Chapters 6-7

Chapter 6: Breakfast, a Hike, and a Kiss

 

Lucinda almost choked on her coffee this Sunday morning, too.

“He actually said that? He actually said Oh, it’s in the bag?”

“I swear. Scout’s honor, and I was an Eagle Scout, so I’m not taking the oath in vain here. He said it. To me.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him good luck.” We chuckled for a moment and then I said, “What was it made you laugh so hard when you were dancing with him?”

“You know I had to smack him because he was being crude, right? Did you see that?”

“Everybody saw it, Lucinda. They laughed out loud; I saw a couple of guys give each other high fives when you did it.”

Lucinda smiled big. “Well, anyway, there I was telling him I wasn’t the sort of gal that did that kind of thing on the dance floor. After I read him the riot act and he acted like he understood and agreed, he proceeds to tell me he and I are gonna have a lot of fun in the sack later. And he said…” Lucinda stamped her foot again in merriment of the memory and put her cup down.

She leaned forward and whispered, “He said I took my Viagra this afternoon, baby. I am loaded for ya. I can take care of ya. Just you wait. I said ‘Really? You need a chemical assist, do ya? Can’t get it up without it? Oh. Too, too bad.’”

Mental note to self: Lose weight. Exercise. Get in shape. Don’t buy any little blue pills. End note.

What amazed me about Lucinda and this story was that she simply told it. She didn’t think about the fact that she was telling this to a man. A man who himself might could be using, might be needing, such a medical intervention. She didn’t worry about my feelings. This was a story, plain and simple, and a funny one at that. She simply assumed I would enjoy it and see the comic aspects of it. I’ve had such conversations with other war correspondents, but never with a civilian.

She chuckled. “And the men? Hahahaha! You should see their faces when I ask the question. First they think, damn, she’s called me out.”

She then went on to list the next seven thoughts that go through their minds yet are so plainly displayed on their faces.

Two: Can I perform well enough without it to satisfy her at least once so I can say I don’t need or use it?

Three: Damn.

Four: Maybe if I plan and get enough rest first? Righto!

Five: What if I can’t get it up or keep it up long enough? Damn!

Six: Who cares? Better to die in the saddle than never to have ridden at all. March, soldier, march.

Seven: What does she have against Viagra anyways?

And eight: Damn.

Lucinda, still chuckling, buttered another muffin, brought it to her mouth and paused. Lowering it to her plate, she looked at me in an oblique sort of manner. She was talking to me, asking me the question, eyes skimming my face, but she looked at the ceiling as she formulated her question.

“Gordon, maybe you can answer this for me. You know, it seems to me that…younger and younger men are using chemicals and other things to get it up. I mean, this is not the first guy to hint he’s loaded with them and I won’t be sorry, wink-wink.”

She paused and thought some more. “Are most men in that bad of a shape, late thirties all the way to their eighties so that they need these things?”

She continued not looking at me; for that I was grateful because I was awkwardly swallowing my food. I was one of those men. Guilty as charged! Did she suspect and, in that suspicion, condemn me? Or was this nothing more than a simple question? I chastised myself for expecting her to play a game, for games she did not play, and set about answering her question.

“I suspect, Lucinda, some men don’t have any confidence. That’s the way they make sure they can perform. At least, so I’ve heard.”

“But are all men like that? I mean, really, are they all beaten down so badly?”

“I can only guess since I’ve never had a conversation with a man about it. Maybe these pills are the new alcohol. On the other hand,” and here I decided to be honest without mentioning my name, “I can also guess men are tired. Tired and jaded and they need a physical release at the touch of a woman, so they take a little helper.”

She put her fork down and said, “Well, I don’t like it. I want a man to feel so good to be with me he wouldn’t need it.”

I chuckled at her naiveté. “Lucinda…” I began and stopped.

My silence caught her attention and she looked up. “What?”

“Nothing.”

What?”

“Nothing. I had a private thought and it shall remain private. You can’t drag it out of me.”

She shrugged and said, “Okay.”

Okay? You’re not going to try to drag it out of me?”

“You said you weren’t gonna let it happen.”

“Lucinda…” I expelled a long breath, shook my head, and looked at my plate.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Another private thought you don’t want to share?” she said sharply.

I looked up quickly only to see her grinning mischievously. “Gotcha,” she said and popped the last bite of a buttered muffin into her mouth.

We finished breakfast yet still had a lot to talk about from last night. I suggested a walk in the nature preserve at the lake. She agreed that’d be a fine thing, and we met up there twenty minutes later. She locked her car, put keys in her pocket, and met me at my car which was closest to the trail entrance.

“Tell me about The Reed,” I said as we began walking.

“Describe him.”

“Tall. Thin. Very elegant in his moves. You danced three times in a row…”

“Oh. Him. Yeah. He’s like me; only wants to dance. He makes the club circuit so we only get to dance every two or three weeks.”

“What do you know about him?”

“Know? Nothing, really. I don’t even know his name. He told me, I just don’t remember. I like your name for him, though. The Reed. Nice name. Fits him. He travels a bit sometimes, at least I get that impression.”

“I’ll keep him on my radar. Tell me about Cincinnati.”

“Oh. Cincinnati. That’s a sad case.”

“Sad, how?” Mental note to self: Start exercising and lose weight. I was wheezing and panting trying to keep up with her. Bless her, she was walking slow to let me make a show of keeping up.

“He works for a huge company. They make conveyor belts. He helps design systems for quarries.”

“What’s sad about that?” I gasped in my search for oxygen to feed the leg muscles.

Lucinda stopped and pretended she needed to stretch her legs while I caught my breath. “That’s not what is sad. What’s sad is he’s married and has begged his wife for years to dance with him and she plain old won’t. Our dance last night was the first time he’s danced in twenty years.”

I took a guess. “Is that pretty much your story?”

She was touching the ground with the flat of her hands while she stretched some more. I heard her say from between her legs, “Yep. You got that right.”

I made a show of being eager to get back to the trail, and she made a show of finalizing her stretching, and off we went again.

“Did Cincinnati say anything else?”

“Yeah. You know. The usual.”

“Huh?”

She seemed reluctant to say. I kept wheezing and panting in an encouraging sort of fashion for her to talk. I didn’t say anything else other than whatever was implied as I every now and then turned my head towards her. We got a few hundred feet up the trail before she answered.

“Oh. You know. The usual.

“No. I don’t know. What does that mean?”

She gave an exasperated little sigh and said quickly, as if she really didn’t want to say these words herself. “You’re such a great dancer. And you feel so good to hold. And I can’t believe you’re dancing with me. Junk like that.”

And to shut me up, she walked faster. Her strategy worked for a while.

We crested the hill and broke through the trees, found a clear space at the top and sat. The view of the lake below was fabulous, even if we were staring into the sun to see it; that’s what hats and sunglasses are for and we both had those. We enjoyed the quiet rustle of the leaves and the bird chatter. We watched rowboats arc in lazy circles and tried to follow faint kite strings to their handlers.

But her last comment — junk like that — wouldn’t let me go. Most women would kill to hear those comments and yet, here she was, calling those compliments junk. I told her so.

She gave me a look that pretty much said I was an idiot.

What?” I asked.

“Let me explain. It’s not like I don’t enjoy hearing those things. I do. I love it. But imagine, if you will, hearing those same comments over and over and over from every guy week after week and yet, for all they profess their great admiration, they don’t want to spend another minute with you.”

I disagreed and loudly. “Oh, bull crap.”

“Bull crap? What do you mean bull crap?” She enunciated the last two words carefully as if I was unsure of what I had said and she needed to make sure I heard correctly.

“Bull crap. As in a big, old, large, warm truckload of it. Every man in that place would love to spend more time with you.”

“Really? Then why don’t they?”

That stopped me cold. She nodded in her definitive way and said, “My point exactly.”

We sat and stared for a while longer at the lake. I don’t know what she was doing, but me? I was lost in thought. Because the week before I had avoided the coffee shop so I wouldn’t see her even though I wanted to. Why?

“Lucinda?”

“Yes, Gordon?” She drew out the yes so it was Yeeeessssss followed by a crisp Gordon that felt like a sarcastic salute.

“Be honest with me. Okay?”

“Have I ever been anything but?”

“You’ve been honest. But I really need you to be honest honest.”

Honest honest? Honest? You want me to be honest honest?” We chuckled at our high-school-style flirtations.

I leaned toward her, lowering my voice, reconnecting to my inner reporter, getting back on the game, stopping with the distracting flirting. “Yes, honest honest. Let’s say for a moment here, for grins and giggles, some man wanted to spend more time with you and not only in the sack, but I mean he was truly wanting a relationship. With you. Would you do it?”

“No.”

The swiftness of her answer surprised me. But I shot right back at her. “Okay. Then why complain they don’t spend more time with you when you really don’t want them to? Could it be, somehow, someway, somewhere you are giving off vibes that say this far and no further? And somehow they, unbeknownst to their conscious minds, pick up on the message and do exactly as you want them to do?”

I could see this got Lucinda thinking; I kept my mouth shut and waited. She laid back on the grass and held her hands up to the sun shielding her eyes even more as she thought about my question.

She had her answer. “You know, Gordon, you aren’t stupid at all.”

“Why thank you, ma’am.”

“Actually, I think you have helped me to clear up a negative in my thought process. You’re right. Why should I expect them to do and want and seek the very thing I am not wanting at this time or for quite some time to come? The only thing to happen would be I’d have to say no and they’d get their feelings hurt.”

“Awww, glad I could help ya out there, little lady.” John Wayne I wasn’t.

She laughed out loud so delightedly I felt like a million bucks. Then she stood, gave me her hand, and said, “Need help rising from the ground or do they make a pill for that, too?”

Her comment made me laugh out loud, and I thought, well, at least we are worth two million right about now. But where would we convert the peals of laughter into cold hard cash? Nevertheless, while I wasn’t in such bad shape I needed her help, I wanted to hold her hand and gave it to her.

We made it to the bottom of the trail, and to our vehicles. We leaned against her car and chatted for a few more minutes. Then she pushed herself away, faced me, and looked me straight in the eyes again. My heart stopped. Did she know it?

“Gordon. I like you.”

I blinked like a simpleton for a second or two, but recovered nicely. “I like you, too, Lucinda.”

“No, Gordon. I mean I really like you. It has been great spending time with a man and not dancing.”

Again she must have noticed a look on my face I wasn’t aware of because she quickly said, “Oh, not that I don’t want to dance with you, Gordon, because I think it’d be nice. But I mean, I really don’t get to talk with men this in depth. And you’re smart, too. I really like smart.”

“Well, would you like me to explain E equals MC Hammered?” I said this as I put an index finger next to my temple as if I was the Scarecrow who finally got his brain in The Wizard of Oz.

I liked it when she laughed and I laughed right along with her, but then I stopped laughing because she was kissing me. Not a crazy kiss, like a tonsil-hockey. She put her hand on my cheek and kissed me for three seconds and stepped back. I know because I counted how many beats my heart missed.

Then she waggled her fingers as she walked around to the driver’s door. “Come for coffee anytime. You know when I’m there.”

I nodded and barely pushed myself away from the car before she pulled out. She waved and smiled.

 


Chapter 7: No Huggy. No Kissy. No Pressure.

 

I was early for coffee the next day. I watched her walk up. I tried to appear nonchalant, cool, sophisticated, but I stood up like an eager school boy and said, “Hey!”

She said hey back and sat and stared at me.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“Kissing you yesterday. I got carried away. I’m sorry.”

“Well, I’m not!”

“Yeah. I know. But” — she dragged out the but — “I shouldn’t have done it. It’s like you can’t keep your professional distance if you…you know?”

I whispered, “Professional distance can go to hell.”

“See. That’s what I’m talking about? Are you in love with me?”

I startled myself with a quick and definitive answer. “Yes.”

With that brief declaration of my love for her, she closed her eyes, made a face full of pain, threw her hands up in the air and said, “It happened again!”

What happened again?”

She told me about Attorney clapping eyes on her, falling head over heels, and the same thing happened with The Greek. And Canada. They fell madly in love with her, and she fell madly in love with them, but no man able to last longer than three months, and she glad when they were each and every one of them gone.

“And now,” she wailed as quietly as she could in the confines of the coffee shop without bringing too much attention to herself, “you’ll be gone, too.”

She jumped up and walked quickly out the door before I could say anything. Though stiff from the long walk the day before, I managed to hobble after her. She was in her car and cranking it when I knocked on the window.

She held onto the steering wheel and cried.

“Lucinda. Honey. Roll the window down.”

She shook her head. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can, Lucinda. Roll it down.”

“No. I mean I can’t. The motor is broken in the door.”

“Oh. Then open your door, honey.”

“I can’t.”

I opened it and, creaking knees and all, squatted next to her.

“Listen. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I’ll play reporter from here on out. Okay? I’ll be your eyes and ears and we’ll do what we’re doing but we won’t carry this thing any further. Okay? Don’t cry, Lucinda.”

She pulled a napkin from a cubby hole and wiped her face and blew her nose. She said, “Okay. Sure.”

But in that okay, sure I heard her hopelessness. The despair of knowledge of how this whole thing will play out. I wish then I knew what she knew. But I would find this out later, of course.

She smiled at me and said, “I’m fine. I am. Sorry I’m acting like such a girl.”

I took her hand in mine and kissed it, let it go, stood, closed the door, and said through the window, “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Here? At our office. Okay.”

She nodded and pulled away.

The next day she wasn’t there. I texted her. She texted back she was sick in bed with a bad headache, and was going back to sleep.

The day after she wasn’t there, either. I called her. Voice mail. I hung up. She texted me a few minutes later and said she had been asleep, headache almost gone, she’d see me tomorrow. I sighed with relief and trepidation.

The next day, there she was. I got there late on purpose, got my coffee, and sat down with her.

She put her book down and said hello, brightly, though still under a strain.

“How’s your headache?”

“Oh. Better. I have these when a storm front is coming.”

“The sky is clear. Rain isn’t expected for four days.”

“Yeah, I know. Certain fronts push in hard well before the clouds and the rain. My head hasn’t failed me on this in six years now.”

“What do you do?”

“Headache powders, dark rooms, and sleep. That’s all I can do.”

I nodded, and to get the meeting back onto a professional platform, I began my interview. “Tell me about one of those guys you mentioned the other day. The ones who fall in love with you and you fall in love with them. What seems to be the thing they have in common?”

She saw her cue and gratefully took it. “What do they have in common? They need a woman to be nice to them.”

“Explain.”

“Women can be mean. Not that men can’t be mean, too, as my marriage can attest, but women can be mean in a way that’s different from men. I’ve seen it plenty going out to dance.”

“Describe it.”

“For instance, I’ll point her out next Saturday if she’s there so you can confirm this first hand. Be on the lookout for me walking over to a blonde woman, petite, who’ll be drinking a beer and scowling. I’ll name her…Bitterroot. Anyway, she does nothing but complain about all men everywhere. According to her, they are all after her, to use her body, take her money, and break her heart. She complains nobody will ask her to dance. But when somebody does brave her scowl and ask her to dance, she turns on them, fangs bared, claws out, and rips them apart. Now, occasionally, she will politely smile at the man and say yes and will, in fact, dance with him. But she won’t smile at him during the dance. She refuses to talk to them. Often will look at me and roll her eyes if he messes up and doesn’t lead her perfectly. She never thanks them. Ever. Then back she comes to tell me all about the creep.

“But when I dance with the same guy, he is a perfectly fine fella.”

“I see what you mean,” I nodded professionally as reporters are trained to do.

“I’ve had men — who did not know Bitterroot and I knew each other — ask me what it was they did wrong. What am I going to say to that? Really? What am I going to say?”

Lucinda looked at the ceiling again and continued. “Then they say to me you’re nice because I smile and say thank you and chat them up politely and don’t care if they mess up. “

She was quiet for a minute before she continued. She took a big sigh, shook her head, and said, “Then Bitterroot will come to me and say things like wasn’t it terrible dancing with that horrible, horrible little man and junk like that. I tell her I had a perfectly fine time. She is always surprised.”

“And…Big Rig?”

“Oh. Right. Big Rig.”

It was very hard for me to keep my professional demeanor when she said Big Rig like that. Her eyes lit up. She got this smile that told me this one was a lover, and she was very happy with his performance. I bet he didn’t need any little Lover’s Helper Pill, no sir. Big Rig. I wondered why she named him thus and asked her.

“Not why you think and that’s all I’m going to say by way of identification of this man.” She tried to wink; she wasn’t good at it, but I knew what she was doing.

“Big Rig. Tell me. From the beginning.”

“I had known him for a couple of years. Through work. No sparks or anything. Just business. But one day, we found ourselves taking a long walk together because we both needed a good stretch after sitting all day in this conference thing we’d been at. We changed into walking shoes and took off. When we got back to the hotel, we were madly in love.”

“Madly?”

“Oh. Madly. Yes, indeedy. The thing is, I was a couple of months from leaving my husband and he was married and still loved his wife though it was very difficult to continue loving her. It seems he’s married to the female version of my husband. We had this long conversation about it and we went to my room where we did not have sex, but we got naked and kissed and enjoyed a warm physical presence.”

“You didn’t have sex?” My reporter’s skeptical eyebrow raised as I looked over the top of my notepad.

“No. We didn’t. I know you don’t believe me. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it either. So, anyway, I didn’t say we didn’t want to, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t quite yet do that. He was a gentleman and he understood where I was. So, we did the next best thing, soaked in the good vibes, and the feel of skin against skin. Skin on skin” — sigh — “didn’t know how much I liked it…or needed it.”

It was very difficult for me to keep my reporter’s objective face on, but I lowered my eyebrow and soldiered on. “So what is Big Rig’s story?”

“He’s…let me see, almost eighteen years younger than me. No, I’m not a cougar, you can just stop that thought. Married a woman six, maybe seven years older than himself. They were madly in love. He said when they made love it was wonderful. Just wonderful. They laughed and they played and they had a really good time. But then along came the kids, pretty close together. Two or three, I forget. Then she didn’t want to be touched anymore and she didn’t want to touch him and she put all these rules down about how he could touch her and when and he wasn’t to do this, and he wasn’t to do that, and he dare not suggest the other, and she acted like he was a paycheck.”

Lucinda looked up at me. “Have you ever been married, Gordon? Kids?”

“Never and no.”

“Then you can’t know. I told Big Rig that when a woman has children grabbing at her all day and wanting this and wanting that, and screaming for attention, there comes a time she doesn’t have anything else to give. He said he had thought of that, but the kids were teenagers now and they were doing things on their own or with friends. He said he brought it up to her about, you know, changing her schedule so they could have sex in the middle of the night with the doors shut. Quietly.”

In the telling, Lucinda seemed sad. “But she said no. No discussion. No change. No way. No how. Big Rig didn’t know what to do. We had a chat. I gave him some advice. We got naked and comforted each other as best we could at the time. And for a starving man and woman, even simply touching skin to skin was plenty at that moment.”

“But more happened, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but not for a year. We talked twice — he worked in another office so we didn’t see each other except at our annual conferences. I made myself not call him for ten months. He didn’t call me, either. No emails. Just put him out of my mind. But there we were at the next conference. And he was smiling real big and he was the jovial dude everybody was happy to see and all I saw was the saddest man in the world.”

“Sad? How could you tell?”

“His eyes. He was smiling and he was laughing but his eyes had no sparkle. They were flat, dead, dull. I asked how he was and he said fine and I said don’t lie to me and he said can we talk and we went into a restaurant in the hotel and sat in a booth and talked for two hours.”

Sure enough, he had followed her advice. Asked his wife to go with him to a counselor to work out their problems and rediscover their passion and their love. And, sure enough, as Lucinda’s husband had gone with her, Big Rig’s wife went. And just as Lucinda’s son of a bitch sat in a chair across from his wife and smiled and bided his time while the little woman poured her heart out to a counselor before he quit going, Big Rig’s bitch of a wife bided her time while he poured his heart out until she too could quit while still being able to say to the world See, I tried; aren’t I magnanimous?

At the end of those two hours, Lucinda simply gave Big Rig her room number. Five minutes after she arrived in the room, he was there and they made love all night long. Lucinda leaned forward to tell me this next part. “You see, Gordon, if I thought Attorney was good in bed, and I did think he was because he was, but what Attorney and I did was nothing compared to Big Rig and me together.”

“Was it technique that was the difference?” This I asked from a purely professional standpoint. You know, solely for the reader’s sake. Field research. Digging deep into a source. Good tradecraft, that’s me. Dedicated to it. Big Rig…damn him.

“Oh, no, Gordon. It wasn’t technique that was the difference. Technically, the two are on a par with technique. Both know how to use what they got and they put it to such good use. Whew. No, the difference between Attorney and Big Rig was that Attorney, while making a show of sharing his thoughts and feelings, really was doing so to get support from me. He had nothing to give back. Nothing emotional. It was all about him.”

Lucinda smiled happily and said, “But Big Rig? Oh, he was as hungry to share and give as I was. And this is important, Gordon, so pay attention! He was as happy to receive as I was. We both gave and received happily and sincerely. And Big Rig, though I know he loves me on a certain level and I him, he truly loves his wife. I told him – and you may not believe this, but I did – I told him I hoped what we did together would give him the strength he needed to make it through this rough time and I hoped his wife would again become that loving woman he married and he’d cease to think about me.”

“But…”

“Ah…you heard the but,” she sighed

“Yeah, I did. That’s why I make the big bucks.”

She smiled at my joke. “But…she will never become that because she never was that. For the longest time I thought my husband cared, too, when he was simply the recipient of my good opinion of him.”

“I don’t understand.”

“In other words, Big Rig’s wife never was the happy, loving, warm, wonderful woman he thought she was. She simply allowed him to think it while she hid her true nature so she could get what she wanted.”

“What did she want?”

“I don’t know. Stuff, probably.” She nodded her head. “Yeah. That’s it. I know what my husband wanted. He wanted a housekeeper. He wanted a cook. He wanted a nanny he could trust for his children. And he wanted my paycheck.”

“And…”

“Ah…you heard the and.”

“That’s why I…”

“Make the big bucks,” we said together, then laughed.

Yeah. We laughed together. At the same time. Finished laughing at the same time, too. Everything in this conversation was designed to get me off track. In my mind I heard my editor’s drill sergeant voice ordering me to snap to.

So, Lucinda’s son of a bitch got all those things from her; happily, she said, because she thought they were working together — as a team; ha! — for their retirement, and she made a lot of decisions based on what she thought was a foregone conclusion to their lives. Big Rig has done the same. It was his wife who wanted the big house, not him. It was his wife who wanted a farm, not him. It was his wife who wanted the private schools, not him. Now he was in debt up to his eyeballs and his wife wants more and more and more. Just like the son of a bitch wanted from Lucinda. More and more and more, no end in sight, never enough.

She said her head was hurting again; she needed the darkness, though I suspected she was having a difficult time with the emotions the memories were bringing. I walked her to her car, shook her hand, and walked away.

No huggy.

No kissy.

No pressure.

 

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