Singled Out

Erica Stux

"Did you ever hear from that guy we met last time?" my friend Joyce asked as we sped along the highway to a get-together of the Senior Singles.

"No," I mumbled, signaling to a pass a small car poking along. How could I tell her that I'd had four dates with him and fallen deeply in love?

By all rights it should have been Joyce who met someone - poor Joyce who had never married but kept house for her brother until his recent death, and who was now trying to make up for lost time in developing a social life. I, on the other hand, had been married for 26 years, a fairly happy marriage, and now, two years after Don's death, was ready to start dating again.

The first time Joyce and I had attended the Senior Singles, two months before, we had been disappointed. There were perhaps 30 women at the box lunch picnic, and only four men. But two of the men had come to sit with Joyce and me, and one of them had been Pete, a musician with kindly brown eyes, curly hair with a touch of gray at the temples, and a lazy smile. He told me he played string bass in a combo and clarinet in a community orchestra. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and he invited me to a concert that his orchestra would give in three months.

I didn't tell Joyce I was interested in him. For three days I wondered how to see him again. I had heard women say they occasionally asked a man out. On the fourth day, I hesitantly dialed Pete's number. His answering machine came on.

"Hi Pete," I began. "This is Norma in Springfield. Listen, I have two picnics coming up to which I can bring a guest. One is next Tuesday and the other on Thursday."

He called back within an hour, and arranged to come at six the following Tuesday. He seemed pleased with the invitation.

Since he lived an hour away from my community, Pete didn't know anyone at my picnic, but I was amazed at how easily he fit in. This was a man who knew how to put others at ease, and was adept at finding common interests with strangers.

"You should have been a politician," I told him later, as we drove home. "You're so good at meeting people."

He laughed. "What time is your Thursday picnic?" he asked.

"Oh, you want to go to that one too?"

"Of course. I really enjoyed myself this evening."

Thursday's picnic was a replay of Tuesday's. Most of the people I knew only slightly, but with Pete at my side keeping the conversation going, suddenly I felt I knew them much better. He took my hand as we walked back to the car. After we said goodnight at my front door, I was on a real high. I have to see him again, I decided, before that concert he invited me to. I can't wait that long.

Pete filled my thoughts more or less constantly in the days that followed. I had met other men in the two years I'd been a widow, but none of them interested me like Pete did. How could I keep in contact? I didn't want to give the impression that I was on the make. Maybe he would make the next move. Luckily he did.

An envelope arrived in the mail addressed in a large scrawly handwriting. I ripped it open eagerly. The note said "I enjoyed the two picnics. Thank you for inviting me. Hope you can come to our concert. Here's a list of pieces we'll be playing. Love, Pete."

Love? Why did he sign it, Love, Pete? Did that mean anything? Or was he just being friendly? I wrote back, thanking him for the music program, and added, "When are you coming to Springfield again?" Not that I'm asking him for a date, but maybe he has business to bring him to Springfield.

Another letter arrived the following week.

"My combo is playing at a wedding reception in Springfield Saturday afternoon. How about meeting me at the reception and we'll go out for dinner afterward? Please make a reservation at any restaurant. Love, Pete."

My head was in the ozone all week. There were so many things I wanted to tell him and ask him. Did I dare ask why his marriage had failed, and why he hadn't remarried in the intervening years?

The days dragged by. I tried to concentrate on my work at the office, but my thoughts kept drifting to Pete.

Saturday morning I was awakened by the phone. My bedside clock said eight-thirty.

"Norma? Pete here. I'm sorry but I won't be able to take you out for dinner. I have to get back immediately after the wedding reception. But I'd like you to come and see me at the reception hall. We play for 45 minutes and then take a fifteen-minute break, so I could spend that time with you. Can you do that?

"Yes. Yes, I'll come."

I fought back tears of disappointment as I hung up. All the things I wanted to tell him would have to wait. They just wouldn't sound right anywhere but over an intimate dinner for two. But I knew the most important thing in my life right then was to spend time with Pete, wherever and whenever possible.

I entered the reception hall, trying to act as though I belonged there. The lobby was deserted. Behind closed doors I could hear the buzz of many conversations and a band playing songs from "The Sound of Music." I sat down to wait for Pete's break. The band launched into a medley from "Fiddler on the Roof," then fell silent. I left the lobby and found the musicians on a patio, each with a drink in his hand. Pete saw me approaching; his face broke into a broad smile and he left the other men immediately.

"Let's sit here," he said, leading me to a bench near some rose bushes. "I'm so glad you came. Did you hear us play?"

I nodded. "Those were some of my favorite songs."

The fifteen minutes passed all too quickly and he had to return for the next set of music. I remained on the bench. It felt good just to sit in the sunshine, listening to the music coming faintly through the door. Before I knew it, 45 minutes had passed, and Pete joined me on the bench again.

"Next week I'll take you out for that dinner we had planned for tonight," he told me. I babbled about inconsequential things. He told me about his son who lived on the west coast. Then one of the musicians motioned that it was time to return.

"You'll come next week then?" I said softly. He rose, bent down and gave me a quick kiss on the lips before disappearing through the door. I sat there for a long time, savoring that kiss. Then I went home.

What's happening to me, I thought. I'm in love! I haven't felt like this since my twenties! I thought it would never happen to me again. When you're pushing fifty, most men don't give you a glance, they're all looking for younger chicks.

Friday came, and Pete hadn't called to confirm our dinner date. He's forgotten, I told myself. Something else has come up. Maybe he's seeing other women. I began to sob. All week I'd looked forward to seeing Pete and now I was sure he wasn't coming.

This is ridiculous, I told myself. I went through ten years of waiting by the phone for guys to call me. I don't want to relive that part of my life.

I called Joyce and asked her to go see a movie with me that evening.

Saturday morning the phone woke me at 8 a.m. It was Pete.

"I won't be able to see you tonight. I have a rehearsal I can't get out of. I'm really sorry. How was your week?"

Happiness at hearing his voice was mixed with disappointment. We talked for almost an hour. "Well, we had sort of a date over the phone, didn't we?" he said finally. "I'll call you next week."

I had a miserable week. My boss reprimanded me about a project, and I was sure Pete wouldn't call. But Thursday he invited me to a recital one of his music groups was giving at a community center. I agreed to come, even though it meant driving at night to a part of the city I wasn't familiar with.

I found the building, and sat through several pieces of light classics. The music served to accentuate my longing to be with Pete, to share my feelings with him, to be the sole object of his attention.

He joined me in the lobby afterwards.

"I'm so glad you could come," he said, kissing the top of my head. "Let's go get something to eat."

Over hamburgers and coffee, we talked about music.

"Wagner's music is so boring," I told him. "I like music you can hum."

"You're right about Wagner. Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping, I'll get up and put a Wagner tape on. That puts me right to sleep."

I chuckled softly. "Oh, you have trouble sleeping at times? Maybe you need to upgrade your sex life."

He laughed. "Yeah, that's probably true. Gosh, there hasn't been any for so long . . . "

Dummy, I thought, that's your cue to ask me if I want to undertake the project.

The conversation drifted to other topics. After a while, he walked me to my car. We kissed several times before parting. I savored those kisses all the way home, and fell asleep dreaming I was lying in Pete's arms.

I didn't care to go to any singles groups after that. But Joyce was still searching. That's when I agreed to drive her to the city for another social evening of the Senior Singles.

This time there were six men. I managed to talk to three of them. Of course none measured up to Pete. I fervently hoped that at least one would ask for Joyce's phone number.

The following Sunday Joyce called me. "Guess what?" she began. "Harry called me. We're going out next Friday."

"That's wonderful! Which one was Harry?"

"The one you thought was scholarly-looking. He teaches vocational courses. He seemed really nice."

"Oh yeah. Not bad-looking either. Ummmmm . . . remember Pete? I'm going out with him Saturday."

"He finally called you? After all this time?"

"Yeah. He wants to take me dancing."

"Oh . . . well, have a good time."

"You too. Call me Saturday and tell me how it went."

I felt happy for Joyce. She was a good person, not terribly exciting or sexy, but the kind that deserved a man of her own. A shy quiet man could be attracted to Joyce's cheerful disposition, her optimistic outlook and kind heart.

That weekend, I found that Pete was an excellent dancer. I loved following the slow swaying of his body to the strains of "As Time Goes By" and "Stardust".

Then two weeks passed, with no word from Pete.

My son was to take part in an important piano competition in Pete's town, so naturally I invited him to attend. I waited in the lobby for him, eagerly scanning each group of attendees as they streamed through the door. When it was time for the usher to close the doors and Pete still hadn't arrived, I took a seat in the back. I was near tears by that time. Didn't he realize how important this event was for me?

That day was the beginning of the end. I realized Pete was too erratic and undependable for me. There had been too many broken dates and disappointments. Maybe I had set myself up for this. Maybe I had plunged too quickly into a relationship, and invested too much feeling in it.

However, I had gained one thing. I'd found out I was still capable of falling in love. Perhaps the next time it would prove to be more permanent.

As for Joyce, she's still seeing Harry. Maybe she's the one that will end up in a long-term relationship.

© Erica Stux

Erica Stux started writing when her children were young. She has published many poems and prose items for children and adults, two books of biographies for children, and a novel titled Landlady.

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