Ben knocked on Rachel’s door as his palms began to sweat. He had been looking forward to this night with Rachel since she called. He wasn’t sure if they were going as friends or it was a date, but it didn’t matter. He was just happy to be with her. Marty had pulled the report on Rhett, Rachel’s ex. He had handed it to Ben in a brown envelope, as he handed it to him, he reiterated that it was Rachel’s story to tell. Ben knew he was right. He took the report but didn’t open the envelope. He stuck in his top desk drawer and tried to forget about it.
He heard the door open and Rachel smiled when she saw him.
“Hello. You’re on time tonight.”
Ben smiled. “Yes, I am. Sorry about last time, being late.”
“I was just teasing.” Her face was kind as she said it.
“Are you ready to go?”
“I am. Let me just grab my purse.”
Rachel grabbed it off of the entryway table and stepped out onto the porch. She closed the door and locked it behind her. She had on a white cotton dress, which was perfect for a hot summer evening. The hem hit just past her knees, but the fabric was light and moved with her body. The air was humid again but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. She wore her hair half up with her long bangs pulled back into a clip and espadrille sandals. They walked down her porch and out onto the sidewalk.
“What do you have a taste for?” Ben asked.
“Take me to your favorite place to eat,” Rachel said.
“My favorite place? That’s a hard choice. What kind of food do you like?” Ben asked as they got into his car. He made sure to hold the door open for her.
“I am not a huge fan of sushi or anything that is still alive, but other than that, I am pretty adventurous.”
“Do you like fried chicken, spicy fried chicken?”
“Marty was telling me about this place near the loop that supposedly has really good fried chicken. A lot of the guys at the station have been talking about it.”
“That sounds great.”
Ben felt like this had been a test. He wasn’t sure if Rachel wanted to get to know him better as a friend, or something more. If he picked somewhere romantic, it could have backfired. The chicken place was supposed to be causal and food was supposed to be delicious. It was the kind of summer evening, that Chicagoans dreamt of come February, hot and humid. Ben wondered if Rachel minded being in his unmarked police car. He looked over as the sunlight shone through her brown hair, she was gorgeous. She noticed him looking at her and turned to smile at him.
“Nothing,” Ben said, embarrassed he had been caught. Thinking quickly to change the subject, he said, “What a nice night.”
“It is, I love this time of year and hate it too. I know the summer is winding down to an end and school will be back in session in a few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I will miss the freedom of the summer. Getting the boys back on a routine can be rough. Last summer I tried to stick to a routine but gave up halfway through. This summer I didn’t even bother. I figure they have the rest of their lives to stick to a schedule, let them be kids for now. But man, I am going to pay for it.” She laughed.
“That makes sense.”
“Everything was so regimented with Rhett, that I just knew I wanted my boys to know fun and freedom, to play and get dirty. I know that it makes my job as a mom harder but it is worth it.”
“Boys should be outside getting dirty. That is what summer is for.”
Ten minutes later, Ben parked his car on a side street. During the day, this part of the city would have been busy with office workers, but it had emptied out for the day. Rachel walked next to Ben as they headed towards the restaurant, he could smell the light scent of her perfume. He wanted to touch her, hold her hand, but he didn’t want to scare her off. They rounded the corner and saw a line in front of the restaurant.
“I guess it is really good. Look at the line.” Rachel said.
“I think it might be for the bar next door?”
As they walked closer they found that Ben was correct. They walked in and the place was much more casual than he had intended, but the air smelled of fried chicken. His stomach rumbled. They sat themselves. The red and white checkered vinyl tablecloth was slightly sticky. Rachel pretended not to notice.
“If you want to go somewhere else we can.”
“I just wasn’t sure if this was what you had in mind. If it’s too casual.”
“I’m game if you are.”
She pulled a menu from the middle of the table.
“Mmmm, this all looks really good.”
The waitress came up to the table.
“What can I get you to drink?”
“I’ll have a Beer, one of the artisan ones on tap.” Rachel said.
“I’ll have the same,” Ben said.
They both ordered the spicy fried chicken for dinner and she told him about how she learned to play the cello. Ben would have listened to anything she had to tell him; he could have listened to her for hours. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the shape of her mouth, with its slight square shape, and full bottom lip. She was beautiful. He felt like he could not put his finger on the one thing that made her beautiful. She was perfection in his eyes. Her deep brown eyes and chocolate brown hair that sat just past her shoulders, he wanted to run his fingers through it, and kiss those soft pink lips. As they sat and talked, he remembered her sitting on his lap and became aroused at the thought of it.
The waitress came and brought both dinners at the same time, on styrofoam plates along with plastic cutlery. After the waitress walked away Rachel looked down at her plate.
“It smells spicy.”
“It does,” Ben said as he took a large bite.
He nodded, as the peppery spice radiated across his tongue and enflamed his lips. Rachel followed suit and took a bite herself, he could hear the breading crunch on the breast she took a bite out of. She nodded in agreement, as she placed her hand in front of her mouth.
“Now I get what the bread underneath is for,” She said after she swallowed.
“Is it too hot for you?” Ben asked, concerned.
“No, it is just right. It’s delicious. Thanks for bringing me here. Are you okay?”
It was too spicy for Ben, but he wasn’t going to fess up to it as he felt beads of sweat on his forehead.
They both laughed.
They finished their meal and had planned to go see a movie. As they walked out into the warm evening, Rachel turned towards Ben.
“Do you think, I mean would you rather do something else outside instead of going to a movie? It is such a nice night.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
Ben looked down at his watch. It was only 8:30, still pretty early.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Want to go for a walk in Grant Park? We can go see the fountain? I haven’t done that in forever, and I don’t think I’ve ever done it at night.”
“That sounds great.”
It was a long walk but neither of them seemed to mind. It was the sort of night where one craved to be outside. Rachel felt safe walking next to Ben. As they crossed Wacker, two men began to shout at each other on the opposite corner. Rachel reached out for Ben’s arm. As her skin made contact with his, it felt like a warm jolt of electricity ran through his body. He reached over and put his hand on top of hers. She looked up at him, trying to hide her fear. They turned the corner again and could see the park across Michigan Avenue. The breeze off Lake Michigan blew past, bringing its briny smell and cool air. Rachel shivered.
“Are you cold?” Ben asked.
“No, it was the change in temperature. Sorry,” She pulled her hand off of his arm realizing she was still touching him.
“I didn’t mind.”
“Do you think those guys will hurt each other?” She looked back in the direction they had come from as she asked.
“Probably not. The police are on their way, I am sure.”
“Are you supposed to go? I mean like the nearest cop thing?”
“No, not really in this case. I mean if there was an imminent threat, then yes. But it didn’t look like it was going to be violent.”
“Can I ask you a question?” She said as they crossed into the park.
“Why did you choose to join law enforcement?”
“It was just something I always wanted to do, even from a young age.”
“Yeah. I have always just had a strong sense of justice. I hate it when someone is wronged or hurt. I want to help make it right if I can.” Ben noticed Rachel put a small distance between the two of them as he said the last part.
An old black and white movie played in the bandshell as they walked past continuing on towards the fountain. The small gravel crunched under their feet as they got closer to the fountain.
“Thanks for agreeing to come out with me tonight,” Rachel said.
“I was glad you asked. I was hoping to get to see you again.”
Rachel stopped walking and Ben turned back to face her.
“Not to keep bringing this up but; I feel like I owe you an explanation about the last time we had dinner together.”
“You don’t,” Ben said, knowing he had to be polite and not pry. He remembered Marty’s words. It was her story to tell.
“No, I do. I hope I am not being too forward, but… I like you Ben and there hasn’t been anyone since Rhett. Ugh, that’s not what I wanted to say. I am making a mess of this.”
Ben stepped closer to her and she did not step away. He reached out gently and caressed the side of her face as he leaned down to kiss her. Her tongue caressed his. It was a shallow, soft kiss but it packed a punch. He wanted to keep kissing her and never stop. It took every ounce of self-control he had to stop. He pulled back.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She looked up at him, her brown eyes visible under the lamplight in the park.
“Rachel, I like you too. I have for a long time. I don’t want to scare you off. You don’t owe me any explanations. I am happy to be with you however you want to or need to do it.”
She leaned forward and embraced him, putting her head next to his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, inhaling the scent of her hair.
“I practiced this. This whole speech with my sister. I still messed it up,” She said, still in his embrace.
“It was perfect.”
He pulled her away slightly and looked down at her.
“Rachel, you are in the driver’s seat here. If this ever becomes too much just tell me. I really want to give this a try if you are open to it.”
“I really want to be. I’m, it’s just that… I am scared.”
“I don’t have any expectations. We will take it one day at a time.”
“Thank you Ben.”
She pulled out of his embrace completely, his arms now felt emptier than they ever had. They started to walk slowly again.
“All I was trying to say was that in the end, my ex ended up not being the man I married. He turned out not to be a nice man. I thought after my marriage ended, I would never date again. I didn’t want to trust anyone else again.”
Ben stopped and grabbed her hand softly.
“I am sorry you had to go through that. I would love to say that I understand what you went through, but that is only one of those things that you do understand if you’ve lived it. I will promise you this, right here, at the start, I will not hurt you, Rachel. I know I am asking for your trust, that is a gift I won’t abuse it.”
Rachel took a deep breath and looked away. Ben’s words had brought up emotion she wasn’t prepared for. Ben walked closer to her and hugged her.
“Thank you, Ben,” She whispered.
As they approached the fountain the first few drops of rain began to fall. They were so engrossed in each other that they had missed the incoming storm. Rachel reached out her hand, catching the raindrops, it made her giggle. The soft drizzle instantly became a deluge, as others in the park scurried for dry shelter. Ben would have given Rachel his coat, had he been wearing on. They ran for cover under a tree but knew they had to move on as lightning streaked across the sky.
“Wait here,” Ben shouted over the barrage of the rain.
Rachel watched him run down to Michigan Avenue and hail a cab. He signalled to her to come as he opened the door to the cab. She ran from under the tree but in the twenty feet from the tree to the curb she was soaked, her dress stuck to her body as it turned opaque. Her wet dress slid against the vinyl seat in the cab as Ben slid in next to her. Ben gave the location of his car and the cabbie sped off in that direction. Rachel looked at Ben, who was just as wet as she was. She started laughing at the sight of the two of them.
“What’s so funny?”
“We look like we’ve been drowned.”
Ben had to laugh at her observation. It was correct. She reached over and slid her hand around Ben’s neck and kissed him. He pulled her warm, wet body to his. The wet clothes made the barrier of clothing feel even thinner between the two of them. Ben was instantly aroused. Their soft kisses deepened and grew more intense. The cab stopped at the corner of the street that Ben had given the location for, where the car was parked.
“Sir. We are here.”
Ben pulled away, embarrassed he had gotten so carried away. He grabbed Rachel’s hand and squeezed it softly. She smiled, feeling embarrassed as well.
They got into Ben’s car and he noticed chill bumps on her arms. He turned on the heat even though the evening was still warm. He got back out of the car and retrieved a suit jacket that he kept in the trunk.
“Here, this will help keep you warm,” he said as he handed it to her.
He could see her nipples through her wet cotton dress and he had to physically bite his bottom lip, to resist the impulse to reach out and kiss her again.