That evening at the advisory board meeting, Rory glanced at Cade, taking in his bland expression. He looked just like he did when Maggie started on her staff meeting tirades about circulation and income and job security: politely interested and nothing more. She felt about the same.
Picking up her pen, she began to draft her next Primer entry.
So why do we bounce or bruise or crack... or shatter?
Religion fits in somewhere. I'm not sure which religion, though. Educated Catholic girl that I am, I haven't been to church in ages and I tend to question the rules that men claim God gave to them to give to us and the roles they demand of us as daughters and wives.
I look at anthropology and history and evolution and ask where certain rules – roles – came from. I'm not a very good Catholic girl in that respect.
Last night, she’d almost shattered. Paul had come home, dangled an expensive gift as a trade-off for her most recent bruises, and gave her a look that she knew meant he expected a “proper” thank you for the black pearl necklace she now owned. He was very good at what he did, always waiting for the old marks to heal and generously rewarding her for never telling their dirty little secrets after earning new ones.
This latest gift matched the earrings gained after the night she “tripped and hit a railing.”
Oh my God, baby, are you all right? You tripped… you could have killed yourself. They ought to take better care of these sidewalks. What if you’d broken something? Here, let me help you up. Those heels you’re wearing are terrible. Didn’t you think before putting them on?
Last night, seeing the necklace, she’d acquiesced because it was easier than to claim a headache. Get it over with and move on and not have to do it again for a few weeks. Laying on her back, staring at the ceiling, she moaned and moved as she should and closed her mind to the man above her, determined to keep from screaming as he pushed into her and told her how much she needed him to take care of her.
“Good, wasn’t it, baby?” He always asked that.
“Mmmm-hmmmm.” She couldn’t make herself say anything more, not without bursting into tears.
Glancing over at Cade, she studied his hands, the way his fingers curled around his pen, the fit of his college ring on his right ring finger, his bare left hand. What would his hands feel like on hers? What would it be like to feel them trace over her body and discover her? What would it be like to be with a man she wanted to be with? The urge to reach out, to touch his hands, to feel his skin against hers overwhelmed her, and it seemed to her that at any moment desire would overcome reason and her hands would be on his and nothing her logical mind could do would stop her.
I wouldn’t have to lie if he touched me, she thought, her pen tracing nonsensical lines on the page, unaware of Cade’s eyes on her hands as well as the words on her page.
So why do we bounce or bruise or crack… or shatter? He couldn’t read the rest without being obvious. Something was on her mind, he knew, and he was guessing that the something dealt with her marriage that, according to office gossip, was nothing more than a sham. Watching her move her pen over the page, drawing lines and patterns, he wondered just how deep her thoughts were running.
They ran no deeper than sixteen hours previous. Sixteen hours ago when Paul was on top of her and she was imagining scenes from romance novels and pretending he loved her.
I hate him.
Her pen stopped moving, pausing as her fingers tightened – as if to snap it in half.
I want him to die.
All she could think of was last night. Of Paul on top of her. Of the stench of stale perfume because he hadn’t bothered to think about that small detail before fucking his own wife.
Cade nudged her with his elbow. “Roar?”
“I’m fine.” Her throat was so tight that she barely heard her own whispered reply. “Just leave me alone.”
He didn’t believe her for a moment, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let her sit there, drowning.
“Mr. Ransome, what are your thoughts on the proposal?”
He mentally cursed the moderator, who’d caught him paying far more attention to the brunette beside him than the meeting itself.
“Mr. Whittaker, from First City Finances, is of the opinion that it’s poor timing,” she prompted.
Seriously? His first reaction was disbelief. Who would turn down expansion when the market was so ripe? Cade glanced at Rory before replying, deciding to distract her. “I have to agree, Mrs. Henderson. I don’t think the current economy will support the new program.”
Cade’s remark pulled Rory back to the meeting. “Are you kidding me?” He was disagreeing with a proposal made by the program moderator, when just an hour ago he’d agreed with her that this was the perfect time for a school like JTI to expand.
“I’m certainly not kidding,” he said, knowing that whatever she was about to say would be interesting – particularly since she’d spent part of the afternoon researching JTI, its competition, and the market for surgical technologists.
“I have to agree with Mr. Ransome, honey. There’s no way that these new programs will do anything but siphon students from the other programs,” interjected Malcolm Whittaker, using the same tone as he had earlier when he fawned over Rory during the dinner portion of the evening, calling her a “clever little thing” when she admitted to writing for American Faces.
The soft, feminine smile that she now directed at Mr. Whittaker, complete with fluttering eyelashes, didn’t fool Cade for a moment. He knew what was next. She’d aimed that innocent look at him and Jared one too many times at work – before coming out with a question or remark that, invariably, hit too close to the truth to avoid.
“Are you saying, sir, that it’s too dangerous to compete with the other schools and that JTI should remain exactly as it is?”
Whittaker’s patronizing response that one should always take change slowly earned another flutter of her eyelashes. It was just good sense; any businessman knew that, he insisted, placing emphasis on man.
“So given the dangers of change, I suppose you would suggest that we stick with the tried and true right now?”
“Exactly, now you see my point, honey.”
Sweetly, she asked about whether or not JTI should return to manual typewriters.
“Look, change is complicated,” he started, launching into an explanation on finances and loans and the business world. When he paused, she asked about his bank’s financial interest in the school’s competition, Allied Careers of Pittsburgh. Whittaker’s face reddened slightly at the implication, and Cade bit back his laughter. Rory was just warming up, he knew, and there would be no stopping her until she got the answer she wanted.
“As I understand it, Mr. Whittaker, schools like JTI historically enjoy increased enrollment when the economy takes a nosedive.”
“As I understand it, lady…”
“And given the way that the housing bubble burst, the way that the economy continues to struggle, and the fact that the medical field is one of the few in Pittsburgh that is not experiencing a horrific downturn, you think that JTI should refrain from starting a surgical technologist program?”
“As I was trying to tell you…”
She didn’t let him finish his thought. “We’re looking at a slippery slope here, Mr. Whittaker. The worse the economy gets, the more people need re-training. Schools like JTI only stand to benefit if they expand over the next year – particularly since Allied Careers is only graduating an average of 24 surgical technologists a year, which doesn’t begin to meet the need of a city like Pittsburgh.”
“Oh, I’ve been demoted to girl now?”
“The market is perfectly solid. We’re in the process of recovering from the downturn. If you recall, I’m the banker here.”
“And I’m the investigative reporter.”
Cade liked how Whittaker’s face turned red as the potential meaning of her remark registered.
“Mrs. Henderson, I do apologize for that outburst,” Rory said primly, sitting back in her chair to signal that she was done.
While the woman tried to get the meeting back on track, Cade jotted a note to Rory in the margin of his notebook: Something tells me that we’re not going to be invited back.
“I’m sorry about contradicting you in front of everyone, Cade.” This said quietly as they walked across the Smithfield Street Bridge to the Station Square parking lot.
“Why would you be sorry? You have your right to an opinion.”
“I shouldn’t have done that in public.”
“Who cares? I’m a big boy, I can take it. You know, you were pretty intimidating too. I’m glad that I didn’t have to go up against you. Damn, I knew you did some research today, but I didn’t think it was that.” She didn’t reply, but he noticed that she wasn’t lagging two steps behind him as she had been since they left the meeting. “You argue with me at work all the time, in case you forgot.”
Rory said something about knowing each other, but the words were lost as she pulled her coat collar higher and shivered.
Eyeing her as they walked, heads bent against the February wind, he wondered at her apology. “So how do you know so much about economics?”
“I minored in it.”
“You never mentioned that before.”
“I didn’t think it mattered,” she said.
“Doing anything this weekend?”
“No. Just writing.” Rory didn’t ask about his weekend. Her eyes were on the ground.
He tried again. “Two Step comes out this weekend. It’s supposed to be a pretty good romance.”
“I don’t go to movies much.”
“Not even to catch a chick flick with the girls?”
Rory hitched her collar up higher. “I think it’s getting colder out here.”
“You ought to get out more.”
“I get out enough.”
They were silent for the rest of the walk. Rory didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to say the words she wanted to but couldn’t. She unlocked her car door with her remote from a few yards away, both relieved and disappointed that their evening was coming to an end.
“You’ll want to let it warm up a few minutes,” Cade said. “Give me your scraper. I’ll clear the windows for you.”
“I have two,” she said, opening the trunk and tossing one to him. “I’ll get the back.”
“Can you just let me be the gentleman? You know, pretend there’s something you can’t do?”
“I never said that.”
She rolled her eyes and laughed. From this distance, with him on one side of the car and her on the other, she was safe. She could let her guard down and enjoy being with him.
“Why don’t you get your car started and let it warm up while we clear the windows?” he said, moving to open the car door for her. Grinning at him, she opened the passenger door and leaned in to start the car. “Smartass.”
“You love it,” she said, scraping the snow and ice from back window.
“No comment,” he closed the door to begin work on the front window.
Pausing to watch him move the windshield wipers out of the way and scrape the snow , Rory found herself trying to remember the last time Paul had been considerate enough to clean her car off without being asked. Daring to glance up, she saw Cade studying her. I want him, she thought, giving the back window another swipe. She looked down again, feeling herself blushing again. He wants me. She wondered what he would do if she kissed him, then dismissed the idea. She wasn’t brave enough and, besides, surely she was imagining things.
“It’s not getting any clearer,” Cade remarked as she swiped the scraper’s brush over clean glass. “Here,” he said, now next to her, holding out the scraper, “your front window’s done.”
Taking it, she thanked him for his help, grateful that he couldn’t tell she was blushing. She threw both scrapers in the back and climbed into the driver’s seat. “Thank you,” she said again, looking up at him.
“You’ll be okay driving?”
“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine,” she said, reaching to pull the door shut. “I appreciate your concern, though.”
“Wait, Roar,” he held onto the door, keeping it open as he tried to find the right words.
Her eyes were drawn to his gloved hand and she imagined again what it might be like to reach out and take his hand. To lace her fingers through his and ask him to stay longer and just go have a drink with her somewhere. To tell him that she didn’t want to go home to a cold bed again. “What?”
Instead of answering, he just looked at her for a moment as if he were weighing his words. She was right. Come home with me tonight. Tell me what’s going on, words he wanted to say but knew he couldn’t.
She liked the way his lips quirked self-consciously as he answered her. “Yeah, well, I just want to make sure you’re okay driving home in this.”
“I’m okay,” she said softly. “I’m going to be okay. I promise you.”