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"And mind the twins don't fight -- be firm with them, they'll walk all over you if you're not firm. The baby will sleep another hour or two. There's a warm bottle in the blue insulated bag, and there's Pampers in the plastic sack."
"Yes Mrs. Venturi."
Paula kicked the brake off the stroller and headed for the beach. "C'mon kids! It's low tide, we can play frisbee -- Lenny! Stu! -- let's go. Lenny, let Stu carry the frisbee. It doesn't matter who carries the frisbee."
Lenny didn't agree. "I don't have'ta pay no attention t'you. You ain't my mother." He ripped the frisbee from his brother's grasp and fanned it in his face. Stu's face turned pink and he gathered his wind for a shattering bellow of frustration.
Paula, although she adored children in the abstract, seriously doubted the wisdom of baby sitting the Venturi twins and their little bellicose sister, Angela. She was glad Vikki would be waiting at the breakwater, the kids were more than she could handle. She envied women with children, but then, she envied married women in general. Most of all she envied women with good-looking and wealthy husbands, husbands who were gentle, thoughtful, and, (although she declined to admit it) abundantly generous. She was twenty four.
A high school graduate with a year in Community College too. She considered herself an exceptional catch -- there were very few boys her own age who could hold their own with her -- intellectually speaking, that is.
Out here, in the Hamptons, no one had time for children. Wives who had them, gladly paid for nannies so they could wine and dine -- stroll the town and surf for the media darlings who promenaded there. Some of them would even amuse themselves on the beach with lifeguards while their husbands toiled in the city. Paula would never think of doing such a thing.
"What a lucky man my husband will be." Paula said to herself as she gently pulled the stroller through the wet yielding sand to the rock breakwater at the end of the dunes. Lenny and Stu were already running along the edge of the outgoing tide scattering the shorebirds. A lone fisherman eyed them with aggravation as he cast far out into the deep green swell of the incoming breakers.
"He will wake in the morning and look at me and he will say -- 'What have I done to deserve you, my dear?' .... After setting out his linen, his shirt and a proper tie, I will make him a proper breakfast. Then I will wave lovingly to him as backs out of the driveway and drives to the Westerly station." She had never been to Westerly or seen the Westerly station, but one of her dearest friends from high school had married an account executive for BBD&O and lived in Westerly. "Westerly -- Westerly," she breathed the name to herself. To Paula, the mental image of it was soothing, like the pot at the end of the rainbow. "I will find my Westerly some day! Westerly is my El Dorado!"
Vikki was waiting by the breakwater rocks. A long stretch of enormous boulders set perpendicularly to the shore line. It quieted the surf in rough weather and provided privacy to those residents of the Hamptons who wished to sun bathe in solitude.
"How y'doin'?" Vikki lowered her giant heart-shaped sunglasses and peered over them.
Paula checked her watch. "Okay I guess. It's a little after three, I've got the little bastards until six." Her eyes searched the beach for signs of available men. "What's new on the beach, Vikki?" She let the straps of her halter slip over her shoulders and tightened the bow in the back. "Who's the hunk over there in the suit?"
"I don't know. He showed up about an hour ago. Just sittin' there."
Men, at least the summer men Paula and Vikki were familiar with, did not spend sun time on the beach dressed in three piece suits. The gentleman in question sat on one of the dark boulders of the breakwater rocks dressed in a dark blue three piece pin-striped suit and an almost blindingly white shirt.
He had pulled his trouser legs up half-way to preserve their crease, revealing his black silk socks and black shoes. His only compromise to the bright summer sun was the absence of a necktie. On his knees he supported a black briefcase of considerable thickness. At first glance he seemed to have been lifted from an executive board meeting in Mid-town Manhattan and deposited here by helicopter. Although he was nearly one hundred feet from them, Paula's sharp eyes detected the absence of a wedding ring.
"How old would you say he was, Vikki, twenty-five .... thirty?"
"Somewhere in there. It's hard to say when you see a man wearing clothes at the beach. Why? You interested?"
"Sure, aren't you?"
The twins had driven the fisherman away. They were joined by a very disreputable hound dog who had taken their frisbee, and dancing bear-like on his hind feet, wouldn't give it back. Stu, who had been crying all the way to the beach, was now joined by Lenny. At this precise moment, Angela awakened from her nap, discovered she was at the beach in the company of her crying brothers, and if she was to get any attention at all she would have to make herself heard.
Vikki smiled at Paula mercilessly. "It's not gonna do you any good. You've got three squalling brats to take care of. He's gonna think you're a grass widow saddled with three kids."
In a voice loud enough to carry the distance to the well dressed gentleman, Paula shouted, "Just wait 'til I tell your mother how you're misbehaving!" She turned to little Angela in the stroller. "You're just as bad as your brothers." She was careful not to run her words together and to avoid all traces of an ethnic dialect. She was cautious, also, to retain her aplomb. Above all she didn't want to seem panicky, or a person not capable of handling three unruly children.
Vikki was impressed. "Very good, Paula, I think he got the message. You know, he hadn't looked this way until you and the kids got here. I guess that means he's all yours."
Stu had cried himself out, and Lenny somehow had convinced the dog to share the frisbee with them, the three of them ran down to the water's edge to play. Angela had herself a massive bowel movement and was now content to suck on her bottle.
"Well, I don't really want him all that much, Vikki. It's just that I don't want to leave any stone unturned." Paula was in the middle of changing Angela; dangling her by her feet as a chef might pluck the pin-feathers from a duck. "I'm twenty-four, Vikki. Next year I won't be able to say I'm in my early twenties any more .... I'll be inching up there .... know what I mean?"
The two girls watched the twins playing with the dog at the water's edge. Paula sat closest to the mysterious stranger and did her best to look available. Through her dark impenetrable sunglasses she could see him glance at the children and then back to her. She applied sun screen in long lingering caresses, stroking her shoulders and thighs voluptuously; it was a maneuver she had used successfully with beach jocks in the past. Would it break the ice with this dark suited man who was obviously interested, but had yet to make his move?
"Maybe he's gay," Vikki remarked.
"The last alibi of a frustrated woman, Vikki. He's shy, or maybe he feels out of place dressed like that." She capped the sun screen bottle and stood up.
"What are you going to do?" Vikki asked. "You're not going to be pushy, are you? You'll frighten him off -- you know how aggressive you can be."
Paula retied her halter straps and winked at Vikki. "Watch a pro in action, dear," she smiled.
The dog had grown tired of the twins and was now engaged in chasing the gulls feeding in the sea wrack. Lenny and Stu had found a broken barrel and were trying to float it in knee deep water. If one had drawn a line between them and Paula, it would have passed directly through the well dressed stranger.
"Put that barrel down this instant -- I'm taking you home to your mother." She stood, legs akimbo and hands on hips. As saucy a figure as any man might imagine. As Paula knew from experience, neither child would respond to her -- she would have to go to them. Her route to the water's edge passed so close to the mysterious gentleman, he had to shift his feet as she ran by. She ran in the most girlish way possible. Although she had been an accomplished runner on the junior varsity team at Community College, particularly in the 200 and 400 meter indoor competitions, she ran with her elbows tucked into her waist to accent its slenderness and emphasize the fullness of her bosom.
As she passed the dark stranger, she paused for the fleetest of moments and smiled -- "It's the last time I sit for them. I hope they haven't disturbed you." Then, without waiting for an answer she continued her girlish sprint to the water's edge.
"Why can't we play with the barrel? We only wanna see what's in it -- c'mon hey! Paula. We always play with the stuff that's washed up on the beach. Leave us alone can't'cha. We have'ta go home soon anyways." Children of preschool age are not savvy to the ways of designing women. Lenny and Stu had no idea why Paula had thought it necessary to trot all the way down and actually get her feet wet in a show of concern for their safety. They had no idea that Paula's concern was not centered on their welfare, but on her own.
Whatever dangers lurked within the barrel -- splinters, rusty nails, even poisonous creatures of the deep -- they could devour Lenny and Stu down to the last crumb so far as Paula was concerned. She had planned to confront this well dressed masculine enigma -- not once, but twice.
It was evident to the enigmatic stranger seated on the breakwater rocks that Paula would pass him again on her return to the infant in the stroller. He rose to his considerable height of five feet ten inches, brushed off the seat of his pin-striped trousers and smiled. Paula, confident now that her strategy had melted the man's reserve, straightened her hair and smiled as well. Her smile was calculated to display, not just her friendliness or the whiteness of her teeth, but the admirable cosmetic dentistry of Louis P. Bagdolio, DDS of East Hampton, NY.
"Hi! I'm Paula -- what's your name?"
"Hi yourself! My name is Owen -- Owen Stanley."
She shifted her weight from hip to hip. Vikki, watching them from a distance, was amused. She leaned over into Angela's stroller and said, "Check this out, Angela. She's going into her mating dance. The guy's as good as lost."
"It's a small town, East Hampton -- I haven't seen you around before."
"Doesn't surprise me. I just arrived this afternoon. I'm waiting for Father Rafael, I'm his new deacon."
"Yes, Father Rafael -- "Our Lady of the Sea," you can see the steeple from here. He's doing the Benediction for the Andy Warhol memorial exhibit this afternoon, then he goes on sabbatical. I'm waiting for him."
Paula stood a little straighter and let her breath out slowly. Her dazzling smile dwindled to a sheepish grin. The change in her attitude was instantly apparent to Vikki from one hundred feet away. She turned to Angela who seemed to be reaching the bottom of her bottle. "Uh oh, Angie. Just when you think you got 'em hooked they get away. Hope you're taking notes kid."
Paula, still facing Owen Stanley, backed away in the direction of Vikki and the baby. Her arms were folded now, across her chest. The grin had dwindled to the point where only a trace remained. A wistful grin. A grin one might find on the face of a cook who discovers her soufflé has fallen.
"Nice meeting you .... father."
"See you in church .... Paula."
Vikki looked up expectantly as Paula sat down heavily beside her. "So, how did it go -- I'm your best friend, am I going to be the last to know?"
"I'd rather not discuss it if you don't mind. Let's get the kids and go, it's after five o'clock..."
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