In today's world with all the media glitz, it is hard for the young to learn what is genuine. The girl has been sheltered in a small New England town amid a very straight-laced family.
"SEE this watch?" He took it off in one fluid motion. "It's a Piaget." He pronounced it Pie-a-git. "Richard Gere gave it to me when I taught him to dance for his movie Chicago. It was hard work. He had two left feet"
He put it back on almost as fast as he put it back on as he took it off. He signaled the waitress to bring another round of Manhattans for my mother and himself and a Shirley Temple for me.
John O'Brien leaned forward and lowered his voice as if asking for a state secret. "What did you really think of my model home?"
Mother put on her professional real estate lady face. After all, she saw lots of homes old and new. She looked very business-like despite two Manhattans.
"Very nice," she said.
John threw himself back in his seat. "Only very nice?"
I understood his disappointment. That McMansion placed kitty corner on the lot and with its butterfly imbedded shower door, was the most beautiful thing I'd seen in all my sixteen years.
The waitress took our order. John decided for us. "Fruit cup, but only fresh fruit. Heavy on the blueberries. Lazy man's lobster. Champagne. And caviar. Coca-Cola for the young lady, but in a flute."
I'd only read about caviar. As for lobster – well, whenever we ate out and that was rare my mother insisted we order the least expensive thing. She was still learning how to sell and money was tight after daddy left.
The waitress brought both the champagne and caviar, one in a bucket the other in a silver dish. She showed him the bottle then opened it expertly twisting the cork so fast I heard only the pop. Some overflowed onto the pink linen table cloth. He tasted the sip she'd poured and nodded his approval.
A second dish held sour cream. John heaped caviar onto a cracker, not a Ritz, but one made by the chef. Adding a dollop of sour cream, he put it in my mother's mouth.
"Hmmmm," she said, closing her eyes.
He spread a cracker for me. It tasted like salty, fishy tapioca. Because of the color I'd expected licorice. It was okay.
He looked around before handing me his champagne. "One needs the other," he whispered. I sipped before my mother objected.
As we ate, we listened to John's stories of Hollywood, New York, Paris and London. For me, going to Boston 45 miles south was exotic, and here I was with someone who'd taught Richard Gere and had built the most wonderful house I'd ever seen.
"The only way to finish a meal like this is with a B&B and Irish coffee," John said. The only way to finish a meal left both my mother and John unfit to drive. They pressed my brand new license into service. That was the first time I'd driven either at night or in rain.
Within ten too-short minutes I pulled my mother's car into our semi-circular driveway. Our front yard was a pine grove with 44 trees. Our central chimney colonial house, which had been in the family since before the Civil War, looked extra ugly to me especially after the model home.
The porch light was on. Gramma stood in the doorway, her lips pursed, her arms crossed. Her nose twitched at the odor of alcohol. Glaring at John, she put on her president of the Womens-Christian-Temperance-Union-and-Daughters-of-the-American-Revolution voice. "Where have you been?"
Gramma was not of the modern grandmother generation that played tennis, used the Internet and moved to Florida. I sometimes think she was beamed into the 21st century from the time of the Civil War.
I don't know what my mother said because I was sent to bed thinking of my fairy-tale evening. As I walked up the stairs I noticed how homely the house looked with its beamed ceilings and wide floor boards. I hated its braided rugs and furniture accumulated through generations. I never wanted to see another piece of Victorian marble.
I feel asleep quickly and dreamed of the McMansion kitchen where I opened the pink refrigerator to find mounds of caviar and champagne. Suddenly, I wasn't alone. John O'Brien hovered next to me along with the odor of alcohol, cigarettes and sweat. He put his mouth on mine and his hand on my breast. Then he was gone.
* * * * *
The morning sun streamed in my window. An after-smell of John hung in my imagination so strongly I opened the window wide to freshen the room in case Gramma came in.
Downstairs the dining room's bay window looked out on rose and iris beds leading to our apple orchard. One entire wall was a china closet with old dishes not like the matching geometric-pattern set in the model home.
My mother sat at the table, planning her daily calls. She poured a cup of tea from the blue and white tea pot she used every morning, added milk and three spoons of sugar. "Good morning, sweetheart. I won't be home when you get back from work. John has invited me to afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton," adding, “in Boston.”
My mother never went into Boston.
Gramma slammed cupboard doors in the kitchen. "And what will people say if you get in an accident, tell me that?" She knew that anytime we were in a car with someone of the opposite sex, the chance of accidents and disapproving neighbors went up tenfold.
I covered a piece of toast with Welch's Grapelade and went to get my bike before she could start her it's-bad-enough-that-you-are-divorced-woman-but-think-of-of-your reputation lecture. I never understood the disgrace. Half my friends' parents were divorced.
That night I prayed John would marry my mother and we'd move to the model house. How could she say no to someone who smelled so manly and had taught Richard Gere to dance?
Poor Gramma if we left. She would rattle around in this empty house. Maybe she could live with Auntie Ellen, who'd had the good sense to marry a local boy from our Congregational Church and voted Republican. I thought of my father and his dark curly hair and eyes, so like mine. I wondered where he was. I fell asleep as owls hooted and fireflies flickered outside my window.
* * * * *
The next day I slept in, avoiding the darned spot on my white sheet. It had been cut from a double to a single. When it wore out it would be reincarnated as an ironing board cover and dust cloths. Gramma threw nothing out. She was definitely not of our time. If mother married John we could afford colored sheets with flowers. I alternately read Harry Potter and napped until almost lunch. Cicadas buzzed outside the window.
Hunger and voices downstairs pulled me from bed. Auntie Ellen sat at the table. My mother had quartered hard boiled eggs and served them with homemade pickles. There was corn, fresh from the garden. I smelled blueberry pie cooking. Gramma must have gathered them from the bushes behind the barn.
"So anyway after we stuffed ourselves with cucumber sandwiches and petit fours, he gave me three $100 bill and said he was going to take a shower in room 804," my mother said.
"What did you do?" Auntie Ellen asked. She slathered an ear of corn with butter and started nibbling in neat rows not in random bites like mother did.
"I waited until he came back, and then I gave him back the money. Only after he brought me home did I realize he must have thought I was a cheap pick up."
Auntie Ellen reached for a pickle. "At $300 he didn't think you cheap." Then they saw me and began talking about a bathing suit sale.
After lunch I grabbed my Kindle loaded with Harry Potter behind our house. Gramma said it would hurt my eyes to stare at the screen. She didn’t like my laptop either and unlike my friends, I only had a dumb phone. I had had to do a lot of talking to get that. Only when I pointed out that they could always reach me, did they give in. At least it had messaging if nothing else.
I took the Kindle to the left of the house where two big rocks had been dropped by a departing glacier eons ago. When I was little I pretended they were western badlands or Greek temples. Other times I put brush over the space between them creating caves or dungeons. Now they were just a place to read. When I finished the book, I biked toward the library.
As I passed John's housing development, he waved to me. I leaned my bike against the basket weave fence surrounding the two-acre lot. Every blade of grass seemed to grow in the same direction. Every rose bush was exactly the same distance from its neighbor. I thought of our bushes wild and disorderly, with violets and lilies-of-the-valley underneath.
"Hi," John said.
He plucked the Kindle from my basket. "It's good to read. Opens your mind. Open minds are hard to find. Especially here. I read a lot when I was in Israel." He flipped through the pages.
"I was Netanyahu's driver. He gave me this watch, you know." He took the watch off and showed it to me.