Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 11: SURPRISE
She’d been nervous the first time he came to her apartment. It was two bedrooms, one tiny, the other adequate. It had a galley kitchen, all white, and an alcove dining area in which she had fit a round table for four. The living room was rectangular and funneled down to a narrow foyer bordered by a closet. The place was carpeted in a neutral tan nylon. Her furnishings were Scandinavian, because she liked the clean style, and she could buy whatever she needed cheaply at Ikea. The apartment was in West Hollywood, north of Santa Monica Boulevard just before the land rose into the hills where the stars lived. It had no balcony, which she wished for, but did have a pool where she lounged and tanned herself most days of the year. Loretta liked her apartment very much. It was superior to any place in Danville, but mostly because it wasn’t in Danville.
What had unnerved her that first time was Gari’s position: vice president. Her experience with vice presidents was they liked and expected the finest in food, drink, accommodations, and women. Since she was a Midwesterner, she was naturally a realist and as such knew no vice president would like her apartment. She wondered why she’d invited him—and having been with him only once.
His routine was to visit L.A. twice a month, arriving on a Friday and leaving on Sunday afternoon. Some might have found working on weekends strange, but she herself had been a weekend worker since shortly after her arrival in L.A. She’d started waitressing and moved on to more lucrative trade after a couple of months. She understood odd hours, but there was an extra weirdness to his work; he seemed to do little of it, perhaps two hours on Saturday afternoons. She didn’t complain, for she enjoyed his constant companionship. And he treated her well. Weekends when he was in town consisted of lazy days at the beach and the Santa Monica pier, dinners in the city’s chic restaurants, and nights partying at the clubs in West Hollywood and on the Strip. They also shopped on Rodeo, where they occasionally saw the stars, but mostly people like themselves, affluent, aggrandizing themselves with trinkets, and on the sly hunt for celebrities. Summer had given way to autumn and the week before Thanksgiving she sat in her apartment drinking tea and realizing that Gari Garibaldi was the longest relationship she’d had with a man since high school, and that hadn’t really counted for much, just rebellion on her part and hormonally induced groping on his. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember his name; maybe he hadn’t had one. She believed her relationship—she wasn’t afraid of the word—with Gari might be the real thing, and she began wondering what living in Chicago might be like. It was a cold place, as cold as Danville; but in Chicago she’d have love and money to keep her warm.
The fact was she’d felt a change steal over her, and it coincided exactly with the appearance of Gari Garibaldi in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton. It manifested in different ways: elation and depression, anticipation and dread, acceptance and rejection, desire and disgust. She rode an emotional wave, never knowing which mood would shape her day, and often parts of her day, for she was more variable than Midwestern weather.
On November 2, All Souls Day—recalled from Sunday school and strangely vivid in her mind as if she’d attended only that past Sunday—Loretta knew she was changed. No more ordinary Loretta Heavencrest. Now heavenly Loretta, for the ethereal surely did illuminate her and the life she saw unreeling before her.
On November 2, well before Gari’s arrival, she discovered herself burning with pure joy. Around the apartment, softly and loudly, she sang, “I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven.” She knew life could be this good. She knew it deep in her heart the second she’d passed the city limits of Danville, out of reach of the town’s crushing gravity, the kind that guaranteed her a shanty and rusted pickup and food stamps. Blissfulness existed in life. And she was breaking off a piece for herself. It was no joke: She did live in the City of Angels.
This was the Loretta Gari was coming home to in November. On the way glancing out the plane’s window at a world newly brown, transitioning into a long gray season Gari never much cared for, he was looking forward to seeing Loretta. Not that life at home in Mundelein was bad.
Actually, it was quite good, vastly improved and a stark contrast to how it had been the week before he’d become an Illinois millionaire. Emily would now qualify as the perfect wife. She was always pleasant. She prepared better meals, more of what he liked. She dressed better. No more baggy sweats, at least when he was at home. She wore fitted slacks, pressed blouses, leather shoes often with heels, which was his preference. She’d gotten herself into shape. She ran every day and regularly trotted three miles around the neighborhood after delivering the boys to school. He gradually came to realize this during their lovemaking, which had settled into a comfortable twice a week affair. No, life at home was better, as good as he remembered it being when they’d first married.
He looked forward to his time with Loretta because she was different from Emily. Gari thought of her as his change of pace. Loretta enjoyed a good time. She wasn’t a homebody. It was nice having opposites on opposite sides of the country. And now that he was busy with the Lubeck’s Shoes account, he needed his getaway.
Gari knocked on Loretta’s door at what had become his usual time, eight p.m. Friday. On his mind was what was usually there when he hadn’t seen, smelled, touched, felt Loretta in weeks. What wasn’t remotely on his mind, as it was something he expected of Emily and wholly did not expect of Loretta, was a meal. Loretta preferred restaurants. She didn’t even like takeout or delivery. And here she’d prepared him a meal with her own hands, as he could discern with a peek into her galley kitchen where pots and pans adorned the stove and sink, piles of them, which he figured he’d be washing and putting away, for while the woman might manage a meal, she certainly wasn’t the type for housewifery.
She’d kissed him passionately at the door. Nothing unusual for Loretta, as she was always passionate with him. After the kiss, she maneuvered behind him and coaxed him with dainty pushes toward the table, saying, “Surprised?” a couple of times, stopping only when he acknowledged he couldn’t have been more surprised than if any car rental company in L.A. had offered him something other than a Ford.
“I’m happy,” she said. “You’ve made me so happy I had to do something … Oh, I don’t know—spectacular … out of the ordinary … for you. You know, I can cook. Home Economics, Danville High School. My best subject, and what I hated most.” She blew a puff of air up and rustled her hair. “But I’m glad I took it.”
Her remarks were more frenzied than anything preceding them; and every word she’d spoken to him since he walked in had possessed a squeaky enthusiasm, akin to the kind game show contestants exhibited when winning the grand prize, usually a shiny new car.
She sat him at the small table. She poured him a Chianti and excused herself. He heard plates clatter in the kitchen, and she emerged after a moment of rattling with two salads. They were bright green and flecked with red pepper and tomato and fresh and crisp as he discovered when he forked a helping into his mouth. “From the Farmers Market. You know the place.” He nodded. He certainly did. They’d breakfasted at Charlie’s and lunched at La Korea, on barbecue of all things. “I went first thing this morning and got everything before it’d been picked over.”
“Delicious,” he complimented. He raised his glass of wine to her. “You’re an amazing woman, Loretta.”
She blushed. “You really mean it, Gari?”
“Absolutely. Beautiful, charming, and look here, you can cook too. So, where would you like to go tonight?”
“Tonight,” she answered, “I thought we’d stay in, maybe watch a movie. I picked up a couple at Blockbuster. Or talk, you know, about anything and everything. Do you think we talk enough?”
Talk. He could talk at home. Emily was great at talking. She chattered incessantly about the neighbors, about Teddy and Sammy, about their school, about the intrigue of Mundelein politics. Much had changed about Emily, but her capacity and desire for meaningless conversation hadn’t. In Emily’s world, if you weren’t talking and receiving a response, you were disconnected. Even if you weren’t connecting physically twice a week, as they were now, as along as you talked, your marriage was sound and solid.
With Loretta, the situation was different, another opposite he enjoyed. Sex was it. Sex was the connection. Conversation was simply a means of communicating what restaurant you’d be eating at, what club you’d be dancing at, what you’d be doing on the outside, outside the apartment. And the apartment was the place where you plugged into each other, and the bed was the transformer. Or so had been his impression. Further, he assumed Loretta and he were in agreement on this crucial point upon which their association turned.
“Talking. I don’t know, Loretta, I talk constantly on my job. Tomorrow, for instance, I’ll be at the agency for two hours and every single minute I’ll be talking.” He rubbed his throat. “Just talking about it gives me a sore throat. Great salad by the way.”
Silently, she gathered the plates, trudged to the kitchen, lingered there for several minutes, and returned with two large restaurant-style plates on which rested two (on hers, one) succulent lamb chops, asparagus, and mashed potatoes fragrant with garlic. As he tucked in, she refilled his wine glass. God, he thought, she’s spent a fortune on me.
Naturally he was convinced she liked him, perhaps loved him; the latter he regarded as good and bad. He already had a love. A second lover was sufficiently complicated; a second love was unthinkable.
They passed the rest of the meal in idle chatter. The talk revolved around the weather in L.A. Loretta reported fine conditions, the best weather of the year, her favorite California season; she didn’t miss, not an iota, the foul fall in Danville. And was it cold in Chicago? He was concentrating on the chops cooked medium in a manner he could become accustomed to if he ate more often in restaurants back in Mundelein, or if he could argue Emily into putting meat on the table more frequently. In the beginning days of newfound wealth, Emily had been accommodating. Recently, though, she’d adopted healthy eating as the family’s lifestyle.
They finished around nine-thirty, and Gary offered to help with the dishes. He wasn’t the best dish dryer but he’d make a special effort for Loretta. Why not? She might be a good cook, but he didn’t expect to see another meal like he’d just finished anytime soon. Loretta simply wasn’t a homebody, of which he was praise-God happy.
“It’s pleasant spending a quiet evening together, Gari, isn’t it? Just you and me?”
He lost his grip on the plate he was swishing with the dishtowel and bent instinctively, catching it before it shattered on the floor. He reacted without looking and thumped his forehead on the counter’s edge, nearly losing the plate again, and consciousness.
Loretta dried her hands hastily, relieved Gari of the plate, and examined his forehead. “Let’s put ice on that before it swells,” she said, already opening the small refrigerator as he realized her tone was decidedly matronly, strongly reminiscent of Emily’s when she was helping Teddy or Sammy after they’d fallen or crashed into something. Three shocks in one evening struck Gari as three too many. He was in this for the fun, for the difference, for the sex. He wasn’t on the make for a second home and a second wife. One home and one wife were plenty for him.
“Why don’t we sit in the living room?” she suggested. She fashioned an ice pack with a clean dishtowel and nudged him from the kitchen toward the sofa. “You sit and I’ll get us … sorry, I mean you a drink. Scotch or a cognac?”
“Cognac,” he said.
She brought him the drink in a snifter and herself something clear in a tumbler.
“That’s a lot of vodka,” he said, motioning with his snifter.
“This is just water. A glass full of vodka, well you’d have to pick me up off the floor.” She emphasized by feigning a swoon.
True, Gari had not known Loretta her entire life, and there very well may have been a time when she sipped water, and certainly water was the craze these days, people hydrating themselves everywhere into soggy dough; but from the day he’d met her, he’d not known Loretta to drink anything not alcoholic, except coffee in the morning and tea. Early on, she’d even consumed Bloody Marys at breakfast, on top of a hard night of drinking. For this woman to forsake a vodka or a gin, her preferred beverages, something had to be up. And the foreboding settling over him as he took his first pull of cognac warned it couldn’t be good. Maybe, he feared, she’d reformed since his last visit, and now sex was taboo.
“So, what’s the subject?” he asked, warily, ready to be banished from her bed and the caress of her long lovely legs.
“The best subject in the world,” she replied, brightly. She was so cheery that Gari was finding her for the first time since the Beverly Hills Hotel bar unbearable.
She sat next to him and waited, as if he should know what the best subject in the whole wide world was. Football on Sunday? Drinks at Musso & Frank? Sex on the little dining room table of hers? Who could answer such a question with anything other than, “Well, honey, what is the best subject in the world?”
“Us,” she said, her countenance quizzical, as if “Us” should have been, should always be, right there on the tip of his mind, ahead of such commonplaceness as running the Lubeck’s Shoes account, dealing with his idiot agency president, keeping his wife happy, worrying about the ultimate effect on his children if he wasn’t careful.
But these notions merely flashed in his mind until he could crystallize what was actually lurking in his mulling into a coherent phrase. He bought more time with an astonished, “Us?”
She moved close to him and took hold of his arm. She laid her head on his shoulder. She was purring, he was sure of it.
“We’ve been together for four months. Isn’t that as ‘Us’ as any two people can be?”
He did the calculation. November was just beginning, and didn’t he make his first trip to L.A. in late August? He’d concede two months. But wait, he’d been in L.A. a total of five weekends. If he was generous, they’d been “Us” for two weeks.
“Seems like a long time,” he said.
“It does,” she answered, lifting her head, pulling away slightly, switching off the purr.
“No, no,” he said hastily, “I don’t mean long, as in long and boring. No, I mean maybe it hasn’t been a full three months. You know, not ninety days.”
“Gari, you can be such a … a bean counter when you want to be. Has anybody ever told you that?”
Bean counter, no nobody had used the term to describe him. Emily had been the bean counter. Counted their collective beans every day and shoved the bean total under his nose every night. Can’t afford this. This is an extravagance. Yes, Emily had been a supreme bean counter. Recently, a reforming bean counter; but a counter nonetheless. Larry Lefton, he was the worst sort of bean counter. Counted the damn beans to his own detriment. What right thinking person would break his back for somebody who rewarded you with a one hundred dollar bonus at Christmas? It had been a terrible shock the first year. He didn’t believe it. He was embarrassed to ask around, so he went directly to Larry, who informed him, yes, indeed, one hundred was the bonus. Everybody received the same. Very egalitarian of the president. And very cheap. He should have quit on the spot, but he’d invested a year in the job and the company and maybe things would be different the next year. He knew bean counters, and he wasn’t of their ilk.
“No,” he said, “you’re the first.” Because this visibly took her aback, he followed with, “Kidding. Watching the details goes with the management territory I suppose. Sometimes it spills over.”
She resumed snuggling with him. He was forgiven, he assumed.
“Don’t you think about me back in Chicago?”
“Well sure, I think about you.”
“Yes, every single day.”
“When? You know, when you wakeup? When?”
“Sure, when I wakeup, when I shower, on my way to work, pretty much throughout the day.”
“That’s nice,” she purred.
“It is. Yes it is,” he purred back.
“We don’t have to be with each other to be us. It’s more than physical contact, don’t you agree?”
Disagreeing might have ended a good thing. Besides, he did like her. Sure, there was the sex. Fantastic. And it made him a better lover for Emily too. Absolutely, he adored squiring a beautiful woman around town enamored of arm candy. If she wanted him to say he liked her, he would without hesitation. He’d go further, too, and admit to liking her very much.
“Gari, you really do think about me back there in Chicago, don’t you?”
He squeezed her. “You’re my most pleasant thoughts when I’m back there.” She smiled and her happiness encouraged him to go further. “I miss you when I’m in Chicago. And then I look forward to the time when I can move here permanently.”
“Oh, Gari, really?”
“Yes, dear,” he said. This was the first time he used the word “dear.” Not just with Loretta, either. He couldn’t recall a time he’d addressed Emily with this term of endearment. Emily had asked him about this early in their marriage. No dears, no honeys like other couples; didn’t Gari love her? He’d told her he loved her very much, but he eschewed corny expressions like those. People had names for a reason was his argument. She’d accepted this. Gari was a maverick, and didn’t people who were independent often become the most successful? Then Teddy came along and when he could talk he called Gari “Daddy.” Gari seemed happy about this, but Emily couldn’t restrain herself. She reminded him about his conviction regarding names of endearment. He answered that Teddy was just a child, and children were different. So, “dear” departed his lips with calculation and disguised easiness.
She pushed tight against him, nearly bombinating, and said, “You’ve made me so happy, Gari. Now I feel better about our news.”
It was unmistakable: His underwear was filling with an ocean of sweat, pickling his bottom and his scrotum, which shrank and dwindled until he was sure his testicles resembled raisins—miniscule, wrinkled, and dark in their concentration. It was probably the result of the river of sweat cascading down his spine, probably directly into his shorts and through his gluteus canyon to his balls and dick.
“You all right? You’re sweating.”
“It’s L.A.,” he said. “Everybody from Chicago sweats in L.A. in the fall.”
She squinted at him as if he was revealing the first in a long series of chromosomal defects. Pity the poor children seemed to flit across her face.
“You’ve got the shakes,” he said, grateful for the little sign of imperfection in her.
Regaining her composure and her position, she snuggled close to him. She could live with the sweat as it seemed to be a temporary condition.
“What’s our news?” he asked bravely, hardly flinching at all.
“Honey, we’re pregnant.” She put a husky spin on it, so it actually sounded sexy and definitely agreeable.
On the surface, that is, and at first.