After a pleasant evening of barbequed pork steaks, potato salad, Cole slaw and lemon squares for dessert we watched the chick flick movie she wanted. White wine for her and my Canadian Club toddy got us started—and kept us going after dinner. We both felt very comfortable with each other and said so, joking and laughing about how she used to greet me at the train station with a, “Good morning Mr. Collins.” I had assumed she forgot my first name, but no—she said I always looked very serious, dressed in a suit and tie, overcoat or trench coat in the winter. To her I definitely looked and acted like a “Mr.” Although we had occasionally talked briefly about Marilyn’s and Bruce’s illnesses, and I had offered to help her, we never really got acquainted. I reminded her that she had called me Harold the few times we played mixed doubles. She replied, “Nobody calls their opponent or partner “Mr.” on a tennis court—that would sound silly unless you have John McEnroe screaming in your face waving his racquet at you.”
Harold: “I’m pretty good.”
Friedel: “Ya, but not that good. Just because you can beat an old woman doesn’t get you called “Mr.”
We carried on this repartee for a few hours while we watched her soapy tear jerker movie. She cried and I laughed. She confessed to being a hopeless romantic while I preferred mysteries. We both liked sports and both watched Fox News. “Thank God you’re a Republican” she screamed. “Catholic is good, but an Irish Republican lawyer in Chicago—that’s too much to hope for.”
Tomorrow was not a work day, so we lingered and talked until about midnight. It could have been the wine, but whatever the formula, we had connected. I had a new companion and so did she.
We walked to her car in the driveway, a nice Volkswagen Passat (German of course). She wished she could afford a Mercedes, but this car was good enough because she never drives anywhere anymore.
I thanked her for a truly enjoyable evening and reached out to shake her hand. She pushed it away and gave me a big hug with an even bigger smile.
Oh boy!! Those things are real, that’s why everybody gives Friedel a big hug when they meet.
Hesitating and feeling a little awkward about this intimacy, I stepped back. The Collins’ were not touchy feely people. We simply didn’t do these things. I couldn’t remember ever hugging my mother, let alone another woman. Marilyn yes, but not in public. My God, what if my neighbor is watching—and she probably is—everyone in Flossmoor will know I had a woman in my house until midnight three months after Marilyn died.
Before I could recover my composure, Friedel stuck her face up into mine and puckered her lips. I panicked and without thinking gave her a peck on each cheek. She responded with, “What kind of kiss is that?” I mumbled something stupid about being out of practice, said good night and made a quick retreat into the house.
“What just happened?” I asked myself. Thinking I might have let the genie out of the bottle, my next thought was, “Now what? This dating situation is moving pretty fast.” I hadn’t had a lecherous thought for almost four years and in an instant I had just received an unmistakable communication from my lower hemisphere—a long dormant bodily wasteland.
Here is a 74 year old drop dead gorgeous blonde bombshell who wants me. A loyal but estranged wife of 20 years wanted romance. This was a thought provoking concern for a guy who had been feeling and living like a eunuch with no romantic thoughts on his radar for the past four years.
The next day after church I concentrated on finding a tactful way to slow down the relationship. I was still contemplating my options and I was still grieving. This was too much too soon. After a little research on the internet, I rationalized that cheek kisses were a European tradition, kind of like we shake hands. She would understand if I explained it properly.
Remembering my Shakespeare and Romeo’s first kiss, I got my book and copied down the following:
“Romeo [To Juliet]: If I profane with my unworthy hand, this holy shrine the gentle fine is this. My lips, two blushing pilgrims ready stand to smooth that roughness with a tender kiss.
Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, which man- nerly devotion shows in this. For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do: they pray,
grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayer’s sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take, thus from my
lips, by yours, my sin is purged.
Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Romeo: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my
Juliet: You kiss by the book.”
I felt I had really gotten tactical control of the situation with the
Romeo and Juliet text and sent it to Friedel on Monday with a simple note explaining, “Like Romeo, I kiss by the book,” and “customs have changed from the formal kissing of the extended hand of a woman to simply a kiss on the cheek.” She was European. She would understand. Even their men kissed each other this way and they weren’t all gay.
When I called on Thursday to set up another date on Saturday to watch the Fighting Illini Tennis Classic being played at my country club that weekend, I was greeted with a screaming, “ROMEO!!,” followed by a sexy sultry “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou.”
For sure, the genie was out of the bottle! This cunning, clever, scheming lawyer had miscalculated the opposition, or was perhaps being outsmarted by an even more cunning, clever, scheming widow. I knew now I wasn’t playing with fire—this Frau Thibault was dynamite and the fuse was lit.