When you hear a story, don't just concentrate on what's being said--be sure to notice who's saying it.
"Your feet," I say.
"What does that mean?" he asks. He's got this what-the-hell's-she-talking-about look on his face, so I spell it out for him.
"That's what did it for me. Your feet. I saw your feet and fell in love. Get it? You've got beautiful feet, man."
Now he's, like, totally confused.
"My feet? What about my face?" he asks, looking soooo hurt.
"The face was last."
"The face?" Now he's frowning. You'd think I was treating him like a haunch of beef or something, which I'm not. I'm just being honest with the dude.
"Okay, your face," I say, firing a bored sigh at him. I'm getting tired of all these dumb questions. "I started with your feet, then worked my way up. You didn't have a shirt on, remember?"
"Remember? Jane, it was the day before yesterday!"
"That's right. So if we just met, how am I supposed to know what you remember and what you don't? Anyhow, I dug your body, not that it made any difference since I was already hooked below the knees." I fell apart with that one. Sometimes I can be pretty funny.
"Thanks... I guess."
"You're welcome... I'm sure," I say, flashing a sassy smile.
"So? What about my face?"
Geez! Men, the older ones in particular, are so vain.
"Okay. Then I got to your face and I thought, nice, the guy's face works."
I suppose he finally had what he wanted 'cause he tosses me a smile, one of those, isn't-she-a-cute-little-thing-after-all type smiles, and we get it on in a bathtub full of Mr. Bubble.
Lou was thirty-eight when I met him. Guys like him always expect every eighteen-year old girl is going to be shy around them, 'specially if there's a love/sex thing happening. Well, I'm not the shy type, and when someone asks me what makes my heart flutter and my lady bird sing and it happens to be his feet, I say so. Call me weird, but when Lou opened the door, barefoot and wearing his shorts and that dopey Hawaiian shirt, I took one look at those hairless size nines and, well, it made me crazy.
I met Lou through his friend, Sal, who picked me up hitchhiking on Highway 1. I'd come all the way to Monterey from Galveston, more than a thousand miles on the road without anything bad happening. Oh, maybe a few passes here and there, but that was it. Still, Sal's acting like he's afraid for my life, and starts lecturing me on the dangers of standing half naked on a highway with my thumb in the air. Half naked? Man, that really puts me on edge. It's a hot day and I'm in my cut-offs and, believe me, there's no more than three inches of tummy showing through my tank top. Yeah, I'm pretty--big deal, so are a lot of girls--and I dig working out, so my bod's in great shape. But I don't go around naked in public!
Anyhow, it's pretty obvious Sal's got the hots. He asks me where I'm headed and I say wherever I end up, which is true. Though I told my ex-beau, Cal, who's living in L.A. (don't you just love that word, "beau?") that I'd hang with him for the summer, I don't really care whether I get down there or not. That's what's so cool about being out of high school and having just one parent who's usually too wasted to notice what you're up to. You can go where you want and do what you want. Freedom, man. It's the greatest high there is.
Well, Sal knows he's got one tired, overheated road rat on his hands and he figures I need help (which I don't). In fact, the dude apologizes for not taking me home, if you can believe that! He just got married, he says. (Why do guys always assume you can't wait to hand over Ms. Moist just 'cause they're horny?)
Anyway, he tells me about his friend, Lou, who's got a cottage on the beach in Seaside just below Monterey. He wants to call Lou and see if it's okay to bring me over. Beach house? I'm thinking. Oh, yes, nothing wrong with a short layover in a beach house!
"Save the dime and just drop me off," I tell him. "Guaranteed he's not gonna turn me away."
Suddenly, Sal gets this sorry look on his face and I just know he's feeling guilty 'cause he's wishing his new wife was dead and someone was dropping me off at his house. Later on, I meet her, Katy, and we get real close right off the bat. It's a big sister-little sister sort of thing--seeing as she was twenty-eight, but still young-looking and pretty and sexy, too pretty and sexy for Sal to be wishing her dead in front of a stranger. What is wrong with men?
So Sal drives me to Lou's and leaves, but fast, and Lou shows me around his house. Shall we talk cozy? It's all wood, with two bedrooms and an L-shaped living room with a fireplace and a kitchenette behind an oak bar down at one end plus a wall of glass looking out at the ocean and a redwood deck around the whole place. I also notice lots of trophies on the shelves and I find out that Lou used to race off-road bikes--the kind without motors. He still rides ten, fifteen miles every day and is a definite fanatic about it. But that's why he's in such good shape, right?
Believe me, if Lou didn't do it for me in a major way, I would have been out of there before the sun went down. But since he did, I started thinking, hmmm, this could be a very cool place to park for the summer.
Lou's such a gentleman, though, it almost didn't happen. I mean, he makes lunch and we go for a swim, then lay around on the deck on these big lounge chairs taking in the rays and making small talk. I tell him about never knowing who my father was and how my mother back in Galveston's an alky who's been in and out of rehab and loony bins ever since I can remember. And he tells me about his business--he's a manager for some bike company that used to sponsor his races--and about how much he misses his kids who he doesn't see much because his ex moved up to Marin just to spite him. He even gets kind of teary when he talks about that part. I feel bad for him and I rub his neck, and he puts his hand over mine and smiles at me, and next thing you know we're cuddling up together in his chair, which makes me think, yes, it's happening for him, too. So you can imagine how surprised I am when, like an hour later, he says, "Jane, is there some place you want me to drop you off?"
Drop me off? Whoa, that hurts! Really hurts. I don't like being rejected any more than the next person. God knows I've had more than my share of that.
"What's wrong?" Lou says, noticing how suddenly I'm avoiding his eyes and not talking anymore. I'm thinking fast about how to handle this situation. Is it my turn to cry? I sure feel like it. What to do? Get all brave and huffy and say, "Oh, nothing's wrong, Lou, just drop me wherever"? Or is he one of those dudes--I've met plenty--who get off being put down. That would call for a burning look and something like, "It's you, Lou. You're all wrong for me. See ya." And I make my dramatic exit, slamming the door behind me--hoping, of course, that he comes running. That might work. Remember, at this point we've only been a couple for three hours, so I don't know that much about him. No question he's the emotional type, though, and I decide to go teary, which isn't that hard since, like I said, that's how I'm feeling. Besides, honesty is the best policy.
"Nothing's wrong, Lou," I say, tears rolling. "Just drop me wherever."
Next thing you know, Lou's got his arms around me and is pressing my head against his shoulder and we're rocking back and forth not sure who's comforting who. I guess the rocking went on a little too long (thank God), 'cause I feel his one-eyed dolphin swelling up against my Lady Bird like it's going to explode if it doesn't find a home real soon. And, to be perfectly frank, I myself am getting awfully tingly upstairs and down.
When it comes to having real sex, nothing beats real feeling and that night, our first night together, we had real feeling in every room in the house, plus in the shower, on the rugs and on the deck, even on the kitchen counter and, just before dawn, in Lou's aforementioned favorite, a bathtub full of Mr. Bubble.
The surprise isn't that I move in--that is, I drop two pair of jeans, extra cut-offs, a couple of t-shirts and tank tops and my Army-Navy store ankle-boots into the guest room closet. The surprise is that I end up staying for almost a year.
The more I get to know Lou, the more I dig him. He's got a heart of gold and he's great in bed. What more could a girl ask for?
Well, I get lots more. He buys me my very own off-road bike and on the weekends we pedal over to Santa Cruz, Carmel Valley, Big Sur, places like that. Every month or so, we take long, long rides up into the Santa Cruz mountains and camp out among these humongous sequoia trees. Sometimes Sal and Katy come with us and sometimes we go alone. In the beginning, I like it better when it's just me and Lou. But after a while, I'm just as pleased to have Katy along since I do love doing girl stuff with her--giggling and gossiping and everything--which I certainly can't do with Lou.
I hang with all Lou's friends, mostly outdoorsy types who're always in flannel, spandex or rubber, depending on which outdoorsy thing they're doing--hiking, biking, scuba diving, mountain climbing, stuff like that. I fit in nicely, too. I've always been a real good athlete, tall and gangly with fast hands and fast feet. For three years I played on our girls' volleyball team and ran the mile at Galveston High 'til... Oh, let's just say she provoked me something awful, otherwise I never would have hauled off and floored her. I mean, punching a coach is a pretty serious offense. Fortunately, there were witnesses who saw her slap me first. Otherwise they never would have let me finish my senior year and graduate. I suspect one day I'm going to go to college, so not finishing high school would have been a major blow to my future plans.
We eat out a lot, mostly in Carmel and usually at health food restaurants, 'cause Lou's a nut when it comes to eating right. I dig Carmel, even though it's a totally touristy burg, so neat and clean it looks like what I guess a movie set looks like. I say "guess" 'cause I've never actually seen one. I do recall reading that Clint Eastwood was mayor there when I was little, so it could be he got some of his Hollywood friends to spruce the place up.
I'm not a person who can sit around all day doing nothing 'cept wait for her man to come home from work. My mother never did. (That's a joke.) I had to have a job. I was always good at drawing and making things with my hands. It's a talent I have. Lucky for me, Lou's friend, Lloyd, owns a jewelry shop in Carmel and takes me on part-time. I work afternoons, waiting on customers (I enjoy interacting with people) and keeping the glass cases free of fingerprints. When he has time, Lloyd starts teaching me how to make rings and pendants and bracelets. It's the coolest job ever. Fun, and short hours.
Once in a while Lou goes to Mill Valley and comes back with his girls, Beth and Meg, four and six, two of the cutest little darlings I've ever seen in my life. Every time he brings them down, which isn't often enough for him or me, I spend a long weekend playing mama and I just love it. Someday, when I have my own kids, I'm going to give them the childhood I always wanted but never had.
It does bother me, though, that Lou tells them this ridiculous story about how I'm a friend of his sister's who staying at his house while she's visiting California. I know he's not ashamed of me or anything, so what's he hiding me for? He and Annie have long been divorced and she's already got custody of the kids. What more can she do to him? I don't like seeing a man afraid of a woman.
What really gets me, though, is this stupid saying he tacks up on the bulletin board in the kitchenette one morning after we'd been smoking a lot of dope the night before: "The Inevitable Remains True Even When Ignored."
"Who the fuck wrote that?" I ask over coffee and a bagel.
"I did," he says.
"You make it up?"
"Well, yeah, I did. It's an epigram I flashed on last night."
"Is that a fact? An epigram, huh? Well, quit smoking so much dope. What's it supposed to mean anyhow?" Sure. Like I don't already know.
"It means that we can't last forever, even if we don't think about it right now."
"Says who?" I ask, putting on a fierce scowl.
"It's just the way it is."
"Uh huh. Right from God's lips."
"Jane, you're only eighteen."
"Eighteen and seven months." Since Lou's counting, I figure he should get it right.
"Whatever. The point is, do you honestly think you're going to settle down with a thirty-eight year old man for the rest of your life?"
"How should I know? We've been together nine months and so far it's been great... Or am I wrong?"
"You're not wrong."
"Then why the hell're you putting stuff like that on the wall? It sure doesn't help anything."
"It-- it's just a reminder." He can't even look me in the eye.
Now I'm having a flash. "You getting ready to dump me?"
"Jesus, no!" he says. "That's... not how it's going to happen." I know he means it because his face sort of collapses and he's looking so sad I'm not sure whether to get up and hug him or fill the bathtub.
"So you already know how it's going to happen?"
"I just don't see us together twenty years down the line."
"Who thinks that far ahead?"
"At your age, no one. At my age, everyone."
"Well, here's another saying you can put up on the bulletin board: `Lou's afraid to love Jane.' Period!"
"That's not true and you know it," he says. "But sooner or later you're going to walk out of my life. I'm just... I dunno... an experience you're having on the way to growing up."
Whoa, am I getting pissed! Now I'm thinking I'll drown him in the bathtub.
"Oh, man, that's complete bullshit!" I'm up and shouting. Then I pitch half a bagel in his face. It's only lightly toasted so I know it can't do much damage. "You're just scared shitless and you're laying it on me! I may be only eighteen, buster, but I've probably seen more life than you have in your thirty-eight!"
"I don't doubt it," he says, wiping a perfect circle of cream cheese off his forehead. (I do have a great arm.)
Then he wanders over to the window and stares out at the ocean, real dramatic. He reminds me of that picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware that's hanging in the principal's office--a room I came to know well.
"There's this platitude about how older guys exploit young girls," he says, looking kind of wistful. "You think that's true?"
"Well, you don't. Not with me, anyhow. I never met anybody, man or woman, who pays more attention to what I think than you do."
"That's because I love who you are. You're a fuckin' delight, Jane." We both crack up at that because we're hip to its double meaning. "Really," he says. "I've never known anyone like you. And I'm not holding anything back. I couldn't if I wanted to. But most people looking at us from the outside would probably say here's one of those guys who's trying to hang on to his youth by living with a girl half his age, a guy who's afraid to engage a mature woman."
"Well, I'm not in this from the outside," I tell him. "So I wouldn't know how to look at it from there." There are times when my mind gets real logical. "As for you being afraid of older women, well, you put in seven years with Annie. Sure you got those two little honeys out of it. But, them aside, look at all the heavy duty grief she's laying on your head. Looks to me, mister, that right about now I'm exactly what you need. Right?"
"Right," Lou says, and it's like the gravity that's tugging at his face suddenly lets go, and he breaks into this sunburst grin and snatches his stoned "epigram" off the bulletin board, which is a good sign--but not a great sign, 'cause he doesn't throw it away, he puts it in a drawer. That's like saying, "I'm not going to flaunt the inevitable, I'm just going to keep it out of sight." Still, there's nothing better than bringing your man out of the dumps and into bed for the rest of the day.
There's no denying I have quite a temper, and with Lou it sometimes did get out of hand. When I look back on it now, it's clear, embarrassingly clear, that I wasn't nearly as grown up as I thought. I was doing a lot of what George calls "adolescent acting out." George is the dude I'm with now, a therapist here in L.A. It's his idea that I start writing all this stuff down. He says it'll help me figure out who I am. He just won't believe I already know. I'm doing it, though, since writing's fun. I'll straighten George out later on.
Anyhow, back to the temper thing. I don't know why, but it starts getting worse after my bagel outburst. All kinds of things begin annoying me. Lou being so tidy, for example. Everything in its place, towels and sheets nicely folded, not a speck of dust on any surface, books, CDs and canned food arranged by category--fiction, history, biography, pop, rock and classical, soup, sauce and potatoes, all within easy reach. The man even spin-dries his lettuce!
Now, in truth, Lou never asks me to do anything beyond putting my dirty dishes in the sink and he never gets on my case regarding my sloppy habits. He just takes care of everything himself--makes the bed, does the cleaning, shopping and laundry. Once or twice, seeing him drive the vacuum cleaner around the living room, I feel a pang of guilt and help out a bit. But it burns me up inside 'cause I don't see the sense of doing house work when everything's going to get all messy again in no time at all--'specially with me around.
Look, I know it's not right to fault a man for his virtues, but watching Lou on his knees sponging my spilled pesto sauce off a hardwood floor is not a pretty sight. That's the sort of thing can sure put a damper on a girl's respect.
And it's not just the neatness thing that starts rubbing me the wrong way. Now there's lots of stuff driving me up the walls. Like, you ever go eight months without a cheeseburger and fries? It does terrible things to your body, 'specially if you're a Texas girl who's been raised on beef. If a person like me goes too long without cattle products under her belt, she becomes emotionally unbalanced. It got so crazy-making I had to stop at Burger King on my way to work to fill up and try and put my system back in order. But I was too far gone by then. It didn't do jack shit for mind or body. I'm probably ruined for good 'cause of all those veggies and wheat germ and homeopathic drops of who-knows-what that Lou kept putting in front of me morning, noon and night.
What edges me most of all, though, is how Lou never complains. Every now and then, a little, "Clean it up, bitch, it's your filth!" would certainly get my attention. Or, "We're doing (whatever) my way 'cause that's how I want it!" Now that'd be refreshing--not that I'd stand there and take it. But, uh uh, that's not Lou. So, more and more, it's me, the lazy good-for- nothing, who's doing all the yelling and throwing things and bursting into tears, while Lou, who's blameless as a lamb and never--never--loses his temper, just smiles and tells me to calm down, sweetheart, it's going to be all right. Which makes everything even worse.
It gets to the point where just seeing Lou's face puts me in a lousy mood, and I'm certain that if I don't do something soon, I'm going to find myself back on Highway 1 with my thumb in the air, which I am in no way looking forward to. Underneath it all I do love Lou... though in a somewhat different way.
Trust me when I say that I deeply, sincerely and honestly regret that I didn't find the "something" I was looking to do before the "something" I wasn't looking to do happened.
I did not--I repeat, did not--put any moves on Salvatore Bonafacio! Sure, he was a good-looking hunk, and closer to my own age. Sal wasn't even thirty yet. And he was a married man! A newly married man! As to his current status... well, I can't say, seeing as I haven't been in touch with Lou, Sal or Katy to this very day. But I hope she's left the bastard.
Not everyone who owns an antique store is gay. Sal's Antique Mart is just around the corner from where I have my part-time job, so it's natural that, after work, I hang with him and Katy for a bit. I mean, they're my friends! In fact, when Sal's not around I confide in Katy, tell her about the problems I'm having with Lou. She's real sympathetic and understands how infuriating it is to be with a man who absorbs everything you throw at him with a smile.
"A man should at least try to put a girl in her place once and while, don't you think?" I say.
"I'm not sure I'd describe it exactly that way," Katy says. "But I know what you mean. You want Lou to give you his honest feelings. And not just his good feelings. If he's angry or hurt or depressed, you want to hear about it. Otherwise, it's like... like he's in this relationship without you. It's got to make you feel like you're not important to him, or at least not important enough to share feelings with."
"Exactly!" I say. I respect Katy. Sometimes she has an awesome fix on what makes people tick.
"Jane, I don't think Lou's aware of this. He's oblivious to how he affects you. It's just who he is."
"Maybe so. But it doesn't make it any easier."
"Uh-huh. Well, hang in there. Lou's got a lot going for him, and the two of you have a good thing together. If you believe it's worth keeping, then get him to work on the bad stuff with you until it's fixed," she says.
I'm dying to ask about her and Sal, how it is between them, how they work things out. But something stops me. Also, I notice that, starting from the day Katy becomes my confidante, she seems a tad uneasy around me. Sometimes I catch her glancing at me--and at Sal, too--in a funny way.
Still, everything's nice and I'm giving serious thought to taking her advice about working on Lou when, all of a sudden, she gets a call and has to go back to New Hampshire to see her sick mother. (Oh, how I wish that woman never took ill.)
A few days later, I'm telling myself there's no reason not to drop by and say hello to Sal just 'cause Katy's out of town--though I'm wondering why I even have to say this to myself. So I stop by the store to inquire after his lovely wife and her ailing mother, and right away I see it. It's the same look Sal had when he picked me up on the highway--minus the sorry part! All this time, he's been Sal, the perfect gentleman, Lou's friend, Sal, the happily married man who, just once, about a year ago, for ten short minutes, had a raging tiger in his trou for a stranger on the road but, to his credit, kept it well under control 'til he dropped her off at the home of his very best friend. Well, that's not the Sal grinning at me now from behind a counter full of Early American pewter saucers, one of which he's slowly rubbing to death with a rouge cloth while aiming to burn a hole in my face with his bloodshot eyes. Nosiree. This is Sal the beast--Neanderthal Sal, all set to drag his prey into the back room and slam it home. If Sal hadn't said exactly the right thing, I would have turned and walked without a word...But he did.
"It must be lonely," he says.
"Beg pardon?" I say.
"Hey. It's okay. Katy told me." So much for confiding in that bitch.
"Told you what?"
"About the trouble you're having with Lou. I'm sorry to hear it." Sure he's sorry. It's breaking his heart--and adding a yard onto Mighty Joe Young.
"We'll manage," I say.
"I hope so," he says, holding the newly shined saucer up to my face. "But you don't look like you believe it."
"Any reason you know of why I shouldn't?" I say.
"It's... it's not my place to... to talk about that," he says, pretending to stammer and turning away like I'm not supposed to see how much pain the poor man's in. Oh, he is smooth.
"Don't fuck with me, Sal," I say. "If there's something I should know, I want to hear it."
Just then a customer comes in. "Excuse me," he says, going over to her. I know he's jerking me around, and I resent it. But, shame on me, it's having an effect.
"Let's hear it, Sal," I say after the customer leaves.
"Honey, do you think you're going to have any more luck turning Lou around than anyone else has?"
"I'm not Annie," I say.
"I'm not talking about Annie," he says. "Annie's ancient history."
"Then who are you talking about?"
"You want a list of names?"
"A list?" I say. No denying it. I'm shocked.
"C'mon, Jane," he says, as in C'mon, Jane, don't be naive. "You're not the first young girl in Lou's life."
"So what? He never said I was." I can hear a little break in my voice, not a good sign.
"Okay. I didn't mean to bring it up."
"Bullshit, you didn't!"
"Hey! It's Lou's thing! All right?" It's an eruption, not an angry eruption, just a passionate and caring explosion on behalf of his best friend. "No blame. I love Lou. But Cindy, Melanie, Margo--all of them under twenty-one--that's how the guy keeps his demons at bay. Some men just can't deal with middle age." He shrugs. "They bed down with young girls."
Whoa. Haven't I heard this before? From Lou? Didn't he say something about people seeing him as a man afraid to connect with women his own age so he settles in with a young girl? Indeed, I did, only he forgot to say how many young girls he'd settled in with. Geez!
"Uh... how many young girls, Sal?"
"I've already said more than I meant to," he says, shaking his head and staring at his sandals. (The man has ugly feet.)
Once again, Jane is hurt... and angry. I feel like I've been had. Sooner or later you're going to walk out of my life. Damned right!
For the next couple of weeks I take my revenge on Lou with Sal, the worst lover I've ever known, a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am ape. After a while, it's feeling more like I'm taking revenge on myself.
It ends the day Katy gets back from her New Hampshire--although Sal finds it amusing to continue playing footsie under the table whenever we have dinner with them. I really want to kill the bastard.
Far as I know, Lou never finds out about me and Sal, but our thing goes straight into the toilet after that. Lou gets so depressed, he hardly talks to me--or anyone else. Try as I do, I can't get anything out of him. Sure I feel guilty about getting it on with Sal, but I feel worse seeing Lou suffer. The guy is really hurting and he won't tell me what it's about. Our cozy little cottage becomes the House of Gloom. I wonder if all the girls who came before me went through this.
After a month or so, I put his "epigram" back up on the bulletin board: "The Inevitable Remains True Even When Ignored." Lou sees it and smiles. It's a real bitter smile.
"I guess you're right," he says.
The next day, when Lou's at work, I throw my belongings in an overnight bag, leave him a note telling him (truly) that I'll love him forever, and I'm back on U.S. 1. heading south toward L.A.
Last night, george asks me if i wouldn't mind letting him read the stuff I've been writing. I give it some thought, seeing as I'm not certain why he's asking, but end up with a "Sure, why not?" So he disappears into his study for about half an hour, comes out and looks at me kind of strange-like.
"Pack up," he says.
"How come?" I ask, stunned, I mean, really stunned.
"Just do it and get out of here," he says. "It's over."
So just like that I'm out, back on the street.
L.A.'s okay, but I hear Maui--no, Kauai--is really cool.
Peter Meyerson (firstname.lastname@example.org) spent several years in book and magazine publishing in New York before moving to Los Angeles to write films and TV shows, most notably Welcome Back Kotter, which he created and produced for several seasons. "Not too long ago, realizing I had squandered much of my working life on dreck," says Peter, "I overcame my self-doubt and began writing fiction."
InterText stories written by Peter Meyerson: "Small Miracles are Better Than None" (v7n2), "Closed Circuit" (v7n4), "A Stray Dog in Spain" (v8n3), "Jane" (v8n5).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 8, Number 5 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1998 Peter Meyerson.