"Try not to be too late tonight, okay? Remember, we're having company here for dinner." Julia brushed her hair as she called over her shoulder.
Griffin walked out of the bathroom and stood staring at her for a moment, puzzled. "Company?"
"I told you last night," she said, trying to hide the irritation creeping into her voice. "I told you I invited my English Lit professor and I'd like for you to be here - in time for dinner and not late - as usual. Oh, and shower at the shop before you come home. I don't want him to think you're just some grease monkey."
Griffin felt like she had slapped him.
Julia, oblivious, smiled a slight smile, and stopped brushing for a moment, lost in thought. "David is such an interesting man. You'll like him - he's so ... charming." He could hear the laughter in her voice as she said, "He told me the funniest story yesterday over coffee..."
"David?" he said aloud and waited a second before he continued, "Coffee?" He might have said more but it was too hard to talk while all of those bells and whistles were going off in his head. 'Just who the hell is this David guy, and why is he telling *my wife* funny stories over coffee? What's going on here? Should I be worried? Why do I have this sick twisted feeling in my gut?' He thought all of those things but said nothing.
"Griffin," she sighed. "I have to go. I can't be late for class. Just be on time tonight ..." She walked over to the door and picked up the books waiting for her there on the table and left.
He stood motionless, stunned, wondering why she had forgotten to kiss him good-bye. Then he realized that she'd been doing that a lot lately.
Griffin didn't usually like taking time away from the shop during the day. He'd bring his lunch with him, choosing to eat and work. But today he couldn't seem to keep his mind on what his fingers were supposed to be doing. He wanted to walk and think.
He hadn't allowed himself to say the words "lose" and "Julia" in the same sentence even in his thoughts. But the gnawing in his stomach knew what he was afraid of.
Before he knew it, he was standing in front of Salinger's. It was late enough in the afternoon for it not to be crowded. He pushed the door open not knowing for sure why he was there ... until he saw Charlie. He hesitated and then he walked over to his brother-in-law and stood silently, not knowing what to say or how to say it.
Charlie looked up and saw the look on Griffin's face. "What? What's wrong? Is Julia ...?
"No! No, she's fine - everything's fine - well, not really - I ... I didn't know where else to go." He looked up at the ceiling light fixture and briefly bit his upper lip to stop the blurring in his eyes that threatened to turn into tears. "Julia ... I think I might be losing ..." He couldn't finish, the lump in his throat having grown too large. Griffin tried to cover the catch in his voice with a cough and then he began again. He studied the floor in front of Charlie and said in slow measured words, "I know you don't like me. I know you think she could have done better. It's just ..." He looked Charlie in the eyes and finished in a rush, "She's all I've got. Outside of her there's no one else to talk to - so ... who do I talk to when she's the one who I need to talk about?" He looked so helpless and lost.
Charlie let his momentary uneasiness fade. "Griffin, what are you talking about? Julia loves you. Okay, maybe I don't like you much but I can see just how much she does. There have been times when I was even a little jealous of you two. You have nothing to worry about, man." Charlie moved closer to Griffin.
"No, you don't understand. There's this guy, this professor. God, I wish I hadn't talked her into going to college in the first place." He shrugged and continued more quietly, "That's not true. I love how excited she gets about learning stuff." He stopped, allowing his misery to show on his face.
"Griffin, Julia loves you. I can tell by the way she looks at you, by the way she says your name ..." Charlie said reassuringly.
He shook his head, "That's changed. I hear that tone of voice now - but it's not saying Griffin - it's saying David. Smart, funny, charming David. How do I compete with that?"
"Ahh, man, you don't. Don't try to be someone you're not. She fell in love with you - who you are, how you are. Be that guy - the rest will work itself out. Despite what I've said before, Julia isn't a fool - and she'd kinda have to be to give up what you two have."
Griffin stood quietly ruminating on that thought. Then he placed a hand on Charlie's arm, "Hey, thanks for talking to me. I didn't know where else to go."
Charlie took a long moment before he said, "Griffin, no matter how I've felt about you in the past, you're family now. We're always here for each other. We've gotta be." Charlie put his hand on Griffin's shoulder, smiled a little and said, "Now, get outta here before I hug you or something stupid." And then softly, he added, "It'll be okay. You'll see."
Griffin's thoughts had drifted off ... again. What Julia seemed to find so fascinating was just downright boring for him. He found it very easy to tune the conversation out. All he had to do was look at Julia as she sat in rapt attention, listening to someone he could never be.
He had hated this David guy ever since he walked into their apartment a little over two hours ago. He smiled too much, and the fact that he was taller than Griffin made him feel even less worthy of Julia. David, with his jacket with the patched elbows, smelling faintly of vanilla tobacco. David, with the laugh that made Griffin's teeth itch.
He got up and started clearing the dishes away. Returning to the table he caught the end of David's soliloquy. "... Sri Lanka." David made a wide gesture with his neatly manicured hands and finished, "And, of course, when he ended up in the capital of Sri Lanka, that's when he decided to make it his home away from home ... " He smiled - again - at the end of his story as if he had just won the prize.
"Colombo," Griffin half whispered.
"What? Griffin, what are you mumbling?" Julia asked, her forehead slightly crinkled.
He cleared his throat and said it again a little louder, "Colombo - the capital of Sri Lanka ... My ship anchored there for almost a week. It was really pretty there - exotic - strange in a really great way ... What about Colombo?"
Julia answered, "David was just telling me about the man who the Lit Guild on campus is going to be giving a soiree for tomorrow night."
"Ohhh," Griffin responded. "So, David, you done much traveling?" He deliberately changed the subject.
"Well, actually, I went to Hawaii last year," he answered, warming up to the challenge. He looked at Julia smiling at him and felt the need to elaborate for his audience. "There I was on a deserted beach ... I felt just like Robinson Crusoe ..."
Griffin made a slight face. "Hawaii? Not likely - I mean how many cannibals were you expecting to run into there - like, wasn't that the point - he saved that guy, Friday, from the cannibals. Defoe, that was his name, right? He made that a big part of the book."
There was puzzlement in Julia's eyes. "Griffin? I didn't know you've read Robinson Crusoe?"
"Yeah, well, there's a lot you still don't know about me." He looked down at his hands and continued almost embarrassed, "You try being on a ship for weeks at a time. There's just so many card games you can sit in on and after a while even whale watching gets boring. I borrowed Ziggy's copy." He looked up at her almost defiantly. "They don't call it a classic for nothing."
Sensing he was losing a bit of ground, David started the conversation up again. "So, Julia, would you be interested in the gathering tomorrow evening? Clive Hammersmith is such a fascinating man. And he has deemed to honor us with a few of his works. I was hoping to talk with him afterward - perhaps the three of us could get a bite to eat. Imagine the opportunity!"
"Wait a minute," Griffin interrupted. "Clive Hammersmith? Is he this writer guy you were talking about?"
"Poet. He's not a writer. He's a world renowned poet." David said a little briskly.
"Oh, yeah, right, like poets don't write ..." Griffin said under his breath. Louder, he said, "I think we should both go, Julia. He's a really nice guy. He was in the shop today - spent a good two hours just talking. We were comparing Triumphs." He looked at David and clarified it for him. "Motorcycles."
David lost a little bit of color in his cheeks and said, "Clive Hammersmith owns a motorcycle?"
"Not just one motorcycle - he owns three." Griffin held up three fingers and mouthed the number again. Turning back to Julia he continued, "He's a great guy. He said he had some stuff he had to do tomorrow night but that he was looking for someplace fun to go after ... I told him about O' Malley's ... he invited us for a drink - if you want to." He shrugged. "Or maybe going for a beer with a couple of dumb grease monkeys isn't your idea of a good time." He waited a fraction of a second before he said to David, "You'll have to excuse me - I worked hard all day. I'm really tired." He looked Julia in the eyes as he rose from the table and walked into their bedroom.
Five minutes later Julia followed him. "I've been pretty wrapped up in myself lately, haven't I?" She crawled up next to him on the bed.
He stared up at the ceiling and sighed. "Julia, I know this is a whole new thing for you - college is. And I know I don't fit in with your new life really well - I mean, your new friend probably thinks I'm an idiot ... and I guess maybe he'd be right ..." He stopped, not wanting to continue.
She took hold of his arm and draped it around her shoulder so that she could snuggle closer to him. "School's great, Griffin. I'm not going to lie and tell you it isn't. The people and the whole campus experience - it's all exciting and new ... I guess with all this stuff happening, maybe I've ignored the most important thing. The thing that lets me feel secure enough to do all of this ... and that thing is ... us, Griffin. It's you and me together. And if I've made you feel like you aren't as special as you are, then, I'm not doing my job. Griffin, I love you. I'm proud of you too. You're a lot smarter than you think - a lot smarter than me a lot of the time ... You may feel like I think you're just a grease monkey - but I'm a grease monkey's wife ... and do you know how that makes me feel?"
Griffin was silent; he was holding his breath without being conscious that he was.
"Pretty darn happy and very proud of my husband, mister." She looked up at him and brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead.
He slowly let out the breath and leaned over and kissed her gently, whispering, "Well, my aim is to please, ma'am."
She pulled him in for another kiss as she whispered back, "Well then, quit talking and start pleasing."