I was 50, on the cusp of the big M, my body still churning out enough estrogen to start a three-alarm fire. I sneaked into the crowded conference room, 15 minutes late, my eyes lowered as if in reverence. In truth, I didn't want to be there. My co-workers meant well but they could turn a discussion about the coffee machine into "Judgment at Nuremberg." I felt someone staring at me. I looked across the mahogany table. Our eyes locked. My heart and lower organs did double-time.
Who was he? I didn't know. I didn't care. I had to have him! Right there on the conference table would've been fine with me, right on top of the yellow legal pads, cold coffee cups and stale doughnuts.
As soon as the meeting ended, he dashed over to where I was seated and knelt by my chair as if to propose. He was a consultant. Not a new employee.
"Hi, I'm Gabriel. I'm really looking forward to working with you," he said.
He was one of those men who wear their age well. Shaggy white hair. Deep set brown eyes with enough twinkle to light up Madison Square Garden. A killer smile bookended by dimples. And the kind of lanky, loosely jointed body that I could imagine in all sorts of contortions. We exchanged business cards. As Gabriel headed for the door, I put my hand on his arm.
"Do you want to have lunch?" I asked.
"Uh, no, I can't," he said with a nervous smile. "Another time."
I was thrown. Was it possible Gabriel didn't feel the electricity running between us like a third rail? I went to my office, shut the door, and started doing reconnaissance. Who was this guy? What's his story? And how could I be a part of it? I worked the phones and the facts seemed to be in my favor. Gabriel was 10 years older than me. A very sexy 60. Divorced. He was highly regarded by my married girlfriends who considered him to be charming, brilliant and available!
"Go for it," said Helene. "You have so much in common."
It wasn't a stretch. Both Gabriel and I had worked in the film biz in LA. He was now doing corporate films and I was doing PR for film festivals. We probably grew up on the same diet of French and Italian films with a side dish of Altman and the Coen Brothers. But I didn't want to hear Gabriel's theory of New Wave cinema. I wanted to make a XXX-rated movie with him.
One week later, my office phone rang.
"Stacia Friedman, Public Relations," I said.
"What are you doing working in that lunatic asylum?"
"Who is this?" I asked but I knew. I didn't want to admit that I had memorized his voice and pressed it between my sheets. We talked about everything and nothing. To me, it was incredibly romantic and exciting. His pattern of jumping into a conversation without announcing his name struck me as aggressive and flirtatious. I loved it.
At office meetings, he made a point of sitting next to me. But after work? Nada. Was Gabriel having fun at my expense? I didn't care. I had been in love and lust before. This was different. I didn't just want to rip Gabriel's clothes off with my teeth. I wanted to spend a sleepy Sunday reading the New York Times with him, go to Home Depot for top soil and order Chinese takeout. A year later, at a business brunch with one mimosa too many beneath my belt, I got up the nerve to ask, "How come I haven't managed to seduce you?"
"Stacia, I am post-seduction," he said. It was a gentle rejection, as if his age was the issue.
Not long after that, at a film festival, I went to greet Gabriel. He stiffened. A petite woman, who vaguely resembled Diane Keaton, popped up between us.
"Hi, I'm Gabriel's girlfriend, Nan," she said.
So, this is why he wasn't available for lunch. Or anything else. I got the message. But the flirty phone calls continued, along with his always gravitating to me in work situations as if I was his true north. I accepted what seemed to be inevitable. Gabriel was the stuff of fantasy. Nothing more.
Eventually, he and Nan were quietly married. I had my share of lovers but they paled in comparison to Gabriel. I went to work for a new company and guess who was there? None other. We regularly lunched together, not in a dimly lit bar, but in the florescent employee cafeteria. I kept our conversations in the safety zone. Politics. Film. Books. Never an innuendo. Never a gesture that could be misinterpreted. No hugs. No kisses.
Gabriel is 80 now. He's had some health issues. Nan walks with a cane. We have remained "friends" and sometimes the three of us meet at the Olive Garden. Does she know I am still in love with her husband after all these years? Probably. Women sense these things. But I am no longer a threat. My estrogen went the way of the buffalo long ago. If Gabriel and I somehow found ourselves in the same bed, we'd discuss French cinema and fall asleep in our underwear. Timing is everything.