After several lively numbers, Eddie Ramirez left the dance floor and came over to our table.
Glistening with sweat, he said, “Frankie, qué pasa?” He leaned over me to grab Frankie’s hand and kiss her on the cheek. “Excuse me for leaning over you, mami,” he then said to me.
“Eddie, this is my good friend, Genie. Genie, this is Eddie Ramirez.”
Eddie took my hand next. He said hello, looking right into my eyes. Then he kissed my cheek.
Up close, he was a magnificent specimen. Eddie Ramirez was tall, lean, and muscular. He had an exquisite face; smooth brown skin, high cheekbones, a perfect jaw line, and a bright smile highlighted by that Latino trademark, an impeccably trimmed mustache. His brown eyes danced with life. And he was dressed immaculately, too, in a pair of perfectly pleated black trousers, a silver-gray Italian silk shirt that was now damp with sweat. It was open at the neck to reveal two shiny gold chains. He had a tiny glint of a diamond in his left ear. He shouted over the music at Frankie, “Pablo sounds great tonight, doesn’t he, mami?”
She beamed with pride. “He sure does,” she shouted back. “He’s fantastic. I almost prefer this to the conga stuff.”
“I don’t know; I like them both.”
Pablo was talking to the crowd now in Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying, but the crowd got very enthusiastic. Eddie reached for my hand and said, “Come on,” as Pablo began half-singing, half-speaking a soulful introduction to a Spanish song that seemed to ignite his audience.
I wanted to sink deep into my chair. I was a barely capable dancer. And I’d never danced Salsa in my life. “I can’t dance,” I protested.
“With me, mami, you can dance. Come on.”
He pulled me up from my seat and before I knew it I was following him onto the packed floor, my heart racing. I would be conspicuous as not only a bad dancer dancing with a man who was the best dancer in the place, but I was totally white impinging on their Latino space.
Eddie dropped an arm around my waist and his hand pressed firmly, intimately, at the small of my back. He pushed my body close to his and, holding my hand tight, he raised my arm up and out, in perfect form. My breasts were pressed against his chest. The heat of his body felt inviting next to mine, even in that suffocating room, and every well developed muscle in his chest, in his arms, felt indisputably masculine. He was wearing intoxicating cologne, too; a scent I’d never smelled before. It was musky, sensual, captivating. It went right to my head just as the song Pablo was singing became almost viscerally familiar to my ears. It was an old song, “Perfidia,” only in Spanish now, with its sexy, haunting, hypnotizing mambo rhythm drawn out slow.
Within a heartbeat, I was actually dancing, protected from any false steps by Eddie Ramirez’s capable lead and the close security of his arms. We were completely engulfed in a compact sea of other slowly mamboing couples, with no place to move, really, except closer to each other. I felt breathless, I was actually dancing and yet the suggestive mambo rhythm, its back beat hooking into our hips and bringing our pelvises ever closer together, melting our bodies into each other like butter, made it feel less like dancing and more like some kind of ethereal sexual intercourse. My head was swimming.
All around us, the couples seemed to be responding to each other in the same way, like we were all part of the music, integral to the rhythm of the song and to the aching, swelling sound of Pablo’s enchanting vocal. I wondered dreamily if this was the true Latino heat one always heard about. The intensity of the sensual wave suffusing the room was inescapable. I looked up into Eddie’s face only to discover him looking down into mine. His lips didn’t smile but his eyes did; they shown like liquid coals, black and mysterious and so obviously capable of igniting with fire.
He spoke to me softly. “Are you married, mami?”
“No,” I said, surprised that my voice had found a way out of me, my throat was so constricted with awe by the closeness of his beauty.
A satisfied look settled over his face then. The firm hand at the small of my back pushed my body even closer to his.
He didn’t speak again. Those eyes just kept staring into mine. Even while I felt him growing increasingly hard, until his erection was planted right up against my mound, he didn’t speak. He simply graced my eyes with the extraordinarily beautiful sight of him.
The brass section, the lonely call of those aching horns, swelled into the exquisite pleas of Pablo’s song and the heartbreaking urgency of its crescendo made love to my ears. I so wanted to kiss this man who was holding me, burning into me, but I was steeped in a trance, in over my head. I couldn’t make that kind of bold move. Thankfully, Eddie read my mind. He leaned down and kissed my mouth sensuously, his body never missing a beat of the music.
When “Perfidia” ended, before the crowd could even applaud, Pablo soared into “Bésame Mucho” and it felt like the dance floor collectively sighed and eased ever closer to some sort of mutual orgasm of dance. It was thrilling, this chance to keep dancing with Eddie, to stay locked in his embrace since I’d already seen that he preferred a new partner with the advent of each new song. I silently thanked Pablo for this gift. I felt this was mostly Pablo’s doing, that he’d mesmerized us all with the captivating sound of his exquisite singing.
After the final notes of “Bésame Mucho” the band took a break and left the stage. It was an ingenious idea, leaving us all in that romantic grip. A lusty euphoria pervaded the room. Eddie didn’t let go of me. I felt fused to him from the hips down, his erection seeming to be part of me now. “I don’t usually hold women so closely. Forgive me.”
“It’s all right,” I said.
“It seemed all right, you know?” His smoldering eyes stayed locked on mine. I felt like I’d fallen head first into them; like into a dream. I didn’t want him to let me go. “Should I get you something to drink?” he asked.
I said, “No.”
“I suppose we should go sit down?”
I agreed reluctantly. “I suppose so.”
Holding my hand, he led me back to the table reserved for the musicians. There were six people sitting there now, in addition to Frankie.
Eddie sat in the chair next to mine. Frankie said, “Wasn’t Pablo amazing? That was just so beautiful, wasn’t it?”
I didn’t answer. I vaguely nodded my head. Eddie was still holding my hand. He said to me, “Where do you live?”
I said, “On Second Avenue and 10th Street. Where do you live?”
“Not too far from here. A little closer to the river. What was your name again?”
“Genie,” he repeated. “Like the magic girl in the bottle?”
“Not usually, but right now, yeah, like the magic girl in the bottle.”
“And you’re not married?”
“No. Are you?”
“I was once, but not anymore. I have a kid though, but he lives with his mother.”
Frankie excused herself and left the table in search of Pablo, her tiny beaded handbag in tow. The others at the table, who all seemed to know Eddie very well, were involved in their own animated conversations. Perhaps it was obvious to everyone that we were in a world of our own. Eddie said to me, “I’m glad I came out tonight. I wasn’t going to. I was feeling so fed up with everything – tired, you know? But now I’m glad I changed my mind.”
I almost didn’t believe my ears. I didn’t reply, fearing that perhaps it wasn’t really me that he was glad he’d come out for, but rather the overall experience.
He said, “What do you do?”
I said, “I work in a store. Clothes, that kind of thing. In Chelsea.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that. You remind me more of like, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, you know? I’m a plumber – commercial stuff, mostly.”
“Really? A plumber?”
“That’s right.” He put his hand gently behind my neck and drew my face close to his. He said softly, “If you ever need your pipes snaked, mami, just call. I promise not to disappoint you. I’m pretty good with my tools.” Then he kissed me on the forehead.
His tender lips felt sublime on my skin. Was this really happening; was this magnificent creature of masculine delight actually flirting with me? I was too overcome with my own desire for him to flirt back. I’d turned to the proverbial putty. All I could do was stare longingly at him, smiling a sort of doubting, stupid smile.
He said, “So, Genie, what brought you to the Sidecar Lounge tonight? I’ve never seen you here on Salsa night before.”
“I came with Frankie. She wanted me to hear Pablo.”
“I’m so happy for that. Listen,” he said. But then he didn’t finish.
“What?” I said.
“It’s just that you’re so pretty, you know? I’m having trouble thinking straight.”
Spellbound, I said nothing. But my desire to be kissed again must have been all over my face, because he leaned close again and kissed me right on the mouth, his mouth opening, mine opening, our tongues meeting. At the moment our lips touched, passion sparked through my bones so fiercely that I felt like Larry from the Coney Island Freak Show, shooting off to the moon in that crazy electric chair.
Damn. Taddeo Fischetti, all 350 pounds of him, popped up in the back of my brain. I’d promised to meet him outside the lounge at two o’clock. I couldn’t blow him off. That wouldn’t be right. Not only was it rude, it seemed foolhardy to simply blow off a date with a mob guy, especially when he was going out of his way to come get me.
“What time is it?” I hated to ask Eddie that, I hated to break the spell but I needed to know.
He looked at his watch. “One thirty. Why? You have to be somewhere at this hour?”
“Well,” I fudged, “my ride is coming for me at two.”
“You’re not married, are you, mami? Be straight. Don’t play me.”
“No, no. I’m not married. It’s just that someone offered to pick me up at two, so I have to leave at two.”
Eddie looked doubtful, but he acquiesced. “I have to see you again, mami – a cup of coffee, a slice of pizza, anything. When can I see you? Let me give you my pager number, okay? You’ll page me?”
“Of course,” I said eagerly. “Sure I will.”
He made a distracted attempt to find a piece of paper or even a pen and then seemed to be overcome by his need to kiss me again. He kissed me with such passion I fell into a heightened erotic swoon right there in my chair. Until his hands were on my thighs, I didn’t even realize my legs had parted rather immodestly. “Don’t, mami,” he said, pushing my legs together. “Don’t sit like that, not here; it’s going to make me too crazy.”
His touch was gentle, still it seared through me and made me want to kiss some more. I was beginning to think it was a good thing I had to meet up with Taddeo; otherwise I would wind up in bed with Eddie Ramirez before the night was through. I knew it. And I didn’t want this feeling to crackle and burn, to fizzle out all in one sordid tumble. I wanted to see Eddie again, even for a cup of coffee. I imagined it would be the most erotic cup of coffee a girl could come by in this short, inexplicable life.
“Mira,” he said. “You wait here, mami. I’ll be right back.”