He smiled when she entered the room. He almost stood up, but checked his motion midway. Why stand up when a woman comes near? It seemed like some half-remembered ritual from another era that had lost it’s purpose, but at that thought he recalled sharply that Clara loved that kind of thing – politeness and gentlemanly gestures of yesteryear were her cream and sugar.
She pulled the chair into the table, looking up and smiling at him remotely. Richard regretted not standing up.
“Find parking o.k.?” He asked. She was wearing the pale citrus-colored dress she’d worn on their first date years ago. He wondered if that was a portent.
“It wasn’t too bad. I parked on Sweet, the parking lot rates are just wretched around here.”
Wretched: not bad, not terrible – just so. This was Clara.
“I ordered the good stuff for you.” He tapped a glass of bottled water with his fingernail.
Oh God that laugh – the way her mouth curled up as if she were eating something bitter. He warmly recalled that mouth used in sex and felt the mortification drain the blood from his face, his belly. He struggled for control, loathing himself all the while.
“What do you think?” She asked lightly.
So she’d been talking. Of course.
“Were you even listening?” Her face was tightening – still beautiful, but so horrible in its distance.
Now he laughed, trying to match her tone from moments before. “It’s spring. A miracle I can hear anything beyond birdsong.”
She smiled again, but this smile was impatient and worn. He missed her upturned coy pucker instantly. She started talking again, and this time he agonized over every vowel and consonant.
“So Mike wants me to move in. It’s a big step. What do you think?”
That Mike doesn’t deserve you and never will.
“How do you feel about it?” Richard wished he’d gotten the cocktail the waitress had offered now. But he’d wanted so badly to come off as responsible at the time, and now there was nothing but this woman in front of him.
“I’m in love with him.”
“So you’ll do it?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
He nodded, and understood completely.