Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cassie and Garrett - Part 2

By Liz Zuercher

            After that first real date, Garrett and I slipped seamlessly into a committed relationship. We spent almost all our spare time together, as much as a couple could when one had weekends off like a normal person and the other was off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  He traveled all around the world for his job, so I ended up still having lots of time for myself.  I liked that.  I didn’t feel claustrophobic in a relationship like this.  The other bonus of dating Garrett was getting to know his mother.  She was indeed, as he’d said the first day I met her, a lovable piece of work, emphasis on the lovable part.
            When Garrett traveled, Barbara and I spent time together, filling my days off with more activity and fun than I’d ever had before.  She didn’t smother me, which easily could have been the case.  Instead, she woke me up to a life outside of work.  She expanded my horizons, taking me to art galleries and museums, as well as plays and movies.  We went shopping at out of the way boutiques with funky clothes that she knew how to put together in a way that made them look more stylish than foolish.  We walked on the beach at low tide looking for sea glass.  We lunched at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants she called hidden treasures.  We laughed and talked and laughed and talked some more.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think we were mother and daughter.
            In fact, I came to feel closer to Barbara than I’d ever felt to my own mother.  I admired Barbara, because she did what my mother was never able or willing to do: she got herself out of an unhealthy relationship with an alcoholic.  That took spunk my mother would never have.  Barbara became a confidant, a friend, a sounding board for all my aggravations, large and small.  The only thing I couldn’t talk to Barbara about was Garrett, and that was the very thing I needed advice on most.
            Just once I’d like to find a man who wasn’t fatally flawed or boring.  Garrett ended up being both.  The fatal flaw was that he was an alcoholic like his dad and mine.  I was afraid of taking that on, even though he’d gone through rehab and had been sober for ten years.  That was so commendable.  I felt small for still being wary of him.  But Garrett had said himself, it was day by day.  Like with injured athletes – “He’s day-to-day,” the coach says when pressed by the media to comment on the condition of his star player.  Garrett was day-to-day for me.  Deep down, I didn’t feel completely sure of him.
            What was worse, I felt like a heartless chump to doubt him.  I really did care about him.  I felt sad when he drove off after a date.  I felt lonely when he traveled for his job.  But was that enough to base a lifetime on?  What about the times we were together?        Ah, there was the other shoe.  Garrett was comfortable.  He was kind and considerate and he loved me.  He said so over and over.  I hadn’t been able to say those words yet.  Maybe I loved him, too, but if I did, it was a quiet sort of love.  I didn’t feel the physical rush I had when I looked into Billy’s eyes or heard Patrick’s rich voice.  Maybe, though, that was a good thing.  Maybe those feelings were for teenagers and early twenties girls.  I was in my late thirties.  I was grown up now.  Maybe grownups didn’t get the tingles up their spines.  If that’s what I was waiting for with Garrett, I knew I’d be waiting a long time.
            Still, he was so solid.  Or was he?  If we were married, would he stop being solid?  Would he let down his defenses against alcohol once I let down mine? When push came to shove, what I finally realized was that I might love Garrett’s mother more than I loved him.

* * * * *

            On our one-year-since-we-met anniversary, Garrett took me to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the ocean to celebrate.  He knew I loved watching the sunsets and timed the reservations so we’d get the whole sunset experience.  Just as the most glorious colors filled the sky, Garrett dropped to one knee, his back to the sunset, and produced a ring.
            “Cassie, I love you,” he said, his face beaming, his voice full and confident.  “Will you marry me?”
            I was caught completely off guard.  Garrett had hinted at marriage before, but we hadn’t really discussed it.  I was so flustered I didn’t know what to say.  I looked at his expectant face, his eyes filled with love, his dark brown hair rustling slightly in the ocean breeze.  Then terror gripped me when I realized I didn’t want to be his wife.  How could I tell him that in front of a restaurant full of onlookers waiting for my reply, anxious to share our joyous moment?
            I was angry with him for putting me in that position.  At the same time I admired his courage to lay himself on the line so publicly.  It was so out of character for him that it underscored for me how much he must love me to risk his feelings like that.  He was such a good man, I thought.  He would take care of me and we could have babies together, something I wanted more than anything else.  I might never have another chance at this, I thought.
            I don’t know how long I left him there on his knee waiting for my answer.  It seemed like my inner battle went on for hours. I felt a stoppage of time, like everyone there was holding their collective breath, waiting for my answer. Finally, the restaurant crowd got restless.  Someone started a slow clap and everyone joined in.
            “What’ll it be, honey?” a man’s voice in the distance cried out.  
            What it came down to was the children we could have – that and the fact that Barbara would become my mother if I married Garrett.
            “Yes,” I said, feeling resignation and regret the moment I said it.
            The crowd cheered as Garrett placed a one carat solitaire diamond on my finger and gave me a long kiss.  As we hugged after the kiss, I watched the last of the color leave the sky over Garrett’s shoulder.  What had I done?

* * * * *
            The cold white tile of the restaurant bathroom reflected the bright ceiling lights, blinding me briefly as I dried my hands in the hot air dryer.  I watched the folds of skin on my hands ripple like ocean waves, as I moved my hands back and forth under the contraption.  My new engagement ring rode with my left hand, glinting at me as my hands dried.
            Everything in the bathroom was automatic.  The light went on automatically when you entered.  The toilet flushed all by itself. A big dab of foamy soap poofed out into your hand and the water flowed into the trough-like sink when you put your hand in front of the sensors.  You didn’t have to think about any part of it except placing your hands in the right place.  Unfortunately, that left all too much time for me to stare into the mirror at my face, which was twisted into a state of shock.
            The diamond on my finger gleamed brightly and caught my eye no matter where I looked.  If I truly loved Garrett, this would be a glorious surreal moment, here in a restaurant bathroom looking at my brand new engagement ring.  Instead, it was just plain surreal, as I tried to figure out how I was going to get out of this engagement.  Fifteen minutes in and I wanted out.  But I couldn’t do it here. It would have to wait until we were alone.
            The blower finished drying my hands and I removed them from under it.  There were no more automatic steps to take in the bathroom, so I took a deep breath and went back to the table with the ocean view and my new fiance.  If only there was a machine to undo this engagement for me.

* * * * *

            Barbara was first to be told and she, of course, was delighted.  Her warmth and joy made me think marrying Garrett would be okay after all.  But once I was alone in my own home the next day, I put the ring in its box on the dresser and ignored it.  I didn’t call Sarah and tell her the news. I didn’t call Gail or Trish or Melinda.  I didn’t tell anyone.
            It was a Tuesday morning, so thankfully I didn’t have to go to work and be excited in front of anyone.  I could hole up for the next two days and mull this all over, get used to the idea of being engaged.
            All the years of wanting someone in my life, of wanting a family, came rushing up at me.  Here it was, what I’d wished for, and I didn’t want it.  Yes, I wanted the family.  I longed for the family.  But I didn’t long for Garrett.  Was that fair to him?
            I was deep into these thoughts when he called.
            “Is this my future wife?” he said with a happy lilt in his voice I’d never heard before.  I was lured in by that.  It suddenly sounded good to me.  Why was I fighting it?
            “Yes,” I said to him for the second time in twenty-four hours, and I felt a little closer to really meaning it.
            We talked for a while until Garrett had to get back to work.
            “Are you wearing your ring?” he asked before hanging up.
            I looked down at my bare finger and lied to him again.
            “Yes,” I said. “It’s beautiful.”
            “Just like you,” he said.
            When he hung up I crawled into bed and curled into the fetal position.  Why couldn’t I be happy with him? For Barbara.  For the babies.
            I closed my eyes and envisioned the three children Garrett and I would have.  They would be loved unconditionally by both of us.  And spoiled rotten by Barbara.  We would have a comfortable home and a good solid life.  That was something wasn’t it?  It was more than I grew up with, and that for me at that moment was reason enough.  I deserved that.
            I got out of bed and walked over to the dresser, where the ring box sat.  I picked it up, enclosed it with both my hands and held it for a moment before opening it up.  I took the ring from its perch and slipped it on my finger.

* * * * *

            Once I left the safety of my condo wearing the ring, all bets were off.  I was swept along on the wave of enthusiasm everyone felt for my engagement.  Sarah, especially, was ecstatic.  Melinda Casey was beside herself to think she had finally been the one to find me a husband.  I began to wonder if all my friends, co-workers and buyers had thought I was a lost cause, a sad, unmarried, childless woman who put on a brave happy face.  Did they whisper behind my back about poor Cassie?  Now were they saying how relieved they were Cassie had a man?  How Cassie wouldn’t be so alone anymore?  My hackles went up when I imagined people feeling sorry for me, and it bugged me even more that they’d think only a man would be a cure-all for my sad life.  How did they know I wasn’t happy just the way I was, before Garrett?
            I hedged on setting a wedding date.  I had a boatload of excuses:  I’d just opened a new neighborhood and couldn’t take time off until it was nearly finished; I couldn’t do it around the holidays, because of year-end closings;  I couldn’t do it in the spring, because I had phase releases;  June wouldn’t do, because everyone would be on vacation.  If anything could set Garrett drinking again, it was my indecision.  But he was a prince, so understanding and patient.  I didn’t deserve him.
            Barbara was eager to help me plan the wedding, and she wanted to pay for everything.  I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of getting married.  In the back of my head I held onto the niggling idea that I wasn’t going to go through with it.  I’d hate it if Barbara had spent a lot of money to put on a wedding and I didn’t show up.  So I put her off.  I was happy with a long engagement, I said.  Don’t wait too long, she replied.
            After six months of engagement and no set wedding date, Garrett finally lost his patience.  We were at his place curled up on the sofa together watching an “ER” episode where a whole wedding party ended up in the hospital.
            “Why don’t we have a date set yet?” Garrett said, a tinge of pain in his voice.  He held my left hand in his and stroked the solitaire diamond with his thumb.
            I started in on all my excuses, but he stopped me.
            “No,” he said.  “None of that should matter.  What’s the real reason?”
            I couldn’t look at him.  A giant lump sat in my throat and I couldn’t talk around it.
            “I don’t know,” I said in a whisper.
            “Don’t you want to get married?” he asked, his voice unsteady, serious.
            My eyes welled up.  Here it was, my opportunity to tell him the truth, but I couldn’t quite muster the words.
            “I don’t know,” I said again, even softer than before.
            “Don’t you love me?” he asked, choking back his own tears.
            That was the question, wasn’t it?  The heart of the matter.  I did love him, I really did, but not enough to commit my whole life to him.  And I didn’t want to give up my freedom, my independence.  Even for children.
            “I don’t know,” I said with great sadness.

* * * * *

            We talked and talked that night, all my doubts spilling out into the open.  The more I talked, the more Garrett withdrew into himself.  He didn’t get angry.  I could have coped with angry.  Instead he became sullen, and I saw a glimpse of the kind of drunk he would be, if he still drank.  All I could think of was what a bad person I was to bring this pain to him.  It wasn’t fair to him, this marriage.  I couldn’t be the wife he needed, and he couldn’t be the husband I wanted.  I certainly didn’t want to bring children into a relationship like that.
            When we were talked out, we sat there looking at each other, neither one able to take the next inevitable step.  Finally, Garrett spoke.
            “What now?” he said, the slightest glimmer of hope in his eyes.
            “I can’t do this to you,” I said, slipping the ring off my finger and placing it gently on the glass coffee table in front of us.  It sat there, light still reflecting off its facets as if it were alive.  “You deserve better than what I can give you.”
            His eyes searched mine.
            “Couldn’t we just think about it for a while before we make a decision?” he said, picking up the ring and holding it out to me.  “I’ll be in Dubai for a month.  We could leave things as they are and see how we feel when I get back.  Couldn’t we?”
            I almost reached for the ring, but I stopped myself.  I couldn’t make the promise the ring signified.  I shook my head sadly.
            “I’m so sorry,” I managed to say before gathering my things and bolting for the door.
            Outside, I sat in my car and cried for a good fifteen minutes before I finally turned the key in the ignition and drove to my empty home.

* * * * *

            Sarah tried to talk me out of it.  Melinda Casey called to plead Garrett’s case.  They didn’t sway me.  The only one who came close to changing my mind was Barbara, who called in tears to beg me to reconsider.  I couldn’t tell her I regretted losing her more than her son, so I only told her one side of it.  I told her I wasn’t good enough for Garrett, that I didn’t share the same kind of love for him that he had for me.  I told her he should have someone who could love him that way.  Only when Barbara gave up trying to convince me to stay did I feel like I could put it behind me and move on.  I wasn’t sure there would be anything to move on to.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever find a man to love the way Garrett loved me, but I knew I couldn’t live the lie of marrying someone I wasn’t crazy about.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cops and Robbers

by Susan Matthewson

“I swan,” my Texas grandmother drawled. “I swan” is Southern for “I swear,” but since Southern ladies don’t swear, they can only swan. Grandma was swanning because our sedate little neighborhood had just been visited by the police for the second time in a week.
The first visit started Monday morning with two patrol cars in front of the Robinette’s house and a phone call from Mrs. Nordgren to report that 3-year-old Andy Robinette was missing. I called Meg immediately and told her we had an opportunity to use the detective skills we’d learned by reading Nancy Drew books. “Get to my house quick and we’ll find Andy before the police,” I said. We snuck into the Robinette’s back yard and were peeking in a window when one of the policemen yelled, “He’s here. I’ve found him.”
“Dang,” I moaned. “They already got him.”
Turns out Andy had been asleep beneath the covers and a bunch of stuffed animals tumbled at the end of the bed. Andy’s mom saw the empty bed, couldn’t find him anywhere, decided he’d been kidnapped, and called the police. It took a trained policeman to know to look under the pile of covers.
I guess Meg and I should have been happy Andy was safe, but our hopes for a mayoral commendation, the newspaper front page, and free movie tickets vanished before we ever got started.
Two days later, Wednesday night, I saw a police car’s flashing red lights race down the alley. I was supposed to be in bed, but I snuck down the back stairs to the kitchen door and slipped out the alley gate.
Two police cars were parked in the alley behind the Samarzia’s house. A crowd of neighbors had gathered and Mrs. Duckworth, who lived across the alley from the Samarzias, was clutching a bag of golf clubs and sobbing into a wad of kleenex. Dr. Samarzia was attempting to remove the golf clubs from Mrs. D. and Mrs. Samarzia was saying, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Duckworth. I thought you were a prowler or a burglar.”
Through her sobs, Mrs. D. clutched even tighter to the clubs, wailing, “I am not a thief. These clubs were in the trash. I was salvaging them for the church thrift shop.”
“But Mrs. Duckworth,” said Dr. Samarzia, “I play with these clubs.”
“Then what are they doing in the trash?” she asked.
Dr. Samarzia paused, then turned to Mrs. Samarzia, “Well, Rosie, what are my golf clubs doing in the trash?”
But Rosie was gone. Mrs. S. had eased through the alley gate and was slinking through the back door. “Good night, all,” she called with a jaunty wave. “Everyone go to bed. Come on, Sam. So sorry!  Just a mistake.”
There wasn’t much to do but leave.
The next morning mom, dad, and grandma were annoyed that I’d sneaked out but so curious about the excitement that they got over their mad.
  “So why were the golf clubs in the trash?” my dad asked.
“Mrs. S. never explained that,” I said. “She just went back into the house, closed the door. Not even the police know what happened.”
“Well, I swan,” said grandma.
But, you know, I have a sneaky feeling Dr. S. is not swanning; I bet he’s swearing because I don’t think those golf clubs got in the trash by mistake. And I’m going to find out. I swan by Nancy Drew.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cassie and Garrett - Part 1

By Liz Zuercher


            After Patrick stole just about everything from me, I gave up on men for a long time and concentrated on taking care of myself.  I devoted myself to my new career in real estate, working long hours and sticking to the occasional night out with the gals I’d met in the office at Monterey Homes.  Nearly twenty years later, I was still friends with some of them, even though they’d left the company years ago, gotten married and had families.  A couple of them were divorced now and had tried to get me to go out bar hopping with them, but I didn’t drink and even though I wasn’t against going to bars, I just didn’t see the point of hanging out in a place where everyone was getting drunk.  And I sure as hell didn’t want to go there looking for a man like Gail and Trish did.  The last thing I wanted was a man who liked to drink a lot.  So when Gail said, “Let’s check out the clubs Friday night,” I declined.  My excuse was always plausible – “I have to work on Saturday and can’t be out late.” or “I have so much to catch up on I have to stay late Friday night.”  Really, you’d think those gals would know me better than that by now.
            From the minute we started working together, Sarah had gotten on a find-a-man-for-Cassie kick.  She just wanted me to be happy.  I knew that.  But why did happiness have to involve a man?  From my experience men just caused too much trouble and heartbreak, so why go looking for that?  Sure, there had been men in my life since Patrick, but they never lasted long.  Sarah said I was too picky and that I needed to relax a little and look at the positives.  But I wanted to be careful. I was determined not to get hurt again or to put all my eggs in one basket when it was just too easy for everything to get broken that way.
            Then came Garrett. Sarah and I were selling Harper’s Cove when cute Melinda and Cody Casey bought a house from us. Melinda joined forces with Sarah, determined to find me a mate.  The Caseys were USC people through and through, and they had a bevy of friends all over Southern California.  They must have trotted every eligible male USC graduate through the sales office at Harper’s Cove.  The cover story was always that they had this great friend from college who wanted to see their new house, but the story got flimsy after about the third time they brought someone through.  Here’s how it went:
            “Cassie, this is our good friend, (Fill in the blank).  We’re showing him our house.”
            They’d hang around the office talking and laughing and then when Cody would leave with (Fill in the blank) to go see the models, Melinda would hang back and say to me, “So, what do you think?  He’s great, right? And he’s got a really good job with (Fill in the blank), or he’s a lawyer, or he’s a doctor, or he’s a filmmaker, or whatever.  He’s such a great guy!”
            A few days later Melinda would call and say, “Cassie, (Fill in the blank) really liked you.  How about we all go out for dinner next weekend?”
            They were okay guys, probably some were great guys, but I always begged off until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I gave in.  I figured Melinda was never going to give up, so I might as well go one time.  Then I could say I gave it a try, but it just didn’t work.  So, the next guy the Caseys brought by got elected.  That guy was Garrett.
            Garrett was tall and handsome in a studious guy kind of way, lanky and soft-spoken, but with a warm smile and serious dark brown eyes.  I had to admit that if I were going to fall for someone just by looking at him, it could have been Garrett.  But he was on the shy side and a little hard to talk to.  I thought maybe Melinda was scraping the bottom of the USC personality barrel with this one.  Looks he had.  Pizzazz not so much.
            We all went to a trendy Newport Beach restaurant, the kind where every surface is hard and shiny and anyone who’s anyone was there, talking at the top of their lungs, because it was so loud you couldn’t have a conversation otherwise.  It was a Saturday night and I had had a crazy busy day at work.  My head was starting to pound as we were seated in the restaurant.  I noticed that Garrett declined the wine when I did and wondered if he did that to be polite or if he really didn’t drink.  Cody and Melinda shared a bottle of Merlot and talked non-stop.  I didn’t say much and neither did Garrett.  It was an okay evening, but nothing to write home about, and all I could think of was how I could make an excuse and go home, take an Excedrin and go to bed.  But I put on my smile and pretended to be enjoying myself.  No one would ever have known I wasn’t having a good time.
            Garrett, who it turned out was an engineer, occasionally joined in the conversation, but mostly he kept silent.  It occurred to me that he was just as uncomfortable as I was and that he couldn’t wait to go home either.  I felt a little stab of anger at the thought that he might not be enjoying my company, but then reminded myself that he’d probably been roped into this whole thing, too.  Why wouldn’t he feel the same way I did about it all?
            Finally, the dinner was over and I made my excuses not to go on to a bar for a nightcap.  Work tomorrow, must get some rest.  I drove home to my peaceful condo, ears still full of the restaurant’s reverberations.  The next day Melinda called me at work.
            “Wasn’t that a great evening?” she said.
            “Yes,” I lied.
            “I think Garrett really liked you,” Melinda said.  “I know he’s really quiet, but I’m sure he thought you were great.  How did you like him?”
            “He seems like a nice guy,” I said.
            “Ooo, there’s a BUT coming, isn’t there?” Melinda said.
            “I just don’t think he’s my type,” I said, hoping that would be the end of it.
            “Well, don’t write him off,” Melinda said. “He’s still water.  You know, still water runs deep and all that.  Promise you’ll give him a chance if he calls you.”
            “Sure,” I said, just to get Melinda off the subject.
            I didn’t hear anything from Garrett for two weeks.  I figured I’d dodged a bullet and wouldn’t have to come up with some big story about why I couldn’t go out with him.  Then he walked into the sales office one Sunday with his mother.
            Hate was a strong word, but I really hated this situation and everyone who had landed me here – Sarah, Cody, Melinda, but mostly right then I hated Garrett.  And I hated that I had to look him in the eye and smile and act like I was happy to see him.  I even almost hated his mother just for being with him, so that I’d have to be especially polite and charming, because I couldn’t be mean to an old lady.  The worst part was that Garrett’s mother was elegant and charming, with the same warm smile Garrett had.  That made me feel like such a fake, such an evil shrew for hating them both right then, even though I barely knew them.
            Garrett’s mom put out her hand and I shook it.
            “I’m Barbara Fleming, Garrett’s mom,” she said with a gentle, refined voice.  “I’m happy to meet you.”
            “The pleasure’s mine, Mrs. Fleming,” I said in my best sales voice.
            “Oh, please.  It’s Barbara,” Mrs. Fleming said.
            Garrett hung back, his eyes cast to the carpet and I wondered if he’d found the smudge of dirt the carpet cleaner had missed the last time he was there.
            “Garrett, you didn’t say she was so lovely,” Barbara said, and Garrett turned bright red.
            Good lord, I thought, he was still a little boy, not a man in his late thirties.
            Garrett stammered a little before regaining his composure and saying, “I didn’t tell you anything about Cassie, Mom, just that we’d had dinner together with Cody and Melinda.”
            He mouthed the word, sorry, to me behind his mother’s back.
            I got back into sales mode – I was at work after all – and asked what brought them to Harper’s Cove.
            “Mom wanted to see Cody’s new house,” Garrett said.
            “Cody’s like another son to me,” Barbara added.  “Like a brother to Garrett.  I needed to see where he’s going to live if he’s moving so far away from me.”
            So they toured the models and when they came back through, Barbara had to visit the bathroom, leaving Garrett and me alone together.
            “She’s beautiful,” I said.
            “She’s a piece of work,” Garrett said, a smile breaking out on his face for the first time since he’d come in the front door. “But she’s a lovable piece of work.  I’m afraid she only has me to dote on, and she takes her doting seriously.”
            “How about your dad?” I said, hoping we hadn’t already covered that topic in the noisy Newport restaurant.
            “Out of the picture,” Garrett said.
            “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to pry,” I said.
            “Not a problem,” Garrett said.  “She’s – we’re – better off without him.”
            I felt a twisting in my stomach and a sudden kinship with Garrett.  I knew what it was like to be better off without your dad.  I couldn’t help saying so.
            “I understand that,” I said, and Garrett gave me the soft probing look of a kindred spirit.
            “Alcohol?” he said.  “I noticed you weren’t drinking the other night.”
            “Yes,” I said, “among other things.”
            “Us, too,” he said, and as if he had said all he was willing to say about that subject, he changed tacks.
            “I’m sorry I never called after our dinner,” he said.
            To my surprise, I said, “So am I.”  I realized I meant it.  He didn’t offer any explanation, but I didn’t really need one.
            Barbara came back from the restroom then and we all said our goodbyes.  I watched them walk arm in arm to the car.  Garrett opened the passenger door for his mom and said something to her that made her laugh, then he gently closed the door.  As he walked around to the driver’s side, he glanced back at the sales office, saw me watching him, smiled and waved.  I waved back, a slow, embarrassed wave that made me feel like an idiot.  He looked back, I thought.  He smiled and waved.
            I realized I was still waving after they’d already driven out of sight, when Sarah came out of her office, looked out to the empty parking lot and said, “Who are you waving at?”
            “Oh, no one,” I said, halting in mid-wave.  “Just the Flemings.”
            “Who are the Flemings?”
            I shrugged and said, “Just some guy the Caseys fixed me up with and his mom.”
            “Ah ha,” Sarah said, a sly smile creeping onto her face.  “Do we have a winner finally?”
            “I don’t know,” I said.  “I’ve only just met him.”
            “I think we have a winner!” Sarah said, doing a little happy dance around the topo table.
            “Why would you say that?” I said.
            “Because you’re waving at the empty parking lot with a bewildered look on your face.  And…you told me his name without a sneer or a groan or a rolling of the eyes.  Yippee!” Sarah danced around again like a teenager instead of a fifty-year-old woman.
            “Ridiculous,” I said. “He hasn’t even asked me out.”
            “But you want him to, don’t you?” Sarah said.
            I thought about it for a minute.  Did I want to subject myself to dating?  Did I want to see this guy again?  What good could come of it?  Probably nothing but heartache.  But there was a little flutter in my chest that defied reason.
            “Yes,” I finally said to Sarah. “I wouldn’t mind.”
            “Well, that’s a major victory,” Sarah said.  “Let’s call Melinda and tell her.”
            “NO!” I said.  “We’re not telling anyone anything about this until there’s actually something to tell.  Promise me.”

* * * * *

            We sat in the car in front of my house after our first real date, both looking straight ahead through the windshield.  He asked me if I had ever been a drinker.
            “Not me,” I said.  “I saw what it did to my parents, especially my mom, and I swore I’d never be like that.  I can’t surrender control like that, surrender my dignity.  How about you?”
            Garrett paused before he answered.  “I was a big drinker in college,” he said, looking over at me to gauge my reaction.
            “And now?” I asked.
            “Now, I stay away from it,” he said.
            “Because you want to or because you need to?” I asked.  This answer was important to me, I realized, maybe the most important answer he would ever give me.
            “Both,” he said. “I was out of control for a long time until I went to rehab.”
            “What made you quit?” I asked.
            “My mother. She’s a force of nature,” he said. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “And my wife.”
            “Wife?” I said, choking a little on the word. “You have a wife?”
            “Not any more,” he said. “She couldn’t take it, the drinking and the sulking.  I’m a morose drunk.  I don’t blame her.  I wasn’t exactly the best husband in the world.”
            I couldn’t come up with anything to say.  This side of Garrett rattled me.  Sure, he was sober now, but how could I know he’d stay that way?
            “Am I scaring you away?” he said, a combination of hope and resignation in his eyes.
            “A little,” I said.  I clutched the little black bag that held only my house key, lipstick, Kleenex, an emergency twenty-dollar bill and a credit card.  Sarah had given it to me a couple years ago for dates, so I wouldn’t have to carry my giant Coach bag.  It was the first time I’d used it, and it felt awkward, insufficient. 
            “Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to run as far away from me as you could get. But I’m not the same person I was then.” He paused and looked over at me.  “Do you think people can change?”
            “I’d like to think so,” I said. “But I’ve had bad experience with alcoholics and I’m not sure I have a lot of confidence that a person could overcome that.”
            “I felt that way, too, until I met some alcoholics who had turned their lives around and stayed turned around.  It has to come from inside.  The people who make it have a deep desire to change and a stubborn persistence.  I think most of all you have to believe in yourself and respect yourself.”
            “Do you?” I said. “Believe in and respect yourself?”
            “So far,” he said.  “A day at a time.”
            Which made me shift in my seat and wonder what I was doing there with him.
            I perched on the edge on the car’s front seat like a cat ready to leap. He leaned over and kissed me goodnight – a sweet, gentle kiss that made me question why I felt so anxious to get out of the car and run into my condo, away from him.
            He pulled away, but reached to squeeze my hand.  It was a soft touch, but strong and purposeful.  Gentle and rough at the same time.  I looked into his eyes – deep brown, searching mine – and for a moment I thought of asking him in.  Then reason took over and I just said goodnight and thank you.
            “I’ll call you,” he said.
            Was that a true “I’ll call you” or the kind that meant when hell freezes over?  He seemed sincere when he said it, but I still had that gut feeling I couldn’t trust him.  In truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to call, but I’d had a good time, and I decided I should give him a chance.
            “Great,” I said.  “I’d like that.”
            “It might not be for a couple of weeks,” he said.  “I have a business trip to Saudi Arabia coming up, but after that?”
            “Perfect,” I said, actually relieved that I’d have some time to think about this rehab curveball he’d just thrown at me.  “Have a great trip.”
            I put my hand on the door handle, but before I could open the door, he jumped out of the car and went around to open it for me.  That simple act of chivalry grabbed my heart.  Who did that anymore? He was such a nice guy.  Too nice, maybe.
            We kissed again briefly on my doorstep and I went inside.  I stood in the dark, my back against the closed front door and thought about Garrett.  What a puzzle he was.  Nothing about him seemed to be what I expected.  I’d gotten to be a very good judge of people in my years selling homes, but I just couldn’t get a read on this one, or on how I felt about him.  That was unsettling.  In the past I’d run from anyone I felt this uncertain about, but I didn’t feel like running from Garrett.

            I listened to his car start up and heard the sound of it fade as he drove down the street.  I felt a sense of loss in knowing he was headed away from me.  What the heck was that all about?

To Be Continued