It wasn’t like they didn’t know how to deal with crowds. They both had become acquainted with the city as children, knew that the quickest route between two points was rarely a straight line here, that rush hour came twice a day, both above and below ground. And not that either Alex or Olivia would willingly trade life here, except for the most dire cause in Alex’s case. But it didn’t mean they had to like crowds. Well, other than the excuse to rub up against each other in the subway or streets, the downside being that they weren’t the only ones to have that privilege in those instances. The approach of Christmas pretty much meant the whole world got to rub up against them while they negotiated their way through Midtown.
Used to striding, the mincing steps she was forced to take began to wear Olivia’s patience thin within a couple of blocks of leaving Harry Winston’s. She’d agreed to accompany Alex there precisely because of the crowds. She wanted to make sure she’d be safe and Alex couldn’t be satisfied with online shopping when such intimate artistry was involved. Besides, the Cabots had a long history with the firm and received personal attention beyond even the store’s usual impeccable service. Olivia didn’t have that kind of background with the venue and so chose to pretend it was a visit to a very small, very secure museum while Alex conducted her business. It relieved her that Alex opted to have them deliver her purchases, one less cause for her concern.
The giant snowflake was suspended over the intersection just a block away, but they were headed the other direction. Sadly, the few blocks from there to Rockefeller Center were completely and utterly clogged with bodies. At best one could shuffle. Shuffling was interspersed with periods of immobility. Olivia was already grumbling.
Alex had just stuck out her arm to prevent Liv from trampling a child that had only just become visible directly in front of them as the crowd swirled around them. Her elbow had perhaps been bent a little more than Alex intended. Or maybe it had been meant to prevent the impending curse she was sure Olivia was about to share. The child only came up to her waist, after all.
“Oh holy NIGHT! Geez, Alex! What are trying to do?”
“I just didn’t want the child to get hurt.”
“But it’s OK if I do?”
“No. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, but that kid just appeared out of nowhere. I may have overreacted.”
Olivia stopped herself. She knew that Alex hadn’t meant to hurt her. She also knew that she herself was overreacting. This wasn’t what she wanted the day to become, nor how she wanted to behave with Alex.
“Al, look, I’m sorry, too. These crowds are getting to me. I think I just maxed out on the number of elbows I can take in a 10 minute period. And damn, it’s cold! You would have thought all these bodies would at least warm things up a little.”
“I know sweetie, and I know you put yourself between me and a few of those elbows. It’s just one of the reasons I love you.”
It seemed like an excellent time to share a makeup kiss, but a small opening in the crowd in front of them was heralded by a less than cheerful request from behind that they ‘move it’. Seasoned New Yorkers that they were, they did indeed move it. Christmas, shmistmas; they knew holding up traffic could turn things ugly.
As they resumed their trudge with arms tightly linked, Alex reconsidered the plan.
“You know, Liv, we don’t have to see the Christmas tree. I think we both already kind of know how it goes.”
“No, Alex, I don’t want to be a spoil sport. In fact, I’m kind of looking forward to it. I’m just frustrated with the lack of forward.”
“OK, let’s do it. But let’s save Lord & Taylor’s windows for another time.”
“Deal. And we’ve got Saks on the way, so we can take a look at their windows. It’s not like we’re moving so fast we’ll miss the details.”
“Ha! You’re being such a good girl I think you deserve a reward.”
Alex reached into her bag and surreptitiously handed Olivia a small silver flask.
“You’re not going to bust me for an open container, are you?”
Olivia put on a look of shocked indignation.
“What kind of ingrate do you think I am?”
She took a swig as discreetly as she could manage. Clutching Alex’s arm even closer, she whispered in her ear, “My heroine” which was punctuated with a brief kiss to Alex’s cheek.
“I think that’s my line.”
Crowd be damned, that earned Alex a full on kiss, if not a terribly protracted one. The grumbling masses were also treated to a brief and synchronized flipping of the birds as they started moving again. Alex took a quick nip of her own before putting the flask away.
The rejoined the slow shamble of the masses as they headed south on 5th Avenue with all the speed and grace of a chain gang. Although counterintuitive, even at that tortuously slow pace they couldn’t afford to pay too close attention to the flashing snowflakes that adorned the approaching exterior of Saks as bodies dodged constantly in front and around them. The closer they got, the more children there were in the mix, the hardest to see, the hardest to anticipate.
Excepting miniature dogs. The sudden, inexplicable appearance of a Chihuahua caused Alex to stop with one foot suspended in the air, the dog taking pride of place over her intended foot fall. Olivia helped her maintain her balance without causing harm to the small creature as Alex, inevitably, was jostled from behind. Olivia’s suggestion to the walker that it might be best to carry the dog given the circumstances was met by the walker’s suggestion that Olivia didn’t need to be so mean, which in turn caused Olivia’s jaw to drop. During this exchange Alex had found a spot to place her foot and the dog had been scared by the passing pedestrians first in one direction, than another, wrapping its leash not once, but twice around her ankles.
“Excuse me, but could you please control your dog? I can’t really move like this and I’m afraid I’ll crush him if I fall.”
Alex was also concerned that the terrified animal might bite her if she attempted to extricate herself. The owner knelt without a word to release Alex from her bondage and finally did pick up the dog to carry it away into the crowd in a huff. Olivia watched the figure disappear into the crowd, her mouth still agape. Alex held out her hand to coax her back to motion.
“Liv, you can shut your mouth now.”
“Can you believe that?”
“Sadly, yes, I can. Good lord, Olivia, you and I both deal with the dregs of society on a daily basis. What’s a little self entitled stupidity in comparison?”
“Of course. But how is expressing concern for the dog’s welfare mean? And you’d think if she was going to put frou-frou clothes on it, she’d at least make sure to keep that sad little rat on a string out of harm’s way.”
“Ha! I thought you liked dogs.”
“I do. Chihuahuas don’t count. Dogs are lovable, loyal creatures that would lay down their lives for you. I’ve never met a Chihuahua that wasn’t a snarling, barking, biting nightmare. And what’s all that shivering about? Why do people get them when they could have something sweet, a Shih Tzu or a Spaniel or something?”
Alex chuckled at Liv’s rant, recognizing the truth in it while enjoying her girlfriend’s outrage.
“I promise I will NEVER get a Chihuahua, OK Liv? Look, we finally got to Saks. Let’s enjoy the windows.”
Olivia took a breath.
“OK. You got any of that brandy left?”
Alex continued to chuckle softly. Olivia joined in, passed the flask back to Alex and wrapped her arms around her as they took in the automatons.
“Whoa, did Busby Berkeley design this?”
“Good question. So is ‘What do flying fish have to do with Christmas or even winter or anything?’”
“Beats me. Let’s cross the street and check out the tree.”
With clasped hands they stepped off the curb mid block and with close attention to the traffic sprinted to the other side of the avenue. Even with zig zagging around the vehicles, it was the fastest they’d moved the entire way. The brief interlude of normal motion was over before they could step up on the opposite sidewalk. It was just as crowded there as the other side had been, as crowded as the entire way had been. They sidled almost sideways offering their backs to the flow and shouldered their way to the Promenade into the heart of the Center.
They entered and then did their best to follow the disorganized current that headed to the interior plaza and avoid the opposing stream, but at last they were actually in Rockefeller Center and able to see the tree. They smiled, in part because of the sheer sense of achievement, but also at the gigantic splendor of the tree, the place, and the occasion. It was a little like Dorothy’s approach to the Emerald City, without the sleepy sedation. The metaphorical poppies, disguised as boughs of holly and pine, may have afforded some analgesia against the constant buffeting of bodies along with just a touch of euphoria. Somehow a series of incongruities were melded in this place to create a whole that could not exist outside this particular urban niche. The early evening sky was dark, yet this place was brilliantly lit. It was in the heart of one of the largest cities, a fully man made environment of stone, concrete, and aluminum, but was graced by a stupendously large and wholly organic conifer, albeit one bearing countless electric lights. The effect was magic.
The last 100 yards or so seemed to go more smoothly, whether because it was actually but improbably easier or just seemed so with a change of attitude. It took them to the edge of the overlook above the ice rink and they found a place by the wall where they could insinuate themselves to enjoy the show. It was a relief to have at least one side they need not protect and let a bit of their guard down. The flask returned briefly for a moment’s celebration and then they turned their attention to taking it all in. The rink was filled with skaters of differing skill. Regardless, they all seemed quite delighted to be there, even as the less skilled or more daring crashed to the ice. Prometheus, ever the friend to humanity, glowed brightly overseeing the event and was well positioned to see what had come from his gift. Parents lifted children to their shoulders so they could see, smiles plastered all around. Even the tourists, equally entranced, took on a more appealing aura. Olivia’s arm went over Alex’s shoulders, Alex’s went around Olivia’s waist and each pulled the other closer for a kiss.
“So, Liv, was it worth the struggle and stress?”
“Well that’s the eternal question living here, isn’t it? And there surely are times the stress can overwhelm; like when tourists invade. But yeah, it was. This is amazing. Being here with you makes it even better.”
That earned her another kiss, even if it had hadn’t been calculated to. She didn’t mind. They stood a little longer enjoying the sights, not so different than the tourists even if they would be loathe to admit it, and even began to enjoy the gentler buffeting from passers by. Better to bend like a reed and if that meant an inadvertent bump and/or grind against the body of their lover, better still. Their attention came to focus more fully on the other and less on the surroundings. Alex turned fully towards Olivia.
“Have you seen enough, love? I’m getting cold standing, here as wonderful as it is. But it’s funny. I’m feeling kind of warm as well.”
“Well, I think I’ve seen enough of this. We should go home and take in the sights there. Maybe even work on getting warmer still.”
Olivia did not need help from the crowd when she brought them closer and gave Alex a bit of a bump focused somewhat below the waist.
“I like the way your mind works, Liv. I’m a pretty big fan of the way your body works, too.”
They mentally mapped the various subway entrances nearby, settled on the nearest and rejoined the fray to make their way to it. With the prospect of the comforts of home before them somehow made the journey less of a trial than the trip to Rockefeller Center. They’d almost wended their way to the street when they spotted a tall young woman, a nanny they supposed, holding the hands of two children and speaking with a cop, which was just the sort of thing that would catch their attention. They had heard the woman asking the officer to please watch his language with so many children around. She’d been respectful, the officer’s retort was rather less so. Olivia looked at Alex and rolled her eyes. She pulled her badge out of her pocket, held it next to her face and tapped the cop on the shoulder. He turned to her with an irritated expression that largely evaporated when he saw the badge. Olivia gave him her most shit eating grin.
“Hey, Blue Boy! Happy holidays! You just never know when Santa’s listening. And in a crowd like this you just never know who else might be listening, too.”
Alex had produced her official ID with an equally effusive smile. The cop’s demeanor suddenly seemed less belligerent.
“Look, my brother,” Olivia continued more seriously, putting the badge away, “no one wants to report you. And believe me, I get how irritating this can be, but you need some perspective. This here? Compared to what else might be asked of you while in uniform, this is cake. I know AND use all those words, I’m not offended by the words. But what we just witnessed was you dishonoring the uniform. She was absolutely right. There’s no reason for you to make this worse for the crowd or yourself. Remember that ‘Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect’ thing? Try it.”
The officer by now looked quite abashed.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“Tell you what. Take a chill pill, stop calling me ‘ma’am’ and we’ll let it go. Just be nice, it’s the holidays.”
“Yes, ma-. Uh, yeah, I will. Thanks.”
As they started to move away Alex offered her own “Happy Holidays” to the officer over her shoulder.
“Well done, Olivia.” Alex told her while she wrapped her arm around her waist as they at last reached the sidewalk adjoining the Center. Olivia shot her a crooked grin.
“Yeah, well, I serve and protect.”
“Oh, don’t I know it. I count on it. Now I’ve had you protect me this evening. I expect the service once we get home.”
“Heh. That can be arranged, my dear. I am at your service once we are behind closed doors.”
They jogged down the stairs to the subway platform, and with it still being fairly early, they didn’t have to wait long for a train, which also meant it was almost as crowded as the scene above ground. They were only going a couple of stops before they would need to transfer, so they happily settled for a spot by the pole, happy now with the crowd that kept them close. They didn’t mind the swaying and the bumps, either, as the vibrations really were quite pleasant.
When they transferred Olivia spied an empty seat and promptly plopped herself down in it, grinning as she pulled Alex into her lap and held her close.
“So little girl, what do you want for Christmas?”
“I know what a lucky girl I am. I only want more of what I have because I already have the very best. I mean it, Liv. We’ve both traveled a long and sometimes arduous path to get here, but we’ve made it and I couldn’t be happier. So what I want is simply to be with you and have you in my life forever.”
Olivia blinked and swallowed at the serious yet joyous turn in the conversation.
“God, Alex. That’s exactly what I want, too.”
Aware that what was passing between them was too private for the captive audience in the subway car, Alex quickly brushed her lips against Olivia’s.
“There’s a pleasing symmetry in that. I think it bodes well. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. It’s the best boding than I’ve ever had in my life. Bodacious, even.”
They shared a smile that had a humorous veneer, but below the surface was warmth and depth and desire. For the remainder of the ride Alex whispered in Liv’s ear her list of desires for when they got home. They were simultaneously naughty and nice and Liv intended on fulfilling each and every one.