That’s when I see her, walking past the bar on her way back from the restroom. She spots me and walks over, a smile spread across her face.
“So? How’d it go? He’s with us, isn’t he? I knew it, Drew! I knew the minute we showed him our projections he was done. And I know working together hasn’t been the easiest thing, but I think your father was right. We do make a pretty good team, don’t we?”
I swallow hard. I look down at her hand on my arm and then back up into those sweet, innocent eyes, and…I just can’t do it. I can’t tell her.
“I blew it, Kate. Anderson’s not interested.”
“What? What do you mean? What happened?”
I stare at my nine-hundred-dollar shoes. “I screwed up. Can we just get out of here?”
When I look back up, her face is a mask of confused sympathy. Here I just told her that I blew the account—our account—and there’s not a trace of anger in her expression. God, I’m such an asshole.
“Well, let me talk to him. Maybe I can fix this.”
I shake my head, “No, you can’t.”
“Let me at least try.”
“Kate, wait…” But she’s already walking away, toward the table where Anderson still sits.
You ever been on the freeway, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? And when you finally get to the head of the line, you realize the backup is because of an accident? Maybe not a bad one—maybe just a fender bender that’s already been moved to the side of the road. And all that traffic—all that wasted time—is because every driver who passes the scene has to slow down and take a look.
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? And you swear that when you pass by, you’re not going to look—just on principle alone. But when you get there, and you’re driving past the dented doors and flashing lights and smashed bumpers, what do you do?
You slow down and look. You didn’t want to, but you can’t help it. It’s morbid. Absurd. But that’s human nature for you. Watching Kate walk up to Anderson feels just like looking at the aftermath of an accident. And no matter how much I want to—I just can’t look away.
She stands next to his chair, a perfect, professional smile on her lips. If you look closely, you’ll see the moment when what he’s asking for registers in her mind. See how her smile freezes? Her brow wrinkles slightly because she can’t actually believe he’s suggesting what he is. And then she’s stiff and unsure. Should she tell him to go fuck a duck? Should she laugh it off or politely refuse? While the wheels are turning in Kate’s head, Anderson takes his finger—can you see the slime dripping off it?—and trails it slowly down her bare arm.
And that’s it. I snap out of my stupor. And I see red. Bright, neon, Technicolor red.
You ever see A Christmas Story? You know toward the end when Ralphie beats the ever-loving shit out of the bully? I hope to God you’ve seen it. Because then you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say I’m about to go real fucking Ralphie on this son of a bitch.
I walk over and put myself in front of Kate. “Touch her again and I’m going to throw you through that windowpane. They’ll be picking pieces of you up off Fifty-Forth for days.”
He chuckles. Sounds like the Crypt Keeper, doesn’t he?
“Calm down, Son.”
Son? Is this dipshit for real?
“You know something, Drew. I like you.”
Now there is a concept that scares the piss out of me.
“I need a man like you around,” he continues. “Someone who’s not afraid to speak his mind. To tell me what he really thinks. It seems as though my…contingency isn’t going to be met. But I’m going to sign with you and your firm anyway. What do you think of that?” He leans back in his chair and takes a sip of his wine. Completely confident in the fact that I will disregard anything he’s said or done for the chance to get my hands on his money.
“I’m going to say a great big no to that, Saul. See, we have this company policy: we don’t deal with limp-dick, Viagra-popping, dirtbag motherfuckers who try to use their position to coerce women—young enough to be their daughters—into bed. Go peddle your shit somewhere else. We aren’t buying.”
Our stares are locked on one another like two wolves on the Discovery Channel when he says, “Think carefully, Son. You’re making a mistake.”
“I think the only mistake I’ve made is wasting our time here with you. That’s something I don’t plan on doing a second longer. We’re done here.”
And then I turn to Kate and tell her softly, “We’re leaving.”
With my hand on her lower back, we walk to the coat-check room. I hold her coat for her and help her into it. With my hands on her shoulders, I ask, “You okay?”
She doesn’t look back at me, “I’m fine.”
Right. And we all know what that means, don’t we?
For many men, their car is equivalent to the perfect woman. We can build her to look exactly how we want, we can ride her hard and she won’t complain, and we can easily trade her in when a newer, younger model comes along. It’s pretty much the ideal relationship.
I drive an Aston Martin V12. There’s not many things in this world that I love, but my car is one of them. I got her after I closed my first deal. She’s a beauty. She’s my baby. Not that you would know that by the way I’m driving at the moment. It’s the typical pissed-off guy mode of driving. A death grip on the steering wheel, hard turns, fast stops, a smack on the horn at the slightest provocation. I don’t think about how my attitude might be interpreted by Kate, until her small voice comes from the passenger seat.
I glance quickly at her, “You’re sorry for what?”
“I never meant to send out those kinds of signals, Drew. I would never come on to a client. I didn’t realize that…”
Why do women always do this? Why are they so eager to blame themselves when someone treats them like shit? A guy would take a cheese grater to his tongue before admitting he screwed up.
When we were sixteen, Matthew was dating Melissa Sayber. One day while he was in the shower, Melissa went through his sock drawer and found notes from the two other girls he was banging at the same time. She went apeshit. But you know what? By the time Matthew was done talking to her—after he flushed the evidence—not only did he convince her that she had read the notes wrong, but she was apologizing to him for going through his stuff. Unbelievable, right?
I pull over to the side of the road and turn to face her. “Listen to me, Kate—you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But you said, about my blouse…and his face…”
Great. She thinks she was asking for it because that’s what I fucking told her. Perfect.
“No, I was being an asshole. I didn’t mean it. I was just trying to get a rise out of you. Look, in this business some guys are just power-high pricks. They’re used to getting whatever they ask for, women included.”
I don’t want to see the similarities between Saul Anderson and myself. But they’re kind of hard to miss. Listening to him tonight made me feel…shitty…about how I’ve treated Kate the last few weeks. My father wanted me to help her, mentor her. Instead I let my cock and my overactive sense of competition lead the way.
“And you’re a gorgeous woman. This won’t be the last time something like this happens. You have to have a thick skin. You can’t let anyone rattle your confidence. You were perfect at that meeting. Really. Should’ve been a home run.”
She gives me a small smile. “Thank you.”
I turn back onto the road, and we drive in silence. Until she says, “God I could use a drink right now.”
Her comment throws me. It seems like such an un-Kate thing to say. She’s a straight arrow. No nonsense. The kind of girl who hardly drinks, doesn’t eat trans fats, and vacuums behind the couch three times a week. It’s then that I realize that although the woman next to me occupies a permanent space in my thoughts, I really don’t know much about her. Not any more than I did when I first approached her all those weeks ago at REM.
It’s an even bigger shock when I admit to myself that I want to.
At this juncture in my life, my idea of getting to know a woman consists of finding out if she likes it slow and sweet or hard and dirty—top, bottom, or from behind. But the interactions I’ve had with Kate are different from any other woman. She’s different.
She’s like a Rubik’s Cube. So frustrating at times that you want to toss it out the goddamn window. But you don’t. You can’t. You’re compelled to keep playing with it until you figure it out.
“Seriously?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Well, yeah. It’s been a rough night—a rough few weeks, actually.”
I smile and shift my baby into fifth gear. “I know just the place.”
Don’t worry. I don’t plan on plying her with alcohol until she gives up the goodies. But…if she happens to get wasted and rips my clothes off in the alley behind the bar, don’t expect me to beat her off with a stick either.
All kidding aside, this is a new beginning for Kate and me. A fresh start. I’ll be a perfect gentleman. Scout’s honor.
Then again, I never was a Boy Scout.
“FIRST TIME YOU GOT DRUNK?”
“Thirteen. Just before a school dance. My parents were out of town, and my date, Jennifer Brewster, thought it’d be mature to have a vodka and orange juice. But all I could find was rum. So we had rum and orange juice. We ended up puking our guts out behind the gym. To this day, I can’t smell rum without wanting to hurl. First kiss?”
“Tommy Wilkens. Sixth grade, at the movies. He put his arm around me and stuck his tongue down my throat. I had no idea what was happening.”
We’re playing First and Ten. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this drinking game, I’ll explain. One person asks about a first—your first trip to Disneyland, the first time you got laid, doesn’t matter. And the other person has to tell about that first. If they haven’t done it for the first time yet—or won’t answer—they have to drink their shot. Then they have to tell you something they have done at least ten times. Which one of us suggested this game? I’ve already missed five firsts. I have no clue.
“First time you fell in love?”
Make that six. I pick up my vodka and toss it back.
We’re in a darkened corner of a small local bar named Howie’s. It’s a low-key place, kind of like Cheers. The patrons are laid-back, easygoing. Not the slick, couture-wearing Manhattanites with whom I typically spend my weekend nights. I like it here, though. Except for the karaoke. Whoever invented karaoke is evil. They should be shot between the eyes with a dull bullet.
Kate cocks her head to the side, appraising me. “You’ve never been in love?”
I shake my head. “Love is for suckers, sweetheart.”
She smiles. “Cynical much? So you don’t believe love is real?”
“Didn’t say that. My parents have been happily married for thirty-six years. My sister loves her husband, and he worships her.”
“But you’ve never?”
I shrug, “I just don’t see the point. It’s a whole lot of work and not much payoff. Your odds of making it for even a few years are only fifty-fifty at best. Too complicated for my tastes.”
I prefer simple and straightforward. I work, I fuck, I eat, I sleep, on Sundays I have brunch with my mother and play basketball with the guys. Effortless. Easy.
Kate sits back in her chair. “My mother used to say, ‘If it’s not difficult, it’s not worth it.’ Besides, don’t you get…lonely?”
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