Sacramento, California – April 1974
“Ben, you’re too damn lazy.”
Ben Robinson was ill-prepared for the near-freezing temperatures he’d endured the past six hours staring aimlessly at a river he could not see. He wore his favorite tattered blue denim jacket, a white long sleeve cotton dress shirt with a button-down collar, faded jeans, and his tan cowboy boots. Had his mind not been reeling from those devastating words heard earlier that evening, he would have abandoned his favorite lookout long before now.
As the sun inched its way into the clouds nestled low over the Sierra Nevada mountains some 70 miles to the east, a pale orange light finally broke his trance; his teeth now chattering uncontrollably as the bitter cold took control. He jumped out of his chair, staggering briefly on frozen, wobbly legs before stumbling back to an adobe-brick cottage some 200 yards from the large cement overlook his landlord’s family built more than 60 years ago.
Twenty minutes later, the shower steam overflowed his smallish bathroom into the kitchen and tiny dining area as the water-heater gave up the last of its warming liquid. His fully ‘pruned’ fingers fumbled first with the towel, and then his sweatshirt and pants. The strong smell of his favorite coffee signaled it was ready as his body’s temperature moved closer to normal. Steaming mug in hand, he crossed the small living area and settled into an overstuffed leather chair near the unlit fireplace. As he sank deep into the soft cushion, last night’s painful events came flooding back as he struggled with the details. Maybe this time, he could make some sense of what happened after dinner at Lucca’s, their favorite Italian restaurant in nearby Folsom.
“How long have we been seeing each other?” Mo asked as they sat, waiting for the check.
“Not sure. Maybe three years?” he answered without looking back at her.
“Not quite. September will make three,” she corrected. “Have you been happy?”
“Uh-huh,” he answered, still searching for the waiter.
Mo just sat there waiting for him to either look over at her or say something more; he did neither.
“Ben,” Mo said, raising her voice to refocus his attention in her direction. “Ben, we need to talk.”
“Do you see the waiter?” he asked, unaware of the pending confrontation.
“Did you hear me? We need to talk.”
“Sure, sure. Soon as I pay the check.”
“Ben, you’re too damn lazy,” she said, leaning over the small table, directly into his view.
“Lazy? Who you calling lazy, miss ‘I hate working out more than going to the dentist’?” he quickly replied, assuming she was joking.
“I’m not talking about physically lazy, you dumb ass,” Mo snapped. “I’m talking about our relationship and how it’s always the same; always safe, always predictable.”
“What are you saying?” he asked, stalling to catch up and refocus his attention on her.
“Listen, I like you; a lot,” she began. “I like being with you, going places with you and just hanging out together. But we’re not still in high school. I want more; need more. It’s been nearly three years, and we’re right where we were after the first few months.”
“I’m sorry, Mo,” he said, as he reached for her hand. “I thought you were happy having your own place, your own privacy, your own space.”
“That’s just it,” she snapped, pulling her hand away. “Because you’re happy with this arrangement, you just assume I’m happy, too. And I was two years ago. But after a while, if we don’t move things forward, get more involved, maybe even make it a little ‘messier,’ then it’s just a sweet friendship, and I already have plenty of friends. But listen, if that’s all you want, all you’re willing to work for, then OK, we’ll just be friends.”
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing.”
“Being your friend isn’t a bad thing. But being just that means it’s always me that comes to spend the night at your place; me that changes my plans for you; me that makes excuses to my other friends when they invite us out for a drink or dinner and we say no because you prefer it’s just us. And then, on the rare occasion we do go out with them, it only happens when you’ve finally had enough ‘alone time’ in the safety of your house. Being just a friend, even a good one, is just not enough anymore.”
“I don’t know what to say,” he mumbled. Mo just stared at him for several long seconds. Then she pushed her chair back, stood, turned her back to him, and stomped out of the restaurant.
The rest of the evening’s two-hour conversation took place in his car, where she tried to explain in more detail what she was looking for in their relationship, and why. But the more she talked, the more confused he became. Finally, appearing to lose her patience, she announced, “If after all this time you’re still not ready to take this ‘whatever’ to the next level, that’s ok. It just means it’s time for me to move on and find someone else.”
He couldn’t remember his exact words, but he recalled trying to explain one final time that he loved her deeply—more than anyone ever—and wanted them to be together for as long as it made each of them happy. He believed they were a great fit, both loving many of the same things, not the least of which was a warm, intimate, and incredibly passionate love life. It was at that point his efforts to save any chance of a future together fell miserably short.
“It’s no wonder the sex is great,” she shouted, her voice turning cold and distant as she straightened up and turned towards him. “Hell, we’re young, healthy, athletic, and in the prime of our lives. It should be great. But that’s not enough; not nearly enough. Not if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together. For that, we need a love built on respect, understanding, and encouragement for each other. A love we’re willing to work on and fight for from this day forward. Now. Not later or down the road when or if you decide to change ‘you’ to ‘us’.”
“Maureen, I do love you—I swear I do,” he began. “But I’m new to all this. I’ve never been this close to anyone, not even my parents. I don’t know how to do more than what comes naturally, which isn’t much beyond being kind and caring and treating you like a lady. I’m not ready to share every moment of every day with anyone, even the one person in my life I love more than any other.”
“As I said, what you’re describing is a good friend, and I appreciate that,” Mo said. “But, after this long, if that’s all we have, then that’s all it will ever be.”
“Please give me a little more time to learn how to do more,” he begged. “If I knew what to do, I’d damn well do it. But I don’t have a clue. I just need more time.”
She settled back down in the seat and stared blankly out the front windshield, saying nothing for several moments. Then, without looking at him, as a faint smile seemed to replace her anger, she said, “I know. I’ve known it for months. As much as I want more, maybe marriage, children, a career, and all the mess that includes, you only want simple. You want easy. You want, uncomplicated. You just want a damn good friend.”
“Mo, you’re not my first. You’re my only,” he said softly as he reached for her hand.
“It’s not enough,” she whispered as she pulled her hand away. “Please take me home.”