Empire State of Mind

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When she finally settled into her seat on the airplane a current of complete exhaustion swept over Quinn, and she drifted wordlessly in and out of sleep for the duration of the flight from Prague to New York. Daniel nudged her when their flight arrived, and she woke startled. Even when they were off of the plane and waiting at the baggage claim, she found herself unable to shake the sensation that a far greater amount of time had lapsed while she was asleep, then it had actually taken to fly from Prague to New York.

Ali was visibly relieved to be back in the states, having panicked before their last flight left the ground that their little team would somehow end up mired in bureaucratic inquiries over the unfortunate performance Daniel and Quinn witnessed at the Clementinum. It was a cool and overcast evening in New York; drizzle dotting the windows of the van that taxied them to the boutique hotel Ali had booked just west of the Empire State Building.
The hotel lobby doubled as a bar lounge, the walls a neutral olive that blended seamlessly with coppered chrome molding.

Mirrored pillars reflected dim dots of light in the dark ceiling, and a huge chandelier of translucent silver balls hung over sleek black leather armchairs. A purple velvet curtain hung behind the long concierge desk, the counter of which was constructed from the mirrored chrome that paneled the wall behind the bar. At each end of the desk stood identical lamps. Both base and shades were constructed of opalesque porcelain that gave the lamps the look of two miniature glowing moons, carved into the shape of lamps.

When they finished checking in and received their room codes, Quinn turned to Daniel. "I think I'll go for a walk after I put my bags up in my room."

"I'll go with you. When will you be ready?" He asked.

Quinn tilted her head to one side, thinking. "Let's meet in half an hour, back here."

Daniel nodded, blinking slowly. He had not slept much on their flight from Prague.

The guest rooms in the hotel were much brighter than the lobby. The walls in Quinn's room were eggshell white, with pale yellow trim that gave the room an airy, spacious feel. On the nightstand beside the bed, a single yellow rose stood in a milk glass bud vase. Quinn wondered vaguely if all of the roses in all of the rooms were yellow, as she searched the mini bar in her room for bottled water.

Daniel was waiting in the hotel lobby when she came down, and winking, he handed her a lilac rose. "I thought you might like this, it was in my room."

Quinn tucked it in the front pocket of her small cross body bag. "Thank you. I would have offered you the yellow one beside my bed, had I known you were going to give me yours." Quinn said, in a teasing voice.

Daniel shrugged, "I've never gone in much for flowers, I prefer to let the ladies have them."

They walked out onto the street, where the noise of a million messy lives clamored, and the faint smell of sweat was somehow always discernable from the combined odor of sewer vents, exhaust pipes, and food stalls.

"New York City is not as neatly packaged as Tokyo, though they are similar in terms of size." Daniel said, the tiredness around his eyes increasing.

Quinn looked up at the skyline. The rain had cleared, but the air was still heavy and damp. A few blocks up, the tower of the Empire State Building shone against a backdrop of roiling fog, the sky a smoky, purplish hue. The tower lights burned bright white, a shining crown reflected in the myriad drops of moisture that made up the fog forming a halo around the tower. The lights along the street formed glowing orbs in the dark and fog, and Quinn's eyes shone also.

"It's so exquisitely dirty. I feel right at home." She said, laughing as she looked back at Daniel. "Do you think we could go up to the top of the Empire State Building tonight?" She asked him.

"We can give it our best shot." He said, raising an eyebrow in the tower's direction.

After hours of waiting in a line that made the building's Art Deco interior feel like it framed a labyrinth, they reached the tower elevator, and took it to the eighty-sixth floor observation deck. The city stretched out beneath them like a circuit board of incomprehensible proportions, innumerable lights marking the millions of lives contained in the hive that was New York City.

A metal lattice screen fenced in the observation deck. Quinn walked over to the edge, and winding her fingers through the enclosure, pressed her face against the cold, damp metal. The wind was cool and wet, leaving two blush spots where it whipped against her cheeks. She felt Daniel's hand, warm against her lower back, where he slid it just under her shirt along the rim of her pants.

"I had a really strange dream on the airplane while I was sleeping." Quinn said, looking down on the city lights.

Daniel moved closer to where she stood. "What did you dream about?"

"I dreamt it was winter, and I was at home. I woke up, and let the dog out in the front yard to use the bathroom. It was early in the morning, and the ground was white with frost. It was the kind of cold that chills to the bone, and the tree branches were covered in ice. I could see Alvin's breath in little puffs of smoke on the air. Across the street, my neighbor came out of his house in his bathrobe and pajamas to get the paper out of his yard. His breath hung in big clouds around his head, and I noticed that he was distracted as he picked up his paper by something he had seen looking up at the sky. Curious, I walked off of my porch and into my yard.

As I walked across the grass, I was surprised by how warm and soft it felt against my bare feet. Looking down, it occurred to me that it was strange I had walked outside barefoot in the bitter cold. Even stranger, was that the ground was warm and soft against my bare skin. That's when I noticed I had never been cold since walking outdoors, though it was clearly freezing outside, and I was the only one whose breath had not turned to fog on the air. When I followed where my neighbor was looking, up at the sky, I saw that it was almost an electric blue. It was far too bright for that time of morning, or for any time. That was when it all made sense. I could not see my breath on the air because I wasn't breathing. My neighbor had noticed a change in the sky, but the bright light was for me, because I had died. I remember thinking in the dream that it was such a waste to have been afraid of dying, because it felt like the most natural thing in the world to be dead. That was the dream I was having when you woke me up."

"I'm glad I woke you." Daniel said, pressing his forehead against hers.

Quinn looked away. "I just wish I could hold onto that sense I had in the dream, of being so at peace with everything."

Daniel looked at her, unsure of whether the beads along her lashes were from the wetness in the air, or from her eyes. "I would kill to have a picture of you, the way you look right here, tonight." Daniel said, his voice heavy with longing.

Quinn turned to face him, her fingers still entwined in the metal enclosure. He kept his hand against her skin, his thumb brushing across her stomach as she turned.

Her lower lip forming just a hint of a pout, she replied, "But in the picture it would look like I'm in a cage."

Daniel leaned in, as though to whisper something, but all she felt was the warm flutter of his breath against her ear. Straightening, he turned away, grasping her hand in the same motion.

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