Jumping at Shadows

by Allan Joyal

Tags: Ma/Fa, Romantic, Cheating, Slow, School,

Desc: Romantic Story: A man reflects on his adventures in college and how they changed his life

I thank Asylumseeker for his patience and editing skills.

If anyone tells me that life is supposed to be simple, I might just start crying. For me life, and especially relationships with women, has been a never-ending mystery.

My story starts when I was in grade school. My father was a struggling building contractor with a lot of experience in framing, but lacked the depth of experience in dry-walling. One day he ran into Steven, another struggling contractor who knew a lot about dry-walling but otherwise was very weak in his building skills.

Needless to say, my father and Steven soon realized that they would do a lot better if they worked together, and before I was in junior high they had turned their partnership into a thriving local business. Naturally my father Dave and Steven were thrilled and brought the two families closer together.

For me this became a problem because Steven had a daughter Janet who was in the same grade as I at school. Of course our fathers decided that they had to start living in a nicer neighborhood, and the summer before I started seventh grade, both families moved to one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in Fresno and took up residence in adjoining houses. I found myself always subtly pushed to spend time with Janet.

Well, spending time with Janet was not terrible. She kept her brunette hair in a short and sassy arrangement. Thanks to an energetic younger brother she tended to get out and run, so her body was slender, even if she had only a hint of breasts when we started school that first year.

As we journeyed up through high school Janet and I seemed to naturally drift into a relationship and dated exclusively throughout the intervening years. I enjoyed her company and was looking forward to living with her once we completed college.

Unfortunately the worm decided to reveal itself during our first term at UCLA. I had talked with my father and was pretty sure that a degree in architecture and drafting would help move the business forward and increase profits, and both he and Steven loved the idea.

Janet was not sure what career path she wanted to take, but was also attending UCLA, although we accepted our parents' edict that we not live together during our freshman year.

I honestly can say that I did not see it coming. I had just completed my last mid-term and wanted to take advantage of a night without studying so I gave Janet a call. She begged off claiming that she needed the evening to complete a term paper she was working on. Since she was not available I found myself at the student center shooting pool with several guys from my dorm.

We were in a back corner so I guess Janet did not notice me when she wandered in about an hour after we had started playing. I would have been a bit upset that she showed up without telling me she finished early, but the fact that she was draped over some hoodlum wearing a biker jacket really got my blood boiling. My opponent was tapping me on the shoulder to alert me that it was my shot when I saw Janet's hand slide down the guy's front and give a squeeze to his crotch.

I would have slammed the cue down, but my roommate had finally realized what I was looking at and snatched it away before I could do any damage to it or the tables. He had a hand on my arm and was trying to say something, but I stormed over to the table where Janet and her date were sitting. They were so absorbed in their petting that it was a couple of moments before Janet looked up and noticed me with a gasp.

"Interesting term paper you're working on Janet," I hissed. "I'm figuring that it's either a class on Human Sexuality, or you decided to write some paper about 'Cuckolding Throughout the Ages' and wanted to test your thesis."

Janet had been sitting on the inside of the booth and was struggling to get free of her boyfriend as I removed her class ring from my finger and then unhooked the necklace she had gifted me for graduation. I put the ring on the chain and then dropped the jewelry on the table in front of the guy who seemed to be clueless to the situation.

"Well Janet, I'll let your new man take these. I could never wear them with pride after seeing how loyal you are. Have a wonderful life."

I turned and walked away as Janet continued to try to climb over the guy. He must have figured out that he was in the middle of a domestic problem because I soon heard a new voice join in the calls for me to stop, but other than grabbing my jacket from my pool opponent I did not stop until I reached my dorm room.

Ten minutes later I was sitting on my bed and wondering what I had done wrong when the pounding started on my door. I could hear Janet screaming through it.

"Nate, please. Talk to me. It was a mistake. It meant nothing. Please!"

At first I listened, but my thoughts kept going back to the fact that she had outright lied to me when I had called earlier. I could hear her words, but I had little to no trust in them and my anger at her was enough that I feared what I might do if I opened the door.

The pounding continued and I finally had to hunt down my i-pod and turn the sound up to drown out Janet's increasingly hysteric cries. I could not relax and finally pulled out my math text, figuring that some intense study might help take my mind off the disaster, which my social life had just become.

I guess it worked, because the next thing I remember my roommate was gently shaking me to wake up as I slumped over my desk.

"Dude, your girlfriend is sleeping just outside. I had to sneak into another room on the floor, she spent hours trying to get in," he whispered.

I thought for a moment and realized that I could get away with missing my one Friday class for a week, and nodded. "Sounds like I need to disappear for the weekend. Let's hope the slut stays asleep for a few more minutes."

My roommate looked a bit shocked. "Aren't you going to talk to her?"

I shook my head. "I've had plenty of girls offer their pussies to me since my junior year in high school. I never accepted those offers because I respected Janet and our relationship. Now I find that she didn't have enough respect for me to admit that she was stepping out with other guys. And don't try to claim she didn't have her hands all over him. You saw her squeeze that bastard's cock," I snarled back, trying very hard to stay quiet.

Janet must have been tired, because she never woke as I stumbled around grabbing a few items of clothing and then stormed out of the room. My roommate later told me that her wails of despair when she woke up and learned I had left for the weekend were heard throughout the dorm and handed me an envelope signed by Janet's hand. That letter ended up thrown in a drawer, to be ignored.

Janet did try to get in touch with me for the rest of the term, but she lived in another dorm and the building guard soon figured out that I no longer welcomed her visits because he forced her to get someone to sign her in which gave me time to sneak out. Of course my parents and hers quickly became involved and I was to hear constant remarks like "She really loves you" or "You are being unfair" throughout the term and into the winter break.

The next term allowed me to relax as Janet seemed to back off. My roommate and the other guys in the dorm also decided that a nice guy like me needed to get out, and I soon found myself dragged to a couple of frat parties. At one I ran into a cute dark-haired charmer named Trish and soon was dating her regularly.

Trish proved to be a wild yet wonderful date, and by the end of the school year we were near-constant companions. Summer was going to be difficult, but we worked out a plan where she would visit me for a couple weeks, and then I would spend a week up at her parents' place.

The plan worked nearly perfectly, except that Trish happened to be visiting when my father hosted the annual summer picnic for the business. I knew that Steven and Mildred would attend, and had little doubt that Janet would also show up, so I tried hard to find a way to avoid showing up.

My father insisted, and so on that warm July Saturday found Trish and I sitting at a picnic table watching a bunch of kids when Janet walked up to me.

"Can we talk? Can we finally talk?" Janet demanded. I felt myself tense and Trish put a gentle hand on my shoulder.

"Talk about what? About how you lied to me that night when you said you were going to study? About how it was some accident when your hand squeezed that bastard's cock as you walked into the student center? Or perhaps you want to somehow make me believe that you always study with no bra on and your blouse unbuttoned almost to your waist?"

I heard a hiss from Trish and a loud shout of "Don how could you?" from my father as Janet ran away covering her face.

"How could I what, father?" I asked as I turned to him. "How could I tell the truth about what Janet did that caused our breakup? How could I be so vindictive towards a cheating slut? I told you that I did not want to be here because I knew she'd try to talk to me. You insisted, so you have to accept the consequences."

Trish seemed a little saddened as I got up and stormed off towards my car, half dragging her as she refused to release my arm. We ended up spending the night in a hotel where at first I used her like a whore before her patience and love brought me back to sanity. We woke up the next morning cuddled together, and somehow she was wearing my class ring.

My sophomore year had me putting a lot more time into drafting classes and I found that I loved the challenge of balancing form, function and cost. Kevin Huffman, one of my professors, took an interest in my work and soon I was spending extra time working on small projects for him. He even worked through his contacts to find me a summer internship with a major Central Valley architecture firm, and said that if I did well there, I could expect another after my junior year.

Trish and I got together at least two nights a week, and just about every weekend. I was feeling confident and happy, which was another way of saying I was a clueless idiot.

It was that summer I discovered the truth about Trish. The company I was interning for had just won a new job in Sacramento, and my boss surprised me one Thursday afternoon by telling me that they wanted me at the site at six a.m. the next day. Trish lived with her parents about three miles from the site, so I figured I would drive up the afternoon before and surprise her.

I was the one surprised. I had turn turned onto her street when she appeared out of the door of her parents' place wearing a mini-skirt and a pair of come-fuck-me pumps and walked confidently to a car waiting by the curb. I pulled a bit closer to see her get in the passenger side and give the driver a kiss that must have melted the seats with its passion.

Tears threatened to blind me, but somehow I managed to drive my car until I was directly across from the driver's door. I blasted the horn for just a moment and then reached around my neck to pull out the promise necklace Trish had given me as a birthday gift. I could see the driver trying to figure out what was happening as I put my arm out the window and dropped the chain onto the street.

The shout of "No!" coming from this still-parked car followed me down the street as I drove away.

The rest of the summer I threw myself into the work and asked for extra duties whenever possible. The more travel and site time I spent, the less time I had to reflect on my two cratered relationships. Trish at least did not bother trying to call after my father told her that I was traveling for work, and might be home at the end of the summer.

The only message she left was, "Tell him I'll explain when we return to school."

I scoffed when I found that note taped to my door when I returned from one of my trips. It had been nearly two years and I still refused to stay in Janet's presence if she tried to speak to me. Trish knew that and I had to wonder how she would manage to explain the fact that I found her ready to christen some guy's car with her pussy when I had promised her I would be true to her.

Trish was a bit cleverer than Janet. She had heard me comment about how most classrooms on campus had two or more exits and that it proved remarkably easy to avoid Janet simply by leaving from the exit that she was not standing next to.

Instead, Trish figured out what elective courses I might take and had friends audit them for the first week. I entered my American History class that second week to see Trish walk up to the professor and ask him to sign off on an add slip before she looked my way and then sat down in the front row.

I was upset, but there was no way that Trish was going to get me to slink off like some thief in the night. For the entire term we performed an interesting dance where she attempted to find a way to sit next to me, and I did my best to arrange that she could not approach me during class. In some ways it was like high school as several times she left notes in my bag or on my desk, always offering to meet me to explain.

Perhaps I could have met her, but my roommate reported that she was going out on regular dates. He made the news a bit more clear when he said that the frat rumor mill said that she was a sure-bet date. I left Trish a note the next class that simply said. "I do not talk to girls who sleep with entire frats." After that, Trish stopped trying to approach me, but remained in the class.

I was not without dates during this period. I guess after having both Janet and Trish decide that one man's love was not enough, I lost some of my faith in romance. Instead I dated a series of young ladies and built up a reputation for a great date, but completely uninterested in a relationship. I did treat the girls with respect and was happy to just sit and listen sometimes, but never dated the same girl more than four times and any dates after the second always included sex. Summer of my junior year found me back with the architecture firm, but now spending most of my time under one of their senior project managers. I found that there were many tricks which were not taught in school. He seemed impressed with my drive and intelligence and as the summer wound to a close he asked me if I had plans after I graduated.

Part of me wanted to return home, but my parents were still on my case about dumping Janet. Most of my visits home eventually ended with me locking myself into my room for the night and then leaving the next morning after a series of angry words. They kept trying to make it sound like Janet was pining away without me, but she had joined a sorority after I dumped her and my Greek friends told me that she was now the life of most parties and a good reason why that sorority was highly regarded for exchanges and such within the Greek system.

So, I ended up admitting that my future plans were very much in flux, but that I was not sure I wanted to commit at the time. California is a wonderful state but I had to wonder if something caused the girls here to become sluts and I wanted to see other parts of the nation before I committed myself to anything. The manager, Jason, slapped my back and told me he completely understood.

The biggest advantage of what had happened to me was that the two breakups and later disinterest in relationships had left me plenty of time to study. I was on schedule to graduate on time and had even planned on taking a pair of post-graduate courses in my final year. Kevin Huffman, my professor friend, continued to praise my work and often found contests or other activities I could use to broaden my skills. It was one such contest which started me on a new path.

The contest was to design a special custom home. The project had some strict guidelines, although it was mostly a test of one's ability to use computer-assisted design to create a blueprint and then display it. The classes I had taken gave me a strong background in the design work and use of the computer system, but I lacked much ability with the more artistic portions. My designs were solid and always met the demands of the assignment, but they tended to lack that final piece which made others say, "Wow."

Well, it turns out that Kevin knew a young lady studying interior design who had the opposite problem to mine. He told me that she had an eye for what would fit, and could use the display programs to show how her designs might look in practice after selection of materials and customizing. He insisted that if I worked with her I would definitely win, and even took the time to set up a meeting for us at three in the student center.

"Trust me," he said when I glared at him after he handed me a note with the time. "I would never guide my favorite students wrong."

Well, I had no answer to that, and his guidance in regards to my summer internships had been both instructional and lucrative, so two forty-five found me sitting in the booth remarked on in the note and nursing a Coke.

Thirty minutes passed while I sat there waiting and I finally decided that Kevin's friend had stood me up.

I had my bag sitting on the bench next to me and was closing it back up when I heard a voice say, "Oh God, please tell me that you are Don and that I'm not too late."

I turned and was ready to tell this girl that anyone who could not be on time was not someone I wanted to partner with when I saw her and my brain came to a complete stop. Trying to describe Bethany Ann Fisher is like trying to paint a picture without colors. I can start with the basics.

She has long blond hair that usually falls to her waist, unless she had put it up to clean. Her blue eyes seemed deeper than the sea and her perfect lips have a touch of rose to them even without lipstick. Tall and slender, I found out later that she played high school basketball but decided to concentrate on her studies in college, and with perfect breasts that screamed for me to reach out and touch them. Even her outfit when I first met her was perfect. It was attractive but understated, and sexy without appearing slutty.

However, at that moment this gorgeous blond beauty was looking at me with concern until finally my mind restarted.

"Oh, sorry. Yes, I am Don, and while you are a bit late, I guess waiting for someone as beautiful as you is not too much of a chore," I replied finally.

The lady slid onto the bench on the opposite side of the booth, dropping her backpack on the floor.

"I should introduce myself, since I imagine that Professor Huffman forgot to give you my name. I'm Bethany," she said and held out her hand.

"Charmed," I said as I took her hand. I had a wicked thought and before she could pull it away brought it up to my lips and gave it a quick kiss. Bethany pulled her hand away and blushed, but there was a smile in her eyes.

"You're dangerous," she decided as she opened her bag and pulled out a copy of the requirements. "However, we are here to put together an entry for this contest. Do you have any ideas?"

I am not going to bore you with the next seven hours of conversation. Bethany and I proved to be every bit as compatible in design as Professor Huffman thought, and what followed that last line was a marathon session where we discussed design, detail, materials, positioning, construction difficulties, and finally the cost for our entry.

In many ways it was as if we were designing for a real customer. Our skills really did compliment each other. Once we had a basic idea, I could put the walls and major structural points in quickly. After that, Bethany would follow and spot all the interior points which would need decoration. She would sit and ask me what materials I would recommend and then find something which brought out some aspect of my design with a flair that I had never managed.

We had a wonderful time together and those seven hours produced a design for a rambling five-bedroom home that would actually be quick to build and yet look attractive if it was built to the specifications we set.

It was so late that I had to apologize and offered to take Bethany home. She smiled and accepted, but mentioned that we should get together again. My answer was to offer a list of possible ideas and times, at which Bethany giggled, before accepting the idea of a picnic for the coming Saturday.

I turned in our finished design the next day and promptly forgot about it. I had just the one final term to go and the post-graduate classes proved to be a bit more difficult than I had expected. Bethany and I had started dating, which proved to be a very different experience than with Janet or Trish.

With Janet and Trish there was a lot of physical contact and both loved when I initiated kisses or hugs. Bethany seemed extremely shy. She always dressed nice, but even after four weeks of dating I had never received more than a very brief kiss on the lips. Other men might have given up, but the looks Bethany gave me whenever she thought I was not paying attention seemed to be filled with longing and hope, so I stayed.

The term was done except for finals when Professor Huffman called me to his office one Wednesday. I turned up to find Bethany already there along with a man in a suit. The professor looked at both of us and nodded. I was about to ask what this was about when the man spoke.

"You are Bethany Miller and Don Cochran, correct?" he asked.

I looked at Bethany and then replied. "I am Don and this is Bethany. Might I ask why we were called here?"

Bethany had a look that made it clear she was just as confused as I when Professor Huffman spoke. "Do you remember the contest? The design one where I recommended you two work on it together?"

I shrugged, but Bethany responded. "Certainly. But what does that have to do about calling us here?"

The man cleared his throat. "I guess I should explain. That contest was more than just a contest. My client wanted a special house designed, but did not like the designs offered by three different firms, so he asked me to come up with an alternative. Professor Huffman and I came up with the idea of a contest to see if anyone could develop a design compatible with my client's demands. In the end more than one hundred entries were made, but your design was perfect. So I want to make an offer."

I looked at Professor Huffman. "So that design was not just for a contest? It's actually been used?" I asked.

Professor Huffman shook his head. "Well, its still being built, but I've seen photos of the progress. Give the builders another three months and the house will be ready to be lived in."

I wanted to protest, but the other man in the room spoke up. "Don't worry. The contest money might not equal the amount a top architectural firm might be paid for that design, but it's not bad either. Besides, you should listen to the offer I have.

"You see, I worked at the second firm the client visited, but the senior partners refused to listen to him and provided only fairly standard designs which fit neither his budget nor his requirements. I had some ideas but was told if I brought them up, I would forfeit any future dreams of partnership in the firm.

"The client naturally rejected their design and actually talked to several other firms before he remembered my protests during his initial meeting with the firm I worked for. He returned and we discussed the possibility of me designing his home, but my contract with the firm prevented me from producing any alternate designs. That is why I came up with the contest idea."

The man continued. "Well, your design proved to be exactly what the client wanted and he's been talking to his friends, but if you are hired by a larger firm, that creative flair you displayed would be quickly stifled. I have been working in the field for nearly twenty years and it didn't take me long to realize that talent like yours and others needs freedom.

"Well, I've already told my firm that I'm leaving and going to open a new independent firm in Phoenix. I wanted to offer the two of you partner positions in the new firm."

There was a long moment of silence before Bethany spoke. "But, partner positions take years to earn. Everyone tells me that you have to put in at least ten years to get one."

The man nodded. "In a traditional firm, especially an older one, that would be true. But this would be a brand new firm and your talents and vision will guide it from the start. I can provide backup as well as plenty of contacts, and I already have a surprising number of interested parties who have heard about the one house you did design, so it's a pretty good opportunity."

I looked over at Professor Huffman who was nodding and smiling. I had a multitude of questions, but the majority felt mostly petty and small so I spoke up. "I need to complete my finals, but I cannot see any reason to say no. Just let me know where the office is and I'll try to be there a week after finals, but it may take a day or two more."

Bethany looked at me as I spoke and then immediately said. "Count me in."

The man, Fred Longren proved to be well prepared and pulled out a number of legal documents pertaining to establishing an architectural partnership in Phoenix. Professor Huffman called the department secretary to notarize the signatures as Bethany, Fred and I signed to indicate the formation of Desert Bruin Builders. Fred was the senior partner as he was risking a considerable amount of money to establish the firm, but we had barely finished signing everything when he passed over four sheets of paper.

"I had high hopes you would agree, and took these on at risk. The clients are not asking for anything too fancy, but do you think you can design those?"

I looked at the sheets and they were requirements and requests for the design of three homes and one small ten-thousand square-foot strip mall.

"The strip mall might be a bit difficult since Bethany won't be able to work her magic," I answered. "But if she cannot make the insides of the houses sing to the clients' hearts I'll be surprised."

I was looking at Fred as I said that and although I heard Bethany gasp I did not turn to look at her. I looked at the clock and realized that I was about to be late for an evening class so I dashed out of the room without saying more. Bethany called out that she would call me later as I sprinted out of the building.

We only had a short time before finals, and both Bethany and I found ourselves swamped with last-minute study sessions and term projects. We did manage to meet for several lunches and rushed out two of the house designs. The other house and the mall would require more time than we had, but when we reported this to Fred he let us know that both clients had given us a late July deadline so we could complete those after finals.

My parents and Janet's both showed up for my graduation although Janet was going to need two more terms to complete her classes.

My muttered remark of, "Spent too much time with her panties on the floor and feet in the air did she," resulted in Steven giving me a black eye, but later that night my father admitted that he had been hearing similar rumors throughout the construction staff the previous summer. Janet seemed to be happy to let any man take her to bed, and her grades were falling rapidly.

Mildred also sought me out after graduation. She apologized both for her husband's actions which left me with a black eye, and for all that Janet had done to me.

"I don't understand it," she told me. "When we can get her sober and talk to her she still claims that what happened that first night was some terrible mistake, but how can I believe that? She was home for ten weeks last summer and there were maybe three days she did not find some guy to spend time with, and considering the looks of some of them, I doubt it was for the conversation. I wish you could talk to her. However, I expect all she'd do is try to drag you to the nearest bed and you are far too honest to do that."

Mildred placed a fond hand on my arm and then watched as I walked over to Bethany who was standing alone. She had no one to come and congratulate her, and I pressed her to come meet my parents, but she told me she had to hurry off and start packing up her apartment.

My father was a bit disappointed that I was not going to be staying with the company, although my younger brother already was a foreman after skipping college and going straight to work for the company. However, once he understood the opportunity that I had in front of me, he proved to be surprisingly supportive.

He had arranged an apartment rental for me through a friend of his, and brought a few workers out to the campus just to help me pack up my apartment. It turned out to be a very fast process with dedicated workers and it was only early afternoon when I turned my keys over to the manager and watched the U-haul with most of my goods head east. I was planning on following after one last evening with a few of my friends from my years at the university.

I was relaxing at the student union with a few of my old roommates when Jason, the manager from the firm I had worked at for the last two summers, walked in the door and strolled over to my table.

"So, I hear you got snatched away from me," he bellowed.

My friends were suddenly quiet, but I knew Jason and stood to look at him.

"Well, can you blame others for seeing the sterling worker you had and making an offer?" I replied.

A couple of my friends looked at me in shock when Jason started laughing.

"Nope. I can't blame anyone for trying to get you to work for them. And Fred is a good man. Just wish I'd thought of it, because you are going to make a lot of money," he said

I stepped away from the table and Jason gave me a manly hug. "Still wish the firm could have made a better offer, but they are too traditional."

As we broke the hug I shrugged. "Well, without Bethany I don't think the offer gets made. I know how to set up the measurements and rooms, but she makes the designs come to life."

Jason laughed. "Modest as always. Someday you'll realize that you have a lot of talent yourself. However, I heard you were about to head off and figured that I had to give you a celebratory night out. Bring you friends if you want, but let's go."

I had no idea what he had in mind but followed him to the parking lot where he handed me a printout from Yahoo! Maps and told me to meet him at that address. I noticed a couple of my friends had followed and after a short discussion about transportation, I jumped in my car for the thirty minute or so drive.

I nearly turned around and drove off when I arrived at the address and realized that Jason's celebration was going to occur at one of the region's topless dance clubs.

I had a box sitting in the glove box of my car containing the ring I was hoping to give Bethany once she arrived in Phoenix and felt like I would be betraying her if I went inside. My friends, who knew nothing about this, kept up the pressure and finally Jason's promise to pay for the drinks got me to go inside.

I had been in some of the clubs before, although mostly the ones allowing nude dancing since you only had to be eighteen to enter them. It is a weird quirk in California law that topless clubs can serve alcohol, but you must be twenty-one to enter, while the nude clubs do not serve alcohol, but you can be eighteen and enter. This club, like most, looked like nothing on the outside but the inside, while not well lit, was not the smoke- filled dive some bars are.

The place was jumping and had two different stages going, plus a surprising number of ladies working the crowd seeing if they could talk someone into a lap dance. I tried to concentrate on nursing the beer Jason ordered and keeping my cool as my friends took to whistling and catcalling as the dancers went through their paces.

The ladies themselves were attractive but I just could not get into the scene. That was when the announcer called out that we were going to receive a special treat.

"Tonight, in a rare double dance, Savanna and Jade!" he cried out as the previous girl, a buxom young Hispanic lady, disappeared into the back. The crowd actually roared in anticipation as some electro-pop number started up.

As the girls came out wearing something that might have been called a schoolgirl outfit, I could feel my heart sink through the floor. I did not recognize one of the ladies, a leggy Asian girl with a big smile, but the other lady was none other than Bethany. Instantly I could see my dreams and beliefs shattering.

Robotically I pulled out my money clip and looked at it. Bethany had given it to me just before finals, saying that she wanted me to have something special. She always told me that money was tight. Instead of searching for something expensive she had found a simple money clip and had my initials embroidered into the leather covering. I had been so happy to receive it, but right then I wondered how many lap dances she did to obtain the money to purchase it.

The dance Bethany and the other girl went through was mostly tease, but included plenty of posing and grinding. Both ladies managed to bring roars from the crowd with their moves, and the crowd's mood was building. They finished by mashing their breasts together while kissing each other deeply. I had to question if that was legal, but the crowd was going absolutely crazy.

I felt a moment of intense rage, but the crowd between the stage and my body prevented me from rushing it. Instead I stood and threw my money clip towards the stage and turned to stalk out. Bethany and the other lady were grabbing their discarded garments and preparing to leave the stage as I stormed out of the club.

Jason and my friends must not have noticed me leave, because none of them followed me into the parking lot. I really was too upset to drive but I could not remain. I took one deep breath and suppressed a sob as I started my car and left the lot leaving a trail of rubber behind me.

I do not know what time it was when I left the lot, but sometime around three in the morning I found myself driving on the freeway just outside of Phoenix. I really did not want to stop, but my brain was screaming for sleep, so I took the exit to my apartment and made the short drive to my planned new home.

When I entered I found that my father must have stopped by with his workers, because all of the items they packed in the U-haul were out and carefully placed in the various rooms. The bed was not made, but at the time I just wanted a place to crash and fell onto the mattress to fall asleep.

It must have been close to noon when I finally awoke. I had originally planned to spend a day setting my apartment up before arriving at the new office, but looking around the apartment I was reminded that I had hoped Bethany would move in and help me decorate and the thought of working alone did not appeal. So after a brief search through some of the boxes to find my main drafting tools and taking time to freshen up, I staggered to my car for the short drive to the office.

Fred seemed honestly pleased to see me and reported that earlier that morning one of the two drawings Bethany and I had finished proved to be exactly what the client wanted.

"I'm lining up the builders and supplies now to get them a final quote, and we have an attorney arranging to get the city approvals we'll need to start construction," he raved.

I found myself smiling at the news. "Well, I'll get on the strip mall then. I have some ideas for the layout based on what you've sent me. The overhead picture of the lot really helped me get an idea for how everything will need to be placed. It's still going to take a week or so though."

Fred waved me off. "Great. If we can win that it will really help us bring in clients."

I stepped out from Fred's office and found the desk he had reported would be mine. With a small firm space was costly, so the office only had the one private office which Fred used. Bethany and I were set up with individual desks, and there was a small conference room for making presentations to potential clients and builders.

It was planned as a rather cozy environment and despite the darkness in my heart that I felt each time I looked over at Bethany's empty desk, I found that I went to work with a will.

Trying to design the right building for the strip mall proved fascinating and intense. The client wanted the building to be able to accommodate anywhere from four to six stores of various sizes, and yet wanted something that would have the right look for the odd- shaped corner lot the mall was to go on.

I got very wrapped up in my work. I wanted the partnership to win this contract, so I was taking great care with the placement of every wall and door, trying to come up with the perfect design. I was looking over one section of the building trying to decide if I wanted to square up a corner or allow the wall to run parallel to the edge of the lot even though that would distort the one corner I was working in. I got so into this puzzle that I never heard the door open and it was only when I looked up that I realized someone had entered the office.

The young lady with black hair was smartly dressed, and I was about to ask her what she wanted when I realized that it was Bethany's partner from the strip club. I now found myself wanting to say something nasty, but there was a look of pleading in her eyes that stopped me.

"You going to talk to her?" she asked me. "Or will you shut her out just like you did Janet and Trish?"

I looked over at Fred's office, but he was absorbed in a phone call and did not appear to be paying attention. "What about them? I did nothing other than decide that listening to claims of innocence held no interest for me after I found them giving rather intimate caresses to other men."

The young woman looked puzzled and then shook her head. "You have no idea. You really don't get it, do you?"

I shrugged. "What's to get? In both cases the incidents happened after an agreement had been made to date exclusively. They broke it. I just decided to walk away. I don't remember Bethany making any promises to me."

I said this while looking over at the engagement ring box which I had brought in and set on my desk when I arrived. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I figured that I would probably be seeing about returning it to the store, but I found that thought painful.

The lady looked at me again. She seemed to be thinking things over as Fred finished his phone call and hung up noisily. "Who's out there Don? Anything I can help with?"

"She's a friend of Bethany's," I shouted back. "Sadly, this visit is not about any new buildings today."

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Cheating / Slow / School /