Word count, start of day -- 29,700
I left a message with Brian's office Tuesday afternoon. They said he would not be in the office the rest of the day. No surprise there. I called again the next day and was told he would not be in that day, either. They did not even know when he would be back in the office at all. I chose not to leave another message. There was no point in looking like a stalker.
I felt so horrible calling him. What in the world was I thinking? This was the fundamental between family and whatever we were forging, between a marriage and something else. I tried to not be jealous of his caring for Gwen. The look in his eyes when he got that call was encouraging, in a weird way. Here was a man fully dedicated when he was in a relationship. It was a great quality in a man. It was an attractive quality.
But there was still that jealousy inside me. That desire to be the one he was dropping everything to care for. Brian clearly knew the meaning of the verb "to love." It was an action, and he was so loving in his actions.
Tuesday lunch had been going so well. He was sharing similar experiences that I had had. We were really connecting. There was a chance that this could really go somewhere. He was talking about some cosmic connection between us, something happening on some strange plain. I thought he was on to something, listening to him speak about his feelings for me got me so psyched. And then, and then, and then everything goes crazy and he bolts out of there. I did not know what to think. I still barely know what to think.
So Thursday I called his office again, expecting the same inability to reach him. But the good thing about working for one of his clients is that I could leave messages without raising a single eyebrow. I dialed the firm and asked for Brian. "One moment, please," the receptionist said in her happy greeting voice.
I sat up in my chair. Oh my, he was really there.
"Brian Norton," I heard him say. His voice seemed strong.
"Hey," I said. I didn't know what else to say. "It's Annie."
"I got your message, I was about to call you back--"
I interrupted him. I did not call to make him squirm. Or to make him lie. "That's okay, I'm sure it's been crazy there."
"A little," he admitted.
"How is," I hesitated over Gwen's name, "everything?"
I heard him sigh through the phone line. "I don't really know yet, to be honest. Gwen is still in the hospital, a few more days, but her parents are in town to help out with Natalie and visit Gwen at the hospital. This is my first day back at the office."
He lowered his voice. He was not quite whispering, but the tenor of his voice changed. He was almost angry, certainly frustrated. "She'd been drinking. Drinking enough to make her slide into oncoming traffic."
"Oh my God," I exclaimed. "But you say she's coming home soon?" It must not have been that bad.
"With a broken leg," he answered. "And her face is a mess of bumps and bruises."
"You don't drink a lot, do you?" I remembered this from the night the four of us all went out to dinner.
"I'm usually the designated driver."
"We tried it a few times with Gwen, but it didn't work out well."
I didn't know what to say to that. He still seemed comfortable speaking with me. I took that as a good thing. "But the accident, it could have been worse?" At least there was something encouraging to say.
"Yeah." There was silence for a few seconds, but he began again. I heard papers shuffle and the sounds of his chair scooting around his office. When he spoke again, his voice was different, more like I was used to. "Hey, listen, I really appreciate you coming to lunch Tuesday. I really enjoyed talking with you."
I closed my eyes. What was the protocol for a situation like this? I guess this is what I got myself into when I called him. "I did too," I said slowly. I double-checked. My door was most of the way closed. "I owe you a few bucks."
I explained that he had just thrown money onto the table when he left. I figured his share of the bill, and his change in an envelope in my desk."
His voice brightened. "Well, I'll pick it up next time I see you."
That made me smile. It was completely inappropriate for him to flirt with me, for way more reasons than I could count. But I didn't mind. There was just something about him. "I'd like that," I said, trying to make my voice more forceful that it usually was.
"Good. I'll be in for work the second week of February, but maybe we can, you know, like we did before." He was being a little vague. I wondered if someone was able to overhear on his end. I did not know what his office layout was like.
"Are you going to work New Years' Eve?" I asked, with a little hope in my voice.
"I hadn't thought about it, but I mentioned it to Kathy West."
"Oh." That was disappointing. "I was planning on staying to help count. I thought maybe we could spend some time again, you know, talking some more."
He was silent. Whether we was considering this or coming up with some way to get out of it, I did not know. Second drag when you're putting your heart on the line. "That could work," he said. Then he added in a harsher voice, "Not like Gwen and I are going out that night."
I decided to let that comment pass. I did not know what exactly he meant by it. He had been under some serious stress the last week or so. I brought a lot of it one him myself, so I could let a little bit of this slide. "The Home is having a New Years' Eve party for the resident, maybe you could come to that, too."
"After we count? That could get late."
"No, this is a retirement home. We don't stay up that late around here. Our TV gets a cable channel from England, so we are counting down the new year at seven o'clock. I'm sure you would be welcome, especially since you have to do your inventory that night."
He laughed. "That's a great idea."
"Thanks. It was mine."
"We did it another home I used to work at, and it was a great way to celebrate on our residents' own schedule. Midnight is out of the question for our residents."
"Of course. That sounds great. I'll come, then do the counts, then we'll chat."
"Sounds great, Brian. I look forward to it."
"So do I, Annie. So do I."
"And I hope everything goes as well as you can for you and Natalie at home. I know this is a tough time for you all."
"Thank you, that's very kind."
"You bet. Bye."
"Bye. Merry Christmas."
I hung up, then reviewed the conversation. Merry Christmas, huh? I was not feeling festive at the moment, and had not for most of the season. If not for Erin and her joy, I would be a complete mess. It is not surprising that suicides soars this time of year. I can see how that would happen.
My husband and I were barely talking. It was an open secret that I was sleeping on the sofa. I had not let him see me naked for three months now. Why even bother? It only caused trouble. Maybe Dennis will go somewhere and find someone else to give him some. It would be fine with me, at this point. Get me off the hook.
Erin kept me centered at times like this. Dennis of course spoiled her rotten, and the tree was incredibly stuffed with presents. I hope he did not go crazy with me. I had barely shopped for him, and every time I did purchase him something I wondered if Brian would like it, too.
I slowly opened the desk drawer and pulled out the slender case. Opening it, I looked at the pen and pencil set. It was not my first choice as a gift for Brian. I wanted to give him a tie. He wore one every day, and a few of them had seen better days. I chuckled. A few had seen better decades. But that would be noticeable, or at least it would be noticed. No need to cause any more burdens for him at home. So I settled on a pen set. It seemed a safe present to give him. I'd give it to him on New Years' Eve. I smiled at the thought.
Merry Christmas? Maybe, maybe not. But a Happy New Year? I thought yes. Just maybe yes.