“Sure, fine,” he said, but he was almost mumbling.
Daphne had never seen Mike like this. Usually he was the life of the party, always laughing, always ready to have a good time. With his looks, he always had women falling all over themselves for him, even though, for the most part, Mike remained unaffected by them. Daphne wondered if he had a girlfriend back home somewhere, or for all she knew, maybe he had a steady girl right here in the city. When she saw the girls from the club who worked with her fling themselves at Mike, Daphne felt like telling them to stop wasting their time, because they weren’t going to get a guy like Mike.
Daphne was aware that all the girls thought she slept with Mike, and she never told them differently, but she and Mike were just friends.
Daphne had a problem that, unfortunately, she shared with too many women: She desperately wanted a man to love her, but every man who did love her she couldn’t seem to care about, so she spent all her time and energy, and often her money, trying to make uncaring, screwed-up jerks love her. When they did nothing but abuse her, she cried on the shoulders of the people who did love her—usually men—that all men were scum—just as her father had been. As for Mike, she thought he was lovely to look at and he always took care of her when yet another of her boyfriends dropped her, but she didn’t think of him as a man. Not an actual man, because Mike had never treated her with contempt as the men Daphne was attracted to did.
When Daphne was sober, she laughed about the long list of losers in her life, and when she was drunk, she cried about them. But drunk or sober, she basically understood that the reason she, of all the girls at the club, was invited to this rich house was because she never made a pass at Mike.
“How’s your book coming?” she asked.
Mike shrugged. “All right. I haven’t worked on it much lately.”
Daphne had no reply to that. To her, there was something magic in putting words on paper and having them mean something, so she tried to think of something else to talk about. Feeling the need to try to cheer Mike up was something altogether new—it was usually Daphne crying while Mike laughed and told her she was better off without so and so.
“So how’s your tenant?” she asked.
“I guess she’s all right. I never see her.” He toyed with his food. “I don’t think she likes me.”
Daphne laughed. “You, Mike? There’s a girl on this planet who doesn’t like you?” When Mike didn’t say anything, Daphne kept laughing. “And what do you think of her?”
Mike looked up at Daphne with eyes so hot, eyes that showed such desire, that Daphne, who thought she’d seen everything a man could dish out, leaned away from him and had to take a deep drink of her cold beer before she could speak. “I don’t know whether I envy her or I’m afraid for her,” she whispered, holding the frosty bottle to her cheek.
Mike looked back down at his plate.
“Have you asked her out?”
“Tried to, but she runs away every time I get within ten feet of her. If she hears me coming, she hits the stairs, and except for meals, she stays in her apartment all the time, never leaves.”
“What’s she do all day?”
“As far as I can tell, she sleeps,” Mike said in disgust.
Daphne took a bite of her steak. “Poor kid. Didn’t you tell me her father just died and that she just got a divorce?”
“Yeah, but from what I heard, her husband was no great loss.”
“Maybe so, but losing your guy makes you feel rotten. I remember the first time a guy walked out on me. Lord! but I was in love with that man. He was my first and I lived my whole life for him, anything he wanted, I gave it to him.” She snorted in memory. “That was when I first started stripping. He said I was so good at it when I did it for him that I ought to make us some money. But even when I did what he wanted, one day I came home and he was gone. No note or nothing. Of course, looking back on it, I doubt if the bum could read and write. Brother! was I depressed after that. I didn’t think I had anything to live for after he left me. I managed to drag myself to work for a few days, but after a while I even stopped doing that; just stayed in the apartment and slept. Hell, I’d probably still be sleeping if that man hadn’t made me see what a creep the guy was—that he wasn’t worth sleeping for.”
Mike was only half listening to Daphne’s story as her stories tended to depress him. He’d told her once that she could walk into a crowd of a hundred nice guys with one wife-beating scum-of-the-earth hidden among them, and she’d be able to pick out the bad guy within thirty seconds. Daphne had laughed and said that if he was bad enough, she’d have him moved into her apartment and be supporting him within three minutes.
What Mike was thinking about was Samantha. Maybe over the years he’d become spoiled with women liking him, maybe girls had been too easy for him to get. Samantha was a challenge. Since she’d come to New York, he’d tried everything to get her attention, up to and including slipping invitations under her door. He’d “accidentally” met her in the kitchen a few hundred times. He’d even hinted repeatedly that he’d like to learn how to use a computer, but she’d looked at him as though she’d never heard the word before.
For the life of him he couldn’t figure her out. There was the prim little miss who hadn’t wanted to stay in a house alone with a man; there was the hot tamale who’d kissed him like he’d never before been kissed; and lately there was the grubby little zombie who silently moved about the kitchen wearing her father’s pajamas and robe. He rarely heard her footsteps above anymore and when he did see her, she was always yawning, even though she usually looked as though she’d just woken up.
Mike’s head came up sharply. “What did you say?”
“I said I missed him so much that I wore only his clothes. I couldn’t button his shirt across my chest, but that didn’t matter because wearing his clothes made me feel closer to him. If that man—”
Mike came out of his seat. “What man?”
Daphne looked startled. “The man at the hospital. Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been telling you? I wanted to sleep forever, so I decided to do just that. I took a bottle of pills and woke up in a hospital, and that’s where that man talked to me, told me I had to keep on living.”
Mike stood looking down at her for a moment, but he wasn’t seeing her, because he was beginning to comprehend what Daphne was saying. “Samantha’s had a hard time, Mike,” he could hear Samantha’s father saying over the phone, his voice harsh and weak, heavy with his impending death. “She’s had a hard life, and when I’m gone, I don’t know what she’ll do. I wish I knew my daughter better, but I don’t. I don’t know what goes on inside her head, but I want to leave this world knowing that she’s going to be taken care of. I want you to look out for her, Mike, and I want to make up to her for some of what I did to her. Take care of her for me. There’s no one else I can ask.”
Mike had experienced the death of his uncle Mike, but that was all—and that was enough. He couldn’t actually imagine more death in his life or losing as many people as Sam had. He definitely couldn’t imagine what he’d feel like if his f
ather died—or if, like Samantha, his last and only friend and relative died.