Tell me where you’re working
—I love you so much—
Tell me where you’re tending your flocks, where you let them rest at noontime.
Why should I be the one left out, outside the orbit of your tender care?
Song of Solomon 1:7 (context)
When she got to work on Thursday, Summer found a meeting invitation waiting for her: 10:30 to 11:00 in Doug’s office. That gave her a couple hours, so she accepted, her heart fluttering. Was he going to offer her the job? Or, even more heart-pounding, was he going to ask her out? They’d gone jogging every night, showing one another their favorite routes; the hours together had shown Summer a deeper side to Doug than she would have guessed. Doug usually did most of the talking on their excursions, giving Summer a chance to breathe and providing much-appreciated distraction from her burning legs. And Summer sure had learned a lot by simply listening. Just last night, he had told her about Joanna.
They’d been climbing a hill when it came up. He’d told her about the last few years, his involvement in the community garden and how he had started life anew and unexpectedly. “I never thought I’d be alone,” he said, then breathed for a while. “I married a wonderful woman, Joanna, and expected to spend the rest of my life with her.”
This had been news to Summer, who luckily didn’t have a chance to show much surprise. She’d imagined him as an avowed bachelor, living the lone wolf life happily.
“She was beautiful—small, delicate, like a hummingbird.” For a moment Summer unhappily compared herself to the vision of Joanna that came into her mind. He’d probably describe her as a crow or a blue jay. “She was eight months pregnant when a drunk driver hit her and killed them both.”
“Oh my god,” Summer gasped, nearly stopping in her tracks. She hurried to catch up to his steady jog, wondering how he could say something like that so smoothly, without bursting into tears at even the thought of it. “That’s so awful. I’m so sorry.” Obit writer or no, Summer hardly knew what to say.
“It’s OK. It was five years ago in September. My son would almost be ready for kindergarten if he’d lived.” Now she heard it, the pain buried so deeply in his voice she’d missed it initially. Still Summer didn’t say anything, just moving and breathing, listening with every fiber of her being. “I’ve mourned them… I probably always will. But I’m getting lonely, just me and Savannah. It’s nice to get to know people again.” He’d glanced sideways at her, an unreadable expression on his face—hope and apprehension mixed together, perhaps.
“It’s good to have friends,” Summer lamely replied, and they ran on, the moment lost. But the rest of the night she thought about how much Doug had lost compared to her, and how he had recovered to live life again.
Continue reading.In the office, Summer looked at the appointment on her calendar. What hid behind that innocuous, faceless message? She didn’t now what she would do if he offered her the job, but she even more didn’t know what she’d do if he asked her out. She did know, though, that the second one would be much harder to turn down than the first; even with Hunter in her life, Summer felt herself drawn to Doug in a way she couldn’t understand. Yes, she loved Hunter, the excitement and recklessness he brought into her life that taught her she could be more than a staid, reliable housewife. She loved the connection he had to her past, the memories of college and youthful hopes that being with him awakened. She loved how they went clothes shopping together, him playing an active role in her wardrobe—he had excellent fashion sense, as she’d noticed on several occasions. Hunter lit up the room in the way a sparkler did, glitteringly bright and exciting; Doug lit it up like an incandescent bulb, steady and warm, reliable in a way Hunter never could be.
As for the job situation, well, Summer had mailed the applications off already yesterday evening. She couldn’t wait for her major article to come out; after some thought, it didn’t seem like it would matter either way. If she waited and it came out, she could include it for a feather in her cap. But if she waited and it came out a bust, buried on the back page and reduced to 100 words, what would she gain? She’d only have delayed the applications for nothing. Deep in her heart Summer felt this article could be her gateway to investigative journalism on a professional scale, but she didn’t believe it would fly. Fred would smash it down, a final act of vindictiveness before Summer left his jurisdiction, or the higher-up editors would hate it, or fear slandering the almighty George Barre. No. Summer had little to gain by waiting, and possibly much to lose in time.
Besides, Summer simply could not wait any longer—the idea of staying at The Herald made her feel the way Summer imagined passengers on the Titanic felt when they realized their mighty vessel wasn’t unsinkable after all. Now that the idea of leaving had taken root in her mind, it blossomed into a full-grown flower that she refused to let die. If these job applications fell through, well, there was always The Advocate back home. They’d sorrowfully watched her go and offered her an open position any time. Assuming some of the same management remained, Summer could always make good on that offer.
Summer wondered for a moment why she was even in Washington. She loved California and The Advocate, and besides, her family all lived there. Here she was alone in a way she would never have to be if she moved back to California after winning the settlement from Lance. Of course, she’d have to tolerate her mother’s “I told you so” about him in person, but she could suffer that for the joy of living near her family. Even now, years after moving north, the word “home” brought visions of a sunny California porch, a carefully-trimmed lawn with roses in the back yard climbing up the side of the low, cool-windowed stucco house.
But somehow, Summer didn’t see herself going back any time soon. She had started to feel…well, settled here in Seattle, even on her own like this. Perhaps it resulted from her having to live on her own, but Summer had begun to assert herself and enjoy it—to make friends like Chastity and Doug and, most of all, Hunter. With surprise, Summer realized that she had for the first time in the last ten years actually begun to live her own life, listening to her own desires and taking her own advice without worrying about somebody else, and it felt good. She would never have thought of applying at The Times if she’d stayed married to Lance; who knows, she might have quit her job completely to more perfectly play the dutiful up-and-coming lawyer’s wife. Children would have brightened her life significantly, but now Summer was glad they hadn’t had any. Better they be spared the pain of her and Lance’s separation.
In the background, she heard Shawna yelp.
“Are you OK?” came Megan’s concerned query.
“I just dropped the fucking huge binder on my toe!” Shawna sounded as if the binder had intentionally aimed for her foot. What nerve it had, assaulting her like that!
“What?” Megan said, totally incredulous. “Why did you do that?”
Summer stifled a laugh. She wanted to add, “Yeah, who’d purposely drop that huge binder on their foot?” which was what Megan’s tone implied, but she resisted. Better they forget she was here, or they’d probably gang up on her again.
“I didn’t do it on purpo
se!” Indignant tone from Shawna, then low-voiced swearing and muttering as she went around her business. From the corner of her eye, Summer saw her coworker limp heavily by, muttering imprecations about gigantic binders and broken toes.
On that note, Summer settled down to do some real work. She steadily plowed through the obits that had piled up during her frantic research phase, then checked the clock, eyes widening in surprise. 10:14 already! She wondered what Hunter was up to right now. He had just finished his morning biology class. Probably he would be in office hours with his students right now, so Summer decided not to call him for a “wish me luck.” Instead, she decided she just had enough time to call Chastity.
One of Chastity’s quirks was that she changed her voice messages all the time. Summer loved to call just to hear what her friend was up to at the moment; she figured that even if she didn’t talk to her friend, the message would amuse her. So Summer dialed and, unsurprisingly, got Chastity’s voicemail.
“Hi, you’ve reached Chastity. I’m in Bio for boobs with the hottest professor ever right now, but if you’ll leave a message I’ll get back to you after ten o’clock. Thanks!” Summer sat stunned, mind racing. Chastity’s mention of the really hot biology professor at Cascadia… Hunter teaching an introduction to biology class at Cascadia right now… Hunter being busy nights when she’d expected him there… Chastity’s message… It wasn’t proof of anything, but to Summer’s investigative journalist mind, the evidence looked bad. Her once-betrayed heart broke again at the thought of having invested in Hunter, imagined life with Hunter, and finding him no better than Lance. Worse, because at least Lance had gotten it on with a stranger, not, not—
No. Possibly they knew one another, but Hunter would never—he might. She had an idea of his past. He just might. At least Chastity wouldn’t—It looked very, very bad indeed, and Summer felt tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t even try to stop them. Two men, two unfaithfulnesses. She wanted to believe the best of best friend and her man, but somehow she knew they would find each other irresistibly attractive. And it wasn’t as if Chastity ever exercised restraint. But she’d promised Summer to keep her hands off, no matter how much she’d wanted Hunter! A few trickling tears turned into a flood, reducing Summer’s single Kleenex into a uselessly soggy wad in moments.
She wept, quietly, even then conscious of Shawna and Megan and the flimsiness of their cubes. Her spider plant, Christmas lights, and cute lamp blurred into points of light and dark as Summer let her heart’s agony pour out of her eyes. No, no, no. It couldn’t be… But it was. She knew it was.
Looking up through tear-bleared eyes, she saw the popup reminder of her meeting with Doug, fifteen minutes overdue. Summer leaped up, dashing the wetness from her eyes, knocking back her rolling chair and nearly tripping over her own feet in the process. She rushed first to the bathroom to try to repair the damage, only realizing her terrible mistake when she saw that the damage was virtually irreparable. Besides, she had forgotten her makeup at her desk. Not that any amount of makeup could cover the red puffiness of her eyes, the broken look in her countenance. She blew her nose and rinsed off her face, washing the light makeup off; the tear-tracks and dripping mascara looked worse than nothing.
Doug would just have to see her this way, without her “face” on and raw. If it made him not hire her, well, she wouldn’t want to work for somebody for whom that made a difference anyway. There was The Times and The P-I, and Summer was no longer afraid to step out on her own. She’d trusted Hunter, and he had proven once again that she needed to be strong by herself, not relying on his strength to carry her through. His strength was just enough to seduce her with an exciting life, but not enough to follow through on any of his promises. Doug would just have to take her or leave her as she was. Summer wasn’t going to change for any man ever again—if she could ever trust one again.
The bathroom was practically halfway to Doug’s cube; she only had to go down the stairs and take a—shoot. Left? Right? She chose one and found herself, damnation, in the photography department. At that moment Summer would have sworn by heaven and earth that they had deliberately moved departments around to make her life difficult.
* * *
Doug immediately saw that Summer had been crying, and the comment on her timeliness—or lack thereof; it was 10:55—died on his lips. She needed comforting now, not stern reprimands. Besides, seeing her that way, eyes all puffy and red from crying, face contorted into lines of self-controlled sorrow, reminded Doug of himself for many years. Deep pain etched itself onto her face, and he felt a flood of protective sympathy rush through his veins.
He wanted to reach out and hold her, tell her that everything would be OK, have her bury her face in his shirt and leave damp teary spots on its pristine blue surface. He longed to wrap his arms around her, could almost feel the solidity of her, hard muscle and soft curves combined into a perfect, totally desirable form. Suddenly Doug realized, with a rare flash of self-insight, that he loved her. Their nightly runs had helped him see the Summer beneath the surface. Now all he wanted was to spend the rest of his life learning her nuances: what she looked like in the morning, hair rumpled and face creased by pillows; what movies she liked and what food she preferred; what order she did things in the shower and how often she flossed her teeth; how she cooked food and whether she flipped toilet paper over or under on the roll; what she would name her children and what drove her wild in bed. He saw them together in a house with a white picket fence, Savannah dashing around the yard with a young, brown-haired, blue-eyed child, perhaps another younger one in Summer’s arms. He could almost see the sunlight shining warmly into the kitchen, which would be large and the hub of their home together. It could be; how he longed for his vision to become reality. He sighed and came back to the present, Summer’s sorrow and his newfound love.
“Hard morning?” he asked as kindly as he could, but stayed in his seat. She didn’t look like a woman ready to hear any professions of love. For a moment, Doug thought she would pull herself together, come off with the “Tough day, but what day isn’t?” charade. Instead, she sank into the chair opposite his desk, buried her face in her hands, and bawled.
“Oh, Doug,” she wailed, “Today is so awful! I was so happy George Barre died—and we’re becoming friends—and my career was looking so good and I had friends…” A pause, and he wondered if she’d finish. Doug carefully stood up, watching her to show he was listening, and went to shut his office door. Briefly he thought of the possible gossip about impropriety, but decided Summer needed privacy in this personal sorrow more than he needed a sparkling-clean reputation. He shut the door and returned to his seat. Summer sniffled and continued. “I’m pretty sure Hunter’s cheating on me with Chastity! My best friend and my—my—” She couldn’t get his role in her life out coherently, but Doug mentally substituted “boyfriend” at the end of the sentence. “At least I didn’t know Charmin when Lance… And now when I’m starting to recover, this happens.” More tears, but to his surprise, no anger. In her place, he would have wanted to kill somebody, but Summer just seemed broken. Where was the backbone he knew she had?
Doug offered her a Kleenex from his desk box, which she took and vigorously blew her nose into before continuing. The offer of a fresh Kleenex produced one nearly dripping with wetness from her tears. “What is it about me? What is it that makes m
en cheat on me? Two men, two fucking affairs on the side!” The uncharacteristic swearing surprised Doug, but then, he probably would have used worse language if he was in that situation. “Is there something wrong with me? Am I so unattractive I can’t keep a man’s interest? Or am I so stupid I just choose horrible people? Does God hate me?!” Doug wanted to protest that she was lovely, even now, but held his tongue. She wouldn’t hear it. The last, in a wail he was sure had penetrated his walls, Doug took to be hyperbole.
After a while, Summer sniffled and used several more Kleenexes to clean up her face, visibly pulling herself together. For the first time since walking into his office, she met Doug’s eyes. “Sorry,” she told him, not seeing the look of total love in Doug’s face. “Here I must look so stupid…”
“No, not at all,” Doug told her, and it wasn’t even a lie. He admired her bravery in trusting him with her pain, and that courage only fanned the flame he had discovered Summer had inadvertently kindled in his heart.
“Well, I’m done now,” she said, wiping her nose and brushing her hair back. She looked done, hurt but as if she’d bottled up the emotions to take out and release another time. Work wasn’t the place for breakdowns, her look said. “Thanks for listening. I’m not usually such a wreck.”
“I know,” Doug told her. “It’s OK. What else are friends for?” He pretended not to hear her answer to the rhetorical question: “Cheating on you.” Taking out his sheaf of papers, Doug put on his coworker’s mantle and looked at her. “Summer, I’m pleased to offer you the position of sub-editor beneath me in the Home and Garden department. I’ve considered it carefully, and I think you’re the best candidate for this position.” Even when several other people had come up, her experience won out.
“Oh,” Summer said, not even looking surprised. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.