AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
By DVORA WAYSMAN
Louise, are you having an affair? Jennifer asked suspiciously.
My dear. at my age, if I were, the next logical question would be whos doing the catering?
Both the women laughed. They were having their weekly get-together over coffee and croissants at the Blue Duck in the High Street. It was a ritual begun five years ago when theyd met at a local Book Club and realized how much they had in common and how comfortable they felt together.
So why do you look like the proverbial cat that swallowed the cream or whatever the stupid saying is?
Ah Louise responded, its because I have a secret.
Well, you cant have secrets from me Jenny insisted.
If I tell you, it wont be a secret any more.
Dont be so maddening.
Okay, here goes. I AM going to have an affair, the catered kind. Im going to give myself a party. Its my 50th birthday next month and Ive never had a party, even as a kid. Unless you count my wedding reception, twenty-six years ago and that should have been called a wake. It certainly wasnt anything to celebrate. She spread her ringless fingers on the table.
Jennifer hesitated. You know, Im also a woman of a certain age, but I dont think I want to advertise it. Im at the stage where I deduct a year every birthday. Soon Ill be able to go back to High School.
A lot of fun that was! Louise snorted. Algebra and trigonometry that I correctly told my teacher Id never use in my whole life. Acne that wouldnt go away. And that horrible boy Rob Mason with dandruff, who kept trying to paw me.
It wasnt that bad Jennifer said reflectively. I perfected creative thinking in devising ways to fool my parents where I was going and why Id be home late. Im sure it helped my career as a journalist.
By creative thinking you mean lying. It probably has helped your career.
Well yes Jennifer admitted, but only in the sense that I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
So who IS doing the catering? And where will you hold it?
I hate it when you say ah. Whats it supposed to mean? She looked crossly at her friend whose beautiful manicured hands were playing with her cup. She looked great, Jennifer conceded, much younger than the fifty years shed just admitted. She had an attractive new hairstyle and her taupe jacket and skirt were sensational, which was easy when you owned three boutiques as Louise did.
Im holding it in my garden, and Ill hire a good caterer and one of those events managers so I can just enjoy it.
What about the weather? An English summer is not all that reliable.
Stop raining on my parade. Everything will be perfect, for my get even party.
Louise started to explain. She intended to invite not just her real, genuine friends but people who had hurt her in the past. I read a book that said holding on to your anger was counter-productive. Ive decided to forgive everyone so that I can get it out of my system and get on with my life.
So its not really getting even is it? Its more like turning the other cheek.
Its a bit of both, I suppose Louise conceded. A few people really hurt me years ago and took away my self-confidence. I want to show them that I made a career and a life for myself despite the hurt they inflicted.
So whos on your hit list? Jennifer asked. She was beginning to enjoy herself.
For starters, theres my ex-husband Daryl and that blonde Glynis he replaced me with. Lets see if shes still as glamorous after ten years of marriage that required a bit more of her than meeting him in luxurious hotel rooms when he was supposed to be working late. Then theres Rodney Fields.
Hes an obnoxious boy who sat behind me in fourth grade.
Are you serious? You must be mad. That was about forty years ago!
I hated him. He used to call me Lazy Louie and dip my ponytail in the inkwell. Once he stole my sandwiches. Just by chance, I saw an obituary in the paper that he lost his wife and he lives quite near. So Ive decided to forgive him and invite him to the party.
Jennifer shook her head disbelievingly. Who else are you inviting your kindergarten teacher?
No, but Im inviting the Bank Manager who turned me down for a loan when I wanted to open my first boutique. He said I was a bad business risk. Ill bet Ive made more money now than hes going to earn in his lifetime, throwing his weight around just because hes got a bit of authority.
Jennifer laughed. I cant believe Im hearing this. That was also fifteen years ago. Suddenly she became concerned. Youre not dying or anything, are you Louise? I mean suddenly wanting to tie up all the loose ends?
No, Ive never felt better. And its not suddenly. Ive been planning it for years.
The day of the party dawned sunny and warm. Louises garden had never looked more beautiful, with the manicured lawn, the scent of roses and jasmine and the big marquee where chefs and waiters were putting the final touches to trestle tables set with delicate gold-rimmed china and elegant champagne flutes.
Jennifer and her husband Paul were among the first arrivals. Her gift was a lavishly illustrated Guest Book, where guests could write their good wishes. The events manager made sure it was in a prominent place. A musical trio was playing soft background music, Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and a small dance floor had been set up next to the marquee.
Louise looked beautiful. She wore a daffodil-yellow sheath of silk, that clung to her perfect figure a reward for the last decade of self-discipline in the kitchen and a weekly work-out at the gym. Her hair, still naturally chestnut, shone with golden highlights in the sun. She circulated among the guests as they arrived, accepting their
compliments graciously and steering them towards the food and drink.
When her ex-husband Daryl arrived, she continued to smile. Wheres your wife? she asked him. He looked sheepish. She wasnt my wife for too long. Actually we called it a day five years ago. It was a bad mistake. Ive wanted to contact you, and was so happy when your invitation came. I was wondering.
No Daryl she said softly. She waited for a rush of satisfaction, but it didnt come. Instead she felt a sadness for dreams that had died, for him as well as for her. Anyway, Im happy to have the chance to wish you a happy birthday. You must be proud of all youve achieved.
Ive been lucky she admitted, as she guided him towards a few friends from their shared past. He had brought an elaborately be-ribboned gift that she placed with the other presents shed received.
Mr. McDonald, the bank manager, also came with a large gift-wrapped box. How very kind of you to invite me. I hope theres no hard feelings about the past. I made a mistake, but of course Id be delighted if I can be of any help to you now.
Louise smiled sweetly. Theres an advertising slogan I like. It says: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. He nodded. He got the message. She squeezed his hand to take the sting from her words.
The last to arrive was an attractive man whom nobody knew. Jennifer came hurrying over. Dont tell me hes the obnoxious fourth grader! Hes gorgeous. She gestured towards a tall, casually dressed man who nevertheless looked like a matinee idol.
Louise went over to him. I guess I cant call you Lazy Louie any more, he said. Looks like youve had a very busy life and achieved a lot.
She took his outstretched hand. You must be Rodney. I hope you outgrew your obnoxiousness.
Oh I did he assured her. I think I mellowed to just ghastly. Thats an improvement, isnt it?
Decidedly she assured him. What do you do when youre not being ghastly?
I own a hotel and a catering service. He gestured towards the marquee. Today Ill have a chance to check out the competition. Oh, and this is for you. He thrust a strange-looking package towards her. It had no ribbons, no gift-wrapping; she could make out waxed paper inside a brown paper bag.
I know its rude to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what on earth is it?
He grinned, the cheeky grin that had so infuriated her in fourth grade, but suddenly she knew shed hated him because hed preferred her friend Lucy to her.
Its a sandwich. To replace the one I stole from you. Peanut butter.
She burst out laughing. She was loving her party. Hed remembered, even the kind of sandwich. And as an added compensation, maybe youll let me take you to dinner one night if I promise not to dip your hair in the inkwell.
The sun seemed to shine brighter. The flowers seemed to release more perfume. And the music was decidedly sweeter as he steered her towards the dance-floor. Perhaps it was coincidence, but they were playing a song of new beginnings: From this moment on.
(1,600 words) ___________________