OOOH LÀ LÀ
Jack is behaving very secretively this evening. First, he tells me to dress up for a special evening event. He has something important to say to me.
Well, as dressed up as one ever gets in T-shirt land—that is, our senior citizen condo, Lanai Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in case anybody doesn’t know. And also, if you’re behind the times, Jack has been living with me since the horrendous hurricane destroyed his building in Phase Six, two months ago.
I dig out a peach organza cocktail dress I wore once, for my daughter Emily’s wedding, and matching high heels. I’m even wearing makeup and perfume for the occasion.
Jack is in a charcoal pin-striped suit with a cherry red tie and a jaunty white carnation in the lapel buttonhole. I must admit this fiancé of mine is very handsome. As we used to say way back when—tall, dark, and handsome. Even at seventy-five, that description fits him, though his hair, like mine, is mostly gray. On him, gray is dashing. On me, it’s the color of wet cement. Ah, when he smiles at me, I get wobbly in my arthritic knees. When his blue eyes crinkle with adjoining laugh lines, I melt.
Even while getting dressed for tonight, what with our traveling back and forth from bathroom to bedroom, he still won’t give anything away. Despite my obvious curiosity. I note that he seems serious about his evening’s plans.
To make me even more suspicious my sister, Evvie, was not invited, nor were the other of my “girls.” Yes, though we’re all in our seventies and eighties, they will always be my girls: Evvie, my sister, loyal and loving, though a tad jealous that Jack has come into our lives and scrambled things around. Ida, she of the ramrod back, the coiled gray bun, mistress of negativity. Sophie and Bella, my Bobbsey twins; zaftig Sophie gets half-baked ideas and petite Bella takes them out of the oven when done. One might believe they invented the term second childhood.
Since Jack and I are everyone’s designated driv- ers, Bella and Sophie had visions of pot roast or rigatoni tonight. They wanted to be chauffeured to an early-bird dinner at Nona’s restaurant. Naturally they forgot that I told them, twice, that Jack and I have something private planned. So now they are stuck at home, each in her own apartment, improvising dull individual dinners instead. And as we start off, I can see them sneaking glances out their windows, scowling.
They are not the only onlookers. As Jack and I step out of the elevator and head across the parking area to Jack’s car, I feel other eyes peering out. Calico curtains part. Venetian blinds lift. The yenta patrol, always on the job. Especially when it comes to us. Especially now. Phase Two has been a hotbed of overwrought schemes since word got out that wedding bells are to ring shortly. A date will be set, a hundred nosy minds waiting to offer us bad advice. I can hardly wait.
How can I resist? I swing my arm out the car window and send a jaunty wave to the curious watchers.
So here we are, Jack and I, at a delightful little French bistro in Margate, sitting outdoors, sipping champagne. It’s a wonderful balmy evening, so clear with the stars swarming the sky with their glistening light. I feel as if I’ve been transported to Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night.”
My high heels are now kicked under the table. They were uncomfortable to walk in. I miss my everyday sneakers. From our tiny, rickety, scarred wooden table, I can see inside the restaurant where the walls are covered with watercolors of famous landmarks. There’s the Eiffel Tower, of course. The Champs-Elysées, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe. Would that we were in the real Paris, but this will have to do for tonight.
I’d been to Paris seemingly a hundred years ago with my late husband, also named Jack. It was on our honeymoon. I still remember that minuscule room we had near one of the train stations. Two of us couldn’t stand in the room at one time. One had to sit up on the bed while the other moved about. It was heavenly.
Perhaps I’ll go again someday with this Jack—for another honeymoon?
I’m still waiting for him to explain what’s on his mind tonight. He leans over and stares into my eyes. Aha, I think, he’s ready to reveal all.
“Take off your ring, please,” he says with his hands fluttering toward mine.
Startled, I fold my hands together. “Why?”
He is not smiling. For a brief moment, I think of the many books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen when the guy takes the gal to some very expensive restaurant, and after he’s wined and dined her, he tells her he’s fallen in love with somebody else. Usually it’s someone much younger and cuter. Usually he drops the bombshell before dessert, so he doesn’t have to spend more money on a losing proposition. I can’t believe I’m thinking these ridiculous thoughts. Talk about insecurity.
Jack is still wagging his fingers.
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” I say, as I tug at my garnet engagement ring. Hoping I can’t get it off.
He reaches over and gently turns the ring around and around until it loosens and lands in his palm. He holds it as I rub my finger where my precious ring sat only seconds ago. He may be holding my ring, but what I’m holding is my breath. “So, now what?” I make a pathetic joke. “Does it need to be polished, or what?”
“Tonight,” he announces, leaning over to kiss the tip of my nose, “is the official new beginning of our formal engagement.”
I exhale a huge sigh of relief. Trying to pretend I wasn’t the least bit nervous, I say, “Hmmm, I thought we got engaged a month ago.”
“You call that a romantic engagement? First we got hit with that frightening hurricane that nearly wrecked Lanai Gardens. Then we had to cope with major damage to my building. All those displaced people needing to find new homes. Especially me. How lucky I was to be invited to move in with you.” He grins, very amused, remembering how he talked his way into moving in with me.
I also smile, remembering how I fought that idea at the beginning. Two unmarried people living together! A shanda, my mother would have said. But she didn’t know Jack. How wonderful it’s turned out.
“And then Enya’s nightmarish experience, which almost destroyed her. And our disbelief that something so horrendous could happen in our little condo. For a while I was afraid none of us would ever survive that.”
I shudder, remembering the terrifying events leading up to saving Enya’s life. It’s probably the biggest and most harrowing case the Gladdy Gold Detective Agency will ever have to solve. But happily, the result was that Enya has finally come out of her shell. She’s in Israel now, looking up a long-lost relative.
“So,” Jack says, “we haven’t had a peaceful moment to enjoy our new couple state.”
“I agree, but the good news is—no private eye cases right now. People are too busy trying to put our city back together. I’m looking forward to a lot of quality time alone with you. Two peas in a pod. Lots of time to do stuff we keep putting off. Maybe some nice small trips away together. Maybe another trip to New York to visit our families. Or just plain laziness.”
“You name it, you’ve got it. I won’t leave your side for anything.”
“Okay,” I say. “Does this mean you’re going to get down on your knees and propose again?”
He drops my ring into his jacket pocket. “Only if you have a forklift to pull me up. I’ve got something more entertaining in mind.”
“I have one question,” I say, looking around. “What’s with this French motif?”
“Chérie,” he says with a pathetic attempt at a French accent, “because the French are known to be très romantic. And I want to shower upon you the most amorous evening you could possibly imagine.”
We finish our luscious bouillabaisse in time to get to a theater featuring a retrospective of the greatest French romantic movies ever made.
Jack informs me, “When the screen actors kiss, so shall we and I shall slip the ring on your finger once again, never to be removed.”
I perk up. This sounds good. Too bad Evvie isn’t with us. My sister would rather watch a movie than eat. Any movie. “What are we seeing?”
“Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman.”
I smile. One of my all-time favorites.
We sit in the nearly empty balcony so we can cuddle and behave like kids. We pass the red-and-white-striped paper bag of popcorn back and forth. Small size after our huge dinner. Yum.
Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant are just as sexy as ever. And the famous music score by Frances Lai is still soaring and melodious. Our hero drives his race car, our heroine deals with her adorable child, and finally we are approaching their first big smooch.
“Get ready,” Jack informs me. “Dig out the ring.”
I’m puzzled. “Me? But it’s in your pocket. I saw you put it there.”
“Not anymore. I dropped it into the popcorn for the fun of it. You know, like we used to get prizes in Cracker Jack and stuff.”
“You didn’t!” I gasp.
“I did.” He looks alarmed. “You didn’t swallow it?”
I start digging through the kernels, spilling them all over the seat and floor, and not finding anything. Oh, no.
He looks chagrined, and then he laughs out loud. He holds up a small candy box. “Kidding. I put it in the Junior Mints.”
I take what’s left of the popcorn and throw it at him.
He upends the mints and digs out my engagement ring, licking off the chocolate as he ducks the popcorn bits.
I shake my head, trying not to grin. “And just when do you plan to grow up?”
“Never. We did our share of being responsible all the years we worked and took care of our families. We don’t have to do that anymore. Remember that great line: You don’t stop laughing when you grow old. You grow old when you stop laughing. As far as I’m concerned, silliness trumps seriousness.”
Oh, how I agree with that.
He suddenly grabs me. “Jean-Louis is leaning in for the big kiss. Anouk is ready. I’m ready. Are you?” He pulls me toward him and all four of us are kissing with sweet passion. I can feel Jack slip my engagement ring back on my finger.
He pulls away and looks deep into my eyes. “Now we’re correctly engaged.”
“Ooh là là,” I say. What a guy.
Excerpted from Getting Old Is Tres Dangereux by Rita Lakin. Copyright © 2010 by Rita Lakin. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.