The International Writers Magazine: Infatuation
The Berkeley gang, as I thought of them, usually got together on Fridays after work, meeting in a downtown bar. Someone always knew of a party going on that night. The next morning, Saturday, we’d reconvene someplace, often the Buena Vista, and then go somewhere, possibly over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito or to Sam’s in Tiburon. A lot of drinking was done over the weekend and, I’m sure, a lot of sexual activity went on. I was kidded because I drank very little, one reason being that I didn’t feel I had the income to squander on alcohol. I was also, I’m sorry to say, also a non-participant in the sexual activity. I was known as Ray’s serious friend from New York, sober and close with money.
My Cecily Infatuation
Ah, the stupid things we do when we are young. I wasn’t that young actually, 25 when I came to San Francisco from New York City, got a job as researcher in an ad agency, fell in with a gang of young people, mostly UC Berkeley grads, because I knew one of them from the Army, started going to parties and became infatuated with Cecile Thornton. Cecile was a secretary at my ad agency, a dark beauty, sexy and provocative, and she knew it. She became one of the gang because she was a friend of Ginny Brewster, then the girl friend of my Army friend Ray Foxbridge.
When I think back, I see myself as a minor character in a movie where the sexy heroine has a host of young men waiting on her until she goes off with the handsome hero. I was one of those young men. I don’t mean that I obviously lusted after Cecile. When we were all together I’d just say hello, ask her how her job was going and maybe exchange a little gossip about our ad agency. But, on the rare times I caught her alone, I’d ask her if she’d like to have dinner; she’d always say she’d love to but couldn’t because she was always busy. I had a few dates with one or another of the girls in the gang, but these always came to nothing. They were nice girls but I was fixated on Cecile.
At work I waited for a glimpse of her or occasionally I’d stop by her desk. At a party I tried to keep her in sight; usually she was surrounded by other guys. At night I thought about her and pictured us together. I was supposed to be serious and sensible and I knew my infatuation was ridiculous but I couldn’t help myself. It was if someone had put me under a spell and I couldn’t break it.
Then one day I thought I might have made a breakthrough. It was a wedding, Ray and Ginny were getting married. The entire Berkeley gang was of course there. At around seven in the evening, the reception began to break up. Ray and Ginny vanished, off to wherever they were going on their honeymoon. I was about to leave when Cecile came up to me. Her date had passed out drunk; would I be able to drive her home? I’d bought an old rattletrap of a car but thought it could handle that. I said I’d be glad to. Cecile’s look made it clear what she thought of my car but she got in anyway. I took a deep breath and suggested we stop somewhere for dinner. She seemed reluctant, then finally named a restaurant near her apartment. I was elated. I was taking her out, not exactly a date but close enough.
The restaurant near Cecile’s apartment, as it turned out, was quite expensive, and, as I should have expected, she selected one of the most expensive entrees on the menu. I selected the least expensive, saying I’d had plenty to eat at the reception. I wanted to tell Cecile a little something about myself but it was evident she wasn’t much interested. However, she wasn’t reluctant to talk about herself. She seemed to spend a lot of weekends going out of town, to Lake Tahoe, to Carmel, to Big Sur, even to places in Southern California. She mentioned names like Lloyd, who was our agency’s creative director, and Stan, who I gathered was some kind of local radio celebrity, who’d take her to these places. It wasn’t a very encouraging conversation.
When we finished our meal, I had barely enough money to cover the bill. I drove her to her apartment. Before I could say anything at her door she thanked me for dinner, said she was tired and had to get to bed as Lloyd, or maybe it was Stan, would be picking her up early the next morning. At this point, I should have realized my infatuation was getting me nowhere but of course when I got to bed that night I thought of all the witty things I might have said at dinner and I conjured up an entirely different ending to the night.
Several weekends later the gang went to Lake Tahoe. The parents of one of the girls had a cabin we could stay in. Lloyd and Stan must have been busy that weekend because Cecile came with us. We arrived in the early afternoon, had lunch, then went to the beach. Cecile wore a fairly modest one-piece bathing suit but it revealed all of her curves. I could hardly take my eyes off her. That night, we went to one of the casinos, had a buffet dinner, then it was off to the gambling tables. Most of the others played blackjack. I hadn’t planned to gamble at all but then I saw a roulette wheel. I’d played some roulette when I was in the Army in Europe so I thought I’d give it a try. This was before the minimum bet was at least five dollars; I think you could play with a minimum of a dollar, so I wouldn’t have to bet a lot.
I’d read about systems for roulette and of course knew the classic system of playing red or black, doubling up on your bets, and eventually, at 50/50 odds you’d win. The only problem was that it was possible to have a long string of either red or black and also since the wheel had a zero and double-zero the odds were less than 50-50. In any case I bet on the red or black in small amounts and occasionally on one the four numbers containing my age, 25, and my sister’s age, 23. Amazingly, this seemed to be a night when those numbers came up often and after a while I had a sizeable number of chips.
I felt that someone had come up behind me and I recognized the scent; it was Cecile. “I didn’t know you were a gambler,” she whispered.
“I’m not,” I said. “Maybe I should quit now while I’m ahead.”
“No,” she said. “You’re on a lucky run. Go for broke.”
“All right,” I said. I was caught up in the fever of the game, and of trying to impress Cecile. I pushed all of my chips onto the zero/double-zero. They hadn’t come up all night. I could feel Cecile’s warm body against mine. Her gaze was fixed on the wheel. Her lips were slightly parted. She too was caught up. The croupier started the wheel.. The ball went around and around, hit off one side and then the other. Then it settled into the zero/double-zero. I had won, how much I had no idea but it was a lot. The croupier looked at me questioningly. Did I want to leave my chips on the zero/double zero?
“Isn’t this is exciting,” Cecile said breathlessly into my ear. “Leave them all one. Take a chance. Then we can celebrate.”
I took this last to be an invitation. If I won again I’d have a fortune, a small fortune anyway. And I’d have Cecile. “Go on,” she said. “Be a man. Do it.”
Then it was if the fever broke. I knew the odds against the zero/double-zero coming up again were astronomical. The money I already had would make a big difference in my life. I motioned to the croupier to give me my winnings. There was a collective sigh among the people who’d been watching. Without looking around I gathered up my chips and took them to the cashier. I didn’t know where Cecile had gone. Our cabin wasn’t far from the casino. I walked there and lay down on my bed. I was drained.
The next day, Sunday, we all went to the beach again. I looked at Cecile in her swimsuit and felt nothing. When the fever of the game had broken so had my infatuation. It was one thing to take a risk but to then double up on that risk was foolhardy. Pursuing Cecile, as I knew all along, could only lead to disaster.
More travel stories
I used my roulette winnings to buy a new car. Later that year I changed jobs and lost track of Cecile. Then someone from the old gang told me she’d married creative director Lloyd but then had divorced him after six months, getting a nice settlement. I was sure somebody else would be next. Whenever I thought of my Cecile infatuation I breathed a sigh of relief.
© Martin Green October 2012
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