It was a perfect morning in Chicago. The kind of day when cold and snow were forgotten and every harsh word forgiven. As Cilla Perkins drove east on Wacker Drive, her hair blowing in the breeze and her phone in the passenger seat, she wondered why people would live anywhere else. The imposing fortress of the Merchandise Mart rose in front of her. To her left, the curving green glass of 333 Wacker caught the morning sky as it hugged the bend of the Chicago River. Cilla thought of the gleaming glass set down among the older stone structures as Chicago=s man-made mountains. The infinite possibility of the morning stretched from the river to the lake, giving Cilla hope that Blake Klemensky would forgive and forget and move forward with their New Year=s wedding.
She had been texting him since dawn, knowing he slept with his phone an inch from his head. She also knew he rose early every day to work on a different muscle group. He must have seen her apologies and her invitation to lunch at the Billy Goat. They had quarreled the night before over watching a Cubs game on TV versus going to a gallery opening. All she said was she was tired of watching sports all the time. That his glory days as an athlete were over and that he should work on developing something besides his muscles.
She would be at his office in a minute, as soon as she turned north on Michigan Avenue, passing the river walk where they first met training for the Chicago marathon. She would apologize again, saying a shaking headache had driven her out of her mind.
Friends said they made an attractive couple. He was the best-looking man she had ever dated and he knew it. He spent more time in front of the mirror than she did. She put up with his vanity, thinking his good looks were her reward for waiting so long. Before she met him, she woke from dreams of showing up at the altar with her old Ken doll. After she hit 40 next year she knew her chance to be Mrs. Somebody would evaporate. Everyone knew that an older woman was persona non grata at the smorgasbord of life.
AGod, please let him call me,@ Cilla said, leaning into the steering wheel and hitting the gas to turn left on Michigan Avenue. The light was turning red, but the universe would understand she was on a mission. Her phone beeped. Thank you, God, she breathed, hoping it was from Blake, but the text was from her assistant. AWhere RU?@ She texted Blake one more time with an abject don=t leave me. The next sound she heard was metal hitting metal, caused by her turning late in front of a speeding taxi. As she raised her head from the glowing screen, she could see her Toyota Camry and the big yellow taxi were entwined like Siamese twins.
Pedestrians streaming over the bridge on their way to work stopped to gawk as it was that bad. Most Chicago pedestrians were so blasé, they walked in front of ambulances on the way to Northwestern Hospital. Cilla wished she could be on the bridge, striding towards Nordstrom=s. Instead she sat waiting for a cop with the window rolled up. The cabbie yelled at her in a language she could not identify. Blake worked in the Equitable Building just steps away. She wondered if he saw her from his 15th floor office. What kind of man wouldn=t come to her aid in her hour of need? The phone finally beeped with Blake=s reply. AIt=s over.@
Cilla ran every day for two months after the break-up to tire herself out enough to sleep. One Friday afternoon she saw a blond, well-muscled, six-footer who looked like Blake from the back. Her rational mind told her it wasn=t him. Even if it were Blake, she should leave him alone. Her irrational mind held on to hopes that he missed her and was looking for her on the path where they used to train. She sped up and passed the runner who looked exactly like Blake so he could get a good look at her butt, perched fashionably high over strong and supple hamstrings. She turned and ran in reverse so he could admire her flat midriff. It wasn=t Blake, just a young man who was freaked out by her display. He turned around and ran for his life.
Her phone rang. Without breaking stride, Cilla pulled her cell phone out of an elastic pouch she had sewn into her shorts and answered with her perkiest voice. The caller was from the Chicago police department. She trotted over to a bench and sat down. AI=m sorry. You caught me during my daily run. Yes, that=s why I=m out of breath.@ Cilla listened as the officer outlined how she would complete her community service by teaching a class on distracted driving. She made no comment, not wanting to face more severe penalties.
She replaced her phone in her shorts and continued her run. Contemplating her punishment shaved away some of the joy of running along the harbor and admiring the smart sailboats with names like Rendezvous and Rebound. Her feet slapped the cement in anger. Anger that she had run into the taxi while texting Blake. Anger that the Tribune had run a picture of her in the wreck with a cell phone in hand. Anger that she had gone to court in her sexiest suit and was unable to sway the judge in her favor. Anger that the judge was on a crusade against distracted drivers and was going to make an example of her. Anger that she=d have to spend the next eight weeks talking against cell phones, her favorite invention since the eyelash curler.
Not that the speaking would be hard. She had been a motivational speaker for eight years and captain of her college debate team before that. She was quite accomplished at speaking persuasively from either side of an argument. It was just that she hated giving up precious self-care time. On Thursday night she generally gave herself a facial while listening to her favorite motivational speaker. How could she care for anyone else if she didn=t care for herself.
She ran out on the pier next to the Yacht Club, stopping at the end to catch her breath. It was such a nice day, with soft breezes that ruffled but did not wreck her hair.
A seagull eyed Cilla from the breaker. AWhat are you looking at?@ Cilla fumed. The peace and quiet were overwhelming. All she could hear were boats bouncing against buoys. Other gulls screeched an invitation to join them at Navy Pier. She longed for the sound of a human voice.
As if in answer, she felt a vibration on her thigh and grabbed her phone, hoping it was a personal call. On closer examination, it wasn=t her phone, set on the vibrate feature, but two flies facing off while vigorously rubbing their forelegs against her skin. Cilla beat them off with a savage swat and took off down the pier at top speed.