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MEET ME IN MANHATTAN
by Judith Arnold

Genre: General Contemporary Romance, Contemporary Romance

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Maybe he was crazy to contact her. It had been so long. Why pick open a wound that had successfully healed? Why risk the pain, the possibility of infection? Erika had left a scar, but not a disfiguring one. Just because she was living across the river from him in Manhattan wasn’t reason enough for him to suggest that they get together.

He had a full life. A good job, finally. His position at East River Marketing was more than a job, or even a career. It was a calling.

His social life was also great. He was in a solid relationship. Three years he and Marissa had been together, much of that time cohabiting in a comfortable apartment in Brooklyn, just across the bridge from Manhattan. She was beautiful, smart, good-natured…everything he wanted in a woman.

And yet…something was missing. Something wasn’t quite right.

She wanted to get married. He didn’t blame her. They were in their thirties, and she had that biological clock thing going, and—well, three years was a long time for a couple to be together without taking the next step.

Ted wanted to take the next step. But something held him back. Something nagged at him, whispering in the darkest recesses of his soul that if Marissa wasn’t the one, he shouldn’t marry her. And it whispered that she wasn’t the one.

He hated the feeling of limbo. He hated becoming a cliché: the guy who couldn’t commit. He wanted to do right by her. But…something was missing.

He knew what that something was.

What was the current jargon word? Closure. He needed closure with Erika.

Stupid. He had closure with her. They’d had closure when she told him, just before leaving for college, that she wanted them to be friends. And when she’d broken up with him definitively over the phone. And when she’d driven up to Denver to meet him at the airport, and he’d seen with his own eyes that she was no longer the girl he’d remembered, the long-haired, golden-skinned girl he’d been so madly in love with. And in every cold, clipped communication they’d shared since then, the few times they’d run into each other at gatherings of the old gang in Mendham, when they’d chatted politely for as little time as possible before gravitating to opposite ends of the room.

If closure was the same thing as having a door slam shut, that door had slammed shut on him enough times to get the point across.

But.

Something was missing.

Someone from the old Mendham group—Allyson, maybe—had provided him with Erika’s email address. What the hell, he thought. Just see her and make sure that door is not just shut but locked and bolted. So he sent her a note and suggested they meet somewhere for a drink, for old time’s sake.

A few days later she replied: Sure.

He asked her to name the place, and she recommended Fanelli’s Cafe, downtown in SoHo. They set a time and a date.

He had never really believed in ghosts, even though he’d had fun pretending his childhood home was haunted. Now he did believe in ghosts, because suddenly he found himself haunted by the ghost of the lovesick boy he’d once been, pining for a girl who’d walked away from him.

He wasn’t pining, he assured himself. He was just exorcising a ghost.

Darting between the rain drops the day of their meeting, he arrived at the corner bistro on time. He surveyed the pub and didn’t see her. She’d picked the place; he figured she would have chosen someplace convenient for her. If he could get there on time when he lived in Brooklyn, surely she could get there on time from her Manhattan apartment.

All right, so she was running a little late. No big deal. He sauntered down to the far end of the bar and settled on an empty stool which gave him a good view of the room. He’d be able to see her the moment she entered—before she saw him. This would give him a chance to assess her, and to brace himself.

The bartender approached, a skinny, pretty boy with an air about him. Ted realized the stool he sat on was prime real estate; he’d have to order a drink if he wanted to stay there. He asked for a Budweiser.

Waiting for her gave him too much time. Time to wonder whether he was overdressed or underdressed. He’d chosen cords and a polo shirt, neat but not prissy. He’d dressed in a way he hoped would communicate that he was prosperous, content, cool.

Christ. You’re still trying to impress her.

The minutes ticked by. He nursed his beer. The voices around him melted into a blur of sound. The door opened to admit patrons. None was Erika.

He was trying to impress her, and she’d stood him up. Talk about a door slamming in his face. He decided that if she hadn’t arrived by the time he’d finished his beer, he’d leave a note with the bartender. A ten-dollar bill and a note inviting her to have a drink on him. That would be gentlemanly.

And cool. Impressively cool.

A note saying, Maybe next time. Only there wouldn’t be a next time. He’d accept the meaning behind her absence. Finally, finally, it would be over for him. He’d purge her from his mind once and for all. He promised himself he would.

The door opened again, and that promise flew out into the drizzly night as Erika stepped inside.