The Perfect Relationship
He dated her on alternate Saturday evenings after driving his wife to her sick mother in Queens but he was late again. Jo, waiting beneath the Juliette Cinema canopy in the August heat, scanned Greenwich Village traffic. She hoped his Mercedes would arrive soon although she knew he couldn't rush back or his wife would become suspicious. Since arriving six years ago from Illinois, Jo felt that only Graham provided the perfect relationship.
It was nearly eight. Older couples were already queued for Kurosawa's art film--Graham's favorite. Despite the customers' curious stares and perspiration dripping beneath her new, secy pantsuit, Jo couldn't stand inside the air-conditioned theater. Graham, driving by, might think she'd left.
Still, it was irritating to wait. She fluffed her honey blonde curls drooping at the shoulder, tapped a high-heel against the sidewalk, and resumed scanning the traffic. She sighed. Graham, originally from Boston, had class. He was tall and handsome with silky blond hair and finely-chiseled features. As if good looks weren't enough, he was also smart, cultured, and rich. Jo's mother had warned her about dating strangers; she carefully avoided pick-ups. She'd gotten to know Graham while working for him as a secretary at Miracle Cosmetics. After his promotion, their affair started and she'd lost interest in other men. The only problem was his marriage but nobody else could surpass him.
"Excuse me, miss, you waiting for somebody?" a man said with a New York accent.
Startled, she turned toward the heavy-set fellow with obvious potbelly. "Yes. He should be along any minute."
"Oh..." The man hesitated as if wanting to say something and wondering if he should. His gaze swept over her jumpsuit with its narrow waist and snug trousers that flared at the knees.
"Maybe he won't come," he said finally.
"Well, then, could we talk in the meantime?"
"I'd rather not." She turned away. How would it look if Graham suddenly arrived and saw her chatting with a short, tubby stranger wearing baggy pants and open throated floral shirt--a Hawaiian refuge!
"Look, if you really want, I'll leave," he said. "But you don't look too happy waiting for this guy. Bet he's married, huh?"
Jo stared at him. "It's none of your business."
He shrugged and reached into his shirt pocket for a tissue to mop his face. "Okay, I just thought..."
She began to worry, her brow dampening with perspiration. Couldn't he take no for an answer? "Please leave me alone. I'm expecting Graham any minute, and--"
"Oh, Graham. Lucky guy." The man offered Jo a tissue. She nodded thanks out of habit and blotted her face.
"How long you been waiting?"
"I said it's none of your business."
"Yeah, I know. Seems to me, though, any guy keeps a girl like you waiting don't appreciate you. So, how's about having a drink with me?"
Jo decided to give him the silent treatment. She scanned the crowd shuttling among boutiques, art galleries, and sidewalk cafes. It was terrible having to wait on a darkening street as though she was a tramp while some idiot tried to pick her up.
As though reading her thoughts, the man said, "Maybe you think I'm a bum but I got a good job. I drive trucks--those big semi-trailers."
She wadded her tissue and stuck it in her purse. Graham makes an excellent living," she said, her blue eyes staring coldly. "He's a business executive."
The man smiled. "Business executive...yeah, well, I guess he does pretty good. But he's married? Tell me the truth."
"What difference does it make?"
"Plenty! See, I'm not married. I'm what they call a one-woman guy. I take marriage very seriously. You get married, it's like a sacred trust. When a married guy starts playing around, next thing you know he wants to marry his girlfriend. Then she can't hold him and he wants to marry the next one. And so on. Me, I believe in marriage. One man, one woman."
"But there are times when--" She bit her lip. Her unique relationship with Graham shouldn't be discussed with just anyone. How often Graham had promised, "Joanne, as soon as my mother-in-law recovers, I'll marry you. You know I can't do that now. The turmoil would kill Gwyn."
Pain had engulfed her. Four years was a long time to wait for him. She was almost twenty-five. Her mother had argued on the phone that she should find a nice, single professional, but Jo remained faithful to Graham. He could afford a lot: beautiful house like the one he probably had in Westchester, servants, a nanny for the kids. Her office friends envied her good luck. Despite his marriage, they called Graham a great catch.
"Well, so how's about that drink?"
She turned, surprised the man hadn't been discouraged. "Oh, you're still here. I told you I wasn't interested."
"Yeah, that's what you said. But I read something different in your eyes. I have this feeling you kind of go for me, you know?"
Suddenly, Jo felt lonely. Graham probably couldn't imagine how hurt she was. And here was someone friendly who thought she was pretty and wanted to date her. She noticed he had dimples. A truck driver with dimples? How absurd, how improbable, how charming! She burst out impetuously, "You have dimples!"
He flushed with embarrassment but wasn't entirely upset by her remark. "Yeah, ain't that something?"
She noticed then that his white teeth were perfectly even and his face clean-shaven.
"I meant what I said before about not cheating in marriage," the man said. He gazed at the sidewalk. "See, I had a wonderful wife who died a few years back. To tell you the truth, I loved Teresa so much, I didn't think I'd date anybody again. We made a commitment and stuck to it. I been looking for a good person like that ever since."
Jo nodded sympathetically. She reminded herself that Graham and his wife hadn't gotten along for years, didn't even share the same bedroom! She again scanned the traffic and frowned. There was another problem with Graham. Sometimes he didn't show up at all and never let her know ahead of time. He usually had a good excuse but it wasn't reassuring to think that the man you loved with all your heart couldn't see you because he'd suffered that afternoon with indigestion.
Yet here, tantazingly nearby, was another man, perhaps attractive if she really looked at him. His clothes were clean and pressed. The flowery shirt was cheerful, like spring. And those tiny black curls peeping above his collar were adorable, the opposite of Graham's smooth, fair chest. The man might be exciting in bed--wildly passionate and demanding. She tingled at the possibility of unbridled sex, then realized she liked the man's hair, too. Black and wavy. She was starting to like a lot of things about him. Why martyr herself for Graham who might not really love her--not the way she loved him? Suppose he never got the divorce? She'd end up an old maid, unable to attract anyone, her life finished at thirty.
She smiled at the stranger's admiring gaze.
"What's your name?" he said.
"Jo--I bet you're a lot more woman than a name spelled J-o-e." He grinned at his joke.
Her smile faded. She didn't like him saying she was more woman as if he was only interested in her sexually. There couldn't be a soulful relationship as with Graham who discussed history, politics, literature--subjects she'd thought about only in school. Graham tried to broaden her world.
"You're bright and learn quickly." His gaze had swept over her and he sighed. "You're gorgeous and your typing and shorthand are excellent. With my coaching, people will think in a few years that you have a degree."
"Oh, Graham, you really think so?"
"Do you really think so?" he corrected. Then he nodded, "Of course," and they'd kissed.
The man said, "I'm Vinnie Paladino. I'll be in New York a month, then I got to go down to Florida. That's why I thought we might get acquainted."
"You mean, so you can look me up whenever you come here." She said it sarcastically.
Vinnie misunderstood the sarcasm. "I'd like to call you!" he said, beaming. "I'm from the Bronx originally. I recently moved to Florida with my folks after Pop's retirement pension started coming from the post office. I figured it was no use hanging around New York, brooding about Teresa. Anyway, you sort of remind me of her, sexy but kinda innocent. Say, I like that snazzy jumpsuit."
She smiled, glad she'd worn it.
"You have a superb body, my dear," Graham had said, "but I must teach you a conservative sense of style."
Yet, this truck driver understood that not every woman knew how to look sexy! Coincidentally,her father, too, worked at a post office. Unlikely as it had seemed, she and this stranger seemed to share things in common.
"Hey, look, you really think your boyfriend will come?" Vinnie said, touching her hand and smiling when she didn't withdraw it. "Why don't we get a drink at the corner bar? And maybe catch a blockbuster action movie? It's hot standing here on the sidewalk."
She hesitated. Though she preferred romantic films, at least Vinnie cared enough to invite her while Graham stood her up--again! Tomorrow, in the Miracle Cosmetics cafeteria, she could hint that she'd met someone very, very nice and maybe jealousy would prod him into starting the divorce.
"Looks like my date can't make it," Jo said at last.
She noticed then Vinnie's nice smile: the broad, sincere grin, the soft dark eyes that lit up as if she was the most important person in his life. Graham was so dignified, it was difficult to let himself go. Jo had often teased him about that. In her Upper West Side apartment, after he'd refused to walk in the rain, she'd said, "Oh, Graham, don't be an old stick-in-the-mud just because you're near fifty. Loosen up. See the fun things in life. Enjoy yourself!
He'd hugged her. "You're right. I need to relax after kowtowing all day to the company president."
But, in fact, she realized now that nothing she'd ever said had changed Graham's behavior.
She linked her arm through Vinnie's. He propelled her along Bleecker Street. "Well, I'm sure we'll have fun when you get into town," she said, high heels clattering on the sidewalk while music spilled from cafes. "I love to dance, see Broadway shows, and spend weekends in Atlantic City. I never get to do those things."
"Oh, I'll call soon as I can," he said, cheeks deeply dimpling. "Matter of fact, I might move back! Just so happens, I like the same things you do. And I'm a terrific football fan. Every year I get season's tickets. I like bowling, fishing. My cousin has a swell little row boat we could borrow. We can have great times."
She disliked sports. Well, maybe it was time to consider different options and not let Graham run her life. And wouldn't it be exciting to have unrestrained sex without feeling nervous about a wife finding out! Vinnie seemed so masculine and self-confident. Actually, she liked him more and more. When he reached for her hand and smiled, she returned his smile. She might even fall in love with him... It seemed she could have a perfect relationship, after all.