“Until I discovered he preferred Leinenkugel’s.”
“When he finished each day, he would come in and comment on how beautiful you were.”
“Yes. And how smart and how sexy, too. And he’d say, ‘If I was only twenty years younger …’ After a day or two, it became fifteen years. Then ten, then five, then just a couple. And then …”
“And then he died.”
“Yeah, he died.”
“I miss him.”
“The thing is, he really liked you. And when I see you looking resplendent in that canary yellow swimsuit you’re almost wearing, I think—that’s my dad’s girl.”
Margot stared for a few moments, then wrapped her arms around her chest and turned her back to me. She bowed her head and I saw her shoulders shudder. She plowed through the water to the edge of the pond bordering her property. She called to me over her shoulder. Her voice didn’t sound quite right.
“That’s either the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard or the biggest bucket of crap. I’ll let you know what I decide.”
I went into my garage and turned the switch that fired the circulating pump. A few moments later I was standing in my backyard and watching the water arching out of the fountain and back into the pond. Margot stood on the other side of the pond in her yard. She had pulled on a white robe and was also watching the fountain. I don’t know what she was thinking. I was thinking of my dad.
I had a twelve-ounce prime rib and twice-baked potato at Rickie’s, a jazz club located in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood that was developing a nice reputation for showcasing gifted performers on their way up; both Diana Krall and Jane Monheit had performed there early in their careers. It also had a well-regarded dinner menu, a little pricey by my standards, but worth it, especially since they gave me the employee’s discount. I was dating the owner.
They served me at the downstairs bar. Rickie’s had two levels. The first floor reminded me of a coffeehouse. It had a large number of comfortable sofas and stuffed chairs mixed in among the tables and booths. There was even an espresso machine behind the bar. The second floor featured a larger bar set against one wall and an elevated stage with a baby grand piano set against the opposite wall. Arranged between them were a couple dozen tables covered with white linen, elaborate place settings, and candles.
I saw Nina Truhler standing on the staircase midway between the two floors, menus under her arm. I enjoyed watching her—the way she moved so smoothly and effortlessly; her short black hair, high cheekbones, narrow nose, and generous mouth; her curves, which she refused to diet away. But mostly I enjoyed her eyes, the most arresting eyes I had ever seen in a woman. From a distance they gleamed like polished silver. Up close they were the most amazing pale blue.
“Luminous,” I said quietly, pleased with the word, wondering if I had spoken it aloud before.
Nina waved when she saw me. I waved back. She blew me a kiss, and I pretended to catch it. She leaned against the railing, raised her leg, arched her back, tossed back her head, and gave me her Marilyn Monroe. I pointed to the couple watching her from the bottom of the staircase. She smiled and went to them without even a suggestion of embarrassment.
We’re taught as children that everyone is special, but time and experience prove that to be a lie. It’s true we’re all different. But damn few of us are special. Nina was one of them. She always looked and behaved as though she had never had a moment of gloom or self-doubt. I knew this to be untrue. Her unplanned pregnancy and disastrous marriage, the early years raising Erica after her husband abandoned them both, and the frightening risk and punishing effort of making her club a success brought a great deal of misery into her life. Yet she survived. And how. Now it was smiles nearly all the time.
“Audacious,” I said, another word I don’t often use. Nina brought out the linguist in me.
Yet in the back of my mind I remembered what Mr. Mosley had said. I notice you ain’t never brought her around. Why hadn’t I? I wondered.
Rickie’s had two dinner crowds. The first consisted mostly of people who arrived early, ate quickly, and ran to whatever event they had planned for that evening. The second arrived later, ate slowly, and usually stayed for the upstairs entertainment that always began at 9:00 P.M. Tonight it was local chanteuse Connie Evingson performing Beatles standards to a jazz rhythm. I had caught her act twice now and looked forward to a third helping.
Nina had other plans. After the first dinner crowd was seated, she occupied the stool next to mine at the bar.
“Rickie’s on a weekend retreat sponsored by her high school,” she told me, using the name that her daughter preferred. “A confidence-building retreat.”
“Is she teaching it?”
“No, why would she be?”
“Because Rickie needs confidence like Tiger Woods needs confidence.”