SEATED IN THE Rosebud, staring into Ryan's eyes by the dim glow of candlelight, Sheila was complete perfection. To Ryan's notion, in the flickering light, Sheila's face appeared more radiant than the flame itself.
She was tall, slender, looked like a Vassar girl, spoke like a sailor. But only when angered. Her strawberry-blond hair was haloed by the rose-colored halogen spotlights which beamed down from the ceiling.
Her eyes were clear opals, innocent. She wore a size nine coordinated outfit by Donna Karen with matching Via Spiga gray pumps. A cinnamon- like dusting of freckles dotted her face. She was twenty-eight-years-old and in love. She and Ryan were holding hands across the table. A bottle of Chianti and two glasses of wine. A loaf of fresh bread and a saucer filled with olive oil and ground black pepper ornamented the table. A crystal vase with two red roses intertwined like lovers. The perfect setting, the perfect place. They were celebrating the anniversary of their engagement: one week.
The main course arrived. Linguine with clam sauce, her favorite. He poured more wine never releasing his gaze. As they finished dessert, Ryan got down to business.
"Hey, Monkey Face." He had stolen the endearment from Cary Grant. She smiled long and warm, her dimples showing. "Have I told you that I loved you today?"
"Maybe, but tell me again," she said.
"I love you."
He smiled and tenderly rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. A storm cloud washed over his face.
"What's wrong, honey? Am I too infatuated?"
"No," he said, reaching for a cigarette. He lit it and sighed. "Bad day. You know, the Feds ran us off this afternoon. I thought Sam was going to have a bird, full meltdown."
"You can handle him. That's not what's eating you is it, Michael? Is it the boy?"
"Sometimes I think you've got some Gypsy bloodline mixed in along with all that Irish blarney. Your dad ever spend time in Romania?
She flicked her hair and laughed.
"Vat do you vant to know?"
"Okay, Portia. Enough with the jokes. Tell me about the kid. Please?"
* * *
Even in the midst of chaos, Sam realizes he's fallen in love ...
. . . as he brushed a blood-soaked lock of hair from her forehead he thought he knew. He loved her beyond reason, without condition, without boundaries, with an immeasurable intensity and hunger, loved the turn of her cheek, loved the sound of her laugh, loved the gentleness of her heart, her smile, loved her with such fever that looking at her now, even with the universe crumbling about him, a curtain of expectant stillness seemed to fall on velvety folds of silence across the din of insanity.