Private Eyes

Private Eyes

By Madeleine Cain


My mother would say that it served me right. "That's what you get!" she'd say, unable to keep that little note of told-you-so out of her voice. "The minute you start thinking you're all that, the world takes it upon itself to knock you down a peg."

And yes, my mother does use phrases like "you're all that." It's both embarrassing and hilarious.

Maybe my mother has a point. I brought Peter with me to the office party because I wanted him to meet my friends and see where I worked. Mostly.

Still, if I'm being totally honest, I have to admit that there was a tiny, catty little part of me that wanted to rub it in Jackie Bellenstein's little ferret face. Jackie, always so concerned about my poor, single self. "Why can't we find you a nice man like My Jeremy?" she'd say with wearying regularity, the capital letters clearly audible. "It isn't too late…have you tried those whatchamajiggy dating whatever things on the Internets?" This from Jackie Bellenstein, who thinks that the Internet is a series of tubes. "I mean, the clock is ticking, sweetie. What are you, thirty-four? Maybe My Jeremy has a nice friend you could meet."

I'm thirty. Ferret face.

I put it to you plain: faced with such a condescending buttinsky, would you not parade your handsome, successful, starting-to-be-serious boyfriend in front of her and make a point to stand him next to Her Jeremy, just to make sure everyone could see that yours is taller? Perhaps you wouldn't. If not, you're a better person than I am.

I met Peter at an art show. It was an exhibition of work by my friend Cliff the Art Guy, who specializes in pastel drawings of vehicles in the wrong places. Boats flying through the air, tanks rolling along the ocean floor, airplanes in supermarkets. I had come to the show to support Cliff, of course, but always with the hope that some erudite, attractive man might take notice of my obvious art savvy and find me irresistible.

I was having a look around at Cliff's new pieces when just such a man suddenly appeared at my elbow. "It's very Matisse, don't you think?" he said.

I struggled to dredge up any information about Matisee out of my subconscious. Matisse? Did he do that painting that is not a pipe? No, that's Magritte...well then, who's Matisse? "Uh…oh, very. Very Matisse," I said, nodding.

He nodded with me, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup. "Of course I have no idea what that means. But it sounds good, doesn't it?" he said, turning to face me, smiling.

I laughed. "It sounds very...erudite."

"And bonus points for use of an SAT word, as well! You're a challenging person to chat up."

"I hope not too challenging."

His smile broadened a little. "I'm Peter," he said, holding out his hand.

I shook it. "Allison." I nodded over towards Cliff. "Are you a friend of Cliff's?"

", not really. You?"

"Yes, for years. You just stopped in, then?"

"Well, my friends wanted to go to the bar next door, and my asthma doesn't react well to smoke, so here I am." He shuffled a little, fidgeting from foot to foot. "I never thought I'd be glad to have asthma."

A little warning light went off in my head. Danger! Danger! Canned Pick-Up Line Alert! I ignored it. At least he was trying to pick me up, even if he was being a tad precious about it. "I'm beginning to have a new appreciation for asthma myself."

After that, we did the dance. The dance of having coffee, then dinner, then a longer dinner at a nicer restaurant. He told me about his job as an architect. I told him about mine as a human resources manager. I found his job fascinating, he pretended to find mine equally so.

Before I knew it, we were meeting the parents and taking the tours around each other's home stomping grounds. Look, this is where I went to high school. That's where my Little League team played. My best girlfriend lived in that house. I used to fish off this bridge with my grandfather.

And then, I had The Moment. He'd taken me ice skating, at which he was skilled and I was profoundly the opposite, which made me suspicious of his motives for the outing. "Did you suggest this just so I'd be falling into your arms every thirty seconds?" I asked, as I did just that yet again.

He laughed. "No. But I'd be lying if I said I was sad about it working out this way." He lifted me back to a position approximating upright and watched me chop my way a few feet along, arms out, butt sticking up, half bent over like I might be about to retch. I made it twenty feet without falling, and I looked up at him to crow about my success.

He was watching me with this look on his face. The look I'd been waiting my whole life to see on a man's face. He grinned and clapped. "Good job!" he said, and I had The Moment.

He could be the guy. He really could.

Jackie Bellenstein, of course, didn't believe me.

"Oh, honey. Asthma? He was feeding you such a line! I can't believe you fell for it!"

"Even if he was, that doesn't mean he's a terrible person, you know."

She just shook her head, as though my naiveté made her so very sad. "A relationship that starts on a pretense is based on a lie," she said, sing-song. Another of her Jackie Bellenstein Totally Made-Up Words of Wisdom.

"Pick-up lines are hardly lies," I said, teeth clenched.

"And you said he's, what? A carpenter?"

"He's an architect."

"Oh, whatever. My Jeremy's in stocks and securities, I just get so caught up in that world." She leaned forward, conspiratorial, like we were partners in crime planning a surprise party. "I hope you'll bring him to the party so we can all meet him."

I just smiled. Oh, count on it.

Ferret face.

"So which one am I supposed to be extra-fabulous for?" Peter asked me as we climbed the stairs to the loft, the sound of a low-rent DJ wafting down from above us.

"Jackie. She'll be the one Saran-wrapped to a tall blond guy with a pronounced lisp."

"I could just casually mention that I'm taking you to the Bahamas on my yacht for your birthday."

"You don't have a yacht."

"I could have a yacht. What does she know?"

"No, she'd figure it out somehow. She'd look at your...I don't know, your knuckles or something, and intuit that you didn't have a yacht, and then she'd tell the story from here to Hoboken about how I brought the boyfriend with the fake yacht, and isn't that just so like me?"

Peter paused at the top of the stairs and looked at me. "Wow. This woman really gets to you, doesn't she?"

I took a deep breath. "I shouldn't let her."

He put one arm around me and gave me a quick squeeze and a kiss on the forehead. "She only goes after you because she knows you're smart, beautiful and totally superior to her in every way, so she's got to tear you down so she can feel better about her tiny, sad existence."

I smiled up at him. "You're too good to be true, you know that?"

We walked into the party hand in hand, and my friends immediately rushed over to meet Peter. I saw Jackie eyeing me from across the room, plastered to Her Jeremy's side as predicted. Once the introductions were over, she made her grand entrance. "Allison, honey! Is this the fabulous Peter we've heard so much about?"

"Yes, it is," I said, smiling as brightly as I could. "Peter, this is Jackie, and her fiancé Jeremy..." Hand-shaking all around.

"Allison tells me you met in an art gallery," Jackie said.

"That's right. I was fleeing a bar that was playing hell with my asthma."

"Oh, you!" Jackie said, slapping at his forearm. "That's the oldest line in the world!"

Peter just blinked. "It is? I thought the oldest line in the book was that 'what's your sign' thing."

Jackie didn't miss a beat. "So, what made you zero in on our girl here?"

Peter turned and looked at me, shutting one eye and considering the question. "Hmm. Well, I think the first thing I noticed about her was her eyes."

I turned to look at him, surprised. "Really? You've never told me that." My heart was sinking. He wasn't the only one who'd kept a few things to himself.

Jackie was eating this up. "Her eyes? What about them?"

"Don't you think they're pretty? They're such a beautiful green."

"Oh, they certainly are!" Jackie cried, turning to me, eyes wide, practically bursting with delighted schadenfreude. "Such a beautiful green. Almost...unnatural!" She laughed while I stared daggers at her. What had possessed me to tell Jackie about my secretly-fake eye color years before, I'll never know.

Peter just looked confused. "Uh...I don't think they look unnatural."

Too bad they are. Amazing what they can do with contact lenses these days, isn't it? "You'll have to excuse us, Jackie. I want Peter to meet Mr. Morgenstern."

"Oh, you go along, honey." Jackie waggled her eyebrows at me, mouthing something behind Peter's back that I didn't quite catch.

Great. More ammo for her 'we girls have to stick together' tommy-gun of emotional blackmail.

I led Peter away. "That was kinda weird," he muttered to me.

"Oh, she's...weird like that." My mind was spinning. My eyes? He liked me for my eyes? My contacts were extended wear; he'd never seen me change them. It had never occurred to me to tell him they weren't my natural color. What if he thought I was vain when he found out? What if green eyes were such a selling point for him that my natural hazel would be a deal-breaker?

If that's true, then he's shallow and you're well rid of him. Just tell him the truth and see what happens.

But tell him what, exactly?

I steered Peter towards the offices. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"Oh...I just want to ask you something." I steered him into a nearby conference room and shut the door behind us. "Is that really true?"

"Is what really true?"

"Did you really talk to me because you liked my eyes?"

He smiled, slow and lopsided, and looked a little embarrassed. "Well...yeah. At first. I've always liked green eyes, and I noticed yours right away."

" only date girls with green eyes?"

"No, not exclusively. But I admit I have a preference."

He seemed to think this was a charming quirk. I was past nervous and edging into angry. "I get it. What else is on your little checklist? Skinny ankles? Strategically placed moles? Do you have a Bingo card with all the attributes you'd like to see, and the girls that get a row of five are fed your line about the asthma?"

Peter frowned. "Allison, what's the big deal? I like your eyes, but that's not all I like about you."

"Is it some kind of...eye fetish? Did your mother have green eyes or something?"

"What's going on? Where is all this coming from? So I was attracted to your eyes - is that so terrible?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed. "It's terrible because it's shallow, and it's all just surface, Peter! Am I just a pair of green eyes to you?"


"I don't think we should see each other anymore."

Now his mouth was hanging open in outright shock. "What? Because I like your eye color?"

"It's not my eye color!" I burst out, before I could stop myself.

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

I put my hands over my face, feeling ten kinds of stupid. "They're contacts," I said, dropping my hands. "They're not real. My eyes are boring old hazel underneath."

Peter just stared at me for a moment, then he busted out laughing. This did not improve my mood. "I'm sorry," he said, gasping and getting himself under control. "It's that what this is about? You're worried that..." He shook his head and came over to me. "Allison, I don't care what color your eyes are. That's what made me talk to you at first, sure. But that's not what kept me talking. So your eyes are hazel. I bet they're beautiful."

I was watching his face like a hawk for any signs of leg pulling. "Seriously?"

"Yeah," he said. "If you think I'd be less interested in you because your eyes aren't really green, must not think much of me."

I sighed, feeling a little silly. "Oh, you'll do."

He smiled. "Good. So, can we not break up, please?"

I elbowed him, smiling back. "I'll think about it."

"And after this party, I want to see what you look like in glasses."

I laughed. "They're granny glasses, I'm warning you."

"Oh, that's even better."

"With horn rims."

"Stop it, you're turning me on."

"And a little beaded chain..."

"Enough! I can't control myself."

We went back to the party, laughing like idiots, while Jackie Bellenstein simpered on.

Take that, Ferret Face.

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