tagRomanceSlippers That Fit

Slippers That Fit

bymaninconn©

I had never been so cold in all my life. My shoes hurt, and were a little wet from slogging through those spots in the road where I couldn't avoid a puddle of slushy melting snow. I had a decent overcoat, and was relatively dry from the knees up, where it covered. Still, I was cold.

I hadn't dressed to walk. I had dressed to impress. I had dressed to dance. I had dressed to party with the girl I had been crushing on since freshman year. I had my best suit on, with a pair of shoes crafted of fine Italian leather. I sported a new haircut, and wore a fine cologne that had been a gift from my sister.

"When Dave wears this cologne, I melt. Use it sparingly, it's sex in a bottle."

Sex in a bottle. Seems like I was heading for nothing but sex with bottles at the rate I was going. Worse still, right now I wasn't looking at sex with anything, much less anybody, and certainly much, much less that with Claire.

Claire. Oh that girl. She could wrap me around her little finger, tie me in a knot and keep me there. Twisted, forgotten, captured by her clear blue eyes and dazzling smile until she decided I had a purpose to serve.

Somehow, I won her heart. At least I thought I had. Somehow, I had gained her affection, and giddily waved goodbye to the other nine guys who were tied and twisted to her other nine fingers as she slipped me off and replaced me with my ring. More than jewelry, it was a symbol of my devotion and my desire to be together with her forever.

Sadly, my story was one of high hopes. An omniscient narrator would have pointed out that those other nine guys were still twisted around her other fingers. An omniscient narrator would not have missed introducing the path of destruction in Claire's wake. Broken hearts, casual acquaintances, hopeful suitors littered that path behind her . None of them stagnated in that pitiful river of tears. They all floated on their hopes, gently paddling after her, hoping she would suddenly turn, pluck them from their peril, and slide their ring exactly where I thought she had already slid mine.

My ring had been in place exactly a week. She said there had never been another there. I was over the moon. She said "yes." Claire Hall was going to be my wife. I made plans. I had already been offered a great job. We would have her dream wedding. We would find a beautiful house with a pool, and I would use the trust money I had inherited to buy and furnish it. We could have kids, travel, invite her friends over for barbecues, visit her parents every summer, and trim huge Christmas trees that we cut down ourselves ever winter. There would be margaritas and hot chocolate, beaches and ski trails, and, and and.

The omniscient narrator says "Men plan and God laughs." It shouldn't have taken a third party to note all of the guys still wrapped around her finger, or the guys still following her down the boulevard of broken dreams, or the circle of pretty people she still danced with.

The pretty people all went to high school together. Hell, they all went to Kindergarten together. They all lived within a couple of blocks of each other from the time they were born until they went off to college. Of course none of them went far. They all settled at three schools that were no more than fifteen miles apart. That made it easy for them to get together continually.

I thought I was in. I thought her friends were accepting, and that I had gained membership in the circle of pretty people. I thought that ring on her finger earned me at least some influence. I was right, but not according to that omniscient guy. All I saw were plans being made for a big party. Three of the guys were in a fraternity at state, and that fraternity was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary on campus. Claire and I were to go as their guests.

Supposedly, they all wanted to get to know me better. It was all about them though. I must have looked funny trying to break into the conversations that were rife with inside jokes. At first they took time to explain. Then eyes started rolling when I asked. When I got that picture, I stopped asking. Things got worse. I started seeing shoulders and backs of heads instead of pretty people making eye contact. The circle closed me out. I did ok through dinner. I survived the speeches by going for a drink, then hitting the head. I even Stepped outside for a smoke. I never smoked. But since I was invisible anyway, I might as well.

It got worse after dinner, when I started getting sent for drinks. Claire was sweet about it. She asked nicely. When I returned with the first round, they didn't even thank me. I guess I sulked. Claire didn't like it and told me so. I reminded her I came to be with her and have some fun.

"Oh stop it! You're acting like a child."

I guess I flushed. Gina, the unofficial leader of the pretty people girls, noticed. In fact her head swiveled to see what was going on.

"I'm glad you brought me tonight, but these are my oldest friends, and we all only get together a couple times a month any more! Tonight is not going to be about you!"

I was stunned. Gina could tell, and that head swiveled back to the other side. Watching the news spread was like watching electricity zip through a line. Yeah that fast. I had to say something.

"Sorry Claire, I guess I misunderstood. Everybody, I apologize for the disturbance. That round is one me."

Did I hear a thank you? Nope. Completely in sync, nine heads turned back to the podium. Then nine heads realized how boring the speeches were and turned to conversations among themselves. Then I got sent for another round. Didn't I already get a round? Why yes I did!

Speeches over, dancing started. Up jump the pretty people, and one of the guys grabs Claire's hand.

"Honey, Greg and I always dance the first dance together. We took ballroom together when we were kids, and it's been a tradition ever since. Be a dear and watch our purses."

Purses on the table, I sat. I stewed. A half hour passed and I was chained to the table on "purse watch." For this I wore Italian shoes and sex-in-a-bottle cologne. She hadn't commented on either. They sure looked like they were having fun dancing. Time ticked on. The pretty people came back to the table winded and sweating from their exertions. I was reading Pride and Prejudice on my phone, homework for my English Lit class.

"Honey, can you get us another round of drinks?"

"Claire, I'm a little busy. I'm right in the middle of a chapter, and it's kind of..."

"You're doing homework!? I took you out to dinner and you're doing homework?"

"Your purses were safe. I never left my seat. Forty five minutes of dancing, you didn't have to worry about your purse or your fiancé. You and your friends were free to enjoy yourself on the floor. I don't see why I shouldn't use my downtime productively."

It went downhill from there. I was cold-shouldered, though she didn't think so. I felt left out, they had gone to extremes to dis-include me. Everyone danced with my fiancée but me. Greg always dances first. That implies I should at least dance, doesn't it? Yada yada, slap.

The slap was the loudest. The pretty people all stopped and stared. At me. Incredulously, it was clear to them that I was entirely at fault. A girl only slaps a guy when he has done something exceptionally insulting, right? The ring came off the finger. My ring came off her finger. She slapped it on the table in front of me.

"Fine. I am your fiancée, not your slave. You will not come between me and my friends. Now sit down, and be a good boy. We will need another round of drinks, and maybe another later, to make up for another childish tantrum tonight. You will sit and watch our things while we dance, and when we get home we will have a long talk about your place in this relationship."

I stood up and gathered myself. The pretty people smirked, and started to say what they wanted to drink. I nodded to each one, acknowledging their smirk. Then I picked up my ring, slipped it in my pocket, and told them to get their drinks themselves. As I turned to walk away, I heard her tell them, "he'll be back. Watch. I'll bet he even brings the drinks."

I didn't.

Unfortunately we came in Claire's car. The club was outside of town, and there was no taxi service. The road was pretty quiet, so it looked like I'd be walking. I was cold. My feet were wet. My heart was broken, and my hand fingered the ring in my pocket reminding me why. I felt like a little kid. I felt used. I was tired. And I was pissed.

The car slowed behind me, and the passenger side window came down.

"Are you ok?"

In a perfect dream, it would have been Claire coming to get me, and begging me to forgive her for the humiliation she had rained down on me. It wasn't. I could barely tell that her eyes were brown from behind the coke bottle thick lenses she wore. Her hair was ticked up under a drab heavy knit wool hat, and her scarf covered her neck and draped down the front of her bulky woolen coat.

"It's a little cold."

"Get in."

I've never felt anything so wonderful in all my life. She turned on the seat heater, cranked the car's heater to full, and raced off. I was shivering uncontrollably. She produced a thermos from the door pocket.

"Drink."

"I don't drink coffee."

"Neither do I. Caffeine doesn't agree with me. So drink. It's chicken broth."

It was heaven. I thawed. And then, the questions. She wanted to know everything, and I told her. What were you doing walking in the snow? Are you a student? Which school? Are your shoes ruined? Are you feeling better? Then she got a little personal.

"Sucks! Can I see the ring?"

I didn't want to show her. But I felt strangely compelled.

"It's beautiful. Did she really tell you never to come between her and her friends? Seems like any woman who gets to wear a rock like this should be telling her friends not to come between her and her fiancé! She's got her priorities wrong."

That brought another flood from me. I babbled about how beautiful Claire is, and what I catch I had. She could have any guy.

"Whoa, Bud! You want a girl who can have any guy, or a girl who only cares that she can have you?"

There wasn't much of a response for that. So I didn't respond. We pulled up in front of my apartment complex.

"Listen, you're a nice guy. But you wear your heart on your sleeve. She knows she has you, and she doesn't respect that. That's not love. Before you put this ring back on her finger, you've got to win her respect. Before you can do that you've got to respect yourself. You've also got to learn a little bit more about girls. I'm picking you up right here tomorrow morning for breakfast. 8:00 AM right here. Don't make me wait."

She drove off. She kept the ring.

I didn't hear from Claire that night. I couldn't sleep, so I finished Pride and Prejudice. I woke at 7:45 the next day, and raced to get ready for... I hadn't even learned her name! My guardian angel had saved my life, and I had no idea who she was. I didn't even notice what kind of car she drove. I raced out my front door, and there she was, waiting beside the chariot that had plucked me from the grip of death. Ok, so I'm dramatic. I slid into the passenger seat.

"Good morning sunshine!"

Between the uncontrollable shivers I had suffered from the onset of hypothermia and my eyes having been clouded by the shock of my own belittlement, I hadn't even taken a good look at my guardian angel.

Dressed in loose fitting cargo pants and an oversized hoodie, she gave no clue to me about anything resembling a figure. A shock of blonde hair cascaded out from under a well worn knit beanie that looked like it was probably home made. The previously mentioned coke bottle glasses dominated her facial features, so I couldn't say she was pretty, or that she wasn't. Yet everything about her suited her, and she oozed confidence in a way that commanded you to give her your undivided attention.

"Hey! You're lookin a lot better than the last time I saw you. I'm Patty by the way, and I'm takin you out for the very best breakfast. Now, who are you?"

"I'm Dan Michaels."

"Well it's nice to know your name, but that's not what I asked you. Who are you? I want your story, and not just last night. Last night speaks for itself. I want to know what got you to last night. I want to know why some debutante saw something in you that would let her treat you like that, and I want to know how you came to trust a woman so deeply she could drive you into the deep funk you were in when I picked you up."

"Well that's a long story.."

"No it's not. Condense it for me. We only have an hour before we get to breakfast."

"Ok, single mom, not much money. Had a job since I was 16, did odd jobs for neighbors since I was 12 so I could help out Mom. Studied my ass off to get scholarships, and wanted the "honors" variety rather than need. Academic free ride majoring in business and finance. Mom uncle died last fall leaving me with his investment portfolio, a trust fund, and a letter saying he preferred I have it rather than waste it on his own kids who would spend it in a flash. I made an immediate donation to the college's scholarship funds so other kids could get the breaks I got, if they worked for it.

"Claire was my one indulgence. I don't drink to excess, I live a clean and healthy lifestyle, I am careful with my money. I work at the soup kitchen every Saturday morning, and go out of my way to be nice to... to... well to everyone I run into."

"Last night was supposed to be the most important night of my life. Maybe it still was."

Patty drove for a while in silence. Then the corner of her lip turned up. Then the other side. Her entire face lit up in a smile, and then her teeth completed the look.

"Dan, my friend, we have work to do."

@@@@@

I didn't hear from Claire until Monday night. I spent an hour before dinner in the school of business computer center every day. In my freshman year, it was all about gaining practical trading experience. With my uncle's bequest, it had become much more serious. Claire was waiting when I emerged.

"Are we still sulking like a little boy?"

"Not at all! Friday night was enlightening. Now I know that when you and your high school buds are together, I can't expect to talk, I shouldn't try to enter a conversation unless invited, and then I should restrict myself to unopinionated monosyllabic responses. Most of all I, in my inexperienced state of never gracing the floor of a ballroom teacher's studio, shouldn't be expected to dance with you, but that I should always feel honored to fetch drinks and pay for them, watch purses, and maybe park cars and take care of checking and retrieving coats. Since I am annoyed when I fetch rounds without thanks or remuneration, too talkative to hold my tongue or repress my opinion, a big fan of dancing with the woman I love, regardless of having spent zero time in an Arthur Murray, am too proud to be reduced to a purse guard or valet, and I don't have the legs to be a coat check girl, I think I'll just pass on hanging around you when your friends are present in person, on the phone, gathering on Google Hangouts, texting, or in any other way I may be forced to take a back seat."

"Wow, nice speech! Practice that much?"

"Yup! All weekend! I also practiced walking away with dignity."

I did too. I turned and walked away. Thing was, Claire didn't just stand there with her mouth hanging open watching me ride off into the sunset. She followed me.

Did I ever get an earful! I heard about this, I heard about that. She defended her friends. She belittled me. I kept walking but she kept up with me.

"So my friends mean a lot to me! They've been with me through thick and thin! You haven't. Do I danced with Greg first. I always danced with Greg first!"

"Right! Before we were engaged, that was fine. It's different now. I liked it so I put a ring on it! Uh, uh, oh! Now I come first. I come first to talk to. I come first to dance with. If I get a round of drinks, you don't send me for another, no! You say thank you loud enough that everyone else realizes it's in the interest of good manners to do likewise. You suggest another guy take a turn, and bring me one. If the band strikes up the music and Greg asks for your hand, you say no, the first dance is for the guy that gave me the ring, not the guy who went to Fred Astaire with me! And if I sit even one number out to watch purses for you and your girls, somebody had damn well be offering me gratitude that involves some tongue. Problem is having your friends close is more important than having a fiancée from outside your clique. Ok! Have it your way!"

"Oh no you don't! You will not run out on me again! I want my ring back, and I want it now! We have a dinner planned with my parents Friday night. You and I have until then to straighten this out. Ok maybe I have some adjustments to make. But I will not have you going off in a huff and making a scene with my family."

"Claire, you don't seem to understand. You turned your back on me at that dinner dance, in favor of your friends. You humiliated me by treating me like your errand boy instead of your partner. You didn't call all weekend, then came after me with both guns blazing today. But it isn't happening like this again. You see you gave me my ring back. You don't hold my promise anymore. I won't be going to your little dinner with your parents Friday night. I will be going out on a date with somebody else. We are obviously not on the same page. If we were, we would never have had a moment like Friday night, when you put your old friends ahead of your fiancé."

"But they've been my friends for..."

"Then marry them. Then you won't have to be concerned that your first dance with your husband at your wedding will make Greg feel bad. He always gets the first dance right? Marry him."

"But Dan..."

"And leave me alone."

This time she let me walk away. She sobbed, but she let me walk.

I went to dinner. It didn't taste good.

I went home. I didn't feel good.

Music didn't sound good. My clean apartment didn't smell good. The guy in the mirror didn't look good.

My phone dinged, a text.

"I imagine you aren't feeling too 'up' right now. This is where I come in. I'm outside in my car. Come dancing."

I really didn't see it. Supposedly by giving it all up, I would get it all back. I just couldn't see it. I was sure Claire was gone, and forever. And now, I'm supposed to go dancing?

Fuck. Why not? Claire had exposed it as my weakness. Yeah, why not!? Why give the next 'Claire' a reason to ignore me at a formal dinner? It was about time I gave my next 'Greg' a reason to sit the first dance out.

"Be right down."

Patty was good for me. Turns out her mother ran a Fred Astaire Dance Studio. It took her a while to get me to actually bend my knees and sway my hips, but once she did I could mambo with the best. Waltz? Like I was born in Vienna. Tango? Like I went to college in Buenos Aires. Samba? Mardi Gras in San Paulo. I ate that shit alive. Any dance, any tempo, I could move.

Patty helped me dress too. Of course I was no slouch, but my range of attire was rather narrow. Ok, I bought everything from LL Bean and J Crew. So she introduced me to Brooks Brothers and a swanky little Italian tailor named Manny in New York. I looked good too.

On a Friday night, just a month after the disaster dinner dance, Patty had me open my purse strings, and spend some of my hoardings living. We went to Sydney for New Years, and Paris for Valentine's Day. We were on a beach in Greece for spring break, and another in Cancun for Easter. Patty opened my eyes, enhanced my ears, taught me to taste the difference between a Merlot from California and a Bordeaux from, well... Bordeaux.

Claire didn't give up. She didn't stalk me, at least not that I was aware. She managed to catch me around campus, but only in passing. However she was also seen on Greg's arm, and more than once. It became ok. I was doing well in school, my financial portfolios were responding to my moves as if I had a magic wand, and I was enjoying Patty's company more and more.

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