Adventures of a Salsa Goddess (7 page)

Before Wayne had been another big mistake: Chuck. For some guys, cockiness seemed to be in direct proportion to the number of initials on their resumes, and Chuck, a Wall Street broker with an M.B.A. from M.I.T. was no exception. He had excelled at letting me know in a multitude of subtle and obnoxious ways that I was privileged merely to be in his presence and that that should be enough to satisfy me. How could I ever forget, for example, that little grimace he’d make whenever he pulled out his credit card (careful, Chuck, you might strain a muscle) and his complete lack of interest in the fact that I might actually have a life, which I didn’t, but that wasn’t the point.

I’d met him at an art gallery opening last summer. Neither of us knew a thing about art, but we’d experienced that mutual, instantaneous, visceral lust that’s dangerous but incredibly alluring—akin to a pyromaniac holding a lit match directly over a puddle of gasoline. We’d dove pelvises-first into five months of blissful sex, candlelight dinners at the trendiest new restaurants,
the latest Broadway shows, and after-sex Sunday brunches when we’d share the
New York Times
over endless cappuccinos.

And then, seven months ago, I’d caught Chuck sitting on the floor of my walk-in closet. It c
ould have been one of those horrible scenes from
Harold and Maude
or
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
, except it was my life. I’d opened the door to find him staring at me with a mortified-kid-with-his-hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar look, only it was Chuck’s nose caught in the inside of my Nike. He was holding my running shoe pressed to his face like an oxygen mask with his left hand, while feeling up a pair of my black lace panties with his right. Worst of all, he had an enormous erection.

The panties I could understand, but for some reason Chuck had chosen my sweaty gym shoes over my Stuart Weitzman slingbacks. Obviously, the man had no class.

I had known it was time for a change, but that was easier said than done when you were not two feet away from a gorgeous, sexy man like Robert. I’d much rather fall for a nice guy, but they were usually about as exciting as a case of foot fungus.

I caught Robert’s eye and felt a momentary flutter. I gave myself
another pinch. No, Samantha! No more jump starts after David the ex-fiance who dumped you after a brush with death, Chuck the man with the shoe fetish, and Wayne the wandering two-timing entomologist.

But then again, surely there was something more substantial going on here than mere chemistry. After all, both Robert and I hated jazz, loved garlic, and preferred mindless action movies to artsy films. Not that any of these things were necessarily the basis for a long-term relationship, but they couldn’t hurt, right?

Normally the heavy stuff doesn’t come out on a first date, but I took it as yet another good sign that this time it had. Surely after discovering we shared so many essential values, it was natural for the conversation to turn serious. He didn’t ease into it; his approach was more in line with, “Lovely weather we’re having, I really should clean out the gutters tomorrow, and by the way, I have terminal cancer”—all in one breath.

“I’m a widower,” he said simply. His wife, Sarah, had been only thirty-three when she’d died in a car accident while driving to meet Robert for their third wedding anniversary dinner celebration.

As if reading my mind, Robert quickly apologized for saying that he was divorced in his Single No More bio.

“Now that I’ve been around the block a few times with these dating services,” he explained, “I’ve learned that ‘widower’ is a magnet for the savior-types, or worse, the ones who mix up maternal instincts with healthy sympathy and then want to mother me to death.”

I refrained, with considerable difficulty, from assuring him that there was no danger of me mothering him, since I couldn’t stop my mind from leaping to the conclusion that, so far, at least, he’d make the perfect husband. I had no doubt that both my mother and Elaine Daniels would give Robert an immediate stamp of approval. Damn this intense chemistry that was doing its best to suppress that little voice in my head that said for every one lie uncovered, there were a dozen and one others that I didn’t know about, yet.

Robert went on to explain that after earning a law degree from the University of Chicago when he was twenty-nine, he’d met Sarah a year later in M
ilwaukee. He’d opened up a one-man general practice law firm here, which he’d sold after she’d died five years ago. Both his parents had died when he was a kid, he had no siblings, and the grandparents who’d raised him were also gone.

“After Sarah died, I fell apart for a while and didn’t do anything. Then three years ago I saw an opportunity to invest in a recruiting firm,” he said. “I needed a change so I did it.”

Why couldn’t I make myself stop thinking about kissing this guy? And shouldn’t I feel guilty for thinking about making out with him when he was in the middle of telling me about his dead family?

“But enough about me,” he said, reaching across the table for my hand. I felt a thrill run through my body. “I want to hear all about you, and I hope you will forgive me for getting morose and agree to see me again.”

I told him a bit about my travels and then felt the need to delve into some of the serious stuff in my own past since Robert had shared so much with me. Thankfully, I was able to avoid altogether the topic of my real mission in Milwaukee and my job in New York.

“You seem too good to be true,” he said out of left field during a pause in the conversation.

I didn’t think I’d told him much of anything that would qualify for a statement like that. I looked into his eyes. He seemed sincere, but I managed to keep myself from reciprocating the compliment because my common sense kept shouting, “Why would a guy this great ever need to join a dating service?”

When Robert dropped me off at my apartment, he didn’t try to finagle an invitation to come inside. One gallant kiss to my hand, another on my cheek, and he was gone, leaving me wanting more. Was Bunny Woods right after all, that Single No More was a bastion of wonderful single men?

* * *

Early the next morning I sprinted to a bookstore for coffee and a copy of the June 10 issue of
Tres Chic
. There it was on the cover, “Mystery Woman Goes on Her First Date.” The article, together with my byline “The Mystery Woman” was right there on page thirty-eight, between an ad for the ultimate anti-wrinkle cream and another for a magic potion claiming to reduce cellulite by seventy percent:

If someone had told me a year ago that I could meet a handsome, interesting single man through the online personals, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s exactly how I met my first date in the Mystery City.

My date, I’ll call him Paulo, a computer whiz and affluent entrepreneur, took me to an elegant restaurant where our conversation sparkled over a bottle of sparkling wine and candlelight ...

I stopped reading. I couldn’t believe Elaine had done this. Thousands of our 900,000 readers were probably causing computer crashes on personals websites across the country at this very moment in a rush to place profiles, all to meet men like Trevor. What in the world had I gotten myself into?

Leaning my head against the magazine rack, I mumbled a prayer to the divine powers-that-be, “Please deliver me from this never-ending singles hell.” The woman standing next to me flashed me a worried look and scurried away.

Five

Dipping Addict

warning:
Salsa dancing may involve dipping, a highly addictive dance maneuver known to create feelings of euphoria, an artificially enhanced sense of self, delusions of grandeur, and extreme impairment of mental reasoning capabilities. For your own safety, please limit the number of dips per dance to one. Club Cubana will not be held responsible for any dancer exceeding five dips per evening.

Lessie and I were going to Club Cubana tonight after attending a Brewers’ baseball game, one of the events on my boss Elaine’s summer schedule. I couldn’t wait to see Javier! Just the thought of being with him tonight made me nervous and excited. But I’d also been hoping he would dip me again! I couldn’t get him or that dip out of my mind. Really, clubs should have warnings posted.

Since I had a few hours to kill before meeting Lessie, I decided to take a walk along Lake Michigan, which I’d only seen from the eighteenth-floor patio of my apartment. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking out onto Bradford Beach. Two bored lifeguards in red suits perched high above me, their megaphones hanging unused on the sides of their chairs. No one was in the water, but a dozen sun worshippers were scattered about, soaking up the early June rays on beach towels and lawn chairs. The sand felt cool and moist on my feet as I kicked off my sandals and walked to the water’s edge.

Elaine’s executive assistant, Sally, who had an aunt and uncle who lived in Wisconsin, had mentioned a couple
of weeks ago that one of Milwaukee’s best features was its lakefront. My response had been, “It’s on a lake? What lake?” picturing one of the small lakes that dotted northern New York where you could swim from one end to the other without getting winded. Lake Michigan looked as vast as an ocean. I stuck my big toe in and pulled it right back out.

“It doesn’t warm up until August.”

Turning to the voice, I saw a tanned face, primary blue-colored eyes, and a body that looked like a Michelangelo sculpture come to life.

“Hi, I’m Zack,” he said, holding out his hand.

Men this good-looking shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. They should be on display in special stores with viewings by appointment only. I tore my eyes away from his face to do the oh-so-subtle left ring finger reconnaissance. No wedding ring and no tan line. Wow, things were suddenly looking up in ... Where was I again? Oh yeah, Milwaukee.

“No, I’m not married,” he said.

Whenever I’m embarrassed, my knees, chest, and face, in that order, turn a lollipop red that gives most people the impression that I’m having a seizure that requires emergency medical attention.

Zack and I spent the next hour and a half together, the conversation flowing effortlessly as we walked along the beach and
eventually meandered over to a picnic table under a big oak tree. It was perfect. He was perfect. We were perfect.

Except for one thing.

“Why didn’t he ask for my number?” I asked Lessie later. The two of us were seated in prime second-row seats behind the Brewers’ dugout at Miller Park stadium—seventy-fifty dollars a pop, compliments of
Tres Chic
.

Taking a big unladylike swig of a Milwaukee brew, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. Okay, I was feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t help but picture my inevitable fate: a hardened woman who hung out in dark, smoky bars, drinking bourbon or scotch and chain smoking Marlboros, hoping some man, any man, would buy me a drink and take me home for the night.

“His good-bye hung in the air until it was sucked out to sea, across the waves, never to be heard again,” I continued, knowing I’d lapsed into one of my ridiculous moods.

Lessie sighed and crossed her arms. “Why didn’t you just offer him your number or—here’s a crazy idea—ask for his?”

“Have you lost your mind?” I demanded. “Let me say just six words:
He’s Just Not That Into You
.”

“Don’t tell me you’re one
of those women,” groaned Lessie, as she slapped her hands on her thighs. Lessie’s baseball game attire, a red sleeveless T-shirt and ultra-short blue jean shorts did double duty, showing off every muscle in her toned arms and thighs. “You don’t see men reading self-help books about how to catch a woman or how to know when a woman isn’t interested.”

“That’s because they don’t have to!” I argued. “They’re the ones doing all the pursuing, or at least they should be. It may be the twenty-first century, but men still want to club women over our heads, drag us into their caves, and have their way with us.”

“What kind of guys were you dating in New York?” asked Lessie with a sideways glance.

“Well, come to think of it, the last few liked to beat on their chests, swing from vines, and had foreheads like Cro-Magnon men.”

I took a bite of the first bratwurst of my life. Not bad. Not as greasy as an Italian sausage and much better than a hotdog.

“My philosophy is, if a woman meets a man she likes, she should go after him,” said Lessie. “I don’t agree that there are rules about
who can pursue whom. It’s just a load of crap.”

“Crap! Crap? How can you say they’re crap?” I cried. The woman seated in front of me turned, glared, and tipped her head in the direction of her son, apparently warning me to watch my language. The kid looked about fifteen and probably had a better sex life than I did. Then again, at the moment, sea slugs had a better sex life than I did.

“Are you sure the guy on the beach was flirting with you?” asked Lessie. “Maybe he was just being friendly? Remember, you’re not in New York anymore.”

“He held hands with me,” I told her, “and then he did that thing where he looked into my eyes and brushed the hair from my forehead with his index finger, and he told me he thought I was beautiful.”

“That’s serious below-the-belt flirting,” Lessie agreed with a nod. Just then, I heard the sharp
thwack
of the bat hitting a ball, which was caught on a fly by an outfielder. The Brewers’ second baseman had just struck out for the third time. The sixth inning was over.

Then I saw something strange, something very strange indeed. Four giant sausages emerged from a gate at the far end of third base line, their elfin arms waving at the crowd, which
cheered wildly and rose to its feet. My bratwurst had come to life in the form of a giant lumbering foam casing that had sprouted human legs and arms.

“It’s time for the sausage race,” said Lessie, grabbing my forearm and pulling me up. For the next few minutes we cheered and shouted as the giant wieners with tiny legs careened around the baseline for a thirty-second marathon rounding home plate and finishing directly in front of us. The Brat crossed the finish line by a casing, just in front of the Italian.

We sat back down to continue our in-depth analysis of the situation, a situation, I might point out, that was completely hopeless since I was never going to see Zack again. If men only knew how much, time women spent analyzing them, their gonads would shrivel, and they’d all move to cabins in the woods, swear a life of celibacy, and write self-help books for men. “Maybe he was married?” Lessie suggested.

“Definitely not,” I told her. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t so sure. Thanks to Wayne the bug man, I now know that if a man tells you he’s not married, he may be single, but that could be only on a part-time basis, strictly in his fantasies and while geographically estranged from his wife.

“Cops don’t wear rings,” Lessie suggested. “I’ve dated a couple. One turned out to be married but he justified it because he said fifty percent of them cheat on their wives. So I guess that made it okay that he did it too.”

“Zack said he was a pilot for Midwest Express,” I said.

“He could tell you he is the heir to the Miller brewery fortune. How the hell would you ever know?”

“When did you become so cynical?” I asked, and looking closer saw that Lessie’s eyes had become all watery. “Is everything all right with you and Eliseo?”

“He hasn’t called,” she said sadly.

How many times a day are those three words uttered by women across the planet? A trillion? I used to think getting rid of your telephone would solve the problem until a friend of mine who’d volunteered for the Peace Corps in Africa a few years ago told me that no one there had telephones, which meant that her prospective dates would promise her they were going to stop by her house and then just not show up. I remember being devastated to learn that it wasn’t just North American men that promised an “I’ll call you” and didn’t deliver; it was universal, maybe even genetic?

“You saw Eliseo two nights ago, you have a date with him this Saturday, and you’re going to see him in a couple hours,” I reminded her.

“Maybe he’s met someone else?” she said, looking really worried, and I could certainly sympathize. I did the same thing when it came to men I liked. The worst-case scenario leapt instantly to mind. If he didn’t call, he’d either become engaged or eloped in the twenty-four hours since I’d last seen him.

“That’s impossible,” I said confidently, knowing of course that when it came to relationships,
nothing
was impossible. But that’s what I would want Lessie to tell me if I were in her situation.

“But they’re not like us! They don’t have emotions!” Lessie put her palms over her face, leaned her head back, and groaned. “Why do we even want men? They just drive us insane!”

* * *

Two hours later, Lessie and Eliseo were standing smashed up against the balcony of Cubana’s patio, sneaking the occasional kiss mixed with long minutes spent gazing into each other’s eyes
like two war-torn lovers finally reunited after continents and decades spent apart. A troupe of naked circus performers could have waltzed by and I doubt they’d have noticed.

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy. This could be Zack and me, except that clearly Zack was a cad with no qualms about using his Adonis
-like magnetism to lure women into lusting after him, and then sadistically cutting them loose, leaving them frothing at the mouth, mere helpless puddles of goo.

“It’s too bad they don’t like each other.”

I turned and saw Javier behind me. I thought I might have imagined my visceral response to Javier from the other night, but once again, just the sight of him sent my heart into overdrive. He nodded in the direction of Lessie and Eliseo.

“Yeah, they would’ve made such a nice couple,” I said smiling.

Javier kissed me on the cheek and then paused, lowering his face to my neck for a second before straightening up. During that second, which seemed to last an hour, I willed him to kiss my neck; I could feel his lips caressing my ...

“What perfume are you wearing? Wait, let me guess.” He grabbed my right hand, and led me out to the dance floor. “Obsession, right?”

“Are you an expert on women’s fragrances as well as an expert salsa instructor?” I asked him, feeling my legs going weak.

“In this line of work, I’m forced to smell the necks of a lot of beautiful women,” he said, adopting a serious look.

“Sounds terrible,” I said, assuming an expression of deep concern. “How do you manage?”

“I’m not sure,” he told me. “Some days I think about getting a more pleasant job—exterminating cockroaches, cleaning urinals at the Greyhound bus station, making deliveries to toxic
waste dumps. But I guess a sense of duty keeps me here. It’s a rough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

I’d only been in Milwaukee a short time and had already found myself intensely attracted to two men (three if you counted Zack). But being with Javier felt so different than my date with Robert. Everything was lighter, easier, and more fun. And then there was Javier’s dimple. I can’t explain my utter infatuation with dimples. It’s like asking someone why he or she loves chocolate—they just do. For me it was dimples. And chocolate. But alas, it was my fate thus far in life that I’d never even kissed a be-dimpled man.

We started dancing. Actually, Javier started dancing while I flailed about like a puppy sprinting across a newly waxed floor, coordination not being one of my strong points. This could explain why I was chosen last or next to last for every team sport in school. It was either me or Naomi Hertsgaard, a girl with Coke-bottle eyeglasses who was so uncoordinated and spindly she looked like an octopus on roller skates when she walked across a room.

Javier suggested as tactfully as possible that my steps needed to be smoother, my arms were too stiff, and my torso was angled too far forward. Then there was my footwork—going north with the right when I should’ve been going south with the left. Or perhaps it was east and west?

But I admired Javier’s patience as he went over the basic steps again and again, until I finally started to get the hang of it. I advanced to a double twirl and when he dipped me and held me there for a moment, I felt like Vivian Leigh gazing into the face of Clark Gable in
Gone With the Wind
. As he held me, bent backward in his arms, our eyes locked together. I felt myself falling into his deep brown eyes, which radiated so much warmth they could melt a glacier. I wanted to run my fingers through his straight black hair and kiss his perfect mouth. I wanted to ... do dips normally last this long?

Slowly straightening up with me still snug in his arms, Javier suggested that we take a break. Excellent idea. I wondered if he could feel the heat my body was generating. I was so hot, I felt almost feverish. We wandered over to the balcony where a tall Latino man was talking with Lessie and Eliseo.

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