The ma^itre d' at Locke-Ober was a small-boned man with a black suit and a face as stiff as his starched white cuffs. The gold name tag on his jacket read Philip.
"Good evening," I said.
He glanced past me into the empty foyer. Locke-Ober had not even admitted women until 1970, so he was no doubt searching for my husband. Finding no escort, he defaulted to me. "May I help you?"
"Yes, thank you. I'm meeting someone for dinner." Although the way my stomach was flipping around, it was going to be hard to eat.
He hovered over his reservation book. "What is the gentleman's name, please?"
"The party's name is William Scanlon." Jeez.
Philip's demeanor transformed instantly as I grew in social stature right before his very eyes. Twit.
"Indeed, Mr. Scanlon is here. He's in the bar. I'll let him know his guest has arrived."
"I'll find him, if you'll point me in the right direction."
"Certainly. The bar is right this way." He tugged on one cuff and motioned toward the bar. "Tell Mr. Scanlon we'll hold his table as long as he'd like."
That's what I'm here for, Philip, to deliver messages for you.
The prevailing theme in the bar was dark, dense, and heavy. Polished paneling covered the walls, thick and ponderous furniture filled the floor space, and reams of suffocating fabric absorbed all light from the windows. The air was filled with the blended odor of a dozen different cigars.
I peered through the mahogany haze and found him at the bar, holding court. He was wearing the same gray suit from this morning with a different but equally spiffy silk tie and that electric air of self-confidence the rest of us mere mortals found so mesmerizing. Take the people in this bar. Nobody here worked for him; I doubt anyone even knew him. Yet when he laughed, they smiled. When he spoke, they leaned in to hear what he had to say. He effortlessly commanded all the attention in the room through the sheer force of his personality.
"Alex Shanahan." His voice cut through the dampened acoustics, calling everyone's attention to-me. The stares were discreet, but intense enough to raise the humidity level inside my suit a few damp degrees, and he knew it. He smiled serenely as he reached for his wallet and turned toward the bar.
Rather than stand in the doorway on display, I worked my way through the room and ended up standing right behind him. Too close, it turned out, because when he turned to leave, he almost knocked me flat.
"Ah," he said, reaching out to steady me, "and here you are."
I thought he let his hands linger. I thought he did, but couldn't be sure. What I was sure of was the jolt that moved from his hands through my arms and all the way down my spine, almost lifting me off the floor, the stunning reminder of the powerful physical connection that had always been between us-and how little it would take to reignite the flame. He felt it, too. I saw it on his face. I saw it in his eyes, and I knew that if I'd had any true desire to keep my distance from him, I wouldn't have come here tonight.
"Thank you for coming," he said, adjusting his volume down for just the two of us. "Hungry?"
"Yes." Not really. "They're holding your table."
"Then let us go and claim it." He gave my arm one last squeeze.
Philip, with his ma^itre d' sixth sense, was waiting for us with two menus. He personally escorted us upstairs to our table, draped a napkin across my lap, and addressed himself to Bill. "Sir, it's nice to have you back with us."
"It's always nice to be back. Ask Henry if he has any more of that cabernet I had last time. That was quite nice." He looked at me. "And a white burgundy, also. Tell him to bring the best that he's got."
"Yes sir, I'll send him right over. Enjoy your dinner."
Philip melted back into the dining room while Bill leaned back, stretching his long legs out and making the table seem even smaller and more intimate. I kept my hands buried in my lap, my feet tucked under my chair.
He touched the silver on each side of his plate, tracing the thick base of his knife and the flat end of his spoon. "It is white burgundy, isn't it?"
He looked at me in the dim glow of the table candle flickering between us, and a slow smile started-an open, ingenuous smile that was not for the entertainment of the masses but just for me. When he smiled that way, it changed him. When he smiled that way, it changed me.
"You know I like burgundy," I said. "You never forget anything."
He pushed his plate forward and leaned on his elbows as far toward me as the table would allow. "I haven't forgotten anything about you. Until I picked up your message, I thought you'd forgotten about me."
I studied his face: the long plane of his cheeks, the curve of his forehead, the shape of his eyes, the way they sloped down slightly on the sides in a way that kept him looking almost boyish. No, I hadn't forgotten anything. That was the problem. No matter how hard I tried and no matter how much distance I put between us, I couldn't forget him.
"That was quite an entrance you made this morning."
"Dramatic, wasn't it?" He brightened at the memory, like a little kid on Christmas day. He did love being Bill Scanlon. We both leaned back, making way for the wine steward, who had arrived with a silver ice bucket, two bottles, and other assorted sommelier paraphernalia.
"You surprised me," I said.
He shook his head and grinned. "I don't think so. If you hadn't wanted to see me, you never would have called. You opened the door. All I did was walk through it."
"More like blew it up."
He laughed and so did I. It felt good to laugh with him again.
Henry poured our wine and, after more gratuitous bowing and scraping, receded into the background.
Bill offered a toast. "Here's to blowing up the door… and any other barriers left between us."
We touched glasses. This morning when he had stared down Big Pete, his eyes had seemed almost black. But in this light they were clear amber, almost sparkling. It was like looking into a flowing stream and seeing the sun reflected off the sandy bottom. I had missed seeing myself reflected there.
I put my glass down, searching for and finding the precise depression in the tablecloth where it had been. "Where did you get that hangman's drawing?"
"Someone sent it anonymously. I usually throw things like that away, but since it was your station-"
"I know, and I'm sorry about that. I can explain-"
"Are you seeing anyone?"
I blinked at him. He waited, eyebrows raised. I took another drink of the chilled wine, letting it roll over my tongue. "No."
Because I haven't gotten over you. "Do you know what that drawing means? Has Lenny told you-has anyone told you what's been going on around here?"
"Lenny makes a point of not telling me anything, which is one of the reasons why I'm here."
"Are you saying you don't know anything about the rumors and why they set that bomb off?"
"I didn't say that. I said that Lenny didn't tell me. And I don't want to talk about him. Were you seeing anyone in Denver?"
I inched back. He didn't move, and yet he felt so much closer. In our good times I'd always felt better with him-safer, surer of my footing. He had confidence to burn, and sometimes when I'd touched him, I'd known what that felt like, not to be afraid of anything.
"Why do you want to know if I was seeing someone?"
"Because I heard that you were."
"And why would that matter to you?"
I didn't feel the pointed end of that question until he straightened up as if he'd been poked in the stomach. He reached for the bottle of red and poured another glass. When he drank the wine, I could almost track its warming flow through his system, and it seemed to me that he was trying to relax, trying to get the words just right. That he didn't have the right words and exactly the right way to say them was disarming.
"I used to see you around headquarters," he said, "across the cafeteria, turning a corner at the end of a corridor. Or sometimes I'd be sitting in a meeting and I'd see you walk past the open door." He shook his head and smiled, as if the memory gave him pleasure. "You know how my office looks out over the parking lot? I'd watch for you in the evenings going out to your car. I'd stay at my desk waiting, finding something to do. I never wanted to go home until I saw you."
I stared down at my hands in my lap and remembered all of the times I'd stood at my car and glanced up for him-quickly and furtively so that no one, especially Bill, would catch me-just to know that he was there. And I remembered the emptiness I'd felt when the light was off and he was gone. I'd never seen him looking back. But then, that had been the story all along. I'd always reached for him and never felt him reaching back.
"Alex, I couldn't stand the thought that you were with someone else. It made me crazy. A hundred times over the past year, I almost called you."
"Why? To find out if I was seeing anyone else? Because in the end, Bill, when I wanted you to call me, when I needed to hear from you, you weren't there."
"As I recall, you dumped me." He said it with a little smile, trying but not succeeding to sound light. "You didn't want to see me anymore."
I caved back into my chair, instantly weary from the notion that as hard as I'd tried to help him understand, he hadn't gotten it then, and he still didn't get it. "It was not you, Bill. It was never you. It was the circumstances. For me, they began to overwhelm everything, and you wouldn't change them."
"Alex, I couldn't go public about us."
"I wasn't asking you to call a press conference. All I wanted was to stop sneaking around like a couple of fugitives. I wanted to be able to go out to dinner without worrying that someone might see us together. I wanted to stop feeling as if I wasn't worthy of being with you. The longer that went on, the more I started to feel that you… you were ashamed of me."
"You know that wasn't it. I was about to be named chairman, and I could not be involved with a woman who worked for me. The company has rules about that. And it wouldn't have been good for you, either."
I resisted snapping back. I had always hated it when he'd made a decision that clearly benefited him, then turned it around to make it sound as if he were really doing it for me.
He reached for the bread, which I hadn't even noticed had arrived, and tore off a piece that was dark and dense. "All I'm saying is you could have given it a little more time. You could have waited."
"The minute I raised the issue, Bill, the very second I spoke up and finally asked for what I wanted, you backed off. You were suddenly unavailable. You were in meetings. You were traveling. You stopped calling." I took a breath and tried to steady my voice, which was starting to inch up the decibel scale. I wanted to tell him how deeply painful that had been, how thoroughly destabilizing, how it had removed from me any sense of security and self-confidence I'd managed to nurture in the shelter of our relationship. But I thought if I did, I would start crying. "It wasn't about timing, Bill. It was you not wanting to be with me as much as I wanted to be with you."
There. I'd said it. I'd ripped off the scab, and it hurt as much now as it had then. Maybe more.
"And the worst part, the worst thing you ever did to me, was to not tell me. You disappeared. First, you didn't want to be seen with me-"
"That is not true, and you know it."
"-then you vanished from my life. And I had to keep going to meetings with you and sit across the table from you and watch you give presentations. And you, all the while ignoring me, or pretending I wasn't there. I couldn't stand it anymore. That's why I left." I reached out and touched the base of my wineglass. "At least I told you I was leaving. You were gone long before we ever said good-bye."
The words were old, the feelings familiar, the hurt still there. This was well-trod territory for us, and I was disappointed to realize that there was nothing new here.
Henry reappeared to top off our glasses. As he served, I looked out at the other tables, because I couldn't look at Bill. What do you know? We weren't the only two people in the world tonight. A sprinkling of women dotted the dining room, but I could hear only men's voices. It was as if the years of exclusivity in this place had filtered out the sound of a female voice. I tried to tell from their faces what they were saying. Were they happy? Sad? Hurt?
The cubes rattled as Henry slipped the bottle of burgundy back into the ice bucket. I looked at Bill. "Why would you come here like this? Why would you want to dredge all this up again?"
"You called me."
"I called for professional support."
His gentle smile acknowledged my stubborn self-deceit and, at the same time, let me get away with it. "You're so smart about these things, Alex-smarter than I am. I thought you would have figured it out by now."
"I haven't figured anything out, Bill."
It was his turn to look around the room and gather his thoughts. "You scared me."
He leaned forward and lowered his voice. He was speaking quietly, but with so much urgency, I couldn't look away. "You're right. I did back off. At the time I thought… I don't know what I thought, that it was best for you, that with two careers, both of us in the same company, it was never going to work out. But the truth was, I was thinking about you all the time. When I was with you, when I wasn't with you. I couldn't get you out of my head."
"That's how people feel when they're in love. It's how I felt about you."
"I never felt that way about my ex-wife-or anyone else, for that matter. I thought that because I couldn't control this thing, it was a weakness, some kind of a failure of will. I've never lost control like that. I thought the best thing was to take a break, to let things cool off a little."
"If you had just told me that's what you were doing-"
"I wasn't thinking about what that might do to you. It was a mistake and I came here to apologize to you. I'm sorry, Alex. I'm sorry."
I sat back in my chair and felt the resentment I'd been carrying around, the intractable knot of bitterness, begin to melt like the butter softening on the plate in front of me. I looked at his face. He'd shaved since this morning, shaved for me. I remembered how it felt to touch his hair. It was thick and dark and rich, the kind of hair Italian and Greek men take to their graves.
"All I can tell you is that I miss you. I miss talking to you and holding you and laughing with you. There's no one else in my life that I feel that way about. And I miss being with you, making love to you. When I got your message, I can't tell you how that made me feel after so long. And when I saw you today in that meeting, being that close without being able to touch you, I thought I was going to grab you right there in front of all those people. I took it out on poor old what's his name with the funny hair."
"Even now… just seeing you again…"
I could feel his eyes on me, on my hair, on my eyes, my lips, my throat, and I began to feel a flush rising under that big sweater.
"I need you," he said. It was a statement so elegant in its simplicity and so powerful, I felt the distance he had come to say it to me, and not geographical distance.
His hand, when he offered it to me, palm up, looked like a cradle. The candle in the center of the table threw an odd light on it, making it seem to glow in the dim corner where we sat.
Leaving him had been painful beyond belief, like cutting off one of my arms at the shoulder with a dull knife. The wound still throbbed, especially at night. Or early in the morning before dawn when my room was silent and my bed was empty and I was thinking about starting another day alone. I always told myself that it had been the best thing for me, that there had been good reasons. But time and distance had made it harder to remember what they were. And even if I could, this close to him, it wouldn't have mattered. It might not have mattered even if he hadn't said he was sorry. What mattered at that moment was his hand reaching out to me. What mattered were the things my body still remembered when I closed my eyes. I felt him in my skin, my muscles, my bones-every part of me, the deepest part of me remembered how I'd felt with him and wanted to feel again.
I woke up in the dark and he was breathing next to me, the long, measured breathing of deep sleep. When my eyes adjusted, I could see his face, half buried in the pillow, lips parted like a boy's. His hair had fallen down over his eyes, and I resisted the urge to push it away, to put my lips softly on his. I didn't want to wake him.
As I turned to the other side, he put one arm around me and pulled me close until my skin was next to his. I put my arm over his and it felt exactly right, as if we were two pieces of broken ceramic fit back together, fit together so tightly that the wound disappears.
I went to sleep thinking I could feel his heartbeat, thinking that I never wanted to wake up alone again.