“Hey, Smiley,” he said as he folded his 6 foot plus frame into the front seat of my two door convertible.
Smiley, he said. And I did. And in the same instant I forgot about how I had just spent the 30 minute drive over to his hotel wishing I had cleaned out my car. The familiar nickname eradicated my frustrations that today, of all days, I would wake up late and have to throw my wet hair back with a bobby pin and settle for doing my just the basics makeup in a poorly lit bathroom at work. Gone were my regrets that I hadn’t lost 10 pounds or made my fortune in the six years since I’d seen him.
The last six years were gone, and there was just him.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked, and I felt his eyes dance behind his ridiculously overpriced sunglasses.
“Some Italian restaurant I found on the Internet,” I told him, punching in the unfamiliar address into the GPS unit.
“Turn left,” Homer Simpson’s voice echoed in my tiny car and I made a mental note to punch Adam in the face the next time I saw him.
“What the hell?” Chris laughed, confused as usual by advanced technology and devices that can talk to you.
“It’s not mine,” I told him, trying to salvage my dignity before the next time Homer would shout “Woo Hoo!”
I spent the next 15 minutes driving him around in circles before finding the restaurant that was directly across the street from his hotel. Of course, Chris didn’t notice until I pointed at the building looming over us from a mere 100 yards away, and even then he just chuckled and shrugged a little. Details rarely stick with Chris.
He ordered the eggplant and refused the bread basket and we both laughed at the confusion on the Italian waiter’s face. The familiarity of Chris’s obsession with good health washed over me, and again I smiled.
“How are the kids?” I asked.
“Great!” he gushed and then went on to tell me about his son’s real estate ventures and his daughter’s college transfer.
“How can your kids be in college?” I marveled.
“Shit, Britt, I’m almost 44.”
Six years filtered over him and for the first time I noticed the thinner and lighter hair. There were new lines in his smoothly shaven skin and I saw hints of gray peeking out from the yellow buttoned down shirt. He had, in fact, aged ever so slightly – which baffled me because Chris was never the kind of man I associated with aging.
The accent was the same.
“I like to think of it as a Kennedy accent,” he had told me once.
“Right, Chris,” I’d said. “You’re just like a Kennedy.” And I’d rolled my eyes and laughed at his inflation of all things Boston.
“Sing me the alphabet,” I used to ask him.
“I want to see if your alphabet has an R in it,” I’d tease. And he’d laugh at himself before steering the conversation back to something more important.
We talked about his kids and my kids over our organic salads. It was funny to think that he knew me before there was an Emma. It was funnier still to be the mother of an Emma and a Devin and be sitting here now, in front of Chris. The old life and the new life danced above the table and intertwined in the space between us.
“And what do you do now again?” he asked, because the details never stick with him.
I told him about my day job, the one that brought me to Orlando. And without thinking I continued, “and I write.”
“What do you write?”
I told him about the blog and the little paid online gigs. I told him about The Book and my fantasies of getting it done.
“So that’s what you do,” he said.
“Yep,” I nodded.
It didn’t feel awkward to tell him. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed or timid in my responses. It was the most natural thing in the world to tell him about my dreams and my silly ambitions. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to take them seriously.
The conversation turned to business. It was inevitable with Chris. It was inevitable with Chris and me because it was business that brought us together. It was business and dreams that bonded me to him.
He talked about his new venture and compared it to our old ones.
“You remember…” he said. And I did.
I remembered the hours of teleconferences. I remembered the respect and admiration when I’d succeeded. I remembered the knowing conversations that people at the top share when they are tucked away at pre-conference dinners. I remembered the meeting in Atlanta that we’d held together, when I’d woken up in my hotel room reeling from a bizarre dream I’d had about Chris.
Had it been anyone else, the dream would have involved oils and satin sheets or the top of a mahogany desk. But it was Chris, so it was patriotic boxers and an intense desire to change the world.
I remembered having to face him that day with patriotic boxers swirling in my head, and wondering why in the hell the man couldn’t keep a suit jacket on when he talked to a crowd. “Keep your fucking clothes on,” I’d seethed, desperately trying to concentrate on the words coming out of his mouth.
Of course, he didn’t know that. You didn’t tell Pure As The Driven Fucking Snow Chris that you were trying not to picture him naked. Or in boxers. You just nodded and smiled and wished he’d quit putting his hand on your back in front of all these god damn people.
I shook the boxer clad images from my head and leaned in closer to hear him in the Italian restaurant.
“What’s your residual at?” I asked, reverting back to a language I’d spoken years ago.
“Well it’s hard to tell because -”
I lowered my chin and leveled my gaze squarely with his. No bullshit, Chris, I said without speaking. He waved away the bullshit with a flutter of his hand before resting his arms back on the table, settling into the jargon that the two of us spoke with each other.
“I wish… you have to…” he said.
I smiled, knowing that this, too, was Chris. “There’s nothing there for me right now,” I told him, resisting the pull I felt between his world and mine.
He nodded his head and promised to keep calling. We made plans to meet when he was back in November. I drove him back to his hotel and hugged him before he climbed out of my car.
“It was good to see you,” he said.
“Tell everyone, hi.”
He walked back into his life and I set the GPS toward mine.