I had spent the morning being teased by Alison and Ellen at how over-the-moon I was with Joel. We'd gotten home two days before from -- insert enormous drum roll, trumpet fanfare, what-have-you -- Passover with my parents!
Yes, I'd taken Joel home.
Ellen and Alison exchanged looks when I paused in my gushing.
"Um, is he even talking about having you meet that daughter of his that he keeps locked in a tower somewhere?" Alison asked, supportive as always.
"Look, it's not the same thing," I explained. "My parents aren't 5 years old. They're not going to be traumatized by meeting him and it then not working out, as a little girl would be if she met me and got attached and then suddenly I wasn't in her life anymore."
And, anyway, it had happened rather impulsively.
At the last minute, Shelley (the ex-wife) got a chance at some Passover getaway in Florida.
The original plan had us going to Rina and Steve's for the first Seder. The second night, Joel was supposed to be with his daughter, Michal, and I was going to go to a communal Seder with Ellen and Alison. At the last minute, Shelley (the ex-wife) got a chance at some Passover getaway in Florida -- with Michal, of course.
At first, Joel was angry because he didn't understand how this miraculous opportunity presented itself only five days before the Seder. While he was at my apartment kvetching, my mother called whining that I hadn't been with them for Passover in a while. So we impulsively decided to surprise my parents (who practically had a cardiac when we walked in).
"You do move quickly," Ellen said. "And to think that only a week before you were trapped at the zoo!"
Alison stared blankly: "Trapped at the zoo?"
I smiled. Joel and I had gone to a Hillel fundraising event at the Phoenix Zoo. We both found the speeches boring, so we snuck off to wander around. Somewhere in the Africa exhibit, we made a wrong turn, went through a gate that was supposed to be locked -- and then couldn't find the exit!
"Hmm," Joel had said after climbing onto a tree-shaped bench to figure out where we were. "I think we must be in an employees' only section. They must have just opened the gate to feed the animals."
My eyes widened.
"Don't worry," he said, mock beating his chest. "I'll protect you from the lions..."
After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a wall to scale, he had the brilliant idea of -- calling the zoo. We ended up spending 45 minutes on both of our cellphones going through various phone trees in the zoo's after-hours administrative offices until we finally got through to a security desk at, oddly, the nearby Botanical Gardens.
It took them another half-hour to send someone to come get us; our savior was a pot-bellied crack security guard named Len, who tried to convince us that we'd been in mortal danger. Finally, he was kind enough to give us a ride in his spiffy golf cart to Joel's car, by now marooned in the totally empty parking lot.
It could have been an awful thing to be locked in there. But Joel found the whole thing funny, and it ended up being fun.
"It could have been such an awful thing -- to be locked in there," I told my friends, aware of how dreamy I sounded. "I was so impressed with how calm he stayed. He found the whole thing funny, and it ended up being, well, fun. I just feel so comfortable with him, and so safe."
Ellen smiled, "You really are on the moon, aren't you?"
I nodded. Last night, for not the first time, I'd found myself watching him and feeling suffused with warmth -- hearing in my head that I loved him. And, delightfully, it hadn't scared me. It felt like the panic of the weeks prior (Oh no! I like him! Oh no! I don't like him! Oh no! He's perfect for me! Oh no! He's not perfect for me!) had given way to the strong, solid voice inside me.
Love had come not as a thunderbolt, but as a rustle in the underbrush that grew into a steady, gentle hum.
"It's who he is, Beth," I had gushed to my sister as we chopped apples for charoset before the first Seder. "He's just so good."
I told her about an incident that happened on the way from the airport. We'd flown into Newark, and then took a car service the two hours to Philly. The driver had quoted us one price and then informed us -- when we were 5 minutes from my parents' house -- that it was an extra $20 because he had handled our bags.
"Sir, if you had mentioned that you'd charge $10 each when you picked up the bags, I am sure we would have chosen to lift them ourselves," Joel had said politely. I leaned forward to note the driver's name on his ID card -- it was Bill.
"I did tell you," Bill said snippily.
-- Oh, give me a break! I thought, preparing to inform him that he might try this with some other brain-dead passengers, but that it wouldn't work with us. Prepare battle gear!
Instead, Joel gave me a conciliatory look and said to Bill: "You know, I'm pretty sure you didn't mention it. At the very least, neither of us heard it. But I'll tell you what... tomorrow's a holiday for us and Sunday's Easter for you, and it's really not worth fighting about. So I'll gladly give you the 20 bucks, and if you said it, then it's your hard-earned money. And if you didn't say it, then we'll just consider it charity..."
"I can't believe you let him scam us out of $20!" I hissed as soon as we got to my parents' door. (The suddenly helpful Bill carried our bags to the doorstep.)
"You're totally right," he explained. "He has a little scam... but what are we going to do? Fight with him? Get all riled up when we'd, at most, end up 'compromising' and still paying him an extra $10?"
"Well, it's the principle of the thing!" I said. "We could call his boss!"
Except that he was an owner-operator, I thought to myself. I'd noticed that on his license card. Well, we could call the state bureau of licensing, or some bureau, or something...
Thank God, we can afford the few dollars, and it's not worth getting upset about.
"Of course you're right about the principle," Joel said, without being condescending. "But I just don't think it's worth getting upset about. Thank God, we can afford the few dollars, and the disgusting behavior is on his account."
I opened my mouth to respond, and then shut it. I was irritated that a little squeak came out, as if to aurally affirm how pointless my argument was.
"You wrote his name down," he said. "We have four days here. Do you want to spend part of them on hold with the New Jersey department of whatever? When we get back to Phoenix, you can file a complaint and maybe spare some others from being victims, too. But in the meantime, I'd rather arrive at your parents' door calm..."
At just that moment, the aforementioned parents' door opened and there stood my mother holding a bag for trash.
-- The plan had been to call my parents on my cellphone in the front yard and lure them out the front door (thereby ensuring that they were properly dressed and such). So much for that.
My mother looked dumbly from my face to his, clearly confused... Then her green eyes burst into smile overdrive and she squealed: "JESSIE!!!!!" in a voice loud enough that my cousins in Huntington Valley would know I was in town.
Most importantly, everyone had liked him.
"Although he is a bit intense," Beth had note a bit warily, "but I suppose that his intensity compliments your neuroses."
(His intensity had evinced itself in a two-day long arguscussion with her over educational policy - he's in favor of school vouchers and Beth is anti. And it showed up again in a pre-Passover basketball game with Beth's-soon-to-be-husband Aaron at the JCC. Apparently, Aaron's take on basketball is a bit more laissez faire than Joel's, whose driven nature leads him to think that a pickup game is the NBA finals. He later apologized...)
"Well, I still don't get it," Alison said,. "So you take him to meet your parents, but still no discussion of meeting the kid?"
"Look," Ellen chimed in, "I am sure everything is fine. Don't get worried over nothing, Jess. Don't obsess about this. Why don't we find a movie?"
The two of them decided to walk over to the Esplanade to find something to see, but I was, yes, obsessed. Not obsessed... Concerned. Just because he hadn't mentioned my meeting his daughter didn't mean anything bad, right? The truth was that Joel had seemed a little distracted when we got back... but it hadn't really worried me at the time.
Oh, where is my dating coach when I need her?