She was halfway into her seat before he looked up from his phone. “Hello, Frank. They’ve changed the name of the restaurant. Antoine’s now.” She talked too quickly, a hint she was nervous.
“Hello Rebecca, you look great.”
She picked up her menu, reddening slightly. “Sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting long?”
“No, just got here. Something to drink? It’s okay, it won’t bother me.”
“No, just Pellegrino, thanks.”
Frank had gotten to the hotel restaurant fifteen minutes early. Three years ago, he would have used the time to check into a room, on this occasion he simply waited for her.
Once seated, he’d looked around and nodded slightly. Carpeting and heavy drapes kept the conversations from other diners muted. Cloth table cover and napkins, red and white wine glasses, but only four pieces of flatware. This hotel restaurant incarnation was rated as having good but not superlative food, and high but not outrageous prices. He hadn’t eaten here since she’d told him it was over.
Their server, a middle-aged woman with only hints of makeup, looked down at them impassively. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“She’d like a Pellegrino, I’d like an iced tea.”
Frank looked at Rebecca over the top of his menu. Gray pants suit, cut loose, no jewelry, just a watch and her wedding ring. Rebecca’s dark brown hair was pulled back in a bun. Frank noticed a strand of gray that almost matched her suit.
“You haven’t aged a day.”
She half-smiled, then her lips firmed. “Flattery will no longer get you anywhere.”
He half-smiled back. “I, I’m really glad you texted about meeting for lunch. My eyes hurt from staring at you across PTA meetings.”
“I think I’ll have the Cobb salad.”
Frank’s eyes went down to his menu. From behind it, in a low voice he asked, “Was what we had so bad?”
“Real, Frank, but not right. So yes, bad.”
“Every time I look at you, I envy Jonas. How’s he doing?”
She gave him a frozen stare. “He’s okay.”
He put the menu down. “Tell me what you’ve been up to. I can at least share in that.”
“A year ago I was promoted to a point where I’m barely competent. I don’t know that I’ll get to executive VP, and not sure I want to.”
“Comfort level or ability?”
Rebecca laughed loudly enough that those at the next table turned their heads. “I do miss your snarky candor. Both, probably.”
Frank hesitated, then spread his hands apart. “What can I say or do to try and…”
“No. Stop there. We’ll just hurt each other again.”
The Cobb salad and soft-shelled crab arrived. They talked politics, which they agreed on, and raising children, which they sometimes did not. Laughter was frequent. They always laughed when together.
Dishes were cleared, and coffee ordered and provided. They’d discussed serious things over coffee.
Frank started in. “I’ll accept any chance to be with you, but why are we here?”
“It’s Jonas. I need your help.”
“Is he sick? Did he lose his job?”
“I only wish. He’s got your disease, Frank, got it bad.”
“Oh.” Frank unfocused slightly, seeming to think through possibilities. “You’ve already tried the obvious stuff like AA meetings and rehabs?”
Rebecca’s eyes reddened. “He’s relapsed a half dozen times already, each time worse than the last. He’s cross-addicted now, liquor and coke. Jonas is on a leave of absence from his job, and probably going to get fired the next time he crashes. When he’s active he can say vicious things to me and the kids. If he’s at home at all. I need you to talk with him. You’ve been through this.”
Frank’s expression saddened. “I know what you’re going through, and how hard it must be for you to ask me. I have no cure, Rebecca, just example.”
“We’ve spent three years worth of ivy league tuitions on rehabs and analysts. He’s one DUI away from losing his license and maybe some jail time. AA, ministers, meditation, intervention, I wouldn’t be here if I knew of anything else to do.”
His right hand moved forward on the table toward her, but stopped short of touching hers.
“Rebecca, you’ve probably already tried intervention, and I’m guessing he’s already had AA sponsors. I don’t think I can provide any better help.”
“You know him, Frank, better than any of those shrinks. He doesn’t know about us, but does know you got sober. Talk with him please, maybe go on a trip together. Something, anything.”
She was crying now, silently.
Frank’s tone went neutral. “Is he dry or wet now?”
“If you mean ‘is he drinking’, no, he just got back from another resort rehab.”
“If I do talk with him, he’s apt to just ignore me and resent you for bringing me into it. A nasty part of me says don’t do it, if he stays active on booze and drugs it might circle you back to me. An even nastier part says do it badly and make sure he tanks.”
The corners of her mouth curled up into wet cheeks. “I know. What I’m asking is unfair. Maybe for all of us. But I want him whole, back to who he is. You did it. Show him how.”
“You’re right, that’s not fair.”
The stoic waitress had noticed Rebecca crying and was staring at them. While he had her attention, Frank signaled for the check. He breathed heavily, twice.
“All right. I’ll call him and say I’d heard from a guy in his office about his troubles. That I’d like to get together for breakfast somewhere. That I’d been where he is. We share a serious attachment, so maybe something sticks. If he does listen to me, we’ll see where it goes.”
Rebecca reached out and touched his still extended hand. “Thank you.”
He shrugged. “Don’t thank me yet.”
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over three hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of nine review editors.