more of the book in progress, as requested by a friend!
Now, when someone refuses to tell you something unless you promise not to get angry, it’s a sure bet that they know you will kick the living shit out of them for what they are about to reveal. I sat there calmly and went through a mental checklist of former boyfriends and acquaintances that Celia might think would be a match for me. At last, I thought of who it might be, and I suddenly felt nauseous from the beer and wine I had drank in the short time I had been there.
‘Celia, you didn’t ask Mark Phleps to come did you? Did you?’ Celia sat there on the edge of the bed, swinging her dangling feet like a child. She was fidgety, nervous. I had hit the mark, so to speak. Mark and I had dated for over two years when he suddenly decided that things ‘weren’t working’. What wasn’t working was him.
When we met, he was a student in grad school, mulling a career with the FBI. He was torn between getting his Ph.D. and working for the government. He was a full time student who loved to live a lavish lifestyle. On someone else’s money. At the time, it was mine. I told myself then that there were a lot of women who supported men through college and they went on to have successful marriages and beautiful, smart children. I had just started my catering business, and though it was hectic and sometimes stressful, the money was good, and I enjoyed what I did. Our last summer together, I asked Mark if there were anyway he could contribute something to the household, even if it were just folding the laundry. He became offended, as if I had asked him to murder someone for me, and told me that if I was going to be so demanding, he couldn’t go on like this. He packed that night in late August, and moved out. I was destroyed. I cried and ate ice cream for two months and gained 20 lbs. My business trickled off; it almost went under all together.
After that first Christmas without Mark, I decided to go on with my life, and vowed to never subject myself to the kind of emotional torment he caused. I also decided to never get married or have children, a choice I now regret in my late thirties.
Celia stopped swinging her feet. ‘He’s changed, Grace. He really has. He’s working as a professor, living a stable life. You’re all he thinks about; he misses you. He wants another chance; he told me so’. There was a pleading in her voice I hated to hear, mostly because I knew that I would cave in and stay around to see him. ‘Oh, Celia please! Do you know of any professor that you could even remotely call stable? He misses me? He MISSES me? He doesn’t miss me, Celia. What he misses is someone to hold his hand and help him decide what color socks to wear every morning. He misses his mother, that’s who he misses. Her and his bank officer, maybe.’
‘Don’t you think you’re being harsh, Grace? Don’t you think it’s possible that people screw up, and sometime later in life, they realize how badly they screwed up? You don’t ever want to give anyone a second chance, do you? If someone doesn’t measure up to your impossibly high standards, then too bad for them, huh? They don’t get to bask in the glow of Grace the Glorious do they?’ Celia’s voice rose towards the end, and I could feel her anger burning in my cheeks, just as much as it was in her own. We both sat there red faced and silent. Not looking at each other. I took a drink of wine and passed her the bottle.
‘Do you feel better now that you’ve gotten that off your chest?’ I asked. ‘You can’t do that too often you know, people will mistake you for a boy.’ Celia rolled her eyes and took another drink.
‘You know Gracie-‘ a car honking in the driveway cut her off. We both looked at each other and ran over to the window. A huge, red pick up truck pulled into the driveway and rolled to a stop. Bastard! He had blocked me in, and now I was stuck here for God only knew how long.
Looking out I could see Tom going down the front porch steps and casually walking towards the driveway. Instinctively, he looked up towards our window, and grinned at me foolishly. I flipped him off and he blew me a kiss. Jerk.
I turned my attention to the driveway, and anxiously waited to see who would step out of the red pick-up truck. I would be lying to everyone and myself if I said I never thought of Mark. I always wondered what he was up to, what he looked like these days, if he was dead, married, both. I held my breath as the driver’s door to the truck opened, and he stepped out, squinting slightly as he looked towards the house. Quickly, I ducked down, and pulled Celia with me. ‘Cut it out!” she hissed, and bobbed her head back up to the window.
I slowly lifted my head until I could see out the window. Tom was giving him a huge bear hug, and they were laughing at some inside joke. Finally, Mark stepped back, and I allowed myself to look at him.
He was flawless. I had expected him to turn into a rumpled, Brooks Brother’s professor with about 30 extra pounds and a lot less hair. Instead, he looked like he had been working out; he was lean but muscular, solid. He still had that beautiful sandy colored hair that flopped forward into his eyes. He had a habit of always pushing his hair back with his left hand, and as if on cue, he raked it back as he talked with Tom. He was wearing a tan leather jacket and jeans and a flannel shirt. With the hiking boots and the truck, he looked more like a hunter than a professor.
‘Wow’, said Celia, ‘he looks a lot like the Brawny paper towel guy!’ I poked her in the arm and she giggled as she jumped up and headed towards downstairs. Desperate, I grabbed her leg and spun her around.
‘What are you doing to me? Why on earth would you think that Mark and I have any kind of chance? After what he did to me?’ I was still incredulous that she thought that Mark and I were a perfect match. I’d die before I would admit it to her, but when I saw him down in the driveway, it was like the past 15 years had melted away.
Celia sat back down on the bed, and I got up from my post at the window and sat down beside her. Mark’s distinctive baritone floated up the stairs and begged for my attention.
‘Look, I know what a bastard Mark was back then. But, I also know what kind of man he’s become. Over the years, he’s asked about you, wanted to know if he should call you, wanted to know what you’d do if he showed up on your doorstep. He still cares about you, Gracie. And despite what you tell me, I know you still care about him.’ She hugged my shoulders and stood me up. I was feeling so many things at once. Joy. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Maybe a dash of desire. ‘Come on’, she said. ‘Let’s go downstairs, mingle like good little hostesses and make with the happy. What’s the worst that happens? He bores you with his job description?’
‘Ok, fine. I’ll go downstairs. I’ll play nice. But that’s it. I’m under no obligation to him or to you, Celia. I’m only agreeing to being civil, got it?’ I was doing my best to be serious and business like, but she saw through me as usual. ‘Don’t worry, Grace. You’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. Come on, I have to see if my mom has destroyed anything in the kitchen.’
I tried to smile bravely as we went down the stairs. When we entered the kitchen, Celia’s mother was unusually quite. She was sitting at the table, chopping carrots and celery for the relish tray. ‘Celia, are you going to fix the cranberries or should I?’ She actually spoke instead of yelling, but I could still hear the tension in her voice. Without speaking, Celia grabbed a can of jellied cranberry sauce. She opened the can, and silently, but somewhat violently shook the contents of the can into a bowl. After several shakes, the jelly oozed out of the can with a barely audible ‘plop’. Celia carefully sliced it into thin slices, and then picked up the bowl. She walked over to her mother and slammed the dish down in front of her. ‘There! Bon Appetit!!’ Celia turned on her heel and stalked out of the kitchen. Her mother just looked at the cranberries and shook her head.
I absently took a drink of wine, and realized that Celia Sr. was staring at me. I self-consciously wiped off the top of the bottle and thrust it towards her. ‘Drink?’ I offered. She said nothing, but took the bottle and drank the rest of the wine. Not really knowing what to say, and not really wanting to be in the kitchen any longer, I decided that I might be better off in the living room.