The phone rings. It’s a little over half an hour since leaving Tina’s. I pick up the phone and Tina’s on the other end. Why would she be calling me now?
“Hey, Eric, I’m wondering if you would be interested in going out to eat with me, Doug, and Rosie?”
“Yes,” comes flying out of my mouth before the question mark is out of hers. There is no way I’m turning down this invitation. I have to see where this is going but curiosity gets the better of me. “Is Doug okay with this?” I ask.
“This is Doug’s idea,” Tina says. “He wants the four of us to get together for supper at Applebees. Doug wants me to be successful in setting up you and Rosie.”
No doubt to remove me from his wife’s radar screen. Typical guy strategy.
“Do you want me to meet you somewhere or come over?” I wonder aloud.
“Come on over. We can all go together in one car. See you soon.”
Call ends. Phone in cradle. Eric out door.
Minutes later I am back at Tina’s sooner than I thought I would be. Life’s strange that way. I walk up the steps and approach the front door. Before my index finger can hit the doorbell, Doug opens the door. Butterflies in my stomach become bats out of hell.
If he didn’t know who I was before, he does now.
Doug’s face lights up like he’s seeing a friend after a long time apart. His face doesn’t show animosity or wariness at my appearance. Regardless, I won’t be turning my back to him at any point tonight. Now that he’s put face and name together, I’m fully on his radar screen. Though not fearful of him, I remain wary and on guard. I don’t trust him nor do I know how he’ll react if he finds out how close Tina and I are.
Guys always size up other guys because we never know when we might be competing with them or fighting against them. As I size him up again I confirm my previous assessment. Beyond what I observe of him physically blends with what Tina has told me over months of conversations at The Club and at my place.
Standing here now, my assessment remains unchanged.
Regardless of any character or physical trait, Doug poses one problem for me – other than he’s a jerk – is that his successful graduation with his two year degree means his moving away next summer and taking his wife away from me. That’s a big problem for me.
The three who are inside the house join me outside and we walk to the car. Doug gets behind the wheel of the white, Buick sedan and Tina rides shotgun. Rosie and I get in the back seat behind Tina and Doug respectively.
“All this time I’ve seen you at The Club and never realized you were the Eric my wife talks about,” Doug opens with. Interesting phrasing. My eyes dart to Tina. She’s wearing her poker face so I can’t read her.
“It’s a small world after all,” I say, trying to deflect. Doug’s playing white and I’m playing black in this verbal chess match. Need to be on guard. Can’t play sloppy.
“How long have you been working at The Club?” he asks.
“Seven years. The club’s always been my social place and I’ve saved and continue to save what I make there to put myself through grad school.”
“Must meet a lot of good looking women there,” Doug says. I get the sense he’s either leading me somewhere or fishing. I do my best to appear natural and not let any awkwardness show.
“I meet a lot of good people,” I reply. “I’ve made a lot of friends there.”
“Meet any single women there?” Doug fires over my bow. My back stiffens as though getting ready to fight.
“I meet people of all kinds.” My eyes dart to Tina. Her poker face is gone. She’s glaring sideways at her husband. I keep my eyes off Rosie. If I look at her, she goes from being spectator to involved in this exchange. She’s got to be uncomfortable as it is. No sense adding to it. The conversation between Doug and me feels as though we’re about to become two rams in the mountain and butt heads. That won’t be a good thing. Time to play offense.
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