by Aria Starling
“A minute at the bottom of a staircase can change your life forever.”
Molly Baker, twenty-nine years old, single, no children, made that comment to her best friend Jill Katz somewhere around Christmas last year.
One afternoon, Molly shopped for holiday gifts with Jill, twenty-eight, married, one child. Molly had quit her job on Madison Avenue to teach high school English and whistled as they walked.
They took a wrong turn on 71st Street and passed a handsome stranger in a suit and tie who sat on the bottom steps of a townhouse. He yelled something into his cell phone about the price of gold.
They stared at each other until he said: “Nice hat.”
Molly smiled politely and stopped, praying for a hopeless romantic and not another creep.
He remained seated and tugged on the hem of her red winter coat.
“Sam Wolfe,” he said.
She relaxed and told Jill to go on ahead and meet up with her husband Andre and their son Jake.
She returned to Sam and listened.
Thirty-two, single, no children, a former poet turned hedge fund manager. Unhappy with his job, but he liked the tons of money and his new Mercedes and the beach house he rented with his buddies from college every summer in the Hamptons.
At one point while they were talking, she realized an hour had passed as he told her all about himself.
“I should be going.”
“Alright,” he said.
She shook his hand and he laughed and took her in his arms and kissed her so passionately in the dark outside the townhouse she heard violins and a choir singing Hallelujah.
Christmas time, a year later.
Sam’s parents wanted to finally meet Molly before their vacation in Greece. She bought a new dress and heels for the visit to their penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. After a stressful day at the office on Wall Street or what he called slithering in a bowl of pythons, Sam tossed on a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt.
Sam’s father, a corporate lawyer in a suit and tie, opened the door, holding a half-empty tumbler of scotch. He sneered as he examined Sam from head to toe.
Sam glanced at Molly and scowled as if she was the one who told him to wear a T-shirt.
Uh-oh, she thought, as she crossed into the grand living room filled with porcelain and oil paintings. This night is not going to end well.
Dinner of small talk and silence from Sam. His mother, her hair coiled elegantly on the back of her neck, asked Molly if she’d like some of her famous pumpkin pie.
Before Molly could open her mouth, Sam snorted. “Are you kidding me?”
Molly paused and cleared her throat. “I can speak for myself, honey.”
He glared at her and smoked cigars with his father on the terrace while his mother took Molly into the kitchen and asked if marriage and children were in the air. Molly smiled.
Later that night, Sam watched the news in the living room on his 110-inch Ultra HD TV and begrudgingly ate his mother’s famous pumpkin pie.
“What’s wrong, babe?”
“Nothing.” He stared at the TV screen. His voice was calm but his eyes screamed I COULD KILL YOU and his furious look made her body go limp.
“What did I do wrong?”
He looked at her from head to toe and sneered, “How dare you disrespect me in front of my father?”
Hot butter poured over her skin as he enumerated everything wrong with her. Salt and pepper danced in her eyes. Twine wrapped around her soul and her heart roasted on a rack at 450 degrees.
Exhausted, she said, “Please, let’s stop fighting. Come to bed with me.”
“No, thank you.” He massaged his fork in his hand like a weapon.
“Why are you so angry?”
“I’m not angry!” He threw the pumpkin pie across the room.
The plate hit the wall and shattered like a shotgun shell. Explosion of crust and orange chunks of pie landed on the 110-inch TV, on her hair, on her new dress and heels. The thing slithered along the wall like a heart burst wide open.
Molly looked at him in disbelief as if meeting Sam Wolfe for the first time.
She put on her sneakers, grabbed her coat, and headed for the front door.
Sam blocked her way. “Where are you going?”
When he wouldn’t budge, a rage shot from her belly through her entire body.
She glared up at his six-foot-frame. “I said: I’M LEAVING!”
She pushed past him and threw open the door. Past the elevator, down six flights, past the doorman, into the street. Fresh winter air on her face.
She ran and heard him yell from a window above her.
“Molly, come back! I’m sorry!”
“Fine! I don’t need you!”
“I need you, Molly, let’s work it out!”
“Don’t you ever come back here!”
She ran in the direction of Central Park as his words echoed in the wind. “I need you! I hate you!”
She ran all the way across the park, weeping and whispering never again, never again, never again. She finally arrived at 86th Street on the West Side where she wiped her tears and considered going back home to her parents in Pittsburgh. Or moving in with her younger sisters, both married with children.
Somewhere Judy Garland sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as she passed a handsome stranger who sat quietly strumming his guitar at the bottom steps of a brownstone.
They stared at each other a moment before he stood and smiled gently: “Hello.”
Molly sighed. “Hello.”