walk with me," Claudia said, checking her watch. "I have to do a little shopping. We can talk more." She grabbed her bag and her briefcase and vaulted herself out of the stiff steel chair, pausing only at the door of Starbuck's to see if I was following. "Come on," she said impatiently, motioning her hand.
I gulped down some more of my tea, and regretfully tossed the rest of it in the bin. She was already click-clicking her way across the street, weaving in and out of the two-way traffic. Claudia was the last woman I knew who still wore high heels, the effect of which was rather startling to see. Drivers slowed down and seemed happy to let her jaywalk in front of them.
I scampered alongside her, trying to catch up, as she strode into Real Foods and picked up a tomato, vine still attached. I wondered how we were going to continue to talk; Claudia said she had "something big" to tell me. Well-dressed, thoughtful customers were roaming the aisles, stripping ears of organic corn here, sampling cruelty-free grapes over there. She seemed unconcerned. Examining an aphid crawling along the tomato stem, she calmly flicked it off with a darkly polished nail.
"So I told you my life has been mirroring the news," she said. "What do you suppose has been going on?"
"Well." I thought for a moment. I hadn't heard from Claudia since the beginning of the year, when she'd proclaimed that she was "giving up." That meant she was either depressed or in love. I watched her eyes roaming across the six different varieties of potatoes and I took a stab. "Who is he?"
"I work with him. He's a paralegal. Not mine, fortunately. I am completely and utterly besotted." She turned and looked at me, widening her eyes. "This is the real thing, Courtney. I'm talking lifetime commitment here. He's all I think about, all day. I talk to clients, and all I can think of is: Where is he? What is he doing? When can I see him? It's terrible." She smiled dreamily at the new potatoes. "But as always, there's a catch. Think, current events."
"He looks like the Unabomber. The artist's rendering version," I added.
I considered. "He doesn't drive a Ryder truck, does he?" She shook her head. "Is his fate in the hands of a bloodthirsty America crying for retribution?"
Claudia snorted. "Warmer."
"Is he Swiss? Does he have lots of seemingly limitless cash from mysterious sources?" She rolled her eyes impatiently and began to walk away from me. "Oh, no, Claudia. Please don't tell me you have something in common with Kelly Flinn." She was silent, suddenly very interested in the three varieties of freshly squeezed orange juice. Placing a bottle in her basket, she hummed a little and moved toward Vinegar, Dressings and Oil.
"Claudia," I said, following her, "you know this is not a good thing. And you know I speak from experience. You will be the loser. Trust me on this one." She was looking at the ingredients of a bottle of raspberry dressing, seemingly lost in thought. "Is he at least separated? Does his wife know? Why are you doing this?"
"I don't know why," she said, after a long pause. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but I feel like I just can't stop it. We were friends for a long time. We'd have coffee together in the morning, maybe go on a run at lunchtime. Then this big case came up, and we were pulling all-nighters..." She actually paused and looked disgustingly dreamy. I suddenly felt a stab of jealousy. "And then it just happened."
"And this is serious? How serious? How often do you see him? Outside of work?"
"No. Only at the office. He can't. Susanna works at home. She knows his schedule. Well, maybe twice we've seen each other on the weekend, you know when he has to go to Safeway or something. So it's not like it's a really physical thing, because we can't. But it's not about sex, really. But I think -- no, I know -- we're really in love. Sometimes when I go home, it's all I can think about: going to work the next day. I think, I'll go to sleep early, it'll come faster. This is all sounding very clichid, isn't it? I even said that to him: 'We're such a clichi.'"
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Don't be afraid of clichis.'"
I groaned. "Now you're going to tell me that his wife doesn't understand him."
Claudia frowned. "No, he doesn't say that. In fact, he really likes Susanna. He says she's his best friend. He's just not in love with her anymore."
"Yes, well, that's the '90s version of my-wife-doesn't-understand-me." Claudia moved huffily to the onions section and began to toss shallots in her basket. "Look, Claudia, I'm not judging you, really I'm not. But I have experience with this. I was the other woman once, and I can't tell you that it was in any way good. We hurt a lot of people. There are just too many fish in the sea for you to settle with someone who's married..."
"Talk about clichis!" she said under her breath.
"Yes, well, how do you think they become clichis? Because they're true." But I knew I'd approached this all wrong; she'd frozen me out. From the way her lips were silently moving, I could tell she was already on to her shopping game: mentally adding up the items in her basket. If the total came within fifty cents, she'd allow herself a pint of chocolate frozen yogurt the next time.
"Look," I whispered, "there's a man staring at you, over in Mixed Lettuces. See?" Never mind that he was probably married too, I thought. She peered over, and smiled, waving. "Does he have kids..." I began, but she'd already moved into the purchasing line.
I was always trying to catch up with Claudia. I knew she thought of me as a lightweight who didn't really understand the intricacies of her powerful and fast-moving life in corporate litigation. But as I watched her cashmere-clad back and expertly twisted French knot, she suddenly struck me as very naive. I didn't look forward to telling her my little cautionary tale -- she probably wouldn't listen anyway.
But it seemed to me she needed some sense of the Magical Mystery Tour that lay in front of her.