The two gradually exited Carmine’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan, fully satisfied and slightly tipsy from the fine cuisine and red wine. As they made their way onto the other side of the restaurant door, the cool October night air immediately greeted them.
“Wow,” Marie uttered through a smile. “It really got a lot cooler since we first arrived.”
Nodding his head in agreement, Devon began to blow his seemingly hot and garlic-infused breath into his cuffed hands in an attempt to warm them.
“It probably dropped about 10 degrees since we went in,” he replied as he actively rubbed his hands together. “We were in there quite a while.”
“It was at least an hour, right?” Marie questioned as she nodded her head behind a look of slight disbelief. She glanced down at her phone to check the time.
“Wow,” she chuckled, “actually longer than I thought—nearly three hours. The food was excellent, though, so I’m not complaining—it was all excellent actually.”
Devon shot a quick smile in Marie’s direction as he continued warming up his hands. Marie tilted her head a bit while simultaneously shaking it as she watched Devon attempt to heat his hands.
“Sir? It ain’t that cold, man,” she softly chuckled. Devon smiled as he glanced back towards the restaurant.
“A friend of mine put me onto this place about a year ago when I was up here for business, and I’ve been itching to make my way back here.”
Devon retrieved his phone from his clip and gave it a quick glance.
“The Uber should be here in about two minutes; it’s right around the corner, actually,” he stated as he pointed east of West 44th Street.
Marie turned and peered towards the direction Devon was pointing.
“OK, sounds good. We sharing one?”
Marie’s question didn’t really catch Devon off guard as he’d already realized that sharing one would of course be the logical play here, but it was something he, for more reasons than one, felt more comfortable waiting for her to offer or suggest.
“We can,” Devon quickly responded, accompanied with a quick nod. “I mean, I don’t mind getting another one, it’s no problem for me. I just wanted to make sure I see you off safely.”
Marie’s smile was subtle yet sincere as she shook her head, clearly seeing past his acquiescent tone.
“Just makes sense for us to share one, don’t you agree?”
Devon’s quick smile came with a slightly and albeit coerced look of confusion on his face as he nodded his head in response. He caught himself staring—she was even more beautiful than he’d initially realized. He’d sat across from her for the past three hours and didn’t see her like he was seeing her now.
He didn’t stare too much during dinner as he didn’t want to make it weird, but it was at this very moment, under the cool fall New York sky, he truly saw her for the first time, and she was everything. More than a breath of fresh air, she was the tree that produced the air—oxygen.
Her dark mocha skin shone effortlessly under the night skies. The streetlights seemingly and effortlessly bounced off her perfect skin like the moonlight bouncing off a motionless lake. Her smile illuminated the night and cut through the dark and pierced all that he was at the moment. Her last comment forced him to smile abstractedly.
“Maybe,” he replied somewhat timidly. “But, honestly, your safety truly is my top priority right now, and that’s being real.”
Marie’s genuine smile saturated the atmosphere as Devon’s words filled the brisk night air. She understood that though he, in all likelihood, wanted her to suggest the shared Uber ride, his underlying sentiments were sincere.
“I know,” she finally replied. “Just messing with you. But, truly, if my safety is your top priority right now, then we should probably share this Uber. Not to mention, your safety is my top concern as well, man—wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if someone stole you. “
“Is that so?” Devon quickly replied behind a slight chuckle. “You would lose sleep if someone stole me and I was lost forever?”
“Meh, I suppose I could possibly see myself shedding a few tears for an hour—maybe less, then I would turn on Orange Is the New Black and you’ll be a resident in the history bank deep within my subconscious, never to be thought about again.”
Devon shook his head as he couldn’t help but smile at her seemingly witty response. Glancing up, he spotted the Uber gradually approaching. A few more patrons stood outside the restaurant with them, so he turned and skimmed the crowd to see if the Uber possibly belonged to anyone else.
No one else seemed to flinch. In fact, as he gazed around, he now noticed that the people who’d been standing around with them just a few minutes ago had gathered around one another, intensely gazing at their phones. Curious, Devon glanced inside the restaurant through the large glass windows and noticed the patrons inside focused on the TVs as well.
Inching closer toward the restaurant, Devon was curious to know what everyone was looking at.
“You getting hungry again?”
Her soft yet confident voice cut through his concentration and forced him to stop dead in his tracks. He glanced back around at her and smiled as he noticed her starting to get into the Uber. He quickly made his way back over towards her and the car.
“No, I, uh—everyone’s so dialed in on the TV, I wanted to see what they were looking at.”
“The Jets are playing tonight,” she replied as she nodded her head with a smile.
Her response was immediate and held a sense of sarcasm that Devon adored. Not to mention, he quickly realized she was right. He smiled at her as he made his way closer to her and the car and softly ushered her into it.
“When you’re right, you’re right.”
They entered the car and immediately began to get comfortable in the back seat.
“Good evening,” the driver uttered. “I see we’re headed to 23rd and Seventh Avenue tonight—is that right?”
“Correct,” Marie replied as she gazed into Devon’s eyes. “But my friend here will need your services beyond that.”
“Not a problem. Sir, if you know the address, just go ahead and put it into the app, request me, and I’ll just make this trip a continuation into yours.”
Devon wasted no time inputting his address into the Uber app. His hotel was back the other way on East 71st and First Avenue, but he already decided that he’d see Marie home no matter what.
The awkward silence was inconsiderably loud as only the sound of the car speeding through the city could be heard.
“Can you turn on the radio?” Devon requested.
“Something’s wrong with the stations tonight, man, I don’t know,” the driver replied. “I was trying to listen to the Jets game earlier but nothing … ”
The driver reached to power the radio on, and as soon as he did, nothing but static escaped from the car speakers as he scanned through each and every one of the stations and channels.
Devon chuckled and shook his head.
“It’s OK, thanks for trying, my man.”
The driver nodded and powered the radio back off.
Devon inconspicuously side-eyed Marie, who seemed to be staring peacefully out of her window, clearly in deep thought. “Man, I really enjoyed this,” Devon finally uttered. “I’m glad we decided to do this.”
“Well, we wouldn’t be here right now,” Marie softly replied as she turned toward him, “if I hadn’t dived into your DMs.”
Devon smiled harder than he’d smiled in quite a long time. Primarily because her words were true, but partially because her vivacious personality was becoming clearer the more time he spent with her. The car smoothly and effortlessly cruised through midtown as the city sights and sounds caressed them as they crept toward their destinations.
“You’re absolutely right,” Devon responded. “You have a tendency of doing that, don’t you?”
“Of being right?”
She smiled while simultaneously blushing. Over the past few years, she’d become great at reading people and cutting through the bullshit—she could tell, all things considered, he wasn’t bullshitting her. She knew he was impressed with her. She understood that he was nervous. She’d peeped over at him numerous times during their dinner and she caught him nervously biting his nails.
She’d pretended to want to feel “the fabric” of his Polo sweater by placing her hand on the sweater where his heart was. Her true motives—to get an adequate feel of his heartbeat. It came as no surprise to feel his heart ultimately pounding away, desperately seeking a way out of his chest. He was nervous. She knew there were many reasons for this, but she appreciated the nervousness.
At 33 years of age, she was acutely cognizant of the fact that life was about stories and chapters, and there was a story behind every man. The more she peered into his eyes, the more she knew there was a story there with quite a few interesting chapters.
He was handsome—incredibly easy on the eyes. She knew it the first time she saw his picture, but even more so in person. Handsome in a way that made it slightly difficult to not awkwardly stare. She knew by the end of the night he’d think she was a complete weirdo as he would definitely soon catch her staring.
Nothing seemed artificial about him in any way. Haircut was simple, beard was lined neatly and skin looked exfoliated. When she grabbed his hand as they’d made their way into the car, she remembered feeling the calluses near the top of the palm and bottom of the fingers. Her father had always had the same on his hands and shared with her that it was likely a sign of a man who either worked with his hands in some capacity or one who was dedicated in taking care of his body in the gym. As she gazed at him, she suddenly wondered why it couldn’t have been both.
“Yeah, I be knowing stuff,” she finally responded with a facetious shrug as she winked her right eye at him.
Her attractively clever response once again forced a genuine smile on his face. He was genuinely impressed with her and was attracted to her beyond definable words. He was glad she didn’t know the extent to which he didn’t frequent the dating scene, as he had an uncomfortable feeling that his nervousness was incredibly transparent—he knew he was doing an awful job at disguising it.
The nervousness was warranted, considering it had been a while since he’d gone on a date—nearly two years, to be exact. At one point, he worried that she’d discover just how nervous he was when she touched his sweater right where his heart was. He had no idea if she’d felt his rapidly beating heart, but he felt like it would be seemingly impossible not to. She didn’t mention it, and he wasn’t certain if she didn’t say anything because she was completely oblivious or because she didn’t want to be rude. He knew the odds were the latter.
Work, school and his 6-year-old daughter were the three main priorities in his life at the moment. It was easy to lose himself in those priorities, and lost in them is where he had consistently found himself over the past two years.
He tried not to stare, but she was beautiful, annoyingly so, and the fact that she smelled like fresh chocolate chip cookies baked by Jesus in a bakery constructed from heaven’s strawberries didn’t really help. Her hair appeared to be recently cut but, the way it was cut, outlined her face impeccably.
The more he thought about the fact that the night was nearing its end for them, the more he hated the thought. Reality kept finding its way into his thoughts no matter the angle he chose to approach his current situation. He was only in New York on business, and within 24 hours, he would have to make his way back south to Georgia.
He had no idea what to say to her as their Uber crept closer to her destination. They had tweeted each other back and forth for nearly two years, building a rapport and essentially establishing a relationship, and now he was too nervous to even sneeze around her, much less tell her how much he didn’t want to leave her.
“So, how long are you going to be in the city again?” she asked, finally shattering the awkward silence that lingered between the two.
Devon quickly shifted his focus away from the window and focused his attention on Marie. Her smile greeted him as if it were his first time seeing it. He immediately chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, holding a slightly confused gaze.
“Nothing really, your smile is just ... ”
He paused as words, thoughts suddenly escaped him. He slowly raised his hands to try to use them to convey his sentiments as if he were a professor who talked with his hands, trying to give a detailed lecture.
“What are you doing with your hands?” she giggled.
Devon glanced towards the front of the car and peeped into the rearview mirror and immediately noticed the driver smiling at him.
“Our driver is laughing at me as well,” he replied behind a smile.
“Hey, man, it’s cool. I get it,” the driver responded through a chuckle.
Marie shared a laugh with the driver as she began shaking her head.
“People will laugh at you when you unconsciously do weird things with your hands, Devon.”
Devon chuckled shyly.
“I have no idea what I’m doing with them. I was trying to ... ”
Before Devon could finish his thought, Marie had already placed her right hand on his face and gently guided his face around to meet hers as she wasted no time planting her lips on his. She placed her soft brown hands on his face just above his beard and caressed it carefully and gingerly as their kiss became more passionate with each stroke her fingers made on his face.
There was a moment as her hand caressed his face and his hand lay gently on her thigh, in which they both found themselves lost in each other’s presence—they were nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. Their Uber ride was nothing but a mere earthly vessel that carried their physical bodies closer to their earthly destination as their souls found a way to embrace each other and escape the atmosphere. They were lost in time, lost in the moment and outside of themselves.
They finally pulled away from each another, both still yet to open their eyes —Marie’s hand still caressing his face. Gently grabbing her hand, Devon guided her hand down towards the location where she’d touched him before while in the restaurant, over his heart.
“That’s my heart trying to break through,” he stated confidently. “This is what your smile does to me. Am I crazy?”
She smiled as she slowly grabbed his left hand, the hand that he placed on her thigh and proceeded to guided it towards her chest, directly over her heart. He immediately felt the fierce pounding of her heart. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to; her heartbeat said everything. She just stared deeply into his face, into his world, with an expression that said, “I feel you.”
“No, you’re not crazy,” she finally replied as she gazed deep into his eyes. “But you never answered my question.”
“What question was that?”
“How long are you going to be in the city?”
“Oh that question—well, I leave tomorrow evening after my convention. I’ll drive back to New Jersey and fly out of Newark tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.”
She gently nodded her head while smiling.
“I see,” she responded subtly.
She inched back over towards her side of the back seat and calmly retrieved her cellphone from her purse. Devon nodded his head and understood that she was likely experiencing the same feelings as he, except she was just much better at masking them. He knew that in all likelihood, she didn’t want this night to end either, and was quickly coming to grips with the fact that it was creeping closer towards its end. She was harder to read than he’d initially imagined, but when they kissed, he’d felt it.
He turned and gazed out of the window once more and contemplated on whether it was possible for him to extend the trip. He knew it truly wasn’t —he didn’t expect this. He had no idea they would connect in such a way that made it immensely difficult to part ways, but here they were.
He’d found himself, over the years, searching for everything that he now believed to be sitting next to him right now, and very soon he’d have to let it go—let her go. This was more of the same feeling he’d experienced over the past two years—work before everything else—and it consistently took a toll on his personal life and his happiness.
He turned towards her. He didn’t want to part ways feeling this way. He needed to say something, anything to make it better—make the moment brighter as her destination was getting closer. The words—his thoughts were formulating in his mind and quickly making their way through the halls of his subconscious and rapidly beginning to make an exit vocally into the atmosphere.
“I have your updated destination locked in, Ma’am, and we are en route.”
The driver’s voice broke Devon’s deep concentration as he quickly peeped over at Marie, who was already staring at him slightly seductively behind that irresistible smile.
“We’re making a detour,” she whispered. “Do you want this night to end? I don’t.”
Devon slowly turned and gazed towards the front of the car at the driver’s Uber phone and took immediate note of the updated address: Hilton Garden Inn, New York—West 35th Street. He sat back in the back seat and gazed back over towards Marie who patiently awaited his answer.
“No,” he finally responded. “No ... I don’t.”
She felt his heart beating as her head lay gently on his chest. His breathing was soft but deep enough for her to know that he was still asleep. The moonlight shone through the opened window curtains and illuminated the room in a way that provided the surreal lighting needed for a night such as this.
His cologne still saturating his skin made it easier for her to not want to move an inch away from his body as she tightly embraced him. She had only been asleep for about two hours, but the alcohol was still somewhat strong within her system, but it was great feeling—inappreciably euphoric. It had been a long time since she had felt a combination of these kinds of feelings simultaneously—a very long time.
The hotel store in the lobby provided an adequate place for them to grab a few important things to see the night through. Everything from the bottle of apple vodka to the condoms, even the “Welcome to New York” shot glasses that Devon found himself so enamored with.
She carefully peered up at him, careful not to wake him. He lay asleep as she placed her hand on his chest and allowed it to guide her hand up and down as he breathed peacefully through his slumber.
They’d made love twice within an hour before falling asleep, and it did nothing to quell her desire for the night to go on forever. In fact, it made it worse. Carefully, she maneuvered herself out of bed and into her “I Love NY” T-shirt she’d purchased from the hotel lobby store upon their arrival.
She tiptoed over towards the large window and gazed out over the surreal city skyline that was embraced by the bright moonlight. She glimpsed over the city as the sights and sounds attacked her senses in a way they never had before. The sirens from police and emergency vehicles were louder than usual this night. She’d never heard this many before, but realized that if she lived in the city long enough, she’d probably see it all before long. Gazing outward over the city, she noticed that half the city was darker than normal, less lights than a normal night.
His voice, though gentle, startled her slightly while it simultaneously warmly embraced her from behind as she gazed out through the window. She turned towards him and began to nod her head in response as she gradually crept back towards the side of the bed. She removed her T-shirt and made her way back underneath the covers with him.
He guided her face towards his as their lips locked onto each other’s. Their skin touched each other’s in a way that infused their souls. On this cold fall night, their body heat was more than just warmth for each other; it was communication between two people who’d lacked communication in this area for quite some time. The kissing stopped as they stared into each other’s eyes, each one not sure what to say to the other.
He wanted to tell her that he loved her. That thought forced him to smile after realizing how silly it was.
“What’s so funny?”
He hadn’t realized that his “silly” thought had caused him to smile unconsciously.
“Just a thought I had,” he replied. “I’ll tell you some other time.”
Though incredibly curious as to what it was, she simply nodded her head, not wanting to press him on it, but was confident that his thought was likely something flattering, but let it go she would.
The two laid back down onto the bed, he on top of the pillows, her head on top of his chest.
“So?” Devon whispered through a deep breath. “What’s next?”
She giggled as she caressed his face while he simultaneously rubbed her seemingly flawless skin around her arms and shoulders. Her perfume still lingered and made it difficult for him to pull away from her. He lightly kissed her forehead each chance he got, and each time she would gaze up and they would kiss.
“What? What I say? What’s the giggle for?”
“Nothing. I was about to ask the same thing.”
She let out a long sigh and she squeezed his left arm. The slight muscular cuts in his arm made it easier to grip them and she didn’t want to ever let go.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Our worlds are so far apart, and that’s just physically, but what about everything else? Emotionally, spiritually, philosophically and morally, do we fit in each other’s worlds? That question—is it even too early to ask? I don’t know, I can probably make a legitimate argument that part of my reasons for failed relationships in the past is because I didn’t ask those questions early on. I don’t know.”
She felt him nodding in agreement.
“I get that,” he whispered. “I understand, and no, it’s not too early to ask that at all. I think it’s logical to do so early, especially for me. At my age and considering the things I’ve gone through, I can fully embrace that strategy and accept the logic behind it.”
“So this world,” Marie quickly responded. “Your world. Is there more to it than what you shared with me over dinner?”
“Yes,” he replied through an innocent grin. “There is.”
Devon took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It’d been years since he’d completely opened himself up to a woman like this. It was refreshing, but there was a part of him that was fighting this deep feeling of apprehension. Though he knew that feeling was there as a safeguard; and he realized the consequences of dismissing those feelings.
“I mean, I’m 34 years of age. I have a solid career that essentially has me slowly climbing the ladder. My daughter that I told you about? Well, she is a big part of my world, and I guess I just want to do more to invest in her. Not just financially, but emotionally, morally and philosophically.”
“Well, her mother and I split a few years after she was born. Her mother has since married. She and I have a pretty solid relationship—we have joint custody and it works. I’ve dedicated myself to teaching and being the example she needs in her life regardless of what her mother does.
“Society tells me that I have about 30 to 35 more years remaining on this earth. The life expectancy, though not gospel, says that this is what I have left. I just want to use that as motivation to push me to be greater sooner rather than later and in the process becoming the best man I can become.”
“How do you think you’re doing so far?” Marie asked softly, “As a father, as a man—everything.”
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “Sometimes I find myself battling stigmas surrounding black men—black fathers. So many stigmas, so many stereotypes, but when I stand back and look, I can only see where I came from and I see it as clear as day, but when I turn around and try to see where I’m going, it’s hard—sometimes it’s foggy. The path is cloudy and filled with obstacles seemingly covered by the clouds, but I know the path is there so I walk it until it becomes as clear as I need it to be.”
“What about you?” Devon inquired. “You want kids?”
“Yes, I do.”
Marie’s response was quick and sharp. Slowly she began to sit up in the bed as she ran her fingers through her hair so that she could look into his eyes.
The smile that accompanied the response was the first thing Devon noticed. The genuine feel to it made him blush somewhat slightly; he wasn’t certain why, but it took all he had within him not to smile like a fifth-grade student on Picture Day. He let out a slight chuckle instead. It was stationed firmly behind a sense of calmness that adequately disguised his true giddy sentiments.
“Well I do,” she stated as she continued to smile and gently fell back onto the bed—onto her own pillow. She gazed up at the ceiling and found herself getting lost in the blankness of it as she thought about one day being a mother. Internally, she held onto the thought of one day having to protect, teach, shield and love another human being in a way that she had yet to do for anyone.
“I don’t know if I want kids right now,” she continued. “I don’t even know if I want them later. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be ready to be a parent—to be a mother. I do know it is something that ideally I would love to plan for, but when and if it happens, I know I’ll be ready, whether I plan for it or not.”
Marie slowly glanced over at Devon who was looking away, slowly nodding his head, clearly processing her words. She took a brief moment to admire his physique. He wasn’t perfect, but it was clear he frequented the gym. His brown skin tone was wrapped perfectly around everything that he was. She slowly reached over and grabbed his hand. He immediately focused his attention back on her as she pulled him closer to her.
She pulled his face closer to hers as he immediately and gently placed his lips on hers. She could immediately taste the alcohol on his lips still. Thankfully it overpowered the garlic they’d both eaten a few hours earlier. He was gentle, though his beard consistently tickled her face. His cologne, she could almost taste it, but not in an unsavory way. As she continued to kiss him, she felt him slowly begin to pull away, his eyes still closed.
“Nothing,” he quickly replied. “This is everything right here. This ... us. This feels good, it feels right.”
“Hold that energy,” Marie responded as she gazed back up towards the ceiling.
“What about you?” He laid back down on his pillow as his question lingered in the air.
She let out a long sigh accompanied by a soft chuckle as she sat up once more and slowly, and somewhat seductively, made her way out of the bed. She didn’t bother putting on the T-shirt this time, as she wanted him to see everything, every curve and every corner that was strategically and perfectly placed on her body.
She slowly made her way over towards the vodka and poured a shot into two shot glasses. She sat the bottle back down on the table and lifted the two glasses from the table and turned and made her way back towards the bed.
The moonlight cutting into the room was no match for her radiant mocha skin that illuminated the room in ways in which the moonlight couldn’t compare. The closer she made her back towards the bed, the wider his smile got. He extended his arm out to retrieve his shot glass as she made her way back into the bed. They wasted no time downing the drinks.
“Well,” she replied, “I’ve unwaveringly paved a way for myself. My parents helped financially, of course, primarily my father, but the work, the hard work, the commitment to dedicate myself—that’s all me, and no one can take that away from me. After I completed undergrad, I immediately found myself in dental school and I now find myself on the back end of that after taking time off to work corporate jobs. This ladder you speak of, I too want to climb it as high as possible without losing myself or losing sight of the ground below me.
“Yes I’ve been able to see my way through dental school and that ladder, I’m climbing it. Being an African American makes it difficult—being an African-American woman sometimes makes it feel almost like I’m crossing the country on foot without feet. But there’s a piece of me that understands that the universe has a place for me, and it’s up to me to figure out where that place is and solidify my position within it.”
She managed a glimpse at Devon’s face and caught him admiring her in a way that was hard to ignore. It was like a little kid outside a candy store. His gaze was almost hypnoticlike—as if her words, her presence, made everything about him better. This was how he peered at her, and she’d caught him. There was no hiding this; he’d been caught, and it forced her to laugh almost uncontrollably.
“What this?” he quickly asked, confused, behind a slight chuckle. “This laughing thing you’re doing right now, what is this about?”
Her laugh, as endearing as it was, seemingly caught him off guard as he began to quickly look around the room in a facetious manner as if he was searching for something. She had a way about herself when she laughed that made her even more irresistible. Her eyes would close seemingly halfway and she would delicately cover her mouth.
“What are you looking for?” she inquired behind a now calmer barrel of soft giggles. Her eyes met his brown eyes with a sense of unfiltered ardor and curiosity.
“I’m looking for the comedian that apparently has snuck in here and dropped that incredibly funny joke on our heads because I missed it the first time. Where is he?!!”
This did nothing but fuel her laughter as she reached over and gently embraced his face with her hands and leaned over to kiss his lips.
“No comedian,” she finally replied after pulling away from his lips. “Just you and your face. I caught that look on your face while I was talking and I can tell .... ”
“You can tell what?” he replied curiously.
She smiled once more as she gently placed her hand over his heart. His heart pounded fiercely.
“I can tell that you really like me, don’t you?”
He reached for her as he gently began to run his hand through her hair. She closed her eyes, relaxing her body so that she could accept the feeling of his gentle touch. He leaned over to kiss her, but didn’t quite make it there before the incredibly loud explosion right outside their hotel window went off, shattering the window glass and throwing both of them against the wall near the bed.
The ringing was incredibly loud—it was all either one of them could hear as they firmly pressed their opened palms against their ears. Devon, temporarily fighting unconsciousness, started to win the battle as he immediately spotted Marie positioned over him, shaking him and screaming, but he couldn’t hear anything aside from the loud ringing.
Soon her voice started to cut its way through, but the outside sounds were still distant at the moment. Smoke from the explosion started to rapidly fill the room as he began to shake off the stunned effects he was experiencing.
He wrapped his arm around Marie, motioning towards their clothes as she nodded immediately, indicating that she understood what he wanted. They dressed as quickly as possible.
His hearing started to return with each passing minute as the echoes of the sirens and alarms began to get gradually louder. He turned towards the door to leave, but noticed that Marie was fixated on something outside of the now shattered hotel window.
He made his way back in her direction to pull her away, but immediately noticed what she was focused on. The late-night sky was now bright orange and what appeared to be waves erratically rippled through the sky, blanketing the entire area. The imagery was surreal and simultaneously frightening as they both found themselves staring in shock and disbelief.
It was unlike anything they’d seen before—the stuff science fiction movies were made of, except this was no movie, this was happening, and they had no idea what it was. Essentially, it was no longer dark out—no longer “night.” Something was illuminating the night sky. The burnt bright-orange illumination heavily saturated the sky and shone down brightly upon their frozen faces.
“We got to get out of here,” Devon yelled as he grabbed Marie’s hand tightly and quickly pulled her towards the room door.
They quickly made their way into the hallway as the hallway filled with hotel patrons in a state of unmistakable panic, all quickly navigating their way towards the elevators and stairs.
He could hear Marie inquiring amid the screaming and panicked voices that surrounded them. His hearing had almost returned to normal. He had a firm grip on Marie’s hand and wouldn’t let it go as he guided her down the hall and towards the steps. He knew better than to take the elevators.
“I don’t know,” he stated between panicked breaths. “Whatever it is, we just need to get outside and go from there.”
Her response was a simple slight nod as she followed him down the stairs. They were on the sixth floor, so they didn’t have a lengthy descent to the ground floor. The stairway was crowded with people panicking, making their way down the stairs. The sounds of more explosions could be heard deriving from the outside amid more seemingly bloodcurdling screams, yells, sirens and alarms.
The building started to shake more and more the closer they descended to the ground floor. The ceiling above them, along with the walls, began to crack as pieces of the structure above them started to fall. Devon took an immediate glimpse up towards the ceiling and immediately noticed a huge chunk of the stairs falling towards him—he froze in fear.
Marie instinctively yanked the third-floor door opened, sprinted inside and quickly pulled Devon inside the hallway, narrowly escaping the huge piece of the stairs that had fallen.
Devon landed on top of Marie as she let out a yell.
“Are you OK?” Devon grunted.
“I’m fine,” she replied as she struggled for air. “Just the wind ... you knocked it ... I can barely breathe.”
Devon stood to his feet and pulled Marie to hers as he turned back towards the door they’d just exited. The screams from the other side indicated that some on that side of the door weren’t so lucky. He pushed the door to see if he could render aid, but it wouldn’t budge, not even an inch—it was jammed. Marie had just saved his life.
He turned and peered towards the other end of the hallway and noticed people running towards him and the stairwell.
“It’s blocked, you can’t go that way,” he screamed as the other patrons stopped and reversed their tracks.
“Well, the elevator isn’t working, either,” an older gentlemen replied as he began walking alongside them. “And a section of the stairs is missing on that end; it’s a dangerous drop down.”
Yanking her hand away from Devon’s, Marie attempted to open the first room door they were walking past—locked. She sprinted up to try the next one—locked. She tried about two more before entering a room in which the door was already opened.
“In here, let’s go,” she screamed. Devon and the older gentleman quickly followed as they made their way towards the room and through the doors. Marie was already standing near the window.
“The window is the only way out,” she exclaimed as she glanced around franticly. “We have to find something to break it and we’re running out of time. We don’t know what’s going on with this building.”
Devon and the older gentleman knew she was correct and began looking around the room for something, anything, to help break the seemingly tough hotel window. The windows were designed to withstand force, but they knew a bit of extra force would do it.
The screams and sirens of those on the outside only got louder as the “night” sky appeared to grow brighter. It wasn’t the kind of peaceful light that accompanied the arrival of the morning sun. This was different, much different. This was luminous, but in a way that none of them had ever seen their entire lives on this planet. This was something that wasn’t just different, it was unsettling.
“What’s happening?” Devon nervously whispered to the older man.
“I don’t know,” the man replied. “But whatever it is, started last night. Power outages everywhere.”
The hotel began to shake somewhat uncontrollably, knocking all three of them off their feet. The last rumble forced a crack in the window that caused Marie to immediately take notice as she made her way back to her feet.
She glanced over at Devon, who noticed the crack as well. He nodded and wasted no time as he quickly sprinted over to the TV, yanking the power cord out of the wall. Marie and the older man stood back as Devon gripped the end of the power cord and swung the TV as hard as he could, aiming for the crack in the window. The TV connected with the window as the glass shattered.
“Let’s go,” Devon yelled back at them.
Immediately, Devon began to clear off the remaining glass shards that hung around the large window sill. He gazed down and glanced back up at Marie and began to shake his head—the drop to the bottom wasn’t as close as he’d thought.
The window, being gone, no longer blocked the sounds emanating from the outside at this point. The screams, the sirens and what appeared to be explosions were simultaneously making their way into the room where the three of them stood.
The sounds caused them all to pause in fear as they glanced at one another, unsure of what to do at this point. Devon knew the third-story drop was still too high to jump without getting injured. He noticed Marie starting to make her way over to the bed and begin to quickly remove the blankets and linen.
He knew exactly where she was going with it and began to help her. There was enough linen here to tie together to help them climb down from the third floor.
There was suddenly a loud crash coming from the hallway, and a cloud of dust quickly made its way into their room.
“We have to hurry,” Marie yelled as the three of them began tying together every piece of fabric they could find. Sheets, blankets, towels—if it was fabric, they tied them together. It didn’t take long as they moved hastily.
“You two go first,” the older man said. “I’ll tie it around the table and place the table behind the dresser. That should stabilize it enough for both of you.”
Devon nodded and ushered Marie towards the window as the older man began to tie the lengthy “rope” together and stabilize it accordingly.
“I want you to go first,” Devon stated as he peered deep into her eyes. She had already begun to shake her head in response.
“No sir—you go first so you can catch me if I fall.”
He smiled at this woman at a time that he had no business smiling, but he nodded his head and immediately followed her orders, but not until after giving her a kiss.
The sounds around them were dreadful, but just for that brief moment, as he quickly placed his lips on hers, he was back in the world they were both in just hours before. It was a temporary place of peace and serenity, and he wanted to stay in this place forever.
He quickly pulled away from her and carefully peeked over the window to see the drop once again. The window faced the side of the hotel, but he could still see people frantically running through the side alley. He grabbed ahold of the “rope” and gazed up at the older man who nodded back at him.
He slowly began to descend down the side of the hotel’s brick wall as he pressed his legs against the wall for leverage. He gripped the sheets tightly and inched his way down the wall somewhat effortlessly. By the time he got to the first floor, he let go and dropped the rest of the way, safely landing on his feet.
He peered back up, immediately noticing Marie peeking over as she began to follow his lead and make her way down the side of the wall.
“Grip it tightly,” Devon yelled.
Marie had made a few steps down the wall when the building started to shake again amid the explosions that appeared to be taking place around it. That caused the “rope” to seemingly shake loose as Marie, who immediately started to scream, began to free-fall down towards the ground.
Devon, with only a split second to think, quickly positioned himself under her and braced for potential impact as he placed himself in position to catch her or soften the fall as much as possible.
She fell into his arms somewhat awkwardly as they both tumbled to the ground. Her feet met his face and the pain was sharp, but he fought through it. He grumbled over in pain, holding his face. Marie quickly raced to his aid.
“I’m so sorry, Devon,” she cried frantically. “Please tell me you’re OK.”
“Yeah I’m OK,” he grunted through the pain. “What about the old man?”
Marie gazed nervously back up towards the window and nothing but dust seemed to make its way out from the window as more explosions rang out around them.
“Hey!!!!!” Marie yelled. “You up there?”
No response. Devon made his way to his feet, face bruised and throbbing slightly from the hit he’d taken from Marie’s foot.
“We got to go,” he replied, quickly grabbing Marie’s hand as they began to sprint towards the front of the hotel. As they made their way to the front, they immediately discovered the extent of what it was they were dealing with. Smoke emanated in the distance from several directions. There were fires, people running away, towards, around and through things—chaos.
Devon and Marie stared at each other for what felt like an eternity—shocked. Unsure of what their next move should be amid the chaos they now found themselves thrust into. So many questions and no answers, answers they so desperately needed right now.
The noise from what sounded like rampant car crashes surrounded them. They weren’t even sure which direction any of it was coming from as it derived from everywhere around them. Screams rang out and loud explosions could be heard in the distance.
Glancing up towards the surreally burnt-orange sky, Devon noticed what appeared to be a plane free-falling. There’s was no telling where it would crash, but luckily, it wasn’t anywhere near them.
“Goddamn planes falling out of the skies,” he whispered aloud as he shook his head. “What the hell is this? We have to get to safety—we have to get ……….. somewhere.”
“It has to be solar flares or some kind of EMP, right?” Marie asked nervously as she peered up towards the sky.
“I don’t know,” Devon replied as he gazed around frantically. “I just ……..”
Devon noticed a police car quickly making its way down West 35th Street. He quickly released Marie’s hand and sprinted over to in front of the car.
“Stop!!! Stop!! Hey!!!” he yelled as he waved his hands, signaling for the car to stop.
The car came to an abrupt stop. What appeared to be a man dressed in civilian clothes quickly exited the car with a rifle drawn and pointed at Devon. Marie’s scream could be heard as she witnessed the gun being drawn on Devon.
“Whoa!!” Devon yelled as he raised his hand to shield himself. “No—I just want to know what’s going on? That’s all!!!!”
Looking around somewhat frantically, the man hesitantly lowered the weapon as he quickly made his way back into the police car.
“We don’t know,” he barked. “No one knows, but reports are saying it’s either an EMP, solar flare or an invasion of some kind, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s happening everywhere. Reports saying something landed out of the sky. Get somewhere safe, it’s getting worse.”
The man’s words echoed through the walls of Devon’s mind as the man quickly sped off in the police cruiser. Devon turned and glanced at Marie as he sprinted back towards her. At that moment, he started to realize they too needed to get somewhere, anywhere, and they needed to make haste.
“What he say?” she asked, almost near tears.
“He said what we already know; it’s something bad and it’s likely going to get worse, but no one actually knows anything.”
Devon stopped and gazed deep into Marie’s eyes, and at that moment, that very moment, he knew he didn’t want to part from her. He needed her in his life and wanted to do whatever it took to see that it happened. He opened his mouth to speak, but Marie put her finger over his lips to silence him as she shook her head.
“I …… ”
She paused as she shook her head, apparently struggling to formulate the proper thoughts. “I need you,” she whispered softly. “I need you in my life and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to see that it happens. Is this what you want?”
Devon quickly nodded his head and embraced Marie. It was at that moment that he gazed around and took in the extent of the chaos—they weren’t safe. It was all rapidly coming apart—society as they knew it—and they had no idea how bad it would get before it got better, if “better” was even in the future.
Maybe this was the end, maybe it was the beginning of something bad, or just the end of everything; either way, he wanted to live as long as possible and wanted to do so with this amazing woman.
“What do we do?” she asked as she peered fearfully into his eyes. “What do we do? I don’t know what to do?”
Devon shook his head as his eyes began to get wider.
“What?” she asked as she noticed the look on his face. “What is it?”
“Check to see if your cellphone works,” he ordered as he frantically reached for his own.
“No signal,” she replied as she dialed numbers and placed the phone to her ear several times.
Devon quickly skimmed through his phone and finally placed a call and put the call on speaker phone. The ringing was substituted for a weird buzzing noise.
“The networks are almost all dead,” he whispered as the buzzing continued.
The voice on the other end was a woman, but it was hard to truly make out as the static was severe.
“Auntie, can you hear me?” Devon yelled into the phone. “It’s Devon?”
“Devon, yes, I can hear you. Are you guys OK?” Her voice struggled to cut through the thickening static.
“No. Well, I don’t know but it’s chaos, Auntie, and I’m not sure what to do.”
“Yes, you do, baby, you know what to do. We discussed this thousands of times over the years. Where are you?”
“I’m in New York; I was here for work.”
“Jesus ... ,” she quickly replied. ”OK. We are here and the bunker is intact and ready to go. Your uncle and I are headed down there now. You remember how to gain access after it’s closed? You remember, right?”
“Yes, I remember.”
The static worsened as her last few words didn’t come through clearly.
“Repeat that, Auntie, I didn’t hear you.”
“Is Cassidy with you?”
Silence immediately fell over Devon as he quickly began to shake his head. He slowly closed his eyes tight as he continued to shake his head. Marie could see the immediate deep concern and fear that suddenly washed over Devon’s face after his aunt apparently mentioned his daughter. Marie reached out to Devon and grabbed his hand and began rubbing it as he appeared to be struggling to find the words needed to respond to his aunt.
“No, she isn’t here with me—she’s still in Atlanta.”
The slight pause from his aunt from the other end of the phone was slightly deafening. Devon shook his head and quickly glanced around to gauge their surroundings. Glass shattering, sirens, explosions in the far distance and screams could all be heard. The noise surrounded him, but it was at this moment in which his daughter’s face sitting in his subconscious caused everything to move in slow motion.
“Devon,” his aunt’s voice sharply cut through the heavy static. “Go get her and my sister—go get that baby and get down here now, boy.”
He nodded his head as if his aunt could see the response. It took him a few seconds to realize that she warranted a verbal response.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m on the way, Auntie, I’m on the way.”
Devon quickly hung up the phone and turned towards Marie, who held a slightly bewildered expression on her face.
“What is it?” she quickly asked.
The look on his own face was one of immense shock and surreal disbelief as he started to glance around frantically. It took a while for him to completely truly process what was happening. The words his aunt just uttered to him were surreal and immensely hard to take in on more than one level.
They’d discussed situations like this over the years, but actually going through it, actually living it, actually being a part of what was now happening was surreal and unconscionable. He wanted to remain calm and tough as possible—not only for himself but for Marie. They now needed to remain tough for each other.
“Talk to me, Devon,” Marie cried aloud as she locked on to his eyes. “What’s happening? What are we doing?”
Devon took a deep breath as he pulled Marie closer to him.
“That was my aunt—she lives in Jacksonville, Florida. She and my uncle are prepared for this type of stuff, they’re survivalists—we go there, that’s our move.”
“Jacksonville?” Marie replied behind a confused tone. “That’s so far. ... Devon, we’re not going to make it.”
“We will make it, Marie. Your family, where are they?”
Marie took a moment to think as tears slowly began to fall down her face.
“My mother is in Texas, but my dad is in Virginia.”
“OK, try to call your dad right now; let him know that we will come for him.”
Marie nervously grabbed the phone from Devon’s hands and began to dial her dad’s number, placing the call on speaker phone.
“So much static,” she uttered sharply. “Please pick up, Dad, please.”
His deep voice cut through the thick static.
“Dad? Dad, can you hear me?”
“Hey, baby, you OK? Something is happening—what’s happening?”
The beeping sound was loud and repetitive for about three seconds before it stopped. The sound indicated that the call had dropped. Devon nodded his head as he didn’t expect the networks to hold up much longer. He needed to make another important call, but he wanted to make sure Marie communicated everything she needed to with her dad. He noticed Marie starting to panic somewhat after the dropped call.
“Cellular networks getting weaker, try the call again.”
“Oh no,” Marie cried. “No!!!”
She immediately tried the call once more as she frenetically dialed her father’s number again.
The phone rang once.
“Dad, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” he replied through the static. “What’s happening? The sky is so bright. Are you OK?”
“Dad just listen to me, I don’t know, Dad, I don’t know, but I have a safe place to go, but I’m coming to get you first. Do you hear me? I’m coming to get you first. Please stay safe, Dad, I’m coming.”
“OK, baby, I’m here—I’ll be here.”
Marie ended the call and closed her eyes as the tears began to fall more rapidly at this point.
“One more call.”
Devon whispered to himself as he hectically searched for numbers within the phone. He located the number that he needed and began to dial. The service was completely severed, as calls were no longer going out—just beeping, then going dead. Devon tried repeatedly, hoping for a different result each time but getting the same result every time he tried to dial out. He shook his head as he gazed up towards the now burnt-orange sky.
“God, please, no!!”
Marie extended her hands and gently placed them on his face as she, once more, guided his face down away from the sky and aligned it with hers, gazing deeply into Devon’s now teary eyes.
“I should’ve called her first,” he whispered as he closed his eyes again and shook his head. “I should’ve called her first.”
Tears began to fall down his face as he closed his eyes. He gripped the phone tighter and his breathing started to get heavier.
Marie immediately knew who Devon was referring to as she shook her head and gazed up towards the sky, which was growing more and more dark orange by the minute. She took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. She glanced back down and peered into Devon’s face.
“Open your eyes,” she sharply instructed.
Devon quickly nodded, immediately opened his eyes and focused intensely into Marie’s eyes.
“We will find her—we will go get her. You needed to know if we had a safe place to go to; you did the right thing—we have somewhere to go and we need to get there. Let’s go get our families and get to safety.”
Devon quickly nodded his head as he began to quickly formulate a sufficient strategy that would get them out of the city and ultimately onto Highway 95.
“My rental car is at my hotel room; it’s full of gas and ready to go. We just need to get there first. Getting out of this city will be a nightmare, but we don’t have a choice.”
Marie’s teary eyes were fixated on him and his every move at this moment, and he could feel it. He placed his forehead gently onto hers and looked her straight in her eyes.
“Look, this is us now—we do this together. You asked me earlier before all of this started, back in the room—you asked me why I was genuinely smiling after you caught me gazing at you. Well, it’s because I wanted to tell you that I love you. I know why I love you and I know how I love you, and everything you are embodies that ‘why’ and ‘how.’
“Now is the time to tell you that I love you, not later. Society, the world, tells me that I need to wait for a certain period of time to pass in order to tell you this, but I don’t, and as you see, society isn’t as strong or unbreakable as we believe it to be.”
Grabbing her right hand, Devon gently placed it on his heart as he placed his on her heart.
“This beating—the heart itself, everything that is inside here and there,” he calmly whispered as he gently tapped on her chest. “As of right now, this is our society and this is our world, and we now have to protect that.”
Marie nodded her head as the tears continued to fall down her face.
“I love you too, Devon, I love you so much that I can honestly tell you that I’m scared—I’m very scared.”
Devon pulled her closer to him as he embraced her tighter.
“I’m scared too, but we’re here together right now and we need to survive —we will live. Let’s do this together. Your world is my world now and mine is yours. I will do anything to protect and cherish it. We don’t know what is out there, but all things considered, we know what we have in one another. We have no other choice but to be ready or we won’t make it, you understand?”
Marie quickly nodded in agreement. Devon gently wiped the tears off her face as he took a deep breath. Marie wiped the tears from his face as she nodded her head to signify what essentially felt like their official beginning together. Their worlds now colliding in such a way that now made it difficult for them to part ways.
They were now one and needed each other in ways neither one could’ve ever imagined. But imagining it wouldn’t be necessary, as everything they needed to go through to get where they needed to go, and the journey they needed to embark upon en route to their ultimate destination, it was all real.
“OK,” he firmly exclaimed while gripping her hand tightly as they began to make their way through the chaos.
“We head south.”
Sean Lester Durham is a father, macro counter and delicate Krispy Kreme chaser, moderately elite wordsmith and four-time fiction author.