"Why would I tell you anything, even if something happened?"
"You owe me. I'm the one who pushed you to go after her."
"You're also the one who told her I was too chicken to ask her out."
"So how did you get together? What did you do with her?"
"Screw you, Fred. Even if I had a story, I respect her too much to tell you."
"Hey, I'm just jealous."
It was a typical busy Monday. I was relieved when the break buzzer sounded. Loni beckoned me to her table, where I drank my coffee and listened to young women chatter. At lunch time, Fred sat across from me at a table with three chairs. Loni took the remaining seat a moment later. He tried to ask questions, but we ignored them until she said, "Fred, you know I love you like a father."
"If you were my father, I'd never say what I did or didn't do with a boy. Since you're not my father, I'll say you should mind your own damn business."
Lunch ended in silence, and Fred and I didn't speak when we went back to work. Loni came in an hour or so later with some corrections in a folder. "You need to look at this right away, Mark," she said, and walked briskly out of the room.
When I opened the folder, I found a hand-written note. "I enjoyed the weekend. I'd like to see you again. Can you come to my house for lunch Wednesday around nine?"
I looked over the corrections, folded the note and put it in my pocket, and carried the folder to the person who needed it next. On my way back, I stopped at Loni's work station. "Lunch at nine in the morning?"
Her eyes crinkled in her playful laugh. "I was asking if you wanted to come to my house at nine. We don't have to be here until three, so that should give us time for more than just lunch."
"I'll be there."
Monday night after work, I stopped at a bar and bought a six-pack to take home. I needed something to do to keep from thinking about her. It didn't work. Halfway through the last can, I fell asleep and dreamed about her all night.
Tuesday, I woke up late, hustled through my before-work routine, and barely punched in on time. Loni was already at her work-station with a stack of folders when I walked past. Another busy night.
Fred was on his good behavior, grumbling his usual complaints, gabbing about sports, and telling bad jokes. It's his way of getting through a tough shift. He let us alone at break.
As soon as I sat down across from her, Loni said, "I made something."
"I'll show it to you tomorrow. I hope you like it. Plus, I went shopping."
"You'll see. Don't ask so many questions. You're too impatient. That's going to make me impatient."
Lunch with Fred centered on one of their many spirited arguments about sports. Loni knew the stats for players I had never heard of. She was more of a sports nut than Fred, taunting him when "his" teams lost or one of "his" players was ejected from a game.
"You're wrong about New York, Loni, but that's nothing new. I've been trying to educate you since you were five, and you still don't know anything."
"You were the one who didn't know who hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium," Loni huffed.
I rang her doorbell at nine Wednesday morning. She answered it in a pale pink dressing gown, a creation of lace, satin, and gauze, and high-heeled sandals dyed to match. She shrugged off the gown, letting it fall to the floor to reveal a matching short top, patches of the same pink satin covering her nipples when she stood still. The short pants were made of the same materials. She model-strutted the length of the living room. The backs of the top and shorts were sheer, almost invisible against her skin.
I followed her upstairs, stopping halfway to rip off my shirt while she gracefully shed her top. At the door to her room, she loosened the sash that held the shorts above her hips, and walked into her room wearing only her sandals. When she reached her bed, she sat on the edge and removed them.
"Let me show you what I bought," she said. She rolled to her nightstand, pulled out a small package, opened it, and read the folded paper inside. "Over 99% effective if used according to package directions. Odor-less, taste-less, guaranteed non-irritating to sensitive tissues. Stays ready in the applicator for up to one hour." She put everything on her nightstand. "My periods are always short, so I'm nice and clean again, and now we don't need condoms."
Many of our mornings were spent like that. Sometimes, we'd prepare and eat lunch in the nude, and then go back to bed, barely making it to work on time. Fred stopped teasing me about my shit-eating grin. Loni and I were a couple, spending much of our off-work time together. Camilla became very fond of me, and my parents fell in love with Loni.
I knew she would leave town at the end of the summer. As work buddies, we talked about college a lot. She was anxious to go, excited to pursue her dream. I didn't want to miss her, but I knew I would.
We both wanted to go to the beach before she left for school, so we took a week for ourselves. As we listened to the the Beatles sing "Ob La Di, Ob La Da" on a transistor radio on the hot sand, she brought up the subject of her departure. "We need to talk about college again. I'm leaving in three weeks."
"I'm going, Mark. I love you, but I'm going."
That was the first time either of us had used THAT word. Knowing that our relationship had an expiration date, we had an unspoken agreement to avoid saying it and to try to not to feel it too strongly. "This doesn't have to be the end," I said.
"You know that long-distance phone calls and letters don't really work, don't you?"
"Don't do this, Mark. Don't make it hard for me to go. We can be in love this week, but soon I'll leave, and you may never see me again."
We made love morning, noon, and night in our motel room. We kissed and held each other as much as we could. We walked the beach by moonlight, our arms always around each other.
It was the summer of '69.
We wrote to each other pretty regularly that fall, calling when we could afford it. Loni came home for Thanksgiving, having turkey at noon with my folks and ham in the evening sitting next to me at her mother's kitchen table. We visited some friends, and late that night, I took her home.
"Will you come up to my room with me?"
"Your mom is home."
"She knows what we mean to each other."
Somehow, we kept the noise down. Both of us knew it might be the last time we made love, so we savored every moment.
She put on a robe to walk me to the door, kissing me long and hard on the threshold. Then she stepped back. Tears were brimming in her eyes. "I'll always love you Mark, but we can't be together. Your life is here. I must go."
"I love you, Loni."
"Remember me, but don't look back." She closed the door.
It was the summer of '79. Years ago, I reconnected with my high school sweetheart. She grew up to be a wonderful woman, and we fell in love again easily. Monique and I were old friends whose new love grew stronger every day. By 1979 we had been married for nine years. We had a beautiful daughter and a handsome son, both of them gifted in many ways. Life was good, filled with absolute love, happiness, and devotion.
We had no secrets. I'm pretty sure I knew the names of all Monique's college-days lovers, and I was honest with her. We were comfortable enough that the mention of a past relationship was met with tolerance that allowed both of us to cherish our memories, rather than hide them. That's why she had such a smile on her face when she handed me the phone one evening.
"Mark? It's Loni Svenson, well, Loni Davis now."
"Loni? Is it really you?"
"Yes, a blast from the past. I survived college. I have my own studio and clothing lines, and I'm getting into the doll business. Little girls need to know they they don't have to be blond."
"Good idea!" I said. "Monique showed me a magazine article the other day about the top young designers. You were on the list in every apparel category."
"I owe a lot of that to you, Mark. You made me be an aggressor, made me take a big risk. It got easier, probably because of you. I've had some success, but I'll be on the list of biggest failures if I don't do this doll thing right. YOU are on the list of top new designers and manufacturers of packaging and point-of-purchase displays. I need your help!"
The first time Loni came to my office, I wanted Monique there in her role as full partner in my business. I loved my wife completely, but this was Loni. I had no idea how we would react to each other.
She was even more beautiful than I remembered. My wife liked her immediately. We all quickly knew where we stood, honoring and celebrating our feelings, past and present. The women became friends, and our families visited several times a year. Our kids adored their new "aunt".
"Loni" dolls were the must-have gifts for every doll-lover, young and old, that Christmas.
It was the summer of '89. Monique and I talked with Loni a lot, both about business and our lives. She made our daughter a prom gown, and stayed at our house that night after the final fitting. The three of us were up late that night, renewing our friendship.
We talked about her recent divorce. Loni had been through Hell, leaving her husband when he became physically abusive. I almost joined the women in crying about what that bastard put her through. I didn't understand why someone would do that, especially to a woman like Loni. Monique and I disagreed, even quarreled at times over the years, like any couple can, but our love always found a solution to the problem.
The "Survivor" clothing line was a huge hit that fall -- swimsuits and lingerie shown by models with bandages and painted-on smiles. Evening-wear was the "Other Woman Collection," and the men's lines were "Lawyer," featuring sharkskin, and "Bastard," pajamas and cruise-wear modeled by men wearing boxing gloves. As usual, Loni, still beautiful, appeared on the runway herself many times.
It was the summer of '99. Monique had a congenital heart condition. She was careful about her health, but didn't let fear stop her from doing what she wanted. Childbirth was risky, but she insisted on giving me kids. She wanted to learn to water-ski and ride a dirt bike, so, in her vibrant way, she did. I came home from a business trip to find her in her chair, a novel in her lap, dead.
My friends were supportive of me, helping me to celebrate Monique's too-short life. Loni seemed particularly hard hit at the funeral, seeing my wife in her casket, dressed in her favorite "Loniwear" outfit. Monique was her best friend.
The fall collection that year was all black. The models wore black wigs and veils, to look like the stunning, mature model who still headed every runway parade.
It was the summer of '09. Loni and I burned up thousands of cellphone minutes a month. She canceled meetings to come see my newborn granddaughter the previous year. My princess was starting to walk now, an adorable little munchkin with two teeth. Loni would be at the first birthday party in September.
I got an e-mail. "Sent you something. Please call before you open it. We need to talk."
When it arrived I was tempted, but I followed her request and opened it while on the phone with her. There were several packages inside the box. Inside the first were some dresses and play outfits for my little angel from the new fall kids' line. Also inside was a re-issue of the original "Loni" doll, a young, raven-haired beauty like the girl I once loved. The doll wore all white -- gown, train, veil, and headpiece, to match the tux on the prototype male doll also in the package. He looked like he was in his early twenties, with glasses and shoulder-length brown hair.
Loni said, "With your permission, I'll call him 'Mark.' Forty years ago, a young man who looked like him forced me to be the aggressor. I still am. I miss you. I miss us."
My son and daughter run my business now. I live in Boston with my goddess.