"Listen," she says, "have you gone to any concerts lately?"
"No," I say, wishing she hadn't brought this, of all topics, up. "I don't like live music."
" music?" she asks, intrigued, sipping San Pellegrino water.
"Yeah. You know. Like a band," I explain, sensing from her expression that I'm saying totally the wrong things. "Oh, I forgot. I did see U2."
"How were they?" she asks. "I liked the new CD a lot."
"They were great, just totally great. Just totally..." I pause, unsure of what to say. Bethany raises her eyebrows quizzically, wanting to know more. "Just totally... Irish."
"I've heard they're quite good live," she says, and her own voice has a light, musical lilt to it. "Who else do you like?"
"Oh you know," I say, completely stuck. "The Kingsmen. 'Louie, Louie.' That sort of stuff."
"Gosh, Patrick," she says, looking at every part of my face.
"What?" I panic, immediately touching my hair. "Too much mousse? You don't like the Kingsmen?"
"No." She laughs. "I just don't remember you being so tan back at school."
"I had a tan then, didn't I?" I ask. "I mean I wasn't Casper the Ghost or anything, was I?" I put my elbow on the table and flex my biceps, asking her to squeeze the muscle. After she touches it, reluctantly, I resume my questions. "Was I really not that tan at Harvard?" I ask mock-worriedly, but worriedly.
"No, no." She laughs. "You were definitely the George Hamilton of the class of eighty-four."
"Thanks," I say, pleased.
The waiter brings our drinks - two bottles of San Pellegrino water. Scene Two.
"So you're at Mill... on the water? Taffeta? What is it?" I ask. Her body, her skin tone, seem firm and rosy.
"Milbank Tweed," she says. "That's where I am."
"Well," I say, squeezing a lime into my glass. "That's just wonderful. Law school really paid off."
"And you're at... P & P?" she asks.
"Yes," I say.
She nods, pauses, wants to say something, debates whether she should, then asks, all in a matter of seconds: "But doesn't your family own - "
"I don't want to talk about this," I say, cutting her off. "But yes, Bethany. Yes."
"And you still work at P & P?" she asks. Each syllable is spaced so that it bursts, booming sonically, into my head.
"Yes," I say, looking furtively around the room.
"But - " She's confused. "Didn't your father - "
"Yes, of course," I say, interrupting. "Have you had the focaccia at Pooncakes?"
"I just don't want to talk about..." I stop. "About work."
"Because I hate it," I say. "Now listen, have you tried Pooncakes yet? I think Miller underrated it."
"Patrick," she says slowly. "If you're so uptight about work, why don't you just quit? You don't have to work."
"Because," I say, staring directly at her, "I... want... to... fit... in."
After a long pause, she smiles. "I see." There's another pause.
This one I break. "Just look at it as, well, a new approach to business," I say.
"How" - she stalls - "sensible." She stalls again. "How, um, practical."
Lunch is alternately a burden, a puzzle that needs to be solved, an obstacle, and then it floats effortlessly into the realm of relief and I'm able to give a skillful performance - my overriding intelligence tunes in and lets me know that it can sense how much she wants me, but I hold back, uncommitted. She's also holding back, but flirting nonetheless. She has made a promise by asking me to lunch and I panic, once the squid is served, certain that I will never recover unless it's fulfilled. Other men notice her as they pass by our table. Sometimes I coolly bring my voice down to a whisper. I'm hearing things - noise, mysterious sounds, inside my head; her mouth opens, closes, swallows liquid, smiles, takes me in like a magnet covered with lipstick, mentions something involving fax machines, twice. I finally order a J&B on the rocks, then a cognac. She has mint-coconut sorbet. I touch, hold her hand across the table, more than a friend. Sun pours into Vanities, the restaurant empties out, it nears three. She orders a glass of chardonnay, then another, then the check. She has relaxed but something happens. My heartbeat rises and falls, momentarily stabilizes. I listen carefully. Possibilities once imagined plummet. She lowers her eyes and when she looks back at me I lower mine.