Friday, October 23, 2020

Just Because You Can (Part One)


“Deanie! Hurry up! We’re gonna be late!” Calvin hollered from the living room. 

Deanie hollered back. “I’m coming!” She put the backs on her pearl earrings, the ones Calvin had given her on their tenth anniversary. She looked at herself in the mirror and smoothed her dress. Not too bad, if she did say so herself. She grinned and slipped into her shoes, grabbed her purse, and sauntered out to the living room. “How do I look?” 

Calvin saw her and said, “Finally! Let’s go.” 

Her face fell and he realized he’d hurt her feelings. He stepped over to her and put his hands on her waist. “You look beautiful.” He kissed her forehead. “But we need to get going! I don’t want to be late to this party!” 

Deanie nodded and smiled at him, and they headed out to the car. He held the door open for her. All these years later and he was still a gentleman. Mostly.

As they pulled out onto the road, Deanie said, “So tell me about this new boss of yours.” 

Calvin gripped the steering wheel. “He’s coming straight from Atlanta! Can you believe that? He’s a real bigwig, Deanie, and it’s a big deal to get invited to his house.” He glanced over at her. “So be on your best behavior.”

Deanie looked out the window. When was she not on her best behavior? They’d both grown up in the mountains, but sometimes Calvin seemed to think that she was nothing more than a dumb hillbilly. Of course, that made him one, too. She snorted quiet laughter. 

Calvin looked over at her. “What’s so funny?”

She resolved to not pick a fight and turned to him and smiled. “Nothing, sweetheart. I think a little bug just flew up my nose, that’s all.” 

He stared at her for a moment and then turned his eyes back to the road. He began to talk about the new boss, Mr. Jenkins, and prattled on about how smart and sophisticated he was. Deanie’s mind wandered and she looked out the window. They’d come a long way from their little mountain town and although she was happy with their nice house in the suburbs, sometimes she missed the days when she’d meet Calvin late on a hot summer night and he’d kiss her under the mountain laurel, the cicadas singing in her ears. She missed that boy. And she missed the girl she’d been then. 

She snapped out of her reverie when Calvin slapped the wheel and said, “Here we are! Won’t you look at this place, baby?” He pulled through a gate and up a curved expanse of blacktopped driveway. “We play our cards right and we could be the ones livin’ in a place like this! Woooo!” When Calvin got excited, he reverted back to his deep accent. 

She looked at the house and had to admit that it was impressive. A lot bigger than their modest ranch. Seemed a little cold and imposing, though. She shook it off, and when he parked near the other cars and opened her door, she took his arm gratefully. 

They walked up the steps and rang the bell. They heard a clattering of steps from inside and a woman opened the door. 

When Deanie saw her, she almost let out a gasp. She was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. Her hair was a deep auburn, framing her face in gentle waves. Her skin looked like porcelain and her vivid red lipstick was in stark contrast to her pale complexion. She was dressed in a white satin cocktail dress, one that hugged her curves intimately, and Deanie suddenly felt embarrassed by her off-the-rack dress that she had just moments ago thought she looked so good in. 

But when Deanie raised her eyes to the woman, she felt an electric shock. She’d never seen eyes that were such a deep, emerald green. The spell was broken when the woman said, “Hello! Welcome!” Her voice was deep and somewhat husky. Deanie wondered if the woman smoked. 

“Please come in!” The woman beckoned them in and asked, “And who might you be?” 

Deanie was silent, deciding to let Calvin introduce them, and when he didn’t say anything, she glanced over at him. He was standing there with his mouth open. Deanie moved a little closer to him and gave him a discreet elbow to his ribs. He looked over at her in astonishment and then back to the woman. “Oh! I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m Calvin Marshall. I work for Mr. Jenkins.” 

“Oh, yes, of course! Ferlin has mentioned you. And is this your lovely wife?”

“Yes, yes. It is.” 

Deanie looked at Calvin and inwardly rolled her eyes. It? Really, Calvin? She put out her hand to the woman. “Hi there. I’m Deanie.” 

The woman took her hand and squeezed it. “Deanie! What an adorable name!”

“It’s short for Deanna. Deanna Joy.” 

“Well, that is just lovely. I’m Jolene. I’m Ferlin’s wife. Do come and join us. Ferlin has mixed up a batch of his dirty martinis and they are to die for!” 

They followed her down a hallway. Deanie looked around at the furnishings and artwork. She looked over at Calvin to point it all out to him and realized that he was watching Jolene. Deanie sighed to herself. It was shaping up to be a long night. 

Jolene led them out to a covered patio and over to a rather beefy man holding court with a couple of others. She put her hand on the man’s arm and said, “Ferlin, Calvin Marshall is here.”

The man looked up and grabbed Calvin’s hand. “Good to see you! Welcome to our home. And who is this lovely lady at your side?” 

Jolene spoke up before Calvin could. “This is his wife, Deanie. Isn’t she adorable?”

Deanie was getting a little tired of being spoken of like a cocker spaniel, but smiled and took his hand. “Mr. Jenkins, it’s so nice to finally meet you. Calvin has said so many wonderful things about working for you.” 

“None of this ‘Mr. Jenkins’ nonsense, please. Call me Ferlin.” 

Deanie nodded. 

Ferlin smacked Calvin on the shoulder. “Same goes for you! But only here. At the office, you call me Mr. Jenkins!” He laughed loudly and the other men he’d been talking to joined in. Calvin just looked dazed and finally tore his eyes away from Jolene.

“Yes, sir. Ferlin it is, sir.” 

Ferlin rolled his eyes and then said, “Here. You both need a martooni. I make ‘em special. And extra dirty.” He winked at Deanie. 

Deanie thought, “Yes. This is going to be a really long night.” 

Ferlin poured them drinks and watched as they took a sip. Calvin started coughing and Ferlin pounded him on the back. He said, “Hey now, Calvin! Can’t you handle your drink?” 

Deanie choked for a moment on what seemed like straight gin, but recovered quickly. She smiled and said, “It’s delicious, Ferlin. Thank you.” 

He beamed at her. “Atta girl! You’re all right, Deanie!” He looked at Calvin. “You could take a lesson from your wife!” 

Calvin flushed a deep red. Deanie looked at Jolene in desperation, and Jolene sprang to the rescue. 

“Calvin!” Jolene’s voice rang out. “Let me take you and Deanie on a little stroll through our gardens. Yes?” 

Deanie nodded gratefully and Jolene took each of them by the arm and led them down a pathway, pointing out various plants along the way. She mentioned nothing about Ferlin’s remarks, and Deanie was grateful. Calvin seemed nothing less than smitten by Jolene.

As Jolene showed them the ornamental trees, Deanie wondered if Calvin’s aspirations were really what they needed in their lives and if these were the people they wanted to be around. But she had to admit that Jolene was charming. As they strolled down the garden path, Jolene asked her about her hobbies and passions. Deanie found herself responding enthusiastically about various books she had been reading and about how she’d been dabbling in a little painting. 

Jolene continued to ask her questions and despite her initial feelings of intimidation, Deanie decided that she liked Jolene a lot. She was kind and warm and seemed to be interested in what Deanie had to say. Which was more than Calvin was lately. Deanie glanced over at Calvin, on the other side of Jolene, and he was openly gaping at Jolene. Oh, for Pete’s sake. Deanie stopped on the path and said, “Jolene, I’m feeling a little warm out here in the sun. Your garden is lovely, but I think I need some shade.” 

Jolene turned to her and said, “Oh, of course! Are you okay?”

Deanie nodded. “I just need to get out of the sun. And probably a glass of water.” 

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Let’s get you back and get you cooled off!” Jolene put an arm around Deanie’s shoulders and led her back to the house, Calvin trailing behind them.

Jolene got them to the house and firmly told Calvin to talk to Ferlin, then took Deanie into the kitchen. She sat Deanie down at the table and ran a cold glass of water at the tap. She handed it to Deanie and sat down at the table with her. “Have a sip. Are you sure you’re all right? You do look a little flushed.” 

Deanie sipped the water. It tasted good. “I’m fine. I’m so sorry.” 

Jolene put her hand on Deanie’s. “Don’t be. It’s a warm day.” 

Deanie looked up at her. “My husband likes you very much. He keeps staring at you.” 

Jolene sat back. “I had noticed that.” She picked up a pack of cigarettes on the table, shook one out, and lit it. She held out the pack to Deanie. 

Deanie didn’t smoke but she kind of felt like having one now. She picked one out of the pack and Jolene lit it for her. Deanie coughed a bit and Jolene smiled at her. 

Deanie took a drag and coughed again. Then she bucked up and decided to be honest. “Listen, Jolene. I know you could have him if you want. It’s pretty obvious to me that he’d be happy about that. But he’s all I’ve got. Please don’t take him from me.” 

Jolene stared at her for a moment and then stood up and went to the sink and stared out the window. She finally turned to Deanie. “You know, I thought you might be different.” 

Deanie blinked. “What do you mean?” 

Jolene walked back to the table and sat down again. “You seemed nice. Genuine. Not like the usual women I encounter.”

“I AM nice!” 

Jolene laughed. “Honestly, you are. But do you have any idea how many times this has happened?” 

Deanie shook her head. “How many times what has happened?” 

“Another woman thinking that I want to steal her husband away.” 

Deanie didn’t say anything. 

“It’s so predictable. Ferlin hires someone new, we have a party, the new employee and his wife come, the husband is smitten with me, and the wife thinks I’m trying to steal him from her.” She waved her cigarette in the air. “It’s so typical.” 

Deanie bristled. “I’m not typical!” 

“No, you aren’t. That’s why I thought you might be different.” She laughed. “Honestly, do you really think I would want to steal your husband? Why?” 

Deanie was dumbfounded. She realized she didn’t know how to answer that. 

Jolene laughed again. “You can’t answer that, can you?” She leaned over and took Deanie’s hand again. “I don’t want your husband. He’s as much of a pig as Ferlin is.” 

Deanie gasped and pulled her hand back. 

“Oh, don’t act so shocked. You know it’s true. We put up with this all the time. I’m expected to be a good hostess for Ferlin and put up with him. I suspect it’s the same for you.” 

Deanie stared at her in shock. Then she took a big drag on her cigarette and blew it out. She stubbed it out in the ashtray and looked into Jolene’s green eyes. “It is.” 

“I knew it.” 

They both laughed and then Calvin appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He leaned his arm against the door frame and said, “What are you lovely ladies up to?” 

Deanie turned back to Jolene and they covered their mouths to stop from laughing out loud. 

Ferlin came up behind Calvin and clapped his hands on Calvin’s shoulders. “Where are my girls at?!” he yelled. 

Deanie and Jolene looked at each other again, barely able to contain their laughter. 

Ferlin moved up to Deanie and put his hands on her waist, and Deanie’s laughter dried up. She stared at Jolene and when Ferlin started to move his hand up, Jolene said, “Deanie and I need to go powder our noses. Excuse us.” She took Deanie’s arm and hustled her to the restroom. She got her inside and shut the door behind them. 

“Deanie, are you okay?”

Deanie nodded, but she couldn’t get the feeling of Ferlin’s hand out of her head. 

“Listen, Deanie. I’m so sorry. Ferlin gets handsy sometimes, especially after he’s had a snootful.”

Deanie nodded again and then decided she needed to say something. “Thanks for getting me out of there. I don’t want to hurt Calvin’s chances at his job, you know.”

Jolene rested her hand on her hip, turned on the overhead fan, and lit a cigarette. She held out the pack to Deanie, and Deanie took another one. At this rate, she’d be up to a pack a day in no time. They smoked in silence for a moment. Deanie began to relax and leaned back against the vanity. She shook her head and laughed a little. 

She looked up at Jolene, who smiled. “I know, honey. Believe me, I know.” 

The rest of the evening passed without incident, although Calvin still acted odd and out of character. He stared at Jolene a lot. After a round of charades and more of Ferlin’s martoonis, the party wound down and people started to leave. Calvin was more than a little unsteady on his feet, but Jolene and Deanie had absconded to the kitchen for a few glasses of water during the evening, so she felt fine. She told Calvin she’d drive them home. 

Calvin sulked a bit but was in no condition to put up a fight about it, and Deanie and Jolene got him into the passenger seat of the car. When Deanie slid behind the wheel, Jolene leaned in and asked, “May I call you tomorrow?”

Deanie looked into her lovely face and nodded. Jolene smiled and said, “Wonderful. Drive safely and get Calvin home and into bed.” 

Deanie finally smiled back and said, “I will, thank you. And thank you for a lovely evening!” 

Jolene patted the side of the car and leaned back, with a smirk on her face. Deanie put the car in gear and backed out into the driveway. “Jolene understands me,” she thought. She pulled out onto the dark road and pointed the car towards home.