My lover spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
Song of Solomon 2:10-13
She took the proffered paper, scanned down it. Doug could almost see her thinking: An appreciable raise, but she expected that, and anyway, in her situation any raise would rate as appreciable. Summer needed the money, and turning down Doug’s more than generous offer was probably the decision of a fool or an idealist. Yet the combination of her top secret career-making story brewing, her extremely muddled feelings for Hunter and Chastity, and her increasing desire to escape The Herald, suggested to Doug that Summer might feel compelled to turn the job down. He imagined her thinking, “It wouldn’t be smart to say so right away, not when Doug clearly had so much riding on me, but I shouldn’t wait too long either.”
What she said was, “I’ll let you know tomorrow or Monday, if that would be OK.” The weekend to “think it over” sounded plausible, although Summer had already given Doug enough hints to suggest she wouldn’t accept.
“That’s fine,” Doug told her. “I hope you’ll seriously consider this. It’s a great opportunity.” He didn’t say that his heart wrenched offering her the job, because in so doing he killed any chance of a relationship with her. Doug’s own morals demanded he not date a coworker, and certainly not a subordinate, and that coincided with The Herald’s dating policy as well. Even knowing he loved her, knowing that their life together could be forever, Doug admitted to himself that she was also the best person or the job and deserved to receive his offer before any of the other candidates. So in his heart he hoped that Summer would, in fact, turn the job down—maybe even leave the company, opening the doorway for him to follow his desires. They would see each other jogging, at the grocery store, perhaps more often than chance would have dictated; Doug would see to that personally.
Looking at Summer, he saw her calm face beneath a surface marred by recent tears. Sure, she still had the puffy, red-eyed gaze of a woman who recently wept, and maybe her face looked a little bit blotchy. It didn’t matter to Doug. He would willingly have given up everything for her, to know her and live life wit her, but that wasn’t an option right now.
Continue reading.Summer had her pain to deal with. She had to work through the truth of Hunter’s infidelity, if such existed, and come to grips with who she was as a person, a woman, and an emotional creature without Doug’s interference. Besides, he didn’t even know if she felt anything towards him at all. She hadn’t given any outward hint or suggestion of attraction, but somehow Doug felt her pulled towards him just as he pulled inexorably towards her. He knew on a gut level that they were meant for one another and nothing else should have mattered—except careers and other people got in the way.
“Did you have anything else for me?” She stood up, signaling an end to Doug’s reverie and compelling him to rise as well.
“Nope, that’s it. Like I said…”
“Don’t worry. I’ll think about it.” But he doubted very much whether she would truly consider his offer or not. It didn’t matter. No matter what she chose, Doug couldn’t pursue the relationship he longed to have with her. So Doug had to bury his feelings for Summer, not give a hint of impropriety or attraction, but instead just be the friend she clearly needed right now.
“That’s all I can ask. If I don’t see you, have a good weekend.” He wanted to embrace her, but just stood on his side of the desk, following her cue. She said her farewell with grace, not shaking his hand like a stranger but waving as to a friend—familiar, comfortable, saying “I know you too well to have to shake your hand.” But it also said, “it wouldn’t be right to hug you goodbye, not in the office.” Hence the neutrally charged little hand wave.
* * *
Leaving Doug’s office, Summer caught a look from him that she didn’t know what to do with. There was this longing in his face, a sort of look that one received from a man desperately aching for something but knowing he would never gratify the desire. It was a resigned look, too, accepting the longing and living with it but never acting on it. Summer considered turning around, walking around his desk, taking his hands and asking what he ached for so much it etched across his normally carefully-controlled face. Instead, she waved a friendly goodbye, hoping that would say what she wanted—although she didn’t even know what that was, so who knew if it got the right message across—and left.
She didn’t see Doug for the rest of the day, but she got an email from Chastity.
From: Chastity Turner
To: Summer Robertson
Date: October 3, 2006 11:07 AM
Subject: all three hang out sometime
Just thought id drip you a line, see whats cookin in your world lately. How did tge job interview go? I was thinking o f you on tues when it happened. anyway I was also wondering whats up with you and the guy lately, maybe we could go jump together sometime or something. havent seen you in ates!
call me, well figure something out.
PS im going lingerie shopping this weekend, want tocome?
Immediately Summer’s mind started churning again, her heart racing from the moment she read the subject line. What did that even mean? Why had Chastity emailed her? Before, Summer would never have second-guessed her friend’s intentions: Because Summer herself almost inevitably had good intentions towards Chastity, she assumed her friend would reciprocate the gesture. That didn’t seem so sure now, but at the same time, Summer didn’t want to kill her best friendship over what looked now like a huge overreaction.
She emailed back.
From: Summer Robertson
To: Chastity Turner
Date: October 3, 2006 11:19 AM
Subject: RE: all three hang out sometime
I’d love to go lingerie shopping sometime—haven’t done that in ages! Not that I have anybody to wear it for, but still, can’t hurt to have something, right? Do you know when/where?
I don’t know about jumping again, I’m not sure I want to keep that up. It was crazy fun, but at the same time, I read some about it and it seems like everybody who does it ends up dying some time. I guess I’m jsut a wuss compared to you and Hunter but after two jumps I’m nto sure it’s a great idea.
That was as close to “no” as Summer would get, and it should be enough. She didn’t think Chastity would press her too hard; they had always accepted their different preferences for entertainment and accepted the intersections where they came. She thought for a long moment before writing:
About all three of us hanging out: I guess that would depend on everybody’s schedules. I’m pretty tired lately but maybe we could do something over the weekend if you’re not already booked. Maybe Sunday afternoon or something? I don’t now what we’d do but we can figure something out.
The “cheers” she usually reserved for quasi-friendly people, but Summer wasn’t sure how friendly she wanted to be with
Chastity at this point. No: No assuming the worst. Sure, that policy had blinded her to Lance’s infidelity for months, but at the same time Summer preferred to live a little naïve. That was something that drew her to Doug. He had a freshness about him that seemed real. Even though she knew he’d gone through hell with his wife’s death, Doug had retained—or perhaps regained—an open, trusting, and un-Hunter-ish joy of living that Summer found very attractive.
Hunter, she thought, carried worldliness like an aura around him. He radiated knowingness, a sense that he’d lived through it all and reveled in the filth that made up some of the more “exciting” aspects of the life he knew. Chastity, too, gave off that sense that there wasn’t a man she hadn’t slept with—or that she didn’t intend to sleep with. She, too, left Summer feeling very young and inexperienced even though Summer was actually almost ten years older than Chastity.
And that lifestyle, that worldliness had drawn her, in the weeks and months after Lance up and left; she had perceived a kind of strength in both of them that said they would be able to support her when she needed them the most. But theirs was a brittle strength, one that looked enduring but would snap with when the wrong type of pressure tested it. Summer had bent herself to fit into their lives at first, molding herself to be supported by the kind of strength they had, and now she wondered if that had been wise.
Now she saw the strength in Doug, the quiet endurance of a man who knew his own mettle, had passed through the flames and been refined. He was steel to their bronze: Not gaudy or flashy, as they were, but strong enough to serve as a secure foundation.
When the day ended, Summer found a message waiting on her answering machine.
“You have—one—new message. Sent at—five fifty-three pee em.”
“Hey, it’s Hunter. I just got a gift certificate to dinner out at the Gallo de Oro, and I was wondering if you were free tonight to go there. It’s some kind of one-night thing, so let me know. OK, bye.”
“Beeeeeeeeeeep.” Acutely did Summer notice the lack of “I love you,” “I miss you,” or any term of endearment. Not that Hunter had ever used such terms on her, particularly, but tonight she needed reassurance of his absolute fidelity and goodwill. Finding the confirmation to her suspicions would only break her barely-patched heart, perhaps beyond repair. An image of Doug flashed into her mind; perhaps not completely past repair. If she only she could get a job at The Times, she’d be free to… Free? What was she thinking, with Hunter inviting her out to dinner tonight? Summer wasn’t some slut to keep a couple guys going on the side.
But while she dressed, Summer thought seriously about her and Hunter’s relationship. She couldn’t just give it up, not when she lacked any definitive proof. Even with definitive proof, Summer had invested in their relationship, prepared her heart and mind for the long-term, maybe even the ultimate commitment. Now, though, she started reassessing those daydreams—for daydreams they looked in this harsh reality. People like Hunter and Chastity didn’t make lifelong commitments. They lived for the excitement in the moment, riding each event’s wave of adrenaline and looking no farther into the future than where that next rush would come from. Summer liked Hunter; she’d told him she loved him, even, but did she really?
Finally Summer concluded that she liked the security of Hunter, knowing he would be there for her even if it was to whisk her off into un-Summer-ish escapades like getting drunk on vodka in a club or jumping off a cliff or even just buying a $120 pair of jeans (sexiness aside, that was three-quarters of her monthly food budget, blown on a pair of jeans because Hunter had told her she needed them). She couldn’t decide whether she would be successfully life sans Hunter… but then, she also couldn’t decide between this pale blue blouse and the deep red one.
Driving up, Summer’s headlights flashed across Hunter’s white T-shirt. He was gorgeous, the sight of that tall slender build and the white shirt in a coffee-colored sports jacket and black pants bringing Summer’s heart into her throat. Maybe he would love her if she finally gave in and slept with him? When he got into the car, Hunter leaned over to kiss Summer full on the mouth, a kiss that lasted longer than just hello. It lit a fire in Summer’s veins, making her want to reach out, mouth pressed against his, touch him and love him with her whole body.
Instead, she drove to the restaurant, chatting with him about work.
“How’re the classes going?” She didn’t know anything about teaching, especially not college-age students, but Hunter seemed to have an affinity with them she couldn’t understand.
“Going pretty well. One girl asked for extra credit when I gave her a C on her paper, but I told her no; it isn’t fair to give only her extra credit. And I’ve talked to a few students who just don’t read the book.”
“That’s no good,” Summer said, glancing over at him, his face dimly illuminated by the car’s dashboard lights.
“I can tell when they’re not reading. They don’t know even the simplest questions.” He sounded calm, almost uncaring, but then why should he care? Let them dig their own graves. That’s how Summer’s college professors had always treated their students, and she didn’t think that much had changed since her time in college.
“So what do you do?”
“Well, I loaned one girl my book. I don’t really need it with my lessons all planned out already…” The rest of his explanation receded in Summer’s mind to a faint buzz. Hadn’t Chastity said her biology professor loaned her his book? This seemed to only strengthen the case to Summer, but she reminded herself that even if Hunter taught Chastity’s biology class, they might not even know each other. What were the odds they’d recognize each other from meeting that once in the middle of the night a month ago? And even if they did know each other, what difference would it make? Chastity had promised to keep her hands off Hunter, and of course Hunter wouldn’t do something that evil to Summer. Maybe she could somehow bring up the subject of Chastity to try to gauge Hunter’s response. Then his raised voice caught her attention.
“Sorry, what was that?” She was genuinely startled.
“You just drove by the restaurant.” He looked puzzled and a little annoyed. “Weren’t you listening at all?”
“Um…” Honesty seemed the best policy—really it was Summer’s only policy—so: “Sorry, not really. Guess I was daydreaming.” Or worrying. Or scheming.
“Yeah, it kind of looked like that.” His grin filled Summer’s stomach with butterflies the size of dinner plates, igniting a longing inside her that threw aside her concerns as ridiculous and untrusting.
“OK, I’ll turn around here.”
In the restaurant, they were seated immediately in a very private booth. It looked like the manager himself, a large man in a nice suit, came out to seat them and chat them up.
“Hi, I’m Jerry. I’m the owner.” Whoa! The owner? Summer couldn’t imagine them rating that kind of attention, but he continued, dry-washing his hands the whole time. “How’s everything tonight?” he asked, with a way of looking between them as a canary glances between two hungry cats.
“Going good, going good,” Hunter said. “Thanks.” Then he turned to the menu, ignoring the man hovering at their table. Eventually Jerry left.
“What was that?” Summer asked, mystified. “How weird was that, seriously?”
“What? Oh, the owner guy?” Somehow Summer got the impression Hunter took this in stride, almost as if he’d expected this kind of service. “Guess they want to m
ake a good impression.”
“I guess…” Summer agreed, but privately she retained her total skepticism. She’d never met the owner of a restaurant before, and certainly had never had him come to her table like that. But she still had to pick, and Summer didn’t even know what to choose. Mexican food tended to be outside her ken, and she didn’t even like spicy food that much.
Then the server, a young woman who looked about eighteen, materialized at their table. “Hi, I’m Christina, and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I start you off with any drinks or appetizers?” She looked almost exclusively at Hunter, this strangely fearful expression hidden behind the mask of normal waitress efficiency.
“Yes,” Hunter said, “I’d like…” and he ordered an expensive beer with nachos as a start. Summer stared: He usually splurged on drinks, that was par for the course, but an appetizer? When he paid, Hunter usually kept meal costs down if he could.
“Just water, please,” Summer told the waitress, who had already started to turn away, as if Hunter was the only person at the table.
“Oh! OK,” she said, glancing at Hunter again, and scurrying away to place Hunter’s order.
“This place is seriously strange,” Summer said, settling herself in for a wait. It looked busy, with lots of patrons sitting in the dimness and lit mainly by candlelight. “Was that waitress going to leave without taking my order?”
“It didn’t really matter,” Hunter said, sipping his water. “You didn’t want anything anyway.”
“Yeah, but how could she know that?”
“Maybe she sensed it. Maybe you had the look of a water-drinker.”
“You think I should have something nicer?”
“Sure, why not? This is all on my gift certificate, remember?” She’d forgotten. That explained his expansiveness.
“We’ll see. How much is it for?”
“Oh, I’m not sure. I’m sure it’ll cover whatever we order.” Odder and odder. What gift card would cover everything they ordered? Most ranged from $20 to $50, hardly enough to cover two normal entrees with a tip, let alone Hunter’s drink and appetizer. “Save room for dessert, too. I hear they’ve got great desserts.”
Then suddenly Christina was back, saying, “Here’s your drink, Profes—” and catching herself before topping off Summer’s glass with ice and scurrying away again.
“Does she know you?” Summer asked, surprised. “She almost called you ‘Professor.’”
“She could be one of my students,” Hunter replied, tasting his drink. “Aahhhh, excellent. Better than I expected. I have so many students, I don’t even know most of them, but they all know me. I doubt I’d recognize a quarter of them outside of class.”
“Fair enough. We should ask, though.” It seemed weird for the waitress to have said nothing initially, but then slip like that almost immediately. Shaking herself mentally, Summer reminded her inner self that she wasn’t on the job. She was not investigating Hunter or this waitress and she did not need to try to solve all the puzzles in their dining experience.
“Why embarrass her? I tend to just pretend I don’t know them at all, and let students get on with their outside-of-school lives.” Hunter finished his drink in minutes, and the waitress appeared with another almost immediately, taking their orders in her strange, Hunter-centric manner. Summer practically had to pluck her arm to place her order, and ask for a glass of wine as well.
Their food came shortly thereafter, accompanied by another drink for Hunter and Summer’s wine. Hunter relaxed some with the two stiff snake bites in him, becoming more expansive and amusing by the minute. Summer sat back, enjoying herself and remembering why she liked—loved?—this man.
Halfway through the meal, and into Hunter’s fourth drink, Summer said, “I have a confession to make.”
“What’s that, o most glorious of women?” He didn’t have any trouble maneuvering fork to mouth; Summer didn’t expect him to exhibit any signs of drunkenness aside from this expansiveness until long after she would have passed out.
“I…” This was harder than she thought, especially with him so almost irresistibly attractive right across from her. The fears that seemed so very, very real that morning looked silly by candlelight over a glass of wine. “OK, this is stupid, but I thought you were…” Get it out, somehow. “You had Chastity in your class and you were… Well, sleeping with her.”
Hunter’s face took on a truly dumbfounded expression. He sat that way, mouth open, almost perfectly still, for several long heartbeats. Then he said, “What?”
“I know it’s stupid. You wouldn’t do anything like that—”
“Certainly not! No, no way.”
“Is Chastity in your class?”
“Your friend from that time we were base jumping, right? Small, brown hair?” It could’ve described half the women in the area.
“Yeah. She’s mentioned she’s in a bio class at Cascadia the same time you teach.”
“I think she is… I’ve seen somebody who looks familiar in the class, but I don’t know if that’s her or not. Besides, I wouldn’t even think of doing anything when I have you, my darling.” He finished the drink and signaled for another. Summer almost asked if that was wise, if the gift card would cover it and if he wanted to teach class hung over the next day, but refrained. Hunter probably could have drunk an entire bottle of whatever he got in those glasses without exhibiting any ill effects.
When the waitress came with the drink, Summer glanced at her and said, “Could I have some more water?” Because of that, she was looking in the right place to see Hunter reach out and pinch Christina’s bottom. The waitress’s expression didn’t change at all, not even a little bit. She just assented and moved on, leaving Summer even more confused.
Even confused, guilt weighed heavily on her. She said, “I’m sorry. I really thought… I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
He looked hurt, but reached out across the table to hold her hand. “Summer.” Very sincere voice, tuned perfectly to pull at her heartstrings. “How could you think that of me? You know how I feel about you.”
“Well—” She nearly said, “I don’t actually know,” but again refrained. This wasn’t the time for digging out an “I love you.” She needed to win back his trust, not sound insecure.
A gentle smile as he leaned back, settled. “I wouldn’t do that to you, my dearest Summer. Trust me.”
And she did. She simply couldn’t help herself. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.