5 - The Princeton Friends
A very nice, charcoal gray Jaguar. Audrey's Princeton friends were lawyers. They stepped out of the very nice, charcoal gray Jaguar just like lawyers would. A man and a woman.
"Hey there, Jim. It's good to finally meet you," said the man, a pre-mature gray fellow with optimistic gusto. He had a good, firm, warmhearted handshake, obviously practiced to demonstrate that he was an easy going, affable guy--don't worry about the lawyer thing. His beady, piercing blue eyes were almost too riveting for Jim to meet. Still, as a point of courage, he rose to the occasion and returned the eye contact and handshake, although certain his false confidence would be spotted.
Oozing in immediately behind the Jaguar was a perfectly restored, immaculately maintained, antique Indian motorcycle. Astride it was a tall, angular man with an obvious preference for glossy, cologne-advertisement leather. He removed his helmet and straightened his dark, moussed hair in the handlebar mirror then broadly swung a long, slender leg across the bike and sauntered over to the rest.
Lanky, lean, and gaunt--high-cheekboned and hawk-nosed--he had far too much of a male model look. Jim expected, "I'm not a CEO, but I play one on TV." Instead he got a curt, "How do you do?"
"Nice bike," Jim replied, extending a hand.
"Forty-seven Chief," High-Cheekbones replied, shaking it.
Jim wondered why this guy was there, really. Subsequent chatter revealed that the woman of the Princeton trio was engaged to Premature Gray. So, High-Cheekbones was the fifth wheel. Odd. Maybe the old school chums felt obligated to invite him. Not likely. He didn't impress Jim as being in need of social charity. Perhaps it was only innocent friendship: rather than concern themselves with the make-up of the party they just invited another likeable acquaintance. But likeable did not seem like an appropriate description. Suddenly, with a nearly clairvoyant sense Jim realized that Audrey and High-Cheekbones must have had a thing back at Princeton. That would just fit. They had a torrid affair, during the course of which she became attached to his lawyer friends here.
Yet, no torturous vision of the two of them in the throes of passion was coming to Jim, as it would were he experiencing normal jealousy. Passion did not seem likely between these two dark, spare images. They were identical in physical impression--slim, angular, dress casual clothes bordering on elegant--but both were decidedly…pointy. Yes, they were pointy-looking. Sex between them would have to have been cautious, like two porcupines, admiring yet fearful of the each other's quills. Ah ha! They were mirror images; reflections to gaze at without technically descending into narcissism. Theirs was the Eros of self-love.
Or he might be gay.
It was the female of the trio that scared Jim the most. She was introduced as Evie and smiled warmly as she took his hand in greeting but said nothing until the initial exchanges were expiring. Then she said, "Let's pop in and have a drink before we eat, shall we?"
Jim started. Her British accent was mild but unmistakable. Great. Here he was trying to fight off the creeping limeyisms in his own speech and now this. He resolved to have only one drink before dinner and one glass of wine with the main course so as to not impair his defenses against an unconscious 'Wot's all this then?'
By dinnertime Jim had eased his resolution a bit, allowing himself an extra glass of wine because he was having a very difficult time being around these tiresome blighters.
"You have that famous business writer at your firm don't you? That must be a quite an experience to work with someone like that," said Premature Gray.
"Oh dear, sweet Jake," said Audrey.
"I've seen his books in the bookstore," High-Cheekbones chimed in.
"Oh yes. And he's such a dear man. He's been with Daddy since the Stone Age. I remember him keeping these sugar candies in a jar on his desk when I was a child. I used to sneak into his office as quietly as possible and steal the candy. He knew I was there but he always pretended not to hear me. Then he'd see me later with Daddy and he'd say 'I can't imagine what happens to the candy in my jar,' and I would just smile and give a big shrug of my shoulders and we'd all have a laugh. Such a sweetie. His wife, now there's a woman who missed her calling. Would have been the perfect high society hostess for a man who needed that sort of thing. Lost on dear Jake though. Daddy could have used someone like that. Mom was far too scatterbrained to help Daddy climb the social ladder. But listen to me talk about my mother; I love her so dearly. Still, a wife--from that generation anyway--was a political boon or bane wasn't she?"
Obviously Audrey had made no resolutions prior to dinner. Jim saw by the smiles on the faces of the others that they were familiar with the gregarious, babbling Audrey who came out when the drink went in.
Premature Gray didn't want to let go of the issue. "It always seemed to me that management is a lot like negotiation, especially the kind of corporate merger negotiations I do. In fact, I've often found myself applying the principals he espouses. I mean, you sift through all the angles and possibilities to find an action that will get everyone what they want. The key is knowing what you want and not losing track of it. A manager has to devise a strategy to achieve the company goals but still keep the employees relatively satisfied. In my job, I have to achieve my client's goals but still come up with a deal that won't scare the other side out of the room…"
"Oh, listen to the big negotiator," Evie chimed in. "Maybe you can find a way to achieve your goal but still not chase me out of the room by discussing work when were out socially." She smiled at Jim and he decided she was very sweet and quite attractive. Her melodic voice was a pleasure, but there was still that accent waiting to trigger a disaster.
"Still, it must be quite rewarding to work with a bona fide guru," High-Cheekbones said, staring at Jim a little too purposefully.
Jim suddenly realized that he hadn't said five words all night. He hadn't been detached or dreamy as he sometimes was on such occasions. He had heard every word that was said, but the Princeton friends were so seamless in their conversation that he hadn't really had a chance to get involved. That realization made him instantly self-consciousness and more than a little resentful at High-Cheekbones-Maybe-Gay-Probably-Audrey's-Ex-Lover for pitying him enough to ask him an I'll-be-polite-and-try-to-get-you-involved question.
"I don't really work that closely with him. We only meet for a few seconds every week or so. Everybody seems to like him though."
Jim's stiflingly bland response seemed to dumbfound the group. There was a moment of silence to acknowledge the death of the conversational thread. He had no idea why Audrey continued with him. What was it she saw in him compared to the clever, erudite clique she fit into?
"We finally made it to Coq-au-Roq for dinner the other night. It was packed. We waited an hour and twenty minutes for a table. Painfully trendy and trite atmosphere and décor. People coming up on middle age and still wearing goatees. Hah! Excellent food though." Good ol' Premature Gray, finding the common ground that would achieve everybody's goals.
"Oh yes, it was smashing. Crab over a steamed veggie bed with a light cream sauce, followed by a very tart and tasty gumbo." Evie said, keeping up the pace.
Jim made a fast move, feeling more comfortable with this subject. "I've always thought the seafood at the Dockside House couldn't be beat. Audrey and I love the Paella there."
"Oh Jim, you silly. We've never had the Paella at the Dockside House. You're thinking of the Peregrine Inn. That is, unless you have another girlfriend you're thinking of." Everyone laughed at the thought of that. Audrey gave him a quick nuzzle.
"Besides, the Dockside House has gone far downhill. The new management doesn't seem to give a whit about quality. Nobody could like that place anymore," offered High-Cheekbones.
Jim had the sudden urge to reach over the table and slice off his silk tie with a steak knife. Evie had a very perceptive look on her face. Jim saw he was being pitied again. Pitied for being chopped down by both Audrey and High Cheekbones in a single exchange, just when he made his first voluntary contribution to the evening's conversation.
"Oh I don't know. A place doesn't go to fritters overnight. You can still get a boffo swordfish there."
Jim was grateful for her help. Her pity was sweet. He could talk to her. "Beats Toad in the Hole or Bangers and Mash anyday, wot?" Oh bloody hell.
There was another, longer, moment of silence.
Exiting in to the cool, brisk air of the night Jim took an involuntary deep breath. There was indecision among the others about what to do next. This indecision was a by-product of everyone's nebulous acknowledgement that the evening went off rather well, but nobody was all that keen on keeping it going. Jim, in a state of somewhat overblown disappointment over his various faux pas, took it to mean the Princeton crowd was happy seeing each other but they should have pity on Jim and end his suffering. They waffled over this trendy club or that old hangout and in each case someone wielded veto power with a slight scoff or a bad experience there or an accusation of overcrowding. Jim had seen these acts before and found himself longing for a bit of honest emotion. Eventually someone made a comment about having to get up early, in response to which someone mentioned a big day tomorrow; thus it ended. What he wasn't expecting was for Audrey to say she was going to ride home with High-Cheekbones. The first couple had left in their charcoal gray Jaguar and High-Cheekbones went to "fire up the Indian." Silently, Jim resolved that once the Indian was "fired up" he would march over and douse it with a steady stream of urine as a primal gesture of territorial offense.
"I know what you're thinking," said Audrey, "but don't be silly. He's quite gay, you know."
"Well of course I know. It's rather obvious, isn't it? Exactly how gay?"
"You're so cute when you're jealous." She gave him a wet kiss that tasted vaguely of Merlot, then pressed herself firmly against him, gently passing her hand up his thigh and between his legs. He gave an involuntary gasp as his inhibition against such behavior in public gave way to the sensation. His heart and blood throbbed in rhythm with her firm caress.
When Audrey felt that she had achieved the desired effect she giggled and cat-walked off to straddle the "fired up" Indian, looking back over her shoulder with a professional look of allure.
Jim walked gingerly to his car, turned off the radio, and drove off in angry silence, both furious and grateful for his sexual frustration.