It was nine fifteen in the morning when the phone rang, “Cath Kaplan,” her signature answer rose lyrically.
For the next four consecutive days, butterflies flitted through Catherine’s stomach and she barely slept those nights.
Every time she thought of it, her breath constricted in her throat and the palpitations in her breast came in tantalizing waves. Agony and ecstasy intertwined, forming a knot below her belly button.
The source of this great heady rush were just two words; “It’s ready...”
Those had been the only words Ken had spoken when she’d answered; he’d said it and hung up.
Determined to outlast his patience Catherine had refused to react to his mind game by calling him back. Hour after gut-twisting hour had ticked by in a procession of glacial procrastination.
“So, you are still alive?” Ken’s voice was sarcastic, but there was lust below the surface.
“Apparently...” Catherine was haughty in response.
“Oh... Come on Cath,” Ken’s resolve failed him, swamped by desire it crumbled away.
In that instant he’d realized that a change in tactics by quitting the charade was his only chance to fulfill his desires;
“...when are you coming out to play,” he whined like a child.
Surprisingly out of character, Catherine thought.
It was the moment of truth. It was weeks running into months since he’d challenged and she’d accepted... innuendo filled emails, conversations and private quips passing between the two in front of colleagues.
And now the day had dawned.
He’d invested hugely to get it ready; she had pondered long and hard about the ethics of it. She daren’t do it, but she couldn’t pull out either, it was too far gone.
What to do? How to respond?
She could hear him breathing on the other side of the phone—how long could she say nothing...?
“...I’ve been expecting your call since Friday.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed in a caustic tone, trying to hide the relief in her voice that the childish game could be over, “... was that you who called on Friday, and here I was thinking that it must have been a wrong number.”
She took refuge in Ken withholding caller-ID from recipients.
“I wanted to see if you would be free,” Ken began to reply feebly.
“You wanted to see if I would be free?” Catherine mocked, controlling the conversation, still scrambling for the final decision that would need to be made any second; “Do you think I’m a fast food take-out...?” She said it playfully, carefully.
“I won’t know that till I eat you,” Ken ventured awkwardly, the delicate negotiation stripped him of confidence.
“Who says I’m edible?” she replied, but her loin had its own agenda, an image bursting in her mind and a rushing sensation deep in the cocoon of her pelvis seemed to suck with the insistence of a light vacuum making her breath quick and shallow.
“We’ve got down-time tomorrow. Any chances?” Ken asked offhandedly, as if the reply didn’t matter to him.
“Well... let me see...” she leafed noisily through her notebook as if it was a day-planner, keeping the phone close to the pages so he’d hear them turning, “Gee... it looks so busy... I doubt it. Let’s see, how about Thursday the twelfth?”
Catherine could easily make the arrangement for the following evening and in truth she had every intention of doing so, but now it was her turn to play a waiting game and make Ken suffer.
Catherine could hear the pages of Ken’s day-planner being turned, seeking that date far into the future;
“You’re joking!” he responded sounding peeved, “...that’s almost three weeks time!” There was shrill alarm in his voice, it was out of his control; “No Cath... Come-on! Christ-Jesus, you can’t do this.”
“And why not?” She answered, maintaining the upper hand. “I’m also a professional.”
Ken saw his plans floundering, tripping over ego and knew he must tone it down.
“...how long has it taken to come up with the game? What are a few more days?” Her digs at Ken driven by fear and awkwardness.
“I know... I know, it’s been almost three months. We had problems, but that’s exactly my point. Why must we wait another three weeks?”
Animal desire had blinded Ken of any vestige of pride, lust making him drive an otherwise degrading bargain.
He’d begun begging.
Catherine wondered how long she could sustain his suffering before lust turned into aggression. “Not much,” she assured herself;
“Ok... There’s a chance that I can cancel my date for tomorrow night but I can’t promise you anything. This is short notice, Ken?” She milked whatever she safely could from her advantage, “But if I can’t make it tomorrow, you’re the boss... I’m sure you can arrange another convenient time?”
“I’m well aware that I’m the boss, Catherine,” Ken responded bitingly, “but I can’t simply put a booking into the roster because the computer will automatically assign a team.”
By the sound of Ken’s voice, Catherine guessed that she had stretched his patience to its absolute limit.
Ken continued bellyaching, “Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find the gaps of down-time we need to set up our equipment. Short notice is the only way that we can arrange it, Cath... This is as awkward for me,” he tagged the apology onto the end, trying to get the friction out of their proposed engagement.
“All right, I’ll see what I can do,” Catherine relented.
“I’ll try to keep the booking open,” Ken reassured and Catherine wanted to burst into laughter. He sounded like a teenager on a first date with the desperation of trying to maneuver through all of the obstacles making him as awkward as a duck climbing stairs.
“I’ll be in touch,” she closed the conversation.
They hung up with the issue still a hot potato.
There had been neither intention nor hint of romance from either side in their negotiation, it was naked lust; both of them knew it. Products of the liberated age, it was the promise of raw thrill that drove the pair onto the marshy bog of carnal desire.
Each, contemplating it privately, concluded that lust for lust’s sake was not an entirely bad state to entertain; lust and romance were entirely separate emotions they could deal with separately.
Catherine pondered it all day; it was rather like her first visit to the doctor, she thought, “inevitable and terrifying, yet deliciously decadent... I must be warped.”
Ken phoned again at lunchtime but Catherine could offer him no confirmation.
His four thirty call caught her in a meeting. “Catherine...” The intercom on her desk piped.
“Yes, Jenn?” Catherine responded; Jenny was Kaplan’s receptionist.
“Mr. Torrington called again, he sounds distressed,” Not understanding the situation, Jenny’s voice had been infected by Ken’s insistence.
Still, Catherine remained determined to draw out his agony a while longer, “You told him that I was in a meeting?” she queried.
“Yes. But he was very insistent, he said that he was leaving his office and going home. He mentioned that he might pop by here, on his way.”
Catherine flared with anger at Ken’s presumptuousness, she had no desire to see him; she was relieved to be forewarned.
She quickly estimated that, with no traffic, it would take him half an hour to travel the distance. But, since he’d have to push through the evening rush hour, she was content that time remained on her side;
“Ok Jenn, buzz me at ten to five, I must get a move on before he gets here. I’m not going to see him without an appointment,” She signed off, then began to wind up the meeting with her staff.
By five o’clock Catherine was on the road and very pleased that Ken was ignorant of her home address.
He was also not in possession of her unlisted home phone number. She knew that she would be safe from his harassment. Then, thinking about it, she realized that she would have to call him anyway lest he label Jenny as a bad receptionist who didn’t pass on messages.
With a sigh of trepidation, she scrolled to his listing and hit the ‘call’ button;
“Torrington,” came the authoritative voice in a tone that poorly cloaked a lashing of irritation—he’d obviously seen her name come up.
“Ken?” Catherine barely recognized his voice.
“Catherine?” he barked back, “...where the hell have you been?” his irritated snap betrayed a spoiled personality accustomed to getting its own way.
“Don’t you dare use that tone with me!” Catherine instinctively went onto the offensive, her anger was genuine. Client or no client, she wasn’t going to let him get away with brash rudeness.
“S... s... sorry Cath, I... I’ve had a hell of a day,” Ken retreated.
All day he’d been unable to focus on anything but his lust, he’d become obsessed with it. The irrationality of animal instinct had gone so far as to make him jealous over the whereabouts of Catherine, his fantasy lover.
“I’ve had a hell of a day too but I don’t harass Nancy and then bite your head off!” Catherine had also done little more than fantasize the day away, and it came out now in anger.
Unfolding was the strangest mating ritual that two people could play. The forces of instinct at fever pitch, making the two victims of lust cannibalize each other’s emotions in an unholy orgy of dominance.
Each had spoken their mind with all the finesse of wrestling porcupines, but Ken knew that bringing the tussle to a conclusion would be a process of cautious negotiation;
“Where are you?” Ken inquired, referring to their particularly poor connection, “...it sounds like you’re calling from the moon.”
His question had been delicately phrased, as though he were dealing with the finest china that might shatter at the slightest mishandling.
“I’m in my car, on my way to a big problem we’re having across town,” Catherine lied.
“Any chance of seeing you later?” Ken asked, not sure if he could bare the tension of seeing Catherine or hear her refusal; yet he had to broach the subject of their proposed date.
“No chance I’m afraid, they’re going to press with this job in the morning so it must be completed by tonight. I’ll have to push through this problem even if it takes all night.”
“I’m being silly even asking,” Ken tried to redeem his pride, “I’ve also got a few things to get through.”
The phone crackled with his distress and his gut wrenched as his mouth refused to speak the words that he demanded of it.
Catherine could sense his anguish and she surmised its source. She would not yield, not give him the confirmation that he desperately desired; “Stew, you bastard,” she thought, “...stew.”
Ken sensed that the conversation was at its end. With all of the coercion that he could muster he dragged out of himself the question that they both knew he’d called to ask, trying to make it sound like an afterthought;
“Hmm. Oh yes. Anything more about, maybe... tomorrow?”
“Unfortunately not,” Catherine replied, battling to wipe the grin off of her face, “but I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Her fence sitting cost both of them a sleepless night.