My date’s downstairs waiting for me, and my hair won’t cooperate. There are only a few gray hairs, but they’re twice as thick as the brown strands, and they always want to go in a different direction. I’m still attempting denial about the gray, a strategy that hasn’t worked particularly well in other areas of my life.
My ex-husband, who is always early, has chosen today to be late picking up our son. I consider the possibility that this is some sort of weird control thing about me dating again, then discard the notion. Roy was the one who left, and he’d feel less guilty if I found someone else.
I get the errant bits of hair positioned right and reach for the hairspray. The phone and doorbell ring in perfect unison. I yell to Andy, my son, to get the door.
Sure enough, it’s Roy on the phone. “Julie, I am so sorry. My meeting ran late, and now I’m stuck in traffic. Some truck jackknifed on the freeway, and it hasn’t moved in the last 20 minutes. I’m sorry, I know you have plans tonight.” He’s not even that late; I told him 6:30, figuring he’d be here at six.
“Don’t worry about it. Maybe we can get a later reservation.” Maybe I’ll just cancel dinner. I’m not bringing an 8-year-old along on our second time out. I’m not so sure about this guy anyway; it’s more of a practice date, getting myself back out there after fourteen years of marriage.
Roy, being Roy, has already worked it out. “I called Jesse, and asked him to pick up Andy. I hope that’s okay.”
I can hear a man’s voice downstairs. I frown at my reflection. “That must have been him at the door when you called.” What am I supposed to say? No, it’s not okay, couldn’t you have called your sister instead? He’s already here, and there’s nothing to do but assent.
Roy apologizes one more time, then I give my hair one last spritz, and twist my arm around to zip the dress. Downstairs I find two nervous-looking men waiting for me to rescue them. Denny, my date, is in a blue suit with a tie that probably cost more than my dress. Jesse’s in his airline uniform and a thick silver hoop in his ear. They can’t possibly let him wear that at work.
Jesse gives me a look of preemptive apology. “Roy sent — ”
“He called just now,” I say, sounding more abrupt than I meant to. I soften my tone. “Thanks for helping out.”
Denny is confused. “I thought this was your ex?”
“Uh, no,” Jesse says. He seems poised to elaborate, but doesn’t.
“Actually,” I say, “Jesse is my ex-husband’s boyfriend.” Like dating, that phrase is something I need to practice. I want it to sound natural in front of Andy, as if having his dad leave his mother for another man was no weirder than the divorces among his friends’ parents.
Denny looks at me to make sure I’m not kidding, then I see the subtle drawing-in that insecure men do around gay guys. He doesn’t physically back away, but the effect is the same. “Well,” he says a little too heartily, “I guess we know why you’re divorced.”
“Oh,” Jesse beams back at him, “they could have worked around the gay part. It was Roy’s backseat driving she couldn’t handle.” He’s trying to break the ice, but at the moment it would take an icepick. I don’t want to be awful when he’s as uncomfortable as I am. It’s easy to find things to get annoyed with: the fact that he’s ten years younger than me, the ridiculous earring, the way his hands constantly move when he talks, as if he might have to defend himself from me.
I decide to make an effort. “Trust me. Just pull over and hand Roy the keys. Some things are just not worth the argument.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember that.” He seems genuinely touched that I didn’t rip his throat out. Or maybe he wants to ask me what to do about Roy’s other annoying habits, like stealing the covers. And if he wants to know how to figure out when Roy’s cheating, I’m the last one to ask.
Jesse turns to Andy. “Ready to go, kiddo?” The kiddo sounds phony, like he’s trying to prove that gay guys can sound like straight guys who are trying too hard.
Andy leads him upstairs. “I’ll bring the model I’m working on.”
“Another plane? What kind?” Jesse looks to me for permission, then follows him to his room. Andy’s obsessed with planes, and Jesse fortuitously happens to be a flight attendant.
While they’re gone, Denny says, “Don’t worry, I promise I’m completely straight,” and strokes my arm in a way I’m not sure if I like.
Jesse and Andy come back downstairs, with an overnight bag and the model kit. Andy’s still rattling on about planes. When Roy and I split up, I impressed on Andy that it wasn’t Roy’s fault that he had fallen in love with another man. I told him to be nice to Jesse. I’m just a bit chagrined that it was so easy, that he seems to genuinely like Jesse. I’ll figure out why, eventually, when I’m not so raw inside. It’s not his fault that my husband was gay.
It’s not Roy’s fault. It’s not Jesse’s fault. It’s not my fault. Why the hell can’t it be somebody’s fault? I want someone I can point to and say, You owe me for wasting the last fourteen years of my life. I want them back. I want someone to make it right.
Instead I’m going to dinner and a mindless movie, with a man I’m not sure I really want to be with. “Shall we go?” Denny asks.
I surreptitiously check the hallway mirror. In the right light, you can hardly see the gray. “I’m ready,” I say.
|First published in Flashquake
© Laura Loomis, 2005