Lloyd hopes he doesn’t still smell of pesto. He ate quite a bit of it over dinner, unaware that things would take such a decided turn for the best. But now, as he and Lorraine crawl awkwardly up his carpeted, white stairs, he is very aware of the fact that escaping to the bathroom for mouthwash will be impossible.
There is a pause at the top of the stairs, and the two are lying in the hallway, deep in embrace. Lloyd is running his hand up and down over the same spot on the small of her back, being sure to avoid her sides, which he knows she’s self-conscious of. He also hopes the sweat from his palms will dry on the dark green polyester, thus maintaining the impression of confidence and control.
She rolls on top of him, which puts a lot of unexpected pressure on his abdomen, and an abrupt grunt escapes, as though loosed by Heimlich himself. She immediately rolls back over, embarrassed. Not wanting to disrupt the situation’s accelerating momentum, he takes her hand and the two rise to their feet. There is a small giggle. Before he leads her down the long hallway to the master bedroom, he first looks down at the kitchen below, scanning the expensive, stainless-steel appliances to ensure that nothing is left on. He can hear the flat-screen in the living room still blasting the closing credits of Shakespeare in Love – his choice – but decides to let it go.
The couple passes Jason’s room first, then Sasha’s and finally the gym. In the year since his divorce, Lloyd has spent quite a bit of time working out; he’s found it to be a great stress reliever. There’s been a lot of lonely time. When Suzanne took the children she also took from his spacious house the noise and sense of ambient activity. She took it all. She seemed even to gloat, in the way she picked the kids up on Sunday evenings.
“Don’t Lloyd,” she cut him off, a long, mild cigarette in her hand, sunglasses perched halfway down her nose as she adjusted her lip gloss in the rearview mirror. Her hair was dyed again. Lloyd stood in the doorway and tried to smile, shifting weight back and forth between each leg. He felt impotent, watching them drive away, and again his large, well-lit rooms became frustratingly empty.
Still, concern for his teenaged offspring – as well as a debilitating stutter – kept him from seeking out that Other until very recently. He was embarrassed that a man of his wealth and stature should have to pursue a dating service, but isolation had begun to get the best of him. He still hasn’t told Jason or Sasha; he’s been waiting for the time to be right, at which point he has a story prepared about the two meeting by chance in the produce section of Safeway. Despite the year that has passed since the divorce, Lloyd still doesn’t feel comfortable discussing a woman or love or romance or family with Jason and Sasha unless referring to the children’s mother, whom he still harbours feelings for.
Lorraine smiles as the two enter the room, which is sparsely decorated. She sits on the bed, which rests low to the ground and is dressed in sheets that are just subtly mismatched. He moves to the stereo on the large oak desk and presses play, giving life to the Elton John CD he had planted hours ago while working. The two still haven’t said a thing – it’s as though words carry with them the power to put out this flame, cool the romance of the moment with awkward missteps.
He sees that the computer monitor on his desk shows new e-mail messages, and before turning off the screen, he sees that one is from Suzanne. His heart jumps, and he becomes flushed. There is a great effort made to shake it off, but her name is still burned into his immediate consciousness as he takes a seat next to Lorraine and the two look into each other with a deep and trembling intimacy.
He was at work when he called her for the first time. At home, he was merely Lloyd, Lloyd with the greying beard, Lloyd with the blue sweaters, Lloyd. But behind that great desk, looking through sheets of glass at the city below like an emperor from a balcony, he was grand, mighty, vice president of domestic sales and distribution. His stutter all but vanished upon entering the huge glass behemoth every morning, in pinstripes and horn-rims, riding an elevator so high that it felt as though his office were somewhere beyond the clouds.
Their four dates have gone well; he has avoided talking about his ex-wife as much as possible, referring to her as an afterthought or an archival piece of his own history among a myriad of others. Lorraine is sweet and headstrong, a chatty woman who is well-read and has seen five oceans. In the few weeks they’ve known each other she’s encouraged him to try Moroccan food and read Deepak Chopra.
On his bed though, in this rare moment, Lloyd feels again like a stuttering, lonely man, as she aggressively tears his sweater over his head. He wonders what Suzanne could have been e-mailing him about. What could she want? He is trying to be equally as aggressive and erotic as Lorraine, but the heavy, distracting note that plays over and over in his head is retarding his motor skills. He’s squeezing the same breast compulsively as though it were a rubber stress ball, of which he has several.
She notes his stunted behaviour and chalks it up to nervousness, which is mostly true. He revealed to her earlier in the evening, in a rare bout of devastating honesty, that he hasn’t had sex in nearly two years, as the last several months of his marriage were frigid and alienating. She takes his glasses off, and then hers. He is shaking slightly. The song playing is “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
He swallows hard as she pulls his boxers slowly down his thighs, kissing the inner part of his leg. At this point all of his wires are crossing, thoughts and feelings are racing and blowing up simultaneously. He thinks about Suzanne, about their first home together, about that e-mail. He wonders if Jason, or Sasha for that matter, has done what he’s doing, and how he should feel about it. He thinks about money, and pornography, and being alone. She’s riding steadily, sweat collecting between her breasts and in the pockets of skin that are folding under the pressure.
As it goes, though, as the rhythm synchronizes to slushy perfection, something happens to Lloyd. He can feel new muscles in his arms and back tense and throb, and it feels good. A sense of virility begins to surge, and it’s all so right, so simple. He flips her onto her back and begins pumping in push-up position. She can feel the animal growing in him; she’s calling out, luring it further from its cage. A thousand thoughts in an instant become one, and he is grand, mighty, the beast Suzanne tried to break. But he’s far from broken, and with one final heave, one great thrust the single thought becomes none, and he can smile.