It’s Thursday Night – part #2
A cold glass of lemonade on my backyard patio, a warm summer breeze, and songbirds fill the air with music. The perfect prescription after a long, hard day. I let the light wind ruffle my already tousled hair, sighed, and leaned back in my bargain-brand chaise lounge.
Finally, a moment to myself. The boys are at friends, the laundry is done, and for once, I don’t have to cook dinner—a rare occurrence. Thursday night and nothing to do. I savored the sweet, tangy beverage and checked off the list of options open to me.
Oh, by the way, I’m Julie aka Lola, in case you haven’t followed my story.
Okay, back to my options. I could go to the opera, a Broadway show, take a ride in my convertible sports car, or dine at an expensive restaurant. Yeah, right. First of all, I think they would frown if I showed up at the opera wearing blue jeans, tickets to a Broadway show are not in my budget, and I don’t own a sports car. Dinner? Well, my Mason jar is empty after the cab ride a few weeks ago. Excuse me…you don’t know about the Mason jar? You better catch up!
Ah, you have followed my story. What’s that? How did I leave the restaurant without Brad knowing? That’s right, I left you hanging, didn’t I? Well, I’m the sort of girl that flies by the seat of her pants, at times. Improvisation, I guess you’d say. Okay, let’s rewind.
What girl doesn’t retire to the powder room when out on a date? So, I excused myself, walked away from the table, in my best elegant fashion, and ducked out of sight. Certain Brad’s attention was elsewhere, I tiptoed to the kitchen where I highjacked a waiter. I gave him a business card, (not mine), asked him to present it to me at the table, and request my presence in the kitchen. After a few more instructions and a promise of a big tip, he agreed. I hurried back to the table. Right on cue, the waiter appeared, handed me the card, and bent to whisper in my ear. I nodded, looked woefully at Brad, and told him, “Duty calls, I’m afraid.”
He didn’t know what to make of it, but I assured him this sort of thing happened all the time. Hazards of the job, I explained. I told him how much I enjoyed the dinner and thanked him for the lovely time. I stood, let the waiter take my elbow, and guide me to the kitchen. Once the swinging doors closed behind me, the waiter peeked through the oval window and gave me an account of Brad’s activity. He finished his beverage, motioned for the waitress, paid the bill, and left.
After I allowed myself a sigh of relief, I pressed a bill into the young waiter’s hand, at which time, he promptly pressed it back into mine. “Always glad to help a damsel in distress,” he said. I gave his hand an extra squeeze and said a silent ‘thank you’. Because of his generous spirit, I now had cab fare. If he had taken the money, I guess I would have walked home. I never saw Brad after the night at the restaurant and vowed never to introduce Lola again—and I meant it.
The following days found my spirit buoyed, a bit of a spring in my step, and my confidence restored. I smiled a lot to myself, assured I still clean up pretty good, and yes, men still find me attractive. Satisfied, my life resumed, and I put the whole thing behind me.
Three weeks later… The lemonade is gone, the sun is setting, and a long, lonely night stretches ahead. I shrugged my shoulders, went into the house, and slammed the door behind me. A good book, TV, clean out a closet? Again, the options were endless.
About the time I settled myself on the couch, a favorite book in hand, the phone rang. Automatic panic hit me. I never liked the sound of the phone when my boys were gone. I answered it quickly. “Hello?”
The voice on the other end relieved my anxiety. My friend Nancy’s cheerful voice greeted me. “Hey lady, what are you doing tonight? I know the boys are gone. Please tell me you aren’t sitting there alone.”
“Yep, a good read, my favorite sweats, and fuzzy slippers in place. Why?”
“Julie, I worry about you. You never go out. What happened to your social life?”
I couldn’t resist a smile. If Nancy only knew! “Nance, you know I’m broke, and the boys take every dime. They’re older now and in sports. Really, I’m lucky if I can feed them each week. By the time I pay for shoes and jeans, the coffers are empty.”
Nancy sighed. “I know, girlfriend. Listen, I want you to go with me tonight to an art show. It’s part of my job, and I need your expertise. I know nothing about art, and I’m supposed to write a review for the newspaper. My treat…please.”
I put the book on the table and switched the phone to the other ear. “Your treat? There’s an admission price? You paid last time. I can’t keep asking you to fund me, besides, I don’t have anything decent to wear. I’m settled in for the night, Nancy.”
“Nonsense, I’ll be over in a jiff. You are going with me, and I won’t take no for answer.”
The phone clicked in my ear. “Oh brother, now what do I do?” I hung the phone up, marked my place in my book, and stared at the wall.
I was still staring at the wall when Nancy rang the doorbell twenty minutes later. I wanted to go, but reluctant to let my friend pay again, I decided to put my foot down.
“You’re not ready, Julie!” Nancy burst through the door, blonde curls bouncing and headed straight for my bedroom closet.
I rushed after her. “Nancy, I’m not going. I already owe you my right arm. I can’t pay you back for a very long time.”
Nancy turned and grabbed my shoulders. “You are my best friend. All my other friends are married or engaged. You and I…well, we’re all we’ve got. We have to stick together. You don’t ever have to pay me back, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have kids to support and since my divorce, I have more money to spend than when I was married. Good job, alimony. Let me do this, Julie. You’d do it for me, I know. I need you tonight. You take your job as mother seriously. I get it. But, they aren’t here. Have some fun. A chance to dress up; see a few of the upper crust. What could happen?”
Admittedly, it sounded tempting. Months had passed since Nancy and I had done anything together except cry in our hot cocoa together over our plight in life. My children’s activities always took priority. Maybe she was right.
An hour later, we strolled into The Slippery Salamander Art Gallery, dressed in the standard black dress and high heels. Red ones. I loved art, loved to read about the artists, marveled at the talent displayed. I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but I did appreciate the different styles and techniques by the various painters.
Nancy immediately pulled me over to the painting most of the crowd gathered around. “Tell me about this one. It seems to be the most popular. Who is the artist? What does it say to you?”
I craned my neck to see over the people in front of me and gasped. It was a nude. No wonder everyone chose this one. The plaque showed the name of the artist, but I didn’t recognize him. “I don’t know this artist, Nancy. Never heard of him. But he’s done a good job. Caught the light very well, the lines and proportions are good and it’s suggestive without being vulgar. Done in very good taste.”
Nancy scribbled furiously on her notepad. “See, I knew I needed to…”
“Thank you, miss. I take that as a high compliment indeed.”
Nancy looked up, and I turned around.
“Oh, are you the artist in question?” Nancy blurted out.
“Yes, I am.” He gave a mock bow and reached out his hand. “William Blakely, starving artist. He kept his gaze steady on me.
My cheeks flamed, not sure if I blushed at his handsome looks or the picture he’d painted. A nude picture. Remember I like art. I never said I actually knew anything about it. I figured if I opened my mouth, I’d give my ignorance away. So I stood there.
“May I ask your name?” He persisted.
“Oh, I’m Nancy and this is…”
“Lola, my name is Lola.” I had a vision of a movie I’d watched not long ago. A funny story starring a famous actress who pretended to be a redheaded Russian woman trying to attract a wealthy man. It was hilarious and very well played. I thought at the time, what fun an actress has, playing those kinds of roles. Lola was out before I knew it.
Nancy jerked her head in my direction. “What? Lola?”
I grabbed Williams’ outstretched hand and shook it vigorously. And in a deep, Russian accent, rolled Lola off my tongue, again. “Yes, yes. Lowla. So lovely to meet you. Nancy, dahling, could you to lead us to the beverage table. So thirsty I am.” I stared at my friend—hard.
The light dawned in Nancy’s eyes, the shock left her face, and she played along. “This way.” She led us away from the portrait and to the refreshment area.
While William busied himself with our drink orders, Nancy frantically questioned me. “What are you doing? He’s the artist and seems to like you. You’re Russian now? And where did Lola come from?”
I turned my back to William. “Nancy, I will explain later. Just go along with me. In the meantime, you are about to get the best information for your article in the world. He’s much more informed. Guide us to the paintings you want to write about, and I guarantee you’ll get the scoop of the century.”
Recognition lit up Nancy’s eyes, and she nodded her complicity.
“There you are ladies, a Fuzzy Up for our note-taker and a Ginger Ale for you, Lola. What do you say we sit over there in that little alcove and enjoy our refreshment.” He pointed to a secluded place across the room, filled with plants and quite hidden.
“Oh, Mr. William, we are most anxious to see the rest of the paintings.” I looked up at him and did a quick blink of my eyes. “Especially the ones of which you painted.” This Russian accent began to grow on me.
Nancy’s look changed from panic to one of relief when William gave a curt nod in agreement.
“Very well, I would be most delighted to show you my work and those of my compatriots. This way ladies.” He offered his arm to only Lola. Nancy followed behind muttering to herself.
The rest of the evening we had a front-row view of all the art in the show, Lola on William’s arm, and Nancy scribbling furiously. He was quite knowledgeable, and I knew Nance would write the best article ever.
After we’d critiqued all the paintings, I realized I would once again have to make an escape. I only hoped Nancy would catch on and follow my lead.
William guided us back to the beverage table. I knew he would try to lose Nancy and corner me. So my mind raced.
He came back with the drinks, but before he could say anything, I bumped into him, and both drinks went cascading down my dress. In true Russian form, I waved my hands in the air and hollered, “My dress, it is ruined. What am I to do?” All the while, I looked at Nancy and jerked my head toward the door.
William was so upset, apologizing, turning red. He blurted something about napkins and turned to get them.
Nancy shouted,” The ladies room, we must put water on this.” She pulled me into the next room. In all the commotion, William didn’t see us leave.
We jumped into the car and sped off into the night, laughing so hard tears streamed down our face.
Once we gained control of ourselves, Nancy asked, “What in the world just happened in there?”
On the ride home, I told her the story about the supermarket and Brad. “I promised myself I wouldn’t let Lola out ever again, but when William asked my name, it just rolled off my tongue.”
“A secret identity. Julie, it’s incredible. I’ve never seen you like that. You played the part perfectly. Even I forgot you weren’t really Russian. What great fun! We have to do this again. What can I be next time. I don’t want to be Nancy, the reporter. Where shall we go?”
“Oh, no, Nance. I’m not doing it anymore. It was just a little game. I don’t want them to know who I really am. They would run the other way. Single mom, two jobs. I drive a hatchback for Pete’s sake.”
“I’ve got it, Julie. The horse races, we could wear sundresses with big hats, our hair swept up in French Twists. My name could be…