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Edward Jameson was standing still, but Edward Jameson was on the prowl. He leaned over the far side of the bar, next to the wall, elbow on wood, hand cupping his bearded chin. With ready access to salty pretzels and watery drinks for the price of admission, what more could this thirty-three-year-old psychologist want? Edward rubbed his not-quite-shiny lapel and surveyed the scene.
Sad sack Stillman, grey suit matching the pockets under his eyes, arms hanging like an orang's, was here again. Once, one-and-a-half, maybe two, years ago, Edward asked Stillman -- whose first name Edward had long since forgotten -- why he kept coming to these mixers, since he rarely approached a woman.
"Edward," Stillman had slowly lifted an arm and placed a hand across his own chest. "I'm a simple man, and I'm looking for a simple girl. I'm only forty-two; I have time yet. When I see her, I'll know, and then I'll go over and talk. For now," Stillman lowered his arm, "I'm biding my time."
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Stillman was here every time Edward was. Stillman was pathetic, and he clung to his pathetic illusion, but he was indefatigable. Edward had to give him that.
Edward's cheek was bulging with pretzel when he saw Julie. She saw him, he knew, and was headed his way. It was clearly too late to escape to the men's room. Julie: blonde, delicate Julie. Clinging Julie. She had a wonderful, compact body, and she listened when he spoke, but she wouldn't let him go. This babe had separation problems with a capital "S."
Edward had explained, when they first started dating, that he was very busy with school. Studying for a doctorate in psychology was no easy matter. He couldn't, therefore, see her more than once a week. Julie seemed to understand: she prepared gourmet dinners most Saturday nights, topped with Sybaritic desserts.
Cakes baked with spirits were her specialty. Julie assumed because his name was Jameson he'd take to this. She repeatedly made him Irish whiskey cake. Edward never got around to telling this woman that he was only half Irish: his mother was Jewish and Edward had been bar mitzvahed. So he swallowed Julie's whiskey delights and let her listen to him expound on Jungian theory. He was expert in bed: women had moaned under and over him, so he knew Julie wasn't getting a raw deal. Or so Edward rationalized, according to his friend Paul. Paul, too, was a psychologist. Paul was happily married and thought everyone ought to be.
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Edward bit another link of pretzel. After three months, Julie spoke of seeing him more often. She talked about her friends' children, about her dissatisfaction with being a legal secretary, about a desire for something more out of life. Edward knew she wouldn't get it from him.
He wasn't ready for remarriage, least of all to Julie. Julie couldn't hold a candle to Lynn: a Yahrzeit candle, a votive candle, any kind of candle. But every time she spotted him at one of these mixers, which was every three or four weeks unless he found himself in a relationship, she'd edge her way towards him.
Eight months ago Julie confided she had a cake with his name on it. She was baking with Mumm champagne. Four months ago she shook her blonde hair and placed his hand on the nape of her neck. When he moved his hand from her nape to his napkin, she smiled weakly and finished her wine. Two minutes later, Julie was gone. Last month, hairs sticking to temples dewy with excitement, she told Edward she was taking paralegal courses at night. When he made no polite inquiries, when he spoke instead of one of his heroes, Harry Stack Sullivan, she moved on. He knew, however, she'd be back.
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And so Edward swallowed the last of this pretzel. He asked Tom the bartender for another vodka and tonic. Edward smiled and stoically waited for Julie.
He looked up from his drink and saw that Julie had stopped to mingle with Marie, another regular. For a moment, his eyes focused on Marie or, more specifically, Marie's cleavage. He became attuned to the rise and fall of it, thought he could easily become enchanted by that rhythm tonight.
Then he took in Julie: her hair looked especially soft, and full. Edward recalled his first intake of guava, strawberry and tree bark -- his nose in her blown-dry hair -- startled by the complex and not displeasing combination of scents from conditioner and shampoo.
Julie didn't seem to notice him. She was still talking with Marie and now, a recent semi-regular, Gary. Edward had spoken with Gary a couple of times: Gary was polite, assured, a tax lawyer recently divorced with no children. He was nowhere as dull as most lawyers of Edward's acquaintance: Gary was an avid filmgoer, for one thing, with informed, articulate opinions on everything from Wellesian camera angles to contemporary movies derivative of Hitchcock. He was thinking of investing in an independent production company. Gary wouldn't be coming here much longer, Edward could tell.
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Gary and Julie were flirting: Julie was tossing her hair, Gary was touching his lips. Marie was slowly scanning the room.
Edward was safe from Julie for the moment. He bit a new pretzel and glanced around. The crowd was thinning and he hadn't seen one unknown face yet. Not one worth pursuing, certainly.
Edward eyed Marie. Now she was standing at the other end of the bar, talking to Tom. When in doubt, talk to the bartender. Tom was, in fact, the ideal bartender. When Edward first showed up, about three years ago, he had told Tom about Lynn. He told him about how he had been away for the weekend when the drunken driver had plowed into Lynn's car. About how he had been partying with friends he hadn't seen since high school while Lynn was lying bloody in her smashed Tercel. About how he had toyed with the notion of hopping into the sack with a high school friend's sister while Lynn was being covered with a sheet.
He had been self-pitying and maudlin and not a little drunk while talking with Tom. Edward felt embarrassed his next time at a mixer. Tom, however, was as discreet a bartender as a drinker could want. He never again alluded to Edward's wife, and Edward knew that Tom wouldn't unless Edward himself brought it up.
Tom accepted Edward for who he was. They kidded each other, back and forth, about Edward's fast-talking, analytical manner with women, about Tom's easy, laconic, way; about Edward's carefully disheveled appearance, about Tom's never-ending array of designer sweaters; and so on. It was a warm banter Edward seldom achieved with women, not since Lynn. He had insight enough to know he might have attained it with Julie if he'd given the two of them a chance.
Again Edward looked at Marie. Should he bother? They had spoken a few times before, but Marie had seemed matter-of-fact and sad.
"I'm twenty-six," she had announced, "a high school music teacher, and an Italian Catholic."
Edward hadn't let her say much after that, because he didn't know if he could be with someone who appeared to tie herself into such a precise package. Still, she was striking, with black hair framing high cheekbones, and intelligent, if woeful, brown eyes. At this moment, Marie reminded Edward of those cheap paintings of huge-eyed waifs, the kind his Aunt Tessie on his father's side hung in her basement along with prints of card-playing mongrels. Marie was getting him depressed. At least he hoped it was Marie.
Edward finished his drink and glanced at his watch. It was 10:35. Couples were heading toward cushioned seats or the dance floor. Nat King Cole crooned. Stillman crooked a pointer finger and nodded his head. Edward nodded back. Only Stillman, Edward,
Marie, and a few other hardy souls were left solo. This was pitiful. Edward should be home reading case notes on his clients. Or out drinking with Paul. No, Paul would have brought his wife along, and that would've made Edward truly despondent. Those two were genuinely happy.
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Out of the corner of his eye, Edward saw Julie exit with Gary. Maybe Gary could invest in Julie's cakes as well as in films: cakes to serve a variety of compulsions -- sugar habits; eating disorders; good, old-fashioned alcoholism. Old Gary would have a gold mine on his hands. Edward didn't feel a smile coming on.
The psychologist looked at the music teacher. This time Marie looked back. Edward sucked in his breath and thought: just how much did he want to get laid?
He started to walk towards Marie when a burst of cold air stopped him. Or, to be exact, what followed the air: two new, luscious faces, with bodies to match, appeared by the coat check. Goodbye, Marie. This would be his lucky night. Edward hurriedly ordered another vodka and tonic. He grabbed his glass, slouched near the pretzels, and watched the women approach the bar.
The tall, blonde one had a purposeful, athletic stride, and long legs that propelled her to the bar ahead of her companion, a short, rounded redhead with earrings resembling dominoes. The redhead gazed at the half-empty room before shimmying towards her destination. Edward sucked the rim of his glass and pricked up his ears.
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"What's your pleasure?" asked Tom.
"I don't know that that's any of your business."
The bartender stopped wiping a highball glass and stared.
This one is hot, thought Edward, quick-witted and hot. He downed half of his vodka and tonic.
"I will have an Amaretto, though." The blonde stared at Tom and smirked.
"Kate!" The redhead poked the blonde in the ribs
Ah, Kate: a good Irish Catholic -- oppressed by the nuns, but seething with desire. Waiting for someone to awaken her quiescent sexuality. Clearly, Edward was the man for the job. Clearly, it soon would be time to participate as well as observe.
The redhead was talking to, of all people, Stillman. She couldn't consider him a serious contender. She was too much woman for Stillman. Stillman would keel over just from those hips. Right now Edward would love to place his hands on those ample hips. Edward's eyes traveled to the redhead's ears. The owner of those earrings would finish Stillman off, for Edward held that the size of a woman's earrings was directly proportional to the depth of her sensuality. Edward knew this was true: he'd had empirical proof.
"Conversely," Edward had said to Paul one night over drinks, "the smaller the earrings, the lousier the lay."
"What if the woman isn't wearing earrings?" Paul responded. "What then?"
"In that case," said Edward, "it's up for debate. But a woman should wear earrings. They do enhance her beauty."
"And," Paul smiled, "they provide you with the perfect carnal clue."
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Edward nursed his v & t. Kate's earrings were medium-sized. Hmmm. Gold-toned ovals with petaloid, black interiors. Minimalist Georgia O'Keefe! All that museum hopping with Lynn had paid off! Contrary to what his wife had said, "aesthetic considerations" did "get through his thick, analytical skull."
What would Lynn think of his application of her artistic indoctrination? Ah, Lynn. Suddenly, Edward couldn't recall what size earrings his wife had worn, or whether she had worn any at all. He didn't want to think about the significance of this. It was getting late. It was time to make a move.
Edward's narrowed eyes caught Stillman dancing with the redhead. Stillman wanted a simple girl. This one wasn't simple, not with those game-piece earrings. The babe was wasting her time: Stillman was in insurance. The most he could do for her was underwrite her ears.
As Edward reached for another twisted snack, he glimpsed Kate coming toward him.
"The evening is still young," she said, "but those pretzels must be growing stale."
Edward touched a lapel. He should have pressed this suit. He looked into Kate's eyes: they were hazel, flecked with gold. Something about them -- the warmth, not the color -- reminded him of Lynn.
"They're playing Johnny Matthis. Come on." Kate took his hand. "Let's dance."
He followed her onto the floor. They passed Marie on her way to the coat check and Stillman with the redhead, who smiled widely at Kate.
"Do you always do this?" he asked, after they had settled into a groove. Edward was grateful she let him lead.
"No," Kate said, as she moved Edward's roaming hands from her hips back to her waist. "I just wanted to dance."
"Why did you ask me?"
"I told you."
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Kate spoke slowly, the way Edward found himself talking to particularly dense clients. "I wanted to dance, and you're the youngest, least-objectionable looking man in this place. Other than the bartender."
Edward laughed. "Thanks, I think." He'd better watch his balls with this one.
They moved to Misty. They discussed their vocations. Edward said he was a respected psychologist, known in the field even at his tender age. He was too busy, in fact, to take even one more referral. Kate was an insurance executive, recently promoted, here with her friend Sandra, an earring designer.
Edward didn't ask about Kate's promotion. He was impressed, but refused to feign interest in such a boring field of endeavor. He grilled her, instead, about Sandra and the earrings. He quipped about the regulars: Stillman's doggedness, Julie's cakes, Marie's waif-like eyes. He felt like a louse, but he'd use anything to ease a woman into bed. Edward's quicksilver analysis and wit never let him down.
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Kate smiled at his lines, but her body felt stiff and noncommittal. He decided they should head to the bar when this song and dance was over. A couple more Amarettos would loosen her up. She was a pain, this Kate, but a lovely, intelligent one.
Edward halted his nonstop thoughts. Uncynical feelings always confounded him. Spontaneous ones almost brought shock. He wanted another v & t: it was much too soon to feel.
Kate seemed displeased at his suggestion that they take a break. She was an agile dancer: she was, no doubt, disinclined to stop. Still, she let Edward guide her to the bar.
At the bar, Kate was greeted with a dominoed hug. The redhead had returned with Stillman, whom Edward had seen step all over the poor girl's toes. Introductions were made. The redhead, Sandra, was informing Kate about Stillman.
"Kate," she was saying, "he's in insurance, too."
Insurance, thought Edward. Jesus. Moses. Whomever.
Edward turned to Kate's friend. "Sandra, I have a feeling Kate has more in common with Stillman than you do. Would you like to dance?"
Sandra turned towards the newly anointed couple. Edward watched the dominoes dance. She faced Edward now. "Yes. And I think you might have a point."
"It's the earrings." Edward had no time to waste. He moved Sandra onto the floor.
"What do you mean?"
He explained his earring/sensuality equation. Sandra didn't disagree. She danced close to him. She let his hands encircle her hips. This one would burn for him tonight, red like her hair, Cybele to his Corybant. Edward whispered witticisms into her ear, yet his eyes sought Kate at the bar.
Stillman was out of the picture, unable, it appeared, to compete with Tom. The bartender, for Chrissakes, was making a move on Kate. Edward told Sandra that their dancing made him thirsty. He had to get back to that bar.
"Tom," Edward interrupted the twosome, "an Amaretto for my wild Irish Kate." Edward positioned himself between the two female friends. He thought he saw a glint of grey in Sandra's soft blue eyes. "And," he quickly turned to the redhead, "a white wine, I
believe, was your drink?"
Sandra nodded, her eyes on the wooden bar.
Tom shook his head, almost imperceptibly, but Edward noticed. He had been trained to notice the nuance.
"Bartender," he boomed, "another vodka and tonic for me. And put it on my tab. I'm feeling generous tonight." With that, he placed an arm around each of the women's shoulders. "We make an attractive trio, don't we?" Some nights Edward couldn't help himself.
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Kate removed his arm at once, Sandra waited a beat. Edward could have predicted that, given the size of the redhead's earrings, given the sway of her hips. Sandra was all too easy to figure out. Kate, on the other hand --
"You're an intriguing man, Edward," Kate spoke up. "And witty, besides."
"Thank you." Edward straightened his shoulders, adjusted his wrinkled jacket. Again he felt embarrassed about his penchant for frankly shabby attire.
Kate sucked in her cheeks, breathed audibly, then continued. "Of course, if they weren't covered by the price of admission, you wouldn't pay for our drinks."
Edward looked up in time to see Tom smile. "Why," Edward asked, "do you say that?"
"It doesn't take a psychologist to see. You're a professional, intelligent, you obviously earn well. Yet you dress like a grizzled old alkie. A handsome, grizzled old alkie, sure. Why do you wear old clothes? So women won't hit on you for your money? That's one theory. I think you dress like that so you can stand back and observe. You should wear a sign: ëPsychologist at work.' You think you're too good for this place -- too complex, too smart -- and yet you come back often enough to know and analyze the regulars. It's just a game to you, Edward, isn't it? You swill vodka and tonics so you breath won't stink, but still you're slick and you're drunk."
Kate lowered her head to sip her Amaretto. Tom and Sandra were staring. Edward felt nailed to the spot. He wondered, what had he done to deserve this?
Kate set down her glass. "Another thing: you want Sandra and me, I can tell. Don't even think of a threesome, Edward. I don't want to be part of a sandwich -- I've already had lunch. And I definitely don't have an appetite for you."
With that, Kate swiveled her shoulders towards Tom. "When did you say you'd be finished with work?"
Edward stood still, behind Kate's chair, for several seconds. He wasn't surprised by her perceptiveness. Of course she was right. Of course she was bright enough to figure out his moves. What stunned him was the depth of his hurt. Edward felt a sharp ache, deep in the pit of God knows where, radiating out to his heart -- or maybe it was from his heart -- his limbs, his brain. A deep, sharp ache that talking wouldn't cure: Freud and his disciples wouldn't have a clue. A deep, stabbing pain that drinking wouldn't dull: no v & t from Tom for this.
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Edward wanted to be held by Kate. He watched her cross those lithe, strong legs, through blinking eyes saw her adjust an earring behind wisps of blonde hair. He truly wanted to make love to this woman. Edward wanted her the way he had wanted Lynn, though he knew he would have spoiled that, too, even if Lynn hadn't died.
After he hung up his jacket, after he aligned the shoulders and patted down the new lapels, Edward decided to wait for her on the couch. They had been dating three weeks and hadn't been to bed yet. He hoped she appreciated this full-scale effort on his part. Remarkable -- no, miraculous -- restraint for a man in libidinal agony.
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He made an effort, as well, to compliment her on the meal. It was a straightforward dinner -- grilled chicken, mixed vegetables, roasted new potatoes -- but good. Edward realized that not everyone cooked like Julie. God knows Lynn hadn't.
She looked lovely when she reappeared: the emerald green nightgown set off her hair. Ah, this woman was worth waiting for. Of course, If Paul or Tom heard that, Edward's reputation would be in shreds. Edward smiled as he led her to the bedroom.
In bed, she cried out his name. It pleased him no end when women did that: a tribute, well earned, to his lovemaking skills. She, too, it turned out, was a sensualist: "Kate!" he called, startling the two of them. Edward saw himself in the doleful eyes of Marie.
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