Regina walked through Centennial Park, hands in her pockets enjoying the early fall weather. It was about 60, and the sun was bright in the sky. She glanced around the park, observing people taking advantage of the end of the season sun, pausing when she spotted a distinguished profile; an unexpected one; a rather well known one, unsurprisingly pouring over a book.
She hesitated debating for nearly a minute and a half, wanting to go over to him, to just talk to him. 'Fuck it,' she muttered, turning toward him, and away from the coffee shop she'd been heading toward. When she was within earshot, she unconsciously cleared her throat, drawing his attention. 'H-hi, Keanu...?' she said, as though there were a chance that she'd misidentified him. He smiled--a genuine smile, not a fake make-the-fans-happy smile.
'Hi!' he replied, looking up and taking in the young woman in front of him.
'I...' She bit her lip. 'Can I join you?' she asked. 'Just to talk...' Her voice trailed off, once again revealing her nervousness.
Keanu smiled again and gestured to the spot next to him on the bench. 'Absolutely,' he replied, shifting so that he'd be facing her direction.
Regina had known logically that he wouldn't be rude. But she still grinned broadly and sat, almost sagging with relief at his invitation. 'Thank you,' she murmured.
'You do have me at a disadvantage,' he prompted. She frowned, puzzled, then gasped. 'Oh! I'm Regina,' she said, automatically holding her hand out in greeting. Keanu took it and, instead of shaking formally, squeezed it gently, almost affectionately.
'A pleasure,' he said, seemingly sincerely. 'Are you local?'
'Born and raised. I've moved around a little, but always end up here again. Which isn't terrible--not my cup of tea really, but not bad.' She paused. 'May I... can I ask what brings you to town?' He was an exceptionally private person, so much so that she was afraid that even that question might be perceived as nosy.
'You can ask,' he said. He liked that she didn't just demand to know. 'I came this way once or twice as a kid, and wanted to... revisit my youth,' he said, with a wry smile. 'I've also wanted to... experience more US history. This area is steeped in it.' He spoke slowly, not hesitantly, but choosing his words with care wanting to be precise in his reply.
Regina nodded, then laughed softly and looked away. 'You know... I've spent most of thirty years here, and have never done any of the historical tours. I always just... take for granted that they'll always be there. And that I will, too.' The history and tours to which they both referred were sites significant in the development of the country, including the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.
Feeling quite relaxed with Regina, Keanu feigned shock. 'Okay, I must insist you join me on at least one of my tours then.' The words, and his demeanor, were playful, but he was actually sincere, which he conveyed by sobering and adding, 'Please?'
The change from humor to sincerity took Regina by surprise. 'You... you want me to come with you?' she asked. 'For real?'
'Well, if you'd like to,' he amended.
Laughing, Regina agreed. 'I'm in. But first, I think we should go get coffee and get warm and talk. So I can make sure you're not a psycho in disguise or something.' Her face was serious, but her eyes were laughing.
'Coffee sounds perfect. Is there a place nearby?'
With a nod, Regina replied, 'Right through that alley, actually. I was on my way there when I saw you.' She stood, thrusting her hands into her pockets; it wasn’t terribly cold but the wind carried a chill all the same.
'An alley, eh? Is it a dark alley?' he teased.
He laughed appreciatively. 'Touché.' He stood and mimicked her, hands going into his jeans pockets. She led him through the short alley, shivering a bit; the wind was faster in the narrow space and while it wasn't dark, it was nearly always shaded from the sun. When he saw the sign he laughed. 'I used to go to this place in Toronto when I was visiting home.'
She smiled. 'I think this chain started in Toronto. Now it's only in New York, but I think one of the baristas mentioned they may be expanding south.’ Pulling open the door, she waited for him.
'I think I'm supposed to do that,' he scolded playfully.
'Okay, when we leave, I'll let you do your gentlemanly duty.' She smirked as she spoke, and he laughed. 'I usually sit on the couch there, but if you'd prefer a more discreet spot, the side room has a couple chairs, as well as a table.'
He glanced around the main area. 'This is fine.' He headed for the black couch and set his shoulder bag down on the table. Looking up at the menu board, he was pleased to see the options were the same as the shop he had occasionally visited.
They each ordered, and Keanu insisted on paying for Regina's as well as his own. She glared, partly playfully and partly genuinely. 'Next time I buy,' she said, then froze. 'I mean... if there is a next time,' she added hastily.
'There will be. Remember you're coming on a tour with me,' he said, his brown eyes amused.
They both sat on the couch, each half turned, to face the other. Regina quickly felt at ease; he was a very relaxed person and it, in turn, relaxed her.
A few people cast curious glances their way, obviously recognising--or thinking that they recognised--Keanu. After more than an hour of chatting Keanu glanced at his watch. 'It's a little late to go to the Fort today, but how about dinner?'
Regina looked at her phone, her face showing surprise at the time; it was nearly five-thirty! 'That sounds good,' she agreed, pleased that he seemed to want to spend more time with her. She looked at him with a smirk. 'Are we going to argue about who pays?'
He grinned and shook his head. 'Nope. No argument. I'm paying.' She groaned. 'Fine, but I'm paying the tip,' she said firmly. 'I'll let you do that,' he agreed. 'Do you drive?' he inquired.
She shook her head. 'I have a licence, but a car and insurance is more than it's worth paying. I can walk most places I need to get to, so I don't bother.'
'Ever been on a bike?' he asked.
'Couple times. Crotch rockets though.'
Making a face that told her exactly what he thought of that type, earning a giggle from Regina, he said, 'Want to ride a real bike?'
'I'm game, if you have another helmet. We should probably stop by my place, too, so I can get a warmer jacket.' She was warm enough in her hoodie for walking around, but on a bike, when it would be dark soon, she was going to freeze.
'Sure. Or...' he paused
'--Or?' she prompted.
'I've got an extra. With that and the hoodie you should be okay.'
She considered the offer. He was larger than she, but not so much so that she'd be lost in his jacket. 'All right. Are you staying there?' She gestured to the nearby hotel.
'I am. We can walk over and grab the jacket. Bike's in the parking lot. Any suggestions on where to go?' he asked as they started the short walk to the hotel.
Regina named a few places, covering pizza, standard pub fare, Italian, Chinese, and Thai. 'If you feel like going further, Saratoga has authentic seafood and Spanish--real Spanish.'
'Let's go to Saratoga,' he decided. 'Spanish sounds good.' By now they were in the hotel lobby and he headed for the elevator.
'You go up. I'm going to use the restroom.' She knew he'd let her use the one in his room, but that felt too intimate, for some reason.
He appeared to understand, simply squeezing her shoulder briefly before she headed away. When she finished, she sat in a nearby chair, where she barely had time to cross her legs before he reappeared holding another jacket and two helmets. She took the jacket he held out and pulled it on as they walked to the parking lot and to the bike--the Norton Commando that she so often saw him riding in photos. Both put their helmets on, with him showing her how to adjust the strap for a better--and safer--fit. From his jacket pocket, he pulled out two pairs of sunglasses, handing one to her. 'Trust me, you'll need them.' Her helmet didn't have a visor, so she saw the wisdom in the advice, and slid them on.
He climbed on the bike and she followed suit, steadying herself with his shoulder. There was no bar behind her, so Regina had to sit quite close to Keanu. She rested her hands on his hips but he shook his head and moved them forward a little. She didn't have to hold him as tightly as she would on a crotch rocket--not that she'd have minded, but he clearly either wanted her arms around him, or felt it was safer in the new position. 'Feel free to hold me tighter if you want,' he said. She couldn't see his face, but she thought she detected humor in his voice.
Before she could respond, he spoke again. 'Which exit?' She provided brief directions as she pulled her feet up as the bike roared to life. He pulled forward and Regina was very glad he'd moved her arms. She did end up leaning forward a bit more and resting against his back, her arms fully encircling him. He squeezed her arm while they waited to pull into traffic, then they were off.
It was, with traffic, an almost-forty minute ride; Regina enjoyed every second. 'Have fun?' he asked, helping her off the Commando.
She nodded, smiling brightly. She'd forgotten how much she enjoyed riding, and this was the longest trip she'd taken on one. 'Yeah. I can see why you like this so much.'
He grinned back, completely relaxed and open, a look very different from the sad-Keanu resting face he often displayed. 'It really is great. I have a car but I'd rather ride--even in the rain.' As they walked to the restaurant, he wrapped his arm around her waist, drawing a pleasant shiver from Gina.
When the hostess greeted them, the only indication that she recognised him was the query, 'Would you prefer a table in the main dining area, or something more discreet?' Celebrities weren't uncommon in Saratoga, though they tended to turn up more often during the summer for horse races at Saratoga Raceway, especially for the renowned Travers Stakes.
'Discreet, please,' Keanu replied. A coffee shop was one thing. It wasn't as annoying of a disruption. For dinner however, he'd rather not be disturbed. Regina appreciated his decision and they walked together to the table for two in a rear corner. As they walked, she looked around, noting the ambience. The building was fairly rustic, but the decor added class. Keanu held Regina's chair for her, which earned him another smile.
A server appeared to take drink orders. He ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, and Regina opted for a lemonade.
'Don't drink?' he asked , opening the menu, as the server stepped away to get the beverages.
'Not often. Five or six drinks a year.' She glanced over the menu as well. 'Last hangover I had cured me of any desire to get drunk. And that was almost ten years ago.'
'That's not a bad thing.' He’d seen the ruinous effects of alcohol and respected someone who knew their limits.
She nodded in agreement, reading over the dinner options, raising an eyebrow at some of the prices. Meat and vegetables were a la carte, and full meals were more expensive than she'd expected. 'Get what you want,' Keanu said firmly, noticing her reaction.
She laughed quietly. 'I suppose you can tell I suck at poker,' she said, referring to her poker face--or lack thereof. Taking him at his word, she opted for the chicken leg dinner, adding a side of roasted potatoes.
The server returned with their drinks, and enquired if they were ready to order. Regina placed her order and Keanu ordered the seafood paella. When the server left, they relaxed.
'What things do you have planned while you're here?' Regina enquired.
'Definitely Fort William Henry and Saratoga Battlefields. Probably Fort Ticonderoga. There are a lot of places I'd love to check out, but they're pretty far out, so I likely won't get to do all of them in one trip. Though there's also an art museum I want to check out.'
'The Hyde?' she guessed, naming a small museum that nonetheless was well-known in the art world. Throughout its history, it had hosted pieces by Cézanne, Degas, and da Vinci--including the Mona Lisa; the permanent collection included works by van Gogh, Picasso, and Rembrandt.
He smiled and nodded. 'Have you ever been?'
'When I was in school. Eighth grade maybe? I got to see Last Portrait of Christ. Didn't appreciate it nearly as much as it deserved,' she confessed.
'Come with me,' he said impulsively a wide smile lighting his face. 'It would be nice to have someone to share the experience with.'
'You're going to get sick of me,' she half-joked.
He paused, under the guise of taking a drink. 'I don't think that's possible,' he said candidly. Regina's heart fluttered at the words but she was mute, unsure what to say. 'Are you uncomfortable?' he asked candidly.
Shaking her head, Regina replied, 'No. A little...' She paused, utilising his trick of taking a drink, trying to figure out exactly what she WAS feeling. 'Surprised. Pleasantly so.'
He nodded, satisfied, then asked another straightforward and unexpected question. 'Regina, are you single?'
Nearly choking on her lemonade, she held up a finger, turning her head and coughing into a napkin. 'Where did that question come from?'
'It comes from me being attracted to you and wanting to know if I need to put a stop to that,' he replied unreservedly. 'And if you are single, I'd like to know if it's mutual.'
Regina flushed lightly, a small, genuine smile curving her lips. 'I am. And it is,' she affirmed, earning a smile in return.
'In that case...' Keanu said, leaning forward slightly, reaching across the table, and resting his hand atop hers. It took Regina by surprise, even though she literally saw it coming. Once again, her heart stuttered. After a moment, she turned her hand face up, holding his.
'Christ I'm glad I wanted coffee today,' she said quietly, drawing a laugh from the older man.
'Likewise,' he replied, squeezing her hand gently. 'You still have me at a disadvantage,' he added quietly. She tilted her head curiously. 'I have a feeling that you know quite a lot about me. I know your name and... that's about it.'
'Touché,' she replied, using his earlier response. 'What would you like to know?'
‘Um… do you work, or go to school? How old are you? What’s your full name?’ he said. ‘For now,’ he added with a grin that was rapidly becoming familiar to Regina.
‘Full name is Regina Marie Girard-Nelson. I go by Gina most of the time and usually drop Girard. And yes, you can call me Gina. I’m 28, almost 29. I just graduated in May from the University at Albany, with a Bachelor’s in psychology and minors in criminal justice and sociology. I’m debating between applying for grad school and applying for related work. Right now I do medical billing and collections.’
‘Is there somewhere in particular you want to work?’
‘Yeah a security and threats assessment and management firm in Studio City.’
Taking a guess, he named a firm that was internationally known for its services in protecting and assisting celebrities, government officials and agencies, and ‘ordinary’ people. Gina nodded. She wasn’t surprised he knew of it. ‘I used them a few years ago, to improve my security.’
‘Two break ins in two days, probably a good idea,’ she said lightly, but not with humor. She understood the seriousness of that situation.
‘Yep. They have a lot of services, though, so I end up calling a few times a year. What do you want to do there?’
‘Threat assessment and management. Particularly investigating unwanted pursuers and web-based threats and problems, and litigation support.’ She had clearly researched the firm. ‘It’ll be a while before I apply. I can’t pass the physical fitness portion just yet. And I need to quit smoking completely,’ she admitted.
Their meals arrived and Keanu waited until they were alone again to reply. ‘You smoke?’ She nodded. ‘Cigarettes occasionally, a few times a week. Weed a bit less often. Both are still too-often for me to get hired there, though.’
‘I knew they were drug-free. I didn’t know they barred smoking, too.’ He laughed. ‘I’d never get hired there.’
She knew what he meant. ‘I don’t especially want to give up weed--or cigarettes, for that matter. But it’s been a goal of mine to work there since 1997, when I read the director’s first book, so I’m willing to do it.’ She took a hesitant bite of her chicken and decided it was still too hot to eat, so she set her fork back down.
Keanu did the same, asking ‘What parts of the physical fitness do you need to improve?’
‘I need to maintain a flexed hang for 3 additional seconds, and drop my quarter-mile run to two and a half minutes. Right now my best is three-thirteen. But I want to exceed the minimum, not just-make-it. By the time I’d be able to move to California, and would be ready to apply, I’ll be there though,’ she said determinedly.
By now their food was cool enough to eat, and they fell into a slower conversation, eating and chatting. She answered more questions, elaborating more than simple answers. The one topic she declined to elaborate beyond the basics was her family. ‘I’m close to two of my brothers, and holiday-card close to my sister. The rest…’ She shook her head. ‘They’re dead to me.’ Her tone indicated no further information would be revealed at this point--if ever. Aside from that, they were both relaxed; eating, laughing, and flirting. Gina asked him careful questions, knowing that he was exceptionally private and that, like her, some topics were off-limits.
It was nearly eight-thirty before they were ready to leave. The server dropped the bill off and Gina grabbed it first, smirking. ‘If I’m leaving a tip I need to know how much,’ she said innocently. She had already done some mental math so seeing the nearly-triple-digit figure wasn’t a shock. She passed the check to Keanu, and pulled out her wallet and counting out twenty-five dollars. It was a bit more than twenty-five percent, but the service had been exceptional. Keanu took notice and was pleased, though he said nothing.
They headed back out into the now considerably cooler night. ‘Ready?’ he asked as they walked back to his bike. ‘Ready Freddy,’ Gina said playfully. Before long they were heading back to the interstate. The trip home was shorter, thanks to lighter traffic. Gina directed Keanu to her apartment, part of a duplex near downtown. When they pulled up, she didn’t move right away; she rested against his back, enjoying how they fitted together. ‘Do you need to go, or would you like to come in?’ she asked after a moment. His response was to kill the engine. She climbed off the bike and waited for him to join her.
Once again he wrapped his arm around her waist, until they reached her porch. She unlocked the door and let them in, bending abruptly to scoop up a dark grey cat who was headed for the door. The cat meowed and Gina laughed. ‘Yes, I know, you’re so innocent,’ she replied, dropping a kiss to the furry head and, after making sure the door was closed, letting her jump down. ‘That’s Jasmine,’ she half-introduced. ‘She has a nature-wish. Until she gets outside, and then she freaks out.’
She led Keanu into the living room, which was directly to the left of the door. Gesturing, she said, ‘You can set your helmet on the chair,’ doing so herself. She set the sunglasses inside it, and shrugged out of his coat which she started to lay down beside the helmets. He stopped her. ‘Keep it,’ he said. She cocked her head. ‘It looks good on you. Call it a souvenir or an early birthday present.’
Gina hesitated, then nodded. ‘All right. Thank you,’ she said, her voice once again soft.
He smiled down at her before dropping a soft kiss to her forehead. ‘So what do you have in mind?’ he asked.
‘Coffee, drinks, tv or movies, gabbing, card or board games… I’m pretty laid back,’ she said.
‘If I do drink, I’ll have to leave my bike here tonight.’
‘Or stay. I have a guest room,’ she added quickly, blushing again.
‘You’re cute when you blush,’ he observed, brushing a finger down her jawline. She sucked in a breath, not moving, though heat flared in her eyes. ‘I’ll stay. How about a movie and a game. What do you have?’
‘Um…’ she paused trying to recall what she had that was good for two players. ‘Triominoes, Monopoly, Anti-Monopoly, Scrabble, Wit’s End…’ She stopped there and gave a brief description of Wit’s End, Anti-Monopoly, and Triominoes--the three he hadn’t heard of.
‘Um… Wit’s end sounds like it would be the best when drinking.’ It was a trivia and mind-bending riddles game, unlike the remainder, which were mostly strategy.
‘Got it. And what do you want to drink? I’ve got Captain Morgan, Absolut Mandarin, Absolut Vanilla, Maker’s Mark, and orange juice if you want screwdrivers,’ she offered.
‘Screwdrivers,’ he replied, looking straight into her eyes in a way that caused her to shiver.
‘You pick the movie,’ she said, gesturing to her DVD collection, then quickly went to get the game, juice, and vodka. In the kitchen, she rested her palms on the counter, closing her eyes and drawing a deep breath. She hadn’t had much of a chance to think properly since she’d spotted Keanu in the park. Even during the hour, round trip, on the bike, her thoughts had been muddled because of his nearness. She slowly gathered the bottles and paused, peering through the doorway at his figure, watching him shift to peruse her DVDs.
‘Coming back in?’ he asked, not turning. Amusement tinged the words and Gina picked up on it, returning to the room. She set the bottles down and opened the closet to retrieve the game, saying, ‘You have good perception. I suppose that that’s a necessity, though.’
‘It is. Though I think I had it before I started working. It’s just… sharper now.’ He paused, still scanning her movies. ‘I’m not sure I can tell who your favorite actor is,’ he joked, referring to her extensive, now-embarrassingly so, collection of his films. When she set the game on the table, he handed her the DVD he’d chosen: Despicable Me. ‘No judgment!’ he said, as she smothered a laugh. ‘My goddaughter loves it, and it’s grown on me.’
‘I’m an adult with no nieces, nephews, or god-kids, and I own it, so I have no room for judgement,’ she said with a shrug and a grin. ‘I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.’
‘Deal.’ He sat down and opened the game’s box and setting it up as per the directions while Gina started the movie.
‘I haven’t played this before, just looked it over, so this will be the blind leading the blind,’ she said, reading over his shoulder as he read the game’s rules and objectives.
It was easy enough to figure out, luckily and it didn’t take them long to get started, each mixing their drinks as they played. Keanu matching Gina drink-wise, so that he didn’t end up more drunk than she. The alcohol had served to loosen inhibitions and tongues, and they bantered back and forth, also touching each other casually, his hand squeezing her knee at one point, and Gina playfully shoving him when he tried to peek at the answers on the card.
By the movie’s end, they were both were somewhat intoxicated, but not drunk. ‘I think…’ she began, pausing to do just that. ‘I need to pee.’ She stood up, stumbled on the table leg, and would have fallen if Keanu hadn’t grabbed her hand. Instead of falling to the floor, she landed on him with an ‘oof!’ She looked up and forgot what she was doing, losing herself in his intense eyes. ‘Those damn eyes,’ she muttered, taking the initiative to press a kiss to his lips. Then she remembered what she needed to do, and jumped up. ‘Be right back!’
He laughed and watched her leave, bringing his hand to his lips. It was almost chaste, but it still left his lips tingling. ‘Fuck…’ he groaned.