The following is an excerpt from a finished book that I may or may not eventually publish,The Four Seasons of Michael James. For now, I’ll be periodically dropping bits and pieces here.
I meet Nicolas in the basement of a silent restaurant. He’s sitting in the bar already, wearing his blue corduroy suit and leather wingtips, a half-finished flute of champagne resting on the bar in front of him. I order one too, remembering all the glasses of the stuff I drank in that short time with Michael, too drunk on pink champagne, him peeling off my dress in his Paris hotel room when I was too intoxicated to move.
The room is dead quiet. We sit there, drinking, waiting for the basement to fill up with bodies and the live jazz to start. The topic of the rich old man who I have just agreed to go out with comes up.
“Should I show you a picture?” I ask squeamishly.
Nicolas looks at me, already disapproving. He takes a sip of his drink.
“Should I show you?” I repeat, my face contorted as though anticipating a punch.
The picture stares back at me from my phone. The man in question wears an iridescent blue blazer over a Pee Wee Herman tee shirt. On his head is a baseball cap, the word “Cock” embroidered next to a rooster. He’s older than my mom… much older than my mom. I debate handing it over to Nicolas.
I am not going to go out with this person. Really. Really?
Compulsively, I thrust the phone into his hands and wait for the response. Nicolas looks at me, and repeats what I have already said in my head, a reverberating echo of doubt and judgment. “Really?” he says. “Really?” He looks up from my phone, a pair of 1970s reading glasses perched above his nose, reiterating his disdain. “You’re not actually going to do this.”
Darren has already asked me out for drinks. I haven’t said no.
I grab the phone out of his hands and look down at Darren’s face. There is nothing about that first night I met him that solicits any amount of spark. If I never speak to him again, I will likely survive. I’m not currently struck with longing or lust or any of those things that eventually make me crazy, and perhaps that’s why I am toying with the idea of even going out with him. In the past, all of those childish cues that I looked for – the racing heart, the sweaty palms, the wanting of my mouth on their mouth before we had even exchanged names – had led me so disastrously astray. So, really, why not try something new? Plenty of damage had been done following my heart. How much damage could be done if I went the complete opposite direction?
I don’t trust sparks anymore. Michael James was a spark. Michael James was an inferno.
“I don’t know,” I mumble, pausing to assess him further and analyze my own resistance. That jacket. That damn blue blazer. The “Cock” hat. Jesus Christ. I heave the heavy sigh of a prisoner resigning themselves to the end, in that moment before they take the first bite of their Last Meal. I’m on Love’s Death Row. The end is nigh.
“I’m going to do it,” I say. “I’m going to do it.” I say the words firmly in an attempt to convince myself I actually want to. Inside, I feel my heart groan under the pressure of my own insistence to not be me. I wonder what I will do, how far I will go astray for the sake of changing a formula that I now see as intrinsically fallible – not only fallible, but grossly misleading. There has to be some middle ground, and in there sensible reason and mutual affection sit, waiting for me.
Tonight – here, in this absurdly quiet restaurant filled with badly dressed tourists – I resign myself to a new plan. Branch out. Say yes. Do terrible things. Get over Michael James.
Nicolas rolls his eyes under thick glass and flags the bartender for another drink.