Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Taken off guard

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation. A scene in which Nina, the protagonist, is saying goodbye to her new boyfriend when her ex-husband happens upon them both.)

Out on the street we determine that our cars are in opposite directions and that I need to go back to my office to pick up some “homework” so we stop on the sidewalk to say out goodbyes. I have the urge to invite him over for the evening, but fight it off. This will do for today.

“I like this,” I say and move a bit closer to Oliver.

He puts his arms around me and kisses my forehead. I see someone approaching us and realize that it’s Jack. I pull away quickly and Oliver seems confused.

“Nina,” Jack says in greeting to me, but looking at Oliver.

I know him well enough to know that he’s taken off guard, but he’s a good showman.

“Oliver,” I say and take hold of his hand, mad at myself for having pulled away. “This is Jack.”

Jack shoots his hand out for Oliver to shake, forcing him to release mine. Oliver does so and then puts his arm around me. A bubble seems to form around the three of us, some bizarre snow globe effect of three people on the street, caught in an inescapable moment. I imagine us each miming our hands around the inside of the glass, feeling for a way out.

 “Oliver,” Jack repeats. “Nina has mentioned you. You’ll have to forgive my surprise at being face to face with you.”

“Likewise,” Oliver says casually and I love that Jack’s desired effect on him isn’t taking.

“What are you doing here, Jack?” I question without regard to couth.

“Nice to see you too,” Jack says with a curt little laugh. “I was just on my way to an appointment. What are you doing here?”

“I work here.”

Jack looks around him and up at the building.

“Still?” he asks and looks around like he’s finding himself somewhere he didn’t mean to be. “Working late?”

“No, just coming back from dinner. Anyway,” I say. “Interesting running into you. We really have to get going.”

“Recess over?” Jack says and tries to level Oliver with the jab.

 “Good one,” Oliver says and gives Jack a playful slap on the arm. “Nina,” Oliver says and pulls me to him, kisses me like he would without Jack there. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turns back to Jack and offers a handshake again. “Nice to meet you, Jack. Take it easy.”

Oliver winks at me and walks off.  Jack stands his ground saying nothing more until Oliver is out of earshot. Before Oliver disappears into the crowd on the street I see him glance back at us.

“Nina,” Jack says in some sort of condescension that he can’t seem to control. “Are you kidding?  He’s a child.”

“And you’re an asshole,” I say and turn to go into the safety of my office building.

Jack reaches out and catches me by the arm. I stop and turn back to him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “That whole deal there. I was caught off guard. I actually came this way on purpose. I wanted to see you.”

“What about the whole ‘oh yeah you work here’ bit?” I say and shake free from him.

“Total crock,” he says. “I just didn’t expect to see you with someone. I didn’t think you were serious when you said you were with some guy.”



“Oliver,” I say again.

The city is busy around us. Tourists, business people and local hippie types walk the same paths. Smells waft from local eateries and the chime chime of store doors opening and closing sounds around us.

“Can I take you to dinner?” Jack asks.

“We already ate,” I say. I look at my watch and pretend that I’m late and need to go inside.

“Coffee?” Jack says, not giving in.

“It’s a little too late.”

“For coffee?” Jack says. “Get decaf.”

“For this,” I say, losing patience. “We’ve already hired lawyers and drawn up papers.”

“That you haven’t signed,” he says.

“Yet,” I say.

“Come on,” Jack says. “You can’t be serious about this guy. I get it. You’re sad, or mad. At me. The world. Your father passed. I wasn’t there for you. You’re searching for some new Nina and this kid fits your need for something new right now.”

“Don’t tell me why I do what I do, or feel what I feel,” I say, suddenly angry and exposed. “Don’t pretend that you’ve had a change of heart. I know you want out and this is all just a slap to your ego.”

 “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, Nina,” he says. “I’m just stating the truth here. Am I wrong?”

I don’t answer and I know that Jack is taking that as proof of his point. He reaches out to me again and I step back from him. He likes this. This is what he’s good at. I know any response will be met with a biting remark and I’m suddenly much too unhinged at the moment to try and win.

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