It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
P.G. Wodehouse, The Man Upstairs, 1914
Annie played it cool with Brendan, which was smart from her point of view even if it was not exactly fair from his.
"You got your Macintosh group tomorrow?" she asked on Monday night, while they were doing the washing up. She'd been rehearsing the elaborately casual manner, for reasons she was still vague about, ever since she had left Sebastian four or five hours before.
"Yeah, I'll probably grab a bite in town."
He had his hands deep in suds while she wiped and put away. Phase one: he didn't ask why. She inspected a casserole dish, rejected it and passed it back. He grunted at it and grabbed the little orange scrubby pad to remove the last debris.
"Thought I might check out the anti-war group."
Phase two: he invited comment without demanding reasons (yet).
"Yeah, I dunno, seems like it might be a good thing."
Why was she so nervous about this? Would he see this as deviant behavior? Would he be threatened? Should he be? Why was she even thinking in these terms? She polished a plate till it glowed.
"Anyway they meet on Tuesdays, seven-thirty to nine or so. I thought I'd see what gives."
"Cool." Then he laughed, pleasantly. "I thought you were the one who always said you didn't do demos."
Phase three: he noticed the newness (well, that was good). But he didn't seem overly bothered.
"Yeah, I didn't, but, I dunno. Anyway I just thought I'd check it out."
Maybe she had succeeded in establishing the peace group on the same basis as the computer group. Maybe that was totally appropriate. Certainly she had satisfied the letter of their unwritten rules of engagement, and if she sinned in the spirit, well, no harm was done. Perhaps none ever would be.
After all, they did have their separate identities. For a start, Sebastian was her friend, not his, and in a way this could be seen to have arisen from that connection, which would logically exclude him. Brendan never quite knew how to take Sebastian's flirtatious come-on, not that he was homophobic, why, some of his best ... well, several people he knew anyway ... that is.... Brendan's logical acceptance of gay rights, which truly was as real as his belief in civil rights for people of color, never quite translated into social comfort. The old dope scene that once had taught him to be easy with blacks and chicanos was an overwhelmingly straight male deal, with gays in a parallel universe that never quite intersected with his own, one of amyls and uppers and disco doses of acid, where his had been hash and tequila and lengthening shades of Mexican powder. Sebastian, no fool, teased Brendan taut, secure in the knowledge that Annie knew he wasn't trying to steal her man.
She had called the contact number before Brendan got home from work and had a pleasant, short, conversation with some guy. He might have been the one she'd seen on campus; she wasn't sure and didn't think to ask until they had hung up. It was one of those calls without a specific point in which the real meaning all takes place underneath the surface. On top, she confirmed the time, date and place of the meeting and that she would be welcome to show up, all of which was explicitly included in the listing she had in her hand; down below, all she really found out was that whoever answered the phone wasn't a complete asshole, which wasn't a total shock either, given the group's evidently pacifist mission. Pressed, she would certainly have admitted eliminating a negative (the come-on she faced wasn't too repulsive for her to investigate further) and she might even have accepted the positive implications of the undeniable fact that she had made the call. She hadn't even given her name, so absolutely no one else knew she had done it, but she did. She didn't have to go, but she suddenly realized that that would be backing out, so she must have made a decision.
Not sharing all that with her partner was a decision of another order, and one she still kept buried for a little longer.
Her timing was immaculate. The tomorrow-night's-activities conversation petered out around the last of the dishes, and was promptly buried by an unexpected visit from their neighbor. Once he had left, clutching the wrench he'd wandered over to borrow and digesting the beer he hadn't needed to be offered twice, the moment had long passed. If Brendan was surprised that she reached for him that night in bed, he showed no sign, and if she was in any way impelled by guilt, she kept that too well hid. They lay there afterwards, close and comfortable, and she wondered for a while why she thought she was missing anything, and slipped smiling into sleep.