Julie looked me right in the eyes. She wasn't accusing me. She didn't seem sad or happy or—or anything. There was just that straight forward look of intelligence, and understanding, of trust and vulnerability that I fell for the first time I saw her.
I struggled on.
"You remember that virus I told you about once, when we were sitting around telling stories? Well, I think I know what that virus really is."
I became aware of the crowd around us, listening to all this, and I turned to them again.
"This has got to seem very strange to you people. I want you to know that I understand that."
They continued to stare, their mouths hanging open.
I met Julie's eyes again.
"Somewhere," I said, "a long way back, one of us wasn't able to live out a dream."
* * * * *
Al tapped his fingers on the steering wheel while Jonesy talked to the valet. He wondered how long this was going to take. He didn't mind sitting around, but Jonesy had turned the radio off.
Al liked to listen to music while he waited.
After a while Jonesy stuck his head in the window.
"Pull it up ahead and park it, Al. This may take a while."
At least it was something to do.
* * * * *
I held Julie's eyes with mine, willing her to understand.
"One of us," I said, "wasn't able to live out his dream—or maybe her dream. And I think this person wanted this dream so badly that he—or she—asked his children to live it for him.
I was pretty sure she followed me. I shifted the tray of hors d'oeuvres from one hand to the other, to take some of the strain off my leg.
"Oh, I don't think he asked them in so many words. He probably never said a thing about it—maybe not even to himself. But they knew what he wanted, even if they couldn't say it either, and I think that they loved him so much that they tried to do it—they tried to live his dream for him, just like I did with Charlie."
I glanced around at the guests again. They needed a little more explanation.
"I was raised," I told them, "by a wonderful old codger, and I would have done just about anything he asked me to."
I turned back to Julie.
"But it was Charlie's dream, Julie, and no matter how much I wanted to, or how much I tried to, I couldn't make it mine. That's what Charlie never understood."