External Affairs — Part Five
“A Date?” my wife Jeanine said as she hurriedly got herself ready that morning. “What do you mean, a date?”
This was my idea, and I’ll admit it was a little out of character for me, and our marriage in general, but there was a fair amount of that going around lately. I have not been behaving terribly well. Not that Jeanine knows anything about this, but I think I was trying to make amends in some way.
“You know, go out,” I said. “I looked at our calendar this weekend and there’s not much going on. Maybe Megan can babysit, or Anastasia can stay home for a few hours. I thought we could go out somewhere.”
“Well then why don’t you say that? Why call it a date? We’re not in college anymore,” said Jeanine as she violently flung her work papers into her bag and swung her jacket on with equal ferocity. Then she started looking for her shoes as she called upstairs for my oldest daughter, Anastasia.
Funny she should say that, I thought, because in the last twenty-four hours, the last week really, I have felt at times like I was back in college.
“Okay,” I conceded. “I mean, I don’t want to get into a semantics argument. I just thought we could spend some time together.”
It’s hard to adequately describe the look my wife gave me at that point. It was an expressionless look that conveyed absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell if the thought interested her or seemed utterly preposterous. If we had been playing poker, and she had just raised me, I’d have folded for sure. I waited for her to say something, but she just tilted her head with the same lack of expression.
Into this awkwardness came Anastasia, dour, angry, black makeup around her eyes, donning her usual leather jacket and carrying her guitar.
“Hi Anas-” I started to say, then remembered her new thing was that she liked to be called ‘Stasi’. “I mean, Stasi. Can you look after your brother and sister one night this weekend so your mom and I can go out on a date?”
Anastasia’s look I can adequately describe. She squinted her eyes at me, shook her head quickly and violently, and said “What are you talking about?”
“Stop calling it a date,” said Jeanine.
“Okay, okay. Date, not a date,” I said. “I just want to take your mom out. Are you around this weekend?”
More squinting. “No, Dad. I’m not. I’ve got plans all weekend.”
I was about to say something, but Jeanine jumped in, “Look,” she said. “I’ll call Megan and see what her availability is. But we’ve got to go.”
As Anastasia walked past me, I said to her, “So how was your date?” She’s in a band and one of the band members asked her out after rehearsal yesterday.
“Oh my God, Dad,” said Anastasia. “Are you okay? You having a mid-life crisis or something?” All I got from Jeanine was the same blank look before they both walked out the door.
I suppose me having a mid-life crisis isn’t all that inaccurate. I probably could have chosen a better time to ask Jeanine. She’s not the easiest person to talk to in the morning. She’s always in such a rush to get out of here. The problem is that she’s not the easiest person to talk to at the end of the day either. Then she’s always too tired.
Adding to my poor timing was the fact that I had gotten home quite late last night and slept on the couch, now for the second time in less than a week. My story was that I was out at a client dinner, which led to drinks afterwards. The reality is that I was on a date of sorts and not with my wife. One week ago, I met this woman Kelly at a local bar. We hit it off and hung out all night. Nothing more. But we had a good time together, so she invited me to a different bar last night to listen to this Classic Rock cover band. We hit it off again. This time however, we ended up in my car where we made out like a couple of teenagers who just met at a keg party. Kelly’s married. Obviously, so am I.
At the end of the night, we both said we’d like to see each other again. I meant it then, and still do. I liked her and wanted to go out with her again, but by the time I got home, feelings of middle-aged guilt started to pierce through my feelings of youthful euphoria. That’s when the idea of taking my wife out on a date came into my head, and that’s why I sprung the idea on her this morning. We don’t do things like that anymore. We can never seem to find the time. I thought we should try to have a little fun together, something that has been sorely lacking in our marriage for some time.
And so after getting my two other children, Bella, thirteen, and Cody, eleven, off to school, I headed back to Stamford, Connecticut, the very same city I was in last night with Kelly. I don’t live that far and it’s an easy commute to my job at an accounting firm.
Once there, in between answering emails, taking phone calls, constantly conferring with my undersized and overly intense colleague Tony about this deal we are working on with our clients in London, and doing actual work, I receive a text from Jeanine in the middle of day, which reads:
“Megan available tonight. Where do you want to go?”
Jeanine is nothing if not efficient. I can already hear her gears clicking with a kind of get this over with mentality. On the other hand, it’s what I asked for and it is Friday night, so I should just go with this. Where did I want to go? It has to be someplace she’s going to like, obviously. It should probably be someplace I like too, but I suppose that is largely irrelevant. We hadn’t been out together in quite some time, so there really isn’t an ‘it’ place for us. Then I remembered an Italian restaurant we liked in this town not too far from where we live. It’s in this section near the water, which has lots of restaurants, shops and bars. A quick search on the Internet and I found it, Costa Italiano. It specialized in seafood dishes found in various sections along the Italian coast. A few more clicks and I had a reservation for six o’clock. I texted Jeanine back:
“How about Costa Italiano at 6:00?”
A few minutes later, I received her response: “Fine. See you then.”
Fine. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but there it is. I have my date.
The rest of the day continued in the same frenetic fashion, as I tried to clear as much as I could off my desk for the weekend. Tony kept coming into my office every fifteen minutes with additional questions and comments about this deal. He also kept hinting that we might have to get on a conference call on Sunday with the guys from London. Finally around three o’clock, I had my secretary, a tenacious Ukrainian woman named Kateryna, hold Tony at bay for two hours so I could plow through what I needed to finish. By a little after five, I was ready to clock out. I’d take a few things home with me just in case, but I was more or less done for the week. As I exited my office, Tony leapt out of his own and all but blocked my way. I could see Kateryna rising from her station with a look that seemed to indicate she was ready to take Tony out if necessary, but I gave her a quick glance that both thanked her and said it wasn’t necessary.
“Okay Dan,” Tony started in his rapid fire delivery. “I’ll send you an email about Sunday. I don’t know if these guys are going to want to have a call. They said probably, but they wanted to confer over the weekend. You know how the Brits are.”
“Yes, Tony, I know.”
“I mean, they said probably, but will likely push to Monday morning. You’re available Sunday though?”
“Yes, I’ll be available if they want to talk.
“Okay, good. I’ll send you an email. See ya.”
And off he scurried back his office. With one final glance and shake of the head to Kateryna, I dashed off myself.
Traffic wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t time to go home first to change clothes or anything, so Jeanine would be receiving me in my casual Friday clothes. I wondered briefly if she would change into something before meeting me out. She would likely have time to stop home briefly. I arrived at the restaurant first, a few minutes early, but decided to go to the bar first to have a drink. I told the hostess so she’d have a table ready for us.
Moments later, Jeanine arrived in a flurry. She had not changed and she scanned the restaurant in her very practical pants suit she wore today. When did she start dressing with such functionality? She used to like to wear dresses and fix her hair up. Now it was always these pants suits and a short, sensible bob. She didn’t see me at first and her face clearly showed that. Jeanine hated to wait for anyone, so not seeing me was causing her distress. I flagged her down. Crisply, she made her way over to me. I couldn’t read the look on her face, but it didn’t look particularly happy.
“Did you get us a table?” she said immediately.
I tried a smile, then said, “I told the hostess to hold us a table, but I thought we could have a drink here first. Can I get you something?”
“Let’s just have it at the table,” she said.
My smile faded, which Jeanine didn’t see, as she was already making her way towards the hostess. I grabbed my beer and followed. Once seated, Jeanine burst out,
“The kids are nightmare. It was all I could do to get out of there with my sanity.”
This I ignored at first. “Would you like a drink?” I said as the waiter approached. She ordered a red wine. I was about done with my beer, so I ordered another one.
“What did they do?” I asked, meaning our kids.
“Oh they’re always fighting. Bella is always reciting lines from her play, and Cody walks around mimicking and making fun of her, so she starts yelling at him, or calling him short or something.”
“She calls Cody short?” I said with surprise. “Cody’s not short. He’s not overly tall for his age, but he’s not short.”
“I know that,” said Jeanine. “But I guess he doesn’t because this bothers him. I think sometimes that Cody thinks he’s two or three years older than he actually is.”
“Where’s Anastasia in all this?”
Jeanine waved her hand. “Oh, she doesn’t have time to get in the middle of this. She’s got a lot going on.”
This is Jeanine’s stock answer lately when it comes to Anastasia. It’s like she’s her pet project, even though I try to take as much interest in what she’s doing as anyone. The trouble is neither of us really knows what Anastasia is doing or what she wants to be doing. She’s a junior, so we have to start the whole college planning process, but all Anastasia wants to do is rehearse with her band. She has really good grades, so Jeanine has this vision I think that one day Anastasia is going to wake up and decide to pursue an ivy league education. While that would be nice, I don’t see it happening. The feeling I have about Anastasia is that one day she is going to wake up and decide to tour Europe in a van.
Our drinks arrived. I started to lift my glass to make a brief toast to our night out, but Jeanine quickly took a large swig, set her glass down, and said,
“So, what did you want to talk about?”
“What?” I said surprised.
“This morning, you said you wanted to talk to me about something.”
I just sat there, blinking at her.
“That’s why we’re here right?” she said.
“No,” I said after several seconds. “I never said that.”
Jeanine crinkled down her eyes with a look of confusion. “Then what are we doing here?”
Now I widened my eyes and raised my eyebrows. Slowly, I said, “I thought it would be nice for us to go out. Just us. Without the kids.”
Jeanine sat back in her chair. “Oh,” she said after a few seconds. “Good,” she added. “That’s good, because we have a lot to talk about.”
“We do?” I asked.
Then it dawned on me that by saying we were going out without the kids meant to Jeanine that we were going out so we could talk about the kids. I realized this when she immediately launched into a lengthy speech about Anastasia’s college planning, all the ivy league schools we should start visiting in the Spring, and how we should get her an SAT tutor.
The SAT tutor I agreed with, because why not? I wasn’t even opposed to visiting ivy league schools, but I did think Jeanine was getting a little ahead of the game. Still, I listened patiently for a while, then when Jeanine had wound down, I interjected,
“Have you asked Anastasia about any of this?”
Jeanine gave me a blank look. “What?” she said finally.
“I mean, does she want to apply to any of these schools?” I asked.
Again, a look like I’d said something very, very foolish.
“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t she?” Jeanine said.
I could think of quite a few reasons actually, but I wanted to be careful here. “Well, what I mean is that you look at Anastasia, and I guess more importantly, if you listen to her lately, she’s kind of…..”
“Kind of what,” said Jeanine with impatience.
“Unconventional,” I said.
Jeanine’s eyes widened. “What, all that music nonsense she’s into?”
“I don’t think Anastasia would think it’s nonsense,” I said.
“It’s a phase,” said Jeanine. I started to say something, but Jeanine cut me off. “Look, she’s a smart girl, with great grades. There’s no reason not to shoot for the ivy leagues.”
“Unless it’s not something she wants,” I said. Now I could see Jeanine was getting visibly agitated.
“How could she possibly know what she wants at this point?” said Jeanine tensely.
Luckily, our appetizers arrived which brought a welcome reprieve and brief silence.
This was not the direction I was hoping the evening would take, so I tried to change the subject after we had eaten a bit.
“Remember when the kids were little, we used to go camping on Cape Cod?”
Jeanine seemed to be thinking about something, but what I said must have sunk in because she looked up and said “What,” and she actually smiled a little when she said this. A curious smile.
“Cape Cod,” I said. “Remember when we used to camp there?”
“Right,” she said. Same curious smile.
“Might be fun to do that again now that the kids are older.”
“Camp?” Jeanine said with a laugh.
“Well, it doesn’t have to be camping. We could rent a house this summer.”
Now Jeanine wrinkled her brow and the smile was still there, but it wasn’t a smile of amusement. It was the smile you would give someone when you are trying to explain something very complicated and which you don’t think that person would understand.
“Now how do you think that will work?” she said.
I was starting to get a little aggravated, but I attempted to keep it simple. “I’m sure you can find these places on the Internet, or we could even get a broker to take us around one weekend.”
“You know I’m teaching summer school,” she said.
“I know,” I said reflexively. “But there’s always a break at the end of the summer.”
Same condescending tone: “Cody will likely be starting soccer, Bella may still be involved in her summer theater. Anastasia will probably be working. How do see us coordin — ”
“Okay, okay,” I said, hands out in a placating gesture. “Just a thought.”
Now Jeanine brightened. “I’m glad you brought up the summer though, because I think we should start planning for the kids’ camps. I know Bella wants to go to acting camp. Maybe there’s a soccer or lacrosse camp we can find for Cody. And there’s this pre-college experience that I’ve been looking into for Anastasia.
I ordered another drink before the entrees came. Then I ordered one after the entrees came. To say the evening wasn’t going as I had planned was a gross understatement. Still, I listened patiently to Jeanine as she went on and on about the various plans she had for the kids for the rest of the school year and into the summer. Some of this I did find interesting. Our kids did have a wide range of interests and I’ve always encouraged pursuing them.
But they were pursuing them. Bella was involved in every conceivable acting organization at school and in our community. When he wasn’t trying to fight the seventh and eighth grade, Cody was excelling at soccer, wrestling and lacrosse. I can honestly say I hadn’t the faintest idea what Jeanine was talking about as far as Anastasia was concerned. In one scenario she had her working or interning at a local corporation or law firm, volunteering at some charitable organization, having a private tutor, taking five AP classes her senior year and spending some portion of the summer at this international business pre-college immersion program at one of the ivy league schools. I was pretty sure most if not all of this would be news to Anastasia.
We passed on dessert. Outside, the neighborhood was humming with life. All the bars and restaurants were full or filling up and people were milling about everywhere. Some families finishing up dinner and heading home, couples strolling arm and arm, and lots of young people searching for that spark that will ignite this week’s Friday night.
Across the street from the restaurant was a martini bar. I’d heard about this place, but had never been in there. It was supposed to have a sort of speak-easy feel to it. Dark wood, dim lights, bit of old school. I suggested us having a drink to cap off the night.
Jeanine said, “I think we should get back. Megan probably has plans tonight.”
I wanted to point out that we had plans tonight and we are paying Megan, but I let it go.
“But this was good,” said Jeanine brightly. “I think we got a lot done.”
Yes, I suppose we did. Very successful board meeting of the little corporation that is our family. Not the date I really had envisioned this morning. Needless to say, there was no sex. I briefly entertained the idea of bringing up the subject, but as soon as we got home Jeanine turned on her computer and started typing up notes about what we discussed tonight. I walked upstairs and went to sleep.
The next day, after shuttling the kids to practices and rehearsals, running the various Saturday morning errands, and performing the necessary tasks around the house to keep things at the status quo, I ducked out in the afternoon for one more errand. At Electronics City, our local chain technology store, I bought a new phone, one that used prepaid phone cards and did not require you to register your name or any other identification. Then I found a quiet, remote spot in a park near my town, fished out the number I had tucked away in my wallet and nervously dialed it.
“Hello?” a female voice answered.
“Kelly?” I said.
“Yes,” she replied.
“It’s Dan, Danny.” I still wasn’t sure which one she preferred calling me.
“Danny!” she said pleasantly. “Dan the Man.”
“Is this a good time?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “Just out running errands.” Then she added, “Two days.”
“What?” I said.
“Two days,” she repeated. “I thought you’d wait at least three if you would call at all. I thought you were a cooler customer than that.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.
“Danny,” said Kelly. “I’m just kidding around with you. I’m glad you called.”
I relaxed a little. “I’m glad I called too. That was fun the other night.”
“Yes it was,” she said, leading me.
I pictured her on the other end of the phone. Dark hair falling gently around her face, flecks of light glinting in her eyes, cute smile. She was probably dressed in jeans and a sweater.
“So,” I heard Kelly say and I realized I hadn’t said anything. Then I found my voice.
“So, I’d like to see you again,” I said.
“Funny thing, Danny. I’d like to see you again too.”
Another brief silence, then I said, “Anything in particular you’d like to do?”
I could see her smile as she said,
“I think we just go out and see what happens.”
I exhaled, then smiled myself.
To Be Continued……
Part One, Two, Three and Four in this Series can be found here: