Reza almost didn’t answer the phone. His wife had just left the hospital, and he lay back thinking about his mortality. The fear was so intense and overwhelming that he felt the impulse to move. He shot up from the bed, intravenous tubes and all, and moved as close to the window as his monitor would allow.
“What have I done? What have I truly done with my life?” he asked of himself. What had happened to the love he and his wife had once shared? He had desired her so intensely when they first met. She had loved him, too, although deep down inside he wasn’t sure why. This was a question he did not ask himself consciously because it was too painful, but it permeated his emotional landscape. He hadn’t wanted to get married, and only suggested they do so out of fear of losing her after she became impatient and broke it off. He knew he didn’t want to be without her, but wasn’t sure he was completely content with her and only her. This unspoken feeling drove his thoughts and chiselled away at them over the years, making the distinction between convenience and desire ever clearer in his mind.
At this moment, the phone rang, and some woman on the other end was asking for him.
“Alice?” he asked fearfully, his mind racing back to a weekend getaway with some clients in Miami last spring.
“From the White Pearl?” she prompted.
“Oh… yes! Yes!” he remembered nervously, almost laughing. “I am glad to hear from you,” he said slowly and deliberately. “I would like to meet in person, but I am recovering from surgery.”
“Oh?” Aiice asked, genuinely concerned. How good it felt for a woman to be genuinely concerned about him. There had been so many disappointments over the years between his wife and himself, that it was often hard work to feel anything but resentment or a deep sense of failure.
“I have an infection,” he confessed. He was immediately disgusted with himself for having disclosed this information to her.
Alice heard the overtones of hesitance and self-contempt in his voice. She did not process the impression logically, nor did the thought parade across her mind dressed in words, but she intuited it. She was not at all sexually drawn to this man, but he had triggered some strange nurturing instinct within her, and she felt a desire to talk to him, an inclination to help him somehow.
They exchanged some of the typical questions and pleasantries, and he was glad to discover that she was more than a waitress- she was an elementary school teacher. Health insurance for the self-employed had grown dangerously expensive, and his impulse for self-preservation relaxed at the practicality of a partnership with the unknown woman. His masculine insecurities were also appeased by the fact that she was working in a predominantly female environment. As for the restaurant, he might eventually have to steer her from that. These calculations were all made at light-speed, unbeknownst to the oblivious Alice.
“See you at Starbucks at 6 next Wednesday, then,” she said straightforwardly.