Driving with Martin and Pete 4
Erin bought a very provocative pair of panties for Valentine’s Day. There was lace, but not a lot of it, and a couple of ribbons. She’d decided that she had not been putting enough effort into her relationship with David, and she really did want to try to make it work. He was smart, he was funny, he was handsome. So why was she so unhappy with him?
When she got home that evening, he was already at home, working hard, with the music turned up loud. Nirvana. He looked up when she started to massage his neck.
“What’s up, pussy cat?”
“I was thinking that I want to take you out to dinner for Valentine’s Day.”
“What are the odds I’m going to say no to an offer like that? Where were you thinking you’d take me?”
“How about Le Cheval? I’m in the mood for some Vietnamese food.” The complexity of her feelings for David seemed to call for some lush and complicated flavors.
“Sounds good to me. Just give me a few minutes to wrap up here, and we can head out.”
She leaned down and kissed him on the back of the neck.
“You wouldn’t be trying to butter me up for something, would you?”
“Who me? On Valentine’s Day? Heaven forbid.”
Erin’s mother had had the idea that she was psychically sensitive to other people’s thoughts, and she had suggested to Erin that she was too, so Erin had adopted her mother’s habit of reading people’s feelings and intentions from their behavior. She was having a lot of difficulty working out what David really wanted, though. She sat now in the beanbag chair, her knees carefully to one side, looking at him as he pounded at the keyboard. Finally, the intensity of her eyes on him seemed to penetrate.
“What you lookin’ at, babe? You trying to hypnotize me into stopping?”
When they walked into the restaurant an hour later, the wide dim space was packed with people. They were seated at a small table off to one side and handed their menus.
“David, I’m feeling like tofu tonight. How about if I get something vegetarian, and you can go ahead and get meat if you want?”
“Oh, come on, Erin. It’s more fun to share, and you know I don’t like that toe-food. If you’re worrying that you’re fat, you can order chicken. Or shrimp.”
“It’s not the calories, David.”
“I know, I know. You’re concerned about the chicken’s soul. So get the shrimp. You can’t tell me that a shrimp has a soul. I just won’t buy it.”
“Well, we could argue about the soul of the shrimp, but I don’t want to, because it’s Valentine’s Day, and I wanted to have a nice dinner with you and then go home, because I have a present for you.”
“A present, huh? That all sounds fine by me, but what are you going to eat?”
“For the sake of our lovely evening, I will have the ginger chicken.”
“And I will get the lemon grass beef and a bottle of something bubbly. Now we just need a waitress.” He stretched back in his chair and raised his finger to a slim young woman who was taking an order a couple of tables away.
“David, she’s busy.”
“Well, in just a minute she won’t be, and she can frisk her cute ass over here.”
“David, the way you think about women is distinctly non-feminist.”
“Well, amen and praise the Lord for that!”
She was never really sure how serious he was being when he said things like this. She felt that she would be taking on the mantle of the humorless woman if she tried to argue with him about his attitude.
David ordered a beer and Erin a Diet Coke, since she was driving home, and the drinks had just arrived, when from across the room, they heard a shout. “David!”
David stood up, and she saw a grin spread across his face. “Erin, it’s Seth and the crew.”
She hardly had time to respond before Seth was at their table. “Hey guys. What a coincidence, huh? Why don’t you come on over and join us?”
Erin wanted to say something, to remind David that this night was special to her, but his enthusiasm had already spilled over.
“Sounds great! We’ll let the waitress know and be right over.”
As David sat back down, Erin felt that she should give one last push for her desires. She didn’t like Seth. He was an older man, not going to school, but apparently interested in technology. He always traveled around in a black trench coat and a fedora with several people in tow.
She didn’t even know where David had met this group, but he invited them over every time he had people over, and Seth seemed to be attracted to her even though he had a girlfriend. At their last party, he’d put his hand on her leg, and David didn’t seem interested in that information. Instead he’d come to Erin later saying, “I’m pretty sure I know the answer already, but you’re not into three-ways are you?”
Erin hadn’t really thought about the question before, and she thought she really wasn’t interested in any three-way, but when she heard that the one under consideration was with Seth, she felt nauseous. She really didn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day stuck between David and Seth.
“David, you do remember that I asked you out for Valentine’s Day, right? I mean, I know it’s a Hallmark holiday and all that, but I was hoping for a real date.”
“Yeah, I know, but this is so great, running into the gang by coincidence like this. I think we have to make the most of it. We can have a date another night. We live together, remember?”
At this, their waitress came past, and he flagged her to tell her they were moving across the room.
As it turned out, Erin’s imagined seat between David and Seth turned into a seat between Seth and his girlfriend. At least she really liked his girlfriend, Sammy. David was seated at the end of the table next to a young woman who made neon signs, but who used to be a topless dancer. David was asking her a lot of questions about neon sign construction, but Erin could see that this was only a prelude.
The dishes on the table all had meat in them. Erin wished that she had pushed harder for her tofu. She pulled vegetables out of the various dishes and ate some rice. Next to her, Seth was observing her eating habits, his elbow on the table, and his chopsticks almost in her hair as he bent to speak to her intimately.
“Not so hungry?”
“I’m trying to go back to being vegetarian.”
“Well there’s not much for you here.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“There are vegetarian dishes on the menu. I could order one for you.”
“No, thank you. I’m not hungry anymore.” She turned and listened to David’s conversation with the neon sign girl. He was drinking another beer. He didn’t usually have more than one. She wondered whether he was planning not to work anymore tonight.
The party was starting to break up now. The food was mostly gone, though there was enough left for a couple of take away boxes. The check came, and Seth claimed it.
“I’ll take care of this. Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone.”
He smiled at Erin.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling as though her face must be showing the effort of her smile. Don’t come near me. She never had learned to feel at ease with men she wasn’t attracted to.
David came up beside her. “A bunch of these guys are driving down to the South Bay, and I want to go with them. Do you want to come?”
“No. No, I think I’ll go home.”
“Okay, well, could you take home the leftovers? I got dibs on the boxes.”
He kissed her quickly on the nose and then followed the group out the door.
She walked back to her car feeling a huge weight on her chest, and by the time she opened the car door, she had started to cry. She cried through the drive along the long city streets back to the apartment and through the long minutes circling the blocks to find a parking space. She had stopped by the time she entered the apartment.
She took off her clothes and threw the delicate panties on top of the laundry pile. She pulled on some soft, old pajamas and sat down in the bean bag chair to read for a while. At 11, she went to bed alone and cried some more.
She was getting ready to leave the apartment the next morning when David walked in, looking disheveled. By that time, what she felt had solidified into cold anger. He looked very pleased with himself.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Good morning,” David said. “Have you had anything to eat? I can make you something before you go.”
“I have to get to work,” she said. “I have a meeting at nine.” She turned to put on her coat.
“You sound mad. Listen, nothing happened. We talked until 2 and then I fell asleep on the couch. But you have to take these opportunities when life offers them to you. How often do I get the chance to talk to someone who’s worked as a topless dancer?”
“I really wouldn’t know.”
“No, come on. Really. How often? And you blew this one.”
“I would love to keep having this conversation about how you blew off our date to go and talk to a topless dancer, but I’m going to be late for work.”
“Always the conventional answer. You’ll live to regret it, I tell you.”