"You told her yet?"
"No." Troy Garcia looked at his friend. "And don't you tell her, either."
Reed Delaney held his hands up. "Not like I was going to. I'm your sponsor and your friend, but I'm not your mom."
Troy stared at his half-eaten slice of pizza. "I'm gonna tell her."
"I don't know. Soon."
Reed ran a hand over his buzz cut. "That's a little on the vague side."
"Got any suggestions?" Troy glared across the table.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, man. The waiting is going to be worse than telling her. Just tell her."
"I know, I know." Troy sighed and slumped back in his chair. "I just don't know what she's going to say."
"That's no excuse," Reed said. "Troy, that girl loves you and you love her. You tell her this, you just be honest, maybe give her a little time if she needs it, and it'll work out."
"So you say."
"Look, I've been where you are. You know you can't keep this a secret, not if you're looking at a future with her."
"It's the future I'm worried about," Troy said. "We might not have one after I tell her.
"It isn't as bad as you make it out to be, and you know it. I swear to God, man, I think you like the drama."
"Are you a fucking psychiatrist now?"
Reed sighed. "Troy, give it up. You made a mistake once, you paid for it, and it's done. Sylvia isn't going to hold it against you. At least, not if you're honest with her about it."
"Maybe I don't deserve her, anyway."
"Oh, for Christ's sake." Reed studied the check, laid some bills on the table and stood. "Come on, time to go home." They stepped out into the warm night. "You're a lucky bastard, with Sylvia out visiting her sister. You can sulk for a while, then tell her when she comes back."
"Sir, yes, sir."
Reed smacked the back of Troy's head. "Knock it off, dumbass."
The apartment was quiet and empty. Troy blinked and grumbled as the kitchen light assaulted his eyes. Now he had a headache.
He wished Sylvia was there. She was good about giving him space, but also knew when he needed some company. She never asked what he did when he was out with Reed; when he came home she would just smile up at him, her hazel eyes sparkling, and ask if he'd had a good time.
Bored and not quite ready to go to bed, he went to his desk and logged into his computer. After a perfunctory email check, he opened his browser and went to a porn site. He scrolled through the options and clicked on the first clip to pique his interest.
He couldn't help but feel a little guilty; he knew Sylvia didn't like him watching porn. She'd found him doing it once and had been very upset. It had taken some time to assure her that it had nothing to do with her, that he didn't want her to be like those women, and he didn't prefer them to her. When she had calmed down, she'd said that wasn't her concern, but she hadn't specifically said what bothered her.
They'd reached something of a don't-ask/don't-tell compromise. She never mentioned it again, and he made sure to be careful only to look when she wasn't home, and to clear out his cache when he was finished. He also didn't watch as often.
He thought he understood; Sylvia's background was more sheltered than his. No wonder she'd reacted badly--she probably thought it was only something "bad girls" did.
The clip ended and he cleared out his cache before turning the machine off and going to bed.
He did love Sylvia, he thought as he got settled in bed, and knew she loved him. Sometimes, though, in the dead of the night, when it was quiet and dark, he feared that she wouldn't when he told her.
"I'm so glad you came, Sylvia. The party wouldn't have been the same without you. I just wish you could stay longer." Patti gave her sister a quick smile as they drove to the airport on a gray Sunday morning.
"Me too," Sylvia said. "I wish I could have taken tomorrow off. Running out of vacation time, though."
"Yeah, you'll need it for the honeymoon," Patti teased.
"Oh, please. Troy hasn't even proposed."
"He will. You guys are just perfect, you know it. He can't not propose."
"Maybe marriage isn't our thing." Sylvia shrugged. "I don't know if I'm so high on it. Not like we had such great examples."
"You're right, but that wasn't you or me, that was them." Patti reached over and patted her sister's knee. "I'm not saying you need to have a big old church wedding with all the trimmings."
"Thank God for that."
"But I am saying," Patti continued, "that I can see you and Troy getting married. Oh, wow, you'd be Sylvia Garcia instead of Sylvia Thorpe. That sounds so nice."
"Yeah, yeah it does," Sylvia murmured, staring out the window.
"You okay, Syl?" Patti shot her a concerned glance.
"Yeah." Sylvia smiled. "Seriously, I'm fine. Really, I am. I can't say I never think about it, or worry about it, but it's over and done, and I can't change it."
"Attagirl!" Patti nodded. "You've worked hard to say that."
"Troy is great, and I love him," Sylvia continued. "If he proposed--and I don't think he will--but if he did, I can't say I'd say no."
Patti laughed. "I didn't think so." She pulled up to a red light and tapped her fingernail on the steering wheel. "Have you ever told him about it?"
"Don't you think you should?"
"I don't know. Why drag it up? And what if ... what if he feels differently after he knows?"
"That'd be tough. But it's kind of a heavy secret not to tell. And he could find out from someone else, or on his own, which would be awkward."
"I know. I worry he'll find something on the internet." Sylvia sighed. "And it's not that I don't want to tell him. I'm just not sure how to approach it."
"Look, he loves you. You guys fit so well. And if he found out, he might be upset but I think when it came down to it, he'd be on your side. It's not something you have to be ashamed of, you know that. Once you told him, you wouldn't have to hide it, and there would be someone else who'd have your back on it." Patti grinned. "And Troy would have your front too."
Sylvia laughed. "Yes, he would. But you have your own someone. Gary's a great guy."
"Yeah, he is." Patti grinned. "I can't believe we're engaged."
"Me either." Sylvia widened her eyes. "Oh, no. You're going to turn into a Bridezilla, aren't you?"
"Damn straight. I have the puce bridesmaids dresses all picked out." Patti looked over and grinned. "Except I know you'd kill me if I did that."
"Damn straight," Sylvia said.
Patti turned into the parking lot, found a space and popped the trunk as they got out of the car.
Sylvia shouldered her purse and took her travel bag out. "Thanks for everything, Patti. I do miss you."
"I miss you, too." Patti hugged her. "Now take it easy, and let me know as soon as he proposes."
Sylvia laughed. "You'll be the first."
Shaking her head and chuckling to herself, Sylvia crossed the parking lot and entered the airport. Checking in went smoothly for once, and she bought a coffee and a snack while she waited for her flight.
She checked her messages and smiled at the last text from Troy. Miss you. Head hurts. Love you.
Love you too. Waiting for the plane now. Can't wait to see you. She sent the reply and sipped her coffee.
Was Patti right? Should she tell Troy? But it was over and done with. Was there a point in bringing it up?
A little privacy, even a little secrecy, was important for people in a relationship, Sylvia thought. So long as the secret wasn't hurtful to anyone, she considered it a good thing to keep a little of one's self separate. Patti's point nagged at her, though; if Troy was going to find out, Sylvia wanted to be the one to tell him.
The boarding announcement drew her out of her thoughts and she grabbed her bag and joined the line. Her mind wandered back to Troy and secrets. She knew he had things in his past he didn't want to talk about, and that was fine.
He was a good man, his actions had shown that. Whatever mistakes he had made, he'd atoned for them as far as she was concerned.
The flight was only a couple of hours, but Sylvia was glad to be out of the cramped seat even so. She collected her things and edged her way down the aisle, wishing again that Patti lived closer. The trips to visit her were nice breaks, but flying was not Sylvia's favorite mode of travel.
At last she was past the other passengers and into the airport. She scanned the small concourse for Troy. He was tall, with dark wavy hair, and tended to stand out in a crowd.
"Hey, gorgeous. Need a ride?"
Sylvia turned around and grinned. "Sure, but my boyfriend might be jealous."
"I can handle him."
"I bet you can. I hear he's got a headache." She laughed as Troy gave her a dry look, then she wrapped her arms around him. "Hey, I missed you."
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Missed you, too."
She looked up into his dark eyes and smiled as he leaned in to kiss her. "Mmmmm. That's nice."
"Let's go home, and things can be a lot nicer."
"So how was everything?" Troy asked as he drove them home. "Have a good time?"
"Yeah, it was nice to see everyone. Patti's thrilled to be engaged. Her birthday party was fun, especially the strip club."
"That's good, the--wait, what? What strip club?"
Sylvia laughed. "I'm kidding. Well, sort of. We went to a club after the official birthday party. Lots of music and dancing."
"But no strip club?"
"No, no strip club." She paused. "Why, would you care if I went to one?"
"Well, no, I mean, I guess not. It's not, I mean it's not the type of thing that--"
"You're so cute when you try to be all open-minded like that." Sylvia squeezed his hand. "Maybe you could strip for me, then I wouldn't need to go to a club."
Troy grunted. "Right. I've got two left feet, and you want me to strip and dance? No way. I'd break my neck."
"Please?" Sylvia pitched her voice low and fluttered her lashes, fighting the urge to giggle as she did.
"Oh, no. No, even that will not work," Troy said. "Forget it."
"Yes, well, can't win if you don't try. How was your weekend?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Okay. Quiet. I worked on some of my other contracts on Saturday, hung out with Reed. The usual, you know."
"You shouldn't work so much."
"Didn't have anything else to do. Never hurts to have some extra money." He was quiet for a moment. "You know I like to have a, what is it--cushion. In case of whatever."
"I know." She reached over and rubbed his shoulder. "It's fine. It's a good plan. I just don't want you to work too hard."
He smiled and took her hand. "Thanks."
At home, Sylvia unpacked and then reluctantly started getting ready for the work week. She sorted some clothes out for laundry and asked Troy if he needed anything.
"Yeah, but not laundry." He wiggled his eyebrows.
She laughed. "That's all you're getting for right now."
He gave an exaggerated sigh of disappointment and she threw a dirty sock at him.
"That the best you got?" he asked as he snagged the sock.
"Nope, I've got a whole basket here." Sylvia set it down, balled up a shirt and whipped it at him. "You'd better give up, I've got all the ammo."
He caught the shirt. "I never give up."
Sylvia threw another shirt and a pair of sweat pants, and Troy grinned. "Big mistake. I'm armed now."
A few minutes later, Sylvia sat on the floor, laughing herself silly. Troy leaned against the wall, chuckling as well. Sylvia wiped her eyes and looked at him.
"I am not picking this up by myself." She tried to sound stern but couldn't stop a giggle.
"Okay, come on." He held a hand out and pulled her up into a kiss. "We'll pick this up, take it to the laundry room, and have a little fun." He squeezed her ass on the last words.
She gave him a look. "I am not doing anything in the laundry room besides laundry."
He grinned mischievously. "Okay. But can't blame a guy for trying."
Sylvia shook her head and started refilling the laundry basket. She hid a smile; she loved it when Troy goofed off like this. He needed it, as hard as he worked. Besides, maybe if he tried again, she'd find herself convinced.
Troy dragged himself out of bed Monday morning, stepping bleary-eyed into the shower. When he came out, he could hear Sylvia in the kitchen, making breakfast and singing along with something. How she managed to be so upbeat, especially in the morning, baffled him.
She was upbeat most of the time, he thought as he dressed. It was something that both puzzled and attracted him. Sometimes it was an effort for him not to be negative, and her optimism could be contagious. It wasn't that he was inherently pessimistic, Troy thought, it was just that experience had made him cautious.
Cautious enough that he was reluctant to share certain details of his past with Sylvia. He didn't think she'd quite understand, but that was all right. He wasn't sure he wanted her to.
If he was honest with himself, which he had been after Reed had dropped him off the other night, he was afraid that Sylvia would drop him if she found out. She'd do it nicely, no doubt; it wasn't in her to be mean. But it would hurt like hell, and Troy wasn't sure he could handle it.
"Jesus, why do you do this to yourself?" he muttered at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. "Don't go looking for trouble, dumbass." He splashed water on his face.
"You talking to yourself again?" Sylvia called from the kitchen.
He smiled to himself and dried his face. "Yeah, but it's a lousy conversation," he called back.
"Then hurry up, you're going to be late."
Troy dried his hands, waiting for the rest of it.
"Crap, I'm going to be late!"
He laughed to himself as he finished and went into the kitchen. "You're always running late. You should set the clocks ahead." He grabbed a kiss before going for coffee.
"Set them ahead? That would mess me up more than I already am," she said as he started to gather his things, including a lunch she'd put together. "Eat something. Something that isn't a cookie."
Troy stopped with his hand inches from the cookie box. "How do you do that?"
She grinned. "You're too predictable. Here. Eat this." She handed him an apple, but it fell out of her hands. "Shit!"
"Relax." Troy picked up the apple and raised an eyebrow. "Is this some subtle message or something? The woman handing the guy an apple?"
"So it's true, isn't it? Men are always thinking about sex."
"Only when we're not thinking about sports."
Sylvia laughed as she moved around the kitchen to give him a kiss. "I wonder why we put up with you."
"Because of the sex."
"You wish." Sylvia stepped back and bumped into the table, sloshing a glass of water. "Damn it!"
"Syl, take it easy." Troy came over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes, sorry. I just feel kind of scattered." Her phone rang and she whirled around looking for it. "Oh, for God's sake!"
Troy grinned and handed her the phone, which had been lying on the counter in plain sight.
She mouthed a grateful thank you and answered the call. "Hello. Oh, hi. Yes, that would be fine. Let me write that down." She made a frantic search for paper and pen until Troy pulled a magnetic pad off the fridge and handed it to her.
Troy was curious about the conversation, but he glanced at the clock and saw that he had to go. He caught her eye and pointed at the clock. She nodded, put her cheek up to receive his kiss, and waved as he left.
When he got to work, he had a pile of coding errors to occupy his thoughts, which kept returning to Sylvia. Why had she been so jumpy this morning? And what had the phone call been about?
After a couple of hours of staring at his monitor, Troy rubbed his eyes and stood. Time for more coffee. He headed to the break room and looked over the selection. Who had thought caramel mocha was a good flavor for coffee? He made a face and reached for the dark roast.
Troy looked up and saw Dawson Stringer, one of the programmers on his team. "Hey, Dawson. How was the weekend?"
"Not bad. We had a family reunion, down at the Axton Country Club. You know the place? Right off the intersection of Water Road and 53?"
"Oh, sure. Never been there, but it looks good from the outside," Troy said. His removed his coffee mug and tossed the cup with the grounds.
"It's decent on the inside, too," Dawson said. He took Troy's place at the coffee maker. "Haven't seen so many people in my family at one time in probably five years."
"Cool." Troy nodded.
Dawson was a lot that Troy wasn't: suburban, upper-middle class, graduate of a private college. He was willing to bet that Dawson's biggest problem growing up was figuring out which cheerleader to have sex with first. It was a world Troy only knew second-hand, but that he figured Sylvia knew pretty well.
He didn't mention to many people what his home life had been like, or where he'd grown up. He'd learned quickly that it often counted against him.
"How about you, man?"
"What? My weekend? Oh, quiet. My girlfriend went to visit her sister. I did some work, watched some baseball." Troy shrugged. "Nothing big."
"Sounds better than the reunion," Dawson said drily. "If I had to hear one more story about this aunt's surgery or that uncle's bad knees, I think I would have lost it."
"Oh, hey, you've heard the rumors, right?"
Troy shook his head. "What rumors?"
"Downsizing." Dawson made a face. "I heard some talk there were going to be cuts to different departments."
"Yeah, isn't it? I wish they'd just say something instead of letting everyone wonder. Doesn't exactly raise morale for us freelancers." Dawson raised his mug in a farewell salute and left.
Troy went back to his desk, waiting for the caffeine to hit so he could get back to the code. He wondered what Dawson would think if he knew Troy's history. There probably wouldn't be many invitations to lunch at the country club, Troy thought wryly. Sometimes it was just better not to say anything.
The possibility of cuts didn't improve his mood, but Troy resigned himself to ignoring it. Not like he had any control over it.
The day dragged on, interrupted by a quick lunch and some afternoon meetings. He checked his phone after the last meeting and was surprised to see a text from Sylvia. Meeting with some coworkers, won't be too late. Leftovers in the fridge. Love you.
He frowned at the words on the screen, debating his reply. At a loss, he just responded with a quick thanks and love you, too.
It ate at him on the way home. Did this have to do with her phone conversation? Was she meeting someone and, God forbid, hiding it from him?
"Jesus, man. Paranoid much?" He got out of the car, annoyed with himself. He had no reason to think anything like that. If Sylvia had any secrets, it probably involved cheating on a test in high school, or maybe spilling a drink on her prom dress.
In the apartment, he changed and dug out the leftovers. He flipped on the TV as they warmed in the microwave, then ate as he watched sports highlights and waited for Sylvia.
Sylvia came in, smiling as she dropped onto the couch next to Troy. The meeting had gone well, so she was tired but happy. "Hi," she said, swinging her legs up. She wiggled her toes. "Please?"
He smiled and slid closer so she could put her feet in his lap. He slid her shoes off and began to massage her feet, starting with the right.
"Oh, that feels good." She closed her eyes and took some deep breaths. Few things beat a foot rub.
"What happened? You run a marathon?"
"No. I just like it when you rub my feet." She smiled.
"Yep. There are some changes going on so we decided to meet outside the office to talk about it. Sometimes it helps clear your head to get a change of scenery." She'd tell him more soon, when everything was finalized.
"How did it go?"
"Pretty well, thanks. We'll all have to talk again in a couple of days, so I might have another later night."
"How was your day?" she asked.
"Same old, same old, mostly." He moved to the left foot. "Dawson said there's rumors about budget cuts, like I needed anything else to worry about."
"I hope he's wrong, but try not to worry too much," she said. "No sense worrying about what you can't control."
"Yeah, I know. Easier said than done, though."
They were quiet for a minute, with the TV droning in the background, as Troy continued to knead her muscles.
She narrowed her eyes when his hands moved up. "That's not my feet."
"I know." He kept his eyes on hers while his hands crept past her ankles to her calves, continuing to knead her muscles but with a gentler touch.
She bit her lip. "That feels good."
Troy moved closer to her on the couch, sliding his hands past her knees. She closed her eyes as he gave up on the pretense of a massage. His fingers trailed over the thin material that covered her sex; Sylvia both enjoyed the sensation and ached for the little barrier to be gone. She squirmed on the couch.
"Like that?" His voice was low and quiet and sent shivers through her.
"Yes. Yes. " She drew in a shaky breath and sat up so she could kiss him. Everything he did made her hot and wet. She knew he could slide inside her that minute and she'd be ready for him.
He was ready, too. He was hard under his jeans; she felt it against her legs. She wondered who would give in first and start stripping clothes. It was a little challenge between them, to see who could wait longer. This time, she didn't think she'd win.
Troy brought his hands out from under her skirt, snagged the waistband and slid it down, along with her underwear. She raised her hips to help him, and when the skirt was gone he put one hand between her legs.
"Oh, fuck, yeah," said Troy as he kissed her again. He pushed two fingers inside her, moving them in and out and rubbing his thumb over her clit. She moaned and dropped her head onto his shoulder.
His free arm wrapped around her shoulders to keep her close. Sylvia dropped kisses on his neck, pleased when he shuddered under her touch. She turned her face up and found his lips, desperate for a kiss.
He was relentless in his efforts to make her come, his fingers moving in a steady rhythm in and out of her. She panted as her muscles tensed and heat coiled between her legs. The tension broke and she cried out, clinging to him as he drew out the climax until she had to beg him to stop.
He gave her a moment to catch her breath, then took her face in his hands and kissed her. The scent ratcheted her desire up and she moved to kneel on the couch so she could undo his jeans, continuing to kiss him as she did. He shoved her hands aside and stripped off his jeans himself, groaning into her mouth as she took his cock in her hands and stroked it with a firm grip.
At his urging, she straddled him. Anxious to feel him inside her, she started to lower herself but he stopped her with his hands on her hips. With a sound of frustration, she tried again but he resisted, teasing her by nudging the tip of his cock against her slick, wet sex.
"Troy, please. I want you to fuck me," she pleaded.
"Say it again."
She did and he complied, releasing her and thrusting inside with a grunt of satisfaction. Sylvia braced her hands on his shoulders as they found a rhythm.
He sat up and pulled her close for a kiss, rubbing his hands over her back. His hands moved lower, squeezing her ass, and she sighed with pleasure. When dragged a finger between her buttocks, she jerked back from him, startled.
"What--please, don't--" She froze on his lap.
"Hey, hey, relax." Troy stopped moving and looked at her, concerned. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I was just touching you, I thought you might like it." He cupped her face and gave her a gentle kiss. "I won't do it again, it's no problem. It's okay."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean--I was just surprised." Sylvia tried to calm down.
"Shhhh. It's okay." He kissed her again and she made herself relax. "Let's get back to where we were, okay?" He traced a finger along her cheek. "All right?"
"Okay." She nodded and took a deep breath, then leaned in to kiss him. He settled his hands on her hips again to help her get back to their rhythm. As she relaxed, she felt the excitement build again.
It didn't take long before another orgasm soared through her and his motions sped up. He threw his head back and groaned as he came, emptying himself into her.
Sylvia collapsed against him, closing her eyes and enjoying it as his hands moved in soothing circles over her back. She yawned. "I guess I'm ready for bed now."
Troy nodded and covered his own yawn. "Good idea." He moved so he could see her. "Look, I am really sorry about that, before. I didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't." She shook her head. "Sorry. I was just surprised."
"Okay." He picked up her hand and kissed her palm. "Come on, let's hit the sack."
Once they were in bed with the lights out, Sylvia sighed as Troy lay down behind her and put an arm around her waist. Between the warmth of his body and the whisper of the overhead fan, she was close to sleep in minutes.
As she drifted, she heard Troy say something.
"Hmmm? Sorry, didn't hear you."
"Nothing. Just a question."
"How much of a person's past they should share."
She turned over and gave him a puzzled look. "Where did that come from?"
"Work. A couple of people were talking in the break room at lunch the other day about what to say and not say, and when. I just wondered what you thought."
Sylvia weighed her response. "They should share as much as they want, I guess. As long as it's not hurting anyone."
"You think partners, people in relationships, should keep secrets?"
"Not exactly," Sylvia said. "I guess I just think everyone deserves some privacy, husbands and wives, partners, whatever. Everyone's done something they wish they hadn't, but most of the time it's not such a big deal. Besides, I think a person's actions count for a lot." She yawned. "Sorry."
"No problem." He kissed her shoulder. "Go on, go to sleep."
"Mmm. Okay. Love you."
"Love you, too."
A couple of weeks later, Sylvia found herself alone on a Saturday. Troy was working on some side projects again, buried in his home office. While she knew he liked the extra money, she wished he wasn't working. He'd been acting oddly and she couldnÕt figure out why. She'd hoped to talk to him about it on the weekend, but he said one of his projects had moved up their deadline and he couldn't back out on it.
Well, we can talk later, she thought, and decided to enjoy a quiet day to herself.
She treated herself to a long shower, then got some breakfast. After that, she stretched out on the couch and put on a movie. It was a favorite, but she had trouble focusing; she was grateful when the phone rang.
"Hey, Patti. What's up?"
"Not much. Just thought I'd call. Can't ask you to be a bridesmaid by email, can I?"
Sylvia laughed. "It's probably bad etiquette. Thanks, Patti. I'd be happy to."
"Oh good." Patti sounded relieved. "I was pretty sure you'd say yes, but I understand if you can't."
"No, it's fine. Just keep me posted on dates so I can get the time."
"I don't think Gary's going to ask Troy to be a groomsman, is that okay?"
"Of course," Sylvia said. "They don't know each other that well, and Troy will probably be glad not to have to wear a tux. Don't worry, Pat. He'll understand."
"Great. Thanks. So, now that's out of the way. What's up with you?"
"Oh, not much here either. Troy's working, so I'm just kind of vegging out."
"Didn't he work last weekend, too?"
"Yeah, he likes the extra money. He worries about having a cushion, you know, in case something happens." She paused for a minute, then shook her head. "Anyway, no big deal."
"Sylvia, are you okay? Is everything all right with you two?" Patti sounded concerned.
"They're fine, I guess. I think. I don't know." Sylvia sighed. "He just hasn't been quite himself. Kind of short-tempered sometimes. I don't know why, and when I asked, he insisted he didn't want to talk about it."
"Well, you've told me he's not big on discussing feelings and all that."
Sylvia chuckled. "It's not his favorite way to spend time, true. But usually if I ask, he'll answer. I can understand. Hell, it's not my favorite chat topic, either."
"Not me," Patti said. "I could go on for hours and hours about feelings."
"Yes, I know. Oh, how I know."
"Hey!" Patti feigned offense. "I don't dump it all on you." She laughed. "Just most of it."
"It's okay. I ignore most of it," Sylvia teased.
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, kidding aside, are you okay?"
"I am. Really, I am. Just a little worried, is all. I'll just give Troy a little time. To be fair, he has been swamped with his main contract, and someone else moved up a deadline."
"Well, you can always talk to me if you need to. I'm free every other Tuesday after four."
"So glad you can pencil me in."
"It's a good thing we're sisters," Patti said. "Otherwise you'd have to wait until next month."
"Thanks, Patti." Sylvia smiled. "I appreciate it."
"No problem. Call anytime, Syl, seriously."
They chatted for a few more minutes and disconnected. Sylvia felt better after the call. Troy had been working hard, and not all because he wanted to, so giving him some time to finish up and relax was no big deal.
She should give herself a break, too, Sylvia thought. She'd been worrying over what Troy might say when he told her, and she shouldnÕt. Whatever he said or did, she couldn't control it. She had to stay calm and be positive, keep up the habit she'd formed over the years.
"I can be happy, or not," she said aloud. "And being happy is better than not."
Troy stood by his car, letting it all sink in. Dawson had been right about the impending cuts, and Troy was the proof.
"Hey, man." Dawson came over and clapped his shoulder. "Tough break."
Dawson studied him. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay." Troy shrugged. "We knew there were rumors. I just hoped they weren't true."
"Look, Pete will give you a good reference, you know that," Dawson said. "A bunch of people were let go today. But there are lots of places around, and you're an excellent programmer. You'll find something."
"Thanks, I appreciate it." Troy dragged a hand over his face. "Sorry. This just isn't what I expected today, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. I feel lucky," Dawson admitted. "I thought I'd be joining you."
Right, thought Troy, but instead he said, "Glad it worked out for you."
They said goodbye and Troy drove home, trying not to be pissed about the day but failing. He should have known, he thought. Dawson had told him about the rumors and he'd allowed himself to hope he wouldn't be affected.
"One fucking mistake ten years ago, and it bites me every damn time," he said to himself. Reed would say that wasn't true, and Sylvia would agree with him if she knew, but Troy couldn't help but think it had to figure in.
He parked and clomped up to the apartment, wondering what Sylvia would say.
She was singing along with the radio and washing some dishes when he came in. When she heard him, she turned to him with a smile. "Hey. I ordered pizza, hope that's okay. Didn't feel like cooking when I got home and I forgot to get anything out, and ... Are you okay?"
"Yeah, IÕm fine." He shrugged and dropped his jacket on the back of a chair, then sat down.
He sighed. "My contract is up next week and they aren't going to renew it."
"Oh, no." She came over and sat next to him, rubbing his arm in sympathy. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well." He shrugged again. "Shit happens. To me, it seems."
"It hits everyone at some point." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I am sorry."
"Yeah." Troy stared at the table. In his mind, he could see the next steps: take a few days, then start looking again. Ideally he wanted a full-time job, but he'd keep freelancing as long as he needed to. Regardless, his other contracts were nearly done and unless he found more, at some point he'd have to dig into his savings. Depending on how long a job search took, Sylvia could end up paying the majority of the expenses.
Fuck it, he was not going to have his girlfriend paying his way. He realized Sylvia was talking to him, and shook himself out of his thoughts.
"Um, I'm not sure if it helps, exactly, but this isn't the worst time for something like that."
She bit her lip. "I got a promotion. Comes with a raise. Not huge, but still a raise."
"That's great." He nodded, responding on automatic pilot. "You deserve it."
"Thanks." She smiled. "That's what those after-work meetings were about last week. Anyway, you've been working like crazy, you deserve a break. I know it's not what you wanted, but you know, we can look on the bright side. There's a holiday coming up, maybe we can even take a long weekend or something--"
"Christ, Sylvia, give it a break already." He slammed a hand on the table and got up.
"Sorry." She blinked, surprised. "I didn't mean to--"
"I just lost my fucking job. I don't need to hear about how this is a good thing, or how there's a goddamn silver lining, all right? I can't go without an income and it's harder for someone like me to find a job."
Sylvia was quiet for a minute then said, "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't." He glared. "You couldnÕt. You had your nice, picket-fence life where it all worked out. We didn't all have that, you know."
"You don't know what I had or didn't," she said. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm sorry the contract won't be renewed, but you'll get another one."
"Fuck! There you go again!"
"Sorry," she retorted, angry this time. "Let me try again. I'm sorry the contract won't be renewed, since it'll take you forever to land another." She dropped her head. "No, Troy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
"Why not? It's a hell of a lot more accurate."
"But you've got a good rŽsumŽ, Troy. I know it isn't the easiest job market out there, but it's okay. We're okay. We have some time."
"I don't have enough fucking time," he fumed. "I am always behind the fucking eight ball, it always takes me that much more effort to get a job."
"What do you mean?"
"Fine, you want to know what I mean?" He turned to her and crossed his arms over his chest. "Think you can handle it? Might burst your happy little bubble."
She glared at him and crossed her own arms. "Try me."
"Fine. You know all those nights I meet with Reed?"
"What do you think we do?"
"I don't know. I figured you had some beers or something."
"You're wrong. Reed's not just my friend. He's my sponsor." He waited for it to sink in, but she just looked at him. "I'm a recovering addict, Sylvia. I go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with him. I was addicted to crack."
She was quiet for a moment before saying, "Okay."
"Okay? That's it?" He stared at her in disbelief. "I don't think you understand. Let me explain this to you. I came from a poor family, but I managed to stay out of trouble, get good grades and get into college. Great stuff, huh? Except that when I was a junior, I met a guy who knew a guy who dealt crack. And I got addicted.
"I barely got through that year, and they expelled me after the next semester. After that I worked a bunch of crappy odd jobs, because I was a crackhead. One night when I was working the late shift at a 7-11, I stole some money. They caught me because I was too stupid and strung out to think about the security cameras. So on top of everything else, I went to jail for stealing and they put me in rehab."
He paused, winded from the emotional outburst. "So is it still okay now?" he asked Sylvia, who had sat wordlessly through his story. "Still 'okay' that your boyfriend was a crackhead and an ex-con?"
"It doesn't matter to me," she said quietly.
"I spent time in jail and you don't think it matters?"
"Does it?" she asked.
"Okay, fine. But it doesn't matter to me."
"Of course it doesn't. You're the good, optimistic little girl. You see the bad boy and think you can fix him, right?"
She stared at him as though she'd been slapped. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, why the hell else would you be with me?" He was baiting her. He didn't know why, except that he was so angry and upset about his job that he'd reached some kind of breaking point.
"Because I got to know you, and I love you."
She took a deep breath and swallowed before she spoke. "Why do you think I'm with you?"
"Basically, because you don't know any better. You thought I was one thing, but I'm not. Now you think I'm some poor little boy with rough edges who needs a woman's love to smooth them out. Probably read too many Harlequin romances in your frilly little bedroom when you were growing up."
It was Sylvia's turn to get up and pace the kitchen. When she looked at him again, he was surprised to see the anger on her face.
"You are being a goddamn jerk. Know what else? You're also a self-centered ass wallowing in self-pity. You think you're the only one who had problems growing up?" She scoffed. "Jesus. Get over yourself."
"What did you do? Show up in the same prom dress as someone else?"
"You asshole." Tears gathered in her eyes and Troy realized he'd pushed her further than he'd meant to, but didn't know what it meant or how to retreat. So he pushed forward.
"Well, how am I supposed to know? You're always so freaking happy and optimistic, like nothing bad ever happened. You never complain about anything. Am I supposed to read your mind for your deep, dark secrets?"
"Fine. You want the story? Here it is." She came over to the table and slapped her hands down.
He jerked in his seat and looked up at her, unfamiliar with the expression on her face.