KATE JAMESON AND BETH TULLY walked west at the bayside edge of Crissy Field.
The lines of the Golden Gate Bridge materialized in haphazard fashion through the fog in front of them, but neither paid much attention. This was a view they encountered nearly every time they walked together, and they usually tried to do that once a week, so none of it really registered—not the choppy gray-green bay sloshing to their right, the bridge looming ahead, the kite-boarders, the sailboats, the joggers passing by—all of it swathed in the ubiquitous, wispy fog.
They’d been roommates twenty years before at the University of San Francisco and though their lives had taken different turns, they were still close friends who rarely ran out of things to talk about. The walk, from Ghirardelli Square to the bridge and back, took them about an hour, and usually the first half of that got devoted to discussing their offspring—Kate’s two and Beth’s one, all teenagers.
There was never a dearth of material.
When they finally arrived at the bridge and turned around, they’d usually chitchatted enough about les enfants.
They had several mutual acquaintances, mostly from the old days,
and also some recurring personalities from the greater worlds of the kids’ schools or sports teams or their domestic lives, and the normal walk back to where they’d begun was all gossip—laughter, agreement, connection.
But today, not even halfway to the bridge, Beth said, “And so finally there was Ginny”—her seventeen-year-old—“sitting inside the refrigerator with a pork chop on her knee.” Getting no response, she kept walking for a few more steps and then stopped mid-stride. “Earth to Kate. Come in, please.”
“What? I’m sorry. What were you saying?”
“Well, the last minute or so I was just making stuff up, wondering if you’d notice. Which I have to say you didn’t. Are you all right?”
“Sure.” She hesitated. “I think so.”
“But something . . .”
“No. It’s nothing.”
“That old elusive nothing.”
“Maybe. Should we keep walking?”
“Unless you want to head back.”
“No. I’m good. I’m sorry. Let’s keep going.”
Falling in step together, they covered a couple of hundred yards in silence before Beth reached over and touched the sleeve of Kate’s workout jacket. “You can tell me, you know,” she said. “Whatever it is.”
“I know. But that’s what I’m saying, or not saying. It really isn’t anything. At least not yet.” She shook her head, once, emphatically. “It shouldn’t ever be anything.”
“That sounds ominous enough.” Beth paused, then said, “Tell me, please, it’s not Ron.”
Kate reacted almost as if she’d been stung. “No! No no no. Ron’s great. He’s always great. It’s not him.”
“But it’s somebody? Something?”
A nod. “It’s something.” They had come up beside a bench that bordered the path, and Kate stopped, hands deep in her pockets. “Maybe we could sit a minute.”
They both sat and Beth waited.
Kate finally started. “I don’t know what happened, exactly. We went over to Ron’s partner’s house for dinner on Saturday. Do you know Geoff
and Bina Cooke? No? Well, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t them. But there was another couple there we didn’t know. Nice people. Kind of normal. Like us, really, I mean like me and Ron. Lawyer husband and sweet wife, two kids, house payments, all of the above.”
“And so we had this nice dinner and sat around talking afterwards, finishing our wine the way people do, you know. Nothing groundbreaking, just relaxed and easy. Then we all said good night and went home.”
A rogue gust of wind swept by them, trailing a small cloud of dust and debris. When it had passed, Beth turned to her friend. “Did I miss something?”
“I know. Right? I told you nothing happened.”
“Except whatever it was seems to have your attention in a major way.”
Kate pushed her hands more deeply into her jacket pockets. “Ron and I came home and went to bed, and an hour later I was in the living room, wrapped up in a comforter, wide awake. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that I was going to have to have sex with this guy. I mean, it was right there, large, like this massive . . . I don’t know, need. I couldn’t get rid of it, and I’ve been living with it ever since. It’s like the idea is totally consuming me. I can’t think of anything else. It’s making me a crazy person.”
“Maybe you’re just horny, girlfriend.”
Kate shook her head. “It’s nothing to do with horny. Ron and I have been . . . well, three times in the past week. I promise you that’s not the problem.”
“Did something happen between the two of you—you and this guy—at the dinner?”
“No. Nothing. That’s the thing. We barely talked to each other. There wasn’t really even any reason that I would have noticed him, or him me. He’s no better looking than Ron, and his wife is kind of cute.”
“Well, you’re a little more than kind of cute, Kate. I’m sure he noticed you.”
“Okay, maybe. But basically he’s just another guy. A really normal, average guy who I’ve just gotten fixated on.” She turned on the bench, put her hand out on Beth’s arm. “And don’t think I don’t realize how ridiculous this is.”
“You haven’t done anything, have you? With him?”
“No. God no. I couldn’t . . . I mean, not that I ever would. It would kill Ron and mess up the kids’ lives. I know that, of course. I couldn’t let that happen. I probably shouldn’t even have told you, but I don’t know what to do here. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, not since I’ve been married anyway. I love Ron. I really do. And I don’t know anything about this guy. I wasn’t really even consciously aware of him. But then, somehow, after we got home, the idea was just there and it was . . .” She brought her hands up to her forehead, then brought them back through her hair. “I don’t know what it was. Or is.”
“Well, I do, Kate, truly. It’s dumb and dangerous.”
“I know. That’s probably why I’m telling you. Because I want to hear you say that.”
“Okay. I’ve told you,” Beth said. “And do you hear me?”
“Good. Because I’m dead serious here, Kate. This is nothing to play around with. A little fantasy, maybe, okay. But take it out on Ron if you’ve got to do something about it.”
“That’s good advice.”
“Damn straight it is. We’re not in high school anymore. Acting on this is the kind of thing that ruins lives.”
“I got it. Really. You’ve convinced me. I’m not going to do anything about it. Which will be easy, since I don’t even know the guy’s last name or how to get in touch with him.”
“Good. Keep it that way.”
“Swear to God.” Kate made a sign over her chest. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Two days later, Thursday, Kate went out grocery shopping in the morning while Carmen was cleaning the house. On the way back, she found a parking spot in front of a coffee shop on Fillmore around the corner from her home on Washington Street. Killing time, anything to keep her brain away from its ongoing preoccupation with Peter, she ordered an
espresso and a croissant, and then came back outside. The sun had broken through the clouds and it was warm for a jacket, so she shrugged out of it and hung it over the back of her chair, then sat at one of the sidewalk tables.
Catching a quick glimpse of herself in the coffee shop’s window, she felt a small jolt of satisfaction. The reaction surprised her, since she did not usually think of herself as beautiful.
She was wearing her favorite old jeans, hiking boots, and a high-necked, ribbed white sweater that flattered both her ample bosom and her thin waist. Her glistening dark hair was just short of shoulder length and around her neck gleamed a gold chain necklace that held a kachina charm from Santa Fe that Ron had given her two months ago for her forty-fifth birthday.
Now she cast another glance at the window, looking for some sign of the low-voltage electricity that had been her constant companion since the weekend, since that moment she’d been putting away the dishes at Geoff and Bina’s and a pair of hands—Peter’s hands—had gently but firmly settled on her shoulders from behind and most politely moved her to one side.
“Excuse me. Just need a dish towel. Sorry.”
Carmen had finished up with the cleaning and gone home.
No one else was around.
After sitting at her kitchen counter as ten minutes slowly ticked by on the wall clock, Kate took out her cell phone, pushed her Contacts button, and brought up the Cookes. But seeing their name printed out on her screen seemed somehow irreversible, and she returned the cell phone to her purse.
“Come on,” she said aloud, to no one. “Really?”
With an air of impatience, brushing her hair back off her forehead, she abruptly stood up and crossed to where they had their landline telephone at the end of the hallway. Picking up the receiver, she listened to the dial tone for a few seconds, then—before she could change her mind again—she quickly punched in the numbers.
Bina picked up on the first ring. “Hello.”
“Hola, amiga. It’s your space case friend Kate.”
“Hola yourself. What makes you a space case?”
“I just looked in my purse and realized that I’d forgotten to give back your keys for Incline and the boat, which I had specifically brought over on Saturday and then promptly forgot.”
“Oh, they don’t matter. We’re glad you get to use the cabin, since Geoff and I so rarely get to. And the boat for that matter. There it is, just down in the marina and it might as well be in Scotland for all that we use it. And you may as well just keep the keys, rather than having to borrow them again. We’ve got our own set, after all. Consider them yours.”
“You’re the best. Thanks.” Kate knew that she could stop now, no harm done, but somehow she could not. “But returning to the space case theme,” she said, “I also just now realized that I hadn’t called you to thank you for the wonderful evening the other night. Fantastic food, stimulating conversation. We always have such a great time with you guys.”
“You’re welcome, and we did, too.”
“I think it’s kind of magic, don’t you, that our men get along so well? Especially after Ron and Geoff spend their whole week slogging out their work together, but then we show up for dinner and there they are, pals.”
“I know. They’re lucky. Partners and friends both. Doesn’t come around every day. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re forged in war, Kate. I marvel at it still, after all these years. These Desert Storm boys. Eighteen months over there together. Can you imagine how heavy that bond is? I’d say we’re pretty lucky, you and I, to have both of them.”
“We are. We do manage to have a lot of fun, don’t we?”
“Well, next dinner date, it’s our turn. Not negotiable.”
“Well, if you’re going to play hardball. You pick the day and we’ll be there.”
“I’ll just check our calendars and get back to you. Oh, and I also wanted to tell you, we really liked that other couple, too. Peter and . . . ?”
“Jill. Of course. Jill. I am so the worst at names. Jill Jill Jill. Got it now, though. Do they have a last name?”
“Ash. It’s Peter Ash, anyway. I think she’s hyphenated—Corbin-Ash?
Something like that. Though she doesn’t use it all the time. Probably Ash would work fine.”
“Well, in any event, I was thinking we might ask them to join us again if you’d be okay with that.”
“Of course. That’d be nice. They’re really starting to be friends. You might have noticed that Peter and Geoff have a little mutual interest on the wine front.”
“I think I do have some faint memory of that.”
“Plus the Giants. Plus fly-fishing. Golf. It’s like ten years since Geoff’s met somebody like Ron where they’ve got stuff in common and then, all of the sudden—wham!—he’s got a new friend. It’s kind of neat to see.”
“How’d you meet him?”
“Up in Napa a few months ago. They were tasting at the same place we were—have you been to Handwritten in St. Helena? It’s awesome. Anyway, they were there and we just clicked. Really what we need,” she added, laughing, “another excuse to drink wine.”
“So if we invited them over next time with you, you’d be good with that?”
“Totally. Although we love you guys by yourselves, too.”
“Of course. That goes without saying. So you’ve got a number for them?”
“I do. You ready for it?”
Of course Peter Ash was on Google. Kate knew that Ron had never even looked at her laptop and in all likelihood never would. Still, she didn’t leave Peter on the screen for long, just long enough to get his work phone number to go with the number Bina had given her. And to see that he was a partner in the downtown law firm Meyer Eldridge & Kline. For deniability’s sake—if Ron ever did glance at her iPad history and notice, Kate could claim that she just had a burst of curiosity that had led to some innocent computer stalking—she also checked on his wife, Jill, and discovered that she worked as a Realtor.
But now that she’d discovered some of these details, what was she going to do about them? She had the laptop open. Her screen saver was a
picture of Half Dome in Yosemite. She could close it up and never think about her searches again.
Up until this point, she knew that she had done nothing even remotely wrong or irrevocable. Possibly she should have resisted the impulse to share her thoughts with Beth on their walk the other day, but the two of them had long ago proven that they could keep each other’s secrets.
Was she moving toward doing something? Acting out around this fantasy?
Stupid, and yet it felt inexorable. She was going to have to do something.
Why, she wondered, had this come up? She knew that what she’d told Beth had been the absolute truth. She did love Ron. He was a great man, a rock-solid provider, a more than adequate lover, and about the best father she could imagine—to say nothing of being her best friend, much closer to her than Beth or any of her other girlfriends. What was she thinking?
She opened the laptop again, stared at Half Dome, closed.
She had taken this far enough. It was ridiculous. She wasn’t going any further down this path and that was all there was to it.