Sometimes in life the actions we take set in motion forces that lead us in some unintended directions. It's like entering a maze, you go in innocently enough, but you never know where or when you're going to come out. Carrie Kruger walked into one of these mazes once, and eventually came out somewhere where she never expected to be.
It all began when she went to a dinner dance her company held every January; it was supposed to help alleviate the post-holiday depression that seems to affect people after New Years. Carrie needed some alleviating, her twenty year old daughter had moved out in the fall leaving her with a severe case of "empty nest syndrome". Carrie's husband had left her eleven years earlier, and she'd been forced to raise the girl on her own. In that time the two had grown incredibly close, but the lure of job out of town proved to be too much for the girl and she'd moved on. They kept in close touch calling, texting, and using social media sites, but that didn't help Carrie's mood. She still felt completely alone.
That was her mind set when she arrived at the dinner with her girlfriends that night. She was alone, unattached, forty, with no immediate prospects; in a word, vulnerable. She shouldn't have been since she was actually an attractive woman. But, being a single mother, she had decided years earlier that it wouldn't have been right to do a lot of dating while raising her daughter. It had been important to her to set a good example, and bringing home a stream of "uncles" to meet the girl didn't fit that ideal. She had tried to be a paradigm of virtue and as a result had forgotten how to meet men. Most of the men she came in contact with at work were aware of her attempts to be a role model and respected it and the word had spread; this one wasn't available don't even try. The problem was nobody understood her situation had changed and she didn't how to put herself back in the game. So when Jim Roselli came over and asked her to dance she was thrilled and jumped at the chance.
Jim was a popular guy around the office, one of those that were graced with good looks and an easy manner, he enhanced his image by dressing impeccably and perfect grooming; one of those never a hair out of place kind of guys. She quickly discovered he was an also excellent dancer as he led her gracefully to the slow rhythm of the music. There was one question on her mind.
"Where's your wife tonight? I haven't seen her."
Ah, well, we've sort of gone our own ways." He paused then added, "You know how that works, right? I mean you're divorced."
"Yes, I do and I am." She pressed herself a little tighter against him.
"I hear your daughter moved out recently, how's she doing?"
"Fine, fine, but damn, that apartment is awfully empty without her."
"Yes," he responded, "I know what you mean. It gets pretty lonely when you're suddenly all by yourself. Trust me, I know firsthand."
With that, the hand on her back pulled even tighter, she laid her head on his shoulder, he rested his head on hers. They were the very picture of a loving couple, clinging to each other and moving leisurely to the music. One dance led to several, many actually as they spent the evening together. In Carrie's romantic way of looking at it they were like two lost souls who'd found each other. Thoughts of love began to enter her head.
As they danced she was facing a table where the "stags" were sitting, the unmarried guys who didn't have dates for one reason or another. She saw Ed Rakauskas looking over at them. He seemed to watching with interest, then turned to the other men, said something and they all laughed. He shook his head and sipped on the glass of beer in his hand. She was sure he'd made a joke about her. It was not all paranoia, she and Ed didn't get along. For six years they'd worked side by side in the purchasing department, and had developed an intense rivalry. So the idea that he was laughing at her was not too farfetched. Well the hell with him, she thought, this is my night and that jackass isn't going to ruin it.
It was more than just her night, it held promise of being something beyond that. Jim had talked about the possibility of them seeing each other and had asked for her number. Carrie happily gave it to him and told him to call her anytime, she would be glad to go out with him. Getting back into the dating pool was easier than she'd thought; one night and she was already swimming in the deep end. She felt that she wouldn't be alone for long. She was right, the next day he called asking if she would like to go out for dinner with him the following night; she accepted unhesitatingly.
They had dinner at a small out of the way restaurant that he knew and it was nice. It was the type of place that reeked of romance, candles on the tables, soft music, and a good wine list. She ordered Chicken Kiev, when it arrived she cut into it and watched the melted butter burst forth from it.
"Looks good, but every time I eat this stuff, I worry about all the butter. It's the best part but I keep thinking of that old line, 'a minute on the lips, a month on the hips', I'll have to hit the health club after this decadence."
"You don't look like you have much of a weight problem, enjoy. Besides, isn't the wine supposed to counter the fat intake?"
"I don't know, I think that's only red wine." She held up her glass of German white. "Don't know if it works with this stuff. Still, I have every intention of enjoying it."
"The chicken or the wine?"
"Both," with that she ate a piece of the chicken and washed it down with a sip of the wine. "And they're both delicious."
"Good. You mentioned a health club, are you into that sort of thing?"
"Not really, I belong to one but I never seem to have the time or inclination to go regularly. Usually I get feeling guilty and go for about two weeks, then I get bored and skip it for a couple of months. A waste of money I guess."
"Oh, I don't know. You seem to be in pretty good shape and I'd hate to think I was running around with one of those butch health nuts."
"Running around together now, are we?" She smiled at him.
"I think so, what else would you call it?"
"Running around is fine. It was just that this is the first I've heard of it. It sounds nice, actually."
"Good," he said. "That makes it official, we're running around together."
Throughout the rest of the meal, he was the perfect gentleman and the perfect date; funny, attentive, a good conversationalist, an even better listener. Carrie could not have asked for better, in fact she began to think he was too good to be true. When he took her home, he walked her to her door. Standing in the hallway outside her apartment, he quickly made plans for their next outing.
"I'm busy tomorrow, but how about we go out the night after and take in a movie, maybe have a few drinks?"
"Sounds good to me, I'd love to. Call it a date."
"Great", he smiled at her. Then he leaned down to kiss her good night.
When their lips met, both slightly parted, the tips of their tongues touched each other lightly. Carrie felt an erotic shudder run through her as her stomach muscles tightened. Knowing there would be more of this in their future, she was looking forward to the next date. She went into her small apartment and sat down in an easy chair, smiling to herself. She'd already decided if he wanted to go to bed with her, she was ready and willing to get laid. It was just a matter of timing. Again, she couldn't believe her good luck.
The next day at when she arrived at the office, Ed Rakauskas was already at work. They exchanged their usual cold empty good mornings as Carrie turned on her computer. It was just another day, undistinguished from all the others in the last six years. As she opened a file of purchasing orders, Ed turned towards her.
"I hear you're seeing Jimmy Roselli."
She looked at him indifferently. "What of it?"
"He's a friend of mine, but I've got tell you, he's a player. I think you ought to know that. I hope you realize what you're getting into, that's all. If you don't you might get burnt."
"Some friend you are. But be that as it may, I'm an adult, a grown woman and quite capable of taking care of myself, thank you. Frankly, I don't see what damn business it is of yours."
"Yeah, you're right. It's absolutely no concern of mine. What was I thinking?" He returned to his work.
Carrie paused for a moment, feeling the anger growing inside her. "What do you think, like you're my father or something? You go around butting in on everybody's lives, or just mine? I'd like to know. Because, honestly, you're the last person in this office I'd want advice from. In case you haven't noticed, you don't appear to be doing so well in the relationship department yourself."
Without looking up from his work he replied apathetically, "You're right, physician heal thy self; now excuse me while I tend to my own garden. Forget I said anything, I already have."
"Bastard", she muttered under her breath as she returned to her work. She hoped he'd heard her.
So, the next night, despite Ed Rakauskas's warning, or maybe because of it, Carrie decided that Jimmy was going to get lucky. If he wanted her, she was going to offer herself up on a platter. She'd never been very much of a predator sexually, and she found it exciting. After the movie as they drove from the theater complex, he suggested they stop somewhere for a drink.
"Yes," she replied, "or we could go to my place. I have alcohol."
"Sounds good to me," he was smiling, almost to himself.
She felt his hand drop on her thigh, she put her own hand on top of his, stroking it slightly. Jimmy knew he was in, and this little lady was his. They rode quietly through the night on the way to her apartment house, each full of eager anticipation. Parking the car in front of the building, they got out and walked in, hand in hand. As they climbed up the stairs to the second floor Carrie's heart began the beat rapidly, she was reaching the point of no return. Any misgivings she had on what she was about to do had to be either heeded or ignored. She made up her mind to ignore them; the risqué aspect of her decision was a further turn on. Entering the apartment, they took off their coats.
"Go on into the living room and make yourself comfortable, I'll get the drinks. What do you want? Rum and coke I assume." It's what he'd been drinking at the dinner dance.
"I donno, what are you drinking?"
"Just a red wine."
"I'll have the same, it'll keep things simple."
He nodded then went into the other room. Carrie poured out two glasses of wine and followed him. He was sitting in the center of the sofa. Pretty clever she thought, no matter where she sat on the sofa she'd be close to him. He needed have worried, when she handed him his drink she sat down next to him. When she felt his arm slide across her shoulders she leaned against him and took a sip of her wine. They sat like that wordlessly for a few moments, then Jimmy leaned over and kissed her. It was a gentle kiss, but passion filled none the less. Carrie squirmed slightly, feeling a knot in the pit of her stomach, anticipating what was about to happen. The kiss ended, she rested her head on his shoulder and looked up at him. She watched as he gulped his wine down in one swallow. She raised herself up as he reached across her to set the empty glass on the end table on her side of the sofa. She took a drink of her own wine and placed the half-filled glass on the table next to his.
Turning towards each other, Carrie's hand moved to the side of his face gently stroking it. He leaned over to kiss her again and she felt a tightening in her abdomen as their lips met. This kiss was different, more forceful, more purposeful than the first. There was no mistaking its objective; he wanted her and she was willing. Jimmy had stumbled on to something, Carrie could count the number of times she'd had sex in the last eleven years and never so openly or casually. With the kiss he'd opened up a wellspring of sexual frustration in the woman. Years of lust and desire came pouring out. Carrie herself was no longer in control; it was as if her body was trying to make up for lost time.
During the brief periods when their lips were parted, they would nuzzle each other sensuously, Jimmy's hands roaming over Carrie's body. His hand went to her thigh, not just resting there as it had in the car, but rubbing it, moving slowly upwards under the hem of her dress, feeling her through the fabric of her under garments. Carrie would have been helpless to stop him even if she had wanted to. Then, in a moment of lucidity, Carrie got up and went to the windows making sure the blinds were shut and the drapes closed. She felt no need to put on a show for the neighbors.
Returning to the sofa, she asked simply, "Do you have something, you know, to wear?"
"Yeah, I brought some just in case."
Reassured she removed her shoes and sat back down next to him. She'd also bought a pack of condoms, just in case, but didn't want to appear too eager. As he embraced her and kissed her again, he began the process of undressing her. Undoing the back of her dress, he unhooked her bra. Leaning back he pulled the garment off her shoulders and held the sleeves while Carrie pulled her arms out, the dress dropped down around her waist. She shrugged the bra off, allowing it to fall on the floor.
They kissed again, even more passionately than before, if that was possible; perhaps desperately would be a better word for it. Their tongues probing and caressing each other, she felt his hand on her breast. The sensation of his palm pressed firmly against it, moving slightly, stroking, jiggling, occasionally squeezing it lightly further stimulated her. From there the hand slid down over her ribs until it reached the folds of her dress. Tugging and moving the material out of its way until it reached the waistbands of her pantyhose and panties, it pushed behind them, moving downward. She turned her head to the side, away from him, letting it loll on the back of the sofa. She emitted a soft whimpering moan as she felt the intimate press of his fingers on her tender moist flesh. Kissing her neck while his hand manipulated her, Jimmy knew she was ready.
Sitting up straight, he gripped the waistbands of her underwear and eased them down. Carrie raised herself up slightly, allowing him to get them past her hips, further excited by the feel of his hands on her thighs as he worked her hosiery down. Her dress was still clumped around her waist, once he had her pantyhose off, she rose up again and pushed it past her knees and let it drop to the floor. Bringing her knees up, she swiveled on the sofa and stretched out behind him giving him a last anxious kiss before lying down to wait. Jimmy quickly disrobed, then fished through his pants pocket for the pack of condoms.
Removing one he threw the packet on the floor and ripped the foil wrapper open, she felt the wrapper hit her side as he tossed it on the sofa. It seems the new love of her life was a bit of a slob. No matter she thought to herself, he's lost in passion just like she was, and if not, it was something she could change as their relationship progressed. When he finished applying the condom, she reached down and fondled him, unable to wait complacently. She felt the texture of the condom; ribbed.
Carrie's views on condoms were simple, they were a necessary evil. She didn't like them but she couldn't imagine casual sex without them in this day and age. It was something she'd hammered home in discussions of sex she had with her daughter when the girl first starting getting serious with boys. But she still liked sex to be as natural as it could be, despite the rubbers. Men didn't have ribbing, crosshatching or feelers, neither should the condoms. She'd heard some women liked these things, but she wasn't one of them. On the other hand, there were two reasons he would use them; either he believed the stories that all women liked them or he was insecure with his love making and was using them to make up for his perceived short comings. Both came down to the fact he was trying to make it more enjoyable for her, so she had to give him a pass on that. She was raring to get on with things, she simply couldn't waste time analyzing it, it was something else she could work on in due time. Now was not the time.
As he moved over her, she braced and waited. When the moment came, she absorbed him hungrily, greedily, loving the feel of a man pressing into her. Locking her ankles behind him, she met each forward thrust with a twisting, grinding motion eagerly wanting more. Years of pent up longing cascaded from her. Jimmy was every man she'd ever wanted and had to pass on, every man that ever flirted with her that she couldn't respond to; a string of missed chances all rolled up in one sexual experience. She whispered words of encouragement to him as she continued rocking her hips beneath him, driving them both towards a climactic end. When it finally came, they both lay motionless, spent, breathing heavily, exhausted by the whole experience.
For Carrie her orgasm was more than a sexual release, it was an emotional one as well. It was freedom, all the years she had she had denied herself because of her daughter were over. Not that she regretted the time she had spent trying to set an example, she would do anything for the girl, but it was good to know she no longer had to. She could live for herself now. She was lying naked on the sofa after just making love to a man who was still on her. This was quite a ways from the model mother she'd been for the last eleven years. Jimmy lifted himself up on his elbows as she looked up with half closed eyes.
"God damn, you're one hell of a piece of ass," he said softly. "A real wildcat."
It was a crude complement, but a complement none the less, and she accepted it as such. She felt she'd sealed the deal properly. She'd met a man whom she wanted, and she'd gotten him; mission accomplished. If his wife was too stupid to hang on to him that was her mistake. That was the start of their affair.
For the next two weeks it was a whirlwind romance, while he couldn't take her out too often, it seemed like he was often busy, he did manage to drop by most nights for a couple of drinks and a quick session in bed. Carrie didn't see anything wrong with it, she knew he had kids and even when a marriage is breaking apart the children have to be attended to. She remembered this from her own experience. She was happy in the belief that he would eventually be hers, in the mean time she enjoyed their love making. But Valentine's Day was approaching, and she wanted to do something special. She made reservations for dinner at one of the better restaurants in town, it would be her treat; a special dinner for a special day. But when she called him with her surprise, she was the one who was surprised.
"Valentine's Day? No, there's no way. What were you thinking?"
Confused, all she could muster was, "I don't understand, what's the problem?"
"The problem is my wife already has plans for that night."
"Your wife, what's she got to do with it? I thought you and her were through."
"I never said that."
"That first night, you said you'd gone your own ways," there was a lost tone in her voice.
"Well yeah, I was there and she was somewhere else. Don't go making more out of it than that. I never promised you anything, we're having a few laughs together nothing more."
Carrie never knew if he had more to say, shocked she gently hung up the phone. She wondered what in the hell had just happened as she began to quietly cry. A minute ago she was happily looking forward to telling him about their dinner engagement, now she was in tears. But she knew what had happened; she'd made a fool of herself over him. She'd like to have blamed him, but she couldn't, after all she'd known his reputation as a ladies man and ignored it. She'd assumed his quick little visits were because he couldn't stay away from her, now she knew they were because he wanted to tear off a quick piece and she had provided it. Even Eddie Rakauskas had tried to warn her and she not only didn't listen, but had insulted him in the process. Then it occurred to her; Rakauskas. She would have to face him at work, wait for the inevitable "I told you so" that she was sure would come. She knew she deserved it.
Turning sideways she put her arm on the back of the sofa and lowered her face into the crook of her elbow and began to sob audibly. She wondered how she could have been so foolish, as she sat there crying. She wanted to stop, but couldn't. He wasn't worth the tears, but she was too broken hearted to prevent them. Even in her distraught state she saw the irony of her crying over him on the very sofa he'd first screwed her on, she could no long think of it as love making.
The next morning when she arrived at the office she felt conspicuous, it was as if everybody knew. She wondered how many jokes she'd been the butt of. After spending half the night crying, she'd decided to just come in and face the music, to get it over with. To her surprise, nothing seemed different, either nobody knew or they didn't care. It was just another day at the office. But she still had to face Rakauskas.
He was already at work when she got to her desk. They exchanged their usual neutral good morning greetings as she sat down. He didn't pay any more attention to her than usual. She started her own work, waiting for the shoe to fall. After an hour she decided to take the bull by the horns. She looked over at him.
"You were right, your buddy Roselli dumped me last night."
"I'm not surprised," he said indifferently without looking up from his work. "You're better off."
"You tried to tell me, but I didn't listen and got hurt just like you said. You were right and I was wrong. So you can say your 'I told you so' any time now."
He sat upright in his chair, crossed his arms, and looked over at her. "I didn't do it so I could rub your face in it. Look, when Jimmy pulls his crap on some good time chick I've got no problem with it. It's just two people out for some fun, more power to them, enjoy. But you're not like that, I figured when the ax fell you were going to feel the pain. Look, it's like if somebody spilled something on the floor, and it was slippery, you'd expect me to say something. This was the same thing, I didn't want to see you get hurt. Maybe it was even selfish on my part, if I hadn't said something I'd be feeling guilty now. Instead, I feel sympathy, but it's with a clear conscience."
She'd primed herself for ridicule, sarcasm, even anger, but was totally unprepared for sympathy. Emotions rose in her and she felt her lower lip tremble. She pressed her teeth down on it to try and steady it. Her vision blurred as her eyes teared up. Seeing this, Eddie pushed his chair back from his desk and rolled over to the edge of hers.
"Hey, get a grip now, hold it together. You're starting to lose it." His voice was soothing. He picked up the box of tissues that was on the corner of her desk and handed it to her.
"It's just that I feel like an idiot." She felt his hand on her shoulder, it was a comforting gesture.
"No, you're not an idiot. You made a mistake that's all. That just proves you're human, the same as the rest of us." She nodded her head, then dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "Now if you need somebody to talk to, just want to vent, let me know. I'll be glad to listen."
"No, I'll be all right." She smiled weakly. "Thanks though, it's a kind offer. I really do appreciate it."
But she'd lied; she did need to talk to someone, to let it all out. Unfortunately, she didn't know who to turn to. There were her girlfriends to be sure, but she didn't want to admit to any of them what had happened or how badly it affected her. And talking to her daughter about it was simply out of the question. She kept coming back to Ed. He had made the offer, he already knew what had transpired and seen how badly shaken it had left her. He seemed to be the logical choice. He seemed to be genuinely understanding. Perhaps she'd been wrong about him all these years; she'd thought Jimmy was a special and he turned out to be a rat bastard, so maybe the guy she'd always thought was a rat bastard would turn out to be nice. About two hours before quitting time she mustered up her courage, turned and faced him.
"Ed?" He looked over and nodded. "Look, when you said I could talk to you if I wanted, did you mean it?"
"Of course, I wouldn't have said it if I didn't. Why, need to let off a little steam?"
"Yeah, I think," there was a pause. "I'm not really sure what I need or what to say. I just think I have to air things out in front of someone. Talking to myself hasn't helped. Sure you don't mind?"
"No, not at all, I think I understand. Do you want to take a break now and do it?"
"No, not here, I know it's an imposition, but could we go somewhere after work, you know, where nobody from the office will see us? I don't want any witnesses if I start crying."
Ed couldn't help but think that this was more than he'd bargained for, but he had made the offer. Besides, he could tell she was hurting or she wouldn't have reached out to him, of all people.
"Well, if we went and sat on a bench in the park in this weather, we'd have privacy and would probably both end up with pneumonia. Mulroony's is out, too many of our co-workers stop there. How about this? I know a bar that has good food, I stop there sometimes to eat on my way home. I'll drive you there, we'll have a bite, we'll talk, then I'll drive you back to your car. Sound good?"
"I don't want to put you to so much trouble."
"Nonsense, it's no trouble. They have great burgers."
"If you're sure, I'd be awfully grateful."
Approximately two and a half hours later they were seated at a table in the barroom. It seemed a nice place to Carrie; one of those establishments where it's difficult to tell if its main function was as a bar or restaurant. She chose to sit not opposite him, but at a right angle so she could talk quietly and still be heard. After ordering a club sandwich and a vodka on the rocks she tried to explain.
"Like I said at the office, I'm not sure what to say here, I just know I have to talk. I hope I'm not wasting your time, because I'm not really sure where to start."
"OK then, I take it that it started the night of the dinner dance?"
"Yes, he kind of swept me off my feet. For a couple of weeks I was on Cloud Nine, then the roof fell in."
"And how did it end? He just got up one morning and dumped you?"
"Kind of, I made reservations to go to a St. Valentines night dinner and when I called to tell him, he told me he had plans for that night with his wife."
"Aw Jesus, that's cold even for him."
"I felt like such a fool; foolish, used, abused, taken for granted, stupid, silly, and any other damned thing you can think of. I spent last night crying myself to sleep."
The waitress arrived with their food. Carrie ordered another vodka then they continued to talk between bites.
"You can't keep calling yourself a fool. You got played, granted, but that happens to everybody sooner or later. Just rise above it, pick up the pieces and move on."
"Yeah, but I convinced myself it was love, that he was leaving his wife for me. I didn't even have any sympathy for her, turned out I was the 'other woman'. I feel terrible about that. Like some sort of aging slut."
"Hey, I know his wife, don't waste your time feeling sorry for her. She's not much better than he is. If any body's an aging slut here, it's her. Another thing, making a mistake doesn't mark you for life, you're not a slut."
Again, the unexpected kindness opened up a surge of emotions in her. Her eyes welled up and her lower lip began to tremble, much like they had earlier at work. Ed picked up a napkin from the table and leaned forward, ready to wipe away any tears, much like a parent ready to console a hurt child. Then, on an impulse, he wiped away some crumbs from her sandwich off of her lips and kissed her. It was a quick, light kiss, more comforting than passionate. If it had been on her cheek or forehead she'd have thought nothing more of it. But it was on the lips, and this left her confused.
"Why?" she asked without a trace of anger or reproach in her voice, just bewildered curiosity. "What made you do that?"
He looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. "You looked like you needed it."
She reached out and patted his hand, "I did, thanks."
"So, tell me, were you in love with him, or just in love with the idea of being in love?"
"I don't know." She thought for a moment, "I guess with the idea of being in love. I didn't know him well enough, obviously, to really be in love with him. I was lonely and he popped into my life. He said and I quote, 'my wife and I have sort of gone our own ways', so it seemed like the perfect situation. And it was, for him."
"Well, it was understandable under the situation, a lot of other women would have thought the same thing. Don't beat yourself up over it."
Carrie sat straight up and looked at him, "This little talk has helped a lot. You're pretty good at this, maybe you should have been a therapist."
"Now who'd go for therapy from a guy who doesn't appear to be doing so well in the relationship department?"
At first she thought he was turning sarcastic, but when she looked at him he was smiling. He gave her a friendly wink. Relieved, she smiled back and shook her head.
"I never should have said anything like that, I was horrid. I hope you'll forgive and forget."
"You weren't horrid, you thought I was interfering, and you struck back. Just a case of self-defense." He sounded reassuring.
"No, I was horrid. It was a mean spirited and hateful thing to say. I'm sorry for it. But, tell me, how is it you're still single anyway? I've come to the conclusion in the last couple of hours that you're actually a pretty nice guy. So how does it happen that you're not married with a bunch of little Rakouskases to support?"
"That's a kind of convoluted story, and probably kind of stupid sounding. I'll tell you what; I'll try to explain it if you'll tell me something that I don't understand."
"What might that be?" Carrie was interested now.
"I'm not asking this out of anything but curiosity; no reproach, no judgment, or anything like that. I'd just like to know. You've seen Jimmy operate around the office, you know his reputation, how does an intelligent woman like yourself not see through him. Like I said earlier, the good time girls and assorted bimbos, I understand. They're out for fun. You could do so much better, but still..." He trailed off.
Carrie sat and sorted out her thoughts. "The best way I can say it is like this. Yes, I've seen him at work, saw him flirt and hit on other women. I've even laughed to myself when he seemed to sucker them in. But they were usually good looking, often young. So when he moved on me, all I could think was that he must put me in the same league as the others; I was flattered. And as I don't have a reputation for being easy, or at least I don't think I do, I thought he must really think I'm special. I guess it's a form of self-delusion. But that's the way it worked for me."
"I think I get it. Oh, and you're right, you don't have a reputation for being easy, and I don't think this little incident will change that. It may boost his rep a little, but you're safe."
"Thanks, now your story."
"Well this is really going to sound dumb, but here it goes. I never got over my first girlfriend. We started going together in high school and continued for a few years afterwards. She was away at college and one weekend she came home and broke it off; cold turkey."
"And you're still hung up on her?"
"Not exactly, I was over her way back when, however I've never forgotten the feeling of being with her. You know, not the feeling of sex, or adoring worship or any of that silliness. The feeling of a lover and best friend and other half all rolled into one. Having someone that you want to be around all the time, not just when it's convenient. Man, if I could experience one iota of that feeling again with a woman, I'd be hers for as long as she'd have me."
"Never found it?"
"Nope, never. Guess it was asking for too much."
"Seems like we have some things in common. Your idea of love isn't all that different than mine." With that she finished her drink.
"I don't want to be a pest, but that's your fourth vodka. I'm thinking it might be time to call it quits. You only ate half your sandwich and a club sandwich isn't going to soak up all that much of the sauce anyway."
She nodded her head in agreement. "Yeah, I guess I got carried away. I'm not used to the hard stuff."
"Well I don't like the idea of you driving home in this condition. How about we leave your car in the lot at work, I'll drive you home and pick you up in the morning on my way to the office. You can get your car after work."
"That'd be putting you to a lot of trouble, I think I'm all right to drive."
"Maybe you are and maybe you aren't, let's not risk it."
She agreed, Ed paid the check over her protestations and they left. On the ride home as she gave directions she asked him simply, "Are we friends now?"
"After spilling our guts to each other, I hope so. If not we just gave each other lots of ammunition to use the next time we have a run in."
"That's true," she smiled. "Too bad we didn't know we weren't a couple of jerks years ago, because I can't help but think we should have been friends a long time ago."
"We should have, but we weren't. The funny thing is I don't even remember what started our little feud."
"No, now that you mention it neither do I."
"Well, that explains why we didn't know we weren't a couple of jerks; we were acting like a couple of jerks."
When she pointed out her apartment house, he pulled the car over. When she got out, he followed, walking her to the door. She paused as he pulled out his wallet and removed a card. He handed it to her.
"Here, my cell phone number is on this. Call me in the morning if you decide to stay home or if you want to remind me to pick you up. I won't forget, but you might want the reassurance."
"Good, I'll be going in, but I'll still call just to know when to expect you. It's kind of cold to be standing out here waiting. And thanks again. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all this." She kissed him quickly on the cheek. "Till the morning."
"OK, just get some sleep." Then he left.
The next morning she waited in front of the building for him. When his car pulled up she got in quickly.
"Good morning, and thanks again for doing this."
"No big deal. How're you feeling this morning anyway?"
"Good actually, our talk yesterday helped a lot and the vodka put me to sleep. So here I am; well rested and my mind at peace, ready to face the day, thanks to you and the good folks at Smirnoff's. I don't think I'm going to make a habit out of the liquor, but it helped."
"Glad to hear that, I was worried."
"What a difference a day makes though. If you knew what I was thought of you twenty four hours ago, you'd probably throw me out of the car right now."
"That bad was it?"
"Well I was sure you'd be giving me all sorts of grief. So, when I went in let's just say I was pumping myself up for a fight."
"We'll try to put that all behind us."
The office had a different feel for Carrie that morning. Having a friend at the next desk instead of an advisory removed a lot of stress and made things more enjoyable, or at least as enjoyable as work can be. Later that morning, however, as she wove her way through the desks she ran into Jimmy Roselli.
"Hi Carrie, can we talk for a minute?"
"Look Jimmy, I don't have time for this, I've work to do."
"It won't take long, I'd like to explain. You hung up on me before I had a chance to."
Carrie sighed and walked out into the hall with him. Ed watched from his desk and shook his head. It seemed to him she was going to make the same mistake again. He hoped he wouldn't get stuck picking up the pieces one more time. There was a limit to his sympathies. She returned to her desk about ten minutes later.
"So, I just had a talk with Jimmy."
"Yeah, I saw that."
"He explained that he wasn't trying break things off with me, but he and his wife were keeping up appearances for the sake of the kids. But there's no reason we can't go on seeing each other. This whole thing was just some misunderstanding."
"And what did you say?"
"I told him to shove it up his fucking ass. I'm not as gullible as he thinks."
"Good for you."
"But it reminded me of something; I never cancelled those dinner reservations I'd made. If you don't have any plans, I'd like it if you went with me, my treat. A payback for yesterday."
"I'm free, but you needn't pay, we can split the tab."
"No, I want to. When I made the reservations I was going to pay for that clown's dinner, so I'm quite happy to pay for yours. I'm celebrating. What do you say"
"I say let's do it." He was hoping he wasn't getting in too deep.
Two nights later she was sitting at the restaurant with him. It was kind of an elegant affair with a limited menu. She was having lobster, he ordered the prime rib. She watched as he devoured the beef. Some people were meant to eat steak, and it appeared Ed was one of them.
"How is it?" she asked.
"Damned good, but really, this is going to cost you dearly. Let me pay for my half at least."
"No. I said it was on me and I meant it."
"All right then, but I owe you a dinner somewhere down the line. I'm going to hold you to it."
"Well, I do have a birthday coming up, if we're still on friendly terms that is."
"We will be, it's a date."
As they ate they made small talk, it was still hard for Carrie to believe that this was the same guy she'd held in distain for so many years. Now she found him to be pleasant and good humored and, as she'd found out earlier in the week, both kind and compassionate. She was sorry it had taken so long for her to realize this. She now found him charming.
As they finished their meal, she couldn't help but feel there was one thing wrong. It had been a delightful evening, but as she looked about the room she felt out of place. Other couples in the room were all either married, young lovers, or couples who wanted to be lovers. She and Ed were just two co-workers using up reservations that were made to further a romance that went afoul. She felt a twinge of sadness as she remembered she was still alone.