"Roses, that's right."
"In the kitchen window, in three vases."
"He did that for you, too? So predictable."
"I'm telling you. To think I fell for it."
"What about the notes inside your pillow?"
"Oh, every night, that itching at my neck, then he'd grin, and he must have had 600 ways of saying I love you."
"So he definitely told you he loved you."
"From day one. He said it, he sang it, he even got up before dawn on our trip to Tortola—anyway he wrote it in the sand. In the morning when we took our walk, we went half a mile down the beach and there it was, as if it was all a part of nature."
"As if the sea had written it. He did the same thing with me in the Greek Isles, only he wrote it in gravel."
"No question. You think he got that without long practice? He drew a bath for me every night."
"He gave me a massage."
"With me he was always in the mood."
"Always. But only when I was in the mood, you know? Like he could read my thoughts."
"He spent fourteen months sensing mine. I told him, I'm not stupid, I can see right through you."
"Eighteen months for me. He even bought me a ring."
"Don't tell me. A big sapphire with two diamond baguettes."
"No, he knew I never liked colored stones. Diamond, the emerald cut. You know those have to be flawless. Without facets you can see everything."
"And when you broke up with him, he let you keep it."
"He begged me to keep it. I tried to return it, but he said a woman like me can never have too much jewelry. What a line."
"'Beauty inside, beauty outside,' he told me. Oh, the way he slid his fingers along my upper arm. It still gives me shivers."
"This is too much. To think I fell for it all."
"No more than I did. He had a way, and he knew it and he used it. But I found one of his old love letters. Same words, yet he always told me I was the only one."
"And when you left him he took up with me, who he also said that same thing to."
"He promised me he would go through snow, sleet, fire, like he was the mail man."
"He said he'd claw through earth with his bare hands."
"That's what he said—gawd it's so embarrassing to say it all now—he told me he'd kill or die or steal or sell his soul for me, but no matter what, every night of my life I would close my eyes on him and open them to find his eyes looking back at me with love."
"With eternal love."
"Right! What lines he used. And then what happened after you left him?"
"You mean what poor sucker took up with him next? It was a little architect about five foot nothing. Perky enough to make you vomit."
"So how long did he last with her before she saw him for what he was?"
"She never had the chance. Some cancer killed her off. From what I saw, it couldn't have been breast cancer."
"So that's perfect. Cancer. The drama. I'll bet he made a big show."
"He had everyone in the hospital wearing ribbons with her name on them. He filled the room with balloons and gourmet meals he cooked himself in the hospital kitchen—when she could keep them down—that's the kind of guy he was, he could sweet talk anyone—and roses."
"Of course, roses."
"He paid some guitarist to accompany him, and he sang her to sleep every night."
"Okay, that's enough. I'm sick to my stomach. How far can this guy go? It's like he'll never get it. But what about her? She never saw through him like the rest of us?"
"Apparently not. And in the last month of her life, when all hope was lost, they stopped the treatments and he took her to Japan, where she had always wanted to go. She loved the gardens. He filled his whole house with the pictures he took, to where she thought it was a dream. That's where she died, in the house surrounded by those pictures."
"Unbelievable. I guess there's someone for everyone."
"You haven't heard the best part. She died in the summer. Last summer. Hot. He slept on her grave for three weeks. He only stopped because of a lightning storm. Apparently it burned up the roses he had brought with him."
"The lightning burned them up?"
"The roses got struck by lightning. He said it missed him and hit the monument he had placed them on. Which he took as a sign that he should sleep in his own bed again and cherish her memory there."
"Do you believe a word of that? I bet he went there once and a little wind blew and he ran off. What do you think?"
"I wouldn't doubt it really happened. It's so him. She loved him, poor thing, so he had to put on a good show. What better way than sleeping on her grave and getting struck by lightning? Or almost getting struck."
"If only we could have warned her."
"If only we could have told her."
"He says he'll never love again, but of course—"
"Of course. And was that the last thing he said?"
"Well, there we were at Bucks—"
"Bucks. He always did love to throw it around."
"Oh, he can spend it. You don't know the half. He remembered my champagne, brought me a pink rose, but it wasn't the money so much. He took both my hands in his."
"I've been there."
"We all have, and he looked into my eyes, and what he told me was good, really good. I mean if I didn't know—"
"If we both didn't know better."
"He told me how lucky he had been in love. In his loneliest moments, how he savored the days he spent with such amazing women, such fascinating and intoxicating women, how he wished it had worked out with each one of us, how he cherished us."
"Oh, load it on."
"Absolutely, and that was it. He took his flowers and left."
"He took your rose?"
"Not the pink one, he took the bouquet for the gravestone. It had sat on the table the whole time."
"Oh, like he was reminding you—"
"He was telling me he was loyal to her. He didn't sleep there anymore, but he still took her roses."
"Oh, can you imagine?"
"Like he might someday try to get back with me, and if he did—"
"He would bring you roses."
"Exactly. And I almost felt myself believing him."
"I almost don't see why you didn't. Can you believe we both fell for him?"
"Can you believe it? Listen, am I getting this? Because I have to run."
She stood up, but the other one caught hold of the check and slid it toward herself, saying, "I will. It's been more than fun. A real eye-opener, what I almost stumbled into."
"Thank god we—"
"You too. Let's not lose touch."
"It's too easy."
"Too busy. Life."
Half an hour later, she stood outside his condo and knocked on his door. She checked herself in the reflection in the glass. Still good-looking, no one could deny that. A dog barked. Was it his old beagle? She heard a whine, a scratching of claws. A large animal brushing against the door. A lab maybe?
There was a doorbell. What an idiot she was. Should she ring? She looked around. With her finger poised above the button, she heard a car pull up nearby, saw the car door open, noticed a blond stepping out. The shock of recognition. Her friend from lunch. Had she raced over here? She was safe for a moment longer because the topiary screened her, but now her friend was coming along the sidewalk.
What to do?
She punched the button three times and hopped over the side railing, going around the side of the house. She could wait half an hour and work her way back to the street, but no, her friend had seen her and started a wave, then stilled her hand and dropped it back to her side with a frightened frown. Oh my god, she was caught. They were both caught.
The two of them looked at each other, then hustled each to her own car.
The front door opened just as their car doors closed. A man leaned out, one hand on the large dog's head. He looked puzzled and sad, but happy at the same time, as if he had been thinking about someone he loved deeply, about seeing her in the next life, about loving her all over again.