Teaser 015: On Honor and Love
I slowly walked past everyone, around the indoor pool, through the sauna room, past the sliding door and outside. I took a deep breath as I closed the door behind me. Shit! What a battle! I hope what follows this is a little less rocky. I was close to shaking as I pulled out my cigarette pack from my shirt pocket and withdrew a cigarette. I hate confrontation. Even when I win my elevated adrenaline makes my hands shake. I lit the cigarette, moved farther out on the patio to a lounge chair in the horizontal position, set my beer beside it and sat down with my legs crossed, occasionally lifting the beer and gulping it down. I smoked three cigarettes, spaced apart and not one lit from the previous, over a half-hour, my back to the house. When I walked out on the patio I could see the glass windows of the Great Room, figuring one or more were watching me. I wasn't moving until my adrenaline dropped appreciably.
What happened in the Great Room is not conjecture. All at one time or another told me what took place. What everyone agreed on is Drake, of all people, was the one firmly on my side and he provided the most convincing arguments in my defense. He said they were all in agreement the screenplay was very good, he read it in one sitting because he couldn't put it down, I possessed something they all knew was rare in the business, I should be given plenty of time to show what I could do, I possessed a reasoning and persuasive quality he was beginning to admire, I potentially had talents and abilities which could prove invaluable to the making of the movie, combativeness and impatience on their part would prove counterproductive, and Serena, though not to exclude anyone else, needs to keep any fire in check. He finished by reminding everyone that while they were all professionals in this business, used to getting things agreed to on a lightning fast pace, they were adults and I probably felt like I was being ganged up on. Serena was quiet and hardly said a word. Will finished by addressing Serena, suggesting she should go out there and bring me inside. He was certain I liked Serena, like was probably putting it mildly, since I had written the screenplay with her in mind, and in his opinion I probably wrote it for her, I would listen to her if Serena would talk to me thoughtfully, I wasn't as high-strung as it seemed if I were only to be treated like someone welcome, like an equal. Slowly, Serena rose from the sofa and came outside.
I heard the sliding door open and feet in flip-flops walk across the patio toward me but I continued to stare straight ahead over the rolling hills in shades of brown. She came around the lounge chair next to me and sat down to my right, scooting her left thigh under my right knee lifted above the chair, and her body touched mine. She stared straight ahead over the rolling hills with me and in a very calm tone said, “I didn't think old men could sit Indian style.”
“It keeps my body limber so it doesn't feel so old.”
“How old are you, Gregory?”
She turned rapidly to me. “You can't be that old!”
“Some days I feel it more than others.” I turned my head toward her and waited until our eyes locked. “Golf magazines target old men like me so every other page is a commercial for Viagra or Cialis, but I don't need that artificial boost. I still get hard as easily as I did when I was fourteen.”
As calm as a windless day, Serena asked, “You're in love with me, aren't you?”
I knew if I stayed at Serena's house long enough I would hear that question from her own lips and I had thought often how to reply. “Of course, you wouldn't want me to lie. You'd have no respect for me and when you're treated with a lack of respect and dignity, especially from a man, you have a tendency to explode, like Rosita. Yet, if I tell you the truth, you'll have to consider long and hard how it will bode for our future relationship, professional and personal. So, if I tell you I consider you to be the most desirable woman in the world to me, this would put you up there pretty high in my opinion of women, wouldn't it?”
“It would,” she calmly answered. “Is it true?”
Ignoring her question, I plowed ahead. “And you would have to consider what might ensue from it, since you're a married woman, which makes you off-limits by the way, and you certainly won't entertain romantic distractions from a man who is not your husband, would you?”
“No, I would not. Would I have to?”
“Was yours a Catholic wedding?”
The question threw her momentarily. “Yes, it was.”
“So when the two of you stood before the priest, he said something like, 'Do you, Serena Dominguez, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband,' and weddings bring the law into it.”
“That I know.”
“'To love and honor and,' well, they've dropped the obey part, usually replacing it with cherish, 'love and honor and cherish your husband until death do you part?' The priest pretty much asked you that, right?”
“Pretty much, yes.” I glanced at Serena's face forming an amused expression.
“But the key in all of it is the word 'honor.' So when the priest asked you, you said?”
“And you meant it, didn't you?”
“I did. Every word.”
“Including the word 'honor.'”
“Including 'honor.' Absolutely.”
“And to be honorable to your husband, to honor your husband, means also to be faithful to him, to never be sexually intimate with any one but your husband, is it not true?”
“That is true.”
“Because the priest didn't say, 'love and honor and cherish, until somebody better comes along,' did he?”
“No, he did not.”
“But it is possible to meet someone whom you know is better for you than your husband, but it wouldn't be honorable for you to jump in the sack with this better one, would it?”
“No, it wouldn't.”
“If you were to jump in the sack with someone other than your husband, it would show you can't keep your word, wouldn't it?”
“Yes, it would.” Serena dropped her head for some reason.
“It would show you can't keep your word even to this someone you just jumped into the sack with, wouldn't it?”
“I suppose it would.”
“Do you think it wouldn't?”
Serena lifted her head to stare into my eyes. “Even to this someone, yes.”
“You made a promise, Serena, and I want you to keep your word, because even if you are the most desirable woman in the world, much, if not all, of this desire stems from what I can determine are the values which you consider important, and honor has a greater value than desire, disagree?”
“I wouldn't disagree. Honor has a much greater value.”
My legs were starting to cramp so I slipped my right hand in the small space between my hips and Serena's left thigh. She leaned away to give me room. “No. Please don't move.” She stopped and I leaned on my hands to wrest my feet out and set them on the patio concrete. “My legs were going numb.” I turned to face her.
Serena smiled warmly looking directly into my eyes. Her hands were still folded in her lap, but she lifted her left hand as she asked, “Shall I rub your legs? Will that help your numbing?” Her smile remained unbroken, sincere. Her offer was genuine.
I returned her sincere smile. “I would like that.” I felt her left hand drop on my right thigh and gently rub to my knee. She didn't bother looking down. She still stared at me, still smiling innocently, like it was no big deal rubbing a man's leg, a man other than her husband. “Since I arrived here, Serena, I know this. You are an incredible woman. You have a fantastic figure, probably because you take good care of yourself, and you have a great personality. But you're not in love with me and never will be.” I felt her left hand lift up and drop to my left thigh but she hadn't stopped staring at me intently. “In the unlikely event,” I continued, trying not to pay any attention to her hand swirling and squeezing my leg, “your feelings change and you come on to me, because I will never come on to you, ever, since I will honor your word to be faithful to your husband, I will remind you of the consequences, and I will plead with you, beg you, 'Please don't do this,' but if it doesn't stop you, I'm out of ammo, Serena, and I won't be able to resist you...” I turned to look at the many brown shades across the rolling hills beyond her house. “Once that moment is over, it won't change the consequences. I'll know you can't keep your word, and I'll never think about you the same.”
In a very low, subdued tone, she remarked, “My feelings about you, Gregory, will not change.”
“I said it was unlikely.”
“I like you a lot. You have an attitude and a way very different from anyone I ever met, but I like who you are, what you have shown me so far.”
I had to change the subject. I exhausted this one. With as pleasant and innocent manner as I could muster, I asked, “How long have you been in the city of Lost Anglos this trip?”
“Lost Anglos?” she inquired, a bit amused.
I turned back with a smile. “The City of Angels is now the city of Lost Anglos, a town full of Anglos walking around with no clue, don't you think?”
She chuckled briefly. “I think it's true. I never thought of it that way.”
I smiled widely at her acceptance, but I wanted to know something. I had a gut feeling. “So, how long this trip?”
“I've been here two weeks.”
“Are you going back to France before the movie ramps up?”
“No, I'll be here until we wrap the shooting.”
“So, unless your husband shows up, that will be a lot of nights sleeping alone, won't it?”
Her smile suddenly changed to a frown. “I'm not going to answer that.”
“I didn't think you would, so I'm going to give you some free marriage advice because I'm older than you, I was married longer than you, and I have the experience. I only ask you to listen.” I waited a moment to give Serena the opportunity to stand up and end this, but she sat next to me immobile and silent. “I imagine when you walked down the aisle on your wedding day, you never expected your marriage would become a long series of nights sleeping alone. It's kind of crept up on you because it wasn't that way in the beginning. Sure, you both had career obligations which rarely intersected, lifestyles which rarely intersected, but in the beginning it was compromise and you both went here and there, together, until one day it changed. 'No, I can't go,' and another, 'No, I can't go.’ And, now, maybe those no's outnumber the yeses, but it just seemed kinda normal because it crept up on you. It wasn't like my marriage, when it was sudden and obvious, when the ex popped up out of bed one morning, probably upset yet again something was poking her between her butt cheeks, and maybe I was demanding sex, but I never demanded sex from her or any other woman, I always require consent, and I always stop when the signal turns red or when she says, 'No,' or 'Stop.' And she herself had said 'No' on many mornings with the expected result, no sex. And no big deal from me either. But not this morning. She popped out of bed and stood completely bare-ass naked at the edge of the bed, looked down at me, and promised, 'I'll never sleep with you again.' And, damn, if she didn't keep her promise. She may not have kept a few promises but that was one she did keep because she never slept with me again. And I knew that morning my marriage was over, done. She had changed the terms of our marriage, unilaterally, without my consent, my agreement. I never discussed it with her, I never argued with her about it, I never confronted her, but inaction is not an agreement. And as with any contract, when one party changes the terms, the other party must agree to the change or the contract is null and void, and a marriage is a contract. Thus, our marriage was null and void, but I stayed because I made a promise to her. She said, 'If something happens between us, promise me you'll stay with me until the kids are out of school.' Maybe she was setting me up. I don't know, but I promised her I would and I kept my promise. When the kids were out of school—even though the youngest still had her senior year, but she had been expelled and there wasn't a school within a fifty-mile radius that would take her, so she would get her diploma through GED, at home, so she's out of school—it was, 'Bye. See ya. Have a nice life.' I left her that summer, have barely laid eyes on her in the almost ten years since, divorced her the following year. But I spent six years sleeping alone every night after she popped out of bed that morning. My marriage was over, done, dead.
“I don't know what the state of your marriage is, Serena, whether you're happy or unhappy, but even if you're happy, there may come a time, since most married couples go through it, most marriages have rocky times, you may be unhappy with your marriage. A great man once wrote, 'Inability or unwillingness to change one's unhappiness is a sign of weakness.'” I paused to gauge her interest, to give her an opportunity to comment. After this moment, I turned to look into Serena's eyes to encourage her.
It worked. When our eyes locked, her lids narrowed. “Which great man wrote that?”
I smiled. “I wrote it.” Her eyes twinkled, her smile beamed and I could tell she was suppressing a laugh. “I didn't say he was a great man in everyone's mind, but he's a great man in my mind.” Her laughter suppression failed and I joined her. “Not a great man in your mind but it's still true. If one is unhappy, doing nothing to change it is a sign of weakness, and while I cannot claim to know much about you, Serena, I would never consider you weak. That, you are not.” I turned back to the hills. “If you are unhappy in your marriage, as I see it, you have three options. Behind door number one is 'save your marriage.' You have to consider what you are capable of changing and what you honestly consider your husband capable of changing, have a long, patient, thoughtful discussion with him, reach new compromises and work hard to honor them. Both of you. It may or may not save your marriage but at least you tried when you thought both of you could make those changes.
“You can choose door number two, by considering the responsibilities and obligations of your marriage so that 'staying married,' even though you are unhappy, provides more benefit than your continued unhappiness. You make no changes, the no's may increase, but you stay married anyway for those other benefits, whatever they may be.
“You can open door number three, when you consider that further compromise, by either you or your husband, is impossible, that your continued unhappiness is unacceptable, and you end the marriage. You'll completely understand the path of divorce is no guarantee of happiness and you have a child who will be stuck in the middle, but the marriage can't be fixed and a lifetime of unhappiness is much worse than a chance for happiness again. Staying married, once you've considered door number two as the option to take, means never having a chance for happiness. Even if you decide to do nothing, you have chosen door number two, and you will be unhappy for the rest of your life.” I turned back to Serena with a smile and her expression was...thoughtful. “I don't presume to know any of this applies to you, Serena, and I know everyone's marriage is different, but I do know what marriages are supposed to be, and there's a whole lot of married people who are unhappy, but they continue to go through life and continue to be unhappy because they're afraid to change, because they're weak and won't admit it. If you ever become unhappy with your marriage, don't be weak. Fix it or end it, or be unhappy forever.” I reached down for the beer bottle, empty long before Serena arrived. “I'm getting thirsty again. I could use another beer, should my hostess approve.” I smiled and stood.
Serena returned my smile and stood beside me. “I'll get you another beer. You deserve it.”
“Thank you.” I glanced at the windows of the Great Room. “We're being watched.”
I smiled deviously. “Let's give them something to talk about.”
“Like what?” Serena asked with a smile as completely devious.
“Let me hug you again. Two hugs from Serena Dominguez in one day? That can't be bad.”
Serena's smile grew wide and full as she slithered up against me and slipped her arms around my back. I wrapped my arms around her back in response but I didn't squeeze her as hard this time. I sensed she could feel the change, but instead of saying anything, she squeezed me harder than I squeezed her. I could easily feel the contours of her body against mine. She whispered, “I want them to talk. They made me come out here to get you from your 'cooling off' period.”
“Oh, I was cool before I left.” She leaned back to look in my eyes, refusing to release me. “I did it for effect. It worked, didn't it?”
Serena released me and, as my arms dropped to my side, she shoved me slightly backward with her right hand pushing against my shoulder. Her smile wouldn't quit though. “That will give them something to talk about and so will this.” She grabbed my shoulders, forcibly pulled me close to her and kissed my right cheek through my beard.
As she leaned back to stand upright, her smile ever present, I agreed. “Yep! That will get them talking. Do me a favor?”
“Walk past me, and reach behind you with your hand so I can grasp it in mine, and lead me back inside.”
She walked past me and reached out behind her with her left hand. “Cumon, little boy.”
I grasped her left hand with my right. “I love it when you talk dirty like that.” Her laugh was loud. I thought they could hear it in the Great Room. If there were any windows open in the room, they surely heard it.
- Just Desserts, Segment Two “Dog Grooming” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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