That Friday night she rushed to be ready for her “date” with Michael Dunn. She felt like a teenager, her mother hovering, making suggestions, what she should wear. She couldn’t believe her ears.
“Mom. I think I know what’s in my closet.”
“I was just saying that you never wear dresses.”
“I’m not going to some goddamned senior prom. I don’t need a dress.” She was busy consulting her wardrobe for something that appeased Esther and yet would leave her with some sense that she and not Esther made the decision. She sifted through the skirts and found the flouncy one that looked like a peasant skirt. The short-sleeved little white sweater stretched across her breasts and was the best bet with the multi-colored Mexican skirt.
“Don’t you have something a little more comfortable?” Esther was eyeing Molly’s snug sweater.
Molly finished brushing her hair, finished with the lipstick and eye makeup and shot a look at Esther. “Mom. It is what it is.”
Esther sat down heavily on the bed and appraised her daughter. “I guess that’s the way, so informal.”
“I’m going up to L.A. for chrissakes, to a cavern of a place for some quasi-Christian singing and prayer. It will be dark and no one will give a damn.”
“Nice talk.” Esther must have had a delayed reaction to her daughter’s words because she answered now, “Christian?”
“Nothing to worry about. No one tries to recruit, least of all me.” She dragged her fingers through her hair one more time, and it was shiny and all golden highlights and it felt good. She looked at her watch. “It’s late. He’ll be here.”
They heard Nugent talking as they entered the kitchen to see Michael Dunn in deep conversation with the boy who was leaning against the doorjamb, bouncing his pinkie up and down, up and down. Dunn just finished saying something. He straightened when he saw Esther and right behind her, Molly.
“I was just telling Nugent about the ball we play squash with. Same size but very dense.” He turned to the boy, “Hey buddy, I’ll bring one with me next time.”
Nugent was provisional, “Okay, man, cool.” His loyalties lay elsewhere, but he’d still like to get his hands on the “dense” ball, and Molly knew he’d be invading her computer to look up the game of squash before she got off of Magnolia Avenue.
Michael took Esther’s hand and shook it gently saying, “Good to see you again. We met briefly outside St. Mary’s.” For her part, Esther was all quiet smiles and short sentences. “Good to meet you again.” Calling him Michael at his insistence. Molly and Dunn said their goodnights and left.
Molly couldn’t wait to get out of the barrio, fearful that Javier would see them. If he wasn’t spying, he might have someone else doing it for him. Either way she preferred not to run into him. The neighborhood was quieter than usual, dusk falling heavily on the cool night had mercifully cleared the streets. Still, his silver Mercedes was like a beacon shining under the street lamp.
They drove, not saying much, as he navigated onto Bellflower Avenue and then the 405 freeway to Culver City. She refrained from suggesting taking the 710 Freeway because she wasn’t sure about traffic. “So, Agape is close to work,” she said as she realized that he could go there often.
“Yes. You’d think that I’d go there more often.” He read her mind. He eased into the late afternoon traffic, lighter because most were headed for the weekend to the beach cities. He touched her arm softly, not in a possessive way but as someone reminding her what he thought about being with her.
It was a long time since someone courted her. He was different from Javier, softer in some ways, yet more deliberate and, she suspected, with a stronger resolve underneath it all. “Thanks, Michael. There is such energy in L.A. that you tend to lose sight of it down closer to the old O.C.”
Michael looked at her as they slowed down to the LAX crawl. “Thanks for what?”
“For a nice night out. For a good reason to dress up, though according to my mother, this is not being dressed up.” She noticed his short-sleeved collared knit shirt and thought Nordstrom and thought very expensive, even when it was on sale twice a year.
He smiled and she knew he could conjure a history between them.
“How do you come by being so wise a man?” She had to know. “You seemed to have figured out who I am, where I am. I am guessing, better than I know myself.”
The question was left in the air between them as he moved beyond LAX and onto the exit for Culver City. When they stopped at the light, he looked more closely at her. “Who knows why these things happen?” He shrugged. Ultimately, it’s just being alive longer than you. Experience.” He touched her arm again, and she liked it more this time than the last.
* * *
Molly remembered the Agape building and parking lot from her trip here with Sarah. The place was a cavern of dark shadows and sudden bright lights playing on the dais and then swooping around to a chorus of men, women and children singing with all the vigor of those who are saved. And they were. They were people who found hope in a simple message of the practice of love to help them come to terms with a world gone greedier, crazier, sadder. But Molly saw little evidence of any sadness, just a lot of very uplifted souls. She watched Michael whom she knew to be from an Irish Catholic breeding.
Michael Dunn sang wholeheartedly, she thought she heard a tenor. He sang unabashedly in the spirit of all the others. He was genuine, no mover and shaker, just a man trying to make peace with his losses. The sermon and singing ended and he took her hand as they walked out to the front lobby. He waved or nodded at people, lots of them women, and occasionally said a few words above the crowd’s chattering.
As they left the temple and the ceremony and the last word of hope and love to send them all on their way, she asked him, “How is it for you coming from such a disciplined institution like the Catholic Church?”
He took her hand again and softly held it as they walked out into the parking lot, stopped near his car and took her other hand. “I think this sort of rounds it out for me. I can add this like so much cream to the top of my religious sundae. Agape sets me free from a lot of unnecessary rules.” She saw they were sheltered by a tree with low hanging branches just in front of his car. He brought her closer to him and embraced her and she responded as easily, feeling protected and appreciated. His face and lips were in her hair and then on her face near her temple. “Can we be together tonight? I’d like to take you to my beach house. Would you come with me?”
And she said yes.
* * *
Michael Dunn’s beach house was on the sand facing the ocean. She lay in his beautiful big bed with a headboard made, especially for him, of bleached and winged pieces of driftwood. The colors of the room were built around the colors of the headboard, some grays, lots of shades of light blues, so cooling that the glare of the sun could not change. They skipped the light dinner for the ride down to Orange County. Though they never rushed, she found they were both out of their clothes in very short order. He explored her arms, her legs, and cupped her breasts and her crotch. Though none of it was orchestrated, it felt perfect, and it was.
She found herself watching him give in with equal abandon to the feeling of her skin, of her mouth as it moved over his body. He was a man most comfortable about himself, and she told him so. As they lay in bed at near midnight, he wanted to know more about what she meant. “It’s just that you seem so well organized. No, I don’t mean that.” She watched him grimace at the words. “I’m saying this all wrong. So fuck it, forget it. What do you want from me? That’s what I can’t fathom.”
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