Chapter Twelve; Part Two
“Margaret, I’m glad you found my place all right.” Ted’s voice trailed off as he opened the door to his Kenwood home. His eyes widened when he caught sight of what I was wearing.
“Are you going to invite me in?” I asked demurely, slipping my wrap off my shoulders and handing it to him. He took it silently and stepped aside. I took a second to check him out as well. He was wearing black khakis, a silver shirt, and a black sports coat. Black socks and no shoes, of course. He looked hot as hell, and I had an impulse to skip dinner and go straight to his bedroom. I reined myself in as I stepped out of my shoes, however. I didn’t want to appear that forward.
“Margaret, you look indescribable,” Ted said, finding his voice at last. He ushered me into the living room which was painted a warm marigold. There were Ansel Adam reprints on his wall—at least, I thought they were reprints—as well as a few Chinese scrolls. Even though the furniture was clearly expensive, the room was homey due to the color. He had photos of his family on his bookshelves, and I noticed how uncommonly good-looking both his siblings were. “Please, sit. May I get you something to drink?”
“Rum and Diet Coke, if you have it. A Rolling Rock if you don’t.” I smiled up at Ted who nodded his head as he left the room. I watched his ass, noticing how firm it appeared. As soon as he was out of sight, I went over to the bookshelves to see what he had. Toni Morrison, David Mura, Asian writers’ anthologies, a few Laurie Kings. A wide variety, all of it good. My estimation of him shot up a notch as I realized he hadn’t been bullshitting me at the party. He did, indeed, have similar tastes to mine. He also had a bunch of poetry which I didn’t recognize. I didn’t do poetry, much to the chagrin of Wind who was always foisting this poet and that upon me. Of course, she loved the Beats, whom I loathed.
“Here we go,” Ted said, returning with two Rolling Rocks. He handed one to me before clinking the top of his bottle against mine. “Here’s to a great dinner. I hope I didn’t burn it.”
“Oh! That reminds me. Here.” I thrust a bottle of port out to him. I didn’t normally drink wine, but port was an exception. “For dinner.” I had no idea what he was making—though it smelled like Italian—but we could have it with dessert if nothing else.
“Great. I love a good port.” Ted set it on the coffee table, shifting from one foot to the next. It occurred to me that he was waiting for me to sit down on the black suede couch, so I did. I sank into it was more like it as it was impossibly buttery.
“This is one nice couch,” I said, patting the seat besides me.
“A little gift from my parents,” Ted said dryly, sitting besides me. I could feel the heat even though he wasn’t touching me, and I hastily gulped at my beer to cool down.
“Something smells delicious,” I said brightly. “You must be a great cook.”
“I’m all right,” Ted said, shrugging his shoulders. “I had to cook for my brother and sister when we were little. I learned to be creative pretty quickly in order to please those two. Edgar would only eat meat and potatoes whereas Tina had a taste for haute cuisine. Imagine trying to cook for those two at the same time! As a result, I’ll eat anything.” He didn’t say why he had to cook for his siblings, but I guessed it had something to do with his alcoholic mother. “It’s chicken parmigiana, the Italian way. A Caesar salad on the side and garlic bread, of course. I made tiramisu for dessert.” My mouth watered as he ran down the menu.
“You’re hired,” I said jokingly, patting him on the arm. “We need a good cook at the alternative school where I teach. The food is off and on right now, depending on our cook’s mood. Given that she is bipolar and doesn’t always take her meds, it’s more off than on.” I shook my head. I looked at Ted who was gazing down at me. Without seeming to, we moved towards each other, meeting in the middle. When his lips touched mine, I knew without a doubt that we’d be having sex tonight. Before or after dinner was an open question, but we were going to have it. Ted leaned into the kiss, gently pushing me down onto the couch. I was about to give in when I smelled a whiff of something acrid.
“Ted, your food.” I pushed him off me, alarmed at missing a home-cooked meal. Hell, I could have sex any time. How often did I get a guy to cook for me?
“Shit.” Ted jumped up from the couch and rushed to the kitchen. I whipped out my lipstick carrier which had a mirror in it and reapplied my lipstick. Ted must have wiped his mouth as well before returning because he was lipstick-free. “Dinner is served. Would you like to adjourn to the dining room?” He motioned for me to follow, and I did.
“Good Lord,” I murmured, looking around me in awe. This room was forest-green with abstract art on the walls. I was beginning to think that the paintings were real and not prints, but that would be astronomical. Then again, his family was filthy rich, so perhaps dropping a few million on a painting wasn’t such a big deal to them. The table seemed to be made of mahogany, and I bet it’d been in the family for quite some time. The china looked ancient, and the silverware was real silver. Antiques Road Show would have a field day with this house. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind meeting the twins.
“Sit, sit,” Ted said, coming out of the kitchen with a steaming-hot dish in his hand. It smelled heavenly, and I assumed it was the sauce. “I slaved all day making you this.”
“It’s much appreciated.” I tucked in as soon as it was seemly. I couldn’t help moaning as I ate. Some things were almost as good as sex, and food was one of them. “You should have been a chef. This is fabulous.” I was eating more than I should, but it wasn’t often I got to eat professional-quality food. I could feel my dress protesting at the flagrant abuse.
“Can you imagine my parents’ reaction to being a chef?” Ted lifted an eyebrow, his fork stopping mid-air. “That would be just one notch above poet. As you probably know, there are only three or four occupations worth doing. Doctor, lawyer, anything to do with money.”
“Don’t I know it,” I groaned. My mother had been furious when I’d decided to work at an alternative high school. ‘At least be a professor,’ she had shrieked, in high dudgeon. “My mother wouldn’t speak to me for months after I told her I’d rather pull my nails out one by one than be a lawyer.”
“I bet you get a lot of grief for not being married, either.” How true that was. A Taiwanese woman who wasn’t married by thirty might as well kill herself. Fortunately, I was more American than Taiwanese and could recognize how crazy that idea was. “My father has been making noise that if I’m not married by thirty-five, I’m out of the family will. I don’t care. I make enough money to live on. I’m not going to let him threaten me into doing something I don’t want to do.”
“Ah, the things parents do in the name of so-called love,” I said lightly. “My mom will probably not speak to me for a year after I turn thirty-five.” Noting the puzzled look on Ted’s face, I expanded. “A woman’s fertility drops fifty percent when she turns thirty-five.”
“Fifty percent of what?” Ted asked, looking perplexed. As that had always been my very question, I couldn’t give him an answer. “Parents are so strange.”
After dinner, Ted poured the port and served the tiramisu. Both were excellent, so I had a second helping of each. Even though I was not a lightweight when it came to drinking, the port was really affecting me. I wanted another glass, but knew I shouldn’t if I was going to drive at any point during the night. Sure, I could use it as an excuse to crash on his couch, but it was too soon for that. I’d wait until I knew him a little better before resorting to such subterfuge. We migrated to the living room after we’d finished dessert.
Ted put on a Chemical Brothers CD which was strangely erotic. We sat on the couch and talked about our respective lives, glossing over the uninteresting bits. It fascinated me to do the mating dance no matter how many times I engaged in it. I had no idea why we humans were so prone to putting our best foot forward, but I guess we weren’t the only species that did that. I couldn’t think of any others off the top of my head, but there had to be some. The peacocks and their preening. Really, the males of most species had to work hard to grab a lady’s attention. Were it the same way with humans, I’d be a happy camper.
Ted told me that Tamara hadn’t given up trying to snag him. She called at least once a day, usually leaving some trumped-up message on his machine. Once, she needed someone to move some heavy boxes for her. Another time, she was having money problems and wanted a consultation. It amazed me how she could be so heavy-handed. I mean, I understood why she was throwing herself at Ted, but she could be a bit more subtle about it. Most guys worth having didn’t want to be fawned over like some rock star. It was only the insecure boys who needed constant ego-stroking, and Ted definitely didn’t fall into that category.
“Excuse me, where’s your bathroom?” I asked, standing up and stretching. Not only did I have to go, I wanted to splash some water on my face to cool down. Ted directed me before returning to the living room. I went inside the masculine bathroom and did my business. As I was splashing water onto my face, however, there was a quiet rumbling behind me.
“Not now! Not here.” I didn’t know if it was God or Lucifer, but I didn’t want to deal with either at the present moment. Right now, I wanted to concentrate on the human man who was delighting in my company. Was that too much to fucking ask?
“Yes, it is.” God this time, swathed in cerise. He tended to go for the reds, which ill-suited Him. “You should leave now.” God crossed His arms over His chest and glared at me. I glared back, outraged that He’d interfere with my sex life.
“Excuse me, but shouldn’t that be my decision?” I asked stiffly, wanting nothing more than to shove Him out of the bathroom.
“It is your decision, but it’ll be best if you leave right now. Trust Me on this one.” God smirked, enraging me further.
“Look, if you got something to say, say it. Otherwise, get the fuck out of here.” I kept my voice low as I didn’t want Ted to think I was talking to myself.
“I said it. I’m out.” God disappeared before I could kick Him in the ass, and I splashed more water on my face to cool down again. I reapplied my lipstick, albeit with a shaky hand. I waited an extra minute before returning to the living room. Inside, I was seething.
“Are you OK? You’re a bit pale. Is it the dinner? Perhaps it’s not agreeing with your stomach.”
“I’m fine,” I said, forcing a smile. “Just a bit of a headache, but I’m fine now.” I felt guilty for lying, but there was no way I could tell him the truth. Nothing would end the date faster than me saying I’d been talking to God in his bathroom.
“Well, sit down, and I’ll massage your head for you.” Ted patted the couch right next to him, and I obeyed. He turned me so my back was to him before he started gently massaging my forehead. It felt so good, I was almost falling asleep. However, the nearness of him was enough to keep my hormones awake, and I cursed God for fucking with my mind. If there was a reason I shouldn’t sleep with Ted, then God should have told me what it was. Instead, He took the pansy-ass route of warning me off while simultaneously refusing to let me know why He was warning me.
“Oh, that feels so good,” I murmured, gradually falling back against Ted’s chest. I snuggled against him, dimly aware of his erection digging into my ass. It didn’t bother me, however, as I’d thought about having sex with him, too. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one in the mood. “Do it some more.” Somehow, I managed to make those innocuous words sound vaguely dirty, and I could feel him harden even further in response. I twisted slightly so I could look at his face. Without thinking about it, I reached up and kissed him. He kissed me back while simultaneously lowering me on the couch. Luckily for me, I ended up on my back with him on top of me.
I kissed him eagerly, pulling him closer at the same time. I knew it was partly the port which made me so bold, but it wasn’t making me do anything I didn’t want to do in the first place. I had my arms around his back, and I allowed them to stray to his ass. He had a nice ass, and I squeezed it in appreciation. He didn’t have as much roaming room, of course, as I was pressed into the couch. That didn’t stop him from kissing my neck, however, which he did with great skill. His hand was creeping down my back as best he could with me pinned to the couch. Just as he was reaching down to pull up my dress, the doorbell rang. Startled, Ted jumped off me.
“Expecting someone?” I asked, sitting up and pouting. I didn’t like to be interrupted once I got started.
“No,” Ted said, looking puzzled. “I’ll be right back.” He disappeared, presumably heading for the front door. Being the nosy gal that I was, I followed. Ted peered through the peephole before groaning audibly. By the way he sounded, it was either Tamara or his ex-fiancée.
“Lucinda, what are you doing here?” It was the latter rather than the former, but I didn’t know if that was better or worse.
“Teddy, you have to forgive me,” a high, feminine voice sobbed. I could tell by the way she was slurring her words that she was drunk. I hoped to God she hadn’t driven in her condition, but she probably had. The thought struck me that this was what God had warned me about, which infuriated me. I could take care of myself. I didn’t need Daddy giving me the big heads up about an ex. “I can’t forget—what’s that on your mouth? Is that lipstick? Are you seeing someone else?”
“This is not a good time, Lucinda,” Ted said, his voice tight. I had the feeling that this wasn’t the first time he’d had to deal with a drunken Lucinda, which might have been one of the reasons he broke up with her—besides the cheating, I meant. Given his mother’s alcoholism, the last thing he needed was an alcoholic fiancée.
“You are seeing someone else!” There was a rustling at the door with Ted suddenly falling backwards. I surmised that Lucinda had pushed him over in order to enter the house. When she appeared in the doorway, I blinked in surprise. I had pictured her as a tiny, Taiwanese princess who looked like she was twelve. Instead, she was almost six-feet tall with strong, angular features. Her black hair was cropped closely to her head. She looked like a model, and I was stunned that Ted could even think about dating a mere mortal after being with her. Oh, I knew I wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but this woman was a goddess. She was wearing a black mini-skirt with black thigh-high boots, a white tank top and no bra. She was fucking gorgeous and definitely not old-school Taiwanese.
“Lucinda, you have to go,” Ted said, grabbing Lucinda by the arm. He tried to maneuver her out the door, but to no avail. She shook him off and started stalking towards me, hypnotizing me with her haughty stare. She wasn’t entirely steady on her feet, but she covered a lot of ground in a few short steps. I snapped out of my funk as she neared, however, because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was the one who fucked up, not me. I kept that in mind and raised my head, giving her a hard stare of my own in return.
“You! You’re the bitch trying to steal to my man?” Her entire demeanor changed as she shouted down the hall at me. At once, I saw her for what she was—a woman used to being alpha among her peers while being the center of attention in a group of males. Well, maybe that shit worked with the women she hung out with, but not with me.
“First of all, he’s not a possession,” I said crisply, allowing my voice to carry as well. “Secondly, I wasn’t the one stupid enough to cheat on him repeatedly and think I could get away with it. Third of all, get the fuck out of here. We’re trying to be on a date.”
“You fucking bitch!” By now, Lucinda had reached me. She lifted her hand to slap me across the face, but Ted caught her upraised hand. I was prepared, however, if he hadn’t because I’d taken defense classes. I was willing to beat the shit out of her if I had to.
“OK, Luce. You made your point. Time to go.” Ted began forcibly dragging her towards the front door.
“Let me go, asshole! I’ll scratch her eyes out.” Lucinda was struggling fiercely, causing some trouble for Ted who clearly didn’t want to hurt her.
“Oh, please,” I said, rolling my eyes. “If we’re going to have a scene, can you at least be original about it?” That was enough to give her the extra bit of strength she needed to break free. She launched herself at me with every intention of doing serious harm. Unfortunately for her, I was quicker on my feet and sober. I simply stepped to the side as she leapt, allowing her to fall face-first onto the ground.
“Bitch!” She screamed, holding her mouth which was leaking blood. She didn’t seem to realize that it was her own damn fault as she continued to curse me.
“I’ll get a towel and some ice,” Ted said, sounding exasperated. I didn’t blame him as I was pretty well fed up myself. “You OK here?” I nodded, keeping an eye out on the fallen ex. I didn’t think she’d be getting up too soon, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
“I love him, you know,” Lucinda sobbed, going from enraged to maudlin in no time flat. One of the hazards of drinking so much—fluctuating emotions. “He means everything to me.” I forbore from pointing out that she had a strange way of showing her love because I knew that nothing I said would make a difference. She was the type of woman who saw the world in her own special way, and there wasn’t a damn thing anybody could do about it. I wondered how Ted had been able to stay with her for so long, but I realized it must have been familial pressure that kept him in the relationship. Or else, it was comfort. Or he was weak. I hoped it wasn’t the last as I didn’t tolerate weak-willed men.
“Here we go,” Ted said, returning with some ice and a towel. The irritation had drained from his voice, leaving him sounding almost gentle. I looked at him sharply because something in his tone said he wasn’t completely over Lucinda yet. I wondered how long it’d been since they broke up, but I’d be damned if I was going to ask in front of her. Then again, I only broke up with Gary a month ago. That was different, however, as our relationship had been in the last throes for a long time before that.
“Oh, Teddy, you’re so good to me,” Lucinda said in a helpless voice that sounded nothing like the one she’d used on me. She leaned against Ted as he ushered her into the living room. I reluctantly followed behind, wondering if I should just leave. The night had been pretty much ruined for me, anyway, and I didn’t want to feel like a third wheel on my own date, thank you very much.
“Sit.” Ted pushed Lucinda onto the couch before sitting next to her. I noticed that she was pressing her thigh against his, and he wasn’t moving away. He wiped her mouth with the towel before applying the ice. “Hold that there. I’ll be right back.” He got up from the couch and indicated that I should follow him into the hall.
“Shouldn’t you clean that up?” I asked acerbically, pointing to the blood on the floor before following him. “Wouldn’t want it to stain.” I didn’t even bother trying to sound civil as I waited for him to say whatever it was he was going to say. I had a hunch I knew what it was, but I’d be damned if I did his dirty work for him.
“Margaret, I’m really sorry about this. I don’t blame you for being pissed. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, I’ll get her cleaned up and out of here as fast as I can. I’ll have to call her a cab, of course, as she’s too drunk to drive, but I don’t want our night to end like this.” Ted took my hand in his and squeezed it. I was flummoxed because that wasn’t what I thought he was going to say, not at all.
“Um, that’d be great,” I said, relief evident in my voice.
“You thought I was going to ask you to leave, didn’t you?” Ted asked, not at all offended. “I don’t blame you for being suspicious, but I don’t want Lucinda back at all. I broke up with her four months ago, and I’ve never been happier. Trust me on that?” I nodded, unable to speak. “Let’s go back, then. I want to make sure she hasn’t passed out.” She hadn’t, but she was almost there. The bleeding had stopped, but her lip was puffing up. When Ted told her he was calling a cab for her, she shrieked and struggled to get off the couch.
“You don’t love me any more. You think I’m disgusting, don’t you?” The tears were back in full force. It was becoming painfully clear that although beautiful, Lucinda came with a lot of baggage.
“I don’t think you’re disgusting,” Ted said patiently. It had the ring of something that’d been said so often, it was now meaningless. “You’re right, however, in saying I don’t love you any more. I’ll always care about you as a friend, but that’s it.”
“It’s her fault, isn’t it?” Lucinda cried, pointing in my general direction. I was studiously looking at the walls because I couldn’t bear to watch the scene unfolding in front of me. “Now that you’re getting it elsewhere, you don’t need me, any more.” I winced at how little she valued herself; it was such a shame.
“Lucinda, enough. I will not listen to you insult Margaret, understand?” Ted pulled out his cell phone and punched something on it. I realized that he had the taxi company on speed dial, and I wondered if it was because of Lucinda. He confirmed my hypothesis in a few seconds by chatting with the person on the other side as if they were old friends.
“I’m not going,” Lucinda sulked, thrusting out her lower lip. She sank back on the couch, looking as if it’d take a crane to move her. “I’m not going to let you fuck her. What do you think about that?”
“Lucinda!” Ted’s eyes flashed, but he quickly got himself under control. I thought it would be better for him if he let her have it, but he wouldn’t do that, of course. “It’s time for you to leave. Now, do you want to get up on your own, or should I help you?” I heard the steel in his voice but apparently, Lucinda hadn’t because she closed her eyes. It was clear to me that she’d used this shtick with Ted more than once with great effectiveness, but her luck had just run out. “OK, I guess we have to do this the hard way.” Taking a deep breath, Ted dead-lifted Lucinda from the couch over her shrieking protests and threw her over his shoulder.
“Put me down! Put me down this instance, Teddy!” She pounded on his back but to little avail. He simply soldiered on, carrying her to the front door. I quickly ran to get the door so he wouldn’t have to put her down, and he flashed me a grateful look. “You fucking bitch,” Lucinda spat at me, reaching out an emaciated hand. I was too quick for her, however, and she grabbed an air full of nothing.
“Stop it, Lucinda,” Ted said through gritted teeth. I could tell by the look in his eyes, however, that he was hurting more than he was angry. “This isn’t doing anybody any good.” His words sounded empty, however, as if he realized the futility of them. We waited for the taxi, listening to Lucinda curse and weep in turns. She was a sloppy drunk, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I was relieved when the taxi pulled up, and it looked as if Ted was, too.
“Hey, Ted,” the taxi driver said, nodding his head at Ted. He was a young man, about twenty-five, with sandy blond hair and dark green eyes. He looked at Lucinda, not saying a word.
“Hi, John,” Ted said wearily, nodding his head in return. “Here we are again.” He waited for John to open the back door before depositing a still-protesting Lucinda in the cab. “Thanks, man,” Ted said, slipping John a wad of cash. John nodded before disappearing into the cab. Ted and I watched in silence as the cab sped off before going back into the house.
“So, what happens next?” I asked once we were back in the living room. “I mean, what about her car?”
“She’ll have to get it at some point,” Ted said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m not too worried about that right now.” He wouldn’t look at me as he talked, indicating that he was embarrassed by Lucinda’s behavior. I wanted to tell him that he had nothing to be ashamed of, but I didn’t think it would help matters. “She wasn’t like this when I first met her, you know.” I had a feeling he was talking more to himself than he was to me, but I listened, anyway.
Ted had met Lucinda at one of his parents’ parties, of course. This was ten years ago, when Lucinda’s father struck it rich in the stock market. Their parents tried to push them together, but both of them resisted. Not because they weren’t attracted to each other—they were—but because neither wanted to be in a relationship arranged for convenience’s sake. They remained friendly but nothing more until they ran into each other at a different party five years ago. By then, both had been through plenty of bad relationships and realized that they had a lot in common. Besides their family backgrounds, they both liked jazz music and spoken poetry. By the time the night ended, they were hooked on each other.
“Listen to me,” Ted said, abruptly stopping his reverie. “This is in such bad taste. I’ll stop now.” I had been interested in what he was saying, but I didn’t need to know anything more at the present.
“I’m sorry,” I said, rubbing his arm. “I know how tough it is to see someone you love hurt him or herself. It’s not easy.”
“Some date this turned out to be, huh?” Ted asked, looking down at me. Something flashed between us, and we simultaneously moved towards each other. He leaned down to kiss me as if we’d never been interrupted. I moved closer until I was practically sitting on his lap. When his fingers touched the back of my neck, I knew I was a goner.
“Why don’t you show me your bedroom?” I whispered into Ted’s ear, nipping his earlobe after making my request. He stood up without saying a word, holding his hand out to me. I ended up spending the night.