?Quit looking at me like that. I’m getting married. You’re supposed to be happy for me. Here, I’ll help you?say ?congratulations.? Come on, say it.? Phoebe sighed. ?Or don’t. Jimmy, give the man another drink before he faints on me.?
?You wanna know what I think?? Paul said, suddenly banging his drink down hard on the bar. ?I think You’re settling. You’re marrying John to make Cynthia happy, That’s it.?
?Women have done it for years, marrying the best friend, brother?hell, father?to keep the relationship with the true object of their affection above board. Not so damn clandestine, look at us, how far we’ve fallen. we’re in a rundown hole in the wall on a bad side of town, no offense Jimmy, listening to Elvis on the juke. We can’t dance to Elvis forever. We can’t make love at the Caldwell. We just can’t.?
?So, you want to go to a place a little more classy, is that it? We could go to that swanky oyster bar on third.?
?Verona?s? That place closed years ago?health code violations, too many food poisonings. No, Paul, I don’t want to go someplace else, I want you to be happy for my engagement. I want you to be John’s best man, I want you to bring Cynthia to the wedding and then when I’m married I want us to get together as couples at Milan or Middish.?
?But you don’t love him,? he said obstinately.
?I’ll learn to,? she said, taking another sip of her gin and tonic. ?Marriages based on love are doomed anyhow; 50 per cent of them end in divorce. Now come on, let’s go. Thanks Jimmy, I guess I’ll see you around.?
They stepped out of the bar into the cold night air. ?Caldwell?? Paul asked, hoping Phoebe didn’t hear the eagerness in his voice.
?Paul . . .? She looked at him a moment, and then acquiesced with a sigh. ?No sex.?
In her undergarments she felt like a teenager, slipping under the covers to sleep with the object of her feral, animal lust. The sheets were cold against her bare skin and she stared at the ceiling, waiting for Paul to get through in the bathroom. She could hear him singing ?Down by the Bay? to his son. He must be at least six by now, Phoebe thought.
How quickly those six years had gone by: a phone call here?Cynthia was in labour, he wouldn’t be coming?had that really been six years ago? A phone call there?it was his son’s T-ball game, he’d see her afterwards, after pizza and ice cream. She smiled, the two sides of his life as separate as Clark Kent and Superman.
?Are you asleep?? she heard Paul ask. It took a moment for her mind to register it was her he was talking to.
?No, just thinking,? she said, smiling into the sepia darkness. ?Come to bed,? she said, feeling blindly for his body, her fingers brushing skin and air simultaneously.
?When John and I have children, I’d like you to be the godfather,? she whispered, their bodies a mad tangle of arms and legs.
?You’re going to have sex with him?? Paul asked.
?That’s what married people do,? she said evenly.
Barely audible over the noise outside, he whispered, ?That will kill me.?
“No it won’t, you’ll survive. It’s not like you married me.?
They were perfectly still, and for a moment the silence in the room was so heavy and deafening, Phoebe held her breath.
?No, You’re worse than an ex-wife. You’re the one that got away.?
?Only because you let me,? she said somewhat quickly, as if to imply ?And that is all I have to say about it, The End.?
?Is it too late to rectify that?? he asked, more to bare shoulder he was kissing than to her.
?Kind of, yeah. Can we just lay here??
After moments spent getting situated comfortably on the sagging bed, all they could hear was the beating of their own hearts and their steady breathing. His arms were wrapped over her breasts like chains, tight and constricting, but she found it comforting and didn’t complain.
?Shh . . .? he whispered.
?Paul? I just . . .? She paused. Maybe some things were better left unsaid?love complicated things?but no. ?Paul? I love you.?
It was almost dawn when they awoke. Phoebe got dressed on the far side of the bed by the wall, while Paul sat on the edge of the bed staring at his socks.
?Now what?? He looked at her, buttoning her dress and smoothing it down over her hips.
?Here’s your invitation,? she said, pulling a pink card out of her purse. ?The wedding’s two Thursdays from now, at 11, photos in the park at 10. Wear jeans and a white dress shirt, we’re going for casual. You’ll look smashing,? she said, smiling. ?Be there, okay? Eleven o?clock.?