But looking into Art's eyes, I ditched all of that bullshit before uttering a single syllable of it and told him the truth. The truck stop encounter. The subterfuge involving Big Bob. The ineffectual heater in Julie's Corvette. My "hands-off" night in the room with the busted heater. Everything.
And as I related the events of the past twenty-four hours... less, actually, and somewhat unbelievably... Art listened silently, his face an unreadable mask.
"Well?" I said, several seconds after finishing my story, my nerves wracked due to his silence.
"Don't you have any response at all?"
Art casually reached for the pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket. He took one for himself and lit it. He took a long drag, and only after exhaling did he speak.
"Ever read The Godfather?"
"No, but I've seen the movie. Well, all three of the movies. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Remember Michael Corleone's wife? His first wife? The one that got blown up?"
"Yeah. What does this--"
"Do you remember how instantly he fell for her?"
"Well, in the book it was described as the 'thunderbolt.' Like love at first sight, but much more intense. More like love, desire, and a couple other things, and you can't fight any of 'em. Son, you ain't fallin' for her, you've been in love with her since you first looked over at that counter stool she was sittin' on!"
"You sound pretty sure of yourself."
He tilted his head in that unique way of his. "I know people. I been around. And I know musicians," he added pointedly.
"Meanin' that I'll bet you had your share of flings with the little ladies here and there if you ever did any tourin'... 'less you were married... and faithful... like I was when I was on the road off'n'on back in the sixties and early seventies."
I smiled. "Well, when I was married, yeah, I was faithful. No women. But when I wasn't..." I laughed. "Okay, I'll give you that point. But Eve's no groupie."
"Course not. But still, a lotta guys take it for granted that they can get a woman if they want her. Yet you didn't try nothin' with Eve."
"Well, no. I could tell she didn't want that. And I... I..."
"You respected that?"
"What the hell for? She didn't mean nothin' to you. You didn't know her from a hole in the wall. She was just a truck stop pick-up."
I was feeling the heat inside of me again, and this time, not from the damned booze. I didn't particularly care for Art's casual categorization of Eve as "truck stop pick-up," and told him so. "It wasn't like that at all! I told you, she was in a little jam, and I just--"
"Just decided to put yourself between her and that big ape at the restaurant, and for what? What you'd prob'ly get from her later, as a thank you?"
"No! Hell, even then, I could tell..."
Art was grinning. That sly sonofabitch. It was exactly as he'd surmised, "since [I] first looked over at that counter stool she was sittin' on."
"So," I said, finally breaking the uneasy silence. "I guess we'll have to leave here as soon as possible?"
"Well, we're not really married, and--"
"None o'my business. Millie's either. Course I ain't gonna tell her."
"But don't you...?"
"Don't I what?"
"I just... I thought you disliked that sort of thing."
"Well, when we checked in, you asked us why we were out at that time of night..."
"Sure. A reasonable enough question! Two in the morning in a building blizzard, what kinda fool would be out, less he had to be?"
"But you were so..." I couldn't suppress a smirk. "grumpy."
He laughed. "You woke me up in the middle of the night and pulled me out of a warm bed, away from a warmer wife! You're lucky 'grumpy' was all you got, ya damned fool!"
"And you gave us a room with a broken heater, you old coot."
"How'd I know she wasn't really your wife? I figured she'd warm you up. Besides, she got a damned fine meal tonight for free, and so would you have, if you'd ordered something more than a couple of lousy cheeseburgers, you big chicken!"
"Actually, the burgers were pretty good..."
Art dropped his cigarette and crushed it out with his boot. "Oh, stop kissin' my backside and let's get inside. Everybody's probably gotten sick o'waitin' for us and gone back to their rooms by now. 'Cept Millie."
"And Eve. She's still waiting. I know she is."
Art didn't reply, exactly, but he nodded and muttered "thunderbolt" as we walked back to the restaurant.
* * * * *
Art was right. He and I had been gone quite a while, so everyone had assumed that his informal little concert was over.
Eve -- she had waited for me, of course -- and I walked back to our room, and only one of us was walking steadily. "You two must have had quite the time out there," she said, adding "You smell horrible."
"Well, you smell like liquor and tobacco. Am I wrong?"
"No. Is this where the lecture begins?"
"You needn't be so defensive. I'm not going to lecture you. You're an adult. I can't tell you how to behave, nor would I try."
"I'm not being defensive. Apprehensive, maybe." We were at the door. I searched the same pockets twice before I found the key.
"Well, don't worry. I won't be reprehensive." She was teasing me; I played along.
"Then I won't act reprehensibly."
"Nor sensibly, I assume."
Back to the word games, I thought happily, as I finally got the door unlocked. I love this, I thought, adding "and I love you."
Only I said those last four words out loud.
The door was open, and I waited for her to enter. She didn't move; she only stared at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
"Dan... That's the liquor talking."
"Don't you believe it." I waited a bit longer for her to enter our room, and when she didn't, I finally went in without her. (Well, I knew she'd come in eventually. I wasn't exactly leaving her out in the cold. I even left the door open for her.)
I had kicked off my shoes and was sitting at the head of the bed when she came in, closing the door behind her. It was obvious that she'd used the uncomfortable minute or so she'd spent outside to compose her thoughts.
"Dan. You've only known me for a few hours," she began. "You can't possibly be in love with me. Or..." She paused. (Okay, maybe she hadn't thought things through completely.) "Or... Do you mean you love me as a friend? Even if you only mean it that way..."
"No. I'm in love with you, Eve. And it has nothing to do with the amount of time I've known you. I was in love with you from the very moment I laid eyes on you, just as Art said."
"And when and why did Art say that?" she exclaimed, seating herself at the foot of the bed.
So I stared into those beautiful, deep-blue eyes and told her all about the outdoor conversation he and I had had, or at least as much as I could recall.
When I finished, she was shaking her head. "But you know so little about me! You don't even know..." My eyebrows rose as she paused. "You don't even know why I'm here. Why I'm not with Russ, I mean."
"You're absolutely right," I agreed. "And now's a perfect time to tell me." She stared down at her hands, which were resting demurely in her lap. Then she looked up at me.
"Okay," she began.
And I waited.