Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 40byrpsuch©
We got together the following Wednesday, Jeff's birthday, July 24. My guy was nineteen.
I'm sure you understood the reference to his birthday as a shortcut. We got together every day. The way I saw it, I probably had only fifty to seventy years left to live, so we couldn't afford to waste a minute.
Jeff picked The Rose Tattoo again. What can I say? He liked the place. He insisted on paying. He was, after all, a working man.
"I'm making so much I won't even feel it," he argued.
"You're only working for the summer," I countered.
"Yes, but it's based on a really high salary."
"Well, young man, my trust fund compensates me amply, and it works while you're sleeping."
"That makes me feel like a kept man."
"Good," I said. "Just as long as you realize this obligates you to stay with me."
"The price of a good meal has really gone up," he said. "But I suppose it's a price I'm willing to pay."
He sounded so reluctant I hadn't realized how well he could act.
Somewhere along the way we had added a dimension I had never experienced before with a man. Not only had the conditions never been right, but I doubt any of them had the capacity. Jeff did.
We were playful. We could jump in and out of roles and attitudes and anachronisms at will. We seemed to instinctively pick up what the other was doing. It felt like being a kid and an adult at the same time.
Jeff was so good at it that sometimes he would try to play when the situation called for being serious. I got into the habit of letting him know it wasn't time for play.
"Jeff, I know this is a birthday celebration, and I can get back to the subject another time, but I'd like to talk about the gathering storm."
"I'll assume that's a metaphor since the weather is delightful and we're not studying about World War II. I'm fine with talking about Father Fine."
"Okay, but I really want to talk about my Father, not joke about him."
"Point taken," he said.
"We're going back to school in a month. I've got to start the process with him because this could take a long time."
"What's your plan?" he asked.
"Uh, I tell him. I meet his arguments. I keep telling him. I keep saying nothing is going to change it. And, I just keep at him until I wear him down."
"What?" I asked, a little too loud for polite conversation.
"I'm not so sure that's a plan," he thought a few moments, "designed for success. Even if you get him to relent, he still hates it. He just decided that, for the time being, your being with me is slightly less painful than constantly arguing with you about being with me. And there's no guarantee he'll give in."
"So what's your big plan?" Yes, I was annoyed to be dismissed so cavalierly.
"I don't have a plan," he said.
"But, I can make a plan that has a better chance of success than yours." That was all he said.
He was turning up my annoyance meter.
"And just how do you know that?"
"Because I'm going to collect intelligence before I create the plan. I have what I think Sun Tzu considered the most valuable asset in a campaign - a reliable spy. And after I collect all the intelligence, I can target his weaknesses. I can plan surprises to negate his strengths."
I sat there conveying my displeasure with his smugness, but I wasn't sure amusement wouldn't be more apt.
"You know, you can help construct this plan. Hell, you can do it yourself. Just approach it like a battle. Make decisions based on information and an assessment of how he will react. Don't just toss up some oh-I-guess-I'll-do-this plan."
That didn't soften it, even though he was right.
When I got over being angry, I would teach him how you get what you want without making people resent you.
"If you haven't gotten this in some business course, you probably will this year. A lot of business schools teach approaching negotiations, competition, even cooperation, based on The Art of War."
I put up both hands to stop him.
"Enough," I said. "I get it. You don't have to pile it on."
"So where do we start?"
"Who's the competition?" he asked.
The competition? Oh.
"Two recently-graduated, young men with very good prospects. Starting to climb the corporate ladder from the very … middle. Their daddies own the businesses.
"They're both quite good looking, intelligent, personable, socially adept and from lovely families. Two highly-qualified specimens of marriageable manhood. Both do very well with the ladies."
"They sound delightful. Maybe you should pick one of them."
"Perhaps I will."
"But, in the event you carry on with your harebrained scheme to marry me, we might as well continue to collect intelligence."
We were sitting in a lovely restaurant picked out by Jeff, having a quality meal, celebrating his birthday by discussing the relative merits of the men my parents had picked out for me as suitable husbands, instead of Jeff.
The incongruity of it all struck me as a perfect parallel to the incongruity of a relationship between Jeff and me. This was exactly what we should be doing on his birthday.
"I wouldn't really marry either of them. They'd both cheat on me. It's their nature. The longer it went, the more power they gained in their business life, the more they would feel entitled.
"I won't put up with that. I'm not going to be that pathetic woman who has to pretend it's not happening or that it really doesn't bother her so she can keep the family together. Even before I met you I would never have settled for that."
He squeezed my hand, leaned over the table and ran his hand up my arm and back.
"Baby, you're the greatest."
"Thanks, Ralph," I said.
"In all seriousness Ashley, you are the greatest."
What do you say to that?
"Are you going to want dessert?" Jeff asked.
"Have you ever met me before? I think this dessert is going to have to include chocolate to improve my mood," I said.
"I might be able to come up with something to improve your mood, perhaps even your complexion."
"Come to think of it, I believe I haven't had an adequate supply of Jeff lately."
"Well, you're in luck. I'm almost certain I saw Jeff on the dessert menu tonight," said the menu item himself.
"I may check that out later. Let's work on the plan to overthrow the king," I said.
"What are his objectives, your Father? What's important to him?"
"Money. Business. What people think of him. I guess what people think of him would be first, his image. God, that's so important to him."
"Family isn't in there?"
It wasn't surprise. He was so reluctant to ask, it seemed like he was apologizing for performing root canal without Novocain.
"Yeah, I guess. It's just not in the top three, although it's probably important as part of his image.
"Gee, this isn't coming out right. I'm making it sound like he's a first class creep, almost like I hate him. I love my Father."
Jeff couldn't possibly believe me. I don't know if I believed me.
"That's, for another therapist. If you're satisfied the description is accurate, that's what we need to devise a plan."
"It's accurate. That's what's wrong with you, or what will be when I tell him. You do nothing to help his business or wealth.
"And you certainly don't help maintain his image. You would become family and he'd have to explain his nerd son-in-law.
"He hates to explain anything. He feels anything you have to explain is, by definition, undesirable. I love you Dr. Goldberg. But I don't think my Dad is going to see anything but Mr. Bill."
He took some time to think over what I had told him.
"What about your mother? Does she have any influence over him in something like this?"
I shook my head and let it drift downward.
"She's that pathetic woman who has to pretend it's not happening," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Me too. She doesn't have the spine to stand up for herself, let alone me."
I was surprised to hear the venom in my voice. I hadn't realized how much it upset me.
To look at our faces, an observer might have thought we were in the process of breaking up. Jeff looked more forlorn than I did.
He took a deep breath and spoke in a quiet voice. He always took a deep breath before using his quiet voice.
"It has nothing to do with you, Fifths. It's who they are. You could have been anybody and they'd still be like that. You're terrific."
"Some birthday celebration this is turning out to be," I said. "It feels more like a funeral. But, not to worry: I have plans."
"Me, too," he said.
"Not that kind of plans. First, they involve going back to my house."
"And they're not that kind of plans?"
"No. There are some things there we have to do so I can give you your very special birthday present."
"And they're not that kind of plans?"
"No. You're getting kind of fixated on that. I will admit I may be considering that kind of plans after we shower."
"Shower? And they're not that kind of plans?" he asked.
I paid the check and left a tip the staff would be talking about for some time.