The smell of the sea rose up from the bay and floated out to the park. Alli sat on a bench facing the water. Down the hill, lay a field and in the distance, the boardwalk. Alli could hear the carnival games: whack-a-mole, dunk tank, test your strength.
Clouds gathered for the afternoon thunderstorm. Some pigeons walked around nearby. They inspected a bag of popcorn dropped by one of the teenagers, who had recently passed by, carrying a giant beach towel and an umbrella.
The broad leaves of the trees swayed with the wind. The scent of the grass mingled with that of the water, teeming and receding, far out there, on the horizon.
Alli checked her watch. She was supposed to meet Nealy here today. She slapped a mosquito buzzing near the back of her neck. The bench was in the shade, but the temperature was still rising.
A kid went by on roller-skates, walking a platoon of dogs. The old man with the ice cream cart headed down to the shore. People lay on blankets, sunning, staring at the sky, reading paperback novels. Someone in a beret stopped by the water fountain, checked his phone and blanched.
Alli got up and walked down the path, lined with a canopy of trees. Their leaves fanned out, creating oscillating shadows. A folk band practiced off to the side, on a portable stage. She walked under one of the park’s scenic bridges, the air nice and cool, for a few seconds. A summer science class gathered around a hot dog stand.
Outside the park, and on the street, stood a Sephora and a Chinese food restaurant. Alli headed to Cafe Nero and ordered an espresso. She watched the cars stop and go outside the window. The cumulus formation was nearer now. Even inside, Alli could feel the air tensing up, despite the summer sunshine. Couples strolled by, arm-in-arm, at eye-level.
A bolt of electricity ran through Alli – there was Nealy – together, with another woman, a woman in a print dress, laughing about an unheard joke.
“If I was with someone, how would you feel?”
Alli nearly knocked over the cup and the saucer. She looked around and Nealy was standing right beside her. She looked back at the street – but the look-alike and her mate had already turned the corner.
“I thought I would find you here,” Nealy said, sitting down.
“It was too hot,” Alli said.
“You don’t spend too much time outdoors.”
Alli shook her head, “How was Shanghai?” On the coffeehouse speakers, one of Elvis’s Hawaii songs came on.
“Hot. Like here. Healthy food though.”
“Lots of good IPOs?”
“Could have been better,” Nealy said, “But fewer shell companies.” The waiter brought Nealy her coffee.
“Are you going to stay here now?”
“I will probably go back to San Francisco, but will still divide my time between there, and New York.”
They watched the lights turn from green to red, ‘Walk’ icon to ‘Don’t Walk’ icon.
“Will you stay in New York?” Nealy asked.
“For the time being,” Alli said. Her second coffee arrived.
“Where will you go next?” Nealy asked, looking at her.
“I haven’t thought that far,” Alli looked out the glass. The clouds hovered over the skyscrapers. It had begun to drizzle.
The rain started, slowly at first, but then began to pummel the sidewalk. Pedestrians ran, covering their heads with newspapers. The pale orange clouds sunk lower, heavy in the downpour.
The two of them sat there, watching the thunderstorm, listening to the low hiss of the espresso machine.
“You Should Close the Door” – Craft Spells
“Love Somebody Else” – Maceo Plex & Jon DaSilva, feat. Joi Cardwell
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: 02 Andante – Mendelssohn