"KYLE, THIS IS SADIE. SADIE, this is Kyle." Fontaine made introductions as we gathered for lunch at an artsy little bistro on Marigold Lane. Bell Harbor was locked in a time warp, but trendy pockets of style could be found amid the tourist traps and antique shops.
Kyle's thick blond hair was short, and his dark tan set off eyes so brilliantly blue it was impossible to look away. We shook hands, and I expected little sparks to go off he was so supercharged with sexy.
"Sadie, it's great to meet you. Fontaine has told me so much about you."
"Only the good stuff," Fontaine joked.
"There's only good stuff to tell," I assured him.
"Please, sit down." He pulled out my chair.
What a gentleman! I tried to keep my thoughts on business, while silently reprimanding Fontaine. He should have warned me his boss was smokin'! Then it hit me. Maybe that was the whole point. Maybe this whole professional organizing thing had been a grand scheme to introduce us! I felt a flush of annoyance. How dare Fontaine manipulate me that way? And yet, this guy was yummy with a capital yuh.
I wasn't interested in anything romantic, but he was so pretty to look at I could hardly stay mad at Fontaine.
The waitress came, and the men ordered merlot. I ordered a cosmopolitan, hoping to seem, well...cosmopolitan. Plus I didn't want my teeth to turn purple.
"Tell me about yourself, Sadie." Kyle leaned forward and touched my arm. I was pinned beneath his piercing gaze and felt a flood of primordial need. I had never been so instantly attracted to anyone in my life. Not even Richard. Kyle was dazzling. Suddenly Penny's advice to land myself a transitional man bumped up against my sense of restraint. This guy might be Bachelor Number One.
While we waited for drinks, Kyle asked me assorted questions, only half of which pertained to organizing. He was obviously flirting. He'd felt the instant connection too. I felt tingly right to my toes.
He leaned forward as we looked at the menus.
"The lobster ravioli here is to die for."
He was so close, his breath tickled my neck. His crisp, button-down shirt gapped, and I caught sight of a small tattoo on his chest. In that instant, disregarding all sense of reason, I added Screw a Hot Guy with a Tattoo to my Bucket List.
Throughout lunch, I did my best to dazzle him with wit and charm. Whenever Fontaine pinched me under the table, I'd dial down the flirtation a little. Along with favorite movies and dream places to travel, we talked about organizing and how Kyle thought my talents might benefit his design firm.
"We'll need to give this a trial run, of course. But I have a project in mind," Kyle said. "Some great friends of mine have recently moved in together. They don't need decorating, but they definitely need help blending their stuff." He turned to Fontaine. "You know Owen and Patrick, don't you?"
Fontaine nodded, quirking one dark brow. "Patrick who you used to live with?"
Kyle laughed. "Yes, but that was in college. He's got ten times more stuff now. When we shared an apartment, we had one twin bed and one blanket."
I laughed with them. "That must have been awkward. Did you take turns sleeping in the bed or what?"
Fontaine burst out laughing and choked on his water.
Kyle's smile went supernova bright. He caressed my forearm again. "Take turns? You're hilarious, Sadie. Fontaine was right."
Why was that funny? I didn't get the joke.
And then I did.
Oh. My. God. This guy was gay. I had just spent two hours of my life, not to mention risking a potential job offer, flirting outrageously with a gay man. No wonder Fontaine kept making faces at me. I was such a dolt. How had I missed it? All those innuendos weren't for me. He was just being colorful.
I downed my cosmo in three fast gulps and tried to pretend I'd known all along. If Kyle noticed a change in my attitude, he didn't let on. The rest of lunch passed in a blur, and at the end he promised to introduce me to his old lover and his old lover's new lover.
So I didn't get the guy, but at least I got my first paid organizing job.
"Now let me get this straight," Jasper asked as we sat on the beach. "You were hitting on Fontaine's gay boss while he interviewed you for a job?"
I nodded, and Jasper fell back into the sand, laughing uproariously. "You idiot," he sputtered.
I wanted to defend myself, but could hardly blame Jasper. Fontaine's retelling of the lunch fiasco had painted me in the worst possible way. Accurate, but unflattering nonetheless.
"Mommy, look, it's flying," Jordan called to me, pointing at his kite whipping around in the sky.
"Good job, baby. Hold on tight to the string," I shouted back.
Paige had given up on her kite and played with dolls in the sand. Still no swimming.
I noticed someone, someone who looked very much like Des, jogging down the beach. Didn't that guy ever just walk? I ignored the quiver in my nethers. After what happened at lunch yesterday, I was off men again, for sure. And this time I meant it.
Jasper looked over. "Is that Des?"
"I can't tell." But I could.
Jasper waved. Des waved back and then stopped to talk to Jordan, who promptly handed over his kite string.
"Let's hear about this girlfriend of yours, Jas. How come I haven't met her yet?" I said.
"She's been traveling for work. But you'll meet her as soon as she gets back. Man, I can't wait until she's home. This is the longest we've ever been apart." Jasper hung his head down.
"How long have you been dating?"
"A year this August." He twisted a beach towel in his hands and glanced over at Des and the kids. He turned back to me. "Can I tell you a secret? But you have to promise not to tell anybody."
I leaned close. "I won't tell anyone."
"I'm going to ask Beth to marry me."
The joy I should have felt at such an announcement failed to materialize. They were too young! Too naive! Too stupid to know how love wouldn't last. I forced a smile to my lips.
"That's great, Jas. Really. But are you sure? I mean, what about buying a restaurant?"
He tipped his head and frowned. "What's one thing got to do with another?"
"Nothing, I guess. It's just that weddings are expensive. And rings, and houses. Where will you live?"
He leaned away. "Geez, Sadie. I thought you'd be happy for me."
"I am, really. Don't misunderstand me. I'm sure she's great and all that, but marriage is hard work."
"Not if you find the right person instead of some cheating schmuck. You think because it didn't work for you, it won't work for me?" He twisted the towel harder.
I've never kicked a puppy, but I imagine this must be how a puppy kicker felt. Try as I might, I could not conjure up a memory of when Richard and I were in the hazy flush of newly wedded bliss. It must have been delicious once, before we got to the gristle and the greasy aftermath.
"I'm sorry, Jasper. I didn't mean that like it sounded. Of course I'm happy for you."
"Yeah, well. Thanks. Anyway, I'm late for work." He jumped up, brushing off the ever-present beach sand. He sprinted to the deck steps without another word.
Dody liked to say "You can't un-rip paper." If I could, I'd take back the last five minutes. I didn't mean to make Jasper feel bad, but marriage was not unicorns and rainbows. He needed to know that.
The sun was high in the blue sky. Heat rose from the sand in shimmery waves and made the flush of my regret warmer still. Even the wind didn't cool things down.
I watched as Des showed Jordan tricks with the kite. It strained against the string, twisting and spinning. I felt like that kite. Hanging on by a slender thread, with no certainty or control over which direction life would turn me next.
Jordan squealed, excited over Des's kite prowess. Paige had joined them too, hopping on the sand and trying to mimic the movements of the kite in an awkward dance.
Des turned then, his smile bright as a breath-mint commercial. I had no choice but to go and say hello.
"Hi. You're quite handy with that thing," I said.
"I'm quite handy with all sorts of things," he answered. Was he flirting? He sounded like he was flirting. But so had Kyle. My signal reader definitely needed calibrating.
Des's chest was sweaty again from his jog. It was quite distracting. Only the presence of my offspring prevented me from blurting out something totally Dody like, "Did you know the Romans made aphrodisiacs from the perspiration of gladiators?" (It's true. I learned it on the History Channel.)
"Mommy, Des says we can go in the water if you say we can," Jordan squeaked.
My eyes snapped from Des's torso to Jordan's face.
"You want to go in the water?"
My son's white-blond head bobbed.
Who was this changeling and what had he done with my child?
"I thought you were afraid of the waves."
Jordan straightened his shoulders with mini-machismo. "Am not!"
"I want to go too!" Paige added.
"Sorry," Des said. "I told them I was going to swim, so they asked."
What kind of pied piper was this guy? I'd been trying to get them in the lake for almost a month.
"They don't know how to swim."
"It's really shallow right here." He gestured toward the stretch of water right in front of us. "If you come with us, we'll be fine."
"Come on, Mommy." Paige grabbed my hand and pulled.
Was it his accent that made every suggestion so impossible to resist? He could've asked me to drive a getaway car and I would've agreed.
Before my faint agreement had scattered on the wind, Jordan was running toward the lake with Paige and Des, leaving me to wonder over the drastic change of heart in my children's attitudes.
They halted at the shoreline until I joined them.
"Ready?" Des asked Jordan, offering his hand.
Jordan hesitated now, curling his toes as second thoughts and a six-inch wave nearly overtook him. He held up his arms without taking his eyes off the water.
Des didn't miss a beat. He scooped up my son and walked into the lake. I'm surprised he didn't just walk over the top of it. Who was this guy anyway?
I picked up Paige, who giggled and wiggled and squealed. Following a step behind the boys, I watched Jordan. His eyes were as wide as the smile breaking across his face.
A wave splashed up against Paige's foot. She tried to climb higher on my body, but there was no place for her to go. At least concern for the safety of my children made me momentarily forget about all those corpses and eels and God knows what else was floating around in the water. Well, not entirely forget...
Ten minutes later, my children were bobbing around like baby ducks, all fear of getting splashed or dunked gone. For weeks I had cajoled, bargained, threatened, and bribed, trying to get them to this spot. And now, thanks to this man from Atlantis, they were frolicking like little Nemos.
The water was calm. I didn't need to worry about a riptide suddenly pulling them out into the depths, but I reminded them to stay close. Not that they were paying me the least bit of attention since Des the Superhero was there. They were magnets to the Man of Steel.
"Come on, guys, give Des some space. You're like carbuncles," I pleaded.
"What's a carbuncle?" asked Paige.
"It's that stuff that grows on the bottom of ships," I replied.
Des choked back laughter. "I think you mean barnacles."
"Do I? What's a carbuncle then?"
"It's a skin abscess. Like a boil."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded definitively. "Pretty sure."
Well, shit. Dody was rubbing off on me. I'd always thought those were carbuncles. I wondered how many times I'd used the wrong word.
"By the way," he asked, "is that a waterproof watch?"
I looked at my wrist. My watch was full of hazy lake water, the second hand tick, tick, ticking over the same spot. Drat.
"Is yours?" I asked, trying to deflect my embarrassment.
He nodded and glanced at his own. "Oh, shoot!" he exclaimed. "I'm going to be late for work. I have to go. See you later!"
He waved a hand back over his shoulder as he started to move toward the shoreline. Then he stopped and turned, pointing to Jordan. "Are you OK out here in the water with them?"
Was I OK keeping an eye on my own children? Of course I was, and yet the offer was so genuine I nearly laughed. How many times had Richard asked if I needed help with the children? Um, exactly never.