They never got around to that 2nd date.
Sam was enjoying their time together. They were sharing only the little things for now — did you grow up watching that TV show, too? How have you never tried scallops? — and now his offer to show her his favorite place scared him. What if she didn’t like it, or worse, told him so? He hated the thought of losing their evenings over this.
Leslie worried, and for the same reason. She and Dex had never behaved as she saw other couples do, even after they were married, and especially not physically. She was luxuriating not only in Sam’s touch, but also in his attention, the way he stroked her arms and hair when she spoke and then her cheeks and chin when he answered.
What was she going to do if this favorite place, Shenandoah, was a sports bar? Or worse, a golf course?
Sam arrived Friday evening as if nothing were planned for Saturday, and neither mentioned it. This time, he brought a bag with the olives and cheeses he knew she liked, and another with some rolls. And she was ready, with a cold beer for him and a glass of wine for herself.
He began. “Why do seagulls not fly over the Chesapeake?”
“There aren’t any?”
“No. Because then they’d be bagels.” He held up a roll.
“I don’t get it.”
“The Chesapeake?” He pointed behind him. “It’s a bay? Over there?”
“That’s a Kaiser roll.”
It was his first joke to fall flat and he couldn’t tell if the disquieted look she held was a result or a prelude. He decided to try again. “You know what, you’ve been here all day. Let’s take this somewhere, have an evening picnic.”
“If you wish.”
And with that, he wished for her to make a commitment. He was learning “if you wish”, “if you want”, “you can choose, pick, decide” were her maxims, and their why was something he hadn’t been able to crack. That a part of her seemed reluctant to give an opinion was appealing in an odd way. As though she would always acquiesce, and stay faithful to him if he asked, not that he would push her to do anything against her will. And that’s where the problem lay, this deference and docility. He wondered if it was her late husband whose will she wasn’t able to overcome. She didn’t play the part of the grieving widow, didn’t declare him off limits. But over the last two weeks, she managed to avoid paying any attention to his matter. The badge in Sam did not want to drop it, though.
Numerous times, he would try to turn the discussion around to the man, and she would invariably find a way to turn it back. What kind of work did this husband do? He was a bureaucrat, I suppose, but tell me why the army and not another branch? How old were you when you joined? And having such an attentive audience was sometimes too enticing to pass up.
This time, he helped her spread out a bath towel on the bed as a picnic blanket, with himself reclining along one side. She climbed up and crossed her legs, showing a pair of bright fuchsia and turquoise argyle socks.
“I like those. Can you make me a pair, too?”
“Well, that was definite,” He gave her a smile only to watch her face start to fall. “Hey.”
“I can’t knit socks.”
“I can’t either. Guess we’re made for each other.” He took her hand and decorated her fingertips with olives, delighting that her face picked back up.
“I always had trouble with the gussets,” she told him. “I made a pair of socks once. Well, one and a half socks.”
“That space at the bend.”
“Sounds like a cuss word, gusset.”
Leslie nodded. “It does. I could use that, ‘oh gusset!’”
Sam stole a sly glance at her. “Or you could just say ‘shitfuckdamnhell’.”
“No. No, no, no. I said ‘damn’ once when I was about nine,” Her eyes grew wide. “‘I don’t want any more of those damn blueberry muffins!’ You would have thought I had just opened the gates of hell and pushed my Nana through, the way my daddy reacted.”
“Well, there you go. That’s two of the four.”
Leslie pulled off the olives. “No. No way.”
“Shit’s not bad. Everyone says it.”
He sat up, leaned in. “C’mon. Say ‘crap’.”
“That is not really a cuss word.”
“Do you say poop?”
“Stop it, we’re eating! Besides, if you have to use cuss words, you’re not using your imagination.”
“What about when you get drunk? Here, have some more wine.”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever been drunk.”
He sat back against the pillows in mock disbelief. “Are you for real? Next thing I know, you’re going to say you’ve never smoked a joint let alone a cigarette.”
“I am real. And you are right about the cigarette,” Leslie checked the floor for fallen olives.
“Ok, this I want to hear about.”
“It’s been a while. I was in college and someone offered it to me.”
“Never smoked it myself. Was it fun?”
“I’m not sure I should be discussing my past drug use with you.”
“Can’t do anything about it unless I catch you with it. But we’ll get back to your deviant ways. Hey, you like some music? I can dock my phone.”
“I’m fine without it.” She didn’t want him to see her get lost in the colors and shapes in the music. Not yet. The first time she tried Dex’s earbuds, she thought she was having a stroke, the sensory overload was so intense. It was several minutes after the song stopped before she was able to think straight enough to remove them. Music around her wasn’t as powerful, but she knew it increased people’s impression of her as being unreliable due to her inability to focus on anything else.
“You and your husband ever go to concerts?”
Leslie straightened the corners of the towel before taking a long sip of wine, and then another. “Deviant ways, you said. I suppose you don’t have any?”
A shift back, away from the subject. “We all have something.”
“Well, let’s see. I like to put my feet on a coffee table. I’m told that’s a bad thing. And apparently, there’s more than one way to put away a bath towel.”
“Besides on the counter? That’s where mine usually end up.”
“Like I said, a perfect match.”
She reached over and lightly stroked his shoulder once.
“You can keep that up.”
“Maybe we should go out for a walk,” she said. “We can talk better if we aren’t, well, the way we always get.”
“Is everything ok?”
She took his hand a little too quickly and gave it a kiss. “Oh, of course. You just seem to want to ask me questions about Dex, and it’s distracting, with us sitting here. You know I’m going to kiss you and then you’ll never get your answers.”
Appeased, he helped her clear the bed and they put their shoes back on. Once downstairs, Leslie took his arm, leaning into him.
“Tell me more about being a Marshal. Why did you choose them and not regular cops?”
“Gonna tell me about this husband of yours, too?”
Sam waited. When she didn’t start, he went ahead. “Didn’t want to be a rookie cop after spending so much time as an MP. I think I was called to it,” He regarded her as she bobbed her head. “And you?”
“I wasn’t called, silly.”
“He wasn’t either. My daddy –”, She stopped, bit her lips shut.
“I’m guessing he’s back in Texas? You talk to him much?”
“I try to. I should do better.”
It struck Sam then that it might not be this Dex, but this daddy she bowed to. “Your dad, was he in –”
“Oh no. Daddy didn’t, he just, he said my calling…well, Nana said I’d be a better teacher,” She pulled him to a stop. “Ooh, that’s, I know that plant!” They stopped in front of an overgrown Turk’s cap. Sam watched as she selected a flower and popped it into her mouth.
“I’m sorry, was that illegal?” She swallowed it quickly.
“No, but it’s, don’t apologize. It’s a plant. You have to know what you are doing.”
“I do. I grew up playing outside. We ate almost everything and none of us ever died.”
“I don’t think this is the same outside you played in.”
“But it sort of is. I like this place. I see so many things I know,” They continued up the path as Leslie pointed out more plants. “Purslane, sorrel. That looks like a mulberry.”
“We had a mulberry. Used to fight the birds for them,” He plucked a berry and handed it to her.
“Can I have a leaf, too?”
He handed her a leaf. “Gonna make that into a sushi roll?”
She smiled at the leaf, massaging the texture between her fingers while holding it up to her ears to hear the hollow waves the rubbing produced. “They make silk from these.”
“Silk? From this?” He took the leaf, rubbed it like she had, up near his ear. “I thought silk was…soft.” Only then did he realize that she had changed the subject.
Sam walked her back and gave a her kiss goodbye at his truck. When she pointed out someone quickly dropping a curtain at the sight, he bent her backward, laughing into his kiss.
“Let them watch,” he told her. “I’ll see you Sunday, then?”
She watched his truck turn the corner before she walked up the steps behind the screen door, grateful that he seemed to have forgotten about Saturday.
Sam had asked once or twice about her late husband over the past weeks. She couldn’t tell if it was because she was worried about the now-liberated Saturday that Dex wouldn’t leave her mind alone, but that evening, it seemed as if everything little thing was about him. The music, the socks, even the bath towels.
A few years before, without discussion as to the why, Dex had begun to insist the towels be refolded in thirds after use instead of simply hung over the rack. Leslie tried, but found she couldn’t eyeball it the way he did. She eventually bought a suction cupped hook for the kitchen and repurposed a coatrack on a separate wall for her own bath towel.
Socks, another touchpoint. The beauty of weaving shawls, she thought, was that they were great big pieces of fabric with no twists to overcount or pinched nubby ends. For Dex’s 28th birthday, she had bought a skein of self-striping yarn and tried her hand at making him a pair of socks. Only the stripes didn’t agree, with one sock being too long in the toe and the other a bit stubby by 3 inches. Leslie kept them for herself. She wore them to dust the foyer until they were too dirty, and then threw them away.
It had now been more than a year since he died, and she wondered when she would be at peace enough with Dex to discuss him. Sam occasionally mentioned that he had been married twice before. He sometimes spoke of one, she wasn’t clear which. His face would cloud briefly, but it was quick and he never spoke with bitterness, just the facts, and moved on. And as much as she wanted to know more, she didn’t want to make a nuisance of herself and pry. Especially with that uncomfortable mention of one ex meeting her current husband at the gallery. Leslie felt sure they had to have been divorced by then and that the ex-wife had simply told him later. Maybe at a party. Oh, hello you, and this is my new husband who I met at a show. That sort of thing.
She didn’t know just how she could tell Sam about Dex, the way others talk of their past lovers. She practiced it in her mind, telling him that this probably prostitute took Dex’s wallet and ran.
A prostitute. Would he ask what was wrong with her that her husband needed to do that sort of thing? No, he wouldn’t, but she didn’t want to try to sleep at night wondering how his thoughts would forever define her to him.
So far, she had kept the circumstances to herself. Leslie’s friends had been few and after their one offer each of ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, they stopped reaching out. Dex’s friends never called, except for the one woman who hinted at, or maybe planted the idea of, Leslie selling the house, and what was she going to do with all of that art of hers. The woman had then offered to take some pieces for a few dollars, but left in a pique, and empty-handed, when Leslie refused.
On Sunday afternoon, Sam stepped out of his truck to the aroma of banana bread. Leslie’s windows were open and he hoped it was her cooking he smelled. Again, he brought her a meal, this one of sandwiches and two decorated donuts. The box of donuts, he now reasoned he would take to the office tomorrow. Stale or not, they would get eaten there, but the sweet spicy draughts of banana bread were more tempting to him.
Again, he offered a picnic and was satisfied when she agreed. They walked to a small park nearby, more of a concrete pergola next to an alley, and sat on one of the benches.
He had spent the previous day again misusing his station, looking for details on the late Dexter Moore. And the man had been found. Fingerprints for international travel, died due to heart attack, one marriage, no divorce, no arrests. That settled some questions, raised others. At least there appeared to be no domestic abuse, but why she wouldn’t speak of the details of him was no clearer.
Later, their sandwiches finished, more crumbs of their lives opened to each other, they walked back. It was early enough that they both anticipated the natural part two of their dates.
Leslie paused a few houses away from her own. A neighbor was hanging laundry in a back yard, great white sheets with a blue, red and green floral print. As the woman pinned them to the line, a small boy ran through them and between them, clapping at her legs with his arms.
Sam took in the scene and prepared to move on, but Leslie only allowed him so far before she let go his hand.
“My mama used to do that.”
“Hang sheets to dry?”
Leslie nodded. “And I was the airplane like that.”
They watched as the boy batted at the socks and punched at his father’s shirts before Sam took her hand again. When they got to her door, she asked, “Do you have a busy week ahead?”
“I’ll wrap up the banana bread for you.”
He considered that she might still be thinking of the boy playing with the linens, wanting to ask if he ever did, too but her vanilla and cinnamon scented apartment gave him other ideas. And not unexpectedly, she, too, became like-minded.