Single In The Suburbs, Installment 126

After an electric first kiss with Ethan, Sara’s about to bring all of the men in her life together for the first time thanks to her son’s broken-down car. How will Craig react?

By Sara Susannah Katz

To read the entire series of articles from the beginning, click here.

n our last installment, our columnist had just shared her first kiss with Ethan when — alas! — their romantic reverie was broken by a phone call from her son, who needed help with his stalled car. Ethan and Craig are about to meet face-to-face for the first time. Is this a good idea?

Sunday evening, continued
Well, this is awkward. There’s Craig, who has zero mechanical aptitude, and Ethan, the
I don’t like it and I’m not going to play along.
consummate handyman. Craig, who is between girlfriends and Ethan, who apparently disapproves of the idea that I’m still friends with my ex.

Craig is shining his cell phone at the engine but God only knows what he’s looking for. Ethan slowly sidles up to the car and pulls out the flashlight he keeps clipped onto his belt. He spots something — a loose wire, I think — and bends over to reattach it. I watch his strong hands move confidently around the engine. “That should do it,” he says. “Give it a try.” My son gets behind the wheel and turns the ignition key. The car starts smoothly and Ethan smiles in a self-satisfied way.

I know that Craig is struggling between gratitude and embarrassment. “Thanks, man,” he finally says, reaching out to shake Ethan’s hand.

“No problem,” Ethan says. “Glad I could help.” Then he asks my kid if he’d be interested in few lessons on car mechanics. “Then you can do your own repairs.”

My kid, obviously thrilled, says, “Awesome.”

Craig asks if he can have a minute with me alone. I see this as a power move, his way of letting Ethan know he’s an outsider. I don’t like it and I’m not going to play along. “Now’s not a good time,” I say. “Give me a call tomorrow, OK?”

Wow. I’m actually setting boundaries. That might be a first for me. Back in the car, Ethan says, “Your ex seems like a nice guy.”

I can predict what he’s going to say next and I’m right. “Why did you two split up?”

The question takes me by surprise. It seems a little early to be talking about exes. That’s the kind of dirty laundry I’d prefer to keep in the back of the closet for now. On the other hand, the question could be a sign that he’s really interested and wants to know me more intimately. I mean, for example, if I were hiring someone, I’d want to know why he or she left the last job. (That said, I wouldn’t
I could invite him inside to continue this, but I don’t.
necessarily expect to get an honest answer. Nobody ever says “Oh, I left because my boss was a jerk,” even if it’s probably the most common reason for quitting.)

I decide to tell Ethan that we were young when we met and grew apart over the course of our marriage. We were married a long time, and yes, I’d hoped for happily ever after, but the longer we were together, the more it seemed clear that happily ever after wasn’t a realistic hope. We weren’t happy. We’d stopped talking to each other. We were no longer friends. We were both resentful and bitter. We were in counseling on and off for years. In other words, we tried really hard to stay together.

Back at my house, Ethan and I are sitting in my car, suddenly quiet. I’m not sure what to do next. I suppose I could ask him why he’s not with Jessica’s mother anymore, but I really don’t want to hear about it, not now. I’m not interested in inspecting the dark underbelly of Ethan’s marriage. Just for a little while, I’d like to see him the way he’s presenting himself to me right now, his best self, free of the baggage of a soured marriage. I don’t want to hear about his drinking problems, or her sexual dysfunction, or the fact that they fought over money. Just for this brief period, this new beginning, I want to keep things pristine.

So instead of asking him about his marriage, I reach over and touch Ethan’s sleeve. And he turns toward me without saying a word and kisses me. I could invite him inside to continue this, but I don’t. I don’t want anything more intimate or more complicated right now than a kiss. This is enough.

The kiss felt like it could go on for hours. When we stop to catch our breath for a second, Ethan asks, “Well… should we continue this inside?”

Sara Susannah Katz is a writer in the Midwest.

Read Single In The Suburbs, Part 127

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