She saw him before he saw her. The flash of adrenalin shooting through her body upset her equilibrium. Excitement pumped in her chest. Uncertainty crept through her mind. Should she?
Yes? No? Duck and hide?
The old woman, talking in her ear, droned on incessantly. “So Simone…
Blah! Blah! Blah!” The old lady continued. Simone was oblivious to the old woman’s words. Her eyes were glued to him.
It had been fifteen years, another life ago, but he was aging well. He was a little heavier. He had a slight limp. He had less hair. His hair was now the silver color that gives men distinction. Dressed smartly, his body language said he was still comfortable in his own skin. He was still cocky, but in a more mature, dignified manner.
At the bar, a glass of wine in his hand, his eyes canvassed the reception. No one he saw interested him.
She sank further down in her chair.
Should she confront him? Say hello? Accidentally bump into him? Or just leave. Maybe he’d never know she was there.
She’d anticipated this moment for over a month after she had seen his picture in the Festival Program. Still, seeing him in the flesh had set off her alarms. She never thought of him anymore. She figured she had doused those embers a long time ago, but apparently not.
Had he seen her picture in the program? It was a nice picture. One she’d had made for the occasion of the book festival. The photographer had done a good job of hiding her baby fat.
. . . . .
The Montgomery, Alabama sun turned orange.
There was maybe another thirty minutes of sunlight left in the day and she was on his mind. Two days before the festival Eric had been shocked to find her picture in the festival lineup. He’d not heard of her book, based on her family’s Alabama Civil Rights History. Nor had he heard of, from, or seen her in the fifteen years since he’d…
Fifteen years ago he’d ended their relationship. No, he hadn’t ended it, he’d simply quit calling, would not return her calls, and within months married another woman. Someone he thought he’d always loved.
That was the best excuse he could come up with for his behavior.
Their mutual friends had to choose sides. Her female friends said he’d screwed up badly. “A dog, a low down, stinking, rotten dog,” they called him.
He’d convinced himself he would not be embarrassed to see her. “If I can avoid it, I will,” he thought. “Should I apologize?” The conversation played on in his head. “What if she’s forgotten? What if she’s simply moved on, not wanting to revisit the ugly past?” That would be a relief. He’d feel less guilty. He decided he’d play it by ear.
Besides, he was a different man today. Happily married, but not to the woman he dropped her for. That ended up being a living hell. Today, his life was peaceful and full of bliss. In addition to loving his wife and son, he liked them. They were his friends. They were his backers. His work required him to be away from home for long stints and they hung in there with him.
He had almost not made it to the Festival.
A scheduling conflict had him in two places at the same time. The important, but boring university meeting had droned on all day when he decided to skip out on the dinner hosted by the University President, and drive the fifty miles to the Book Festival reception.
He enjoyed book festivals. His book was doing well. The attention, money, and increased sales pleased him.
He liked the book world. It was the entertainment business yes, but the main characters, the writers in their rumpled clothes and smart glasses underplayed their roles. Writers, unlike actors, didn’t strut around like peacocks, their “look at me” attitudes flashing their colors. Most of the writers he’d run into at least had something to say. There was an intelligentsia. At book festivals, there were people eager to explore ideas and discuss differences.
He started to wander around the dusty reception area. He watched the authors and benefactors mingle. She was on his mind.
Suzie, the forty-something volunteer chairman, came over with a red headed friend accompanying her. “Eric, thank you so much for coming,” she sang in her Alabama accent. She draped herself over him in what passed for a hug. He felt her press her pelvis up against him, the way women will do when their hug says more than hello. He politely hugged her back.
For Eric, this function was strictly business. Suzie could only help him by giving him a platform to sell more books. There was one personal issue he needed to attend to and he would avoid that one if he could.
Suzie’s husband, Sylvester, standing by as his
wife groped Eric, obviously did not care. Sylvester was verbally engaged with a
sloppy, fat writer who liked himself far more than was warranted. Sylvester and
Suzie had been married 25 years and over that time
Sylvester had trysts with both girlfriends and boyfriends.
Suzie introduced her friend, the red head. Eric shook her hand. He thought she was cute, “southern white girl, cute.” Marge, an author, had written a book about her native state of Mississippi, Mississippi Mud. It had gotten good reviews and Eric promised to read it. All smiles and giggles, she couldn’t wait to ask, “Do you know Morgan Freeman?”
“No,” Eric begged off, excused himself, and wandered away to enjoy the Alabama Book Festival.
. . . . .
Simone had come from Washington D.C. where she was now a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama. She was on track to fulfill her life’s ambitions. Back then, fifteen years ago, as they lay in bed, she had confided to him that one day she hoped to be on the U.S. Supreme Court.
He had made the journey from California. Hollywood, to be exact, a fantasy world he’d escaped into after college. He’d been successful but after a while, become bored. Since he’d gotten married, “for real this time” is how he described it, coupled with the changes in the business, he’d found writing as his rescue. Thus, he’d written a memoir about his early days in Hollywood and the stars he had known. It had been a kiss and tell with juicy, salacious sexual details.
There had been no mention of Simone. He respected her too much.
They had met in his hometown of Birmingham. She was the hotshot lawyer out of Harvard, working at a local firm for the summer. He was in town visiting his family. One of his lawyer friends hooked them up.
It had been a long-distance courtship, a whirlwind. Dates became weekends in D.C, New York, Los Angeles, and Birmingham. Hollywood and lawyer types were their friends. It was a wonderful ride, until one day she had rushed home from her clerk job on the federal bench to call him. She fell asleep waiting for his return call. It never came. She called again the next day wondering if he was ill. He did not answer. She called again that evening and again the next day. He never returned her calls. She tried again a week later, and again two weeks after that.
She never heard from him again. She never saw him again, other than television and films, until now. She did hear from a colleague that he’d gotten married.
“Why couldn’t he at least tell me?” she wondered.
. . . . .
Simone decided she had to conquer her fears, meet them head-on. She purposely walked right into Eric’s sight line, making sure he saw her.
He saw her. He smiled.
She was not a flamboyant woman. She was dressed comfortably but professionally. She projected the sexiness that comes from being smart and assured in your chosen area of life.
His smile of recognition lifted her.
“I didn’t want you to think I was ducking you,” she said, her words fighting through a nervous smile.