After a while, the men ran, while Jani and Liddy took naps. Jani soon came down to read her Lorrie Moore in the living room. But she lost herself to the pines outside, now in the sun, now in shade, pondering Rod and Alan.
When Alan came back, he found her there. Liddy had offered them separate rooms, or to share Jani’s father’s old room; Alan had felt it more deferential not to share this weekend.
“Jani. I only got to the bridge. I told him to go on. I suppose he thinks I’m a wimp. But, Lord, I saw a white deer! And the swans were glorious in the light. They kept dunking for food, then sailing around. It was so white and blue in the north wind. I love the way stretches of the bay keep springing up into the land here.”
“Wow. I never saw that albino. Bravo!” She smiled at him. Alan went upstairs to shower. She thought she heard him humming on the stairs.
At cocktails by the fire, they had a superb refined paté that Jani had brought. Rod mixed martinis for Jani, Alan, and himself, and Liddy made a daiquiri for herself.
Dinner was festive, with candles, fresh flowers. . . .
When Mrs. Gordon had served the beef stroganoff, she left the door to the kitchen slightly ajar by mistake. They could hear the rising and falling strains of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” quite clearly.
Liddy said, “I love Mrs. Gordon, but not that, right now. Some local station for oldies and goodies, methinks. Jani, be kind enough to close the door very softly?”
Rod said, “Mom shares your aversion to extraneous noise, Gram, as you know.” The ‘Gram’ was a little bold. “Once she was on a crosstown bus in New York in the ’70s. Some young guy was playing his boom box at top pitch, and this older guy says, ‘What an extraordinary instrument: How much did the young guy pay for it?’ ‘Just under $100.’ ‘I’ll buy it,’ the older man said, and counted out $100 in cash for him. When the young guy had accepted it, and then handed over the machine to him, the older one took it and heaved it, hard, right out the window.”
Jani said, “Bravo!”
Alan offered, “I can’t top that, but my grandmother used to put money in the jukebox at one restaurant in Youngstown so that it wouldn’t play.”
Afterward, Liddy invited Alan into her library. To see her collection, her sets of Thackeray and Dickens.
Back in the living room, Rod added a few logs to the fire, Jani took the rocking chair, and then Rod poured them both brandies. He sat forward in a plush chair across from her. He threw a little cat toy at Ming, on the hassock by the fire now. Ming stretched a bit, ignoring this.
Jani said, “Ming is really Greta Garbo, you know. . . .”
Then, “Rod, was it rough breaking up with Taylor?” Jani asked, choosing a mint from a bowl on the cocktail table.
“She was one of those beautiful women who fear people only like them for their looks. And when you unwrapped her, it was hard to find out who was in there.”
“Because she was so complex?” Jani feigned innocence.
“Because she was right. There wasn’t anybody there under those looks.”
“Say, you’ve become a regular cosmic philosopher. Why’d you marry her, anyway, you whack-job?”
“I guess I wanted someone. Fool that I was. I didn’t want to go into a long funk over you turning me down: I felt one coming on, Jani.” Jani cocked her head. “And she was good looking. She could also be light, had actually finished Stanford. Just, I learned. There wasn’t a lot of fun there, though, when the smoke cleared. . . . What happened to that older guy you were seeing when I left?”
“Tim? I almost lost myself in there. He was a gentleman, gentle, witty . . . but he started seeing his ex again; at first it mostly seemed over their two kids. But. . . .”
“What about your friend, this guy here?”
“Why do you say ‘this guy, your friend?’ You’ve met Alan.”
“He’s a good man. It’s a bit hard for me with him, in the wake of Tim.”
Rod mock winced. “And not in the wake of me? Jani, this Alan’s a nice enough bird. But he’s no world beater. . . . He’s not much of an athlete, is he?”
“Really, Rod. He has other interests. He does like to swim. He’s a very good doctor. He’s not a breast-beating jock, no. Low-key can be relaxing, refreshing — a relief, even.”
“I’ll bet your dad isn’t blown out of the water.”
“Some of Alan’s wit eludes my father, yes.”
“Jani, I’ve been girding my loins to call you in the city. Since I got back. I’ve only been back a few weeks. I actually wanted to talk with Liddy this weekend to find out if you were still seeing that Tim. Hey, my job is pretty hot now. I’m actually making a few bucks. And I have cut way down on my drinking, kiddo. . . . You know, Taylor was such an airhead, really; I have no taste for just pretty girls. Not that you’re as pretty as all that.”
Jani threw a walnut at him. He had teased her about not being a raving beauty years ago; she knew he liked her dark, engaging looks.
“Anyway, Jani,” he went on, “What are you going to do when you run down on all those low-key evenings? Anybody can be low-key. Only some of us can be exciting, as well.” He gave a quick, fake smile, looked hard at her. “I only want to have dinner with you . . . Lutece?” Alan would not be able to afford Lutece for years. “You’re not engaged, are you?”
Jani stood up and began playing with the wooden animals from all over the world on the mantel; Liddy was into Jung, some. “Rod, I’m not engaged, but I like Alan. I don’t think he sees other women at all now.”
“What does that have to do with the price of Generous Motors stock?”
“My, aren’t we into financial allusions?”
“It’s only a figure of speech . . . my living is in finance, silly.”
They heard rumblings from the library. Liddy and Alan were making ready to come back to the living room. Out the bay window, the three-quarter moon was shedding silver on the dark-blue bay. Jani’s friendship with Rod was perhaps the oldest one she had. And he really was almost always charming and fun.
She said, “Roddy, I’ll be giving this some thought. You know you mean a great deal to me.”
“I couldn’t forget you out on the coast, Jani,” he whispered as the others came in.
And Jani felt some of the old electric current she’d known with Rod.
Liddy went upstairs around 11. Rod shortly bid the others goodnight, plodding up heavily, feigning age.
Alan gave a little smile after him, said, “Your grandmother is an extraordinary woman, Jani. She’s not only lovely, I think she’s wise.”
Jani nodded a thanks. “She’s been my role model, you know . . . once, after a hurricane here, the bay had come up almost to the house. It was a good two feet deep, with stuff floating around and everything. She and I went out, she in her stocking feet. She stood still in the water and she said, right off, ‘Jani, the light, the light!’ ”
“You couldn’t find a standard-bearer to beat that. And you do carry that banner, Jani.”
In her room, Jani read for a bit, turned her light off around midnight. There was still that moon, and the sighing in the pines out there, a little lapping from the bay. She was high enough on the attention of the two men under her grandmother’s roof now to realize the pain was genuinely receding over Tim, whom she had been taking to bed with her since they’d stopped seeing each other. Her anguish over her shortcomings in the relationship had finally begun to turn to more healthy anger at him some time ago, too. She was realizing that she hadn’t had enough of a sense of herself with Tim.
After a while, her door opened a little, and virtually closed again, letting in only a sliver of the hall light. A gentleman in his pajamas was padding toward her. He slipped under the covers with her.
He reached for her, and Jani said, lightly, “Who dat dere?”
“Your oldest love,” Rod murmured, pulling her toward him.
“Rod! Hey, guy, no. Not now. Not here,” Jani whispered, withdrawing from him.
“Why the hell not? If not me. . . .”
“Rod, I’m serious. Alan has come as my guest here. Please don’t fight me on this.”
Rod sat up. “Hell, Jani, you used to be fun. What’s wrong with a little affection between old buds?”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Rod,” she said, deadly serious.
He left, grumbling, swearing, mumbling.
Jani felt something lift in herself. Then she knew what it was. She had hoped it would be Alan.
Kay Kidde founded the Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency in New York City. She is a former teacher and senior editor at the New American Library and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. A poet and author of several published collections, she lives in Quiogue. Five of her short stories have appeared in The Star.