It would be a mistake, however, to say that Jon Trainer was then incapable of passion. Making unkind judgments while looking backward is a habit all too often entertained by philosophers, poets and magicians. Life came upon him, then and as it always would, in whatever form and shade his vision would allow.
On perhaps their happiest occasion they met and kissed at sunset along what was to Jon an unfamiliar shoreline. Palm trees grew from the still-warm sand as it began to cool with the slow arrival of evening. They held, caressed and wondered at their good fortune. They stared into each other’s eyes. They pulled their bodies close together, pressed and even more insisted, till closeness seemed not close enough.
No words needed to be passed between them, but had he been asked by a stranger to describe their silent conversation, no language fouled by anger would ever have occurred to his imagination.
Young love looks forward with an unassailable sense that life for the two lovers is bound to improve upon the life of those who loved before. Our old folks — parents, uncles, aunts and all — somewhere, somehow they stumbled into imperfection. But we will not. We will, we will, we will succeed. We will because we will it to be so.
When the sun plunged into the ocean, Jon Trainer and Lydia Carson walked away from the beach where they’d been making love, and found a seat at a nearby, seaside cafe where they could spend an hour or so remembering it all. Their table was close to the cafe’s wrought-iron railing. Leaning backward in his seat, Jon watched the parade of summer tourists pass by in both directions.
The waitress soon arrived. Circles of perspiration showed under her armpits. Her light-brown hair, swept back to form a ponytail, was coming loose from the elastic band that tried to hold it tight together. Jon thought about how she might feel, naked and sweaty after a long day’s work; and almost immediately he felt embarrassed by his never-ending lust. The life he’d departed just a few months ago, he realized, had left him hungry for sex to an extent he’d never known before.
They ordered deep-fried artichokes with dipping sauce and two goblets of chilled chardonnay. Jon felt much richer than the story his wallet begged to tell.
“People from work will talk about us tomorrow if they see us here,” she said.
Jon smiled. “I want them to talk, Lydia. I want the world to know. Don’t you?”
“The world . . . I’m not sure which world I belong to anymore. My mother thought she had it planned, and I guess I did, too. And Mark. He’s a good man, Jon. I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Look, let’s just, for now at least, enjoy our meal. Mark will survive. You know, when I decided to come here, I never expected to meet someone like you, not so soon and probably not ever.” Jon stared away from her then, stared out toward the ocean that through the dark of night he could only hear and smell.
“I’m not sure you’ll even stay here, Jon. You said yourself that you have no definite plans after this summer is gone.”
“I gave up planning when I bought my airline ticket, but it was a one-way ticket, after all.”
Jon lifted his glass of wine in Lydia’s direction. She touched her glass to his, and they sipped, and next they swallowed deep.
“So, you think this house deal is going to come through?” she said.
“I’ll know for sure by Monday afternoon. That’s what Jackson told me yesterday. But I’m not worried about it. I’ve got the apartment for another six weeks or so, before Debra gets back from Hawaii. I’m comfortable for now.”
“But from what you told me about Jackson when the two of you knew each other back east, you can’t really depend on his word. Can you?”
“Jackson’s all right most days –“
Jon first noticed Lydia hesitate as she lifted an artichoke leaf from the heated cup of spiced oil and moved it toward her lips. And next he felt the shadows shift and flutter close behind him. Lydia’s face flushed red, and a spatter of oil splashed onto the tablecloth as she dropped her bite of food.
“Mind if I join you two? Don’t worry, Hon, I wasn’t following you. Me and Steve had a last-minute meeting with a client just around the block.”
Mark’s voice, and then his starched white shirt, maroon necktie and well-trimmed beard. Mark always looked freshly showered and shaved to Jon, no matter the time of day or night.
Lydia at first said nothing in response. Instead, she fumbled with her fingertips and tried to pluck the artichoke leaf from where it fell. Jon noticed that her hands trembled; this fact bothered him enough that he decided to counter Lydia’s apparent nervousness with an imperturbable pose in the face of what he perceived to be Mark’s not-so-subtle challenge.
“Please, sit down, Mark. Good to see you. Sorry you had to work so late, while your wife and I sat here enjoying a meal and each other’s company. What are you drinking? Chardonnay okay, or something stronger?”
“No, nothing for me. Just thought I’d stop and say hi before driving home. Saw you two sitting here, and wanted to tip my hat before I beat it back to the house. Don’t feel as if you have to hurry, Hon. I’ll feed the dog just as soon as I get in. See you whenever, then. Good to run into you again, Jon. I hope your plans are coming together the way you want them to.”
“Tip my hat?” thought Jon once Mark was gone. “The guy never wears a hat, and ‘tipping’ isn’t his style.” But Jon kept his thoughts about Mark to himself. Lydia’s face looked even redder now, and her glance averted his own.
“I’m sorry, Lydia. I didn’t mean to –“
“You have nothing to be sorry about. It’s more my fault for coming here with you. This place is too close to Mark’s office, and I should have known better.”
“Look, are you going to be all right going home to him? I hate to think about the two of you arguing because of me. You can come back to the apartment with me if you –“
“You know I can’t. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. It was bound to come to this sometime soon. Mark argues by staying quiet and moody. Tonight I’ll just let it go. I’m sorry, Jon, but I have to go home now. I’ll drop you off on the way.”
“I’ll walk, Lydia. Walking helps to keep my body in shape and to clear confusion out of my mind.”
Jon stared after her as she walked away. “Young, hot-blooded and delicious to taste,” he thought.
Lydia jostled her way through the crowd, but left her scent behind. Jon motioned for the waitress, and when she arrived he ordered a double shot of scotch. The waitress hurried back with his drink. Jon poured it down his throat, long and fast. “Here’s to your new life, and to tipping your hat,” he said to himself. He wondered if he was falling in love with Lydia Carson, or if he was making another mistake, a mistake not unlike the one he’d made before he’d bought the one-way ticket.