Flirting in Cars Excerpt
Set-up: After an introduction to the joys of fooling around in the front seat of a Ford pick up truck, Zoë has no objection to mixing business with pleasure, not to mention moving things into the back. Mack, on the other hand, has misgivings about starting an affair while he remains employed as Zoë’s driver. Since Mack is struggling to start his own driving instruction business, he thinks he’s found the perfect solution.
It was ridiculous. It was a power game. It was blackmail.
“What exactly are you saying?”
“You heard me.”
Zoë moved the phone to her other ear. “So what you’re saying is, you don’t want to see me anymore unless I take driving lessons?”
“Zoë, you’re paying me to drive you around.” He sounded pained when he said it, which made no sense.
“So?” She stared down at her toenails, which were half painted with gold polish. After getting Maya off to school, Zoë had shaved her legs, moisturized her elbows, applied a mud mask to her face and attempted to use a do-it-yourself wax kit on her bikini area and upper lip. Boy, did she ever wish she were back in the city where she could just walk around the corner to get all this done. But then again, if she were back in the city, she wouldn’t be seeing Mack. Just thinking his name made her recall the feel of his hands and mouth on her skin. Dear God, he had the touch, she hadn’t felt anything like that since 1989, with Ian the radical Scots newspaperman. She’d always wondered if it had been the intellectual sparring or the physical chemistry that had made the affair so powerful, and now she was guessing the latter. After all, she was clearly not going to have a great meeting of the minds with Mack, but boy, did she want to get naked with him. “Mack? Are you still there?”
“I don’t know what else to say. You’re paying me.”
Mack didn’t respond right away, and it slowly dawned on Zoë that he was having second thoughts.
“The thing is, Zoë, you still need a driver, and I…” his voice trailed off.
“And you aren’t that into it. Let’s cut the b.s., Mack, I get it. Last night, you were in the mood, but now that you’ve had some sleep, it just doesn’t seem right.” And here was where being forty one really did make things better. Zoe knew better than to take this too much to heart. Maybe he usually went for pretty little blondes. Maybe she intimidated him. Whatever it was, she wasn’t about to do what she’d have done at twenty or even thirty one; become plagued by self-doubt as to her own attractiveness. So he didn’t want her. She could live with it. She’d have to find a new driver, of course, but until she did, she’d have to put up with the minor humiliation of unreciprocated desire. She capped the bottle of nail polish and yanked off her best lacy underwear.
“Zoë, please don’t be angry at me. It’s not that I don’t want you, you know that.”
She snorted, rummaging in her underwear drawer for an old cotton pair. “Oh, please.”
“I got turned on when you held my hand! I nearly bit your head off when I realized that I couldn’t just take you home and jump into bed with you!”
Zoë paused in the act of pulling a dingy grey brassiere. “You did seem a little testy.” Maybe, she thought, I’m going to need lace after all.
“I was mad because Maya keeps getting into your bed, and frankly, that’s all I was thinking about at first – how to get between the sheets with you. But then I had to stop and think, how’s this going to work? I come over, drive you around, you pay me fifteen dollars an hour and then we have sex?”
Zoë pulled on an ancient pair of sweatpants, now fully prepared to give up on the man. “What is this, some kind of old fashioned hang up about a woman who makes more money than you? I was kind of assuming the sex would be off the clock.”
“I’d still feel like a kept man.” He waited. “Zoë, right now you are the only paying job I have. With Moroney and Pete out of commission, I figure I’m about to get some more work, but until then, I can’t even afford to just not work for you.” He sounded less certain of himself than usual.
It was Zoë’s turn to sigh. “All right. So what’s your solution? You give me driving lessons and what, my big reward for passing the road test is I get to have sex with you?”
Mack cleared his throat. “I was thinking more that it was my big reward for your passing the test. And it usually takes about twenty lessons, if we do two a week, that’s less than three months.”
“This seems like a lot of time and effort for what I was assuming was going to be a fairly casual, physical relationship.” Zoë stared at her newly shaved and moisturized leg, suddenly aware of all its imperfections, the cellulite padding her thighs, the places where she had discovered spider veins, tiny red or blue starbursts that she didn’t recall seeing at the start of summer.
“Maybe we can fool around a little after you pass your written test,” he suggested.
“Was that meant to be a joke?”
“More of a short term goal.”
“Forget it.” For a moment, last night, she’d felt the kind of uncontrovertible, impractical lust she’d felt in adolescence, and the thought of it had been making her ignore the obvious: Mack wasn’t bitten by the same bug.
“What do you mean? Listen, three months isn’t that long to wait, and wouldn’t it be good to have something to look forward to?” He sounded perfectly reasonable, without any hint of the desperation which always goes with a strong desire.
“Spoken like a true salesman. But as the saying goes, if you can resist passion, it’s because the passion’s weak, not because you’re strong.”
“What saying is that?”
“La Rouchefoucauld. I’m paraphrasing.” She waited. “Mack? Are you still there?”
“How do you spell that?”
She expelled her breath. “That’s it. I’m hanging up now.”
“No, Zoë, wait. I’ve already said, it’s not that I’m not attracted…”
She hung up. What an idiot she was. Mack probably went around, feeling attracted to all kinds of women. He was a physical person. He didn’t go around, complicating things by trying to find some intellectual fit with a woman. And what was an intellectual fit for him, anyway – love of Nascar racing? She deliberately squelched the memory of him in her living room, clearly delighted in the discovery of the concept of the macabre. For him, she was far more important as a client than as a lover.
Well, too bad, because he’d just lost her as both. There had to be someone else who could drive her to the store, for God’s sake. Preferably, a woman. Three months. Nice to have a goal. Yeah, he was really hot for her. For a moment, Zoë allowed herself to consider just how bleak the country was going to feel in November, when the days grew short and cold. And then she realized that she did have a goal. She picked up the phone again.
“Zoë? Did you change your mind? Because let me assure you…”
“No, Mack. This is about something else entirely.” Zoë turned on her computer. “I want to speak to your sister about the developers who’ve made her that offer on the farm.”