I was sitting at my office desk staring at my November day planner when I made what seemed like an innocuous decision – I would invite my recently reconnected friend Rex to the Justice for Murder Victim’s dinner dance in San Francisco.  It was less than two weeks away.   I reached for the telephone and paused as a pang of guilt reminded me that I didn’t like it when people changed plans on me at the last minute and inviting Rex meant putting my mother off after she had been my date for the charity affair the last several years. She won’t mind, I rationalized.  She’ll be happy that I will have someone to whisk me around the dance floor.

My hand grasped the receiver and I shuddered.  A sense of impending doom enveloped me.  Before the receiver reached my ear I dropped it back into its cradle as a paralyzing déjàvu washed over me like a ghost from the past, taunting me with memories best left undisturbed.  Was I reacting as I once did?  Without abandon?  Could I make the same mistake twice?  At least I had learned one lesson  – I didn’t trust my decision to extend the invitation without bouncing the idea off of a neutral party. I grabbed the receiver and quickly punched Pam’s number.

“My plan feels too close to how I got started with John,” I fretted.  My stomach knotted at the memory.

“This is different,” Pam counseled.  “Didn’t you have a good time at the lunch I arranged a couple of weeks ago?”

“Yes,” I conceded, “it was fun reconnecting with him at the Potato Barge.”

“You’ve known Rex since nineteen sixty-nine, even if you hadn’t seen him for eight years before the lunch.  You know his history and he’s already a good friend.  You can trust him.”

We discussed my feelings of impending doom and in the end I had to agree with her that I could trust Rex.  I knew his background.  As former co-workers, we had learned a lot about each other during the six years we tested production samples in the analytical lab at the Excelsior Chemical plant in Martinez, California.   Rex, a chemist, transferred from the mid-west in 1969. He specialized in the emerging technology of gas chromatography, and Pam and I occasionally worked directly with him when we rotated into his area as lab assistants.  We lost contact when he transferred to another company.

“You’re right,” I said.  “Rex is a kind man without hidden agendas.”

I thanked Pam for her friendship and closed by saying she had helped bolster my resolve to ask Rex to the dinner dance.  I barely returned the receiver to its cradle when the phone jangled with a double ring indicating an outside call, startling me into a nervous jump.  I laughed.  Another one of my mother’s endearing traits that she passed along to me, I thought.

My reverie was short lived.   The call was from my divorce attorney who let me know my now ex-husband had just thrown another monkey wrench into what I thought was a final property settlement. My shoulders tightened.  I slammed the receiver down and took a brisk walk to regain my composure.  Later that afternoon I called Rex. He gladly accepted my invitation and, because of logistics, we decided that I would drive.  This is just a date with a friend, I thought to myself as I hung up the phone.  Then I called my Mom.

On a brisk, clear Sunday evening Rex escorted me to the flowing staircase in Gabbiano’s, an upscale restaurant tucked between the San Francisco Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge.  Rex looked dapper in his dark suit that complimented my one-piece black velvet and crepe jump suit.  I grabbed my point-and-shoot camera from my purse and solicited a passing waiter to snap a picture of us before we climbed the stairs to the dining room overlooking the warmly lit Bay Bridge and twinkling city skyline.  We mingled with the guests – all advocates for victim justice – and I proudly introduced Rex as an old friend.  Later he shared that it felt strange to be in a group where murder had touched everyone’s lives.

Outside on the deck near the shimmering water, over dinner with flickering candlelight, waltzing around the shiny dance floor, sipping mellow Napa Valley cabernet, we rediscovered our common interests.  We laughed at lab episodes from the past, like passing Rex around to the ladies in the darkroom at the annual Christmas party or him watching me as I cleaned the inside of the fume hoods wearing a short skirt.  He was there when I took my two younger sisters skiing, gladly escorting us to the company ski cabin because his wife and my first husband didn’t want to have anything to do with swooshing down slippery slopes. It was all in good fun.  At that time were both married to others and had no designs on crossing the other person’s boundaries.

The Ferry Building’s ornate clock tower chimed eleven p.m. – not quite the midnight from Cinderella fame but time to head for home nonetheless.  I selfishly didn’t want the evening to end.  I had rediscovered an admirable friend, someone I could talk with freely, and someone with whom I shared a past – a respectable past without any secrets.  As I pulled onto the lower deck of the Bay Bridge I remembered another night – my university graduation night – when the fog was held at bay outside the Golden Gate Bridge and bright stars illuminated the dark sky.

“There’s a great view of the city from Treasure Island,” I said.  “The night’s so clear.  Would you like to stop for a few minutes?”

“Just a few,” he laughed.  “I have to get up at three thirty in the morning to get ready for work.”

I parked the car in the visitor’s lot outside the main gate.  We got out, climbed onto two rocks and sat next to each other, savoring the sparkling lights of the city spread before us from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, like a scrumptious dessert.

“It’s a great shot,” Rex said, breaking the silence.  “Too bad we don’t have our thirty-five millimeter SLR cameras with us.”

I loved that he shared my interest in photography beyond the popular point-and-shoot cameras.  “We’ll have to plan better next time,” I laughed.  “And bring warmer coats.”

I hugged my arms and rubbed them to generate some warmth.  I couldn’t help but feel like we were two awkward teenagers on a first date at the movies.  We shifted a little closer together.  Our shoulders touched.  Then slowly, and gently, Rex wrapped his arm around my shoulders and I snuggled into his embrace.  We sat tranquil for a few moments.  It felt good to be able to trust a man again.

“I almost didn’t ask you to come tonight,” I whispered.  “The scenario reminded me too much of how I started dating John.”

Rex didn’t answer, but I could feel his sympathy as he squeezed me a little tighter.  In the warmth of his embrace, I was drawn back to another time and another place, the most dangerous in my life, when misplaced trust had escalated into a nightmare and almost took my life.  Of course, I didn’t imagine any such thing at the time.  Back then, it had started just like this, on what should have been nothing more than a carefree date arranged by a friend….

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