“So, you write for a magazine. I would think that you’d be better suited to be on the cover rather than in the pages.”
At The Lyon’s Head, the current last word in elegance atop Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, Alex and Rory were seated in a quiet, private nook – away from the gossip columnists, he said – and awaiting their drinks. In response to his remark, Rory shrugged and picked up the menu.
“No need to choose, Rory. I ordered for you when I arrived.”
“Yes, I thought you’d enjoy the filet, medium rare, and asparagus. Just like me.”
Rory nodded and said nothing as she closed the menu and set it aside. The waiter arrived with their drinks, and Alex waited until he left before speaking again. “I’m quite pleased that you originally declined my invitation to dinner. So many women want my money that they would have had the table reserved before I finished the question. But your desire to remain ethical and objective with the article, well, that’s so rare now.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m outdated,” Rory smiled and sipped her wine, white zinfandel, her favorite, taking in his classic, fresh-faced appearance. Easy to look at in an average, unremarkable fashion-doll sort of way, he looked as if he’d just stepped from one of his press packet portraits. All-American good looks without a single mark to differentiate him from the next All-American boy, she thought idly, sipping her drink once more before putting it down.
She felt slightly awkward, off-balance. She kept waiting for the Alex she remembered, the one who had often called her a shapeless little string bean and told her to quit bugging him. Tonight her pride demanded that she dress well and show him that she wasn’t the gawky child she was sure he remembered but a professional adult, capable of writing about her best friend and his almost-fiancée. She wore a green dress printed with black geometric shapes assembled in no particular pattern. A wide patent leather black belt cinched at her waist, and the dress’s neckline was a simple V. Black patent leather heels added three inches to her height. Simple and professional. Boring, was her estimation when she chose it. Perfect. There was no danger of his mistaking her intentions dressed as she was. She looked, she thought with a smile, like she was ready for a press conference.
“There’s no such thing as being out of date, Rory. I think that you are ahead of the times, actually. A role model for other journalists, so to speak. Myself, I try to do the same: act in a way I expect others to act so I can always know that I was right. It helps me sleep at night.”
She nodded politely. Boredom began to overcome all other emotion. Her mind went back to Cade and their earlier argument. What had he meant by her figuring it out? What was she supposed to “figure out”? He was all about appearances and money, nothing more, nothing less. This was just a ploy to be seen with her, she suspected. But her opinion didn’t matter, really. It was all about Julie as far as she was concerned.
“There is so much dishonesty in the world. For example, last week I was actually arguing with a client about whether or not we could hide financial information! I won, we revealed it, and – as I expected – it didn’t make a bit of difference. Not when you argue a case well, which I did.”
She stifled a yawn and nodded again, thinking about the look in Cade’s eyes as he studied her after she’d said he was nothing to her. His expression had been anything but angry. Hurt, perhaps. But understanding, too.
“A bit before that, I took an associate to task for a conflict of interest! Imagine, a professional not knowing any better! He’s no longer with us, I fear.”
Their dinners arrived, distracting her from thoughts of texting Cade to tell him how bored she was and that he didn’t have to worry about her. His description of a “stuffed shirt” was dead on.
“Thank you,” Rory smiled warmly at the waiter as he refilled her wine glass.
Alex waved his hand toward his empty wine glass. “More.”
“Certainly, Mr. Webster.” The waiter graciously complied, deftly refilling Alex’s glass as well.
“Bring another bottle when this one’s empty. Then there are the interns, Rory! They are unbelievable! The questions they ask! Educated adults wanting to know why we can and can’t do things and what exactly does a thirty-minute lunch mean in real time!” He stabbed at his filet, sawing at it with his knife until his plate held a dozen or so bite-sized pieces, then immediately did the same to his asparagus. She watched, biting her lip because it wouldn’t be right to laugh.
“When I was a student, I was so dedicated,” he kept talking between bites. “So dedicated that my mother thought I’d have a stroke at the age of twenty-one. She’d beg me to relax, to slow down, but I couldn’t. You know what that’s like, right? You’re like me, driven. I can sense that about you, Rory. You won’t let anyone stop you. You didn’t let me stop you. You worked your way right into my office and back into my life, bringing Julie back to me. You’re a woman after my own heart. Like I said, I’m so glad that we’re here. I’m glad that I’m getting a chance to know you again. You’re interesting, intriguing. I want to know everything about you, Rory. I apparently didn’t appreciate you when we were young.”
“I believe your appreciation back then existed in the form of ‘get away from me’ and ‘quit following me.’ Both of which were probably appropriate for a teenage boy saddled with an adolescent girl who was too shy to speak.”
Alex gave his first genuine laugh of the evening. “I believe you’re right. I wasn’t exactly the nicest guy back then, was I?”
Grinning, Rory shook her head, unable to deny it.
“It seems that you grew up.”
“So did you.”
She escaped to the ladies’ room after the entrée. She had to. His attention was overwhelming. He was heaping compliments on her and detailing his entire history within the world of law, burying her in words and barely giving her a chance to speak. Throughout, when he thought she wouldn’t notice, his eyes darted to her cleavage. Rory had thought the neckline would be high enough to discourage him, but apparently it wasn’t.
Smiling to herself, she pulled out her phone and began to type: RUNNING OFF TO VEGAS TONIGHT. Grinning, she hit the send button.
I wonder how much longer I have to stay? Here’s hoping he didn’t order dessert, she thought, lightly dusting the shine from her nose.
Her phone buzzed, signaling a text.
MAKE SURE ELVIS OFFICIATES.
She laughed and replied.
LOL. ESCAPED TO LADIES’ ROOM TO BREATHE. HAVE TO RETURN BEFORE HE STARTS TO LOOK FOR ME. TTYS.
Re-applying her lipstick, she studied her appearance for a moment. Average, maybe pretty, she decided once more. With her track record, who needed more men? Besides, with this next paycheck, she could finally afford to leave Paul. Just as soon as she wrapped up Julie’s story, she would be a free woman.
Alex waited until she was sitting down.
“So you’re getting divorced.”
The room tilted crazily for a moment, and she thought she’d fall out of her chair. This couldn’t be happening. “How did you know?”
“Well, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but your lawyer is a buddy of mine. We talked this afternoon because I needed to clear up a few legal questions. I mentioned today’s interview, and you came up.”
Downing the rest of her wine, Rory smiled weakly and wondered just how legal that conversation had been. “Small world, huh?”
“I take it that your husband isn’t privy to this information?”
She shook her head. “I’m just looking into it. I haven’t filed any papers yet.”
“I know. But don’t worry, Rory, your secret is safe with me. In fact, while I’m not a divorce lawyer, I’m happy to offer you my services nonetheless, just in case you need an impartial opinion or some advice.”
“Thank you, Alex.” She paused to sip from her water goblet. “You know, Julie always told me how thoughtful you were and how you took care of her.”
A shadow crossed his face, making her realize the weight of what she’d said. “Oh, Alex, I’m sorry. I can make such a muck of things sometimes. I didn’t mean to bring up… I mean… I meant it as a compliment, that’s all.” She looked at him, her expression worried.
“Of course you did,” he said finally, allowing her to draw a breath of relief. “Now, tell me how your interviews went. I want to know everything about them.”