Part 14: So Into You
Our food soon arrived and this time the waiter was friendlier. Of course, he was still trying to make eye contact with Summer, and I had to berate myself for my own shyness. How come a kid barely out of high school could stare into her eyes with no problem, but I couldn’t look into those dark depths for a few minutes before getting scared and looking away? What was it that I was afraid I might see there? Or was I afraid she might see something secret hidden within my own? “You coming back to earth any time soon?” I heard her say, and I realized I had been staring off into space, lost out there somewhere in my own thoughts.
“Oh, sorry,” I apologized, returning my attention to her and the big plate of food the waiter had set before me.
“Please tell me you weren’t thinking about her.”
“No, I wasn’t,” I replied, daring to look at her for the briefest moment. “To be honest, I was thinking about you.”
To this she smiled. “Now, if I could just get you to look at me for more than two minutes.”
“I’m afraid you’ll think I’m staring.”
“Maybe I want to be stared at.”
I picked up my knife and fork and began to work on my plate of spaghetti. “Let me rephrase that,” I said. “I’m afraid you’ll think I’m being too..um… lecherous.”
She laughed. “I love your choice of words. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy to use the word lecherous on me, even if they were feeling that way.” She cut a piece off her calzone and eyed it hungrily. “But I don’t think you’re lecherous.” She took a bite of her food. “I could be wrong,” she added.
“You’re not. I’m one of the nice guys.”
She seemed to snicker at this. “That’s exactly what a lech would say.”
I could tell she was teasing, and so it was only appropriate to tease back. “Damn, busted.”
We both smiled and dug into our plates of food as if we hadn’t ate all day. In between bites, she would look up at me, as if she were studying the way I ate, or how I looked around the room, or sat in my chair. She had that way about her. Summer just seemed to be studying you, as if her desire to get to know you was the most important thing in the world.
I did have a habit of looking around the room when I ate and she noticed this, I’m sure. It’s a habit I picked up from my father, who always seemed to be sizing up every room he was in, looking for a way out if it got too uncomfortable. In my perusal, I noticed that this little establishment was nostalgic. Italian style paintings depicting villas and vineyards decorated the walls. In one corner, laid out on a table, were pieces of homemade jewelry for sale, necklaces and bracelets made of gems and local stones by an area artist. A card read proudly, ‘Visit Me At The Artist’s Village.’ In another corner sat an old jukebox. So old in fact it played 45 rpm records. I imagined the records inside must be pretty scratchy by now, but still I was curious. I pointed it out to Summer.
“Look, that jukebox is almost as old as I am.”
She grinned. “Play me something old then. Educate me, oh wise music nerd.”
I took a bite of my spaghetti and got up. “Be right back, youngun.”
As I went past her, she playfully squinted her eyes as if she was mad.
The jukebox was old indeed, but the records inside weren’t too ancient. At least not to me. Mostly from the seventies, there were a lot of one hit wonders that I imagine no one knew anymore. I found one that I thought might be appropriate for a date, though maybe not the first one. I put in several quarters and made the selection. I found a second one as well, and happy with my choices returned to the table.
“This first one was popular before you were born,” I joked. “You may have heard it on an oldies station.” I made sure to emphasize ‘oldies’.
“You ever had calzone in your eye,” Summer threatened, and then she stopped. The song had come on. The smile had left her face, and the dancing light that had been in her eyes seemed to snuff out. Suddenly, I got the feeling I had ruined another perfectly good time. It was obvious she had heard the song before, and it meant something to her. But not anything good. She stopped eating and turned to look at the jukebox, as if the machine had meant to offend her. Then she turned back to me, a neutral look upon her face. She closed her eyes, and then with a sigh said, “I always liked this song.”
“You don’t look like you do.”
“No I do,” she tried to convince me. But the sad look on her face said otherwise.
“It reminds you of someone.”
She looked down at her plate of food. “When I was little, my parents used to dance to this song in the living room. My dad bought my mama this record by them. Rock n roll alternative, it was called. They played this song over and over until I imagine even our next door neighbors knew the words. I didn’t know it then, but I was even conceived to this song.” She began to quietly sing. “I am so into you, I can’t think of nothing else…”
For a moment, I thought she was going to cry. She closed her eyes as if to fight any tears from coming. Her soft singing dropped off. I felt bad for making her sad. It seemed to me to be just another example of how I could never seem to do the right thing to make her happy for a while. “I’m sorry Summer. I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
She seemed to push the sadness back away from her and opened her eyes. She attempted a smile at me. “Like I said, I do like the song. It’s great.” She looked down at her plate and picked at her calzone. “It just makes me think of my parents in happier times.” She took a bite as if the food would bury her memories. Again, she smiled, and this time it seemed more genuine. “So, what were your parents like?”
“They were great together,” I replied. “They didn’t dance to Atlanta Rhythm Section, though. They were more Dave Brubeck Quartet. They loved slow dancing. Their song was called ‘Audrey’.”
“Was that your mom’s name?”
“No, it was pop’s favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Mom didn’t seem to mind. She had a sexy favorite, too. Gregory Peck.” I looked at Summer, and for a moment she seemed lost. Or maybe she had no idea who I was talking about. “Well anyway, they loved to dance to slow piano jazz. Stuff from the late fifties, when they were young.”
“Too bad you don’t dance. It is liberating.”
“That’s one thing I didn’t inherit from my parents.”
She nodded, taking a sip of her tea. Then her face got serious. “Promise me something.”
“uh…okay,” I replied, somewhat wary of what she might ask.
“Before I leave, dance with me.”
“Summer, I can’t…”
“Yes, you can.”
A new song began from the jukebox. My second selection had arrived to rescue me from making a fool of myself. “What’s this?” she asked.
“True Fine Love. Steve Miller Band.”
She smiled in approval. “I like it.”
“Ever find one of those? A true fine love?”
I thought about this a moment. I reached for my soda and took a sip. It was almost empty and I signaled the waiter for a refill. He took my glass and returned with a new drink. I thanked him, and then gave Summer my answer. “I think we all believe we have, when we first fall for someone. Each time you fall, you feel like it’s the first time you have ever loved.”
“But, does that make it a true love?”
“If it’s true, it doesn’t end.”
“True,” she agreed.
“So, the answer is no. I believed what I had with Ashley was true, but in reality it wasn’t.”
“Perhaps on your part it was. There’s always one who loves more than the other.”
“It’s not supposed to be that way.”
She nodded and gave me a sad look. “I agree.”
The song from the jukebox had prompted some of the restaurant’s patrons to look at us. Two rock n roll love songs in a row. I guess they were expecting a proposal, or at the very least, doe eyed looks across the table. We disappointed them on both counts.
“I don’t think my parents believed in a true fine love,” Summer said. “I guess that’s why I want to. The things they believed didn’t last, so I want what they never had, you know.”
“Yeah, “ I replied, and I knew she was going somewhere with this, so I waited.
“What do you want?”
The question surprised me. “Excuse me?”
“What do you want out of life?”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Well, I used to think I wanted a fairy tale romance. You know picket fence, little pink houses for you and me. But now, I’m not so sure. I find it hard to believe in those things now. I guess if I have to give a real answer, I would say I just want someone to love me, and not be trying to look for a way out behind my back.”
“Sounds fair enough. I think all I want is not to end up like my parents. To spend all that time, falling in love, starting a family. All to watch it disappear in an instant. I guess that’s why all my relationships go straight out the window, because I’m afraid of devoting all that time and energy for it to come to nothing. Does that make any sense, or does that make me seem selfish?”
“It makes sense to me, and no, it doesn’t sound selfish.”
“You know I came here with what seemed to be my life’s purpose, to find out from my father why he left mom and I behind. But now I’m wondering if there is any point in that. I mean, what would that really accomplish? I fear it’s not going to make me happy to know. It won’t give me lost time with my dad back.”
I didn’t know what to say. She had her reasons for wanting to track down her father, and none of them had anything to do with me. I wanted to be there for her in her quest, but what could I do? I had to be careful what to say; I didn’t want to influence her to make what could be the wrong choice. Lucky for me, she didn’t give me a chance to respond.
“You know, I really didn’t want to talk about, or even think of, my father tonight.” She shook her head. “I just wanted to go out and have fun with someone. Forget my troubles and all that.”
“I’ve had fun,” I reassured her.
She smiled and reached across the table to pat my hand. “So have I.” She paused for just a moment, as if listening for something. It wasn’t the jukebox; the songs I had selected were finished. “But he’s still there,” she said after a moment. “A shadow hanging over everything.”
I thought to myself, her father wasn’t the only shadow. Ashley seemed to be in the background too, thoughts of her looming on the edge of the evening. I thought how crazy this seemed, for Summer and I had each other to make conversation with, to enjoy time with, and here we were still overwhelmed by the two people who caused us the most pain. I wondered if we would ever be over our pasts, whether they would someday let us go. I found myself wishing I could talk to Ashley right now, so I could ask her why she had….I stopped. This was wrong. To even think of her right now was wrong. If I was ever going to have any kind of relationship, even friendship, with another member of the opposite sex, I had to put her out of my mind long enough to do so. Easier said than thought.
Summer seemed to be lost in thoughts of her own. Perhaps she was thinking something similar about her life and the place her father had in it. She looked up at me and downed the rest of her sweet tea. “I think I’m done if you are,” she said. “Want to get out of here?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. I had been feeling like the walls were closing in on us here at the restaurant. I needed some fresh air.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.