— Chapter Twenty Four: Que Sera, Sera —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
Stewart grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator, went to his bedroom and sat down at his drawing board to attempt to extract a visual story from his visit to Manhasset. Besides his dance with Cyd Charisse,which could never be interpreted with roaches, what had affected him most was his encounter with Whitney on the veranda after avoiding the advances of Cybil Shepherd.
He began his drawing with a sketch of two roaches standing side-by-side between two fluted columns in front of a doorway. The younger roach was dressed in a tuxedo with its tie undone and wearing a party hat, and the aging roach, also attired in a tux, was slouched over and holding a lit cigarette at his side. In the background, through large, multi-paned doors, pairs of roaches could be seen dancing.
In the panel, the younger of the two roaches comments: What a wonderful time I’m having, Mr. Croton, and what a magical party you’ve thrown.
The older roach responds: I wish I could see through your young eyes. I’d be far happier remaining behind the walls by myself, than having ventured into the light with the others of my breed, my history and my generation.
The message was vague and perhaps too subtle, and Stewart questioned whether Whitney would identify with the older bug in the cartoon. Though cordial with guests, Whitney had been aloof the entire evening, and his responses to Stewart on the veranda were cynical and expressionless — much different than the conversations he’d had with the man in his office, or in the clubroom when they spoke prior to the party at the boathouse.
How many events of this magnitude had Whitney staged and attended during his lifetime? wondered Stewart. Could someone maintain the same degree of enthusiasm on each additional occasion while repeating the same type of activity countless times over a lifetime?
Satisfied with the content of his panel, Stewart inked in the drawing, mounted it and put a covering flap on it, after which the phone rang and Stewart heard his mother pick up the call. He could tell by the tone of her voice that the caller was Carol. Stewart left his board and walked into the living room and listened to his mother communicating with Carol in a staged voice, and waited until she finished talking before taking the phone from her, carrying it into his bedroom and closing the door.
“Sorry I didn’t answer when you called,” said Carol. “My aunts and cousins are here, and we were still sitting down at the dinner table. How was the party?”
“Amazing!” said Stewart. “I’m so sorry you couldn’t be there with me to experience it.”
“Me too!” said Carol. “Our New Year’s Eve was much like all of the others. My father fell asleep at 10:30 and my aunt had too much wine. I did, however, get a chance to visit with my two girl cousins, and we chatted about many things, including you. I wore the infinity necklace you gave me, and I think they were a bit jealous, but also a bit judgmental... about me getting into a relationship so quickly after Andy...”
“When can we get together, Carol...?” said Stewart. “I mean, to talk, not for sex... of course, I’d like sex, but I really would like to talk with you in person.”
“I’m helping out with the dishes, but if you aren’t too tired from your trip, we could drive somewhere...anywhere... and talk. Can you give me an hour?”
“That sounds good. I’d rather tell you about the trip in person than on the phone.”
“See you then!” said Carol, after which she hung up the phone.
Stewart arrived at Carol’s at 7:30. Her relatives had gone, and she greeted him at the door, exiting quickly, and followed him to his car. She gave him a quick kiss before he started to drive up Copley Road to possibly find a quiet street in the neighborhood where they could talk.
Despite Stewart’s intentions of finding a spot to park, Carol didn’t choose to wait to hear Stewart’s story, and jumped right in with questions about Whitney’s house, the people at the party, and the atmosphere of the event.
“It took me nearly two and a half hours to get there,” said Stewart. “I had a map, but the trip got confusing once I exited from the highway. Once on Long Island, I entered a different world. Although just minutes from the city, Manhasset could be an entirely different country.
“The houses had no numbers and the streets only a few signs. I had to ask a workman who was repairing a fence how to find the correct house.”
Stewart then attempted to explain the calm that had settled on him after arriving at the boathouse, and described in detail his room that overlooked the circular entrance court. He then spoke about the staff, dressed in color- coordinated outfits, like those of airline attendants, who were well-spoken, friendly and casual in their demeanor, and who even left a snack in his room, which he discovered after returning from a walk.
Stewart then described the decor of the silver-themed party, beginning with the 64-year-old Fred Astaire as the emcee and featured act, and then his encounter with a young model, Cybil Shepherd, who kissed him and unsuccessfully tried to proposition him, causing him to flee into the bushes near the entrance of the estate.
Carol was hungry for every detail, so he continued by telling her about his talk about art with David Rockefeller, his long and boring exchange with Orson Wells, and his enjoyable time waltzing with Whitney’s wife, Betsey.
Saving the best for last, Stewart added, “After the clock struck twelve, fortified by too much champagne, I cut in on a man who was dancing with Cyd Charisse, who had done a short routine with Astaire at the beginning of the event. I’d never heard of the man, but learned later that it was Charisse’s husband, the singer Tony Martin. He didn’t take the intrusion well, but his wife did, and I completed the dance with her under the spotlight to much applause.”
At that point, Carol burst out laughing. “My God, Stewart. That’s so unlike you.”
He explained to her that the booze had made him bolder than normal, but that he was pleased to recall that he hadn’t performed badly, either due the skill of his partner, who was considered the best female dancer in the history of Hollywood, or due to his time dating Debra, and the dancing skills he learned from partnering with her at dinners and in her parents’ living room.
“I just love this story,” said Carol, with a big grin on her face.
After they reached a quiet spot at the entrance to Smedley Park in Springfield, Carol questioned Stewart further about his encounter with Cybil Shepherd, wanting to know “how pretty she was, and how good was the kiss?”
Stewart refrained from going into details, but instead told Carol how much he missed her not being with him, and then segued to a conversation he had with the cartoonist Charles Addams, who confessed to Stewart that he was a regular patient at several New York State sanitariums, and preferred his martinis garnished with eyeballs instead of olives.
At the end of his story, Carol snuggled up against Stewart and gave him a passionate kiss before leaving the park, at which time she asked Stewart, “And how did the experience affect you, Stewart?”
Stewart thought about the question, and answered as honestly as he could. “I think it has already added to my self-confidence.... and given me a wider perspective on what’s possible. I was treated like a person of value, and it reinforces my belief that it might be possible for me to be successful.”
“Did it in any way change your opinion of me.... ?” Carol asked.
Stewart again paused to think about her question, and answered,“No. Why would it? Not in any way. I suppose that Cybil Shepherd wouldn’t have accosted me if you had been there, and I can’t imagine cutting in on Tony Martin if we were dancing together. But then again, you might have encouraged me to do it, just to see what would happen.”
` Carol laughed at the thought of doing just that, but then paused before speaking again.
“I’m a simple girl, Stewart... but you’re anything but a simple boy. I’ve lived my whole life in this area, and my outlook on life is narrower than yours.”
“How can you say that, Carol? You’ve made me aware of so much... and unlike me you’ve lived a relatively normal life with real experiences. You’ve been married and had hopes of having children... You’ve gone on vacations, attended art school and learned more than I’ll ever learn about life. I missed out on so much... everything is so new to me.”
Carol interrupted Stewart. “No, Stewart! You’re far different than me. You’re fearless and aim for things I’d never try to take on. My needs are simple. Your’s aren’t! It’s just the way it is, and who I am.”
“Are you trying to break up with me?” asked Stewart. “What have I done to make you think that I don’t value you? All I did while away was spend my time thinking of you and wishing you were beside me.”
“You think about of a lot of things whether you’re working or not. You’re not getting what I’m saying.
“Let me ask you something: when you were standing on the dock at Whitney’s house, did you wonder what it would be like to have a home like that?”
“Of course I did. It was beautiful, and magical.”
“I would have enjoyed seeing the home, and I enjoy the tale you’ve told me about being there, but never in my wildest dreams would I want to live like that.”
“Hold on, Carol, I don’t expect that I’ll ever have a chance to live in a place like that either.”
“But if you did have a chance, would you take it?”
“I don’t know,” said Stewart honestly. “I might.”
“Honestly,” said Carol. “I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable living such a life and having to live up to the expectations of everyone around me.”
“I value who you are,”said Stewart. “And I wouldn’t want you to change for me, or for anyone.”
“I know you believe that, Stewart, but you’re growing so fast, it wears me out just watching you.”
“So what’s your bottom line?” asked Stewart, feeling a bit frustrated.
“I have none. I’m just letting you know that I’m who I am, and probably will always be that same person. You, however, may be who you are right now, but you have no idea of who you’ll become later. Whatever you become, I’m fairly sure that I won’t be right for you and truly believe that I won’t be the person you’ll partner with to build your life. I’d just either hold you back, or become miserable trying to measure up to you.
“So right now, let’s just stay friends, who can enjoy each other’s company, physically and emotionally. But let’s also understand that ultimately, you and I may drift apart and find more appropriate partners elsewhere.”
“I don’t agree with you on that, Carol! But I’d rather we stay together until we find out the answer.”
“Speaking of that,” said Carol, “do you think it would be possible to find a room in which we could spend tonight together?”
“Would a motel be okay?” asked Stewart.
“I don’t care where it is, and I also don’t care if you choose to fantasize about that Shepherd girl who propositioned you. I’d just like to enjoy you while I have you.”
Carol and Stewart found a room less than a mile away from Smedley Park at the Media Inn. Steward paid cash to a lone attendant at the registration desk and was given a key. The accommodations were spare, but clean, and neither Carol nor Stewart cared about anything more than being together.
Carol called home to let her mother know she’d be away for the night, and then relaxed and was satisfied that she’d told Stewart what she needed to get off her chest, while Stewart was happy just to be back in the area with Carol and spending this evening with the person who, at this moment in time, was the dearest person to him in the world. The future would be what it would be, but for now they were free to be who they were, for themselves and also for each other.