“Just a glass of chardonnay for now, thank you.” Sylvia ordered without looking up at the waiter. She had not drunk wine for lunch since last year, when in a moment of professional exhilaration, she invited herself to a sumptuous lunch at Terzo Piano, the fancy restaurant at the Art Institute. It was a blinding summer day in Chicago, and her interview for the magazine with the two curators had run smoothly, almost impeccably dictated, ready for her to transcribe it. She was sure her article would be a success and she could have it ready by midnight if her flight to LA was not delayed. At that time, looking into the crowded terrace facing Michigan Avenue, the wine had also been the reward she deserved because, at forty- five, she could still elicit lusty looks from a tweeded Renaissance expert too many lustra her elder.
But today, touched by a furtive ray of Californian sun, her wine seemed more like the prelude of the punishment she deserved for being too early to a clandestine meeting that required proper feminine tardiness. The very first rule of civilized seduction.
“Will you wait for your… friend, madam? Or you would like to order something in the
“I will wait, thanks.” Sylvia dismissed the impertinent waiter who so desperately needed a name for the relationship she still did not have with her absent lunch partner.
The illicit meeting was not a first for Sylvia. She had become attracted to the surge of adrenaline of getting to know a new gentleman once in a while the same way most of her friends had become addicted to cheap wine at 3pm, luxurious purses that lost their fashion prevalence in three months, and beauty treatments that stretched their incipient sagging skin at the same pace as they shrunk their husbands’ bank accounts. At least Sylvia’s sneaky rendezvouses made her feel beautiful without stiches and sometimes, although rarely, increased the contents of her jewelry box.
Sylvia’s discomfort grew with every sip. She was not familiar with this glass-walled restaurant and felt exposed and restrained. She could not turn every other minute to look at the entrance simply because her skirt was too tight and, moreover, because she did not know the features of her new fleeting lover. His pictures in the discreet affair website had been blurred and dubious. He seemed to have a handsome mane of gray hear, a muscular body, and a very well-cut blue blazer. In her silenced preliminary fantasies, he looked like a mix of Tim Roth and Liam Neeson, a dangerous devil with an angelic smile. During their brief exchange of texts, he had proved a deep knowledge of art and had even mentioned Orozco as his favorite painter. For Sylvia, the abundant gray hair and the recognition of an international artist, as superficial as it might be, were enough to initiate the choreography that led from a first secret lunch in a restaurant that none of her friends would know to the cotton-thread sheets in her favorite hotel.
Sylvia had a third filter to know if a lover was worth it: the book she used as a token to be recognized when she entered the restaurant. A book is definitely much more efficient and tactful than a red rose on a lapel. She looked at the blue book on the table and moved it away from the condensation tears of her glass. It looked like a children’s book but, in reality, it was an erotic cartoon created by Aude Picault about the adventures of a lascivious countess before the French revolution. If the prospective lover expressed curiosity about the story, if he even went all the way and bought the book before meeting Sylvia, she could be sure that things would move along placidly. The affair would fit her like a cape of invisibility, like a sinful cocoon to shield her from organized family life, from mortgages and driving to karate lessons, from pot lucks and golf club bills, from bottomless discussions with the wives of her husband’s colleagues about who would win the race of middle age and send their indigo children to the most expensive colleges.
“Is that you? What are you doing in this part of town? I could swear it was you when I came in. Is Cindy here too?”
Sylvia’s heart summersaulted, her cheekbones tightened, and her dilated pupils got fixed on Timmy’s smile.
“Hey… hi, Timmy. Eh, no, no! I’m waiting for a… an artist! I need to interview him… but he’s already fifteen minutes late.” Putting words together was a good strategy. The more her believable lie was knitted into sounds, the more her smile grew and the less her knees trembled. “How’s everybody? I haven’t seen Cindy in weeks! Thought you were all in Mayakoba for spring break.”
“Oh, that… no. I got caught up with work, you know. I have this new client I was meeting today to close a deal. But he just canceled a minute ago. He said something about a medical emergency… To tell you the truth, he really sounded like he had a severe case of constipation.” Timmy laughed as he mumbled the last word with one hand on the side of his face. His other hand was holding three binders full of documents
“Tell you what. If your artist doesn’t show up and my client is sick. Let’s eat together. My treat! Let me take these papers back to the car. I’ll be right back. Order me a glass of red, please.”
By the time Sylvia’s lips moved rehearsing an excuse, Timmy was crossing the parking lot, and the stiff waiter was standing at her side with his diabolic courtesy. She did not have much time. She ordered some cabernet, put away her book, and frantically fumbled through her phone until finding a new message on her private secret app: “Sorry, my lusty Countess. I cannot make it today. My wife just had a heart attack.”
Sylvia did not process the tragedy of the last sentence. She had deleted the traces of her frustrated romance from all technological niches when Timmy sat across the table and smiled at her.
At 3pm, the hour she imagined Cindy started drinking every day without Timmy fathoming such an outrage, their lunch finished. Sylvia experienced the same elation she had felt in Chicago. The same relief at something that seemed arduous and compulsory and had ended up shaking the tip of her eyelashes with laughter and ease. She was more inebriated by the innocent flirtations coming from the blonde man in front of her than from the wine. What she could not understand was Cindy’s bitterness. The interminable whining about her boring relationship with Timmy that Sylvia could recite by heart. Because Timmy was not only nice and fun but he was also… quite hot.
Ten minutes later, Timmy gallantly walked her to her car and tried a very safe hug, properly maintaining his joints at the right angle and distance from hers. “Enjoy the rest of the afternoon,” he said. “This was much more fun than my constipated client.”
Sylvia got in the car, took off her Chloe sunglasses and put on her readers to check her phone. A message from a number she did not recognize popped up as she turned on the engine. “There’s a hotel in Mayakoba that has an Orozco in the lobby. I was planning to see it with the right person. Sorry for the fake pictures. You’re far sexier than the countess in your book.”
Sylvia looked up. Her hand raised to her chest in the ancient gesture we all have to make one day, between our first and our last gasps for air, that unavoidable second when terror settles in the chest. And that is what Sylvia obediently did while Timmy walked away in a silent happy dance and put his phone in the side pocket of his English-cut blue blazer.