Keeping Them Happy Ch. 5

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He didn’t make love to her that first night. In his recent relationships with other women, any attention to love, romance, mutual regard, or anything other than following a course derived from simple animal lust had not been considered. Maybe if he hadn’t had so much sex lately with women who seemed to possess an impulsive nature; maybe, as he aged, if he hadn’t become more curious about his own place in the great scheme of things; maybe then he would have gone through all the usual motions and she would have acceded to sex and their relationship either would have briefly stabilized at that uncommitted level or quickly faded away like a winter sun. But he had decided, even before they had left the party, that he wanted to see more of her. And wanting that, he was careful not to offend her.

He drank a cup of coffee with her that night in her modest condominium, asked if he could call, and left happily.

Over the next couple months he took her out regularly and they grew to expect more and more from each other, and to share decisions in the custom of developing romances. Meanwhile, George’s marriage to Diane seemed to be destined for divorce. She had found a boyfriend and made no effort to conceal that fact from George. George brought more of his things into Mason’s house; and frequently at breakfast – which often was the only time they saw each other all day – they tried to figure out a solution to George’s distress.

“We really got into it last night.”


“I went over to see Gino.” Gino was George’s young son. “The asshole was there.” George used his usual descriptive term for the boyfriend. “She threatened to call the police.”

Mason took a deep breath, fearing the worst. “You didn’t hit him, right?”

“Nah. Jeezus, I sure wanted to though. I just kept waiting for him to open his mouth. You know, to start making assumptions, crowding into my relationship with a woman who is still my wife. But the sonuvabitch was too smart for that. He walked off. Went in the kitchen by himself, so her and me just got into a yelling match. She was pissed because I didn’t give her enough money. And not as soon she expected to get it. You didn’t warn me she’d get so pissed, Mason.”

“You want some more milk?” Mason asked, pouring himself another glass. George took the carton and did the same, emptying it.

“You realize I been here for two months, Mason? I can’t keep living like this. It isn’t healthy. I stay up late. I drink too much. Then I fumble around in people’s mouths like I just got out of dental school. The other day I got dizzy right in the middle of a root canal and had to excuse myself and go splash cold water on my face. Cynthia told me she’s worried about me.” Cynthia was George’s nurse and general helper in his office. He had deliberately hired someone older than him and not particularly good looking, just so he could avoid temptation.

George took a deep breath and shook his head with regret. “I didn’t tell you, yesterday I had Ray do some lab work for me.” Ray was a urologist whose office was in the same building as George’s dental office. “I thought I had herpes.”

“Ah, Jeez, George. You gotta be careful. I don’t want to pick up any social disease from you using my bathroom. I mean I got something going with somebody I really like, and I don’t want to mess it up.”

“It’s OK. I didn’t have it. Ray said his analysis was negative. He thought I just had an abrasion from too much friction.” George picked up his bowl of Cheerios and slurped down the remains.

Mason was still a little worried. “Maybe use a little jelly next time you encounter a dry one.”

“Whatever. Must have seemed all right to me at the time.”

They took their separate cars to their respective jobs. Because they both kept irregular hours at night, they seldom met for dinner. Mason frequently worked late, trying to catch up on his law practice or correcting student’s papers, but still he remained too slow for most of his clients. He prioritized, only striving to catch up with the closest deadlines or the most annoying complainers so they would stop harassing him. He thought that they had no legitimate right to complain. He worked cheaper than other attorneys but made the same profit or more because he had almost no overhead. The university provided him with an office and he did his own typing, except for occasional long briefs that he dictated over the phone to a typing service. And yet, those who searched him out for a “deal” on legal services also happened to be the kind who wanted the most for their money. Mason often took payment in the form of merchandise, to reduce his taxable cash income. He’d gotten a bear rug that way, a computer he couldn’t figure out, a shortwave radio that only seemed to pick up static, and even a purebred dog (he was told it was valuable) that he gave away when he tired of its loud barking and destructive behavior. It shredded a pillow cover on his bed while trying to make some kind of nest for itself.

Mason didn’t see much of George, who spent many of his own evenings in various singles bars or having dinner in the apartments of women he hardly knew. He had a way of inviting himself to dinner with a new female acquaintance and invariably brought a bottle of cheap California champagne. If he managed to get invited a second time, he repeated the gesture. He was not inconsiderate or cheap; he just didn’t value those encounters very highly. As he mentioned to Mason on several occasions, “there will always be another bus along.”

The two men got on well together, were tolerant of each other’s failings and made no effort to judge or shape each other’s lives. They had met in high school. They had both gotten tattoos – discreet three-letter scripts of their initials so high on their left arms that the tattoo would be completely covered by a tee shirt sleeve. That had been when they were 18 and had celebrated their arrival at manhood by driving to San Diego for a few days. It was the late 1950s and San Diego was still a Navy town with lots of entertainment available for sailors. Mason and George had each gone to a Mexican prostitute after having gotten kicked out of several bars for being minors.

They had attended different universities but met during the summers and watched each other settle down with steady girlfriends, the way all young men were still expected to do in those years. They had each gotten married during one summer’s break from college and had each been the best man for the other. Their wives had become friends, but Mason and George had never reconciled themselves to including women, especially a pregnant woman, in any of their fun. Mason’s wife, Jane, had become pregnant during their first year and again late in the second year. George’s wife had two miscarriages and got a job. The two men went out together without the women, got drunk, got in fights in bars, urinated on the sides of buildings, shouted at the moon, and then went home to wives who told them they must stop what they were doing.

It was Mason who got divorced first. The only people surprised, besides Mason, were the parents. The marriage had lasted nine years. Jane had finally left him for another man she met during one of those nights that she too had gone out for some fun, after parking the kids with her parents.

At first, Mason was bitter, but he eventually recognized that he had both ignored her and treated her harshly. With that realization also came the knowledge that he had never really loved her. At least he didn’t think he had. When he thought about it, he wasn’t sure he had ever loved anyone or what love would really be like. He could only assume it must be more substantial than what had existed between him and Jane. Looking back later at those years, he concluded that marriage for him had been his attempt to fit himself into the mold of what he considered to be a successful adult male. Twenty years later he was still trying to figure it out.

Mason couldn’t go to George’s house after the separation. He knew that Shelley, George’s first wife, disapproved of him. So he and George would meet after work for a brief drink and sometimes play handball together on Saturdays. Two years after Mason’s divorce, George got his. But George had no children by his first wife and they had almost a handshake separation. Neither husband nor wife had any other serious romantic interests at the time, but their marriage had become little more than a discipline. They decided mutually that they wanted more freedom and that the marriage was a restraint to both of them and their separate careers. She was a manager in an insurance office.

Both George and Mason remarried quickly. Mason claimed that he couldn’t stand being alone; George said that he needed a stabilizing influence in his life. They were both being as truthful as they could manage.

The second time around, they were best man for each other again. The weddings themselves bore little resemblance to the previous events. For those first occasions, the two parties each had traditional church weddings, with a large audience of shoestring relatives and school friends. Each groom felt at that time that the parents and prospective brides were masterminding something at which the grooms were regarded as too immature to be given any responsibility. For his second wedding, Mason had been married in his home by a friend who was a judge. The bride, Terri, was fourteen years younger than he and was a former student from one of his classes. Her parents only tolerated him, although her father managed to drink nearly half of a bottle of Chivas Regal that Mason had brought for the small party afterwards. George, who was at that time just shedding himself of his first wife, was impressed enough by what he later described as Mason’s sensible production that he repeated it for his own second wedding. George was smart and did have a keen imagination, but it manifested itself in what interested him, securing the attention of women, rather than in routine things like weddings.

It had been over five years since Mason’s divorce from Terri. His second marriage had been much like George’s first, no children and a quiet settlement, no shouting, very few accusations. Still it had hurt. He had vowed to George and to anyone else who was curious that he would never marry again. He had already failed twice. That said it all.

He was lonely but he couldn’t seem to make marriage work and he found the pain of separating almost intolerable, accompanied by the grief of personal failure. He didn’t trust his own emotions; he knew that he treated women badly in the long term; but he couldn’t stand to fail again at keeping them. It seemed to him that his love for wives and girlfriends had always felt strongest in retrospect, after the woman was gone.

As he drifted with Gail through the summer vacation from college, the period when he usually caught up on his law practice in anticipation of the pile-up that began again with the fall term, he found that he was gaining little on the backlog. He realized that it was because of the increasing time he spent with Gail.

Near the end of the summer he took her to a rodeo. He knew nothing about rodeos, had never been to one, but knew that this particular cowboy event was regarded as one of the best in the country. He assumed that she, being from Texas, would enjoy it. It was an eighty mile drive and, contrary to his usual disregard for time, he had calculated how long it might take to get there and then had added a half hour; and he had picked her up on time. In a wicker basket he had packed a picnic lunch, some tuna sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts, a bag of Fritos and a six-pack of beer.

She wore cowboy boots and a western straw hat, which he had never seen her wear before and which he thought made her look spectacular. She could be his Barbara Stanwyck and together they would tame the wild west, mend the fences, manage the spread and drive off the outlaws. As they left the city and began passing farms he asked her if the area around them was anything like Texas. He had been to Houston, but to him that was just another big city. He wanted to know about the real Texas.

“It’s big,” she said, “and we have a lot of oil wells scattered around. What I see here are a lot of real small farms, a little bit shabby.” She flashed an apologetic smile. She didn’t like to sound negative. “And it’s a lot flatter and drier in Texas. Not so many trees as here. The trees are nice. I wish we had more of them.” From listening to her before, Mason knew that “we” meant Texas, not a place but a fraternity of good fellowship, forthrightness, determination, guns, and individual rights, provided those rights weren’t too liberal. Mason had heard others call it a cult, but he had a longing to belong to any affiliation that counted her as a contented member.

The day was warm, so they drove with all the Jaguar windows rolled down and drank beer and sang songs. Over a grain field he saw two birds wheeling in circular search patterns. He thought they might be hawks and asked Gail, but she didn’t seem interested and said she didn’t know much about birds.

A half hour before the rodeo, they arrived at the small town that hosted it. Mason was surprised at the number of cars. People who lived along the main street had turned their front yards into parking lots and stood along the street trying to wave in passing cars. The crudely made signs on scrap lumber and cardboard said “Parking $2.” Traffic on the main street slowed to a walking pace as drivers tried to find places to leave their vehicles.

“Ummm boy, I didn’t think these things were so popular,” Mason said.

Gail explained how rodeos were much more frequent in Texas, suggesting that more would mean easier parking, a rationale that only left Mason wondering as he inched ahead. At a corner a deputy sheriff was directing all the traffic to the right. As they went by him he repeated what he had already said a thousand times, “Parking six blocks on your left.” It was a field and it looked full but Mason chose to park at the corner closest to the arena. That meant he was parking mostly in a lane that was being left open for access to and from the field. When he got out he glanced at the remaining space and judged it wide enough for most cars to get by. Then they joined the crowd walking toward the arena.

More people funneled into the procession as they got closer to the arena, and Mason for the first time wondered how all these people would fit into the place. At the edge of the grounds they encountered an assortment of refreshment stands. He had brought the wicker basket, but Gail said she would like something hot to eat and suggested that they save their own sandwiches until they were inside. He bought two orders of skewered kebabs, meat and onion, that had been barbecued in a sticky sauce. He ate half of his and dropped the remainder in a trash can.

The arena was a large wooden structure, three tiers high and completely enclosed around the outside to prevent anyone sneaking in or even getting a free look. As they passed a gate in search of the ticket counter, Mason peeked past the attendant and saw what appeared to be a capacity crowd. There was not a vacant seat to be seen, although the attendant was still accepting tickets and letting people in.

When they found the ticket booth, Mason asked Gail to wait for him while he went up alone. She continued to munch on her speared meat. Mason felt fortunate that he had found a ticket window that was not crowded. There were less than fifteen minutes remaining before the rodeo was to begin.

“I’d like two seats, please,” he told the gum-chewing woman in the booth. She was busy counting a pile of bills.

“Sorry. Sold out.” she didn’t look up.

He was stunned and unwilling to accept her answer. “Well, okay. We’ll take box seats or whatever’s left. I don’t care about the price.”

Finally she looked up. “Hon’, everything’s sold out. Nothing left.” She examined him for two chews of her gum and then went back to her money. When he didn’t leave she looked up again. “Should’ve got reservations. Tickets been on sale for three months. Pretty much all of them gone for a least a month now.”

Mason was crushed. The day had been going so well, now this seemed like punishment. Even if it was contrary to his nature to admit failure and fret about it, this was a special occasion and he should have done better. He had fucked up and now he expected that he would have to pay for it.

“Did you get good seats?” Gail asked, not reading the gloom on his face.

He shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry. They’re all sold out. The ticket lady said they were all bought more than a month ago.”

“No. You’re kidding.” She laughed. He had made this kind of joke before and was a convincing actor when pretending bad news.

“No. Not this time.” He was limp, directionless, defeated. He had no alternate suggestions.

Her smile disappeared. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He could only nod.

“Well, what are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know. I guess it won’t be a rodeo.”

“But couldn’t you have gotten reservations?” Her tone had become noticeably accusing.

“I guess so. But it’s too late for that now. I really didn’t know that we needed to get reserved seats for this sort of thing.”

Something happened to her face that was similar to what he had seen only a couple of times before. It became frightfully stern. She hurled the stick from her kabob into a trash barrel. “OK. Let’s go then,” and she started to walk away from him.

He hurried to catch up. “Maybe we could do something else. There’s a lot to see around here.” He didn’t know what that might be. “We could just go get a beer. And we’ve still got the picnic lunch. We could find a park somewhere.”

She stopped and faced him so abruptly that he almost bumped into her. “Honestly, it’s just like you. You can be so casual about everything. You never plan anything more than a day ahead, and even then you’re never on time. I thought maybe I meant more to you than that.”

Mason was conscious of people flowing around them and did not like to be the focus of anyone’s attention. He strove to get her moving again. “Come on. Let’s go back to the car and we’ll figure out something else.” They walked in silence, her leading.

She didn’t say another word until they got to the Jaguar, where Mason found a man with a tow truck raising up the front of it.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Mason’s anger finally burst forth.

“This your car?”

“Yeah. What do you think you’re doing with it?”

The two truck man spit in the grass. “I’m fixin’ to tow it so people can get out of this lot when the rodeo’s over. You’re blockin’ the lane. That ticket on the window there is from the deputy who asked me to tow you.” Mason looked at the multi-copy ticket flapping gaily in the breeze.

“All right. I’m here now, so you can put it down. I’m leaving.” Gail leaned against another car with her arms folded across her chest, the picture of repressed violence.

“Towing bill’s ten dollars.”

“For what? You didn’t tow it anywhere.”

“Just for me coming out. If I’d moved her it would been twenty-five.”

Gail spoke up impatiently. “Why don’t you just pay the man, Mason?”

Mason looked from one of them to the other and realized that there could be no victory in resisting. He pulled out his wallet and paid; and the car came back down. The tow truck man wished them a nice day and Gail thanked him. During the long ride back to the city, Mason interrupted the silence to ask Gail if she’d like to go to dinner at a French restaurant that was a favorite of hers. It was the best peace offering he could think of on such short notice.

“No. It’s probably also too late to get reservations for there. You can just take me home.”

He gave up completely at that point and did not even try to make further conversation until they pulled into the parking area in front of her condominium. “How about if I call you tomorrow night?” he asked.

“I don’t care. You can if you want. I may be going out.” Having dismissed him, she slammed the car door and walked away.


It was still too early for dinner when Mason got home from his rodeo disaster. George was not there, having gone for the weekend on a boat trip up the river with a group of friends, so the tranquility of the house seemed peculiarly false to him. He opened a beer from the refrigerator and ate part of one of the tuna sandwiches from the picnic basket. He sat at the kitchen table hearing only the sound of his own jaw working. He looked at the other tuna sandwich, tried to figure out what to do with it and finally put it in the refrigerator. It was an effort for him to finish the sandwich he was eating. The final bite of crust represented a particular challenge. He turned it round and round in his fingers before finally shoving it into his mouth, where it formed a dry lump that was hard to swallow.

In his bedroom he shucked his clothes in a pile and put on a bathing suit. He got a clean glass from the kitchen and three quart bottles of beer and then carried it all out to the sailboat. In four months, the boat had not been moved and one of the tires on the trailer had gone flat. He had accepted the boat in lieu of fee on a bankruptcy he had done, but the client had owed $6,000 on the boat and the finance company had told Mason that if they ever found it off of his property, where the law prohibited them from repossessing it, they would seize it. Mason figured to keep it for a couple years and then reach a settlement with the finance company for a token payment that would make the boat his. In the meantime, it had become a refuge for him, a private isolation compartment that was even better than the bathroom. In the bathroom he could hear the phone ringing, even if he wouldn’t answer it. In a way, the boat was like a good friend, something he could rely on, something which would never disappoint him, something that was there when he needed it.

Standing beside the boat, he had to stretch his arms up to put the beer bottles and the glass on the boat’s deck. He then used the fender of the trailer as a step to climb on board. After he had stowed his supplies inside the cabin, he returned to the ground and set the sprinkler so that it splashed water on the boat. He like the sound that it made inside and the pattern of the water running down the windows; it made it easier for him to imagine he was sailing. Back inside, he propped himself up on one of the bunks and poured his first beer, admiring the amber color before taking a first satisfying gulp.

Two hours and two quarts later, George came home and shut off the water.

“You in there, Mason?” he called, knocking on the side of the fiberglass hull.

Mason had started to doze off and was startled by the noise. “Yeah, yeah, it’s OK, everything’s OK,” he said quickly, trying to get his bearings. He had been having a dream about Gail in which she repeatedly got out of his car while it was moving, but she did it without getting hurt, contrary to his anxious warnings to her.

“Anybody with you?” George called from outside. The risk he took of interrupting a possible romantic interlude was unusual for George, and Mason assumed there was something he wanted to talk about.

“No,” Mason answered, noticing for the first time that it was getting dark out. “I’m just in here drinking beer and taking naps. Why don’t you get yourself another quart bottle out of the refrigerator and join me.”

George yelled back “Be right there” and Mason heard him walking into the house. In a few minutes the boat swayed with George’s weight coming up over the side. He eased into the cabin as Mason switched on the small lamp which was supplied with electricity by a long extension cord from the house. George was still wearing his weekend boating clothes, a pair of frayed tennis shoes, faded blue jeans and a shirt with sweat stains in the armpits. He too had been drinking.

“How was the weekend?” Mason asked.

“It was really a bust. How’d you do?”

“About the same.”

George stretched his legs out on the opposite bunk and rested his back against the bulkhead. He pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it to Mason. “Look at that.”

It was a wadded up twenty dollar bill. Mason looked at both sides of it. “I don’t get it. Is it counterfeit or what?” He passed it back to George who waved it around over his beer as he began to explain.

“Beth threw it at me.”

“Beth. Was that who you were with this weekend?” It was a new name.

“Right. I’d never taken her out before. but jeezus it was just two days and a night on a motorboat with two other couples. That doesn’t sound like it ought to get too tense, does it?”

Mason agreed. “So what happened?”

“Well, to start with, after I bought a case of beer on the way to the boat yesterday morning, I only had five dollars left in my wallet. I didn’t think that’d be any problem because I figured we’d just stay on the boat for two days. I also didn’t take any food along, but you know when you’re a kind of a bachelor – like I am now – people don’t expect you to bring anything. Right? The other two guys have got wives who fixed food. Beth had asked me if she should bring anything and I told her all the food would be taken care of. And it was. They just shared theirs with us. No big deal there, but right away she was pissed about that. Said I’d misinformed her.

“Then last night the two wives convinced Stan and Bob that they should go ashore for dinner. It was just Harborton and there’s no decent restaurant there anyway, so I tried to get Beth to stay with me on the boat. But she said she was going whether I did or not. So we all went. But see, that didn’t make her happy either.”

“What’d you have?” Mason asked, not really caring but figuring he needed to contribute something to the conversation.

“Well, since I didn’t have much money and didn’t want to have to borrow any, I ordered a steak sandwich for her and a grilled cheese for me. I mean she even ate better than I did. A steak sandwich.”

“What’d the others have?”

“I guess that might’ve been part of the problem. They had steak dinners with salads and soup and all the other usual shit.”

“OK, I’m following so far,” Mason said, swilling down some more beer.

“I figured maybe she was cranky because she was having her period, so last night when we bedded down – her and me were in sleeping bags on the deck outside – she just turned her back to me. I asked her if it wasn’t her time of month or something.”

“OK. That’s a little awkward though. What’d she say?”

“She said I was a chauvinist asshole who thought that women’s emotions were controlled by their ovaries. I don’t know, is that right?”

“What she said about you or the part about women’s ovaries?”

“I don’t know. Either one, I guess.”

“Damned if I know, George. So where does the twenty dollar bill fit in?”

“Oh, today was just more of the same. Distant. Cranky. Maybe I’m kind of dense, but I still figured there might be a chance to make peace with her, so on the way back to her place I was just talking to her, being nice, you know.”

Mason interrupted. “At that point, George, the critical thing is did she seem to be listening?”

George thought about that for a few seconds. “No. no, I guess she wasn’t. I guess that meant she was still pissed, huh?”

“It’s possible.”

“Well, the clincher was when I got her on the front porch. She gets the door open and then reaches in her purse and gets out this bill and bounces the sonuvabitch off my chest. ‘There,’ she said, ‘that should pay you back for the weekend. I’m sure you didn’t spend more than that on me.’ Then she goes inside and slams the door.

“I didn’t get it,” George said wearily. “I really didn’t get it. Still don’t. I just stood there like a dummy, probably for two or three minutes anyway. Then I saw that twenty laying there all balled up on the porch and, you know, I figured I could use it – or maybe give it back to her later – so I picked it up and left.”

“Good move,” Mason agreed. “If you hadn’t, some kid probably would have gotten it and used it to buy drugs.”

“Yeah, that’s sort of what I thought.” George poured the remains of a quart into their two glasses and opened another one. “So, what about you?”

He told George about the long drive out to the rodeo and the response of the ticket seller when he had tried to buy two tickets.

“Gail really got mad at me,” Mason said. “Just like somebody threw a switch. One minute she was really nice and we were having a good time, and the next minute she was being mean to me. It was my first time at a rodeo, and I didn’t realize they could be so popular. She thought I should have known and got reservations. Do you think I should have known, George?”

George shook his head in disbelief and laughed. “Man, we’re supposed to know everything. We’re supposed to be fucking mind readers. At least I learned one thing. I learned never to ask Beth out again. It’s just too bad that a really good weekend was wasted on somebody who didn’t know how to appreciate it. Of course, with you and Gail I guess it’d be different. You’ll probably go on seeing her, won’t you?”

Mason had already been wondering about that himself. In the short time since their unhappy parting, he had missed her. He enjoyed doing things with her; and he was beginning to consider what kind of apology might appease her. It would probably be an expensive dinner or possibly a weekend at the coast in a friend’s cabin or, if her resistance seemed particularly strong, he could always provide a trip to some distant location, New York, Hawaii, even her home state of Texas – something she had already suggested.

“Don’t you ever think she might be interested in your money?” George asked, as though he had tapped into Mason’s thoughts. “I’m not suggesting she is. I’m just asking.”

“Nah. I don’t think about things like that.” He took a deep breath to clear his head. “I don’t mind spending money on her. I get a lot in return. It’s a fair trade.”

“What are you gonna do if she wants to get married?”

“Oh shit!” Mason made a face and shook his head with exaggerated aversion. “She’s already been saying a few things along those lines. You know, she’s asked me why I haven’t gotten married again, and she keeps pointing out couples who appear to be happy together. She even wants me to go to Texas with her to meet her parents.”

George leaned forward, as though expecting to learn something important. “Oh, man. What do you say when that comes up?” he asked.

Mason shrugged. “Look, I haven’t asked her to marry me.”

“Shit, you better do more than that, Mason. Before you know it you’re going to end up trying to deal with what she considers a tacit proposal of marriage.”

Mason was surprised, not having considered the possibility. “Do you think so? But how could she become convinced that something never spoken could be binding on me?”

George was concerned about his friend’s naivete. “Man, this is real basic stuff. It’s not what she thinks. It’s what she gets you thinking that matters. She’ll have you strung up by the balls before you feel the first tug.”

“No,” Mason said. “She’s not like that. You been going out with too many of those women you meet in singles bars. You got a distorted view.” Which caused him to wonder what George’s opinion of Gail was, apart from his expressed general opinion of all women. “What do you think of Gail, anyway?”

He was seeking an honest appraisal from someone he trusted. George recognized that, also understanding that Mason had serious feelings for Gail that could be easily bruised. George dropped his sarcastic tone. “She’s nice enough and pretty enough and smart enough. I guess she’s OK. But remember…”

Mason joined him in reciting, “… There’ll always be another bus along.”

They laughed and drank more beer, both feeling less abused than they had before George climbed aboard the sailboat. From his shirt pocket George pulled out two fat joints of pot which he said he had picked up on his earlier boat trip, apparently when no one was looking. He warned that he didn’t know if they’d be any good and said he had been intending to offer them to Beth, but now the two men decided that no one deserved the dope more than they. George lit one of them, drew on it and passed it to Mason.

Mason inhaled, held the pungent smoke in his lungs for a few seconds and then gradually blew it out. “Remember when we smeared the Ben-Gay on Tony Marchessi’s jock strap?”

“Oh shit!” George laughed and lost the smoke he had inhaled. “What made you think of that?” They had been juniors in high school at the time.

“Remember how he jumped around holding his crotch and threatened to kill me?”

“He might have done it,” George said, “if Mr. Simpson hadn’t intervened.”

“Yeah. Marchessi really got mad, didn’t he.”

“He was an asshole,” George observed and took another hit of the marijuana.

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