cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Nine

June 8 – 11, 1983

 

One of the things that really amazed me about Sid that trip was his ability to act as if nothing had happened the morning after one of those wonderful, frustrating moments of closeness that kept popping up. I would be very subdued, but Sid would tease me out of it by the end of breakfast. Well, not that Wednesday. I remained somewhat lackluster until mid-morning. We got on a tour bus right after breakfast, having decided that the odds were against running into my folks since they were leaving.

We were at the Fountain Paint Pots when Sid insisted on having his turn with the camera.

“You sure you know how to work it?” I asked, reluctantly handing it over. “This isn’t surveillance photography, you know. I’ve only got one hundred A.S.A. film in there.”

“I’ve been playing around with all kinds of photography for years,” said Sid, checking the light. “I always figured if I was going to be freelancing, it would be worthwhile to be able to take my own pictures. Why don’t you sit… here on this rail.”

I did as he asked. “So why aren’t you into it now?”

He shrugged. “I mostly write business articles, and most magazines would rather use their own art for that. Now put your hands here and lift your chin.” His finger softly did the lifting. He stepped back and fussed with the light meter and focus ring. “Alright, now, smile. Think of something fun, like sex.”

“Oh!” Caught off guard, I ducked my head, covering my face with my hand. But I was laughing.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “Let me see your face.”

“I’m blushing. Why do you do that to me?”

“What did I do?” He was so innocent.

“You know darned well you told me to think about sex just to make me blush.”

“You’re so cute when you do.” Then more gently, he said, “You’re also smiling now.”

“What?” I looked up involuntarily.

Sid removed the camera from in front of his face and smiled.

“Beautiful,” he said, quietly.

I found myself almost mesmerized by his piercing blue eyes. I had to look the other way. His hand touched mine as I slid off the rail.

“Why don’t we check out what’s down this path?” he said, jovially.

I stopped him.

“How do you do it?” I asked.

“What?”

“We have moments. They’re incredible. They’ve been happening ever since New Orleans, at least. But the moment passes and the next thing I know you’re acting like it never happened.”

“Oh, they’ve happened, alright.” Sid leaned on the rail and gazed at the gurgling geyser pots. “But I have to bury my feelings. What I feel for you, I cannot deal with right now, any more than you can deal with your feelings for me.” He paused. “I’m sorry. I had no right to speak for you.”

“Maybe not. But you’re right. I don’t know what’s happening to us, but whatever it is, it’s happening way too fast. I’m having a terrible time coping with it. I don’t understand my feelings right now.”

“Me, neither. But it’s not just lust anymore.”

“Please. Don’t try to put a name on it. You think we can’t cope now…” I bit my lip as a new thought occurred to me. “Maybe, when we get home, I’d better ask Henry to have me reassigned.”

“No. Please don’t.” Sid walked over to me with a strange urgency. “At least not right away. Seriously, I think a lot of this is our current situation. We’ve been living very closely together. But when we get back home, we’ll have all our old distractions and friends. I’ll have more accessible women. You’ll have your boyfriends.”

“Okay. I see what you mean. But maybe our next trip, we’d better find another cover.”

“That might not be a bad idea.” Sid put his arm around me and guided me up the path. “We’d better get back to the bus before we get left.”

One nice thing about the weirdness that was going on was that Sid started being extra nice to me. The tour bus driver told us about this Old West barbecue at the park. The only way to get to it was to ride a horse or in wagons. Although, Sid adamantly refused to ride a horse, he consented to going to the event, and he let me sign up for a horse.

That was before he made his check in call. He came back to the room with a scowl so threatening and dark it could only mean misfortune of the gravest kind.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We have to leave tomorrow morning,” he said.

“Isn’t there going to be a second drop?”

“No. They believe they have something, so they’re stepping up the schedule.”

“That can’t be all.”

“That’s just it. The Dragon didn’t say anything else. But there was a lot more to be said. She sounded nervous. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but she wanted off the phone.”

That really put a damper on the evening. At least, I got a couple good gallops in.

We left early the next morning, actually getting a flight out of Jackson Hole to Denver and from there we just barely made the connecting flight to Flagstaff, Arizona, and from there got a shuttle to park. We were settled into our hotel room at the Grand Canyon by five o’clock.

We got lucky again and got “stuck” with a double: two full sized beds. There was a sink in the room, but the baths, showers, and toilets were down the hall. While Sid was making his second shave, I thumbed through the schedule of events.

“You want to take the all-day mule ride?” I asked. “It goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon.”

“No.”

“How about the half-day trip?”

“It’s not the time involved, but the mules that I object to.”

“But don’t you want to go down into the canyon?”

“I could live without it. But if I have to, I’d prefer to walk.”

“Great. They’ve got an early hike on the Kaibab Trail, or we could take Bright Angel all the way down even earlier and come up Kaibab. That’s an all day hike, but we’re in good shape.”

“Remember that the next time I wake you up to go running.”

“Boy, if you weren’t shaving.”

“Don’t know yet.”

“Hm. Why don’t I just brief you now?”

“Okay. Who do we have?”

“Amanda Whitefoot. Black hair, brown eyes, five seven. She has a P.O. box and lives on the local reservation. She handles the public relations for Bright Angel Lodge. She has a small problem with mobility, but has an otherwise good record.”

“Sounds good.” He wiped off his face, then turned and smiled at me. He was wearing jeans, but his lightly tanned chest was bare.

“What are we going to do tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’d rather know what we’re going to do about dinner.”

“How about the coffee shop?” I suggested. “The only other restaurant in this hotel is a steak house, which I admit sounds rather attractive to me.”

Sid shook his head. “It would. I bet you also like your steaks rare.”

“And still mooing.” I grinned mischievously.

“Disgusting.” Sid picked up his shirt, the blue one that I’d made. “Let’s try the coffee shop. I should at least be able to get a salad.”

“Okay,” I sighed exaggeratedly.

“Alright. I’ll compromise. The steak house some other night. Hopefully, they have seafood.”

Just before check in, we decided to go ahead and hike the next day, depending on when the drop would be set up. Sid figured that the less we hung around the hotel, the safer we were. The Dragon agreed, especially since we would not be making any drops for the time being. I took that as a sign that they had pretty much caught their leak, although both of us knew better than to ask. If we had a need to know, we’d be told.

I was quite happy and talked Sid into an extended all-day hike, which meant we had to buy the things we needed for the hike. We were okay on clothes and shoes, but we needed water bottles, knapsacks, hats, and snacks. The last two items, Sid questioned. Well, he didn’t question the need for a hat, just the one I chose for him, a cowboy hat.

“I despise western wear,” he growled.

“It’s not all that bad,” I replied. “It’s more dignified than those baseball caps.”

“Why not this?” Sid pulled a tweed alpine hat off the shelf.

“An alpine hat in the Grand Canyon? Come on.”

“It’s more my style.” He tried it on and examined the effect in the mirror.

“That wool is going to be miserably hot and the brim is so narrow it defeats the whole purpose of having one.” I pulled it off his head and replaced it with a natural colored straw western hat. “There, that’s light weight and it’ll give you plenty of shade.”

Sid sighed as he adjusted it. “Whatever. I guess if I don’t have to look at myself in it.”

“Don’t worry, you look great.” I pushed him away from the mirror and tried a similar hat on for myself. “If you start smiling, I might just throw myself at you.”

“No such luck.” He did smile, but he took the hat off.

The snacks proved to be another obstacle.

“I gave in on the granola bars,” said Sid, firmly. “I gave in on the cheese, but all natural or not, these crackers are out. They’re loaded with salt.”

“And it’s a darned good thing they are, too,” I retorted, equally firm. “Do you want to get dehydrated? They aren’t kidding when they say it’s hot down in the canyon. I’ve hiked it before. It’s no pleasure walk.”

“Then why are we doing this?”

“Because it’s a lot of fun when you’re adequately prepared. But not having enough water or even the right stuff and it’s a killer.”

“Hm.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not that bad, and we’re in good shape.”

Sid chuckled. “I’m not worried. I’m just fascinated by the risks you choose to take.”

“What?”

“Never mind. It’s just another one of your inconsistencies.”

I just shrugged and slipped a can of beef jerkies into our growing load then went to eat dinner at the coffee shop.

We were up at the head of the trail just before dawn. As the sun rose, I got a beautiful picture of Sid and the rim silhouetted against the bright colors of the sky. As soon as there was light to see, we were on our way.

We climbed out again shortly after four.

“That’s the rotten part about hiking in this canyon,” I said, slowly stretching out. “The hard part gets saved for last.”

Sid finished off a long drink of water.

“I presume you mean the climb back up,” he said, breathing heavily. “They’re right. The air is thinner up here.”

“But it’s fresh.” I headed for the road. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk back.”

Sid sighed, took off his hat, wiped off his forehead with the back of his hand and replaced the hat. He smiled at me.

“That was quite a hike,” he said.

We heard a car approach. Sid stopped walking and faced it, holding his thumb out.

“Will you stop clowning around?” I giggled.

“Who’s clowning around?” Sid flashed a smile at me. “I’m tired.”

“Sid. Hitchhiking is dangerous.”

“It’s not that bad.” The car passed without slowing. We continued walking. “Besides, the likelihood of the enemy knowing that we’re on this road at this moment in time is pretty slim.”

“I don’t want to chance it.”

“Relax. I’ve never had anything happen to me, and until I got my money that’s mostly how I got around.”

Sid tried to thumb down yet another car. It didn’t stop. A third car did.

“Come on,” Sid said, as we trotted down the road to where the car had stopped.

It was a station wagon with Wisconsin license plates loaded with camping gear and three college students: two guys and one girl. The girl was behind the wheel, one guy was in the front passenger seat and another was sitting in the back seat with his back to the door and his legs along the width of the seat. The guy in the front rolled down his window, as we approached. We could hear the rock music while we were still fifty feet away. Unperturbed, Sid walked up to the open window.

“Hi,” he said. The girl turned down the radio.

“You guys look like you could use a lift,” said the guy.

“Sure could,” replied Sid. “We’ve been hiking all day. You headed for the village?”

“We sure are, hop in.” The young man turned around and swatted his companion’s legs. “Hey, Brett, move over.”

Yawning, Brett sat up straight. Sid opened the door.

“After you, my dear,” he said to me gallantly.

Still, hesitant, I got in. Sid climbed in after me and shut the door. The car pulled back onto the road.

“Hi, I’m Stan,” said the guy in the front seat, twisting to face us. “That’s Margie driving and Brett back there with you. You’ll have to excuse Brett. He’s been smoking too many of those funny cigarettes.”

“Stan,” groaned Margie, slapping his leg. “Will you quit saying that? You know Brett doesn’t do drugs.”

Stan chuckled.

“I just haven’t slept since we left Madison,” grumbled Brett, yawning. Clearly, the trip wasn’t agreeing with him.

“I’m Ed and this is Janet,” Sid said. “Where you guys headed eventually?”

“We’re making the grand tour of the western half of the U.S,” answered Stan. “This is our second real stop. We stayed in Denver a couple nights. After here it’s Vegas, then California. We’re going to Disneyland, Hollywood, the Sequoias, San Francisco, Tahoe, Crater Lake…”

“That’s in Oregon,” interrupted Margie. “And we’re stopping in Ashland first. Besides, they don’t want to hear every little place we’re going.”

“Camping all the way?” asked Sid.

“Half and half,” replied Stan. “and half. We’ve got relatives in some spots, we’re staying in motels in others and camping. We’re staying at a motel in Vegas.”

“I hope so,” said Brett.

“You guys camping?” Stan asked us.

“Fortunately, no,” replied Sid. “We’re staying at Bright Angel Lodge.”

“Bright Angel?” asked Margie. “Isn’t that the where they had all that trouble this morning? We heard it on the radio.”

“Trouble?” I asked, getting worried.

“One of the employees got the you-know-what kicked out of her,” said Stan. “A couple of hoods worked her over in her office. It was just luck that a couple guests heard the racket and barged in on them. They had to airlift her to Flagstaff.”

“That’s too bad,” replied Sid, casually. But I could see he was afraid of the same thing I was. “Did they catch the hoods?”

“Nope. It had to be drugs,” said Stan. “That whole business is so stupid. I know a couple of guys at the dorms in Madison who are pharmacy students. They’re strung out half the time on Tylenol and codeine. They’re just barely passing. How, I don’t know.”

“You ought to see the idiots on my floor,” said Margie. “They’re smoking grass in the hallway, right under the smoke alarm and it’s not like it’s that easy to miss.”

“That’s what smoking that stuff will do to you,” agreed Sid.

We arrived at the village shortly after that. Our ride was nice enough to drop us off in front of the Lodge. We discreetly asked a few questions about that morning’s accident and found out that Amanda Whitefoot had indeed been the victim, and that she was still kicking. They hadn’t found the two men responsible. Sid and I didn’t think they would.

Sid insisted on checking in himself and told the Dragon everything. He was not happy as he hung up.

“Well?” I asked when we got back to the room.

“We stay until Sunday,” he said, scowling again. “At least, that’s the plan. Not making that second drop in Yellowstone triggered something, but the Dragon didn’t say what.”

“That’s nice. Does this mean we have to stay cooped up again?”

“We were specifically requested not to, unfortunately. But I think we will stay wired, and you can carry your gun in your purse. I don’t think I can get away with a blazer.” Sid sat down glumly on his bed. “I was thinking of skipping out tonight by myself, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“There’s always Sunday morning,” I said.

“I don’t think you want to listen in on me. Besides, how am I going to hide the transmitter?”

“So don’t use it. I’m sure a couple of hours isn’t going to hurt, especially during the day.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

Saturday, I got depressed. Very depressed. That trip I’d been at times a little blue, lackluster, crying and even out of it. But Saturday, I was hit by a depression as deep as the Grand Canyon and as dark as a night in the desert. I was feeling fine when I woke up, not even tense really, but as I was getting dressed, after a shower down the hall, it enveloped me like a huge black sheet and took over.

The worst of it was, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was causing it. It wasn’t the tension of the situation. I was worried about it, but not in a depressed sort of way. It wasn’t Sid. He’d been very sweet the night before, offering to eat at the steak house. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get in at a reasonable hour, so we went elsewhere. Sid made reservations for Saturday night at seven thirty just to be sure. I knew he didn’t want to eat there that much, so I was pleased by the effort he made to make sure we got in. We weren’t close that night. If anything, Sid was a little distant, but still very pleasant to be around.

Trying to put a finger on what was depressing me only depressed me more. I shoved my feelings aside and went back to the room. I guess I was hoping my mood would just go away.

I should have known better, and to make matters worse, Sid was very distant and touchy to boot. He didn’t seem to notice me and my mood at all. In all fairness, I was working very hard at hiding it. But the perverse nature of the mood was such that I began to get a little irritated at Sid for not noticing.

At lunch, I more or less picked a fight with him. It was a little too easy. We were in the cafeteria. Sid held a table for us while I ordered.

“Well, here we are,” I said, all but slapping the tray onto the table. I handed him my sandwich. “You get turkey, no mayonnaise, on whole wheat, and milk.”

Sid morosely unwrapped the paper.

“This is roast beef, rare roast beef.”

“That’s mine.” I traded sandwiches and plopped a carton of milk in front of him. Sid looked at it, then glared at me.

“This is whole milk. You know I only drink non-fat.”

“Well, that’s all they had, so tough. I know plenty of people who’d be more than happy to have that.”

“I know. I was a deprived child once, too. I still don’t want it.”

“You are so picky. It’s disgusting. Can’t you be happy with what you’ve got?”

“Will you leave me alone?”

“Alright, what’s eating you?”

Disgusted, Sid laid his sandwich down looked away, then glared at me.

“No-one,” he said, extremely irritated. “That is the problem.”

It took me a minute to figure out what he meant.

“That is sick,” I replied, blushing and angry and still not completely sure what was involved.

“Tough. I would have thought by now you’d be able to pick up on the signals and have some sensitivity.”

“You’re a fine one to talk. All you think about is yourself and your needs. Well, what about mine?”

“I’m not the one saying no.”

“See what I mean? That’s the only need you ever acknowledge. I’ve got other needs too, you know. I operate on more than one level. I’m not just a physical person.”

“I am sorry. But in my current condition, I cannot deal with this.”

“Then why don’t you just go out tonight?”

“Not tonight.”

“Then tomorrow, while I’m at church.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“Well, it’s better than this. You’re not livable when you’re this way.”

Sid looked at me, then sighed. “Alright. But while I’m gone, you stay away from the rim.”

We finished eating in silence. Sid’s mood picked up a little, now that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Mine got worse. Later that afternoon, I went shopping while Sid checked in. Our transmitters were on and functioning. I thought I heard him hang up the phone without saying anything. I backed into a corner and put my face into a book.

“What’s going on?” I hissed into the transmitter.

“No answer,” grumbled Sid.

“Oh no.”

“Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean anything yet. I’m going to relax in the lounge.”

The souvenir shop was only across the hall. It was a little confusing dealing with the noise from the lounge at the same time as the noise from the shop. I managed by tuning out the lounge somehow.

It was impossible to tune out the woman’s voice, though. It was a little before five when it sounded in my ear, deep and sensual. She was talking to Sid, however.

“I notice you’re alone,” she said.

“I am.” Sid’s voice was receptive.

“Looking for some company?”

“I could be. What kind…” The sounds of Sid’s voice and the lounge faded out.

I had a feeling I knew why Sid had turned his transmitter off, but the way things were, I didn’t feel it would be a good idea to bank on that. I put the mug I’d been looking at down on its shelf and went over to the lounge. From where I stood in the doorway, I could see Sid sitting sideways at a table. Across from him was a casually dressed woman. She was rather pretty but had a hard look about her. Sid had his wallet in his hands. He held it low, underneath the table top and removed a bill. After casually shoving the wallet back into his jeans, he slipped the bill under the table to the woman. She looked at it and smiled.

I nearly wretched. It had never occurred to me that was how Sid was meeting his needs. Thinking about it, it made sense. Shaking, I left the lounge.

“Sorry about that.” Sid’s voice in my ear made me jump. “I didn’t think you’d want to listen in.”

“I figured. Thanks.” I spoke softly and headed down the hall. “Um, I’m going back to the room.”

“Are you alright?”

“Fine. I’m just tired.”

“What about dinner?”

“You go on without me. I’m not hungry.”

Inside the room, I sat down on the bed. As ugly as I found the situation, I knew I had no right to condemn Sid for it. The action maybe. But I still had to accept it as a part of his life and continue actively caring for him. It wasn’t easy for me to accept. That’s why I’d gone back to the room, so I could work it out in my head before I faced him. I didn’t get much of a chance. Less than three minutes later, I heard the key in the lock and Sid came in.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, concerned.

“Nothing. Please just leave me alone for a bit.” I couldn’t look at him.

“Sorry. You don’t leave me alone. I reserve the same right.”

“Please. I’m trying to work something out.”

“What?”

“Will you?”

“Something is bothering you.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You can’t tell me you’re not hungry and expect me to believe it’s not that bad.”

“Alright, it is. But it’s something I’ve got to work out myself.”

“No way. You wouldn’t let me get away with a stunt like that. I’m not going to let you. Now spill it.”

Miserable, I took a deep breath. “When you turned off the transmitter, I got concerned and went to the door of the lounge. I saw you hand her some money.”

“So?”

“You’re paying her to… you know.”

“You knew that’s how I’ve been getting it, didn’t you?”

I shook my head.

Sid shrugged. “Oh. I thought you knew, or at least figured it out. I keep forgetting how naive you are. Sorry about the rude awakening.”

“Sid, please.”

“What are you so upset about? I’ll admit it’s a little on the sordid side.”

“A little? It’s repulsive!” I blurted out. “It’s bad enough you use women the way you do. But that. It’s the most degrading, selfish-”

“Now, you just hold on one minute, little lady,” Sid snapped. “Get off your high horse right now and start facing some facts. One, I am horny and I am very limited at the moment as to how I can relieve it. Two, hookers are people too, and they don’t particularly get any big kick out of the way they make their living. But for a lot of them, it’s the only way they can. It’s either hustle or starve. Three, hookers are also very efficient. At the moment, I don’t have time to seduce someone. I’ve got to get it where I can find it and get it fast. Four, as for being selfish, I don’t suppose it occurred to you that I might have something to offer them. Women like me for a reason.”

“Oh, come on. You don’t honestly expect me to believe your primary motivation is to make some hooker feel good. You said it yourself – get it where you can find it and get it fast. You’re just out there to satisfy yourself.”

“I care about my partners.”

“Yeah, but when you’re doing it, you’re not thinking about them. You’re thinking about how good you’re feeling, and nothing else.”

“You don’t know the first thing about it.”

“I know enough.”

“No, you don’t. You have no idea.” He glared at me, his eyes blazing, and his voice got soft and even. “You don’t know what it is to want and I mean want so badly it hurts.”

I stood my ground. “You’re wrong, Sid. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s want. I’m very good at that.”

Suddenly, his manner changed. His eyes were still intense, but not with anger.

“Yes, I believe you are,” he said softly. He shook his head, then fixed his eyes on me. “This is ridiculous. We are responsible adults. We desire, we crave each other. Why are we saying no to ourselves?”

“You know very well why.” But I was beginning to wonder myself.

“It’s not like there isn’t anything between us.” He took a step towards me, his eyes pleading. “Lisa, please, will you let me make love to you?”

I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t even look away. Sid slowly moved closer.

“Please?” he asked.

His arms slid around me, across my back, with his hands up into my hair. I held him, enjoying the feel of his solidness. His mouth kissed mine with a fire unlike anything else I had ever known.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice reminded me that this was not right. Big help that was. I had always figured the moment would come when Sid’s desire would overwhelm my better judgment and it had arrived with a vengeance. The poor man was desperate, so why not get it over with?

“It’s time,” he whispered, his voice thick and husky. “I promise I’ll take very good care of you. It’s going to be beautiful.”

Again, he kissed me, and nervously, I held him. One of his arms dropped and he picked me up and carried me to my bed, his mouth still on mine. Gently, gazing into my eyes he laid me down and smoothly laid down next to me, then halfway on top of me. One of his arms remained underneath my shoulders, the other hand gently caressed my face.

He kissed my mouth again, and I tasted his tongue as it lightly slipped between my teeth. I still didn’t like it much, but it was part of it all, so I went along with it. He pulled away and looked tenderly into my eyes, his hand brushing the hair away from my face.

“Please relax, Lisa,” he said, very softly. “It’ll be so much easier for you.”

Taking what deep breaths I could, I tried to relax and calm my trembling limbs.

Sid’s gentle kisses followed my jaw back to behind my ear.

“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered. “Just relax.”

He kissed my mouth again.

“Relax,” he whispered again, but this time there was a touch of urgency in his voice.

I concentrated solely on that one word, trying to forget anything else. I could feel myself loosening.

“That’s good,” he whispered. “Hold me. Keep relaxing.”

I put my arms around him, as he continued kissing and caressing me. Effortlessly, he rolled us onto our sides. His hands gently rubbed my back. It felt good, soothing. I let myself enjoy it and tried to kiss him back as he kissed me. I didn’t realize he was pulling my t-shirt out of my pants. He rolled me back onto my back. His kisses worked their way down my neck and along my collar bone.

“Nice and relaxed,” he whispered. “You’re doing good.

His hand slipped under my t-shirt just below my ribs. The shock of his soft warm hand on my skin made me stiffen.

“Dammit, will you relax!” He fiercely pulled away.

“I’m trying.” I started to cry. “I’m trying.”

He looked at me tenderly, but all the passion was gone.

“Yes, you are,” he said very softly. He bent and gently kissed my lips. It was gentle and inviting and I tried to respond, but his tongue hit my teeth. He sighed as he pulled away. “It’s no use.” He sat up. “You’re worse than a cold shower.”

As I rolled over, sobbing uncontrollably, I felt Sid’s hand on my shoulder.

“Lisa, I’m sorry,” he said, urgently. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I don’t care how you meant it.” I was even more miserable than I had been. “How’d you like to be frigid?”

“But you’re not.” His strong gentle arms picked me up and held me close to him. “The passion is there. I touched it. It’s just locked away for the time being. I was a fool to push you.”

“And I was a fool for falling,” I sniffed.

He lifted my chin and smiled warmly.

“Looks like we both blew it,” he said softly.

I sniffled. Sid reached over to the bedside table and grabbed a tissue.

“Here you go,” he said quietly.

I took the tissue and blew my nose, while he held me and kissed the side of my head.

“You want to try again?” I asked.

“Oh, no. One failure is all I can handle.” He looked at his watch. “It’s time to get going anyway. You’ve got just enough time to wash off your face.”

“For what?”

“Dinner.”

“Oh. I almost forgot.” I scrambled off the bed and tucked in my shirt. I looked back at Sid. His face was unreadable, but he did look rather forlorn. I realized that as bad as I felt about what had happened [or not happened – SEH], he must have felt worse. His ego had probably taken quite a beating from my inability to respond. [Actually, I was berating myself for pushing you – SEH] But there wasn’t anything I could say.

He couldn’t find anything to say, either. In silence, we walked to the dining room. In silence, we ate most of our dinner.

A woman played a harp at one end of the room, accompanied by a young man on guitar. They did instrumentals of mostly contemporary music. It underscored our silence nicely.

We were almost through our meal when I recognized the melody she was playing. I looked at Sid.

“I know that song,” he said, thoughtfully. “Now, what is it?”

“Send In the Clowns,” I replied.

We looked at each other. At the same time, we both started breaking up. I think we just sat and laughed for about five minutes solid.

“Was that a farce?” Sid asked, as the laughter finally began to subside.

“Oh, it was awful,” I giggled. “I hope you’re not too mad at me.”

“Why?”

“Because you couldn’t… I don’t know… Melt me down, I guess.”

“That’s not your fault. It’s good that you’re that committed to your values. I know better than to try making it with a woman like you. That’s why I don’t usually fail. Don’t worry, I’m not in the least bit mad.” He paused as a new thought occurred to him. “Actually, I’m relieved.”

“Relieved?”

“Yeah. I think we proved to ourselves that a sexual relationship between us is just not going to work, at least not for the time being. And neither of us is at fault, really.”

“I guess so. It does kind of let the pressure off, doesn’t it? Now we’re free to be just friends.”

The waitress came and took our order for dessert. I was surprised when Sid requested a cup of de-caf. He wasn’t surprised when I asked for a slice of fresh peach pie a la mode.

“Um, this is going to sound a little strange,” I said when the waitress had gone. “But do you still… You know, want me?”

“Oh, yes.” Sid reached out and touched my cheek. “Very much. In some ways, more than ever. But it’s different now. I know the damage it can cause. I may never make love to you. Before this, the thought was unbearable. Now, it doesn’t bother me. I’d still like to. But if I never find the key to your mental chastity belt, then what we’ve got right now will be enough.”

“Thanks. I needed to hear that.” I paused. “I think it’s only fair to tell you I know what that key you’re looking for is.”

“What?”

“Marriage and that includes fidelity.”

He sighed, then looked at me. “That’s asking a lot. I don’t think I could.”

“To be honest, I’m glad. I really don’t want to be married, at least not now. My independence is very important to me. And there’s also the fact that you’re not Catholic. It’s no big deal now, but when you’re married, man, those values, they’re everything.”

“Hm. I suppose they would be.”

The waitress arrived with my pie and Sid’s de-caf. Sid pulled her aside and whispered in her ear. She smiled and nodded. He slipped something into her hand.

“You’re going to be busy tonight,” I said, my voice far snider than I’d intended.

“What? Oh. No. My appointment is for tomorrow morning, and I think I will be keeping it. What I slipped to the waitress was for something entirely different.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of you buying it. I’ve just got to get used to it. It’s a part of you, and I’ve got to accept it as such.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better, it’s not my favorite way to go. I rarely do it. They’re hard women and not terribly willing to let go. It’s not a lot of fun always, but it’s adequate.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? For being yourself?”

“No. For you, for having to deal with it. I’m trying to understand.”

“So am I, my dear little ice-maiden.”

“I’m sorry I’m so cold.”

“I only called you that because you’re not.” He leaned over and gently kissed my lips. I softly returned it. He smiled. “Yes, it’s there. It’s just not mine. Yet.”

I chuckled. The harp began to play “You and Me Against the World”. I looked over at Sid. He nodded. I smiled at him. Then, impulsively, I leaned over and kissed his gentle mouth.

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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