Adventures of a Salsa Goddess (9 page)

“Sam, I’ve been telling you for years to forget about that book. Men and women are both human and are both from earth,” said Elizabeth patiently.

“But what if he’s being a rubber band while hiding in his cave?” I demanded, pacing around my apartment with the cordless phone hot against my right ear. My emotions began spiraling into a tropical storm, well on their way to hurricane level, as usually happened when I engaged in the entirely futile gesture of trying to figure men out.

“Every time we turn around they’re turning into a different inanimate object!” I said. “How are we ever supposed to know what the hell they’re thinking?”

“Sam, I’d love to debate this longer but I have a date to get ready for,” Elizabeth said.

“Really! With who?” I asked her.

This was music to my ears. Elizabeth was in an even worse dating drought than I had been in before leaving New York. During the past six months she’d had exactly half a date—so called not because the date had been extraordinarily short, but because he had thought it was a date and she hadn’t. She’d told Stan, another partner at her law firm, numerous times that she thought of him like an older brother. But that hadn’t stopped Stan from making the tongue lunge when he’d dropped her off after they’d gone out for a movie last month. Elizabeth, who normally doesn’t fluster easily, described the moment as traumatic.

“One minute we were talking about an employee tort case I’m handling, the next he thrust his tongue inside my mouth, just like that! With no warning! It was like he was planting his flag or marking his tree!” I myself have perfected the art of the cab-dive. Given the slightest hint that a man I’m not interested in was planning the big good-night kiss, I turned into Miss Stunt Double, ready to dive out of
the moving cab and roll, if necessary.

“I’m going out with that judge I’ve had a crush on for my entire legal career,” she told me with obvious glee.

“The one that wins surfing contests in Hawaii?”

“That’s the one. Surfin’ Judge Doug is finally riding the waves of divorce,” she said. “I just hope I’m not the transition woman.”

I wished Elizabeth well and said good-bye.

After I hung up, I stood with my arms crossed, glaring at the telephone, willing it to disappear so that I wouldn’t have to decide what to do with it. I got knots in my stomach just thinking about breaking the rules and calling Robert. The last time I’d called a guy I liked after a first date, he’d been so traumatized by the idea of a woman pursuing him that I think he got plastic surgery and moved to Bolivia.

Dialing Robert’s number was like having an out-of-body experience. I felt as though I were lobotomizing that part of my brain that had been conditioned to believe that chasing a man was wrong, the mortal sin of dating.

His phone began ringing. What if he answered? What if he didn’t? Should I leave a message or just hang up? No, I couldn’t
do that because of *69 and caller ID. Shit, why hadn’t I thought to block my call with *67? I hated modern technology for having stolen the last vestiges of mystery out of romance! If I got his answering machine, what in the world ...

“Hello?” said a voice that sounded like it was coming from the far end of a long tunnel.

“Hi, Robert?” I said in a disgustingly cheery voice. God, I sounded just like Bunny Woods. “It’s Sam, Samantha Jacobs.” A long, horrible pause followed. “From Single No More?” I croaked.

He doesn’t remember me because I made no impression on him at all. He’s probably dating a hundred women. As the pause stretched into infinity, my self-esteem plummeted to that of a dust mite.

“Sam, it’s wonderful to hear from you,” he said finally. “You’ll have to forgive me. I was taking a nap, and I just had the weirdest dream.”

“I did too!” Damn! The words were out of my mouth before I’d thought about it.

“Really? What was yours about?” he asked.

“Um, well, there were wave runners, waves, lots of water, more waves, I couldn’t see very much because my mascara was running, and ...”

My voice trailed off as I considered wrapping the telephone cord around my neck. Unfortunately it was cordless.

“Hmm,” he said in a serious tone, “Freud would say this is a
definite sign you should switch to waterproof mascara.”

Half asleep and still manages to be funny. Impressive.

“I’m so glad you called me,” he went on, “and that you’re not one of those
Rules
women. I love it when a woman calls me.”

“You do?”

“Sure, men need a little reassurance now and then. I think a woman who never calls a man is just playing games.”

Other than the rare exception I’d just made for him, Robert had just described me to a T.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of women like that. Game players,” I said with a nervous chuckle;

“Exactly. I hate playing games, don’t you?”

Yes. But at least this time I was getting paid for it. “Absolutely,” I bluffed. “Especially at our age, we should be long past that.”

“I was going to call you later today. I thought since you’re new to Milwaukee I could give you a little tour? Are you up for some kitschy sightseeing?”

My stomach flipped into fifth gear. A Saturday night date with a man I really liked! Luckily, it was like riding a bike.

Ninety minutes later I found myself in a cave sixty feet below the ground. The walls and floor were lined with quarry stone and three gothic chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It was the perfect horror movie set for the obligatory dining room scene where the guests find out that they’re trapped in the castle and slowly disappearing one by one.

The air was ten degrees cooler down there than outside. I felt a chill and shivered. Robert slipped his arm around my shoulder just as though he’d done it a hundred times before. His arm settled around me like a warm sweater on a cool fall day.

“I don’t know about you, Stacy, but it doesn’t look to me like they want any beer,” said one of our guides, a short blond woman standing at the top of the stairs.

“I think you’re right, Penny, this is definitely not a drinking crowd,” Stacy replied, in a dead monotone.

“Does anyone know what time it is?” asked Penny, pointing to her watch, at which point everyone in the room but me shouted, “It’s Miller time!”

We shuffled out of the cave into a mini beer hall where my guidebook predictions almost came true. There was no lederhosen or dancing, but men and women of all shapes and sizes were doing their best to swill shot-sized glasses of complimentary beer.

“Am I the only person you know in Milwaukee?” Robert asked.

I told him about Lessie and a little about our days at Brown University.

“Now, I think it’s your turn to tell me about your dream,” I said to Robert after a plump waitress had dropped off two more mini beer steins at our table.

Robert gave a sly smile and a barely noticeable shake of his head.

“Not fair,” I said with a laugh. “I exposed my unconscious to you and now you won’t reciprocate?”

“The truth is,” he said, and then leaned forward, crossing his arms on the table, “I have a lot of skeletons in my closet.”

My stomach lurched. Handsome and charming he might be, but I could be with a murderer for all I knew. The criminal background checks that Single No More did were wonderful, provided the criminal had been caught before. And Wisconsin seemed to have more than its fair share of serial killers. There was that guy who made lamp shades out of people’s skin in the fifties and who could forget Jeffrey Dahmer? Robert laughed just as I had begun to picture my flesh dissolving in a vat of acid.

“Bad joke,” he said with a smile and then touched my arm. “I’m a headhunter, remember?”

Why was I so nervous around him? It wasn’t the chemistry.
What was it? There was something about Robert I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but he gave me a slightly uneasy feeling. Of course, it might be because I could no longer trust my feelings after David, who had felt so right in every way. Maybe to avoid getting hurt I was overcompensating and now going to the opposite extreme by trying to find something I didn’t like with a guy who was exactly right for me?

After we finished our beers, Robert drove us to the botanical rose gardens. In the car we talked about our jobs. I was as vague as possible with my cover occupation—the menstruation/ menopause researcher-writer for the mysterious New York institute. Luckily he didn’t press for details.

We held hands and walked up and down rows of spectacular rose bushes. The afternoon was beginning to cloud over and the air felt very still.

“Okay, so what do I need to do to get you to tell me about your dream? Chinese water torture? The rack? Are you ticklish?” I asked him.

“You don’t want to hear about my childhood? My first kiss? My favorite color instead?” he teased, blinking his eyes with a wave of those amazing lashes.

“Nope, the dream or nothing,” I said.

But of course I wanted to hear everything about him. I wished at the start of every relationship I could get a complete unbiased dossier on my dates. It would certainly save endless time and heartache down the road.

We strolled by a trickling stream and through a rock garden as we talked about nothing and everything until the afternoon, which had started out a bit cloudy and warm, suddenly dropped nearly twenty degrees and the sky turned the inky blue-black of
a nasty bruise. A second later, raindrops the size of golf balls began to fall. We ran to Robert’s black Volvo and he turned up the heat full blast.

“We have a saying in Wisconsin, if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes,” he said in a soft voice. I didn’t mind. Any unexpected phenomenon that resulted in isolating me alone with this man was fine with me.

I sunk deep into the leather passenger seat as we drove in comfortable silence. Robert leaned forward and turned on the radio. The cure for any insomniac was the voice of an NPR disc jockey, low and smooth as silk, and the voice lulled me to sleep as Robert drove to the restaurant. I floated in and out of announcements about an infestation of alien aphids in Ontario to the Hezbollah setting up operations in Brazil. There must be something in the air in Milwaukee that produced strange stirrings of my subconscious, because I awakened to hear Robert say ...

“Speaking of, did I tell you I spent a year in Paris during undergrad?”

“Paris?” I mumbled. I touched the corner of my mouth. Thank goodness, no drool.

“As in France, not Texas,” he said, pulling into a brightly lit parking lot.

My best friend, Elizabeth, who didn’t believe in mere coincidences, would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as Robert and I sat facing each other over two bowls of wonton soup and exchanged reminiscences about the city of light. Not only had Robert taken classes at the Sorbonne as I had, he’d lived in the same neighborhood and had visited my favorite bakery every morning, and then rounded the corner to the same cafe for coffee.

“Remember Madame Fournay’s little bug-eyed dog?” he said, laughing. “It drove me nuts. She even bit my ankle once but of course petite Fifi could do no wrong
.”

Just three years after Robert’s year in Paris, I’d followed in his footsteps, having, it seemed, much the same experiences. Except, of course, for my love affair with Pierre. But then,
I’m sure Robert had had one or two French lovers of his own, since it was practically a course requirement for American students abroad before being allowed to board their flights home.

“I’m sorry, mademoiselle, you lived here for a year and never had
sex with a Frenchman? Oh la la! We can’t have that. I suggest you try a little harder. Maybe we will let you leave next month.”

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I ventured finally, deciding that there were some questions that just had to be asked. “How does a great guy like you end up joining a video dating service?”

He placed his chopsticks on the side of his plate and frowned. Oh no, I’ve asked the wrong question and now he’s insulted. But it was hard to get rid of my preconceived notion that the kind of man I wanted to end up with wouldn’t join a video dating service unless drafted by the U.S. government or forced to at gunpoint by a militia of desperate single women.

“After my wife died, I didn’t date anyone for two years,” he said slowly. “Then my friends pushed me into a bunch of really bad blind dates. I guess I wasn’t ready to meet anyone. But now I am
.”

He reached across the table for my hand and looked past a pile of fried rice and half an egg roll, looking straight into my eyes. A moment later, I slipped my hand away from his.

“I’ve never had any luck meeting women in bars, and with my business I travel a lot,” he went on, “so I don’t have time to meet new people. I joined a dating service because I don’t want to waste any more time. I’m forty-four, I’d still like to have kids.” Why does it make me so nervous that Robert always seemed to say the exact right thing? Shouldn’t I be happy about this?

“They say it’s a number’s game,” I said, but I didn’t really believe this. If you added up every man I’d dated in the past twenty years, at a minimum I should qualify for an honorable mention in the
Guinness Book of World Records
.

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