1979, December 31st.
It was nearing a dark eight, and he pulled into a streetside stall on the corner of East 8th Street. Darkness settled over the hood of the car and he pulled the keys from the ignition, watching the dials on the dashboard quiver and fall left. The car's hum died out, the rumble of its motor stilling, and he leaned back in his seat, listening to the cars rush by. Watching the lights go from green to red.
She looked at him from the passenger's seat with a certain uncertainty, her pale skin illuminated by the creamy oranges of dusk. She watched him pocket his keys and she sat up while he slouched. "Is this where you live, Mr. Hyde?" she asked.
Kyle shook his head and unlocked his seat belt, weary eyes flickering. "You seen fireworks, Mila?"
The girl rested her hands on her lap. "Sometimes Papa would take me to the park on the fourth of July, and we'd watch the fireworks."
"You can see them real good up here. The New Years ones, I mean," Kyle said. He gestured out the right window to the building just outside the car door. "If you look in the right direction." The sidewalks were dark with winter and the pedestrians hurried along with hands sunk deep into coat pockets.
Mila looked out through the window and gave him a puzzled expression, shifting in her seat. "A hotel?"
Kyle's hand smoothed into the pocket of his Red Crown jacket, and he grasped Bradley's lighter. "Well, if you're not in the mood for hotels, then--"
"No," Mila interjected. She shrunk back from her sudden outburst, her fingers tying together. "It's alright."
Kyle nodded and reached for his briefcase in the back seat. He wrapped his fingers around the worn handle and opened the car door. The brisk night loosened his shoulders, and he checked his pager. He peered up at the skyscrapers, dotted with yellow squares.
He opened the car door again. "You okay?" he asked.
Mila looked up and tugged on her seat belt. "Could you help me get out?"
Damn buckle always got wedged inbetween the seats. Kyle reached over and crammed his fingers under the leather. With a click, the belt recoiled. Mila gave a bashful smile.
"Don't worry about it," Kyle said. "Everyone always has a hell of a time with this car's seat belts. Even Rachel."
Mila gave a curious look. "Rachel?"
"I'll tell you about her later. Let's go inside."
The receptionist was nothing like the scowling, tough Dunning; he was a small, clean man with a pencil moustache and a striped suit. He insisted only on doing business; Kyle had no problems with that. To the left of the reception desk there was a man tickling the ivories in the well-lit lobby, his eyes wide and blind. The lounge's plush scarlet sofas held few guests; a broad-shouldered man pinching a postcard and a cigarette; a woman in a gray frock and high heels; a stout, bespectacled man, eyes melting over the pages of a book.
Kyle shifted, open hands stuffed into pockets, watching the pianist's hands flutter over the keys. Mila followed his gaze, hands clenched behind her back.
"Here you are, sir. Fifteenth floor."
Kyle turned back and the receptionist hurriedly placed the key on the counter, his hands disappearing back under the table. The door-to-door salesman scooped up the little piece of metal in his palm and studied the grooves for a moment.
"Hey," he muttered.
"Yes?" the receptionist asked, his voice even. His mustache twitched with the purse of his thin lips.
He turned the key over. 1502, the key read. The engraved five was slightly worn. It was warm and light.
"It's nothing. Sorry." He closed his fist and shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark blue jacket. "Let's go, Mila."
The girl in the white dress nodded absently.
Kyle paused and followed her eyes to the grand Steinway and Sons, the lamplight glistening over the ebony frame. "You want to stay down here and watch him?" The sightless pianist began a soft rendition of Miles Davis' Blue In Green, his pointed shoulders weaving like thread and needle.
Mila shook her head, her expression hesitant. "It's alright. I'll go with you," she said.
The room wasn't too large; there were two white-sheeted doubles on the left side of the room and a cappucino television-dresser combo facing opposite. A round coffee table sat in the corner of the room, accompanied by two wood-backed chairs and two bottles of champagne. The bathroom was comprised of a standard shower, a toiler, and a sink; the linoleum sparkled with cleaner.
Kyle opened the curtains, Mila at his side, and they watched the city glow with bright yellows and reds, the lights sharp and omnipresent, climbing skyward and scattered about the streets. Faraway firecrackers boomed in the park below, enveloping the trees with flashes of blues and greens. The year's last sun faded. After a long period of silence, Kyle leaned his briefcase against the wall and fixed his tie.
"Want something to eat?" he asked. "You can stay here and watch the fireworks."
Mila shook her head. "It's alright." She spoke as if she were still trying out those words. 'Alright'.
"You sure?" Kyle asked. "Haven't eaten since morning."
She wasn't sure, and they ended up going together.
The sky was black, grayed by wisps of clouds and billows of smoke, but men and women still crammed the sidewalks, their pace even slower than the half hour before. Kyle and Mila ambled a couple of blocks down and took a left into a row of street shops. Kyle purchased two cheese burgers -- one with bacon --and grasped the paper bag in his clenched fist. Before he could collect his change, he could hear droplets hit the concrete.
Kyle grunted as soon as the rainwater hit his neck. Street lamps left puddles of waxen light, windows to the streaks of rain. He placed a hand on Mila's shoulder and pushed lightly, alerting her to duck under arches of umbrellas. At the crosswalk on East 7th, he removed his coat and draped it over her shoulders. Poor girl was shivering.
"You're like an ice cube, Mila," he said. "Speak up if you're getting cold, alright?"
She gave a look of surprise, then nodded thankfully. The paper bag was soggy by the time they returned to the hotel; Kyle's shirt was soaked.
They set up the table and chairs by the window and ate their burgers. The sesame seed buns were wet and cold with rainwater, but Kyle watched with a strange sense of satisfaction as Mila wolfed down her sandwich. He ate his in slow, ponderous bites, occasionally looking out the window. He watched the city lights dance in Mila's eyes as she peered below at the park, glancing over the small shapes of children wielding morning glories and pops.
"Mr. Hyde?" Mila asked, watching the world outside.
"Did you play with firecrackers when you were a kid?"
Kyle leaned back in his chair, dabbing his lips with a napkin. "Yeah."
"Did you go to this park on New Years Eve?"
Kyle nodded. "That was a long time ago, though."
Mila pondered for a moment, her fingers resting on the windowsill. "Did you go with your papa?"
Kyle said nothing. He took another bite out of his sandwich, and then swallowed the rest. He stood from his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezing shut. "I'm going to get a little bit of shut-eye," he announced. He unfastened the black watch on his left wrist and placed it on the table next to Mila.
Mila nodded. "I'm going to watch the fireworks," she said.
Kyle sat down on the bed farthest from the window, prying off his shoes. "Wake me up before the new year, alright?" he asked, gesturing to his watch.
Mila gently shook him awake ten minutes before twelve, pointing excitedly to the resonant drum of the fireworks show just outside the window. Wheels of red and blue lights blossomed over the streets; the quake of every burst shook his bones alive.
They sat again at the table and she drew up one of the bottles of champagne, eyes tracing back to Kyle's watch. "There's only ten more minutes until midnight. Papa used to open one up on New Years Eve. Do you drink it too, Mr. Hyde?"
Kyle shook his head. "Don't go to many parties. Haven't had one in years." He took the bottle from her outstretched arms and read the label with a scowl. "It costs this much? What a scam." He sighed and placed the bottle on the table, his arms on his knees. They watched the final flurry of lights go up.
"Are you... going to go home tomorrow, Mr. Hyde?"
What would he do now? He'd taken time off just to wander, but home was barely a couple of blocks away. He was stretching his money just by making these little detours. When he'd left the Dusk, he'd made a couple of them; they'd just spent the 30th at the beach, and the 29th was just aimless driving. Not working, not looking for Bradley... it wasn't tiring, it was just...
Inbetween thoughts, he looked up. Mila's white dress almost seemed to push back the darkness, like a midnight promise.
1976, Christmas Eve.
1979, December 28th.
"It's midnight! Happy new year!" Mila smiled, and a plume of white light exploded over the buildings.
1980, January 1st.
It didn't matter. There were new things in his life now. Promises he had to keep.
He reached over the table, grabbed the champagne bottle by the neck, and pulled the cork. The champagne gushed out and fizzled over his hand. It was surprisingly cold.
Mila watched in awe as Kyle took a long gulp from the bottle. "Are you sure that's alright?"
Kyle exhaled and placed the bottle on the windowsill. "Happy new year, Mila," he said, a tired smile spreading across his lips.
It was alright.