“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone cry so much at a movie,” Clark said, as we walked out of the theater that Saturday night.
“Was I really that bad? How do I look?” I asked, dabbing my eyes with a napkin.
Clark looked over at me and chuckled. “You’ll pass. You don’t look as miserable as you did the other time I caught you crying. Remember that?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, throwing the napkin in a nearby trash can. “The day before I quit my job. Well, I guess you’ve seen me at my worst, so I have nothing to worry about.”
“Nope, nothing,” he agreed. We continued walking toward the restaurant we’d decided on. After a couple of minutes, he spoke again, a teasing tone in his voice. “I don’t blame you, though. That ending was pretty sad. The blind girl and all. And, all of that French. It was starting to get to me, too. Another minute and I might have started crying, too.”
I looked over at him. “I would have liked to have seen that,” I laughed. “Anyway, I pretty much cry at everything. Ask my family. I’m the one who cries at car insurance commercials. You know, ‘you’re in good hands’ and all that. It tears me up every time. It’s what got me interested in advertising.”
“Yeah. It was either that or film making. I was intrigued by the thought of getting a person to feel an emotion just by watching something. I chose advertising in the end because I have a short attention span. I like to get things done, and ads, you know, commercials, are short and sweet.”
“Just like you,” he grinned.
I gave him a sideways glance while my heart skipped a beat. “Okay, seriously? That was so corny.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “It kind of was.”
We arrived at the restaurant, and I slipped past him as he held the door open for me. It was crowded, so we decided to head over to the bar while we waited.
“What’ll you have?” Clark asked, as he reached for his wallet.
“Nope,” I said, grabbing his arm. ”I’m paying, remember? Besides, you paid for the movie.”
He grinned. “Okay. In that case, I’ll have a gin and tonic,” he said to the bartender.
“Fancy,” I said to Clark. “Margarita on the rocks with salt,” I ordered. The bartender started making our drinks as we found two empty bar stools and sat down.
“I can’t drink that stuff,” Clark said.
“Tequila,” he said, shuddering. “Too many bad memories from college. I think the only thing I didn’t get sick enough on was gin, so that’s the only liquor I can drink now, apart from beer and wine.”
“Sounds like you did a lot of partying in college.”
“My senior year I did, I guess. I was on the lacrosse team, but then I tore up my knee in my junior year. So, senior year, while all of my friends were playing and training hard, I was in the bars just about every night. All except Tuesdays. I had an early class on Wednesday. Couldn’t do it that night.”
“Sounds tough. Did you miss it?”
“Lacrosse?” he asked, and I nodded. “I guess I did,” he said. “I’ve always been somewhat of an athlete, so not being able to do much that year was tough.”
Our drinks arrived, and I took a sip of mine. “Tasty,” I said, licking my lips. I laughed as Clark shuddered again.
“So, what about you?” Clark asked. “Were you an athlete in school?”
“A few years there,” I nodded. “I did softball for a while, but I haven’t done anything sporty for a while. I mean, I like to exercise -- running and all that. But, nothing else. Actually, I’m not from a very athletic family. We’re more the thinking, creative types. I think I got the bulk of the athletic talent, which wasn’t much.”
“Do you like to hike?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever really been hiking. The most I’ve done is run through Central Park or take a walk in the woods when we’ve gone to upstate New York or something.”
“You should come with me some time. I like to get out of the city every once in a while, go camping, get away from the craziness. It’s amazing what a few days away from this place can do for you.”
“Hmm, camping. I don’t know. I like the idea of roasting marshmallows by the fire, but sleeping on the ground in a tent? I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I’m not sure I’m adventurous enough.”
Clark laughed and took a sip of his drink. “You might surprise yourself.”
The hostess found us and showed us to a table and our waitress came over to tell us the specials. I couldn’t help notice how she mostly looked at Clark -- I couldn’t blame her, there -- but it soon became annoying when Clark asked her a question and the two of them began having a conversation as if I wasn’t even there. Just chill out, I told myself. Finally, they were done, and the waitress flashed me a quick look before walking away. The kind of look that said what are you doing with him?
“So, what sounds good to you?” Clark asked me, opening his menu.
Pushing my annoyance aside, I scanned the menu for something that looked good. “Um, the soft tacos, I think.”
“Sounds good.” He closed his menu and put it aside. “So, the job is going well?”
“Yes, I think it is,” I nodded. “Smith has been really good and I’ve learned so much. I’m excited about this job. And, I have to say, I feel lucky, too. Even though it may be temporary, it feels right. It’s like something or someone has been preparing me for just this job and then it came along. I mean, I know it was you who told me about it. But, it’s like fate. Fate brought me you.” I stopped as I felt my face get red, and I hoped that hadn’t sounded as bad to him as it had to me. “I mean, you know what I mean,” I continued. “It’s weird how these things work out sometimes.”
“I don’t think it’s weird. I’m a firm believer in fate,” Clark said. “Everything happens for a reason, and all that.”
“God, if only your friend Penelope could hear us, now. It sounds like this would be right up her alley.”
“It would. She asked about you, by the way. I spoke to her yesterday, and she still wants you to call her for lunch.”
“Oh, okay.” I’d yet to get the courage.
“She’s a great person, and she wouldn’t say that if she didn’t mean it.” The waitress returned to take our orders, and we ordered a refill on our drinks.
“Well, what about you?” I asked when she left.
“What about me?”
“We always seem to talk about me. I want to hear more about you. You’re an athlete, you like to camp and hike. What else? Tell me more about your job.”
“Okay. Well, like I said, I work in my family’s business,” he started.
“The clothing store.”
“Right. I work with some of the wholesalers in deciding what comes into the stores, deciding what all we’ll sell each season and all.”
“Stores? You have more than one?”
“Um, yeah, we have a few. Anyway, I get to do that. I also told you that I had some crazy ideas that my dad lets me work on, right?”
“Yes, I remember you saying that.”
“Well, up until a few months ago, when I wasn’t working with my dad, I was actually in Africa.”
“Africa?” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice or off of my face.
“Yep, I joined the Peace Corps.”
“Really? That was your rebellious stage?”
“I know, not what you expected, huh?”
“Not at all.”
“I guess you’d have to know the business. Remember, I grew up around my dad with all of this, but I think my grandmother was actually worse. It was always about the business, the stores, growing the company, it was all I ever heard about growing up. Being the oldest, it was always expected that I would go into the family business. It was a given. It was all I ever knew and, for a while, I was really into it. Then, when I got to college, I started thinking that I wanted to do other things with my life. It all seemed sort of pointless to grow this business when people around the world were starving and all that.”
“Human rights activist?”
“I think it was more about rebelling against my family. Everything was so commercial, and I did the one thing I thought would make the least sense to my family. It was so far out of their realm that I thought I was really going to show them. At first, that was all it was about, just a way to escape my family. My dad didn’t really understand, either. My mom was more supportive at first. But, I guess the joke was on me because it turned out I really grew to love it. And, after a while, once my dad saw how much my work meant to me, he came around.”
The waitress came with our food and next round of drinks, and I waited until she was gone before speaking.
“Wow. Well, it sounds like it was an adventure,” I said. “What happened? Why did you decide to come back?”
Clark sighed and took a sip of his drink. “It was my brother.” He paused and looked down at the table.
“Um, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s just that I don’t tell too many people about it.”
“Really, I’m not trying to pry.”
He looked up at me. “Oh, I know. You’re just curious.” He paused. “Okay, well, where do I start? When I left, my brother was just thirteen -- he’s seventeen, now, going to be a senior in high school this next year. I guess I didn’t realize how much my leaving would affect him. When I was gone, it was sort of expected that he would jump in and fill my shoes.”
“Wait, don’t you have a sister, too? What is she, twenty-four? What about her?”
Clark rolled his eyes. “I know, don’t even go there. That’s a different story.”
“Well, anyway. I guess my brother let the pressure get to him. I mean, here he was, thirteen, and now he’s being told that he’ll have to go into the family business. All his life, it was me, now suddenly it’s him. He started to rebel, too, only in a different way -- a bad way. He started hanging out with a different crowd, drinking, getting into drugs -- you can see where this story is heading?” I nodded. “Well, my mom and dad both told me about it -- wanted me to come home for him and all -- but I said, no, I wasn’t coming back. Long story short, last summer, he was at a party, had a little too much to drink -- had just gotten his driver’s license, for God’s sake.”
Here, Clark paused and took a bite of his food. I waited, breathless, scared for him to continue.
“He was driving home from the party. He had his girlfriend in the car with him. On the way to her house, he got into a really bad car accident -- he was in the hospital for a couple of months. And, his girlfriend, she was pretty bad off as well. It took a lot of wrangling on my dad’s part to get my brother off on probation. He had to go to rehab. The girl’s parents wouldn’t let him contact her again. He was really messed up. So, after all that happened, as soon as I could wrap everything up, I decided to come home. My work was important to me, sure, but my family is even more important.”
I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Clark. That must have been hard. How is your brother?”
“He recovered okay. He was a lacrosse player, too, but the accident cut that short. That’s something I’ve been there to help him with. Of course, mentally, he still has a lot to deal with, his girlfriend and all. He can’t drive, so that’s tough on him. But, he’s hanging in there. So, now I’m back, working with the family. My dad is letting me develop a project for sending clothes to those who need it in Africa. A little bit of my old job, while working with the new one.”
“That’s what you meant a few weeks ago. When you told me about finding something you liked to do, with no compromises.”
Something about the story of Clark’s brother triggered a memory in me. “You know, I remember hearing a story similar to this one. It happened in a town close to my parents. Some rich family’s kid got drunk and he and his girlfriend had a really bad car accident.” Realization set in. “Wait a minute. Your last name isn’t Seldrige, is it?”
“Seldrige? As in Seldrige Sports Wear?”
He paused a second before answering. “That’s us.”
“Oh, my God. All of this time, I thought we were talking about a few little clothing stores, and we’re talking about Seldrige freaking Sports Wear?”
“Is that a problem?” Clark asked, starting to look annoyed.
“No. It’s just unexpected, that’s all. It’s not often I find myself sitting across the table from a millionaire.”
“That’s not who I am. It’s just a family thing.”
“Well, it’s just that I think you would tell people, that’s all.”
“Look, if it’s a problem, we can leave.”
“No, that’s silly. It doesn’t change anything, really. I just don’t understand.”
“I like to keep a low profile, that’s all.”
“Low enough that I didn’t even know who you were.”
“Exactly. That’s part of the whole thing I was escaping when I joined the Peace Corps. I was tired of being the rich man’s son. I wanted to be known by what I’d done, not who I happened to be. Does that make sense?”
“Actually, it makes perfect sense.”
“I don’t make that big of a deal about it. I want people to be friends with me because of me, not because of a name. If I don’t tell people who I am, then I guess I can trust their friendship more. I’m sorry if you felt I was lying to you.”
“Does your girlfriend know? Wait, dumb question. She met you at work, right, so she must know.”
“Yes, she knows. That’s part of my appeal to her, I think. However, she is nice, and we do have a good time. The relationship is still new. Remember, I’ve only been back less than a year, so I’m still trying to figure this one out.”
“And Penelope? You guys are old friends, so obviously she knows.”
“Penelope? Her last name is Crawford. Very rich family, blue blood and all. She doesn’t even have to work if she doesn’t want to. But, she kind of rebels against it all, too, I guess. So, she gets where I’m coming from.”
I took another bite of food, trying to soak it all in. Not only was the guy I was sitting across from amazingly handsome and fun to be with, but now I find out that he is also rich. And unavailable. Someone somewhere must have been playing a cruel practical joke on me.
“So,” he said. “Are we still friends?”
I blinked. “What? Of course we are. I guess I’m going to get all self-conscious now, though, wondering why you’re hanging out with me, a lowly nobody.”
He threw his fork down. “You see, this is exactly why I don’t tell anyone.”
“Sorry, sorry!” I held up my hands. “I was just kidding.” Sort of. “I won’t do it again.” I tried to change the subject. “So, where is your girlfriend tonight?”
“Yep, her agency sent her to Paris. She was doing a few runway shows last week, and she has some photo shoots coming up. She says she goes there a few months every year. I was actually visiting her last week.”
“In Paris. I was able to tie it into my business trip last week. It was great to go. I haven’t been to Paris in so long.”
“Oh, so you’ve been there before?”
“We used to go France in the summers when I was a kid. We would get a house there for about a month.”
“So, that movie we saw tonight . . .?”
“Understood every word of it.”
“Was it better in French?” I asked.
“Much better,” he smiled.