One Night on the Veranda

Moonlight, the Stars, and You

It was a perfect night, warm and still, the sky sprinkled with bright stars. Phena’s garden was fragrant with gardenias, roses and jasmine. Their perfume drifted up under the cover of the veranda, permeated the clothing and hair of the two men as they sat strumming their guitars. A large moth fluttered around the electric light and set its frantic shadow across the sheet music. Joey giggled at the shadow as it obscured the notes for the thousandth time that evening, for it seemed to be dancing in tempo to the music.

 Des lifted his fingertips off the frets of his old guitar. “That moth again?”

 Joey continued playing. “I think he likes our music as well as the light. Keep playing, Des.”

 Des picked up the melody again after Joey finished the verse. He was happy to be reacquainted with his guitar; happy to be making music, happy this young man beside him so enjoyed his company.

 Joey suggested the next piece, “Nana.”

 “Excellent choice.” The Spanish lullaby was one of his favorites. He often played it when he was alone.

 Phena could hear the music from the sidewalk. She unlatched and latched the gate quietly, entered the path and stepped up on the porch with very light footfalls. She did not want them to hear her and stop playing. The lovely and serene melody was a balm to her spirit, which had been sparking with vexation most of the night. She had argued with her girlfriends at the dance hall, had splashed her drink into the face of a young man who had brazenly pinched her knee, and someone had stolen her last five dollars out of her little handbag while she had shimmied on the dance floor. With not enough change to cover the streetcar fare, she suffered the long walk home, and her feet hurt. Besides being in a terrible mood, she was still a bit tipsy.

 It would not do for her to return home with a drooping mouth and fire in her eyes. Des would ask questions. After his questions, he would be concerned for her, and she didn’t want that. Worst of all though, was the fact Joey was there on the veranda with him, and he would witness her irritability at Des’s gentle inquiries. She didn’t want that, either. She rested on the porch swing, closed her eyes and let the music settle in, willed her body to relax.

 They ended the song, and their guitars fell silent. Their jovial voices drifted to her. Their words were muffled, unintelligible because of the distance and their hushed volume. They continued conversing, their sentences punctuated with spurts of soft laughter.

 Des and Joey had been spending a lot of time together over the past months. When not playing music together, they went bowling or took in the horse races. Sometimes they simply visited, drank beer, discussed politics and the stock market, women and family matters. Joey unsuccessfully tried to set Des up with his Aunt Estella. Des, now resigned to bachelorhood and quite contented, tactfully nipped that idea in the bud. Phena sometimes wondered if things would have been different for him had she not been dumped in his lap. However, she and Des had fallen into a comfortable rhythm of living together, and neither could imagine their lives any other way. She certainly had no desire to move out on her own. Des certainly had no desire to encourage her to do so. They were a matching pair of bookends, supporting their unconventional devotion – perhaps it was emotional dependency – between them; or, perhaps, as bookends they were fiercely protecting the secure little world they had created. Until recently there seemed no room for a new element in their lives, but now Des had welcomed Joey into the fold, and the bookends moved a little farther apart with this new addition. Initially, Phena felt a twinge of resentment, but once she thought about it, thought about Joey and the loss of his parents, thought about Des and all his sad losses from the time he was very small, it made sense to her that Des would adopt the young man, for he saw him as a kindred spirit.

 Lately, she had noticed Joey was paying more attention to her. His eyes sparkled with abrupt happiness in her presence. He made it a point to talk with her, ask her about her life, her job, her interests, tell her about his life, his job, his interests. His manner was always relaxed and playful. He had a very warm and gentle kind of laugh, and his touch was tender. When he touched her, her body tingled with a sudden warm rush, and she found it difficult to catch her breath. She thought him extremely handsome, admired his fine bone structure, the lift of his cheeks, the fullness of his lips. Oh! Those laughing, dancing, brown eyes! She easily melted when his eyes met hers, yet she fought her desire to surrender to him.

 She tossed her purse on the bed, rolled down her stockings and tossed them on the bed. She dabbed a drop of Evening in Paris between her breasts to cover up the cigarette smoke and any booze odors that lingered upon her skin, and, barefooted, joined Des and Joey out on the veranda.

 “You’re home early,” Des commented.

 “I’m a little tired,” she replied with a shrug. In a jocund tone, she inquired, “Are you fellas having a good time?”

 “The berries!” Joey said. “Wanna join us in a song?”

 She laughed softly. “Now, why would you want to torture yourself with my singing?”

 “Because I find it adorable.” He tipped his bottle of beer at her as a kind of salute, and then took a swig. “Want a beer?”

 Beer made her fart, and farting was embarrassing. “No, thanks.” She glanced at Des, wondering if he had over-imbibed and what kind of mood he was in if he had.

 Des read her mind. “I’ve been good. I’ve only had one. Besides that, it’s near-beer, the conciliatory beverage of choice for the masses, approved and hoisted upon us by our very own Federal Government.” He concluded that lengthy statement with a Flamingo style strum of the strings.

 She removed a cigarette from his tin of Camels, lit it before Joey could lean in with his lighter. After a long drag, she settled upon the wood railing, stretched out comfortably and peered up at the stars.

 Des began to play Sing Me a Baby Song, while Joey gazed adoringly at Phena. The sight of her inspired the young man’s artistic creativity as he observed her languid posture while she stretched out in dreamy detachment from everything but the starry sky before her. She reminded him of similar scenes printed on the sheet music covers of every romantic ballad ever published. He intended to preserve this moment, but not in the common two or three-color flatness of those sheet music covers, but in rich tones of midnight blue and moonlit greens and starry yellows; and, oh, he would place a full moon behind her, a bright cool moon as cool as her reserved expression, and he would place golden shadows of moonlight upon the black shimmering waves of her hair, place a string of pearls around her neck. He would let the pearls fall in sparkling pastel light below the pale lift of her bosom to rest just above the fold of the merlot linen sash at her waist. He would... oh, he would... her eyes, her cheeks, her lips... those delicate hands... oh, he would...

 Phena picked a speck of tobacco off her lip and flicked it into the garden. She felt Joey’s eyes on her, and her heart sped up a beat. The warmth of his body emanated to her as he approached her, lightly rested his hand upon her shoulder. Her heart sped up two more beats, and she quivered at the pleasure of his touch.

 He whispered to her, “How about a dance?” Then, deciding he would not let her say no, he took her hand that she had rested on her lap.

 Months ago at the Starlight Room she had enjoyed the press of his body to hers as they danced. She had enjoyed it so much that it frightened her. She was frightened now, yet she could not deny him or resist him. Up until this moment, her evening had been a letdown, another exercise in futility in a sea of futile existences. She wanted – needed – to be held, wanted him to hold her.

 God... but my feet hurt!

 She clasped her hand around his and allowed him to guide her off the railing and into his arms. He smelled like fresh-hewn cedar and new leather, intoxicatingly pleasant to her. He also smelled – slightly – of beer, which she found not so pleasant. Her bare toes touched his bare toes, and she glanced down and saw he was barefooted too. He frowned momentarily and lifted her chin with his thumb and index finger, stared lovingly into her eyes. His expression, amorous and at once desirous, made her feel weak. He leaned into her, rested his warm and slightly stubbly cheek to hers. She caught her breath in her throat and held it, did this unconsciously.

 Joey stroked her hair and whispered in her ear, “Breathe. It’s just a dance.”

 She released her breath.

 He softly guided her to rest her head upon his shoulder, and then he wrapped one arm around her waist and tenderly drew her against his body. They began to dance, and she felt his warm lips slowly brush her temple. “I like your perfume...”

 Guitar strings singing, his respiration tickling her cheek. She closed her eyes, snuggled upon his shoulder, lightly kissed the cedar and leather scented curve of his neck, surrendered to him. She forgot all about her sore feet.

 Des played the song twice without pause in-between, followed that with a number he had learned as a child, Beautiful Dreamer. He hoped they would dance all night.

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