ARMAND PART II
In PART One We left Samantha outside the Disco with Armand.
Samantha paused at their table, but Caroline was not there. Armand followed her and giggled like a girl when he pulled her to him, his black eyes intense, “Don’t go anywhere!”
“I have to go home,” she said.
Armand followed her toward the lounge where Caroline was sitting at the bar conversing with her young man.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” he offered.
“It’s my sister’s car.”
Armand shook his head, “You’re a tough cookie” he laughed taking her arm.
Samantha spoke to Caroline, “I’ll meet you at the car in a few minutes.”
The sisters had a pact and stuck to it.
She turned toward Armand expecting him to walk her out to Caroline’s car.
Instead, he took hold of her hand, “Maybe I could drive you home?”
“Nope. I left my car at my sister’s in the valley.”
“Oh! he said gleefully, that’s perfect! I live in West Lake.”
“That’s a surprise, she smiled, I live in T.O.”
“Ah, well then Samantha I’m bored with hearing no. I will say goodnight then.” He lifted her hand and kissed the back of it, his black eyes searching hers…”It would be such a gift to us both, don’t you think? We must see each other again if only because we are perfect dance partners. Don’t you agree? You are the loveliest dancer I’ve had the pleasure of meeting! Please give me a number where I can reach you since we are neighbors,” he pleaded.
Samantha stalled a little and breathed an impatient sigh. She liked him for reasons she was not sure of, and he had a point. She was not willing to reveal how lucky she felt just to have met him on the dance floor. Was it that big a risk considering she was still aching for Jacques? She pulled away because their conversation had become awkward with ears overhearing their obvious struggle. Armand grew emotional because of her hesitations, clinging to her hand, he tugged and she allowed him to drag her out the front door and around a corner of the building, into the shadows.
She leaned back against the brick wall and rested her head against it, “What are you up to now Armand?”
He ran his warm hand from her knee to the top of her thigh. “You have the best legs for dancing. I mean that.”
His eyes were playful, and she relaxed because the air felt good after the cloying heat in the club. She lifted her chin and sent him a flash of green eyes. He was right, and she trusted that he was not a bad guy.
She reached up and touched a lock of his startling black hair, “I give you credit for your persistence.”
Even his eyes smiled now, “Take me home with you Samantha, I promise I’ll be good.”
She shook her head, “Oh Armand, I don’t live alone. We can’t go there!”
His voice was full of earnestness, “You will come home with me then,” he squeaked, because I live alone.”
He grinned showing his glittering white teeth, but fear crossed his face, “Please, don’t say no.”
“This is not a game Armand.”
At that, he frowned and pouted again.
“OH! He declared, I have a home in Santa Paula. I had it built on speculation, but haven’t sold it yet. It’s much closer to the valley. If you aren’t expected home tonight perhaps you will stop and at least have a drink with me?”
She took a deep breath, “All right Armand, my roommate won’t miss me. I’ll meet you at my sister’s house and follow you to your house in Santa Paula for just one drink.”
He was full of glee. She thought it unfathomable how she enjoyed pleasing him.
Caroline came around the corner and unlocked her car. “Are you coming?”
Armand walked her over and put Sam in the front seat. He gave Sam a peck on the cheek and winked, “I’ll see you in a few.”
“Caroline, he’s following us to your house, so don’t lose him, okay?”
Carolines’ eyes lit up, “It’s about time you met someone, and I like him!”
“Caroline, I’m being too impetuous, aren’t I?”
Just then a brand new Porsche 911 glided up beside Caroline’s vehicle with Armand grinning from behind the wheel. The sisters looked at each other and laughed.
Armand pulled up to the curb in front of Caroline’s home and walked up the driveway to fetch Samantha.
“The Santa Rosa road is all country, and it’s dark at night. If you don’t want to do this, I’ll understand.”
“Thank you, Armand, that is very kind, but since we’re here if I stay real close will It be safe?”
“It’s not that far, just dark. I’ll drive slowly. It’ll be okay,” he stammered, gritting his teeth. Just realized I was putting too much pressure on you. It’s okay if you change your mind, but I hope you come. I promise I’ll behave,” he offered.
“I’ve got your license plate number memorized,” Caroline teased. But what if you leave your car here Samantha? That way I can keep tabs on you. You don’t have to come back tonight… just sayin’.”
Sam flushed, “Okay sister, give me a hug.”
“See you manana,” Sam said holding on to Carolines’s fingers.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday Sam, my day off, I’ll be here… now go!”
He opened the door, Sam slid into his Porsche, and they flew up the canyon to Armand’s Santa Paula estate.
Armand was right it was a very dark country road. Sam wasn’t able to see much, but she’d driven this road before, a scenic area with avocado orchards. She felt fear and exhilaration at the same time. When had she become so worrisome? Or so brave?
Armand pulled up a steep driveway. The automatic garage door opened into an immaculate space. He came around escorted her through a door that entered a modern kitchen. It was all brand new, a spacious open concept with glass walls and a huge flagstone fireplace. There wasn’t a stick of furniture in the living area, but three stainless bar-stools stood in front of a massive marble kitchen island. Such luxury awed Samantha, thinking of the awful cramped apartment she shared with Ginger.
Armand moved to the fireplace, bent to light it, and turned to her. There was a stereo sitting on top of the stone mantle. He hesitated a moment, then slid a record out of the sleeve, and placed it on the turntable. He strolled back to the kitchen. Samantha watched him retrieve two wine glasses from the cupboard while she perched on a bar stool. He pulled a bottle of red wine from a rack, opened it and poured, then handed a glass to Sam and showed his teeth like a well-pleased child.
He jumped up, “Oh! let me show you where the bathroom is.”
She rose and followed him down a dark hall. He switched on the light.
“Thanks,” she said.
Walking back to the living room they passed an open door to a boring bedroom with nothing but a king-sized bed under a curtainless window.
She perched on the bar stool again having no other choice of seating. He seemed nervous, perhaps embarrassment when he ran down the hall again and returned with a pile of blankets and pillows. He got on his knees and spread the blankets on the carpet in front of the hearth, then stood and turned to her, picked up the pillows and threw them over his head, making a sheepish face.
She laughed to ease his awkwardness, came to him and allowed him to make her comfortable sitting on the blanket with her wine on the hearth. He stood and replaced the record on the turntable. He cocked his head and smiled, “Bob Seger.”
“Against the Wind” was playing to a soft moon dancing against a black sky outside the massive glass-walled window. The song moved her to stand and take her handbag to the bathroom.
“I’ll be right back,” she smiled as she strutted down the hall.
The black wig startled her. It looked like a black cat sitting on her head. The thing was itching anyway, so she started pinching the pins out of it and stuffed it into her bag. She enjoyed the relief of being able to brush her own long red hair. She washed her face and freshened her body with a fragrant soap next to the sink. When she raised her head, she noticed Armand’s shirt in the mirror hanging on the back of the door and removed her skirt and shoes. What the hell, she thought and stepped out of the leotard too. She was barefoot when she strolled out wearing Armand’s soft white T-shirt.
It stunned Armand when he saw Samantha returning to him like an incomprehensible vision.
She hadn’t meant to startle him. “Oh! Sorry, I’m not the raven-haired woman you met tonight. A challenge between myself and Caroline. She dared me to wear the wig and see if we looked like twins. She shook her head, silly, really.”
Armand wasn’t sorry. It hypnotized him. But still, she made a crooked face raising her hand to her mouth, and repeated, “Sorry” as she stepped onto the blanket, collapsed down cross-legged, and picked up her wine.
Her hair fell around her face when she set her glass down and without a word, Armand leaned forward to remove a wisp of hair from her lips studying this new apparition before him. She was the one giggling now. They sipped their wine listening to “Night Moves.” Armand turned his head studying Samantha’s scrubbed face as if she were a revelation.
He pointed to her cheek, “What is this?”
She had a small dark beauty mark high on her cheek under her left eye. He kissed it and stared at her in wonderment.
“We’ve Got Tonight” was playing and everything in Sam’s life felt surprising, clear and promising. She knew somehow that song would follow her and echo in her heart for the rest of her life. A memory passed through her head, of Jacques’ dark eyes, his flowing black hair that hung to his knees when they danced. But it was before he went back to Paris, home to his wife in Paris.
Armand stood, “I’ll be right back.”
When he returned he was fresh, barefoot, and wearing sweatpants with a white T-shirt. The contrast with his shaggy black hair and mustache was singularly graphic in Samantha’s eyes.
“What?” he said as he lay his dark head back.
“You are entirely too handsome,” she smiled and relaxed with a sigh.
They remained silent lying there viewing the stars and the huge glorious night sky out the large plate windows. The moon had disappeared behind the canyon walls.
She yawned. It must have been late because she could no longer keep her eyes open.
Armand got up and turned off the music, then came back, lying on his back, looking out at the sky again he asked, “What is your full name?”
“Well, Johnson, welcome to my home.”
They both fell asleep in the fire.
In the morning light, Samantha felt kisses on the back of her neck. She opened her eyes to view Armand standing over her in running shorts. She breathed in the sweet scent of coffee brewing.
Armand announced, “Johnson! I run every morning, come on, run with me!”
She blinked and sat up, “Okay.”
He had a pair of baggy shorts for her, but she had no running shoes.
Armand gave up and said, “We’ll go get you some clothes at your apartment, and we’ll run later, Okay Johnson?”
She smiled. And he collapsed on top of her doing push-ups over her body. Samantha was laughing because his arms were strong and well developed.
But his erection awakened and poked at her with each push-up.
Armand giggled with each thrust of his muscled arms. It tempted Sam to reach out and feel his hardness through his shorts but she resisted.
“Mm mmm Johnson, what are you doing to me?”
His cute accent was too adorable, and she didn’t know what to say.
She yawned, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what is that accent?”
“Oh, he said, my family name. It is Italian Somali, on the far East coast of Africa, but I wasn’t born there, and my mother’s Sicilian.”
She raised her eyebrows, “Exotic.”
He got on his knees and straddled her torso, just grazing her belly with his sex.
Samantha squirmed, “Armand!”
“Yeah, Johnson, what do you want?”
He giggled again. She gave him a sinister look and struggled feeling frantic.
When he released her she sat up, breathing hard. He was laughing at her!
She turned on her hands and knees to get off the floor, but he grabbed her hips and held her tight. He touched between her legs with his fingers, just enough to make her want him. All Sam could think of was Enough with the teasing!
But no, he wanted to play games. Thinking of how he’d teased her last night at the club, she began to understand his method. Recalling his smoothness on the dance floor she sensed he was a great lover.
The playtime pleased her and she was glad he had not attempted to screw her even with her provoking invitation. Willing to explore the unique possibilities he presented he helped her forget Jacques. But, she reasoned, I have already gone too far with Armand. I need to protect my heart.
Armand sensed her hesitancy and stopped the play. He moved up to her face to face, looked in her eyes and pointed to her beauty mark, then declared, “This spot belongs to ME now, understand Johnson?”
She nodded, and Armand laughed as he relaxed somewhat and marched to the kitchen to pour the coffee.
He gave her a tour of the large house inside and out. The house sat on a ridge overlooking a canyon on one side, with a view of the avocado orchards on the other.
“I bought the property for speculation and had it built. I like it so much I will live in here until she sells.”
“Why don’t you just keep it since you like so much?”
“This is my business… buying property, building homes, and selling for profit.”
He gave her a peck on the cheek when he dropped her at Caroline’s. “I’ve some maintenance to take care of at the island house, why don’t you meet me there after you pick up what you need?”
“I’ll drive to my apartment in T.O. and change clothes… after, should I come to Westlake?
“Sure” he smiled. “You’ll drive to the gatehouse, okay?”
Sam had been on the island before and nodded.
“They must call me from the gate when you arrive. Say Armand Mogadishu when the guard asks.”
She drove to her noisy apartment where her roommate’s boys were watching TV and throwing a ball in the living room.
Ginger made a comment, “Look who didn’t come home last night.”
It was pretty obvious since Sam was wearing the same clothes. None of her business she thought, grabbing a small suitcase from the closet, and stuffing her cosmetics and her workout shoes and shorts in it.
She showered, recalling scene’s from last night’s disco, meeting Armand and sleeping with him on the floor of his home. We’ve got tonight played through her mind, the romance of it all overwhelming her memory when she thought of Armand’s first kiss and felt the rush of a deep ache of desire replacing her ache of missing Jacques. She reminded herself it was only Saturday and she wouldn’t be due back at her job until Monday. She thrilled at the thought of spending another night in Santa Paula with Armand.
This apartment only reminded her of the loss of her children. She had to rinse tears from sore eyes and remain positive. Armand said she should plan on driving her car back up to the Santa Paula house where they would go for a run and he’d promised to cook dinner too.
But he’d also wanted her to come to his real home in Westlake. It all seemed like too much at once, and she reminded herself that she was up to ridding herself of that constant boring depression. This is the distraction she’d longed for.
She drove through the guard gate and arrived in front of Armand’s house. Armand walked out to meet her at the curb. “Johnson.” he smiled.
His house backed up to the lake. It had a boat launch she could see from the front curb. This differed greatly from the Santa Paula estate, less remote considering the wildness of the canyon where homes were tucked in built to feel the remoteness of wilderness life. She stepped into the lake house with a cloistered feeling of intimacy. It was compact and cool and dark instead of wild and bright. She spun around noting his personal possessions and collections, a bookcase she was dying to peruse, a fish tank, photos of his children, even his ex-wife’s photo with the children; Armand’s family in Somalia.
He led her up the dark twisting stairway to his personal bedroom suite where she spied his closet full of expensive suits and Italian shoes. The brightest room in the house with French doors that opened out to a veranda with a view of the lake, gauze curtains billowing under the breeze. This is where he sleeps she thought as she stared into his bright tiled bathroom…and where he bathes.
A different Armand, she didn’t know him at all and hesitated to intrude in his personal space. He had mentioned inviting her children to a picnic next Sunday, and she wondered if he would invite his son and daughter too.
“My son is still too young, but perhaps my daughter would like to meet your boy and girl one day.”
For such an intimate home, it was lacking in in lightness and joy. Perhaps, she thought, bringing the children would liven the up the place.
“Let’s get out of here, I need to pick up some groceries, and then we can go for that run!”
Sam hadn’t imagined him so glum. It must be this house.
“I’ll see you in Santa Paula… what time?”
He hadn’t touched her. He looked at his watch. “It’s still early, let’s say before supper when the sun is setting, my favorite time of day in the canyon. I’ll be up there by four-ish. I’ll leave the garage door open, so just come in the kitchen door.”
He didn’t follow her to her Chevy, but she forgave him because who wouldn’t be depressed in that dark museum? But then she laughed as she drove away thinking how much worse it can be. She could never, ever invite him to her apartment. How had her own divorce turned into such a horrific mess? She thought about how even people with money could live lonely dark lives.
She drove to Caroline’s to lighten her spirits. Samantha needed to talk about her incredible evening with Armand. Her sister knew how to give her cheerleader treatment.
Sam showed up at the canyon house all revived wearing her workout shorts and a tank top with tennis shoes and a bottle of wine from Caroline’s collection.
Armand was listening to a Bee Gees album. When she walked in “How Deep Is Your Love” was playing. He had removed the blankets from the living room.
He ran to her all full of energy, “Johnson!” he commanded. “Ready for a run, Johnson? Let’s go!”
His mighty thighs were sturdy as tree trunks. His magnificent physique resulted from his endless energy. She wondered how old he was. Older than me and very fit.
He opened the door to the garage, trotted out and began to run up the street in front of the house. She followed as close as she could.
“How often do you do this?” she panted.
“I run five miles every day” he answered as he trotted along ahead of her.
Sam did not understand if she could or even wanted to, but she was up to trying it. She was good for short bursts, even held the record for 50-yard dash in high school and was in good shape from dancing and playing tennis, but she couldn’t keep up with Armand.
Samantha ran about 2.5 miles before giving out. When he made his turn to run back up the hill, he said, “Johnson, get on my back!” He carried her uphill to the house!
She wondered at the difference in his mood since she’d left him at the lake house earlier.
Samantha opened the wine and Armand made her stay put at the counter while he prepped a caesar salad. Oh, how she admired a man comfortable in the kitchen! His energy level spiked while they talked and learned more about each other. It surprised her that he made his usual living not just as a real estate entrepreneur, but as a tech for a medical company selling radiological diagnostic equipment to hospitals.
She watched how he removed all the outer leaves of romaine, leaving only the tender hearts for the salad. He was grilling swordfish, with a side of risotto.
She commented, “I’m impressed you can make risotto.”
He grinned, “Good.”
Armand opened a bottle of delicious oaky chardonnay. Her favorite. She set the red aside and sipped the white.
While He cooked Sam set dishes for them on the bar where they would eat since there was no dining table or chairs.
Donna Summer’s Once Upon a Time album was playing on the stereo.
Armand didn’t put his hands on her in the kitchen. He hadn’t kissed her or made any overtures. But he was funny, entertaining her with his gastronomic talents. She discovered he was into healthy fare, great wine, and good music. Plus a man who can dance goes a long way in Samantha’s eyes.
When he mentioned looking forward to meeting her children next Sunday, he rated a big ten on her scale. He turned to look at her smiling, “We’ll take a boat ride on the lake.” He knew this pleased her.
“Tell me about your job,” he said.
She knew that the following Monday she would have to work at the department store. “At least I’m still working in a field I’m familiar with,” she sighed. “My ex was granted custody of our children because his new wife is a stay-at-home mom.”
She bowed her head. Samantha began to weep. “I quit my exquisite job as a stylist in Los Angeles to move closer to them.”
“You had to?”
“No, I guess not. But it’s a long drive from L.A. to T.O. and I couldn’t imagine not going to the functions at their new school… It wasn’t possible that I couldn’t be involved in their lives. I mean, I’d had full custody! They’re used to me being their mom, and my daughter cries all the time because they try to make her call that bitch mommy.” Sam broke down. “Sorry, I had this great life, and they pulled the rug out from under me. That’s all.”
Armand came around the kitchen island and pulled her to him. Armand was livid. “That’s all, huh? That’s everything!” It’s hard being apart from my family too, but It’s unthinkable that I would take them from my ex-wife… unthinkable!… And Cruel!”
“Thank you, Armand. I’m living, at with a friend and her children in an apartment in T.O. temporarily. I accepted the position in the Cosmetics department at Macys’ while I pull myself together enough to start my freelance business again. The only thing that takes my mind off it is dancing, and meeting you, Armand,” she smiled.
He held her against his chest until she was about to burst.
“I have made some friends Armand and somewhat enjoy the job. At least I’m still working in my profession. I know my business.”
“Ah baby, baby. It will all be okay.” He assured her.
Armand stopped by the department store on Monday. He introduced himself to the ladies and found Samantha behind the perfume counter. “I just wanted to set a time for Sunday. A picnic at noon okay with you?”
Sam noticed all the girls buzzing and watching him. Armand took the clue, and reached for her hand, he kissed the back of it and then invited her to come on Friday to the canyon house, he said, “To celebrate our first week anniversary. He whispered, Be prepared to spend the night.” He giggled, let go of her hand and walked out. The women applauded.
“Not bad for a Monday,” she said.