After that he had been wary in his dealings with women, taking care not to rush into anything. His relationships didn't last long. The women wanted a commitment.
From the airport, Tomas booked a hotel room while waiting for his baggage. He knew the Plaza Hotel was now closed so he tried elsewhere. He liked the old hotels best, where the furnishings were heavy and venerable and time seemed to stand still. Of course he could have spared himself the journey into the city and taken a room at one of the airport hotels, but he knew he wouldn't feel at ease there. Once he had caught the flu and been stuck in an airport hotel in Seattle and the memory still haunted him. The room had been bare, the lighting cold, and all that he could see from the window were a parking lot, a freeway and a warehouse with the logo of a foreign airline. He could still remember the emptiness and silence in the middle of the day, the dirty carpet, the foul-tasting tap water. Overwhelmed by a sense of dread he had checked out, even though he was still running a high fever. It had taken him longer to shake off the dread than the flu.
There was a long wait for the baggage. His thoughts went to Maureen while bags from an earlier flight wound their way past. He had been thinking of her on the plane and after landing, when it became clear that he wouldn't make it to Chicago that night. "She asked about you," Taubman had said. "She's now living in New York."
He loathed being forward. He never cold-called prospective clients, preferring instead to let middlemen make initial contact. But she had asked about him and fate was leading him to the city._Finally he decided to take a chance and called directory assistance.
Maureen Egan. There were two by that name, one on East Seventy-fifth, the other in SoHo. He thought it more likely that she would live on the Upper East Side and quickly tapped the number into his phone so he wouldn't forget it. Yet he didn't call her right away, feeling he needed to give it more thought. It had been such a long time. Ten years. But she had asked after him, and although he hadn't pressed Taubman for any more information he had sensed from the old man that she had asked out of interest. "Apparently she's single again," he had said.
He didn't call until he was in the taxi. It was snowing and traffic was moving slowly.
He almost hung up but stopped himself. When she finally came to the phone he recognized her voice immediately.
"Tomas? I can't believe it."
"I'm sorry to bother you."
"You're not bothering me."
"Taubman told me you were living in New York."
"Where are you? It's a bad connection."
"I'm in a taxi on my way into the city. I was wondering if we could meet."
"I understand if you can't. I just thought it would be good to hear your voice. Taubman told me you were living here now."
"Yes, I moved."
"I understand if you're busy. I shouldn't have bothered you."
"No, we should meet."
"I was going to fly to Chicago tonight but they've canceled all the flights. Are you free tomorrow morning?"
She didn't answer immediately.
"I can't do tomorrow morning," she said then.
"I understand. Perhaps we could just meet next time I'm in town."
"Where are you staying?"
He told her.
"That's not far from here. I could stop by."
"Are you sure that's not an inconvenience? With the weather . . ."
"What did Ira tell you?"
"He said you'd asked about me."
There was a silence, and Tomas was about to repeat that they could just meet another time when she cleared her throat and said: "I'll come by around ten-fifteen."
He was in Manhattan just after nine. The hotel was in the Sixties, between Madison and Fifth. He was greeted warmly and the lighting in the lobby was dim and cozy. His room faced the street, and the porter who carried up his luggage for him said that things had been very busy over the holidays but were now quieting down. There were cut flowers in a vase on the coffee table and chocolates on the pillow. Tomas ran himself a bath.
Excerpted from Valentines by Olaf Olafsson Copyright © 2007 by Olaf Olafsson. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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