Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chapter 24: Three Days Since

Reed called around nine that evening. Three days since I walked out.  By then I was back at the hotel contemplating room service. Food was beginning to sound good again, particularly in the form of chicken and pasta. I'd just placed my order, in fact, when my cell phone rang. Seeing Reed's name on the caller ID put a dent in my mood, which was finally daring to lift... but I answered he phone anyway.

"I can't believe you left me!" I had to hold the phone away from my ear. "You stupid woman! Who the hell do you think you are? You can't just walk out on me!" The tirade went on for a few moments before he realized that I wasn't responding. "Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Meredith?"

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to speak calmly. "I think that I am finally doing something I should have done long ago, Reed. That's all you need to know."

He started to yell again, calling me a multitude of names and promising a half-dozen felonies -- none of which were particularly creative and none of which I thought to be sincere. I hung up on him.

Shaking, I laid on the bed again and resumed staring at the ceiling, longing for Liam. If he were here... what? I certainly didn't want to see some sort of confrontation between the two. This wasn't some cheesy romance novel with heros and villans! Besides, Reed couldn't know about Liam anyway, not yet. No one could know! Especially not now, with Reed having called everyone with that horrible lie about me and my boss.

This was unbelievable. How did I end up here, anyway? Then again... this was a bit of an adventure, wasn't it? No one could find me, which was certainly a perk. Not even Aunt Geenie would be able to find me: I'd registered as "Kayle SanMichaels," one of the characters in the novel I was working on and I'd paid cash. Despite what bankers and credit card companies wanted us to believe, when you had enough cash you could have anything you wanted. All Geenie would be able to find out was that I withdrew a large amount of cash the night I walked out on Reed.

Room service arrived. "Put it on my bill," I said, signing the slip and marking a generous tip.

Amazing. I was hungry.

So for the rest of the evening and tomorrow, I'd relax and think some more. And when I next saw Liam at work, I'd be on balance and able to handle whatever accusations he threw at me while he tried to hide his own issues.

Then I tried to sleep. Alone. I certainly didn't miss Reed... I wanted Liam. I wanted Liam to hold me. He needed me as much as I did him. He was at his hotel, sleeping alone too. I didn't make it to work today, he'd learn that tomorrow. Did he miss me? Despite his marytered "say good-bye" speech, there's been pain in his eyes. Men. What did he expect? That this would be some walk in the park?

Sighing, I rolled onto my side, staring through the dark at the shadow of my cell phone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chapter 23: Day One

Somewhere around noon that first day in my little hotel room, the phone calls began. I hadn't counted on the depth of Reed's anger. Then again, based on experience, I hadn't no reason to.

The first call was from my sister-in-law. She attempted to shame me for running off on my boyfriend who needed a woman to guide him. She told me that it was horrible for me to just up and leave someone because of a simple argument. If she left my brother Stephen every time they argued, they never would have married. Men were like children, she lectured, they needed our guiding hands.

"Which reminds me, Meredith, how are you ever going to have children now?"

"I'll have sex," I snapped.

"Which brings me to the next issue. I hate to bring up more unpleasantness, but I simply have to. Reed told me you were having an affair with someone at work and that's the real reason you left..." There was a roaring in my ears, drowning out everything else she said.

"That poor man is beside himself with worry because he can't find you. He said you came home late a few nights and, this last time, when he confronted you about it, you admitted everything..."

A small blessing that she kept going on. I couldn't form a single word. Every precaution taken was for nothing. Reed knew. If he was calling my sister-in-law, he was calling everyone.

"Meredith, how could you? I just hope that no one hears about this. It's absolutely shameful..."

I hit the end button, wishing that I could slam the phone down instead. It would have been more satisfying.

The second phone call was my brother. He, too, launched into a tirade on my leaving a man who was so good to me and how my duty was to care for him. He tried to tear into me on the topic of an affair, but I fought back arguing that I was certainly not having an affair with anyone and that if Reed was accusing me, he had better admit to his own.

I didn't even answer the third phone call, which was from my best friend. Her husband was Reed's poker buddy, so I knew exactly where her loyalities were.

By the fourth call, another one I ignored, I turned the phone's ringer off. It was Reed himself. Foolishly, I checked the message.

"You have no right to do this! I'm calling everyone out there and telling them all about you, you bitch. Everyone's going to know about you and your boss. Deny it all you want, but no one will believe you once I'm finished! You'll be the town whore just like your mother was by next week. You think you can just take off and leave me like this? You're crazy if you think I'm going to take this without a fight! Don't think coming back to me will make it better. I don't want you back. I just want you to be miserable. I'm going to ruin your life, baby."

Shaking, I turned off the phone completely and crawled under the covers, hoping to sleep and forget the venom in Reed's voice. Surely, I told myself, he's bluffing. Too many relationships end everyday for people to worry about mine. Besides, he doesn't have any real proof. If he did, he would have used Liam's name, not the generic "boss." It had to be a shot in the dark. He was only guessing.

I rolled onto my stomach, trying to get comfortable. It was easy to push Reed from my mind, but Liam was another story.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chapter 22: Enlightened, and then some.

I didn't cry.

Not at first.  But then the dam broke, and I sat there, sobbing, unable to drive because I was nearly hysterical.  I sobbed for the better part of an hour, just sat there until every tear that could be cried was cried, until my eyes burned, and until my chest physically hurt.  That bastard!  That holier-than-thou son of a bitch!  Who was he to turn so completely?  To push me away so completely, all over...

Why would he even want me? What was I but some little girl playing make-believe? He loves to teach me, to tell me about things I don't know... and I eat it all up, take in everything, because all I fucking want is to be worth something in his eyes. If I can use the right fork or read the right books, he'll want to be with me.

When I was in sixth grade, I believed that having these shaped erasers that were all the rage would be my ticket into the cliques that otherwise ignored me. I thought that the girls would want to see the erasers and would gather around my desk... and then, somehow, out of that, friendships would grow and I wouldn't be so goddamned lonely. If I just had the right lure then I could trick people into being my friend.

In high school a guy friend remarked that his ex-girlfriend was every man's dream girl.
"What do you mean?" I asked, intrigued, remembering how he'd adored her so.
"She changes herself for every guy she dates," he told me. "She becomes what they want, and they fall in love with her."
I began to practice the art of fantasy after that. I became quite skilled at it learning how to smile just right and how to dress for them rather then for me. I practiced my walk and how to roll my hips just so with each step. Faking laughter was easy, as was looking interested.

And when they bought it and fell for me, when I had the catch I thought I wanted, I knew it had been worth it. By college it had earned me a dozen boys and their "love." I broke all of their hearts, determined to be the breaker and not the breakee. If they dumped me, after all, I failed.

It earned me an unwilling night in a boy's room, though, and the forever question as to why I didn't scream.

Remembering that, I cried even harder.  Liam knows nothing about me, but like some damned two-bit shrink, he analyzed me and told me to get out.  Who does he think he is?

Then again, wasn't I right?  He can't love someone like me.

When I got him, Reed was waiting for me. Jumping on me for being late, for the laundry, for the kitchen. He asked nothing about where I'd been or why I was upset. He didn't care... and yelled as much when I pointed out his lack of consideration.

"We agreed when we moved in together that we wouldn't play any sort of possessive game, Meredith! If you think that I'm going to start keeping track of you like some micro-managing husband, you're crazy!"

Something snapped inside me. I'd had enough. "Who the hell is she, then? What's the name of the little chippie you talk to on-line and who hangs-up every time I answer the phone? Who is she? Someone who won't ask you for anything but a good lay?" I screamed these words without bothering to worry about witnesses or repercussions. "You don't want to keep track of me - or bother with our relationship for that matter -- because that would put a kink in your own games! I'm just your maid now, someone who irons your pants but isn't worthy to get what's in them!"

Reed's face was pale, telling me that I was right. He didn't even try to defend himself. "I quit, Reed! I QUIT!" With that, I spun on my heels and marched upstairs to pack.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" He roared, tearing up the steps. "How dare you accuse me of having an affair!"

I'm still not sure what I was thinking, because I had absolutely no fear whatsoever... despite Reed's obvious advantage in size. "I'm leaving you," I answered calmly, no longer feeling the need to scream at him. "I'm tired of being nothing but someone to keep your house. I'm not interested in this life anymore. I'm not interested in being dead last to everything in your life. I want out."

"You have no right to do this," he bellowed, standing in the doorway, trying to look intimidating. I knew him too well to be worried. I also knew him well enough to know that he was indeed guilty. Where he innocent, he'd be more reasonable. As it was, he wasn't even defending himself.

"I have every right. You certainly don't want to be married. You don't even want to be committed, from what I can tell." My voice was tired, surprising even me. I'd gone on so long avoiding the truth that this whole experience was draining. "I want a relationship where I matter, Reed. Not one where I'm little more then some glorified maid."

As expected, he turned on me. "Fine. Go. I had to find someone else. You're nothing but some stone around my neck. I was getting ready to dump you anyway. I need some excitement in my bed, not some headcase like you. Hell, my mother is even telling me that you're a wreck. Go see a shrink or something, why don't you? Get some help. Maybe you'll learn how to please a man." He turned around then and stalked out, going down to his garage to do whatever he did down there.

When he walked out, I sighed in relief. Ever-predictable Reed: he'll start to fight but never bother to finish.

The rest of my immediately necessary belongings went into the overnight bag.

I left.

I picked a hotel a bit out of the way, wanting some privacy. I didn't want to run into anyone I knew.

Alone in the room, staring at the king-sized bed, I imagined that Reed was already calling his girlfriend to tell her that I was out of the way, that I had walked out on him.

Sighing, I sat on the edge of the bed. What the hell was I going to do? Sleep, preferably.

I looked at the room for the first time. Comfortable enough. A small microwave and fridge, though the thought of food made me ill right now, a television, a desk, and a single king-sized bed. All for me and me alone. The room was clean, airy. A nice little chain hotel room. Nothing else. At least no one would find me here. Anyone who wanted me would have to use my cell phone or e-mail. I'd remembered my laptop and, later, would set up shop at the desk. Right now, work now was as appealing as food.

It was another sleepless night. No surprise there.

At 3 a.m. I called the office and left a message that I wouldn't be in and needed to use a sick day. Then I hung the "do not disturb" sign on the doorknob.

Chapter 22: Why does it matter? She's not here.

When he caught my wrist and held it, his grip unforgiving iron, I knew I was dangerously close to pushing him over the edge. I glared at him defiantly for a moment, trying to hide that moment of panic... I remembered how he would complain about his girlfriend and how he'd threaten to punch her in the face, to shoot her, to strangle her. It was all, he'd later say, nothing. Just words, just anger. He'd never lay a hand on her. His tight grip, though, gave me a moment's pause.

It wasn't until he released my wrist that I was sure he wouldn't act on those threats with me. Not that he wasn't right at the end of his rope; I just knew that he wasn't about to wrap it around my neck.

He said he loved me. Loved me. But I knew, staring at him, seeing the rage in his face, that he didn't.  He cared, he wanted me, but he didn't love me.

"You don't love me, Liam," I choked, unable to really believe it. "You love the woman you know in the office." How could this be happening? All we'd done was start to joke and flirt a little a few months ago. "You love the sharp-tempered, no-nonsense Meredith that you work with. You love the woman you can teach about culture, about art and opera and all that culture that someone like me never got growing up." My eyes started to tear up, though nothing fell yet. "You love the idea of me..."

Here he was, telling me everything that I needed to hear and had longed to hear... and I was throwing it back at him, believe it or not I was becoming angrier. "In a few months you'll change your mind. When you get to know me, know my weaknesses and my temper..." Then you'll be as disinterested as Reed is now. He probably doesn't even know I'm gone tonight, I thought abruptly, bitterly. He certainly isn't worried about my being with another man. I stopped mid-remark and changed track. "You want what you can't have."

"No, no, Mer, that's not it at all." He was looking at me, cupping my face in his hands. His expression was both tender and concerned. "It's nothing like..." I thought he might kiss me and pulled away, backing up to put distance between us.  I remembered our happy hours, our conversations to work, everything had been so perfect.  But everything had been at work, in a fishbowl of 8-5 pm without the distraction of chores or bills.

"Liam, please! Listen to me!" I was becoming frantic now, feeling like I was talking to a deaf man. "You don't love me!  You love the woman who sits across from you and laughs at your jokes.  You love the woman who comes to work perfectly dressed and who never falters or fumbles."  His expression was unreadable.

"Yes, I could."

He closed in on me, matching me pace for pace until the I was against the wall and he was only a foot or two away. There wasn't an ounce of threat that I could sense, unless you count the threat of touching, of kissing again... of burying the topic with desire and pretending it didn't exist.

"Don't touch me," I begged when he reached out. If you do, I won't be able to think straight! I'll fall into your arms and let you make love to me and let you love me and let you be hurt in the end! "Let me think, please, Liam... I need to think first..."

"Leave him,"  he urged.  "Tell him... tell him about us.  Or don't.  Just tell him that you have outgrown him, that it's time for you to move on.  Isn't that the truth?  Leave him and be with me."

"Right.  And be what with you?  Your secret little mistress?  Stop it!  Liam, stop!  I can't think when you're near me or when you hold me. I don't want this to go unsettled. You're married for God's sake!"

He looked at me then, a funny little smile on his face.  "Why does that matter, Mer?  It's not like she's here."  And he kept talking, going on about how I didn't love him but loved who I was... he was turning everything against me.  It was my fault, all my fault... blindly, I lashed out, slapping him across the face, then running, slamming the door behind me...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chapter 21: And Liam wrote...

I don’t know what possessed me to say it. I knew that she was pissed. I could practically taste the venom in her words.

“Someone like me” making “empty promises to the bellhop.” She wasn’t going to miss a single shot.  It was outlandish that she got herself into my room, but what followed went from the ridiculous to the absurd.  

She continued with the biting remarks and I started to get angry.“Oh knock it off,” I said. She asked me to sit down. I did, expecting her to as well. She didn't.  She stood above, looking down at me. All of a sudden, it felt like I was in the principles office about to receive a thorough dressing down for my behavior. I guess that’s why I said it: “Enlighten me, baby.”

The wine was dripping down my face a full five seconds before I could even process what had happened. Did she just…? Unbelievable. Oddly enough, my first thought was a smartass remark. “Hmmm. Nice bouquet. A little… oh, I don’t know… dry… acidic.” But I didn’t say it. She might have thrown the glass.

Now she unleashed her full fury. I was an arrogant son of a bitch, and was thinking only of myself and my own feelings. I held back as long as I could. “Something to lose?” What the hell was she thinking? She was feeling accused and she was going to make sure I knew that any such accusations were false and, moreover, were going to be responded to decisively.

I had to step back. For one thing, I was soaked from my eyebrows to my navel and I wanted to get a towel. Secondly, she was reloading her cannon, and I thought she’d have a chance of cooling down in the twenty seconds I’d be gone.

Not even close.  I didn’t take two steps and she practically leaped in front of me.  This was new territory. Ok, I thought, she wants me to listen. She needs to get this out. I could take the wine in my face, I could take her nose six inches from mine, and I could even take the shouting. She had no idea of the limits of my endurance. After living for years with a mother with bipolar disorder, I learned how to pocket my emotions, my ego, and my responses to attack. My armor is pretty thick. Or so I thought.

Of all the absurdities of the last ten minutes, the greatest one was just about to happen. She accused me of destroying “everything about us” that she “treasured, loved, enjoyed.” Whatever confidence I had in my own self-control was not well founded. At that moment, after that remark, I began to boil. She was poking me in the chest with her finger now, like she was trying to inject each syllable under my skin…or into my heart. She accused me of being willing to cut her out of my life completely over one “misunderstanding.” She punctuated this with a particularly strong poke of her finger and said, “Just who the fuck do you think you are, anyway?” That’s the moment when dam broke.

As quick as a spark, my right hand swung up and caught her by the wrist perfectly.  

The suddenness of the motion made her gasp just a bit and her fury faded, bending more toward fear to calm, an interesting reaction though I ignored it.  "You wanna know who the fuck I am?  You want to know?"  I was yelling now.  "I'm the fucking idiot who, for the last year, has been growing in the belief that maybe my life wasn't consigned to be that of a walking corpse.  I'm the jackass who has been thinking that it is possible after all to hope again, to believe that I can be happy again.  I'm the stupid son of a bitch who had started to trust life again."


Chapter 20: Enlighten Me, Baby

"It's amazing who they let into rooms, isn't it?" I said without looking at him, my eyes were on the wine glass which I began to move in small circles as he often did. The wine swirled perfectly. "All someone like me needs to do is make a few empty promises to the bellhop." The dry sarcasm in my voice was unmistakable.

He said nothing, just closed the door and walked toward me, taking in -- I'm sure -- my outfit, chosen quite deliberately. No dresses this time, no pantyhose or fancy necklaces. Instead, those size six jeans and a plain top.  He likes me dressed up, but I wasn't about to give him that satisfaction.

"I haven't anything to offer you. That's too thoughtful for someone like me."

"Knock it off," he snapped, standing before me.

"Oh, so you want me to play nice?"  I studied the wine swirling in the goblet, refusing to look at him.  "After that nasty little scene in the office, where you heaped it all on me, where you told me to wipe my hands off elsewhere, you want me to knock it off and be Miss Manners with you?"

"Get out."

"I will when we solve this."

"We have.  Get out."

"Just sit down so we can talk, will you?"

"Fine."  He sat down, the look on his face insolent as he took in my outfit.  I half expected him to sneer.    "Enlighten me, baby," he drawled, leaning back in the chair.

That did it. I tossed the wine in his face.

"You arrogant son of a bitch! You think that you're the only one who's going through every single emotion out there? You think you're the only one who climbs into bed at night and wonders if you even want intimacy with the person next to you? You think you're the only one with something to lose?" Liam was still trying to wipe he wine from his face and couldn't quite answer yet. Just as well. "Let me enlighten you, baby! If you think that what I have to offer is nothing but a lowly excuse or some pathetic declaration, let's remember who's who in this argument! I've no intention of being some weak little nothing who begs for your attention!"

"That's not..."

"No. No. It's my turn to talk now." I held my hands up as if to literally stop his words. "YOU had your turn when you had that... that... tantrum in the office today. You implied that I was some cock tease, some wanton slut who was using you..."

Apparently he thought he'd heard enough and could actually walk away from me. Perhaps he was only going to splash water on his face to get the rest of the wine off. Regardless, I stepped in front of him, forcing him to stay standing or shove me out of the way. Nearly nose-to-nose thanks to my heels, I glared at him. "You took everything I treasured about us, everything I loved and enjoyed... you ruined it, made it less. All I wanted to do was right thing!" I was poking him in the chest now, forcing him to take a step back to steady himself. "You spend all this time talking about my leaving, my deciding out of nowhere to say 'good-bye.' Yet one moment, one misunderstanding -- I won't call it a 'mistake' because that would imply that I was wrong! -- and you're ready to cut me out of your life completely. Who the fuck do you think you are, anyway?"

His hand swung up and caught my wrist in an iron grip.   "You really want to know?"  He snapped, his eyes cold... and suddenly I remembered how he would complain about his wife and how he'd threaten to punch her in the face, to shoot her, to strangle her.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Chapter 19: Clenched Teeth and Venom

And Liam wrote:

She said we need to "talk."  Right,  I thought.  Tell me about "we."  And don't forget "need."  Tell me more about what I need.

Mastering my rage, my pain, the words that actually left my mouth were "Yes, we do."

And then she delivered the kicker:  "I wasn't just leading you on.  You need to know that."

Right.  Tell me what I need.  You're so aware of what I need.  And what I need is so important to you.  You want to make sure that I have what I need.  And not just what I think I need... but what you, in your privileged wisdom, KNOW that I need.  Enlighten me, baby.

The office was empty, but I knew the web design team was meeting in the next room, so what wanted to come out at the top of my lungs came out low, through clenched teeth.

"Oh really?  I need to know that?  Is that what you think?"

"It's the truth."

"Ah, the truth."  I was clenching harder now.  "Is the 'truth' what I need to know or what you need me to know?"

"Spin it any way you want, I didn't lead you on.  There's more to this than just your feelings, you know.  If you'd just..."

I wasn't able to hear another word.  What sounded like a freight train that had been building in my ears for the last minute reached a crescendo, and I was deaf to all else.  "No.  No.  You don't get to do that.  You don't get to wash your hands at the door and then walk out.  To hell with that.  You want to exonerate yourself, go to confession, go see a shrink... but don't wipe your dirty hands on me and walk out the door again.  I won't let you use me for that, too."

"Use you?"  Now she was pissed.  "Why you...” she was clenching her teeth now, too.  "I left because..."

"What part of what I just said didn't you understand?  I don't want to hear it.  If you have a declaration or excuse to make, save it for someone who will care."  In that moment, I was sorry that the only thing I had to hurl at her were my words.... and that I couldn't find any that seemed heavy or sharp enough.  And at the same time, what little venom I could spout burned me on the way out.  


She walked out of the office and slammed the door.  Fine, indeed.  For as much as I wanted to hurt her, to make her feel as bad as I felt, deep down I knew she was struggling too.  I knew it that night in my hotel room.  I obviously had no better response now than I did then.  I guess this time, genius that I am, I wasn't going to let that stop me from action.

I felt like putting my hand through the monitor screen.  Instead I cradled my forehead in my hands, elbows on my desk.  I am not, I repeat, NOT going to go through this again.  I let it... and her... go.  It was over.  Done and gone.  I will move on.  

Yeah.  Right.

At least with a doorknob remark, escape isn't far behind.  This time for both of us.

I tried to distract myself all the way back to the hotel.  I read the evening edition of the paper... or tried to... during the subway ride.  But really I just stared out the window, having a conversation with her in my imagination.  All of the things I wanted to say, all of the anticipated responses...

Why? Why did you leave me?  Why did you stop?  Why did you even come up?  Why did you let me kiss you?  What are you so afraid of?  What in the name of God do you want from me?

I knew all of the answers.  It wasn't the questions, or even the answers, that hurt do badly.  I was aware of all of that from before the first moment I leaned in for the first kiss.

My anger gave way to sadness before I reached the hotel.  I didn't want to go back there, to see the desk and remember.  But I couldn't avoid it forever.   I swiped my cardkey and pushed the door in.  The foyer was still and the room was bright.  Room service left the curtains open again.  I wasn't three steps in when I saw a silhouette at the table by the balcony.  

She had a single wineglass on the table in front of her.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Chapter 18: We Need to Talk

He came back late Monday. Tuesday was a whole day of nothing but work. Watching him covertly, when his back was turned or when I knew he was absorbed in his task, I imagined that I could see the conflict I felt: frustration, disappointment, anger. By five o'clock, quitting time, I was less uncertain and more angry... replaying the fact that he did walk away each time I attempted to speak of anything other than work made me more so.

Yes, I'm sorry! I can't bear to hurt you! I wondered what he'd do if I screamed it at him, face-to-face, with witnesses. It crossed my mind. I'm not what you need in the long run! I don't want to do anything that I'm not sure about! What if I caught up with him in the parking lot? Went back to his hotel room? I want you so badly that I spent all weekend agonizing about today! I wanted to call you a thousand times and explain why I asked you to stop! I want our first time to be perfect, without worries about anyone else but you! What would he do if I followed him, demanding a confrontation? You can't change the rules like this! You have to see this through!

"Liam," I said at the end of the day, standing before his desk and speaking his name not for the first time since he walked in, but certainly with more emotion then he's heard all day. "We need to talk."

He didn't reply at first. He finished writing whatever he was working on, then slowly raised his eyes to meet mine. "Yes, we do." There wasn't a hint of anything in his voice, making me take a mental step backwards. I can play this just as cool as you, I thought in response as I stood my ground.

"I wasn't just leading you on. You need to know that."

Friday, October 09, 2015

Chapter 17: Hiding

The days since that night in Liam's room have been hell for me. The next day I tried to be myself, tried to make amends, but found that hiding at my desk was easier. He didn't seek a moment alone, either.

"I can't do this to you, Liam," I'd said.
Not an I can't do this.
I can't do this to you.
I can't hurt him. And I'm convinced that I will.

He looks at me now with uncertain eyes... and I know I return the expression, my own uncertainty and my own sadness mirroring his.

The weekend was spent being the dutiful little woman, taking care of the boyfriend and the house. There was, as usual, a fight or two. At those moments, I wished more then anything that I hadn't fled Liam's suite. During rare moments of calm, I found myself wishing I'd followed him after all. Not for sex so much as for closeness. I saw him sitting on the edge of the bed, and I wanted to go in and... I don't know. To go in and ask for forgiveness, I guess. For understanding. I wanted to go in and tell him how much I wanted and, yes, needed tonight. I wanted to beg him to be patient with me, re-assure him. But running is always easier. So I did.

In the car, driving aimlessly, I pushed our CD in, turned it up, and then replayed the evening in my head. No, not the evening. Just the last half hour. What have I done? Was I just being some tease?

I'd felt like I did the first time he kissed me -- aware of everything, every nuance, every difference. The shape of his lips, the size of his hands, his taste, the way he held me. Not bad, never "bad." Wonderful. Liberating. Delicious. New. And... yes, also a little frightening in that hold-your-breath-at-the-top-of-a-roller-coaster way. I was ready. He's a different size, a different build, and so many years of the same made me so aware of the way we were about to fit together.

We haven't had a moment to ourselves, though I think that's partially my fault. I've been avoiding being alone with him because I just don't know what to do or to say.

No, that's a lie.

I know exactly what I want to do and I know exactly what I want to say. It's whether or not I'll ever be able to that has me.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Chapter 16: Wait.

And Liam wrote...

Just as the elevator doors were about to close, an older man came into view.  "Would you hold the door, please?"  I smiled and said I would.  What I wanted to say was more along the lines of "thanks a lot, old man."  I looked over at Meredith.  So much for kissing her in the elevator.

To my utter delight, he pressed "3."  I re-pressed "19."  When he exited, I looked over at her again.  She had this grin on her face and was shaking her head like she'd been reading me the whole time.  I don't suppose it was hard to do.  

The elevator car stopped. The doors opened.  We stepped out, and I pointed left to my room.  At the door, I fumbled with the keycard, swiping it downward.  The light stayed red.  "Turn it around, Liam," her voice came from behind me, laughing.  Turn.  Swipe.  Green.

The room was immaculate.  Housekeeping had been by earlier and everything was in its place.  By the balcony, there was a small table for two.  Meredith set her keys and clutch on the table and walked onto the balcony.  "This is great, Liam.  I still can't believe the company is picking up the tab for all of this."

"Ready for some wine?"  I asked, trying to maintain my composure.  My distance.  I couldn't just jump her.
"What are we having?" she asked, taking a seat at the table.  
"Madame ordered the '93 Gaia Barolo, which I have brought." I did my best snobby waiter impression.
"Well, garcon, are you going to just stand there all night or open the bottle?"
"As you wish," I retorted, wondering if she were really as calm as she appeared.

We talked then.  About the wine, about the Ferrari.  She laughed easily, she always has.  I offered her a refill, but she declined.  "This wine is sublime, Liam, but I can't.  I still have to go home tonight and that Ferrari isn't cheap.  I should go, anyway."

I was about to protest. But looking her whole in the face, I knew that protest was not necessary.  She wanted to stay, but she needed the right reason and the right words.  "You could stay here, you know, so you didn't have to worry about driving."  I smiled, but I was nervous.  I tried not to stutter and fumble, but I could feel it coming.  I went a bit too far with my pitch.  "The sofa is really comfortable here.  I don't mind.  You can have the bed."

"I should go," she said softly.
"Of course."

At the door, she turned to me.  "Thank you for the wine."
"Of course."  
"Good night."
I didn't reply.  Not verbally.  Instead I pulled her to me, hard, and kissed her until she was gasping for air, until I was nearly as breathless.  When she pushed me away, looking up at me with wide eyes, I didn't hesitate but turned her around and pulled her against me again, one hand on her shoulder and the other tight around her waist.  And I kissed her neck, her shoulders, and the top of her bare back.  Her breathing was audible.  So was mine.  I could feel each breath she took.  With one swipe of my arm, I cleared the small table, sending everything crashing to the floor.  Grabbing her by the waist, I picked her up and set her on the tabletop.  Our kissing resumed,  deeper and harder.  She began to whimper, a delicious sexy little mew in the back of her throat.  

I began to search for the zipper on the back of her dress.  As the straps of her dress fell down around her shoulders, her hands which had been buried in my hair suddenly came down and rested on my chest. She pushed me away from her.

"Wait," she whispered. "Wait, please."

I stopped. I saw her eyes. It was over."I can't do this to you, Liam."

“Meredith… I….” There were no words I could find to say. I moved away. I couldn't look at her. My head was bowed and I stared at the parquet wooden floor as I listened to her near the door, slipping on her shoes, grabbing her purse. When I heard her footsteps actually start to come closer, I got up from the chair and headed into the bedroom, being quite sure she would not follow me in there. Her footsteps stopped… then started again growing distant until they were stifled by the open and close of the door.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Chapter 15: Liam's voice

And Liam wrote...

When it rains, it pours.

Well, here a position I never expected us to be in: my departure has been put on hold "indefinitely."   In somebody's infinite wisdom, it was decided that I have to stay and help clean up the mess that's left of the project Meredith and I had created over the last several months.  The bottom really has fallen out.  I'm just glad that I'm mostly out the door.

All of my worldly possessions are sitting in a moving truck about 300 miles away right now.  I'll be staying at the Omni on the company's dime.  The accommodations are nice, as is the per diem.

Last night I dined alone.  Worse, I drank alone. The label was Bruno Giacosa, '97... a great year.  I was thrilled to discover that they had it.  It was a dark, rich red, almost the color of a black cherry.  To top it off, its bouquet was sweet and deep all at once, like walking into a warm room with a basket of fruit on the table.  It was heavy on the tongue, rich and full, suggesting dark red fruits and hints of dark chocolate.  The first sip was like glimpsing an old friend on the approach.  The second sip was comfort.  The third sip never had a chance to emerge because she walked into the lounge at that moment.  Meredith.

The wine might as well have turned into water.

I could feel my face smiling. I hoped she wouldn't notice the quickening of my breathing.  By the time she got across the room to my table, I was breathless.

As if we had just bumped into each other in the food court of the first floor in our office building, she grinned.  "Hey, whats up?"

Okay.  If she was going to be casual, so was I.  "I'm fine, nothing much.  You?"  She smiled and sat down, asking if I'd eaten.  I told her I had, something simple, chicken parmigiana.  Not the most daring, but the hotel chef did a wonderful job.  

"Whatcha drinking?"
"Wine," I replied, answering in my best smartass accent.
"Right," she said. We've had this discussion before: if it doesn't come in a box that sits on the refrigerator shelf, she probably hasn't tasted it.
"An Italian. A Barbaresco."
"Right.  Italian.  I like Italian," she smiled. She has the best wicked smile.  It makes my cheeks turn red; she is one of the very few women I have ever met that can make me blush.
"Finish up," she said.  "I have a surprise."
"Oh, really?"
"Yes, really."

I drained my glass, said a little prayer of thanks, and followed her out to the foyer.  I could smell her now, the now-familiar scent like sweet, subtle flowers and clean air.  Once she held my hand for the better part of a subway ride across town, and I noticed an hour after she'd gone, when my chin was resting in my palm as I sat at my desk, that I could still breathe her scent.  I didn't get much work done after that.

Anyway, we both made it out of the front door and there, in the turnaround, was a red convertible Ferrari.  To my utter surprise, she did not walk past it but opened the driver's side door.  "Let's go for a ride," she said.

I scraped my jaw off the ground.  "What... where did.... what... wow...."  She laughed at my stuttering.  She always does.  I wish I could say that I do it on purpose, but I don't.  She brings it out in me.  

Expertly, she pulled out and into city traffic... We talked about driving.  She said she likes to drive, especially when she has no particular place to go.  Okay by me.  I was exactly where I wanted to be.  It was less than a minute before my hand found hers, my fingers lacing themselves between hers.

"So where are you taking me?"
"I told you, for a ride."
And she did.  We talked about everything, anything.  Sometimes nothing. 

At one point she told me about an account at work that she just completed.  The company sent a rep to personally thank her.  When she mentioned that she was thinking about buying a convertible, the rep arranged for a three-day test drive with one of the dealerships the company owned.  I'd never heard of such a thing, and I was more than a little jealous.  I'd passed on the account a year ago.  "See, you do good work," I said, then paused, having a strong feeling all of a sudden.  "Mer, please, don't let them take you down in all this mess."

"I won't.  You know they can't touch me."
"That won't keep them from trying."
She just smiled.  She had that determined look that she gets when she is about to let nothing stand in her way.  "It's getting late," she said, changing the subject and turning around.  "We have a big day tomorrow."  She let go of my hand for the first time and turned up the radio.
"I know."
My hand came to rest on her thigh.  At first, I felt her stiffen, surprised at my touch.  But she didn't say no.  She didn't take my hand away... not even when my fingers gently pulled at her hem until it rode up over her knee.

We pulled up to the hotel.

"Would you like to come up for a glass of wine?"

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Chapter 14: Change in Plans

I can feel his hands on my waist, sliding toward the front though not moving upward.  Not that daring.  Neither of us are that daring.  Don't ask me "not yet" or "ever" because I can't say.  I only know where we are now.

Fate intervened today.  Last night, really.  An 11 PM phone call from work, to Liam, demanding his presence and to hell with the moving van, keep your car and drive out to your new home later, I don't care if it's Saturday, yelled our leadership-challenged employer when Liam pointed out that he was moving.

What happened?  I can't detail it, but let it suffice to say that three months of work went down the tubes with the click of someone's mouse button.  A very incomplete tale, true, but some things are best left secret.

It's 3 PM now, and Lam was finally able to escape long enough to go home and throw together an overnight bag.  His hotel fantasy finally coming true... sort of.  He has the room, but it will be just his alone.  He'll be back tonight.

When he returns, he'll meet the lawyers sitting upstairs, the suit-clad attack dogs waiting to find a scapegoat.  It won't be us.  We didn't use a penny of the money in question.  Neither of us are guilty.   It was another department, another project.  How many of our suits will remain when the dust clears remains to be seen.  I'm not holding my breath.  Just let me finish my final weeks and get the hell out of here.

We slipped out for a quick lunch, going to some dive on the South Side for fast -- yet edible -- food.  Indeed, it was so fast that we had time to slip into a little bookstore on our way back to the car.

It's funny, the intimacies that we share.  What we even call intimacies, in fact.  His belt loop, for instance... something so trivia, yet even days later I'm still thinking about it.  In a lovely, dusty bookshop we know, he came upon me so entranced in some antique books that I didn't hear or see him.  My standing on tiptoe with my hands clasped behind my back, unaware of everything but the titles.  Another intimacy, this time on his side: coming upon me with my guard down.

It wasn't until I found my prize and sat down to read it that he came to me, taking a seat across from me at a rickety old table placed there for readers like me... or perhaps people like us, those who want to steal away from the world and just selfishly indulge in another's presence.  A table that's seen everything, including us, as he took my hand and kissed my fingers, his eyes holding mine for that infinite moment.  Not quite lovers but more than friends.

Tables have a role in our us.  Happy hours in a booth, a quick meal somewhere, working on presentations.  Tables keep us apart, at a respectable public distance from the other, but they do nothing to stop us from looking or from talking at the personal, intimate level we reached some time ago, eons before touch itself became involved.  Once upon a time, in fact, we shied from the very possibility of touch... perhaps instinctively knowing that one touch would never be enough.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Chapter 13: Last Day

Last day. This deserves a post apart from today's other musings. Today we were cursed with an unexpected co-worker, with a flurry of false good-byes, and a farewell cake bought only for show. We popped antacids and exchanged looks and tried to get our work done.

At three, just a scant hour before our day ended, we were alone and I got to kiss him and hear his pleasured groan.  We kissed goodbye standing in front of the office door, praying no one would walk in... yet probably too immersed in feeling our bodies pressed so fully together that we wouldn't have noticed...

There was nothing frantic about today. Nothing particularly sad or overly-depressing. Classic rock played on his laptop; there was ample laughter; and more than enough secret smiles exchanged between us.

Ahhhh, I'm going to miss Liam. I'm going to miss hearing him groan when I kiss him. I'm going to miss teasing him to get those exasperated glares. I'm going to miss sliding secret notes back and forth between the file cabinets when the officemates aren't looking. He'll be back, of course... his new position demands that he travel.  We'll find excuses to get together when he comes in. Already I have reasons to work late.