Cynthia stepped out of her brand new 1995 white Buick Regal in Birkenstocks, wide belted jeans, a white long sleeve cotton blouse and matching scarf to tie her shoulder length, auburn hair back into a pony tail. Rare for an early October afternoon, the sun was beating back the clouds, heating the earth nicely and enhancing the fragrance of dry leaves on sidewalks and streets. She looked skyward to squint at the light and let the warmth wash over her. She had normally looked forward to her regular Wednesday lunch outings with her closest friend, but she found herself dodging questions and making up stories more and more these past few months. Katherine Piquet was a fine church going cafeteria Catholic with interests and background similar to Cynthia's, but whose home situation was a bit different. Katherine and her husband were still obviously and enviably in love.
Cynthia walked into the Pomme Café on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe and spotted Katy still standing at the hostess station, facing forward into the restaurant. Katy had apparently embroidered the back of her own jeans with four scripted letters; K and T sitting directly above the letters P and K.
"Katy Piquet, and I didn't even need to see your face to know it was you", said Cynthia, pointing at Katy's rear end.
"Cyn, you look great. Like the monogram, or is it too high schoolish?"
"It is cute, and you may be the only one I know who could still get away with it".
"It is cute, isn't it? I think I got nostalgic for high school last week and pulled out the pink embroidery thread, but anyway, how are you? How's Walter? How's what's his name?"
"This way ladies", the short Maitre D had extended his palm, leading to a two-top table along the left side wall. Cynthia began to answer in mid-stride.
"Everybody is good. You know. Walter joined the track team sort of late in the season, but the coach seems to like him. He had a meet last weekend and his times are looking really good, and I never have to worry about his school work."
Cynthia paused and avoided discussing Robert. "So what's happening with Jenny and Brad?"
The two became comfortably seated on their wicker backed chairs and both sets of elbows found their way to the linen table cloth, clasped hands forming an impromptu teepee over the bread plate. Their bodies leaned forward to continue what was always an engaging information swap.
"Well, Jenny has a dance recital in a couple of weeks and I think they are going to ask her to join the travel competition team. She's pretty excited about it, but that means we have to drive her all over the Midwest for weekend competitions, which stinks, come to think of it."
"Ramping up for football season. Thank God it's only a district team. I can't imagine trying to do a travel football and a travel dance schedule at the same time. I know families like that. These are not happy parents."
"Not happy, and broke. Doesn't the travel commitment cost tons of money?"
Katy rolled her eyes and grunted with a touch of disgust. "They gave us an estimate of costs for the dance team. It's not too bad until you add in gas, hotel and restaurant food when you're out of town. Dave thinks we'll be OK, though. And so." Katy made eye contact and pushed the subject, "Tell me about Robert. Is he still in, where was it, Spain?"
Cynthia avoided eye contact at first in order to start the sentence. "Yes. He was only supposed to be there for a month, but wound up staying longer. They're re-configuring the plant for some new automotive wiring thingies, and had some issues."
"So, like is he coming home before Halloween?"
"I think so. I hope so. I don't know."
"Cyn, honey. I feel so bad about this. This has been going on for so long, I just wish there was something I could do."
"You're doing it Katy. These little lunches are the highlight of my week. I sort of knew what I was getting myself into when I married Robert. He was a work-a-holic then and nothing has really changed."
A thin and attractive twenty-something male approached their table as both realized they had yet to pick up their faux leather-bound menus. He was clad in black pants, white tuxedo shirt and black vest and addressed them with an effeminate emphasis on the very first syllable.
"LA-dies! Welcome to the Pomme Café. Have you been here before?"
Katy fought back the smile. "Yes, we come here all the time, actually".
"Well then, I'm Alan and I won't bore you with all the standard introductory pabulum, but we do have a couple of fabulous lunch specials today. Would you like to hear about them?"
"Yes, absolutely", replied Cynthia, feeding the rooster's need for a crow.
"Well, let me tell you about the grilled chicken sandwich served on a wonderfully hard crusted baguette, garnished with sliced portabella mushrooms, watercress tossed in white truffle oil, and accented with a red wine vinaigrette and fresh basil aioli. Simply to die for. For our salad special today, we have our chef's own version of a Waldorf salad, where he has replaced the apple slices with pomegranate seeds. It's wonderful as well, I've tried it, but the pomegranate kernels make the whole salad look bloody if you happen to break open a few seeds. Finally for a fish choice today, the chef is offering a cedar planked redfish, spiced with lemon pepper and rosemary and it comes with a side of mixed salad greens and grapes. Also lovely. So! Are we ready to order?"
"Actually we still need a couple of minutes", said Katy.
"Oh my God, say no more. Whenever you girls are ready, is just alright with me. Can I perhaps bring you a glass of wine to start lunch?"
"Absolutely. House Chardonnay for me", said Katy.
"Same for me", said Cynthia.
"Thank you, Alan." Katy had given him a wink as well.
"Certainly, my dear. By the way. Love your shoes." Alan receded into the kitchen to an internal bar, walking backwards nearly the entire way. He returned instantly with two large wine glasses.
Cynthia asked, "You know, I saw those shoes. Are those the Marc Jacobs pumps you were talking about last week?"
"You have a good memory."
"And, are they comfortable, or just incredibly cute?"
"Incredibly cute and comfortable, thank you. I can get away with wearing them with jeans or even some dresses provided the open toe pump fits the fashion."
"I hate you. You're still gorgeous, no matter what you wear."
"And so are you, Cyn. Stop it."
"Well, I'm just old then."
"You're only thirty nine. That's the new twenty nine darling, don't you watch Oprah?"
"Thirty nine with two years experience. You still look like you're in your twenties."
"Bless you child, but thirty six is still old. I love you for saying otherwise. Come on, let's pick something before our girlfriend comes back."
The two eventually opened their menus and talked openly about the choices, though they both could have recited the entire menu without turning a single page.
"I think I'm going to fall back on my favorite soup and a vegetable wrap", said Cynthia.
"I'm going bold and getting a cheeseburger. I've been working out like a mad woman this past week and it's time for something bad. Well. Good/bad. You know".
Peering through the round glass portal on the kitchen door, Alan was diligently watching the three tables in his section and saw the two ladies put the menus back down. Springing back towards them he elevated his voice an octave.
"So! Did any of the specials whet your appetite today?"
"No, but I will have a cheeseburger, medium", said Katy.
"And I will have the onion soup and the veggie wrap", said Cynthia.
Alan sounded disappointed while writing his notes for the order. "All righty then, I will put those orders in post haste. Thank you, ladies."
Mister Alan retreated back into the kitchen nearly bumping into another waitress on her way out. She had even offered a warning by saying "behind you", but he responded by shooting her a nasty look even though the collision would have been his fault. Katy had returned to folded hands and elbows on the table while refocusing on her friend's eyes.
"Cyn, I'm sorry for continuing to pry. I don't want to be that kind of friend, but you know we've been talking about this for years now and I hate seeing you unhappy."
"I know, and you've been wonderful. I have Walter and sometimes things are good with Robert. Maybe that's enough."
"What happens when Walter heads off to school?"
"I don't know Katy. I don't know."
"Well, what about finally getting back to the workforce?"
Cynthia adjusted herself in her chair, the topic making her a bit uncomfortable. "Robert thinks that it makes it look like he doesn't provide well enough for his family. Like our family has to fit some sort of model that his parents grew up with in the 50's. I don't know, but I think that when Walter does go away, I'm going to go crazy in that house all alone without some sort of outlet."
"In a way, I envy you. With just Walter, you can at least get to a point early enough in your life to be able to move on to other things. Hell, you can even head back to school yourself!"
"Yeah, I could be the campus cougar."
"Honey, why not? With all that 22 year old, athletic, endless male stamina walking around? I don't see a problem with tapping that keg."
Both broke out in laughter simultaneously, covering their mouths and rocking back in their chairs.
"Too funny, Katy. It's just that I don't think I'm ready to quit being a mom."
"So what stopped you?"
"Well, I could see that Robert tried in the beginning to be an attentive father I mean, but it didn't last too long. He was back to business travel and was never home. I kept thinking that when he found an opportunity to stay at the home office that we would have more kids, but that never happened. He never brought up the topic of children again."
Katy Piquet, Cynthia's closest friend, pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable conversation. "Honey, are you really happy?"
Cynthia Masters, conservative small town girl from Marquette, Michigan, taught to honor the marriage for better or worse but also taught never to lie, was conflicted about how to answer the question, though dying to say "no".
"There are good times and bad times, you know, just like everybody else. I don't think I'm any different from anyone else out there with kids the same age. These are difficult transitional years."
"Which is a long way around the block to say you're not really happy."
"Katy, can we just change the subject?"
"One more glass of wine, and then we'll change the subject"
Katy noticed the face of Alan in the kitchen door window and waved to get his attention.
"Two more large glasses please." She didn't even wait until he had arrived at the table.
"Very good my lady", Alan said.
"So. You were asking to change the subject and we always do, but it always seems to be something you want to talk about", said Katy.
"He's not a bad man", Cynthia, feeling guilty for saying anything at all. "And parts of the relationship are good, but"
Katy interrupted her. "Which parts are good? It doesn't sound like he pays any attention to you at all and that pisses me off. It should piss you off too".
"It does sometimes, but then other times are fantastic, like when he first gets home from a long trip"
"This is sounding like a sex thing?"
Alan had returned with two more wine glasses the size of sixteen ounce, stemmed water glasses, filled nearly to the top. "Happy Wednesday, ladies!"
"Alan, you are a stud", said Katy.
"Ooh, thank you ma'am", replied Alan. "Enjoy. The entrees will be out in a moment."
There was a pause after the waiter had left the table, again walking backwards towards the kitchen. Both women had been close friends for years, sharing nearly everything about each other's lives without holding back, but the banter always stopped before talking in any detail about husbands. Some things were private to Cynthia, and going down the path of discussing relationship failure was a topic she was not comfortable discussing. Cynthia took an opportunity for an easy dodge.
"The man has the libido of an eighteen year old. It takes a whole day for me to stop walking funny", said Cynthia.
Conservative Cynthia Masters had just packaged an uncharacteristic comment designed to shift Katy's focus to something other than a struggling marriage. In the process, shocking Katy to the point where a naturally occurring but Hollywood worthy spit-take was restrained as Katy covered her mouth after taking a gulp of wine. The sudden pressure however, forced the wine out of Katy's unblocked nose. Cynthia sat back and enjoyed the show. Grabbing her napkin to wipe her face and the drops of gold that had fallen onto her butter plate, Katy looked across at Cynthia with a smile and said;
"You bitch. You did that on purpose!"
"Gotta love me"