The Autograph

He was walking down a busy street in downtown Manhattan, heading back to his hotel room when he saw her.  She was coming toward him–a very pretty girl in a white jacket over a black top and blue jeans.  He wasn’t looking for anything because he was already in a relationship which he was having serious misgivings about, especially now that Claudia was pressuring him to get married.  The last thing he wanted was to be distracted by another woman.

Yet, as they approached each other, he couldn’t look away.  She was staring at him too and that thrilled him.  Since Claudia and he began dating four years ago, he had never once looked at another woman until now…His heart thudded as they got closer to each other and as they passed each other, she looked right up at him.  He was tempted to look back but continued walking.

“Excuse me,” she called and he stopped.  When he turned around, she went closer, her eyes searching his face.  “Aren’t you Bernard Forbes, the British stage and independent film actor?”

He nodded.  “Yes, I am.”

She smiled broadly, her eyes bright with excitement.  “I’m a big fan of yours,” she told him.  “I have seen all of your films.  And last month when I was in London, I went to see you in the latest stage production of Macbeth.  It was the only reason I visited England.  I wanted to go backstage and get your autograph but my aunt was in a hurry to leave.”

“I’m flattered that you went all the way to London just to see me in a play.  The least I can do is to give you my autograph for your trouble.”

“It just so happens, I have the program with me.  This is the handbag I had with me when I went to see the play.  I just never got around to taking it out and I’m happy I didn’t.”  She took it out along with a pen and handed them to him, her heart racing.  He was even more handsome in person and gracious too.  She couldn’t wait to call her aunt in London and tell her.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kimani Jones.”

“Kimani.  What an unusual name,” he commented.  “What does it mean?”

“’Beautiful’ and ‘sweet’”, she replied.  “My mother saw it somewhere and decided that she would call me that.”

“It suits you,” he said, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze before he turned his attention to signing his autograph.  He wrote:  To: Kimani, my warmest regards and my very best to you always.  Bernard Forbes.  He handed the program back to her.

She read what he wrote.  “Thank you,” she gushed, beaming at him.  “I really appreciate this.

“It was my pleasure,” he said quietly.  “How come you’re not in school?”

“I’m on March break,” she said.  “And I’m in my third year at New York University.”

“Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”

She shook her head.  “I was just window shopping.  Spring is around the corner so I was thinking of buying some new clothes.”

They were standing close to a café.  “Let’s move our conversation from the sidewalk to in there,” he suggested.  There wasn’t any harm in talking to one of his fans, was there?  She was a welcome change from the movie and theatre crowd and the people he usually associated with.  Besides, this was better than going back to his hotel room to brood over his relationship with Claudia.

She readily acquiesced and they went into the café.  He found a table at the back and by the window.  It was after ten o’clock so the place was almost empty save for a few people and aside from curious stares in his direction, no one bothered them.  After they ordered two hot chocolates, he leaned forward in his chair, arms on table and studied her.  “You mentioned that you’re in your third year in university.  What is your area of study?”

I can’t believe I’m sitting here having a conversation with Bernard Forbes.  “I’m studying Psychology.”

“Why Psychology?”

“I want to help people.”

“That’s commendable,” he said.  “I have a feeling that you will do very well in the field.”

“Thank you.”

“Have you always lived in New York?”

“Yes.  And I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

He asked her all sorts of questions about herself and in no time an hour had passed.  “Spend the rest of the day with me, Kimani,” he heard himself say.

“All right,” she said, thrilled.  And after he paid for the hot chocolates, they left the cafe and walked up the road where he hailed a cab.

They went to Central Park where they spent a fun afternoon.  They went up to the Belevdere Castle to check the temperature and to enjoy the panoramic view around them.  Afterwards, they visited the Conservatory Garden and watched people sail their boats at Conservatory Water before they grabbed lunch.  After lunch they went to see a puppet show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.  They ended the day at Bethesda Fountain where they each made a wish.

The sun was setting as they walked to the exit of the park.  He hailed a cab and she gave the driver her address.

“Thank you for an incredible day,” he told her when they were outside of her apartment building.  “I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a very long time.”

She smiled.  “I had a wonderful time too.  I never knew there were so many fun things to do in Central Park.”  I hope we can see each other again.

“Kimani, I want to see you again.” This was madness but he couldn’t seem to get enough of her.  He had to see her again.   “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”  He took her hand and raised it to his lips, making her tremble.   “Have a good evening.”  He reluctantly released her hand and climbed back into the back of the cab.

Her flesh tingled.  “You too,” she replied breathlessly.  She wave at him before she turned and walked to the entrance of her building on rather shaky legs, her mind spinning.  She hoped this wasn’t all a dream.

Dinner was at the Empire State Building.  As soon as they walked in they were greeted with a smile before being shown to a table with a magnificent view.  Over Burrata and Shave Kale salads, Scottish Salmon and Roasted Farm Chicken and non-alcoholic wine, they talked about many different things.  She learned that Bernard began acting on stage when he was eleven at the encouragement of his father who used to be renown theatre actor himself.  His mother was an opera singer.  Both parents were still alive and living in the South of France.  They recently celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  He flew out for the occasion.  He was an only child like her.

“Do you ever wish that you had brothers or sisters?” she asked.

“Sometimes.  It would have been nice to have an older brother whom I could go to for relationship advice and the one I’d call instead of one of my parents when I got into trouble.  And of course, be each other’s best man at our weddings.”

“Yes, I wish I had an older sister that I could share secrets with whose closet I could raid when I didn’t have anything to wear and someone to hang out with whenever we are forced to attend a family get together and go shopping with.”

He smiled.  “And what would happen if you both ended up liking the same guy?” he teased.

“I would like to think that if the guy liked her instead of me, I would bow out gracefully.”

His expression grew serious.  “If I were that guy you would be the sister I liked.”

She smiled shyly at him.  “And if you had a brother, I would like you instead of him.”

“Kimani, I’m here in New York for a week.  Can I see you everyday until it’s time for me to fly back to London?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I just have to figure where we can go that you haven’t already been.  I read on line that you have been to New York many times because it’s one of your favorite cities in the world after London and Paris.”

He looked intrigued.  “What else have you read about me?”

“That you like going to museums, for long walks, traveling, cooking, volunteering, you prefer theatre acting to film acting and prefer dating actresses.”

“I’m guilty of all of those things except the bit about my preference for actresses.  You’re not an actress, are you?”

She laughed.  “I was in drama class once in high school and I managed to get through it but I knew then and there that acting was not for me.”

“I love it,” he said simply.  “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

“What about when the opposite sex throw themselves at you?”

“Yes, that ‘s the part of my career which I truly dislike,” he agreed.  “but it has brought us together.”

“I never imagined that I would bump into you in the street or that when I asked you for your autograph we would end up spending the day together or having dinner.  I still can’t believe that this is really happening.  I’m afraid that this is all a very long and wonderful dream.”

He reached over and grasped her hand.  “This is no dream, Kimani,” he assured her, gently squeezing her fingers to make his point.  “I’m real, you’re real and what is happening between us is very real.”

She blinked, finding it hard to think with him holding her hand.  Just then, a couple approached their table.  They smiled apologetically before the woman said hesitantly, “I’m so sorry to disturb your dinner but know that my husband nor I wouldn’t be able to forgive me if I passed up this opportunity to get your autograph.  We saw you in Macbeth, Hamlet, Absent Night and Secrets in the Dream, your latest independent film.  We are huge fans.  Do you mind signing the front of this photo of my husband and me?” she handed it to him with a pen.   She smiled at Kimani.  “Sorry for the interruption.”

Kimani smiled.  “Don’t worry about it,” she said.  One of the things she had to get used to when being with him was having interruptions like this.

“What are your names?” Bernard asked the woman who was pretty and looked to be in her late thirties.

“Kevin and Angela.”

He scribbled something on the photo and gave it back to her with the pen.  “Have a good evening,” he said with a smile.

“Thank you so much,” she said, looking at the signed photo in appreciation before she put it in her bag.  “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”  She turned and walked away.

“Do you ever get used to people coming up to you wherever you go for your autograph?” she asked.

“Actually, I have gotten used to it but not tired of it.  I will always be happy to sign autographs long after I’ve retired from acting which wouldn’t be for a very long while.   I hope you didn’t mind.”

She shook her head.  “I didn’t.  She’s a fan just like me.  I can relate.”

He glanced at his watch.  “The night is still young.  Would you like to go for a carriage ride in Central Park?”

Her eyes brightened.  “Yes!”

His lips twitched and he signaled to the waitress.  Ten minutes later, they were on their way to Central Park.

The carriage ride was a remarkable and romantic experience.  The Park was transformed at night, a perfect escape from the bustle and noise of the city, making it easy for them to enjoy the spectacular views of the city skyline.  It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.  He took her home and they saw each other for the rest of the week going to the museum, the theatre, the movies, a gondola ride in Central Park, Atlantic City and Coney Island.

On Sunday afternoon, she went with him to the airport, sorry to see him go.  They faced each other general area before he went to the terminal where he would catch his plane.  He took her hands in his.  “I will be back in a week,” he promised.

She nodded and then reached up and hugged him tightly.  “I’ll see you in a week.”

He bent his head and kissed her.  It lasted for a few minutes and when they broke apart, his face was flushed.  “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said before he turned and walked away.  She watched him until he was out of sight before she left the airport, her heart heavy.

The day after he returned from New York, Bernard went to see Claudia.  She was expecting him.  She opened the door, dressed in a long black negligee leaning and her mouth raised for a kiss but after a light brush of his lips against her cheek, he walked past her and into the living-room.  There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have dragged that negligee off.  It was amazing how a man could look at the same woman who used to drive him wild with desire and feel nothing.

Frowning, she closed the door.  “Is something wrong?” she asked when she joined him and noted the expression on his face.

“Please sit down,” he said.  When she did, he sat beside her.  He took a deep breath.  “Claudia, I can’t marry you.”

She stared at him, her face going pale.  “Why not?” she asked.

He hesitated for a moment and then he confessed, “I don’t love you.”

“So, for the four years we have been together you never once loved me?”

He nodded, feeling awful.  “I cared about you, but I wasn’t in love with you.”

“Is that why every time I broached the subject of marriage you shut down?”

He nodded again.  “Yes.  When it comes to marriage, a person has to be very sure before taking that step.  And since I wasn’t sure about us, I couldn’t take that risk.  I went to New York to sort things out and I realized that what was troubling me from the very beginning were my feelings for you.  You loved me but I had to admit to myself that I didn’t love you.  Claudia, you deserve to be with a man who will love you back.  I’m not that man.  I’m sorry…”

She got up from the sofa and began to pace, her arms folded tightly as the enormity of what he was saying hit her.  Tears sprang in her eyes but she blinked them back.  “You came to this conclusion when you were in New York?”

“Yes.”

“Did you meet someone else while you were there, Bernard?”

He sighed, “Yes, but—”

“Is she the reason why you have now decided that you don’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore?”

“Before I met her, I was filled with so many doubts about you and me which I couldn’t shake off.  And being with her helped me to realize that it wouldn’t be fair to either you or me to continue our relationship when it would not lead to what you want—marriage.”

“So, who is she? Another actress or one of your adoring fans?”

He didn’t answer.  “Claudia, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you but I have to be true to myself and I cannot in all honesty and good conscience, continue to be with you when I can’t give you what you want.  Marriage between us will not work.  I’m sorry.  I hope that in time you will see that I’m right.”  He got up from the sofa and would have gone over to her but the expression on her face deterred him.  “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“So, what are you going to do now that you’re no longer tied to me?” she demanded.  “Go back to New York to be with her?  Well, I hope for your sake that it works out but if it doesn’t don’t think you can come crawling back to me.  I won’t take you back even if you begged me—” her voice broke into a sob.

Contrite, he took a step toward her, “Claudia—”

She held up her hand, glaring at him.  “Bastardo.  Don’t come near me,” she cried.  “I want you to leave.”

He hesitated for a moment and then he turned and walked out of the room.  The last sound he heard was her crying before he closed the door behind him.

Kimani was relaxing on the sofa, reading a book when the doorbell rang.  Putting down her book, she quickly got up and went to answer the door.  Her heart somersaulted when she saw who it was.  Eagerly, she unlocked the door and flung it open, a big smile on her face.

“Do you have room for a weary traveler?”

“Yes, one in particular,” she said as she reached out and grasped by the hand to pull him inside before locking the door. After he set his luggage down on the floor, she hugged him tightly, closing her eyes as she felt his arms go about her waist, holding her close against him.  “I’ve missed you like crazy. One week seemed like a year.”

“I’ve missed you too,” he muttered thickly.  “I couldn’t wait to come back to you.” As soon as she drew back to look up at him, he kissed her.  They stood there for several minutes kissing passionately, happy to be together again and determined never to be apart again.  At length, he drew back to gaze down into her face.  “I have to talk to you about something,” he said quietly.

Frowning, she took his hand and led him over to the sofa.  She curled up on the cushion beside him, with one arm resting along the back of the chair and the other on his thigh.  “What’s on your mind?”

“When you and I met, I was already in a relationship.  When I came to New York, my only intention was to clear my head—figure out what I was going to do about my relationship because I was having so many doubts about it.  And then, I met you.  I tried so hard to fight my attraction for you but it was hopeless.  I had to get to know you better and that’s why I suggested we talk more in the café.  And that time we spent together wasn’t enough so I suggested that we spend the rest of the day together.  By the time we left Central Park, I knew that I was hooked.  I had to see you again.  Being with you made what could have been a complicated situation worse made it bearable.  Those hours I spent with you were the happiest and most relaxed I’ve ever had and it helped me to make up my mind about what I was going to do about my relationship.”

“I knew that you were dating someone,” she said.  “Remember, I’m a fan so I have read every article there is about you.  She’s Claudia Riaz, the beautiful Venezuelan actress who co-starred with you in The Stone of the Predator.  Everyone kept going on about what an attractive couple you made but I didn’t think so–for obvious reasons.  You dated her the longest–four years but there was no news about any engagement which I dreaded because I had developed such a crush on you.  No woman would have been suitable for you.”

“Is it still just a crush that you have on me?”

She shook her head.  “No, by the time I saw you in Macbeth, I had fallen madly in love with you.”

“I never believed in love at first sight until that morning when you stopped me on the sidewalk.”

“I’m glad I asked you for it.”

He reached out and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  “And do you still think no woman would be suitable for me?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“What about you?”

“I’m the exception,” she said huskily.  “I think I’m very suitable for you.”

“Yes, you are,” he groaned and cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.  As she kissed him back, she thought of what Walt Disney said, all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.

 

 

Sources:  City Parks FoundationNYC Carriages; Ruggenberg; Very Well Mind

 

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