As Jim wended his way between the knots of people clutching their drinks and interrupting each other, his way was blocked several times. Turning sideways to slide through a narrow path, he overheard snatches of conversations.
“I heard they took the baby on their honeymoon.”
“His stock tips aren’t worth spit.”
A matronly woman drenched with gold chains blocked his way. A heavy odor of roses and musk surrounded him while he waited for the next ebb to create an opening.
“He got what he deserved. She was too good for him.”
A black, rented tuxedo bumped into him. A bright-eyed young man, nervous and out of place, smiled an apology. The bright lights embedded in the high ceiling reflected golden highlights from the silken fabric.
“They’re headed for the Super Bowl, I tell ya.”
Across the crowded room, the shiny black surface of a floor-to-ceiling window held back the New York skyline behind a tall man – black hair, expensive clothes. Robert was talking to a short man in a brown blazer. Jim joined the two men and waited patiently for the brown blazer to move on. They stood side-by-side looking at the crowd as if judging cattle at auction.
“She told me,” Jim said.
“Told you what?”
“About the two of you.”
“What about the two of us?”
“About your affair.”
A small group surged toward the two men and they stepped back, toward the side of the window that seemed to drop into space.
“We didn’t have an affair,” Robert said.
“What would you call it? A liaison? An encounter?”
“We didn’t have anything.”
A young woman wearing a black and white French maid’s outfit and holding a tray of tiny pastries filled with mushrooms and spices approached the two men. Jim held up his hand, declining her offer. Robert took one of the pastries popping it whole into his mouth.
“You slept with her. What do you call it?” Jim said.
“I didn’t sleep with her. What did she tell you?”
“That she went to see you and then got even with me.”
“She came to me because she was hurt, but we didn’t have sex.”
“Is this one of those ‘depends on the meaning of sex’ quizzes?”
“We didn’t have sex of any variety. She cried. I listened.”
“Why would she say that she slept with you if she didn’t.”
Jim turned to look into Robert’s dark gray eyes. They stared back at him, steady and relaxed.
“Probably to hurt you,” Robert said.
“That’s too bad.”
“It would have been easier if she had.”
“What are you going to do? Leave her.”
“No, I can’t do that. You know that.”
“She would be better off.”
The two men watched as an elegant woman approached them. She wore a black, sheer gown that left her clothed only to those bereft of imagination. The dress, her long black hair, and her glistening green eyes contrasted with her creamy white skin. In her hand, she held a long thin glass of bubbles slowly rising.
“Well, my two most favorite men,” she said with a light smile.
“Jim has been telling me the most interesting story,” Robert said.
“Oh really, I don’t know where he gets his imagination, his father never had a new thought in his life.”
“He says you told him that we had an affair.”
“He does. How creative. When did we do this wondrous thing?”
“When you came over to cry on my shoulder.”
“You were sympathetic, and then I wanted to get even. Is that the story?”
“Something like that.”
“Surely we could have done better than that. Why not a stolen weekend when Jim was away – to a secluded spot on the coast.”
“That sounds terrific,” Robert said. Then turning to Jim, “When are you leaving, old chap.”
“I’m flying out tomorrow. I won’t be back for two weeks. That should give you plenty of time.”
“Let me know when you’re picking me up,” she said, turning away from the two men and slinking toward the crowd, each step designed to maximize the movement of the light fabric against her body.
James followed, watching from the corner of his eye as she flitted from one group to another. The rest of the evening, while she talked conspiratorially with a woman in a silver gown, flirted with the host, and laughed at a rich old man’s lecherous jokes, he pursued her, watched her, and studied her even as he appeared to join in several conversations.
While they waited for the doorman to flag down a cab, she leaned on his arm wrapped in her Lynx coat. Jim stood silently, as black as a shadow next to her silver glow.
“You were cruel to Robert,” she said.
“He deserves it.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Anyone who lived with you for two years and didn’t make you happy deserves to roast on a slow spit.”
“What about you? You aren’t making me happy.”
The doorman waved and held the door for them. They bent forward into the cold as they crossed the sidewalk to the waiting cab, salty ice crunching under their feet.
After she gave the cab driver their destination, she snuggled up against him.
“Won’t you stay the night?”