That weekend Gil wandered aimlessly around his tiny apartment as if in a daze. He occasionally picked up a book or turned on the radio, but these activities failed to hold his attention for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. The reason for this was that he couldn’t keep himself from constantly replaying the events of Friday night’s celebratory dinner. He recalled with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement his bullshitting—there was really no other word for it—conversation with none other than the Jack Nicholson. In this he had not only been aided and abetted by Natalie, but curiously he had felt like a schoolchild again, acting on a dare from a bigger and braver kid. Then he remembered there was that strange agreement/pact/deal he had made with Natalie: She agreeing to help him through her showbiz contacts and he agreeing to help her with her screenplays. He began to wonder if he had been on a date, a business dinner, or just there to make a pact with the devil (sign on the dotted line, if you do not have sufficient blood it will be provided to you by the court).
Then after dinner as they had left Chasen’s he had, more through gallantry than desire, asked her if she wanted to go to a club, maybe have a few drinks or hear some music, since they were close to the Strip, but had been relieved when she declined, saying she had had enough to drink, and anyway it was a long drive back to their respective apartments. Probably because they were both a little high from the drink and the unaccustomed rich food, neither of them had much to say on the drive home. Natalie, he remembered noticing, was unusually quiet and serious-looking on the drive back, so that consequently they had discussed only practical matters.
In the matter of Gil’s budding career they had compromised. Gil would spend the rest of the year (only three weeks) free from the necessity of looking for work, as Natalie was due to fly back east to visit her parents for the holidays. She would be leaving within the next few days and, as she had much to do, she would be unable to see him until she returned. But she promised to do her best to cut her visit a little short and that she would call him when she returned, hopefully by at least the thirtieth. Then they would make plans to spend New Year’s Eve together.
The constant remembering and reconfiguring the meanings of these events which had happened in such a short period of time set Gil, as he had really nothing else to do, re-evaluating his life since he had left school three and a half years ago and moved out here, determined to become a real Hollywood director. As he thought about it, he suddenly realized that up until the last month or so, he had had no life whatsoever that did not involve looking for work, working sporadically, and the necessary but solitary eating and sleeping. Before he had met Natalie at that weird party, he had had no social life whatsoever. Now, after meeting Natalie only a little over two weeks ago, he suddenly wondered if he might be on the verge of having some sort of relationship with an “older woman”. Strangely the thought did not repel him.
And so he wandered through the next few weeks sleeping late, eating probably too much since now for the first time in his life he had the money, but otherwise not doing much of anything. He wished he had someone that he could talk to, someone to whom he could pour out his heart, confess his anxieties, and perhaps elicit some experienced advice, but he really knew no one. He thought about Harry, but that thought made him remember not only Harry’s somewhat bizarre appearance at DeVille’s party, but also his strange dreams, which he had not yet been able to completely shake off.
For want of anything else to do, he began to go occasionally in the early evenings to the local bars, where he would sit for an hour or so nursing an increasingly tepid draft beer and observe the boisterous and merrymaking crowds of people, probably no younger than himself. To him however they all seemed to be like college kids majoring in partying and minoring in provocative flirting. On one of these excursions the thought suddenly came to him that this is how he had more or less spent his whole life—as an observer rather than a participant. He supposed it had started with his ambivalent relationship with his parents and his siblings. He had, he now realized, adopted a detached attitude to shield him from the emotional highs and lows of his parents’ erratic and drunken behavior. He was on a train of thought now, and as he continued it he saw why he had been so passionately entranced by the movies that his father had taken him to when he was still quite young. He could sit there in the safety of the dark theater, watching and marveling at what was on the screen, but feeling a sense of joyous relief that these events could not directly affect him in any way. He had carried this attitude into college life when he had left home, preferring to watch and later film the amateur theatrics and musicals performed by the other students, rather than participating in them himself.
Now he wondered, having been given the opportunity, would he continue only to observe or to begin to let himself go enough emotionally to participate. In short, to have something he had never had before—a girlfriend.
By the time a week had passed he was spending more and more time at the local cinemas and less and less time at the bars. By Christmas Eve he decided to treat himself to a long walk downtown, eat at a fancy restaurant, and otherwise try to give some diversion from his increasing desire to be with Natalie again.
By the time the thirtieth of December rolled around, he was once again pacing the length and breadth of his tiny apartment while cocking one ear for the ring of the hall phone. After what seemed like an eternity but was in fact only about four o’clock in the afternoon, the phone finally rang. Gil was already out the door and had pounced on the receiver before the phone had completed its first ring.
“Hello?” he managed in a rather husky breathless voice.
“That you, Gil?” came a now-familiar voice on the other end.
“Natalie!” The word almost exploded from his mouth. Then he added in what he hoped was a more relaxed and nonchalant tone, “Good to here from you. You back?”
“Yeah,” she said, “just got home about an hour ago. Thought I’d do a little unpacking, you know, and call you to let you know the plane didn’t crash or anything. Great to be back,” she added. “I always forget how much snow there is back there this time of year.”
“Yeah,” agreed Gil, remembering the bitter winter weather during his childhood in Ben Allyn. “It can pretty cold back there all right.”
“So,” she said casually, “we on for tomorrow night?”
“Sure,” said Gil, trying to adopt the same tone. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Great,” she said. “Tell you what. I’ll pick you up about six or seven. Don’t eat. I’m doing the basic Jewish deli spread. You know, corned beef sandwiches, pastrami sandwiches, deli salads, the usual. We’ll have a cozy little evening and ring in the New Year with Guy freakin’ Lombardo.”
“Okay then,” he said, not wanting to hang up but being unable to think of anything else to say.
“Okay then,” she repeated.
There was a long pause, then Natalie burst into a giggle. “What is this?” she said. “High school?” She raised the pitch of her voice an octave. “You hang up first,” she mimicked.
Gil somehow had the presence of mind to reply, “No, you hang up first.” Then they both giggled.
“Okay,” said Natalie finally. “Let’s cut the crap. I’m actually, really, definitely going to hang up now.”
“Okay,” said Gil, then stammered quickly, “I—I really missed you, Natalie,” and hung up.