It was the thirty-fifth night, out of the forty he'd been away, that he'd been here, alone. Not that he was counting. Staring out the window, ignoring the view. Seeing only her, in his mind, enhanced by the vodka he had ever increasingly been drinking every night.
Thinking of Featherbrook, what could have been… If there hadn't been a car… If she'd decided… differently.
He'd left his phone off purposely when he got to New York, had struggled with himself to be able to do that. But he knew if he heard her voice, heard her realise the significance of the necklace, when they'd both been tempted to do something she might have regretted. That he had wanted more than anything. Still wanted. The thought of her, admitting she couldn't lie to him, admitting she couldn't cook, her eyes looking up at him, shining, less than innocent, needy. He'd seen it in her eyes. She needed somebody then. She'd needed someone at Featherbrook, and would have accepted him if she hadn't talked to Sandy. But he would've accepted her as she was, married, already claimed, no hope of getting the whole girl. He would have been satisfied with a part of her, that sliver he'd seen in her that wanted an escape. Not now, though. The more he thought of her, the more he lusted after her, the whole woman, free from any restraints, able to give herself to him in her entirety.
Her message was still saved on his phone. He'd have thought he'd worn it out by now, listening to it at least ten or twelve times a night. Her voice, soothing him to sleep. He thought he could almost taste her scent in the air. The shirt she'd spilled wine on, unwashed in the cupboard. The thought of her lips still fresh in his mind. And the emptiness in his bed, taunting him when he slept.
He'd dangled his forced interest in Erin in front of her, had seen her at the dinner Sandy had arranged, had shared meaningful glances missed by both Erin and Sandy. Brief touches under the table. Jokes only they could laugh at forcing an intimacy Sandy was not a part of. Him, studying the way her hair shimmered in the half light, the way the breeze floated her perfume towards him. Admiring her mouth as she ate, the slim wrists, those shoulders…
He stood, leant against the glass, cooling his forehead, fogging a patch with his breath so that the city was drawn through a misty haze, a glittering landscape distorted by his warm exhalation.
Of course, she hadn't reacted, hadn't claimed him from Erin, hadn't resorted to cheap tricks or anything less than being herself. She knew, from his first lingering look, that she'd claimed him from the start. That first prolonged handshake, when she found him drunk and had the gall to turn the music off, the way she'd lured him back to the magazine… Not knowing yet that it was her and nothing to do with journalistic fire that had made him walk back through the doors of the Newport Group. He still remembered the skirt she had worn when she'd arrived to make him apologize for missing the meeting. The way it pulled tight when she'd leant down to turn off the stereo. Her perfect silhouette, wise words, eyes so luminous staring at him. She brushed past him as she left, he'd felt the sliver of satin, the swell of her breast briefly against his arm…
The shared wine, late nights talking about so much more outside the boundaries of the magazine had allowed her to let down her guard, talk to him more like a lover than a business associate, feel comfortable enough around him to let him in. That first touch, in her office, the hand he'd casually placed on her arm when she hung up the phone on Sandy, who had, as usual, been off on another mission. She way she'd turned into him, her eyelashes tearstained, knowing there would be no one waiting for her at home, knowing her husband was too busy saving other people to notice she was breaking inside. He'd felt surprise at this sudden show of emotion, but was less surprised at his fierce desire for her then, feelings of protectiveness and lust both tangled as she turned her face to his chest, her hair tickling his chin, the smell of her shampoo losing him in clichéd memories of summer days and apple orchards. She'd pulled away, apologised, wiped her eyes, smiled unforgettably at him. He'd suddenly been thrown from lust firmly into love. The look in her eyes then, before she had time to become guarded again, that intelligent, wounded perfection had drawn him in, sucker punched him so that he could not breath, couldn't move. She'd leaned forward again, her elbows resting lightly on her knees as she surveyed the magazine material before them. Her hair was down, falling in loose coils around her face. The air conditioning had been turned off for the night and her jacket was draped across the side of the couch, her shoulders bare. Her backbone was visible through the sleek satin of her singlet, and he could almost see her ribs. She was slender to the point of breakage. He had reached a hand out, run it gently up her back, leaned forward as she turned around. They'd been close, breathing together for a moment, eyes locked. She looked ready to jump off the abyss, plunge into oblivion with him, and for moment his breathe caught. Then she shook her head, as if to clear it, and moved from the couch. They'd both awkwardly gathered their own papers, said a subdued goodbye, both walking in different directions in the darkness to their cars. Long after she was swallowed up by the night, he'd stood under a streetlight, wondering how she'd managed to get to him so quickly. Get under his skin, ignite in him a passion he hadn't felt about anything or anyone in a long time.
The next day, she'd been cordial but reserved. The party that night, he'd tried to talk to her, offering the only thing he really knew how to do well; wine. She'd declined, but had motioned towards Julie who was giving her an unsurreptitious thumbs up. He'd smiled, looked around, seen Sandy, known she was trying desperately to keep this… whatever it was… under wraps. He'd admitted it to her that night, admitted to a vibe between them, had not wanted her to deny it and so had quieted anything she was about to say. He'd sensed something, though, something about the awkwardness she exuded around him when Sandy was near. He felt some kind of satisfaction knowing that he'd picked up on this while Sandy had missed it, oblivious to his own wife's discomfort. The next day, they'd been back at the office, back to normal.
Featherbrook was almost the night she'd allowed herself to follow her feelings. He'd been sure, if she hadn't been able to get onto Sandy, if there hadn't been a car, if she'd taken up his offer of a shower and a matching robe… He'd sat beside her on the bed, hoping, after she'd said his name, it would be more than what she'd said. He'd known it was going to be, had seen her eyes, looking at him so intently, her body almost leaning in to him, his shirt still clutched in her hands. She'd made some sort of decision as she'd looked at her hands, had decided to go home, had reminded him again that she was already in a relationship, had someone to go home to. He didn't want to ask her if he was going to be there when she got back, didn't want to push her so hard that, in her sadness, she mistook him for some kind of Sandy-duplicate, a replacement to be tossed away as soon as the real Sandy came back. If he ever did. He'd, instead, held her gaze a moment longer before leaving to get dressed. He'd stared at himself in the mirror over the sink, willing the alcohol to swirl more viciously around his system, give him something else to think about other than Kirsten, sitting on the bed only a doorway away, a bed they could've shared.
The job in New York had been something he knew would set him up for bigger and better things. Newport was only meant to be a stepping stone; a way of earning extra money while either setting himself up for certain retirement or, like had happened, paved for him a way back in to an industry he was sure had finished with him. He'd had to give the other publication a few days to let him consider going. It was crazy; he should have taken the job straight away, but every time he saw her look up and smile at him when he brought their nightly bottle of wine, watched her in moments when she didn't realise she was being watched; when she would purse her lips in thought, tuck her hair back absentmindedly, pick up her coffee cup only to realise she'd drank it all already… this was when he had to remind himself that it was a job offer he could only hope to get once. Had to remind himself he didn't even like the rest of Newport. Had to remind himself she was married, she would not be let go without a fight. Had to remind himself of all these things so many times a day it almost became his mantra. He finally agreed to take the job, plucked up the courage to tell her.
The embrace had nearly undone him, as had her silence as he'd told her. Her tiny body, pressed against his, her hand on the back of his neck. Her invitation to dinner, after an admission that she was alone for the weekend. Her forced casualty… And still, that embrace.
I realise unsurreptitious is not a word. Sorry. Go with it. –J.