Mixed Doubles

My eyes follow the wiper blades as if watching a match from the umpire’s chair: left, right, left, right, left, right. It might be hypnotic if Leo weren’t driving so fast: the rain-refracted oncoming headlights, the wind, the dark; the trucks’ red tail lights multiplied by sheets of water that blur the windshield a second after the wipers clear it. The semis cruising the Interstate to Wisconsin are plowing through the storm at sixty, reckless enough without his overtaking and slipping past them like a Nascar driver.

“It’ll be a beautiful day tomorrow,” Leo says. “Storms will pass off to the east and their court will be dry by mid-morning. Couple of sets before lunch?”

“Absolutely,” I say. “Can’t you just keep this distance? We don’t need to be chasing up to every truck and passing one after another.”

“You’re the one who’s worried about Keith waiting up for us”.

But he does slow down, passes less often. We’ve flown from L.A. to O’Hare to spend the weekend with his friends. He’s nervous, I realize: eager for Keith and Paula Foxworth to meet me and be impressed, and for me to like them. He told them about my tennis ranking and my just-published book. He’s told me, several times, about their clay court. For his sake, I’m glad tennis, at least, offers a basis for connecting with a Midwestern corporate lawyer and his former lawyer wife. Like Leo, they’re fourteen years older than me; they all have children, and the two couples were friends all their married lives—despite the Foxworths having contributed to Bush 2000. (Not in ‘04, Leo assured me, though how would he really know?)

The last twenty miles are on a winding country road past the occasional house, barn, or church, unlit specters looming in and out of the rented Toyota’s high beam. It’s after one, their time, when we pull into the gravel drive past the floodlit sign: Chestnut Lodge.

Keith’s welcome is warm but rushed; Paula has long since gone to bed. He leads us silently upstairs to the guest room, points to towels on the chair and the bathroom at the end of the hall, and tiptoes off.

Leo drops into sleep at once. I lie beside him on the sagging mattress where he has spent many nights, over the years. With Barbara. I promise myself to enjoy the weekend for his sake.

Later I open my eyes, confused, as Leo lurches naked out to the bathroom. The numerals on the clock near my head say 5:34. Outside, a couple of warblers feel inspired to note the dawn. Light seeps around the edges of the drawn curtains. Leo scurries back under the duvet, slipping his hand around my upper arm.

Waking alone in the bed, it takes me a moment to remember where I am: with my lover of half a year, houseguests of his oldest and closest friends. Two days, then home Sunday night. Love means humoring each other.

I’ve spoken with Paula only once, on Leo’s phone a few weeks ago. “Welcome to our family. That’s how we feel about Leo.” I took it as warning more than welcome—but kept that interpretation to myself.

This country place belonged to Keith’s parents. Remnant of a nineteenth century meatpacker’s former estate, it looms larger in Leo’s reminiscences from forty years ago than his own family’s house in Evanston. The ivory wallpaper with small fleurs-de-lis looks new, but on the table between the windows, a cut glass vase of fresh blue and white hyacinths stands on an heirloom linen cloth that might be as old as the house, it feels so thin and soft between my fingers. I open the curtains, raise a window, and survey the canvas of spring blooms. The sun shines through broken clouds on lavender phlox and hyacinths still wet from last night’s storm. I see two flowering white dogwoods and another white-blossomed tree I don’t recognize. This is why Leo especially wanted me to see the place in May.

He comes into the bathroom while I’m in the shower. “Good, you’re up. We waited breakfast for you.” I notice the we; I am the outsider. On the plane, he told me Barbara never fit in well with the Foxworths—not a tennis player, for one thing, and more introverted than I. He kept repeating that Paula and I will be great friends, until I knew that he wasn’t at all confident we will.

I pull on jeans and a Dodgers sweatshirt, brush my hair. Downstairs, I find Paula alone in the kitchen. The marble tile floor feels chilly under my bare feet. Through an adjoining sunroom, I see the two men sitting outside on a stone terrace.

A bulkier woman than I pictured, Paula looks muscular rather than plump: even in Birkenstocks, a few inches shorter than me. She wears Levis and a marigold colored cardigan. Her hair has grown out grayer than in the snapshot Leo took two years ago. I wait for her to extend a hug, but what she offers is a handshake.

“Your home is gorgeous. I hope we didn’t wake you last night.”

“I was awake, waiting for Keith to let you in.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I told Leo we should stay at a hotel by O’Hare last night. He said you’d leave the back door unlocked and we’d tiptoe in.”

“That would have kept me up anyway,” Paula says. “Now, breakfast: We’ve just had a cup of tea and some toast on the terrace. Leo’s been telling us your romantic story. What will you have?”

If this is her welcome, I wonder how she treats uninvited visitors. And did I hear a mocking note? Our story is romantic, how I had an undergraduate crush on Leo when he was a thirty-four-year-old professor teaching History of the Cinema, but we didn’t meet until fifteen years had passed and his department hired me. I can see it’s not romantic from a fifty-something wife’s point of view.

“A cup of that would be great,” I say, pointing to the full carafe under a drip-style coffeemaker. “What a lovely kitchen.”

Paula hands me an oversized white mug. I fill it myself. I can’t tell whether her frown has anything to do with me. Surely she isn’t this angry about our late arrival? “My total kitchen rebuild was in our condo,” she says, “in Chicago. All we’ve done in here was replace the appliances and paint. Our big project last year was the conservatory.” She flaps her hand toward the sunroom, as we’d call it in California. Keith and Leo are coming through it from the terrace. I associate the word conservatory with British films of the 1930s; old houses that might be called, I suppose, Chestnut Lodge. Where Mrs. White might bump off one of the guests with a candlestick.

“I told Paula you’d want coffee,” Leo says. “And the bread”—he indicates two loaves on a cutting board—“Keith went out to the bakery this morning. You’re getting the full treatment.”

It’s one of the things I love about him, the way he wants me to know he made sure they had coffee ready for me. He must be feeling her indifference, too. I didn’t mind pretending I’d be delighted to come meet his friends, but I don’t know how long I can pretend to feel welcome in the face of Paula’s frosty reception.

The oak farmhouse table is set for four, with a centerpiece of pink primroses from the garden, a bowl of navel oranges, a glass container full of granola and another with homemade yogurt. Leo urges the fresh bread on me. “I’ll help myself in a minute,” I say.

In silver frames on the sideboard are photos of their daughters. Jocelyn is at Princeton (Leo reminds me: Keith’s alma mater); the younger, Sarah, is at a prep school I’ve never heard of. Seeing me look at them—I’m about to say Leo has copies on his refrigerator door in Santa Monica—Paula asks him, “How’s Sam dealing with everything? You wrote that he dropped out of Santa Cruz.”

Leo explains that Sam will return to college in the fall. Paula looks skeptical. Keith asks me, “Have you met Sam yet?”

Leo answers for me: “She met him over winter break. We were just getting together, and things with Barbara were obviously in flux, so … but he’ll be in LA all summer, we’ll see a lot of him. Did I tell you she’s going to move into my apartment as soon as her house in Laurel Canyon sells?”

“How long until the divorce goes through?” Paula asks him. A minute later: “How’s Barbara doing?” The woman is like a doctor, probing a wound. Keith’s friendliness only serves to highlight his wife’s barely disguised antagonism toward me. Paula reminds me of a woman whose house I briefly shared at Berkeley, who could cloak a putdown in the most innocent expression of concern.

After breakfast, Keith takes us over the property, which slopes down behind the house a couple of hundred yards to the lake. Half the sky looks like more rain’s coming; here and there are patches of blue. A pair of hawks circle high above, scanning the brush. Leo and Keith gesticulate like boys as they walk, their friendship a throwback to shared adolescence. What remains of Keith’s hair is reddish-blond, yet his eyebrows are brown and bushy, over intense blue eyes.

“It’s four acres,” he says, “this rectangle from the road to the lake plus that pasture uphill from the house. Paula’s horse paddock.”

At the foot of the lawn, in the corner of its lake frontage so as not to break the vista, is a boathouse with a dock and a motorboat up on a lift. Leo points near there to the vaunted tennis court, surrounded on three sides by a vine-covered cyclone fence. Whoever built the tennis court—Keith’s parents?—had to carve a chunk out of the sloping lawn, so one of the sides is a brick retaining wall about three feet high, its top the edge of a flagstone terrace with two umbrella tables and clusters of patio chairs suggesting tennis parties. But the umbrellas and seat cushions are stored away somewhere; the court is in no condition for use. No fresh clay; the line tapes detached in places; weeds sprouting.

“You said you’d have the court ready,” Leo says.

“Did I? Oh, right. Sorry about that. I thought Paula would have scheduled the man to come out. Communication hasn’t been what it should, as you know.” He turns to me: “I hear you’re very good.” Leo is crossing over to examine the court, though I can see from here it’s not playable.

“I wasn’t bad as a kid.”

“You’re not bad now, kid.” The way he says this, pretending not to be flirting though he is, unsettles me in quite the opposite way Paula’s coldness did. He’s an attractive man, physically. Those deep blue eyes, dark lashes and eyebrows. I gaze at the back of his neck, tan as far as I can see into the collar of his burgundy sweatshirt. I wonder how he got so tan in May, only coming out here on weekends.

Behind and above Keith, Paula is leading her horse from its stable behind the greenhouse to the paddock. The swaybacked animal completes a picture worthy of Merchant-Ivory: the brick and stone house half concealed behind cedars, an old oak and the eponymous chestnut; birds chirping. Leo comes back and we walk back toward the house with the brown lab, Gaia, racing up and down the lawn between Keith and Paula. Leo says, “When Sam was little, he used to run between me and Barbara like that when we weren’t speaking to each other.” I notice Keith flick his eyebrows, suggesting he might have more to share along those lines, privately.

Our tour includes the one-stall stable and a newly glazed but mostly unused greenhouse. We wind up in front, next to a ferociously blooming primrose bed where a constellation of white moths hover like aquarium fish at feeding time. Paula must have returned to the house, because an etude issues from an upper window.

“Has Paula taken up the violin?” Leo asks.

“Viola,” Keith says. “She played as a girl. She drives over to Madison once a week now for lessons. You know Paula.”

“I know Paula.” Leo winks, inviting me to share their condescension at her self-improvement regimen. Instead I feel embarrassed for her, embarrassed for Leo about the tennis court, and irritated at both men.

“I remember the first time they brought me out here, thirty-some years ago,” Leo says as we stroll by ourselves down to the lake. “Mrs. Foxworth practically adopted me. A great lady. Paula models herself after her mother-in-law.”

“Was Keith’s mother so stiff?” I say.

“Paula will warm up. She’s maybe a little nervous meeting you for the first time.”

“Either she’s unhappy you’re not with Barbara, or—I don’t know, the whole visit’s an intrusion.”

“Not at all! She cares for me, and you’re part of me now.”

Through breaks in the clouds, sunlight speckles off the water. Am I part of him? I suppose he needs to see me that way. I’ve been in love enough times not to obsess about the intensity of this one, but I am with Leo, and more comfortably so than I ever was with Bryan, my husband. Still, there is a difference between being part of one another’s lives and being part of him. I don’t want to be part of anyone but myself.

“They whispered to me that you’re great,” he says. “I told you so.”

“Paula doesn’t like me,” I say.


“Let’s leave this afternoon, okay?”

“We can’t,” he says. “Our flight’s not till Sunday night.”

“We can drive back to Chicago, stay at a nice hotel? Do a couple of the museums.”

“They’d be crushed,” he says.

At the house, Keith suggests we take the boat out. I point out that it looks like rain.

“I’ve got parkas,” he says.

“Let’s do it,” Leo says.

If I don’t go with the men, I’ll be stuck here with Paula. Keith goes upstairs to look for her. Viola practice ends abruptly, and we hear both voices indistinctly. “We can if you want to,” I say.

“It’s all right, we don’t have to do a boat ride. Sorry about the tennis.”

Keith comes back, the music resuming. It’s something classical, maybe Bach, but I don’t think she’s very good. “Paula says she needs to practice for another fifteen minutes and then she’d love to sit and get acquainted with you. Her exact words were ‘you boys go and play with your boat.’”

I suppose I should feel grateful that she can slot me in. I’m tempted to say something like that. Instead I tell Leo I’m fine, and urge them to go ahead.

I have two books upstairs, but I survey those on the Foxworth coffee table and pick up one called Zen of Tennis. I carry it to the conservatory sofa and browse at random, but like Gaia, stretched out on the stone floor, I can’t keep my eyes open. I doze a bit and wake to find the closed book lying on my stomach, rising and falling as I breathe. I lie still, watching the sky through the open door. The pair of hawks turn slow circles, one higher than the other. There are promising breaks in the clouds; it might not rain after all. You’ve got a nice life, I tell the dog. I open the book to the first page.

The Zen of any game is not to be found in the overcoming of external obstacles, superiority over external opponents or the attainment of external goals. It is the inner game, transcending the player’s own critical judgments, the game played against inner obstacles such as loss of focus, agitation, self-doubt and self-censure.

I shouldn’t overreact to Paula—maybe Leo is right, she’s just nervous. I hear a phone ring. She comes in. “Are you awake? The men just called from the tavern across the lake. Do we want to drive around and join them for lunch or shall I make us a salad and heat up some leftover soup?”

“Soup would be wonderful,” I say. “Let me help you.”

“We give the staff Saturdays off,” Paula says. “That’s a joke—there’s no staff.”

“Really?” I say, relieved that she seems to be trying to lighten up. “How many servants would they have had in the meatpacker’s day?”

“Oh God, half a dozen at least. There are four tiny bedrooms up those stairs from the mudroom plus an apartment over the garage. Now they just show up in vans once a week, cleaners and gardeners.”

“Who takes care of the tennis court?”

“I told Keith you’d want to play.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, I’m still thinking about all the work.” The sun pours briefly onto the kitchen table, then diffuses with the next cloud. Through the conservatory, I see Gaia running on the lawn, suddenly leaping up at a moth. “Leo says you didn’t use to have a horse, just an empty stable.”

“True. I rescued Zuni from the glue factory. We needed a horse grazing in the field, don’t you think, for pictorial purposes?”

“He does fill a niche,” I agree, feeling her relax a bit.

The soup we heat on the stove is homemade, vegetables with chunks of pink smoked ham. I unwrap the bread while Paula assembles mixed salad greens and shaved carrots, sprinkling oil and vinegar from a pair of antique glass decanters. When we’re seated, blowing on our mugs of steaming soup, she asks about my job. “Leo’s told us very little about you. Do you teach, or are you a student there?”

“That’s funny,” I say, “he doesn’t stop talking about you and Keith and the girls. I teach History of Film.”

“How long were you married? I was just wondering because you don’t have children?”

“Eight years.” I answer her next question in advance: “I’m thirty-nine. I still could.”

The other side of the lake is invisible now, lost in fog or rain.

“I don’t imagine that Leo … I’m sorry,” Paula says. “I’ve been bitchy all day. It has nothing to do with you.”

“I’m glad it’s nothing to do with me, anyway.”

“Has Leo told you about us?”

I shake my head. I don’t want whatever confidence she is suddenly about to share.

“There’s another woman.”


“He claims it’s all in the past, but how am I supposed to believe him?”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I thought we’d get through it. We’ve been seeing a counselor for six months, but Keith keeps asking when we’ll be done with her. I’ve told myself I’m staying for the girls, or because I don’t want to sell this place after all I’ve… you want to know the truth? I’m just afraid to be alone. Isn’t that pathetic?”

“This all started six months ago?” I say. “So when Leo …”

“Absolutely. The worst timing. We got his long email about leaving Barbara the same week I found this person’s letter to my husband. I felt like calling Barbara, but … we’re really not that close. And I didn’t want Leo to think I was ….” Leaving the sentence unfinished, Paula stands and carries our plates and mugs to the sink, runs water over them and places them in the dishwasher. “I don’t know how much Keith told him.”

I shake my head. “I’m so sorry,” I say again.

There are things I could share with Paula, things having nothing to do with Leo. My husband screwed at least two other women. One was a person I used to play tennis with, my doubles partner for three years. Or I could tell her my father left my mother for another woman before I was born. None of that is Paula’s business, though. “If Leo had known what you’re going through …”

“He knows all right,” she says. “I called and told him the day I found out. I’m not sure I believe he didn’t know three years ago, when it was going on. He acted surprised, but …”

“There must be some mist…” I feel my face flush, realizing the mistake was mine. The whole picture he painted, Keith and Paula this, Keith and Paula that, deliberately omitting this little fact. I don’t even know him.

Before I’m ready to confront him, the men come in through the mudroom at the end of the kitchen. Their pants are soaked. They were caught in a downpour across the lake. I hurry from the room as Paula is telling them to take off their shoes. I run upstairs.

In the minute or two before Leo finds me in our room, I have gathered myself. I glare at him. “Did you know about his affair when it was going on?”

“Oh,” he says. He sounds relieved, as though this is trivial. “No, I learned when Paula found out. It happened a couple of years before.”

I want to believe he’s being truthful now. Paula doesn’t, and she knows him better.

“Should I have told you?” he asks. “I didn’t know how to handle it, their private business. I know they’ve been seeing a counselor. But I thought, if they bring it up we wouldn’t want to seem like I’d been, I don’t know, gossiping about them. What did Paula say? They’re not splitting up are they? Are they still going to counseling?”

I nod, but now I’m sure he’s lying. Keith surely must have brought him up to date at some point during the last hour and a half.

“That’s good. I was so disappointed in Keith when Paula called to tell me. So what else did she say.”

“That you probably knew at the time he was fucking the other woman. I think so, too.”

“But I’ve just told you it came as a complete surprise to me.”

“Surprise that she found out about it, maybe.”

He looks flustered and embarrassed. I add, “But that isn’t what I’m pissed about. You deliberately avoided telling me anything about their crisis, knowing I wouldn’t want to do this weekend while they’re in the middle of it.”

“I didn’t think of it like that, but I guess it’s true. I’m so sorry, sweetie. I really appreciate your coming, doing this for me. I should have been more respectful.”

I’m almost astonished at how quickly my anger goes—he’s said the right words. I decide not to press the question of when he knew. The alternative is too messy for where we are. “All right,” I say. “You’re off the hook. Don’t let it happen again, buster.”

That’s when he surprises me. “You’re right. I did know about Keith’s affair. It was a thirty-something lawyer. He broke it off because he loves Paula, that’s the long and short of it. I didn’t know how to handle it when she called me, in tears. He’d cheated on her, she wanted to talk to me as a friend of them both. How could she trust me when I’d been his confidante? Something like that must have gone through my mind, so I swore to Paula that I was shocked, shocked. And I’m not sure it wasn’t the right way to handle it, if you want to know the truth. You’re saying she didn’t really believe me? She pretended to.”

“You’re a poor liar.”

“Is that bad?” he says.

A longish make-up kiss, and when he gets out of his wet pants, I almost let him take me to bed. But I’m still sort of mad.

“I understand you’ve been told about our sordid mess,” Keith says to me when we find him alone on the terrace. “Initially, of course, entirely my reprehensible … mistake. The woman—someone at another firm, by the way, not one of our associates—got married soon afterward. Last November she emailed me, for some reason wanting me to know she’d left her husband. Paula saw the email, which contained, I guess, innuendoes, confirming what she’d suspected at the time.

“Problem is, Paula won’t leave it in the past. I don’t defend the affair for a minute, as Leo knows. Unfortunately I denied it repeatedly at the time, which is part of the problem now.”

“That’s where my situation was different,” Leo says. “I didn’t care if Barbara found out. I actually told her, because I was leaving her. You had reason to keep it from Paula.” Both men are nodding their heads, satisfied that they’ve arrived at a profound distinction. Lying is best if you want your relationship to continue, but for breaking up, there’s nothing like the truth? I go back inside.

Keith follows me—he seems to want to justify himself. “I understand it’s hard for her to trust me now. But how long must she go on beating me up about it?”

“Does she?” I ask.

“This fucking counselor, for six months. And what’s the point of her telling you, as well as all our friends, other than to remind me I’m a despicable worm?”

As he’s saying that, Paula comes down the stairs. “I never called you a worm,” she says. “It’s ten to three. Are you going like that?” She’s changed into a blouse and cotton slacks; Keith is wearing a faded rugby shirt and knee-length khaki shorts with an old pair of sneakers.

“Sure, why not?” he says.

“Where are we going?” Leo asks.

Paula looks at Keith. “Didn’t you tell them?”

“Didn’t you? We have this appointment,” he explains. “We’ll be back in an hour and ten minutes.”

Paula apologizes for having to go off to their marriage counselor in the middle of the visit. Keith only comes up to the lake on weekends, so it has to be Saturdays. We assure them it’s fine.

“Bar’s open,” Keith says as he follows Paula out. “Help yourselves.”

We start to go out for a walk, but it’s drizzling again, so we do help ourselves to a couple of beers and sit in the high-ceilinged living room.

“Do you understand,” I say, “it’s not about my wanting to know their problems? What I’m mad about is that you thought this would be a wonderful time for a visit, for me to ‘get to know’ them.”

“I get it,” he says.

“They don’t have to be part of our relationship.”

“They’re my best friends,” he says.

“If you think so, fine, but they don’t have to be my friends.”

“What do you mean, if I think so?”

“I mean if you say they’re your best friends, fine. But it doesn’t make them mine.”

“To hell with Keith and Paula,” he says, examining the label on his bottle. Suddenly I want him in the worst way. This is how it’s been with us from our first date: one or the other of us a spark plug, igniting both engines. I don’t even have to touch him. He feels the electricity and looks up, sees it in my eyes. “Here?” he grins.

“Upstairs,” I say.

It’s the best sex we’ve had, and ever will have. Despite his teasing me by refusing to remove his tennis socks, I come with his tongue and again when he does, inside. Then we lie there on the ancient mattress, laughing at our lust for each other. I tell him Keith is jealous of him, who did leave his wife for the younger woman. And I ask him if he ever made love to Barbara in this bed, which he denies. This lie I willingly accept.

In the shower, he pretends to want more. But when he starts soaping my breasts, I say I want to go for a drive. We’ll have dinner at their favorite restaurant, but we don’t have to spend three hours with them beforehand.

We get away before they return, though it’s almost four thirty. We drive around the lake and along wet farm roads without a word about the Foxworths. For a nice while, they’re merely a minor chord in the background. He talks about growing up in the Midwest; I about Northern California. When Keith calls, Leo promises we’ll be back well before time to leave for the restaurant.

“To hell with Keith and Paula,” he says again, affirming our moment of unity. But as soon as he reaches a highway he turns back toward their house.

Waiting with drinks on the terrace, Keith looks like an ad in GQ, the country gentleman in a cashmere sports jacket and red silk ascot, admiring wife at his side in a blue silk ruffled dress. I think, by next month you’ll be fighting over who gets which house.

We have a round of drinks, then a second—Leo praising Keith’s single malt whiskey, though he never drinks scotch at home. Paula and I drink the Napa Valley Cabernet Leo brought as a gift. The clouds are gone completely, the eastern sky a deepening blue in the early evening light. At least twenty Canada geese graze the lawn near the lake. “It’s against the law to shoot the damn things,” Keith says, “though they’re more of a nuisance than the deer.”

“What nuisance?” Leo chaffs him.

“They shit all over the lawn.”

“That’s called nature,” Leo says, making me laugh.

By now we’ve exhausted all subjects of common interest, the men falling back on what became of various tenth grade classmates. We still have a drive to the restaurant, and dinner, not to mention tomorrow to get through.

At last Paula says we should get going, as the place is half an hour away. The car feels crowded and oppressive. Leo notices my silence and reaches for my hand. I let him hold it for a minute, then give him a pat and take my hand back. What I want is more space around myself, a moat. There is a cigar smell in the car. I crack my window.

The men fall into bantering. Keith says, “Does that college still pay you to sit in the dark all day watching movies?”

Leo says, “We should have brought Keith and Paula a copy of your book.”

I don’t respond.

“We have Leo’s book, don’t we?” Keith says. “I read it, I think. About the director who made all those World War II movies.”

“Very good,” Leo says.

“What’s yours about?”

“Semiotics of the film medium,” I say.

“Oh. Not for the ordinary reader.”

“Unfortunately, no.”

I haven’t told Leo how close I came, last year, to sleeping with a film historian at the Academy Archive, who helped me research the chapters about silent film audiences. It was the week I learned that my husband had cheated. I intimated that fact to the colleague, saying if I confront Bryan I’ll have to leave him. I let the man hug me; we kissed. His willing flesh made mine willing, though not my spirit. I agreed to think about meeting him at his place, but he didn’t call to press it. My energy went instead into filing for divorce. Then I started seeing Leo.

At dinner, trading tastes of four ornate nouveau cuisine selections, we strain to make conversation. Leo and Keith disagree on whether the Democrats have any solution to offer on Iraq. We all agree on Evangelicals in American politics, and on religious extremists everywhere. A more interesting topic, I think, would be marriage. Let’s all tell about our affairs. I drain my glass of Sauvignon Blanc and pass it to Leo for a refill from the second bottle Keith ordered.

Paula may be reading my mind. She’s peering gravely into her wine glass as though into a crystal ball. She must assume Leo knows about other women Keith has screwed, past or present. And does she think I broke up Leo’s happy marriage?

The three of them manage to get back to the subject of their children. “Keith’s daughters,” Paula says, “think he’s the bee’s knees.”

“I am the bees’ knees,” he says.

Without warning, she fires a salvo across the table at her husband. If something between them preceded it, I missed it. It’s as though a switch flipped, re-igniting the woman’s fury. “I don’t suppose they’d be quite so in awe,” she says acidly, “if they knew about your buzzing around.” BOOM: Keith pushes his chair back loudly, its legs scraping the slate floor, and stalks out through the open French doors into the dark. Leo and I look at each other. He knows what I’m thinking: I told you we should have left this morning.

“Sorry about that,” Paula says, looking down at the tablecloth, lining up crumbs with the handle of her spoon in parallel lines. “Ruined a nice dinner.”

Leo gets up, murmuring something about Keith and the car keys. Paula goes to the ladies’ room. The waiter arrives with four coffees. I suggest he bring the check without delay. Leo returns to say Keith is waiting in the car.

“She probably lumps me with him,” he says. “Cheating bastards.” He pays the check. In the car, he rides in front, Paula in back with me. I crack the window again. No words are spoken. I remember Leo’s words to Keith this afternoon: You had good reason not to tell Paula. Not, You were a jerk. What does he see in Keith, with whom he actually has little in common? Their friendship and this whole Chestnut Lodge thing is about their teens, not about Leo as a grownup. Did he always suck up to Keith?

Paula keeps wiping her eyes, sniffling, blowing her nose. The ride takes forever. When we finally get home, Keith takes the dog out, grabbing a coat from the closet as if planning a long walk. We follow Paula into the kitchen. “You didn’t get your coffee,” she says. “You want some now? Or a drink?” We shake our heads. “I’m going to bed then,” she says.

“Me, too,” I say, and Leo follows. At the hallway to our room, she turns and stops me.

“Don’t think he’s some kind of great lover. Don’t be fooled by those sexy eyebrows and deep blue eyes.”

The scene in the restaurant, the tears, and the bitterness in those last words would be awkward under any circumstances, even if we’d all been old friends. Not that I’d have liked Paula under other circumstances, but I certainly dislike her laying their private trouble out, on this visit that meant so much to Leo. The woman’s talking about how can she trust her husband, when really she just wants to punish him. As if she never looked at another man, wouldn’t consider a little dalliance if someone signaled interest.

Now she glares at Leo. “You think I should forgive and forget, don’t you? I should expose myself to being humiliated again?”

I follow his gaze down to the worn and faded oriental runner. Finally he says, “People make mistakes, Paula. How many different ways can Keith apologize? It’s sick to go on reminding him. Unless you’re trying to drive him away.”

I can’t read her expression: hurt, yes, but more. Unforgivably betrayed. And Leo doesn’t take it in. I go down the hall to the guest room and close the door, leaving him still lecturing: “If you want to be happy together, can’t you let the past go?”

Paula shouts, “No! Why should I?” Then a door slams.

A long minute passes before Leo comes in. “I know: We should have left this morning.”

I don’t reply. He continues, “I take it you agree, she has to make up her mind either to trust him or not.”

“I wouldn’t say she has to make up her mind. I would say I don’t like either one of them.”

“They’re my best friends,” he says, as though that should alter my opinion. “And they have so much together.”

“Why should she trust him—with all the ‘fucking counseling’ in the world?”

“It’s a question of choosing to trust him.”

Paula’s viola reaches us, playing a few frenetic scales; then it stops.

“What you’re telling her is,” I say, “choose to ignore it next time.”

“No! I don’t assume there’ll be a next time unless< she keeps acting like this.”

“So it’ll be her fault when he has another affair?”

“It’s not about fault. It’s about forgiveness.”

I don’t bother to argue the point. I’m thinking, I left Bryan because I chose not to trust him. But Paula won’t leave her husband—and not only because she’s afraid to be alone. Nor is she about to forgive, or forget. Paula wants to keep the man so she can go on telling him she can’t trust him. While he, too, will probably choose to stay in the game of receiving and continuing to earn her resentment.

“I’m out of here in the morning,” I say.

“We can’t do that, sweetie.”

“You’re not hearing me. I’m going whether you come with me or not. I’ll fucking pack and leave right now.”

He draws a deep, stagy breath. “All right,” he says at last.

In the morning, Paula doesn’t come down. “I’m sorry,” Keith says, seeing our suitcases. “You know we’re going to get past this. Next time you come, ….” He doesn’t complete the sentence.

Our flight is at seven in the evening, so we could spend the day in the city, but as soon as we’re on the road I tell Leo I want to go straight to O’Hare. “I’m in a foul mood, not your fault,” I assure him. “I just want to stand by for the first flight we can get on.”

He can’t refuse, though he must sense that it’s a lie, the part about not blaming him. I don’t love him, don’t even like him. I can’t wait to get back to L.A. Leo’s car is at LAX, but I’ll get a taxi. To my own house in the canyon, which I love and have no intention of selling.

© 2007, Ken Kaye

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