Love Them, Leave Them, Friend Them
SAME OLD STORY.
Jeremiah Epstein meets girl; falls silly head over in lust with girl; chases girl obsessively, wooing her with flowers, perfume, expensive dinners and fine wines, extravagant gifts, and trips to exotic places; fucks girl–he’s a good lover, no use in denying it, he spends much of his time fine-tuning the art; gets girl to chase him obsessively; occasionally, he may even ask girl to marry him; then the old malcontent breaks out, and he wants to ditch girl.
But when he’s in love with someone, that woman is the center of his world, he consumes only her beauty, sleeps with only her. He wouldn’t think of making love with anyone else. It’s all or nothing, and he’ll do anything for his lover, including allowing his art work to slide into disarray and his friendships to lapse.
But when it’s over, it’s over–no going back.
Over the years, he has learned how to break off a relationship gently, even turn things around so that the unwanted woman thinks that she has left him. It’s quite easy, really, nothing abrupt and nasty and confrontational; a good breakup, like a good wine or whiskey, takes time, and Jeremiah has learned the art of orchestrating that time between relationships, the breaking off of one and the cultivating of another, that equilibrium point at which he may be making love to the soon-to-be former lover in the afternoon and racing the new object of affection to the sheets that night.
He doesn’t see any inconsistencies here–he has already made up his mind about the spurned woman, so he’s not really cheating–he’s just letting someone he cares about down gently.
And the new woman, well, he’s not made any commitments to her yet, and he doesn’t tell her otherwise. He’s in her bed tonight–isn’t that enough for now?–and who knows what tomorrow will offer?
He prides himself in not telling his lovers any more or less than what they need to hear and never any lies. He won’t tell a woman he loves her just to get her into bed. If she insists on a commitment, he backs off, allows the passion to cool, and, maybe six months later, calls her; most of the time, the two become friends.
It’s a delicate process, maintaining the balance between the old and new, but one that has become second nature to him. When the desire to split from a relationship hits him–and it usually happens fast, maybe the woman does something to annoy him, like play with her hair or pick her teeth in public–he begins by calling the woman less.
Perhaps he finds himself spending less time in Philadelphia, his home, and more in New York, or terribly engrossed in a new sculpture, or maybe he’s been ill. He still sees her, of course, enjoying their lovemaking almost as much as ever, but he has one eye on the door. He continues to compliment her beauty and her accomplishments, and he always speaks highly of her in public.
But he gradually cuts back on their phone calls, his availability, and their dates, until, finally, the woman calls him and says, "Jeremiah, we’ve got to talk."
When she tells him, "It’s over," he apologizes for his lapse in character, and lets her know how much he’ll miss her, but that she probably knows best. They usually make love one last time, a bittersweet passion, an act of extreme mercy on his part, but a pleasurable one, he hopes for both of them. Especially for him the act represents closure and relief–now he can move forward. As the last ounce of love is exhausted, he whispers, "I hope we’ll always remain friends," and he means it; he’ll continue to call her; at first, they will meet often for lunch, and, before long, she’ll be talking about a new lover, perhaps even a new fiancé–so far, he has been invited to and attended at least three weddings of former lovers, including Terry Douglas’, the mother of his only child.
He sees his daughter Michelle at least once a month. He has been supporting–and then some–the child for 16 years now, paying everything from basic necessities to private schooling, and he’ll see to her college expenses. He’s more than happy to give money to Terry and Donald Matheson, the man she married shortly after Shelley was born. They’re good people, and they love the girl fiercely, giving her more emotional and psychological support than he ever could. Giving her monetary advantages is the least he can do.
Jeremiah has a network of female friends, many of them former lovers; he could spend the rest of his life on lunch dates with women and so has learned how to graciously turn down invitations. Still, he keeps in frequent touch with a few close female friends, and, sometimes, between relationships, even sleeps with them. It’s an unspoken understanding, a knowledge that while they can never go back to the old days of look-deep-into-your-soul–"wool-over-the-eyes"–passion, they can seize the moment of mutual need.
Sarah Dimont is such a friend. They broke up 10 years ago– one of the few mutual breakups he has experienced. He can no longer remember the reason for their split, but it’s no longer important. Since then, she has married, has one child (now seven), divorced, and has gone through at least two major relationships since her divorce. It seems as though they are always between relationships at the same time, always needing each other’s bodies at sensitive junctures in their lives.
Today, he calls her and asks her to dinner, a code for "I want something more tonight than just a good talk between two friends." If she’s "available," she will accept the offer; if not, she will say, "no time, sweetie, maybe a quick drink, instead?" If he needs more, he’ll meet her for that drink, but only a quick one, because he will have another friend waiting for him; if he wants to talk with Sarah specifically, he will linger over drinks, and they may grab a pizza somewhere and talk about their lives, but nothing more. Jeremiah prides himself on respecting boundaries– after all, there are plenty of willing women out there–and women love and trust him for it.
"I’d be delighted, Jeremy," she says today. "I could use a good meal and even better company."
Relief. There is no one he would rather spend time with tonight than Sarah–he needs her expert touch, her frenetic sexual energy, and reassuring voice. Her lovely body. At 37, Sarah still cuts a stunning figure, long blonde hair, green eyes, tan and toned skin, nice tight rear. More than that, the body carries a brain and a pretty nice personality, too, not just another vacant beauty. He often wonders why they could never make it as a couple, but then realizes that she sees him as he is, no more, no less.
"By the way," Sarah asks. "Have you had an AIDS test lately?"
"Last week," he says. "I’m clean. And you?"
"A month ago. Negative."
"Great. Bring your report, and I’ll bring mine."
Sarah laughs. "You don’t trust me."
"Well, you know the old saying, ‘Love everyone and trust no one.’"
"I’ll see you tonight, report in hand."
AT BOOKBINDERS, a swanky Philadelphia restaurant, Sarah shows up wearing a strapless red sequined mini-dress.
During dinner, they talk about their latest projects–Sarah is about to close an important real estate deal, a $5 million dollar mansion in center city Philadelphia.
Jeremiah talks about his latest sculpture, a black marble creation slightly resembling a female form, but which is, so far, mostly a block with sharp edges. So far, it reminds him of those obelisks you see in caves. He also mentions his latest social project: his funding and development of a young people’s center in the city, complete with a gym and swimming pool, a tutoring wing, activities wing, including a fully equipped art studio and craft area designed with gallery space. At the moment, the art center is his main obsession; next month, the center will offer three meals a day; next year, Jeremiah hopes to open the center around the clock–for lonely kids with nowhere else to go–and eventually open up a privately funded home for unwanted kids.
For the past week, Jeremiah has been trying to come up with a name for the art center. None of the names suggested so far–The Children’s Art Center, The Liberty Bell Center, The Walnut Street Art Project–seem quite right. He wants the name to have significance...
"No government funding," he says. "All private donations."
"A tall order," Sarah says. "But if anyone can make it work, you can."
"It’s got to work," he says.
AFTER DINNER, just when they are finishing up their pineapple sorbet and liqueurs, Sarah says, "So, what’s up?"
"It’s Ellen," he says. "I can’t seem to shake her."
"Hummm. Sounds serious."
He shakes his head. "If you only knew..."
"Well, tell Mama all about it."
"Mama" is a cue that she’s inviting him to her apartment, that she expects him to earn her ear and sympathy.
Jeremiah calls for the bill–he always pays, and women always let him.
At Sarah’s apartment, they compare their AIDS’ test reports. There is never any guarantee, but he does the best he can, making it a point to get tested at least every six months, sometimes more often, depending on his sexual activity and his partners.
He and Sarah are nestled on the sofa, sipping martinis and watching the flames in the fireplace.
"So, what’s up with Ellen?"
"I think she’s mentally off. I’ve been trying to cut off the relationship for months, but she’s obsessed. She doesn’t get the hint."
Sarah is one of the few women who has figured out Jeremiah’s strategy for dumping women–and who has reflected this character flaw back to him, so he feels safe in talking to her.
"Oooh, that’s bad. Looks like you’ve found yourself a winner."
"I thought so at first. Sarah, when I met her, I thought she was the one, she was so perfect in every way: beautiful, intelligent, independent–or so I thought–and a fantastic lover. She would do anything for me. In fact, she wanted me to inflict pain on her. You know that isn’t my style, but she got terribly excited when I paddled her hard–"
"Ouch, a sickie. I can’t imagine you getting sucked into such a thing."
"Me neither. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight. She just kept upping the stakes."
"When did you get a clue?"
"About six months ago. She invited me to her apartment for dinner. No big deal. She’s a good cook, and she had a nice apartment. But when I got there, she said, ‘Honey, I want to show you something.’ She led me into the bedroom. It was unbelievable–I doubt if you’ve ever seen anything like it."
"On one wall, she had an altar, filled with crosses, statues, rosaries, hundreds of lighted candles, chalices–all the trappings of a church. In the middle of everything was a huge picture of me. A gilded frame. Must have cost her a fortune. And the statues...they were me."
"Yeah, I was speechless, too. I felt sick to my stomach. I never wanted to run so fast in my life."
"What happened then?"
"My mind was racing a mile a minute. I was trying to figure out a way out of there. After choking down dinner, I told her that I was working on a sculpture of her–a lie, I know, but it was the only way I could get out of there without all kinds of nastiness. She said, ‘Oh, honey, you must show me sometime.’ Then she grabbed my arm and held me in a grip–you wouldn’t believe how strong that tiny woman is–and said, ‘You are my Christ.’ I said, ‘Ellen, you know I’m Jewish.’ ‘So was Jesus. You are my Alpha and Omega.’ And then she kneeled before me and folded her hands in prayer. Then she started to unzip my pants, but I moved away. I said I had to go. ‘I know,’ she said, getting up off her knees. ‘Just remember this: I would do anything for you. I would die for you, Jeremiah Epstein.’ Then she grabbed my arm again. ‘Before you go, promise me one thing.’ I told her it all depended. ‘If you ever leave me, please kill me.’"
Sarah sits up straight. "I hope you ran as fast as you could."
"Well, I was stunned at first. And you know me. I try to take care of things.... Anyway, I tried to reason with her, tell her I wasn’t a demigod, just a mere mortal, that I was just a small fish, etc., etc. That I wasn’t worth dying for."
"Forget that. She’s nuts."
"Yeah, so I found out. There’s more."
"She’s hired a private detective to check up on me."
"I kept having this feeling that someone was following me. Finally, I caught the bastard and told him if this didn’t stop, I’d get a restraining order on him. I haven’t seen him since, but I think I’m still being tailed."
"This is really bad. You’ve got to do something now."
"I have. I’ve been trying to break it off–"
Sarah laughs and snuggles up to him. "I think you’re going to have to change your tactics, my friend."
"What do you mean?"
"C’mon, Jer. Most women know what’s up. Even the dumbest bimbo catches on eventually. You think we can’t sense when a guy wants to move on?"
This surprises Jeremiah. He fidgets at this revelation. "Uh..."
"It’s okay, love. Your secret is safe," Sarah says, ruffling his hair.
He just wants to keep everyone happy, his life balanced–in neat boxes.
"You know, Ellen’s got a few wires loose. You might think about getting a restraining order against her."
"You’re going to have to be firm with this one, Jeremiah Epstein. She’s stalking you. Indirect strategies are out of the question."
"Well, I don’t like to hurt anyone."
"No, you don’t like conflict."
"Not quite, love. This isn’t about unselfish motives."
Jeremiah strokes her breast.
"Ummm, I like that."
"Why don’t we talk about what you like?" he says, moving to her inner thighs.
Sarah pulls away slightly. "All in good time. But you’ve got a bigger problem than the immediate pleasures of the body."
Jeremiah sighs and pulls away. "You’re right. What am I going to do?"
"You’ve got to break it off clean. Period. Tell her to get lost."
"I don’t think I can do that. She’s threatened to kill herself."
"Most people who threaten suicide don’t carry it out. Even so, you can’t worry about that. Just tell her." Sarah gets up from the sofa and picks up the phone. "Do it now."
Jeremiah takes the phone and looks at it.
"Go ahead. You have the right to break off a relationship, especially a sick one."
Breaking into a sweat, he dials. The phone rings about five times before the answering machine kicks in. "Hello, this is Ellen Epstein–"
Jeremiah slams the phone down. "What the hell? Now she’s stolen my name?"
"Now she’s calling herself ‘Ellen Epstein.’"
"Call her back now. Tell her, in no uncertain terms, to get lost."
"Do it now! Or get the fuck out of my apartment!"
Jeremiah dials again.
Ellen’s machine kicks in again: "Hello, this is Ellen Epstein. I can’t come to the phone right now–I’m waiting for an important call from my husband–but if you leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible...."
He listens impatiently to the rest of the message and the clicks and beeps of the answering machine. A monster thrashes around in his chest:
How dare you do this to me, how dare you just take my identity without my permission, how dare you suck my psyche dry, how dare you rape my soul...
Finally, the long beep ends, and Jeremiah finds himself screaming into the receiver:
"You bitch! It’s over, do you hear me? I don’t ever fucking want to hear from you ever again, I want you out of my life. I want my name back. I don’t remember giving you the right to my name, if you call me ever again, I’ll get a restraining order, I’ll–"
Sarah hits the button, takes the receiver from him, and hangs up the phone. "I think you’ve made your point. Let’s not overdo–" The phone rings again. She picks up. "Hello? This is Sarah. Who’s this? I see. Yeah, he’s here." She hands the phone to
Jeremiah, and whispers, "It’s her. Looks like she’s got caller I.D."
Jeremiah feels the anger draining out of his body. His eyelids feel heavy, as if he has just eaten a large pasta meal. He wants to curl up next to Sarah in her king-sized bed.
"Ellen? Look, I didn’t mean to yell, but, well, it’s no good."
"I’ll kill myself." Her voice is smooth and level.
"I don’t think so."
"You know I can’t live without you."
"You know you can and will."
He looks at Sarah. "She’s a good friend. You met her once at the Nichols’ opening."
"Oh, that blonde bitch?"
"Yeah, that’s her."
"What are you doing there?"
"We had dinner, that’s all," he says, falling back into old habits.
Sarah takes the receiver from Jeremiah and smiles coolly. "Ellen? It’s true I’m good friends with Jeremy–" she loosens his belt buckle, making as much noise as possible "–but let me tell what’s going to happen tonight. Right now I’m touching Jeremy’s penis; soon I’ll be sucking it like a lollipop, and Jeremy will rise to the occasion. You know that he’ll take his time–no messy premature stuff–"
A pause. Jeremiah’s pants are down around his legs, his penis straight out, but Sarah has stopped stroking him and now whispers huskily into the phone, "No, dear, you won’t be slitting your wrists. That would be too tacky. Besides, Jeremy doesn’t love you, so your suicide would mean very little to him–oh, Jer, do that again, put your hand right between my legs. Oh, yes, that’s nice–as you can see, Ellie, I’m going to have to go pretty soon, things are getting a bit involved here–ohhhhh, yes, Jer, your tongue feels good there–Ellie? Are you still there? No, Jeremy and I aren’t in love; we’re just old friends who get together once in a while, you know, for old time’s sake–Oh, God! do that again. Oooooooooohhhh!–Sorry, dear. It’s a bit hard to concentrate right now–"
By now, Jeremiah has undressed and is parading around the living room with his martini.
"Ellie? The point is, Jeremiah sees other women now. Who knows who he’ll be with tomorrow? Yes, I’m comfortable with that–OH, YES!–It’s just the way he is. You deserve someone who wants all of you and no one but you. Jeremy can’t give that to you. He’s a male slut."
"WHAT!!!" Jeremiah asks.
Sarah puts her finger to her lips, and mouths, "It’s okay." She fumbles with a note pad.
"She’s buying it, so hush!" she writes.
To Ellen: "Even if you get him to commit, you’d always wonder about him–ohhhhh, suck my tits–screwing some hussy like me. We are legion, and we find men like Jeremy irresistible. Ellie, start over. Now, look. I’ve got a friend who works as a masseuse at the Holiday Inn. Of course it’s a guy. You tell him my name–Sarah Dimont–and he’ll give you a little something extra. That’ll show Jeremy–Ohh, God, I’m about to explode, oh, my clit!–Just ask for ‘Stallion.’ Yeah, he’s everything the name implies–" Sarah gives Ellen the guy’s number. "He’s expensive, but worth it. You’ll forget about that silly notion of self-destruction–ohhhhhhh, Jeremy, push it all the way in. YESSSSSSSSS!"
Jeremiah begins making groaning noises, and now they’re both groaning into the receiver, the groans growing louder and competing with each other.
"OH, GOD!" they both yell, and Sarah slams down the receiver. They burst into laughter.
"What a performance," Jeremiah says. He pauses. "So it’s Stallion now? You pay for sex?"
"Are you kidding? No, he’s an old boyfriend. Great lover, but he likes his job too much. He gives new meaning to the word ‘overtime.’ I don’t mind a lapse here and there, but that guy lives for sex. Not much of a thinker, either, I’m afraid."
Jeremiah slips his arms around Sarah, and says, "There are times when you should let your body do the thinking. How about it?" He unzips her dress and allows it to fall around her feet.
She is wearing nothing underneath it.
"Ahhh," he says softly, "We’d make such a lovely couple."
Sarah pushes herself against him. "Ye-ess. So sensual together." She whispers, "But if I loved you, I’d never be able to share you."
"A most fatal flaw."
"Most fatal..." She leads him into the bedroom, where they spend the night, locked together in her bed.
THE NEXT MORNING, Jeremiah awakens with a start. He looks at Sarah’s alarm clock: 7:00 a.m. "Oh, God," he says, leaping up. "I almost forgot. I’m meeting someone at 9:45 at 30th Street station."
Sarah rolls over to face him. "Sweetie, you don’t need to feed me that line..."
He bends down to kiss her forehead. "Not a line. I agreed to meet a reporter today."
Sarah sits up. "A reporter? You?"
He dresses quickly. "A moment of weakness, I’m afraid. Some woman called from–get this–a religious station in Knighton. Represents The Catholic Hour, I think she said. A segment about Corporal Works of Mercy–"
"Oh my God," Sarah says, "I haven’t heard that term since my convent school days–"
"You, a Catholic?"
She laughs. "Yes, we’re everywhere. We’re either sexually repressed, or, like me, sluts."
"You’re no slut. Just a good friend."
A faraway look comes into Sarah’s eyes. "Corporal Works of Mercy. God, that brings back memories. The nuns always said that if you did good works, like visiting the sick, shoveling snow for an old person and not charging money, babysitting your little brother without asking for special favors, you were performing corporal works of mercy. Not really religious stuff, but things that have to do with taking care of people’s physical needs–"
"Well, you do pretty well in that department–"
"I’m serious, Jeremy. Helping people is important work, and the Church rewards us for it. We don’t ask for rewards–otherwise it’s no longer corporal works of mercy–but we’re told that for every good work that we do, we can expect God to shave off a bit of Purgatory time."
"What has this got to do with me?"
"Oh, honey, you’ve been doing corporal works of mercy ever since I’ve known you. You won’t spend one minute suffering in Purgatory."
"But I’m a Jew. I don’t believe in such things."
"Doesn’t matter, doll. As long as you live a good life, you’ll still reap the rewards. Though you do seem to rack up a lot of Purgatory time in other aspects of your life."
Jeremiah shakes his head. "You lapsed Catholics. Still hanging onto outdated beliefs..."
Sarah hits him with a pillow. "You should talk. I know how you Jewish boys stay tied to your mothers."
Jeremiah flinches; he hasn’t seen his mother in almost two years, not since his dad died, and that had not been a pleasant experience. "Don’t come back home," his mother said. "Not until you get your head on straight." Which meant going into the family brokerage business. "You killed your father just as sure as you stuck a knife into him and twisted it. You broke his heart."
"Not true," he says, tossing the pillow back to Sarah.
She stretches out like a cat, her body electric and glowing, legs opening, arms reaching for him.
Groaning, he rips off his clothes and falls on top of her. "I could almost love you," he whispers.
"Shut up and fuck me," she says squeezing his buttocks and guiding his erection into her.
Sarah is soft and yielding, hungry for his sex, loving him and him alone, at least for this moment. She opens wide and moans as he rubs hard against her clit.
As he explodes inside her, she pulls him tight to her and claws at his back until she, too, has reached orgasm.
He collapses on top of her and catches his breath.
"I could love you again," she says softly.
He pulls away from her. "Don’t."
"Good girl," he says as he rises and hunts around for his clothes. He kisses her forehead. "I gotta run. I have to stop off at my digs–can’t show up at the train station all rumpled, smelling like stale booze and fresh sex."
"Why not? It works for me."
"Because it wouldn’t be kosher."
"Get out of here," she says, laughing. She throws the pillow at him again. "And don’t come back until I summon you."
"I’ll remember that," he says.
"I love you, too!"
He leaves without looking back.
COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.