She is wearing a skirt, which says something, as you remember this to be a rarity. No, she has never been a tomboy or in anyway masculine. But there was always this kind of restraint she had, a shielding. Keep it nice and simple. Don’t show too much. Make them laugh. Be the ‘crazy’ girl. They can handle that.
You arrived here, in front of her, your fingertips caressing the condensation on your vodka tonic, her fuchsia nails wrapped around a Pinot of some kind, the dim light gleaming off of its surface. This is supposed to be a consultation. You’re wearing the starched shirt with the green herringbone blazer, having munched on fried coconut shrimp puffs through round one. But this is round two, and your doing the thing that every man does when in front of an attractive woman. You’re dissecting her.
Before the last time you never considered this. Before that there was only her cool comic barrier erected for public consumption. Your man from waaay back had talked to her for a while. There was a story you never let go of, about him taking her home drunk, stripping her down to the bare essentials and still not getting any dessert. Though he’s married with like five kids in a state light years away you still have this loyalty to him. And then she crossed her legs.
Some switch got flipped and now your examining the undertones in her skin, this tangerine/peach color. Her thighs are firm, cascading smoothly into butter soft calves at the knee. You imagine embroidery on the bra, worn for some sentimental reason, because you have no plans on actually seeing it. This is not self-deprecation. This is the fact that a diamond gleams on the proper finger. And that wards off the possibility of any such viewing. But there is the strangeness of how you got here.
Here you are, the writer, being wined (and loosely dined) to talk about grant applications, though you’ve only done three in your life and never earned the check. The place has an ambiance that doesn’t read downtown business. More like Uptown social, a quiet nook on Georgia Avenue where none of the friends you share would just stop for a drink.
“You never used to talk to me,” she says, one thigh sliding slightly atop the other. Her lips purse as she sips.
Her words feel odd to you as you never remember her speaking to you directly. You don’t even remember direct eye contact outside of when you ran into her years later at Union Station, and her first kid was on the way. You were really happy that she’d changed her last name. But something hung in the air when she told you, like some puzzle piece that didn’t fit. And you don’t know why.
She now has two girls that look like her, the gift/curse that genes express themselves in all kinds of ways.
“You didn’t talk to me either,” you say.
“You made me nervous,” she says.
“What about now?” you ask.
“Now I’m grown,” she replies, wearing that grin she had the last time you ran into her at that birthday party in the crowded room, when she sat in front of you, slowly crossing wool pant legs in a way that reminded you of a yoga position.
She has not asked you anything about grants. And it’s been an hour.
“How’s Stacy?” she inquires.
You want to laugh. The question is the equivalent of asking what you had for dinner five years ago, a failed experiment in love drowned in bullshit long since flushed.
Her hair is cut short now, perfectly edged around the kitchen, a darker color than the one you remember. Not a home kit. Strictly salon. Same with the nails. Her toes are in short boots with a medium heel. But you know they match the hands.
“Gone,” you say. “For good.”
For a while you and Stacy had traveled in a circle, a cassette with auto-reverse that kept playing the same old tune until your ears started to bleed. Stacy hadn’t crossed your mind in years.
Why the asking? Is she fishing? If so, what’s the bait? What’s she reeling you in towards?
She exhales after that information, as if some unfounded worry has been alleviated. You want to ask her why she summoned you here. But your usual fearlessness has gone on vacation. You don’t have the nerve.
Her eyes are big and curious, piercing. You want to lead the cat that has her tongue towards the bowl of milk at the center of the table. Something holds you both, an electromagnetic field that renders you silent for the longest moment of your life.
She’s so much sexier now.
“Good,” she grins. “You deserved better.”