It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, one of the very few rainy days Los Angeles residents see in a year, when George would first meet both Richard and Beth.
"Beth, now I was hoping you'd be coming in his way, I got a problem I need your help with," her favorite security guard was telling her as she arrived at the library that morning.
"Oh, hi Franklin. Did you run out of cigarettes? I can loan you a pack for the day, I have 2 in my purse."
"No not today, I'm getting them by the carton at that Armenian place across the street now. But I know you good with cats and there's a baby one stuck under the building, near the planter out front. I saw it this morning, and I was fussing with him for a while trying to get ahold of him but then I had to punch in my time card. Can you ask Lorraine," that was Beth's supervisor, a casual sort of woman likely to allow any request from Beth, "if you can go look for the kitten? I been feeling bad for it since I seen it, it looked so little and skinny. I know you like the rain, but I got an umbrella you can take out there with you."
Flattered to be considered in any respect helpful, Beth replied that she didn't need to check in with Lorraine first, then asked him to describe which drainage hole the kitten was crouched in, and, stashing her huge overstuffed purse with Frankin (in fact, her purse was a shoulder bag designed to serve as carry-on luggage for plane trips), she went out front and began walking gingerly between the bougainvillea bushes in the planter, stooped over, looking into the drainage holes unevenly installed along the building's perimeter. She was planning to rescue the kitten and take it home with her. She wouldn't be able to bring it on the bus with her, even if she carried it on hidden in a file box, so she would ask Lorraine to give her a ride home at the end of the day, and meanwhile it would make the whole long day at work bearable, the covertness of having an animal where no animals are allowed. But she found no kitten. And then a man standing at the bus stop, an old man (he would prove to be just old-looking -- he was only 45 the day he met Beth) with shoulder-length white hair sparse on top and a stooped stance, noticed her, and after some visible consideration, he walked over to where Beth was crouched and making kissing noises and cooing to the unseen kitten, "Here sweetie-sweetie, here baby."
"Excuse me," the man said, bending over the drainage hole she was poised next to, "are you looking for your cat?" He had a pair of headphones resting around his neck, and he kept the Walkman they were connected to in the pocket of the rain-soaked cardigan he wore; as he was bending down to Beth's level, the Walkman slid out of his pocket and swung into her face. He was mortified. When he'd first glimpsed her crouched figure, his admiration had been instantaneous and complete. Forever. And now he'd injured her, and of all places to injure her, he'd injured her face, the most important part of a body, in a way.
Only, she didn't have many opportunities to forgive people, and it is a luxury, to be able to relieve someone from worry like that, so before he could even apologize, she said, "It's okay, it didn't hurt." At this gesture of kindness, he felt a rush of comfort akin to drifting to sleep. "I think it might make a little bruise on your nose," he said, and it would, a little bruise on the bridge of her nose where one doesn't usually see a bruise, and it looked like a smudge of newsprint.
"Well," she continued, "you must be a cat person too, to miss your bus helping me look for a cat."
"Oh yes, I am. My journal entries end up being about things my cats did that day, more often then not. I have three of them right now."
From a different man, she might have assumed this admission to be untrue and a ploy to create a feeling of trust, and might have seized on his words critically, might've said, "Jesus, that sounds pretty pathetic." But she sensed this was a man to be protected from the brusque mockery most people are inclined towards, regarding loving domestic animals, regarding keeping a journal, even regarding taking the bus in Los Angeles, instead of figuring out a way to buy a car, as though a car were a more important purchase than a home.
Throughout the years, she would take him for granted, and take her anger and disappointment out on him, often, but she would never mock his interests or his gentility.
"I don't know if the kitty is here anymore, and if she is, she probably won't come out now that it's raining harder. They hate the rain unless they're inside watching it, don't you think so?" she said, and, slowly rising, already sore in her joints from sitting still and slouched so many hours of the day, she wiped the mud from her hands onto her skirt and told him, "I have to get back to work, but visit me sometime if you want to, I work on the Sociology floor. I shelve books so sometimes I'm in the storage room, but you can ask for me if you stop by, and I can take a break. I'm Beth." It felt new and empowering for her, to be so assured of this man's esteem for her. She could tell from speaking with him that he was basically asexual, and timid, that he was unused to youth, and women. True. Beth, and later her daughter Molly, were the only two women he would ever feel comfortable with.
While he felt uncomfortable in the presence of women, he was decidedly disinterested in the company of most men; he only liked the men who came into his bookstore, because they liked to talk about the same things as him, and they appreciated his domain. But inclinations such as this are seldom ironclad, and when he got back to the bus bench, he saw another man waiting for the bus who immediately caught his attention, really because of how obviously cheap was the quality of the man's three piece suit, the dress shirt he wore, and his shoes. It was endearing. This was made more so because of the awkward look of the fashionably droopy mustache on this man's boyish face, the thick lenses of his eyeglasses, and the strange lavender color of the man's umbrella (George would find out later on that the umbrella had been lent to him by a solicitous secretary with a crush on the man). Though sloppy, his face reminded George, in the quality of its handsomeness, of one of the few actors George knew the name of, Richard Gere. Coincidentally, the man's name was Richard. George found this out by the time they were sitting next to each other on the bus. "Did she tell you what she was looking for? I was curious, she was crawling around in the mud so intently!" were the first words Richard said to George.
Richard could be short-tempered at times. He could be too silly sometimes (in the opinion of the women who were attracted to him), making puns that required several tenuous and obscure connections of language and facts to understand. He cried easily at sad parts in movies and books. He was overly concerned with people's impressions of him. He was compelled to try to make people like him, which was why it was his habit to say funny things on elevators to strangers before the silence got a chance to settle, or to talk to other people at the bus stop when he'd walked from his downtown office to Chinatown for lunch and would take the bus back to the law firm, where he worked primarily on child custody cases. It was not until he asked the stranger sitting next to him about the woman who'd been crawling around in the library's planter that Richard developed a genuine interest in the woman, and this was possibly the effect of seeing how taken George was with her. His interest in Beth became instantly genuine, though. Just because he needed this extra moment to see Beth through George's eyes does not mean the interest was not genuine.
"She was looking for a stray cat. My tape player fell out of my pocket and hit her in the face."
"I know," George chuckled. "But she said she was okay."
While he was watching her and George look for the cat, Richard had noticed the employee badge hanging around Beth's neck, and he assumed she worked at the library. After having a dream where he was confused about the neighborhood he was living in (it was a wholly unfamiliar place peopled with vague-faced strangers), in which she appeared as the neighborhood's only responsive, sympathetic resident, he went into the library and walked thoroughly around each floor until he found her. Three years later, I was born. This is my first try at telling our story, and I hope I'm doing okay. None of the story, the bad or good events, or coincidences, have been exaggerated, it all happened, but of course I've had to guess at what some of us were thinking or feeling when these things happened.
George went back to the library to find Beth the day after their first meeting, and the two of them had a long conversation about their mutual interest in British culture (Beth was wearing a button of the Union Jack pinned to her vest), but the conversation made him feel anxious and disappointed whenever he replayed it in his head later that day, because he'd felt he hadn't expressed himself well, the words had hurried out of his mouth so quickly, he'd criticized films he secretly unequivocally loved, and he poke vaguely about some topics in which he was an expert.
He didn't go back to see her after that. That is, until he became friends with Richard, who began stopping by George's used bookstore after the second time they spoke at the bus stop. By then, Richard had held Beth, and made love to her, and watched her, enraptured, as she took a bath in the tub he'd never used before, even though he always meant to.