Chapter Eleven

“I don’t like it.”
“The area has great lighting.”
“I don’t want to be here.”
“I think we should film the first kiss here.”
“I’m the writer and I say no.”
“Who got the funding for this movie?”
“The bank.”
“On whose credit standing?”

Ralph kicked gravel at his feet.

“It’s a great spot not just for the lighting but the breeze makes conditions comfortable.”
“I’m against it.”
“I don’t see why.”
“No need to explain.”
“Are you worried you’ll run into someone you know?”
“…No.”

I grinned.

“Who is she?”
“You don’t know her. It happened while you were gone.”

He then told me the story. Three months after I left for the internship he met someone. Chemistry had been strong. He fancied her more than any woman he had met prior.

“So what happened?” I asked. I was still hell bent on securing the location but a little consultation seemed to be in order.
“I found her with someone else. I’ll leave it at that. Don’t pester me for further explanation.”
“Since when have I done such a thing?” “That one time about-.”
“I merely inquired. You chose to divulge information. But, I’ll stop asking. It’s no big deal.”
“Great, so we’re agreed that this location is bad?”
“No we’re still using it. But we are agreed that I’ll drop the subject.”

Ralph and I began our twenty minute walk back to the Astoria-Ditmars train station from the park located near 20th avenue. You could see Rikers Island at the center of the water surrounding the dead end. Laguardia Airport was to the right.

The location worked well because of the amount of natural light and greens from the park. It mostly attracted joggers with the occasional vehicle driving by, depending on the time of day. It also made good traveling sense because our cameraman lives fifteen minutes away. Him having a car helps, too.

A leading man is still needed. Ralph secured one of the female lead roles with the girl from the NY Film Academy. I didn’t even ask how he pulled it off. Half the time I never question the lengths he went to for whatever it is he did. The other half- let’s just say if I were his mother I would denounce his existence.

He has the makings to be a great executive producer because of his ability to get things done, swiftly or not isn’t the point here.

One of his strong suits has always been writing, though. He developed a knack for it early. What baffles me is the fact that he doesn’t brag about having a book published. He was fifteen. The book almost made the NY Times Best Sellers list. Any less of a man would use this fact for any number of gains. Ralph isn’t that kind of man. At least, he makes himself out to not appear in such a way.

“Hey! Johnathan!” Ralph and I stopped in our tracks just off the corner of Ditmars avenue.

We turned on our heels to be greeted by a jogging Sofia.

“Who’s she?” Ralph mumbled.
“The cougar.”

He turns to me and with a shocked expression says “get the fuck out of here, bro! That’s the same woman from the club?!”
I nodded.

Just before stopping within reasonable decible talking levels Ralph said “I take it back bro. Fuck her brains out. For me.”

“Hey, Sofia.” I said as she stopped in front of us.
“What brings you here?”

So I told her and she seemed impressed.

“I remember you.” She says, pointing to Ralph.
“Do you now?”
“Yea you were flirting with my friend that night Johnny and I mingled at the bar.”

I hated being called ‘Johnny.’ It made me feel like a child.

“Your friend’s been asking for me?”
“She actually doesn’t remember that night.”
“She wouldn’t like me sober anyway.”
“Are you an asshole?”
“More or less.” I said.
“Thanks bro.”

Within minutes I discovered that one of Sofia’s daycare centers is just a couple of blocks away. We just so happened to be passing through while she was returning from her lunch break; sushi from a familiar place not too far from our present location. The perfect time to get a feel for a possible location for the commercial she’s paying my team to do.

The three of us followed Sofia a few blocks south on 29th st. Lots of old couples littered the streets with supermarket bags and carts, deliveries were being made, the sound of the Q19 could be heard.

A small but modest library was on the route. It was a residential neighborhood which meant traffic shouldcbe steady. At least for this location.

The daycare center building was two stories. Four windows on each floor. From the windows on the first floor you could see offices and what appeared to be a playroom. That made sense considering parents who were picking up their kids wanted to spend as little time mingling as possible. Get in and out. The room was unoccupied.

Looking at my watch the hands told me it was quarter to one. She led us in.

Sofia greeted the receptionist, an elderly woman with silver hair and a slim figure. There were no introductions but as we passed she greeted us with a warm smile.

Each room we passed was brightly lit and bursting with inviting colors. Upon reaching the top of the stairs the distinct sound of children laughing was audible as if we were standing in the room.

She led us to the playroom and opened the door. At least three dozen children were running around a room almost the size of a studio apartment. Sofia later told me she knocked out all of the walls to make it this spacious.

The purpose of the downstairs playroom was, as I suspected, for children who were on the verge of being picked up for the day.

Toys of all kind were everywhere. Kids were finger painting in one corner. In another corner, several girls were having a tea party with a boy being held hostage. I say this because he looks as if he’s being forced to play with them. Punishment of some kind?

Two boys were wrestling in the middle of the room. It wasn’t serious, nobody paid them any mind. A little girl playing by herself looked in our direction and came running over to Sofia.

“Miss Sofia!” She said hugging one of her legs.
“Hi Clara. You feeling better, pumpkin?”
Clara shook her head and flashed a smile void of a front tooth. Sofia put a hand to the girls head.

“Seems like your temperature has gone down.”
“Mhmm. I’m feeling lots better.”
“Well in that case let me introduce you to my friends Ralph and Johnathan.”

She smiled and shyly hid behind one of Sofia’s legs. “You wanna help me show my friends around?”

Clara hid deeper behind her leg, blushing brighter. “They’ll be around again so don’t be shy.”

I then stepped in front of Clara and knelt down. “My friend and I are going to help Miss Sofia with a commercial and you just might end up on TV. But you have to help us see this place if that’s going to happen. Please help us.”

She looked up at Sofia who said “he’s right” and then she looked back at me. With a smile she took my hand and introduced us to the majority of the kids. She showed us where everyone’s cubbies were. She showed us the various toy selection, taking a little extra time to mention how much she enjoyed playing with some of them. She told us about the games Miss Sofia and Miss Susan, the aide, played with the other kids like Duck Duck Goose, tag, Hot Potato, and the like.

There were arts and crafts tables with projects done by the children littering the walls. There were musical instruments downstairs that Miss Sofia brought to the playroom every Friday and if the children were all well behaved, a movie was put on with popcorn to pass around. We just missed both, being a Saturday and all.

Sofia thanked Clara with a hug and kiss on the cheek. Clara waved at Ralph and with a shy missing tooth smile, waved at me and then returned to her table.

“I think she likes you.” Sofia said. “She’s a sweet kid. Too bad I’m not six.”
“She’s nine, actually.”
“She’s so short.”
“But very articulate if you hadn’t noticed.”

I did. Her voice was soft spoken with thought put into each sentence. Very well mannered, she said please when asking for something and said ‘excuse me’ when she wanted to speak openly.

Sofia led us out of the room and down the hall to her office. It was small, cramped, fairly functional.

“So what do you think?”
“It’s a great place. If the others are just as good it will be a hard decision on where to shoot.”
“The one in Soho is just as good with about as much children.”
“I’ll have to visit that one soon.”
“Will your friend be joining us?” She said, gesturing to Ralph.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Dude, I could totally help with this.”
“It’s a work thing, Ralph.”
“So pay me to help.”
“What would you do?”
“I’d write the commercial.”
“You’re a writer?” Sofia asked.
Ralph shook his head.

“So what’s the problem with him working with you?” She was now addressing me.
“He’s not employed at the company.”
“Hire freelance then.”
“That’s not how we work.”
“Why not?”
“The company was staffed according to our strengths and we keep within those bounds for every contract.”
“But you’re the boss, aren’t you?”
“Technically speaking, yes.”
“So…what’s the problem?”
“Why are you so adamant in having Ralph tag along?”
“He’s your friend.”
“You shouldn’t mix personal relationships with business.”
“Putting that aside, he’s also a writer you happen to know.”
“Have you two engaged in promiscuous behavior before?”
“What?”
“Dude I’m right here, just ask me.”
I turned to him. “Have you two engaged in promiscuous behavior before?”
“I met her the same night as you.”
“Given your previous history-.”
“Dude. We haven’t. She’s not my type. No offense.”
“None taken, and I’m quite shocked you’d even ask such a thing. There’s nothing going on between the two of us for a jealous question to be asked.” “Your behavior proved otherwise. I felt the need to investigate.”
“My behavior…?”
“Your insistence that Ralph work on this when I deliberately said he couldn’t led me to believe your intentions toward him were that of an unprofessional capacity. It could have been due to motives involving some sort of revenge, or just looking for an opening to begin such a relationship. And for the record, it wasn’t a jealous question. The absence of a connection between us is irrelevant.”

Silence.

Ralph tapped on the arms of his chair. Sofia and I stared at each other. Women are so complicated.

“So when shall I stop by your Soho location?” I said.
She shrugged. “Whenever is good for you.”
“You have my number.”
“That I do.”
“Call me this week.”
“That I shall.”
“For anything.” My use of the word ‘anything’ was reminiscent to her own. It registered as planned for the frown lines on her forehead began to repress.

Ralph and I got up, he walked out the door. Standing in the doorway I turned around and said, “are we okay? Should I dismiss myself from the project?” She looked away while folding her arms at her chest. “No, we’re fine.” Her tone was playful which indicted the tension from earlier is no longer a factor.

“You’re going to call me?” I then asked. While I was away I learned various maneuvers, as a male friend later called it, to lighten a mood when a man has visibly upset a woman, as I must have done with Sofia. “Women like to pout like they’re mad about all the shit you do,” he said, “but if they’re into you everything you say will lead to their panties coming off.”

Judging by Sofia’s change in body language and rosy complexion it seems this friend was right. Although I’m not sure about the panty dropping, so to speak. I asked the question again. This time her gaze shifted to me. Her straight lipped expression morphed into a smile, one she tried to disguise by continuing to use the frown. “Maybe.”

I walked out of the office and out the door. Ralph had been waiting outside. The sun had disappeared, clouds began rolling quickly overhead.

Before heading for the train station a face appeared in my peripheral vision. Turning in that direction Clara was looking at me from her seat in the smaller playroom. I waved with a smile. She blushed and waved back. Cute kid, I thought as Ralph and I began walking. She’ll break some hearts one day.

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