Starting Over, by Wayne Scheer
I had always thought of Gina as more Linda’s friend than mine, so after Linda and I separated I didn’t contact her. So it felt good when she called to invite me over for dinner.
“I’ll make a spaghetti dinner, like in the old days,” Gina said.
Pasta may be the only thing Gina cooked. I remember whenever she invited Linda and me to her place, she’d make spaghetti with sausage and peppers, a spinach and anchovy salad with pistachio ice cream for dessert. This night the meal was exactly the same, except the spinach salad had bacon instead of anchovy.
“I never really liked anchovies,” I admitted. “Linda loved them. She’d even put them on grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“I know,” Gina said. “Now you don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to.”
I thought about the two tins of anchovies I had picked up at the supermarket the first time I shopped to stock my new cupboards. I guess I bought them out of habit. Even I couldn’t imagine Linda returning because I kept canned fish in my condominium.
We ate our meal, drank a good Merlot I brought because Gina enjoyed a dry red, and listened to nostalgic songs. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
At first, our conversation didn’t quite qualify as small talk, more like tiny talk, but Gina showed no patience for polite chitchat. She cut through the stalled chatter to say she had spoken to Linda only once since Clyde, Linda’s new friend, moved in. She told Linda she thought Clyde was a loser.
“Fucking him is fine, I told her. But don’t let him move in.”
I cringed. No one ever accused Gina of sensitivity.
I’m sure Linda has convinced herself she loves Clyde. Sometimes I think the reason she married me was because she felt guilty we had become lovers before becoming friends.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression of Linda. She’s a good woman and I’m not really angry with her. My friends say I should be, as if I need their permission.
I tell them I’m plenty angry at Clyde. I even hit him in the face as I was moving the last of my stuff out of the house. He just waltzed in, using his own key, saw me standing there and, without saying a word, walked to the refrigerator and took out a beer. Not thinking, I spun him around and punched him in the face. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a fighter. I barely tightened my fist, so it was more a bitch slap than a punch.
He shrugged and walked out the door, taking the beer with him.
The reason I’m not mad at Linda is, although we had a good marriage for about ten years, it took us another ten to admit the good times were in the past. It’s like the oak tree that grew in front of our house and appeared healthy. One day it just keeled over. I hired a crew to remove the tree, and they showed me how the main taproot had rotted. One of the workers said, “The tree died years ago. It just took time before it realized it.”
But we raised a wonderful daughter together and Wendy is as close to me as she is to her mother. It’s a terrible cliché, but I think we had stayed together for her sake. Or maybe we were too busy raising her to realize we had nothing in common but Wendy and history. Once Wendy went off to college, it became painfully obvious.
As Gina and I ate our spaghetti, she asked if the breakup had hit me yet, the shock of realizing what had happened.
“I understand what happened,” I said. “I used to be married. Now I’m not.”
“You should feel like shit because you were dumped,” she so delicately put it. “You should hate Linda, at least for now.”
I assured her I was dealing in my own way. “I’m putting in more time than ever at work. And I’m actually enjoying it.” I’m a financial advisor and I’d gotten lazy, steering clients only towards safe products my company advised. “Lately,” I said, “I’ve been researching new directions. Work is more creative than ever.”
“Bullshit,” Gina said. “Getting yourself involved in work is good, but you need to be careful not to get lost in it.”
I was about to get defensive and tell her to fix her own damn life before offering advice. She hadn’t had a steady relationship since her divorce about five years earlier. But before I could speak she grabbed my hand and said, “What you need is a fuck buddy.”
“You need a friend you can call up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Come over and fuck me now before I do something dumb like call my ex-wife.’ ”
“Sort of like an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, only sexier,” I joked, having trouble taking her seriously. “Or like having a hooker on speed dial.”
She looked up from her spaghetti, unamused.
“You never knew Sean, the guy I met just after my divorce. I told you and Linda about him.”
“You mean the guy who turned out to be married?”
“Yeah. I didn’t say he had evolved much from the hunter/scavenger species, but he made a fine fuck buddy.” She paused to push her plate beyond arm’s reach. “I’d call him at his job and he’d be here that night with a bottle of J& B and a pack of condoms.”
I think I may have blushed. I know women talk this way to one another, but men aren’t usually privy to this side of female bonding. I tried changing the conversation by commenting on the wine.
Gina kept right at it.
“I always felt better after my third orgasm.” She stood up to clear the table and added. “Until I found out what a bastard he was, of course.”
My head reeled from the “third orgasm” comment. I wondered what Gina was like in bed and if I could keep up.
I helped her with the dishes while she made a pot of coffee. I had never been attracted to Gina–something about her dark hair and small Italian frame reminded me too much of the women in my own family. But I missed the familiarity of helping in the kitchen. Even after she told me to make myself comfortable while she brought the ice cream, I stayed to clean the counter top and the drains in the sink. When she reached for the coffee cups, I noticed how tight and round her ass was and how her breasts still appeared firm, even though her fortieth birthday had passed two years earlier.
I recalled Linda telling me once after trying on bathing suits with Gina, “She’s amazing. Her boobs still bounce.”
I poured myself coffee, and Gina brought out a half-opened box of ice cream and two spoons. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but I don’t want to get more dishes dirty.” Sharing ice cream from the carton seemed such an intimate gesture, I almost wept. I followed her into the living room and sat on her well-worn couch. I wondered if the sofa I had bought for my condo would ever feel this comfortable.
She changed the CD’s, switching to soft jazz. Wynton Marsalis and Al Jarreau.
She brought out what was left of the wine. In the old days, she and Linda would finish off the bottle after dinner while I switched to coffee. This time, she filled both of our glasses.
Joining me on the couch, she took a sip from her glass and said, “I want to be your fuck buddy.”
After staring at her to make sure she wasn’t joking, I put down my coffee and drank the wine.
“We’re friends. We’d make great fuck buddies.”
It’s not that I was totally surprised. The evening had been leading towards this moment, at least in my mind. But it was like when an elderly relative dies. You may not be surprised, but the shock is real.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” she asked.
I noticed how dark and deep her eyes were. I tried to speak, but she moved closer to me.
As soon as I felt her lips, thicker and softer than Linda’s, I responded with an erection. When our tongues met, I nearly embarrassed myself right there on the couch.
Soon, we moved to the bedroom. It was awkward at first. I hadn’t been with another woman since I had met Linda, and the few I had known before that, mainly high school and college girls, were clearly not in Gina’s sexual league. Neither was I. Linda and I were compatible lovers. We satisfied each other’s needs, but Gina created new desires.
When Gina found a position that worked, she moaned. “Don’t stop. God, don’t stop.” And she’d burst into short, intense spasms. Instead of resting, she’d get a second or third wind and concentrate on arousing me until we were both at it again.
I surprised myself by lasting much longer than I suspected I was capable of. When I finally reached orgasm, I exploded with an intensity I thought, rather proudly, would have made a porn star jealous.
That’s when I realized the porn analogy played all too real. As exciting as the sex was, I worked at demonstrating to myself and maybe to Linda that I was spontaneous enough to fuck her friend. I wasn’t trying to satisfy Gina, I was trying to prove I could.
I feared Gina felt it, too. When we finally exhausted ourselves, she rolled over, kissed me softly and said, “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”
I held her in my arms, unable to speak.
After a while, she said, “But you’re not the fuck buddy type, are you?”
“No, I guess not.” I started to apologize, fearing it was my performance she was commenting on.
“You’re a strange man, Frank. You’re just like Linda. You need to be in love.”
I knew she was right.
I held her for a while. Then I got out of bed and dressed. She didn’t try to stop me.
Linda and I still haven’t officially filed for divorce, although it’s been nearly five months since I moved out. I’ve even had a few dates with a woman at work. I talk with Gina and Linda regularly. Linda and I even traveled together a month ago to visit Wendy. We avoided talking about Clyde and Gina. On the ride home, Linda thanked me for being so rational and non-judgmental. I felt my heart pound. I gripped the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt. I changed the subject.
Not long after that, Linda called me to say she had kicked Clyde out of her house because he was cheating on her.
My reaction surprised me. Rather than listen sympathetically, I exploded. “It’s about fucking time,” I shouted. “And why are you telling me? Why do you think I care?” I heard her gasp. I slammed the receiver so hard it cracked in my hand.
For the next few minutes I paced like a caged animal, barely able to catch my breath. I picked up a half-filled coffee cup and threw it across the room. Dark coffee ran down the white wall.
The phone rang. It was Gina.
Linda had called her. “Good for you. It’s about time.”
We spoke for a while and I asked if she had ever told Linda about us.
“Yes,” she said, without comment.
I told her I needed to call Linda.
My hands shook as I tapped out her number. When she answered, she apologized before I could speak. “I’ve been a bitch and I’ve treated you like dirt.”
After a long silence, she whispered, “I never stopped loving you, Frank.”
I hesitated before admitting my love for her.
She spoke in a whisper. “W-would you like to move back? Before Wendy comes home for the summer. We could write off this whole thing as a terrible mistake.”
Until that moment, I would have jumped at the opportunity.
“No,” I said. “Maybe in time, but not yet. Not now.”
“I’m afraid of being alone,” she said, her voice distant and sad.
“I know. It’s hard.”
“At least you have Gina as a…a friend.”
“She’s more your friend than mine.” I said no more than that.
I listened to her take short breaths, trying no to cry. Neither of us said anything for the next few moments.
After a while, we hung up and I exhaled for what seemed like the first time since we had separated.
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, available at issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at wvscheer (at) aol (dot) com.
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