Excerpts from 31 Days to Love
Roger was less than two blocks from the closest thoroughfare when a young lady in decidedly revealing clothes intercepted him from his right. She had been on a bench beside a shrine, set back from the street, and he had not noticed her or the shrine. In fact, he had been thinking of Susan. He had been sorting out his feelings. So when the hooker spoke, he jumped.
“Bon nuit, monsieur.”
“I know that word. It is American, non?”
“You startled me. Sorry about jumping like that. Yeep? No, it’s not American. I mean, I guess it is, now that I think about it. Say, can I help you? Do you need something?”
She laughed a very pleasant, tinkly laugh. A worldly wise man would have recognized the laugh for what it was. Roger found it charming.
Susan sat, unmoving. Something was changing. Something had changed. She was all of a sudden nervous, maybe even scared. Moving could be dangerous. Moving could tip them off a pinnacle. She played Mannequin while her thoughts careened. No way she could have missed him being unhappy, was there? He acted like he was enjoying himself. Was he acting? Why would he do that? This is too weird. I can’t figure this out.
“I can’t figure this out, Roger. Something isn’t adding up. You’ve been acting? Pretending to have a good time? Why would you do that? And don’t say because you love me.”
“Why not? That’s the reason. Why shouldn’t I say the reason?”
“Because if you loved me, you wouldn’t have been pretending – you’d have been super happy that I’ve been so happy, ’cause that’s how love works. You don’t love me.”
“Do about it? What can I do about it? Susan’s probably done with me. She made that clear, even with the month break thing. What can I do? I have to start over. Or not. Probably I should just finish college and start a career before I even think about getting into another relationship. Show her I’m not just a hack journalist, get a Pulitzer or something, buy my own house, so there. I don’t need a dog, and I can build a picket fence if I want to and never have to go to Paris, nope.” The last words were a mumble, that died into frozen silence. He just sat there, not seeing the world around him.
“Readers may be gullible, and hopeful, but they know when they are being fed mush instead of steak. They want steak, preferably with whipped cream.”
Roger wrote down, “Readers want steak with whipped cream, not mush.” Everything Hartt was saying made so much sense. Roger’s disaster of a romance had proven that. He glanced again at Susan, feeling as usual the combination of love, anger, hurt, and sadness that accompanied his every thought of her. If he had known she would be in this class, he would have skipped it. No, not really… he had been looking forward to learning from Professor Hartt all summer.
“My mother told me once, when we were joking around, but I think maybe she was only half-joking, and it made an impression, that I shouldn’t go to bed with a girl right away, because she wouldn’t respect me in the morning.” His mouth twitched, an eighth of a smile, asking for understanding.
Susan was astonished. She backed away, letting his hands drop off. He felt that weird combination of relief and regret that comes when you are next on the high board to dive and the diving class ends at that moment.
“Your mother? You’re letting your mother control your sex life?”
Now he smiled, the Jim-smile that used his whole face and made her feel so good, like the world was a fun place. This he could do; he could talk to her. He liked talking to her. He had been waiting all his life to talk to someone like her. Where did that thought come from? Never mind. Talk to her.
“I love you so much, Deb. I might not believe in romance any more, but I still love you.”
“Loved, boy, past tense. I’m dead, remember? Loving me now would be a bit sick, don’t you think? Necrophilia, they call it. And are you still on that not believing in romance kick? You didn’t feel that way when I was alive! Seven years of romantic marriage with me, and now you call it “social and mental complementarity”? Give it up, John. Romance is as real as every bird on the wing, and that’s all there is to it. Please tell me you’re not poisoning your writing class with this ridiculous idea, without me there to balance the scale. You are! John Hartt, shame on you!”