We walked into quite a sticky situation. To make a very long story short, the state police had been called about Eve's "abandoned" car after it had been there for a couple of days. A call to the police in Eve's home town established that Russ had filed a missing persons report on his wife!
It was now up to Eve to make her way home. I offered to drive her there, of course, but she refused both the ride and my offer to play "back-up" for her when she finally got to confront her husband.
Finally, she and I reached a compromise. She agreed that I could take her to her town's local police station, but only if I dropped her off and left. Period. She made it very clear that this arrangement was not open to debate.
We'd traveled for yet another hour before reaching her home town. As soon as we'd crossed the town line, I pulled over into a supermarket parking lot and stopped the car.
"What are you doing, Dan? Why did you stop?"
"Why? Come on, Eve, you know as well as I do that we have to talk!"
"I suppose you're right..."
"You know I'm right! We have to talk about us, that is, if there even is an 'us.' I mean, what are our options here, doll?"
"I don't know. Really. I don't. I certainly don't know what will happen with Russ. The best-case scenario, however unlikely, is that he'll have gone insane with worry, and blamed himself for my leaving him. Maybe I'll find that he's burned all his dirty magazines, and taken an axe to the computer!" We both laughed. "Okay... maybe not."
"And the worst-case scenario?"
"Let's see, now." She thought for a couple of seconds. "Russ decides to divorce me for abandonment, and sue for custody."
Custody? I thought, my mind reeling. Custody? "Custody of what? Or should I say, of whom?!?"
In a very tiny voice, Eve answered me after a silence of a second or two which seemed more like a month to me. "Custody of our daughter."
"Oh, my God." She'd "neglected" to mention that! "You have a daughter?"
"Yes. She's six. Her name's Daphne. And she's beautiful."
Beautiful, I thought. Of course. Just like her mom. I didn't doubt it for an instant. However... "I find it impossible to believe that someone like you could have walked out on your husband and your child."
"Well... You're right, in a sense. I didn't walk out on her. She was spending a few days with my brother-in-law and his wife." I was having an incredibly difficult time digesting this new information. "That's who I called from the motel. My brother-in-law, Roger. I wanted to tell him that I was okay, and talk to Daphne and see how she was, of course."
"But once you phoned him, Roger must have called Russ and told him you were okay! Surely Russ would have canceled the missing persons report as soon as he heard from his brother."
"Well, he obviously didn't. Maybe he -- Russ, I mean -- was so furious with me, he was hoping I'd be picked up somewhere by the police, to cause me some real embarrassment and Lord knows what else. I don't know." She paused and added, "And don't call me Shirley."
"Dammit, Eve, this isn't funny!"
"No," she agreed meekly, "it's really not."
I couldn't help thinking about Eve, facing an angry husband. Alone! And all because she wouldn't let me bring her to him, and protect her. "So, what will you tell Russ about us? I mean, the whole motel room thing? Several nights snowbound with a guy who fell in love with you?"
"Well... I'm certainly not going to lie. I hate lying."
I nodded, sarcastically. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. That'll work, doll. 'Gee, honey, I spent several nights sleeping with a strange guy I met at a truck stop. We were half naked most of the time, and we even made out hot and heavy on our last night together...' "
"Stop it, Dan. Please."
I didn't stop, of course. I only got louder. " 'And gosh, honey, even though we came really close to doing it that last night, you would have been so proud of me for remembering our wedding vows and keeping my legs shut!' "
"Stop it! You make last night sound so crude, and vulgar, and... and... ugly! My God, Dan, is that how you really felt about it? And about me?"
Okay, that brought me out of my frustrated rant, thank God. In a voice that was suddenly soft and gentle, I replied "No, doll. Of course not. I'm sorry for getting upset like that. If that's how I'd thought of you, I would have selfishly pressed my advantage and had my sleazy little 'way' with you. But I could never have done that, of course." I took a couple of deep breaths before adding "I really, truly, deeply love you, doll."
"Then why did you just get so incredibly angry, and... and hurtful?"
I honestly had to think about that before I could answer her! "I... I guess that something inside me was reacting to the thought of your telling Russ the truth about us, and then suffering any and all outbursts from him because you're so damned honest, and sweet, and..." I realized I was crying. Freakin' crying. Yeah, me. Who'da thunk it? "And as much as I'd want to be right there by your side, to defend you, I know you'd never allow that."
"Okay... I guess. But I don't like that bitter, sarcastic side of you, Dan. In fact, I hate it! It isn't at all like the man I've grown so fond of these past few days. On the other hand, this isn't the first time you've over-analyzed things, always something a little different. I think you're giving everything about me and us far too much thought."
"You're probably right. And you're definitely right about my last little lapse of judgement. And... I didn't like that, either. It's a side that rarely comes out, quite honestly. I'm sorry you had to see it. But it's gone now, I promise."
"Okay!" she said firmly, implying that my petulant outburst was forgotten, or at least excused. "Now. You asked about us, about you and me. So... Cards on the table, here. And don't interrupt?" I nodded.
Eve took a deep breath before speaking. "Dan, you know I don't have much experience with men. I mean romantically, not just sexually. And I've definitely never met anyone like you. I mean, Russ has almost always been a gentleman, of course, opening doors for me and the like, and he's always supported me financially, and emotionally..."
"Please don't compare us, doll."
"Sh! No interruptions, remember, dear?" she said softly. "I have to compare you two, Dan, if only to point out that in ways I hate to admit, I've seen you as..." She struggled for a word. "I've thought of you as better than Russ, mainly in the way you've treated me, and complimented me. He loves me, I know he does, but he doesn't speak to me the way you do, and never has. And don't interrupt again and say anything about how that's 'your way' because of your talent as a songwriter!"
She was right, of course. I had been about to break in and say exactly that!
"You did things that amazed me with their thoughtfulness. Posing as my husband to ward off that huge trucker, offering to buy me gasoline, even offering the clothes off your back -- well, out of your duffel bag, anyway -- when mine were wet, filling my empty stomach with those cardboard-tasting sandwiches from the vending machine... and that song. Oh, Lord, Dan, that darling song, written just for me!"
She took my hand as she continued. "You brought out a side of me that's been buried since Russ and I were courting. Not only that, but you brought it out to a greater extent! I've never, ever considered being with any man other than my husband. Never been tempted. Never. But I shocked myself last night. Russ hardly existed for me... well, not until it really counted. I desperately wanted you to make love to me, no matter how glad I am that we came to our senses before we made what would have been a horrible mistake."
At the words "horrible mistake," my expression must have changed, because she said "Now don't be upset. Think, you silly dear. You know how I meant that. In terms of my marriage, it would have been wrong. No grey areas there, either! Black-and-white wrong. And as much as I wanted to believe that you were exaggerating when you first said you loved me, I know you meant it. Mean it, that is. For only the second time in my life, I see someone I'm seriously attracted to. And if I gave myself half a chance, I might very well fall in love with you. But what about your side of it, Dan? Like I said, I know you love me, and I'm pretty sure you've entertained the thought of being with me, not just in terms of sex, of course. But long-term, as a... girlfriend? I can see it in your eyes, and hear it in your voice. I guess my question for you is, if Russ and I don't work things out... would you still want me? Even if it didn't happen tomorrow -- which it wouldn't -- or next week, or next month? I know I have absolutely no right to ask this, of course, but would you wait for me, if I wanted you to?"
"You mean, like, in your driveway?"
"Cute. You know what I meant. If I asked you to wait for me, would you?"
"Would you want me to wait for you?"
"You just answered my question with a question, dear."
"Sorry, doll. It's 'Dan Casey,' remember? I'm Irish. We do that." My mind strayed insanely and I suddenly wanted a cigarette, I realized. It had been a while. "Eve, I know you'd never ask nor expect me to wait around, happily celibate in Connecticut, for ten or twenty years. Heh. But I also know that you're not the type to throw away the last nine years of married life with Russ after only one or two big blow-ups between you and him. So no, I wouldn't be expecting a call this weekend." We smiled at each other. "I also know that if you and he separated eventually, it obviously wouldn't just be because you were restless, and wanted to be free to play the field. You are saying that you'd be freeing yourself up with the intention of coming straight to me, and only me. Right?"
"Well, sure." Then, more firmly, she said "Yes. Exactly."
So there it was. She was in turmoil right now, so I daresay I knew her mind better than she did. And I hadn't been too far off base when I'd done all my over-analyzing the day before, had I?
Eve was considering leaving Russ, but not solely because of their problems. Unfortunately, it was also because she saw me as a safety net.
And maybe some men would be offended by that, but I loved her so much, I wasn't.
On the other hand, I wanted her to leave Russ -- if she was indeed meant to do so someday -- for the right reasons. And I didn't feel that I was one of them. If she left him because they had so-called irreconcilable differences, fine... if that was what she really wanted.
As I've said before in so many words, I didn't give a damn about Russ, and I'm not going to start pretending now that I ever did, or would. But I cared deeply about Eve (and even a bit for the daughter I'd just learned about as well)... and that prompted what I arrogantly decided was best for her... or them.
I decided that, as much as it would hurt me to do so, I had to take myself out of the picture, and do it in a way which wouldn't look suspicious to Eve. This was the rest of her life we're talking about. And I was only a tiny blip on that particular radar screen. So far, anyway.
Theoretically, it would have been easy for me to just say, "Nope. If you can't promise me today that you'll dump Russ and run off with me, I'm not waiting around for you, doll!" But she never would have believed I could reject her so easily. Not after the last few days. She already knew me too well, and could read me like the proverbial book. Unless I could come up with something a little more devious.
I had to find a way to get her to stop seeing me as the "safety net" I mentioned above. Even if it meant that I'd be throwing away my only chance at the woman I wanted more than any other in more years than I cared to think about.
"Eve, I would indeed wait for you, but you and I both know that the longer I waited, the better the chance would be that what we feel for each other now would suffer. Your interest in me could wane. Even my love for you could diminish, over time." I decided to place one more subtle nail in my own coffin. "Plus, I wish I'd known earlier that you had a kid..." Bullseye. I could tell that I'd just planted a tiny seed of doubt as to my own prospects as a suitable replacement for Russ. "Besides, in all fairness, Russ deserves a chance to make things right with you, after all your history with him."
She forced a smile. "So, is this where you start quoting from the ending scene of Casablanca, and wish me a hearty fare-thee-well as you send li'l ole me off to be with my husband?"
"Heh. No, doll, don't worry. This is one time I'm not gonna do Bogart for you. But as for the 'beautiful friendship' line that Bogie closed Casablanca with, you and I already have a beautiful friendship. There's sure as hell no reason not to keep in touch!" Sadly, I was lying through my teeth when I spoke that very last sentence. From my point of view, there was every reason not to keep in touch, not that I was going to share that little insight with Eve.
"Okay, then. Besides, we have to keep in contact. I still owe you a dollar, from that bet I lost!" She brightened a bit. "So, write down your address for me!"
"Hm. Bad idea. We don't want Russ to find it and demand an explanation."
"Oh, yeah," she said, unable to hide her disappointment.
"Just give me yours," I said, which brought back her smile.
She reached into her purse, and found a pen and a small notebook. She wrote down her address, tore out the page, folded it, and tucked it into the side pocket of my coat as I started the car.
Minutes later, we arrived at the town's small police station. Eve had me park across the street rather than enter their parking lot.
Doing my best to keep my composure, I said "Well, then, doll, I guess this is--"
"No! Don't say 'good-bye,' Dan! This isn't good-bye!"
"Right," I agreed, forcing a smile. "Uhh, how about 'see ya,' or something equally--" She threw her arms around my neck and moved closer, obviously for a kiss. "Maybe that's not such a good idea, doll. Anyone could see us!"
"Dan, I really don't give a damn what anybody sees!" she said, before giving me the granddaddy of all lip-locks!
As my beautiful doll exited the car and crossed the street, I put the Corvette in gear and pulled away from the curb. I got out of town as soon as possible, making a brief stop at the same grocery store parking lot. Why? Well, I have to admit that for some stupid reason, I suddenly couldn't see very well, and Julie would have killed me if I'd put even a tiny scratch on her precious sports car.
As soon as I entered the very next town, I reluctantly crumpled the paper with Eve's address, and tossed it out of the window. I didn't need that blasted dollar, and Eve didn't need me... in more ways than one.
By the way, if you're wondering whether or not little Daphne was really another reason for me to reconsider being with Eve, I'll share a little fact with you right here and now... and it's something I never even told my beautiful doll...
The reason I divorced Tammy years earlier was because she didn't want children. I did. In fact... I'd always wanted a daughter...
* * * * *
A couple of days after I'd returned to Connecticut, I was outside shoveling the snow from my driveway when Julie's Corvette pulled alongside me. She pushed the control button that lowered her power window.
"Hiya, sis, what's up?"
She had a strange look on her face. Julie seemed... not angry, exactly, but a little... put out?
"Do me a favor, big brother?"
"Yeah!" she said, throwing a bunched-up something-or-other at me which I reflexively caught without even realizing what it was at first. "The next time you borrow my car, don't leave any of your little trophies in it!"
I looked down at my gloved hand. In it was Eve's bra! "Oh!" I said, "This isn't really a trophy, exactly. It's more of a... souvenir."
Julie laughed and shook her head before throwing the car into reverse. "Yeah, right!" she yelled. "Like there's a freakin' difference!"
As she roared away down the road, I looked at the bra wistfully, and softly said "Actually... there is a difference."
Eve would have understood what I meant.
* * * END * * *