I tried to not kick the bags of stuff we had purchased. They surrounded us at the small table. I watched Brian take out his credit card and lay it on the plastic tray. He seemed so proud. It reminded me of a conversation that we had had before, before Gwen had passed.
"I feel bad about having you pay for things," he had said then. "It is like Dennis is paying for us to date. It makes me feel uncomfortable."
"I make my own money, so it's my money that's paying, too," I tried to argue.
Brian then explained that he and Gwen had a joint account, and she would notice extra money coming out. "I'd feel bad about having to lie to her about that."
I did not comment that he felt worse about spending his wife's money than he did making out with another woman. Maybe it was his born and bred accounting nature. Money trumped everything. I represented some tension between freedom and control. Whatever it was, he seemed very proud to be taking out his own credit card today and paying for our first date. This would give him some sort of permanent record of our being together here today. All of these facts pleased me. It was kind of cute in a weir accounting sort of way.
"I really enjoy this, dating," he said at lunch.
I agreed and we toasted this, our first date. "I like walking with you, having you hold me." It was a nice feeling of security. Brian was not a big man, not a strong man, but having any man's arms around me was a comfort. It was a little like high school, and I thought that any minute he might slip his hand in my back pocket. That might be pushing it a bit, but he had played the whole day just right. Brian seemed to know things like that. It was all part of that "fit" we talked about so often. It was comfortable being with himself at this point in my life. I needed comfort. "I wish we could do this more often," I said softly.
He nodded. I knew this pressed on him, but he tried to not make a big deal of it. Usually. "There's no judge that would deny you custody of Erin because you were dating. It's not like we're living together or anything."
"I know," I said, "but it's just that I don't want to risk anything, financially or emotionally."
"And to keep it from Erin," he said with a nod.
I agreed. "I doubt that Natalie is ready for you to have a girlfriend yet."
Brian nodded. I don't know if he really thought I was right or if he was just not in the mood to argue about this right now. Either way, he moved on to other subjects. Small talk mostly, until he took my hand and eyed me steadily. My heart raced, because of the contact. And maybe because of that intense look in his eyes.
"Annie," he said, "I'm a numbers man by temperament, a numbers man by nature. But I recognize the importance of words, too. Words mean a specific thing of course, and I try to not say things I don't mean. I think that's a very important principle for someone." He sighed, or maybe just took a deep breath to gather himself. "I would like to tell you things that I think, things that I believe, and that I hope mean something coming from me." His eyed flitted away from me, then returned. "I think you are a beautiful girl, Annie. And I love you."
I nodded, smiling. "This has been a great day, Brian. Thank you." I stood and walked to him and kissed him. "I love you, too. I love you so much, Brian."
We cut our shopping off early, right after lunch. We made a slow circuit of the mall, my head on his shoulder. We drove back on a state route instead of the interstate. It extended the day and made for a peaceful drive back home. We held hands, and we talked a little, and I snuggled into him as we walked. Mostly we were just together.
Damn our schedules. There were a number of spots outside of our town that I though would make for good "public dates," but we had not been able to get together for a long enough day to go out together. We got the kids together a few times during the summer. It was very gratifying to see them enjoy each other's company.
The day of our first public date ended in the parking lot of my apartment. We made out for a few minutes, but I did not invite him up. It was too much of a real date and I was still on an emotional high from when he said he loved me. It was just too risky to ask him up. We had not talked about sex for a while, certainly had not agreed that it was time to have sex. So I didn't ask him up. I just don't know if I could have controlled myself. Had I made a move, I could not have expected him to stop me. That was not a fair thing to ask any man to do. So I kissed him one last time, thanked him for the date, told him again that I loved him, and then headed up to my apartment. I headed up to my quiet apartment by myself. Alone.
The next six weeks found us meeting for lunches mostly. There was something different about that, that did not make it a date. It was too closely related to work, there were plenty of co-workers and associates eating with each other who were not on dates. Somehow, this was different. Brian gave me a silly look when I explained this all to him. He just shook his head and looked at me. I felt like he was patronizing me, but he did not express his thoughts.
We figured we could get together for some time when he came to the Home for another seminar. This one was on Medicare and insurance reform. It was an afternoon seminar, and he was going to leave right after and make dinner for us at my place. It was an erotic thought, somehow, and it gave me something to look forward to while I finished my work day.
In the meantime we had the telephone. Since we both lived alone, speaking on the phone was a possibility. It was working well. We spoke to or saw each other probably three times a week. It was a nice variety of contracts, phone, at the office, our homes, the park, and lunches. It was smooth, it was going well. Dennis had no idea that I was dating, and I wanted to keep it that way. I don't know what Erin was saying to him about spending time with Natalie and Brian, but he had not said anything to me. He was being cool. So far it was a good separation. Good as separations go.