The International Writers Magazine: Dating Stories

Martin Green

The party was a typical San Francisco one, a lot of people in a large apartment on Pacific Heights with a view of the Bay.  It was also the first one I’d been to in over the year.

I’d been kind of a hermit since two things happened:  I’d lost my job as a draftsman when the small firm I worked for suddenly went out of business and then my girl Ellen had gone back to the Midwest when her father became ill and she’d stayed there to marry her high school sweetheart.
I’d been invited to the party by Bud Hoskins, whose sister Barbara was giving it.  I’d finally found a job with one of the State agencies and Bud worked at the table next to me.  I looked around and noticed a dark-haired girl standing by a bookcase.  She wasn't pretty, her nose was too long and her features too sharp, but I found her interesting-looking.  I took a deep breath and willed myself to go across the room.  The girl, she looked to be 25 or 26, about my age, said, "Look, there's a complete edition of Jane Austen.  Don't you think she was a wonderful writer?"
 It was funny, she spoke as if she already knew me.  "I'm sorry, I've never read her," I said.
 She looked disappointed.  "Oh.  Don't you read books?"
  "I read a couple of novels by E.M. Forster last year," I said.  I'd come across them browsing through the library while I was unemployed and found their stories of English life with its curious conventions to be soothing in contrast to my own situation.
   "Yes," she said.  "Isn't he wonderful?"
She had large greenish-blue eyes, which now sparkled enthusiastically.  We talked about books some more, then she told me her name was Kate Mercer.  She'd spent a lot of time in Europe because of her father.  I couldn't gather exactly what he did, whether he was a diplomat or a wine salesman, but her family did a lot of traveling.  Kate had been in San Francisco for two years, had a temporary secretarial job in a publishing house, and expected to start teaching school in the fall.  I asked if I could see her again.  She replied she'd like that and I made a date to take her out to dinner that Saturday.  
Kate’s apartment was near Golden Gate Park. Unlike other girls, who had two or three roommates to afford San Francisco’s high rents, she lived alone. The apartment was large but, I noticed, a little messy, books and magazines scattered about and dishes in the kitchen sink. I took Kate to a restaurant in Chinatown, one that Bud had recommended.  She ate adeptly with chopsticks and tried to get me to use mine but after a couple of futile efforts I had to give up.  She was very animated, her face glowing, and I revised my initial impression; she was a pretty girl.
She was happy because she'd corrected some of the letters one of the publishing house editors had given her to type and, instead of being annoyed, he'd told her she'd improved them. As a reward, he'd taken her out to lunch, at a fashionable place, and had even introduced her to some authors who'd stopped by their table.  He'd also told her that she was too smart to just be typing and he'd try to find some editing work for her. When we left the restaurant she suggested we go to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill for a drink.  "That's a real tourist place," I said.  "On a Saturday night it'll probably be mobbed."
"Come on," she urged, taking my arm.  "It's so clear out the view will be wonderful.  Let's take a chance."
When we reached the cocktail lounge at the top of the Fairmont a waitress led us to a window table that had just been vacated.  The view of the city, as Kate had foreseen, was beautiful, all the lights glowing like jewels.  We sipped our drinks slowly and talked while looking down at the lights.  It was all very satisfying.
Afterward, we rode down on the outside glass elevator.  We were the only ones in the elevator and, on an impulse, I took Kate into my arms and kissed her.  She kissed me back and we continued to embrace until the elevator reached the ground.  When I returned to my place after dropping Kate off, I reminded myself that this was only a first date and that I shouldn't get ahead of myself.  Still, it was spring, the traditional time of beginnings.  Why couldn't I too be making a new beginning in my life?
I saw Kate regularly for the rest of the spring and then over the summer.  We took advantage of the many things that San Francisco had to offer two young people.  We went to the ocean and had drinks at the Cliff House while looking out at the ocean.  We went to the marina, roamed around Ghiradelli Square and Pier Thirty Nine and had dinner at Fisherman's Wharf.  Kate was usually ebullient, enjoying the many good meals we had, pointing out the city's landmarks.  From time to time, she was in a bad mood and then her greenish-blue eyes seemed to darken and she was hard to cheer up.
One of these times came after the editor who'd been so encouraging hadn't given her anything beyond her usual typing to do after all.  "He was probably just trying to hit on me," she said, "and when I didn't go all gooey over him like some of the other girls he cut me off."  But on our next date she was her old enthusiastic self and, when I asked her about the editor, she said it didn't really matter as she was going to start teaching in the fall anyway.
We sometimes went to the movies and in mid-August I noticed that one of the city's little theaters was showing a double feature of two films based on E.M. Forster novels.  I took Kate there on a Saturday night. Both films were beautifully made, unfolding on the screen like a series of paintings, and Kate was delighted at this find.  She chattered on about her favorite scenes as we drove back to her apartment and then while we had coffee in her living room.
We sat side by side on her sofa and after a while I put my arm around her and kissed her.  This was usually as far as we’d go but this night she pressed herself closer.  In due time we were in her bed.  Kate had been so reticent before that I was surprised at how wanton she was now.  It was as if, having decided to go all the way, she'd let all of her defenses down. 
The next morning we had a late breakfast, then walked to Golden Gate Park.  We entered the Science Museum just as the planetarium show was about to begin.  "Let's see it," said Kate.  I bought tickets and we found two chairs in the darkened room.  I leaned back on a headrest and found myself looking up at a miniature sky, one in which every star shone brightly.  I reached over and took Kate's hand.
The lecturer's voice was soft and soothing.  The stars overhead moved and I could imagine myself in space, maybe in the cockpit of a ship, watching and feeling peaceful and serene.  I released Kate's hand and, in the dark, placed my hand on her breast.  When the lights came on, I withdrew it and we exited, not even looking at each other.  But outside the museum we went around a corner and, momentarily alone, kissed passionately.
It was one of those afternoons in San Francisco when it was unusually warm, not even a slight breeze blowing.  The park was crowded.  We wandered through the Japanese Tea Garden, then climbed the little bridge arching over the stream running through it.  At the top, Kate slipped and I caught her and held her close again, although this time there were people all around.
 Kate leaned toward me and her large eyes looked directly into mine.  "It's been a lovely day," she said.  "We're always going to have lovely days like this, aren't we?"
 I felt a little chill at the word "always."  I had a quick image of my old girl friend Ellen.  Hadn't I thought that we'd be together, always?  And then she'd been gone.  But I said, "Sure," as she kissed me.
  "I feel cold," she suddenly said.
 I saw that the fog had started to come in from the ocean and was covering the tops of the trees.  It was time to leave the park.
The following week I had to go to Los Angeles for a meeting.   It was the first time I'd gone on an out-of-town trip and Bud said it meant that my work was meeting with approval.  Bud also told me he thought a promotion was in the works for me.  I thought a lot about Kate while in Los Angeles and couldn't wait to get back so I could tell her the good news.
But when I called her, she sounded cool and uninterested; no, she didn't want me to come over, she was busy going over material for her class, which would start the next week; yes, she'd be busy over the weekend, too.  I assured her that the kids would love her and said I'd call next week to see how things had gone.
Before I had a chance to call her, she called me.  The kids had liked her; she thought it was going to be a great term.  I  took her out to dinner that Saturday to celebrate her teaching debut.  She had a third-grade class.  To hear her tell it, each and every pupil was a remarkable child.  She was already planning on extra books she'd have them read and field trips she'd take them on.
She also talked a lot about the school's principal, a Mr. Wright.  He'd more or less taken her under his wing, telling her she was a natural teacher.  He'd studied in England, had read  everything, could have taught college but instead had gone into public school teaching and now was the youngest principal in the system. After hearing much more about Mr. Wright than I really cared to, I took Kate home.  I'd assumed she'd at least invite me in,  but she said she had class preparation to do.  I kissed her good night and returned to my apartment.  I wondered if those third-graders realized what a devoted teacher they had.
The rest of that fall followed the same pattern.  On some weekends Kate said she was too busy to see me.  On others, I'd go over to her place but she'd grade papers or something while I watched television.  The few times I coaxed her into bed she was passive, her eyes looking beyond mine, and I could imagine that she was planning the next day's lesson.
In early December, Kate informed me that she wouldn't be able to spend Christmas with me.  Mr. Wright was having a big party at his home, which was of course confined to just the teachers at his school.  She'd told me in advance so that I could make other plans.  I decided to fly back to New York for a long overdue visit to my parents.I spent a day going to the second-hand book stores on Third Avenue and in one came across a set of Jane Austen's novels in good condition.  Remembering that Kate had told me Jane Austen was her favorite novelist, I bought them for her as a Christmas present.
I called Kate on my return to San Francisco, and was  surprised when she immediately asked me over.  She was at her most animated, kissing me as soon as I entered, bringing me a glass of wine, then, before I had a chance to say anything, telling me all the details of Mr. Wright's (only he was now Freddie) great Christmas party.  Finally, I was able to present her with the box I'd put the Jane Austen novels in.  She tore open the paper excitedly, then looked disappointed as she took out one of the books.
"I thought she was your favorite," I said.  "That's why I bought them."
"Oh, Freddie says she had a second-rate mind," she said.  She went on to give me Freddie's viewpoint on other English novelists.  As soon as I finished the wine I said I really must be going, I hadn't even unpacked yet.
 She didn't seem to be terribly disappointed.  "That's all right,” she said.  “I have a lot of things to do myself.
I almost called Kate several times that winter but each time  thought, No, it was over, let it be.  At first, whenever my phone rang, I thought it might be Kate, but it never was.  Then in early spring she did call.  Her voice was flat, dispirited.  She was having problems with her class.  The other teachers resented her innovations; they didn't want to try anything new.
  "What does Freddie, uh, Mr. Wright, say?"
  "Oh, Freddie.  He's just gotten married and is on his honeymoon.  He couldn't care less."
 We talked some more.  She sounded so listless that I asked if she was okay, if she wouldn't like me to come over.  "No," she replied, her voice regaining a little life.  "I'll be fine.  I just wanted to talk to someone.  Don't worry, they won't get the better of me."
  "Well, okay," I said, and hung up.
Over the next few weeks, I was worried about Kate and wondered if I should call.  But I didn't know if I could help her or even if I was up to offering her any help.  I'd begun taking out Bud's sister Barbara.  She was a nice girl, not terribly exciting but steady and dependable.  No, I was just now getting my own life in order.  I couldn't afford to get involved again in Kate's ups and downs.  Besides, she was resilient; she'd be able to cope. 

But I never took Barbara to Golden Gate Park, where Kate and I had spent that golden day the summer before.

© Martin Green October 2006

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