Skip grasps Lily’s elbow and hauls her to her feet. He’s wearing her favourite tie and carries a cardboard box, a small, square white one about the size of a pair of stacked telephone books, bound with twine.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see. I’m glad you’re wearing your heels today. They’re perfect!”
Lily looks down at her pretty yet sensible heels, dark red with lavender trim.
“My shoes are perfect?”
“Your shoes. Perfect—see how they match my tie. Now, come on.”
Skip leads her down the emergency stairs, their steps ringing through the stories above. Lily extracts her arm from Skip’s grip and he instead clasps her hand. He’s taller, a lot taller; his strides manage two stairs at a time. Lily is soon trailing behind the length of their outstretched arms and they let go, her tricky heels slowing her down without Skip keeping her in tow.
“Where are we going? You can at least tell me that. Or the box…a clue?”
“Nothing, nosy. Just come on!”
When they reach the bottom, Skip pushes the door open and they dart across the lobby while the emergency exit alarm sounds once, twice, then cuts off midway through a chime as the door thuds shut. There is a small courtyard between office towers, filled with landscape art – huge, hideous stuff – and as they race past the pile of “gears in motion”, Skip again takes Lily’s arm, getting her by the wrist. She feels like a kid being dragged by her brother.
Reaching the taxi stand, Skip signals to a driver, opens the door and ushers Lily into the back seat, gives her bum a push, slides in beside her pinning the hem of her skirt beneath his thigh and slams the door.
“Just drive!” he commands, but the driver just sits there, idling the engine and looking at Skip like he is crazy if he thinks this car is going anywhere without a reasonable set of instructions.
“You think this is the movies, guy? Where you really going, guy?”
“I’ll give you a tip, a good one, if you just drive…and, well…there’s something we need to do. If you agree now, there’s $50 in it for you, and I can promise nothing bad, nothing against the law…sir.”
The driver sighs, withdraws his arm from the seat back, puts the car in gear, pulls into traffic. It’s midday downtown, meaning they don’t exactly peel away at high speed. Skip suggests they head for a less congested avenue a few blocks east, and urges that when they get there, the driver just keeps his eyes on the road, just keeps on driving.
With that, Skip unlaces the box, picking at the tightly knotted string, eventually snapping it with his teeth. He carefully lifts the lid, Lily straining to see around the corner of the cardboard which still obscures her view. At last Skip rotates the box, presenting it for scrutiny: a dozen daintily frosted teacakes, each about the size of a clementine.
The icing is soft and smells of sugar and lemon, which quickly fills the stinky taxi with the aroma of a patisserie. The driver looks in the rear view mirror. It’s just a box of dessert, but it gives him a funny feeling about this trip. He returns his gaze to the road, and figures at least it’s not a box of rocks, snakes or guns. Could be worse. I mean, what could go wrong with a little cake?
“Would you like to start, or shall I?”
Lily is frozen, her belly twisting with affection for Skip. They built this prank down to the minutiae, imagining all the ways the gag could play out. But, Lily assumed it would remain just that: a great joke they fine-tuned as a pastime. And here they are, and it is indeed better than mere talk. The cakes look too pretty to eat; the joke is almost too delicious to act upon.
Lily selects a pink one and cups it in her palm. Her left hand goes for the window switch and the glass retreats into the door. She leaves about five inches, just enough that the tint obscures her mouth, nose, cheeks, but not her eyes.
Skip smiles, nods, whispers in Lily’s ear:
“Her. The lady in the brown coat with all the bags.”