I felt more prepared for this seminar than the last one. I had done a self-study course on the topic, then spent two full days preparing. For a ninety minute seminar, this might seem excessive, but we were fixated as a firm on satisfying Canterbury. The acquisition had gone smoothly, and I was part of a team analyzing other homes that would be good fits for the Canterbury Corporation. It was exciting work which brought me into contact with lawyers, bankers, and other financial professionals.
But there was still customer service to perform, that "personal touch" we had to still offer our clients. So I was at the home again giving another seminar to the residents. The firms had tapped Casey Toomer to do similar events at the newly acquired facilities. I had to beg off of these opportunities, citing travel concerns. With Gwen gone, my ability to travel for work was severely hampered. I feared it would hinder my career advancement prospect at Phares and Barnes, so I oversompensated by pouring all of myself into work at the home.
Casey was present in the crowd to see me in action This would give the firm a chance to demonstrate some service and expertise to those other facilities in the Canterbury family She sat next to Annie in the third row. I ran through the seminar materials relatively competently and even fielded a few questions from the two dozen residents in attendance. Afterward, both Annie and Casey approached. We chit-chatted for a few minutes before Annie excused herself. "I'll stop by when we're done here," I said to her retreating form.
When I spun back to face Casey again, she was eyeing me suspiciously. I tried to stare her down but I broke first. "What?" I asked.
"I don't know," she answered slowly, "I can't tell if she has it bad for you or if you have it bad for her."
I pleaded ignorance. "It's okay, Brian, you're single." She paused, then went on quietly. "How long?"
"Well, maybe it's time to get back in the game again.
I shook my head. "I can't believe we're having this conversation."
She ignored that comment. "Is she married?"
"I think she is."
"She's not wearing a ring," Casey offered helpfully.
"Then maybe they are separated."
"Look, we're friends, we talk. She is separated, okay?"
Casey nodded, as if some point had been proved. "You're friends?"
I crossed my heart. "Friends."
"Nothing else going on?"
"In what alternate universe are you living where this is any of your business?"
She rolled her eyes. "A smidge defensive, aren't you?"
"Nothing is going on?"
"A friendship is going on, if you must know."
She finally gave up, but still eyed me like she knew something else was going on. I think I covered well enough, and my exaggerated outrage may keep the rumors down. Good thing about Phares and Barnes is that there were enough men who worked there most rumors from running too far out of control. We finally talked for a few minutes about the seminar and I answered some of her questions about content and delivery before she headed back to the P&B office. "Check in on your friend now," she reminded me as she departed.
"And all of the other accountants," I called out after her. Casey's back was to me, but I swear I saw her shoulders move as if she was laughing.
I stopped by Conroy's office, and schmoozed with her for a time. She asked some questions about the merger operations, and I was able to answer them. "We won't know for sure how this is all being integrated until the audit, of course."
Conroy nodded and looked a bit worried. "We'll be doing our end-of-year work with out fingers crossed."
I chuckled and added, "We will, too." I continued to make the rounds in the department before wandering nonchalantly into Annie's office. After my conversation with Casey, I hoped it was a nonchalant wander.
"Good job," she greeted me.
"Thank you," I said, sitting down.
She slid a piece of paper across to me. I flipped it open. "A shopping list," I said. I was hoping for something a little more romantic.
"Not at all."
"Good," she said with a smile. "Flip it over," she whispered.
I did. It was a brief love note. Now that as more like it. I puckered my lips and kissed the air. She winked. It was so cool to be in love.
Not just to love someone, but to be in love with someone.
"See you soon," she said, giving me a little wave and another wink.
I tried so hard to walk out of the accounting office coolly and professionally, but it was hard. I wanted to sing and skip and dance. I wanted the world to know that I was in love. I loved having the key to her apartment. This was an honor she had bestowed on me a few weeks ago. Once I told her I was getting to be a decent cook, and all of a sudden I had the key to her place and was fixing us dinners. Whatever her secondary motivation may have bee, I didn't care. I had her key. It was cool.
Erin was with her dad for the evening and Natalie was having an overnight with a friend from school. I set this up because I did not know how long I'd be with Annie this evening and I did not want time to be a factor. I called Natalie from Canterbury before going on to Annie's. They had just gotten home from school and were ready to get playing, so I did not keep her long.
I got the fixings for a good dinner and got them going in Annie's kitchen. She did not like the kitchen in her apartment, but it was functional. Annie had the distressing habit of comparing every aspect of her living situation to her marriage, and more importantly, to her house.
She had invested a lot of herself in that house. Annie came from blue collar roots and probably saw that home as a solid life achievement. It's a shame she had lost, and a greater shame that she could not seem to let it go.
Annie arrived as I was getting the casserole into the oven. "Smells great," she commented upon entering. When she found out how much time was left until it was done, she announced that she was going to take a shower. I gulped and nodded at the thought of her naked and dripping wet.
While I set the table, I kept wondering whether she wanted me to join her in the shower. She was beautiful naked, and even more so wet. But I kept it just in my fantasies and let her be.