"Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news. Which do you want first?"
Gwen had just walked into Mark's hospital room and was taking off her damp raincoat. "Since I'm still standing," she said, "give me the good news first."
"I've wrangled a three day pass for this weekend," he announced with a triumphal grin. "That means I won't have to report back here until Monday morning. Do you think you can handle that situation?"
The smile on her face showed her pleasure with the announcement. While they had already arranged to spend this weekend together, it was just for the usual Friday and Saturday night. With Mark getting a three-day pass, they'd also have all day Sunday plus Sunday night.
Of course, she'd have to come up with some excuse for not coming home as planned on Sunday afternoon. And she knew getting up for class on Monday morning would be brutal. But none of that mattered. It was a small price to pay for having an extra day with Mark.
"Oh, that's great! Don't worry about me, I'll be there.” Giving him a quick kiss, she sat down in the bedside chair and unzipped her knee high boots. "Okay, I'm sitting down now. So what's the bad news?"
"I won't be able to take you to Bill Taylor's party at the Tavern on the Green," said Mark, giving her an apologetic look. He was referring to a fancy dress affair celebrating the 20th anniversary of Taylor's magazine.
"Today, the good doctor decided I could leave for home a lot sooner than we expected, like next week. But I'll still have to come back the first week of January."
Gwen struggled to keep the smile on her face. She didn't care about missing the party. To her, the idea of going to that type of function had always been more intimidating than exciting.
Mark's leaving town earlier than expected was a disappointment but not a surprise. What upset her was hearing him say he didn't 'have' to come back until January.
After all the time they'd spent together, after all they had done together, he seemed to have no interest in hurrying back to her. It seemed like all he cared about was not 'having' to return until January.
Don't be such an idiot, she told herself. Anyone would rather be home than in a hospital room. Still, she couldn't escape feeling let down.
Mark misinterpreted the unhappy look that flickered across Gwen's face. "I'm sorry about the party and all that, but I promise to make it up to you with a special weekend."
That sounded a little better, she decided, and forced a smile. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, while I'm still counting on making extensive use of our hotel room," he said with a comical leer, "I've actually made plans for doing a few other things, such as catching a couple of plays. So you might want to bring along a nice dress or two, although underwear is optional and very much discouraged."
"Sounds like fun," she said with unfeigned excitement. "I've only got one class on Friday and Robin will be there to take notes. So unless something happens, I should be free after 12:00. When will you be able to get out of here?"
Mark nodded, "One of the doctor's is supposed to sign my parole after morning rounds. So what about us meeting at 12:01, or if that's a little early, how's about 12:02?"
It was a memorable weekend. As usual, they stayed in a comfortable old hotel they'd discovered nearby on Lexington Avenue. After checking in, they spent the rest of Friday afternoon making love. Dinner was at Ole's, a dark, intimate, Spanish restaurant near their hotel on 2nd Ave. After finishing off a big pot of paella and two pitchers of sangria, they managed to find room for some flan. Back in their room, they made love until both fell into an exhausted sleep.
Late Saturday morning they woke, made love, showered, and left the hotel. Hand-in-hand they hailed an uptown cab.
A few minutes later, they got out on 5th Avenue in front of The Plaza Hotel. "We've already got a room," teased Gwen.
"Good thing too," said Mark. "This joint's a tad too pricey for poor white trash like me."
"So where are we going?"
"My God, Mark. Are you serious?"
It turned out he was serious. Moments later Gwen made her first entrance into that highest of high-class jewelry stores.
"What are you so nervous about?" he whispered as they stared into a display case filled with a small fortune in jewelry.
"Believe me, Flushing girls don't shop in Tiffany's. I've never been here before."
"Look, just pretend you're Audrey Hepburn in, “Breakfast at Tiffany's.” Act like you've seen this all before and could care less. Meanwhile, I'll try to hold down the George Peppard role."
The idea was so crazy, she almost laughed. Still she agreed to try and to her surprise, the store no longer seemed so intimidating.
When they left, Gwen let out a sigh of relief. "You look like you need to decompress," said Mark, "and I'm hungry. Let's buy some franks and something to drink and find a bench across from the Plaza."
Gwen liked this idea a lot more than shopping in Tiffany's. Soon they were sitting together in the warm late fall sun, eating their franks and watching the ever changing mixture of people, cars, and horse drawn carriages.
"If anyone asks you about this weekend, you can tell them you ate at the Plaza," he said. "Now if we were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, we'd finish our gourmet meal, then go across the street and jump into the hotel's fountain. Fortunately, I'm not a great writer and you're not a schizoid Southern belle, so I guess we're spared that chilly fate."
After finishing off the franks, Mark decided they should visit the Steuben Glass store. "This place is more like a museum than a store, at least it is to me," he said as they walked inside.
Gwen soon shared his opinion. The exquisite glass objects really were works of art. As they moved arm in arm around the showroom, she found herself mesmerized by the beauty of the intricate glass sculptures.
When they were leaving, Mark made an off-hand remark that had her fighting back tears. "You know, I'd never seen anything by Steuben before Vietnam. Sometimes, it hits me that if my operations hadn't worked, I never would have gotten the chance."
By the time they got back to their hotel room, Gwen felt so emotionally charged, she was out of her clothes by the time Mark finished locking the door. When he turned and noticed what she had done, a pleased smile crossed his face. Before he could say or do anything, she came over and began stripping off his clothes. Moments later, they were both nude. Wordlessly, insistently, she pulled him into bed and engulfed him with her passionate love.
That evening they went down to Greenwich Village and held hands through a performance of, “The Fantastiks,” at the cozy little Theater in the Round. Afterwards, they walked over to Angelina's, a small, mom and pop, Italian restaurant they had discovered. At Mark's suggestion, they both had linguine and clam sauce, the same meal they shared the first night they made love.
After dinner, she assumed they would return to their room and make love the rest of the night. Instead, he asked if she had ever been on the Staten Island ferry. "As a matter of fact, I never have," she admitted. "Living in Queens, I've never needed to take the ferry."
"Well, it's time to end your cultural deprivation," he said, hailing a cab.
There were so few people waiting at the ferry dock, Gwen felt a twinge of nervousness. When they reached the turnstile, Mark insisted on paying the nickel fare. "At five cents, this may be the least I can ever do," he grinned.
By mutual agreement, they forsook the warmth of the ferry's enclosed seating area. It was cold out on the open deck, but both wanted to watch the skyline as the industrious boat plowed its well-traveled course across the harbor.
When the ferry docked, he insisted they get off. "If you don't, you won't be able to claim the island of Staten as a province of the vast Kaplan empire."
While waiting for the next departure, they wandered around the empty waiting area, observing the desolate, late night world of the ferry dock on Staten Island. When the next boat arrived, they boarded for their return voyage.
"Feel like standing outside again?" he asked and she nodded. This time they never noticed the skyline or the Statue of Liberty. This time they kissed the whole way back from the island of Staten to the island of Manhattan.
Sunday was a slower-paced day. After waking up and making love, Mark took her to the Pierre Hotel for brunch. "This place is a little too high-toned for my plebeian tastes," he said with a wink. "But for a joint that doesn't serve either grits or red-eye gravy, the food's not bad."
Afterward, they wandered into Central Park and found the spot they'd occupied during their first visit back in the summer. After spreading sections of the Sunday New York Times out on the ground, they sat down to watch the squirrels. "Are you still glad I took you away from that baseball game?" teased Gwen.
"You know I am," he said, before leaning over to give her a kiss. "It's just a shame we're overdressed and the ground's a tad cold. Otherwise, I just might find the courage to try for a repeat performance."
"Mr. Cahill," she said with a fond smile, "something tells me you've never had to hunt for courage, especially that type."
Later that afternoon, Mark surprised her with tickets to a matinee performance of Man of LaMancha. After they were seated, he took out a small, pocket magnifying glass and started to study the playbill. "You know, next to you in bed, this is what I've been looking forward to the most. Sorry if I've told you this before, but the first time I came to New York, it was to let Dr. Castro-Viejo take a look at my eye and decide if it was worth operating on. Anyway, Bill Taylor took care of everything, including getting tickets to LaMancha and several other plays. Of course, I couldn't see any of them, but I'll always remember how the sound just blew me away. Now I'll get to both hear and see it and that should be fun."
How could someone act so casual about being blind, she wondered? Squeezing his hand, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek as the house lights began to fade.
After the play, they wandered around Times Square laughing at the displays in the porno shops and watching the area's collection of odd life forms. "Tell you what, my Dad's a big fight fan. Let's go over to Jack Dempsey's for dinner. And then..." his words broke off as they dodged traffic while crossing 42nd Street.
"And then what?" teased Gwen when they reached the relative safety of the sidewalk.
He took her in his arms and they kissed, heedless of the crowds surging around them. When their lips parted, he replied, "And then, I think we should go back to the hotel and celebrate our last night together this year in grand and memorable style."
Thinking about it later, Gwen decided everything would have been perfect if they hadn't spent that extra day together. If they had parted on Sunday afternoon, she might not have had a chance to ask Mark to write. But she got the chance and asked. After that, she wasn't sure how she felt about Mark Cahill.
The problem came up Monday morning during breakfast. After a long night of making love and a few short hours of sleep, they forced themselves out of bed early that morning. Packing quickly, they went down to the hotel lobby, checked out, and headed for a nearby diner.
They were just finishing breakfast when Gwen asked the question. "Well, are you going to write me while you're gone?” She tried to make the request seem offhand and casual. But, for some reason, it meant a lot to her that Mark take the time to write her a letter or at least send a card.
There was a momentary silence, then she continued, "I know writing's tough for you right now. So don't worry about making it look nice. Just print whatever you want to and make it real big."
After a last sip of coffee, Mark set down his cup. "Well, to tell you the truth, I don't figure I'll be writing anything. I'll call, of course. It's just that writing is such a hassle, Phone calls are more my style these days."
Overcoming her surprise at this unexpected, negative response, she made a second attempt. This time, she decided to try a little guilt trip. "Look, I know this sounds silly, but I really would like to get a letter or even a card from you. I never have you know?"
"No one else has either," he replied. "At least not in the last year or so."
Trying to make her understand, he continued patiently, "Look, with my lousy eyesight, hunting a card is a royal pain and writing a letter is even more trouble. Maybe someday I'll be a writing fool, but for now, I'd rather stick to phone calls."
"But I want a letter or a card or something in writing from you.” A trace of emotion had crept into her voice. To her, a letter would be a permanent, physical manifestation that he thought of her as something more than just a good time in New York. She wasn't sure why, but this had become very important.
"I understand," said Mark, although his voice made it clear he didn't. "But you're going to have to make do with phone calls. Letters and cards are just too damn much trouble."
At that, her eyes began to fill with tears. Moments later, they were rolling down her cheeks, leaving streaks of mascara in their wake. Gwen felt like an idiot, but she couldn't stop the tears. Taking a deep breath, she blurted out, "Damn it. All I'm asking for is a letter or a lousy card. That's all."
For the life of him, Mark couldn't understand why she was crying over a letter and he didn't feel like giving in to what he considered a totally irrational request. "And I'm saying what difference does it make it I call or write? Besides, I can't hear you in a letter."
After a brief, strained, silence, she struggled to her feet. "Well, please forgive me for asking you to go to so much trouble.” There was both sarcasm and sorrow in her trembling voice. "Now let's go or I'll be late for class."
That evening, a subdued Gwen came by Mark's room to exchange presents and wish him good-bye. When she left, he walked her to the elevator where they kissed and promised to see each other next year. The following day, he left town.