"I am a gift, from Viktor Kropusek to Arthur Wilson, given in thanks and apology. Do with this gift as you please, for as long as you please."
He'd just walked into his house. The girl stood by the fireplace. She'd lit a fire. She wore a simple strapless summer dress of a gold knit material that reached half way down her thighs. She had a broad foreheaded face with beautiful gray eyes. Her hair floated about her shoulders, a wheat colored cloud. Her feet were bare.
He blazed into anger, "Get the fuck out!" he roared, "Out!"
She looked back at him calmly. "That wasn't for very long."
"Out! God-damn it!" he roared.
"OK OK," she said, "But you know I don't have like a coat and I have to call a cab and I have no shoes. Could I at least wait inside?"
"Get the fuck out!"
She bent to pick up her bag. It lay on the floor to one side. Bending lifted her dress and he had a quick glimpse of the diamond shaped gap where her thighs met her bottom. She walked past him, he had a whiff of violets, then on to the front door. She swung it open and stepped onto the front step. He slammed the door behind her.
He went into the kitchen, poured himself a stiff scotch and drained it. From work, he'd taken the train to his suburb and then walked the mile through the sleet of a late March storm. He'd unlocked his front door, his glasses had steamed, he'd looked into the living room, surprised at the subdued light, and there she'd stood.
He returned to the living room, the fire the only light, and looked out the front window. She stood, or rather hopped on the walk, dancing from bare foot to bare foot. The slush lay almost up to her ankles. He could see his footsteps and now that he noticed, a second faint trail that must be hers from earlier.
"Shit." he said.
He went back into the hall, opened the front door and called. "All right. Wait inside."
She ran up the steps and past him. She stood in the hall, shaking, her teeth chattering.
"You wait right there," he said. "How long is it going to be?"
"They said half an hour. The f-f-fucking roads are slippery."
He sighed, then went back into the kitchen, poured himself another drink, then after a hesitation, said, "Shit" under his breath and poured a second glass. He handed that to her and went into the living room. He sat on a stuffed chair, the fire to his face, his back to her. He bent his head and looked at his drink.
"So what's all this about?" she asked. She leaned on the doorjamb looking into the living room.
"Just wait for your cab and be quiet," he said.
"You know, I get dumped at some strange house out in the sticks and get put in the hands of some lunatic guy I don't know. And then I get like yelled at? It's natural that I'm curious? What's going on here?"
"You know," she said in a softer voice, "If you tell me you might feel better. The gift might not get used as intended, but maybe it'd do some good."
He sighed, "Not every year, not even every other, a girl gets delivered, always in March. I don't want or welcome it."
"But why? And why in reward? And why in apology? I had to like memorize those stupid words."
When he said nothing, she asked, "What did he do to you, that Viktor Kropusek? Did he take your money, screw you at work, take your girl?"
"I'm not going to tell something I've kept to myself for 20 years to a whore." he said bitterly.
"You know," she said, "If I laugh, it's only a whore's laugh, it won't matter one way or the other to you."
Then she said, "Come on, the cab'll be half an hour. If you're talking I won't be able to bug you."
He was amused in spite of himself. He was silent and she thought he was going to remain that way. Then he said, "Shit," sadly and began to talk. He was an awkward story teller, hardly able to make himself understood, but in his mind, this is what he remembered.
Another March storm. His doorbell rang. On the stoop stood a coated figure, a young woman. With a start he recognized her, Katy, a colleague at work, a work friend, his mind amended. The shock of the unexpected had made his mind slow, what was she doing here? Behind her snow fell in large plentiful flakes. Everything was coated by a wet blanket, still thin. She looked up at him. She was clearly nervous. He felt surprised and tongue tied, his face hot.
"Hey," she said, "I've got this bag with Chinese takeout, I've got this Champagne, I thought maybe we could like celebrate closing the deal together."
"How?" he managed.
"How did I get your address? When you vanished from the office, telling only Tom that you were too tired for the party, he said you never go, even though without you these deals would like never take place, well I kinda like pleaded and begged and he gave it to me. Look, Arthur, I don't want to be with them. I want to be with you. I've learned so much working with you. I know you're tired. We've been like non-stop on this thing for the last 3 months. How about we just eat the Chinese, split the Champagne and then I'll either leave on my own steam or keel over with my head on my plate and you can push me out onto the sidewalk to sleep it off in the snow. OK?"
Arthur couldn't speak. She was very pretty with dark brown hair about her shoulders, hazel eyes, and soft gleaming milky skin. Her coat was open in front, revealing a dark blue suitable for the office and then party afterward dress. Her calves were very nice and her feet were tipped in high heeled black pumps. When she'd joined the team 5 months ago, transferring from the San Francisco office, he'd figured she couldn't be good for anything, she was so pretty. How wrong he'd been! She'd been the hardest worker in their group. Putting in more hours even then he. At 2 or 3 in the morning, he'd find her dialed in to work and one or the other would phone and they'd go over some point in some financial statement. She'd been particularly good at interviewing the weird technical types who worked at the prospective acquisition and verifying that what they said they had really was what they said and did in fact work. And on her own, she'd made a kind of human inventory of the acquisition's workers, at least those in sales and marketing and engineering positions, getting quite an accurate picture of how much dead wood and how much creative talent the place had. Because of her they weren't going to ship everything to India now that they owned the place.
During that whole time he'd longed for her and lusted for her and wondered about her life outside work, but had never nerved himself to say a thing. Normally he hardly spoke to anyone about anything besides work, and with her ... The furthest afield they'd ever gotten was discussing research on what the firm's competitors might be planning. Now there she stood.
The smell of the food hit him and he found himself ravenous for it and for her.
"I'm getting cold. I'm gonna come in? We'll like have our own bash," she said firmly and stepped passed him and into the hall.
He took a deep breath of the now scentless outside air and calmed himself. This was going nowhere. She was just being nice.
The house was really small, especially given what his income must be. Looking to the left she saw the dining room. To the right was a small living room with a modest TV, some furniture and a fireplace. On the coffee table was a stack of papers and computer printouts. He had a desktop computer sitting beside the low table with its monitor and keyboard on the glass surface. "Shit, you were working!" Indeed he had been. Starting on the documentation for the next business their firm was thinking of buying.
She looked at him standing in the hall, slender, with thin wire rimmed glasses, looking lost and confused. She felt a little glow of warmth. He was a few years older, maybe thirty. He'd been with the firm for 5 years, coming to it right after grad school. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but he was hot stuff.
"This is nice," she said, carrying the takeout into the dining room and peering on into the kitchen. The dinner table was dark wood, there was a dark wood and glass chest displaying dainty china, and a sideboard.
"The furniture and china were my grandparents," he managed.
She had the paper bag with the Chinese in one hand and over her shoulder she had slung a largish leather handbag. The smell of the food, the hint of her perfume and just the presence of her made him feel a vacumn.
"Plates," she said. "Get plates and napkins and such like. And Champagne glasses." She pulled out the little boxes of white rice and the larger plastic containers holding her choices and set them in the middle of the table. Then she went into the kitchen and helped carry. For the champagne all he had was a pair of juice glasses.
"Shall I?" she asked, peeling the wrapping and wire from the bottle. He was too frozen and dumbfounded to think what she meant. One minute he was starting to get his first tentative feel for a small PC software startup, the next...
She expertly gripped the cork and twisted the bottle. There was a soft whoof and she eased the cork off. She poured and handed him his juice glass. "To us! And a cool hundred mill for Rienhart & Krupusek!"
They ate quietly for what seemed like agonizing years. He, because he could in his agony think of nothing to say. She? What he wondered was she thinking? Whatever was she doing here? She could be out with the other guys, he imagined the noise of the bar, the laughter, the talk on incomprehensible subjects that had nothing to do with numbers.
After almost 5 minutes, she sighed. "I thought this might happen. Maybe a little game to break the ice?"
.... There is more of this story ...