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Chapter 21. PECKER

“Is something bothering you, Lori?” Dick asked. We were in the taxi heading home from LaGuardia after an uneventful flight from Montreal.

“I’m sorry?” As if I didn’t understand his question. “Breakfast was fine. The wives,” I emphasized the word, “were a happy bunch.”

“And what’s bothering you?” He asked again.

“I think you know. And if you don’t, why don’t you ask Axel or Rod.”

“Axel or Rod? What do they have to do with anything?” He continued to act as if he were clueless.

“You know what, Dick.” I wanted to cut the sarcasm but it just kept coming, “I guess I’m not worthy to be Mrs. Dick Johnson Grand or worthy of a mink coat.” The look on his face was surprise and anger all rolled up together, and I continued to smack him over the head with it, “As far as Mercy, Randelle, your sister Claire and everyone else is concerned, I’m second class citizen, poor Lori. Not worth marrying. Not worth buying a mink coat. How’s that? Clear things up?”

The cab was pulling into the circular drive in front of my building. Jimmy was on his way to retrieve my luggage from the trunk of the car. I sat waiting for an answer, but when it came, it wasn’t what I expected, not by a long shot.

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, Lori.” His tone was all business.

“Well, I do,” I confirmed and slid across the seat as Jimmy opened the cab door. Before getting out, I turned to Dick, tears welling, though I managed to keep my voice steady and finally drop the irony, “You hurt my feelings, Dick. I felt humiliated this weekend. You really let me down.” And with parting words I hoped felt like a slap across his face, I turned my back and followed Jimmy into the building.

That night the phone didn’t ring and there was no sweet talk or phone sex to consummate what should have been the end of a wonderful weekend. In fact, there was no phone call from Dick the Pickle Pecker, as I had fondly started calling him in the privacy of my own apartment, for three days and three nights.

Luckily, I had plenty to keep me busy, because Susan was in town unexpectedly, up from Tallahassee where she was in her senior year at Florida State University. She was meeting me and Annie for dinner at L’Artiste, our favorite little French restaurant north of Times Square.

As the taxi dropped me on 67th Street, I stood on the sidewalk for a moment taking in the front of the restaurant. The grey stone entry with elaborate carvings whisked me back to the sidewalks of Paris. The flower box overflowed with pops of golden coneflowers, orange coquerets, and rustic grasses, reminding me of the French countryside. But more than colors or ambience, I closed my eyes and felt myself standing next to Jack Goldman, the other great love of my life who had disappointed more than anyone. Was it ten years ago? Jack, the Master of Ceremonies who broke my heart.

A passing car honked and I opened my eyes to see a handsome young man exiting a taxi, and turn to lend his hand to someone still inside. He was maybe early thirties with hair already showing touches of gray, and wore dark rimmed glasses. From Jack Goldman, my thoughts jumped to Peter Handelman, my dashing Brit with the Oliver Peoples glasses. It was Peter, or Rocketman as I fondly remembered him, who loved to ski in and ski out with his big powerful rocket, and awoke my lust for life after Jack Goldman. I let my thoughts trail away as I realized the long-legged young woman being helped from the taxi by Rocketman look-alike, was my daughter, Susan.

Her hand still in his, she looked up and saw me, “Mom? Is that you? What are you doing standing there?”

“Susan.” I managed. “Sweetheart, I’m just getting here myself.” We met under the awning and embraced. Young Rocketman stood by.

“Oh, Mom, this is Dirk. Dirk, this is my mother.”

“It’s lovely to meet you Mrs. Fox. Lorelei? Is it okay if I call you Lorelei?” He asked pleasantly, heavy on the L, with a hint of south Florida accent. If he had broadened his vowels like a Brit, I think I would have fainted right there on the street.

“Lori.” I told him, “Please, just Lori.”

“Lori,” he said, as if testing it out, and held the restaurant door for me and Susan.

Annie sat by the front window, and waved us over. The maître d’ greeted us, “Ah, your guest is already seated. Right this way.”

After introductions and cheek kisses all around, Susan, Annie and I agreed a meeting of the three Fox ladies called for cosmopolitans for all. Dirk declined and settled on a beer.

“Annie,” I opened the conversation, “Where’s Monty tonight?”

“Sorry, mom.” She had that grim “get real” tone in her voice, “It’s Tuesday, he’s working.”

I started to say, “At seven o’clock? Don’t bartenders eat dinner?” but caught myself before taking us down a slippery slope. Susan gave me the “Susan look,” a flash of green eyes curtained behind dark lashes. It was the warning not to get Annie on her high horse. “I’m just standing up for myself,” Annie always insisted. I called it self-justifying. Susan called it self-righteous.

When Annie was a kid she started every sentence with “No offense, but.” That meant we usually didn’t want to hear the rest of the sentence. So, I held my snarky remark and said, “Let him know we missed him.”

“Same to Dick.” She said, “Where is he off to tonight?”

“Pickle Pecker?” I started before catching myself, “Pick… uh, Dick got caught up on business tonight too.” I figured if it’s a good enough excuse for Monty, then it’s good enough for Dick. I was stuffing all the Pickle Peckers in one jar, and just the mental image of them both squished with green pickle juice up their noses put a ridiculous smile on my face.

“Time for a toast!” Susan raised her glass.

“To what?” Annie retorted, fingers on the stem of her glass uncertain if she was buying into this.

“How about, to us!”

“To us,” we all repeated, clinking delicately so as not to spill a drop of the precious vodka. Round one took the edge off all three Fox women. As defensive eased into laughter, I noticed Dirk draw in a deep breath and order a second round. I had a sneaking suspicion Susan had alerted Dirk to the thin ice when the three of us were in the same room.

Susan said she was in town for a hospitality seminar at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, “And Dirk has a meeting about one of his projects at Columbia School of Engineering.” Then she added, “No, in case you were wondering, we are not thinking of a move north. It’s only October and already too cold for me.”

I heard the truth, as in “I am not thinking of living anywhere in the vicinity of you.”

As the restaurant filled up for second seating, we finished our coffees, and I signed the credit card slip. Dirk thanked me for a wonderful dinner. His hand rested on the small of Susan’s back. The sensual gesture of ownership sent a shiver up my spine. I turned into the cool evening as heat shimmered through my girl parts. “You’re welcome,” I murmured, giddy to avoid eye contact lest I dampen my panties on the spot.

Susan, Annie and I hugged goodbye as Dirk hailed a cab.

“It was great seeing you both. I’m glad you got to meet Dirk.” Susan said quietly.

“He seems very nice.”

“He is, mom,” she assured me, her cheeks flushing hot magenta.

“Thank you again for dinner,” Dirk said taking Susan’s elbow. “It was very nice to meet you Lori, and you too Annie.” He said using the same words to describe me that I had just used to describe him.

“Well, good luck tomorrow you two,” I called as they got into the taxi. “Susan, call me when you get back to school.” I gestured with my thumb and pinky towards my ear. That would probably give them both a good laugh.

“Well, goodnight. I guess I better catch the bus,” Annie said.

“Can you stick around for a few minutes? Let’s walk in your direction and fill me in on your plans for the holidays.” I turned uptown.

“Oh, well, sure.” She hesitated. “But I’m actually heading downtown to meet Monty.” So we turned south on Eighth Avenue and started walking along the park towards Columbus Circle. “Things are fine.” She continued, “I’m working on a project to glitz up our marketing materials. You know, October already. Never too early to get into the spirit.”

“Get into the mood, eh, let me know if you want me to look it over.” I offered since marketing and promotional work is my business. “How are things with you and Monty?”

“It’s good,” she said genuinely. “The reason he’s working so many hours is because his company is designing a new bistro on Restaurant Row.”

“What is he doing?” I asked, forgetting exactly what his job was if not bartending.

“Architect, mom,” she said, exasperation coming through. I somehow couldn’t keep it in my head. Every time she mentioned him it had to do with a restaurant, so I kept thinking bartender, like the three boyfriends before.

“Right, space designer. Great job.” I hoped to sound like I remembered.

“It’s a really cute place they’re designing. With an outdoor garden area.”

“So, it sounds like things are good. How about at home?” I meant in bed. Susan and Dirk smoldered with the touchy feely. No missing the magnetism when she reached for Dirk’s hand. Annie was more bottled up and I worried she never let her shields down to express herself sexually.

“Things at home, even euphemistically, are fine,” she told me plainly.

“Don’t let your hair get too long,” I coached looking at her straight brown strands. “It gets caught under your back and pulls like hell.”

She cut me off, “Okay, got it, can we move on?”

“I’m furious at Dick,” I blurted, surprising even myself.

“What? Weren’t you guys in Montreal last weekend?”

“Yes, we were, for one of his conferences. There was a fur show. I’m so angry, Annie, all the wives bought fur coats and Dick wouldn’t get one for me.” She made a yuck twist with her mouth and opened her eyes wide. “What’s that face supposed to mean?” I continued without waiting for an answer, “I’m so mad. He made me feel second rate.”

“I don’t have any advice for you, mom,” Annie confessed. “Dick’s a really good guy. He makes you really happy.”

“Do not take his side,” I warned, already sorry I told her, since I knew I wasn’t ready to stop being angry. “I’ll figure it out. Are you okay from here? I can grab a cab home.”

“Sure.” She shrugged, pointing, “There’s the bus coming now.” She gave me a quick hug, saw a break in the traffic and bolted across the street.

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