Cal was heading out of the office at the end of a long day. He liked this time, when the computers were quiet and the cube was empty and he could hear the silence bounce off the walls. Whenever Emily was out for the evening or over at her mom's, he found himself looking forward to working late - secluding himself in his study until everyone else had gone and then wandering the halls uninterrupted, surveying all he'd built from scratch. Now, though, he was heading home. It had been a frustrating day. Yes, he got to the truth in the bank case, but the personal stuff with that dammed book and with Gillian weighed him down. What the hell was Gillian thinking freezing his assets like that? He glanced into her office with part confusion, part outrage as he walked by. The lights were dim, a small table lamp casting shadows on the wall. He couldn't say what caught his eye, but he was four steps past her door when he realized her office wasn't empty. He retraced his steps, slouching against her doorway. Her chair was facing the window, and the blackness outside transformed it into a kind of mirror. He could make out a shadowy reflection of her staring out into the dark night. She was still and silent.
Not yet calmed down over their confrontations, he couldn't resist poking the bear. "Staying late trying to figure out a new way to screw me with my finances?"
The only evidence that he had startled her was a quick intake of breath, but her voice was quiet and calm. "No, Cal. You win."
He grunted. He thought the victory would taste a little sweeter. "I'm serious, Foster. Pull another stunt like that and we're through."
Silence was his answer.
"You hear me, Foster?"
Silence again. As he cleared his throat to speak again, her voice - still calm and quiet - finally broke through the shadows.
"My father was a mean drunk." The statement seemed to hang in the air between them forever. She looked down at her hands. "This scar on my wrist that you used to ask me about? It's a cigarette burn. But then you already know that. I remember when you started asking me about it and when you stopped. I think it took you about four months to connect the dots." Her chair slowly turned toward her desk. "Hmm?"
Cal couldn't connect these dots, was unsure how to react to her revelation. He simply gave a half nod to her statement.
She nodded in confirmation, then looked away. "I'm sure I flash any number of emotions during the child abuse investigations we work together, and I know I light up like a Christmas tree whenever I see Emily and you together. Nothing I can do about it." She gave a soft chuckle, "That's the hardest part, knowing I'm telegraphing my thoughts and fears to you and there's not a dammed thing I can do to stop it."
He was at a disadvantage. He needed her out of the shadows if they were going to have a conversation like this. Slowly he straightened up, reaching for the light. "No need to turn the light on, Cal. I have no intention of allowing you to read me. There's no reason for it." She spun the chair back to the window. "My father was a mean drunk. People think it's the violence that gets to you. Not to me. My problem, my fear was the instability. Not just the financial, though we certainly had those issues. I've worked since I was 15, and sometimes it was my paycheck that put food on the table. I still worry when bank accounts get low, as you well know. The phone calls from collection agencies, not knowing as you walked home from school if you still had a home." She shuddered. "No one would have guessed it. From the outside we were the perfect family. From the outside." Her voice trailed away.
The moment weighed heavily on him. "Foster -"
His voice was a catalyst. She turned her chair back to the desk, but kept her head down, straightening up papers as she began talking again. "Not just the financial instability. It was the emotional one. The sands constantly shift under your feet. One moment you're Daddy's little princess and the next you're the pebble in his shoe. I couldn't keep track of his moods, of his reaction to me. The rages were almost easier to deal with than the frozen silences. At least when he hit me," Cal's temper rose against this man he had never met when he saw her unconsciously rub her shoulder. He could only imagine the memories tied to that gesture of self-comfort. "I knew where I stood. He was yelling while he did it. Most of it was incoherent, but I got the point. Those frozen silences . . . He stopped speaking to me for three weeks once. I still don't know why. Robert Frost was right." She closed her eyes and smiled ruefully as she whispered, "'I think I know enough of hate/ To say that for destruction ice/ Is also great,/ And would suffice.'"
Cal's anger, so fiercely held throughout the day, dissipated as he listened. He didn't know why she was telling him all this, and he was uneasy. "Foster, I don't know -"
She straightened the files on her desk before pushing them away. "I couldn't keep track of his moods. I never noticed his micro-expressions. I'm no natural." For the first time she glanced at him as she spoke, but just as quickly she found a spot in the wall and focused there. "At some point - call it maturity or self-preservation or just plain selfishness - but at some point I had to shut my heart to him. I left for college and never looked back. Never acknowledged his influence over my life again. Never gave him a chance to control me or my feelings again. Not even when he was sober. Couldn't risk it. Not even when he called and wrote and tried to make amends. Heard it all before." Her next breath was long and deep. "Not even when he was dying and asked for me repeatedly." She raised her hands to her face, whether to wipe tears away or not Cal couldn't be sure. "I've always regretted - no, maybe 'regret' isn't the right word - 'wondered', yes wondered if I made the right choice." She paused. "Maybe it is regret. I don't know."
She shrugged slightly. "Then I met Alec. Fell in love and planned my life with him." She shook her head slowly. "I should have known the drugs would come first. Should have been better prepared. I'd spent my childhood dealing with a man with an addictive personality. How in hell did I believe Alec's crap about being reformed? I fought tooth and nail to keep him clean - keep stability in our home, our marriage. But those moods again. One minute I'm the love of his life and the next I'm the fishwife taking away all his fun. All those silences. All those threats to shut me out of his life unless I let him destroy himself. . . And I walk away again. I don't like this habit of mine."
Cal's head was reeling. He felt blindsided and blind. This was a journey he had never taken with Gillian, and he was without his most important tool. He needed to see her. He walked closer to the desk, but she turned the chair away from him again.
"Then there's you. Not drugs or alcohol, but definitely an addict. Maybe I'm punishing myself for walking out on my father. Maybe God's punishing me. I don't know. Maybe I subconsciously seek out this kind of relationship until I can figure out a better way to deal with it. I don't know why it keeps happening; I just know I'm back again on shifting sand.
"I know why you're doing it. Intellectually I understand. Articles are written about it all the time. You are the foster child who finally has someone show you unconditional love, and you react by doing everything you can to show you don't deserve it. To test that person. Make her prove to you that she has staying power. And I've proved it to you. Over and over again I've proved it to you. But it's never going to be enough."
Cal was desperate to see her, to have her see him, but this wasn't a conversation. This was a monologue, a soliloquy. His throat closed up as she chuckled, for he knew there was no joke forthcoming.
"We are a pair, aren't we? You with abandonment issues stemming from your mother that cause you to push me away as hard as you can, and me with my father issues that keep me terrified of leaving. So we're stuck in this dance, this awful dance where every move is painful. At least it's painful to me. You tell me over and over again that you trust me with the finances until one day you decide you don't. I'm your partner except for those times when you decide I'm just one more of your disposable underlings. One moment I'm your best friend and the next I'm scorned as 'Mother Superior'. I'm the woman you want - how did you phrase it? - in the 'worst possible way' unless, of course, there's another woman in the room. I'm the woman you can forgive anything unless I step out of line again, in which case we're through."
She crossed her arms and took a deep breath, rubbing a hand over her forehead. "I'm tired, Cal. For eight years I've proved you wrong, proved that not all women will abandon you. But it has come at a cost. I need constancy in my life. I need security. What we do is risky enough. I need to be able to rely on who we are, but I don't know who I am with you. Maybe I gave you too much power over me. Maybe this is all on me, all my fault. I don't know, but what I do know is that I can't live like this anymore. So my only option now is to prove you right."
She gripped the arms of her chair. "I'm getting too good at this. The three most important men in my life, and I've walked away from them all. I don't want to be good at this."
Cal could no longer stand it. He turned on the light. There was a flash of annoyance as she looked at him, but all he could read was her profound despair. He had never seen such sadness, and he knew her expression mirrored his own. Their eyes locked - his pleading, hers resigned. She blinked once, and he knew her decision had already been made. She turned her chair back toward the window. "If you'd please turn off the light on your way out, Cal. You win."
Never in his life had he felt so lost.