“Elle va,” Christine said. “Don’t let anybody catch you.”
I walked toward the other side of the bar. Russell’s booth was directly under one of the restaurant’s plastic lanterns, which had been scoured to resemble antiques. I’d noticed him on my trip to the bathroom. Christine must not have seen him; she’d surely have said something.
I said hello, and his eyes quickly floated up.
“Diana.” His mouth formed a taut O. “You here with your mother?”
“No.” I managed a nonchalant shrug. “Just a couple of girls.”
He fingered his Zippo. “How’s your mother?”
A man I didn’t know was with him. He was slightly younger than Russell, but had the same tan, veined neck and arms of men accustomed to gyms, weight machines.
“Do you want to sit down?” Russell held his white shirt cuffs an inch above the tabletop. “Just for a minute, maybe?”
“Only for a minute.”
He slid over, and I scooted in beside him. His pale-green button-down was similar to the one he’d worn the night he delivered my convertible to our house on Lakeshore. A glamorous car—a steel-blue ’55 T-Bird with a white ragtop. Russell had spent months refurbishing its interior, and my father had presented it to me after news of my scholarship arrived.
I reached for Russell’s pack of American Spirits.
He smiled. “Would you like a cigarette?”
I sat quietly while he spoke to his friend in a low voice. I practiced keeping smoke down in my lungs, and after a while, the other man left. I’d never been alone with one of my father’s friends.
“Who was that?”
“Another old Airborne guy. He fought in Desert Storm several years ago.”
“How long were you in the Army?”
“Too long.” His voice turned wistful.
“Do you miss it?”
A muscle along his jaw constricted. I realized I was holding my breath.
“I was better at it than my father ever was,” he said. “How old are you, Diana?”
“I leave for school in two weeks.”
“Does your father know you’re here?”
“Of course,” I said. “Why wouldn’t he?”
Russell shifted his thighs and gazed into his half-empty glass. “What’re you going to major in?”
“Biology.” I smiled up at him, just a little, and he smiled back. “Or psychology.”
I gave him my cigarette. He blew smoke out of his nostrils. “Your father says you want to be a lawyer.” His wrist trembled. Black hair grew on the backs of his slender hands.
I shook my head. “That’s what he does. He says psychology is for quacks.”
He made a noise down deep in his throat, like a strangled honk. His fingers were long, with fine, rounded tips, and I imagined they would smell of cedar and tobacco.
He left his Jaguar at Buchanan’s and drove my convertible to his house. In the car, we barely acknowledged each other, except once, at a stop sign, he turned toward me and found my eyes in the gloom. I thought: You have only this one life. But with Russell behind the wheel of my car, the ramifications of that thought did not disturb me. No, I felt far larger than I actually was, more imposing than I’d ever dreamed myself to be, and I nearly said the words aloud. As if he sensed the urgency behind my placid face, Russell drove faster. Maybe he was terrified I would fling my door open at the next red light and simply disappear into the night air. I certainly considered that—in those days, I was under the spell of a secret self that led a twilight existence inside my brain, and I imagined that only the most elusive, ungovernable woman was capable of provoking a great love, a great hatred. I never spoke of this with anyone.