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Overseas(7)
Beatriz Williams

“There should be,” I said. “We’re not too busy right now.”

She followed me into an empty room and shut the door, bracelets clanging against the handle. The floral scent of her perfume closed densely around us. “Just what the living fuck do you think you’re doing?” she hissed.

“Wow,” I said. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Stealing my fucking deal, that’s what! Cutting me out. Setting Banner against me. And after all I did to make you look good…”

My cheeks grew warm. “Excuse me, but what planet are you living on? I had nothing to do with any of that. Banner called me in for a meeting and said he was putting me on the revisions. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t even have a choice.”

“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot, Kate?” Her voice, building in shrillness, crested on the verge of a shriek.

I raised one fatal eyebrow.

She turned red; her eyes bulged, blue and globular, from beneath their heavy lids. When she spoke, however, her voice had sunk nearly to a whisper. “Oh, you fucking bitch. You fucking bitch. You have no idea, no idea, no fucking clue what I’m going to do to you. If I have to blow up the whole fucking bank, so help me.”

She turned and stalked out of the conference room. I stood there, frozen, watching the door ease behind her until it closed at last with a final click.

“MESSENGER IT? ARE YOU KIDDING?” Banner wasn’t looking at me as he said this; his thumbs flew away on his BlackBerry, firing off some e-mail.

I folded my arms. “Don’t we always messenger these things? Do you want me to e-mail it instead?”

His eyes flashed upward. “No,” he said, as if he were stating the obvious. “I want you to deliver it yourself.”

I was sitting in the chair in front of Banner’s desk, feeling like a kid hauled in to see the principal. As head of Capital Markets, he had one of the plushest offices in the building, full of dark brown furniture and gleaming upholstery, designed to strike clients into acquiescent awe. The lion-footed desk roared Important Antique, or at least a convincing reproduction, and the handsome wing chair in which I was sitting could swallow me whole without a burp.

“Oh,” I said. “What about Charlie?”

“Charlie? What the fuck?” He began to laugh. “You really don’t get it, do you? Look,” he said, still chuckling, “here’s Laurence’s e-mail address. Let him know you’re stopping by the office to drop it off. Say you’re on your way to the airport for Christmas, and thought you’d hand it off in person.”

“But I’m not leaving until tomorrow morning,” I said.

“Katie, Katie.” He turned back to his phone. “Work with me here.”

I straightened in the chair with some effort. “Look,” I began, about to make some high-minded protest, like I’m just not comfortable hanging myself up in the shop window like that. But then I realized two things. First, arguing with Banner over something like this was akin to the old saying about teaching a pig to sing.

And second—God help me—I wanted to see Julian Laurence again.

“Aren’t you going to check over the book first?” I asked instead, waving my hand at the printout on his desk.

He didn’t look up. “No, I trust you. Look, I’ve got to get going. Did you write down his e-mail?”

“Yes. Safe in the BlackBerry.” I held it up to demonstrate, but he wasn’t watching.

“There you go, then. Merry fucking Christmas.” He ripped his gaze away from his phone and grinned at me.

I struggled upward from the chair. “You too.”

I snatched the presentation from his desk and stalked back to my cubicle, where my laptop bag slumped tiredly against the dividing wall in a bristle of zipper tabs. I stood there a minute, nibbling my lower lip, presentation dangling from my folded arms. Then I tossed the book on the desk and burrowed in the bag for my wallet.

It took some time to find the scrap of paper I sought; it had wedged itself between my University of Wisconsin senior year ID and an ancient loyalty card from the hairdresser next door to my apartment in Madison. I removed it slowly and stared at the image for a long dense moment: a heart, colored in blue-black ink, surrounded by a circle with a slash across the center, like a traffic warning sign.

I’d drawn it on the flight to New York City two and a half years ago, full of apprehension and introspection and a margarita or two from my farewell lunch with Michelle and Samantha. There, cruising above the patchwork farmlands of Pennsylvania, I’d promised myself—in the kind of melodramatic gesture that had once been typical of me—to avoid any kind of romantic involvement until I’d completed the three-year Sterling Bates analyst program. I’d take myself out of the game, keep my life neat and tidy, stay focused on work. Not a single date. Not even a casual flirtation. And I’d kept that vow with near-obsessive scrupulousness.

So what now? Because I wasn’t stupid, and for all the orderly window dressing of legitimate business purposes, Banner’s scheme had flirtation and more written all over it.

Quickly, before I could second-guess myself, I stuffed the paper back in my wallet and reached for my phone to type a short message: Hello Julian, heading uptown now, can I drop off the ChemoDerma book on my way? Best, Kate Wilson.

My fingers hovered uncertainly—should I make the greeting more formal?—but Dear Mr. Laurence sounded starchy and Dear Julian coyly intimate. I held my breath and hit send and tossed the phone on my desk, as if it were a ticking bomb.

I looked over my cubicle. I should probably be gathering up my few things; I wouldn’t be back in the office until Monday. I reached for my bag and began putting file folders inside, mostly ChemoDerma material. There would be other meetings, after all. We were flying up to Boston on Tuesday.

My phone buzzed. I counted off three full seconds before snatching it up.

Already gone home for the day. Don’t suppose you’re on the Upper East? Julian.

My fingers danced over the keypad.

Actually yes, 79th Street.

The response came back just as fast.

I’m at 52 E 74. Could you bring it by?

Me: Of course. Which apt?

Julian: Just the house.

The entire house, his own private rectangle of Manhattan; why not? My fingers began to shake. This was bad. This was monumentally stupid. I should not be doing this.

Okay, be there in half an hour.

Amiens

I felt Julian’s arm close around me, thick and steady along my waist. I tried to shrug it off, but my belly heaved up bile again and it was all I could do not to keel forward onto the floor. I felt the sweat pearl out on my temples.

“Sorry,” I gasped, pulling away.

“You’re ill. You must sit down.”

“No, I’m all right, really. Just a little hungry.”

“The tray should be along directly. I…” He stopped, looking awkward.

I stood there witlessly, staring at the floor, holding an old blue vase full of my own vomit, or what there was of it, considering I hadn’t eaten in nearly eighteen hours. “I don’t know what you must think of me,” I said, sliding the vase behind my skirt.

He cleared his throat. “I think you ought to sit down. Here,” he added, snatching the vase, “I’ll take that to the scullery.”

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