Writer's Cramp entry: Hearing a secret from an unexpected source.
|"C'mon Maxi. Get your coat on. We're gonna be late!" I stood by the open door, keys in hand.
"Just about ready, honey. You want to be able to show me off, don't you? Make Mark jealous?"
"True enough. Ok, I'll start the car. You got five minutes. The clock is ticking."
Four minutes later Maxi slid into the passenger seat, all long legs, dark hair, flashing green eyes and some mysteriously exotic scent. I hadn't seen her look so devastating in ages. "Up yours, Mark!" I grinned to myself.
"What's on your mind?"
"Oh, just reflecting on the vicissitudes of life."
"Hah!" she snorted, "Whatever."
We both laughed.
We were still chatting easily as I pulled up in front of Mark and Suzi's building. As I flipped open my cell to call them, the door opened. Bundled up against the cool fall evening, they hurried out to the car. I got out to open the door for Suzi and let Mark fend for himself.
Waiting for them to get their belts fastened, I had one of those strange experiences where you get caught staring at someone you didn't even realize you were staring at. Suzi looked up and our eyes locked in the mirror. I quickly looked away. "You folks all set?" I asked.
Mark was my oldest friend in the world. We'd known each other since we were in grade school. We caught frogs together, spent lots of detention time together, experienced the agony and the ecstasy of puberty together, graduated from university in the same class, played on the same sports teams, and served as best man at each other's weddings. In short, we competed ferociously against each other and were just as happy no matter who won. Without getting maudlin, I would have jumped in front of a bullet meant for Mark if it meant he wouldn't get hurt. As he would have for me.
In the seven years since the summer of our weddings, we had been an inseparable foursome, the women seeming to bond together as solidly as Mark and I. Ski trips, back-country expeditions, even a couple of European cycling vacations, we had done it all together.
We bantered in the car on the way to the show.
Mark challenged, "I bet you're too scared to get up on stage and let Dr Mesmo hypnotize you. I'll be the first one with my hand up!"
"Yeah? Well I'll be on that stage before you get your finger out of your nose!"
The women laughed.
"Careful what you dare, Joey," Suzi teased. "I hear this guy's pretty amazing."
"Am I worried?" I boasted. "What can he make me do that I haven't already done? Mark, on the other hand, will probably burst into tears like a little girl."
He shook his fist at me in the mirror, mock-ferociously.
At the club, I handed the keys to the valet and we sauntered into the main showroom. I had reserved a table in the front row, just across the dance floor from the sumptuously appointed stage. We had a couple of rounds of cocktails while the warm-up comedian worked the crowd. He was good and quick, giving worse than he got from the hecklers. So the audience was in the mood for more when the lights dimmed and then died. The room grew silent as a single spotlight focused like the sun through a magnifying glass on the center of the stage. It slowly grew, revealing a tall, elegantly dressed man with jet black hair and piercing blue eyes that could be seen from the farthest reaches of the darkened room. Doubtless an expensive pair of custom contact lenses added to the effect.
He greeted the crowd with a rich baritone voice, "Ladies, gentlemen, anyone I may have omitted. Tonight is about truth. Some brave ones among you will reach deep inside themselves and bare their very souls to the rest of you." His somber face split into a grin, "Or maybe we'll just have some fun."
The audience laughed in relief. Dr Mesmo invited, "I suppose we'll need some victims, or rather, volunteers." Before he could ask, Mark and I were on our feet and headed toward the stage.
"Fools rush in where . . . , well, you know the rest," Mesmo suggested.
Mark and I sat on the wooden chairs that were revealed on the stage. After introductions, Dr Mesmo faced us and spoke in his soothing deep voice. I chuckled and whispered to Mark, "Play along with the guy. This should be fun." That's all I remember. It was like having your tonsils removed, the part where you count down from 10 and get as far as 9.
Apparently this is what happened next.
Mesmo confided to the audience, "This is to be a celebration of romance and love."
To Mark and me, he suggested, "Mark. Joey. You are young and in love. No, not with each other. With the woman of your dreams. You have loved her always, and tonight you have screwed up the courage to sweep her off her feet."
To the audience, "Remember, this is the real thing. These young men will not do anything untrue to their hearts."
To me, "Joey, I want you to rise now and go down off the stage. With Mark as a witness, find your true love, tell her you love her, sweep her up into your arms and kiss her with all your heart. Kind of a Rudolf Valentino thing, you know. When your lips meet you will awake."
This is the part where I came back in. I remember the delicious sensation of lips on mine. I remember an aching sense of finally realizing my fantasy. I remember opening my eyes. The eyes I looked into were Suzi's. I remember looking across the table at Maxi, her eyes and mouth wide open in disbelief. I looked up at Mark on the stage, still mesmerized.
"This was never supposed to happen," I moaned.