He strode quickly through the room, late, he thought, for the card game at his friends’ house. He nodded without speaking to the woman sitting alone in the corner. She was not young, and certainly not beautiful. He’d met her at the house on other weekends, when she visited from Brooklyn. But she never hovered near the card table or bocce court, never joined the beach outings, and never ever smiled at him when he entered.
An enigma, yes, but an unnecessary one: He could be very selective with the women he chose to acknowledge.
Tom and Querina sat alone in the back room watching TV. There was no card game and no cluster of friends. Dismayed, he weighed his options. It was too early to go home, but too late to look elsewhere. He glanced at the woman again. Engrossed in Time magazine, she didn’t look up. Now he wondered, had she looked up when he arrived?
He walked over to her and introduced himself. “I’m Sam.” She pulled her eyes away from the magazine. “I know who you are,” she said, and returned to her article. He decided to persist. “You’re Emilia, Querina’s niece, right?” “Hmm hmm,” she responded, this time not looking up.
He rarely had to work this hard for a woman’s attention. At 41, he was still very handsome, his allure enriched, his girlfriends said, by his sportswriter mystique and his tales of kamikazes from a dozen years before.
He savored his reputation as the Shore’s most eligible bachelor. Tonight, at least, his bachelor status was not at risk.
“Would you like to play a game of Scrabble with me?” he asked. She gazed blankly at him before answering, appearing to resent the interruption. “I suppose so,” she finally replied.
They walked over to the card table and set up the game. With dispatch, she defeated him. Once, and again. Then she excused herself and retired to bed.
Stunned, he said goodnight to Tom and Querina and went home.
He saw her again the following morning at the Asbury Park station. Like him, she awaited a train to New York City. She nodded an unsmiling greeting. When the train arrived, she boarded ahead of him. She was already engrossed in the New York Times by the time he reached her seat. He wrote for the New York Herald-Tribune but was willing to overlook the slight.
“May I join you?” he asked. “Suit yourself,” she said, and folded the paper to the National League standings. He knew she was a fashion designer and expressed his surprise: “Do you like baseball?” he asked. “I’m a Yankee fan.”
“Well,” she huffed, “I certainly am not. I still like the Dodgers despite that traitor O’Malley.” But she smiled a little and allowed him to ask about the Sunday games.
By Matawan, they exchanged views on all the major sports and a few of the minor ones. By Perth Amboy, she allowed her pleasure to soften her features. By Newark, she agreed to join him that evening to watch boxing at Madison Square Garden. And by New Year’s Eve, they were engaged to be married, which they achieved about a month later.
For 48 years, the sportswriter and the fashion designer, each past marrying age, created a partnership sparkling with intelligence, respect and love. Yes, there were shadows and squabbles. But they enjoyed so much else: traveling, discussing current events, watching baseball and raising us, their two daughters. And, oh, they still played Scrabble sometimes; and, yes, she still beat him more often than not.