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By Stacey Ballis
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneQUOTES OF THE DAY
There is a pleasure sure
In being mad which none but madmen know.
There is a pleasure in poetic pains. Which only poets know. - John Dryden - William Wordsworth
Geoffrey M. Fahl, Esq. is holding my hand.
Now I know that this may seem a rather insignificant detail to you, but to me, this is the probably the best, and certainly most unexpectedly fabulous thing that has happened in a very long time. I suppose that what I am finding interesting about this little bit of random human contact with the esteemed Mr. Fahl is that it is forbidden and wrong on so many levels that I am loath to admit to myself that I am awfully intrigued about what it might mean.
Perhaps I should begin with the fact that Mr. Fahl is, at this moment, sitting on my right in the last occupied row of a small movie theatre, and that the hand holding mine bears on its fourth finger a wedding band. I did not place it there. Additionally, it may be worthy of note, on the end of my left arm is a hand that is tingling and dewy, jealous of the attention my right hand currently enjoys, and that this hand too feels the weight of a thin band of gold, a small diamond solitaire, representing years of living with a man who is most definitely not Mr.Fahl seems reasonably casual about this entire situation, and yet is not coming off as a practiced Lothario. He just seems bored by the film, bold enough to make contact, and right now his thumb is making lazy circles on the fleshy pad below my thumb, and my thumb is gently stroking the first joint on his pointer finger, and the whole arrangement seems to be the most exhilarating and intimate of activities.
Several thoughts cross my mind all at once. I am the luckiest girl in the world. I am an evil seductress. I am making a huge mistake. I am a slut. I am having the best time. Nothing will ever be the same.
As it turns out, the statements are all true.
Of course I don't know that at this moment, I am concentrating only on the feel of his hand in mine, the way our arms are touching along their length with an easy pressure. The way our legs are aligned, connected at the knee. The feel of his pulse beneath my fingers. The light scent of his cologne, the rhythm of his breathing. I am trying to remember how it happened, what made it okay, why we ended up here, like this, connected and disconnected, full of strange promise.
It is blurry.
I remember wanting to see the movie, and that my husband was out of town. I remember my girlfriend Pam blowing me off, and the decision to go alone. I remember arriving at the theatre to discover that the listing in the paper was wrong and that I was an hour early. I remember sitting at a table in the café next to the theatre, and perusing The Reader, Chicago's weekly alternative paper, even though it was last week's, and I had already read the really important bits, like News of the Weird, and Savage Love. And I remember the voice breaking into my concentration.
I looked up into a face I recognize from all the Fun events (Functions and Fund-raisers and Funerals), which I have occasion to attend with my parents. A face I had always found strangely appealing, despite its quirky crookedness. Despite its age. Despite its being attached to the personage of a partner in my dad's law firm, married to a woman who serves on three different boards with my mother, one of which happens to be the Women's Auxiliary Board for the college where I happen to teach. I think it was the eyes. Really lovely blue, twinkly sparkly starkly blue, with the tiniest squinty quality, as if he is always pondering something important, which may be why you don't really notice the eyes till you are right up on them. He is smiling hopefully at me, and his brow is furrowed in a way which makes me think that it is somehow important to him that I remember who he is.
"Mr. Fahl, you startled me. What an unexpected pleasure to bump into you, how have you been?"
He seems chuffed, and lowers his head a bit.
"Geoff, please. I have been very well, thank you, and yourself?"
"Can't complain, really. Busy as usual. What brings you to the neighborhood?"
"Movie next door. Paper got the time wrong, so I am early and came in here for a coffee and to waste an hour."
"Ditto. Please, join me? Save me from reading the personal ads?"
"Absolutely. And I promise not to tell your husband you were reading the personals."
"Tell him if you like, just don't tell him I am thinking of PLACING an ad."
Mr. Fahl - Geoff to his friends - which apparently now includes myself, laughs.
"Your secret is safe with me. Will he be joining us?"
"He is out of town on business for the week. And Mrs. Fahl?"
"She is also away."
"If we were the suspicious sort we might think they were having an affair!"
"I suppose they could suspect the same of us, especially after the slumber party incident."
"This is a good point." We laugh together.
So a little over a year ago, maybe a year and a half previous to tonight's fateful movie house meeting, my mother calls me with a completely strange proposition. Did I want to spend a night in the Shedd Aquarium? Now, on the one hand, my love of all things aquatic might make this a logical offer, were it not for the fact that I am not TEN YEARS OLD, and there is something really bizarre about a thirty-one-year-old woman with a husband and a Master's degree spending the night in a sleeping bag at a museum with god knows how many strangers. Sigh. My mother means well, she is a totally fabulous batty lady whom I dote upon, but here and there she gets these really ridiculous ideas, which usually involve me, a portion of my limited free time, and an event that is deeply tedious. As I am for all intents and purposes an only child, (my sister Naomi is eight years my senior, and lives in New York with her husband and kids, and we see each other once a year at most, and my brother Adam, two years my junior, is living and working in London for the time being) I have no siblings available to take up the slack when it comes to dutiful child responsibilities. All the "great things" parents have a tendency to volunteer you for because they think you would have such a" good time. "The parking lot duty for the art fair, filling the last empty seat at their table for any number of rubber chicken dinners in support of diseases, the arts and Jews in general (sometimes in support of diseased Jewish artists for a grand slam), donating myself at silent auctions to lead book discussions or give one-on-one workshops in the writing and performance of poetry.
I love Mom, she means well, it is easier to acquiesce, so I am scheduled for a Slumber at the Shedd event, complete with seafood buffet dinner which is (a) a little creepy considering we are at the aquarium and the fish will be watching us chow down on their cousins, and (2) annoying, because I don't eat seafood.
At least I can drag my husband Mark to this one, and eerily enough he seems excited about it, which, for whatever reason makes me irritated with him. I suppose it is important to acknowledge that of late, most of what he says and does makes me irritated with him.
And by "of late," I mean for the last couple of years or so.
But that is not particularly relevant at this moment; we will deal with it later.
Long story short, we go to the aquarium, find a good spot to camp out near the seahorse exhibit, hit the buffet, (where I show solidarity with my fine-finned friends by eating only salad and rolls, and Mark calmly eats his way through about three pounds of shrimp, crab legs, mussels marinara and baked cod as if he has never seen seafood before) and begin to wander through the exhibits, all of which have been lit to show us what happens to the seas and rivers at night. A great deal of it is very interesting, or would have been, except most of the guests are families with small children, and these little people are out past their bedtime, and many are behaving badly. Mark is tired, (probably from all the strenuous digestion) so we head over to our little nook and try to sleep. Sleep is impossible. Ever notice how your house or apartment makes those strange noises you can only hear when you can't fall asleep? Well, imagine the racket an entire museum makes. Around 2:00 a.m. I get out of my sleeping bag and go for a walk. They have limited the "camping" areas to the gallery spaces, which leaves the central tank and its surrounding grottos blissfully free of dozing patrons. I find a small cave and wander in to watch the parade of the nocturnal ocean life, at this hour consisting primarily of sharks, rays and one sea turtle. I adore sharks. They are truly fascinating creatures. So serene, yet with an underlying dangerous quality. So clearly perfectly designed for their environment. So, so very, well ...
There is a tired-looking man sitting behind me in my little hide-out. "Excuse me?"
"Elegant. The sharks, they are the most elegant fish in existence, don't you think?" He looks very familiar to me but I can't place him, and the pale blue-green light from the tank settles in the lines on his face, and the shadows of the big fish as they pass by glide over his features making them so much jumbled nonsense. Plus, I took my contacts out when I thought sleep was a possibility.
Excerpted from Inappropriate Men by Stacey Ballis Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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