Her Secret Life. Gwynne Forster

Her Secret Life - Gwynne Forster

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eyes over a tattered copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Ben looked up, saw Warren and lay the book, open and facedown, on the counter.

      “Can I get you something?” he asked Warren.

      He wasn’t going to pour out his intimate thoughts to any man, including Ben, whom he’d taken into his confidence on many occasions. “I was considering a vodka comet, but I think I’ll just head home.”

      “We’re having stuffed crown of roast pork and drawn lobster for dinner tonight. You can’t get a better choice. Makes you wanna eat two dinners. If you don’t have an engagement…” Ben didn’t say more. They had a strange friendship, but Ben never allowed himself to get familiar with Warren. Too bad, Warren thought. In different circumstances, they could have been as close as brothers.

      He rarely ate at the club more than the required four nights each month, and Ben knew it. “Thanks, buddy,” he said, ignoring Ben’s concession to rank. “Two of my favorites, but I can’t stay tonight. Thanks for letting me know.” Ben nodded, poured some vodka and aquavit over shaved ice, drained it into two glasses, added a few drops of lime juice and handed one glass to Warren.

      “I know you don’t drink by yourself, so I’ll toss this one back with you if you like.”

      Warren smiled. “I would indeed like it, Ben, and I appreciate the gesture. First time I decide to drink alone, it’ll be the last time I taste alcohol.”

      “Can’t say that I blame you. It’s a habit that can quickly get out of hand.” The light flashed for service in one of the lounges, Ben turned to the business at hand. “You have a good evening,” he said to Warren over his shoulder. Warren had noticed that Ben never put anything or anyone ahead of work, and that probably explained why the man had succeeded at Allegory, Inc. In addition to his salary, the members tipped him twenty percent of the cost of every drink ordered, and he received a two-thousand-dollar bonus at Christmas. All of which allowed him to live comfortably in an attractive home in upscale Ardsley, New York, and send his two daughters to Princeton University.

      “See you tomorrow,” Warren said, and with no reason to linger, he left without seeing Jackie again.

      At eight-thirty on Thanksgiving Eve, Jackie started to the bar for an order and stopped. “Oh my goodness!” she said and groped toward the wall as darkness engulfed her surroundings. A few minutes later, she heard the guard’s voice over the loudspeaker. “New York’s in a total blackout. You can’t use the elevators, so take the stairs. I’ll have a light in the stairwell in a couple of minutes.” As she felt her way toward her dressing room, she heard a clicking sound and breathed deeply in relief when a faint light appeared.

      “There you are.” She’d never been so happy as when she heard Warren’s voice, because she couldn’t see who held the light and had considered the possibility that she might have to deal with Duff Hornsby in the darkness.

      “You don’t know how glad I am that it’s you and not—” She caught herself and didn’t finish the remark.

      “May I drive you home?” he asked her. “Subways won’t be running, and buses will be scarce. Unless you want to spend the night here?”

      She didn’t want to be at Duff Hornsby’s mercy. “If it isn’t too much of an inconvenience for you, I would appreciate a lift, but I live up on West End Avenue, and that’s a distance from here.”

      “It will be my pleasure. I wouldn’t be comfortable knowing that you couldn’t get home. Get your things, and we can leave.”

      He handed her the flashlight, and she changed into her regular shoes, got her handbag, put on her coat and rejoined him. She knew he would wait while she changed into her street dress, but she didn’t want to risk Hornsby’s seeing Warren standing beside her dressing room and making an issue of it.

      “This may take a while,” he told her a short time later as they fastened their seat belts. “Without streetlights or traffic lights, I’ll have to drive slowly.”

      “Are you sure you want to take me home?”

      “I’ve never been more certain of anything. Just be patient, and we’ll get there safely. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out a way to see you away from the club, and Providence has given me a hand. I’m sorry so many people are inconvenienced by this blackout, and the day before Thanksgiving at that, but I’m glad for this opportunity to be with you.”

      I’ve never been tongue-tied in my life, she thought, but…Why am I so nervous? He’s just a man, for goodness’ sake. The sound that was supposed to be her voice surprised her with its calm and intelligence when she said, “I thought you’d decided that you could find better things to do with your time than to spend it thinking of ways for us to be together.”

      “You didn’t think any such thing. If you did, when you were in the lounge with me tonight, you found out how wrong you were.” He stopped at the corner to allow pedestrians to pass. “It wouldn’t hurt you to give a guy some encouragement.”

      “How much more do you want than what you got tonight?”

      “Now, I really have to be careful,” he said.

      “I’m sure you’re always careful,” she said.

      “Careful and thorough. I leave nothing to chance. Whatever I do is done well.” She didn’t miss the underlying meaning, either. He found a parking space a few doors from the building in which she lived.

      “It took less time than I expected,” he said as they entered the building. “Which way is the staircase?”

      When she stopped walking, he said, “You don’t think I’m going to let you walk up those stairs in the dark by yourself, do you? What floor do you live on?”

      In the dimly lighted lobby, she looked at him and spoke softly. “The twenty-first.” She gave silent thanks that the doorman was busy and hadn’t addressed her as Dr. Parkton.

      To her amazement, he grinned and took her hand. “Then we’d better get started.”

      He lit their way with his flashlight, and they said few words, saving their breath and energy for the tiresome climb.

      “Thank God,” she said when they reached the twenty-first floor. He walked with her to her apartment door, and she said, “Come in and rest for a few minutes.”

      “Sure you don’t mind?”

      “If I minded, I would have thanked you and said good-night.”

      She found half a dozen pillar candles, put them on a tray, lighted them and placed the tray on the coffee table in her living room. “Have a seat. I’ll be back in a minute.” I am definitely not going to sit with him in this romantic setting with nothing on but this skimpy waitress uniform.

      She put on a pair of flared black silk pants and a flattering dusty rose sweater that hung loosely around her hips. “I can offer you ginger ale, orange juice or cranberry juice. What would you like?”

      “Cranberry juice. Is there a reason why you aren’t offering me an alcoholic drink?”

      “I’d be glad to if I had any in the house.”

      “So you don’t drink.”

      “I drink wine in restaurants and here, too, when I have dinner guests.”

      “I see. This is a very elegant apartment. I like your taste. It’s cozy and very…subdued. You like warm colors, and I suspect they’re a reflection of your temperment. Am I right?”

      “I’ve never thought about it. Am I a warm person? I like people, and I don’t sort them as if I were grading food for sale in gourmet shops, supermarkets and mom and pop stores in El Barrio. I try to treat all people the same.”

      “Do you have siblings, Jackie?”

      “I have an older sister. She’s a divorced single mom of three. She isn’t having an easy life.

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