Listen! My lover!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
Song of Solomon 2:8-9
Guilt was a prime component of the rest of Summer’s meal. She barely tasted her food, and whenever Hunter looked at her, which was often, she cringed and tried to smile. She should have known she’d imagined things; no man would be so sleazy as to cheat on his girlfriend with the girlfriend’s best friend. That was for cheap romance novels and bad romantic comedies, or Shakespearean tragedies where everybody dies in the end anyway. In real life, Summer and Hunter would continue building their relationship and Summer would keep hoping for something more. They’d spent so much time together the last few weeks, she felt like she knew him almost better than he knew himself.
Oh, Summer realized in the back of her mind that her earlier assessment, the bronze/steel analogy, still held true. Where before she’d imagined a life with Hunter, now she had begun to accept the idea that she could only enjoy today and count on nothing for tomorrow. This knowledge that one day Hunter would walk right out of her life with nary a backward glance—well, she hoped he’d glance back at least once—cut her deep guilt with a vein of sadness that rendered the rest of their meal remarkably melancholy.
Usually Hunter tried to cheer things up, but tonight he seemed bent on drinking himself under the table. Summer sipped her single glass of wine and picked at her food, watching Hunter drink glass after glass of whatever-it-was.
After a long silence, she tried to say, “Hunter, I’m really sorry,” but he interrupted her after the second word.
“You know, I never thought of you as suspicious. You’re such a good girl. But then, Lance hurt you very much, didn’t he?”
Summer didn’t reply. Hunter himself had just hurt her very much, stabbing at her in a way that he’d never done before. The cutting wit she so admired was double-edged.
He seemed to sense that he’d gone too far. “I’m sorry, Summer. It’s not been much of an evening for us, has it?”
Still she sat silent.
Continue reading.“Darling,” he said, “Don’t be angry with me. I’m just—hurt. I struck out and I shouldn’t have. Let’s forget about this, okay? Pretend the last half hour never happened.”
Finally a tremulous smile of assent came to Summer’s lips. “I’ll forgive you if you forgive me,” she said.
“It’s a deal.” He leaned over, reaching out to kiss her across the table. Oh, how she loved his kisses! Surely tonight she should make up to him the way he wanted, whatever that entailed (Summer had a good idea what that was, too).
They split a dessert, Hunter signaling the waitress for a final drink. When she arrived, the portly and disgruntled-looking Jerry accompanied her.
“Sir, ma’am, I hope you enjoyed your meal.” His ingratiating tone rubbed Summer the wrong way, but Hunter looked pleased at the attention.
“Your drinks are excellent,” Hunter told him. “Who’s your bartender?”
“I have personally mixed your drinks, sir,” Jerry told him. “I’m gratified to hear you enjoyed them.” Christina stood by, hands empty, watching the owner as he continued. “I hope that you’ll think favorably of my daughter and the Gallo de Oro in the future.”
“Everything was wonderful,” Summer chimed in, and received a surprised look from the owner, the waitress—his daughter?—and Hunter. “Well, it was.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Jerry smoothly. “I hope you won’t hesitate to come back again, sir.”
“We’ll see if it’s necessary,” Hunter replied, scooting towards the edge of the boot preparatory to leaving. “Summer, if you’re ready?”
“Don’t we need to give them the gift card?” She glanced at the owner and the waitress.
“Oh, that’s not necessary,” came Jerry’s immediate reply. “This meal is for—”
“We don’t need it,” Hunter cut in and stood up. “Time to go, don’t you think, my dear?” He reached an arm out to Summer, forcing Jerry and Christina to back off.
“Have a good evening,” they both chimed as Summer took Hunter’s arm. She hadn’t seen any weaving as he stood, but walking out she found him stumbling against her, leaning heavily on her arm in a way she’d never seen before.
When they got outside, she said, “Hunter, are you drunk?” She certainly would have been, but she couldn’t tell with him.
They reached her car and she turned to unlock the driver’s door. “What do you think?” he asked. She turned around and found him boxing her in, his arms around her and braced against the car. He leaned in and kissed her, roughly, pressing her against the car and shoving his lips against hers in abandon.
At first Summer resisted, repelled by his sudden aggressiveness and alcoholic breath. Then she put her arms around him and kissed back, enjoying the feel of his tongue in her mouth, the way their breath mingled and they seemed to merge at their point of contact. “Oh, Hunter,” she whispered, wrapping him more firmly in her embrace, pushing against him and feeling his urgency building as well. Before it went any farther, she put her hand on his chest.
“I should get you home,” she told him. “You’re drunk.” Not a question this time; he would respect her space better if he was sober. Somehow Summer liked him pushing her boundaries, though. This was a chance to make up for her not trusting him.
When they got to Hunter’s apartment, he walked almost steadily to the door with Summer trailing behind him. He looked at her. “Coming in?”
“If that’s okay with you,” she said. Summer would do anything to repay this debt. But when she got right down to it, although she went pretty far—heavy petting, some clothing coming off—Summer couldn’t go all the way. She fell asleep in Hunter’s arms, half-naked and wondering why she’d held off. It wasn’t just the lack of condoms that had stopped her.
* * *
After dinner, Hunter knew he was drunk. He’d taken advantage of Christina’s family’s hospitality, and why not? Drinks were expensive. Might as well enjoy free ones while he could. Besides, after Summer’s question about him and Chastity, Hunter had needed something to calm him down and give him the balls to go through with this. How had Summer figured it out? He certainly hadn’t said anything, and odds were very slim that Chastity would give any hint at all, either.
In any case, Summer had figured it out somehow and that pissed Hunter off. She wasn’t supposed to find out. It ruined the fun of sneaking behind her back if she knew what he was doing. Then, too, how likely was it that she’d actually believe his denial of his and Chastity’s relationship?
She believed it. He hadn’t even acted the hurt boyfriend part that well, being half-drunk by the time she sprung her surprise “confession” on him. Instead of calling him a liar and running out, she’d spent the rest of the evening abasing herself, apologizing and begging forgiveness every thirty seconds. Very tiresome, but what else should he expect from a nice woman like Summer Robertson?
And then, by all the gods he didn’t believe in, she’d come home with him. For the night. Shucked her clothes off and hopped in bed as fast as her friend had, with equal enthusiasm if less experience. Not a bad apology for a man in Hu
nter’s position. But then, somehow she’d turned… not cold, but reserved. She hadn’t finished the job, leaving him hanging, feeling frustrated and tricked. Had he misjudged her?
* * *
Doug left work on Thursday rather discouraged. He’d hoped that Summer would take the job, but as they parted it seemed clear that she wouldn’t. She had missed their evening running date—appointment, he thought, not date—without saying anything at all, not even calling. He’d waited around for a while, then run to her apartment to see if she was home, but her dark windows spoke of emptiness. No answer to his doorbell ringing, and even Savannah chimed in with an “anybody home” woof. He left a note on the back of a piece of paper he found near the recycle with a pencil stub that he always carried in his pocket. It said:
“Dear Summer, I missed you on our run tonight. Stopped by to see if everything was OK. Let me know.”
Then he agonized over how to sign it. He’d already written “Dear” before catching himself, but Doug judged that wasn’t over the line. But then, he certainly couldn’t sign it with what first came to mind; “Love, Doug” would just scare her off or sound creepy. “Sincerely, Doug” sounded silly and formal considering this note. “Cheers, Doug” sounded artificially upbeat and European to him. So he simply settled for “Doug,” leaving off any embellishments.
He tucked the note into the jam by the door knob and ran home. Savannah whined. “I know,” Doug told her. “I miss her too.” But then, maybe the dog had only whined because she wanted dinner.
* * *
On Friday, Summer talked to Chastity.
“Hey Chas, it’s Summer.”
“Hey, long time no hear. What’s cookin’?”
“Not much, you?”
“Oh gawd, you wouldn’t believe the breakup my boss had with his boyfriend. There was yelling and screaming and tears—it was great.”
“Bloodthirsty villain,” Summer joked. “Enjoying a couple’s breakup that much!”
“Oh, they do this all the time,” Chastity replied comfortably. “I’m sure they’ll be back together by Monday. This time was particularly good ’cause Vince actually came to the office and dumped him to his face.”
“What happened before?”
“Usually we just hear Troy on the phone. That’s pretty good, but man, between the two of them I think I heard more accusations than you could believe.”
“Well… great, I guess,” Summer said. “As long as they aren’t heartbroken or something.”
“I doubt it,” came Chastity’s professional opinion. “Vince was in tears when he left, but like I said, they never make it very long alone. I think they’ve been doing this for years.”
“Huh,” said Summer, at a loss. Time to get to the point. “So about lingerie shopping…”
“Oh yeah! You want to do it, then?”
“Definitely. Would tonight work? I’m off a little early, I’ve worked some extra hours this week…”
“Sure, what time you free?” Chastity, not taking her work schedule seriously, seemed to be able to meet Summer almost any time of the day or night. Very handy for Summer, whose life seemed to revolve around work…and Hunter.
“Four. And I figured if you met me here, we could just go straight from there.”
“Yeah, there are some good places in Bell Square.”
“OK, sounds good. Give me a call when you get here and I’ll come out.”
“Alrighty. Oh, damn, customer. See ya tonight!”
Friday afternoon, Summer emailed Doug, an exercise in careful writing. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, to come off too… affectionate… or too cold. So Summer wrote:
From: Summer Robertson
To: Anderson, Doug
Date: October 4, 2006 11:47 AM
Subject: Running tonight
Sorry for missing you Thursday. I had an unavoidable engagement come up. I wanted to drop you a line to let you know I won’t be able to meet you for running tonight. Sorry. I’m planning on Monday, though.
Then she and Chastity had gone out and bought some truly amazing lingerie. They browsed through a dozen stores, giggling and picking outrageous costumes for each other.
“Oooooh,” Summer squealed in excitement. “This is the real you!” She held up a neon-pink sequined thong that was little more than strings with sequins attached.
“No, no,” Chastity disagreed. “I think this is more me.” A black pair of underwear that said SASSY across the butt in red satin.
“The sassy part is right…” Summer muttered browsing. There was no harm in having a little something nice, just in case. In case what? She asked, but then squelched the thought. No sense in ruining a perfectly good shopping trip by second guessing herself.
“Hey hey!” Chastity called. “Summer, come check this out!” She held up a black, feather-and-sheer-lace thing.
“What is it?”
“Let me try it on and you’ll see. Seriously, I love this.” She stepped into the dressing room and called Summer to join her moments later.
It was a babydoll dress, with black feathers covering the bra section, a swath of sheer black lace forming a very tiny almost-skirt, and black feathers lining the bottom edge, which reached just past Chastity’s crotch. It revealed everything not covered by feathers, pushed her breasts up to form massively swooping cleavage, and was something that only Chastity could pull off.
“It emphasizes my good feature.”
“Feature? Just one?”
“Yeah, and check ’em out!” Chastity cupped her hands under the feather-clad, pushed-up breasts and wiggled a bit in the dressing stall.
Summer laughed. “If I was a guy, I’d be all over you right now.”
“I’d better go,” Summer told her, deadpan. “I’m nearly all over you right now even though I’m not a guy.” Outside the stall, Summer called back to her friend. “So are you seriously going to buy that?”
“Hell, yes! I’ve got the perfect guy to try it on. Check and see if there are any matching shoes—you know, the heels with the fur on them?”
* * *
Monday evening, Summer received a letter in the mail from The Seattle Times. It was slender, and Summer’s heart sank. “I don’t think I can open it,” she told the air as she examined it. “I can’t not open it, either.” Walking inside, she set the unopened letter on her table. “I’ll wait for a while. Then maybe I won’t be too disappointed they’re rejecting me.”
She changed into running clothes and called Doug. “Hi Doug, it’s Summer.” This was awkward; she’d just turned down his job offer at work today, and now she was calling to go running with him. Awkward or no, his vaguely accusatory note from Thursday night still burned in her mind. I missed you on our run tonight. And he’d just signed it “Doug,” no closing salutation or anything to suggest how he felt. Summer didn’t want to leave him in the lurch again, even after today at work.
Today could have gone worse, she supposed, if Fred had fired her or if she’d fallen and broken her neck. She’d spent the early morning working on her George Barre article, which was turning out beautifully. The research assistant had brought what looked like pretty definitive proof, which Paul Zamarro had lacked. That lack had caused Summer to hesitate all these years, but now things looked strong enough to put together a convincing case against him—enough that the editors would take her seriously, at least.
Then at 11:15 she’d walked down to Doug’s office, having finally gathered her courage around her, a thin linen cloak agains
t what she feared would be a bitter, raging wind. “Hi there,” he’d said, very friendly.
“Hey, sorry I missed Thursday and Friday. I was pretty busy.”
“No biggie.” Still friendly, not bothered at all that she’d stood him up two days in a row, although she had emailed him on Friday to say she couldn’t make it.
“So about the job. Listen,” and then she’d run out of steam. He sat there and looked at her, not really helping at all. “I can’t do it,” Summer said all in a rush. “I don’t think it’s what I’m looking for right now. I really appreciate your offering me the job, and I feel awful turning it down, but…”
He looked so disappointed, Summer almost changed her mind right there. Even in his disappointment, though, she thought a glimmer of something different slipped through—some gladness or hope? “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I haven’t told anybody this, but I’m applying for a job at The Seattle Times and at The P-I. I don’t know if I’ll stay at The Herald much longer.”
“Well! Now that is news.” Still he sounded disappointed, as well he should be, and ambivalent at the same time. Surprise came through strongest to Summer, though.
“Don’t tell anybody, please,” she cautioned. “I don’t really need Fred hearing about this.”
“Certainly not. Thank you for letting me know your decision.” It sounded so formal, so dismissive and cold, that Summer quailed and left the office feeling horrible at her decision. Goodness only knew if she’d actually get a chance at The Times or The P-I, and maybe she was throwing away a perfectly good career opportunity.
After that brief but painful interview, Summer shuddered at the thought of calling Doug again, but she had to. She’d virtually promised to go running with him today, and she needed to know if he was still interested.
“Oh, hi, Summer,” he greeted her on the phone. He sounded relaxed and happy, the way he did on their outings together. Outings, not dates. “How’s it going?”
“Good,” she said, but didn’t really feel up to small talk. “We still on for tonight?”
“You bet. Is now a good time?” Summer strained to read his tone, to tell whether he was putting on an elaborate act for her or if her job refusal really hadn’t changed their out of work relationship. And, truth to tell, Summer had started to look forward to her time with Doug, the easy camaraderie and comfortable feeling she had around him. She didn’t pretend with Doug, didn’t have to change who she was to please him; he was a friend—just a friend—who accepted her for who she was, and Summer didn’t want to lose him.
“Now’s great. You want to meet me over here?”
“Sure, be there in fifteen.” It was as easy as that. He didn’t seem to have any hard feelings, though Summer would just wait to see about that. In the interim, she changed into her running clothes and stretched out on the living room floor. Every few minutes she glanced up at the table with the Seattle Times letter on it. Not yet.
The doorbell rang and she gracefully stood up to answer it, scooping the letter along as she passed by the table. She’d told him about her application, and who else would she share the news with either way?
“Hey there,” he said, and her heart leaped. His shirt, damp from the mist outside, clung to his well-muscled arms and chest, his runner’s legs rippling with definition. Savannah sat beside him, tongue lolling out, looking very happy to see Summer.
“Hi Savannah,” she said, petting the dog. “Oh, and hi Doug.” They shared a smile and Summer knew then that her fears were unjustified. Doug held nothing against her, thank goodness; he understood her need to escape The Herald.
“Got a letter to mail?” he asked, motioning to the envelope in her hand.
“No,” she said, and showed him the front.
“The Seattle Times, huh? Well? You gonna open it?”
“Yes, now that you’re here. I couldn’t do it alone.” Fingers shaking, Summer slit the envelope and withdrew the trifold single sheet of paper. “One page, that’s not good,” she muttered.
“Wait and see,” Doug cautioned. He leaned in to read the letter as Summer opened it, but she pulled it away from him.
“Just a second…” Scanning the page, she read aloud: “ ‘Dear Ms. Robertson, Thank you for your application with The Seattle Times. This letter is an acknowledgement of our receipt of your resume and application. We will review your job petition shortly to determine whether any openings match your skill sets and notify you of any offers within two weeks. Best regards…’ somebody or other. And then there’s this handwritten part at the bottom.” She showed it to Doug, whose eyebrows rose.
“That’s not usual,” he noted.
“No, but I think it’s good.” The handwritten postscript added, “We look forward to meeting you in person to discuss the opportunities available.” “Do they usually say something like that? ‘Meet in person’ this early on?”
“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t write that to a candidate unless I really liked their look.” He re-read the letter again. “It sounds good, Summer. Really good.” A grin split his face. “I hope you get it! Now, can we get a move on?”
Putting the letter carefully away inside, Summer followed Doug on their run, her heart soaring. This could only bode well for her future. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.