Irene had found Clark three rows ahead and five seats over her first, and only, year at New York University. He may be the only man over which her beauty never once had control. Their friendship existed, and grew, solely over the study of French film for two semesters. This was enough time for the two to grow close but not close enough to become lifelong friends, much to Irene’s dismay. She had been surprised, of course, when Tom mentioned that Clark was his best friend growing up. In all honesty, Clark and Tom’s friendship was her prime inspiration for keeping their relationship a secret.
“Not going to tell me, huh?” asked Clark trying to keep an upbeat spirit for Irene while taking another sip of the mimosa, “well, I won’t pry too much more, but you said you had a dilemma … anything I can help with?”
Irene stared at him. She had very few places she could turn for help. Her family would certainly disown her – after all, her father would die on the hill that the City is simultaneously the birthplace of hedonism and the death of morality. This ordeal surely meant banishment from family gatherings. This would not have bothered Irene, except that it would mean not being able to see her sister. Seven years younger, and born with Down’s Syndrome, Irene’s sister Sarah was the only person in the world for whom she would risk her life.
“I’m alright. Enough about me, I’ve dwelt on it far too much as of late. What is new in your world Mr. Berrineau?” Irene chose to change the subject while she worked on what Clark could help her with in the back of her mind. Layering her thoughts was, after all, how she so easily persuaded scores of men and women into her selfish schemes.
Clark sensed this, but obliged, “I’m working in the creative department of a new technologies company on Tenth Avenue. It’s quite fun. Been out of school now for two years, hard to believe really. Seeing a girl from the upper-east side believe it or not. And … yeah! That is the short version at least.”
Irene’s layered thoughts required a little longer to sort out what kind of help Clark could give her, but as one of the stipulations of her conniving was to always come up with a way to not owe anything to anyone, the present situation presented a nearly impossible challenge.
“Your job is to be creative huh?” Irene asked with a smile, “Like Godard’s À bout de soufflé?”
Clark paused, “Wow. Irene, that feels so long ago! But no, I’m certainly no Godard,”
“Oh come off it, that movie was the worst,” Irene laughed aloud as inwardly Irene thought she had just found a way to wedge herself into Clark’s life.
“Are you serious?! It was fantastic!”
“If speaking cyclically and jumping around like the projector is broken is fantastic …”
“Now you come off it, those lines are genius.”
“Yes, because ‘I wanted to see you, to see if I’d want to see you’ is a perfectly sensible sentence.”
“More sensible than you.”
“Oh come on now, don’t be mean!”
“I’m not being mean, I’m simply pointing out how of all the people in the world to complain about cyclical talk, here sits Irene Bates.”
Irene went quiet as she tried to withhold a smile. She was pushing her natural attraction to Clark as far as she could, but his remembering so much about her made her feel as if something was there. This was Clark’s power over her. Her supposed wedge was slipping fast.
“Well it hasn’t always served me well,” Irene said gesturing to her stomach and laughing nervously.
Clark smiled, “Well, let’s not make the same mistake Patricia and Michel did.”
“Doesn’t she die? Yeah let’s avoid that.”
“No he died, and that’s not what I was referencing, but yes, let’s definitely avoid that. How can I help you?”
Clark had unknowingly turned the tables on her and she finally decided that it was time to give in and owe someone something.
“I’m worried about never being able to see my sister again. My father will lose the last ounce of approval for me he has and certainly won’t recognize my child as his grandchild. My mother will do anything he says, and my sister will be oblivious.”
“Oblivious?” Clark looked puzzled.
“Clark, I need a husband. Even if it’s just one for the holidays.”
“Whoah. Before you get ahead of yourself, would your father not also be fairly upset if you failed to tell him about a marriage?”
“He’s more likely to be thrilled he didn’t have to waste any money on my marriage.”
“Ah. That’s normal,” Clark’s sarcasm left Irene unimpressed, “So a husband by the end of the month? You seeing them for Thanksgiving?”
“Do you know anyone who would do it?”
“Why not me?” Clark offered effortlessly.
This took Irene by surprise, while she had been contemplating this plan before Clark showed up for brunch – it was only in the last five minutes that she had decided Clark fit to play the role – she was shocked to find him not just willing, but offering. They weren’t, after all, lifelong pals.
“Really?” Irene said as if she didn’t believe him.
The two stared at each other as the waitress set down the tea, Clark told her they needed a few more minutes with the menu. Irene finally broke the silence between the two of them.
“Didn’t you say you were seeing someone? You don’t think she may have an issue with your sudden marriage to a pregnant woman?”
“Scarlett won’t even have to know, she’s going to California to see her family through the first of the year on the twentieth.”
“But, what do we do? How do we pull that off? What about next year, the year after?”
“We’ll worry about the details as we move along, but for now you’re Mrs. Berrineau, I gave you that baby, and a year from now perhaps I will die in a tragic car accident in Jersey.”
Irene laughed, “That’s brilliant.”
“I do have a question though,” Clark stated.
Irene’s imagination went wild, now fearing she was going to owe something.
“Not that I condone it, but there are … other methods … which you could have turned to.”
“What are you saying?”
“You know what I’m saying.”
“No … I don’t.”
“Like I said, I don’t condone it, I’m just curious why you didn’t go to a …”
Irene’s face flushed and she could not keep from being mad, “Men don’t understand.”
“Irene, I’m not trying to press, you don’t have to answer. I just think it’s admirable and want to know … why?”
“I don’t feel like answering that.”
“That’s fair, that is totally fair, I just don’t want you thinking I’m halfway into this. I’m sorry. I want to help.”
“That’s not helping.”
“Alright, well what’s your favorite color?”
“Why would you ask such a childish question?”
Clark laughed genuinely and smiled, “If I’m going to be married to you, I should probably know your favorite color.”
“Orange,” Irene wasn’t going to yield to his charm.
A tense silence ensued until Clark broke it, “You want to know why I loved that movie? Why it will always leave me breathless? Because Michel did get one thing right. He said, ‘When we talked, I talked about me, you talked about you, when we should have talked about each other.’”
Irene stared into Clark’s character. More than possessing attractive features, Clark held an integrity that even if a bit flawed, knew no yield. Irene succumbed to Clark’s affect on her; she cried.
“I like orange,” she replied showing a hint of a smile and more vulnerability than ever before, “What does that say about me?”
“Everything,” Clark answered jokingly.