Which One? Part 9 (Image: Horse)

About a month later I came home from work one evening and the “message” light was flashing on my phone. It was Chris. She was in town and looking to collect on that dinner I promised. I called her daughter’s house and set up the date for the next night.

In the month intervening I had chatted with Chris a few more times and she had expressed concern that my coming back into Joanie’s life at this time could be disruptive at best—possibly even destructive. Phil’s kids thought the world of her, Joanie’s kids really liked Phil. The two families had become quite close in the last few years and were looking forward to becoming one extended family and now this guy from four decades ago shows up…

The sky was cloudy—a chilly day in late fall—as I drove into town. As I rolled through the Virginia countryside—the trees were nearly bare—the last red and gold tatters of autumn dangling and fluttering in the melancholy breeze. I was excited, a bit nervous—looking forward to seeing some one I had such good memories of—to reminiscing, to having a good meal with a good friend. I found the daughter’s house without any problem. Chris’s daughter and son in law were delightful people—Chris looked much as I remember her—she still had that impish smile and twinkle.

The restaurant was moderately busy. I was disappointed to learn my favorite chef—Hashish—had left the restaurant—and the country. He had taken his savings and gone back to India to marry the wife chosen for him as a child and set up his own business. My favorite table was open—I asked we be seated there.

The mood in the restaurant that evening was quiet, composed, almost serene. While the Malai Kofta was not quite as good as Hashish’s it was nevertheless excellent. Chris said her Tandoori Chicken was delicious. As always the Basmanti and Naan were perfect.

I had brought along my high school yearbook. We flipped through it—Chris told me what had happened to this person, that person. So many of those fresh, young faces were gone from this world—so strange to look into those smiling immortal eyes and know that beautiful young person was dead—in some instances, decades ago. Despite the occasional sad moment over all it was a wonderful evening of conversation, good food, sharing and remembering.

I noticed the restaurant staff were going through their closing chores and rituals—unlocking the door to let people out. I paid and we went outside where a cold, black rain was now falling. We stood under the storefront canopy watching the rain while Chris lit a cigarette—it reminded me of those days so long ago when high school kids who smoked were considered much cooler and mature than those who did not. I wonder if kids these days still believe that.

Inhaling, then exhaling the blue smoke, Chris looked at me as I stared into the streetlights across the parking lot watching the rain fall out of the endless night sky and wash across the black asphalt, the glare reflecting from chrome trim and dozens of dark, silent windshields. I would later learn she was thinking something along the lines of, “Well—forty two years later—it appears Orion turned out OK.”

“We never talked about Joanie,” Chris said in a tentative voice and took another drag on her cigarette.

I continued watching the rain fall and wash over the dormant cars in the streetlight.

“No,” I responded. “We didn’t. I guess we were having fun—just the two of us talking about ourselves—our lives. This has been one of the most pleasant evenings I’ve had in a very long, lonely time Chris.”

Chris also stared into the falling night rain—inhaled again and flicked away a bit of ash. I could see she was thinking about what she wanted to say—or maybe how she wanted to say it.

“You and Joanie have talked about me I assume,” I began—trying to transition to what I really wanted to ask, “about my coming back into her life—and yours too.”

“Yes,” she answered. “quite a bit.”

“I want her Chris.” I said surprising myself with my bluntness.

“I know,” she replied, exhaling a languid stream of smoke. “Joanie knows it too.”

End part 9

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