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The Business of Love

ISSUE:  Spring 1999

There were Japanese tourists all over Oahu, and though Mark was himself of Japanese extraction, he had been born and raised in America and felt completely separate from these rich visitors who were always, as far as he could see, buying and buying, drunk with the exchange rate. The women traipsed around in gorgeously inappropriate outfits they had bought on the island, bargains they didn’t dare leave on the rack. “I’ve seen them hike craters in full-length evening gowns,” Mark said to his business partner, Porter, who had been with him on those very same hikes and didn’t need to be told. “With matching high-heels! At Hanauma Bay a group of them wore their dresses right into the ocean. I saw it with my own eyes. They waded in up to their waists. They stood there laughing at the fish, taking pictures with underwater cameras!”

Mark’s tone implied that the fish had been insulted. “Really?” said Porter, and to make things more lively, shook his head of blond hair as if in disbelief. In truth Porter had watched the women enviously. The sea-water expanded their skirts like parachutes, and Porter had become certain of one thing: only money, and nothing else, could make people so acutely carefree.

Porter waited for Mark to react to his gesture, but Mark hadn’t seen it. He was leaning out the fourth floor window of the condominium, studying the activity on the street below. Ever since their arrival in Waikiki three days earlier, Mark had been keeping an eye out for possible iniquity. It was an interest he took wherever he went. Others might call it a hobby. Over the past few years Mark had developed (he thought) a bloodhound’s nose for the illicit, the underhanded, the unfair. Not that he meant to take any action against such realities; it was enough for him to feel that he was no longer in the dark, that there was nothing left to surprise him.

Now Mark was certain he had located two prostitutes outside of the Warner Bros, super-store. “It’s their handbags that give them away,” he had explained the night before. “Those little silver-skinned purses with pearl clasps, the land that real people never use. And look at how they’re dressed, and how they stand there spaced apart, as if they don’t know each other, when they’re the only Caucasians on the corner.” It was true, Porter had to admit. Anything Mark said was dismayingly reliable.

Porter and Mark were here on business, partners in their own small software company, praying (though neither would admit having stooped to such means) that they would finalize terms with a prospective client named Mackey. They needed this account in order to stay in business. In two days they would have the second, perhaps final, meeting of the week. In the meantime, they were trying to have fun in order to keep their minds off work, so that even if the deal didn’t go through they could at least claim to have had a wonderful Hawaiian vacation.

Fun was something neither man associated with the other. Porter could not look at Mark without being reminded of the long, late hours the two had spent working, worrying, and fawning over clients, when Porter should have been fawning over his wife.

Over a year ago Diane, then still married to Porter, had given him an ultimatum: Either the business went, or she did. Where to she didn’t say, but that wasn’t the point. She voiced her threat over dinner at a frighteningly expensive seafood restaurant she had been wanting to try for months. Even back then the company’s success was iffy, and Porter had been avoiding expensive meals. That night Diane pried shells apart with a vengeance, her big, baubley earrings shaking with the effort. Her gold bracelets knocked against each other with a heavy jingle each time she extracted a clam or mussel. Yes, Porter had been spending too many hours at the office. But he could not imagine things any other way. When Diane recited the phrase she had so obviously rehearsed, Porter was taken by surprise. For some reason his next thought concerned the meal they were eating: even if he did leave the company, would he always be able to afford such things, or would Diane remain one of those perpetually unsatisfied wives? And was grilled swordfish in a lime-sage sauce on a bed of roasted vegetables really worth thirty-five dollars a plate? This hesitation—for that’s how it was interpreted by Diane—cost Porter his marriage. Diane said she had never been so humiliated in her life as by the contemplative expression that had come over Porter’s face in reaction to her announcement. He supposed she was right. Wasn’t the only proper response to such news an immediate plea for eternal union, an instantaneous agreement to whatever the loved one’s terms might be?

The incident had caused Porter to work even later hours. He was determined to succeed. Eating irregularly, sleeping little, he ran as much on adrenaline as on a fantasy in which he returned to the still single Diane as a rich man in a designer suit and drove off with her in a candy-red Porsche. It was still possible, if he could just make a profit and stop working so late.

Now he looked up from the notes he was reviewing and saw Mark leaning out the window into the balmy night air. “Christ, Mark. You’ll fall if you don’t watch it.”

“I’m trying to get a better view of that place by the corner,” Mark explained, and to prove it he reached over for the pair of binoculars that sat on a little endtable. Mark adjusted the focus and peered even further into the fading gradations of late-evening light. “There’s something suspicious about it. They keep going inside whatever it is, even though it has no sign and it’s completely dark inside.”

“It’s a club, Mark. It must be a disco or something.”

“But there are no bouncers. Men keep going up. Yup. And now three women. More of those evening gowns.”

“Sounds like a club to me,” said Porter.

There was one good thing about Mark’s constant suspicions; they greatly diminished any chances that, as a businessman, he would ever be hoodwinked. Porter liked that security, felt he could concentrate on the marketing and let Mark do all the screening and final agreements. At the same time, Porter sometimes found himself fantasizing about buying out Mark at some point, or abandoning him altogether, making a successful go of it on his own. But he would never betray such thoughts to anyone. Everyone liked Mark, and it was impossible not to feel sorry for him; Mark’s wife had died a few years earlier. He was the only man Porter knew who had never once complained about his marriage.

It was his . wife’s death—the great deceit of Mark’s life—that had brought about his seemingly prudish worries. Never again would he assume the best. How could he, knowing that such enormous disappointments were being plotted, all the time, behind people’s backs?

Though he was entering his mid-40’s, Mark looked much younger than his age, and it seemed to Porter he ought to have a pretty good chance of finding a girlfriend, or even remarrying. His dark hair still had a healthy sheen, and he remained slim and fit. His Asian cheekbones made any wrinkles he had nearly imperceptible. Next to him, Porter always became self-conscious, embarrassed of the slight ring of fat that—though Porter was a good five years younger than Mark—was expanding contentedly above his hips. When he and Mark exited the plane together in Honolulu, a Hawaiian woman had placed leis over their heads (this appeared to be the sole reason for her presence at the airport) and Porter had noticed the thrilled look in the woman’s eyes when she saw Mark. She had begun chatting with Mark, ignoring Porter, suggesting restaurants and excursions. Porter sat down on his luggage and examined the orchids that made up his necklace. The air was heavy with pollen.

Diane hadn’t liked that little ring of fat, either. She said Porter should go to a gym, knowing full well he had no time. Remembering this, Porter convinced himself that it was better Diane was not here. There were too many things she would not have put up with. Like yesterday, when he and Mark waited on the sidewalk as bus by bus passed them on the way to Hanauma Bay, too full to accept any more passengers. Taxis inched by, their drivers calling out in Japanese, stopping for fares who happily loaded their snorkeling gear into the back seats and slammed doors affirmatively behind them. Mark had refused to do this, and not only because it would cost more. There was no doubt, he told Porter, that the taxi drivers had paid off the buses. The buses drove by even if they had room, Mark insisted, until impatient, unsuspecting tourists gave in and hailed cabs. If it were up to him, if he were mayor, for instance—Mark said this as if he were actually running for office—he’d set up an investigative committee. And then Mark breathed a new realization; it was entirely possible the taxis had paid off the mayor, too.

Mark lay under the oblivious afternoon sun and thought of Eula. Or Evla. He couldn’t tell if she had written a “u” or a “v.” In fact, he couldn’t even remember her pronouncing her name. He had been that surprised when, after handing him the scrap of paper where she’d jotted down some restaurants, she said casually but earnestly, “Call me.” But he must have commented on her name; he recalled her telling him it meant something . . .something exotic, something appropriate to an island. Mark tried to remember. There was something beautifully candid about Evla (or Eula), despite her Hawaiian hula get-up. Mark still had the wilting lei she’d put around his neck. But just thinking of her made Mark anxious. At most they would have some torrid little fling, and that wasn’t anything Mark wanted. And even if Eula did want more, how could they develop any type of relationship with her in Hawaii and him in California? Though in this case Evla’s job required her to be at the airport, which would make the trip one leg shorter. Mark laughed to himself. No, there was no way anything meaningful could come out of this. Why had he agreed to Thursday? It was best simply to not follow through with it at all. That was the case for most endeavors, Mark reflected, when you got right down to it. In the past two years even simple things like making a sandwich had come to seem a waste of energy. Just eat some sliced ham, some cubed cheese, a pickle, a slice of bread. It all ends up in the same wrecked state.

Mark brushed away some of the sand that had blown onto his bamboo mat. Around him, tall palm trees strained their dinosaur necks toward the sun. Tin had been wrapped midway around the slender trunks—to prevent the rats from scrambling up to eat coconuts, Mackey had explained. This image haunted Mark, who pictured the big, overfed gutter rats he remembered from his years as a student in New York City. He imagined the rodents climbing these trees at night, sipping coconut milk above his head. He would probably always associate that image, Mark realized, with Robert Mackey and Associates.

In the waiting room the day before, Mark had seen three Japanese men exit Mackey’s office and bow politely at each other before leaving. Those bows were so confident. Nothing could go wrong, with a bow like that. Mark supposed the men were his competitors. It didn’t matter that he looked like them—he was still some schmuck with an inferior American product.

But Mackey’s partner said he liked the individualized nature of Mark and Porter’s business, the personalized programs, their accessibility. “Independently owned,” “on-line availability,” “quality upgrades.” How Mark loved those sprightly, multi-syllabic terms. A deal wasn’t out of the question after all. Thinking of the meeting with Mackey scheduled for tomorrow, Mark felt his heart beat a little faster, and he opened his eyes. Across from him, not far away, were two young Japanese women in pastel tank suits. They were talking and giggling, about what Mark had no way of knowing, but with a lightness Mark had not felt, he thought to himself, in years. The girl in the lime-green swimsuit uncapped a tube of sunblock and rubbed a palmful over her smooth, bow-like legs. Then she moved on to her pale face. At first the sunscreen was thick as clown makeup.

How happy he would have made his parents had he married a girl like that, Mark thought. A porcelain-skinned beauty straight from Japan. Mark could still remember his father’s trembling voice threatening to disown him if he did not marry an Asian. “You say, “I do” to any white girl, and I say “No you don’t” the only way I can.” So what if Mark was their only child. So what if he had no other relatives in America, no family to attend his wedding, no relations with whom to celebrate holidays, to go to for advice, for help, for a mother’s hot supper and unquestioning love. Was such complete separation even possible? Could people actually do that, discard all parental love in one swift gesture? The entire notion had appeared absurd, artificial. Perhaps, at the time, his father had only meant it as a threat.

The sun had grown low, and a long shadow approached Mark. It was Porter, back from his walk along the shoreline, where he liked to search for shells and pebbles, those anonymous treasures that, Mark always noticed, lose their brilliance as soon as they leave their home. Now Porter was gathering up his towel and newspaper. “I’d say it’s pina colada time,” he announced. “What do you say?”

“I’d say sounds good.” Mark got up and dusted some sand from his skin. Each evening since their arrival three days earlier they had stopped by the beachfront Sheraton and indulged in one of the seven-dollar pina coladas. Mark stepped into his blue plastic flip-flops and put on his stiff canvas hat. He and Porter headed silently toward the road as lush green hills posed in the distance. A chubby shirtless man putted by on a moped, flowered shorts tucked into his stomach.

“Too damn beautiful here,” said Porter. “Everyone says this is the last place to go if you’re in Hawaii, and it’s still goddamn gorgeous.” He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He never asked Mark if he minded. Mark watched Porter drag his feet for a minute and then switch to the conscientious swagger he sometimes affected. He never could keep it up for long. Pebbles and sea shells jingled meekly in his pocket. Sea jewels!, thought Mark. That was it! That was what Eula (or Evla) had said her name meant. “Jewel of the sea.” Well, thought Mark, whatever.

The fact was, he had called her. Called her back, to be precise. She had tracked him down at the condo and left a note with one sentence: “Thursday night?” No signature, just a single pungent flower-bud attached to it. Mark could not believe he had actually gone ahead and replied. They were to have dinner on Thursday. If he actually went ahead and met her, it would be his first date since Amanda’s death.

Mark and Porter had come to the corner where the prostitutes always were. Mark said, “You’d never know what went on here at night, it looks so innocent now.”

“What goes on?” Porter said, laughing. “They stand here and get no business. Nothing goes on. Not so much as a kiss. Even you and I have a booming business in comparison.”

Mark laughed. He wished he could always have a sense of humor about things, but after a while the jokes got old. And, when you got right down to it, some things, like bankruptcy, were just not funny.

“Why do you think that is?” Porter continued. “Why is it they don’t get clients? I mean, there’s got to be enough horny rich guys here to keep them busy.”

“Maybe the horny guys show up later, when we’re already asleep. Or maybe the girls just picked the wrong corner.”

“I’d say. The Warner Bros, store isn’t the first place I think of when I think “sex”. More like “family”. More like “snot-nosed kids.” I don’t know what these girls are thinking.”

“Maybe we should tell them they’re in the wrong neighborhood,” Mark said, and laughed again. He was feeling better about things, almost relaxed.

At the Sheraton, he and Porter sat in comfortable chairs and observed the people who could afford to stay there. As if it were an extension of her own generosity, the blond bartender announced that tonight the coladas were on special, only five bucks. Porter said this was a sign that their luck was turning, but Mark examined the glasses and said that they looked smaller than the seven dollar ones.

The evening • breeze was glorious. Mark watched the television above the bar, though he could hear nothing over the din of the band playing a few yards away. The newscasters looked like a joke, in their bright Hawaiian shirts, delivering surf and wind-speed reports. “It could be a parody,” said Porter, as if he had heard Mark’s thoughts.

“I know,” Mark agreed. “How can you deliver bad news in a Hawaiian shirt? Bad news, bright silk shirt. The two just don’t go together.” That was what was wrong here, Mark realized. There was no room for anxiety in a place so beautiful and warm. He and Porter didn’t fit in, with their bad luck and desperate hopes. All this unchecked gaiety, it made him uncomfortable—wary, even. Well, he’d have to abandon that part of him, Mark told himself. Maybe he’d even go through with it on Thursday and have dinner with Eula/Evla. He couldn’t spend every waking moment worrying that the deal wouldn’t go through. There was nothing to do now but hope for the best.

Porter had barely slept, he was so happy. Now he lifted the blind and looked out into the Hawaiian sunshine. From the street below came the pleasant din of unrushed morning activity.

Mark was preparing his breakfast at the kitchenette. He found his box of granola on the counter and said, as he had at the time of purchase, “Six bucks for a measly box of cereal!” Mark had seen a newspaper article concerning the suspected price-fixing of breakfast cereals on all the Hawaiian islands and was sure he’d been the victim of just such a crime. Pouring himself a bowl of the granola, he cried, “Look, it’s nothing like the picture!”

Porter obligingly reviewed the photo on the box, while Mark insisted, “Show me a nice juicy date! Show me a pecan!”

Porter looked in his bowl, picked around with his spoon, showed Mark a pecan, a date. “Maybe there’s more at the bottom of the box. Maybe you need to shake it a little. I mean, it’s just cereal.”

“There’s a government investigation! Didn’t you read the article?”

Porter used to think Mark was joking when he said such things. But Mark’s rigid sense of justice and injustice left little room for humor. Mark looked so sad sometimes, it was unpleasant. Early on in their relationship, Porter had asked Mark some question about growing up in California, and Mark had mentioned his parents’ time “in the camp.” Porter had momentarily pictured bonfires and roasted marshmallows, then remembered the West Coast internments during the war. He hated it when Mark referred to such things, even if he did it only rarely. These things weren’t even Porter’s fault; why did they always make him feel so guilty? He would have to take Mark to Pearl Harbor, Porter thought to himself as he gulped down his coffee, make him feel a little guilt, or at least understanding.

But not today. Today Porter couldn’t help but smile. “Looking forward to working with you,” Mackey had said, reaching across the table to offer Porter and Mark his plump handshake. On the table-top between them lay documents of unsurpassed beauty. Who would have thought that processed tree pulp could look so lovely, that legal terminology could sound like poetry, that a few black-inked signatures could be a source of happiness?

“Always feels good to be able to buy American,” Mackey had continued. “Keep things in the family.” He gave a brief laugh, but Porter could have hugged Mackey right there and called him Uncle. Instead, he smiled responsibly; he wanted to look relaxed but indispensable. Even later that evening, when Porter and Mark finally lifted their pina coladas and toasted to success, Porter could not fully unwind, for fear that he would wake up and find he had dreamt the whole thing.

Only now, after last night’s exhausted exhilaration, did Porter finally feel at ease. “Let’s celebrate tonight,” he said to Mark. “What do you think? Let’s have some fun. And let’s go to a really good restaurant. The best. Where’s that list that woman at the airport gave you?”

“I threw it out.” Mark looked uncomfortable, kept his eyes focused on the cereal bowl. “Look, I’ll have a drink with you tonight, but I don’t know about dinner. I don’t know if I’ll be hungry for dinner.”

“Sure you will. Tonight we’re going to eat up a storm. Tonight we begin our new future full of success. Success and money. Money, money, money.”

That evening Porter dressed in the new linen slacks he had just purchased and, arranging his belly behind the equally new suede belt, admired himself in the mirror. When he and Mark left for their pre-dinner cocktails, he was conscious of feeling different, lighter, maybe more handsome. He looked around at the people they passed to see if they had noticed. Mark, meanwhile, made sure the two of them went by the street-corner with the prostitutes and then cried, “There they are!” triumphant at the sight of their mini-skirts and outdated handbags. “You see?”

Porter admitted they were obvious, dropping their brazen, bilingual “How ya doing?” on any man who passed by. “At least you can rest assured that they still aren’t getting much business,” Porter said. “We’ve still never not seen them. So they’ve obviously never had a client.” When he thought of them that way, Porter almost felt a certain empathy. Chin up, he wanted to tell them, everyone suffers the occasional business slump.

As he neared the corner, Porter felt the urge to stare at the prostitutes. He decided he could do so more blatantly to the dark-haired one, since she was further away, smoking a cigarette conscientiously and pretending not to know her friend. She did not appear to notice Porter, just paced back and forth, puffing on her cigarette and wagging her hips at the men who passed by. But the girl closer to Porter, a bleached blond holding her breath in order to fit into a white leather miniskirt, noticed Mark and called to him in Japanese.

Mark surprised Porter—not to mention both girls—by answering back. “I speak English,” he snapped. “And I don’t have time tonight.”

This was more than the blond had ever elicited out of any man, and she clearly did not know where to go from there. The brunette came to her rescue, looking slightly perplexed as she approached the threesome, completely forgetting to wag her hips. She came up with, “Well, how about your buddy here?” and then seemed surprised at having spoken.

“As a matter of fact,” Porter laughed, “I happen to have a whole evening to spare. And my friend, though he won’t admit it, does too.” As a flourish, Porter added “We’re business partners,” and, because it felt good to talk to someone other than Mark, “Like you and your young friend.”

And they were young. Both girls were at most in their very early 20’s. Porter could see that now. The brunette was thin in a girlish way, as though her breasts and stomach and buttocks had not yet filled out. The blond’s complexion, though covered in thick makeup, was smooth, not a wrinkle in sight.

“Yeah, I guess you could say we’re business partners,” the blond ventured, looking to her friend to see if that were appropriate. “What do you say the four of us make a deal?”

Dozens of people were passing right and left, and Mark was examining the crowds nervously. Abruptly he made for the Warner Bros, display window and began comparing the various cartoon characters whose likenesses he could have printed on his choice of T-shirt, sweatshirt, or canvas totebag.

Porter watched Mark attempt to extract himself from the situation. A feeling surged in him, something he had only let himself feel a few times with Mark. Like when they discussed minority quotas and Mark insisted he had never been favored by anything like that. Like all the times Mark had suggested—without words, even—that lie was somehow superior to the situation at large. Porter felt it now, felt it emanating from Mark’s back. So he decided to ask the two girls to dinner.

“For how much?” the blond said brazenly, and the brunette shot her a flustered glare.

“What do you mean?” said Porter. “I’ll pay for both of your meals. Drinks included.”

The brunette looked even younger when she asked, “What restaurant are we going to?”

“Well, I had a couple in mind, but we’re open to suggestions.”

“Oh, let’s go to the Anchor!” the blond said. At this point Mark, who had been listening in on the conversation, turned to stare, bewildered, at Porter.

“The Anchor it is,” said Porter. “What do you say we have a little company tonight, Mark? For a change?” Mark just glared back. Not only was the situation pointless, not only did they risk embarrassment and possible arrest, but Mark was going to miss his date with Eula/Evla. His first date in two years, and he was being asked to forfeit it for the sake of Porter and two under-aged tarts. Mark felt his anger boiling into one word: No.

And then he noticed the expressions on the girls’ faces. The blond’s had lit up so earnestly, while the brunette had taken on an anxious look, as though she knew Mark might ruin the whole thing and was preparing herself for disappointment.

He looked at Porter, standing there in his new belt and baggy slacks, chest puffed full of anticipation, enjoying himself for the first time in months.

Maybe Mark could just have a drink with them. A drink, and then leave for his date, just be a little late.

So Mark smiled and said, “I suppose we should know your names.”

“I’m Theresa,” said the blond, and when the brunette gave her an exasperated look, added, “but my friends call my Tern.”

“I’m Kimberly,” said the brunette. “The Anchor is down that way.”

That was how the four of them ended up in oceanfront seating, the girls facing the men, discussing the caloric difference between carrots and celery. Tern was getting her B.A. in Nutrition and approximated the protein, carbohydrate, and fat exchanges of each entree on the menu. The offerings were nothing exotic; it was more a bar than a restaurant, this place, and the waitresses all wore leotard tops, white sneakers, and little denim skirts.

It was refreshing to be in such a youthful place, Porter convinced himself, nodding his head a little to the music blaring from the speakers above. The girls were comfortingly talkative. Perhaps they weren’t too young for him after all. As explanation of why she’d dropped out of college, Kimberly had put forth a convincing theory of the decline of American education. Now she was considering becoming a ballroom dance instructor.

“I saw an ad in the paper for the Arthur Murray dance school,” she explained, taking a sip of her rum and coke. “It said they needed teachers, no experience necessary. So they must teach you all the steps, you know? In other words, you get all those lessons for free. I’ve always wanted to be able to ballroom dance. It’s so elegant.”

Porter and Mark didn’t even have to speak, the girls were so chatty. Every once in a while Mark would look nervously around the room, as if sure that everyone there knew that he and Porter had picked these women up off the street corner. Well, thought Porter, they probably do think that, but why should anybody care? Anyway, Porter told himself, he was above caring what other people thought of him. He’d had enough of that all week, worrying what Mackey thought, what Mackey’s partners thought, what the board members would think about him. It was time to forget all that. He was in charge now. This was all his doing.

Theresa was asking the waitress if she could have a drink with an umbrella in it. Mark had adjusted his face into an expression that tried to say, “I just happen to be sitting here. It’s a fluke, really.” Porter wanted to laugh, seeing him. And yet he did wonder if, deep down, he had initiated this solely to make Mark uncomfortable. Wary, irreversibly disappointed Mark, a widower already, what had he done to deserve this? What “this,” Porter corrected himself. We’re enjoying ourselves, he remembered. We’re keeping these girls out of trouble. We’re having a little adventure, maybe a little sex. What’s wrong with that?

The girls were now telling the story of how they had met, and had come to the part that involved someone named Bobby. They seemed to assume Porter and Mark should know who Bobby was, or perhaps Porter had missed that part of the explanation. In any case, Porter was distracted by a young couple a few tables ahead of him. They were in their mid-20’s, it looked. The woman’s hair was plain brown but lovely. Since she sat in profile to Porter, he could see the smooth tips of her hair reaching forward toward her face. But that wasn’t what made her beautiful; it was the way she looked with him—the husband, or boyfriend. It was as if even their eyes were reaching toward each other. They were holding hands across the table, but it looked altogether natural. That was what it was like to be in love, Porter suddenly remembered, as if he had just located a long-lost sweater or a phone number that he had presumed permanently misplaced. It had been so long since he had known that completely separate happiness.

Though he had never before been conscious of it, Porter knew exactly when he had last felt that way. It was in the first months of his romance with Diane, before she went on the all-citrus diet and started getting those headaches. Back then she had still been full-cheeked, laughing when they kissed, not because it was funny but because she was simply happy. They were both happy, that was the only word for it, kissing that night in the pantry of the house where they were supposed to be attending a dinner party. Thirty years old, necking among shelves of pasta and flour, not caring if they were conspicuously absent from the cocktail conversation. They kissed and kissed, content and certain, until the bobby pins that had held up Diane’s hair had somehow ended up in his.

Now that he had glimpsed that perfection again, Porter wanted it. He wanted it back. He wanted it so badly he felt a pain start from deep in his chest. He tried to remind himself that he had good news. But Robert Mackey and Associates seemed peripheral now. Even the new contract was not enough, it would never be enough, because Porter would always be who he was. He would never be able to change that. It would take millions of dollars to buy himself the fun-loving confidence and opulent nonchalance of the rich tourists all around him. And even that might never bring any closer to him the mutual love that was in this very room with him, so close, just a few tables away.

Porter cursed himself for having come here. And for having done this to Mark. Poor, suspicious, uncomfortable Mark, who sat staring ahead toward the young lovers, not even feigning interest in the girls’ giggly narrative. Why, Mark was right to worry all the time; this was probably worse, in the end, than anything he ever would have suspected. What would Mark think of him now? What was Mark thinking?

Mark, seeing the young lovers ahead of him, was asking himself if he had ever been so self-assured. The answer came to him quickly, easily. Amanda had just hung up the telephone and said, “Well, there goes our ride. Gordon says his car’s dead.” Mark did not panic, even though they were supposed to be in Providence, Amanda’s hometown, in three hours, and had no way of even getting to the station (if there should even be a bus or train.) But Mark just joked, “Well, one thing for sure; they can’t have the ceremony without us.”

They found a ride. There they were in a car with the top down, side by side, Amanda’s reddish-blond hair brushed behind her ears, whipping like flame-tips in the highway wind. They sat there filled with the calm wonder of knowing they had a whole life to share between them. Amanda’s hand was warm in his palm, impossible it might ever not be there. Mark looked at Amanda, knew that nothing could go wrong. And it wouldn’t matter if they were late; and it wouldn’t matter if it rained; and it didn’t matter that his parents would not be there. None of it mattered. There were no doubts, no worries, no insecurities. There was just Amanda beside him and this one overwhelming sureness, that he could repeat the words forever: I do, I do, I do, I do. . . .


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