By Sarah Destin
Mr. Copenhagen had always enjoyed his evening nightcap. He knew there were those who felt the need to comment on his drinking, but Mr. Copenhagen did not mind.
“Frank, did you hear what I was saying at dinner? About that nice girl Julie that George is going to take out tomorrow night? I think they’ll really hit it off, don’t you?” Helen asked.
Frank knew he didn’t need to respond. His wife didn’t actually care what he thought about whatever girl she fixed George up with for Saturday night. Helen just needed to know there was someone willing to listen to her ramble.
She just didn’t want to admit what it was George really wanted. Frank Copenhagen knew what it was his son wanted. Who it was George wanted.
Helen could overlook the facts, but Frank couldn’t pretend anymore. He saw George at work every day as the secretaries walked past him in their low-cut dresses, praying this would be the day their socially awkward boss gave them a second glance. Hello, Mr. Copenhagen, they all said to George every morning. No, you aren’t going to get to marry my son, Frank had thought. Hell, even if they stripped in front of him, George wouldn’t feel anything more than embarrassment.
It disgusted Frank. Copenhagen men didn’t do these sorts of things. Copenhagen men worked hard, married well, had a little fun on the side and kept it all in check by drinking heavily.
There were times when Frank contemplated disowning his son. Asking some cousin’s kid to take over the business. But that would cause a scandal for the ladies to discuss over their drinks at the country club. He couldn’t do that to Helen.
“Frank, dear, have you been listening to anything that I’ve been saying? About Julie DeMateo? I think this could really be the one for George.”
“Of course I have,” Frank replied. He could feel the words forming in his throat, the way they always did when Helen discussed George’s romantic prospects. Helen, don’t you think it’s time to stop this nonsense? We know our son’s gay, so why do we need to keep pretending?
“I’ve gotten them a reservation at the Riviera for seven thirty. I thought that might be a nice time. Anne Slattery is always telling me that her son takes his girlfriend out for dinner as late as nine o’ clock because the young people prefer to be out later. But imagine waiting until nine to have dinner! Far too late for my personal taste. You wouldn’t even have your main course until after ten. Imagine what that would do to your digestion,” Helen said.
“Yes, nine would be rather late,” he replied.
Sharon used to like to go out late. She always wanted to take the train into the city for a business trip. Sometimes they wouldn’t even get dinner until after midnight. Of course, sometimes they never even left the hotel room for dinner at all.
“I think George is excited for his date, don’t you?”
“Excited? Oh, I don’t know,” he replied.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
Goddamnit Helen. You know exactly what makes me say that, Frank thought.
“No reason, really. He just wasn’t very chatty at dinner.”
“Well, that’s just George! He never talks too much. Probably just takes after his father,” Helen joked.
Frank did not appreciate that joke.
You can only protect him for so long. What are you going to do when you die and he moves to San Francisco and gets AIDS? When you can’t put a pink satin pillow on top of his head and smother him into submission?
“Can I freshen your drink?” Helen asked.
“No, I’ll get it,” he said.
“Well, how about some dessert then? I got a nice pecan pie at the market this morning, but then I forgot that nuts don’t sit very well with George. It’s so strange that I would forget that, because I’m always so wary about staying away from recipes with peanut butter, but I suppose since I was shopping for dessert, I just wasn’t thinking about it. Now the whole thing will probably just get stale,” she said.
“Maybe tomorrow night,”
“Oh well, if you’re sure,”
“I’m full. In fact, I think I’m going to head up to bed soon.”
“That sounds nice. Can you turn on the dishwasher before you head up?” Helen asked.
Frank only nodded, but that was enough for Helen.
It was a Saturday night. George’s date night. George hated Saturday nights. His mother had fixed him up with some girl whom he had never even heard of. Her name was Julie, his mother said, Julie DeMateo. He should be nice to this one, she said. It wasn’t that George wasn’t nice to the other ones. It was just that he didn’t care.
George sat on the left corner of his bed. He was waiting for Julie, like an anxious schoolgirl might wait for some jock to come take her out for a soda. It was all so disgusting to George.
His mother had told Julie to come meet George at their house. George, he’s just so bad with directions. That was a lie. Helen knew that if George were to pick up Julie, he would never actually pick her up. He would rather drive around in circles for four hours than pick up Julie DeMateo.
“George, George, she’s here!” Helen exclaimed from the living room.
“Good evening, Mrs. Copenhagen,”
“Oh, no, no, no, it’s Helen. And dear, how are- oh, here’s George!”
“Good evening, Julie.”
He couldn’t look at her while he spoke (he had never been able to look at women when he spoke to them), but afterward he couldn’t help but stare. She wasn’t the slightest bit attractive. She wasn’t ugly, she was simply peculiar. It was obvious she didn’t care much about appearances; even George could decipher that much. She wore too much brown, and it wasn’t her color. Her sweater was two sizes too large. And it was brown. He wasn’t surprised she wasn’t married, but at the same time it seemed almost tragic she wasn’t.
“Julie, George is taking you down to the Riviera tonight. Isn’t that lovely? And Georgie, here you go. A little something extra from your father and me,” Helen said. George looked in his hand to find three one hundred dollar bills, which he immediately stuffed in his pocket.
“I’m parked in the driveway,” George mumbled.
“No need, I’ll just drive. Your mother said that directions aren’t really your thing. Plus, I’ve been to the Riviera loads of times,” Julie replied.
Loads of times. Well, maybe she was rich then. That would explain enough. Although, if she was rich, she would be married by now.
“It’s not that George doesn’t know how to drive, it’s just he tends to get so lost. He’s been to the Riviera plenty of times as well, but he just can be so forgetful! But then again, all of the great men are. I know my husband Frank can barely remember where the bathroom is, much less where his favorite restaurant is! Speaking of which, Frank come in and meet Julie!” Helen said.
Frank walked into the front hall. He hated when Helen made him meet George’s date-of-the-week. Watching George try to talk to a girl was always such a pitiful scene.
“Nice to meet you,” Frank said.
“If you’ll excuse me, I really must be getting back to my office,”
“Nonsense, Frank! I thought we could all have a drink together before dinner,” Helen said.
“Why don’t you let the kids go, Helen? There’ll be loads of drinks at the Riviera,” Frank said.
“I’ll have him home early,” Julie said.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about a thing, Julie,”
“Come on, George, I’m parked out front.”
George uttered seven words during the drive to the Riviera and the first two courses. If Julie noticed, she seemed not to care. It wasn’t that George was bored with her, he really wasn’t. She was interesting, and educated. She had ideas, perplexing ideas. Ideas about love, about loving. Ideas about families, ideas about friends, ideas about lovers.
In many ways, she was like an educated version of his mother.
“George, could I ask you something?”
“Am I terribly boring?”
“No,” George responded. He did not need to explain how interesting he finds her to be. In the short time since they’d met, Julie already knew George wasn’t a liar.
“Then George, do you love?”
Do I love, George thought; oh, do I love. He thought of Paul. He thought of his mother, and even of his father. He thought of Julie, awkward and yet educated Julie. He thought of the insurance business. How it had been his father’s before him, and his father’s before that. The loveless marriages that had gone before him. The monotony of it all.
“I think I loved once, Julie. I think I loved him very much, once,” George stammered.
“What happened?” she asked. She does not care, she really does not care, George thought. She is perfectly fine with the fact that she is on a date with a man who is gay.
“I, well, I wasn’t supposed to love him,”
They ate their sorbet in silence for a moment before Julie started on him again with questions.
“Why weren’t you supposed to love him?”
“Don’t you already know the answer to that?”
“It didn’t fit into the life that Helen Copenhagen laid out for you?”
“We don’t really talk about that sort of thing,” he said.
“You don’t ever really talk to people, do you?”
“No, not really,”
“That’s quite alright. Introverts oftentimes make the best listeners.”
“People are always saying that about me, but I don’t really listen to people either,”
“Well, then what do you do with them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you don’t listen to them and you don’t talk to them, then why even bother to deal with them?”
“Can you just ignore people altogether?” he asked.
“You tell me. I’ve never tried to, but I’m guessing you have,”
“People are interesting to observe. They’re a bit like zoo animals. Except without cages. We let them run free, for some reason.”
“I like that explanation,” she said.
George couldn’t remember the last time someone was actually interested in his opinions on something.
“You smiled,” she said.
“You smiled. I got you to smile. I’m guessing you don’t smile too often on these things,”
“I don’t smile very often,” he said.
“Well, maybe you just save your emotions for special moments,”
“No, I just don’t like to be bothered with emotions,” he replied.
“With any emotions? I know that can’t be true. How can anyone live their life totally void of emotion?”
George could only reply with a blank stare.
“George, can I ask you something? Something a bit strange?”
“Could you love me, George? Someday, could you love me?”
George couldn’t help but remain silent. He knew enough to realize that even to a man who wasn’t painfully shy this would be considered an inappropriate question.
“I really don’t think so.”
“Well, you’ve got to leave then. If you can’t love me, then you’re never going to love any of those Daughters of the American Revolution girls that your mother keeps fixing you up with.”
“I can’t leave,” he said.
“Because maybe someday I’ll wake up and this will all be gone.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up, we should get the check,” Julie said.
As Julie pulled into his driveway, George contemplated what it might be like to kiss Julie goodnight, like they did on the TV shows. But before George could think about how he might logistically go about kissing Julie, she leaned in and did it for him.
“Feel anything?” Julie asked.
“I – I don’t think so.”
“Then I suppose it’s time for us to say goodbye. It was nice meeting you, George.”
“You too,” George said as he got out of her car and walked inside, to where his mother was anxiously waiting for his return.
“Well, how was it?”
“Okay,” he said.
“Excellent. I’ll call her tomorrow and see if we can set something up for next weekend. A light lunch with the family perhaps? We should invite her parents too, of course. It’ll be good for the families to get better acquainted-“
“That’s not what I meant. She doesn’t want to see me again,”
“Oh, George. You didn’t make her cry, did you? Because a simple phone call is all it takes to fix things like this. Even if you told her she’s ugly. Or something else like that. So what did you say?” Helen asked.
“I told her that I don’t like women,”
“But that’s ridiculous. You just haven’t met the right woman yet! But Julie could be the right woman, you just have to give her another chance! Or we could call another girl, we could always call another girl. There’s always another girl.”
“That’s not what I meant-” he began.
“You’re tired, George. You’re saying things that you don’t mean. We’ve talked about this, remember?”
George looked down at the floor and Helen leaned in to give him a light kiss on the cheek.
“Goodnight, George,” she said.
Sarah Destin is from Saratoga, California. She recently received her B.A. in creative writing from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. In the fall, she will begin working on her MFA in fiction at the University of Washington. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Pinyon, Santa Clara Review and 1 Over the 8. Follow her on Twitter @sarahdestin.