© Copyright 2003
"Do you mind if I sit here?"
The voice belonged to a fit looking woman I judged to be in her forties. The most striking thing was the bright red dress she wore. It was a spaghetti strap party dress that fit her very, very well, but seemed to be an effort to make her look younger. "Sure, have a seat."
After ordering a white wine spritzer she turned and stuck out her hand. "I'm Linda Pearsol."
"Dan Helton. Nice to meet you." Her handshake was firm and she had a positive air about her. No wedding ring. We talked about a few inane things while I mulled over the various reasons why a nice-looking woman like her would be chatting up an old guy like me. I didn't come to any real conclusions, so I decided to do what I usually do - go with the flow and see where it leads.
Eventually the chatting took on a more personal note, and she started punctuating her conversation with little touches - innocent at first, on the shoulder and arm, then moving down to the hand. At this point I decided to slow things down a bit.
"Linda, why didn't you put your hair up in a ponytail?"
She looked at me for a moment, then replied "Because that would have been a little too much. You wouldn't have taken me seriously."
"And the dress?"
She grinned. "I'm sure I don't have to explain that to you."
I grinned back. "You're right about that. Now, since you obviously planned this out very well, there must be a point to it."
"Of course! I'm trying to entice you back into my boudoir for a night of limitless passion!"
I slowly shook my head. "No, that can't be it."
"Okay then, I'm bored and I thought I'd have a little fun tonight and you looked like you could provide it."
"Nope. I am definitely your target for something more than a little fun."
Apparently she expected this. "How about if I just say it's something I wanted to do and leave it at that."
I took a long look into her eyes. She looked right back. I could find nothing in that look that made me think she was lying. "I think I can accept that. So, what's next?"
"A nice evening spent with a friend? A little talk, a little dancing, whatever you want."
I raised my eyebrow. "Whatever I want?"
She smirked a little and answered, "Why, is there something you want to do that you think I wouldn't?"
At that I turned to the bartender. "Tony, what do I owe you?"
"Twenty-seven fifty Mr. H."
I dropped forty on the counter and started to push away. Linda grabbed my arm. I stopped and looked directly into her eyes, which had turned a little sad. She held the contact for a moment, then glanced away and let go. I walked out of the bar without looking back.
As a widower who managed to take early retirement I pretty much do what I please. I have no close family or friends, although there are several good buddies and two couples that I maintain consistent relations with. All in all, I like where I live and what I do and manage to keep busy without being tied down.
One of the things I like to do is visit one of the area casinos several times a year. That was where I had my second run in with Linda about two weeks later.
I was sitting at one of the blackjack tables, doing a bit better than usual, when a woman wearing red slipped into the vacant seat to my left and plunked down a small stack of chips. She looked to her left first and then turned to me. I was carefully not noticing her since I was pretty sure it was Linda. I felt her stare for a moment, but didn't turn as the cards were dealt for the next play. I split a pair of eights, drawing a six and a five. I hit both, and busted both. With a sigh, I gathered in my chips and turned to my right to leave. I expected her to follow, but was pleasantly surprised when she didn't.
I wandered off, hitting a couple slots on the run, using the various mirrors to make sure it was indeed Linda. She stayed at the table, playing her small pile of chips.
I decided she'd earned another shot at me, so I made my way to the nearest restaurant, asking for and getting a table by the windows facing back the way I had come.
I was working my way through my salad when she appeared, walking toward the restaurant at a leisurely pace. This time the red dress had a scoop collar and elbow length sleeves. The hem on the ruffled skirt reached just above the knee. Again, appropriate for the scene except for being red.
I caught her eye, smiled and waved her in. She seemed a little surprised, but immediately smiled back and nodded. Moments later she joined me.
"Hi Linda. Do you come to the casino often?"
"Not really, I've only been here a couple of times and I'm still learning the ropes. How about you?"
"I've been here many times and I'm still trying to learn," I chuckled. "For instance, I was doing well at blackjack earlier so took a chance and split eights, for god's sake! I got just what I deserved and realized I'd better quit if I was going to do things like that." I wondered if she would admit she saw that.
"So that was you! I wondered. I must have sat down next to you just before that happened. Frankly, I didn't understand what you were doing when you turned that other eight over. I didn't know you could do that."
"Well, then, maybe you better read up on blackjack before you try it again. It's not quite as simple a game as the casino would have you think."
"I believe you." She paused and I wondered if she would try to turn the conversation toward personal things. I was again pleasantly surprised. "Since you've been here a few times, I'm sure you have a good idea what to order."
"Well, I usually stick with the T-Bone, but everything I've tried here has been good." I waited for her to order a T-Bone.
"In that case, I'll have the shrimp scampi." She looked me in the eye and grinned. "I don't think a little garlic is going to affect my relationship with you."
Was that a reference to the way I blew her off the last time? I wasn't sure.
We managed to chat about gambling while we ate, with me giving her a primer on blackjack and craps. She seemed genuinely interested. When we finished our coffee at the end I called for the check. She started to get out her purse and I waved her off. "I invited you in, I pay. If the situation is reversed, then you can pay. Deal?"
She looked carefully at me for a moment, then nodded, held out her hand and said, "Deal," and we shook hands. "What's next for you?"
"I usually head to the bingo hall about this time for a couple hours."
"I'm surprised. I wouldn't place you as part of the bingo crowd."
"Surprises me too, but somehow I got in the habit and I really seem to enjoy it now." I thought for sure she would ask to tag along.
"Well, I don't think I want to risk it, so I think I'll try putting your knowledge to work at blackjack for a while. Thanks for dinner." She smiled and waved gaily as she took off in the other direction.
Damn! Maybe I had completely misread the situation. I ran over the possibilities in my mind again and decided it didn't really matter. Either I would see her again or I wouldn't. I found myself hoping I would.
Trying not to think too hard about it I headed to the bingo room.
Hildie passed away almost six years ago. To say she was everything to me would be an understatement. Don't get me wrong. I'm not pining away, as you can tell. I'm not going to bars or casinos to get away from the world. I enjoy good company and conversation, but do shy away from anything that smacks of a close relationship, especially a physical one.
I have continued to celebrate our anniversary, using the night as a way to honor her memory and relive the magic. I do the same thing every year. First dinner at a fine restaurant, then off to a show, and finally somewhere that features a live dance band. Oh yes, and I have used the same escort service every year to provide me with a partner for the evening.
Before you start questioning how this honors the memory of my wife you should know a couple things. My deal with the service is that the woman is not to come on to me in a sexual manner, should be an accomplished conversationalist, and should simply enjoy the evening to the best of her ability.
Oh, yes. And it MUST be a different woman each year.
The reason I continue to use the same service is that I haven't been disappointed yet. Apparently whomever runs the service picked up on my needs very well. The women have been mostly older (meaning not in their twenties or teens), have dressed appropriately with just a hint of makeup, and either were very good actresses (which, in that business, should be considered a given) or actually enjoyed the evening.
And, of course, they all danced very well.
During portions of the evening I would feel Hildie there, enjoying it with me.
So I called the service as usual and got ready for the evening. Right on time the door bell rang...
... and the woman at the door was wearing a beautiful, formal, RED dress. It was Linda.
"Good evening Mr. Helton, I'm Miss Pearsol and I'm here to be your escort for the evening." The words were delivered as they always were, with a smile. But there was something in the back of her eyes. Fear? Hope?
"Come on in. It'll take me just a moment to finish getting ready." Somehow I managed to come up with the words that would get me a moment or two to think. To this day I'm not sure why I didn't just explode and tell her to hit the road. Maybe I'm just too nice a guy. Or maybe Hildie trained me too well.
I went into the bathroom and needlessly adjusted my tie for several minutes. I ticked off the items in my mind.
Linda definitely planned this in advance. The red dresses were an admission of that planning.
She had to have known she was the one to be my escort this year and had to have talked to at least one of the other women.
And yet she seemed to be ready to treat the evening as if she had never met me. Why?
Did it matter? Well, yes, it did. Did I have to know why right now? No.
In fact, I knew that if I pushed the matter now, it would probably ruin the evening, or at least the original purpose of the evening - to celebrate my anniversary with Hildie. Could I still celebrate this night the way I wanted to, with Hildie by my side? I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then I thought of Hildie holding my hand and looking into my eyes with that smile of hers and, somehow, knew it would be all right.
When I came out of the bathroom, Linda was standing exactly where I had left her, perfect posture and the usual smile on her face. I smiled back and asked, "Are you ready to go?"
The smile became brighter as she answered, "Yes, sir."
After the usual spiel about how I would prefer to be Dan and she allowed me to call her Linda (with a twinkle in her eye, of course!) we set out for the restaurant.
We never mentioned our previous meetings, or even hinted at them. And I found myself enjoying the evening just as I had the other times. We had intelligent conversation about the world and current events at the dinner, laughed and groaned at the show, and finished up, as usual, at one of the dance clubs Hildie and I had frequented over the years. I couldn't be sure, but Linda did seem a little disappointed at my choice of a swing club, but quickly shook that off and danced as well or better than my previous partners. And again there were moments when I felt Hildie with me on the dance floor.
At last it was time for the evening to end. As usual I had driven us back to my home. Normally the evening would end with a hand shake at the lady's car (the money was taken care of ahead of time so there wouldn't be that awkward moment right at the end), and then the lady would drive off into the night and I would enter the house alone.
But when I stopped my car and was ready to get out Linda finally broke character. "Dan, could we please talk just for a moment? I promise I'm not trying to do anything that would change or hurt you. Please?"
I looked at her. It was a measure of how successfully I had immersed myself into the evening that I had forgotten about our previous meetings. Those memories came flooding back, along with the unanswered questions. For a moment I fought myself over which way I wanted to react to this. But the bottom line was I had to know.
"Okay. But if I don't like this it will cost your boss a client."
"No, it won't."
"For the last three years the women you have taken out haven't been a part of the service."
I sat there, stunned. "What do you mean? I call the same number and send the money to the same place."
"And he gives it to a charity, usually one that helps kids with special diseases."
"But then, where did you come from?"
She looked out through the front windshield for a moment, then started talking again. "It's a rather involved story, and I would like to start from the beginning." She looked at me. "And I would like to be a little more comfortable telling it. May we go inside?"
I raised my eyebrow.
"No funny stuff. I promise. We all know it wouldn't work, anyway."
She sighed. "Please?"
I grimaced and got out of the car. She waited for me to get her door, a question in her eyes. I opened it, handed her out, looked her in the eye and offered my arm. Her grateful smile almost, almost got to me.
After seating her and providing a drink I sat and listened to a tale that I really didn't believe, mainly because of how it presented me.