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I wanted to throw my arms around Jan and cry when she got to the door, but I resisted the urge. She had a worried look on her face.
"What's going on, Nina?" she asked as we walked to the sofa.
"Want a drink?" I asked.
"Will I need one?"
I laughed a little. "Yeah, you might. That is, if you even want to be around me after you hear this."
She covered my hand with hers. "Honey, this is me, Jan. I love you and no matter what you tell me that's not going to change."
Her words felt so good, they were just what I needed to hear at that moment. But, I thought, she has no idea what this is. Then, I saw her look closely at my cheek, which had been reddened by Marisol's backhand, and by the ice I had been applying.
"What happened to your cheek?" Now the look on her face was more than worry. I could tell she was afraid for me. "Nina, what's going on?"
"I'm ok, I'm ok. I just ran into somebody really angry-"
"Did David do that?" She whispered, almost apologetically.
"No," I shook my head. "He wouldn't care enough to hit me."
She pursed her lips and gave me a look that begged for more information. "It's an affair, isn't it? You're having an affair."
I gave her a long stare, then nodded. "Yes."
"Oh honey!" she said, rubbing my hand again. "I sure wish you would have told me earlier... but I guess you had your reasons." She sighed deeply, then added, "Do I know him?"
My stare was almost frozen on her now. How to say this?
She leaned forward, trying to coax me on. "You know I'll never say a word, Nina. You know-"
"It's not a him," I said evenly.
She blinked, letting the words sink in, making sure she was processing it all correctly.
"Not a him?"
I shook my head, looking down at the floor. "Not a him."
She looked at the ceiling for a moment. "That only leaves a 'her.'"
I raised my eyes to meet hers, my secret now bared, my soul lying there naked and bleeding shamelessly in front of her. "Yep. That's what it leaves. A 'her'."
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, bracing for my best friend to get up and leave, to say something about how sick or stupid or deranged I had become. Instead, both of her hands covered mine now in the long silence, and the question that came next from Jan I could never have predicted. It came almost as a whisper, full of tenderness, and concern.
"Do you love her?"
Tears flooded my eyes at that moment, and I felt my face being pulled by the strange, invisible power that only crying can muster. "Yes," my answer came out in a croak.
Jan slid next to me and wrapped her arms around me, and I collapsed in her embrace, sobbing against her chest. "Shhh..." she hushed me softly as she stroked my hair. It was hard to say at that moment what was pulling the sobs from my chest more: the thought of losing Danielle, or Jan's gentle, comforting acceptance of me. I knew it was both, as I slowly pulled away and accepted the tissues she fished out of her purse.
"Feel free to puke, tell me how psycho I am and walk out of here anytime."
"Shuttup," she said quietly, dabbing under my eyes with one of the tissues while I wiped my nose.
"Was it her that hit you?" Jan asked, leaning back and brushing a few stray hairs out of my face.
"Nope," I said, my voice now all stuffy like I had a cold. I felt like a child.
And then I told her everything. Leaving out graphic sex details, I told her the whole, crazy tale, from the moment the Mercedes gave out on that highway to the hour before, when the lovely and talented Marisol slapped me silly in the parking lot, and everything in between. That we had made love, all of it, save, as I said, for hot and steamy details.
Jan said nothing, just sat, listening, nodding, frowning every so often.
"I think," she said slowly after my last sigh signaled the end of the story, "we should have that drink now. You stay put. What do you want?"
I thought of the last time I had a drink with a woman on this sofa, and what it had started. "Vodka and tonic?" I said, almost like I was asking her permission in my own house.
Jan got up and fiddled around behind the bar and came back with two strong ones. We both took a long sip, and Jan asked, "What does she look like?"
I realized that I hadn't really described her yet, only that she was young, tall, and attractive. I thought for a moment. "Imagine Susan Anton, with muscles."
Jan frowned for a moment, looked at the ceiling, then back at me. "Wow."
"Yeah," I said sheepishly. "Jan... I don't want you to think that I've changed into some... lesbian, or..."
"Nina," she stopped me, "You've been lonely, you've been unfulfilled. You met somebody exciting... and tender... and caring, and you-" here she had a little trouble getting it out--"you love her."
I watched my friend carefully, wondering what thoughts were going on her head about me.
She kept on, and I can see she was doing her best to soft-touch what must have been a shattering thing to discover about her closest female friend. "It is what it is. I'm no one to judge you. I just want you to be happy. And to be safe."
I smiled at her through my puffy, reddened eyes. "Thanks."
"And right now, you don't look happy, or safe."
"I'm safe," I sighed. "But I don't know what to do."
There was a long silence. "Are you asking me for my input?"
I wasn't, not initially, but now that she mentioned it... "Yes. Please."
She leaned close. "Listen to me," she said, looking deeply into my eyes. "You have a very comfortable life. There are millions of women who would kill for what you have. You could end up throwing it all away, for a woman who you've known for one week. A woman who might have a lover, or at the very least, an ex-lover who is violent and unpredictable. And this Danielle... you don't know what she will want in a year or two. I mean Nina, with David, and this home, there is no uncertainty to your life, no mystery. No danger."
I listened closely, trying desperately to find something to disagree with, but so far, I couldn't.
"Now," Jan went on, "you're creating a new reality, full of uncertainty, and full of dangers you haven't even thought of. Did you ever stop to think that there could be a Marisol lurking in the shadows of all this excitement?"
"Right. These are unchartered waters for you, Nina."
Wasn't that what was so exciting about it all? Was I losing my mind, thinking that danger and mystery was what I needed to spice up my boring, predictable life? My cheek hummed with a faint pain just then, as if to remind me that getting beaten up in parking lots by a jealous lover is not what I needed at all.
"Can I ask you something, Jan?"
"Have you ever had a lover since you've been with Chris?"
So much for finding a kindred spirit.
"There was a guy who I was attracted to," she admitted. "I fantasized about him. Hell, I even masturbated a couple of times thinking about him. But then it was gone. I put it away. We have to put those things away."
Do we? And do what-pretend that things are fulfilling and enriching and intimate with David?
She took both of my hands. "If you're asking my opinion on what to do, I would say you've got to end it."
End it. The words circled like vultures.
End it. It had barely started, and yet, it seemed like Danielle and I had been lovers for a long time, or at least lovers who had waited each for each other for a long time.
She saw conflict in my eyes, and she squeezed my hands.
"What if that girl had had a knife? Nina, what if she is stalking Danielle, and she has a knife or a gun next time she sees the two of you are together? You don't know anything about her. She could be a psycho. Hell, it sounds already like she's crazy, from what she did to you."
Ok, Nina, I said to myself. You called Jan. And you knew Jan was always Miss Pragmatic. She was making so much sense, and I couldn't muster up a defense except for the reply that echoed in my head so pitiably I stopped myself from saying it: "But I love her."
"Are you ashamed of me, as a friend, Jan?" The tears were coming again.
"No. Never. Completely taken by surprise? A little shocked? Yeah. Worried, for you? Yes. But not ashamed of you. In fact, I'm really touched that you called me. It just makes me want to be here for you more than ever."
"Thanks Jan. I needed to hear that. You're the best."
We shared another long hug. "Ohhh, Nina, Nina..." she whispered into my hair as she rocked me gently, "what are we going to do with you?"
"I'm a real mess, aren't I?" I said weakly into her breast, my tears making dark spots on her blouse.
"Yes, you are. A total, loveable mess."
She made me laugh a little with that one.
"Keep your eyes and your heart open to the signs the next few days. You'll get signs pointing you in the right direction. You know, the Sioux Indians used to watch animals that were around them, and they would get guidance from the behavior of them. If a Sioux was looking for safe passage on a trail, and they saw a wolf or something like that turn and walk into a ravine, for example, it was a sign that it was safe to go there. Things and people and events in our lives give us guidance, if we are open to understanding them."
"With my luck, there would be a crazy squaw in the ravine ready to bean me with a tomahawk."
Jan burst out laughing. "Oh, god you are too much."
I was always amazed at Jan's knowledge of that sort of thing. She read a lot about anthropology, and the spiritual aspects of different belief systems. I guess that's what made her radar so highly tuned.
Fifteen minutes later, I was at her car door, just as she was about to back out of my drive.
"Promise to keep me posted-daily!" she said, pointing a finger at me.
"I promise. I need to sort all this out, and make a decision soon."
"I know honey. Remember, I don't care what time it is, what day it is, you call me if you need me. Remember, also, what I said about the signs."
"Thanks. You are one incredible friend, Jan."
"That's 'cause I've got an incredible friend." She took my hand and kissed it.
I walked back to the house with that silly oldie song in my head, the one about "washing a man right outta my hair." Sure, but how do you wash a woman outta your hair?
David never knew a thing. Thank God for makeup. A little beige base by Clinique and all traces of your pesky catfight are gone! I thought, imagining myself doing an advertisement as I stood in front of the vanity.
"Honey," he announced that night as he changed for bed. "We need to go to Minneapolis in a couple of days. I would really like you to come along. It would be helpful."
That's me, helpful little Nina.
Actually, that's perfect, I thought. Time to get away, close my eyes on the plane, think, sort, make decisions. I needed to be away from her. Didn't I? Well, I sure as hell needed to be away from the Daisy Chain, that was for sure. I told David I would go.
The next day, I twice won a tug-of-war with myself when I resisted the urge to answer Danielle's call.
From the airport the next morning, fifteen minutes before boarding, the phone rang again. It was her, and this time I took it.
"Danielle... I'm sorry I've been so out of touch. It's just been really busy. And now I have to go to Minnesota with David."
She was silent for a few seconds. "Are you ok? You sound different."
It would be foolishness to pretend, I told myself, so I didn't.
"I ran into a friend of yours the other night."
"You did? Who, Nina?"
I heard the breath go out of her. "Oh, shit. Oh god, what happened, what did she say?"
"Say? Well, she sort of used sign language at first. She's got a backhand that Venus Williams would be proud of-"
"And after she smacked the daylights out of me she pretty much told me to stay away from you--"
"And I think she means it, Danielle."
"Oh Nina, I am so sorry that happened. That fuckin' bitch. I can't believe-"
"Danielle," I said, trying not to cry, "Why didn't you tell me about her?"
"Baby, there was nothing to tell. She's been out of my life for over four months. Someone even told me she had left town."
"Well, she's very much in town. And very much intent on having you back, I guess."
"Nina," she said, desperation in her voice, "she will not bother you again. Ever. I will see to it-"
"Danielle, if you think I am going to show up in that parking lot again,
and have get clobbered again, or worse, forget it-"
"Please trust me, Nina, please..."
A metallic voice announced our plane was boarding. A sob welled up in me and I fought it down. David was picking up our carry-ons and moving toward me.
"I have to go. My plane is boarding."
"Nina please call me when you get to Minnesota. Please."
I closed my eyes.
"I love you, Nina."
Don't don't don't say that, goddam you! my mind screamed.
"I have to go, Danielle. I'll call you."
I thought I heard her voice choke up when she said, "Have a safe trip."
I flipped the phone closed and David was there, smiling.
"You ok? You look upset."
"I'm ok. Just having an argument with Jan."
Eight thousand feet above Atlanta and still climbing, I eased my seat back and
closed my eyes.
Minneapolis was safe, cold, sterile. A place to sort things, see things clearly,
shop in malls I have never seen before. There were no Danielles there, no Marisols, no
Elaine Pachmeyers even.
Safe. I sighed, starting to feel better already. Then I sat bolt upright. I had forgotten someone, who was there.
Vicki. And she knew I was coming. Clearly, from this being David's business trip, we would be seeing each other. I popped open my purse, and instantly saw the yellow paper inside with her phone number on it.
I hadn't told Jan about Vicki, and the nearly psychic exchange we had that night in the skybox. What was Vicki's role in all this? Could she help, somehow? Keep your eyes and heart open, Jan had said, and here, a two days after telling her, David asks me to go to Minnesota.
I stared at the paper, trying to see if there was any resemblance between it and a wolf walking into a ravine.