Obviously, she did come back. Yes, I chose being with her over being faithful to you. If it wasn’t love (and I guess it wasn’t), it was something too strong to leave alone. It sure wouldn’t leave me alone. The age difference didn’t get in the way. It was part of what made her so fascinating to me. She was stillness, surrounded by grace and covered in beauty.
She didn’t ask for much besides my company two or three times a week. We asked each other about our lives before we met, but it was more to pass the time than because it was going to be important later. I told her about my wilder days and a couple of the worse fights I’ve been in. When I got to some of the truly stupid shit, she just smiled and crinkled her eyebrows a little (I think she was trying not to be my mom). She told me about the time she spent traveling around Europe for a while. She said if feeling like you don’t fit in is a problem, you can just decide to believe that you do, and then either you’ll start to fit in or it won’t matter anymore. Having a woman with such a solid center, I mean just having her near me, made me want to get to a point of peace like that in my own life. I still feel like I will some day.
I know you don’t want to hear about the sex. That’s okay. There’s not much to say. The thing about it, though, was that it almost felt like I was having sex with a different person than the woman I saw at the coffeehouse. She was still really focused, but if you saw her at What Might Have Bean, you’d probably have trouble imagining her undressing and kissing someone and talking about what turns her on. I tried to draw a line in my mind connecting those two versions of her, but it was tricky, and mostly based on guesses.
One day, I asked her if she’d had many boyfriends. I’d been wondering how much of what she did was just who she was and how much she’d picked up from other men.
“No, not many. I had only two genuine relationships in my younger days. One was a beautiful Algerian man who smashed my heart absolutely to pieces. I was celibate for years after that. Really prime years, too.”
“You didn’t date at all? What were you doing?” I studied the alternating light and dark pattern of my fingers on her arm.
“It was only half by choice. I threw myself into work and travel. Exercise. Masturbation.” Her lips formed a defiant smile.
“I can’t believe you didn’t have guys after you constantly,” I said. “You’re so beautiful.”
All she said to that was, “Thank you.”
“You were married, though, right?”
“Yes, later, for sixteen years. And now I’m here.”
“Did you get divorced?”
“He was having an affair.”
“Oh.” We both understood that this was ironic, and it wasn’t funny.
“I pretended I didn’t know for a bit. Then I pretended I didn’t mind for a bit. Then what I wanted became more important, and I stopped pretending.” She paused. “He was one of the few men in the world who aren’t insufferably silly.” I smiled to let her know I got the point.
She asked about you some more – what your parents do, where you went to school, and what our relationship was like. When she asked how we got together, she sounded like she wanted proof that I was really with a woman like you. She grew up thinking that where you came from counts for as much as what you’ve done, and that idea stuck with her.
We never went out anywhere, because Francesca didn’t want to. She tried to make a joke out of it at first, asking if I knew where my friends were during the day. “I certainly don’t know where all of mine are,” she said. Then she tried to figure out if the classiest person I knew (my mom’s friend, Lee Shenk) and the least classy person she knew (Claire something) would ever go out to the same place, which I guess would be where one of them might see us. When I pointed out that we met because we both went to What Might Have Bean, she joked about how Lee and Claire were having a secret affair, and it would be all over the news if they got caught. She looked really serious and said, “Heads would roll.”
If I ever brought up the idea again, she always had something else to do or somewhere to be. It wasn’t a big deal, I just thought a change of the scenery would be nice sometimes. To be honest, there were times when the fireworks in my heart seemed farther away and I didn’t know what else to talk about. Francesca liked Prince too, so that was something. I remember asking her about one of his long, sexy ballads while we were lying on the couch late one morning.
“Don’t you love the beginning of ‘Scandalous,’ with that strange little bell? ‘Bing … bong.’”
“It sounds used, like a doorbell that’s been rung hundreds of times. But not used up.”
“Mm,” I said, quickly flipping past a dirtier thought. “Yeah, there’s some depth there. There’s a whole other story.”
A minute later, she opened her eyes. “Are we scandalous?”
I didn’t know she meant our affair or our sex. “Don’t you think?”
For an answer, she wiggled her eyebrows, reminding me inappropriately of Groucho Marx.