Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, June 6, 2010
All total, he’d only been out of town for two days. Their presentation team decided to fly out Wednesday afternoon to rehearse, make last minute adjustments and get plenty of sleep for the 9 AM meeting that had to go perfectly. If it did, if it went well, they’d be invited back the next morning for what amounted to a second competition among the contract finalists. They did, and they were, and now they’d know Monday if their agency had been selected. It would be the break they needed, and had worked so hard to win. It would also affirm Ben’s standing as the heir apparent to the two aging partners who founded the agency, but whose creativity was defined by a different, no longer relevant time. Ben was the next generation, yet to realize his full potential, a natural salesman with an effortless knack for making people believe that what he said was what they wanted to hear.
Now, late Friday afternoon, his suit bag over one shoulder, his computer briefcase over the other, the walk from the elevator to the door of his corner apartment seemed longer than usual. He would drop everything, set his watch alarm for a couple of hours sleep, and meet Amy for dinner at the pub a few blocks away. Amy would bring him back to life, and then maybe spend the night at his place. The idea of her being there in the morning when he got up – still asleep, because she always slept later than he did – almost made it worth being that wiped. On Monday, if they didn’t get the contract, he’d call her and, for at least a few minutes, it wouldn’t seem as if it made any difference.
Pushing his door open, Ben turned sideways, shuffling past the little table where he dropped his keys, on his way past the open kitchen to the couch that looked oh-so-inviting.
“Hey,” she said, absent any particular expression. To his surprise, Amy was in the over-sized leather arm chair, the one with the ottoman where their feet would play with each other’s while they watched TV or a movie. Not this afternoon. Amy was sitting on the edge of the chair, shoes on, feet flat on the floor, a mostly empty glass of white wine on the table to the side, next to a couple of magazines.
“Hey. ..Everything okay?” They didn’t live together, but he’d given her a key to take care of his plants when he was out of town, and for the times when she’d get there ahead of him after work.
“I thought we had an understanding.”
“About meeting for dinner?”
“About not going out with anyone else.”
Setting down his bags, Ben walked to the refrigerator, thinking a cold beer would help him make sense of whatever was bothering her. “That sound,” he reflected out loud, before turning around to talk to her, “is fifty percent of the beer drinking experience.” And then he plopped himself down on the couch across from her, loosening his tie the rest of the way, pulling it off and dropping it on the empty cushion next to him. He liked that tie, feeling it made just the right impression without distracting his audience, but was too tired to be neat. Staring at it for a moment, respectfully, he figured he’d drop at the dry cleaners on his way for a Saturday morning run.
Taking a long swig of the beer, followed by a little first swallow burp, he’d put off responding as long as he could. “Okay, tell me what’s bothering you.”
Amy was beautiful, but in an intellectual way, very smart and naturally sexual to an extent it wasn’t clear she understood. “Janice went with you.”
“Janice and I work together. You know that. Of course she went us. She does our storyboards. It was her roommate, Martha, who introduced us.”
“Marla, whatever. What’s this all about?”
“Janice spent last night in your room?”
“Janice, Jack, Beth and I, all four of us were in my room last night making last minute changes to our presentation this morning. ..So what?”
“Janice called Marla from the airport on your way back to say how psyched you all were and that, after Jack and Beth left, she and you screwed each other’s brains out.”
Ben started to smile, but Amy’s expression wouldn’t allow it. “Uh, let’s see. First of all,” Janice doesn’t talk like that.”
“I was paraphrasing.”
“Second.. Second of all, she’s dating some guy, some jock, Tod I think.”
“You and I are dating. That didn’t stop you.”
“Stop me from what? …Okay, okay. This is easy.” Taking out his cell phone, he began scrolling to find Janice’s number. “I’ll call her. You can ask her for yourself.” Pressing the speaker button, he put his phone down on the trunk that doubled as a coffee table.
“Hey, Janice. It’s Be..”
“This is Janice. I’m busy or screening my calls. Whatever. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you, sooner or later …maybe. Maybe not.”
“Hey, Janice. It’s Ben. Please give me a call as soon as you get this.”
“So what do we do now,” Amy didn’t really want to know. “Sit here and wait for her to call back?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. My word should be good enough.”
“Why would Marla make this up?”
“I don’t know, and pretty much don’t care. Maybe you misunderstood what she said, or what Janice was talking about.”
“Bullshit?” She’d caught him off guard. “We’ve been dating for what, four months…”
“..and that’s got be the first foul language I’ve heard you say. …Listen to me. ..Janice didn’t stay in my room after Jack and Beth left, and I didn’t see her again until we all checked out and met in the lobby this morning. ..I know, let’s call Marla. What’s her number?”
“Are we or are we not dating exclusively?”
“And doesn’t that,” Amy had lapsed into the perfectly logical mode which was the way she argued, “preclude you’re having even casual sex with anyone else.”
“Abso-fuckin’-lutely. And I didn’t.”
“So, what, do you expect me to forgive you?”
“No. I expect you to believe me.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m beat, and I don’t want to blow what’s obviously a really important conversation for you for lack of a couple of hours sleep. …Why don’t you just leave. I’ll pass out here on the couch, and have Janice call you. ..and you can call Marla. Hell, find her. Talk to her face to face. I’m sure whatever she told you will come out differently the next time you hear it.”
“What if I would forgive you?”
“Amy, I don’t want you to get over it. I didn’t do anything to forgive.”
“Don’t you believe in forgiveness?”
“Wh.. What?!” Seeing how upset she was, tears beginning to form in her eyes, was beginning to make him upset.”
“People make mistakes. We’ve only been dating five months. I’d understand. It’s not like we’d moved in together or gotten engaged. That’s what those milestones are for, signs that our relationship is more.. more binding.”
“‘Milestones’? You make them sound like things you need to pass by drinking lots of water.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“No, it’s not. ..Look, I like that you’re an attorney. I like the way you look at things differently than I do, but this is ridiculous. If I give you my word that I’ll only be with you, just you, and I break that word, it isn’t okay, and apologizing for it… Not that I did anything to apologize for. …or trying to explain it or make excuses, doesn’t make it go away. ..A deal is a deal. We may get on with our relationship, but we’ll never get over it. It may still be good, it could even be better, but it won’t be the same. All this apologizing, accepting responsibility for this and that unforgiveable transgression you see on TV, that’s the bullshit part. Just because you own up to something doesn’t make it better, nor does forgiving it make it go away, ..or make you somehow superior for pretending it didn’t matter all that much.”
Amy was quiet. Her jaw clenched, her posture stiff, she let one hand leave her lap for just the moment it took to wipe away a single tear.
“Amy, honey, you have nothing to worry about, Janice and I didn’t do anyth..”
What interrupted him was the sound of his phone vibrating on the trunk between them, Janice’s face on the screen with that “give me a break” look she’d flashed him when he was taking everyone’s pictures at the office.
“Finally,” Ben figured this was over, and pressed the green button. “Hey.”
“Hey, gorgeous,” Janice answered, obviously kidding him. “What’s up?”
“Hang up the phone.” It was the first thing Amy had said in a couple of minutes.
“I’m here with Amy. I know this will sound…”
“Please. Hang up the phone.”
“Janice, I’ll call you back.”
“Okay, babe,” she answered in the staccato way she talked. “Later,” and she hung up.
“So, all of a sudden you believe me?”
“I slept with Ted.”
Somehow he managed not to say the usual, “What?” as if he hadn’t heard what she said. “Whose Ted?” he asked, as if it made any difference.
“Janice’s Ted. His name is Ted, not Tod. I met him a few weeks ago when I stopped by to pick up Marla, and then..”
Holding up his left arm, Ben patted the air with the palm of his hand, signaling her to stop, preferring to take the last swallow of his beer in silence.
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