The party was over. Betty’s feet were aching, and her tongue felt solid, as if a slug had crawled inside her mouth for shelter. She opened the fridge and snagged a bottle of water. The plan was to drop down in her favorite chair, kick off her shoes, and unwind. Then the phone rang. For a brief second she considered letting it go to message, but the part of her that wasn’t equipped to let go answered. Betty was not adept at putting things off. Her conscientiousness had served her well in the past, and she wasn’t planning on changing her personality at this stage of the game.
“Hello there,” a deep voice crooned to her cheery greeting.
She recognized the deep voice, which belonged to a party guest, (the man with the twelve-string guitar), and her heart skipped a beat.
“Do you know who I am Betty?” He asked.
“You’re my brother Bob’s friend. Your name’s Tim.”
He cleared his throat. “Have all your guests gone home?”
What a strange question. Maybe this guy wasn’t to be trusted. Maybe he was a maniac.
Bob didn’t usually pal around with maniacs, but you never knew.
“You sound tired,” he said. “Should I call back another time?”
“I am pooped,” she admitted.
“I’m afraid I left my music, it’s on the end table in your living room.”
“Oh, I see it.” Betty walked over and picked up his folder. “Would you like me to mail this to you?”
“No, just give it to Bob the next time you see him. It’s not an emergency. Or…I could come by and pick it up myself. Say tomorrow?”
She flipped through the sheet music. He’d played “Diamonds and Rust” with Bob, and Janet had sung along in her tinny musical theatre voice. Far too much vibrato. “I suppose you could do that,” she said. “I get home from work after five. Give me time to feed the dog, and tend to the mail and stuff. Come by around six, six-thirty.”
“Terrific, see you then.”
Betty’s client Gretchen proved to be a real tiger. At times Betty managed to hold her by the tail, but that didn’t keep the rabid beast from nipping at her. Gretchen had chosen expensive handmade, highly glazed French tiles in three shades of pastels, with pronounced crazing. She’d signed all the necessary wavers, weeks ago. Now that the shipment had finally arrived, all the way from France, and the boxes had been opened, she balked about the colors, the uneven surfaces.
What a day! A custom-made ten-foot arched window had fallen, a pane of glass cracked. Three installers didn’t show up until eleven o’clock, and then they were hung-over and unshaven. Both her laptop and her cell phone ran down their batteries; then shut down. Of course the chargers were forgotten on the table at home, and she couldn’t do a thing about it.
The blonde dog turned up his shiny black nose when she presented his dish, because he preferred sharing her dinner. Betty scratched his curly head, and then she remembered, that guy—that Ted—was coming to pick up the sheet music. She hurried to her room to change.
As she pulled on her jeans the doorbell rang. Great, she didn’t even have time to run a comb through her hair.
Ted looked so different in a suit and tie. He’d worn a turtleneck and leather jacket to the party. Betty had always been a sucker for a man in a suit. Her ex-husband, the dapper lawyer, had his cotton shirts custom made. She should be turned off on the look. She should learn. But no—she’d invited the suit into her house—offered him a glass of wine.
“White, or red?”
“Chardonnay, or Pinot.” My God, were they going to go on and on?
He smiled, showing very straight pearly whites. “I’ll have what you’re having.” His dentist must be richer for knowing him.
“Great, Pinot sounds great.” She’d coughed up thirty dollars a bottle just for the party. Four bottles were left over.
As Betty filled two glasses Ted browsed through her cookbooks. “Do you use these?”
“Of course I use them. Why else would I have bought them?”
“My wife collected cookbooks, but ordered food in,” he said.
“Really?” Betty handed him his wine.
“She liked to read about cooking, she liked to study the pictures, but she didn’t care to mess up the kitchen.”
“I don’t cook as much as I used to, now that I live alone. I eat salad, a lot.”
“Me too,” he said. “And pasta, it’s easy to whip up a pasta dish.”
“I love pasta, but it’s too fattening. I only eat it once in a while.”
Ted smiled. “No wonder you fit into those jeans so well.”
Of course Betty blushed. How predictable. What a pushover.
Ted had three children. All boys. The oldest was a pharmaceutical salesman, the middle son was a professional student, and the youngest had been acting for three years. He’d been in thirty commercials. Ted wanted to know if Betty had seen his latest, for some hamburger chain. Ted seemed disappointed to find out that she didn’t watch TV.
“No TV?” he said.
“Nope. Kerry kept the flat screen, and I kept the dog. I get my news on the Internet.”
“What about movies?” The poor guy couldn’t believe that she didn’t have a TV in the house.
“I miss movies,” she admitted.
“Good,” he said, and he smiled at her. “You had me worried there.”
“Kerry was addicted to sports, he watched TV all the time. I find it peaceful without the constant noise. Since the divorce I have been enjoying silence.”
“In my case, I’m thrilled that I can listen to whatever music I want to. Whenever I want.”
Betty motioned for Ted to follow her into the living room. She handed him his music and said, “We sound like two happily divorced people.”
“I can only speak for myself. I am happy. How long since your divorce?”
“A little over a year. And you?”
Ted stared out the window at the pool. “Four months, but we’ve been separated for eight. I came home early one afternoon with a stomach flu, and discovered Sue naked atop our neighbor. The slob weighs almost three hundred pounds. He’s an exterminator.”
At a loss for words, Betty shook her head.
“I know!” he said.
Trying to keep things light, Betty held up her glass. “To getting rid of Kerry and Sue!”
They clicked crystal and shared a laugh.
“So Uncle Bob hangs out with this guy?” Jill took a sip from her can of Monster.
“I’m not so sure that those energy drinks are good for you,” Betty told her daughter.
Jill rolled her eyes. “You didn’t answer me Mother.”
“Yes, Ted is Bob’s friend. They golf together.”
“He plays golf?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It just seems so typical.”
They were sitting on the patio. Betty inspected the aphids on the bud of a nearby rose bush. “You do typical things too.”
“You follow trends.”
“I’m stylish, if that’s what you mean.”
“You qualify as a typical college student.”
“I don’t think so Mother, you should see what a typical college student acts like these days. I’m very different.”
“Well, I’m a typical middle-aged woman. So I don’t mind dating a man that plays golf with my brother.”
“Aunt Paula says he’s handsome.”
“Actually she used the word hot.”
“I hate that term.”
“Don’t know. Back in my day they said fox, or foxy. He’s a fox, or he’s foxy. I hated that too.”
“So where does he take you?”
“On our first date he took me to The Hollywood Bowl.”
Jill popped a spicy tuna roll into her mouth and chewed vigorously. Betty didn’t care for sushi, so she’d ordered the bento box, tempura and chicken teriyaki. But the tempura lacked crispness and she found the teriyaki too cloying. Her youngest daughter had a knack of talking her into eateries that served fare she didn’t care for.
“The Hollywood Bowl? He’s trying too hard.”
“Maybe. But we had a lovely time.”
“Okay, where else have you two gone?”
“The beach. Dinner. A movie.”
“Which movie?” Jill had seaweed stuck between her teeth. Betty would let her know after she’d finished eating.
“Are you serious?”
“He said it was a good date flick.”
“Oh my God, Mother. 27 Dresses!”
“What would you have him take me to see, a horror movie?”
“I don’t know, Atonement, something a little more highbrow.”
“I already saw Atonement, with you.”
Jill crossed her arms and frowned. “I know that, I meant a movie like Atonement.”
Betty threw her crumpled napkin over her plate. “It was a cute movie, I had a good time.”
“So where are you going tonight?”
She ought to tell her daughter to mind her own business. It was a sure bet that Jill didn’t harass her father about his dates, or ask twenty questions about his girlfriends.
“He’s coming over to the house. I’m making my baked ziti. He likes pasta.
“I love your baked ziti. Save me the leftovers.” Jill began to pout. Betty felt bad.
But…the divorce hadn’t been her idea. Breaking up the family had been Kerry’s doing.
Kerry didn’t even knock. The blonde dog tried to say hi but Kerry ignored him. He stormed over to the dining table and said, “You mean to tell me that you’re engaged, that you plan to marry this guy?”
Ted pushed his chair back. The blonde dog tried to get Kerry’s attention again. He swatted him away.
“Don’t be mean to him,” Betty scolded.
“Listen Buddy,” Ted said, “You don’t have the right.”
Kerry didn’t let Ted finish, he shouted, “I used to live here! She used to be my wife!
Don’t you tell me I don’t have the right!”
“You’re not her husband now.”
“You needed space, remember?” Betty’s hands were shaking. How many times had she made fun of Kerry’s speech, the one where he told her that he didn’t love her anymore?
“Okay,” Kerry said, “so I’m the one that wanted to split the sheets. But I’m sorry. I’ve changed my mind.”
He changed his mind? This news gave Betty an instant headache. “But I don’t want you back.”
Kerry crumpled at the news. He stepped backwards. “We’ll go for counseling.”
“No we won’t.” Betty remembered the tearful computer porn confession; she remembered his snoring, his restless leg syndrome, and those obnoxious sports shows blaring loudly, day and night. No she didn’t want to go back, she liked this new life.
“No.” She stood up, to let him see that she meant business.
“I thought, I thought you’d miss me.”
And she realized that he’d been drinking. Always careful about other’s feelings, Betty didn’t want to hurt Kerry by telling him that she didn’t miss him at all, which, in fact had really surprised her too. Even Jill had commented several times, about her newfound peace, the joy in her step, the ease in which she’d adjusted to her new life.
Ted had the good sense to sit still and stay quiet. Maybe he felt sorry for Kerry.
Kerry said, “You know, I have three girlfriends. One is only twenty-seven. And one is a model. I didn’t come here to be humiliated.” He actually pronounced it, hummilated.
“You shouldn’t be driving,” Ted said.
“You’ve been drinking, that’s obvious.” Betty tried to reason with him. “Let me call a cab.”
“I’m not drunk, I took two pain pills, and my anti-depressant—that’s all. And I only had one beer.”
Betty walked towards him. “Okay, you are not driving.”
“Is that your baked ziti?” he asked, stepping closer to the table.
Ted said, “Why don’t you sit down and have a bite, it might help sober you up. Have you eaten?”
“Not since yesterday,” Kerry said. “I broke up with the manicurist this morning. I quit my job.”
“Busy day,” Betty said, guiding him into a chair.
Ted went to the kitchen for a plate.
“I had a martini too,” Kerry said. “And I called my boss a sonofabitch. He is one you know. A class A asshole.”
Kerry’s cell phone rang and he fished it out of his pocket and answered it. “Hey! You know where I am? I’m at home. I’m sitting in the dining room. About to eat your Mom’s baked ziti! How about that kiddo?” His face went blank. He handed Betty the phone. “It’s Jill, she wants to talk to you.”
Ted served Kerry a heaping helping of pasta and a side of green beans. He offered to zap his plate in the microwave, but Kerry wouldn’t hear of it. He began shoveling food down his gullet, like a starving man. Ted handed him a slice of garlic bread and poured him a glass of water from the pitcher.
“What the hell’s going on over there?” Jill asked.
Betty took the phone into her bedroom, shut the door and sat on the edge of the bed. The blonde dog jumped up and sat beside her.
“Your dad quit his job today. He broke up with the manicurist. He’s upset. So Ted’s serving him dinner, trying to sober him up.”
“Ted’s serving my dad dinner?”
“Mom, I flunked two classes. I might as well tell you now. Get it out of the way. I thought I wanted to be a nurse, I really did. But it’s too hard. I hate it. I want to go to fashion school. Mom, are you listening to me?”
Betty was giggling, the blonde dog was licking her face, he practically pushed her over.
“I’m playing with my dog,” she told her daughter. “I’m in high spirits.”
All Rights Reserved ©2009 by Elizabeth Bradley