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My Friend Dennis by Martin Green.


It was a lazy Sunday morning. My wife Ellen and I were finishing our coffees while reading sections of the New York Times, which we subscribed to although we now lived in a suburban section of Sacramento, capital of California. The doorbell rang. “Who can that be?” said Ellen.

“I’ll go see.” I opened the door. It was Dennis Crown, showing up as usual with no warning.

“I have a meeting in San Francisco tomorrow so I thought I’d stop by and see how you guys are doing. I hope it’s not a bad time.”

“No, come on in. It’s Dennis,” I called out to Ellen.

She came out to the hall and Dennis gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You’re looking as pretty as ever,” he said, as he always did. As she always did, Ellen blushed.

I should explain that Dennis and I had been room mates at a New England college about 20 years ago, something I always thought was due to a clerical mistake as I was a scholarship student and he came from a wealthy family. After college we’d gone our separate ways, I winding up as a civil servant and Dennis as a kind of dealer who traveled the world obtaining art objects for wealthy clients. Every now and then, as now, he’d drop in unannounced.

We returned to the living room. Ellen made some fresh coffee and Dennis filled us in on his adventures since we’d last seen him. As well as being rich, he was handsome and charming. His stories always involved clever doings to get some precious art object as well as a beautiful woman he’d get involved with. The women were always alluring but in the end he’d leave them no matter how much he was attracted to them. His latest adventure had been in Russia and, if you believed him, he barely got away with a famous painting before the KGB nabbed him, helped by a beautiful woman called Titiania. He’d been sorely temped, he told us, to take Titiana back with him; he’d really fallen for her. “It’s sad. She was the most desirable woman I’ve ever known. But you know how much I value my freedom. I can’t be tied down. I suppose I’m a confirmed bachelor and will end up all alone. I sometimes envy you two. Your life may be, well, predictable but you have each other. ”

“You meant to say ‘boring,’ didn’t you?” I said.

Dennis just laughed. He asked about our son and daughter, now both in college. When they were younger, he’d always brought presents for them. “Hard to believe they’ve grown up,” he said. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever have children either.” He put on a wistful look. It was my turn to laugh.

Eventually we arranged for Dennis to stay over for two nights. He’d go to his San Francisco meeting the next day, Monday. As it happened, I also had a meeting, at the Sacramento airport hotel, on Tuesday. He’d take Ellen out to lunch and shopping, he told her. Then he’d have to leave, flying to Hawaii. And he meant to take us out to dinner that night. We could name our restaurant. There was no question Dennis brought a little excitement to our predictable suburban lives.

When we prepared to go to dinner I noticed that Ellen had put on a dress; she usually wore a shirt and jeans. She had also put on more make-up than usual. “You look very nice,” I told her.

“You noticed?”

“Yes. What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing. Let’s go. Dennis will be waiting.”

Dennis of course told Ellen she looked beautiful. All during dinner, he directed his attention to her, asking her preferences as to the menu and the wine, complimenting her taste. I put it down to his automatically exerting his charm on any woman within his range. When we returned and were going to bed I remarked that Dennis was outdoing himself tonight.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all of that telling you how beautiful you look, how great your taste in wine is, how he wished he’d met a woman like you earlier, you know, his usual charm offensive.”

“I thought he was being very nice. You could use a little of that charm yourself.”

“Come on. Do I have to smother you with complements all the time?”

“Some of the time wouldn’t be too bad. Anyway, let’s not quarrel. It’s too late.”

Quarrel? I didn’t know we were having one.

When I returned from my airport meeting the next afternoon I saw that Dennis’s suitcase was in the hallway. It appeared that he was ready to leave. Dennis and Ellen were in the living room. He was holding her hand. “I have to catch an earlier plane,” he said to me. “We were just saying good-bye. I have a taxi coming.”

“I see,” I said. Then it hit me, the way Ellen was looking at him. I knew they’d been together. My heart dropped. “I’ll help you with your bags,” I said.

Once outside I put down the suitcase I was carrying. The desolation I’d initially felt had been replaced by rage. Dennis faced me with a questioning look. I hit him as hard as I could in the jaw. He went down to the ground. “I think you know what that’s for, “ I said.

He was rubbing his jaw. “I’m sorry,” he said. “All my fault. It was only that one time. You don’t know how sexy Ellen is.”

I went back inside, still in a rage. It must have showed on my face. “What’s the matter?” asked Ellen.

“You know,” I said. “Dennis. How could you?”

“I don’t know. It just happened.”

She held her harms up in front of her face, as if to protect it from my hitting her. I could easily have done so. Then, in a minute, my rage vanished and I saw Ellen as Dennis must have seen her, lovely and desirable. No, I didn’t ravish her right then and there, nor did we have make-up sex later. It took us a long time to work things out, but in the end we did.

As for Dennis, for a time he seemed to have dropped off the earth. Then perhaps six months later we received a call from him. It was from Russia. He and I spent some time saying sorry to each other, he for Ellen and me for hitting him. Then he said, “Maybe when you hit me it knocked some sense into me. I went back to Russia to get Titania. We’re getting married. And we’re going to have kids.”

Ellen and I looked at each other and we both laughed.



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