Two's a Crowd Ch. 03byangiquesophie©
They say that in the end time heals all wounds. I don't know, they may be right. But it really is too easy to be right that way. I mean, how could they go wrong when they never tell how much time it takes to heal? In my case, two years obviously wasn't enough -- as I found out in the lounge bar of the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas.
Even before the divorce was final I had moved to New York. I got the job and all the benefits -- except the huge penthouse apartment, obviously. I didn't need that anymore. I was a freshly divorced single man. I just wanted to drown myself in my work in order to forget.
The job part went very well -- I just failed at the forgetting. I'll soon be a vice president and on my way to the board. But all the real motivation seems gone. The rewards just aren't enough to kill the pain, which at the start, hardly allowed me more than a few hours sleep at night.
Granted, it isn't healthy to mourn that long over a common slut. But she was Myriam, remember? I loved her. And you'd have to shoot with bigger cannon to kill the love I felt for her.
After a few weeks I even went to see a shrink. For half a year, true as clockwork, I walked into her wood-paneled office once a week, feeling like Tony Soprano -- and I didn't even get to kill anybody.
The good doctor looked the part, so I did the best I could. But after half a month I already knew she wouldn't heal me of my lingering depression. She was nice company, though. I needed a patient ear those first months -- even if I had to pay for it. Which makes me wonder now why I didn't feel the urge to pay for other female services in this city that never sleeps. God knows I hardly slept. My bed was empty. So was my apartment, so were my weekends. I just felt too numb, I guess.
Erica changed all of that.
I met Erica at the tennis club. It was by the Chelsea piers and open day and night. Playing there was an excellent opportunity to do something positive with my sleepless hours. A colleague invited me and after playing a few times, I became a member. There were always people around who were looking for a partner. One of them was Erica. We soon played regularly, often twice a week.
She was a big woman. Not as in fat -- there wasn't an ounce of that on her. She was a tall blonde athlete. It took me weeks to get my neglected body in good enough shape to avoid being royally thrashed each time we played. I even worked out twice a week to help with my conditioning. The time in the gym cleared my mind and punished my body enough to add a few hours of sleep to my barren nights.
After showering, we often had a bite at the small club restaurant. Bagels and juice. Or a shake. A tall mint tea for Erica. It became quite a nice tradition after a while. I started looking forward to it. Erica was great company. It must have been hard work for her at the start, 'cause I didn't talk much. I had become a master at sucking the blood out of any conversation. If it threatened to become even remotely emotional, I just made it ricochet off my armor into the innocent realm of the weather -- or the latest movie.
Erica changed that one evening. Our tennis game had been remarkably vicious, ending in a 7 to 6 tie-break set for her and another one for me. The shower did me the usual world of good. The salmon bagel tasted great. And Erica was glowing. Her skin blushed and her moist hair shone in the designer lights.
"Why do you always bring these people with you, Bruce?" she said. Her pinky removed a few crumbs from the corner of her mouth.
I stared at her. "People?"
"Yes," she said, almost off hand. "The woman behind you. I can't see her face, but she must look great. And a man. A few men, I'd say. They are rather out of focus, though."
I tried my blankest face. I guess it needed laundering for she didn't fall for it.
She chuckled. "Dearest Bruce," she said, "ever since we met I knew you were only half here. It's the way you defuse every conversation. The unhappy pauses whenever I probe past the day you came to New York. And now this expression you're wearing -- what does it mean? Are you suggesting that I am wrong?"
She grinned. All she had said sounded light and casual. But her eyes were neither. Then she shrugged. It made her tightly-packed tits tremble. "Well, hon," she went on. "It is none of my business, of course, but I sure hope that woman behind you would stop controlling our conversation. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep it going, this way."
Ever since the disaster with Myriam I felt panic when people scratched at the wall I had built around me. And no one had scratched as effectively as Erica did right then. The panic shoved me into defense mode. From there to indignation was only a small step. I threw my napkin on the table and rose.
"I have no need for this, Erica," I said through clenched teeth. "Take your charity elsewhere." And I left the restaurant.
It took me just an hour to see what an ass I had been. But I needed a week to get myself past my pride. I skipped two tennis evenings. I also neglected my workouts. In short, I had effectively sent myself back to the quagmire.
Monday morning of the second week I got a call on my cell. I saw it was Erica. Just noticing the name made me freeze. I could not move my finger. I let her go directly to voice-mail.
It took me a few minutes to listen to her message. She sounded cheerful. "Bruce? Just to let you know: failing to appear means you've lost two games by now. It's the rule. I am two points up, honey. Three and you're out! Should I bother to come at all this week? Let me know."
God, did I feel silly. Here was this wonderful woman who had single handedly pulled me out of my shit and I left her without a word. Just because she'd had the gall to care for me.
I was there, of course, that same evening. Don't ask me about the anguish and the sweat. I was there. So was she. And she beat me 6 love, 6 - 3. Those three games were only because she pitied me.
Afterwards, she sipped from her fruit shake. "Sorry, Bruce," she said. "I was nosey. But I couldn't bear seeing you like that, week after week after week. You must have gone through hell."
I watched her and something broke. For the next half hour I spilled the whole story. Once I started, I couldn't stop. It was as if there was a third person telling it all. I watched and could not stop him.
Erica just listened. A dark pink blush rose from her throat. When she at last spoke, she was angry. "The goddamn whore," she hissed. "And here you are, more than a year later, still broken into a million pieces. Only half the man you could be. It's a damn shame."
Her hand was on mine. Amazing how tender it could be after whipping my ass at the tennis court. "Bruce," she said. "Forget the bitch. Please do me a favor and forget her. Promise me. She's just not worth it."
Now don't think there was sex involved, or ever would be. From the start, I knew Erica was a staunch lesbian. To keep me from forgetting that, she sometimes was picked up by her girlfriend, Marlene, after we played. At those occasions she clearly demonstrated the difference between our growing friendship and the love she had for the pretty petite girl who had the cutest habit of making her English sound more French than her French.
Since that conversation, our friendship spread from the tennis court to life's wider realm. We went to movies and exhibitions together, we dined and shopped together. Usually, there were only the two of us, sometimes Marlene joined us.
Erica had taken to heart the task of getting my sloppy single life back on track. She helped me to seriously change my barren apartment into an inhabitable place. She also made me fill my wardrobe with decent and even fashionable clothes. And finally, of course, she did what no woman is able to resist. She set me up with a woman.
The first one was called Caroline. She was a thirty-ish redhead who "accidentally" met us at a table in a new and trendy restaurant. Of course she had a few minutes to spare and of course she ended up dining with us, and sure enough we had a few drinks afterwards and found ourselves alone at a small table after Erica "suddenly had to leave." By then I did not mind. Caroline was fun. But when I at last took her home to her tiny apartment in the East Village, I disappointed her by refusing her offer of a "cup of coffee."
I met Caroline twice after that. The last time was embarrassing as she already had my zipper down before I could stop her. I must have seemed a stupid fool to her. I guess I was. But I just couldn't do it.
The next time I met Erica she was as sweet as ever. But I knew she really wanted to be furious with me. Thank God she limited her fury to beating me with a definitive 6 - 2 and 6 - 3.
Everything in life is about timing, I guess. Caroline had the poor luck of being first -- and being too early. Or was it me who had the poor luck? Probably the latter. Anyway, three weeks later I ended up in bed with Rachel. She was tall and blonde and her mouth did miracles with my reluctant cock. At the start I must have been as shy as a teenager, but Rachel never hesitated. She took me in without giving me a chance to think twice.
The weeks that followed were like a dream. After Erica, Rachel was the best thing happening to me since Myriam pickled my heart with sulphur and brimstone. Rachel was just staying in New York for a month, though. She lived in Los Angeles and went back there after three weeks. The last weekend we hardly left my apartment. Of course we kept in touch for a short while, but the moment I kissed her goodbye at the airport I knew the whole exciting thing was already in the past.
During the year that followed, I dated three more women. Life was fun again. And that fun nicely filled the empty potholes in my soul. To anyone myopic and short-sighted enough, I looked as good as new. My job took me all over the country and frequently overseas as well. My unattached existence made me the ideal equalizer of bumps and scratches in our corporate armor.
I never counted Dallas among my favorite cities.
That surely wasn't Dallas' fault. It always seemed to bask and sparkle in the southern sun whenever my plane landed. It was big, and shining -- overwhelming in the long honored Texan way. But it would never touch the strings of my heart. My loss, I'm sure.
It seems, though, that everything the city lacked was made up for by the Belmont hotel. Whenever they sent me to Dallas, I would book a nice suite at the Belmont. It has the charm of the mid-twentieth century. But it also has all the luxury I needed to compensate for being away from New York. To be honest -- for hotels I always used the Onslow Rule. It comprised a simple question: where would Onslow book? That's where I would go.
It was a late afternoon in May, almost two years after I left my marriage and went to New York. I had been in a gruesome meeting at our offices in downtown Dallas. It was about a reorganization to meet the overly ambitious bottom-line Onslow had set for the next three years. The necessary measures would cut to the quick and I was there to watch them do it effectively and fairly.
I had just come down from taking a long and steaming shower. The fresh cotton shirt and linen slacks were a relief after the formal suit I had been wearing all day. I carried a book to read on the lovely terrace. The Road To Wellness, by T. Coraghessan Boyle. It was fun, I liked it. But the cocktail lounge looked inviting too.
So did the woman who sat at the bar. Her back was towards me. Her shock of chestnut hair caught my eyes first, closely followed by the shapely ass that hugged the stool's top. One endless leg bathed in a beam of afternoon sun. She turned her head and saw me. I suppose my eyes went as wide as hers.
"Myriam," I said. A pink blush darkened her face. My heart touched my throat.
She looked incredible. Gone were the boring business gear and modest make-up. Gone was the knee covering skirt. No decent lady's blouse, today. Her silk top was low-cut and looked expensive, as did her tight skirt and the elegantly stilettoed sandals. She looked breathtakingly sexy.
"You, ehm...you look gorgeous."
Her lip trembled. She stuttered. Then a smooth smile washed her insecurity away. "Eh, ah, yes. Thank you. You look great yourself."
I recognized the smile. And yet I didn't. The familiarity was disturbing. So was the difference.
I once more discovered that it doesn't take a lot to turn a grown man into a sweating teenager. Thank God reality rushed back in. The urge to run away disappeared. Sound and image returned to my senses. I offered my hand, she took it. The shaking was highly surreal. It made us both giggle nervously.
"Ms Collins, I presume?" I said, wincing at the corny joke.
She nodded and widened her smile to reward my lame remark -- the perfect hostess. Then she waved to the stool next to her. I walked over to it, but didn't sit down.
"Can I get you a drink?" I asked, only to see she still had a full glass. A gin and tonic, no doubt. Fate refused to make this an easy day for me.
After ordering a scotch and water, I at last sat down. My eyes had been on her the whole time. Somehow the way she looked seemed to carry a message -- something essential. I stared at the classy sexiness. The new abundance of her chest. The sensuality. The general ease of her face, her movements. I noticed the perfection of it all.
"What brings you to Dallas?" I asked. I felt relieved. At last I had found an innocent line in my disheveled basket of small talk.
"Business," she said. Her voice was like her smile. Home, it said. Welcome home. I had to shake my skull to chase the seduction away. It was too slick to be real. And yet it made my skin crawl. I took a sip of my scotch and tasted nothing. Say something light, I urged myself. Something funny!
"Still at the same firm?" I asked. "Importing meat?"
She didn't even wince. Her curls danced as she shook her smiling head in denial. "I am into public relations now." I heard a husky breath in her voice that had never been there before. It reached out for my crotch.
"Oh my," I said. "That is really something else."
She chuckled. The throaty quality was still there. "I found out that I am pretty good at it," she said. "But what about you? You went to New York. I am very jealous."
The last word was attached to the tiniest of laughs. I tried to find an emotion in her eyes to match it. There was none -- just the smooth, beautiful mask.
"Yes," I answered. "I'll be on the board next year."
I don't know why I had to say that. Did I want to impress her? Did she make me do it or did I do it to myself? What was it that turned me into the proud little boy bringing good marks home from school? I don't know -- I just did. And she smoothly praised me with her eyes and her voice. She massaged me with them. It made me feel warm inside. I wanted to be -- close. And yet it felt like velvet plastic.
Public relations? She indeed must be good at it.
"So I guess you are here for business too?" she asked. She turned away to pick up her glass. Her glossed lips kissed the rim.
It was all so very awkward. Here I sat with the woman I had shared my soul with for over ten years. The woman who had become as much a part of me as I had been of her. And look at us -- two polite talking machines in a slick, perfectly designed lounge in a city as far away from our roots as could be.
I felt a tear burn behind my eyelids. I guess it was for all that had been and now had evaporated. I felt like I was standing at our grave, and there was no one but myself to mourn the two of us down there.
A shudder ran down my spine. "Goddammit, Myriam!" I cried. It startled her. "Why? Why this? Who are you? Where are you? What happened?"
Her lush eyelashes fluttered. A twitch touched her impeccable mouth. She slid off her stool. "Ehm, yes," she muttered. "Ah well, I guess my client has arrived. Please excuse me."
I grabbed her wrist. My face was almost against hers.
"Myriam! For god's sake!"
She tugged at my grip. I let her go. She looked over my shoulder and smiled. A perfect smile -- a warm smile. I turned and saw a man walking towards us. Early fifties. Forty pounds overweight. Expensive suit -- Stetson hat. JR's nephew, maybe. He extended both hands to Myriam. I took a step back to make room.
"Estelle!" he exclaimed. "Ravishing as ever!" He hugged Myriam and they kissed. I put down my glass and walked away.
"Let's get this out of the way first," I heard the man say. I turned around. Myriam took something from him and put it in her purse. Then she saw me looking. She turned away.
I walked on to the elevators.
The desire to sit and read on the sunny terrace had gone. So had the desire to have the planned dinner with two of the people I had been negotiating with all day. But short of lying, there was no way I could get out of the appointment.
The restaurant was first class, but I had no appetite. I was distant and I drank too much. Thank god I don't get loud when drunk. And I have a strong stomach. But lying on my bed, back at the hotel, I realized that it had been a long time since I last saw the ceiling revolve like the planets around the sun. Anyway. As I said: two years were not nearly enough to get over her.
She was a whore now, it seemed. No doubt she'd use another job description. Public relations -- I chuckled without mirth. Escort service, no doubt. Classy arm candy. Well-educated fuck flesh. Oh, damn, Myriam. Did I ever know you? My mind waded back through a swamp of alcohol-tainted memories. Had she been the company whore for all those years? And if so -- why had I never noticed? And why did I still care? How could she have hidden it? The business trips, no doubt. My business trips too. The long hours, maybe.
How could she have been so sweet with me and still betray me like that? I remembered her comments on the morality of others. Her disdain for trashy dresses and sluttish behavior. They were old thoughts, recycled musings. And once more they returned. Did I care at all? I guess I still did. I groaned in the dark.
I felt ashamed. Isn't it curious how you can be ashamed for being the victim -- even while knowing she ought to be ashamed for betraying you? I almost felt guilty because I had been so naïve. I even now felt the shame for trusting her with my life while she must have been laughing behind my back -- making fun with others about me. It makes you feel so small, so diminished.
That was when the phone rang. I turned and peered at the clock's green numbers. It was past three. A sense of alarm invaded me.
There was sobbing at the other end -- a woman's voice. My name was somewhere among the gasps and snivels. It sent a wave of adrenalin up my throat. And it cleared my brain.
I could not push the off button. I could not move the phone from my ear to the cradle. I should have, but I had to listen.
"That you, Myriam?"
Silly question. I guess there are moments when silly questions can't be avoided.
"I want to die, Bruce. I don't want to live anymore."
You know...there are good people and bad people. Some of the good can be virtual saints. Some of the bad can be evil. But most people are neither -- they are just in between. Then there are the people you love. Like other people they can be either good or bad, but that is immaterial. Their love claims you, blinds you. They can be your children, your parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. They can be spouses...even ex-spouses. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Five minutes after the call Myriam huddled in my bed, hugging herself -- arms around her knees. The fluffy white bathrobe was wrapped tightly about her. So was the extra blanket I gave her. She still shook, her teeth chattering. Her eyes were red and puffy, her face blotched. The lovely chestnut curls I remembered from the lounge now stuck wet and stringy to her face.