It was tough for me to get used to the idea of being single again after twenty-two years of marriage. At my age, it wasn't easy to find female companionship -- at least the kind that I wanted. Sure, there were a couple of gold-diggers. I mean, I wasn't rich, but I was pretty well-fixed. I had no mortgage on my home, no car payments or other serious bills, and a considerable salary. As I said, not rich but comfortable.
My job was also interesting. I was the chief software engineer for a medium-sized application development company: Radius. The only problem was that I didn't actually design things any more. I supervised. I could have done without the management side of the job.
There were quite a few pretty young things around my workplace, but I discovered early on that they weren't interested in an old fart like me. Except for the obvious gold-diggers, which I soon learned to spot.
Shannon Peters was a pretty young woman. She had the sort of nice girl-next-door looks that have always appealed to me. Her manner of dress served to emphasize these looks. She was always well-dressed in a neat but sedate style. Her pageboy haircut also amplified the girl-next-door impression. She had very black hair, blue eyes and a very light complexion with freckles -- the unusual coloration that's known as "black Irish." I discovered that she was indeed of Irish descent. Her maiden name was Mahoney, which she hated. She was on the petite side, about 5' 3" or 5" 4", and she was, I guessed, about thirty-five, at least twenty years younger than I. She was also married and therefore out of reach.
Shannon worked in our marketing department. She was intelligent and very good at her job. I discovered this in working with her on several projects. Working with Shannon was always a delight. About three years ago, we were working together. She was putting together a sales package for a new product. I knew from previous experience that Shannon was very bright and very professional. On this new project, my previous experience of her was reinforced.
Since I had been in charge of the software's development, Shannon needed input from me. She was very careful to be sure that her material would communicate the details of the application without misrepresenting it.
Since the deadline was approaching, we found ourselves working over the holidays. We were in my office on the 29th of December. Neither of us wanted to be there, but we didn't have much choice. I noticed that Shannon was unusually quiet and somewhat morose, so I asked if anything was troubling her.
"It's just that my husband is out of town on a business trip," she said, "and he called last night to say that he wouldn't be home for new year's. So I'll probably just sit in front of the TV and watch the Time's Square celebration. Or something equally boring."
"I don't have any plans either. Why don't you come over to my place for dinner, and we'll watch the tube together?"
"That sounds nice, but..."
"Shannon, I said 'dinner'-- nothing more. OK?"
"Oh hell, why not?" She paused and looked down for a moment. "I'll need directions, though. Actually, I'll just take a cab. Don usually drives, so I never bothered to get a licence."
"Why don't you let me pick you up?" I'd bought a new Mercedes CLK 430 coupe in September, and I admit that I loved showing it off. "I'd be happy to provide transportation, Madame."
Shannon smiled for the first time that afternoon. "OK. What time?"
She gave me her address, and we agreed that I'd pick her up at 6:00 on the 31st. The rest of the afternoon went very well. Shannon was able to concentrate much better, and we finished our work early.
"Shannon, that was terrific. Why don't you let me buy you a drink at Charlie's place? Then I'll give you a lift home, now that I know the address."
"Well... all right. But just a quick one. I'm expecting a call from my mother at about 7:30."
We packed up and headed for the bar. It was actually called "The Continental," but everybody in our company simply called it "Charlie's." Charlie was the bartender and manager, and this afternoon he was the only person in the place when we went in. He greeted us warmly.
"I'm glad to see some people. Christ, it's been so slow today. The thing is that not many people actually live around here, so when the offices are closed nothing happens. I'm probably going to close early, but I'll happily look after you. How about the corner booth?"
We sat down and ordered a couple of Charlie's specials. He's one of the few guys I know who actually makes a gin gimlet from scratch. The only problem is that they always taste like more. So we each ended up having a couple of them.
Away from the office, Shannon was an even better conversationalist. It turned out that she had many interests, among them rabbits, of all things. She'd bred them when she was a kid and really wanted a hutch. The problem was that she and the absent Don lived in a high-rise apartment in a building that frowned on both pets and children. I, of course, never had the slightest interest in rabbits. In fact, the only things I admired about them were their sexual habits, but Shannon made rabbits sound interesting.
We finished our drinks and headed for the parking garage. I was happy to see that Shannon was suitably impressed by my car. She managed to "ooh" and "ah" at all the right things as I drove her home. She lived across town, and traffic was heavy. The trip took a while, but we finally pulled up in front of her building.
"Thanks, Mike," Shannon said. "Thanks for being a friend when I really need one." She leaned across the console, gave me a peck on the cheek, then got out and walked inside quickly.
New Year's Eve 1999 was on a Friday. It finally arrived. I planned to do one of my favourite meals -- a meat fondue. It's a dish I've loved since I spent some time in Switzerland. I'd prepared the broth and the sauces the previous day, and I had a more than ample supply of beef tenderloin. I figured we could have the fondue in the living room in front of the fireplace. It would be nice and cheerful. The potatoes were cut and ready for the deep fryer. The bubbly was in the fridge. It was time to pick up Shannon.
When I got to Shannon's place, she was in the lobby waiting for me. She gave me another peck on the cheek. I escorted her to the car, and we drove away. On the way to my place, Shannon talked a mile a minute. I suspect that she was a bit nervous. I know that I was. We arrived at my house and pulled into the driveway.
We went inside. I took Shannon's coat and hung it beside mine. Then I turned around and got my first real look at her that evening. I think I must have been staring like an idiot. She looked fantastic. She was wearing the sort of outfit she never wore at the office. She was dressed for once in formfitting clothes -- a black sweater and a black leather skirt. They emphasized all the right points of her little form. The skirt had a big zipper in front that went from waist to hem. She looked sexy as hell.
I said, "Shannon, you look..."
"Different?" She smiled and did a little pirouette.
"Absolutely gorgeous," I managed to finish.
"I don't always dress like a nun," she said.
"I never thought that you did. At the office, you always look..."
"Mike, that's business. This isn't. By the way, this place looks great. Why don't you get us a drink and show me around?"
I got our drinks, and I gave her the tour. I was surprised and pleased at her reaction to my art collection. Over the years, I've collected some choice works by Canadian artists, many of whom are my friends. Shannon had a very good eye and immediately gravitated to the best piece. I was getting used to being surprised by her.
I put the potatoes in the deep fryer and lit the fondue pot. Soon supper was ready. We sat on the chesterfield in front of the fire and ate off the coffee table. Shannon managed to put away a surprising amount of food for such a little girl. Another surprise.
After we finished our fondue, we were both fairly stuffed. I suggested that we have our coffee and think about desert later. She agreed. Then she asked if she could use my phone.
"Of course you can. Use the one in my office upstairs. That will give you more privacy."
"OK, but I'm just going to check my messages. Don was supposed to call today, and I haven't heard from him yet."
Shannon went upstairs while I cleared up and got the coffee and cognac. When she came back downstairs, she was very quiet and crestfallen.
"Shannon, what's wrong?"
She looked at me with tears in her eyes. "That bastard! He doesn't call all day, and then he leaves me a message to tell me that he won't be home until next weekend. Fuck him! Fuck him!"
Shannon dissolved in tears. I took her in my arms and held her. She cried on my shoulder as though her heart were breaking. I cuddled her and stroked her hair for what seemed a long time. Finally, she regained her control. She looked up at me.
"Thanks, Mike. I'm sorry to cast a pall over such a lovely evening."
"Shannon, in your shoes I'm sure I'd be in even worse shape."
She grinned. "But I'm not wearing shoes."
"OK, in your stockings then." I grinned back at her, happy that she found some humour in the situation. "Let's go back to the living room and sit in front of the fire."
We sat down. Shannon looked at me. I was afraid from her expression that she was going to cry again. "Mike, please hold me."
.... There is more of this story ...