Saturday, March 19, 2011
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five of Searching For Meredith Love
The next morning, Meredith woke up early. Pushing up, she looked out the window. The sky was a steely gray. Mendra’s warm, compact body was curled into a ball against her right thigh. It would be terrible to disturb her. Everything was contriving to keep her in bed. She fell back into the pillow, closing her eyes. Then Ben Abel’s face appeared behind her eyes and she sprung up like a jackrabbit, shocking Mendra out of her dreams. Was it real? Yes! Ben Abel had asked her out, just as she’d hoped he would. She picked Mendra up and held her up to her face. “Dreams can come true!” she told Mendra.
On the way to work, she remembered Kira's invitation to dinner on Friday. Taking the stairs two at a time, she dashed into Kira's office. Kira was already there. She often came in at 7:30 so she could leave early for her second job. Kira was munching from a bowl of dry Cheerios as she stared at her computer. Without really looking away from the screen, she said, “You’d better have a damn good explanation for being so chipper this early in the morning.”
Meredith shifted her weight. Her right knee was hurting a little from her reckless sprint up the stairs. “I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I got a better offer.”
“Oh boy. It better be a hot date.” She turned to look at Meredith.
Meredith came inside and shut the door. She sat down, still bundled in her coat. “It’s Ben Abel!” she squealed. She felt like a fourteen-year-old. “He asked me out yesterday when I was leaving. He biked here yesterday just to ask me.” Every sentence was an affirmation.
“He’s a babe. I wondered if he liked you when we were at happy hour. You played it cool, though. I would never have guessed.”
“Kira, I knocked down a chair going after him!”
“Did you? I hadn’t noticed. You must have done it very gracefully.”
It took fifteen minutes for Meredith to tell her every detail of their two minute conversation outside Family Practice. Back at her desk, Meredith was contentedly reading through her email when Sarah called.
“Eli is having a party on Friday. He wants you to come.”
“Eli barely knows me,” Meredith protested.
“He specifically asked me to invite you. You have to come. He said he never gets to see you anymore.”
Meredith doubted that any of what Sarah said was true. “I can’t go.” Just get it over with. “I have a date.”
“You what? With whom?”
“A resident here. Ben Abel. You don’t know him.”
“He asked you out?”
“Yeah,” Meredith said.
“Just.” ...last night, she added silently.
“Is he still there?”
“Oh my God!” Sarah screamed the last word into Meredith's ear. “You have a date!” Meredith started to feel guilty about not telling her sooner. “The virgin queen has a date.” The guilt vanished.
“I’m not a virgin,” Meredith whispered, peering into the hall to see if anyone was within earshot. She hoped that sticking to the facts now balanced out the lie earlier.
On Friday, the night of her big date, Meredith left the office at two. She showered and shaved and sanded her feet with pumice. She’d already picked out her dress, a tight-fitting black velvet number that she’d worn only once before, when she lived in New York. She had a garnet choker she’d bought here in Albuquerque. By 4:30 she was ready, so she added a little make-up just to kill the time. She started with her standard, lipstick, but then began brushing on mascara and blush, then a little eye shadow. When she looked in the mirror, she felt like a prostitute, but as she reached for a tissue, her doorbell rang. “Shit!” Meredith exclaimed. She’d totally lost track of time and now she’d have to answer the door with gunk on her face. Definitely not part of the fantasy.
Ben stood on the porch holding a small bouquet of irises and rose buds. “Hi,” Meredith said. Her giant grin was spreading again. “These are beautiful,” she said. “No one’s brought me flowers since high school. Thank you.”
As Ben stepped into the room she saw he was also dressed up. He wore a navy suit with a tomato red tie and a slate blue shirt. He’s got style, Meredith thought to herself, surprised. She was filling a jelly jar with water for the flowers, still wondering how she was going to get back to the bathroom to cream off the rest of her makeup.
“You look incredible,” Ben told her.
“Yes. The dress, the hair, your face...you look pretty in jeans and no makeup, you’re beautiful in jeans and no makeup, but right now you’re stunning.”
Meredith decided the makeup could stay. She went for her coat and when she turned back around, Ben was on his knees, offering his fingers to Mendra to sniff. Meredith couldn’t remember when she’d last vacuumed. She could picture Ben's navy pant legs covered in cat hair. “This is Mendra.”
“She’s got a lot of presence,” Ben told her.
Meredith had been worried about the drive up to Santa Fe, but her fears were unwarranted. As it turned out, she and Ben had other things in common besides physical attraction. They both liked to cook, hike, camp, and watch Antique Road Show on PBS. They had graduated the same year from high school. Ben had first gone to art school for two years before switching to a pre-med program at another university.
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“Why?” Meredith asked. “What made you turn from art to science?”
“It’s not turning away,” Ben argued as he moved deftly between cars on the two lane road to Santa Fe. “Science is a very creative process. Medicine really feels like an extension of my training in art. What about you? What did you do after high school?” Meredith had noticed he never let the topic rest on him for more than a few minutes.
“I went to art school, too. In New York. I got my BFA.” She felt foolish revealing this.
“God. I had no idea we had so much in common. And you also continue your creative process. Computer programming is just another form of design, wouldn’t you say?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never thought of it as anything more than an abandonment of my childhood dreams to be a painter.”
“You’re too rough on yourself. What’s your medium?”
“I was a sculptor. I like the three-dimensional aspect, being able to turn pieces around and work from all sides.” He laughed. “Still do.”
Meredith laughed too. “I’m sure your patients appreciate being compared to fine art.”
“Huh? Oh, I get it.” He chuckled. “That’s funny, Meredith. Actually, I didn’t mean my patients. I was referring to the sculptures I do at home.”
“You still make art?”
“Of course. I mean, yes. Not nearly as much as I used to.” He paused. “I take it from your ‘oils were’ response that you’ve gotten away from painting?”
Meredith could see her reflection in the glass window to her right. “I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since I graduated.”
They drove in silence for awhile.
“Does your job do it for you?” Ben asked suddenly.
“You know. Give you an outlet for expressing yourself?”
“No. Honestly, it’s not a very creative job.”
“How can you stand it, then?”
“It’s easier than you think. To push all of that aside. I never even think about it anymore.”
“So you kissed?” Kira was at Meredith’s, sitting in an overstuffed armchair Meredith had rescued from a trash heap. A cup of coffee was balanced on her knee and she was methodically adding multiple packs of sugar. Meredith was across from her on the floor, drinking herbal tea because she was wired enough.
Meredith smiled. “We did.”
“When, how long, how was it? I want every detail.”
“We were sitting in his truck, talking.”
“In my driveway. We were just talking and then he started playing with a strand of my hair. All at once I couldn’t speak. There was this horrible, gaping silence...”
“Which probably only you noticed.”
“Maybe,” Meredith conceded. “And while I was in that state he leaned in and kissed me.”
“A minute. No, thirty seconds. Maybe less. Then he leaned back and started staring at me again so I turned to look out the window and said, ‘I wonder if it’s going to snow tonight?’”
“Thanks. So he laughed and turned my head back around to face him. And then he kissed me again.”
“Ten minutes!” Kira moved so suddenly her coffee spilled. Meredith thought of all that sugar and wondered if she’d get ants.
“Well, we were making out. Really it was closer to thirty minutes.”
“So you invited him in...”
“No! God! After making out with him for thirty minutes, he’d think I was inviting him in to have sex.”
“Did you want to have sex?”
“Gosh, yes! But I barely know him. What if he’s an IV drug user or a male slut...”
“I don’t think that Ben is either of those things.”
“It’s been a long time, Kira.”
“It’s like riding a bicycle.”