Monday, July 4, 2011

NINE: Search and Encounter

            Diana’s apartment was small. It was on the third floor of a Queen Anne style house that had been converted to five apartments decades earlier. The original third-floor bedroom was now Diana’s living room; she kept her easel in the little turret space. The original dressing room was a tiny bathroom and kitchen. Diana’s bed was off the living room in an alcove with a curtain drawn across it. The ceilings slanted. Four and a half years ago she had moved in temporarily until she could find something she actually liked.
            When Les appeared at her door Monday night she took him to the basement to put his clothes in the communal washing machine. He walked naked and sexy back to her apartment. He told her about his fight with Lydia and she dressed his wounded hand. He showered and she made him a sandwich. She said he was welcome to stay a couple of nights and he said he wouldn’t stay long.
            The next day he went to his house when Lydia was at her tennis lesson and he got clothes and toiletries. He made an appearance at school. Olivia Troute came to his office to ask if everything was all right. He said that he was dealing with some time-consuming issues at home and was glad that he had no formal commitments at school this week. She said she would be glad to help if he needed help. He said nothing about his bandaged left hand and she didn't ask. He was certain she had ideas about what his time-consuming issues at home might be.
The second day he picked up Derek and Patti from school and they talked. Lydia had told them that Daddy was having some difficulties at his school that would keep him away a few days, but they knew that wasn’t true. He told them that sometimes adults have arguments just like kids do and if it’s bad enough, they sometimes stop speaking to each other just like kids sometimes do. But he assured them that he and Mommy were going to be grown up about their argument and they would talk it out real soon. Derek and Patti were quiet and they looked at their hands.
He and Diana hadn’t had sex the first night. At least not long enough for him to cum. She had kissed him and touched him and she had responded to his kisses and touches. But they each had too much to do, they were too tired, they both had to get up early in the morning. He awoke several times during the night; if she did as well, he didn't know.
In the morning, she used the bathroom first to get ready for work. During the day he checked out a possible apartment that turned out to be a room in the house where Temple Lubiak was living. When she got home from work he had set the table and had dinner waiting for her and she was truly surprised.
They made it through dessert but not to dish washing. She sang Bella Notte and he helped her off with her clothes. For the rest of the night they made long slow easy love. During one of the not so slow and easy periods, she rolled him onto his back and held the base of his erect penis and eased herself down onto it. And then she was lifting and squeezing and lowering and lifting and squeezing until he pushed up as deep as he could and he was cumming and she moaned and arched her back and then she leaned over and looked into his eyes and laughed. “Dinner and Dick,” she said. “I might get used to this.”
In the first weeks of their relationship, he had been tentative and unsure about how to have sex with her. She was different from other women—at least other women he had been with. She was demonstrative. She laughed. She talked. She liked to give directions. He said she should direct plays: try moving down left a little, ease up on the intensity here, relate more to your partner, hold for the laugh. It took a while for him to stop second-guessing himself and simply to let go. When she began trusting him and letting him share the lead-taking, it was pretty rambunctious, energetic, and altogether exhaustingly fun.
And in the process he fell in love.
He didn’t analyze the cause-and-effectness of falling in love with Diana and pulling away from Lydia. Life wasn’t a play. Plays you could analyze and understand. In plays you pinpoint the exact moments when lives change and why. Analyze life that way, he thought, and you’ll only delude yourself into believing that you understand.
They were lying together late in the evening of the third night of his stay and she was blowing the thinning reddish hair falling over his forehead and he was tracing the curve of her left ear with his right index finger when she said she wasn’t willing to share a living space with anyone. He wanted to keep playing with her ear to show that he wasn’t jolted by what she said, but he couldn’t. Even if/when she married, she said, still blowing, she was going to have at least a bedroom and a bath of her own and if possible a sitting room as well. “If I want to fuck him,” she said, “I know where his bed is, but I’m sleeping by myself.”
He said he understood. But he didn’t understand. He wanted to say something hurtful about her parents and her damaged childhood experience of marriage. He wanted to ask what the hell she meant by if/when she married. But he stayed quiet and listened and grunted to demonstrate that he was listening and understanding. If he could have done it without comment, he would have slept on the sofa.
The next day he drove to West Tilton six miles north of Falkes Hollow to find an apartment. The only thing he found was a little back house on a road outside of town owned—or at least managed—by an old woman who lived in the main house that wasn’t much bigger than the back house. She had a foul mouth and a yard full of junk and dogs and dog shit. That evening he told Diana he had found a place in West Tilton. She didn’t suggest he stay longer with her and she didn’t ask about his new place.
He didn’t go to West Tilton. He slept in his office and in the morning he showered in the men’s dressing room in the theatre. After he returned from the shower, Olivia came to his office to ask about the summer acting class. Registration was low, she said, and the administration was giving her grief about it. So far she had managed to convince them to retain the class, but she wanted him to know that it would be better if one or two more students enrolled. She gave no indication that she knew he was sleeping in his office.
His search for an apartment was going nowhere. He simply could not afford the kind of place he would live in even if such a place were available and the available places he might possibly afford he wouldn’t live in. And he couldn’t sustain many more nights in his office.

The morning of Moira’s memorial Alexia Farrell called to ask if Diana would be at the service. Happily, the bank gave her the morning off after she explained with some pained solemnity that the service was for a student she had helped through a major drug overdose and consequent miscarriage. Diana said she would meet Alexia at her dorm and walk over with her. Les told Diana he was in his office and he would walk to the chapel from there.
Diana knew nothing about Saint Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church and its pastor Father John Nepomucine. She was as intrigued by his presence at the memorial as was everyone else. Even the college’s Catholic students had been ignorant of him. During New Student Week each year the pastor of Saint Vincent parish met with the Catholic students of the college and invited them to visit Saint Vincent’s and to make themselves part of the congregation. And most of them did just that. As far as anyone could recall, the pastor of Saint Cecilia’s had never appeared at the college.
Everyone later agreed that they had expected the priest to say something about God if not something specifically about Jesus Christ. Or at least something about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Something about Moira and heaven or perhaps Moira and purgatory. Something about mortal life on earth being the gateway to eternal life at the feet of God the Father or at least at the right hand of Jesus. And what was the Catholic Church’s stand on suicide anyway? Everyone agreed that Father John Nepomucine had been disconcerting.
Diana had been disconcerted because Father John Nepomucine had been sexier than Satan.

When Olivia Troute collapsed after Father Nepomucine’s exit, people gathered in alarm, but she convinced them that there was no need for an ambulance. Fatigue, she said, dehydration, the stress of the past several days. She asked Les to take her home. On the drive to her house, she told Les that in fact she did have a heart condition but it wasn’t general knowledge and she wanted to keep it that way. It was the first time she had revealed to him anything private about herself.

Diana had watched Les drive off with Miss Troute and Alexia had said, “Wanna grab something to eat?” Before Diana could think of a way to say no, Temple had come to them from the old observatory path. His nose was bandaged and the bruising that purpled his eye sockets had yellowed.
“Is Caleb all right?” Diana said, less from concern for Caleb than from wanting to distract Alexia.
“He’s fine. He went looking for the priest.”
“It’s getting better,” she said about his nose.
“Yeah,” Alexia said loudly, “Wrythe punched you out pretty hard.”
“I gotta go,” Temple said and he moved past them before breaking into a run.
“Wait up,” Alexia said and she scrambled after him.
Diana turned and Douglas Wrythe was standing directly in front of her. An inch or so taller than Diana, he had big hazel eyes with lashes so long they could flutter if he’d let them and hair buzz cut so close she couldn’t tell if it was blond or brownish and a neck and ears in perfect muscular alignment with his jaw.
“I wanted to thank you for coming today,” he said. “Moira liked you.”
“Why did you break Temple’s nose?” she said.
“I’m pretty sure it isn’t broken.” His left hand rubbed the contour of his skull. “Maybe bent out of shape a little.”
Was he smiling? It was possible that he wasn’t being a jerk, but Diana couldn’t tell. During rehearsals, when he was responding to a direction from Les or a clarification from Temple, she could never tell what he was thinking behind his direct gaze and his earnest face and the maybe smile that played at the corners of his mouth. She could tell, however, that he wanted everyone to know that he was indeed thinking.
            He seemed older than the other students. He was built and it looked like a body built by work rather than by workouts. When other students—she thought of Tammy DeBardeau—said something cynical or world-weary, they seemed to be trying on attitudes. Douglas seemed simply to have lived. It was something deep in his big hazel eyes that allowed them to look frankly and calmly at the world, something deeper in the muscles around his mouth that let a tangle of responses play subtly along the contours of his lips, something in his voice that came from deeper than it did with younger students.
Depth, Diana thought. She narrowed her eyes deliberately. “What’s your story?” she said.
            He had been looking past her. “It’s the only thing I’ve got that’s mine,” he said and there was that smile that made her think she might be imagining it.
            “You’ll want to be careful,” she said.
            “Of what?”
            “You’re close to being interesting. Don’t piss it away by being only clever.”
            This time as he walked away he was smiling unmistakably.

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