The plan had worked perfectly. I had labored over this novel for years, crafting each syrupy moment until it vibrated with fantasy. This was the peak of my achievement. I described a strong woman, deep and intuitive, never fully appreciated. She hit the road and had a series of unpleasant lovers. And then one day she met HIM. The strong, silent, full-of-pain rebel who needed fixing but was too scarred to reach out. They had one night of passion. The remainder of the novel was about the awkwardness of their finding each other again, but this time for good. She and he ride off into the sunset together to stake a horse farm in Montana forever.
Now my book had come out and I was doing the book-signing tour. And here they came, the true believers, standing patiently in line as if trying to show their devotion to the cause of romance. Blond ones, brunets, redheads. All the little pretties I could never get back when I was 50 pounds overweight and lacked contact lenses. They had read my book, they knew my soul, or thought they did, and now they were lined up, breathlessly waiting to meet me, the author of their deepest fantasies. One by one they approached, barely able to meet my eyes. Passing notes, shyly asking for inscriptions, fluttering, biting lower lips, patting their hair.
If only I could spend weeks in each town of the tour. But each night I picked just one companion. And then, finally, the apogee of my accomplishment -- my own hometown. And indeed, here they were, the prom queens, the cheerleaders, the waitresses from the diner who would never give me a second look.
I took my time. Who should it be? Diane, the most popular girl in the class, most likely to succeed, who now ran a real estate agency across town? Diane, who never even knew I existed? Or Tracey, the love of my life, who dropped me like a hot stone when her skin cleared up? Or Shana, who toyed with me for years, teasing me endlessly, never letting me get to first base, each kiss treated like a special gift?
Shana was the meanest, so Shana would be my victim. In fact, she had made it easy. She was still a force to be reckoned with in the old homestead. In an attempt to increase her status by advertising her old association with me, she had organized a little party in my honor. She had forgotten all about the torture she put me through years ago. We were the best of friends now.
The evening was predictable. All sorts of people I could barely remember crowded me and wanted to know what Kevin Costner (who was to star in the film version of my novel) was really like. I lied and said I had no idea. Was it true I had flown on the Concorde? Yes. Would I ever consider moving back home, maybe build a mansion here? I said I'd think about it.
Just as I started to feel like I was trapped in a French existentialist play, the evening came to an abrupt end. All these folks had kids and normal jobs and had to be up early the next day. Eleven was the witching hour.
The last guest was ushered out Shana's front door and she and I were left alone. She turned to me, her eyes large and happy, and I thought, she's just as beautiful as she ever was. I realized that I had never stopped loving her.
She was the ur-woman in my life, and when she came to me now, I would finally be happy. We would be perfect together -- I wouldn't want anyone else. She would return with me to my place in Pennsylvania, and we would make awesome love forever.
She said, "Come sit here with me on the couch." I did. My heart was pounding through my shirt. I felt like a character in one of my books. I felt like a kid.
She said, "I want to confess something." I said, "I want to confess something, too. But you first."
She said, "Remember when we would go out and I never really let you kiss me? And we never had sex or anything? I always told you I was a virgin?"
"Well, I wasn't. In fact, I pretty much went to bed with anybody who wanted me. Three different guys on the varsity football team. A mechanic at the gas station. Even one of the teachers at the high."
"I always liked hanging with you because you were so, you know, smart. And we'd talk. And it was so cool that our thing wasn't a physical thing. You know?"
"Yeah, it was cool in its own way."
"Oh, I'll always cherish our talks. I'll confess something. I admired you. And now, of course, I still do. I know you wanted to jump my bones. In those days, you probably would have liked nothing better than if I had just sucked you off and said goodnight."
"No, no. I loved talking to you. Honestly, you were the smartest girl in town. You know that."
"You mean that?"
"Yeah. Come on, Shana, if it weren't for those talks, I never would have left town and become, you know, a writer."
"Wow. That makes me feel so good." She snuggled up to me. I smiled at her. She took my hand. "You know, I'm so happy we're friends. I hope we stay friends forever. Don't you?"
She yawned. "Oh, man, this evening really burned me out."
"Oh yeah, thanks for putting this all together. It was so great to see all the old faces."
"You're so sweet."
She kissed me gently. She stood up, took me by the hand and pulled me up off the couch. My dick was hard in my pants, anticipating the payoff.
And then she led me to her front door and opened it. "This was so much fun. Promise me you'll call me. We can still talk, even if it's long distance."
I tried to shape words, and I probably said something. But all I remember is the door shutting in my face.
Fortunately I had saved Diane's phone number when she slipped it to me next to the coffee and dessert table.