WHAT THIS IS ABOUT: In The Confraternity of Santo Discreto, six lifelong friends are thrust abruptly into a midlife crisis by a brush with mortality. They try to recapture the glamor of youth through philandering and drinking together, building mutual alibis with golfing, fishing trips, and charitable events. Taking on the habits of constant lying and casual deceptions, they turn themselves into people they don’t even recognize.
After several years, they fall into an arrangement with young and beautiful Canadian women that seems too good to be true. Unfortunately for them, that’s because the women aren’t who they think they are, and the friends are now unpaid pawns in an international drug smuggling scheme. When they realize how they have been duped, they have to work together to escape with something worth saving. Their plan to fake their deaths and steal smuggled cash from the drug ring falls apart, with a bloody conclusion that allows them to reclaim more of their lives than they had hoped for, and more than they deserve.
GOOD POINTS: Lots of sex, lies, and laughs. Some violence. Bloody conclusion. First draft complete.
BAD POINTS: Kind of over the top in it’s current form; approaches pornographic. Characters aren’t all that sympathetic. Even to a Class A douchebag such as myself.
BACKGROUND: Back in the late nineties and early aughts, I ran a crappy little newspaper up in Cleveland called the North Coast Free Press. I had grand ambitions of being some kind of counter-culture hero, and thought this thing was going to be the next Rolling Stone. It didn’t take long for that dream to fade, and it ended up being a free and irregular review of music, the bar scene, descriptions of new loft apartments, and sh1t like that. Basically a bunch of free press releases for places in the Flats. My business manager was a defrocked priest names Milton, and he had talked a bunch of panhandlers into passing it out on the weekends. Eventually the business model of handing out free stuff came crashing down, and then somebody fire-bombed our office.
But short story long, I did have a press pass and have used that to keep sticking my nose into other people’s business. This tale pretty much came from a bunch of stories this Coast Guard guy told me over drinks at The Winking Lizard. He had worked all sorts of counter-interdiction stuff, from Miami to San Diego, the Straits of Juan De Fuca, and now Cleveland. These stories blew even my jaded mind.
THE CONFRATERNITY OF SANTO DISCRETO
When a man is faced with his midlife crisis, there are endless questions. Mortality, the meaning of life, the nature of happiness, free will, rights versus obligations, and even the question of whether there is a right and a wrong. You try to weigh the worth of what you have, and you don’t even know what to throw on the other side of the scale. What other people have? Discarded dreams? Opportunities passed up? Things you once had and later gave up?
Late at night, when the rest of the family is sleeping, you put your options on the scale and take them off, over and over, and one by one. You watch the balance of the scale, amazed as it swings back and forth, the results changing each time. The relative weights on each side wax and wane as the nights pass, and you realize with a jolt that you are weighing opposing heaps of sand, and the pans have holes in them. In the end, both pans will be completely empty. You knew that all along in the back of your mind, but now you also know that until the end, any choice you make will sometimes be the right one, and sometimes the wrong.
Unsure what to do about the future, you consider the past, and the consequences of old choices. You look back at all the forks in the road you came to, and wonder what would have happened if you had chosen differently. Is life like a series of crooked mountain roads, leading to infinite ends? Or is it a maze we stumble through, bumping against dead ends and turning around, until we find ourselves at the only spot we ever could have reached? Life may be no more than the things we do and see on our way to meet our fate, a tedious in-flight movie to keep us quietly in our seats.
Eventually the questions take you to the moment of truth. The time for deliberation has passed, and you must decide. Do you choose what you have, and make peace with it? Do you cast it all off, and seize something else? Or do you try to have it all; take a little of this and a little of that, stuff as much as you can into your pockets, and run off while no one’s looking?
Circumstance thrust us all before the scales at the same time and place, twice. Old friends, we thought that together we could seize it all and cheat our fate. In due time, we were to find out that we had picked fool’s gold the first time, and death the second. The lady of the scales, whoever or whatever the hell she was, was smirking at us from beneath her blindfold while we chose.
CHAPTER 1: A Wake For A Guy That Didn’t Die
When Stevie’s remission was final, Jack set up a guy’s weekend to celebrate. Golf, fishing, and lots of drinking. It was the first time in years that they were all together, just the original gang; Max, Stevie, Paulie, Lucky, Jack and Frank. They had been neighborhood friends from elementary school, and went to college together, but after that had drifted apart. Three had moved away, although Max had already come back, after being gone six years. And in the end, they all came back. Home, no matter how shitty, has its own gravity.
Stevie’s illness put them in a place they hadn’t been before. Of course, they had all been to family funerals, great-aunts and grandparents; but none of that was unexpected. Old people died. There had been the funerals of guys killed after high school, shot or overdosed, maybe killed while driving drunk. But those weren’t all that unexpected either. These were the guys from gym class or sports, not from college-prep classes. Good guys who got lost, or guys who just couldn’t escape their fate. Stevie was different. He was one of them, and they realized it could have been any of them.
Saturday, after a day outdoors, they went back to Jack’s apartment, sunburned and ready to kick back. Jack’s apartment backed onto Mill Creek Park, 100 yards from Youngstown city limits. It was on the second floor, and only had a window air conditioner, and it was hot. They grabbed a couple of six packs and walked through his back yard into the woods, then along some of the trails to an area where the creek had carved cliffs into the rock. They ended up sitting on the patio of a cabin, watching the sun set. It was a huge hall inside, all wood paneling, and they had been to parties there back in the day. Fraternities and sororities would rent them, and just set up a huge roaring fire in the fireplace. Everyone drove home drunk.
This whole thing has really got me thinking,” Stevie said, “I hope no one has anywhere else to go tonight. I just want to talk.”
Everyone’s schedule was cleared, and they sat in silence for a bit, until Paulie said, “Stevie, I’m so glad this thing turned out alright.”
It was touch and go,” he agreed.
“I’m even happier that we could all get together to celebrate. To remission!” he said, hoisting his beer high. “To remission!” they cheered as they clinked their bottles together.
They talked a bit about Stevie’s illness, summer plans, kids, ribbing each other about duffed shots on the links. Suddenly Lucky said, “Hey, you know who I saw the other day at the Mall? Michelle Agostino.”
“Haven’t heard that name in a while.”
“Remember that time she was driving over to the clubs and side-swiped that car? Right off of campus on Main Street, by the parking deck? She took off because her insurance had lapsed or something. She needed somebody to make sure everyone was okay. Stevie jumped right up and drove her over in his car so she could take a look and make sure no one was hurt.”
It was a walk down memory lane, going back to the second or third grade. Fights, sports highlights, social lowlights, dates gone wrong, old injustices or funny happenings. A lot of it was Stevie-centric, almost like a wake for a guy who didn’t die.
After a bit, Paulie asked, “Did any of you ever think we’d be here? I mean, where we are in life.”
Everyone agreed they had done pretty well for themselves, given what happened to most of the kids they went to school with, the kids from the neighborhood. Most of the others were failures, unless maybe they had joined the military and moved away.
Paulie pressed on, “I know we’ve done well, but the question is, are we really happy? Is there something more that we could want or have?”
“What do you mean?” asked Frankie.
“I mean, when you were in school and you’re taking a class, engineering or business or whatever, were you thinking that you could build some great building, some great monument, something for everyone’s good. Or that you would be some great financial genius. A venture capitalist, or investment banker. Someone in Newsweek or BusinessWeek or something.”
“No, that was just you,” Stevie said.
“Seriously, I don’t know,” pressed Paulie, “I used to think that at least one of us would be famous. In politics or something. Make a difference.”
“Ah, shit, man,” Max said, “We’re all doing better than I thought we would when we were back in school, looking at who we were with. We all work, we got our friends, and we all have nice families.” A few of the guys looked uncomfortably at Jack, thinking about him and his Karen.
“But the question is, are we really happy?” insisted Paulie, “Yeah, we all have nice houses and kids. We got cars in the driveway and toys in the garage. Money to spend. Good vacations. The kids are doing alright, or at least aren’t too fucked up. Nothing a little therapy won’t fix. But all of the sudden I’ve looked up and 20 years have gone by in the blink of an eye. I’m forty-one-fucking-years old. And I wonder how I got here, and was this where I was supposed to be? I mean, fuck…Is this it?”
Max was about to say something again about having friends and family, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. It sounded trite even before it came out. He knew exactly what Paulie meant. They were in their early forties, and they’d done stuff, had lives to envy. But something was missing.
“I just try to enjoy life, but sometimes it seems it’s all a hoax,” said Lucky, “I’m successful enough, money is good in IT if you know what you’re doing. I put in a bunch of hours at the office. Sometimes when I do really well, someone notices, and I get a good word from my boss. Most of the time, not.”
“Fucking bosses!” smirked Paulie, probably thinking about how he had to deal with workers’ shit at his car shop.
Lucky soldiered on, “Regardless, everything I do is for the good of someone else, for the good of the owners, for the good of the stockholders. That’s all it is, making money for someone else. I’m a cog in the wheel, and they give me some crumbs to make me come back. And it seems most of those crumbs go right back to banks for the mortgage and the bills, and the rest go to the wife and kids. I’m not hurting, we sock it away, but it’s like I live to work.”
Jack laughed and said, “When I get home, I’ve got nothing to talk about, nothing to brag about to my kids. And shit, they’re only there seven days out of fourteen. So I just ask them how their day was, and they say fine. When they ask me, I say fine. I’m not sure if they’re lying, but I know I am.”
“If I suddenly had to tell them the truth, tell them what work is like, what would I say?” Jack continued, “Talk about how some client is a dick? Or that this Goth chick in the cubicle next to me eats tuna fish every day and it stinks up the office? There’s really nothing meaningful to say. And even on my best days, it’s not like I’m a doctor, saving a life. And you know what? I bet a doctor’s life isn’t all that, either. You might save a life now and then, but most days they work like crazy, looking at sores and shit, and it’s all about making money. Endless hours, endless expenses, trying to stay ahead. It’s a business, and they’re running an office. If they’re lucky, maybe get to boff one of the nurses.
“Now boffing a nurse,” Max interjected, “That seems like a pretty good benefit right there.”
“Speaking of nurses,” Stevie said, “You remember that chick, what was her name? Brenda or something? The one you were ‘dating’, Max? And I mean that loosely.”
“Ah, yes, Brenda,” Max said, “’Loosely’ fits in her case. If I recall, she was a dental hygienist.”
“No, no, no,” said Jack, “I remember you used to say she was an ORAL hygienist. What did you used to say? You weren’t sure about the hygiene, but you could vouch for the oral.”
“I got that from a book,” Max said, laughing, “She gave me the crabs. I was glad to be rid of her.”
“That was a pretty good summer,” mused Frankie, “I gotta tell you, I just plain miss getting pussy. Straight up, that’s the one thing I miss. Don’t get me wrong, Alaina puts out. And it ain’t that bad. She keeps herself up and she’ll try new stuff. Does her research, reads Cosmo and shit. And from what I can piece together from hearing guys bitch at work, it’s probably the high end of average in frequency for someone her age.”
“You got me beat,” said Lucky, “I’m sure I got laid more in college than I do now.” Lots of guilty looks at that, the rest of the guys looking around at each other. A common experience.
Frankie leaned forward, “Right! But let me tell you, I see these young girls in the office, these office hoes! You can see the little hint of a tattoo coming out on the back, or they have a couple somethings pierced, and you wonder what it’s like down there. Shaved? Natural? Is it pierced down there? You can’t know unless you see it.”
“Fuckin’ A,” said Stevie, “I would love to know what it’s like to bang a chick with metal down there!”
“And what’s up with the way they look at you, these young chicks?” asked Frankie, disbelief and hope in his eyes, “You know what I’m talking about. Lots of girls like a stable older man, as long as he’s not too old. If I had this thinning hair,” taking his cap off and running his fingers through it, “And this pot belly in college,” slapping it for emphasis, “I never would have gotten laid. But it’s an asset now, not a liability. I’m not getting any younger, and I just wish I could cash in. Knowing that I will never boff another woman again, that kills me. I guess unless things go really bad and Alaina leaves me, I will never get another woman again. It’s rough to deal with.”
Most of the guys were staring into their bottles or nodding.
“Aw, fuck!” said Paulie, shifting forward, “I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to. It’s just us. There’s this guy who works for me, Big Brian. Great guy, great worker. I love him. Just got married like a year ago to this smoking hot girl, Madison, and they live in an apartment. He’s a workhorse, faster and better than anyone else. No car he can’t fix. He does it by ear, by feel. But he’s always asking for overtime, because he wants to buy a house so he and his wife can start a family. But I’m telling you, Madison would fuck me if I asked her.”
“Oh, hell yes!” said Paulie, excitedly, “She is petite, a true blond, nice figure, all of 22, and she can’t keep her eyes off me. And I guarantee that girl knows her way around a bedroom.”
“How sure are you that she’d fuck you?” Lucky asked, “Because that sounds risky. It would sure make things weird at the shop if you were mistaken.”
“That’s the problem!” said Paulie, “I mean, I am sure. One hundred and ten percent sure. When he’s around, or if anyone else is there, she is all prim and proper. Mr. Giovanello this, Mr. Giovanello that. But when it’s just us, she gives me that look. She drops by the shop a lot, and if he’s not there, like maybe driving a car around to listen for engine noises, she is a totally different person.”
“She’s just flirting!” said Stevie, shaking his head.
“She’s not just flirting!” insisted Paulie, “Back in like May, she was leaning in with this lowcut shirt, and she busted me looking. I apologized, and she said I shouldn’t be sorry, there was nothing wrong with two people finding one another attractive, and she hoped I would keep looking. Hoped I’d keep looking!”
“No. Not bullshit!” Paulie looked around conspiratorially, “Another time, and this is no lie, she said that her father left her ma when she was just a little girl, and how did she put it? That she ‘wished she had a sympathetic older man who could help her get over it.’”
“She actually fuckin’ said ‘sympathetic’?”
“Yeah, sympathetic. And at our last Christmas party, she cornered me and kissed me, on the lips! People were in the other room, like ten feet away. And that isn’t the half of it. She’s asked all kinds of questions you don’t ask your husband’s boss. Stuff about what it’s like after you’ve been married 15 years, and if it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time.”
Frankie shook his head and tapped his cigar, looking worried, “This broad sounds crazy!”
“Yeah,” agreed Paulie, “But I just don’t know what to do. It’s playing with fire, but I just want to fuck her. I think we’re gonna do it eventually, but in the meanwhile the suspense is killing me!”
The guys sat there in silence, musing. Paulie came over to get another cigar. He lit it and drew a mouthful, then blew it out slowly, looking around, “Let me sum up this discussion. Point one. We all need to get laid. Point two. We all COULD get laid. Point three,” stabbing with his cigar for emphasis, “None of us, with the exception of our friend here,” nodding at Jack, “Is going to do shit without a nudge.”
The guys looked at him, waiting expectantly.
“As I stand here today, I tell you that I am going to fuck Madison’s brains out. Fuck her in every hole. Get her over her Daddy complex and give her another one to deal with. And I am going to do it before one month has passed,” looking around at the guys, expecting a challenge, “Before that moon,” stabbing upwards with his cigar, “Has turned dark and become full again. And if you are half the men you were when we lived off of Wick Park, you are also going to get laid too.”
He marched back to his chair and slammed himself into it, downing his beer. The guys sat there a minute, looking around, and thinking about it.
“I’m in,” said Frankie, and the rest joined in, “Me too,” “You convinced me,” “Amen!’
Everyone looked at Jack, who had been silent. He sat there, nodded, and said, “I approve. You all know my tale of woe, so let me just say for the record that you need to be careful. You don’t want to be in my shoes. Divorce ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
That decided, Max said, “Okay, one month from today. That makes it July 27. Now how do we hold ourselves to it? How do we make each other accountable?”
“Let’s get back together in a month,” said Frankie excitedly, “For a long weekend. Meet somewhere, just us, and swap pussy stories. Like in the old days.”
“Does that work for everyone?” asked Lucky, “Can we all get the same weekend free?”
They all pulled out their phones, and started checking. There was a bit of back and forth on the dates, and they settled on the first weekend in August.
“Alright,” Max said, “Let’s just make a real guys’ weekend out of it. You two,” looking at Frankie and Lucky, “Can stay with me. Cigars, grilling, beer. We’ll see if we can work in a game or something. If they Indians are home. I don’t know, fishing or golf maybe. The key is to get some time to ourselves.”
“One month!” said Paulie, “One month or less!”
They raised half-empty bottles, clanking them noisily, and offered toasts. “One month!” “Pussy!” “The old days!” And with that drunken and cavalier toast, they set off on an odyssey that none of them could have ever imagined.
CHAPTER 2: Arrangements
On the walk back to Jack’s, thinking about the pact, the first name that came to Max’s mind was Heather Detwiler. She was not his first. That honor went to the improbably, yet accurately, named Leslie Bangess. But Heather was his first love, back in high school. She went away to school, kind of, to Kent State, and they were on-again, off-again for years. Then she got serious with a guy her senior year, Eric Wiley, and that was it. He was from Boardman, and they moved back home. Things didn’t go so well, and in the end, they divorced.
At their 15th high-school reunion, the divorce had just been finalized, and she was a wreck. Max’s wife Cecile stayed home with the kids, bored of all the high school talk. Heather got drunk, and she and Max ended up talking for hours. She made it clear the door was open, although Max didn’t take her up on the offer. That year, she sent a Christmas card. It was a shot of her and her kids, with her looking straight in the camera. A glamor shot.
That pissed Cecile off, but the card came in early December, so Cecile wrote out a card in reply. Max was ready to give up the next year, but it’s became a point of pride for Cecile. Just to prove it didn’t bother her. Heather’s card was always the first to arrive, and Cecile taped it up to the doorway, and sent one back.
The 15th reunion was eight years ago. Max knew he wasn’t exactly striking while the iron was hot. But the card was always her plus her kids, no man. And they had talked for an hour at the 20th reunion, so he had reason to hope.
Back at his office, he started thinking about how to best contact her. Obviously he had her address, a place in Howland, and he found her number through Whitepages dot com. Making the approach was going to be the problem. It had been three years since they had talked at any length; they had run into each twice at the Mall and passed a few words. A call from out of the blue would be weird, and dropping by her house was simply out of the question. It had all seemed so easy when they were at the cabin, full of liquid courage, but making the approach was not going to be easy. He was trying to imagine some easy banter, and string together a few phrases. He had faint hope of her suddenly recalling her “open door policy”, but after eight years figured they were probably both in different places mentally. She could be in a serious relationship, or born again, early menopause, or who knows what.
He did some googling around, and found out that she was still working insurance. She had moved to a new office, into management, in a strip mall a few miles away. More googling showed the typical stuff. A Facebook account. A few mentions in Rotary Club meetings. Volunteer work at Church. He thought about contacting her through LinkedIn, but that was too much like a random Facebook nudge. So he sat there, trying to think through the best way to contact her. After a few more wasted hours of googling, he was starting to get cold feet. The thought of some solid loving, and the shit the guys would give me if he chickened out, kept him motivated.
It was getting around lunchtime, and he decided to see if she was in her office, and just do the best job of it he could. He got up to go, then quickly sat down. What if she isn’t in? Or if I ended up talking to another agent, and miss her? Surely at a small office, they would notice if a customer dropped in and started asking around for her.
He went online, and for $2.99 ran a records check and got her license plate number. So there was that. He resolved to drive over, check the plates in the parking lot, and play it by ear. He jot down the license plate number on a yellow sticky, and put it in a folder of a nearby listing. Easy enough to throw out later. He was a little worried about Cecile finding it and asking. A stupid worry; all he had to do was say it was a license plate of a car that cut him off. But just having that kind of worry was heads up enough that he was going to have to be real careful.
Ten minutes later, he was driving slowly through the parking lot, stomach tight, looking left and right in the back of the lot, where the employees probably parked. There it was, a Honda Accord, with a Howland High football bumper sticker. He pulled in and parked, squeezing the wheel with wet palms. What the hell am I doing? He took a deep breath. No excuses, it was time to go in.
A little bell tinkled as he walked in the office, and a cute young brunette looked up and smiled. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I have car insurance through Carpenters’, and I was wondering if I could get a price comparison. Just to make sure it’s a good deal.”
“Of course!” she cooed, “We work with a number of different insurers, and can help you find the insurance that best meets your needs. The agents are with other customers right now. You can have a seat, and someone will be right with you.”
Max sat down and looked around. There was a picture of Heather on the wall. Heather Detwiler. Guess she went back to her original name.
As the girl brought Max coffee, he asked, “That woman there, Ms. Detwiler…?”
“She looks familiar. I think I went to school with her!” Dumbass! She looks familiar?!? Max cursed himself for saying something so asinine.
“She’s our manager,” the girl bubbled, “Very nice. If you’d like, she can help you as soon as she’s off the phone.”
After a few minutes, she looked down at the phone, then jumped up and went into the back. A minute later, Heather came out, a big smile on her face, “Max! What a surprise! How good to see you!”
Max jumped up, “Heather! How are you?” He reached out to shake her hand, but she stepped in and hugged him instead. She smelled good.
“We’ve known each other too long for that!” She let go of him after a minute, “Now what can I do for you?”
He gave her his tale of wanting to comparison shop on insurance, and she took him back to her office. “Were you in the area?”
“Yes,” he said, “I have a new listing on Atkins Way. They just had an estate sale, and I wanted to drop by to make sure the company had cleaned it properly.”
They went back, and chatted while she typed his information into the computer. Make, model, miles. “Still married?”
“Fourteen years this May.”
“So no kids driving?”
“So you did things in the right order,” smiling a little at her joke. She spent some time typing and checking out prices, finding out about his homeowners’ insurance, life insurance. “You’re getting a decent deal. We could save you maybe $20 every six months, but you’d have to switch all your insurance. Home and life, too.”
“Ah, I’d have to talk to Cecile. I don’t know why, but for some reason all this just seems complicated. Changing escrow accounts, automatic withdrawals, all that.”
“I know what you mean,” she confided, “And to tell you the truth, if you call them up and complain a little they’ll probably match my price anyhow. But at least you’ll save some money. All it takes is a phone call.”
“Yeah,” she sighed, “The internet is killing business. Everyone is playing the companies off against one another. It’s all whether you want to get the lowest price, or get a little more service if you run into problems. Everyone wants the lowest price until they get in a wreck, or get some water damage. Then they expect full service. I’ve even had people who canceled on me for a cheaper company call up, asking me to help them. Can you imagine?”
“Real estate hasn’t had that problem yet—you can’t really commoditize customer service.”
They sat there for a minute, and she suddenly said, “I can’t believe it’s been, what, four years? And we’re talking about $20. What’s been going on with you, anyhow?”
“Lots, but nothing,” then he asked tentatively, “Look, this 20 bucks I’m about to save with a phone call? That’s enough for lunch. Do you want to go grab a bite to eat and catch up?”
“I’m starving!” she said, “And Becky just came back. Let’s go.”
They stood up.
“Mexican okay?” she asked, “I keep thinking about fajitas.”
“Is it okay if you drive?” she asked, “I think I need a margarita.”
They headed out, and Max suddenly remembered the folder with her license plate number in it. He opened her door for her, and grabbed the folder. Luckily, it was closed. He popped the trunk and put it in, pulling the yellow sticky off, balling it up and throwing it in the wheel well. Close call.
They went to ‘Juarez’, and got a booth in the back. It was slowing down. Max poured them each a margarita from the pitcher, and they nibbled on chips while waiting for their food. They caught up quickly, the usual questions about kids and work. Max hinted vaguely about being unhappy, nothing too pointed.
The talk turned to Heather getting divorced, and then dating. She wanted to meet someone, but she didn’t have much time for that, now that she was a manager. And she didn’t really want the kids to meet boyfriends and be confused. Her youngest in particular was just wrecked by the divorce, even after all these years, and was still seeing a counselor on and off. The last thing she needed was any more upset or confusion. Worse, the daughter was turning boy crazy, and Heather thought it best to be able to put her attention on mothering until she got through this stage.
“So you have custody?”
“Weekdays during the school year, and every other weekend. We thought it would be easiest for them. Eric’s been good. He has them more over the summer, and we split holidays. Sometimes he has them Friday through Monday. The schedule is complicated.” She waved a chip dismissively and popped it in her mouth, staring down at the table for a moment. The fajitas arrived, steaming and hissing. She topped off her margarita.
“At this point it’s all about the kids. I’ve pretty much put my personal life on hold. In three years, they’ll both be in college, Phyllis and Crystal. Adults. I’ll get some me time then,” then added wryly, “I am a little worried I’ll be a little old for ‘we time’ at that point.”
Max knew this was the time to say something, but his mind was blank. He felt the momentum slipping away. Suddenly, she slapped his forearm with her hand and added, “I do get a break this month! He’s going to take them for two weeks at the end of the month. They’re going to New York, to see some off-Broadway theater. Or maybe off-off-Broadway. The girls love that stuff. Then the beach, Rhode Island, with his sister.” The outline of a plan started forming in the back of Max’s mind.
“What are you going to do while they’re gone? Any plans?”
“Not really. There’s so much I have to do around the house. I’ll probably see some movies with my girlfriends. Vacations are so expensive, and I’m not even sure I’d like to go away on my own. No one to talk to…I don’t know. It sounds miserable.”
“You don’t have anyone to go with?”
“No. Like I said, I’m not seeing anyone, and my sister can’t get away. Her husband’s in Afghanistan. Air Force. I guess he’s safe, but he’s gone. She needs a break, but she won’t go anywhere without the kids. But I do want to get away, do something special, I don’t know…”
“I’d love to get away without my family,” Max agreed, “I need a break.”
“Like the song says”, taking a long pull from her margarita, “‘Everyone needs a little time away.’”
Here it was, the moment of truth. Max took a deep breath and put it out there. No going back now. “Time away,” he said, “But not alone.”
She looked at Max intently, and then dropped her eyes. The silence drew out a bit, then she said tentatively, “I think I understand what you’re saying.”
More silence. Max suddenly didn’t know what to say.
“But…” she started, and “You’re married…and…”
This didn’t seem to be going nearly as well as he’d imagined back at the office, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go too far…”
“No,” she said, looking up, “I’m flattered. It’s nice to have a man’s undivided attention. I can’t deny I have happy memories of when we were together. No need to apologize.”
“This is crazy,” Max said, suddenly warming up, “But look, I was taking a few days off to go fishing. Tuesday and Wednesday, the 20th and 21st. Your kids are gone then, right? I go fishing every year, up in Pennsylvania. What if…what if…Never mind. I can’t even say it.”
She looked up at him, then took his hand and said quietly, “I’ll go. For old times’ sake.” Then more forcefully, “Let’s do it.”
“This is crazy!” he said again, “But look, I just go up with a tent and a tackle box. We gotta do some planning. Something nice….a bed and breakfast or something.”
“Well, that’s better. I’ve never gone fishing, and I’m not staying in a tent! I need to be pampered. A place that serves breakfast on site, with clean rooms…I don’t know, a restaurant attached. Or something nearby, where we can just relax. A winery would be ideal. But are you sure?”
“Yes, I am,” Max said, his confidence coming back, “But I’m just worried that it would stir up old feelings because of our history. Maybe cause problems.”
“Are you worried I would go Fatal Attraction on you?” her eyebrow arched.
“No,” he said, laughing, “You’re too together for that. But I wouldn’t want to take advantage of our friendship. We have so many happy memories, I wouldn’t want to sour that. And obviously this would be a one-time thing, going on vacation.”
“Well, we do have happy memories. And I do think about it more than I should,” then she leaned in confidentially, and put her other hand over his, “And let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind you taking advantage of our friendship at all. It’s been about four years since I’ve been taken advantage of in any way, shape or form. For all I know, I’m technically a virgin again. It’s killing me! This little trip, this is what the doctor ordered. A vacation with a man, no complications. I’m down for that!”
Max got up and slid in next to her in the booth, and threw his arm around her shoulder. He gave her a squeeze, “This is going to be a trip to remember!”
“I’m so glad you walked into my office today!”
They chatted happily, making plans until it was time for her to go back to work. When they got back to her office, they exchanged business cards, and wrote each other’s personal cell phone numbers on the back. She popped her door open, and as she stepped out of the car said, “Don’t get cold feet, okay?”
As Max drove away, he thought to himself, Can it really be this easy?