“No, of course not, but you have a lot of years ahead of you. You can’t spend them alone, or you shouldn’t. You’re a beautiful woman, Hope, you have a lot of life in you. You can’t close the door on all that now.”
“I don’t really think about it, to be honest. I try not to. I just wake up every morning and face the day. That’s a lot. And I put everything into my work.” It showed. And then, without a word, he put his arms around her and held her. He wanted to shield her from all the sorrows in her life. She was surprisingly comfortable in his peaceful embrace. No one had done that for years. She couldn’t even remember the last time. She was suddenly glad he had come. She hardly knew him, but his being there seemed like a gift.
Finn sat there holding her for a long time, and then she smiled up at him. It was nice just sitting with him and not talking. And then slowly he let go of her, and she went to make herself a cup of tea and pour him a glass of wine. He followed her into the kitchen, and helped himself to more of the eggnog ice cream. He offered her some, and she shook her head, and then wondered if he was hungry. It was really late for him, in fact it was the middle of the night in London.
“Do you want some eggs or something? It’s all I have.”
“I know this sounds crazy,” he said, looking sheepish. “But I’d love some Chinese food. I’m starving. Is there any place like that around here?” It was Christmas night and not much was open, but there was a Chinese restaurant nearby that stayed open very late. She offered to call them and they were open, but they didn’t deliver.
“Do you want to go?” she asked, and he nodded.
“Is that all right? If you’re tired, I can go alone, although I’d love it if you’d come.” She smiled at him, and he put an arm around her shoulders again. He felt as though something important had happened between them that night, and so did she.
They put their coats on a few minutes later and went out. It was nearly eleven o’clock by then, and it was freezing cold. They hurried along the street to where the Chinese restaurant was. It was still open, and there were a surprising number of people inside. It was bright and noisy and smelled of Chinese food, people were shouting in the kitchen, and Finn grinned as they sat down.
“This was exactly what I wanted.” He looked happy and relaxed and so did she.
Hope ordered for them since she knew their food, and it arrived a little while later, and they both dug in. She was surprised that she was as hungry as he was. They were like starving people as they ate almost everything, and talked of lighter subjects than they had all evening. Neither of them mentioned Mimi again, although she was on their minds. They both chatted as they ate their dinner, and everyone around them seemed to be in good spirits. For some, it was the perfect ending to a Christmas Day.
“This is more fun than eating turkey,” Hope giggled, as she finished the last of the pork, while Finn polished off the shrimp and grinned.
“Yes, it is. Thanks for coming with me.” He looked at her gently. He was deeply touched by her now that he knew all that she’d gone through. It made her seem vulnerable and so alone to him.
“Where are you staying, by the way?” she asked casually.
“I usually stay at the Pierre,” he said, leaning back in his chair. He was full and happy as he smiled at her. “But I took a room at the Mercer this time, because it’s close to you.” He had really come to New York to see her. It was more pressure than she wanted, but right now she didn’t mind. She was having a lovely time with him. And somehow being there with him made sense. They hardly knew each other, but she felt a powerful bond with him now that she had told him about Mimi.
“It’s actually a nice hotel,” she said, trying to look relaxed about his being so nearby. She was still a little stunned that he was there.
“I don’t really care about the room.” He grinned ruefully. “I just wanted to see you. Thanks for not being mad that I showed up.”
“It’s a pretty major gesture, I’ll admit.” She remembered how stunned she was when she saw him on her front stoop. “But a nice one too. I don’t think anyone’s ever flown from anywhere to see me.” She smiled back at him as the waiter brought them fortune cookies and the check, and she laughed when she read hers, and handed it to him.
“‘You can expect a visit from a friend.’” He laughed out loud, and then read his to her too. “‘Good news is coming soon.’ I like these. I usually get the ones that say ‘A teacher is a wise man.’ Or ‘Pick up your laundry tomorrow or else.’”
“Yeah, me too.” She laughed again. They walked slowly back to her apartment, and he left her at the front door. He had dropped his bag off at the hotel before he came to see her. And it was nearly one in the morning by then, six o’clock in London, and he was starting to run out of steam. “Thank you for coming, Finn,” she said softly, and he smiled at her and then kissed her on the cheek.
“I’m glad I did. And I liked our Christmas dinner. We’ll have to make it a tradition to eat Chinese food instead of turkey. I’ll call you in the morning,” he promised, and she let herself into the building with her key, waved, and watched him walk down the street toward the hotel. She was still thinking about him as she walked upstairs. It had been a lovely evening, and a totally unexpected treat. It was certainly out of the ordinary for her.
She was getting undressed when she heard her computer tell her that she had mail. She went to look, and it was Finn.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening. My best Christmas ever, and our first. Sweet dreams.”
This time she answered, as she sat down to her desk. It was all a little overwhelming, and she didn’t know what to think. “It was wonderful for me too. Thank you for coming. See you tomorrow.”
She glanced at Mimi’s photographs as she got up from her desk. She was glad that she had shared her with Finn. In an odd way, for a few minutes at least, it brought her back into their midst. She would have been twenty-two by then, and it was still hard to believe she was gone. It was odd how people came into one’s life, and left, and then others came when you least expected them to appear. For the moment, Finn was an unexpected blessing. And whatever happened, she was grateful to have spent Christmas night with him. She was still stunned that he was there. She had decided not to let herself worry about it and just enjoy the time they shared.
Finn called her the next morning and invited her to breakfast at the Mercer. She had nothing important to do and was delighted to join him. He was waiting for her in the lobby and looked as handsome as he had in London. He was wearing a black turtleneck sweater with jeans, with his dark hair freshly brushed. He looked wide awake when she saw him, and he admitted he had been up for hours, and had walked around the neighborhood at the crack of dawn. He was still on London time.
Hope ordered eggs Benedict, and Finn ordered waffles. He said he missed them when he was in Europe, where they were never quite the same. He said the batter was different and in France they put sugar on them. He poured maple syrup all over them as Hope laughed at him. He had drowned them, but he looked ecstatic when he took a bite.
“What are your plans today?” he asked her over coffee.
“I was going up to the gallery where they’re showing some of my photographs of India. Would you like to come?”
“I’d love it. I want to see the show.”
They took a cab uptown after breakfast, and he was enormously impressed when he saw the work. It was beautifully hung in a large, prestigious gallery, and afterward they walked up Madison Avenue, and then over to Central Park to walk through the still white snow. In the rest of the city, it was melting and turning to slush, but it was still pristine in the park.
He asked her about India, and then they talked about her travels in Tibet and Nepal. They stopped at a bookseller’s cart on their way into the park, and found one of his early books. Hope wanted to buy it and he wouldn’t let her, and said it wasn’t one he loved. They talked about his work then, their agents and careers. He was impressed by all of her museum shows, and she was in awe of his National Book Award. They admired a great deal about each other, and seemed to share a lot of common ground, and as they came out of the park again, he took her for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, which seemed silly and fun to both of them as they tucked the blanket around them, and giggled like two children.
It was lunchtime by the time the ride was finished, and he took her to lunch at La Grenouille, which was very chic, and they had a delicious meal. Finn liked to eat well, although Hope often skipped meals. And afterward they strolled back downtown on Fifth Avenue, and as she often did, they walked all the way back to SoHo. They were both tired, but had enjoyed spending the day together. He took her back to her apartment, and she invited him to come up, but he said he was going back to the hotel to take a nap.
“Would you like to go to dinner later, or do you have something else to do? I don’t want to take up all your time,” he said thoughtfully, although he had come to New York to do just that.
“I’d love it, if you’re not tired of me,” she said with a small smile. “Do you like Thai food?” He nodded enthusiastically, and she suggested a place she liked in the East Village.
“I’ll pick you up at eight,” he promised, and kissed the top of her head. She went back to her loft then, and he walked back to his hotel. And although she tried not to, she thought about him for the next several hours. He was thoroughly enjoyable company, interesting to talk to, and suddenly an enormous presence. She had no idea what to make of it, or if she should even try to figure it out.
She was wearing gray slacks and a pink sweater when he came to pick her up. And they had a glass of wine before they went out. He didn’t comment on Mimi’s photographs this time, but he admired some of Hope’s other work. He said he wanted to go to the Museum of Modern Art the next day, to see some of her older work.
“You’re the only photographer I know who’s in museums,” he said with open admiration.
“And you’re the only author I know who’s won the National Book Award, and been knighted,” she said with equal pride. “That reminds me, I never call you ‘Sir Finn.’ Should I?”
“Not unless you want me to laugh at you. I still feel odd myself when I use it. Although it was pretty exciting to meet the queen.”
“I’ll bet it was.” She smiled broadly, and then she took out a box of photographs she had promised to show him, of Tibet. The photographs were amazing, and she pointed out several of her beloved monks.
“I don’t know how you managed not to talk for a month. I couldn’t do it,” he admitted readily. “Probably not even for a day.”
“It was fantastic. It was actually hard to start speaking again when I left. Everything I started to say seemed unimportant and too much. It really makes you think about what you’re saying. They were wonderful to me there. I’d love to go back one day. I promised them I would.”
“I’d love to see it, but not if I have to stop talking. I suppose I could write.”
“I kept a journal while I was there. Not talking gives you time for some fairly deep thoughts.”
“I suppose it would,” he said easily. She asked him then where he had lived when he grew up in New York. “The Upper East Side,” he replied. “The building isn’t there anymore. They tore it down years ago. And the apartment where I lived with Michael was on East Seventy-ninth. It was pretty small. That was before the books really took off. We had some lean years for a while,” he said without embarrassment. “When my parents died, they had pretty much eaten through the family money. They were fairly spoiled. Particularly my mother. The house in Ireland belonged to her family, and since there were no male heirs, they sold it. I’m glad I got it back. It’ll be nice for Michael to have one day, although I doubt he’ll want to live in Ireland, unless he’s a writer.” Finn grinned at the thought and Hope smiled. Ireland was famous for its no-tax policy for writers. She knew a number of them who had moved there. It was irresistible.
They left for the Thai restaurant then, and had an excellent meal. And while they ate dinner, Finn asked her what she was doing on New Year’s Eve.
“Same thing I do every year.” She grinned. “Go to bed at ten o’clock. I hate going out on New Year’s Eve. Everyone is crazy and drunk. It’s a great night to stay home.”
“We have to do better than that this year,” Finn insisted. “I’m not crazy about it either, but you have to try at least. Why don’t we do something ridiculous like go to Times Square and watch the crystal and mirrored ball fall down, or whatever it does. I’ve only seen it on TV, although I imagine the crowd is pretty awful.”
“It might be fun to photograph,” she said thoughtfully.
“Why don’t we try it? If we hate it, we’ll go home.”
She laughed, thinking about it, and agreed.
“Then it’s a date,” he confirmed, looking pleased.
“How long are you here?” she asked, as they finished dinner.
“I haven’t figured that out yet. I might do some work with my editor before I go back.” And then he looked at her carefully. “The rest depends on you.” She felt a tingle of nervousness run down her spine then. She didn’t know what to answer when he said things like that, and he had a few times. Knowing that he had come to New York to see her was an awesome responsibility as well as a gift. She was just finishing dessert when he looked across the table at her, and took her breath away with what he said. “I think I’m falling in love with you, Hope.”
She didn’t want him to have said what he just did, and she had no idea how to respond. Let me know when you figure it out? Don’t be silly? So am I? She didn’t know what she felt for him yet, but she liked him a lot. Of that, she was sure. But as a friend or a man? It was too soon for her to tell. “You don’t have to say anything,” he said, reading her mind. “I just wanted you to know how I feel.”
“How can you know that so soon?” she asked, looking worried. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly. She wondered if love happened that way at their age.
“I just do,” he said simply. “I’ve never felt like this before. And I know it’s fast. But maybe it happens that way sometimes, when it’s for real. I think at our age, you know what you want, who you are, and what you feel. You know when you’ve found the right person for you. It doesn’t have to take a long time. We’re grown-ups, we’ve made mistakes before. We’re not innocents anymore.” She didn’t want to tell him that he had a lot more experience than she, but he knew that about her anyway. He could tell. And she had been married for nearly half her life, and single for only the past two years. “You don’t need to feel pressured because I feel that way, Hope,” he went on. “We have a lifetime to figure it out, or as long as you want.” She had to admit, he was sweeping her off her feet. And this was completely different from the time she’d shared with Paul. Finn was wilder, more creative, his whole existence was more free form. Paul had been extremely disciplined in every way, and deeply involved in his work. Finn seemed more engaged in life, and the world. And his was a broader world, which appealed to her a lot. Hers had broadened a great deal too in the past few years. She was open to new people, new places, new ideas, like her monastery in Tibet and the ashram in India, which she would never have thought of going to before she lost Mimi and Paul.
They walked back to her apartment after dinner, and this time he came up for a drink. She was nervous that he would try to kiss her-and she didn’t feel ready to yet-but he didn’t. He was relaxed, but gentlemanly, and respected her boundaries. He could sense too that she wasn’t prepared to deal with more than what they were doing. Walking, talking, going out for meals, getting to know each other. This was why he had come to see her, and exactly what he wanted. And she felt as though no one had been as devoted to her so soon after they met. Paul wasn’t in their early days, he was too busy, and he was sixteen years older, which was very different. She and Finn were almost the same age, of the same generation, and had many of the same interests. If she had made a list of everything she wanted in a man, Finn had it all. But she hadn’t wanted anyone since Paul. And now Finn was here, big as life. And she had only known him for a week. But so far, it had been a very intense week, and they were spending a lot of time together.
They went to the MOMA the next day, and the Whitney Museum the day after. They went to all her favorite restaurants, and his. He met with his agent to talk about a new book deal. And much to her amazement, she missed him for the few hours he was gone. Other than that, he was with her every minute, except when he left her at her loft at night. He still hadn’t kissed her, but he had mentioned again that he was falling in love with her. She had just looked at him with worried eyes. What if he was playing with her? But even more frightening was the thought that maybe he wasn’t. What if this was for real? What would happen? He lived in Ireland, and she in New York. But she wouldn’t let herself think about it yet. It was too soon. It just didn’t make sense. Except even Hope knew that it did. It made a lot of sense, for both of them. She could base herself anywhere in the world, and they knew it. And so could he. It was an ideal situation. They seemed perfectly matched.
Hope didn’t tell Mark Webber, her agent, what was happening when he called. And there was no one else for her to tell. Mark was her closest friend, and she liked his wife as well. They invited her over to have dinner, but she declined. She didn’t want to tell him Finn was in town to see her. She knew Mark would be shocked, or surprised at least, and probably fiercely protective and suspicious. She wanted to spend the evening with Finn. So she said she was too busy with some new work, and Mark promised to call again the following week, and told her not to work too hard.
And on New Year’s Eve, as they had agreed earlier in the week, she and Finn went to Times Square. She took an old camera with her, to take shots in black and white. They got there around eleven, and artfully wended their way through the crowd that had been waiting there for hours. The characters around them were extraordinary, and Finn enjoyed watching it through her eyes. They were having a great time.
At midnight, the ball fell from the top of a flagpole with lights flashing inside it, and everyone screamed and cheered. There were prostitutes and drug dealers, tourists, and college kids from out of town, every form of humanity around them, and she was so busy taking pictures of them at midnight that she was startled when Finn put her camera aside and stood before her, and pulled her into his arms. And before she knew what had happened, he was kissing her, and everything around them was forgotten. All she was aware of and remembered later was Finn kissing her, and feeling totally safe and protected in his arms, wanting the kiss never to end, and as she looked into his eyes afterward in amazement, she knew that she was falling in love with him too. It was the perfect beginning for a new year. And maybe a new life.
Finn stayed at the Hotel Mercer for the next two weeks. He met with his agent and publisher, taped two interviews, and saw Hope every chance he got. He was ever present, ever willing to adjust his schedule for her, and wanted to spend every moment with her that he could. Hope was startled by how fast the relationship was moving, although they hadn’t slept together, but she enjoyed his company. She was torn between reminding herself that this was more than likely just a passing thing for him, and wanting to believe it was real, and allowing herself to be vulnerable to him. He was so open, kind, loving, attentive, and they had such a good time together, it was impossible to resist. He couldn’t do enough for her, and did everything imaginable to please her, with a myriad of thoughtful gestures. He brought her flowers, chocolates, books. More and more, she was letting herself be swept away on the tidal wave of emotions he engulfed her with. And after three weeks of constantly being in each other’s company, he said something that brought her up short, as they walked through Washington Square Park one afternoon on their way back downtown from a long walk.
“You know what this is, don’t you?” he said earnestly, as she had a hand tucked into his arm. They had been talking about Renaissance art, and the beauty of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which they had discovered that they both loved, and Finn was very knowledgeable about. He had many interests and numerous talents, not unlike Hope. They seemed a perfect match in so many ways. And he was by far one of the most interesting men she had ever met, and the most attentive. He was truly the handsome prince of whom every woman dreamed, and loving at the same time. He asked her about all the things she cared about and wanted, and they were constantly surprised to discover they loved many of the same things. He was like the mirror image of her soul.
“What is it?” she asked, smiling up at him with a tender look in her eyes. There was no question, she was falling in love with him, after knowing him for only weeks. It had never happened to her before. Not even with Paul. Her romance with Finn was moving with the speed of sound. “Whatever it is, it’s wonderful. I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.” She had a feeling that if she talked to someone about their budding relationship, they wouldn’t understand it, and would tell her to take her time before jumping in. She was, but she also had a powerful sense that this was a man and a situation she could trust. She didn’t doubt it. There was no reason to. She knew who he was, and there was a soft hidden side of him that touched her to the core.
“This is fusion,” he said softly. “Where two people become one.”
She looked at him with an inquisitive expression, startled by the word and asked him what he meant.
“Sometimes when people fall in love,” he explained, “they are so close and so well suited to each other, that they blend together, and you can’t tell where one person starts and the other ends. They merge, and can’t live without each other after that.” It sounded a little frightening to her, and not what she had in mind. She and Paul had had a good marriage until he got sick, and Mimi died, but they had never “fused” or become one person. They were two very distinct people, with different personalities and needs and thoughts. It had always worked well for them.
“I don’t think I agree with you,” she said quietly. “I think you can be just as much in love as separate people, standing beside each other, each one whole and adding to the other, or complementing each other, without ‘fusing’ and becoming one. That sounds unhealthy to me,” she said honestly. “That’s not really what I want,” she said firmly. “I want to be a whole, individual person, and I love the whole person you are, Finn. We don’t need to be one. Then each of us would lose an important part of ourselves that makes us who we are as people.” Finn looked disappointed by what she said. It was the first time they had disagreed.
“I want to be part of you,” he said sadly. “I need you, Hope. It’s only been a short time, but I already feel like you’re a part of me.” It still didn’t sound right to her, even if it was flattering or meant he loved her. It sounded claustrophobic and extreme, especially so soon. They hardly knew each other. How could they fuse into one person? And why would they want to? They had both worked hard to become who they were. She didn’t want to lose that now. She was falling in love with who and what he was, she didn’t want to fall in love with herself. It felt all wrong.
“Maybe you don’t love me as much as I love you,” he said, looking worried and hurt.
“I’m falling in love with you,” she said, looking up at him with her deep violet eyes. “There’s a lot we need to learn about each other. I want to savor that. You’re a very special person,” she said gently.
“So are you. So are we,” he insisted. “Our two parts make one bigger, better whole.”
“That’s possible,” she conceded, “but I don’t want either of us to lose who we are in the process. We’ve both worked too hard to achieve what we have, to lose that now. I want to stand next to you, Finn, not be you. And why would you want to be me?”
“Because I love you,” he said, pulling her close to him, and stopping to kiss her hard. “I love you more than you know.” The way he said it was touching, not scary, but it was too much in such a short time. “Maybe I’ll always love you more,” he said, looking pensive, as they walked on again. “I think there’s always one person in a couple who loves more than the other. I’m willing to be that one,” he said generously, and it made her feel slightly guilty. She thought she loved him, but she had loved Paul for so many years, it was going to take her time to get used to Finn, and settle him in her heart. She had to get to know him better first, and there was plenty of opportunity. They were with each other constantly, except when she went back to her loft to sleep at night. He changed the subject then, and she was relieved. Not only did she have to get used to loving him, his notion of fusion made her uncomfortable, and it wasn’t what she wanted in a relationship or had in mind. “What are we doing this weekend?”
She looked thoughtful for a moment before she answered. “I was thinking it might be nice to go to the Cape. I’d like you to see the house. It’s very simple, but it’s a relic of my childhood. That house means a lot to me.” He smiled as soon as she said it.
“I was hoping you’d ask me up there,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “Why don’t we spend more than a weekend there, if you can spare the time? It might do us both good.” He was in no hurry to go back to Ireland. They were both masters of their own fate and time, and he was enjoying the time he was spending with her, getting to know her. And he was in no hurry to get back to his writing, he said. She was more important to him.
“I guess we could spend four or five days, or even a week. It can get very bleak in winter, and cold. Let’s see how the weather is when we get there.” He nodded and agreed.
“When do you want to go?” he asked, looking excited. She had no pressing assignments at the moment. Her schedule was clear, and so was his, other than the editing he had to finish. They were going to a party at the MOMA that night, and he had a publishing event to attend the following week. They were both enjoying discovering each other’s worlds, and in each case, they left the limelight to the other and were happy to take a backseat. It seemed like a perfect balance between two well-known, successful, creative people, whose worlds complemented each other. It was just what she had said earlier, they stood beside each other, without having to fuse into one person. Everything about that idea seemed wrong to her.
“Why don’t we go to the Cape tomorrow?” Hope suggested. “Bring lots of warm stuff with you.” And then she looked faintly embarrassed to broach a delicate subject, but she wanted to speak up clearly. “I’m not ready for us to sleep together, Finn. Are you okay with sleeping in the guest room?” It had been a long time since Paul, and she wanted to be sure of what she was doing. There had been no one of importance in her life since her husband, which made this a much bigger deal. Whatever it was, if it was going to be lasting or not, she had to figure it out, and what she felt about it, before she took that leap.
“That’s fine,” he said with an understanding look. He seemed to have an unlimited ability to make her feel comfortable and happy. He let her set the pace, be as close or as distant from him as she felt at any given moment. He was the kindest, most loving man she had ever met. He was truly a dream come true. And if she had been praying for a man to come into her life, which she wasn’t when he turned up, he would have been the answer to those prayers. There was nothing about him she didn’t like so far, or that made her uneasy, except perhaps his silly ideas about fusion, but she was sure it was just his way of expressing insecurities and wanting to be loved. And she was coming to love him, for who he was, not for being a part of her. Hope was a very independent person, and she hadn’t come through all she had by being part of someone else, nor did she want to start now. And she knew that her monks in Tibet wouldn’t have approved of that idea at all.
The party they went to at the museum that night was lively and crowded. It was an important event-the opening of a major show. The main curator of the museum came to talk to her and she introduced him to Finn. They chatted for a few minutes, and several photographers snapped their picture for the press. They made a striking pair. It was definitely a milieu where Hope was the star, and Finn was less well known, until they heard his name. But being somewhat in the background didn’t seem to bother him in the least. He was warm, friendly, charming, and unassuming, even though he was the famous Sir Finn O’Neill. No one who would have seen him would have thought he was a show-off, or arrogant in any way. He was more than happy to let Hope be the star she was at the museum event, and he seemed to enjoy talking to lots of people and admiring the art. He was in good spirits when they took a cab back to the hotel. They were leaving for Cape Cod in the morning.