Home > Overseas(11)

Overseas(11)
Beatriz Williams

“Wish what?”

“Well, nothing’s a life or death struggle anymore, is it? The era of honor and sacrifice is over.” I looked again at the O’Brian novels, lined up in order. “Jack Aubrey’s full of human failings—so’s Maturin—but they have principles, and they’d give their lives for them. Or for each other. Now it’s all about money and status and celebrity. Not that people haven’t always cared about those things, but it used to be considered venal, didn’t it?” I shrugged. “It’s like nobody bothers to grow up anymore. We just want to be kids all our lives. Collecting toys, having fun.”

“So what’s the remedy?”

“There is no remedy. We are who we are, right? Life moves on. You can’t get it back.”

“Yes,” he said. “Quite. Here you are, off to business school, after all.”

“Here you are, running a hedge fund.”

He smiled at that. “So what would you propose, to win my soul back?”

“I don’t know. Not one of those pansy philanthropic foundations, that’s for sure. Something more interesting. More skin in the game. Maybe manning your own letter of marque and going after all those Somali pirates, off the African coast.”

He began laughing, a rich comfortable sound. “You’re priceless. And where would I find a crew reckless enough to go along with me?”

“I’d go in a heartbeat,” I said, without thinking.

The smallest pause, and then: “Would you, now?”

Oh, genius, Kate. I cleared my throat and looked back at the bookcase. “Well, except for having to earn a living and all.”

“Ah. Hadn’t we better get back to work, then?”

I checked my watch. The two sides of my brain struggled: the one that wanted desperately to stay, all night and all week and really all my life, drowning in the light from that beautiful face of his; and the one that wanted to bolt away in mortal fear.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’ve already stayed too long. I’ve got an early flight from LaGuardia tomorrow morning and, to be honest, I haven’t had much sleep the last few days.”

I couldn’t quite bring myself to meet his eyes, but I felt them penetrating me. “What an ass I am,” he said. “You’re exhausted, of course.”

“A little.”

“My fault, I expect, demanding all these rewrites.” He ran a hand through his golden hair. “I beg your pardon. Go home and sleep. I’ll have a look at these over Christmas and we’ll speak again when you’re back in the city.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ll just get your coat,” he said, moving to the sofa and lifting it from the back. He held it out to me. “Here you are, then.”

I let him help me into the coat, a novel experience, and then grabbed my laptop bag and headed numbly for the hallway.

“Look,” I heard him say, and I turned at once, nearly burying my nose into his sweater.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“Sorry,” he said, at the same time; we smiled awkwardly, stepping apart. “Look, I… would it be at all proper…” He closed his eyes, and opened them again with a slight rueful tilt to his mouth. “I suppose I’m trying to ask whether I might see a little of you, after Christmas.”

“Um, sure.” I tucked my hair behind my ear and examined the wall behind his shoulder. “You have my e-mail, right?”

“Yes. I…” He stopped. “Will you look at me a moment?”

“What is it?” I asked, dragging my eyes to meet his gaze.

“Christ,” I thought I heard him whisper, under his breath, and then, more audibly, “I just want to be clear that it’s nothing to do with ChemoDerma, or any of that rubbish.”

“Look here. Don’t go around insulting my client, if you think you want to see me again.” Not bad, Wilson. How did you manage that?

He smiled again, more fully. “ChemoDerma’s a lovely, lovely company. I can’t stop thinking about it. I shall tuck that charming little pitch book under my pillow tonight.”

“Much better.”

He reached one crooked finger into the space between us; it hovered for an instant, and brushed along the line of my jaw. “Have a safe flight tomorrow,” he said.

“You too.”

And then, somehow, I found the strength to turn and walk out.

4.

[via e-mail]

Julian: Kate, at LaGuardia, just boarding now. Pitch book tucked inside my coat, safe and warm. Shall read on the flight. Julian.

Me: What, no private jet? What kind of billionaire hedgehog are you? Kate.

Julian: A disgrace to the name, apparently. Geoff gave me a NetJets share for Christmas last year, but I keep forgetting to use it.

Me: How do you forget to use a private jet?

Julian: Shareholders first. Where are you now?

Me: In a taxi, stuck on the Triborough. Flight’s in an hour. I’m getting nervous.

Julian: If you miss the plane, I’ll ring up NetJets for you.

Me: Like that wouldn’t raise a few eyebrows back home. Here’s Kate coming back for Christmas in a Gulfstream. How many carbon offsets would I have to buy?

Julian: Hold on to that thought. I’m supposed to switch my phone off right now.

Me: [later] Where are you sitting?

Julian: 8C

Me: Hmm, an aisle guy.

Julian: And you?

Me: Window. 12A. All right, pulling up to the airport. Later.

Julian: Did you make your flight?

Me: Barely. Hold on, they’re calling my row.

Julian: Starting to descend now. Boston looking brown and un-Christmaslike.

Me: [later] All settled in. So are you overnighting in Boston?

Julian: No. Flying back to NY after the meeting.

Me: And doing what?

Julian: Glass of wine, good book. Pondering the mysteries of that marvelous company of yours. And you?

Me: Family stuff. Dinner, eggnog, carols. You’re spending Christmas Eve alone? Aren’t you supposed to be having dinner with Geoff?

Julian: That’s tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’m quite all right. Altogether used to it. Though you’re welcome to check in, if you like.

Me: I’ll send you so much Christmas cheer your head will spin. What’s Geoff like?

Julian: Good chap, rather boring wife, two rambunctious children.

Me: Boring how?

Julian: Conventional. Lives in Greenwich. Shops a great deal. Aspen in January, Nantucket in August. The twins have three nannies.

Me: Yikes. Oops, we’re taxiing. Evil eye from flight attendant. Later.

Julian: Rough landing. On way to taxi.

Me: So where is this meeting of yours?

Julian: Harvard.

Me: The endowment fund? How long will you be?

Julian: Don’t know. Will let you know when I’m out. Should hate to miss a moment of your Christmas cheer.

Me: Do you still have the presentation with you?

Julian: Next to my heart.

Me: Stop. You had me at hello.

Julian: So there’s hope. Just pulling up now. Thinking of you.

Me: [later] Landed safely. I’m in the car with Mom and Dad. There’s about three feet of snow. Thinking of you too.

Julian: [much later] Just left meeting. Glad you got in all right.

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