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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Love stories / Romance
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 09/27/2019
THE DINNER PARTYBorn 1939, M, from Hilo, Hawaii, United States
As told by Mason Clark Kent
We were celebrating our seventh anniversary of being together at San Francisco’s Scala’s Bistro on Powell Street when Robert accomplished something I didn’t think possible – he caught me off guard.
“Will I do what?”
He was grinning from ear to ear. “Will you marry me?”
“Robert Carter Miller, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about making it official.”
“After seven years, it looks and feels pretty official to me.”
“Come on, Mason … I’m serious.”
“Where’s the ring?”
“The … oh, my God.”
“You don’t have a ring of engagement? For being one of the top lawyers in San Francisco, that’s pretty lame. I wonder what the boys at Ricci, Wong, and Romano would have to say about this.” I could not keep a straight face as I wrung him through his own wringer.
“I’m sorry, Mason.”
“Robert. What’s going on?”
He shook his head.
“It’s okay. I’m still here and have no intentions of going anywhere. But why now?”
He sighed, took a sip of wine, and then looked into my eyes. “I’ve been invited to … The Dinner Party.”
“Not … THE … dinner party?”
“That’s bloody amazing. It’s been a long time coming. I’m so pleased for you. Does that mean …?”
“Partnership? … Perhaps. I don’t know.”
“Robert, I couldn’t be more proud of you. You’ve earned it. Christ, you’ve worked hard enough.”
“Yes, and I’m painfully aware of the far too many evenings you’ve spent alone.”
“Have I ever complained?”
“No … but I wish you had.”
“To lessen the guilt.” He sighed and shook his head slightly. “Without you by my side … what’s the point?”
“Oh, I get it. This is your foreplay for some wild sex tonight?”
“Stop it, Mason.” He glared at me. He always knew how to let me know when I’d gone too far with my slightly twisted sense of humor. “I want to make it official. I want you to go with me … not as a friend, or a roommate, or a trick … but as my life-partner.”
That word sent a shockwave through me. “Jesus, you are serious.” He wasn’t smiling but the look of love coming across the table just about knocked me over. “Robert … of course, I’ll marry you … I thought you’d never ask.”
“What are you talking about? I begged you to marry me six years ago. And you said no. Your exact words were – absolutely not.”
“I don’t remember that.”
He laughed. “You’re such a liar. You remember it all right.”
I had to laugh. “Yes, Robert, I do remember. And I also remember how frightened I was.”
“Frightened of what?”
“Screwing it up … and losing you.”
“You never told me that.”
“I was afraid to say anything.”
“Are you frightened now?” His expression went deadpan, anticipating my answer.”
I shook my head a little and smiled at the love of my life.
His face lit up as he raised his glass of wine, I followed suit; we clinked glasses and all I could think of was the first time I laid eyes on that beautiful man – all those years ago.
I was in Los Angeles and delayed my return to San Francisco with a stopover in Santa Monica for some quiet-time in the Sun. I woke early that Sunday morning, had coffee and a croissant before leaving the Shangri-La Hotel for a few hours at the beach. I had no intentions of a hook-up, I just wanted to see the ocean up close, and get some Sun.
I crossed Ocean Avenue, the walkway over Pacific Coast Highway, and was walking along Ocean Front Walk when I spotted him off in the sand, reading the Sunday Paper. The beach was all but deserted at that hour so, when he put his paper down and watched me, I saw how buff he looked and decided … why not?
I stepped off the walkway into the sand, angling my way past him so I wouldn’t look completely stupid if I was mistaken about his interest. At worst, he could resume reading his paper, ignore me, and I could proceed to the water’s edge unabashed. But he didn’t resume reading his paper. Instead, he smiled as I drew near. “Hi.”
I stopped and smiled. “Hi, yourself.” And then, somewhat awkwardly, “Mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all. Please do.”
As I spread my towel on the sand, he stopped me.
“Come closer, I won’t bite.”
I laughed, “How disappointing.” He was so friendly and unassuming, I did as he requested. I put my things down and stepped forward. “I’m Mason Kent,” and put out my hand.
“Bob Miller.” He took my hand and squeezed slightly. “You’re just in time.”
“Oh, for what?”
“I need sunscreen on my back. Do you mind?”
I smiled, “Of course not. You can return the favor once I get settled.”
When he stood up, I was surprised at how tall he was … maybe 6-3. A full six or seven inches taller than my 5-8. He handed me a tube of sunscreen and turned his back to me. “I burn easily. So have at it with that stuff.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. His auburn hair and white skin were definitely targets for a burn. So, I slathered it on and enjoyed rubbing his well-developed back – probably more than I should have. As I finished, “I’m not going to do the back of your legs,” though I certainly wanted to.
He laughed, “Thanks, I can take care of that.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my life was teetering on the edge of a very dramatic change.
The waiter arrived, placed a basket of fresh steaming Italian breadsticks between us and took our orders.
I interrupted munching on one of those Italian beauties and asked, “The Dinner Party, when is it?”
“The week after Thanksgiving.” He paused, “I know we’ve never discussed marriage before, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. This dinner party seemed like a good time to do something about it.”
“How long is a long time?”
He grinned and searched my face. “From the day I first laid eyes on you.”
I stopped chewing again and stared at him for a few seconds. “At the beach?”
He smiled and nodded.
My heart skipped a beat when I realized what he had just said. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. His shyness often left me wondering about all sorts of personal things ... about us.
He almost whispered, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“Of course, I am. I just didn’t realize…”
“How you felt.”
“Oh, that. I hope I’ve gotten better at it.”
“You have. But marriage … it just caught me off guard a little. When and where?”
“At the Ricci’s home.”
“No, Robert.” I grinned, “When … and … where?”
“Oh … how about right away? If it’s okay with you.”
“Sure. But I want real wedding bands … none of those cigar wrappers you collect.”
He laughed, “Right. No cigar wrappers. How about tomorrow? We’ll go…”
“Yadav’s Jewelers … over on Brannan at Eighth. They’re very expensive.” I grinned, “Think I’m worth it?”
“If we were alone, I’d show you how much you’re worth it.” He gave a sigh of relief and kept looking at me with love spilling out along with his eagerness to make the ultimate commitment … to me.
And he was right. I was worth it. We had become so close over the years, it scared me. “You weren’t sure I’d say yes … were you?”
“No … I wasn’t.”
“After all these years of ravaging my poor helpless body … I’m surprised.”
“Poor helpless body my foot. It’s been an ongoing learning experience living with you … just in case you’re wondering. But one I wouldn’t have missed for the world.”
“I’m in for the long haul, Robert. I thought I had conveyed that to you long ago.”
“You did, but you know me … my insecurities.”
I smiled, “Maybe." When we were alone, yes, but certainly not in the courtroom.
I remembered the first time I saw him trying a case in the courtroom. I never realized what an uncompromising street-fighter he was. So sure of himself, tough-as-nails hardly describes him in that setting. But alone, he was just the opposite … attentive, soft-spoken, gentle, and unsure of himself. I loved him for his vulnerability and his willingness to trust me with it.
“I’ll let you decide on a guest list…”
I got the feeling from his tone that he didn’t want to discuss it, which I thought odd. On two occasions in the past, I asked about his family but he quickly changed the subject. He was obviously uncomfortable, so I assumed it had not gone well when they found out he was gay. I decided to delay broaching the subject. “No, not right away. Let’s get married first, and later on … maybe after the first of the year, we’ll have a more formal ceremony. You know … with family, friends, and folks from your firm.”
“Get married twice?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Hum … hadn’t thought of that. Okay.”
“… and, by the way … I’m not going to change my name.”
“No, of course, not. I love Mason Clark Kent.” He raised his glass again and we toasted our intention.
And so, within forty-eight hours, we purchased the wedding bands, a marriage license, and had the clerk perform the ceremony. Rose Martin, our cleaning lady, came along as a witness. She was so happy for us, she could hardly contain herself. We went out for dinner afterward to celebrate. A truly happy day.
But I had my concerns about Robert’s law fellows and my attendance at this dinner party looming before me. All I knew were their last names – Ricci, Wong, and Romano. He provided a dossier on each man which would have been great – if I were looking to hire a lawyer; there was nothing personal about any of these men. And the wives remained even a bigger mystery outside of their first names.
I could handle bigotry raising its ugly head when least expected. But at a party like this, I would be a captive audience to any onslaught. So, I made it perfectly clear to Robert that if such a thing should happen, I would give him the high sign and head for the door – with or without him. He assured me such a thing was unlikely but, if it did, he would acquiesce.
Well, as it turned out … he was wrong … terribly wrong. It was horrible and challenged Robert’s relationship with the firm, as well as our relationship I’m sorry to say.
It was Saturday, December first, a date I shall not soon forget. We live on Powell Street behind the Fairmont Hotel. My understanding was … we would be going to the Ricci Home in Sausalito so, when Robert hailed a cab outside of our building instead of heading to the garage for our car, I asked, “I thought we were going across the bridge?”
“No, Claire changed her mind. They just finished renovating their home on Sea Cliff. She said the city location is more convenient than in the hills.”
“Must be nice having two homes.”
“Actually, they have four.”
“Four? You’re kidding?”
“No. It’s mostly her money … inherited.”
“Oh, how nice.”
“Mason, what is it with you?”
“Sorry. I’m just nervous about this. I’m afraid I’m not going to fit in.”
“Why not, for heaven’s sake.”
“Class, my fine feathered friend, class.”
“Now, who’s the insecure one?”
“It’s reality, Robert. Education, position, and … money … make all the difference in the world, as well as who you know.”
“Look … if this is upsetting you, we’ll turn around and go home. I’ll call with some excuse.”
“No, I’ll be all right … just needed to vent a little. It’s only a few hours.” But secretly, I was scared to death. I could feel dark clouds gathering overhead.
I knew Robert had class the first time I met him on the beach in Santa Monica. After talking with him for a few minutes I was pretty sure of it. When I learned he was a Harvard educated lawyer, I nonchalantly asked if he was by any chance a Rhodes Scholar. He hesitated at first until I pressed him. He was. There was no question about it – he definitely outclassed me. I made some feeble excuse and began gathering my stuff when he almost pleaded with me, “Where are you going?”
I stood up and smiled at him ruefully. “Back to my side of the tracks.”
He stood up, “What the hell does that mean?” He knew exactly what I meant.
“Rhodes Scholar requirement number four.” Until recently, I thought it was ‘Roads’ Scholar. When I discovered my error, I looked it up.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do … sympathy for and protection of the weak and uneducated … that’s me. I’m hoi polloi, Mr. Miller, and you’re not.” I picked up my beach bag and began to walk away.
He grabbed my arm and held me back. “Wait a second.”
“For what?” I was being snarky and felt ashamed for not at least being a gentleman which I prided myself on – until now. In hindsight, I think I was angry at myself for walking away from this prize catch, but it was the right thing to do, or so I thought at the time.
He didn’t say anything. He was either at a loss for words or stunned at my rudeness.
“Look … I’m going before you become bored to tears.” I pulled away from his grasp and walked away.
“You’re not being fair.”
“Yes, I am … I’ll give you a call sometime.”
“You don’t have my number.”
“Oh, yes I do.”
He didn’t say anything and probably agreed with me. Whether he did or not … it didn’t matter.
But, I did enjoy talking with him, and it didn’t seem important to him that I was hoi polloi. Perhaps it was our mutual loneliness that drew us together.
I felt awful the rest of the day but, it was better than being humiliated in the presence of someone who was a hell of a lot smarter than I was. I had once experienced that moment when someone, realizing they outclassed me, simply ignored me. I think being ignored is the worst hurt anyone can inflict upon another person.
I wasn’t enjoying myself so, I checked out of the hotel, and noticed him sitting in the lobby. When he got up and began walking in my direction, I should have kept going but I stopped. I wasn’t going to compound my earlier sin. I turned and waited for him to say something.
“Where are you going?”
“Did you follow me?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I’m going home.”
“San Francisco. Why in the world do you care?”
“I don’t know, but I do, and that seems to have offended you for some reason.”
“It doesn’t offend me. I just don’t see any point to it.”
I’m driving up to San Francisco. Come with me.”
“No, thanks, Mr. Miller. Being a captive audience is not my idea of a good time. Thanks, but no thanks.” I turned and began to walk away and then stopped dead in my tracks when I heard him whisper the one word that grabs my gut every time. I turned and stared at him, trying to read the expression on his beautiful face. Did he mean it? The anticipation in his stare further unraveled me. When I saw his lips tremble into a pitiful smile, I was hooked. “Ok, I’ll drive back with you.”
“And stop calling me Mr. Miller.”
I laughed. “Okay, Robert ... Bob.”
The cab turned on to Sea Cliff Avenue and pulled up in front of the most beautiful home I had ever seen. There were landscape lights illuminating the structure on this clear beautiful Bay evening. “Is this it?”
“I guess it is. Driver?”
“This is the address you gave me – 190 Sea Cliff Avenue.”
“We got out, paid the cabbie and stood there gawking. “Must be big bucks.”
“It is. I’m told twenty million. Lord only knows what the renovation cost.”
As we approached the entrance, I could hear laughter coming from inside. Robert pressed the doorbell. Within seconds the huge front door swung open.
“Robert. So happy to see you again.”
“Good evening, Claire.”
And you must be Mason. I’m so happy to meet you.” She reached out.
I was delighted to take her hand. “Good evening, Mrs. Ricci.”
“Claire, please. No formality here. Please, come in.” She stepped aside as we entered.
Mark Ricci entered the foyer. “Robert, my boy.”
“And Mason. So happy to meet you at long last. Please, come in. The bar is over there but first, let me introduce you to everyone.
“Thank you, Mr. Ricci.”
“Yes, of course.”
He proceeded to lead me around like a prized turkey, introducing me to the partners and their wives plus two other couples whose names I immediately forgot.
When the beautiful aroma of cooking food hit my nostrils, I turned to Claire. “What is that?”
“Ah, come with me.” She took my arm and led me away from the crowd. As we passed through the dining room I stopped. “Claire?”
She turned and smiled as I stared at the dining room table. “It arrived three weeks ago.”
“From India, no doubt.”
“Yes, it did. I’ve always been partial to this art form.”
“It’s pietra dura.”
“Yes, it is. How clever of you to know.”
“An art project in high school. Just look at the translucence of the white marble. I’m certain it came from the same mines used for the Taj Mahal …a place called … Makrana, I think. And look at these gemstones … agate … onyx … jasper … jade … mother of pearl. I’m not sure what these two are.”
“Neither am I but isn’t it beautiful?”
I’m sure the ancestors of these artisans date back to when the Taj was constructed. Look at the intricacy of their work.” I ran my hand over the delicate design.
“I was fortunate to see a table similar to this while Mark and I were visiting India. I had to have one like it.”
“But, you were in India … three or four years ago.”
“Three to be exact … that’s how long it took them to make it.”
“Wow … and double wow. It’s almost too beautiful to eat off of. How did you get it into the house?”
“Very carefully, let me assure you. The transport people were very competent.” She moved away from the table, “Shall we?”
“Yes, of course.”
The delicious aroma only intensified as we entered the kitchen.
“Ginny, this is Mason. He noticed what you’re up to.”
Ginny laughed and held out her hand, “Hi, Mason.”
“It smells like lamb.”
“How many pounds?”
“You’ve been here all afternoon.”
“Well, I’ll leave you two. Ginny … about half an hour?”
“Better make it forty-five minutes just to be safe.”
“Good. And, Mason. Don’t forget … the bar is in the other room. Just help yourself.”
“Thank you.” Claire left the room as I turned to Ginny with a smile. “I don’t drink alcohol. Do you have anything I can pretend with?”
“I do, indeed, and I have a lemon or lime twist to make it look authentic.”
“That’s great.” Ginny was a lovely middle-aged woman of appealing proportions. I took to her immediately and knew I could trust her. She was hoi polloi, like me, but she knew how to cook which gave her the class I could relate to. “Now, fill me in on what my quivering nostrils are reacting to. I’m a bit of a cook and I’m always eager to learn.”
“Happy to share. Ready?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Okay, here goes. Dijon mustard on glazed carrots, herby roasted Jersey royals, some zesty spring greens over here. Roasted baby leeks with oak-smoked bacon croutons…”
“What – no mint jelly?”
Ginny laughed, “Not this time. Strawberry-mint sauce. Here. Have a taste.”
“Hum … outstanding. I can hardly wait. Everything looks wonderful.”
“You’re allowed to sample. Just don’t let Claire catch you.” She laughed. “And then there’s peas with pancetta, roasted courgettes with lemon, roasted garlic, and clementine carrots, and finally roasted butternut squash with garlic and parsley.”
“This is absolutely amazing. What about soup and dessert.”
“Top secret. You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.”
“You’re a tease.”
“What about wines?”
“I cook with Zinfandel; Mrs. Ricci is serving Petite Syrah at the table.”
“Ah, I’m not familiar with that … a new experience, eh?”
“I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“Thank you, Ginny. I’ll leave you to it.” I smiled and retreated from the kitchen with my tonic water and a twist of lime. As I walked into the living room, there they were … the boys …sitting around the fireplace with their scotch and cigars. Robert saw me and raised an inviting hand. I smiled and shook my head.
“I understand you recently completed renovations on this beautiful home.”
“Yes, I have. Would you like a tour?”
“I would, indeed.”
“I was just about to take these ladies. Stand fast while I gather them. Gloria, Phyllis. I’m ready. Come along Judy, Brenda. We’ll begin upstairs.”
Judy Kelly stumbled on the stairs to the second floor and grabbed my arm for support. “You’re with Robert aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Isn’t that nice.”
The disdain in the tone of her voice told me she was going to be trouble. It was obvious she was well on her way to three sheets to the wind by her inability to keep the straps of her evening dress on her shoulders. She brought her glass of wine with her and managed to spill its entire contents on the off-white stair carpet before we reached the second level. I distanced myself from her as quickly as possible.
We were on the third floor when the dinner bell rang, Claire cut the tour short. “Come along folks, dinner is about to be served."
As we entered the dining room, Claire explained that the base of the dining table had been constructed with the house and was a permanent fixture, then she gave a short history of the new tabletop which impressed everyone with its beauty and uniqueness.
The advantage of sitting at a round table such as this one … you can see all the other guests which make for easier conversation. Each place setting had more utensils than I’d ever seen. I thought a small instruction sheet on their use would have been helpful. To avoid making a faux pas, I decided to watch the other guests before taking up the appropriate utensil.
Claire and Mark sat across from one another while the rest of us were scattered on either side of them. I found my place card between Don Kelly on my right, and Greg Romano on my left – Claire was next to Greg. Robert found his place card between Gloria Romano on his right and Mary Wong on his left – Mark Ricci was to her left. I would have felt more comfortable with Robert closer but no such luck.
As the guests settled into their places, I found myself sitting directly across from Gloria Ramano, a portly, intelligent looking woman who seemed to have a permanent smile etched on her face. Robert was to her left. Paul Wong was to her right and next to him was the slightly inebriated Judy Kelly whose classic beauty had long since faded.
While the two servers filled glasses with wine, I counted dinnerware … five forks, four knives, three spoons, and five glasses of different sizes, all laid out with precision on an exquisite over-sized royal blue damask placemat. I was certain none of these pieces of tableware ever saw the inside of a dishwasher. Thank God I didn’t have to clean up after this crowd. The impressive matching china verged on being translucent.
The entire setup smacked of class and money which everyone seemed to take for granted – except me. I was dying to turn a plate over to see where it was made but I restrained myself. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t say Made in China exclusively for Target.
Over the years, and countless visits to auction houses, I had managed to collect place settings for ten of the most beautiful mismatched china you would ever want to see, including stemware from some of the great houses of the area; no two pieces matched. I wasn’t fussy about the silverware. And it all went into the dishwasher when used. I was pretty proud of my collection.
When I looked up, I saw Robert watching me as I fingered the tableware. I smiled and saluted him with one of the five forks. He grinned and looked away as the first course was being served. I was surprised with, and thoroughly enjoyed the Brie Cheese, Salmon Lox and mushrooms sautéed in garlic. Conversations were somewhat muted as everyone enjoyed the fair. When the second course of Mesclun, toasted Hazelnuts and Mushroom salad was served, Gloria, who sat across from me, asked me what I did for a living.
“I’m a novelist of sorts.”
“Oh, how interesting. Romance, murder, intrigue … that sort of thing?”
“Yes … that sort of thing and I try to mix them all together.”
Then she offered the first subtle snide remark of the evening, “Are they all gay”?
Everyone appeared to take notice of her remark.
I looked at her and grinned, “As in …?” I threw that ball right back into her lap.
The expression on her face told me she was somewhat flummoxed at my response which was exactly what I intended. She cleared her throat as she grappled for a response. “Happiness … are they happy stories … do they have happy endings.”
“Yes, they do.”
She said nothing more and busied herself with eating. But I saw the expression on Robert’s face drop. Claire became aware of what had just happened and took control of the conversation as best she could until the soup course was served.
I checked with my companions to see which spoon was to be used. What they picked up appeared to be akin to a small shovel. It was larger than any soup spoon I was familiar with, a large oval shallow bowl which turned out to be perfect for enjoying the delicious creamy Leek and Potato soup. I knew how to hold a spoon properly, and not slurp, but I was surprised how everyone ladled their soup by dipping the spoon sideways into the soup at the edge of the bowel nearest to them and skimming the spoon sideways to the outer edge of the bowl which I was able to easily imitate.
Claire whispered something to one of her staff which I figured out when the soup dishes were whisked away and the lime and the basil sorbet course was served. I knew this was a palette cleanser for the main event which I was looking forward to.
I noticed the wine decanter had disappeared from the table and was ably being handled by one of the servers. I watched as Judy Kelly finished her glass of wine and began looking for a refill. She delicately held her glass over her head, waving it slightly and smiling. When the server did not respond, she did not hesitate; in a sing-song manner, “I’d like more wine … please.”
Claire was ready, “Judy, the entrée is about to be served and I’m having a much better wine served.”
“Okeydokey.” She plunked her glass down on the marble table so hard I’m surprised it didn’t shatter.
Plates were cleared and the lamb was served. Regrettably, I never got a chance to taste it. When I glanced up, I saw Judy glaring at me over the country flower centerpiece. I smiled at her, braced myself, and looked away. And then, out it came in slurred but very loud words.
“So, what does someone like you do when you’re not writing your cute little … gay stories?”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Claire tense. I thought she was going to rise right out of her chair as conversations ceased. No one moved.
The inevitable had arrived. I took a deep breath and smiled. “What do I do when I’m not writing?”
“Yeah.” She had her chin embedded in her right hand as she wavered slightly and glared at me.
I cast my eyes at poor Robert who knew exactly what was about happen and there was nothing he could do about it. I smiled and then focused my gaze on Miss Judy. “Well, let me tell you what I do when I’m not writing my cute little gay stories ... I avoid … people like you.” My slightly condescending tone was intentional and got the response I was hoping for. I had no intention of letting her get the upper hand in this conversation.
“Oh, is that so. And just who do you think you’re talking to, Mister whatever your name is?”
“At the moment, my dear … I’m talking to a falling-down drunk.”
I heard Robert gasp and whisper my name so loud I’m sure everyone heard it.
“You’ve got a lot of God damned nerve. You don’t even belong here.” Then she turned on Claire, “Why do you invite trash like this into your home?”
The bitch was out of the bag so, I decided it was time to make my departure. I stood, excused myself to Claire and walked toward the door.
“You come back here. I’m not finished with you.”
Without stopping, “Oh, yes you are.”
“You come back…”
“…For God’s sake, Judy.” I assumed it was her woebegone husband.
Silence hung heavy as I walked to the foyer, grabbed my coat and left the house without closing the front door. I called for a cab when I reached the street and was about to walk away when Ginny caught up with me. “Here, Mason. I packed some of the lamb for you. I knew this was going to happen.” She handed the container to me, and touched my arm, “I’m so terribly sorry.” Then she ran back to the house.
I walked as far away from the Ricci house as possible. When I saw the cab approaching, I hailed it, got in without looking back to see if Robert had followed.
When I got back to the apartment I did something I never do. I had a stiff drink of scotch, put Ginny’s gift in the fridge, went into the spare bedroom and slammed the door. The alcohol worked quickly; I was asleep almost immediately.
It was still dark when I opened my eyes. I wondered if Robert had returned. He knew better than to come into the spare bedroom. It was my refuge when we had one of our rare arguments.
I had to smile when I thought of the first argument we had and I stomped into the spare bedroom, slammed the door, fell onto the bed, and began to sob into the pillow for being such a fool. I sat up when I heard a rustling at the door. When he sighed, I realized he was sitting on the hallway floor, leaning against the door. I finally asked, “What are you doing?”
Very softy and very lovingly he replied, “Waiting for you.”
“I’m never coming out.”
When he began to laugh I yelled, “God dammit!”
His reply had me laughing so hard I forgot what we had argued about. “Dammit is not God’s last name. Did you know that?”
I got out of bed, opened the door and he fell backward into the room and looked up at me with that expression of his that knocks me out every time. I got on my knees and looked into that beautiful face. “No, I didn’t know that.”
He reach up and pulled my head down to his smiling face. It was the first time we made love on the floor and in a doorway no less.
I managed to doze off again and came awake when it was light. I showered and went into the kitchen to make breakfast; I hadn’t eaten the night before and was ravenous.
Robert entered the kitchen as I filled my plate with scrambled eggs, two slices of reheated lamb and a piece of buttered toast.
I picked up my plate and cup of coffee, “Good morning.”
As I walked past him, he whispered in astonishment, “Is that lamb?”
“It surely is.” I kept walking toward my office.
I didn’t answer but felt some vindication that someone in that household cared enough about me at the moment of disaster. I’m sure Robert saw I was still furious and wisely decided to leave me be. Several hours later he poked his head in, “Can we talk?”
I didn’t hesitate, “Not yet.”
The rest of the day was spent in silence. I slept in the guest room that night, remembering what my mother had once told me … never go to bed angry. But I couldn’t help it. Hopefully, tomorrow would be better.
Robert and I had little to say to one another since the Saturday fiasco. I was still fuming inside – mostly about my own stupidity in not having paid attention to my instincts which were screaming at me not to go to the fricken dinner in the first place.
Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure my relationship with Robert would survive this incident. He had obviously decided to stay when I left which cut me to the quick. He would have to make the decision which was most important to him – his career with Ricci, Wong, and Romano or us. We had disagreed on many things in the past but were always willing and able to compromise … not this time.
Being subjected to the vile mouth of that drunken bitch was one thing, but the repercussion her vitriolic display would have on Robert and his relationship with the other men in the firm was quite another. But that was his problem. No advice from me would be forthcoming, let alone be useful.
Monday morning, Robert was dressed and ready to leave for the office. He stood in the kitchen doorway. “I’m going.”
I was at the counter measuring ingredients for bread I was going to bake. Birdie, my canary, sang merrily. I didn’t look around. “Bye … have a nice day.” I was surprised at the ‘I could care less’ sound of my voice.
I sensed he was still there. I kept measuring.
“Are we going to leave it like this?”
I could feel it welling up. I desperately tried to control it but it was no use. The floodgates opened as I turned. “Leave it like what, Robert?”
In an instant he had his arms wrapped around me, holding me so tight I almost gasped. “My dear boy, I am so sorry.”
“I’m so hurt, Robert. Not only for me but for us.”
“I know. I know.” He pulled my head to his breast to comfort me.
Then I noticed it and began to giggle.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your shirt. I’ve ruined it.”
“Ah, so you have.”
“You’ll have to change.”
He began to laugh, took my head in his big hands and kissed me like the first time we kissed at the Shell Beach cottage.
“I’m not going in today.”
“Yes, you are. I’ll be okay. I want to finish the chapter I’m writing … and get this bread baked.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now, go.”
He reluctantly withdrew, changed his shirt and was out the door after one more of those kisses I so enjoyed.
I was surprised at the effect my tears had on him. I had never done that before. If nothing else I felt better and more secure in our relationship. I smiled as I opened a folder on my kitchen computer and selected Nat King Cole’s MP3 of …
You made me love you
I didn't want to do it
I didn't want to do it
You made me want you
And all the time you knew it
I guess you always knew it
You made me happy sometimes
You made me glad
But there were times
You made me feel so bad
You made me cry for
I didn't want to tell you
I didn't want to tell you
I want some love that's true
Yes, I do, 'deed I do
You know I do
Gimme, gimme, what I cry for
You know you've got the brand of kisses
That I'd die for
You know you made me love you
As I pulled the bread ingredients together, my thoughts drifted back to that fateful day Robert and I drove from Santa Monica to San Francisco. I was surprised when the parking attendant pulled up in a red and black Jeep SUV. I had expected a Porsche or some such and didn’t move until I saw Robert hand the attendant a tip.
“Is this yours?”
“Yeah.” He looked at me, probably wondering why I asked.
“Oh, good. I like it.”
“What were you expecting?”
“Nothing. This is great.” We put our bags in the back and were on our way. I was to find out much later there was an Alfa Romeo waiting for him at his residence in San Francisco.
At first, I thought Robert would head over to Rt. 170, then to the 5 and on up to San Francisco. But he didn’t. Instead, he circled around and entered Rt. 1. We were on our way to Malibu and points north.
“This will take longer. Is that okay?”
“I’m in no hurry. I love the coast route.” It was almost two o’clock when we left Santa Monica. I knew we wouldn’t make San Francisco before dark and wondered what he had planned.
I’ve always enjoyed driving along the coast but that day and that ride began to etch its way into my memory like no other journey. We were halfway to Santa Barbara when we ran out of small talk. After a few minutes of silence, Robert opened up, “I’m really glad you decided to come along with me. What made you change your mind?”
I smiled and put my hand on his leg, “The way you said ‘please’ in the lobby.” I took my hand back and realized we had just made a connection I had been attempting to avoid. It felt good but I wondered where it would lead. We said little to one another after that, but I knew the wheels were turning in that beautiful head of his.
As we approached Pismo Beach I brought up the subject of stopping for the night. “The Cliffs Hotel is up ahead. We could stop there for the night.”
“Actually, I have a place in Shell Beach. It sleeps six so you’d have plenty of privacy. There are some great places locally where we can eat.”
I smiled and looked at him. “Robert … I didn’t come along with you for privacy.”
He grabbed my hand and brought it to his mouth and kissed it. I pulled my hand away, “I’d feel much safer if you kept both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road … Mr. Miller.”
“Okay … Mr. Kent.” He laughed for the first time since we left Santa Monica. It sounded more like the laughter of relief. Half an hour later we pulled into the driveway of a beautiful well maintained cottage. I could hear the ocean crashing against the shore as we got out of the car.
“We can stow the luggage inside, then go get something to eat.”
I followed him through the front door into the foyer where we placed our luggage. He moved to the front door.
“Wait a minute, Robert.”
He stopped and looked at me.
“Come here, please.” It finally dawned on me that his hesitancy was shyness which I found very endearing. He moved in front of me as I put my arms around his neck and drew him closer. His shyness vanished when I saw the eagerness in his eyes. Our mouths met and our tongues intertwined furiously. I had to push him away slightly to catch my breath. “I don’t do one night stands … in case you’re wondering.”
His face lit up, “Nor do I.” He moved in again for a lingering encounter. His warmth, his smell, and strength took my breath away. We reluctantly left the cottage to feed our bodies, with the anticipation of quenching the longing of our souls later.
That night of lovemaking with Robert still lingers in my mind’s eye. I had to shush him a few times when he began to apologize for his lack of experience. “It’s okay. If you don’t get it right, we’ll just have to do it over and over again until you do get it right. Deal?
He gave a sigh of relief, relaxed, and whispered, “Deal.”
We stayed an additional day in Shell Beach as we got to know one another and realized we had more in common than I initially thought possible or imagined – though I was still concerned about the class thing. We continued to see one another on a regular basis after returning to San Francisco – until about a year later when he suggested we move in together.
I said no to the offer to which he visually wilted in front of me. “It’s not that I wouldn’t like to.”
“Than what is it?”
“Robert … financially I just can’t do it. I don’t make the kind of money you do, and I don’t want to wind up being kept by you or anyone else.
I could see the tears welling in his eyes – I turned away.
“Mason, I love you. I’m in love with you. I don’t want to go on like this … seeing you now and then. I want you to be part of my life every day … every night.”
“I’m sorry, Robert. Please try and understand.”
“If we were married … would that…”
“If you marry me would that work for you?”
I threw my arms around his neck and practically choked him I was so moved by the gesture. And then he whispered the word that grabs me every time.
“Mason … please.”
Against my better judgment, I did move in with Robert. Thankfully, he never brought the subject of marriage up after that – until now.
The bread had risen twice and was ready for the oven. I set the temperature at 420 degrees, put the timer on thirty minutes, placed the bread pans in the oven and closed the door. Then I went to my desk and began working on dialogue for the novel I was writing. When the oven buzzer sounded, I went to the kitchen and turned it off.
As I opened the oven door, the doorbell rang. I thought it odd and chuckled when I thought it might be the Fuller Brush man or at best, Ed McMahon. I pressed the intercom. “Yes.”
“Claire Ricci here. May I come up?”
I could not have been more surprised. “I’m sorry, Claire, Robert isn’t here.”
“I’ve come to see you, Mason … if that’s all right.”
I was surprised. “Yes, of course. Please, come in.” I pressed the entrance door release and left the front door ajar. I retrieved the bread from the oven and was placing the loaves on the cooling rack when I heard a soft knock on the door. “Come on in, Claire.”
When I sensed her at the kitchen door, I looked up, “Hi.”
“I should have called ahead but I wasn’t sure you would see me. Mason, what is that divine aroma? And you have a canary.”
“Indeed I do. His name is Birdie, and that aroma is fresh French bread. Would you like some?”
“I do. I’m very domesticated. Pull up a stool and I’ll slice this beauty.” As I retrieved butter and jam from the fridge, “With your figure, you probably don’t eat stuff like this.”
“I’ll make an exception today – what a treat. Is that sour cherry jam?”
“It is … direct from Italy.”
“Oh, my goodness.”
I poured two cups of tea and sat across from my guest. “I’ll let the bread cool for a few minutes before cutting it.
“You’re probably here about Saturday night. Please accept my apology for disrupting what promised to be a lovely affair. I promise it will never happen again.”
“What do you mean it won’t happen again?”
“Robert will come alone from now on … if there is another time.”
“No, no. Mason, please don’t say that. You will always be welcome. Robert told us later that you got married purposely so that you could come as a couple. It wasn’t your fault, and I would have done the same thing had I been in your place. Oh, Mason. I had no idea that would happen.”
“I did, and almost didn’t come, but Robert assured me it would be okay. I wish I had paid attention to my instincts.”
“But how could you have known?’
“Being gay all my life, I’ve learned the hard way that bigotry is always near and ready to raise its ugly head when you least expect it.”
“Mark and I spent the better part of Sunday discussing what should be done.”
“Please don’t be concerned about me. It’s Robert I’m worried about. I’ve lived with that man for seven years and can read him like a book … which, by the way, annoys the hell out of him.” I laughed.
“Mark loves your Robert like a Son. He comments about his contributions to the firm all the time.”
“I know. It’s that brain of his. I’m surprised he’s put up with me all these years. And that brings up a good point – his contributions. I know only too well that Robert has put his heart and soul into the work he does for the firm … as well as the successes he’s achieved. God only knows the nights I’ve spent alone while he’s working in our library until the wee hours of the morning.”
I smiled and winked at my guest and whispered, “I put those lonely hours to good use … I learned to cook.”
“I hope Robert appreciates your efforts.”
“He does.” I laughed, “But I have to remind him ever’ so often.
“So, here’s some advice … from me and my experience with him. It goes without saying that my relationship with Robert, our marriage, and his career take priority over everything else. How the firm will play in our future remains to be seen.”
She put her teacup down. “Mason, I’m not sure what you mean.”
“The way I see it … is … if Mr. Ricci and the other partners value Robert as much as I believe they do, they had better do something quick or they will probably lose him, which is why I’m saying this to you now.”
“Robert hasn’t said as much, but as I’ve said, I know him better than anyone else. I’m convinced he is good enough at what he does that he no longer needs the firm. And mum is the word that I’ve said this. If he ever finds out I’ve spoken to you like this … he will kill me.”
“Yes, of course. But, Mason, I hardly know what to say.”
“If he should leave the firm and begin his own practice, my fear is that it will become so successful, my relationship with Robert will fade into the background or worse. He needs me as much as I need him but, if that equation is broken, who knows where we will wind up.
“Up until now, Robert’s success has been based on his knowledge of the law and how he has implemented it. If he begins his own law firm and it becomes general knowledge that he’s gay, on top of his expertise with the law, I’m convinced demand for his services will increase tenfold.
“When that success happens, I would rather it happen while he’s associated with Ricci, Wong, and Ramano, where he can take advantage of its resources rather than shoulder everything himself.
“Bottom line, Claire … if the firm has been considering him for partnership, I suggest they act on it … fast, for all of our sakes.
“I hope my logic is apparent.”
“Mason … your logic is perfectly clear, and I do understand only too well those nights alone.” She stared at me for many seconds – I could see the wheels turning in her beautiful head.
“Would you excuse me for a moment, I need to make a phone call. Is there somewhere…?”
I pointed to the hallway, “Turn left, second door on your right. It’s our library.”
As she walked out of the room, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. The power-behind-the-throne has just gone into action.’
I was washing up the dishes when she returned.
“Here, let me dry.”
“No, that’s okay.”
I laughed, “Okay. Clean towels are in that cabinet.”
We finished cleaning up and settled at the counter.
“Mason, all you need is a puppy running around to make your home perfect.”
“Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Maybe someday … if we ever get into a home of our own. That reminds me. I’ve been at the cottage in Shell Beach once. I never asked Robert, but who owns it?”
“The firm owns it. It’s there for a retreat when needed.”
“Well, I think Robert and I need it. I’m going to ask him to take some time off.”
“Yes, of course. Just let Mark’s secretary know the dates and she’ll make sure you are not disturbed.”
“Great. Thanks … more bread?”
“I’d love it. And that sour cherry jam … where did you get it?
“Ross dress for less.”
“I’m afraid I’ve never been there.”
I thought to myself ‘That’s no surprise’. “Not to worry. It only shows up occasionally and I buy all of it. Would you like to take a jar with you?”
“Yes, I would. Mark will be so pleased. Thank you. Tell me … when I was in the library I noticed several books with the name Hunter Kent on them. Is that a relative?”
“Oh, no … that’s me.”
“Yes, of course. I completely forgot that you did mention you were a novelist.”
“It keeps me busy.”
“How very interesting. I’m an avid reader.”
“What do you like – romance, drama, or murder?”
A sheepish grin flooded her face, “Murder.”
“Claire, I have just the book for you. It hasn’t been published yet but I have copies.” I went to the library, brought a copy back to the kitchen, signed it, and laid it in front of her.
‘IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT LOVE. SOMETIMES IT’S ABOUT MURDER.’ She looked up, “Sounds delicious.”
I smiled devilishly, “It is.” I glanced at the kitchen clock. “Do you realize what time it is?”
“Oh, gosh. I have to get going.”
I laughed, “Our husbands will be home soon.”
She stopped and turned – then began to laugh. “Yes, they will. I’m so very happy I came over.”
“So am I.”
“Yes, of course. I can always use a hug.
She embraced me and whispered, “Thank you.”
“Here, don’t forget your Sour Cherry jam.”
She laughed, dropped it in her bag and was out the door.
I could only imagine what the mysterious phone call was about. But I was pretty sure if she exercised her power-behind-the-throne, it would be very effective. Three hours later, I found out.
I was in the kitchen prepping for Egg Foo Yung, Robert’s favorite, when I heard the front door open and close.
He was late but that was not unusual. He came to the door and said nothing. When I looked around, he was casually leaning against the door jamb – smiling. I noticed the two cups on the counter and wondered if he saw them. He did.
“Who was here?”
“You drank out of two cups?”
“And one of them has lipstick on it.” He looked at me. “This isn’t Rose’s day to clean. And I don’t ever remember seeing her … or you … wearing lipstick.”
“You’re right about that. But there’s a first time for everything.” I turned away to conceal a grin.
He sat at the counter and waited. He knew I was playing the moment.
I sat across from him. “So … how was your day?”
He was smiling and pursing his lips at the same time while he waited.
“Oh … okay. Claire Ricci was here this afternoon.”
“She was concerned and came to see if I was all right?”
“And, I served some French bread, gave her a jar of Sour Cherry Jam, and one of my books – she likes murder.”
“Yes, she does.”
“Well, she’s gonna love the murder I’m about to commit if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
“We just had a nice chat. You’re upset. Would you like a Valium?”
He began to laugh, “No, I would not like a Valium. Did she make any phone calls?”
“Um … I believe she did.”
“I don’t know … around two or three I think. Maybe. Why?” The suspense was building. I tried to be cool.
“I was in a meeting about a case we’re litigating when Mark’s secretary came in, which she never does when we’re in a meeting. As she whispered something to Mark, he practically jumped out of his chair and excused himself. When he returned, he postponed the meeting and asked Greg and Paul to stay.
“I didn’t think anything of it until I was ready to leave; Mark called me into his office.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“You know … don’t you?”
“Know what for heaven’s sake? Robert, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re lying to me, aren’t you?”
“I never lie to you … well … not often.” I grabbed the two cups and went to the sink.
He came over, spun me around and stared into my eyes. “You definitely had something to do with it. I know you better than you think I do.”
“Something to do about what?”
He enfolded me in his arms, buried his face in my neck and whispered, “Partnership. They offered me a partnership.”
“Robert, I swear to God I didn’t know. That’s wonderful. I’m so pleased for you.”
“What were the two of you talking about before she made the call?”
“I can’t remember specifically. I was just telling her how concerned I was about you and your relationship with the firm.”
“Well … I may have mentioned that you might be leaving them.”
“You devil.” He stared at me for a few seconds, then grabbed my hand and pulled me into the hallway.
“Robert … The Egg Foo Yong?”
“Not a word out of you.” He continued to pull me into the bedroom and stopped. “STRIP – NOW!”
“My socks too?”
“Especially your socks.”
“But my feet get cold.”
“Not when I get finished with them.”
“I’m taking a shower first.”
“No! We … are taking a shower.” He began to disrobe.
He was no longer the novice love maker I had met in Santa Monica. I knew what he liked now and a shower was a definite essential. We began in the shower and finished on the bed. Sex with another human can be very satisfying, but when love is thrown into the mix … it becomes utterly insane.
When the passion cooled, we lay peacefully in one another’s arms. Robert kissed my forehead and whispered, “I could use some of that Egg Foo Yung now.”
I smiled and snuggled a little closer, “In a minute.”
“That reminds me.”
“Where did that lamb come from . . . you had for breakfast the other morning?”
“Ginny gave it to me.”
I began to laugh and sat up in bed and stared at my husband.
“You are such an adorable snob.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. Ginny was the cook at the Ricci’s.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Of course, you didn’t. While you were so busy drinking scotch and smoking cigars at your ‘class’ reunion with the boys around the fireplace, I spent some time with her in the kitchen getting an education on what was about to be served … before the disaster happened. She’s quite a lovely, down-to-earth lady. She came after me when I walked out of the house and met me at the street with a container of lamb.”
“Mason, I had no idea.”
I folded myself into his embrace. “I know you didn’t and it’s okay. She out-classed the lot of you, thank God.”
“I’m so very sorry I stayed. I was caught between a rock and a hard place and made the wrong decision. I’m so ashamed of myself. Can you forgive me?”
“After that little display of affection you just dragged me into … yes, you’re forgiven. How could I not? I guess I could forgive you almost anything … even murder.” I moved to the edge of the bed, stood, and smiled at my mate. “Come on, I’ll make that Egg Foo Yung now.”
He rolled over to the edge of the bed, “Wait.”
I turned as he reached out, took his hand, I sat on the bed again and smiled.
“I’m so happy we’re married. I promise you’ll never regret it.”
“You better keep that promise or I’ll use that new electric kitchen knife I bought, and change you from a rooster into a hen in one swipe.”
He burst out laughing so hard I thought he’d roll off the bed. “No, you won’t. I happen to know how much you enjoy having it right where it is.”
“Yeah, I suppose your right. Hey.”
“About the wedding.”
“Oh, yeah … the wedding.”
“I’d like to invite Ginny and her husband along with the others … except for…”
“Don’t worry about her. Don told me he sent her off to the Betty Ford clinic. She’ll be there for a while.”
“But when she gets out … I’d like to mend that fence … if it’s all right with you.”
“Okay, but why?”
“For a couple of reasons. First, it’s one way of fighting back.”
“Fighting back with kindness and understanding. Give her a chance to maybe realize that she might be wrong about us. About you and me. Just maybe, she might see there is no difference between us and her marriage.”
“Well, there is a difference.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that one, but the second reason is far more important. The dinner party incident threw a mighty wedge into the firm’s family. Now that you’re a junior partner, I want to…”
“Wait a minute.”
“Yeah … isn’t that what they offered you?”
Robert smiled and shook his head slightly.
“If not Jun…ior … oh, my God. Not full?”
He just kept smiling.
“No, I’m not kidding. I’m not certain what you said to Claire but she lit a fire under Mark, that’s for sure.”
“Holy cow.” I sat staring at Robert until he grabbed me and drew me into an embrace.
“None of this would be happening without you, and I don’t want you to ever forget it.”
“All the more reason for me to try and heal the rift with dear, sweet Judy. The ball will be in her court. It will be up to her to bring us all together again. I’m hoping she will rise to the occasion. And another thing. I think we should move the wedding into February. How about around Valentine’s Day?”
I could see the tears welling in his eyes as he pulled me back and wrapped his arms around me. He gave out a great sigh which felt like he was trying to cover a sob. His voice quivered ever so slightly as he whispered, “I will be so honored to marry you again anytime, anywhere.”
I smiled to myself as we clung to one another. And, he was right … my feet didn’t get cold.
The days and weeks that followed were so serene, I wondered sometimes if I was dreaming. As the reality of the partnership came into being, I sensed a side of Robert I did not expect.
When I discovered no immediate announcement was planned for Robert’s elevation within the firm, I suggested he take some time off and we go to the Shell Beach cottage. He was so engaged with his new responsibilities, I was surprised when he didn’t hesitate at the chance for us to get away together.
It was only a one week get-away, but I would have been happy to have him all to myself for less than that. He was still asleep as I turned on the coffee maker, and broke three eggs into a bowl. A little milk, sea salt, a fist full of shredded chicken, vigorous whisking, and breakfast was on its way.
I turned the flame down to give our favorite breakfast food time to properly cook but purposely made enough noise setting the table to rouse my exhausted partner. I heard him yawning and then the familiar grunt, “Where are my slippers?”
I yelled, “Under the bed,” as I turned the heat off under the eggs and opened the package of Colby and Monterey Jack shredded cheese, the pièce de résistance topping.
I heard him shuffling across the wooden floor as I turned the pan of eggs onto a platter and began dicing them before adding the cheese.
“It’s too beautiful a day to sleep. You can nap this afternoon if you like.” I placed the platter on the table and poured coffee into our cups.
“You plan the day. Didn’t realize how tired I was.” He yawned and sipped his coffee.
It seemed like a good time to bring up the subject of the guest list or at least I thought it was. “About the guest list … are there any folks in your family who should be included?” I immediately saw my timing was off, but I waited patiently for an answer.
“No. There is no one.”
I was somewhat stunned by the finality of his reply and simply stared at him not knowing what to say. The way he hunched over and stared into his coffee cup, I knew he was about to say something, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it.
“I never told you this before. But, I have no family.”
I blinked my eyes and stared at him. “What?”
“I was raised in an orphanage.”
“But your education and travels in Europe. How…”
“There was someone who helped me.”
“Someone … who helped you?” I cringed inside as my suspicion grew as to where this conversation was going.
“A lawyer who worked for the orphanage.”
“Helped you? What are you talking about?” It was painfully obvious he was struggling to continue. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. “He kept you …didn’t he?” In a lingering whisper, “just like you’ve been keeping me.” Suddenly my world turned upside down. I stood and turned away, too stunned to think.
Robert stood and reached across the table. “It’s not like that, Mason. It’s not like that at all.”
I felt like throwing up as I stumbled out of the kitchen and into the bedroom and shut the door. All I wanted to do was get away, far away from what I feared would happen when he first asked me to move in with him. I was trapped and had nowhere to go as I collapsed onto the bed.
When the door burst open, I turned my head away and shut my eyes. I was incapable of understanding the words being yelled at me. It didn’t sound like the Robert I knew – they were angry words, street fighter words I once heard in the courtroom, uncompromising, insistent. When he grabbed me and yanked me into a standing position, I wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
The words stopped as he embraced me with all his strength I was on the verge of gasping. “Robert, I can’t breathe.”
He released me and grabbed my head between his big hands, pulling me to his face. I opened my eyes and saw tears running from his blazing eyes staring into mine with such intensity
“God dammit, Mason. I vowed my life to you. Did you mean it when you vowed yours to me?”
I searched the angry expression on his beautiful face and began to giggle as I nodded.
“What the fuck are you laughing at?”
“Dammit is not God’s last name … remember?” I threw my arms around him and squeezed with all my might as we both broke into laughter. “I’m so sorry I reacted that way. My hidden insecurities just popped out.”
We stood together for a few moments squeezing the life out of each other, then went back to the kitchen and sat at the table where he told me everything about the elderly wealthy lawyer who cared for Robert as if he were his own son. When he passed away, he left everything to Robert.
“We never made love like you and I make love … never. He was too elderly though I know he wanted to.
I had to ask. “How did you know?”
“The way he looked at me. The same way you look at me.”
“You mean, never …?”
“We tried, but it was too late.”
“I’m so sorry, Robert.”
“Sorry? Sorry for what?”
“That he never experienced you the way I have.”
We didn’t leave the cottage that day and took advantage of being alone with time on our hands which we used to get to know one another all over again.
We did get around to deciding on the guest list and had just agreed the date should be as close to Valentine’s Day as possible when he stopped and looked at me. If there is such a thing as an epiphany expression, Robert had one. I put my cup down and smiled, “What?”
He smiled. “Gift.”
“Yeah, what gift would you like?”
“Our wedding day. Isn’t it appropriate to exchange gifts?”
“Yes, but it’s not mandatory.”
“So, what would you like?”
I laughed. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Okay. Let me know when you decide.”
“I will.” I already knew what I wanted but didn’t plan on asking. Besides, it was already the end of January, and Valentine’s Day wasn’t that far away. Even if Robert liked the idea, he wouldn’t be able to pull that gift out of his hat. So, on the way back to San Francisco, I decided to suggest the next best thing. I casually brought up the subject of a wedding gift.
“Oh, you’ve decided on something?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Do I have to guess or are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not going to tell you … I’m going to suggest.”
“Okay, suggest away.”
“How does the idea of a larger apartment sound to you?” When he didn’t answer, I continued, “We’ve been climbing over one another ever since I moved in, and now that you’re a partner…”
“Yes, I like the idea. But you’re going to have to do all the work. I won’t have the time.”
“You mean it.”
“It’s a great idea, but are you up to it?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then it’s settled. When you find the place you like, we’ll take a look at it and go from there.”
I thought to myself, ‘That was easy.’ Then the thought that it might have been a little too easy crossed my mind. We agreed that nothing could be done until after the wedding but that didn’t stop me from looking for another place. There were no available units in the building we lived in so I began looking farther afield as well as making preparations for the wedding.
I rented the garden reception room at the Fairmont and engaged the event manager to take care of the details which she handled beautifully, and before I knew it – the day arrived. Robert and I agreed that it was to be a semi-formal affair leaning more toward the casual. He and I dressed in black slacks and white linen shirts open at the collar.
There were only twenty-four guests who surprised us when the ceremony began. None of them took the seats provided. They closed in around us and the justice of the peace which just about had me in tears it was so touching.
We exchanged our vows and put our wedding bands on our fingers and then the justice announced that we were partners – again. Everyone laughed and clapped as the four musicians we selected began the first waltz.
Robert and I took to the dance floor and were moving in step with the music when I noticed a very large box on the gift table. I looked at Robert and squinted. “Who brought the big box?”
“I have no idea.”
His smile told me he was lying. “Robert?”
“Okay. It’s from Mark and Clair.”
“What in the world is it?”
As the music came to an end, we walked over to the table followed by everyone. “You know what’s in there, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.” He was smiling as a few tears ran down his cheeks.
“Claire … Mark? What’s going on?”
Claire sidled up to me. “Well, open it and find out.”
It was obvious that everyone knew what it was, except for me so, I reached over and pulled an end of the big bow on top. As the bow came undone, the sides of the box fell away, revealing a beautiful to-scale structure of a three-story Victorian home.
I looked at Claire and Mark. “It’s very beautiful.”
Mark looked at Robert. “You tell him.”
“It’s a replica of a real home that Mark and Claire own. They’re giving it to us for as long as we like.”
For the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words. I just stared at Claire with my mouth slightly open.
“Well, it’s been empty for years and needs someone to take care of it. Besides, it has a large fenced yard for that puppy.”
Robert came up behind me and put his arms around me. “The one I’m giving you as a wedding gift.”
I turned around and looked up at him. “How did you know?”
He laughed. “Claire told me.”
When the reception hall door opened and two people, I did not expect, walked in, “Oh, my God. Would you all excuse me, please?” I heard muffled comments as I made my way to the entrance.
“Judy, I’m so glad you could make it.”
“I wasn’t sure…”
“…Not another word. You look beautiful and are most welcome.” As the musicians began playing I asked my unexpected guest, “May I? I’ll let you lead if you like,” and laughed.
“Thank you, Mason.” As we walked to the dance floor I yelled, “Napkins, please. We need napkins here. There are tears running fast and furious.” Everyone dashed forward to accommodate us. I gave a sigh of relief with my decision not to have alcohol served at our reception. There would be no temptation this evening as we took to the dance floor.
During the course of the afternoon, we managed to open all of our gifts and have photographs taken of us and the gift-givers. But it was the Victorian house that captivated my attention. I had all I could do to keep from asking the unending questions that popped into my mind.
The French doors to the terrace were opened as the daylight waned and outdoor torches were lit. The brisk breeze from the Bay invigorated everyone to get outside and dance. Robert and I danced alone to the final music of the evening. It was a tune I selected. One of the musicians we hired was also a vocalist and was kind enough to sing …
Let there be you
Let there be me
Let there be oysters
Under the sea
Let there be wind
An occasional rain
Chile con carne
Let there be birds
To sing in the trees
Someone to bless me
Whenever I sneeze
Let there be cuckoos
A lark and a dove
But first of all, please
Let there be love
And so, the celebration of our union came to an end with much laughter and applause as everyone joined us in the final dance.
I found out the next morning, as we lay abed, that the house was ours, all we had to do was keep it up and pay the property taxes and insurance which amounted to a tidy sum all by itself. It was partially furnished with antiques Claire had rescued from God only knows where, and Robert gave me carte blanche to find whatever else we required to set up housekeeping.
As we nibbled on breakfast, I finally asked, “What about this puppy you’re giving me?”
“I don’t exactly have it. You’ll have to decide on the breed.”
“In that case, I think we should take a look at an animal shelter and see if any pups are available. Rescuing a mixed breed is more to my liking. They live longer and are healthier in most cases.”
I found the right pup a few weeks after we moved into our home. Imagine that … our home. I never thought I would say those words. I named him Max as we began housebreaking training. There were no carpets except for the bedroom which was kept closed until Max figured out that doing his business needed to be taken care of outside.
We did eventually discuss adopting children, but that’s a story for another day. The day Robert passed away, he had just turned 86, is also another story I’m not ready to write about yet. Aside from the pain of the loss, there continue to be the little day-to-day reminders that he was no longer with me. I’m seriously thinking of letting the Victorian go – cutting the final cord which I know will help, but still. We’ll see.
In looking back on my life with Robert, I suppose anyone in a similar situation would ask – was it worth it? As for me … you bet it was.