Red Skirt, Cool Fountain
Sanjay Chandra and Ian Morris are flipsides of the same coin — Sanjay, the dark and brooding voyeur, while Ian is the light-hearted, fun seducer. But neither one is quite what they appear. One is cold and aloof, a product of his hands off, must strive for excellence childhood, while the other is cynical and jaded by his families fast, wastrel ways. As the saying goes: money can’t buy you love.
A bright spark of red, viewed from the window of their fifth floor office, draws their attention to a woman who lets loose of the humid lethargy the stifling summer has pressed on them. She sparkles like the cool water in the fountain she wistfully dangles her fingers into.
She is everything they are not — carefree, living life to the fullest, full of laughter and light.
They both want her, so they decide to have her. But Ian and Sanjay risk more than their conventionality by courting Sam. They hazard their very sense of self when they must confront what each man means to the other.
In the square below, the children ran and played, trying hard not to avoid the splashes of water from the fountain. The day, like the last few before it, was stifling. The hot and humid air that sat heavily over the city would settle on Sanjay’s shoulders, trap him with its lethargy the very moment he tried to leave the air-conditioned building.
As he stared down from the fifth floor, Sanjay couldn’t blame the young children from the preschool for trying to cool off as best they could. He watched them playing and tried to remember if there’d ever been a time he’d felt so free as to do the same. After a while their caregivers gave up trying to keep them dry and let them splash their hands in the pool at the base of the fountain. Sanjay kept his hands firmly in his pockets, resisting all temptation to reach out as if he was beside them ready to sink his own fingers in the refreshing water.
A flash of red drew his attention away from the children. A woman was walking toward one of the seats off to the side of the fountain, a paper bag in one hand, a drink in the other. As she took her seat, her vibrant red skirt ballooned around her in a waterfall of color, falling from her waist, over her knees, and to the ground. Bohemian.
She smiled as she, too, watched the children, and Sanjay wondered what story he would see on her face, had he not been five floors up. From here he could only make out dark hair and generous curves, but there was an air about her. She carried herself in a way that attracted his attention; among all the solid, unbending suits, she swayed. Her skirt flowed out around her as she fairly skipped along. No cold ignorance, no sticky restraint in the humidity of the day. She was effervescent, despite the depressing heat.
The office door behind him rattled, then opened. Sanjay turned his back to the view and smiled a greeting to his friend, business partner, and occasional fellow sexual explorer, Ian Morris.
“Hey, Jay, what’cha watching?”
“Just some kids from the preschool mucking around in the fountain.” Sanjay turned back to the window and gestured at the scene.
“I don’t blame them.” Ian strode up to the window, smiling as he looked down. “It’s bloody hot out. Given half a chance, I’d be jumping in the fountain too.”
Knowing his friend so well, Sanjay could easily see Ian stripping down to his briefs to jump in, screaming and yelling right along with the kids. If he had to describe their friendship, Ian would be the fun guy — the guy who always had a smile and a bad joke, the first one into the pool and the last one to leave. Everything Sanjay was not.
Sanjay was the responsible guy, the intense man who found it easier to frown than to laugh, who stood back from the crowd, analyzing, plotting, figuring out how to increase his profit with the least amount of potential loss.
He was the product of years of strict parental training; perform the best, demand the best, be the best, and damn all else. No splashes of vibrant red in his life.
Ian tapped a finger against the glass. “Hey, look at the chick with the red skirt.” Ian sounded as if he’d just spied the dessert trolley. “She looks…mmm…interesting.”
Trust Ian to spot a good-looking woman from a hundred feet.
* * * * *
Ian leaned up against the window. “She’s down there again.”
“Who?” Sanjay sat at his desk, concentrating on his e-mails, not the view that had entranced Ian.
“That girl from yesterday. You know, the one who was wearing the red skirt. She’s got her lunch with her again; maybe she works in one of the other buildings.”
Sanjay swiveled his chair so he could see the square below, and the far side of the fountain where the dark-haired woman, now in a floating yellow dress, sat. It was later in the day than when they’d seen her yesterday. This time the slightly older children from the preschool were playing around the fountain, dipping hands and splashing each other, a few dangling their toes in the calf-deep water.
“She looks kind of…sunny, I guess. Bright.”
“That sounds almost poetic, Jay.” Ian turned to him. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” He spun back to the desk and the ever-present virtual pile of mail with a sigh. “Just wishing I had the time to sit outside and eat my lunch. Some days running a wildly successful business isn’t all its cracked up to be.”
“And if we weren’t wildly successful, Jay, you’d be working twice as hard to make it so.” Ian turned, a concerned look on his face as he rested his hand on Sanjay’s shoulder. “You need to learn to slow down. If you don’t, you’re going to end up in an early grave.”
Ian had that right. Sanjay’s Indian father was driven to succeed — raised that way by his father — and pounded that same drive for excellence into his son. His mother’s Anglo background was made up of wheelers and dealers, extreme businessmen to whom nothing meant more than the chase of the next deal.
Sanjay and his sister Shamila had never had a hope of having a normal childhood with roller skates, skinned knees, and ice blocks to make it all better. Instead, they had tutors, assignments, and deportment classes — all the things to make the next perfect world leader, if only his parents had their way.
“Give that ulcer you have brewing a few minutes off, and savor watching an arresting woman enjoy a beautiful day.” Sanjay could hear the grin in Ian’s voice. The screen spun away as Ian rotated his chair toward the window again.
The woman had finished her lunch and now sat on the side of the fountain, her hand absently dangling in the cool water as she talked to two young girls. Their mystery lady threw her head back and laughed, her smile shining up to the sun before she looked back to the girls and shook her head. As he and Ian watched from up on high, the woman and the girls turned toward the fountain with what Sanjay imagined was a wistful, regretful smile.
The caretaker called the children together. Although they appeared reluctant, the group headed inside, leaving the woman in yellow standing beside the fountain. Sanjay and Ian watched as her head cocked to the side and her breasts lifted and dropped in what was obviously a sigh before she turned to leave the square.
“I wonder what she looks like up close?” Even Ian was touched, his joking manner gone. Both men kept a vigil as she left, following the flashes of bright yellow as she moved behind the trees that lined the courtyard.