“Just out of curiosity, if you did all of that, do you think people will think it’s yours?”
Daniel looked at me with a blank look, which I took to mean he had not considered the possibility and was suddenly reworking the possible options in his head.
“Of course they’ll think that. And I don’t give a fuck.”
I exhale just out of sheer awe of this man. “Damn, I love you.”
He squeezes my hand while tightening the other on the steering wheel to ward off the gusts pushing against the car.
“Nat, you are such an amazing and brave woman. Having her here wouldn’t bother you?”
Going eighty miles an hour in the blowing wind, I unbuckle my seat belt and awkwardly lift myself, clown boot and all, to kiss him on the side of his head and whisper in his ear, “The only thing that would ever bother me is not having you in my life.”
He glances at my foot as I pull away from his soft curls, and once I am seated and secure, he asks about my foot.
“How’s it feeling today?”
“It’s a little better each day.”
“When are you going back to work?”
“This Wednesday? Already?”
“No,” I drag out my response, “last Wednesday.”
“What? That’s crazy! You can’t be hiking all over the forest with a broken leg.”
“First, it’s just my ankle, and it’s not even bad enough that I need any kind of surgery or even physical therapy. I just need to be cautious and take it easy.”
“I can’t see how you can do your job and take it easy.”
“I’ll manage. And I’m sure Aaron will keep an eye on me if you call him.”
I give him that sideways, I-know-what-you’re-thinking look. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to convince me he should drive me to work on Monday morning just for such a purpose.
“It’s my personal responsibility to look out for you.”
“As if you don’t have enough to manage right now?”
I know him. He’ll try to do it all. But deep down, I know that his work, his project, and even his little ‘side project’ need his TLC more than my ankle.
“How about we negotiate a little deal?”
His offer reminds me of the little deal he tried to get me to make on our first camping trip.
“This should be rich,” I sarcastically tease.
“I’ll leave you to take it easy, if you promise to, one, actually take it easy,” I probably wouldn’t when faced with a choice to do my job thoroughly or limp my way out of a project, “and, two, tell me the skinny on Mitchell.”
“Because you need more ammunition against him?”
He lets the weaponry reference hang in the air, and I wonder if that thought hadn’t already crossed his mind. Although given what I know of his military history, he’d never truly consider it.
I take a deep breath, reminding myself to pace the story and not rush through it to get all the pertinent details out and to not accidentally let too many of the ugly bits tumble out as well.
“Do you remember the first Christmas party you took me to at the firm?”
He thinks for a moment, “Yes. Was it the one with those really amazing empanadas?”
“Perhaps,” I smile that of all the events of that year together and every company Christmas party we attended since, that the empanadas were the deciphering detail.
“It was the one where you introduced me to Mr. Waterfield in his office, and while the two of you were talking, I went to get us all drinks.”
He shrugs, as if introducing me and talking shop didn’t rank as high as a good empanada.
“I left his office on the way to the open bar and I stopped into the conference room – you know, the one with pictures on the walls of the various completed projects.”
Mounted with custom mats, each frame’s work included a finished photograph, a reduced image of the blueprints, and a card noting the specifics of the projects. I remember seeing one of Daniel’s buildings from what would have been early in his tenure with the firm, maybe even when he was still a contractor. It lacked the style of our home, but still looked aesthetically lovely.
I rearrange in the car seat as I stall for time to make sure I am setting the tone of this story.
“Mitchell followed me into the conference room at some point and began to give me a brief history lesson of the firm and some of its biggest projects. I remember he was especially proud of two that he mentioned, which were hanging in another part of the office.”
Daniel continues to listen, driving, not minding the increase in flurries on the outside and focusing on the road ahead and the story unfolding.
“I agreed to have him show them to me, but I thought we were wandering to another conference room. Instead the room we entered was his office, so we looked at the images and he started telling about one, I think it was a school, and somehow we got on the subject of kids.”
“Yeah, schools are his specialty. They’re pretty good,” and as the words left his mouth, the expression on his face gave me the impression he likely regretted saying anything nice about him.
“He asked if we were thinking about starting a family anytime soon, which I thought was rather odd since I didn’t really think he knew who I was, but I kind of let him know that we weren’t planning on having any children.”
“What did you say?”
“Gosh, I don’t remember exactly, but it was probably something along the lines that having children wasn’t possible, because the next thing I know, he offers to impregnate me.”
“He what?” Suddenly the weather outside isn’t the greatest threat to his staying between the lines.
“This is why I never mentioned it. I made some excuse that it was me, and thanks for showing me the pictures, and I need to get those drinks and get back to Mr. Waterfield’s office, and I left.”
“And you never told me this?” I cannot tell if he is angrier or disappointed that I never shared this encounter with him.
“We’d only been married a couple months, and I didn’t want to cause friction in the place that is the center of your professional life, and I bumped into Mrs. Waterfield, thankfully, and I stayed with her until you and her husband reemerged.”
“That bastard,” I’ve seen Daniel at his worst, so this was not close to that extreme, but this was more anger than I’d seen in a long time.
“I know, and I never even brought you your drink,” I try to make light of the moment.
“What did he say exactly?”