A world-renowned philosopher once remarked that there were two tragedies in life; one was to lose the love of your life, the other was…getting her. Max, whose given name was Maxwell Alexander Carlisle, a regal man with a regal name, was the recipient of the first part of that tragedy. He met Victoria, another regal name who went by “Vic” at a seminar on how to select artwork as an investment. He had been sitting in the third row taking notes, when he glanced to his right in response to a question posed by what he was later to describe as a “vision of loveliness.” She asked the presenter how one could differentiate the value of a similar work by, say Matisse versus Picasso. They were both quite famous, quite talented and quite dead, their mortality having increased the value of their works lending truth to the complaint, I guess I’m worth more dead than alive.
Though Max’s focus had, up to then, been directed laser-like on the presenter, he suddenly found himself staring at this young women with the darkest hair cascading over her shoulders with dark eyes to match her lithe figure and the most beautiful and resonant voice. After the presenter fielded her inquiry explaining that although value often resided in the minds of the beholder, world acclaim and the unique splendor of their creations assigned value not only to their entire body of work, but specific pieces that stood out, “Dali’s melting clocks and Picasso’s Guernica stand out as some of the most valuable pieces should they ever be wrenched from their place on museum walls to the home of a private collector.” He had told her.
Long after she had thanked the presenter and he resumed his talk, Max found it difficult to take his eyes off her, to the point his gaze wandered back around to her quite frequently like one’s tongue goes to a leaf of spinach caught between one’s teeth. On one occasion, she turned, responding to that sensation that someone is looking at you and caught his eye, caught him staring intently at her. She smiled and tipped her hat to him catching him surprised and somewhat embarrassed. He smiled and tipped his hat as well, touching his index finger to his right eyebrow and away in response.
After the presenter concluded, several participants approached him for affirmation and to ask a few questions while others lingered in their seats chatting amongst themselves while the majority turned to file out of the room. He stepped into the middle row at precisely the same time she approached from her side, and he quite awkwardly deferred to her with an open palm to let her proceed ahead of him. “Oh no,” she remarked aloud, “You first, that way I can keep an eye on you for a change.” He felt his face turn red as he obliged and stepped into the open aisle.
“So, you’re an art connoisseur?” she asked. She was standing immediately behind him and had leaned forward almost whispering in his left ear. It caught him by surprise. “Uh…I guess you could say that, I like to admire beauty in all its forms.” “Is that why you were staring so intently at me? I’m told I can turn strong men into bowls of warm mush.” He had to laugh at this seemingly bold acceptance of her effect on members of the opposite sex. “Well, to be perfectly honest, I prefer my women’s facial features to be more Picasso-like. You know, something very sexy about a nose on one’s forehead.” She laughed and caught up with him as they left the conference room, now walking to his right. “Are you staying here at the hotel?” she asked. “For a few days.” “Business or pleasure?” she asked. “Well…that depends on what you’re doing later this evening I guess,” he offered. “Pretty strong comeback I’ll say, but I like that in a man, direct, no nonsense, says what’s on his mind.” She punched him lightly in the arm when she said this and squinted her eyes ever so slightly and smiled with just a glimpse of her pearly white teeth. You could say it was love at first sight. For him at least.
Things progressed very nicely that day, and they ended up meeting for dinner after which she asked him to walk her back to her room. “You can never tell who might be lurking behind a potted plant in the lobby these days,” she had proclaimed. When they arrived at her room and she swiped her card the green light lit up, the door lock clicked and she reached to turn the handle turning it, but not yet opening the door. She turned to him, looked up with an endearing look and told him, “If I let you come inside, you promise to be a good boy?” Max held up two fingers; “Scouts honor.” I’ll leave it to your imagination what transpired the rest of that evening, and many months thereafter. There were quite a pair, and discovering that they both lived in the area, moved into a condo overlooking the ocean and spent many an evening walking along the beach, swimming in the warm waters, going out for dinners on the pier, and just making the best of a glorious love affair.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and after several years with the demands of his job and her demands for a commitment from him he was unwilling to give, they drifted apart. It may also have had something to do with their age difference. When they first met she was in her Senior year at the University, only eighteen, but well matured beyond her years. She had earned her high school diploma at 16 with enough college classes to enter Yale as a Sophomore and two years thereafter was finishing her last year and prepared to go on to earn her graduate degree in Art History, and later a Ph.D in the authentification of works by the great masters. She basically outgrew him.
One evening he came home to find the condo quiet with her personal items missing from the kitchen counter and her clothes gone from the closet. There was a note he read, then crumpled up and threw on the floor. It was over, he was not one to grovel and he knew once she made up her mind there was no changing it. She was, above all other things a determined woman. She had wanted a child, and to have a husband and father for that child, something to balance her career. He did not want children and it created the impasse. Somewhere deep inside him he knew the child would always come first and that one day, she would leave him. That time had now come. His heart was broken, but he knew their parting was inevitable, though he was taken back by the abruptness. But that was Vic. If she couldn’t have her child, she had no need for him.
Funny how time can crawl and fly, and around the oddest events. Daily routines seem to provide some semblance of normalcy while shifts in patterns offered some excitement and change to the dullness of everyday life. Max dated, and seduced a variety of young women, some for short, even one-night encounters, and some for weeks, months, and even years. He even was married for five years, but that did not last, and childless they separated quite amicably. Ten years went by then another ten, and that young man who met the love of his life and lost her was now in his forties finding how he compared so many of his “loves” with that first one, that one that etched itself into his psyche so indelibly, a work of art by which to compare all others, none ever quite matching up to that one special creation so long ago.
He was sitting on the back deck of the Ocean Lounge when he first saw her. The sensation started in his gut, that tightened queasiness that quickly moved up to flush his face and tighten his jaw. It was almost like seeing a ghost, someone you knew to be dead, but was now standing before you. But no, she was too young, way too young, it couldn’t be her, to be that part of his soul that never left, that missing piece, the love of his life that didn’t stay, the one who walked out without even saying goodbye, Victoria.
The intensity of his gaze powered by the deepest held emotions must have seared their way across the room, for this young woman, the one with the raven hair cascading down her bare shoulders, with the most beautiful eyes that were now looking directly at him. He looked away, but it was too late. She slowly slipped off the bar stool she was on, and was walking ever so slowly in his direction. He was afraid to look up, but he knew she was closing the gap between them, so he slowly turned and there she was, less than three feet from him, both hands on her hips, her head tilted to one side, this vision of perfect loveliness. “Do I know you?” she asked, and he quickly apologized feeling every bit the schoolboy who just got caught passing a note to his buddy in the seat behind him. “I’m sorry…it’s just that you reminded me of someone I knew a very long time ago, I’m sorry.” “You already said that. Apology accepted. Both times.” “Mind if I join you? You look like you just lost your best friend.” “By all means,” as he gestured to the empty seat beside him. “I know this may sound like the worst cliché’ ever, but can I buy you a drink?’ “Sure, make it a strong one, but maybe I should be the one buying you a drink. I’d love a Cocoanut Mojito.”
Her name was Annabelle, and she told him she was, “The girl formerly known as Annie, but when I hit puberty changed it to Belle. You know…Belle of the ball and all that goes with it. What’s your handle?” “Max.” He was still very much at a loss for words. “What’s that short for…Maximus after a Roman Emperor? And she tipped her head back and laughed a hearty laugh. “Uh, no. That would be Maxwell.” “I’m sorry,” she was serious now, I didn’t mean to make fun, it’s just that you don’t hear that name much. It’s a nice name. Max. Like a cute little puppy. You are a pretty cute little puppy for an older man. You are…let me guess…hmmm, my mom is about your age, so I’m guessing 36?” “Thanks, I’ll take that, actually more than a few years beyond that into the formidable forties. 44 to be precise.” “You don’t look it, no gray hairs or wrinkles and your eyes still smile a lot,” she told him. “Thank you again, you are making my day. Are you sure one of my buddies didn’t put you up to this, feathering my ego then throwing that Mojito in my face?’ “No, I am a serious young woman, with a little buzz I will admit, but when you sent that laser vision at me, I rather melted. I just had to see if you were for real.” “Well how do I measure up, do I pass your test?” he offered. “So far so good.”
They ended up taking off their shoes and walked down to the beach. He walked slowly, watching her as she ran down playing tag with the waves. They ended up sitting on bench watching the moon come up over the ocean, filling each other in about their life stories. She told him she had been engaged but cut it off when he got clingy and was now,”… footloose and fancy free.” He told her he was married to his job, his career as a writer, and had published several books, all fiction, and wrote freelance articles for several magazines. She told him she was taking time off from graduate school and was looking to traveling in Europe before deciding what her next move might be.
It was a great night, but she told him she never kissed on first dates, so he might have to wait for a bit. “So this was a ‘date’? When did I ask you out?” he said with a smile. “The minute you asked me to join you,” she replied. “Uh…wait a minute, YOU asked if you could join me, all I did was offer you the seat beside me and buy you a drink,” he countered. “Is this our first fight? I don’t like to fight, I’m actually a very agreeable person once you get to know me,” she offered.“ “No. Not a fight. An exchange. And I would like to get to know you. Here is my number, call me if you have a few minutes before you sail off to Europe. Maybe I can meet you in Paris for a stroll along the Seine.” He scribbled his number on the back of a coaster and handed it to her as they walked across the deck and back into the hotel. “I might just do that.” And with quick peck on his cheek, “Ew…you’re all salty,” she was gone. He watched her as she walked, swinging her shoes in her right hand her purse across her shoulder giving him one more quick glance and a wink before she disappeared in the elevator.
She did call the next day and they spent that day, and the rest of the week, talking, swimming, sailing, eating, and eventually enjoying the pleasures of each other’s bodies. It was a grand affair, one that hearkened back to that time long ago, when he was in love and comforted in a future that never was to be. And here he was twenty years later with this ravishing young woman who was so alive and so spirited and maybe even, a little in love with him. One thing he knew for sure, he was falling in love with her. How could he not?
As they say all good things eventually come to an end, and his travel plans included a flight back to New York that Monday. She pouted and threw her arms around him, “You can’t leave me! I need a traveling companion who knows how to speak French! He kissed her a long, warm kiss, their tongues swirling about each other in a lovers’ duel. He held her face in both of his hands, looked into her eyes, and told her, “I think I could fall in love with you quite easily.’ She smiled and said, “I know.” And…Oh there’s someone I want you to meet. My folks are in town, you’ll love them. They are way cool, especially my mom. She is the bomb!” You’ll love her! I’ll pick you up at 6:00. Dress nicely.”
He was standing under the portico of the hotel in his best dinner jacket and tie, with his pants tightly creased and his alligator shoes polished to a “t’”. She pulled up in her BMW and leaned down, “Hey handsome. Wanna lift?” He jumped in beside her and she leaned over throwing both arms around him planting a wet kiss on his startled but welcoming face. The car behind honked, and she waved out the window shouting , “Fuck off!’” as she peeled out of the driveway.
Her parents were staying at an exclusive resort apparently and a valet stepped up opening their doors. She took the valet ticket and linked arms with him as they walked into the hotel lobby. They walked to the elevator and hit the UP button and waited for it to “ding” its way down to the ground floor, stepping in with another elegantly dressed couple. Belle looked beautiful, she had on a white lace dress with blue trim, and Roman sandals on her tiny feet. Her toenails matched her fingernails which matched the blue trim in her dress. The elevator stopped and she walked across the hall to the first door, opening it with her pass key announcing, “Honey I’m home!” to no one in particular. She disappeared down a hallway leaving him standing in an elegantly appointed living room with an excellent view of the ocean below. He could hear the surf pounding the beach below.
“Hello, you must be…Max…” He turned and there she stood. “Vic…” “Max…” “It’s been a long time,” he offered , his stomach twisted in a knot big enough to choke a dinosaur. “It has. Twenty years I think, she said. “You KNOW each other?” Belle asked with a wealth of confusion in her face and voice. “ “You could say that…Belle…let me introduce you to…your father. Max, I see you have already met our daughter.”