For You, The Stars
Chapter Fourteen: I’ll Give You Everything for Free
I kept not calling Maura and Giselle kept calling me. We’d say we were just going to get together and have a drink or have dinner but then we’d end up back in one of our beds at the end of the evening, usually hers, because she didn’t really want to be running into my roommates. I had some qualms about all of this. Ironically, it wasn’t really about Cecilia although I felt like I had still had unfinished business with her. It had more to do with Peter, Giselle’s boyfriend in Boston. I didn’t care that he was also a Princeton guy. That was meaningless to me. A random coincidence at best. I’d never known him there even though we had overlapped by one year apparently. It was really just the idea of being “the other man.”
I’d already resolved my moral issues quandary about cheating. Cecilia and I had a very clear understanding that, yes, we were together and maybe even in love but it was by no means exclusive. We were each totally free to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Giselle’s arrangement with Peter was by contract much mushier. They both acknowledged that a long-distance relationship implied an unlikely degree of patience and they understood that they were each likely to have flings on the side, but as Giselle had told me when we first discussed it, Peter had insisted that they not tell each other of anything that might be going on. She wasn’t completely comfortable with the reality of this approach but she felt bound to it and so she said nothing to Peter about me, or for that matter Charlie or the woman she’d had the brief fling with who had finally stopped leaving pathetic messages on her answering machine.
Maybe I should have felt like this was the perfect arrangement. I had no obligations at all. There was no commitment. I was the outside guy. In many ways it was primarily a physical relationship. But in reality the guy on the east coast was an abstraction and in both my and Giselle’s day-to-day lives our connection was becoming more real. It was like that period in the late Ottoman empire when the various Beys and Deys of Egypt and other north African kingdoms pledged nominal fealty to the sultan but in their own locality they ruled like absolute monarchs. There may have been some theoretical relationship with this to-me imaginary guy back east but it was sure starting to feel like the real thing here in the kingdom of San Francisco.
And I didn’t like being party to a lie. Worse, Giselle told Peter about me. He knew my name. I was introduced as her friend, and later her good friend. She figured she wouldn’t be able to completely keep me a secret and that a lie that was close to the truth was better than some crazy lie she wouldn’t be able to keep track of, but this just made me more uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be a real person to him. I realized that my problem with being the other man wasn’t the thought of harming Giselle’s boyfriend. He still wasn’t very real to me. I didn’t care about him or his feelings. It was just some kind of code I didn’t want to be breaking. It made me feel sleazy.
I had a long talk with Dave about it. He was becoming my moral confidant. Whenever I was in some kind of a quandary I’d run it by him and he’d help me think it through. This time, though, Dave told me he didn’t really see the problem. “It sounds kind of ideal, if you ask me.” It just left me feeling uneasy, though.
There were other problems with Giselle, like she could be kind of bossy. She always had “suggestions” about how I could do things better. She thought I should be using the kitchen in the Gomer house for actual cooking. She thought the toilet in our bathroom should be cleaned more often. She actually suggested I shave with a straight razor and a brush. “You get a closer shave that way,” she said. “How would you know?” I asked her. “I read it in GQ.”
She even had advice for me about how to sneeze. All my life I’ve had this awkward way of sneezing, as if I’m trying to stifle it our something. People often asked me if it’s a sneeze or a cough, and I sometimes sneeze and nobody says God bless you or Gesundheit, probably because they don’t register it as an actual sneeze. Simone noticed it too. But then she had this exaggerated way of saying “a-choo-oo” every time she sneezed that sounded absurd to me. But Giselle went so far as to try coaching me on better sneezing. “You’ll throw your back out like that, swallowing your sneezes. When you feel the urge coming on, open your mouth wide so you can project the sneeze outward.” I told her I’d try but inside I was, like, whatever.
She said my sneezes startled her because they came with no warning and they were so sudden and loud, so plosive. She told me it sounded like a “retort.” I said, “I’m pretty sure you mean ‘report,’ like a gun?” She said, “No, I think the word is ‘retort.’” and I let it drop.
One night she finally agreed to sleep at my place. It felt so shabby compared to her boudoir but we had a great night till she mentioned that Peter was coming to visit her in a few days. “You could have given me more warning!” I said. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “He’s only going to be here for a fews days, but I won’t be able to see you when he’s here.” I said, “Of course not… but don’t you think he may figure out that something’s going on?” She said, “Why would he?” and I didn’t have a good answer for that.
Then in the morning, after we showered together, I took her from behind up against the towel rack. It was impetuous and I think she liked it. Also, she was on the pill so it wasn’t reckless or anything. She wrote me a little perfumed note and left it in my room to find later, referring to our escapade. I noticed that she had left her contact lenses in the little double-circle case she washed them in every night. I called her office and left a message there telling her she had left them behind.
The next day she called me up at my job and asked if she could drop by to pick up the contacts. I told her sure, no problem. “Just come by after 7,” I said. “I’ll be home all evening.” I was planning to hook up with Cecilia while Giselle was out of the picture but I didn’t have any immediate plans for that night.
At home after work I ate a cheese steak from Yellow Sub with Chad and Dave that night. We were listening to music on our stereo - I was trying to turn them onto American Music Club. Dave was into it but Chad didn’t like the guy’s voice. The doorbell rang and I said, “I’m expecting Giselle,” as I headed for the stairs. When I opened the door she was standing there with a guy about my height, sandy hair, dressed kind of preppy.
“Daniel, this is Peter,” she said. “Peter, this is my friend Daniel I told you about.”
I said, “Hey,” and stuck out my hand. Peter said the same thing and shook it while giving me the stinkeye.
“Your contacts,” I said to Giselle, “I’ll be right back.”
As I headed up the stairs I could hear Giselle spinning some totally weak yarn about hanging out and having her eyes get dry and then forgetting to take the contacts when she left and I was thinking what kind of an idiot would believe a story like that.
I came back down the stairs and handed Giselle her contacts. “Nice to meet you, Pete,” I said.
He said, “You too,” and gave me a funny little wave.
I closed the door on them and thought to myself, This is not good.
The next day Giselle called me at work again. She said, “He was going through my desk calendar and he noticed all the appointments I had with Daniel written on it. He said that it sounded like we were more than friends. I kind of warned him not to ask any more questions. It’s his stupid rule, after all. I’d rather just tell him the truth.”
I said, “I wish you would leave me out of this. This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Now this guy thinks I’m an asshole and he’s right.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. She sometimes called me “silly goose,” but she didn’t say that now.
“Deal with it,” I said. “This is not my problem.”