“This sentence isn’t parallel, Cade.”
“Tell me we aren’t having this discussion.”
“We are. Your whole paragraph reads like you skipped English class. Did you proofread this before you gave it to me this morning?” By now, she was standing at his desk, article in one hand and red pen – she still preferred editing hard copies rather than electronic ones – in the other.
“I’m going to refill this,” he said, picking up his empty coffee mug and standing. They were almost eye-to-eye today, he noticed, knowing it was because of the three-inch heels she wore with her otherwise conservative outfit, black slacks and a crisp long-sleeved deep purple cotton blouse. “Want some coffee? Might cool you down.”
“I don’t need cooling down, Cayden, I need someone who can write.”
“My money’s on Rory,” someone called out.
“I’ll take that bet,” came another’s response.
She shot a dirty look in the direction of the wager, then glared at Cade, wishing he would sit back down so she could imagine that she had some sort of an edge. “While you have admirable skills for the average fourth grader, our readers are a bit higher than that, Ransome. Think you can challenge them a bit with a few commas?”
“I might even throw in an active verb or two. Know any I can use?”
Before the insult could fly, Maggie split the air with a sharp whistle. “I have better things to do than listen to you two bicker like some old married couple! Both of you, shut up and get to work before I throw a bucket of water on you!”
Her office door slammed, leaving them staring at each other. Cade recovered first and gave Rory a look that told her exactly what he was thinking. “Old married couple?” He said, raising his eyebrows. “I guess you know what comes after a fight then, don’t you?”
“Yes. You apologize.” With that, she dropped the article on his desk, turned on her heel, and returned to her desk. Settling in, she glanced up at him one last time. “Oh, and for future reference, try not to sound like some witless teenage boy next time. Okay?”
The silence in the office was gratifying. Score one for Rory. Finally.
She continued working, then becoming engrossed in her work to the point where there was nothing but the words before her. These were her favorite moments, the ones where she could forget everyone else and just focus. With Cade’s article off her desk, she could turn to her own writing. Here, Paul ceased to exist. Here, she was no one’s wife, no one’s daughter. She was just Rory. Or Paxton. Maybe both.
Today I received Seton Hill’s alumni newsletter. It featured this year’s reunion classes. Looking at the pictures this morning, knowing that my own college reunion grows near, I find myself pondering those four years as an undergrad, looking at them with a nostalgia that only the passage of time can create. They were, without argument, four of the best years of my life.
The click of laptop keys, occasional cell phone rings, and voices of her coworkers echoed around her. Perhaps it cliché, but I say it nonetheless. Those four years taught me more about life than the previous eighteen ever could. Those four years and Selina, more accurately. Selina, her college roommate, then roommate on the South Side. Her best friend – until she married Paul and allowed him to drive Selina from her life, unless occasionally running into her at Livvie’s counted for anything. But even those, she knew, were contrived meetings, set up so Selina could check on her without seeming to, so she could look for bruises without seeming to look.
Rory hated those meetings, hated the expression on her friend’s face each time she lied and said things with Paul were fine, that she didn’t need a refuge, and that she was doing well.
For most of us, college is our first real brush with independence. We can choose to be what we wish to be – ourselves or someone new. We can choose our friends – adding and subtracting as we wish, without a parent to chime in and offer an opinion. Cade fixed the sentences and placed the edited article back on her desk, earning barely a nod. She knew he was there, knew what he was doing, too, but right now getting the right words in the right order trumped everything.
Some days are better than others when you’re a student, but for the most part…
She paused for a moment, thinking, rolling up her sleeves because she was warm. The next time she saw Selina, she would tell her that she’d started planning her escape.
The tone in his voice pulled her from her space and back into the office and without a word, she began rolling her sleeves back down.
“What is that on your arm?”
“It looks likes you hit something pretty hard.”
She had, tripping on an uneven piece of pavement, losing her balance after Paul’s hand failed to steady her. Letting go of her when she most needed support and allowing her to slam into the railing. Watching her fall… helping her fall, really. Rory grabbed her coffee mug and made a beeline for the break room area, the only possible escape. Cade followed as she wove between desks and around coworkers.
She dumped her cold tea in the sink. “It’s nothing. I tripped and hit a railing. That’s all.” Slipped. Pushed. Same difference. In the end, she apologized to him.
Water from the tap filled her mug. If she concentrated on it, if she concentrated on pushing the right buttons on the microwave, she wouldn’t have to answer him. Fifty-nine seconds and counting. He would go away by the time it was zero, wouldn’t he? If she waited long enough, he would forget.
Ten, nine, eight… she watched the microwave count down to zero. The bell dinged. She took the mug out, dropped a tea bag in.
“I see you have your mint tea.”
“I’m not your enemy, Rory.”
Rory’s answer was to swirl the tea bag around with a teaspoon. You let me know when you’re ready to get out. I’ll be there the minute you call. How many times had her friend Selina said those words? Bad enough that she knew. Now Cade probably did. “I know,” she sighed. “But it’s nothing. Honest. Look, I have to get back to work.” He nodded, but she knew he didn’t believe her. Manners were probably the only thing that kept him from arguing. Actually, with the exception of Selina, they kept everyone from arguing. Or asking. No one wanted to embarrass her.