Promise Me Page 7

Myron sniffed the air. “What are you cooking?”

“I’m making Chicken Kiev.”

“Smells great.”

“You mind if we talk first?”

“Sure.”

They headed into the den. Myron tried to keep his head about him. He looked around for more pictures. There was a framed wedding photo. Ali’s hair was too big, he thought, but maybe that was the look then. He thought that she was prettier now. That happens with some women. There was also a photograph of five men in matching black tuxedos with bow ties. The groomsmen, Myron figured. Ali followed his gaze. She walked over and picked up the group shot.

“This one is Kevin’s brother,” she said, pointing to the man second on the right.

Myron nodded.

“The other men worked at Carson Wilkie with Kevin. They were his best friends.”

Myron said, “Were they—”

“All dead,” she said. “All married, all had children.”

The elephant in the room—it was as if all hands and fingers were suddenly pointing at it.

“You don’t have to do this,” Myron said.

“Yeah, Myron, I do.”

They sat down.

“When Claire first set us up,” she began, “I told her that you’d have to raise the subject of 9/11. Did she tell you that?”

“Yes.”

“But you didn’t.”

He opened his mouth, closed it, tried again. “How was I supposed to do that exactly? Hi, how are you, I hear you’re a 9/11 widow, do you want Italian or maybe Chinese?”

Ali nodded. “Fair enough.”

There was a grandfather clock in the corner, a huge ornate thing. It chose then to start chiming. Myron wondered where Ali had gotten it, where she had gotten everything in this house, how much of Kevin was watching them now, in this house, in his house.

“Kevin and I started dating when we were juniors in high school. We decided to take time off during our freshman year of college. I was going to NYU. He would be off at Wharton. It would be the mature thing to do. But when we came home for Thanksgiving, and we saw each other . . .” She shrugged. “I’ve never been with another man. Ever. There, I said it. I don’t know if we did it right or wrong. Isn’t that weird? I think we sorta learned together.”

Myron sat there. She was no more than a foot away from him. He wasn’t sure of the right move here—the story of his life. He put his hand close to hers. She picked it up and held it.

“I don’t know when I first realized I was ready to start dating. It took me longer than most of the widows. We talk about it, of course—the widows, I mean. We talk a lot. But one day I just said to myself, okay, now maybe it’s time. I told Claire. And when she suggested you, do you know what I thought?”

Myron shook his head.

“He’s out of my league, but maybe this will be fun. I thought—this is going to sound stupid and please remember I really didn’t know you at all—that you’d be a good transition.”

“Transition?”

“You know what I mean. You were a pro athlete. You probably had a lot of women. I thought maybe, well, it would be a fun fling. A physical thing. And then, afterwards, maybe I’d find someone nice. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” Myron said. “You just wanted me for my body.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“I feel so cheap,” he said. “Or is it thrilled? Let’s go with thrilled.”

That made her smile. “Please don’t take offense.”

“No offense taken.” Then: “Hussy.”

She laughed. The sound was melodic.

“So what happened to your plan?” he asked.

“You weren’t what I expected.”

“That a good thing or bad?”

“I don’t know. You used to date Jessica Culver. I read that in a People magazine.”

“I did.”

“Was it serious?”

“Yes.”

“She’s a great writer.”

Myron nodded.

“She’s also stunning.”

“You’re stunning.”

“Not like that.”

He was going to argue, but he knew that it would sound too patronizing.

“When you asked me out, I figured that you were looking for something, I don’t know, different.”

“Different how?” he asked.

“Being a 9/11 widow,” she said. “The truth is, and I hate to admit this, but it gives me something of a warped celebrity.”

He did know. He thought about what Win had said, about that first thing that pops in your head when you hear her name.

“So I figured—again not knowing you, just knowing that you were this good-looking pro athlete who dates women who look like supermodels—I figured that I might be an interesting notch on the belt.”

“Because you were a 9/11 widow?”

“Yes.”

“That’s pretty sick.”

“Not really.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s like I said. There’s a weird sort of celebrity attached. People who wouldn’t give me the time of day suddenly wanted to meet me. It still happens. About a month ago, I started playing in this new tennis league at the Racket Club. One of the women—this rich snob who wouldn’t let me cut through her yard when we first moved to town—comes up to me and she’s making the poo-poo face.”

“The poo-poo face?”

“That’s what I call it. The poo-poo face. It looks like this.”

Ali demonstrated. She pursed her lips, frowned, and batted her eyes.

“You look like Donald Trump being sprayed with mace.”

“That’s the poo-poo face. I get it all the time since Kevin died. I don’t blame anyone. It’s natural. But this woman with the poo-poo face comes up to me and she takes both of my hands in hers and looks me in the eyes and has this whole earnest thing going on so that I want to scream, and she says, ‘Are you Ali Wilder? Oh, I so wanted to contact you. How are you doing?’ You get the point.”

“I do.”

She looked at him.

“What?”

“You’ve turned into the dating version of the poo-poo face.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“You keep telling me I’m beautiful.”

“You are.”

“You met me three times when I was married.”

Myron said nothing.

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