Cathy drove all the way home with her jaws clenched. Her headache was throbbing by the time she reached the driveway. Her day began with confidence, and now she was trembling with anger from almost a whole week of battling what she was learning was a good old boy network.
The back door slammed behind Cathy and she stomped her foot. She forgot to stop by the store for her husband's favorite cheesecake to go with dinner. She raised the lid of the slow cooker, unable to resist checking on the small roast and vegetables she had filled it with before she left the house early that morning. It was more difficult to manage a good dinner while spending a full day at a job. It hadn't seemed as hard to do as a student in graduate school.
On her way through the house, Cathy flung her new leather briefcase at the couch. It bounced onto the floor, where she left it. She allowed herself a moment of rare anger. She had worked too many years and taken the extra steps of additional schooling to reach for a goal she knew she could achieve. Her confidence was not wavering, but it was being tested.
She unbuttoned the silk blouse beneath the tailored jacket and pulled her shirt-tail out of the waist of her skirt as she walked down the hall. Despite her anger, she took care of her clothing. She believed in dressing for success. She also believed that looking a little better and more professional than her competitors had helped secure her recent job offer. In the bedroom, she was hanging her clothing on her free-standing valet and noticed her husband's clothing was hanging from his own clothing organizer. She wondered where he was; his car wasn't in the garage.
She felt better when she pulled the knit jersey housedress over her naked body. She didn't even bother with shoes. The simple act of changing clothes allowed some of her ire to settle, but she wasn't going to be truly calm until she could tell her husband about her miserable day. The future of her entire career depended on how well she did in her first job.
She expected him to listen. He might give her more of his boys will be boys excuses, but today's events had gone beyond that level. He knew about internal corporate jockeying for superior positions and she needed some good advice this time.
"James." Cathy called her husband's name as she walked back down the hall. She stopped for a moment at the study door but he was not at his desk.
"James," she called a second time while she walked through the den but got no answer. Even after examining the back yard through the French doors, she didn't see him. She shrugged her shoulders and walked to the kitchen.
Cathy was still agitated as she prepared the salad and removed the roast from the slow cooker. She was muttering and grumbling. "Audacity! Impertinence! Brazen!" squeezed out between her tight lips.
She tried to organize her thoughts because she really needed to tell James every detail so he would understand she had done nothing wrong. He had more experience in working for a large company and could offer her some advice.
Startled by the front door opening and closing, Cathy walked to the kitchen door, "James?"
"Yes, just a second. I'll be right there."
A moment later James walked into the kitchen, put one arm around his wife, and kissed her on the cheek. He slid his hand down her back and squeezed her cute ass, "Hey, baby."
In a quick motion, he turned her, put his other hand on her bottom, and held her as he rubbed his burgeoning erection against her, enjoying the stimulation as he growled against the side of her neck. He was startled when she jerked back from his touch.
"What's that? You don't want me to touch you?"
"No, no, I'm sorry. I mean, yes I want you to touch me. I just ... I don't want ... oh shit."
Cathy burst into tears and walked swiftly out of the kitchen, all the way down the hall and into the bedroom where she fell on the bed, tears rolling down her cheeks. The anger and nervousness of the last few hours had her nerves so agitated she couldn't even allow her husband's caress and playfulness.
"Cathy?" James stood at the door of their bedroom and spoke his wife's name, concerned about her being so upset. Could she have been looking out the window when he left the neighbor's house? He truly loved his wife, but he enjoyed looking at the cute wife of his neighbor, particularly when she walked him out the door, giving him a good look at anything he wanted to see. Her habit of wearing a bikini top with short shorts had most of the men in the neighborhood talking about her.
Cathy raised her shoulders and rolled over, sliding her legs off the side of the bed so she was sitting up. "I'm sorry. I've just had a tough day."
She took a tissue from the box on her nightstand and stood up. After blowing her nose and tossing the tissue in the trash, Cathy stepped past her husband and started down the hall. "Let's eat our dinner. I need to talk to you."
Shaking his head at his wife's mercurial actions, James followed Cathy to the kitchen. "You need to talk to me?"
Cathy took in a deep breath of air and forced it out in a deep sigh. "James, may we just have our dinner, first. I'd like to calm down a little before I tell you why I was so upset. I'm a little nervous, I'm ... I just ... I need a little more time to collect my thoughts. Okay, Honey?"
"Sure, Cathy. Do you need some help with dinner?"
"Oh, ah ... well ... slice the roast for us and fix your plate. I'll get the salad dressing."
"Would you like a glass of wine with dinner?" James asked as he opened the glass doors on his latest project. He had converted one of Cathy's eyelevel cabinets from shelves for dishes to one where he could display his favorite wine selection.
"I don't think so. I'd rather have a clear head," Cathy responded as she put her plate on the table and spoke quietly. "Where were you when I got home?"
"Oh, I went across the street to give Rick our copy of the most recent homeowner's newsletter." James laughed and added, "His dog chewed up their copy. He wanted the email addresses of the new officers."
Cathy laughed along with James as they discussed their neighbor's on-going problems with their new puppy. The dog was chewing everything he could get into his mouth, including the heel of Rick's new slippers.
As they finished their dinner, they talked about the newest young family they had seen moving into a house farther down the street. There were still a few houses in the neighborhood for sale but they seemed to be selling about as quickly as they were built.
"Oh, I almost forgot to ask. Where's your car?"
The sudden change of subject surprised James and then he laughed. "Wow, I almost forgot. I stopped for gas. The attendant said my tire was low. I left the car there to have it repaired. You need to drive me to the station to pick it up."
"I won't need to get out of the car, will I?" Cathy didn't exactly blush, but her natural modesty caused her to consider that she might need to put on a little more clothing than the loose fitting, form revealing dress.
"No, just get your shoes and your wallet."
As Cathy was backing the car out of the driveway, James reached across and rested his hand on her upper thigh. He pushed her dress down between her legs and slid his fingers up and down her inner thigh. "I've never had such a beautiful chauffeur."
Cathy tried to close her legs. Thinking she was trying to press his palm tighter, James moved his hand higher up her leg and pressed the dress against her, moving his hand up and down, letting the fabric of her dress brush across her sex.
Cathy wanted to separate her legs to give James better access, but the memory of what had happened earlier in the day was still bothering her. Instead, she took her hand off the steering wheel and pulled his hand away, "Don't, James. I'm driving."
Cathy drove into the service area of their favorite gas station and waited until James returned to her window to let her know his car was ready. He said he'd pay for the tire repair and meet her back at the house.
While he waited for the service ticket to be completed, and even while he was waiting for the cashier to run his credit card, James thought about the way his wife had responded to him since he walked into their home.
The way she had asked where he was when she got home was so quietly spoken. He wondered why she had asked in that tone of voice. Did Cathy think he was doing something he shouldn't and wanted to avoid sounding confrontational? Did she think he was interested in Rick's wife? The woman was just a little too flirtatious. Did Cathy think her husband was too attracted to such a blatant display of flesh?
Was she so suspicious she rejected him when he simply touched her bottom? Even when he was being playful, rubbing against her, letting her know how she affected him, why would she back away from him?
James felt a chill down his spine at the sudden thought that Cathy was now in the workforce and associating with other high-powered executives. He was sure of her love but was it possible she was looking at other attractive men?
They were not an old married couple, no longer interested in an active sex life. They were both in their late twenties and had only been married four years. Was Cathy tired of their marriage? Was he no longer giving her the attention he had the first year of their marriage? No, sex was still important to both of them and Cathy seemed to respond to him as strongly as she had before they married. She might not be wildly adventurous, but she enjoyed his body as much as he enjoyed hers. What was wrong?
Why was she questioning him about his car? Didn't she see that he had arrived home before her and changed his clothes? He was only away from the house for a few minutes. What did she think he was doing?
Minutes ago, she had squeezed his hand when he got a little fresh and then she had totally rejected his advance. They had talked about being a little more physical with each other, not only when they were in bed. He thought she liked it. He wanted her to take the initiative to touch him. Wasn't he supposed to do the same to her?
She was changing from a student and part-time employee, to a full-time corporate executive. Was she going to be a different person from the one he thought he knew?
After driving into the garage, James entered the house, determined to find out why his wife was angry. He found Cathy curled into a corner of the couch. She had demurely spread her dress over her lap and tucked the sides under her legs as if she was letting him know her body was off limits.
"Dammit, Cathy. What the hell is wrong?"
Her head jerked back, "James, please. Can you ... will you ... sit down, please?"
A little leery that she wanted to take charge of the discussion, he sat across the room from her and announced, "Alright, I'm sitting. Now, talk to me."
"You ... you know this company is trying to do this massive reorganization. They think I can handle a department. I mean, it's a really small department, but they believe I'm executive material."
James looked at Cathy, surprised at the subject matter she wanted to discuss. "Yes, dear. I'm proud of you for the way you've handled yourself during the interviews, too. It took a lot of patience to put up with all the additional meetings with company executives they insisted you attend."
"They've never hired a woman this high in their management structure."
"I didn't know that. You really are special, aren't you?"
"I hope so. I wasn't aware they would insist on sending me through the regular employee and then the executive training sessions before I would get to see my name on the door."
"Then last week was just for regular employees? I thought you said it was company policy type of training?"
"Yes, it was, but it was for all levels of new employees. This week is just for executives. I really am an Assistant Vice-President. They've even waived the normal probation period."
"I'm sorry," James apologized, realizing as he said the words that Cathy might have felt he didn't care about her job. "I guess I haven't been paying enough attention to what you've been telling me about your new job."
"Oh, that's alright." Cathy smiled, "Your job is so much more important than mine is. I'll never earn as much as you do."
"Does the different pay for males and females bother you that much?"
"Sometimes, but this company is a little better than most. Of course I'm not supposed to know, but I heard a couple of the men talking, I'm at about 86% which is better than many companies offer females."
"It still isn't right."
He might say the words, but she knew him. He still believed men were more capable than women of making important business decisions.
"It's business, James. I understand that." She paused a moment, but she wasn't going to let a discussion about another subject sidetrack her. She and James had already compared their job and career prospects. He was climbing a very steep corporate ladder in a very large company and she was just taking her first step. He was three years older than she was, had more experience and no limits.