His finger hesitated over the mouse button. Pressing it could change his life unalterably; perhaps in several directions. A worst-case scenario was he might lose life as he now knew it. And, life as Frank Grant now knew it was not shabby. He didn’t share ownership of anything with a financial institution. His house was valued within the top ten percent in the city. His wife was one of the best-looking women around. He was on better than amicable terms with his grown children who were doing well. He made a better than decent living, working few hours in pleasant surroundings. It had happened without striving. His circumstances had progressed from one level of comfort to another in a manner that was almost predictable. That was why he was here, with his finger poised over the mouse button. It was all so predictable . . . and . . . so insufferably boring. His finger smashed the button down.
Two weeks later, as he walked toward the restaurant, Frank experienced the same sense of foreboding that had preceded his hitting the mouse button. Stepping through the door would be crossing a personal Rubicon. He could still turn around and return to the status quo. He’d erased the incriminating emails and exchanges of information that had brought him to this point. Nobody knew that he’d used an online service—Discreet Encounters—to arrange a meeting with a woman. The process had been titillating. DE had asked many questions about his interests, aspirations, and inner thoughts. It had even questioned why he was interested in meeting someone outside his marriage. The process had been professional with constant reminders that the service was not there to facilitate affairs, but to connect people who “needed intellectual companionship not available in their marriages.” In fact, the service claimed to have salvaged many marriages by broadening a member’s circle of friends.
There was the matter of why he had requested an introduction to a woman—rather than to another man with similar interests—but he’d pushed it aside. Now, if he walked through the restaurant door, he’d be guilty of a tryst with another man’s wife. DE had suggested from the onset, that if he and the woman “clicked” the ideal situation would be for the couples to become friends. It had sounded innocent enough and plausible to a man bored out of his skull. Although there had been moments—like this one—of trepidation, the excitement made him feel alive!
The restaurant building had been a grand old house at one time. He’d had to look twice to find the sign which read, “The Victoria House—Fine cuisine served in a private atmosphere.” It was small and tasteful to the point of invisibility unless you were looking for it. He looked around to see if anyone was watching and pushed through the door.
The foyer was that of a grand old house. The wood paneling bespoke of artisans no longer available. The closed doors on either side featured ornate casings and inlaid panels. Items like umbrella stands, coat racks, vases, and bric-a-brac were absent. Without those signs of habitation, the beautiful wood tried in vain to comfort. The single piece of furniture was a small desk next to the winding staircase at the far end.
The maitre d’ rose from behind the desk and, to Frank’s astonishment, offered his hand.
“Good evening sir. Would you be Mister Grant?”
“Uh, yes,” replied Frank
“And, may I have your membership number please?”
“Uh . . . 5X21Z.”
“Thank you, Mr. Grant. My name is Carlos and I have the pleasure of serving you. Mrs. Cornelius is already at your table, if you will follow me.”
Frank followed Carlos up the stairs. At the top, they started down a hallway. On either side were doors. The first two were marked “Sierra” and “Teton.”
“Carlos, are these conference rooms?” Frank asked.
“No, Mr. Grant, they are all private dining rooms.”
Carlos opened the door of the “Mojave” room. Frank found the view captivating. Standing by the window, she appeared to be slightly over five feet tall with long dark hair and light olive skin. The conservative green dress was neither too low in the upper nor too high in the lower . . . just . . . just . . . nice. The amount of shoulder, arm, and leg showing were well-proportioned firm muscle. This lady didn’t seem to need to show off—a quality Frank found most attractive.
Carlos said, “Mrs. Roslyn Cornelius, may I present Mr. Frank Grant.”
Frank’s fascination escalated as she turned and walked toward them. She knew how to walk in the tall heels. She didn’t stride or glide. Frank searched for a word. Athletic presented itself. A walk that appeared athletic but graceful in spike heels seemed a contradiction, but there it was, approaching him.
“Pleased to meet you Frank,” she said while offering her hand.
“My pleasure,” Frank replied. Her grip betrayed no hesitation—she wasn’t as off balance as he.
Carlos seated her as Frank took the other chair. Menus materialized in Carlos’ hand. He placed them on the table, beyond the line of sight between the two of them. “May I offer you something to drink?” he asked.
“Chianti” she replied.
“Uh . . . er . . . Grand Marnier,” Frank blurted, trying to match her decisiveness.
As Carlos disappeared, Roslyn looked at Frank with a twinkle in her dark eyes. “Grand Marnier as an aperitif? I thought liqueurs were for dessert.”
“I thought Chianti went with red meat,” Frank countered. “You haven’t even looked at the menu.”
“Bravo,” she said softly, intertwining her fingers. She put her elbows on the table, rested her chin on the intertwined fingers, and looked at him. Her voice was soft but firm. “This is your first sample of what I’m like. I couldn’t care less about the dictates of convention. Right now, Chianti sounds good, so that’s what I’m having. Other people’s opinion regarding what it should go with doesn’t enter the equation for me.”
What a voice, thought Frank. It was lower than average, but still feminine. How did that work?
Carlos appeared and placed a wine glass before Roslyn. As he uncorked the bottle, she looked at him and said, “Top it up. I don’t do the sip and slosh thing. I wouldn’t know a good bottle from a bad one.”
Frank’s eyes went to Carlos, expecting the prince-serving-a-peasant response. Instead, Carlos smiled and replied, “Darn, if that’s the case, I could have brought a bottle of the cheap stuff.” The quip brought a laugh from Roslyn, so Frank joined.
After placing Frank’s glass on the table, Carlos took a step back from the table and said, “You two enjoy. When you are ready to order, or if you’d like anything else, Mr. Grant can push the button on the arm of his chair, and I’ll be right with you. Would you please try it now, sir?”
Frank looked at the right arm of his chair. Sure enough, there was a button on the end. He pressed it and a soft chime came from somewhere on Carlos.
“Ah, my leash is in good order,” Carlos said, as he nodded and disappeared through the door. “Not quite what one would expect,” observed Frank, as he cocked his head toward the door through which Carlos had exited.
“Most refreshing,” she answered. “When I walked in, I expected to encounter someone who, as the song says, ‘Talked kind of snooty and walked sort of fruity—’”
“And they won’t bring you what you want,” Frank finished.
She clapped her hands. “Wonderful, you know Ray Stevens!”
“Only because he’s my all-time favourite comedian.”
She arched an eyebrow. “How do you feel about the rest of country music?”
“It’s my preference. I may have everything the Hag and Possum ever did.”
“And your wife?”
“She hates it.”
“What music does she like?”
“Classical—for background—I couldn’t say that she is ‘into’ any music.”
“Well, since the subject is open, I guess that now would be as good a time as any to follow DE’s recommendation that we level with each other regarding our marriages,” Roz offered.
Frank nodded, “Following DE’s lead has turned out great thus far. Ladies first.”
Roslyn toyed with the wine glass as her expression became pensive. “A.P. is five years older than I. He’s an attorney—has his own firm.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing. Please continue.”
“We don’t have any children. I was ambivalent about whether or not I wanted the parent trip when I was younger. I feel the same about not having any progeny at this point. I might have found parenthood cool, but I’m certain A.P. would never have found time to be a dad—”
“Does A.P. have a name?” Frank interrupted.
“Alphonse Percival, but everybody calls him A.P. He’s sensitive about it. His parents were on some misguided trip about honoring certain relatives. They didn’t pay much attention to what effect the name would have on him. In fact, it seems typical of them. I don’t think they ever paid much attention to the effect any of their decisions might have on the child.”
“A.P. was an only child?”
“Yeah. Not inflicting themselves on any other children is about the only thing they ever did right as parents.”
“So, your in-laws are not your favourite folks?”
“Past tense—both deceased. Does my lack of reverence for the departed bother you?”
“No, I find it refreshing. This deal of sugar coating statements about a deceased person—particularly when you’ve said nothing good about them when they were alive—is odious.”
“Giving him that name turned out to be a backhanded favor. The teasing he took as a child made him tough and ruthless in a battle of wits. His courtroom performances are pure virtuoso. I guess he got good with the put-down while he was in grammar school, but he found his identity on high-school debating teams.”
“Along the lines of Cash’s ‘Boy Named Sue’?” Frank asked.
“Yes, but it did nothing for his social skills. It appears he was a person nobody wanted around unless they needed a mouthpiece who could devastate an adversary. I think his few forays into romance were situations where girls wanted somebody who could serve a vicious put-down to a former boyfriend.”
“I notice the use of terms like ‘it seems, I guess, and I think.’ Am I correct in deducing that you two have talked little about his younger years?”
“That would be a big ten-four. In fact, we don’t ‘talk’ about much of anything. We discuss and analyze matters of mutual interest, which car to buy, whether to get new carpet or go to hardwood, who to vote for, and so on.”
“Perhaps you could tell me what attracted you to him.”
“That’s easy. Integrity—he has more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. A good example is the reason for the one failing grade on his university transcript. One of the jocks asked him for help in preparing for a test. When they got together, the jock handed him what he called a ‘study guide’ saying that these were his weak areas. The ‘study guide’ had one hundred paragraphs, but A.P. didn’t notice. He took the guy through them one by one.
“When the test papers were handed out, A.P. realized that the one hundred paragraphs on that guy’s ‘study guide’ were the questions on this test, paraphrased. So, A.P. didn’t take the test and explained to the teacher that he’d unwittingly seen all the questions beforehand. The teacher demanded A. P. finger someone, but he refused. The teacher then refused to give A.P. another test and failed him.”
“Hummm . . . a lawyer with integrity. Will wonders never cease? Do you mind if I ask how practicing law has affected this ‘integrity’?”
“Not at all. He doesn’t take cases unless he believes in them. Consequently, he has passed up some tall bucks. He’s a good man who takes bad cases because he thinks the litigant needs his ability to state their case.”
“He sounds like a good guy, so I guess I need to ask why you are here. I’m damn glad you are, but you’ve got me wondering.”
“A.P. and I are compatible, and we have fun, but there’s no real intimacy, no sharing of minds and hearts. At first, I thought he’d come around, but now I know that I fell into the trap of seeing him as raw material.”
“That’s not unusual,” Frank observed.
“Yeah, but I’ve always loathed the way other women would talk about the changes they planned for their men rather than appreciating what they are. Some time ago, I woke up and realized that I’d been doing the same thing—perhaps on a more subtle level, but essentially the same game.” She took her glass in hand and regarded it pensively. “At first, we were so busy launching our careers that I didn’t give it much thought. We’d get home from work, chatter about how the day had gone, watch some tube and zonk. Back then, it was comfortable.”
“What happened on weekends and other leisure time?”
“I was busy training.”
“Yes, I discovered triathlon in university. During my senior year in high school, I found that intense physical activity made me sharper. Therefore, I experimented with various sports as I began university—triathlon turned out to be the best fit. By my junior year, I was enjoying it for its own sake. By the time I started post-grad, I was doing Iron Man.”
Frank’s eyes widened as he sat back in his chair. “You’re one of those that do a long swim—”
“Just two and a half miles.”
“Jump out of the water, onto a bike and pedal—”
“One hundred and twelve miles.”
“Pile off the bike and run—”
“A marathon: twenty-six miles.”
“M’god,” Frank observed. “And you do this in one day?”
She sighed and sat back. “It’s part of the whole picture. To do well at Iron Man, a person has to train constantly. Your whole life becomes focused around planning for the next run, swim, or bike ride. When we were first married, I was concerned about the effect that being a permanent part of another person’s life would have on my training. At the time, I thought I’d lucked out because A.P. didn’t seem to mind at all. Instead, he encouraged me. Now, I can see that it was a crutch—one of the things that enabled us to learn how to live at the same address without ever being really ‘together’,” she said as her eyes became moist. She leaned her head back to contain the tears and continued. “As is typical for professionals, our career paths dominated our time and effort in the early years. Again, the way A.P. was happy to have me around without asking for much seemed like a good deal. He didn’t seem to mind when I brought work home, worked late, or had to make business trips. It was great—we never had issues about the time we gave to the job, the time I spent training, or that the closest thing to vacations we ever took was attending Iron Man events. Now, here we are—both established in our chosen fields of endeavour. Now, we could spend more time with each other, but we don’t. Although we could start staking out time for ‘just us’, it is clear that A.P. isn’t interested.”
As Frank refilled her wine glass, Roz noticed his watch. “Good grief,” she exclaimed, “we’ve been here over an hour and haven’t ordered yet.”
“Yeah, and Carlos hasn’t bugged us. This place is certainly different.”
“That it is,” she said, picking up the menu.
A press of the button on the arm of Frank’s chair brought Carlos within the minute. He took their orders and disappeared.
“So, what about you and Catherine?” Roz prodded.
“Well . . . we knew each other in university . . . nah, that’s not the way to put it,” he began, groping for words. “Everybody on campus knew who she was—the girl who’d rate ten for looks on anybody’s scale, but never dated. The first guy who got a date with her would win at least six pools.”
“Don’t tell me you won a pool.”
“No. I wasn’t successful enough in the dating game to think about going into one of them. I got to know her because we wound up on the same debating team. I’ll admit to surprise when we began spending time together that didn’t relate to debating. At first, I didn’t think of it as dating because I couldn’t imagine her being interested in me, but other people saw it as such. And, it worked out nicely for both of us. I gained a lot of prestige among the guys for being the one who was melting the ice queen. She had political aspirations, such as class president, but she kept running into the question of why she didn’t like boys. Being seen with me gave her the stamp of normalcy. She got the nomination and, elected.”
“Was she gay?”
“No. I think she’s emotionally crippled or perhaps deficient. She just wasn’t interested in men. She loved the law and craved power, but men didn’t turn her crank. I guess the pressure to address why she wasn’t ‘normal’ was hurting her political aspirations. When we began hanging out together, that pressure disappeared. The more time we spent together without my making a pass, the more relaxed she became and the more fun we had. On a relaxed evening, after a few beers, she asked me if I was ever going to ‘try anything.’ We were both surprised when my spontaneous answer was, ‘Not without an invitation.’ She got real serious and said, ‘The odds of that happening are quite remote.’ She couldn’t believe it when I told her I understood, and was cool with things as they were.
“After that, she opened up about how much easier her life had become since she began to be seen with me. As the days went on, I paid more attention and was amazed to realize how much scrutiny goes with the limelight: Her every move and motive were analyzed. Having a man in her life made the evaluations much kinder.
“After winning the election for class president, she confided that—as far as she was concerned—I had made the difference. She even joked about owing me a tumble in the sheets, but we both knew it wouldn’t happen. We had become close enough to talk at length about why she couldn’t handle physical contact with men. We even went through some psych texts, but never came close to finding a reason.”
Carlos’ arrival with the food interrupted Frank’s story.
After taking a few bites, Roz looked at Frank. “But . . . you two married. Were your children adopted?”
Frank laughed. “Nah, that was the ultimate gas. After graduation, I thought we’d go our separate ways. I figured that she wouldn’t need me anymore, and I wanted to get on with the home and family thing. It came as the biggest shock of my life when she asked me to marry her. She’d obviously been thinking about it for a long time and had concluded that she couldn’t get where she wanted to go as a single woman. She didn’t even grouse about how unfair it was. She had analyzed the situation and decided what she needed to do. When she laid all this on me, I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say, think, or do. Mercifully, she had anticipated this reaction. I can still hear her words today:
“‘I know you are thinking my proposal is absurd because of the sex thing. Ok—just as you have understood and appreciated my problem with it—I now understand and appreciate your problem in the light of a marriage proposal. After a long talk with myself, I believe that I can learn to handle the conjugal aspects of marriage. It will be a process, but I know you have the patience to make it work. Wanna try?’”
Roz’s eyes widened as she shook her head. “That has to be the damnedest story I’ve ever heard. I’ll admit to finding it hard to believe.”
“I don’t blame you. I was dreading this explanation. I know it all seems far-fetched.”
“That it does, pal. So, go on. Obviously, you accepted, but was it right there, or did it take you awhile to come to a positive conclusion?”
Frank began to look slightly embarrassed. “You give me too much credit. Thoughts of sex dominated everything else. Somewhere in the back of my big head, I knew the process would take time and patience, but that didn’t enter the decision. The little head was in complete control. I accepted on the spot.”
Roz nodded and closed her eyes. There was a mischievous look when she opened them. “So, you wanna tell me how it worked out?”
Frank sat back and chuckled. “Like everything else she’s ever done: she researched the subject, and applied the information with true diligence.”
“Diligence—now there’s a word I never expected to hear used in a discussion about sex.”
“It’s the only word for it. I don’t think she has ever enjoyed sex, but she became a most satisfactory partner. In fact, I think it worked out to make me luckier than most guys. I hear my friends complaining about wanting it when their wives are not in the mood, but being ‘in the mood’ has never been an issue with us. I guess she regards it as something that needs doing—kind of like laundry—whenever I express the need, she does it.”
Surprise registered on Roz’s face. “Laundry—how did you come up with that simile?”
“Well, I don’t do the laundry because I like to do it, but I don’t dislike doing it either. I find a comfort in meeting the needs of those I care about. While the laundry isn’t something I look forward to doing, I don’t resent having to do it. I think that’s Catherine’s attitude about sex. While she doesn’t enjoy the act per se, she finds meeting my need agreeable.”
Roz wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t sound intimate.”
“You’re right. While I’ve always had all the sex I want, I don’t think I know what sexual intimacy is.”
Roz grew serious. “Do you love her?”
“I don’t think I know. I respect her and I know that I want to do whatever I can to make her life pleasant.”
“I’d bet there would be fewer divorces if more marriages were based on respect,” Roz observed. “So, you raised the kids while she pursued her career?”
“Yeah, it was great. I was the pivotal point of the kids’ lives as they grew up. I was involved with everything: preschool, PTA, little league, music, dance, you name it.”
“It sounds like your children had a great childhood. Few kids get to grow up with a dad who has both the time and inclination to devote himself to them.”
“If I’d written the script for our lives, I don’t think I could have come up with anything better for them.”
“What are they doing now?”
“Both in university.”
“And now, dad finds himself at loose ends—wondering what to do now. Is that what this is all about?”
“Well . . . er . . .” Frank stammered.
“Hey, not to worry. It’s the same with me. I’m here tonight, with you, because I’m at loose ends. I’ve finally admitted that the intellectual intimacy that I thought would develop between A.P. and me is a fantasy, but I want someone with whom I can share my thoughts and feelings.”
Frank brightened. “This has been a good session of that.”
“Indeed it has.”
Frank stood at the window watching Roz get in her car. Following the suggestion made by DE, he wouldn’t leave for a while. They had worked to make this whole deal discreet, he realized. His instructions had been to park on the street and enter by the front door. He hadn’t even been aware of the parking lot in the back, but, apparently, they had instructed her to park there.
As Frank punched in the number, he felt the same delicious mixture of anticipation and trepidation he’d felt as a teen when calling girls. He settled back, waiting for the connection. This was dumb, but it sure was fun. Last night, dining with her at the Victoria House was more enjoyable than anything he remembered doing in a long time . . . rring . . . Does she feel the same? . . . rring . . . In the cold light of day, will she brush me off? . . . rring.
“Hello, Roz here.” The voice was cool and professional.
For the first time in many, many years, Frank felt tongue-tied. Finally, “Uh, Roz? Er, Roslyn, this is Frank,” came out.
“How ya doin’ pal?” This time, the voice was softer.
“I’m doing great . . . uh . . . uh . . . that sure was a nice place we ate at last night.” Frank replied, feeling the fool.
“Yes it was. And, it’s Roz. Roslyn belongs in a Victorian novel. Did you know that restaurant was there before last night?”
“Same here. I checked the phone book, but there is no listing for Victoria House.”
“Man, I don’t see how a layout with that overhead survives without advertising. In fact, I don’t know how they survive at all. I checked my Visa account this morning to see how much they nicked me, and it wasn’t bad.”
“Well, pal, I think I can shed some light on that area. They also pinged my card for an amount that was reasonable for two people but on the rich side for one.”
“Ahh, so we needn’t worry about the Victoria House’s finances,” replied Frank, feeling more relaxed.
“No, we shall be able to enjoy their hospitality numerous times in the future.”
Frank’s stomach tightened again. “Roz, would you go for that?”
“Yes, last night was lovely; the best evening I’ve had for a long while.”
Frank regarded the calendar on his desk. “Ummm . . . how about next Thursday?”
Frank heard her fingernails clicking on the keys.
“Won’t work,” she said.
Frank’s heart sank. Had he misjudged? He groped for words, but none came. Her voice broke the silence.
“I said that it won’t work, not that I didn’t want to. The following Sunday works.”
Relief washed over Frank. It was almost palpable. He looked at the calendar again. “Yeah, that works, for me too.”
Their conversation fell into the same easy exchange of ideas and opinions they’d enjoyed the night before. It wasn’t until the low battery warning on his phone began squawking that Frank realized they’d been talking for almost an hour. “Oops, I think I’m about to drop off the air,” he said.
“M’gosh—I just looked at the clock—have we been talking that long?” she replied. “I’d best get to work before I find myself unemployed!”
The following Sunday, Carlos led Roz and Frank to the Teton room. After seating them, he asked, “The same beverages as before?”
Roz and Frank looked at each other with grins. “Sure,” Frank answered.
After tossing her head to relocate an errant lock of hair, Roz said, “Last time, we were so busy discussing our rather . . . er . . . unusual domestic situations that we never got around to sharing what we did for a living.”
Frank lowered the glass of Grand Marnier, licked his lips, and admired the golden liquid. “That we didn’t”
“Ok,” Roz answered. “You first, this time.”
Frank looked beyond Roz, to a corner of the ceiling. “I sell cars. We refer to them as ‘Motor Cars’ because they are stupid expensive.”
Her eyes brightened. “Like Jags and Beemers?”
“More like Lamborghinis and Ferraris.”
“Well, color me impressed. I always knew that somebody sold the top of the high end, but I never thought I’d meet one of them. I appreciate the technology in the exotic stuff, but I’d never even consider owning one—too impractical.”
“Do you mind telling me why you think them impractical? I agree, but I’m surprised that you understand. So, I’d like to hear your take.”
“Uh . . . to maintain the . . . the . . . ” She became pensive. “The . . . I guess . . . panache, is the closest I can come, the vehicles have to be state-of-the-art. Since the reliability of any mechanical device is a direct function of the number of units produced, state-of-the-art vehicles are way down on the reliability scale. I’d like to drive something that looked that cool, but the maintenance bills—even if they were no financial burden—would grate on me to the point of destroying any pleasure of ownership. That’s just me. I’ve got to feel that I’m getting value.”
“Hey, that’s well put. I’d never thought of using ‘panache’ instead of ‘snob appeal’ but flashy and flamboyant works. I agree with you, but I’m glad that everybody doesn’t agree with us—if they did, I’d starve to death.”
“You’re refreshing,” she said, with genuine admiration. “Most guys would go to great lengths legitimizing what they do. So, tell me, how does a guy with your attitude wind up selling exotic cars?”
Frank grinned. “It was my wife’s doing.”
“I thought that’d catch you off guard, but it’s true. I have an MBA, but I didn’t set the business world on fire after graduation. Catherine’s career took off like an ICBM. When we discovered the first child was on the way, we had to make some decisions. I never thought for a second that Catherine would make a good mom. That’s not a slam, it’s just the way things are. I, in contrast, have always liked kids. The idea that a nanny might raise mine was revolting. So, I volunteered for Mr. mom duty. Catherine was some relieved but didn’t expect me to carry through with it. I must admit I had my doubts too, but I surprised both of us by taking to it like a duck to water. Caring for Jerry and watching him change day by day was a grand adventure. I was so caught up in the whole thing that I didn’t miss working at all.
“Catherine couldn’t believe I wasn’t chafing about not being the breadwinner. She kept looking for things that I could do from home. Jerry wasn’t a year old when we discovered that she was pregnant again. I was delighted, but she became even more concerned about my developing an identity crisis. Well, with knowing I’d have another baby to look after, I became even less interested in devoting time to a business start-up.
“Somewhere along the line, she discovered people were making nice coin by brokering exotic car sales. I agreed to look into it—more to give her relief than anything else.
“I was so delighted when Katie was born that I forgot about the exotic car brokering business for the following couple of months. To my utter shock and amazement, one contact Catherine had made called to set up an appointment. I went to the meeting determined to steer the guy toward someone who had a track record in the business. He came equally determined to make a deal. He felt that Catherine’s legal expertise would ensure him of a clean transaction. He said he’d been ‘very impressed’ with my efforts to make certain he understood what the car was, and, more importantly, what it was not. Actually, I’d simply approached the correspondence as if I was chatting with another enthusiast. I wound up making that deal for him, and we’ve done five more since.
“It went from there. I’d say that over eighty percent of the people I now deal with have bought from me before. But, it was Catherine’s idea to begin with, and it was her legal expertise that gave the whole enterprise credibility.”
When they ordered the same entree as before, Carlos shared a knowing smile, but said nothing.
“The stuff about your profession on the DE profile sounded pretty brainiac. I didn’t understand a bit,” Frank said. “Give me the 101 version.”
Roz smiled. “That was deliberate. I wanted to scare off anybody with an aversion to brains. I work in the research department of a firm that manufactures compact disks. My role is to help the physicists reduce their theories to formulae that the chemists can use to produce the next generation of CDs.”
“Wooo,” Frank said, in mock surprise. “A genuine egghead!”
“I admit I was geeky in school, but ‘egghead’ doesn’t fit. I’ve always loved the sciences, but pure research or teaching never appealed to me.”
“You must have a serious IQ. People like that usually have research aspirations.”
“Serious research requires a lot of interaction between others in the field. Ergo, you have to get on well with the rest of the community to have access to what you need for your own project.”
“And?” Frank prompted.
“And? The ‘and’ is that I realized from the get-go that ‘getting on with the rest of the community’ isn’t my strong suit,” she blurted, and fell silent.
Since she was obviously uncomfortable, Frank waited a while before saying, “Please shut me down if I’m out of line, but is that because of your disdain for convention?”
She looked at him with widening eyes. “You understand?”
“Yeah, I do. I’ve always wanted to be like that, but never had the guts.”
“It’s nice of you to say that,” she said with a hint of disbelief, “but you didn’t have to.”
“There is no ‘have to’ about it. I don’t like most wines or gourmet cheeses, but I sip and nibble at wine and cheese parties. Even though I think the stuff stinks, I smile and nod and agree with everybody else about how good it is. I do it to ensure acceptance while wondering how many others are also lying.”
“Are the wine and cheese parties related to Catherine’s situation?”
Carlos brought the food and disappeared.
Roslyn grew pensive as she ate. “Ummm . . . Catherine . . . Catherine Grant. Would that be Judge Catherine Grant?”
“One and the same,” Frank grinned.
Roslyn sat back in her chair and regarded the chandelier. “Whowee. How dumb can two people be? Both married to lawyers and having a tryst.”
“C’mon now, we’re not doing anything wrong. If this evening ever came into question, I could say you were a client,” Frank offered.
“Hey, pal,” she retorted, “imagine yourself on the stand being questioned by either A.P. or Catherine. How long do you think your story would hold up?”
“Not more ‘n a few milliseconds,” he answered, grinning again.
“You got it. Even if we’re not here for unauthorized nookie, either of ‘em could nail our hides to the barn door.”
“You’re right. This is a crazy thing to do, but it’s more fun than I’ve had in years.”
“Crazy . . . people used to call me that all the time . . . haven’t heard it much in the last few years . . . but this is crazy . . . and it feels good,” she answered.
“A little bit crazy‘s all right,” Frank said, and hummed a few bars of the tune.
She regarded him with intensity. “Is that your honest opinion?”
Frank’s brow wrinkled. “Look doc, this isn’t the first time you’ve asked me if I meant what I said. Even though you have a right to, I find it slightly annoying. Therefore, I’m gonna make you a promise. I will never say anything to you that is not my honest opinion.”
“Doc?” she asked. “I don’t remember mentioning any advanced degrees.”
“You do have a Ph.D. don’t you?”
“Yes. You’re scary.”
“Hey, I didn’t need to be a mental giant to figure that out. Anyway, doc, do we have a deal? I promise to shoot straight and you take what I say at face value.”
“Deal,” she said with a broad smile, as she reached across the table to shake his hand. “But, there’s a rider on that deal.”
“And, what might that be?”
“Don’t call me ‘doc’ or ‘prof’ or any other title. It’s a thing of mine; I hate stuffy.”
One of the private dining rooms at the Victoria House featured a fireplace. Roz and Frank were relaxing in front of it after a fine gourmet meal. Since meeting, they had dined here almost every week. Their friendship had matured to a point where they didn’t need to fill the air with small talk. Pauses in the conversation were not pregnant. They were times to enjoy being together quietly.
“This is more like it,” Frank said contentedly.
“More like what?” she asked.
“Oh, I was thinking about Catherine. Her shirttail hasn’t hit her butt for about six weeks now. Every night it’s go, go, go. Maybe she’s compelled to do it. Maybe she likes it. But, I think this is so much better.”
“How long is her hectic schedule going to continue?”
“Until after the election. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I was thinking that we should try to ease our friendship on Catherine and A.P.”
“I don’t think there’s any chance of getting together as a foursome until after the election. Speaking of A.P., how is he taking your having a night out almost every week?”
“I don’t think he’s noticed.”
“How does that work?”
“I don’t spend more than three nights a week at home. He’s not there any oftener. Actually, we sort of make appointments to spend time together. He often accompanies me to Iron Man competitions, and we plan vacations together. Outside of sleeping and breakfast, we go weeks without being home at the same time. This morning, he begged off going with me to an Iron Man practice next weekend.”
“Yeah, there are about a dozen IM competitions worldwide per year. The next venue is particularly hot, so competitors go there to get acclimated.”
“When is the competition?”
“Next month. I’m going to try for three weekends there between now and then.”
By this time, Frank had pulled out his smart phone and was tapping on it. “Uh, would I do as a companion for this weekend.?
“Humm . . .” began Roz thoughtfully. “What did you have in mind regarding the accommodations?”
Frank turned toward her. “I’m pleased that you got right to it. I’m not suggesting anything beyond what we enjoy right now. You stay wherever you stay, and I’ll get a motel. No hanky-panky, just friends.”
“Color me like the firefly that backed into the fan.”
“De-lighted. I’d be delighted to have you with me during the weekend. I’ll have to warn you that I’ll be running, biking, or swimming during the day, and I’ll be hot and tired and maybe not good company in the evening, but having you there sounds exquisite.”
During the rest of the week, the word “exquisite” kept popping up in Frank’s thoughts. In his wildest dreams, he’d never thought that anyone would use that word in something connected with him. However, she had.
The following morning, Frank struggled with twinges of guilt as he sipped his coffee and tried to read the paper. The titillation he felt at the prospect of spending a weekend with Roz kept intruding on what he was trying to read, but he fought it off. Catherine would be along in a few minutes and the idea of trying to make breakfast talk while thoughts of another woman flitted about in his head didn’t seem a desirable exercise.
“Do you have any plans for the weekend?” Catherine asked, as she breezed through the door.
Frank almost choked on his mouthful of coffee. “Ah, er, no,” he lied.
“I was wishing you did,” Catherine began, as she seated herself across from him. “I’m going to a meeting of the party’s steering committee on Friday, and I might be gone through Monday.”
“Big decisions to be made?” asked Frank with studied nonchalance as he pushed a plate of fruit and yogurt toward her.
“I’m going to announce that I want to run for that House seat coming open in the next election. The ensuing discussion might extend into Monday.”
The news didn’t surprise Frank. He’d known that becoming a judge wouldn’t satisfy her appetite for power. He’d been waiting for her to announce the next step. The fact of the matter was that he was ambivalent about her going into politics. He was accustomed to his opinion having little bearing on her doing what she wanted to do. This was her way of telling him what she was going to do next. Somewhere along the line, she’d initiate a “discussion” to help him feel comfortable with what she was going to do in any case.
This time, though, instead of feeling the usual mild annoyance, he felt elated. She wouldn’t know or care where he was on Sunday. His mind raced. The campaign would have her insanely busy for the next months. His role was to stay out of the way. He could do that while getting better acquainted with Roz!
He shook his head. He shouldn’t be entertaining those thoughts. “Um, no worries,” he replied. “I’ll dredge up something to do.”
Tenderly, Catherine looked at him. “Babe, this ‘empty nester’ thing isn’t easy for you is it?”
“It has been a big change, but I’ll get it sorted out.”
“I’ve been concerned—you seem bored and at loose ends.”
Thanks a bunch for noticing, Frank thought. She was ‘concerned’. So what? It wouldn’t influence anything. Maybe it was the best she could do.
On Friday evening, Frank drove into Palmdale and pulled up in front of the house where Roz and some ofher competitors were staying. She was leaning on her car looking like a million bucks, tax-free. Frank had to remind himself that the current task was to park the car. This was the first time he’d seen her in shorts, and it was some treat.
“Hi pal, the gang is all going to Salty’s Fish and Chips. Could we join them?”
“Uh, do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry. This bunch is cool. They won’t care or even think twice about who you are.”
After the meal, Frank and Roz excused themselves to go for a walk along the lakeshore. A cooling breeze off the lake moderated the oppressive heat as they walked.
“I hope you brought some shorts,” she said.
“Yeah ah did,” he said in a Ray Stevens mockery. Then, without thinking, he added, “I’m sure glad you brought yours.”
She stopped, looked up at him, and smiled.
Frank was seriously embarrassed. He fidgeted. “I . . . I . . . didn’t mean . . .”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. Thanks.”
The next morning, Frank sat in Roz’s car and watched her pedal away into the shimmering heat. Exquisite he thought. The sight of her in the lycra biking outfit was breathtaking. Up to the present moment, he would have objected to the idea that the rear view of any bicyclist could be called exquisite. Now, there it was, in front of him, disappearing into the heat.
He started the car and fumbled with the unfamiliar air conditioning controls. Once cool air started moving, he dug into the door pocket for the map she’d given him. Her route was marked with points of interest along the way.
When Frank found the ice cream stand at Black River Junction, all the tables were full of people in cycling togs. He bought an ice cream cone and sauntered around until he could score a table. It was sharp of Roz to recommend this tack, he thought as he settled down.
Roz parked the bike and took off her helmet. Man, whatta built, thought Frank as she shook her hair out. She had no makeup on, she was glistening with sweat, and her hair hung in soggy strings. To Frank, she looked like something right out of Playboy. “Why’d ya come in here lookin’ like that?” he quipped.
“It’s not hard to look a mess,” she said, plopping into the chair opposite him.
“On the contrary, I think you are proof ‘that you could stop traffic in a gunny sack’,” Frank continued with the song line.
Her face took on an expression that Frank hadn’t seen before. It was . . . was . . . sort of . . . he searched for the word. Gooey, he decided. The thought of her having a gooey expression was difficult to accept, but it was right there, looking at him.
“Thanks,” she said. “That’s nice to hear.”
“C’mon, you must get compliments all the time.”
“Not ones that I enjoy hearing.”
Frank felt a stirring that frightened him. This was going somewhere they’d both agreed to avoid. He was glad to have an alternate subject at hand. “On the actual race day, how long does the whole thing take?”
“The pros do it in about nine hours. I hope to break twelve this year.”
Frank shook his head and worked on his ice cream while watching her eat and drink unrecognizable concoctions—probably the “performance food” he’d heard them talking about last night. “Want an ice cream?” he asked.
“No thanks, gotta get truckin’ before I cool down.”
Exquisite, positively exquisite, thought Frank as he watched her pedal away. He didn’t make any of the points of interest along the rest of the route either. Instead, he leapfrogged ahead of her and waited for her to pass. Watching her go by was more fun than anything he could imagine.
As Frank waited at the end of the bike route, he began to wonder. For most of the day, she had been passing the other cyclists, but the order of people at the last couple of stops had indicated that she was losing ground. At this point, several of the cyclists that she led at the last stop had passed by without a sign of her. Frank began to worry as a guy in an electric blue outfit, riding a bright yellow bike, stopped alongside. “You waitin’ on Roz?” he asked.
“She fell about two miles back. She doesn’t appear to be hurt, but a couple of the girls are staying with her. She sent me to find you.”
Frank was in the car and on the way before he realized that he hadn’t thanked the man. He growled at himself and punched the trip meter. She wasn’t hard to find. A dozen or more bikes marked the site. A woman was out on the road to waie him down. Roz was propped up against a tree, cushioned by cycling gear. One gal was applying a wet cloth to her forehead. A guy was tying stuff back on her bike. Two others were fussing about—trying to make her more comfortable. Others stood close—ready to do whatever. As he approached her, the group backed away. One leg had a bloody scrape, but she looked ok otherwise.
The gal who had the wet cloth on Roz’s forehead looked up as he approached. “Dehydration—zoned out for a second and ran off the road. There do not seem to be any injuries other than the abrasion on her leg.”
A man’s voice behind Frank said, “Here it is, Lilly.” Frank turned to see a man holding out a first-aid kit. The guy looked at Roz, grinned and said, “You got enough stuff in that trunk to get Santa Anna’s whole ragged-assed army bikin’.”
Roz smiled weakly at him and grimaced as Lilly cleaned the wound.
Feeling like the fourth wheel on a tricycle, Frank knelt down beside Roz. She reached out and grabbed his hand.
“Wha . . . what,” Frank stammered.
“Like Lilly said,” Roz began in a weak voice. “I pushed too hard, didn’t pay enough attention to the signs of dehydration, and blanked out for a second . . . that’s all it took.”
Frank didn’t know what to say. He covered the hand that Roz had in his and held it.
After completing the bandage operation, Lilly stood and got Frank’s attention. “The fall doesn’t seem that bad. Other than a little cosmetic damage here, she seems ok. Take her home, put her to bed, and you sleep on the couch. Make sure she gets rest and fluids.”
Frank started to protest, but Roz squeezed his hand and shook her head slightly. “Thanks, Lil,” she said. “He’ll take good care of me. If I feel a twinge of anything, I’ll call you.”
The expression on the face of the tall, angular woman softened as she looked from Frank to Roz. “I’ll take that as a promise.”
One of the men came and knelt on the side of Roz opposite Frank. “Here, we’ll help you up.”
“I can walk ok,” she protested.
The man looked toward where Lilly was mounting her bicycle. “With Dr. Bitch in attendance?” he said with a sly grin.
“Roger that,” replied Roz, as she lifted her arms. “Ok boys, haul the invalid to the passenger side of the car.”
As they approached the car, Frank noticed that Roz’s bike had been loaded and that her helmet and gloves were in the back seat.
With Roz comfortable in the passenger seat, and the vehicle headed back for town, Frank turned to Roz. “That wasn’t nice, him calling the person who gave you first aid a bitch.”
Roz laughed. “We all call her that. She’s a first-rate physician—a trauma specialist—but she doesn’t have much use for men. She thinks they are all sex mongers. She’s brusque about telling people what they need to do to get better.”
“Dunno for sure, but I think so. Nevertheless, if you are ever in an accident, hope that she is in the ER. Uh, could we go to your place for a while? Right now, I don’t feel up to explaining what happened to the gang at the house.”
Frank redirected the car toward the outskirts of Palmdale.
Roz let out a low whistle as they entered Frank’s room at the motel. “This is more than nice,” she said, settling into a chair.
“What now?” he asked.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to curl up in that comfy bed over there. I might be able to snooze, but I should have more water.”
“I’ll go out and get you some bottled stuff. While I’m gone, you can get into my pyjamas. Do you feel like anything to eat?”
“A grease burger sounds good.”
“Ok, a six pack of Dissani and one Whopper coming up.”
“Hey, I could get used to this,” she called as Frank went out the door.
I could get used to having you get used to it, thought Frank as he went down the hallway. He shook his head in an attempt to clear the thought.
When Frank got back to the room, she was snoring softly. Her clothes lay in a pile by the door. He put the Whopper and a bottle of water on the nightstand. After gathering her clothes, a few of his own, and the novel he’d purchased, he headed for the laundry room. With the washer sloshing away, he opened the book. It had been a piece of luck to find an addition to the “Prey” series by John Sandford. One could rely on ole JS to deliver an absorbing tale. He needed something that would pull him in and get his mind off the beautiful thing in his bed.
When Frank returned to the room, almost two hours later, she was sitting up in bed with a glass in her hand. He looked at the water bottle. It was still half-full. He looked at the counter. His bottle of vodka sat there with the cap off.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” he asked.
“Hadda piddle . . . couldn’t get back t’ shleep . . . havin’ luscious dreams . . . only way t’ avoid reality.”
Smashed, Frank thought. A couple of swallows of liquor on an empty stomach, in a dehydrated state, had sent the alcohol straight to her head.
“Com’ere” she commanded.
As Frank approached, he noticed the pyjama bottoms draped over the chair. What was going on here? As he reached the bed, she grabbed him around the neck, pulled him down and kissed him fiercely. With his last vestige of resistance, he mumbled weakly, “But Dr Bitch . . .”
Frank lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Roz was again snoring softly beside him. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He hadn’t been looking for an affair; he just wanted to meet someone he could to talk to. Shit! Who had he been kidding? He’d asked to meet a woman. Where did he expect it to go if they hit it off?
After midnight, Roz stretched and threw the covers back. Frank was still awake.
“Gotta get back to the house,” she offered. “The gang does the swim together for safety reasons. We’re hitting the beach at zero eight hundred.” She turned on the light and began dressing from the neat pile of clean clothes. “Thanks awfully for doing these up for me.”
Frank didn’t acknowledge. He lay with his hands under his head, staring at the ceiling.
“Trying to figure out whether you still respect me?” she asked playfully.
“How can you be so flip when we’ve just screwed up our own lives beyond repair and taken two other innocent people with us?” he growled.
She walked over to the end of the bed and regarded him earnestly. After a couple of minutes, he met her eyes. “I do understand your feelings of guilt, and I respect you for them,” she began in a level tone. “But, I don’t share your premonitions of doom and gloom. I think that this whole business will work out to the benefit of all concerned.”
Frank was astounded. His lashing out hadn’t touched her. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “How can you possibly say such a thing?” he moaned.
“You’re in no shape for an explanation right now. I’ll be out of the water around ten. I’ll forego the run this afternoon if you want to talk.”
Frank started to protest, but she was on her way out the door. He lay back and stared at the ceiling again. She’d warned him that many people thought her crazy. Well, he had to admit her reactions were anything but typical. But crazy? Hardly. Sure, some people would label her impenetrable confidence crazy. Nevertheless, didn’t her accomplishments justify it? Everything—her talk, her walk and now her reaction to the spectre of total disaster—radiated total confidence. He loved it . . . loved what other people called crazy . . . loved her . . . loved the whole package . . . the time had come to admit it.
Frank searched the beach. It was past eight. His fears of being late subsided at the sight of a group of people. Roz’s car wasn’t there ,but she was. She came running over as he pulled up. Even in a wetsuit, she looked smashing.
“Hi pal, I didn’t think you’d make it, but I was hoping you would.”
Frank put his hand over the one she’d placed on the sill. Her grin softened into a smile. She turned her hand over and squeezed his.
“Wanted to see you off,” he said simply.
“This will take a couple of hours. Will you be here when I get back?”
“Great!” she exclaimed, disengaged her hand, and ran to one of the parked cars. She returned with a small bundle that she threw over Frank into the passenger seat. Putting her hand on his cheek, she said, “See you in a couple. And, I meant what I said about foregoing the run if you want to talk.”
Frank got out of the car, leaned against the fender, and watched the group of swimmers. As they got farther out into the lake, they seemed so tiny. His heart jumped into his throat the first couple of times they disappeared over a swell, but it got easier after they reappeared each time.
An hour later, Frank couldn’t explain his anxiety as he scanned the water. The sense of relief he felt when he spotted the first swim cap was enormous. He had to wait awhile before he could count the swimmers, but they were all there. The last time he’d felt a comparable sense of relief was when his daughter had returned from her first solo drive with all the fenders intact.
Roz was among the first out of the water. Breathing heavily, she trotted up to him. “Say, you are some good luck charm,” she began, between breaths. “I almost kept up with the front runners today. I can’t ever remember feeling this strong in the water.” She reached into the car, retrieved the bundle, and started around the car. “C’mon, help me out of this thing.”
Several of the other swimmers were now in the grassy area across the road, getting out of their wet suits. Roz unzipped her wet suit as she went around a clump of bushes. She was wiggling her arms free when she turned around. There wasn’t anything underneath! “Don’t just stand there and stare,” she said with a laugh as she sat on the ground. “Grab the legs and pull!”
Frank loosened the leg zippers. Grabbing the ends of the legs, he tugged as she wiggled to get free. In addition to getting her out of the wet suit, the process had considerable entertainment value. Fascinated, he watched her towel off and dress.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ran through Frank’s mind as he drove away from Palmdale on Sunday evening. How was he going to tell Catherine? What could he do to soften the blow? Maybe he should just disappear . . .
His phone chimed. There was a text coming in. He pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and looked at the screen.
“All going great. Now officially a candidate for the seat. More functions to attend. Won’t be home until Wed.—C”
The thought of having an extra couple of days to think about his approach was welcome.
On Sunday evening, Roz walked through the door of her house.
A light came from the library doorway. She heard a fire crackling in the hearth. Tossing her coat over the newel post, she walked in. A vase of roses on the coffee table greeted her. A.P. lounged comfortably in his chair. Taking her chair, she noticed a glass of wine on the end table. She picked it up. “Are we celebrating or toasting?” she asked.
A.P. held up his glass. “That remains to be seen,” he said with a smile, and took a drink.
Roz followed suit. It was good plonk, better than their usual stock. “You have something to tell me?” she said.
A.P. smiled broadly. “Yes.”
Roz took a breath and set her wine glass down. “I also have something to tell. Would you mind awfully if I went first?”
“Certainly not,” A.P. replied. He held his glass up. “Proceed.”
As Roz related her encounter with Frank, A.P. listened carefully, taking the occasional sip of wine. When she fell silent, he asked, “Do I know this Frank?”
“No, but you probably know his wife—Her Honour Catherine Grant.”
“Indeed I do. She’s a fine judge. I don’t envy Frank. But, don’t you like the flowers?”
Deep furrows appeared between Roz’ eyebrows. “I love them, thanks, but . . . but I’ve just confessed infidelity. How can you talk about flowers? Aren’t you mad? Why don’t you yell?”
A.P. put his wine glass on the table. “That would be most inappropriate because the reason for the wine and flowers is bethst wish to confess my infidelity to you.”
Roz felt a wave of shock. She knew her eyes were wide when she said, “Do I know her?”
“No, no you don’t. And, it’s not her—it’s him.”
“What?” Roz blurted, her eyes going wider yet.
“Well, it has to do with the time I’ve been spending in the hospital over this heart thing. The first day I was in the hospital, I was visited by the chaplain. We hit it off well. Each day, his visits got longer. Finally, we had to admit a considerable physical attraction,” A.P. said. He paused, looked up at Roz, and studied her face for some seconds. “You’re not repulsed?”
“Should I be?”
“Well, if l were looking at a similar situation from without, I think I would be. Nevertheless, from within, I find it beautiful. I didn’t know this about myself. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been much good as a husband. I haven’t been excited. I’d come to think something was wrong with me, like I didn’t have the capacity to become sexually excited, but he excites me—intensely.”
Roz closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. “That does explain a lot.”
A.P. waited a full minute before asking, “That’s it? You’re not mad?”
Roz looked at him with loving eyes. “You old dog. How could I be mad? I was unfaithful . . .”
A.P. put his wine glass down. “I’d hardly call one romp in the hay when you were drunk unfaithful . . . particularly with someone like me at home—”
“Whoa, stop!” snapped Roz with a frown. “I won’t listen to you dissing yourself any more.” The frown softened into a sly grin as she said, “You perverse old hound—porkin’ a padre—how was it?”
A wide grin split A.P.’s face. “God, you are wonderful. Nobody else would have reacted that way. I love you.”
“Yes, and I love you. But I still want to know.”
“Unbelievable. Now I know what people mean by earthquakes. It popped the wax in my ears.”
Roz hooted, drained her glass, and held it out for a refill. “Let’s toast to new relationships.”
A.P. poured. They toasted and sat quietly with their own thoughts for some minutes.
“Uh, do you think I should move out?” asked A.P.
“Why ever would you think that?”
“Well, I’d like to have Roy over once in a while, and I’m supposing that you’d like to live with Frank eventually.”
“All we need to accommodate Roy is separate bedrooms. It would be awkward if I had to come into the room for a pair of panties when you two were snuggled up in the sack.”
A.P. looked incredulous. “You’d be ok with that arrangement?”
“Sure. I’ll move into the guest room.”
“Y’ know, I could move out, leaving the house to you and Frank.”
“Nah, if there is any future for us, it’s going to be in a house he provides. He’s been Mr. Catherine for too long. I’m not going to ask him to be Mr. Roslyn.”
A.P. looked at her admiringly. “You are certainly one of a kind. I love you. If you weren’t married already, I’d propose.”
“Look at you now! How the mighty have fallen! Mr. Ultra-respectable Barrister turns out to be a closet gay who is now suggesting bigamy!”
They laughed their way through the rest of the bottle. When it was gone, they hugged and Roz retired to the guest room.
Frank sat at the breakfast bar with a death grip on his coffee cup. He couldn’t believe what his eyes and ears were telling him. He’d told Catherine about Roz and DE. In preparation, he’d thought long and hard about what he’d say if Catherine’s initial reaction had been outrage, hurt, or the numerous other ways a woman might react. Instead, she had simply looked surprised and said, “This may work out well.” She was now looking past him, out the window. He waited for her to gather her thoughts.
She looked back at him. “I’ve been concerned about you for some time,” she began.
“What?” Frank almost shouted.
“Hush,” she said quietly, “let me finish. After I win the election, I won’t be spending much time here. I know you won’t want to come to Washington with me. You’d chafe in the ‘Mr. Representative-Catherine-Grant’ role.”
Damn right, thought Frank. Since she’d announced her intention to run for congress, he hadn’t given much thought to how things would play out between them if she won. He smiled. This was his ice-queen all right; instead of doing the betrayed wife thing, she was calmly calculating the effects.
“I have given it a lot of thought,” she continued, “and, honestly, I was at a loss. If I’m in Washington and you are here for long periods, I can’t expect celibacy from you. However, if my opponents discovered that you were running around, it could be damaging. Campaigning as the happily married woman is perfect, but the aftermath had me buffaloed.
“Now, I’m beginning to see some light. After I’ve been in office for a few months, we can announce that service to my country is taking a toll on my domestic life. We will announce a trial separation. Campaigning for reelection as a woman sacrificing her home to serve her constituents will be an absolute ace.”
“How can you . . . ? Frank stammered, “Our life together . . . don’t you care . . . ?
She reached out and took his hand. “Sure I care, babe. I care about you being happy, but it’s time to move on. We’ve had a good run, but you are bored to death. At least, you were until you met Roz.” She grinned. “I was worried about you when the kids left for university—you were so at loose ends. I was pleased when you started trying all these new things, and I was even more pleased to see the way it was brightening you up. I should have suspected there was more to it. The reality is that the next step for each of us does not include the other.” She released his hand and sat back.
“Do you want me to move out?” was all Frank could think of to say. Wasn’t that what husbands usually said after confessing?
“Absolutely not!” Catherine replied. “And, that’s not the politician protecting images. I appreciate what we’ve had together, and I don’t think there is another man alive who could have pulled it off. What I want is that we share the same house and the same bed—like we have for years—until I move to Washington.”
Frank couldn’t say anything for several minutes. When he did speak, his voice was shaking. “I . . . I . . . I’m so sorry—”
Catherine interrupted him. “No need to be. Politics is the next step for me. It’s what I’m supposed to do. I could never be a complete person without answering the call. Nevertheless, I understood, when I decided to go into politics, that being a congresswoman’s husband would never work for you. In a sense, my embracing politics was being unfaithful to you. So, I think the score is even.”
Frank looked at Catherine with incredulity all over his face. “That’s it?”
“Yes, all I ask is that you guys be discreet until things play out and you are legally a free man. I have no doubt you can pull that off.”
Frank was still sitting at the breakfast bar long after Catherine left. Was he a hitchhiker in a Douglas Adams novel? The fabric of reality had unraveled. If there was anything as certain as death and taxes, it should have been the reaction of a betrayed woman. Catherine had just referred to him and his mistress as “you guys,” and expressed confidence in their joint judgment. It was a Richter scale 13 jolt to his concept of reality. He remembered Roz’s crazy words, “But, I don’t share your premonitions of doom and gloom. I think that this whole business will work out to the benefit of all concerned.” Could it be that Roz was right?