Rent A HusbandBy: Sally Mason
His cell phone buzzes.
Amazed it wasn’t damaged in the fracas he draws it from his pocket and thinks that things may be looking up when he sees caller ID.
“Eric,” he says, not quite masking a groan.
“Forrest, why do you sound as if you’re in agony?”
“Just finished a grueling squash session, old man. What’s up?”
“How would you like a job?”
“Well, I’d have to check with my agent.”
“Stop being silly, darling, this is me.”
“Okay, what are you offering? A walk-on part in Startup?”
“No, my friend, the leading man in Santa Sofia.”
“I haven’t seen that show.”
“It’s not a show, it’s a town. Where I live.”
“I’m not with you, old son.”
“I want to employ you to escort a very dear and very lovely friend of mine to a ball.”
“I’m not a damned gigolo, Eric.”
“No, what you are is broke and desperate. It’ll be for one night and it’ll pay well.”
Eric names a figure that would make a serious dent in Forrest’s gambling debt.
“Okay, I’m warming to the idea.”
“How lovely. Do you have a tuxedo?”
“It’s at the cleaners.”
“You’re lying to me.”
“Eric, I was burglarized . . .”
“Spare me. Do you know Lightbodys on Beverly?”
“I have an account there. Go over and get yourself wardrobed. The tux and a casual outfit to travel in. Stylishly preppy, you know the score. Then I want you at union Station by six to get the train to Santa Sofia.”
“Eric, I’m a little financially embarrassed. I think train fare is beyond my means.”
“Darling, darling, darling, what has happened to the power elite? Okay, James at Lightbodys will make some cash available to you. Enough to get you to Santa Sofia. I’ll meet you at the station at eight.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Don’t let me down.”
As Forrest levers himself to his feet and walks away from the small pile of belongings he no longer wants, he whistles the song from his alma mater to stop himself weeping at the pain in his bruised abdomen.
He no longer feels the bruises to his ego.
The only time Poor Billy Bigelow isn’t clumsy is when he dances, an amazing fact that only a handful of the ancient female inhabitants of the Santa Sofia Senior Center know.
In the last few months of his life, Ben Bigelow (Big Ben, of course, to his cronies) had been too ill for homecare and had to go into assisted living at the Senior Centre where cancer had finally taken him.
Billy had visited his father daily, and one evening had been press ganged by a bevy of old women to dance with them, and found he’d retained all the steps his mother had taught him, to the delight of the widows that made up the bulk of the population of the Center, their husbands keeling over young.
So once a week he danced with these old ladies who smelled of lavender and medication, knowing that he’d never be able to do this with a younger woman.
Twirling skinny Mrs. Keeler, with skin as blue as the rinse in her hair, the tubes of a portable oxygen tank in her nose (the cylinder in a bag hanging from her bony shoulder) the woman light as air in his arms as they sway to “Some Enchanted Evening” while the other old ladies look on smiling and applauding, he imagines he’s leading Darcy in the first dance of the Spring Ball to the applause of the well heeled citizens of Santa Sofia.
Pretending to be stacking books in the self-help section that abuts the coffee shop, he’d eavesdropped earlier when Darcy spoke to Eric Royce, and caught the first part of their conversation before a customer summoned him.
He’d heard Darcy bemoaning her lack of a date for the ball.
Unbelievable that a woman as desirable as Darcy should have to be escorted by her gay friend Eric.
So, Billy imagines that he’s invited her, that she’s accepted and they are dancing, light as feathers, under the glow of the chandeliers at the country club.
The song ends and Poor Billy comes back to reality, thanking Mrs. Keeler who gives him what he once heard described as an old fashioned look.
Billy goes out on the porch, taking in the ocean air and the sweetness of the blooming bougainvillea.
“Who is she?”
He turns to see Mrs. Keeler shuffling out after him, her breath coming in little rasps.
“That sure as hell wasn’t me you were twirling around back there.”
Poor Billy is pleased for the darkness that masks his blush. He shrugs and stares out into the night.
Mrs. Keeler says, “You’re a nice guy, Billy.”
“That’s not meant to be a compliment.”
“Hell, stop apologizing for being alive, Billy.”
“Sorry,” he says again, before he can stop himself and Mrs. Keeler laughs.
The laugh becomes a coughing spasm and he looks away.
When she’s recovered she says, “Look at me.” He does. “I was a hot number, you know, years back?”