Red Roses in Florida

Waiting in the Ft. Meyers airport lobby was one happy widow. The shroud was lifted with a hug and kiss on the cheek. Standing there blonde and beautiful was a smile as bright as the Florida sun, framed by a sun tan made for a travel brochure. There stood the queen of Bonita Beach beaming as she displayed the diamond cross I gave her for Christmas. This warranted another hug and kiss.

Anxious, but glad to be there after such a warm welcome, we headed to her little red rent-a-car and back to the royal compound I had heard so much about in her build up to this trip.

After 10 years of family vacations and 10 more with Marilyn and our Benish friends, Fort Meyers Airport was familiar territory. Bonita Beach, only 20 miles south was a new experience. We had always gone to Sanibel Island.

As we drove and talked, I felt comfortable. Florida still looked pretty much the same everywhere. Strip malls, gated golf communities, condos with boat docks, row houses and of course the beaches, all with lots of white stucco, and red tile roofs. Manicured Bermuda grass lawns framed by rows of palm trees on each side of the road, this is South Florida just as it appears on the post cards from yesteryear. A timeless formula of winter luxury for nearly 100 years, it is easy to embrace this lifestyle. It was like coming home—until we got to her condo.

The condo in a gated complex was a cheap concrete block white stucco red tiled roof structure like so many other Florida cookie cutter condos. It was built at an angle so every unit got to look at the Gulf of Mexico, and built above the ground level parking to accommodate the occasional hurricane. Her unit was at the end farthest from the water. Its view would best be described as a slice of the Gulf, but it was a beautiful view and you could smell the mild humid salt water of the Gulf.

Not expecting much on a working widow’s budget, I was pleasantly surprised. Its pool, beach and obligatory shuffleboard were first class. Everything was immaculately maintained.

This reverie continued until I walked in the door, winded from carrying my small carry-on luggage and tennis racquet up four flights of stairs. I learned later there was an elevator at the other end. The first thing I saw was a bedroom with a king size double bed. Then it hit me! Walking down the hall past the bathroom and kitchen I found a beautifully and newly furnished living space looking at the ocean. The plush leather chairs and couch focused on the large wall mounted widescreen TV and could swivel to look out at the water as well.

As I took all this in, my mind was still on the bedroom. Panic began to set in as I processed the implications of this single bedroom situation. I had been set up! Was this “check” or “checkmate”?

I bought time by asking for a Diet Coke and headed for the screened in porch where we sat and small talked about the weather, the water, her friends who weren’t there, dinner plans and eventually the condo.

My mind raced through a dozen scenarios from sleeping on the couch to renting another room next door or going to a hotel. When I asked if there was a pullout couch, she closed off that line of retreat with a smiling “no, we can sleep together.” This took my breath away. I felt trapped and needed time to think this through.

My life had evolved into an unplanned but very comfortable celibacy over the past four years. Fornication was as likely as me winning the Boston Marathon at age 75. Could it kill me? My God!! Was it a sin for two old folks shooting blanks to copulate? These were the macro issues exploding in my head while I mouthed words, hopefully with a smile that masked the stark fear that had seized me. The micro issues would surface as we got closer to ground zero.

Friedel had furnished her lair with the makings for my evening toddy, proudly announcing she had Canadian Club bourbon and Martini & Rossi Rosso Sweet Vermouth Manhattan on the rocks with a dash of orange bitters, a maraschino cherry with a splash of the cherry juice. Once again, she had even bought store ice and some cashew nuts. She didn’t miss a beat. This cocktail ceremony and more small talk about what and where to eat bought me more time to think. A plan began to emerge while the alcohol calmed my frayed nerves.

Dinner was a small fish house on the inner waterway a few hundred yards away, walking distance, but we drove. She didn’t want to cross the busy road (only road) that divided the island. I ordered another Manhattan because I was fearful beer would give me gas and both beer and wine would require 3 or 4 nocturnal trips to the potty. She had her usual Margarita on the rocks with salt, and then a glass of white table wine.

We talked about playing tennis the next day, again reminding me she had been the Olympia Fields Country Club women’s singles champion back when Marilyn was winning the doubles championships. New Year’s Eve plans were discussed and we agreed to check out a few places the next day and get reservations. There had to be dancing. Shopping (a feminine sport), movies and sunbathing came up (another feminine sport). The sun and my body were strangers, unless you count the farmer’s tan you get on the golf course or tennis court. I liked outdoor sports but the sun didn’t like me was the gist of this conversation. Actually, I simply could not endure the boredom of sunbathing. Sun on a golf course or tennis court in proper attire was fine. A good family cookout or Illini football game was even better. Of course these alternatives were fully clothed events that didn’t expose my aging bulging degenerating body to the public. Avoiding the beach had become a matter of self-esteem, not melanoma or sun burn. Today’s sun blocks are as good as a hooded sweat suit in a gym, but a bathing suit is too revealing of Father Time’s cruel sport with the human body.

Back at the condo watching the news, mellowed by jet lag and a few drinks on both sides of the table, the conversation finally got around to the sleeping accommodations. I suggested my sleeping on the couch because (1) I snored and would keep her awake, (2) my BPH prostrate problem required at least 3 or 4 trips to the bathroom during the night and this would keep her awake, and (3) sinus attacks that kept me up an hour or two until they passed. This micro issue defense was framed with great concern on my part about her being able to sleep. The coup de grace was (4) my lingering insomnia that required me to read a book until 12:30 or 1:00 am before going to bed. Privately, I worried I had become a capon?

I thought I had made my case and did so without revealing my terror about the prospect of sexual intimacy, exposing my decaying body of bulges in the wrong places and unsightly blemishes. The embarrassing subject of passing gas was also avoided. Thankfully, I had no tattoos or birth marks—she would have insisted on seeing these. The unspoken and unthinkable thought of a testosterone deficiency—ok we can call it what it is—impotency was a latent fear that remained unresolved.

Friedel was kind enough to sense my anxiety and we negotiated an arrangement where we would each sleep on our own side of the bed with pillows between us and I would read until she was sound asleep. My side would be closest to the bathroom. With hindsight, I should call it a truce.

I was fine with this until she came out to say good night in an X-rated bottomless Victoria Secret negligée that barely covered her vitals, sans brassiere leaving nothing to the imagination. Still in the throes of masculine insecurity, I gave her a hug and a kiss and sent her to bed. Thinking— “This is only four nights, I can hold my breath that long, this will be ok.”

As expected, I didn’t get much sleep while thinking about this beautiful woman lying in bed next to me. When she started to snore in little stutter-step gasps and gurgles I worried she was having breathing problems, but this passed and I finally drifted off around 3 am. One down, three to go.

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