The Elite Athlete
One night at a wine bar party for some old friends of mine, I sort of give up on the scene and go sit on this huge, low-slung leather couch and listen to some guy play the electric cello, the kind of thing you only hear in cities like this one. The high point of the night is when I talk to the cellist for a bit and get his business card, wanting Matt to hear him, thinking the two of them would hit it off, but I don’t get that far, and I put the card in the pocket of my favorite jeans.
Matt finds me sunken down in the leather, eating cheese and almonds and dried figs or some such combination, and hands me a glass of pinot noir that sparkles in the fake candlelight from the stained-glass votive on the table in front of me. “Hi. Michael’s really been talking you up,” he says, easing down next to me.
“Thanks. Michael?” I sip. I kind of have a headache.
“Your friend,” he says, gesturing. “I hired him, by the way.”
“Oh.” I know Michael from college.
“So…he showed me some of your old photos on Facebook,” Matt says solicitously. I laugh, and he raises an eyebrow at me. “Pretty amazing.”
I shrug and give him my same old line. “Upper body model. You know, they never showed my face.”
He shakes his head and smiles. Our eyes meet and hold. How many times were Matt and I together? I can feel him now.
“Hey, do you…do you maybe want to leave early?” he asks, touching my wrist.
I nod, and he offers me his arm. We stop on the way out to say goodbye to some of my friends, and Michael asks, “You’re not coming to my place?”
I shake my head. “We’re just going to take off early. Thanks for everything.”
He shrugs. “Ok. Call me tomorrow.”
Matt naked is spectacular. I trace the line of his quads with my finger when we are lying in the massive bed at home.
“Thank cycling,” he says. “That, and a little human growth hormone from the finest doctors Italy has to offer.” He adjusts the pillow under his head, then draws me into his underarm, which is not at all offensive. “You only get that if you’re already on the best team in the world, though.” He lets out a proud little snort. He’s probably said this a million times. That’s his line.
The sheet slips down from his leg when he bends his knee, and the vastus medialis is so big it looks like another bone in its own right. Then there are the hip flexors, bulging out the way I’ve never seen them on any other human being up close.
“Those pictures,” he whispers, drifting his hand from my breastbone along the line between my abs. “You look exactly the same as you did back then.”
We spend the next few days aimlessly, both of us being basically retired at a young age. I didn’t make that much money, but I didn’t know what else to do with myself when I got too old for the gig, and we thought it would be a good segue into thinking about having kids. Matt coaches, does motivational speaking, races on a lesser but significant team for lesser but significant prize money. For a little while, I get kind of fascinated by Italian food for some reason, and pull Italian cookbooks down from the kitchen bookshelf. I don’t recognize the cookbooks, and wonder where they came from. Walk around saying “cucina” and snipping the flowers off the basil growing beside the house. Elsie calls me a couple of times saying she really wants to come visit, but doesn’t know when she can find the time to come all the way up here. The second time she calls, she starts prodding me with questions about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life and how I’m going to fill my time productively, and I kind of think about the kid question, but don’t say so to her, and I get all snippy instead and we sort of fight and sort of make up and then hang up without me really knowing how we left it. I go back to saying “cucina” all the time. And then the weirdest thing happens.