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“I lied to you, Damon,” Nan said.
She was cuddling with her lover after a nice little session one night, and was lying comfortably on his chest as usual.
He was taken aback. “Lied to me? No way! You’re just about the most honest, straight-shooting girl I’ve ever met.”
“Well, I did lie,” she said, gazing at him with big, melancholy eyes.
“When we first met in the student center.”
Damon frowned as he cast his mind back to that moment, which seemed like ages ago even though it was only about two months before. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Listen,” she said with incredible intensity, grabbing him by the shoulders and looking straight into his eyes. “It was when you said I looked sad, and I said I wasn’t.”
“Okay, so you were sad. What’s the big deal?”
She shook her head, as if exasperated that he was so thick-headed. “I was sad because—because my parents . . .” She trailed off.
Damon had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. This doesn’t sound good. “Your parents—what?”
“They split up.”
“What?” he exploded. “You mean right then, when we were talking?”
“No, no,” she said. “About two years before. In fact, right around the time I left for college. I’m thinking my dad was just waiting for me to leave the house before ditching my mom.”
“Is that what happened—he ditched her?”
“Pretty much. I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it.”
“He—he didn’t . . .” Damon’s voice lowered to a whisper. “He didn’t cheat on her, did he?” I’ll kill the son of a bitch if he did that, Damon thought irrationally, even though he didn’t know anything about Nan’s mother.
“No, no, nothing like that. At least, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure he’s still by himself too—he hasn’t shacked up with anyone, as far as I know. But I could tell he wasn’t particularly happy; in fact, neither of them were very happy the last few years before he split. Maybe they’d fallen into a rut; maybe there just wasn’t much magic in the relationship anymore. Oh, God, Damon, let’s make sure that never happens to us!”
The sudden outburst caught him by surprise. He held her tight, nuzzling her neck and massaging her back and bottom, saying, “That’ll never happen to us—I swear.” He didn’t add: It’s pretty hard to fall into a rut when there are two other lovely women here whom I cherish almost as much as you.
“I guess,” she went on pensively, “I didn’t help matters much. I got to be a bit rebellious as a teenager.”
“You?” Damon cried. “I find that really hard to believe.”
“Hey, what do you think I am?” Nan said a little angrily. “A Goody Two-Shoes? I mean, I didn’t do drugs, and I certainly didn’t spread my legs for boys—you know that better than anyone.” She suddenly giggled, her anger disappearing as quickly as it had come. “But I guess I pulled away from Mom, emotionally speaking—and that made her feel even more isolated than she was feeling already. I’m sorry about that now.”
“What did you feel about your dad?”
“Well, he’d always spoiled me, without doing a whole lot in terms of doing the things he really needed to do. Mom told me he had been absolutely thrilled when I was born—he’d always wanted a girl rather than a boy. I don’t know why.”
“You’re telling me you were a ‘Daddy’s girl’?” Damon said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Not exactly. I think he wanted me to be a ‘Daddy’s girl,’ and that’s why he spoiled me—giving me presents all the time, trying to intercede when Mom wanted to discipline me, stuff like that. I mean, sure, I loved him, but in a lot of ways he seemed like a big kid himself rather than a father. And now, oddly enough, I hardly talk to him at all. I don’t know why that is.”
“Well, that’s all real sad,” he said. “I don’t like to think of your family splitting up. But, um,” he added awkwardly, “why are you telling me all this now?”
Nan heaved a sigh. “Because . . . I need to ask a huge favor of you.”
“What?” he said apprehensively. I’m not sure I like the sound of this.
“Will you . . .” She looked away from him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. “Will you come with me to see Mom during spring break?”
Damon was stunned. “Wh-why do you want me to do that?”
“Oh, Damon, please!” Nan pleaded. “You just gotta come! I don’t want to face her alone!”
“But—but what will I do there? Your mom doesn’t even know me.”
“Well, she should know you—and Dad should too. I mean, we’re a couple, aren’t we?”
“Of course we are.”
“So it’s high time you got to know her. You surely weren’t thinking of going down to Florida or something and partying the week away, were you?”
Damon fell silent. In fact, he had been thinking of doing exactly that—with Nan, of course, and maybe with Brad and Sylvia also. He was pretty certain Iris wouldn’t oblige.
“But Nan, darling, this is going to be really awkward. She wants to be with you, and talk stuff over with you. I’ll just be a third wheel. There’s no way she’ll confide in you if I’m there.”
Nan escort ataşehir gave him a look that said: That’s exactly it, you moron. “I don’t want her to confide in me, Damon! She’s been doing that ever since Dad left—and it’s the same thing over and over again. ‘Oh, God, why did he leave me? What did I do? Wasn’t I a good wife to him? Oh, woe is me!'”
“Hey,” Damon said, now getting a little angry himself, “you shouldn’t speak about your mother like that. She’s been through a rough time. I mean, she was married—what?—twenty years or so?”
“And then all of a sudden her marriage blows up in her face, and her only daughter goes off to college, leaving her all alone. No wonder she’s freaking out.”
“But it’s been two years!”
“That’s not a long time for someone of her age.” Dropping his voice, he added: “Um, how old is she, anyway?”
“Forty-four, I think. Yeah, that must be right: she had me when she was twenty-four.”
“Well, two years isn’t that long to get over something like this.” After a pause: “Has she—you know, tried to find someone else?”
“Go on dates, you mean? Not a chance!”
“Never? Not at all?”
“I don’t really know, but I’ve never heard of her having any kind of relationship with a guy. Maybe she has and didn’t tell me, but I doubt it.”
“Well, I just think it’s a shame.” Damon fell back on his old adage: No woman should ever be alone.
“So you’ll come? I’m sure you’ll make her feel a lot better!”
“I don’t see how.”
“She’ll like a man in the house. It’ll make it seem more normal.”
“Yeah, but I’m your man, not hers.”
“That doesn’t matter. It’ll be a different dynamic, and maybe she won’t be quite so wrought up and whiny.”
“Nan . . .” he said warningly.
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
“I hope you don’t talk to your mother like that.”
“No, of course not. I try to be as sympathetic as I can.”
“Well, I’ll try to do the same.”
And so it was settled. Brad and Sylvia, as it happened, felt no inclination to go anywhere for spring break, and were happy to keep Iris company. Sylvia, in fact, had become really, really fond of the older woman and looked forward to several sessions with her (with Brad relegated to one of the guest bedrooms to contemplate his own thoughts alone), and was happy to see Damon and Nan vacate the house for a total of nine full days.
Nan’s mother, Vera, didn’t live very far away—only in the town of Shelby, about thirty miles to the northeast. They were to leave on a Friday, after their last class, and should be able to get to the house by dinnertime. They were pretty silent as Damon drove to the place, following Nan’s spoken directions. When he pulled up to the address Nan had given, Damon was surprised: it wasn’t a house but an apartment building.
Nan read his thoughts. “When Dad bolted, Mom had to give up the house—couldn’t afford to stay there anymore. Now she’s stuck in this crappy little apartment. That’s one of the many reasons why I don’t come to visit her very often.”
Damon frowned in disapproval at Nan’s attitude, although he tried to keep in mind that Nan’s relations with her mother must have all manner of complications that he, as an outsider, couldn’t grasp.
They heaved their suitcases out of the car, wheeled them up to the front door of the building, and called up to Vera to let them in.
She pressed a buzzer, and the young couple entered and took the elevator up to Vera’s apartment.
When Damon, standing behind Nan, saw the door open, he was quite impressed with what he saw.
Vera Baker (she had kept her married name in spite of her divorce) was a woman who, while perhaps not beautiful in the strictest sense of the term, was undeniably striking. An inch or two taller than her daughter, she had a stately bearing as she stood at the door, her broad shoulders and strong frame contrasting notably with Nan’s sylphlike physique. But there was nothing in the least unfeminine about her appearance, as her generous curves in all the right places clearly indicated. Damon, gazing at the thick wool sweater Vera was wearing, gauged that Vera’s breasts were a bit larger than Nan’s, although not so robust as Iris’s. He cursed himself for being so superficial—but hey, I’m a guy, okay?
Her face was a study all in itself. It didn’t surprise Damon that there were a few lines of worry, even of melancholy, around her eyes: that echoed, in an even more pronounced way, the vaguely downcast countenance that Nan often had, even if she wasn’t in fact feeling sad. Her penetrating green eyes darted back and forth between her daughter and her daughter’s lover, and Damon sensed at once that she was an intensely nervous woman, although she strove valiantly to seem in control of herself and of her circumstances. Her short, superbly styled auburn hair framed a face that could have melted any man’s heart if only she would smile a bit more often.
All this Damon absorbed in a moment as he shuffled in behind Nan into kadıköy escort bayan the small apartment.
Vera gave Nan a rather formulaic hug, then turned her attention to Nan’s beau. She held out an arm stiff as a board and said, “You must be Damon.”
“I sure am,” he said foolishly, grasping her hand and shaking it warmly.
“Nan’s told me a lot about you,” Vera said.
“Oh-oh!” Damon cried in faux alarm. “That doesn’t sound good!”
That did make Vera smile, and even laugh shortly. “Oh, it’s all good. No need to worry about that.”
I wonder, Damon thought, how much Nan has really told you about what goes on in our house.
The newcomers immediately detected the makings of a fine dinner, if the aroma of turkey and fixings was any guide. Vera had in fact prepared a kind of mini-Thanksgiving dinner, and Nan and Damon certainly weren’t going to complain. They sat down for the meal in short order. Vera offered them a little white wine, which they both accepted, finding it complemented the meal splendidly.
There was no pumpkin pie for dessert, but rather (store-bought) apple tarts, which everyone appreciated with fresh-brewed coffee.
“Man, that was the best meal I’ve had in ages!” Damon enthused, beaming at Vera.
Her response was curious. Rather than accepting the rather routine compliment as a matter of course, she gave Damon a wide-eyed stare, then looked away with a blush. Both Damon and Nan noticed that Vera’s eyes were suddenly filled with tears.
The two young people looked at each other, vaguely amused but also a little disturbed. Even so, Nan gave her lover a smile that said: See, I told you she liked having a man in the house!
Over the next few days, the trio got better and better acquainted with each other—or, rather, Nan allowed her mother and Damon to get better acquainted, as she herself made all manner of excuses to leave the pair alone. At first Vera seemed almost alarmed at Damon’s proximity, but in a surprisingly short time she seemed to welcome, then even yearn for him; she clung to even the simplest words that came out of his mouth, and made sure to give him everything his heart desired.
But Damon noted that everything was not well with Vera. At times her cheerfulness was clearly forced; at other times, when she didn’t think anyone was paying attention to her, she seemed to lapse into a gentle melancholy, and Damon could swear that her eyes were red and swollen as if from crying, even though she valiantly tried to disguise that fact with makeup.
Matters came to an unexpected head on Monday, when Nan made a point of running several errands in town, taking Vera’s car in the process, leaving the others stranded at home. Damon was helping Vera tidy up a sideboard in the living room that had all manner of miscellaneous things in the cabinets at its lower end. At one point Vera, kneeling down and reaching far back into the recesses of the cabinet, let out a little “Oh!” and brought out what appeared to be a scrapbook.
With a shy smile she said, “Damon, you want to see Nan as a little girl?”
“You bet I would!” he exclaimed. “She must have been cute as a button.”
And she was. There were all sorts of pictures of Nan as a child and teenager—sometimes with pigtails; sometimes with her long straight hair, as now, parted in the middle and a solemn expression on her face; sometimes laughing with her friends in grade school or high school; and on and on and on.
And, of course, there were pictures of the whole family—Nan, Vera, and her husband, Wallace.
Damon now sensed that this whole excursion into the past was a mistake. With the passing of minutes Vera was getting more and more choked up. With the turning of each page her face became transformed into the very image of retrospective misery.
Finally she burst into tears.
Damon—terrified, as all men are, of female “waterworks”—seized the scrapbook and shoved it back into the cabinet, closing the wooden door firmly. Then he picked Vera up bodily and carried her over to the couch. She wasn’t exactly as light as Nan, but Damon managed the job fairly well. She made no complaint, lost as she was in her own wretchedness; but Damon had a bit of trouble figuring out what to do next, and he landed awkwardly on the couch in a seated position, with Vera ending up in his lap.
For some reason this position caused Vera’s tears to flow more copiously. Without thinking she grabbed Damon’s head, as if it were some kind of security blanket, and pressed it to her chest. She happened to be wearing a thin blouse with a sharp V-cut neck, revealing a fair amount of cleavage; and as Damon came into contact with her skin, covered with a slight sheen of perspiration, he incongruously noted the striking difference in her body-scent from Nan’s.
For a long time Damon did nothing, merely allowing Vera to clutch his head desperately to herself as she cried and sobbed, while he held her lightly around the waist. At last he managed a few words.
“Ma’am,” escort bostancı he said quietly, “it’s not so bad.”
He wasn’t even sure what he meant by that. Vera’s response was an agonized cry from the heart: “Oh, God, I’m so unhappy!”
“Oh, ma’am, please don’t say that,” Damon begged. “You’re such a wonderful creature—so beautiful, so smart, so talented, so kind and caring and considerate. Lots of men would love to be with you.”
“Oh, yeah?” she said accusingly. “Then why isn’t my husband one of them?”
“I don’t know, ma’am,” he said. “I don’t know why you—um, why he—”
“Why he left me? I wish I knew too! He never really said. Was he just tired of me after twenty years of marriage? Did he want to trade me in for a newer model? Isn’t that what guys going through a midlife crisis do?”
“Is that what it was?”
“I don’t know, I tell you!” Vera almost shrieked. “He never gave me a straight answer. But I’ll tell you—he said all sorts of mean things to me, claiming I was a nag, I wasn’t raising Nan right (fat lot he’d know about that!—he hardly lifted a finger to help me), that I was—” She stopped abruptly, as if appalled by what she had already revealed about her marriage to a virtual stranger.
“You were what, ma’am?” Damon prompted, although he sensed that he probably shouldn’t have.
“That I wasn’t good in bed!” Vera whispered in an ecstasy of self-recrimination.
“Oh, ma’am, I doubt that very much,” Damon said gallantly.
She gave a nervous laugh. “How would you know?” she asked pointedly. “Anyway, you’re sweet for saying so.”
And with that, she pulled his head away from her breasts and, with a strange expression on her face, pasted a long, deep kiss on his mouth.
That kiss was still going on when Nan walked in the door.
With a yelp, Vera leaped out of Damon’s lap and turned her back to her daughter, clinging to the dining table.
“Um, what’s happening here?” Nan said softly, with an uncertain smile.
“Nothing, darling,” Damon said with a certain desperation. “Your mom was just—a little upset. I was only trying to comfort her.”
“Yeah, you’re good at that,” Nan said tartly. Turning her attention to Vera: “Mom, are you okay?”
Vera grudgingly turned around to look at her daughter. “I’m fine,” she said in a tight voice.
Nan peered closely at her mother. “Have you been crying? What’s been going on?”
“I’m okay,” Vera said, although it was obvious she was anything but. She snatched up a Kleenex from a nearby end table and dabbed her face. “I’m fine. I—I need to get dinner ready.”
That was rather absurd, since it was barely past 4 p.m. But even so, Vera retreated into the kitchen and began banging pots and pans around.
Nan turned her attention to Damon. She was smiling at his discomfiture and mouthed the words “What gives?” so that her mother wouldn’t hear.
Damon just shrugged, mouthing back: “She was just a little upset.”
With a keen glance, Nan said, “I think she likes you.”
Damon had nothing to say to that, walking stiffly out of the room and darting upstairs into the guest bedroom.
The turbulence was over for the time being. The next day proved to be surprisingly warm, and the three of them decided to go for a picnic in a nearby park. (Vera had asked for the entire week off from her job as a mid-level executive at a local bank.) They didn’t trouble to prepare much at home, instead going to a deli on the way to the park and picking up fried chicken, potato salad, a green salad, and a number of other things. They did bring with them a big beach towel and some pillows, thinking they might take a snooze after their midday meal.
But before the meal, they canvassed the park thoroughly. It was quite familiar to the two women, although Damon had never been there before. He marveled at the stately oaks and maples that loomed all around them, the ferns that they encountered along various paths, and the general hush of untouched nature that gave them the momentary impression that they were the only occupants of the globe. They found a particularly secluded spot for their lunch, and by this time they were all quite hungry. They devoured the meal in what seemed to be minutes, and everyone agreed that a little nap was now in order.
The beach towel could accommodate all three of them as they reclined—but just barely. By an unspoken agreement, Damon was placed in the middle, with Vera on one side and Nan on the other. Both the women claimed they had to snuggle up close to him, otherwise they would fall off the towel and onto the prickly grass. With some apprehension, Damon encircled Nan and Vera in his arms as they placed their heads on either side of his neck, each draping an arm over his chest.
They dozed for quite a while.
When it was time to go, Nan gathered up some of the stuff that would have to be discarded and headed for a garbage can quite a distance away. Vera was tidying up in other ways, crawling around on her hands and knees—but at one point a sudden gust of wind came up, blowing an unused napkin away. Vera made a lunge for it and nabbed it—but in the process she ended up flat on her stomach, and the wind blew the hem of her knee-length skirt up so that Damon, wide-eyed, got a fleeting glimpse of her underwear.
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