He came to re-do the grout in the shower.
I'm smirking now because this would be a great start to a porno post. ("He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Her diaphanous gown swirled in a sudden hot breeze from the window revealing a rounded breast with a cherry red nipple........aw, I could have been a porn contender, I know it...)
In reality, he had on messy jeans and a black sweatshirt with the words I know there's one in every crowd but why do they always have to sit next to ME? emblazened on it. Work boots.
I had on jeans and a funny sweatshirt of my own: a light switch with a finger on it and the words Amish gone wild.
There was something about him. I blinked. He blinked. We stared and then looked away. He glanced at his work order.
"Are you Bing Lastname?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No, um..that's my partner. I'm Maria."
I offered my hand. He shook it. And said, "Are you, by chance, Maria Lastname?"
I smiled. "YES! Do we know each other? Because you look famililar to me...."
He reached into his wallet and handed me his business card.
It said Nick Lastname.
I looked up. "Peter Max?" I asked.
He laughed. "Einstein?" he asked.
Wow. We both did that awkward half hugging thing that you do when you get a blast from the past.
I met Nick when I was fifteen. We were in the same driver's ed class. I was from St. Ursula's girl's academy. He was from our small town's public school. It was one of the few places that the schools mixed. Driver's Ed.
I sat in the next to the last desk in the first row. He sat directly behind me. It was two weeks of sheer boredom and watching driver's ed films that we were something out of Reefer Madness except it should have been Driver Madness.
By day two I was stiff with boredom. I didn't let it show, though. I had been reminded by Sister Caroline that I was a St. Ursula's girl and therefore it would behoove me to behave like a lady. The teacher was a small man who sweat like a pig and looked like he was even more bored than we were.
An hour into a lecture on STOP SIGNS. WHAT DO THEY MEAN?, I felt a finger make a lazy figure 8 on my back. I cautiously looked over my shoulder.
He was smiling at me, a boy with a dark black hair and light blue eyes. I frowned and turned around. I heard him chuckle.
He did it again. I squinched away. He did it again. I decided to just ignore him.
At break time, he sought me out. He told me that he was the guy who had been tormenting me.
"You mean the ASSHOLE who's been tormenting me," I corrected.
This made him laugh. "C'mon," he said. "You were bored too. Admit it."
I looked at him disparagingly. "Any normal human being would be bored in that class," I told him and flounced away.
After break time, I went into the classroom and stole his seat. He came lounging in five minutes late, smelling of cigarettes and took my seat, saluting me as he sat down.
And then I spent the rest of the lecture poking him in the back with the tip of my sharpened pencil. The last time I tried it, his hand came back swiftly and caught my pencil. The teacher must have noticed the sudden movement because he directed a question to me. I answered it correctly, barely having to think.
The boy turned around and smiled at me, mouthed the word Einstein....
We started writing notes. Funny notes. He was a great cartoonist and once did such a telling caricature of the teacher that I had to stifle a laugh when he tossed it on to my desk. The notes weren't personal at all at first. Mainly we made fun of the class.
We started talking on breaks. I found out that his name was Nick and that he went to the public school. I called him Peter Max because of his drawing talent. He called me Einstein because I could answer any question thrown at me without stopping to think in class.
A few of the other girls from St. Ursula's warned me about him one day before class.
"He's got a rep for being fast," once said.
"He got suspended from school for smoking. Twice!" another added.
"He has a motorcycle that he drives out on country roads and he isn't even old enough to drive! My brother and his friends saw him. They said he was poppin' lewwies in a field," one noted.
Well, my love of bad boys was born.
Right there in driving school.
On the last day of driving school, he asked me if I wanted to go out for a coke afterwards. I told him that I would meet him at the park by the swimming pool. I knew that I had to nip this in the bud. I was not allowed to date boys yet, especially boys who didn't go to the Catholic boys academy. If a boy wasn't Catholic, I was not allowed near him.
I told him all of this as we sipped the cokes he bought for us in the vending machine. He was surprised.
"You're kiddin' me," he said. "You can't go with guys who aren't Catholic? That sucks, Einstein."
I agreed. He took a cigarette out and lit it. I looked around nervously and he burst out laughing. Feeling myself blushing furiously, I held out my hand brazenly for a drag. He gave me a long look, but handed it to me.
He was surprised that I knew how to smoke.
"I'm not some innocent," I told him, trying to scowl.
"I never, ever, thought you were," he answered. "I just figured if you couldn't date heathens, you couldn't smoke either."
"I'm pretty good at sneaking cigarettes up in my bedroom with the window open," I told him haughtily.
"So," he said, slowly. "Do you think you'd be any good at sneaking out on a date with a heathen?"
I thought about this.
No, I finally told him. It would be too easy to get caught. Smoking was one thing. Dating another.
He nodded. Stood up. "Well," he said, "I guess I'll be seeing you around."
I stood up too. I didn't want him to go, but I knew it would be a very, very bad idea for him not to. "See ya, Peter Max," I said.
"See ya, Einstein."
I saw him once in awhile after that. At basketball games. Once I was in a drugstore looking for Close Up toothpaste because it supposedly made your teeth white. I looked up and saw him grinning at me from the magazine stand. I sauntered over. Asked him if he was looking at dirty magazines. He held up a Hot Rod magazine.
"I'm really pretty scrubbed and clean looking for a heathen....," he told me.
"Well, too bad," I retorted. "I like my heathens a little dangerous."
"Do you now?" he asked, settling his eyes on me in a way that made my breath catch a little bit.
My little sister, Jessie, came running up to me just then. "Mom said to tell you to shake a leg," she told me. I shrugged. He shrugged. We waved goodbye as I left.
Another time, I saw him at a party. It was the beginning of my senior year. My friends and I had heard that there was a kegger at someone's house from the public school and we debated crashing, finally deciding that god hated cowards, we drove there and went in. We were welcomed with open arms, a group of big haired seventeen year olds in our leggings and Wind Song perfume.
Nick was sitting on a couch nursing a beer. When he saw me, he got up and walked quickly towards me. "Does your mama know you're at a heathen party?" he asked, smiling, doing that thing with his eyes again.
I smiled back. "Nope," I told him. "I'm dead if she finds out, Peter Max."
"Well, my lips are sealed, Einstein. Have a beer?"
I shook my head, told him that I hated beer. Was there any wine? He thought so and found a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Fields and inclined his head outside. We went and sat on the hood of his car. He poured me a cup of wine and tipped up his beer and took a sip.
We talked about being seniors, about who we were dating (I was dating a nice Catholic boy, he was dating a girl named Charlene who would be mad as hell if anyone told her that he was sitting outside alone on a car hood with me), what we wanted to do after high school (he wanted to go to art school, he thought he'd like to be a cartoonist...but, well, school cost money and his folks didn't have much, so maybe he would just do car repair like his Dad and I thought I'd like to be a librarian, maybe, maybe teach English.) Once, he looked closely at me and said that he thought I was fine looking. I told him that he was fine looking too, was he on the football team? He laughed and shook his head. Naw. He wasn't into the jock scene. We shared about ten cigarettes, smoking all of his Kools, so I pulled out my Virginia Slims and offered him one and he laughed again, called it a "girl cig", but took a drag and said they were actually kind of good. We talked until my friends came to get me to go home, one of them had thrown up, not good. It was time to head home.
Nick walked me to my friend's car, his hand taking mine for just a few seconds. When we got to the car, he took my fingers up to his lips and gave them a brief passing kiss.
"Goo--night, Einstein," he said.
"Night, Peter Max," I said. His eyes held mine boldly. I was the first to look away. As my friend drove off, he stood watching the car and I turned to watch him out of the back seat window, my hand up against the glass.
Around Christmas time, word got out around town that the Gillen girl was pregnant, you know the daughter of that guy who was a lineman for the county?
Charlene Gillen. Yes. I had seen her a few times in the gym with Nick. A clingy girl who wore too much eye makeup and was into pda's.
The last I heard, they got married on Valentine's Day. Just another teenage pregnancy statistic.
I left for college and never really returned. That senior party was the last time I had seen Nick.
Until now. Nearly 34 years later.
He still looked surprisingly like the dark haired guy I knew in high school. Except for the receding hairline and the five o'clock shadow that was a little grayish.
I asked him if he wanted some coffee. He said that maybe one quick cup would be okay.
We sat at the kitchen table. Liv wandered in and I introduced her. He smiled and shook her hand. I asked him if he had kids.
"Well," he said. "I have my oldest. Her name is Heather. The girl that I had with Charlene. And after I re-married, well, my current wife, Vanessa, she and I have another daughter, Betsy, she just got married this last summer. And we have a son, Jason, he's at Florida State. A junior."
He commented that I waited to have my daughter late, huh? I said yes, that I did the career thing first and then decided to have a daughter at forty.
"So, who is Bing Lastname?" he asked.
"My partner," I told him. He nodded. Yes, he said, he'd heard that my mother had disowned me a long time ago for being gay. You know how small towns are. No secrets. He'd been taken by surprise, he noted. Didn't see the gay thing coming. I smiled.
I asked him how he ended up in my city. He told me that he and Charlene had tried to make it work, but you know how it is. They were just kids when they married. Neither finished high school. The marriage was over after five years. He had lived in Tennessee for a while, started working for a grouter who taught him the trade and then he moved back to Iowa for awhile, settled in Ames, which was where he met Vanessa, she was going to college there. She was from our city, so when she graduated, they moved here and have been here ever since. He liked prairie weather, liked a place that had seasons. Vanessa's degree was in business and she opened up a yarn shop with her sister when they'd moved here. Now, she taught quilting out of their basement and their daughter ran the business.
I asked him if he saw his daughter with Charlene much. He shook his head. No, he said. Charlene had remarried and moved to Minnesota, took Heather with her, so she pretty much liked her other dad, Charlene's husband, best. He looked down at his shoes and then up.
He asked about me and I told him. He smiled at my profession.
"I guess I can see that," he said. "But, I thought you wanted to be a teacher."
I shrugged. "And you wanted to be a cartoonist," I reminded him.
He nodded again. "The best laid plans..."
Right. I understood.
He finished his coffee and went to work on our shower. I had to get Liv to fencing practice, so I did that and stopped to grocery shop. When we returned, he was finished and cleaning up. Told us not to use the shower for 24 hours.
I asked him how much I owed him. He told me and I wrote the check. He took it and thanked me, gave me a receipt and made sure that I had his card in case we needed any more grouting work done. I walked him to the door.
At the door, he pointed to my cane that I had been using.
I told him that my rheumatoid arthritis was acting up. No heels for me for a while. I laughed a little.
"Bet we never thought we'd get this old," I commented. "Now, I have gray hairs and use a cane once in awhile. I'll be buying Geritol before you know it."
His smile was sweet. "Aw, Einstein, you're still awfully pretty," he said. "And...hey? I'm glad your life is good. Seriously."
"Thanks," I answered. "I'm glad you have a good life too....Peter Max."
We shook hands.
I closed the door after him, watching at the window as he swung up into his truck and pulled down the driveway, his cell phone at his ear. He'd mentioned that he needed to call Vanessa to see if she needed him to pick anything up.
I went back into the kitchen and picked up the receipt on the table. I looked down at it and noticed that Nick had drawn a picture on the bottom. It was a boy and a girl, sitting on the hood of a car. They each held an overly long cigarette in their hands. They were smiling at each other. In a balloon over the boy's head, it said, "I think I'd like to be a cartoonist...."
I carefully folded it up and put it in our tax drawer.
The phone rang. It was Bing.
"I'm just leaving the gym," she said. "Can I bring anything home?"
Just you, I told her. Bring you. All I need is you.
I could feel her smiling through the phone.
"On my way," she said.
I hung up and went to go to start dinner.