I hate it when people don’t shovel their sidewalks, Lori grumbled, there’s just no way to walk down this sidewalk without twisting your ankle. She continued to teeter her way over the rutted frozen footprints, shaking her head at her poor choice of boots. The heel was just high enough to make her feet ache and the thin plastic that almost looked like leather was neither warm nor waterproof. When the night began the snow on the un-shoveled cement had still been part slush, soaking through to her toes. Now that the temperature had dropped, good news; there was no more slush. Bad news; every lumpy surface was slippery ice. How did I ever get talked into this? She continued making her way toward the corner, imagining that any second her feet would slip out from under her and her body would be splayed flat out on the ground, with something or other broken or sprained. She made it to the corner safely, and stopped, realizing she had been holding her breath. Breathe, she reminded herself, stress comes from within. It’s not the situation, it’s all in how you handle it.
This was your choice, own up to it. She looked down 11th street, halfway down the block, at the idling car that was supposed to make her feel protected. She tried to wiggle her toes inside her boots but she could hardly feel them, they were barely more than ice cubes at this point. Cheer up, Loretta, you’ve been through worse. She turned and walked the other way on Third Avenue. She sunk her chin down into her scarf and buried her hands farther into her side pockets, trying to squeeze a little more warmth out of her coat. Of course now the wind is picking up, she thought, these leg warmers are about as effective as a broken condom. Blame the short skirt, but she had to show something or what was the point? She continued to pace back and forth on the icy walk, her focus split between trying not to slip and looking for cars that were driving slow enough to mark themselves as possibilities. Traffic was minimal, only the hardy were out on a night like tonight, or the desperate. Damn, I miscalculated how cold it was going to be tonight, Lori cursed, is there anything worse than streetwalking in the winter? Well, there just might be a few things, she shivered and shifted her gaze down Third Avenue at the oncoming headlights.
As Oscar stopped at the red light his car stalled again. He consciously resisted punching the steering wheel. Instead, he sighed, turned the key in the ignition and heard it roar to life. The car was plenty warm, its reason for stalling was nebulous to him. Only three years old, the compact sedan had made it all the way from southern Texas, serving him well since he’d moved to Brooklyn. Now, in the last two weeks, it would stall for no reason. Cold, warmed up, steering into a curve, idling in traffic, it didn’t matter, it would just quit when it felt like it. Three garages he’d brought it to and no one could find the problem. All diagnostics report that it’s fine, they would tell him, no one would take the time to look any deeper. If they couldn’t find it in the electronics, it didn’t exist. Cars were computers on wheels, and he had his own philosophy about computers. It’s not always a worn widget or faulty wiring, sometimes they were sick in their souls, just like people. And that’s what keeps me employed, isn’t it? He sat, revving the engine for a moment, the windshield almost too fogged to see down Third Avenue.
Oscar pulled his gloves on snugger. This winter they’d had the most snow on record for Brooklyn and it seemed like it would never end. Just when it would start to melt a bit, it would snow again. Being from Texas, he had no nostalgia for snowy weather, although he didn’t mind the cold so much as the lack of sunlight. He’d take a cold sunny day over a warm cloudy one any time. He’d only just moved to Brooklyn just before the new year. The weather was wearing him down, but he wouldn’t get any vacation time until the summer. He was lucky he had gotten to spend the holidays with his family back home before he moved.
He had really enjoyed seeing his married sister and her kids at his parents’ house. And it was great to see his younger brother, who always brought his partner, both great guys. They all got along so well, they weren’t one of those dysfunctional families you see on TV or in the movies. But lately he got the feeling that they were all on one side of an equation, and he was on the other. Everyone was paired off, achieving a kind of separate balance, like standing solidly on two feet. Oscar felt like he was teetering on one leg. There hadn’t been any romance in his life for some time. That was one of the reasons he took this job so far from home. Time to make a new start.
The red light turned green and as he pressed the gas, the car moved forward and then stalled again. Damn! He turned the steering wheel toward the right, pulling to the curb. He turned the key, and luckily it started up again, but just before he pulled away, he saw a woman on the sidewalk walking in his direction. She was oddly dressed, for such a cold night, in a short skirt, baggy leg warmers and black boots with stacked heels. Her thin coat didn’t look like it could possibly be keeping her warm enough. She had a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, but she wasn’t wearing a hat. Her kinky dark hair was picked out into a perfect orb, framing her pretty face. Poor thing, he thought, what’s she doing out in this cold? She slipped and wobbled on her heels toward his car and he popped the door open.
“Do you need a ride?” Oscar asked.
Lori approached the car. Not the usual pick-up line, she thought, but whatever. She paused, she shouldn’t really get in the car before he makes a proposition, but she was frozen. Oh, what the hell. She jumped into the passenger seat, and closed the door quickly, sealing out the cold. Ah, the warmth was heavenly, she almost sighed audibly.
“Hi.” She said simply as she looked at him. Wow, why would a guy this cute resort to hookers?
“Where are you going?” Oscar said. That stumped Lori, this was a different line of conversation than the usual john.
“I’m not really going anywhere.” She stalled. “Do you mind if I just warm up a bit?” She took him in, his dark eyes, short wavy almost-black hair. His skin was tanned like caramel candy and he was wearing a chic black wool coat, in fact she’d bet it was cashmere. Nice wool scarf too, herringbone, wrapped snuggly around his neck. This guy didn’t seem the usual type, he was well dressed, handsome, and the car was clean. Well, it takes all kinds, she thought. She couldn’t help showing her dimples.
“I don’t mind, no.” Oscar smiled. Well, there’s a first time for everything in the big city. He wasn’t clear on how to translate the situation, but it wasn’t the first time he felt a bit confused at his interactions with native New Yorkers. Who would be out in the freezing cold, hanging around Third Avenue dressed like that?
“Can you believe how cold it got tonight? Who knew the temperature was going to drop so dramatically!” Lori said. Was it possible that he wasn’t looking for a hooker after all? That he was just trying to help out someone he thought needed a ride in the bad weather? Do guys like that actually exist?
“Yeah, it’s all in how you dress.” He said in a soft way. “If you know what the weather is going to be like, you can prepare for almost anything.”
“I guess I should’ve checked the weather channel before I went out tonight.” She felt calmed by his voice. It was soothing, almost musical.
“Wind chill’s below zero, they said.” His smile was placid, easygoing. She felt her shoulders relax, realizing they had been up near her ears, and she leaned back in the bucket seat.
“I can almost feel my toes again,” she continued. It was easy to sound grateful, since she really had been miserable in the cold. But which way to take this conversation? Was he looking for sex or not? “Do you live around here?”
“Yes, a few blocks away, just moved here, actually, a little more than a month ago.” He said. “You?”
“Not really, just work nearby.” She said vaguely. She paused a moment, giving him the space to talk, but it seemed like the responsibility for steering the conversation was falling on her. Awkward silence would be the lesser choice. Although, oddly, she didn’t really feel awkward. “Are you on your way somewhere or just getting home?”
“Just getting home,” he said. “But I’m in no rush, I don’t have any plans.”
She waited for him to continue. She couldn’t ask him if he wanted sex, she had to wait for him to ask for it.
“I’m Oscar, by the way.” He offered his hand.
“My name’s Loretta, but my friends call me Lori.” She smiled and put her hand in his. His held it firmly for a moment and then let it go gently. “Where do you work?”
“In Brooklyn Heights, over on Montague Street.” He answered.
“Nice neighborhood.” It was more expensive than half of Manhattan, but there were a variety of businesses, everything from restaurants to real estate. He could be anything, a banker or a dishwasher. Well, most likely not a dishwasher, with that nice coat and a car.
“Yes, it’s an interesting neighborhood.” He paused, deep in thought. “It’s taking me a little while to process its complexities.” His brow cleared and he adjusted the heat settings. “Are you warm enough?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks, this is great, just what I needed.” This was not what she was expecting. It didn’t seem like this guy was ever going to ask her for sexual services. Should she move on? Trouble was, she liked talking to him. He had a warm way about him, and not just because she had been out in the cold for too long, both literally and figuratively. Relationships weren’t something that fit into her life lately.
“Where do you work?” He asked.
“My work is kind of flexible.” Lori said. “I don’t sit at a desk like most people.” Apparently he didn’t get the concept, the time of night, her clothes, the street corner. Suddenly she was glad. Maybe she could turn this into a different kind of encounter.
“You know I only saw you because my car stalled and I had to pull over.” He laughed. “Is that coincidence or divine intervention?”
“Definitely divine intervention!” Lori said. “You really saved my toes.” She pulled her coat closer and straightened her skirt. This is just a nice guy doing a nice thing. What are the odds?
“I’m glad.” He replied his eyes meeting hers. Then he watched her adjust her clothes took a closer look at her outfit. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t dressed warm enough for the weather. In spite of the cold, she was dressed somewhat provocatively. No pantyhose or tights under her skirt, cheap boots and meant to give her height, not warmth, and she had this sparkly make-up on her eyelids, it almost made him think of the circus. This isn’t a normal outfit of a young woman out for the night in the city, he thought.
Lori was thinking how it had been a long time since she’d met anyone who’d thought the best of her first, instead of the worst. She was thinking that maybe Oscar wasn’t just another guy who would take what he could get from her and then leave. Lori was thinking that he might be someone worth getting to know better. But that wasn’t going to happen if-
“Look I know this may look funny, me being out, late at night, dressed like this.” She said quickly.
“I make it a habit not to judge others.” Oscar said lifting his gloved hand from his lap, his palm facing her. It made Lori think of that song by the Supremes ‘Stop, in the Name of Love.’ It was hard to believe but it was now sinking in to Oscar’s brain that this young attractive woman might be walking the street for the wrong reason.
“No, you don’t understand,” she continued. “I’m working-”
“Yes, I see.” Oscar interrupted. He was still processing the situation. She didn’t seem to fit the type. She didn’t look like someone with a substance abuse problem, he knew the signs. Maybe she’d just fallen into it recently and wasn’t too far gone. Maybe she just needed someone to talk to in order to get her back on the right track.
“No, I meant- I mean, it’s not what it looks like.” Then she couldn’t help laughing. Here she was, meeting an honest to goodness nice guy, here of all places. All the nights she spent on blind dates, getting fixed up by friends, going to singles nights, not one interesting prospect. Now tonight, she thought, the night I pull an undercover shift as a hooker, I find chemistry!
“Really, you don’t have to explain,” Oscar continued. “I understand, and I want you to know, I’m here to help you if you need it.” Oscar touched her arm for a moment in what he hoped was a kind gesture. She had such a nice smile, such a warm laugh,
“What?” This is one for the books, she thought, they’ll never believe this back at the precinct. First he hasn’t got a clue I’m dressed as a hooker, and then, when it hits him, he wants to save me. What are the odds?
“It’s what I do, I help people.” Oscar said gently. “People in trouble, in need.”
“How do you mean?” Lori asked. “Are you a social worker or something?”
“No,” Oscar smiled and loosened his scarf to reveal his collar. “I’m a priest.”
Lori almost squeaked, her breath caught inside her chest.
“A Catholic priest?” She asked.
“No!” Oscar laughed. “I never went in for that whole vow of chastity business.”
“Well, then,” Lori let out a sigh of relief and laughed with him. Then she reached inside her purse for her NYPD badge to show it to him. “That’s definitely what I’d call divine intervention.”