Jammed with glasses and bottles, the bar table barely had room for Maureen’s ashtray. The crowd gathered to celebrate Dan’s recent divorce. Some knew him their whole lives. People circulated in loose orbits from table to bar . Many toasts were made to his third ‘post mortem.’
Dan’s friend Gabe held his glass up and spoke. “Cats have nine. You’ve completed three. Dan, time you break the habit and quit while you’re ahead.” Hilarity ensued.
Friends urged Dan to speak. Swaying, he said, “Thank you. I hope you’ll attend the next.” Applause followed. “Gabe made a good point. I hope they don’t become annual events.” Cheers erupted. “I only wish Heather Lea, could be here to…”
Gabe smacked his face. “No! How many decades must I hear about that bimbo?”
Heather Lea was their generation’s ‘It Girl.’ Everyone loved the gorgeous star. Each of her movies, all hits, surpassed the previous one’s popularity. So talented. Unattainable as a goddess.
Few ever thought they’d marry Heather. Only Dan.
‘Obsession’ only suggested the depth of his fascination with her.
Gabe donned his jacket. He came to celebrate Dan’s liberation. Another speech about ‘the love of his life’ crossed the line.
Gabe tipped his hat.
“Gabe! Heading out?”
“Yeah, early day tomorrow. This is where I came in…”
Dan saluted and bowed, “Thanks, man. See ya…”
The crowd thinned. Dan watched the party ending. He sat and emptied his beer.
Maureen put her cigarette out. “How are you, Dan?”
“No. I mean, really. You know…”
Dan shrugged. “Not like I didn’t see it coming.” He looked at the table strewn with abandoned drinks. “Almost inevitable.” Maureen touched his hand. “She and I didn’t have the history I share with everyone.” He indicated the empty chairs.
He scanned the table. Two dozen had dwindled to Maureen and himself.
She searched his face. “Gotta hurt, though.”
“Face it. No one can replace Heather.”
Maureen sat back.
Dan sighed. “I can’t let it go. I could make her happy. We’d be great together.”
She tried to process his claim. “Dan… Still? After three marriages?”
“Would have saved a lot of trouble meeting her first.”
“You have kids.”
“It happens…” He leaned in. “I won’t deny the wives and I had some good times, but…” He laughed at his situation. “Who expects to ever say, ‘the wives and I’?” He pushed that away. “Heather’s all I ever wanted.”
“Your exes knew?”
“How couldn’t they? Might have bothered them. Doubt they took me that seriously.”
Maureen took a sip.
Dan said, “You know, I tried to meet her many times. Went to openings. Almost interviewed her for the paper. Someone else got the gig. Go figure.”
“Really Dan? Say you finally get into a room with her… What would you say?”
“Are you kidding? I’d be honest.”
Maureen’s hand shot up. “Security!” They laughed. “I can just see you holding your notebook as you drop to one knee…”
“You know me…”
“Dan, what could you offer her? She has everything.”
“She doesn’t have me.”
“But… You wouldn’t want to be her houseboy.”
“I’d devote my life to her.”
“Is that what a woman wants? She probably has a dozen. I heard she needs a pool boy.”
“She’d say, ‘Grab me a beer. Let’s have a grand old time.’ I’d get it, open it for her, and we would.”
He continued. “I’d be different.” She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve heard about men willing to swim shark infested waters?”
“Her moat is stocked with sharks just to audition suitors.”
“It isn’t a joke, Mau.” She nodded. “I’ve thought about this for…”
“But what would you do? How many times can you swim that moat?”
No one had ever asked him. “Like…”
“Show me…” She leaned toward him.
They’d been friends since grade school. But never kissed.
Touching her shoulder, he drew her close. She shut her eyes. They brushed lips, then committed. The kiss ended and they gently touched their bowed heads.
Maureen took a breath and sat up, flustered. Dan grabbed his beer.
She sighed. “I can see how that could work for a while.”
He tried to read her meaning. “You think I’d lose her.”
His track record didn’t predict success. “Isn’t idolatry a form of egoism?”
“You lost me.”
She put on a face. “Look at me. How beautifully I polish this gold…”
He smiled at her. “Point taken…”
“You know how actors are… eventually you’d be just one more worshipper… Next! Take a number. People line up for her movies. To be with her…?”
“But I’m not everyone else.”
“Said the throng…”
The waitress collected bottles and glasses.
Maureen signaled for two more. “My round…” The waitress withdrew. “But that’s not the point, Dan. After you get together. How do you polish feet of clay?”
“I must have had too many. I’m not tracking…”
“Everyone has faults.”
“Really Dan. Even her. Even you. What happens when those pop up? They always do.”
The waitress brought their beers. Maureen gave her a twenty and waved her off.
Dan redirected. “Didn’t your husband worship you?” Maureen’s husband died in a car crash.
She laughed. “If we worshipped, it wasn’t each other, but what we shared. We were friends, allies. It was safe to be imperfect.”
Dan struggled to swallow. “You exposed your flaws? Oh, my, god…”
“As did he.” An uncomfortable moment passed. “You know… give and take. A dance…”
Dan squirmed. He set his beer down a little too hard.
“So tell me Mau, who’s your life-long passion? That you’d do anything for? In the whole world…” He smiled. “Gotcha…”
Maureen held his gaze. “You.”
Dan waited for the punch line. “You’re kidding.”
“I’d watch you on the playground in grade school.”
“I never knew. How did I not see?”
“I hid it. You had distractions.”
“She filled your world. But admit it. I’ve always been there…”
She watched his expression change as he realized she meant it. He took her hand. “I never meant to take you for granted, Mau.”
“Never missed a game you played in.”
“Really?” He laughed. “Remember that first sock-hop? I couldn’t believe you danced with me.”
“I couldn’t refuse…”
“We laughed more than we danced.”
“I’ll never forget. It broke my heart to see you waste years on others…”
Dan got quiet. “You won’t believe me. But I always loved you.”
Now she scoffed.
“No, really. I never acted on it. You were out of my league. I never thought I’d have a chance.”
“Well… I could have made it work with her. But, between you and me, that might be a pipe dream.”
Maureen clinked her bottle with Dan’s.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Dan helped Maureen with her coat. They held each other up, laughing and navigating to the exit.
Dan said, “Where’s your car?”
“I took an Uber.”
“Don’t do that. I’ll drive you.”
Maureen stepped away from him and he almost fell over. She caught him. He straightened up.
“Let’s both Uber… Get your car tomorrow… Dan?”
He nodded. “What you said…”
Maureen called. While waiting they leaned on each other.
On the ride, they snuggled and laughed. He pointed out places he’d been and shared memories. They laughed.
He said, “You won’t believe how happy I am right now.”
The car stopped at his building.
He said, “Guess this is it. Unless you’d like to come in.” He held her gaze.
She smiled. “Sure. I’d like that.”
She dismissed the driver and they walked to his apartment. He took her coat.
Looking around she said, “Never been here. This is nice.”
“Sure. Grab me a beer. We’ll have a grand time.” Maureen looked at him. “I’ll be right back.”
Dan left the room. She pulled out her phone, called Uber and put on her coat.
When he returned, she said, “I’m going to go, Dan. Call me.”
“Oh... Everything okay?”
“Sure. A great night. It’s late, though. Lost track of the time.”
He got the door. They kissed. He touched her arm when she moved to leave.
“Mau… Where’d you leave my beer?”
“When in doubt, Dan, check the fridge.”
She made a little wave and left.