A is for Alibi Page 58

"You need a haircut too," he said.

"No I don't. It always looks like this.”

He smiled, shaking his head. "Get dressed. We'll go out.”

"I don't want to go out. I want to get my life in shape.”

"You can do that tomorrow. It's Sunday. I bet you always do shit like that on Sunday anyway.”

I stared at him. It was true. "Wait a minute. Here's how it's supposed to go," I said patiently. "I get home. I do all my chores, get a good night's sleep, which I could sorely use, then tomorrow I call you and we see each other tomorrow night.”

"I gotta be at the office tomorrow night. I have a client coming in.”

"On Sunday night?”

"We've got a court appearance first thing Monday morning and this is the only thing we could work out. I just got back into town myself Thursday night and I'm up to my ass.”

I stared at him some more, wavering. "Where would we go? Would I have to dress up?”

"Well, I'm not going to take you anywhere looking like that," he said.

I glanced down. I was still wearing jeans and the shirt I'd slept in but I wasn't ready to back down yet. "What's wrong with this?" I asked perversely.

"Take a shower and change clothes. I'll pick up some stuff at the grocery store if you give me a list. By the time I get that done, you'll be ready, yes?”

" I like to shop for my own stuff. Anyway, all I need is milk and beer.”

"Then I'll take you to a supermarket after we eat," he said, emphasizing every single word.

We drove down to the Ranch House in Ojai, one of those elegant restaurants where the waiter stands at your table and recites the menu like a narrative poem.

"Shall I order for us or would that offend your feminine sensibilities?”

"Go ahead," I said, feeling oddly relieved, "I'd like that." While he and the waiter conferred, I studied Charlie's face surreptitiously. It was strong and square, good jawline, visible dent in his chin, full mouth. His nose looked like it might have been broken once but mended skillfully, leaving only the slightest trace just below the bridge. His glasses had large lenses, tinted a blue-gray, and behind them, his blue eyes were as clear as sky. Sandy lashes, sandy brows, his thick sandy hair only beginning to recede. He had big hands, big bones in his wrists, and I could see a feathering of sandy hair at the cuff. There was something else about him, too, smoldering and opaque, the same sense I'd had before of sexuality that surfaced now and then. Sometimes he seemed to emit an almost audible hum, like a line of power stations marching inexorably across a hillside, ominous and marked with danger signs. I was afraid of him.

The waiter was nodding and moving away. Charlie turned back to me, obscurely amused. I felt myself go mute, but he pretended not to notice and I felt dimly grateful, faintly flushed. I was overcome with the same self-consciousness I'd felt once at a birthday party in the sixth grade when I realized that all the other little girls had worn nylon stockings and I was still wearing stupid white ankle socks.

The waiter returned with a bottle of wine and Charlie went through the usual ritual. When our glasses were filled, he touched his rim to mine, his eyes on my face. I sipped, startled by the delicacy of the wine, which was pale and cool.

"So how's the investigation going?" he asked when the waiter had left.

I shook my head, taking a moment to orient myself. "I don't want to talk about it," I said shortly and then caught myself. "I don't mean to be rude," I said in a softened tone. "I just don't think talking about it will help. It's not going well.”

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "It's bound to improve.”

I shrugged and watched while he lit a cigarette and snapped the lighter shut. "I didn't know you smoked," I said.

"Now and then," he said. He offered me the pack and I shook my head again. He seemed relaxed, in possession of himself, a man of sophistication and grace. I felt doltish and tongue-tied, but he didn't seem to expect anything of me, talking on about inconsequential things. He seemed to operate at half speed, taking his own time about everything. It made me aware of the usual tension with which I live, that keyed-up state of raw nerve that makes me grind my teeth in my sleep. Sometimes I get so wired that I forget to eat at all, only remembering at night, even then not being hungry but wolfing down food anyway as though the speed and quantity of consumption might atone for the infrequency. With Charlie, I could feel my time clock readjust, my pace slowing to match his. When I finished the second glass of wine, I heaved a sigh and only then did I realize that I'd been holding myself tensely, like a joke snake ready to jump out of a box.

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