"So when do you want this dinner to happen?" Neil asked. They were standing in Devon's studio. A track from an artist Devon was thinking about signing played in the background. Some techno music Harmony couldn't get into. She had been a groupie back in the day, but the music was much more soulful. And now thanks to Neil she was learning more about jazz.
"When?" Harmony looked at Neil perplexed. It was a fair question. She just hadn't thought that far ahead. Things between her and Neil were getting better incrementally. A few weeks ago she couldn't even look at him without feeling as if she were the worst person in the world. Recently they tentatively began to talk again. The invitation had been a spur of the moment thing. She was feeling so good and hopeful that the words just tumbled out of her mouth.
"Harmony, don't worry about it," Neil said. "Just give me a call and we can play it by ear. Now I've got to go. Tell Devon I'll talk to him later."
"How about tonight?" Harmony says just as Neil was about to open the door to leave. As a high ranking executive, she knew Neil sometimes had meetings over dinner. She half hoped that he would be busy so she'd have more time to wrap her mind around the fact that she'd invited Neil to dinner after avoiding him for months. On the other hand she did want to spend more time with Neil. Even as she had been pushing him away, she wanted him, almost desperately. Like a fix. That's what scared her. Neil was no longer married, Devon had given his blessing. There was nothing standing in their way, accept her sobriety.
"I'll pick you up at 7?" Neil says.
Harmony's heart leaps in her chest. "That won't be necessary. How about I meet you the Athletic Club around 8. We have the Restless Style show to do. But I should be finished by then."
"I'll pick you up at 8."
Harmony insists on driving herself and finally Neil agrees.
That night when Neil arrived at the Athletic Club Harmony was glad she'd gone home and changed into something more formal. Neil was wearing a jacket, but no tie and he smelled absolutely delicious as usual. She was wearing her little black dress, the one Neil said he liked so much the day they danced to Anglina's last song along with Tucker, Ashley, Devon and Roxanne.
"I'm surprised you're here so early," Neil greeted her with a brief peck on the cheek, before sliding into the seat across from her. He'd never kissed her on the cheek before. It seemed very friendly and Harmony wondered if tonight would be a date or just two friends hanging out the way they used to before the night that changed everything.
"I bought some work with me," Neil said lifting his briefcase. I thought I'd get a little bit done before you arrived."
Harmony jumped to her feet. "You can go ahead and do your work. I don't want to interfere. We can always do this later."
"Sit," Neil commanded evenly. "There's nothing I have to do that can't wait until tomorrow. I have something for you." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two CD cases.
"What's this?" Harmony takes the cases and looks at them.
"One is the recording of Anna's song. The other is a Max Roach CD I want you to listen to."
"Max Roach, he's the pianist, no, he's the drummer, right?" Harmony snapped her fingers trying to remember.
"Drummer," Neil said looking pleased. "I'm glad to see my jazz lectures in Dallas didn't go to waste after all."
"I don't agree with you that the music I like is not real music," she made imaginary quote marks in the air. "But I have to admit you opened my eyes to some new stuff I kinda dig. There's just one thing I've noticed."
"What's that?" Neil picked up a menu and glanced over it.
"So many of your jazz guys had really bad addiction problems, some succumbed and never recovered, according to Wikipedia anyway."
"Wikipedia is correct in this instance. Some young jazz artists would copy their heroes. They'd do drugs because Charlie Parker was doing it and they hoped if they got high too they could play like him."
"Do you think that's true? Would they still have been great musicians without drugs? I've heard writers say they need to drink to unleash their creativity."
"I don't know, but in any case it's not worth a sacrifice like that for art, not at the risk of your life."
The waitress arrived just then to take their orders.
Deliberately changing the subject Neil tells Harmony that she's looking well and asks her how work is going. Harmony gushes. She wrote a brief review of a self-help book that was going to appear in the front of the book.
"The front of the book, that's great news," Neil enthused.
"Actually it's not all that great. Front of the book articles are fluff. You wouldn't know that though from reading the Wall Street Journal. The format of a newspaper is different from a magazine.
"I'm not as ignorant about magazines as I look. I've picked up a few issues of Restless Style and Lilly's Essence Magazine from time to time."
"Get outta here. Neil Winters, reads something without a bunch of facts and figures in it?"
"When I watch the twins, I might read an article or two. And I will be more than happy to read your articles when they're published."
Harmony says one is actually on the web. She pulls it up on her phone and sits next to him to show him. He doesn't read it but rather just listens to her talk about it. "The book is about how endorphins from exercise can elevate your mood," she says scrolling through the article.
Neil says that gives him an idea. He grabs her hand and leads her away from the table. For a second she thinks he's going to lead her to one of the rooms upstairs. Instead he takes her to the gym. She says she hates gyms and walks for exercise. He ignores her protests and gets her a guest pass. They'll work out together the next morning he says.
They go back to eat and Neil tells her a funny story about his job and they laugh. Harmony's mind wanders back to the article she wrote. Laughing is another way to release those feel good chemicals in the brain. She thinks about the rest of the article. Good sex produces loads of endorphins too. Neil is telling another story but she is picturing him naked.
"What's wrong?" He asks suddenly interrupting her fantasy.
"Nothing, it's just that I've got to get an early start tomorrow if I'm going to the gym with you before work."
Neil stands as she gathers her things. She wishes him goodnight and leaves the table.
From the door, Harmony turns to look at Neil. He's still standing there watching her. He looks sad, lost. She returns to him and for a split second there's a pause before she reaches out to him and without hesitation he envelopes her.
"You should know that I hate watching you leave," he says into her ear. He's holding her closely.
"I hope you won't regret this," she says. She's seen the look on Neil's face before. She thought it was just some misguided form of infatuation that would go away with time. But it's been months and Neil has maintained that he wants her in his life. And she feels the exact same way. How would they make this work? Two addicts. One from the street, one from corporate America.
"Do I seem like I'm regretting anything," Neil caresses her hair. His breath is warm against her forehead. Gently and reluctantly she disengages herself from his arms before she lost control of herself.
"See you tomorrow," she says softly and turns to leave. This time she doesn't look back.