Nicole’s left eye. Her long, strawberry blonde hair, wispy, fell at angles onto her faux leather jacket that covered her denim button-down blouse. Her brown eyes were fully open with the joy of childhood innocence, piercingly certain. She was aware of every movement.
There is a picture of Nicole, where she is sticking her finger in her mouth and feigning vomiting. She is slightly behind a young Asian woman, who is calm. The woman’s hair is straight and long. She has a round face. Her upper arm is slightly chubby. She’s wearing a black cocktail dress. It is sleeveless. The neckline covers her cleavage and it is made of open space in the weave about an inch across. She has a thin necklace with a diamond pendant that dips just below the top of her hem. Nicole’s left hand is on the Asian woman’s shoulder. Her hand is bright white against the Asian’s tanned skin. Nicole’s hand covers a lock of hair that goes under it and down the Asian woman’s right arm. The Asian woman is wearing a white wrist watch and is carrying a white iPhone in her left hand. She slumps slightly toward Nicole and may not be able to see Nicole’s finger in Nicole’s mouth and Nicole blinking her eye.
In another picture, she is too far away to get a good look at her. She is standing in a black and silver cocktail dress, which has a sheer neck line with small straps that rise from a small “v” at the hem of her cleavage. The hem draws across her chest to just under her armpits. The dress design is of lines and circles, but they are muted given the closeness of the colors. There is a sheen in the material. Her dress rests about five inches from her knees and she is wearing a pair of open-toed black high-heel shoes, sharply pointed, with a single thin strap wrapping high around her ankle.
Frank studied the picture even more. He liked that Nicole’s calves were long, narrow, and slightly muscular. He liked fit, petite women.
Nicole’s curvature is minimal. You could drop your hands down her figure and barely move left or right as you went down. She is jutting her hips forward a bit in the photo. Her hair is pulled back. It is straight and wispy. A woman, maybe her mother, is on her right. They all seem to possess a slightly squinting left eye when they smile. Her mother looks like she is in her late 30’s, maybe early 40’s. She is also wearing a cocktail dress, except hers is all black. The hem moves across her chest as a long arch from shoulder to shoulder. The straps on her shoulders are about an inch wide. There are two males in the photograph, Frank imagines them in their early 20’s. They have a young “future Wall Street Trader” look to them. Frat boys. Both have big smiles, while the one holding Nicole and her mother has his chest popping out of his tuxedo jacket. Nicole appears recessive between the boys and her mother, willing to allow them their feigned dominance against the person holding the camera. Perhaps the photographer is her father. She almost seems angelic, younger, and less confident than when she had her arm around her female friend in the previous picture. They are standing on a brick walkway that intersects a small, gray rock path. Green grass moves out from the walkway to a wooden fence about fifty yards. It is covered with manicured bushes that are reaching out from the fence. The backyard is lush. All the plants are deep green.
There is an arm and a fraction of the seat of a gray garden chair and table in the image. There is a piece of a barbecue. Over the fence and into the distance, there are only tall trees that fill the sky. Frank guessed that the photo was taken in Danville.
Frank closed his eyes. He pictured Nicole. He wanted to get closer, to smell her mouth, to draw his tongue across her teeth and run his fingers through her hair. He could only imagine how she might smell, but however she smelled, he didn’t care. He only knew that she would be fresh to him. It was long ago that he felt comfortable with his mouth. No matter how often he brushed his teeth, he could taste the thousands of meals he had eaten. Age gave him a sense of his own uncleanliness. Nicole smiled at him, but he knew it wasn’t for him, it was just a picture. She was smiling for someone, a girlfriend, a lover, her parents, but not the fifty four-year-old.
Frank was bald, physically in shape because he rode his bike up Mt. Diablo. Not as often as he liked, but probably more often than he would if he were younger. There were days in his youth when he surfed in the sun for over six hours. Perhaps he was buffer then. Besides the biking, he would do about five pull-ups with his separated shoulder, torn rotator cuff, and tennis elbow, and usually around twenty five push-ups and fifty crunches. These greatly tired him and each morning of the following day he could barely get out of bed. His right hip ached. It wasn’t appendicitis, his doctor told him. It was probably muscular, but then the doctor ran a CT scan and found it was diverticulitis.
Frank closed his laptop and wondered where Nicole was and what she was thinking. Did she have the same needs? Of course she did. She got them met by her boyfriend and maybe she was even partially interested in other boys, but to her Frank was a distraction, perhaps a mistake.