At Chez Pierre, a teeming mass of people flowed into and out of the restaurant. Well-dressed men and women made conversation and studied the menu. Lovers exchanged smiles and kisses across the tables. Married men flirted at the bar, hoping no-one they knew would be in the area. Waiters flitted from table to table, remarking silently on the generosity, or lack thereof, of the patrons.
In the midst of this, a woman walked as quickly as she could towards the door, hoping not to attract any attention. She kept her head down, trying not to meet anyone’s gaze, and made her way to the exit. She sensed the general exuberance around her, and it depressed her even more.
She was a slender young woman, her blonde hair styled elegantly on the top of her head. She was wearing a smooth black dress that accentuated her slim figure, and a tense, miserable expression on her face. Going down the main steps, she stumbled a little on her heels, but was caught by the doorman. He helped her up and reacted when he saw her tear-stained cheeks and her red, puffy eyes.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she said tersely. “Um, where’s the parking lot?”
“Round the back,” he said, pointing out the direction. “Are you sure I can’t...” He tailed of as she hurried round the corner.
She walked into the parking lot and looked around for her ride. She saw it - a long white limousine parked at the end of the lot. She rushed over to it and hoped the driver wouldn’t ask her any questions. He wouldn’t be expecting her for another couple of hours, and she was just glad he hadn’t decided to wait somewhere else.
Reaching the limo, she pulled open the door, silently thanking that it wasn’t locked, and clambered somewhat inelegantly inside. There was a low hum coming from the front seat. She slammed the door, and a head popped up in the front seat. “Who’s there?” said a voice, groggily.
Marianne leaned forward. “It’s me. Um, your passenger, I mean, Listen, I’m really sorry about this, but can we leave now? If that’s a problem for you...”
“It‘s cool,” said the voice, little more alert now. “No problem here. I mean, you’re the boss.”
The driver pulled himself up into his seat fully, the limo started, and it began to pull out of the lot. Marianne sat back in her seat, and wiped her eyes. She probably looked like crap. She couldn’t believe that this night had gone so badly. It had seemed like a dream come true at first. The chance to escape from her life for a bit, and pretend to be someone else. Not all of her life, of course. She wouldn’t give up her kids for anything. But some of her other situations in life left a lot to be desired. She rummaged in her purse for a tissue, and blew her nose noisily.
The driver turned round in his seat slightly. “Are you okay? You sound a little sick.”
“I’m fine,” said Marianne, unconvincingly.
“I forgot to ask...where do you want me to go?”
“Home,” said Marianne. “Just take me home, please.”
“Are you sure? Cause you have me for another few hours.”
“No...no.” Marianne looked at her watch. It was awfully early.
“Limos are kind of cool. Might as well get some fun out of it,” added the driver, a slightly tempting tone in his voice.
Marianne fished a mirror from her purse, and looked at herself. Her eyes were still rimmed with red, and it was obvious she had just been crying. She glanced at her hair, styled so nicely, a far cry from the usual way she wore her hair to the office. And this dress looked so good on her. It had been so nice to wear something flattering, not just that awful shirt and pants she wore most days.
Then she thought about what had happened, and the tears came flowing again.
The driver heard her quiet sobs from the front, and he turned to look at her. “Hey, don’t cry. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” muttered Marianne quietly.
“It’s that guy who was with you?” he asked softly. “It’s cool. You can tell me.”
Marianne looked up into his eyes. Then she thought of something. “Shouldn’t you be watching the road?” she asked anxiously.
He looked at her for a second. “Oh yeah.” Then turned back to the road.
“You wouldn’t want to hear what happened,” said Marianne. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to bore you with all my problems.”
“I don’t mind. I always like to listen to a beautiful woman.”
In spite of herself, Marianne smiled. “I’m not beautiful. I bet you say that to everyone you have in here.”
“Actually,” said the driver, thinking for a moment. “That’s true. Hey, you smiled, right?”
Marianne didn’t say anything in response. She sat back, and thought about things. She couldn’t go home now. If she did, her kids would see her like this, and her Mom would use the chance to give her a lecture about her choice in men. She was used to the lectures, but she didn’t want her kids to see her unhappy. She’d tried very hard to not let them know anything was wrong, and usually she succeeded. So, there was really only one thing to do.
“Um, excuse me?”
“Would it be okay, you know, if we did just drive around for a bit longer? If you didn’t mind, that is.”
“It’s cool with me.” The driver paused. “Hey.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be in charge?”
“Oh.” Marianne thought for a moment. “Sorry.”
“I don’t think you should apologize, then.”
“Oh! Sorry. I mean...” Marianne put her hand over her mouth. That just came instinctively these days.
Marianne swore she could see the driver grinning, even though she couldn’t see his face. She adjusted her seat to be a little more comfortable, and looked around the inside of the Limo. It was huge in here! She had never been in one before, and she was surprised at how much space there was. It put her own little car to shame. She glanced around. There was a CD player, a TV, even a refrigerator. She opened the fridge, and saw there was some wine inside. “Um, who is this wine for?” she asked.
“You, I guess,” said the driver uncertainly.
“Who else could it be for?”
Marianne thought about this for a minute. It made a sort of sense. “Well, you don’t...if it’s okay with you...could I have some?”
“You’re the boss.”
Oh yes. Whoops. “Sorry,” she said instinctively, catching herself a little too late.
“It’s okay,” said the driver laconically, a touch of amusement in his voice.
Marianne poured herself a glass of red wine, and sipped it gingerly. It was good. Expensive stuff, from the taste of it, not that she had much of an experience with that sort of thing. After a short while, she began not to feel so bad about everything. She set her glass down, and sighed heavily.
“Hey.” She glanced up front. “If it’s cool with you...can I ask what happened tonight?”
“You wouldn’t want to hear that,” she said. “Just the story of my life.”
“No,” he said. “I would. Really.”
Marianne blew her nose again. “Okay, well, where do I start?”
“I usually start at the beginning,” said the driver.
“Okay, the beginning.” Marianne paused. “For starters, you’re probably wondering why I’m traveling in a limo to a very expensive restaurant. I mean, I don’t seem like someone who can afford this, and I’m not. The truth is, I won this. In a contest, that is.”
“Yes. Um, the prize was dinner for two at Chez Pierre, and a limousine ride to and from the event.”
“Actually, it terrified me,” said Marianne sadly. “It meant I would have to find a date to go with me, and I’m really not that good at that. Plus, I have barely any time to find dates, what with my job, and the kids, and everything. I didn’t know what to do. Um, do you ever have that problem, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The driver thought for a moment. “Never really thought about it. No, not really.”
“Oh,” said Marianne sadly. “Well, I do.” She shook her head suddenly. “I’m sorry, I’m whining. You don’t want to hear this.”
“No, I do. Really,” said the driver sincerely. He glanced at her in the rear view mirror. “Please? Come on...”
Marianne took another sip of her wine. “Okay,” she said finally. “If you insist.”
“And then, after I had spent all this time worrying about it, the company I work for had this party. And I hate these types of parties, because I always spend all my time there standing at the sidelines, while all these lawyers act big and try to impress each other. So I’m standing there, staring at the walls, and hoping that it’s going to end as soon as possible.” She tailed off.
“What happened then?”
“This guy starts talking to me, and not just to find the bathroom or ask me to get him another drink, but to actually talk to me!” She smiled at the memory. “And he talks to me for the entire party, and I’m nervous as hell, because things like that just don’t happen to me! And he tells me I’m really pretty, and I’m feeling pretty good about things, and as the party is winding up, he asks if he can see me again.” She paused, remembering how that made her feel. “I just felt so...”
She nodded. “Yes, and it felt so good, because I hadn’t felt like that in so long. Well, except for my kids, but this was different, and I felt so bold from that, that...” She tailed off again, her mood falling again.
“You asked him to go out with you?”
She nodded. “I should have known better. But I did, and I told him about this, and he said he would be delighted, and it felt so good! I looked forward so much. My kids could tell I was excited, and they were so happy for me, and I got dressed up, and everything. I thought I looked pretty hot, and I never think that about myself. He arranged for you to pick him up at his office, because he said he was working late, and that should have been my first clue, but...” Marianne felt her eyes tear up again, and she wiped them angrily. “It felt so good to be appreciated by an adult, you know. To be wanted. I guess I was walking on cloud nine, and I didn’t see any of the warning signs.” She sipped her wine again, and fell into silence. After a long pause, she started up again, her voice wavering. “So we get to the restaurant, and he is behaving like a perfect gentleman, and he’s complimenting me on my appearance, and I can tell he’s staring at me when he thinks I’m not looking, which makes me feel pretty confident about how good I look. And we had just gotten to the drinks, when...”
“His wife calls!” Marianne spat it out. “He makes an excuse about working late, and hangs up. Then he turns to me, and asks me if that makes a difference! He’s comfortable continuing this if I am!” She was angry now, tears streaming down her face again.
“Whoa,” said the driver. “What did you do?”
“I was crushed. I just sat back in my chair, and couldn’t believe it. The first guy that had even given me a second glance in I don’t know how long, and he just wants an affair.” She closed her eyes. “I just threw his drink in his face, and stormed out. Then I came and got you. I’m not anyone’s cheap lay!” she said venomously.
“Whoa,” said the driver again.
Marianne looked up. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said anxiously. “I didn’t mean to offend you or anything. I was just angry, and sometimes I get so frustrated that I want to burst, and I didn’t mean to...”
“Don’t worry,” said the driver soothingly. “It’s cool, okay?”
Marianne wiped her eyes, and blew her nose into a tissue she found in her purse. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “You don’t want to hear all about my life. I’m just whining.”
“You know,” said the driver. “It sounds like you have a lot to talk about. It doesn’t sound like you get much of a chance to talk very often.”
She thought about that. “No,” she said quietly. “No, I suppose I don’t. Not to an adult. I mean, there’s no-one at home but my kids, and I can’t talk to them about everything. And then there’s my Mom, but she’s so judgmental, and I don’t get any chances to talk to anyone at work but my boss, and she’s not the warmest person in the world...”
“I can imagine,” said the driver thoughtfully. “You said you had kids? What happened to their Dad? I mean, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay.”
“No, it’s okay.” She took a deep breath. “He left me. A couple of years ago.”
“He gave a couple of reasons, the usual stuff.” She sighed. “He said we weren’t working out, and that he needed space to find himself, all that junk. Personally, I think that he wasn’t ready to get married.”
Marianne nodded. “We got married so young. I was barely 18 when we got married, and then I had my daughter a year later. All he wanted to go out with his drinking friends and leave me at home to take care of things. He didn’t know why he couldn’t do the same things he had done in high school, and he never understood that I needed help.”
“I know. We fought all the time, and I had to force him to do even the smallest tasks.”
“You?” The driver’s voice was slightly incredulous.
“Well...” The driver paused. “No offence, but you seem kind of...”
Another pause. “I guess. Sorry.”
Marianne smiled a little. “I wasn’t always like this, you know. But that’s another story.” She went on: “Not too long after that, I was pregnant again, and he freaked. He didn’t want me to have another child. He said he couldn‘t handle the increased work. Then, when I pointed out that he barely handled any of the workload anyway, he changed his tack, and said he didn’t know if we could handle raising another child if we weren’t getting along. Then he said that he needed some time to really find himself, and his place in life. I told him that was self-serving bullshit.” She paused, and sat back in her seat, and sighed heavily.
“So he left me after that. Just upped and left, while I was pregnant with his child. I was kind of glad in a way.” She sipped her wine again, and sat in silence for a while.
“Do you think,” said the driver, breaking the silence. “That he would have made a good father if he’d stayed?”
Marianne shook her head. “I doubt it. I don’t know. He wasn’t a great father while he was there. He was immature, irresponsible, and lazy. He shouldn’t have gotten married that young - he was still a high school student at heart.”
“Why did you?”
“Get married that young.”
Marianne smiled sadly. “For all the wrong reasons.” She looked up and saw the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror. They seemed to want more of an explanation. “I wanted to get away from home,” she said, with an embarrassed tone.
“I wanted to get away from home,” she said. “Stupid, isn’t it?”
“Did you have...I mean, were your parents...”
“Abusive? Oh my, no,” she said quickly. “Annoying, but not abusive.”
“You wanted to get away from home because your parents were annoying?”
“I told you it was stupid.”
“They must have been pretty annoying.”
“You have no idea,” said Marianne, smiling slightly. “I mean, my Mom mostly. My Mom...she means well, but she has a tendency to be a little nosy. You know, when a parent takes a bit more of an interest in your life than she should?”
The driver thought about it for a while. “I’ve never really had that problem.”
“Oh, well. Well, she would not leave me alone. She was always just sticking her nose in, and bossing me around, and pissing off my boyfriends, and stuff like that. She’d read my diary, and things like that.”
“I know. Plus she had this way of insulting me without meaning to insult me. You know, she’s say things to be helpful, but they’d just end up hurting me, without her meaning to do that.” Marianne paused. “I know she meant well, and I know she loved me a hell of a lot, but I was eighteen, and I just wanted out. So, all this is going through my head, and I’m figuring all I have to do is wait it out until I got to college, and then prom night comes.”
“What happened then?”
“Well, I had this boyfriend, and after the prom, I guess he’s a little bit too drunk, and he asks me to marry him.”
“And all this stuff is going through my head about leaving home, and I think I’m totally in love with this guy, and I say yes.” She shook her head. “God, I was so stupid. What the hell do you know when you’re eighteen? I thought I was so much in love, and of course this means I get out of the house, and this sounds great to me. I’ve totally forgotten about college by this point, and...” She waved her hands. “I was so stupid. We get married after I graduate, and well, you know the rest. My Mom, she tried to warn me, but you know what teenage girls are like. I didn’t listen.”
“I’m sorry,” said the driver sympathetically. “My sister did the same thing.”
“Yeah. She made a pretty crappy marriage choice as well. I guess she was pissed at my Mom for something, but she never said what. But she moved out of the house when she was seventeen, I think. Went off to get married.”
“Didn’t your Mom object?”
“No,” he said thoughtfully. “All she said was something about butterflies being free, and not being yours in the first place. I didn’t really understand it.”
“What about your Dad?”
“Oh. Well, he was...” A pause. “I can’t remember. He was either on a tour of Celtic burial sites, or on a camel trekking tour in Africa. He was gone for a while, anyway. And when he got back, he didn’t seem all that surprised.”
“She has four kids now,” he added. “My sister, that is. Most of them end up at the house occasionally.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. My family’s not that close.”
“I’m sorry,” said Marianne.
“Don’t be. It’s just the way things have always been. I don’t really think about it all that much.” He was silent for a second. “Well, except me and my youngest sister. She’s pretty cool.”
“You two are close?”
“Yeah. It’s not verbal, but it’s, you know, there. The closeness, I mean.” He thought for a second. “It’s really only ever been the two of us for as long as I can remember. My mom is there more than anyone else, but she’s not really there, you know?”
“The rest of my family, like I said, kind of flit in and out, but there’s no permanence.” He sighed. “You got any brothers or sisters?”
“No. But my family, well, we’re close now. Closer than what we were, I mean.”
“After your divorce?”
Marianne nodded. “After that, I moved in with my parents again. I mean, I didn’t have much of a choice. I was twenty-one, had a two year old daughter, with another child on the way, no job, and the child support money didn’t pay a whole lot of anything.”
“That must have been awkward.”
Marianne smiled a little wryly. “It was. I mean, my parents were happy to have me back in the house, don’t get me wrong. It was just that my Mom took a lot of opportunities to remind me that she had been right.”
“It didn’t make me feel a lot better, but she thought it was helping.” Marianne smiled a little at the memories. “But it was nice being home. And it was so refreshing to have some help with the kids. And it was so nice to relax once in a while. My mom might have thought that my marriage had been a terrible idea, and she was right, but she loved what had come out of that mistake.”
“Yeah.” Marianne smiled a little wider. “They love those kids. My Mom especially. After my second daughter was born, they helped so much. I loved to see my oldest playing with her grandmother or grandfather, or the baby crying, then stopping as they picked her up. I had been so tired during my marriage, I had thought I was neglecting my daughter. Sometimes I just couldn’t play with her, I was so exhausted, and it broke my heart. At my parents, I never had to worry about that. That made up for all the negative points.”
“What about their Dad? Did he ever visit?”
Marianne shook her head angrily. “No. Once he left, he never really looked back. I don’t think he could handle the idea that he had kids. He just left, and tried to get back to his old life. He sent child support - that much I can say for him, but he essentially vanished from my life after the divorce.”
“Must have been rough. For you and the kids, I mean.”
Marianne nodded sadly. “They didn’t understand at first. I mean, my youngest has never even seen her Dad. Do you know how hard that is for a child?” She wiped some angry tears away from her eyes, and continued: “Once they got old enough, I had to tell them what happened. I still think they wonder if he’s ever going to come back someday. I hope he doesn’t.”
“You hope he doesn’t? Why?” The driver sounded a little surprised.
“I think he’d do more damage than good. I think they have an idealized version of what they think he’s like, and if he ever shows up, they can’t help but be disappointed. Unless he’s changed a lot from when we were married, that is. And I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
She heard a chuckle from the front. The drive was laughing to himself.
“What’s wrong?” she asked anxiously. “Why are you laughing?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Come on, it must be something. Please tell me?”
He glanced at her in the rear view mirror. “It’s you,” he said.
“Me?” Marianne was confused. “What about me? Did I say something wrong?”
“No. It’s just you seem to have these two personalities. When you’re being yourself, you’re all timid and uncertain, but as you’ve been talking about your past, and stuff, you’re like all confident, and intelligent. It’s weird.”
Marianne thought about this for a second. “I used to be a lot more confident. I’m a lot more nervous these days, that’s for sure.”
“I don’t know,” she said uncertainly. Deep down, she felt like she did, but that wasn’t something she wanted to get into right away. “Sorry,” she said instinctively.
“Don’t be,” said the driver. “I kind of liked the confident you.” He caught her eye in the mirror, and smiled. Marianne found herself smiling back.
“Hey, “ he said suddenly. “You want to get out and stretch your legs a bit? I know I do.”
“Are we allowed to do that?”
“I guess.” He shrugged. “I can’t see why not.”
Marianne put her glass down. “Sure. How much time do we have?”
The driver glanced at the clock. “A couple of hours yet. You did leave dinner real early.”
“Yes, I did,” she muttered to herself. “You know, this night didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it to.”
“Don’t worry,” said the driver laconically. “Sometimes the unexpected can turn out to be pretty nice after all.”
Marianne thought about this for a second. “I guess.” She looked towards the front. “Where did you want to go?”
“I know this really great ice cream store downtown,” he said. “Stays open really late. Wouldn’t make up for missing dinner, but still...”
“Sounds nice.” Marianne nodded.
The limo pulled into a parking garage in downtown Lawndale, and the driver stopped the car, then got out to open the door for Marianne. She stepped out of the car, and finally got a look at the driver in clear light. Before this, she’d only seen him in the dim light of the car. And, of course, when he had let her in before they went to dinner. She hadn’t been paying attention to him back then, of course.
He wasn’t what she expected a limo driver would look like. He was tall, and lanky, and his suit seemed a little too small for him. She figured him for mid-twenties, and he was pretty unkempt. His hair stuck up, and he had a small untrimmed goatee. Kind of handsome, though, in his own way.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, noticing that she was looking at him.
“Well, you just don’t look like I expected,” she said. Realizing this could be misconstrued, she hurriedly raised a hand. “Oh, I didn’t mean that! I mean...”
“It’s okay,” he said, grinning. “I know what you mean.” He locked up the limo.
Marianne looked at it thoughtfully. “Are you sure you’re allowed to leave this here?”
He looked deep in thought. “I guess. Why wouldn’t I?”
Marianne shrugged. “I don’t know.”
They set off for the elevator, and made their way to the street. After they got down there, Marianne called home, just to check on the kids. Her mother said that all was well, and quizzed her about the night. Marianne evaded the question, and just said that everything was going well, and that she would be home in a few hours. Then they set off. Before too long, they had found the ice cream store that he had mentioned. True to his word, it was open, and they made their orders. Marianne got a strawberry sundae, the driver a pistachio and chocolate swirl. “I love nuts,” he said by way of explanation.
After they got their orders, they sat in a booth, and regarded each other in silence for a while. Marianne broke the silence. “Can I ask you a personal question?” she said awkwardly.
“Depends on the question, I guess.”
“Was that a yes or a no?”
“You don’t really seem like a limo driver. Not to be offensive or anything, but it’s just...”
“Really?” Marianne raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah. I’m only filling in for tonight. The regular driver is a friend of mine, but he couldn’t get a babysitter. I do this for him occasionally.”
“That obvious, huh?”
Marianne nodded gingerly. “You don’t really seem to know what you’re doing, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
The driver laughed, which turned into a cough. “True.”
“Don’t you need a special license to drive one of those?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I figured I filled in for him so often, I’d better get it.”
Marianne decided to be bold. “So, um, what do you do? For a living, I mean. If I’m being too nosy, just tell me.”
“It’s cool. I’m in a band. Don’t know if you could say I do it for a living, though. I think you have to make money for that.”
“A band? What’s it called?”
“That’s a matter of some dispute at the moment, actually.”
“Oh.” Marianne picked a strawberry out of the ice cream, and ate it.
“But you know, a little bit of conflict is good for a band. All the really classic bands couldn’t stand each other,” he added confidently.
“Have you got to that stage yet? Of not standing each other, I mean.”
He grinned. “Sometimes.” He laughed, then coughed again.
“What type of music do you play?” Marianne had never met anyone in a band before. This was new territory.
“Kind of a trance/punk thing. You know.”
“No,” she said, in a confused tone, “I don’t think I do.”
“Oh. Well, when we get an album out, I’ll send you a copy.” He took a spoonful of nuts. “You like music?”
“Oh yes,” she said enthusiastically. “Mostly classical stuff. Of course,” she added. “Classical is kind of a misnomer because it only refers to one specific period, but most people just kind of lump it all together...” She tailed off. “I’ve lost you, haven’t I?”
“No, no,” he said. “It’s just, you must love music. Your face just lit up when you started talking about it.”
“Oh, I do,” said Marianne keenly. “It helps me relax, and I need all of that I can get these days. Listening to a great piece of music, like Gould playing the Goldberg variations...there’s nothing like it.“ She smiled warmly. “I play too, you know.”
“Yeah. Piano. I fell out of practice, when I was married, but I picked it up after that, and I just love playing. When I’m playing, it just feels like everything around me vanishes, and all I can hear is the music, and I’m in another world.” She found that she was waving her hands rather enthusiastically, and she stopped, feeling a little embarrassed.
“I know what you mean,” said the driver, smiling at her. “I feel that way about my guitar.”
They smiled at each other, and then Marianne turned away, feeling a little self-conscious. “I think I’ve passed it on to my kids, too,” she said, changing the subject quickly.
“Oh yeah, your kids,” said the driver. “Two, right?”
Marianne nodded proudly. She rummaged in her purse for a few moments, and produced a couple of pictures. “Here they are.” She pulled out one. “This is Katie. She’s my oldest. She’s twelve.”
“Looks like you.”
Marianne smiled with pride. “Thank you. She’s so smart...the teachers are really pleased with her in school.” She grinned a little wryly. “I talk to teachers a hell of a lot, actually.”
She waved her hand dismissively. “Never mind. Private joke. Anyway, Katie is pretty musically gifted too. I mean, she’s a whole lot better than I was at that age.” She smiled reflectively. “You know what I love to when I have time?”
The driver raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“Play duets with her. On the piano, I mean. Hell, I can barely keep up sometimes!” Her smile drooped a little. “When I have time...” Quickly, she showed him another picture. “This is my youngest, Tasha.”
“Thank you. Tasha’s such a sweet kid. She always knows when I’m down, and she always knows how to get me back in a good mood. She’s musical too. She plays the flute.”
“They could pass for twins, you know.”
Marianne laughed. “Oh, don’t tell Katie that. She always likes to point out she’s the oldest.” She leaned on her elbow a moment. “God, I can’t believe she’s going to be a teenager next year.”
“Must be exciting.”
“Frightening, more like. I know what teenage girls are like.”
The driver grinned. “I have a lot of memories of that myself.”
Marianne threw a strawberry at him playfully. “Me too. That’s why I’m frightened.”
There was a brief pause, as they both finished their ice cream.
“So,” said the driver, breaking the silence. “You and your girls are close, right?”
Marianne sighed. “Yes, but not as close as I’d like.”
“Why? Thought you three got on pretty well.”
“We do,” said Marianne. “It’s not them, or me. It’s time.”
“I don’t have enough.”
Marianne looked up at him. “Tell me about it.”
Marianne didn’t say anything. The driver looked at her more closely. “What is it?”
She didn’t reply, but just looked down at the table. “Can we go somewhere else?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
They settled the bill, (The driver insisted on paying, much to Marianne’s embarrassment.), and left the store. The two of them walked down the street, and Marianne began to wish she hadn’t worn her heels tonight, Of course, she hadn’t expected to do a lot of walking. Funny how things turned out, wasn’t it? She knew exactly why she didn’t have enough time, but she didn’t want to talk about it just yet.
So,” she said finally. “Do you have anyone special in your life?”
He thought about it for a while, and finally shook his head, in a non-committal way. “Not really.”
“Not really?” Marianne frowned. “Is that a yes or a no?”
“You are getting bold,” he said, in an amused tone.
“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“Relax,” he said. “That’s why I like it when you talk. You seem less nervous that way.”
Marianne cocked her head. That probably was true.
“Not really,” he continued, “because there is some special people, but I don’t know if you could really say they’re in my life.”
“Well, I had this girlfriend....of sorts.” In response to Marianne’s quizzical glance, he elaborated: “We had the sort of relationship where we would have mind-blowing sex, then fight for hours, and then break up. Then we’d do the same again a week later. You know the type.”
“Not really,” said Marianne.
“Oh. I figured it was normal.”
“So, are you still...together?”
“Sort of. I mean, she comes round to yell at me once in a while, then we have more sex. But it’s less frequent than it used to be. I guess we’re both moving on.”
“Yeah,” said Marianne. This was way beyond her experiences.
“There’s this other girl...” He tailed off.
“Come on. You can tell me,” said Marianne encouragingly. “I mean, we’ve known each other for...“ She glanced at her watch. “At least two hours.”
“Well, there’s this girl, and she’s really smart, and witty, and stuff, and pretty hot.”
“But..?” Marianne could always tell when there was a but.
“She’s my little sister’s best friend, and a bit too young for me. And I don’t think she looks at me in that way. Not now, anyway.”
“Probably not a good idea then.”
There was another brief silence. Marianne took in the sights of downtown Lawndale. It was actually very pretty by night. She remembered one time she had taken the girls down here, to go Christmas shopping, and it had stretched on into the early evening. It had been snowing that night, and Lawndale had actually been kind of beautiful, with the moonlight shining off the snow.
It had been one of those nights where Marianne had been able to forget everything, and just take in the beauty of the world around her. She had been taking in the sight, when Tasha had broadsided her with a snowball. Tasha and Katie had found it hilarious, until she had retaliated in kind. A furious snowball fight had developed, and afterwards, with no clear victor established, they had all gone out for hot chocolate. Sitting round the table, with her daughters, Marianne had been completely content in that moment. It was one of her favorite memories.
The driver interrupted her train of thought. “Must be a great memory,” he said with a grin.
“What?” she said, briefly disoriented.
“You were smiling wider than I’ve seen you all night. Must have been a great night.”
“It was,” she said, smiling at him. “You know, my marriage might not have been the best thing for me in life, but I wouldn’t give up my girls for anything.”
“Um, can I ask you a question?”
“If I can ask you one afterwards,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes.
Marianne shrugged. “Okay.”
“What’s your question?”
“Do you want kids?”
The driver thought about it for a while, pondering it over and over. Eventually, he shrugged. “I guess. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Think you’d make a good father?”
“I’d have to change a few things,” he said with a chuckle.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I probably couldn’t sleep sixteen hours a day.”
“No.” A thought struck her. “Was that what you were doing when I got in the limo?”
“Well, you definitely couldn’t sleep sixteen hours a day.” She smiled wryly. “Though my husband gave it his best shot.”
He laughed, then coughed again. “You’re pretty funny.”
He smiled in expectation. “Can I ask my question now?”
“Why is it exactly that you don’t have enough time with your kids?” He raised an eyebrow. “I bet it’s got a lot to do with why you seem so nervous and unsure sometimes.”
Marianne sighed. “You’re pretty perceptive, you know.”
“Well, I’m a musician. I’m very sensitive to shifts in mood. Ethereal transference, and all that.”
Marianne thought about that for a moment. “I don’t think ethereal is a word.”
“Oh. Are you sure?”
“I suppose not.” Marianne sighed. “I guess I should really tell you.”
“Only if you want to. But I think it helps to talk about these things sometimes.”
“Yeah.” Marianne stopped, and looked at him. “Can we go somewhere and sit down? I think I really need to be sitting down for this.”
A few minutes later, they were sitting at an outside cafe. Marianne was sipping some coffee. She sighed. “It’s my job.”
“What about it?”
“That’s really the only source of problems in my life.”
“Where do you work?”
She indicated across the street, at the large office building. “Over there. That’s why I picked this cafe. Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter.” She added quickly: “It’s a law firm.”
“You’re a lawyer?” he asked, not without a large amount of incredulity.
She laughed. “Me? Can you really see me in court? I’d go to pieces.”
“No, I’m an executive assistant. Though dogsbody would probably be a more accurate term.”
“Oh. What exactly do you do?”
“What don’t I do, more like. Everything, and anything that Hel...” She caught herself. “That my boss wants me to.” Better not to name Helen directly. It could get back to her, and Helen would have a field day with that.
“So which one of those do you work for?”
“None of them, actually.” She leaned in closer. “You want to hear something weird?”
“Sure. I love weird.”
“There’s only two Schrecters.” She smiled. “The third one was a typo. None of the senior partners want to admit it, so they just pretend. I’m not even sure there’s a Riordan, either. At least, I’ve never seen him or her.”
“That is weird.” He glanced up at the sign. “Something seems familiar about this place.” He shook his head. “Forget it. So...”
“So what’s so bad about your job?”
“Well....” Where to start? Right at the beginning, probably. “Well, I’d been divorced a few years, and I’d had a few jobs, but nothing that I could make a living of.”
“You were still living with your parents?”
She nodded. “And I wanted to make it on my own. I mean, I was in my twenties, and still living with my parents. I needed to move out, but I couldn’t afford to.”
“So I decided to go back to school. My Mom had retired early, and she volunteered to watch the kids when they weren’t at school, so I did it. I’d always had an interest in law in school, but I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I did find that there were a lot of great opportunities in being a legal assistant. I did some research, and I found that most places recommend a four year degree in Legal Assistant Studies. There’s a two year degree as well, but most good places want a four year one. Even the National Federation of Paralegal Associations recommends four year ones. So I did a Legal Assistant Studies degree.”
“Just to be a secretary?”
Marianne frowned a little. “There’s more to it than that. You have to learn all about legal practice and procedure, legal writing and research, court structure. It‘s a requirement to have some formal training these days...”
He held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that it was so complicated.”
“Well, neither did I at first. But it was a challenge, and I threw myself into it.” She shook her head. “I had to borrow so much money from my parents, and work as well to support myself. It was hard, but I did it.”
“Then, after I had completed that, I took the Certified Legal Assistant exam, and passed.” She smiled. “It was nice, seeing the faces of my kids when I graduated. They were so proud of me.”
“What’s the Certified Legal Assistant exam mean?”
“Well, I get to put ‘CLA.’ after my name,” she said jokingly. Seeing his blank look, she elaborated: “It means more people will want to hire me. Actually, I‘ve got enough experience now to take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam.”
“It kind of solidifies your professional standing. It’s saying that you’re at a certain level of proficiency. You need to have a degree and two years of experience to even take it.”
“Which you have.”
“Exactly. But I can never find the time to study. I don’t want to take any more time from my kids. I’ll get it one day, though. For now, I’m happy with my CLA standing.”
“And that took you here.” He looked at her. “Pretty crowded life.”
“Tell me about it.”
He smiled. “So you came here?”
“Exactly. When I started, I was working for one of the senior partners. One of the Schrecters, and things were okay. Well, not okay. But the money was good, and I could finally move out of my parents‘ house.”
“Cool. Why weren’t things fine, though? Was it the job?”
“No, it was my boss. He was a slimy jerk. I couldn’t stand being around him.”
“He didn’t try to hit on you or anything? I know a couple of bosses who would do that.”
“No. At least he didn’t try to do that. I was a lot more confident back then, remember. I think he knew if he tried that, I’d nail him for that. He was just...greasy. I can’t explain it. He didn’t seem to have any ethics, and he was always at the office, popping some kind of pills. I think they were amphetamines, or something. He just gave me the creeps. The one day, he said he was hiring a new lawyer. She was coming from someplace in Texas, and she was really well recommended. I overheard him talking to his brother - one of the other senior partners - and he said she could make partner. Then they laughed. I knew they wouldn’t make her partner, no matter how well she worked.”
Marianne frowned. “They had this whole old boy or Ivy League thing going. Bunch of misogynist idiots. But they could keep her working there like slave labor, dangling partnership like a carrot, and she’ll never get it.”
“Tell me about it. Anyway, she needed an executive assistant, and I volunteered. I figured she couldn’t be worse than Eric - my boss, that is. At least she wouldn’t be sleazy.”
“So how’d it work out?”
Marianne stared into her coffee dejectedly. “Badly.”
“Well, she wasn’t sleazy. But you remember what I said about the carrot thing? About dangling partnership in front of her?”
“Well, they did it. Eric most of all. I don’t think a week goes by without him coming in and saying something about ‘putting her on the fast track to partnership’. He’s been saying that for two years now.”
“Ever tried to tell her what you think about this?”
“Once.” Marianne shuddered at the memory. “Once, after I’d known her for about half a year. I mentioned something about the senior partners at the firm being...less than keen on the idea of having a female partner.”
“She went crazy. She gave me this horrible look, and told me that she didn’t care what I thought about the standard of her work, but that she was going to break through the glass ceiling, no matter what I thought. And I wasn’t trying to tell her that! I was just trying to point out that the senior partners aren’t the most women-friendly people in the world, and I think they’re using her...” She found she was hyperventilating, and stopped to catch her breath. “Sorry. Work tends to stress me out a lot.”
“No shit. Sounds like you two don’t get along.”
Marianne paused for a second to calm down, and then continued: “It’s funny. I admire her for that. I mean, she’s so determined to break the glass ceiling at the firm, and I don’t think anyone could do it, but she has never given up. And I think it’s a really good idea, and frankly, the firm could use a little shaking up, especially in that department. But because of that, she tends to be a little...” She searched for the word. “She doesn’t have a lot of time for social graces. Except to a client, or in court. I mean, when we’re in the office, she treats me like crap. It’s like I’m just like a sort of legal machine who can always do what she wants, whenever she wants. You know, someone who never has to go home and can stay for as long as she does, and come in whenever she wants me to. You’ve no idea how many days I come in at four a.m. or stay until well after dark. I wouldn’t mind so much, but she just assumes that I can do all this, and there’s never a thank-you, or an acknowledgment that I’m sacrificing a lot of my personal life, such as it is. My feelings just don’t come into it. All she seems to care about is her own stress, and what she has to accomplish.” She paused for breath. “I’m sorry. I’m whining. You must be bored out of your skull.”
“I’m fine,” said the driver soothingly. “Sounds like you need to get this off your chest.”
Marianne nodded sadly. “You don’t have any idea how stressed I get in that office sometimes. Especially if I’m not working quite as quickly as she thinks I should be. “Marianne, where’s that form?” “Marianne, have you got that letter drafted yet?” “No, of course you can’t attend your daughter’s recital! We have work to do!” That sort of thing.”
“Yeah. That’s why I seem so timid these days. Every time I try to ask for something, or make a helpful suggestion, or stand up for myself, I just get shot down. It’s pretty disheartening after a while, you know?” She indicated the cafe. “I love this place. Every day, after work, no matter what time that is, I come down here.”
“To unwind.” She glanced down sadly. “Every day after work, you have no idea what kind of mood I’m in. I’m so furious, and impotent, and frustrated. I see my girls rarely enough as it is. I don’t want to go home and take it out on them.”
“I bet you’re a great Mom.”
“I try. I just wish I was home more. But then, doesn’t every single mother?”
“You could always go someplace else.”
“Not making the money I’m making here. I wouldn’t make it, if I didn’t earn that much.”
“Don’t be, I’m just whining.” She managed a small smile. “You know I used to feel sorry for my boss’ husband, if she went home like that. I used to feel so bad for him.”
She nodded. “Then I actually met him.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve talked to him on the phone quite a bit, and met him in person a few times, usually at company parties.”
“That bad, huh?”
“He’s like a little child. Not in a good way, either, but like a clueless, spoilt little child you just keep wanting to shut up. Every time I talk to him - which is usually because I’m running interference when his wife doesn’t want to talk to him - he always turns the conversation into a rant about something or another. Usually his father. I’ve spent a few afternoons at work just listening to him rant about how cruel his father was, and how neglected he was as a child.” She sighed. “Sometimes - and I know this is cruel - I just want to tell him to shut the hell up.”
“Hmmm,” said the driver thoughtfully.
“What is it?”
“Oh, nothing,” he said dismissively. “Go on.”
“I mean, it isn’t part of my job description to listen to disgruntled husbands whine at length about everything under the sun. Plus, I’m just doing it because his wife doesn’t want to talk to him! You would think he would take the hint, wouldn’t you? I can see why she doesn’t want to talk to him. It’s distracting as hell. He’ll ask where his wife is, and when I say she isn’t available, he’ll start ranting about his father, military school, and God knows what else. Then he’ll start criticizing her - to a relative stranger, no less. Blaming everyone under the sun for everything bad that’s ever happened to him. I haven’t heard a torrent of self-pity like that since I was married.” She stopped herself. “I’m sorry. I’m being really unfair, aren’t I? I mean, I don’t really know enough about their life to start slashing them down, do I? Sorry. I’m here talking about mouthing off a relative stranger, and I’m here doing the same thing.” She sighed. “I’ve spent the night whining about my life. You must think I’m a pretty self-obsessed person.”
He put his hand on hers. “It’s okay. I asked, remember? Besides, you don’t do this at any other time, right? This sounds like this is about the only time you’ve actually talked to anyone about this.”
“There you are. If you were really self obsessed, you’d do this with everyone you met. You’re only doing it with me cause I asked.”
She smiled a little. “I guess you’re right. I don’t like being that way, though. That’s what I was talking about. If I was that way with the girls...well, you can imagine.”
“Sounds like you’re pretty on-target, though.”
“Well, I guess so. I sound bitter, don’t I?”
Marianne smiled glumly. “This is what I mean about being in a bad mood. Can you imagine if I came home every night and talked to the girls like this?”
He smiled back, and then got up. “I’ll be back in a second, okay? Call of nature, you know?”
Marianne finished her coffee and sat back in her chair. She had been being a little harsh on the Morgendorffers, but honestly, sometimes she wondered why Helen ever stayed with him. Deep down, she figured it was probably for the sake of the kids, and idly wondered what would happen when they went off to college. She didn’t think they should have really gotten together in the first place, but then, Marianne could say that about herself and her husband. She was hardly the expert on relationships.
She thought a little more about Jake Morgendorffer. He had seemed to have a rough childhood, but then from what Helen had said, her childhood had not been ideal either, and she seemed much more capable. At least, she didn’t go off on incoherent rants on every available opportunity. She suspected that part of the reason Helen was so wound up all of the time was that she never got a chance to relax at home, and never got the downtime she needed. Maybe she should tell Helen about the benefits of relaxing after work, but she was afraid she would bite her head off.
This conversation had gotten her thinking about Helen, and why exactly she was the way she was. Marianne suspected that it had a lot to do with her home life. She had a sneaking suspicion that Helen threw herself into her work so much because it was going a lot better than her home life was. She was a success as a lawyer, when perhaps her family life was not being so much of a success. Not that that was all her fault. In order to be an effective parent, you had to have both parents working together as a team. She couldn’t imagine that Jake was particularly effective in a team context. Or in a solo one for example. She was remembered that Helen had told her that he hadn’t even known what ages his two daughters were. As a parent herself, Marianne couldn’t imagine that. She didn’t think he was either a particularly easy person to live with, or a very effective father.
She thought about the few times Jake had been to the various company parties. She knew Helen hated to bring him to them, but she never had a choice. He always embarrassed her like crazy, and no-one ever wanted to talk to him. She had to call in favors like crazy to even get people to say hello, or talk to him. Marianne sighed. She usually got saddled with the unenviable task of keeping him busy, listening to his rants, and complaints. She felt really bad for Helen at those things, and knew why she wanted to throw herself into work like crazy.
Of course, what with Helen throwing herself into her work like that, she tended to neglect quite a few things she probably should be doing. Marianne had lost track of how many times she had talked to the teachers on her behalf, giving them any number of excuses. Or how many missed assignments she had ended up doing, probably ruining the grade curve as she went. She did really resent having to do those things for her, unsupportive husband at home, or not. She remembered the only time she had indicated to Helen that she didn’t really think she should be avoiding the PTA meetings like that, and the look that Helen had shot her. That was one of the only times she had actually been glad to see Eric.
That was the time Helen had been sent on the assessment course by Eric, to see if she was ready to be a partner. Another example of Eric’s amazing carrot-dangling skills. She had come back, and seemed oddly distracted for the longest time. So much so, that Marianne managed to muster up enough courage to actually ask her if she was all right. Helen had insisted that she was, but had told Marianne exactly what Jake had said to her. Marianne had been stunned. It had been so mean, one of those comments designed to hurt as much as it could. It had also been rather accurate, which made Marianne wonder if Jake Morgendorffer was quite as clueless as he made himself out to be. Maybe his cluelessness was a shield designed to prevent him from having any sort of responsibility. Even so, his comments had disturbed Helen rather sizably, as did those made by Eric after her return.
Marianne had never wanted to throttle him as much as she had at that moment, when he basically congratulated Helen for neglecting her family. Marianne had held her tongue, though. Helen had seemed to be delighted at his praise (though Marianne knew he was just buttering her up. In fact, sometimes she had the theory that he was actively trying to break up her marriage because he wanted to screw her), but the two comments had seemed to bother her in the following weeks. In fact, they had bothered her so much that when her daughter had come round for help that day, she had actually dropped everything and gone to be with her. Marianne had been shocked at that.
Not that her treatment of Marianne had gotten any better, but you had to be thankful for small things, right? Even so, she still wished Helen would just acknowledge her hard work once in a while. Thinking about all this, and talking about it had really helped her to get her thoughts together about the whole situation.
Marianne thought about Helen’s daughters for a few minutes. They were the only other people Helen really spent any time with apart from her work colleagues, and her husband. The younger one - Quinn - really reminded Marianne of Helen in a lot of ways. She had that energy and drive, and will to succeed. It was a desire to succeed in different ways, though. Whereas Helen was driven to succeed in the business world, Quinn was driven to succeed in the popularity arena. That wouldn’t last forever, though. From what Helen had told her, Quinn was already changing her priorities, and turning that will to succeed into different areas. Marianne didn’t doubt that she would get just as far in life as her mother. Marianne hoped she’d make a better choice in partners, though. She’d read a theory once that women usually marry their fathers, and that men marry their mothers. She didn’t put much stock in it, especially after her own experiences, but she hoped it wasn’t the case for Quinn.
The older one - Daria. She was more of a mystery to Marianne. She called the office occasionally to ask for advice from Helen, and she never seemed very happy. She seemed very withdrawn, and insular. Marianne couldn’t get a bead on her.
Now that she thought about it, Marianne assumed that what parental guidance those two girls got had to come from Helen, if anyone. She couldn’t imagine Jake giving much in the way of useful advice, or even wanting to. If her theory was right, he’d just give the appearance of cluelessness, and get people to leave him alone.
Once in a while, Marianne thought Helen’s attitude would improve greatly if she just got rid of him. Maybe she’d even begin being nicer to Marianne at work. It wasn’t really Marianne’s place to say anything, though.
She was shaken from her thoughts by the reappearance of the driver. “Hey,” he said. “You want to go someplace else?”
“Sure,” she said with a sad smile.
She shook her head absently. “Nothing. Well, it’s work. I just wish sometimes she would thank me, or even register that I help her out a hell of a lot, not only with work things, but with personal things too.” She sighed. “You know, once, we had to fill out some evaluations on the other employees at the firm, and she couldn’t even remember my last name? She had to look it up. She sure know how to make a girl feel unappreciated.”
“What is it?”
“Your last name.” He smiled. “Come on, I want to know.”
“Kingston.” She smiled back. They got up, left the cafe, and began strolling down the street. There was a brief silence as Marianne took in the walk. Something struck her suddenly. “Where are we going?”
“Oh, just a place I know.”
“What type of place?”
He raised an eyebrow. “The type of place I think would be good for you.”
He grinned. “You like Lawndale?”
Marianne nodded. “Yes. My family’s lived here ever since the town was built all those centuries ago. It’s not too big, but it’s home.”
“It’s pretty cool. Lots of funky landmarks.”
Marianne nodded, and grinned. “Like the giant strawberry?”
He grinned. “Lot of fond memories there.”
“Me too.” She laughed suddenly. “I used to go there as a teenager, and make out.”
“Hey, me too!” He smiled at her. “Don’t know why I went, though. The floor’s not too comfy.”
“I think I still have splinters in my arms from there.” She glanced over at him. “You know, I think it was erected as a monument of love.”
She nodded. “I think it was supposed to be a giant heart. But it was the sixties, and you know...”
“Man, drugs can really mess you up.”
She laughed again, and smiled to herself. It had been a while since she’d laughed so much in one night. The driver glanced over at her, and grinned.
A few minutes later, they were standing outside a small amusement arcade.
“Here?” asked Marianne incredulously.
“Yeah, here.” He shot her a look. “What’s wrong, you don’t think you could take me at foosball?”
“Please. I can take you easy.” She glanced down at herself. “Don’t you think I’m a little overdressed, though?”
“You look fine. What’s wrong, scared?”
She frowned at him with mock sincerity. “Come on.”
The ball slammed into the goal. The goalie missed it by at least an inch. Marianne raised her hands in victory. “I think that’s two nil.”
“Damn.” The driver’s hands worked the controls furiously. “So, where do you see yourself in five years?”
Marianne blocked his shot easily. “I don’t know. Katie will be picking colleges soon after that, I guess.” She chuckled a little. “Doesn’t time fly?”
“I guess you have to make the best of what you have, right?” He lined up a shot, and took it. The ball sailed past Marianne’s goalie. “Two to one.”
“Crap.” Marianne leaned down over the board. “How about you?”
“I’d like to see the band make it big.”
“And if they don’t?” Another shot. His goalie blocked it.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll take it one step at a time.” He tried to block another goal shot, but failed. “Damn.”
“Three to one.”
“Well, do you still see yourself in the same job?”
“I’m never going to find another one with the same pay, unless I move. But I don’t want to uproot the girls. All their friends and family are here.” She made another shot. Blocked again. “Plus, like I said earlier, it’s home. I don’t think I’d want to leave, let alone the girls.”
“Well, you don’t seem to like the current job.”
“No, no...” Another goal. “Four to one.”
“I love the job, just not the people sometimes.”
“I see. Well...” Goal shot. Blocked. “I guess you have to try to stop being so stressed all the time.”
“Good idea. You don’t seem very stressed, that’s for sure.”
He laughed, and coughed. Marianne had an open shot at goal, but she felt it wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of the situation. He recovered, and resumed his attack. “No. I never really get stressed. Maybe it’s cause I sleep so much.”
“I can’t do that.” She tried to block a shot, but it went on in. “Damn. Four to two.”
“True.” He thought about it for a second. “You know, maybe you should just take a look at how great the other parts of your life are, when you start to feel down.” Another shot sailed past the goalie.
“Five to two.” She thought about it. They played in silence for the next few minutes. Finally she smiled slightly. “You know, I do have a pretty good life. I make good money, I have a nice house, and I have the two greatest girls in the world. Things could be worse.” Yeah, she thought. I could have an overgrown child like Jake Morgendorffer dogging my heels.
“Exactly.” Another goal went in. “Damn. I think I’m packing it in.”
“You know,” said Marianne. “I should try to get out like this a little more often. This has been really nice.”
“I’ve had a pretty cool night too.” He indicated the door. “I think our time is running out.”
Marianne glanced at her watch. “Damn.” The night had gone pretty quickly, after the initial upset. “I guess we’d better get back to the limo,” she said, with some disappointment.
They walked back to the limo, mostly in silence, Marianne feeling a little disappointed that the night was coming to an end. Once they reached it, they began the trip back to her house.
“I agree,” said the driver suddenly, breaking the silence.
“I agree with what you said. In the arcade,” he added, for clarification. “I think you do need to get out like this more often.”
“Yeah. Take the kids too. Just let go, and have fun once in a while. Remind yourself how great the world can be sometimes. I mean, you said yourself that you had a pretty good life.”
“I do,” Marianne said reflectively. “I mean, there’s only one area I have a problem in, and that’s my job. And it’s not a bad job. It just gets a little much once in a while.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” she interrupted, “and I agree with you. Talking about it has really cleared my head. I need to stand up for myself. Tell Helen that I need time off once in a while. Tell her I can only work so much overtime. Make a stand. I mean, what’s she going to do? Fire me? She isn’t going to find a better executive assistant in this state.” She glanced towards the front. “Is that what you were going to say.”
“Actually, no. But that was way better than my idea.”
“Oh.” She smiled.
“Helen?” said the driver suddenly, a thoughtful tone in his voice.
Uh-oh, thought Marianne. “You’d probably better forget I said that.”
“Okay.” He glanced at her in the mirror. “Cool idea. When are you going to do it?”
She sighed. “Okay, I’ll probably get into the office tomorrow, start to say it, then she’ll shoot me a look, and I’ll run away in fear. But if I keep at it, eventually I might get some results. After a while.”
“Um...” She glanced up at the front. “I just...wanted to say thank you.”
“For such a great night out. It wasn’t what I was planning, but it was great.” She took a deep breath. “And thanks for all the other stuff too.”
“Making me realize how good my life is, and that the stuff that isn’t so good in it, I can change, and being really sweet and kind, and just listening to me. It’s been so long since anyone listened to me like that and...” She paused. “Well, thanks.”
“All part of the service,” he said, his eyes sparkling in the mirror.
She sat back and smiled to herself. After a short while, they came to her house. The driver got out and opened her door for her. They stood and looked at each other in the moonlight for a moment. Marianne glanced at her watch, trying not to feel awkward. “The girls should be in bed by now, but I bet they stayed up to ask me how my night went.” She glanced down. “They like to see their Mom happy.”
“What are you going to tell them?”
“The truth.” She grinned. “That I had a very nice night with a very nice, witty, handsome man. Tasha and Katie will be pleased about tonight, I think.”
He smiled back.
Marianne flushed. “I’d better be getting inside,” she said, a little self-consciously.
“Hold on,” said the driver. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
She frowned. “What?”
He wrapped his arms around her and drew her into a hug. She responded gladly. It had been a wonderful night. “Hey,” he said softly. “I just think everyone needs to be held once in a while. You know, I think everything’s going to work out for you.”
“Really?” she asked softly.
He nodded. “Oh yes.”
Impulsively, she moved away from the hug a little, slipped an arm around his head, and drew him into a kiss. She didn‘t know why she‘d done it. It had just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. He seemed a little surprised at first, but then he kissed her back. She slipped her other arm around him again, and kissed him deeper. He was a good kisser, and it had been a long time since she had been kissed that nicely.
They broke off, and separated a little awkwardly. “I don’t know why I did that,” said Marianne, slightly embarrassed.
“I’m glad you did.” He grinned sheepishly. “I figured you’d like a kiss for the end of your date.”
“A very nice date,” she said softly. They glanced at each other for a second, then he walked back to the front of the car.
“I’ll see you,” he said. “Good luck.”
“You too,” she whispered. She watched as the limo drove down the street, and turned a corner, vanishing from sight. Marianne smiled a final time to herself, then turned and walked home.
Thanks to my wife.
Thanks to MTV.
Thanks to my Beta-Readers - Brother Grimace, Roger Moore, THM, Thea-Zara, Robert Nowall, Ben Breeck, Steven Galloway, Mman, and Deref.
Special thanks to Kara Wild, whose discussions on the various message boards gave me the initial ideas for this story.