Posted by: Patrice Fitzgerald | February 24, 2009

Chapter IV – “Stick Shift”

Chapter IV


Copyright 2009 Patrice Fitzgerald


            Ah, James.  One of my very first dates.  I didn’t know what a great date he offered at that point – beginner’s luck, I guess. 

            I found him, of course, on my favorite site,  He had a good profile – educated, good job, even moolah.  He spoke French.  When we talked on the phone he was interesting and intelligent.  His kids were just out of college (good colleges) and one of them was in law school.  Perfect.  They were old enough to be out of his hair, but with good breeding.  I’m an education snob, and I liked the idea that he valued that too.

            We planned to meet at a local watering hole known as Zach’s Raw Bar.  Zach is a local bigwig who owns five-restaurants-and-counting.  So it was pretty nifty that James suggested Zach’s first for drinks, then a trendy French place on the river.  Ooh la la! 

I was concerned that this would be too much for his pocketbook – well, not concerned, actually, but I didn’t want to seem like a gold digger.  This became less and less of a concern as my dates had less and less to offer.  As I said, I didn’t know how good I had it with James.  He certainly had the money to buy me a drink and take me to dinner too.  Anyway, to be fair, I offered to pay for the drinks portion of the evening.

A babe in the woods at this point in time, I walked into the bar quite nervous, wearing my best tight little red number on top with a black skirt and heels just high enough not to be too painful.  James was sitting at one of the small tables in the bar, nursing a glass of wine, and he stood up when I came in.  Okay, a little hefty, but not bad.  He had a warm smile, and a nice polite hug when I reached for him.  I’m a big hugger, and I feel comfy doing that upon first meeting.  Most guys seem to think it means that they’re in for some good physical contact – which it may or may not mean – but it sure warms them up to feel the bod, smell the perfume, and get a little full frontal connection.

James and I had a nice time chatting.  He was coming off marriage No. 2 (or was it No. 3?  Surely I can’t be expected to keep track of how many marriages after so many men!) which might have been a negative signal, but I was in the early stages, and pretty damn grateful that someone would go out with me.

So James ordered another glass of wine and told me the story about how he was interested in learning Italian, and had spent a couple of weeks at an intensive language school in Tuscany last spring.  He was setting up a new international business related to what he had been doing for one of the big corporations in town.  He described how he found himself with a rather generous pot of cash after retiring early, and because he was now free to travel and make a new life, he was creating something interesting for his next 20 years of freedom.  In fact, he was going back to Italy in a couple of days. 

I started to daydream about living the European life, thinking that it would fit in to my plans after my second daughter left for college.

After about a half hour doing the chat thing at Zach’s, I asked for the bill. 

It was over fifty dollars.  For drinks!  I looked at it, and my mouth dropped open.

“This must be a mistake,” I say.  I’m sitting on one of those high bar chairs, which are awkward for me, since I’m short.  I have to make sure to turn my legs in so that my hiked-up skirt won’t expose too much thigh.  Sliding off, I start to look for the waiter.

“Can I see it?” James asks.  “Wow.  That can’t be right.”

He signals the waiter to come over, and even though I know that I’m the one paying for the drinks, I appreciate that James is concerned.

“This is a mistake,” James says to the waiter.

“Let me see, sir.”  The waiter nods.  “Yes, you had three glasses of wine at fifteen dollars each.”

“Fifteen each!  The wine I ordered was only nine dollars.” 

“No, sir.  You didn’t like the first wine, and asked us if we had something similar, but Italian—“

“But I had no idea that it would be that much.”  His face is a deeper shade, but he is keeping his voice even.

“I’m sorry sir.”

“Let me speak to the manager, please.”  The waiter leaves us, and James turns to me.  “I’m sorry about this.  You were kind enough to offer to buy the drinks, and it doesn’t seem fair –“

The manager appears, and it looks as though he’s already up to speed on the situation.  “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, sir.  We’d be happy to make an adjustment on the bill.”  He scoots off, and soon returns with a bill for a bit over thirty, which is an improvement. 

Once in James’ nifty Porsche, I relax while sitting beside him, watching his arm shift the car smoothly through traffic.  I could get used to this.  I like the way he handled the scene in the bar; asserting himself, but not getting angry.  He’s not the world’s most gorgeous guy, but he has a lot of things going for him. 

We arrive at Plums on the River, and settle in at a cozy table by a window.  It’s twilight, and I can just see the last rays of sun reflected in the flowing water.  I’m comfortable talking to this man, and equally comfortable indulging in the lobster ravioli in saffron sauce that the kitchen has just delivered.  The fragrance itself is enough to make me swoon.

Conversation flows as easily as the wine – this time we stick to one glass each –and we finish our very delicious dinner.  I watch James descend the stairs in front of me, and it strikes me that he has a kind of wide ass.  But hey, my ass is not so slim either, and he has no doubt observed that fact.

As we walk toward the parking lot, the air is warm on my skin, and I hear the Farmington River rushing by.  Now I see the water sparkling under the silver moon.

“Let’s go look at the river,” James says.  He guides me gently by the arm onto the grass, which is a little moist and squishy under my heels. 

“Beautiful,” I say, very aware of his tall self behind me as we stand near the water, trees blocking us from the view of anyone else who might pass by in the parking lot.

“Yes, beautiful,” he says, stepping to my right and turning me carefully to face him.

He’s going to kiss me, I think.

And he does.  He has a moustache, and it tickles me as his lips come down onto mine.  I can taste the wine we both had, and an overlay of tiramisu and coffee.  His kisses are soft, polite but interested, as though he is waiting to be invited in.

I like the feel of his arms around me, surrounding me in a big bear hug.  I have yearned to be held like this forever, it seems.

I am very happy to be here, under the moon, by the river, being kissed.  When I was kissed as a girl, which seems now like a thousand years ago, I was so full of fear that I couldn’t enjoy it.  It was more scary than exciting, and all my anxiety short-circuited the pleasure possibilities. 

What was I so afraid of?  Boys, men, touching, pregnancy, hell, what they might do, what I might do.  The undifferentiated “badness” of it all.  I was a Catholic raised in a family where my dad had modern, Freudian notions of discussing sexuality, and a healthy enthusiasm for women – along with a lack of appropriate verbal boundaries with his daughter – and a very different mom, who held views more strait-laced and disapproving of the physical pleasures.  From my perspective as a girl child, it looked like the fox chasing the bunny – Dad was always in search of more – not just sex but touching, kissing, talking.  And she seemed always to be running away, or occasionally, grudgingly, “letting” him do whatever faintly nasty man thing he might be wanting.  As an adult, I realize now that marriages are complex partnerships, full of compromises and balancing, shifting over time, and often not what they appear to be to the outside observer.  But the bright lines of pursuer and pursued were what I saw from my childlike perspective.

All of that background was thrown into emotional chaos when a dear friend of the family made sexual advances toward me when I was 12.  After that, nothing was ever the same.

So I spent my formative years being petrified about the relationships between the sexes.

It was only after several years of marriage that I began to emerge from the early impressions which made me afraid of the whole thing – and had led directly to my marrying a “safe” and sexually restrained man.

But now, finally, I was free.  Free of the deep past fears, and free of the marriage.

Now, I could stand in the grass by the river with a man who wanted to kiss me, and enjoy his kisses.

We tarried there for about five minutes, making out like teenagers.  I think James would have slid right down into the grass for a more detailed session, but it was bit dewy by then, so we walked back to his car.  He asked me if I wanted to drive.

“Do you know how to drive a stick shift?” he asks.

“Yup.  I’m a little out of practice, but I should do okay.  I promise to be gentle.”

“Don’t be too gentle,” he says, his eyes twinkling as he lets me in to the driver’s side. 

“Right.”  I laugh.

He climbs in on the other side, and I let out the clutch, praying that I haven’t forgotten completely how to do this.  It’s all fine until I get up to the road, where I have to hover at the edge of the parking lot on an incline while waiting to get into traffic.  A little hairy, but I manage.

“You’re pretty good,” he says, his hand drifting over to my thigh, where my suede skirt has hiked up a bit.

Something in the back of my mind reminds me not to be too encouraging, but it’s so exciting to feel wanted that I don’t care.  “I am good,” I say.  “You have no idea.”

I can sense the molecules pinging back and forth between us, as I cruise down the street in the summer air, fully in charge and fully charged.  It’s a wonderful night.  

“Why don’t you pull into that lot up ahead,” James says.  “I’ll take over – and give you some tips on how to handle the stick shift.”

I give him an arch look, and turn left into the lot, which is empty of other cars.  We are once again protected by a bank of trees from passersby on the road; I wonder for a minute if he has cased the neighborhood for commodious make out spots.

I put the car in park, and we swap seats.  James puts his hand on the stick. 

“You need to find just the right touch.  Sometimes it can be stiff.”  He takes his hand off the gearshift and puts it behind my neck, leaning in for the kiss.  I kiss him back, and feel his excitement.  He turns the ignition off with his free hand, and then reaches into my top, sliding his fingers down my breast.  Little shivers overtake me in the warm air. 

“Mmm,” James murmurs.  He moves my hand to his pants, where I observe a fairly good imitation of a stick shift going into overdrive.  I keep kissing him, and I am both excited and a little bit scared.  How far am I willing to go?

James must have read my mind, because he is apparently contemplating the same question.  An accommodating man, he has released himself into the summer night, shining pale under the streetlamps, a plant gleaming from within his dark pants. 

I want to touch him, but I don’t want to frustrate him.  This is enough for me – so is it unkind to make him think that this may be just the beginning?

Ah.  The eternal dilemma.  I’m on dessert and he figures it’s only the appetizer.

I start to close my mouth and pull away, and he grips me a bit harder – and there are so many signals –

He wants me!  I love to be kissed.  Mmm… yummy. 

Don’t encourage him. 

He seems like a nice man.  How flattering that he has that nice stick shift sitting there that he put in gear just for me.  Wouldn’t it be nice to feel it?

Am I a cock tease? 

Someone has his arms around me.  Nice.  Could I be in danger? 

Will he be pissed off if I stop?  Will he think I’m a slut if I don’t? 

Will I see him again?  How much do I like him?  How much does he like me?  

I ease back into my seat.  “I should get back,” I say.

“Naw.”  He reaches over and pulls me back to him.  I’m content with the kisses, but don’t want to do more.  Why not?

Because good girls don’t do it on the first date?  Because I don’t know him well enough?  Because he’s an interesting guy, with lots of good qualities, but doesn’t ring any real physical bells.  Because it’s not that much fun to be pushed.  Because my body is loving the touching and desire, but I am nowhere close to wanting to have sex with him.

He pulls my hand toward his pants.  I’m not afraid.  I’ve touched a penis before.  But I don’t particularly want to touch his.

No doubt he’d like my mouth even better.

It’s turning into a mild tug-of-war.  What do the tiny girls do?  I’m glad I’m not in danger of being overwhelmed.  Is he going to be pissed when I end this?  Maybe I should have paid for dinner, too!

I’m thrilled to know, after all these years of feeling undesirable, that he wants me – but does he have to want me quite so completely and quite so soon?

Ah.  I’m remembering now, from way back before marriage.  Men.  Sex.  All the time.  Right away.

It scared me then.

How could I have forgotten? 

I untangle myself, and say firmly, “Take me back to my car.”  He does, but he’s clearly grumpy about it. 

And they think we tease them!  They get themselves all lathered up, and then when we won’t go all the way three hours after meeting them, they blame us for leading them on.

James drops me off at my car in the center of town, and is clearly unhappy that I didn’t invite him home – later, I would have, but at that point I was a PMV (post-marriage virgin).  A few days later, he took off for Italy.

When he came back into the country, he called and asked me to come out to his place for dinner and to spend the night.  I thought about it, said yes, and then he cancelled. 

That was the last of James.  I didn’t cry over the loss.  It was still early in the game, and I wasn’t dazzled by the high lucre factor.  I’d had that in spades with Mr. Ex.  Money can’t buy everything, and it certainly can’t buy happiness.



Things I learned from Stick Shift

The Goods 

Educated, intelligent, international.  Starting a new life.  Not old in attitude.  Ambitious.  Well-launched, grown up kids.  Porsche with healthy stick shift!

The Bads

Big ass.  Two time marriage failure.  Had all the right stuff but not strong chemistry.  Didn’t seem to like me all that much… or maybe he was just pissed because I wouldn’t put out after dinner.

What I learned about myself 

Appreciate a nice meal.  Don’t pay for them if they don’t expect it.  Stick to your guns (and take your hand off his stick shift) if you don’t want to go there. 

I’m attractive and desirable and lots of classy men would feel lucky to date me.  But this was a lesson that would take me a long time to believe. 

Later sightings

About six months later, when I was thinking of going to Italy to take a summer language course, I called him and asked which one he took.  He said he was in the middle of traffic, and it wasn’t a good time.

I’m sure he had his hand on that stick shift.



  1. oh my!!! that stick shift!!! and um… did i mention it before… i can understand what your husband likes about Big Forks. i’m a Big Fork girl myself ;).

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