Leonard Silverman played a cello on a street corner near the restaurant where Beverly worked when she was sixteen. She wore make-up, curled her hair before each shift and used every ounce of learned charm when she worked because she was working for tips.
It was a terrible way to make money.
Beverly did her best to be pleasant but she was soon known for her temper. Men were forever trying to touch her as she worked and seemed amused by her angry responses. She quickly realized an imperious stare could not permeate a drunken mind, she needed to be more direct. Generally, a drink in the face did the job. It was a traditional hazing to encourage newcomers to the bar to make a pass at Beverly.
It became something of a performance. A man would pinch her backside, she'd hurl a drink and the crowd would utterly fail to yell, "Drinks are on you" in unison. At first she found the process demeaning, then she noticed the increase in her tips. She began to exaggerate her reactions and make a spectacle of each incident. In The Big Easy, there were and are worse ways for a young woman to make money and Ivy League schools are expensive.
The first time Leonard Silverman came into her bar, he warned her that men were encouraging him to 'get fresh' with her. Beverly was immediately charmed by his hard Yankee accent, kind eyes and apparent lack of interest in 'getting fresh' with her. She had met several homosexuals in the world of beauty pageants but a gay man from the North seemed to her to be the epitome of urbanity and sophistication.
She never got to know the man very well. Either she was working in the bar or he was playing on the street corner when they crossed paths but for two years, they exchanged pleasantries. She once asked why he chose to play the most cumbersome instrument possible on a street corner. He said it was about 'style'.
He asked why she worked in a bar when she hated being around loud drunkards. Beverly had spent her life surrounded by loud drunkards and she's never considered it optional until Leonard asked the question.
She never knew much about his personal life other than he was in his early twenties, he'd been on his own since his parents kicked him out of the house at sixteen and he came from New York. He was in New Orleans to learn how to be a 'real musician'.
Occasionally, he would ask why she didn't have a beau, and if it was just the two of them, she'd ask him the same question. While Beverly made a point to remain single, Leonard had a series of romances. Beverly felt very sophisticated standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette and asking Leonard about his lovers. Finding out he was Jewish as well was the icing on the cake.
Days would go by when she wouldn't see Leonard at all but when he had been gone for a full week, she started asking around. There were two rumors. Some people said he'd gotten the beating of a life time after getting caught in flagrante with another man in the backroom of a nightclub and had returned to New York City. The other rumor was much worse. Beverly chose to believe Leonard was still alive and well and playing his cello. She never tried to look him up.
The incident left Beverly enchanted with the North and confirmed her long held belief that she was safer alone. Leonard went through life looking for the best in people but most people are, at best, neutral.
Beverly agrees to give a lecture series at the University of California's San Francisco campus but she does not call Julian. She does work in a layover at LAX and Leonard meets her for a meal at the airport. For the first time in years, he seems to want her advice. Beverly feels like she's taking her MCATS again.
"She hasn't told her parents she's dating me, yet. She's worried that they won't take it well because they're very traditional and I'm..." Leonard waved his fork in the air as he searches for a word, "white."
"She's actually gone to a great deal of effort to keep me a secret. She's lying to her parents, she let Sheldon blackmail me into a new roommate agreement..." the regret registered on Leonard's face even before he trailed off.
Some sons would be grateful to have a mother with Beverly's insight into human behavior.
"It sounds as though she's 'hedging her bets' by maintaining the status quo with her parents until she's determined the viability of her relationship with you."
"I guess that doesn't sound so bad," Leonard looks unconvinced but Beverly can see how hard he is trying to make himself believe her words, "I guess that's normal. There's nothing to be concerned about."
"Why are you concerned?"
"I think she's ashamed of me. I think if I made more money and if I had my own place and a better car..."
Beverly knows she needs to tread lightly. This was a potential watershed moment in her relationship with Leonard.
"Have you expressed these thoughts to Priya?"
"I'll take that as a no. If you are serious about this relationship, you should be straight forward with your partner and ask the same of her. If she has reservations about your career track, the two of you need to evaluate your priorities as individuals and as a couple."
Leonard is nodding and agreeing with her logical statements but she can see in his eyes that he has no intention of following her advice.
"Leonard, in a worst case scenario, what will happen if you are open and honest with Priya?"
"She'll dump me."
"And if you continue to bottle up your feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity?"
"She'll take longer to dump me?"
Beverly chased away thoughts of Edwin, she was in full therapist mode.
"It sounds like Priya isn't the only one hedging bets."
Leonard plays with his food for a while and Beverly fights the urge to fill the air around them with words.
"Maybe..." Leonard doesn't look up from his plate, "I just don't want to be alone."
"You're thirty years old, Leonard."
"You were married with a baby by my age."
"And I had just finished my residency. I took time away from my schooling to start a family. You're already well-established in your field. The current social norms allow for an extended adolescence that would have been frowned on when I was in school. More and more women are opting to have children later in life, after establishing their careers and, as a man, you have even less reason to rush into marriage as your fertility will..."
"I don't want to talk about my fertility," Leonard's face is pained. He is the embodiment of this century's man-child.
"As you get older, you will become more established in your career and in your finances and as the age gap between you and the university grad students increases, you will become exponentially more in demand as a potential mate. It is a distinct advantage to be a man when it comes to ageing."
A look of guilt flitters across her son's face and Beverly suddenly feels self-conscious and irritated. She spent years fighting against her youth and beauty to be taken seriously and perhaps the result is a certain severity. She is at the top of her profession, internationally renowned, she has raised three brilliant and successful children and yet she is an object of pity because she is an ageing beauty. Somehow she has become her mother right down to flirting with men half her age. The passage of time is cruel and unrelenting.
"You could try making yourself less vulnerable to women," Beverly suggests, adjusting her glasses, "Be less accessible. There's no shortage of women with father issues and these women are far more inclined to pursue a man who seems impossible to please."
"And then what? I just keep pretending to be this other guy for the rest of my life?"
"Of course. Once a woman is able to satiate her need to win your approval, she may want to move on."
Leonard mulls over the idea, "I don't know if I can do that. I'm not very good at pretending to be something I'm not. The real me always comes oozing out."
"Then you might want to consider the alternative."
"Continue to be yourself and hope that someday, someone will love and appreciate you just as you are."
Leonard appears to mull the idea over.
"Mother, when you and father got married... were you..." Leonard waves at the air like he's hoping the right word will appear, "were you in love? Did you love him or was it just a practical decision?"
"I love your father very much and I always have. You look surprised. We were married for four decades."
"No, I'm not surprised... okay, I'm surprised. I'm surprised to hear you talk about romantic love. I thought you were too finely tuned an intellect for love."
"Of course, I feel love," her tone is harsher than she'd intended, "I'm not a romantic but I feel love."
She loves her bastard husband, her ungrateful children, her tart mother, and her drunken dead brother and father. She's full of love for people who can't or won't love her back.
"I guess I just don't think of you that way."
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
"And now you're quoting Whitman?" Leonard's face is one of exaggerated surprise, "Who are you, Mother?"
It's a rhetorical question, of course, but one that Beverly has been asking herself for the past year and a half.
"Have you spoken to your father?"
"Yeah, he was just full of helpful advice," Leonard responds with sarcasm but it lacks bitterness. Beverly believes it is a good sign.
"What did you discuss?"
"He has some job leads for me so I can start making 'real money' and then I'll be able to settle down."
"Your father has changed over the years in response to the responsibilities of parenthood. His intentions are good."
Leonard smiles, "He's still a cheating bastard. I kind of got the feeling he's desperate to win you back. Does he have a chance?"
"Is your father aware of your insecurity with regards to your current relationship?"
Leonard looks ready to argue against the change in topic but ultimately shrugs it off.
"Once I started talking about Priya, he was off on a tangent. He made a big deal about how I needed to be able to afford a nanny and I couldn't expect Priya to be a super woman because even the strongest person is only human..." Leonard frowned and leaned forward as though to tell a secret, "I never realized he blames himself for the whole medicine cabinet incident. He's never mentioned it to me before but he was pretty upset."
Beverly's throat closes and her voice cracks as she says, "Elaborate."
"He said it was his fault that I almost died because he left everything up to you and he was too selfish to be a father and then he got a bit hard to follow."
"And what was your response?"
Leonard raised his eyebrows thoughtfully, "I told him he was being crazy. Kids do stupid things. You are the smartest person I know and even you didn't think I'd be able to climb that high and uncap all those bottles. How could he have anticipated any of that? I don't think it made any difference to him, though. He's decided to blame himself and that's that."
Edwin had never breathed a word of this to Beverly. She feels a sudden and powerful connection to her former husband. Even as Leonard casually discusses the incident, she can't help believing that deep down, her son blames her for her neglect. Logic has no place in guilt.
She considers asking Leonard directly if he resents Beverly for her lax parenting but she holds her tongue. There's nothing he could say that would assuage her guilt but there is plenty he could say that would break her heart.
During her cab ride back to the hotel, she wonders what path Leonard will choose. Will he try to maintain his relationship with Priya? Will he retreat to the comparative safety of Penny? She had encountered Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler at a recent conference and had been assured Penny was "still mooning hopelessly over Leonard". Men are always so much more attractive when they are unavailable.
Surely he won't risk being alone.
Not that he'd ever really be alone, he already has his sexless pseudo-marriage to Sheldon. She sometimes wonders what will happen to Sheldon when Leonard finally pins down 'Ms. Right'. Where will Sheldon find another person so willing to bend to his will? Her sympathy for Sheldon is, of course, sympathy for herself. There are people in the world who, through some failing in their genetics or upbringing, are not enticing targets for romantic love. Why should someone like Sheldon have to spend the rest of his life alone simply because he does not want to be touched?
She's so willing to offer up her middle child to any sad sack that reminds her of herself. Cassandra was too practical and Michael, too self-centered, to be potential mates for the world's outcasts but Leonard washed his feet before taking a shower in his own apartment simply because it helped his roommate feel one iota less anxious.
Edwin and Julian have both left several voicemails that she has failed to return. When she returns to her hotel room after lunch with Leonard, she calls Edwin.
They make plans to have dinner the following week when she returns to New Jersey. For the first time since the divorce, she feels ready to ask questions.
She then calls Julian and agrees to dinner but refuses his offer of a spare bedroom. She'd rather waste money on an unused hotel room than find herself trapped with a potential suitor.
The last time Beverly allowed herself to be wooed, she had been in her early twenties. Now she's about to turn sixty-four. On one hand, she feels silly getting involved with a younger man at her age.
On the other hand, the advice she gave Leonard was sound. Perhaps nothing will come of her relationship with Julian but if there is a chance to feel truly loved and appreciated, she owes it to herself to give it a try.