Today we bring you our Sunday Fiction Feature, dear readers. This may well be the last fiction feature we write-- depending on reader reaction. We are not sure how to gauge the popularity of this bend in our usual posting. If you prefer these stories, only on Sunday, of course (we do believe there is a movie of the same name...no, we stand corrected, the movie is Never on a Sunday) we ask that you write and let us know.
Else...we will relegate these fictional writings to the Aha! blog, a better place for them, perhaps.
Meanwhile, let's catch up with Barbara who is in denial. Yes, dear readers, this young woman, fresh out of a long-term relationship and toying-- if only her mother knew!-- with the thought of a liason with a MARRIED MAN!!!!, is struggling in a world that is focused around couples. In our youth, we were often troubled by this world-view: of people as a couple, of the idea that "One is the Loneliest Number" (ala Three Dog Night).
So, in some sense, we empathize with Barbara...but, we hope she makes the right decision. Read on and see what happens... (please visit this link to read Part One of Five or Ten.)
Time goes on. It stretches ahead of you like a boring weekend cleaning out your closets. Well, that’s all you do with your weekends anymore, anyway.
A month later, when you’re invited to a party at a friend of a friend’s (Melissa’s cousin and Melissa owes you, God knows!), you decide to go. Mostly to escape the heat; there is air conditioning promised and an indoor pool. You were on the swim team in high school, you and pools are very compatible. And, you still look pretty lip-smacking good in that string bikini you bought at St. Trois last March during your consolation vacation— after breaking up with Thomas Gugliano.
Who knows? you tell yourself, what might not transpire at a pool party in the suburbs? Besides, you cleaned your hall closet last week, and the bedroom closet the week before, and this weekend you were actually going to tackle the refrigerator!
As soon as you walk in the door, electricity makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You tell yourself it’s just the humidity, but your eyes scan the room and there he is: Dr. Paul Winston, standing at the hors d’oeuvre table munching on an egg roll, pretending to listen to the ramblings of a chubby woman in a red-flowered kimono. Unfortunately, standing only a few feet away, in all his glory, is Thomas Gugliano. He has his back to you but you'd recognize that sloping posture anywhere.
You never expected to see Thomas here. Your mind rushes back six months. You don’t want to remember, but you do. Thomas Gugliano, five eleven, built like a Brachiosaurus, tense, always tense, forever flexing muscles he grows in the gym across the street from the mall. His laugh reaches across the room and slides over you with a familiarity it has no right to, anymore. That laugh was what got to you in the beginning. Thomas laughs at everything. He doesn’t throw his head back and guffaw, he doesn’t bray like a donkey (you’ve known men who do, and women, too, for that matter; must be genetic). No, Thomas just shakes his head on that thick neck, crinkles up those warm brown eyes, and lets the laughter flow like champagne. You have never forgotten the way it used to tickle your throat and make you laugh, too — every time.
Well, not this time. This time you ignore Thomas, ignore the sweet young thing he’s trying to make time with, and parade yourself over to Dr. Paul Winston, who looks up from his drink, sees you, and let’s that marvelous smile your remember come over his face. His eyes seem to reach out to you. So we meet again, they seem to say. You tell yourself not to be cocky, but you have already looked for Clare and she is conspicuously missing, so — you can speak freely.
But, before you can open your mouth to say more than, “Hello, Dr. Winston,” to which he replies, “Call me Paul,” Thomas spies you, begins a slow move through the jumbled humanity in his way, headed right in your direction. You can’t help but watch him approach, hoping he’ll be pounced upon by one of the single women lurking about, or even that Melissa’s boyfriend, Derek, will sidetrack him and ask about baseball scores or something, but nothing like that happens. He finds his way to your elbow, and takes possession of you as if you’re a lost ticket, giving Paul a curt nod. “I need to borrow this lady for a minute, if you don’t mind,” he says, dragging you off to a secluded corner.
You can see the entire room over Thomas’ shoulder. Paul is contentedly listening to another middle-aged woman, his blue eyes concentrating on the arc of her cigarette as she waves her hand about trying to make some point or other.
No, you tell Thomas, you’re not interested in getting back together. No, you didn’t purposely come to this party hoping to see him. No, you did not call Melissa up and quiz her on who was going to be here. But he keeps his face close to yours, whispers in your ear that he knows you’re lying, places his big hands on your waist as if he has a right to, and presses himself into you, not hard or suggestively, but in that familiar way you remember.
For a moment, just a small moment, you consider relenting. He’s safe. You know him well, very well. And his hands circling your back are warm, strong, exciting. He was so good… good to you, good for you, good with you. When he wanted to be. As long as you bent to his will. As long as you could wait for him to do his 'thing' at the gym — morning, noon and night. Now you remember why the two of you broke up. You hated playing second fiddle to the gym. Who competes with a bench press, anyway?
No, you tell Thomas. You will not take him back. You want someone who will pant after you. Someone who will dream about you. Maybe call you up during the middle of the night and whisper his dreams -- dreams of you -- to you over the phone. Someone who will toss the salad for you, grill the steaks, pour the wine (over you? Maybe!), and really listen when you tell him your boss is a fathead. You want someone who won’t laugh at you when you say love is more important than air.
So you push Thomas away roughly, smirking at the way he stumbles backwards almost knocking over a table of finger food. Your search for Paul is short; he’s on the patio standing much too close to a bikini clad blonde bouncing her ample charms beneath his welcome gaze. If he wonders what’s become of you, it doesn’t show. As you stand there watching him, you will him to turn and look at you. You wait to see what will happen.
Nothing. Nothing happens.
What about the electricity? What about his being here alone, without that sparrow of a wife? What about your being alone, so horribly alone?
Well, what about it? Even Thomas has moved on and is back to working on the fluffy brunette he was nibbling when you came in. Paul Winston continues to drool over his air-doll, you don’t really see anything else in the room you fancy, so… maybe this party wasn’t such a great idea.
The room is suddenly closed and full of smoke. You gave up smoking three weeks ago and you realize if you don’t get out now, you’re going to relapse, and relapse big.
You turn to leave. Five months, at least, you think. It might take that long to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. For now, you know that Dr. Paul Winston isn’t real. And Thomas is only half-real. What you need is good company that is real. You happen to know there’s a good jazz band playing across town. Allie, one of the temps at your office asked you to go with her tonight but you thought this would be better. She left the invitation open, and now you think it’s a good idea. She also said, if you remember correctly, that her twin brother plays sax in the band. If he’s anything like Allie, he’ll be tall, lean, and covered in tattoos. Which means you’ll have something to look at, anyway.
As you leave the party, you see Melissa by the pool pulling on Derek’s arm, trying to remove him from the path of the Pamela Anderson wannabe that Dr. Paul was so entranced with earlier.
Five or ten years, you tell yourself as you walk out to the car. Five or ten months. Five or ten minutes. Whatever!