The first thing C.K. Dexter Haven saw of Tracy Lord was a pair of long, gangly legs dangling bare-footed out of a tree. The tree belonged to Philip Masterson, a school friend of Dexter’s, but the legs most certainly belonged neither to Philip nor to his younger sister Laura, who was more on the short, plump side, and Dext was immediately intrigued.
Stockings and shoes were in a heap in the grass, and a second glance revealed the owner of the legs to be a red-headed girl with her freckled nose buried in a book, her skirt hiked up quite scandalously because she was sitting astride a thick branch. Dext grinned, thoroughly charmed, and called up: “Is the book any good?”
The girl yelped in surprise but quickly recovered, replying with a little laugh, as if there was nothing unusual about her position: “As a matter of fact it’s excellent. Just don’t tell Mr. Masterson, I rather think that cupboard was supposed to be locked.”
The book turned out to be D.H. Lawrence’s scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the meeting the beginning of a whole new phase in Dexter’s life. Very soon it seemed to him that he’d known Tracy Lord all his life, so right did her presence feel, her sparkling wit, her beautiful eyes. Later he figured he was in love with her even back then, when she was all knees and elbows but already the only girl Dext knew who could keep up with him, be it on horseback, in the water or discussing the latest book they’d read.
Being a teenaged boy, however, it took him a couple of years to realize it, but he did so just in time to ask Tracy to his senior prom. She looked marvelous in a long black gown that somehow made the last remnants of gawkiness disappear and turned her into a sleek, composed goddess, quite taking his breath away. He was only able to shake his sudden awe when she scolded him soundly for sneaking a drink, shutting her up mind-rant: “Red. Will you stop chattering and kiss me instead?”
She did, quite enthusiastically, and it was a method he was to use rather extensively in the years to come, when spirited discussions spiraled more often into spiteful arguments due to Tracy’s inability to consider anyone’s perspective but her own and Dext’s own increasing reliance on liquor to help him keep up the image everyone, including himself, expected him to conform to. They got married anyhow, of course.
Even when he hated her for forcing him to constantly defend what he considered a completely acceptable drinking habit, Dexter knew Tracy Lord was the only woman for him. He proposed by showing her the newly-finished True Love, and they made love on her deck that very day. Dext had had sex once before, a drunken one-night-stand during a trip to Las Vegas with some college friends, but if kissing Tracy had been a revelation, sleeping with her was a miracle.
The problem was that, when previously they had both gone home and cooled off after an argument, once they were married these cooling off periods disappeared. Instead Tracy began to freeze him out, treat him like an unruly child, which led to Dexter behaving ever more outrageously and drinking even heavier, just to spite her. Consequently their love-making became more infrequent, Tracy retreating further and further away, until Dext could no longer stand it. One night, more drunk than ever, he stumbled into what had become her room and woke her by climbing on top of her, proclaiming: “You’re my wife, Red, do your goddamn wifely duty!”
Except the alcohol had rendered him unable to perform, and instead of yelling or slapping him Tracy simply rolled him off her with a disgusted grunt. Looking down at him, she had never looked more aloof as she actually laughed at him: “I’ll do my ‘goddamn wifely duty’ when you behave like a real husband and not a drunken fool! Get out, Dext.”
He left the very next day and began what he later called “drinking for a living”, holing up on the True Love and subsisting on liquor and takeout. It was a testament to Dexter’s stubbornness that he lasted as long as he did, telling himself he was much happier now, without Tracy’s nagging or, worse, her indifference to spoil his fun. He hit rock bottom when he read about her engagement in the papers, getting drunk as he had never gotten drunk before.
After waking up in a puddle of his own vomit, dimly aware how close he had come to never waking up at all, Dext left the True Love and checked himself into a very expensive hotel. He didn’t return to the boat even after he had sobered up, but neither did he return to drinking. Never before in his privileged life had Dexter had a real need for keeping a clear head - but now he had what he considered the very best of reasons to get his act together.
She might not know it, might have forgotten it in years of arguing and drinking, but there was no one who could make Tracy Lord as happy as C.K. Dexter Haven. Now that he had found himself again, he just had to make her remember the girl she’d been. Still, he wasn’t sure how to go about it and spent his time devising scheme after scheme while traveling, seeing the world with sober eyes and even earning some money writing about it. Then he got a call from the odious Sidney Kidd, and suddenly a plan presented itself to him. It might even be fun.
But even if it wasn’t, there was no way Dexter would stand idly by while the only woman he had ever loved married someone else, someone wrong for her. He had a wife to win back and no time to lose.