As the party wound down after the dancing, we made our way outside to the cool air, the sweat clamming to our bodies. R went back inside to fetch me a drink, and Cathy and I watched him silently till he disappeared.
“Where did you find him, Cathy?” We'd been to high school together, we had both been under-the-radar smart ones, but we'd been in equally peripheral and non-interacting cliques – separated by god knows what! We'd even fought at the prom, when her date and I ended-up dancing together in the crowd. No big scenes, but she'd quickly and firmly interjected herself in between and hustled him off, leaving me alone on the floor. I was without a date, so it wouldn't have hurt her to let me have one dance, but I suppose it had been difficult enough for her to find her pimply-faced date. We'd then been thrown together and grown closer together in college, room-mates in fact for 3 years until the incompatibility of our boyfriends (her two or three always callow anglos, and mine -more frequently changed- graduate assistants of all available kinds) caused us to live apart, not without regret on both sides.
So it had come as a complete surprise to me, first that her 'guy' was, as her grand-mother (and, I will add for generational context, Cathy's high-school aged children's great-grandmother) put it, “not really Hispanic”. That bitter bitch's bile should have left her dead long-ago, maybe soon after that humiliating Thanksgiving I spent with Cathy, but at least it had brought her to confront the image of her own favorite grand-daughter being stuck on someone brown. … and second, after R had been considerate towards me ever since I'd arrived for the wedding, that when R had asked me to dance (and he was a surprisingly poor dancer!), Cathy had given us this peculiarly smug smile; and I don't think she was thinking “threesome” - we'd tried kissing each other one mutually bereft Saturday night in college, and had found comfort but nothing more. Either her divorce or the meditation she'd taken up or R himself had worked wonders on her.
Since we'd watched R enter the bar-area, Cathy had continued staring silently at me. “That's always been your first question. This is the first time it isn't tinged with 'What rock did you find him under?' ”. I'll admit the truth of that, but … ohh! differing tastes I guess.
“Some years back, at our baby-sitting coop's annual camping trip, this guy gate-crashed with his two young daughters … I guess Anne-Marie's husband -one of only two dads with us- had helped him set-up his tent, and then Margaret quite independently invited the girls over for s'mores. Within minutes Emilia, his older daughter, was playing with our kids at the fire, and Silvia, who must have been 5 at the time, had snuggled up to Anne-Marie, and he was chatting us all up, in Spanish and English, even faking French with Anne-Marie. Soon enough it became "known" that he was recently separated and that after some years as a “full-time mom” he was in career transition. Almost immediately Cawley had gravitated to him and was giddily throwing herself at him, hanging on his every word ( and he had plenty of those!) and spouting her 'man-ego-builders' at him: “... this is the place to be for someone as smart as yourself … I've always found genetics fascinating … my boys were asking about cloning, would you explain it to them?”. Somehow they got talking about Cawley's career change to social media marketing and then 'gender-neutral writing'.”
I asked Cathy if she herself had been immune to his charm then, and she actually blushed. I suppose a 45 year old now can blush if a 40 year old then could have “giddily thrown herself”. From what I'd seen of Cawley on my visits to Cathy, she had struck me as a fairly no-nonsense woman.
“Any fool but he could see Cawley's infatuation with him. There were even moments when she was not worriedly shepherding her boys, you know how she's become so over-protective after her divorce. … but then he stopped flitting amongst the women like a hummingbird between flowers, once he got a good look at what Cawley was flaunting!”
“Cathy, not that I'm one to defend men, but aren't you being a little harsh?”
Cathy continued as if she hadn't heard me. “When it was time to put the kids to bed, he approached me and asked if I wanted to go for a walk afterwards. Jack wasn't feeling to good and I didn't really like the idea of leaving Jess and Jack alone without me in the tent ...”
“... 'and it will take me a while to get them settled and it could get quite late and won't your girls need you with them n the tent?' ...” I finished for her, she'd always been so predictably tentative.
“Lynn! Really ! … I did agree to go for a short walk, but back in the tent, I had second thoughts, because of Jack, and because of Cawley.”
“How loyal!”, I thought to myself, but kept a lid on it.
“When I came back out and walked towards his tent, it was moonless and all quiet and I didn't see him till he stood up from the rock he'd been lying on and greeted me. I told him I would have loved it, I really liked the idea of a walk, but I didn't feel comfortable leaving Jack without me in the tent with him.”
I just hoped Cathy hadn't apologized to him, and told her so.
“He wished me goodnight and started off down the path. After a few yards he turned back, called softly and came back to where I'd stopped. He came up close and thanked me for coming back out to tell him that I wouldn't join him on the walk. I said “Of course” or some such thing. The star-light, it must've been that, threw light through the trees, and his face was partly visible. Then he leaned in towards me, and I said “No! I hardly know you!”. He laughed silently -I've never seen anybody so pleased at a rejection- and said, 'And I don't know you, but have a good night!' and then turned around and walked away.”
I was getting confused by Cathy's story, and thirsty for my drink. I looked around, one or two cigarettes glowing in the dark, the unhappy looking middle-aged couple silently nursing their drinks... I heard the lapping of waves in the pool as someone climbed out. “... and he showed up for the pancakes with your group the next morning?”
“He didn't seem to be awkward about it when he walked Silvia to the bathroom in the morning, the rest of the kids were all over the place … he greeted Cawley and myself and chatted quite happily, if a little subdued. Though it might have been something else …”
“Cawley said he wrote to her, and mentioned something about realizing that “... he was going to die under unfamiliar stars...” and his feeling of "soudade" at knowing us ... I've held on to that word ever since.”
I love that girl, but seriously, where in a comfortable upper-middle class married with children drive them to swim lessons is there room for soudade? If I have my loneliness to bear, can't she leave soudade to me? “Have you never asked him about it?”
“No... that morning he came up to us ...”
“To who 'us'?”
“Cawley and myself. We found something in each other that morning..., AnneMarie claims we were almost in a huddle, that even she didn't want to interrupt us”
What a guy, I thought, helping females bond.
“ ...He came up and apologized for his actions the previous night.”
and what a 'SNAG' he was! I couldn't imagine the R I'd met today doing that … he seemed too proud, all things nice, but a bit of the torero in him. “.. and then?”
“Nothing, he went off to play with the kids, and then I could watch him. He played their games, by their rules, except when he wouldn't and would cause them to scatter in mock-fright. He hung upside down from Hanna and Jess' flimsy jump-rope obstacle course tied off the trees, never once seeming to test the strength… breaking every rule we'd set for our kids. He fought them to the top of their hollow tree-stump castle”
That I was sure none of the other adults had set foot near …
“ … and stood there a while, arms on his hips, ignoring the taunts of the kids, leaning over as if ready to fly, … an aging Adonis with a Peter Pan complex...”
You could never imagine that Cathy had been a Lit. major; didn't they have rules against such mixed metaphors? Her current tech-writing job suited her. Besides, from where I am, an aging Diana with what? a "Wendy" complex? (surrounded by a band of younger men), “an aging Adonis with a Peter Pan complex” sounds pretty good.
“... he never removed his shirt, it would have ruined the whole effect had he! … then they started sword-fighting, he went out of his way to get the girls involved in the rough and tumble. The older kids, his daughter Emilia included, formed one team, but Silvia was always on “Daddy's team” and the two of them sword-fought like the 3 Musketeers! Each time he let himself be disarmed, Silvia was magically there with an extra stick for him, which she would somehow manage to get to him through the pack.”
“Are they here now?”
“No! Why would they?”
I'd always known Cathy as rambling, but this was … I decided to let her go on. “You were creaming yourself looking at your Adonis, standing there in a shaft of sunlight under the evergreens, then what?”
Cathy had brought her wine out with her, and she took a sip before replying. “As we were all packing up, Cawley gave him her contact information and asked him to send her “that information”. He'd forgotten what she was talking about – the “gender-neutral language”. Here she is, studying to be a marketeer to the social web, and she can't think of googling that herself? ... Then when we were finally all packed up and it was time for us to go he looked at me very directly and said, “Find me … if you are interested.” as if he was starring in some French movie.”
Or a Spanish film, Julio Medem perhaps, but Cathy had never made it past Almodóvar and "Sexo y Lucia". Besides, if 9 year old girls can be continually narrating and starring in their own bio-pics, why not a grown man? Now after all that vacuous gallantry and courtesy I'd been subjected to this evening, I was finally beginning to find this guy intriguing, so I 'gently' pointed out, “Cathy, wasn't this around the time you were in your “eat olives, drink red wine, pray, love under the Provençal sun” phase?”
She was silent a minute, and then contritely apologized, adding, "I don't know what came over me.". Honey, I got news for you, I certainly don't know either. “So then what did you do, Cathy?” I was almost shrieking at her slow indecisiveness!
"I thanked him."
"You thanked him?! You silly woman, you are supposed to stare them down! What favor is he doing you?"
“... Lynn, you sound as if you hate men. Besides, that afternoon we bumped into each other again at a cafe in Saratoga. While Emilia and Silvia joined our kids at their table, he declined my invitation to join us, saying he could see Cawley and I had a lot to catch up on. Over lunch Cawley and I gossiped about it all, while he sat with the kids and scribbled in his notebook until Emilia borrowed it from him.”
She sighed, “It took me a week to ask Cawley about him, since that afternoon, we'd always stepped around that topic. Then she somehow didn't get around to replying for a week, saying she thought she'd deleted his e-mail. Finally I noticed she'd already friended him on FB, and sent him a casual request. When I did get in touch with him, over the phone, he said he would be happy to have play-dates for the kids, but he'd already started seeing someone! Lynn, are we all that interchangeable to them?”
I didn't answer, " 'they' are, to me!" I am quite happy with a pale, blond, goateed barista with artistic pretensions one week and a visiting professor on sabbatical from Europe the next. We can all be unique, and still be good solutions.
“When did the two of you get together then?”
“We never did. We had a couple of play-dates for the kids, once I even met the woman he was with, and he played wing-man for Cawley for a while, until she met her “techie” - a classmate of his from India, I think they are all good friends.”
“Raúl? I wasn't talking about Raúl! This was some Indian guy who'd walked in on us that night at camp!”
"... and why Spanish? Why was he speaking Spanish? His daughters' names?"
"Lynn, his ex was Latina, didn't I mention that?"
I could have shaken her! No!, and neither that this wasn't Raúl she'd been talking about, nor that this guy was Indian! “Cathy! How did you meet Raúl?”
“... At a birthday party. He'd been hired to do a science show for Jess' friend's birthday. I was helping him pick up when out of the blue he invited me to have dinner with him that night."
"I said, “I hardly know you, but I will. Can I bring the kids?” ”
I looked up to see Raúl approaching us with Cawley and an Indian guy hanging on to her. “Look who's finally made it to the party!”, Raúl said, as he handed me my red wine and a plate of olives.
Some women have all the luck!