Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover.
I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful.
So I got up, went out and roved the city, hunting through streets and down alleys.
I wanted my lover in the worst way!
I looked high and low, and didn’t find him.
Song of Solomon 3:1-3
Note: Last line added 11.26.06
The remainder of the week starting October 7th passed as a blur for Summer as hopes and dreams seemed to fall into place almost magically. Things she never even expected to happen just plain worked out in ways that they never should have, but Summer never complained. Several events stood out in her mind, marking the week before that fateful Friday evening.
Every day she met Doug for lunch in the cafeteria. On Tuesday, she walked down to his office, feeling good about seeing him after their successful run the previous night.
“Hey, whatcha doin’ for lunch?” she asked, sticking her head around his office doorway.
“Cafeteria,” he said, looking away from his flickering computer monitor. Summer could see the reflection of the monitor’s lights in his eyes. “You?”
“Same. I thought maybe you’d want to come with me.” She looked at her watch and saw that the cafeteria would close in thirty minutes. “No lollygagging, now, or we’ll miss lunch.”
“And I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lady missing her lunch,” Doug told her mock-solemnly as he checked his back pocket for his wallet.
“You know, that’s the easiest place in the world to steal your wallet from,” Summer informed him as they walked down the hall together. “Somebody could just walk by, brush against you, and bam! They’ve got your wallet.”
“I think I’d notice somebody touching my butt,” Doug told her, arching an eyebrow superiorly. “I’ve got very sensitive… well, you know.” His roguish grin reminded her of Han Solo. She’d always liked Harrison Ford in that role. More than liked, really; she’d spent half her teen years in love with Han Solo. Ironic that now she was walking down a hallway with somebody who reminded her so much of her youthful fantasy.
Summer didn’t know how to sort out her feelings about Doug. She’d turned down the job and somehow that freed her from feeling like she needed to prove anything to him. Now she could enjoy Doug for Doug, and it turned out there was plenty to enjoy about him. He proved a goldmine of anecdotes from his globetrotting days with The Herald, and his sense of humor inevitably brought a smile, if not an outright laugh, to Summer’s lips.
At lunch he started telling her about the trip to Glacier Peak he’d made with Joanna; Summer noticed that with time, he had become less reserved about talking with her about his dead wife.
“…so there we were, halfway to the peak, and Joanna sprained her ankle trying to get a good picture! I was so mad, because we’d spent months preparing for the trip, and now it looked like she had ruined it chasing after a golden critter.”
Continue reading.“A what?”
“Er—a marmot. You know, beaver-sized rodents that live in rock falls in the mountains.”
“I know of marmots, but what did you call them?”
“Golden critters,” Doug admitted, rolling his eyes. “It was our name for them before we knew what they were called. We saw them when we first started hiking together, but we didn’t know their names, so we called them golden critters.”
“That’s very…descriptive of you,” Summer improvised. It sounded weird to her, but then she remembered: “Then again, when I was a kid, we called a mixer ‘beater batters.’”
Doug laughed. “I could see that being embarrassing.”
“Yeah, one time when I was a kid, my mother sent me to the neighbor’s to borrow their mixer. I guess ours broke or something. So I get there and say, ‘Can we borrow your beater batter?’ and our neighbor just gives me this really strange look.” Another laugh from Doug, who shook his head in incredulity as well.
“Yeah, I had to say, ‘I mean your mixer,’ really fast. I was so embarrassed.”
“At least you knew the actual word ‘mixer,’” Doug said. “Think if you’d had to describe it. ‘It’s that thing you beat batter with, it has two metal thingies sticking out the bottom…’”
“Hey, no making fun!”
“I wasn’t,” Doug protested. “How would you have described a mixer—beater batter—to somebody?”
“…I don’t know. It’s a weird implement alright.”
“Well, when I was a kid,” Doug told her, “We called milk ‘klim’ and yogurt ‘yorgut.’”
“In junior high I wrote Friday as ‘Frydai.’”
“Man, we were such dorks.”
Summer looked forward to lunch time very much every day, as well as her nightly runs with Doug and Savannah. It was like having a brother she’d always wanted, somebody to trust and laugh with, to tell lame jokes and even cry with when she needed.
Wednesday at lunch, Summer told Doug, “So I talked to Hunter about what I thought. From last week.” She didn’t want to verbalize any more than necessary, and felt a flood of gratefulness when Doug nodded understanding. “He said I was totally wrong, he’d never do something like that.”
“No good man would,” Doug said, and Summer got the impression he was privately wondering if this Hunter fellow was really a good man. At the same time, she thought he didn’t expect a realistic assessment of Hunter’s character from her.
But Summer surprised him. “He’s a—well, I don’t know if he’s really a good man,” she admitted. Her more analytical side, the side that put pieces together, the side that had awoken with her rediscovery of the investigative journalist inside her, forced the confession out of her. “He’s an exciting man, and I l—like him for that. But, honestly, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to cheat on me. Just with my best friend, well, that’d be too low.”
“Scummy,” Doug agreed. They ate for a while in silence, finishing their lunches and thoughtfully walking back down the halls together. Summer almost reached out to hold his hand, and had even begun moving her hand toward his until she caught herself. She’d just brushed her fingers against his hand, then pulled back.
Doug had felt even that light touch, though, because he stopped and turned to her. “Summer—” Doug began, just as Summer said, “Sor—”
“Go ahead,” she told him as he said, “No, go on.”
“I was just going to say sorry for brushing against you like that,” Summer lied. It wasn’t that at all, but she couldn’t say what she wanted to, that her feelings for him kept becoming increasingly knotty until she didn’t even know what she wanted. Or wouldn’t admit it, not yet.
“That’s fine,” he said, the moment broken. Then it was time for Summer to turn off and plod back up the stairs, flashing Doug a “see ya later” grin on her way up.
“See you tonight?” he called, and she paused.
“Yep, give me a call,” she said, leaning down the stairs to see his face. Those blue eyes in the wind-chiseled face, his upright bearing and strong stride, the hint of muscle beneath his button-down blue shirt, the smile curve of his lips, the shape of his jaw outlined just faintly by stubble, all pulled at Summer’s heart. For she almost felt her body pressed against his, his lips bearing down on her
s inexorably yet gently. She wanted to move back down those stairs, find out what lurked in that space behind Doug’s gaze, to discover the true passion she somehow knew waited for her there.
Instead, she turned and walked back to her cube, thinking about Doug and Hunter and fidelity.
* * *
Wednesday evening, Hunter called Summer. He was vaguely surprised to get her voicemail; what would she be doing out at 7:45 on a week night? Surely not the same things he would like to be doing—if only he didn’t have these stupid exams to grade. This was the real downside of the whole professorial business: dealing with students. Oh, he readily accepted the perks of having students, and had touched more fine asses and fondled more pert breasts since coming to Cascadia than he had in all the years before that.
Even with the perks, Hunter was annoyed. Students meant paperwork, grading homework and tests, and he didn’t rate high enough to get a TA to help. Hell, he was barely a step above being a TA himself, and Hunter knew that he had a long way to climb in the academic ladder before he stopped grading homework himself.
So he’d called Summer to see if she wanted to spend the evening with him. Lately she’d been busy with this George Barre business, driven and excited in a way Hunter hadn’t seen her before. It was almost as if a new Summer had emerged, or maybe an old one had reawakened.
This new Summer worked herself hard, collating notes, collaborating details, drawing together what looked like totally disparate pieces into one surprisingly compelling whole. Hunter had helped Summer with some of the science of the piece and had read some of her draft article. He found it frightening—and very persuasive. He believed that George Barre had falsified his results, and damn, Hunter sure was glad he didn’t have HIV/AIDS. He could be one of those unfortunates who’d jumped on Barre’s bandwagon, only to die a slow and gasping death as mitochondria stopped working a bit at a time.
His phone rang a few minutes later. “Hello?”
“Hi there! It’s Chastity.”
“Hey hot stuff. What’s up?”
“Not much. What are you up to tonight? I’m lonely.” She was almost always lonely, and Hunter happily remedied that situation as often as he could.
“Nothing I can’t do later.” Damn students could just wait. Just the sound of Chastity’s voice stirred him towards arousal. “You want to come over?”
“If you’re not busy…” This coyness was a complete act, but Hunter liked it. Like her friend, Chastity pretended to play hard to get, but where Summer really was hard to get, Chastity put up just enough fight to make it fun. She knew when to give in and let Hunter get the release he needed.
“My dear girl,” he told her, “I’m dying to see you. Come over, come over. I have an idea I think you’ll like.” He spent a lot of time thinking about new poses for them to experiment with; Chastity had to be the most sexually experimental woman he’d ever met.
“And I bought something special for you. Well, it’s for me but it’s really for you.”
“Oh boy,” he growled. “I can’t wait.” He really couldn’t, either. When Chastity arrived a few minutes later, swathed in a long jacket, Hunter all but ripped it off of her. She wore little dress thingy, all made of see-through lace or something, with feathers covering the push-up bra part of it and feathers lining the bottom edge, which just discretely touched her crotch.
It didn’t stay on very long, and only afterwards did Hunter notice she had worn matching black-feathered heels. One of the shoes had come off, vanishing in their enthusiasm, but neither worried too much about it. Chastity would be back often enough, and the shoe would turn up eventually.
* * *
Friday morning, Summer nearly fell out of her chair when she answered her work phone and heard, a high, squeaky voice say, “Hi, this is Rodney Persimmon’s secretary calling about your settlement.”
“Oh!” Summer exclaimed, scrabbling for paper and pencil, “Yes, what’s up?”
“Mr. Persimmon has spoken with Mr. Robertson’s representation at Bain & McCab—” she sounded as if she as reading from a script, and Summer wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that was the case. She’d never heard the secretary actually working in all her visits to the shabby, paper-piled office, so probably the woman was completely unused to actually working. “—and Mr. Persimmon would like to discuss terms of the settlement with you.”
“Settlement? Really?!” Summer wanted to leap with joy, to jump up and down in total abandon, to giggle like a giddy schoolgirl. The lawyer of dubious ability and scruples, actually coming through? Unbelievable.
“Yes,” the secretary said, sounding annoyed. She probably wanted to get back to Vogue or Hearts. “When will you be available to speak with Mr. Persimmon?”
“This afternoon,” Summer told her, mentally rearranging her schedule. She could do it if she took off work early. Good thing she’d saved that extra vacation time.
“Mr. Persimmon will be expecting you,” the secretary told her nasally. “See you this afternoon.”
“Yes, thank you,” Summer replied, breathless with shock and excitement. Maybe the attorney really would come through for her, and maybe she would get the Seattle Times job, and finally find somebody really trustworthy to spend her life with… Summer squelched the image of Doug that floated up unbidden into her mind. She had Hunter right now, and that was enough.
Even so, the first thing she did when she hung up from the secretary’s call was to dash all the way downstairs to Doug’s office.
“You won’t believe what just happened to me!” she gasped, her face flushed and excited.
Doug looked up with surprise at her unexpected entry, a grin spreading across his face at her excitement. “What? You just won the lottery?”
“Nearly,” Summer said, and then told him about the lawyer situation, how she’d never expected the Law Offices of Rodney Persimmon to do anything but drain her meager resources, how the lawyer looked like he’d slowly mummify in his office before actually doing any work, how the secretary always played Hearts and told tragic love stories to people over the phone, how depressed Summer had been when she’d visited and found nothing done, how by some miracle he seemed to actually be doing something for her.
“That’s great!” Doug enthused, countenance shining to mirror Summer’s happiness. “That’s so great for you, I’m so glad.”
“I’m just amazed he’s actually doing anything…”
“It sounds unlikely, alright,” Doug agreed, grinning broadly. This would be the prefect time to kiss him, Summer thought, to feel him wrap his arms around her and press his mouth against hers in celebration. But she stayed standing there, he remained sitting, and the moment passed.
“Well I guess I’d better get back to work,” Summer finally said, wishing something more had happened and at the same time fearing what might have happened.
“Sadly, we are at work,” he admitted. “I mean, I don’t know about you but I might have a few things to do here and there.”
“Maybe a few things,” Summer said, smiling. “Well, see you tonight. Still on, right?”
“You bet. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
* * *
Summer didn’t make it to their running date that night, though, because she got a message from Hunter asking if she wanted to come over for a quiet evening at his house. Goodness only knew what a “quiet evening” would entail with Hunter—maybe only a few bottles of wine or some crazy activity—but since it was Friday night Summer called back, agreeing immediately.
“And you wo
n’t believe what happened today at work,” she told him over the phone as she put away the groceries she’d bought on the way home.
“What?” His shortness caught Summer by surprise, but then she heard the rustle of papers on his end of the phone and surmised he was grading homework or something. That always made him a little irritable.
“I think I’m going to win a good settlement from Lance,” she told him, omitting the part about the secretary and the lawyer’s proclivity towards inaction. Somehow she didn’t think he’d really appreciate that part of the story very much—or he just wouldn’t care.
“That’s wonderful,” he said, still sounding distracted. “Hope you win a lot from that bastard.” It felt good to hear him call her ex-husband a bastard, at least. He was certainly right in that assessment of Lance’s character.
How had Summer ever mourned the loss of her marriage, or thought that she loved Lance? In hindsight he looked like such a scumbag, sleeping with his secretary while telling lies to his wife to keep her in the dark. Summer shook her head. “I’ve just got to leave Doug a note—”
“Doug? Who’s Doug?” Suspicion bloomed in Hunter’s voice, came across the phone lines quite clearly.
“He’s just a friend I go running with,” Summer told him quickly. “Keeps me honest, no cheating. You know.”
“Well… OK. As long as that’s all it is.” Summer assured him it was, surprised by the vehemence in his voice. Yet, driving to Hunter’s apartment, she asked herself what Doug really did mean to her. They had become close friends, closer than Summer had ever been with a man. Lance hadn’t liked her forming friendships with other men, and even other women not in the firm seemed suspicious to him. He hadn’t liked her budding friendship with Chastity, even, so Summer had kept that relationship under the radar until after Lance left.
Lately, though, Doug had become more than a good friend to Summer. She struggled to keep their relationship one of “just friends” as increasingly often she wanted to know him as more than that. She agonized over having both Hunter and Doug in her life, struggling to remain faithful to Hunter while finding herself increasingly drawn towards Doug’s down-to-earth manner.
When she got to Hunter’s apartment, Summer’s emotions were roiling like a storm-tossed sea, and she felt like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to a spar in that vast ocean. Hunter greeted her with a deep kiss, which Summer returned, and if she evidenced a little less enthusiasm than normal, she attributed that to Hunter’s shortness on the phone.
“What’re you up to?” she asked as she walked in. His apartment, as usual, was a complete disaster area. Clothes, old dishes, magazines, academic journals, students’ papers, and various electronics jostled together in a mishmash across the small space of his apartment.
“Grading papers,” he grumbled, confirming her earlier surmise. “Thought maybe you’d like to keep me company. Tea? Coffee?”
“Tea please,” she said, clearing herself a space on the couch by unceremoniously dumping a pile of mixed clothes and books onto the ground. “I brought some work to do, too. I thought you might help me with a little more of the science for my George Barre piece.”
“Sure, once I get these cursed papers graded,” Hunter said, his back still turned as he rattled with a teapot.
Summer settled in, pulling notes out of her bag, spreading them around her in increasingly Hunter-esque disorder. It wasn’t disorder to her, though, and Summer quickly lost herself in the puzzle she was piecing together so assiduously. She vaguely heard Hunter’s annoyed muttering in the background, his cursing students who wrote stupid things—apparently many of them did that, because he kept up a steady monologue of cursing—the scratch of his pen sweeping across the paper.
When Summer emerged from a haze of puzzle-piecing, she looked at the clock. Already 9:35?! Where had the time gone? Hunter had moved and was doing something in his bedroom that sounded suspiciously like picking things up.
Summer stood up, dislodging papers to stretch her crunched back. “Aaaahhhh,” she groaned, twisting and reaching her arms out, hearing the crack of her stiff joints. That was what led her to look behind his couch, a terrifying view of cobwebs and forgotten items ranging from used condoms to pens to petty change. And there, slightly cobwebby from its voyage to the back of the couch, lay one of Chastity’s ridiculous black feathery shoes.
* * *
Hunter was a little surprised that Summer had come over this evening, but then she seemed to like “quiet evenings” that bored him to tears. Even so, her presence had kept him on track enough to finish grading the damn papers. He’d promised the students he’d return those papers weeks ago, but with Chastity coming over almost every night, he had hardly had time to prepare for class, let alone think about papers.
When he finished with the school work, he’d glanced over at Summer. She looked completely absorbed in her article, her spiderwebbing notes scattered around her like a bride’s train. Maybe tonight she’d stay the night and do more than tease him.
Women, Hunter knew, preferred a clean environment. He didn’t understand this, because he could always find anything he needed with his apartment as it was right now. But perhaps it would win some points with Summer if he picked up some of the mess in his bedroom, made the bed, straightened up a bit. It couldn’t hurt, and maybe Chastity’s shoe would turn up.
He wandered into the bedroom, bending to collect various articles of clothing—not all his; certainly this lacy pink underwear didn’t belong to him. Hunter thought perhaps it had been Juanita’s, but then, so many women had left clothes here that Hunter thought he could practically stock a brothel with the abandoned lingerie he dumped in the back of his closet.
He maneuvered a bulging armful of mostly-his clothes into the laundry basket and heard a scuff of feet on the floor behind him. Turning, he saw Summer standing there, a look of cold fury on his face such as he’d never imagined he would see from her.
In her hand was the black shoe Chastity had lost.
“You lied to me,” Summer said, voice like a sheet of glacial ice. The shoe in her hand shook a little with the controlled emotion Hunter could imagine coursing through her body. He had to play this very carefully.
“Summer—” An ingratiating smile, the one that had always melted her heart before, the one that had won a hundred women’s hearts.
It didn’t work this time, though. She repeated, “You lied to me.”
“Listen, Summer,” he began, mind racing. What could he say that would assuage his guilt? An idea flashed into his mind and he thought he’d give it a try.
“No,” she told him, and her tone reminded him of his mother’s when she had caught him with the first girl he’d fucked. “You lied to me. I can’t believe—”
“Listen,” he interrupted, forcing his voice to utter sincerity. “That’s old; it’s a memento of an old friend of mine. It’s been there forever.”
“Um…” Shit, where had she found it?
“It was behind the couch, Hunter,” she said and her voice froze his lies on his lips. Where had this strength and anger come from? Surely Hunter had judged correctly when he thought her broken and weak from Lance’s infidelity? Surely she couldn’t withstand this discovery. She would have to believe his story or face the truth, and Hunter didn’t think she had the strength to face the truth. “This is Chastity’s shoe that she bought while we were out lingerie shopping last week. I know it. I picked it out for her.”
? Goddam, Hunter thought. She wasn’t going to believe him, and it almost looked like she wasn’t going to crack either. Where were his slick words now? Come on, imagination, don’t fail me now! “Summer—”
“You’re shit, Hunter,” she told him, throwing the shoe down on the bed. “You fucked—” the word caught Hunter by surprise, brought him up short, “—my best friend and lied to me about it, and I have had enough. Enough! I’m leaving and I never want to hear from you again.”
Through it all, Summer never raised her voice. He face was a mask of determination, carved instantaneously by the righteous anger that finding Chastity’s shoe had awoken. She stood straight, hate in her eyes blazing brightly and coldly, a heatless fire that consumed the affection Hunter had so arduously built within her. Hunter stood for a long moment, his gaze caught in hers, his face surprised but also calm.
“If that’s what you want,” he finally said, voice soft but not soft enough to hide an undertone of frustration. All that work, all those wasted days of talking and shopping and doing all those stupid, lame things Summer liked, all for nothing. He had wasted weeks trying to seduce this woman from his past, and for what? When he finally caved and found somebody to fuck with, and now this bitch Summer had ruined all his hard work.
“Goodbye, Hunter,” Summer told him. “I hope you and Chastity have a horrible life together.”
“We won’t,” he shot back, before he could stop himself, but the shot seemed to pass straight through Summer. She said nothing more, just gathered her things, looked around her contemptuously at the mess of his apartment, and walked out the door, leaving Hunter standing in the bedroom doorway looking after her in frustration and surprise.
So she really had been strong enough to do it. Who would have thought?
* * *
When she arrived home, Summer picked up the phone and dialed. “Hi, Doug? It’s Summer…”
The End. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.