The Jennifer Chronicles - Volume VIII
May 2, 2010Auld Lang Syne, Part V
December 31st. New Year's Eve. The last day of the year, the cusp of the dawn of a new year. A time for celebration, reflection, and in my case, a really hot date with a really nice guy. It was six a.m. and I wasn't celebrating or reflecting, and if Duncan didn't sew up this deal by six p.m., okay seven, no date. I began factoring my breaking point, the time I would have to call and say "I don't think I'll make it." My drop dead time: five p.m.
When I got to the office, Duncan was wearing his "I've had enough of this shit" expression. Hallelujah. Wrap this up for me too, big guy. My lips were already tingling in pre-kiss anticipation.
The sellers walked in trying to appear virile and resolute but their bloodshot eyes gave them away. I got busy calculating my odds. I could make this, couldn't I? The Countdown to Jackson was on.
10:00 a.m.: Jackson ETA: 10 hours. My blood pressure spikes as the seller revalues a product line using New Math 2.0. Leaning back in his chair, Duncan does a half turn, my cue to come forward. "Take these spreadsheets and put together a pivot table so I can see the real numbers," he says, slipping me a travel drive.
I nod, taking the drive and stealing out of the room. I also spend a moment wishing the seller a painful condition of the rectal region requiring liberal use of soothing antibiotic creams and long bath soaks. Okay, I'm a little miffed.
12:00 p.m.: Jackson ETA: 8 hours. I return with the drive as everyone is standing up to prevent atrophy. The sandwich cart comes in. I hand Duncan the drive. "It looks like he overstated by twelve percent."
He grunts, the stone age semantic for "gotcha." I am eyeing a tuna on whole wheat when my phone vibrates.
The screen says 1 NEW MESSAGE: Looking forward to 2night. 8 still ok?
I bite my lip. Do I hedge my bet? Push it to nine? I don't want him to think there is a problem. Time for a self pep talk. Get a grip Joanie. Even if you have to cancel, is it the end of the world? No. End of the world-ish? Yes. Jackson has major boyfriend potential. He is soft spoken, polite, literate. He has nice hands, strong, yet gentle, and callous-free. Good hands for holding and hugging, and I haven't experienced either for quite a while. Let's face it. The woman who has it all, career and romance, is like an elusive, mythical beast roaming the wilds of major cities; everyone talks about her but few have seen her. Well, I want to be her dammit!
I text back: Me 2! Yes. Yes!
Excellent Joanie. That definitely is the Lauren Bacall-sultry-play-it-cool-just-whistle response.
I finish texting, look up, and find Duncan staring at me. He doesn't ask me anything. And why is that? Because he doesn't give a shit. Inside I'm still holding out hope, thinking there's still time. As I go to step out, Duncan passes me. "Find some restaurant menus and keep them handy for later, just in case."
3:00 p.m.: Jackson ETA: 5 hours. I'm sitting in my chair behind Duncan. My back hurts, my feet are swollen three times their normal size and my mind is tiptoeing through the tulips. While they discuss leverage, gross margins, and earnings before income tax, I muse about Jackson's beard. I wonder if it's soft. I wonder if he uses conditioner. I heard some men do that. If we get married, we'll need two separate conditioners and then...I notice Duncan leaning back, giving me the half turn. Oh shit. He wants a fact check. A fact check of what? Shit! Shit! Shit! Gross margins. It has to be the gross margins, doesn't it? C'mon Joanie, be smart. Give it your best Bacall. Make him whistle. "Gross margins or EBIT check?" I ask, holding my breath. He thinks for a moment. "Gross margins," he says finally.
I heave an internal sigh. That was way too close. Time for a reality check. I am thirty years old and sitting at the grownups table. Okay, not AT the table, behind the table. But I am in the vicinity of the table. Do I want to screw around or do I want to be an adult? It's time to grow up. The date with Jackson is never going to happen. In the back of my mind, I knew that. At the dinner break at five, I send a text:
Sorry. Stuck at work. Won't make it. Hope to see u in the nu yr. Joan.
I send the message and turn off my phone.
The deal went through at 10:00 p.m. The seller was happy with his payment and stock options. Duncan was getting another feather in his cap or notch in his belt; whatever floated his boat. I got a monster truck sized migraine and my pantyhose had a run. That was all I got.
I was pulling my purse onto my shoulder when Duncan stopped by my office.
"Happy New Year," he said.
"It's not time yet, but thank you."
"Are you on your way to a party?"
I controlled myself and counted to five. Remember Joanie, I thought, you're a big girl now. No sulking, no childish retorts. No matter how much you want to.
"No," I finally said.
"Do you have time for a stop before going home?"
I gave a moment's pause to such an unusual request. "Okay, sure."
We settled at the bar of a small, understated, out of the way pub. They specialized in the low key New Year celebration. Duncan ordered for both of us; vodka for him, wine for me. We chatted briefly about nothing special: would he be taking a vacation, how was Sherlock, his large, lazy, boxer dog. He said little, smiled some. I spent most of the time watching him in thought. I didn't kid myself that this was social. I hadn't figured out yet what this was.
He came out of his thoughts and said "You did a good job."
"Thank you. Congratulations. What now?"
Duncan smiled. "We'll worry about that on January 2nd."
Wow, one whole day off.
"Did you have plans for tonight?" he asked.
I thought for a moment. "Yes," I said.
I couldn't tell if he meant it. Maybe he did. Suddenly I thought, "this was the lesson I was supposed to learn." I wanted to moon over a boy like a schoolgirl but I wanted to be an adult more. Be careful what you wish for. Once you get it, everything else might have to wait.
We watched the clock in the corner of the television screen, the people counting down, the ball dropping. The New Year had come. And then I got it. I knew why I was here and it had nothing to do with me. Duncan didn't want to be alone. He felt like celebrating the deal and the holiday, and he didn't feel like being by himself. And after all, I was here at his behest, wasn't I? Was I? I thought about being angry. I took a look at Duncan in his slightly rumpled suit with slightly mussed hair and his gray complexion and I just couldn't do it. Not only couldn't I muster the energy, I just couldn't be angry with him. My first official act of the New Year: becoming a schmuck. And it wasn't even a resolution.
"Happy New Year, Joan," he said.
He left some bills on the bar, we slid off our stools, and he helped me into my coat. We stepped out into the damp, chilly night air and stood by our cars. We said our goodnights, exchanging the briefest of hugs and a light kiss on the cheek, acceptable only on major holidays. Tired as I was, I did notice how strong yet gentle his embrace was, and after all those hours in the boardroom, he still smelled good.
"By the way, it was fixed costs," he said.
I stared in response.
"We had been discussing fixed costs, budget versus actual, not gross margins or earnings before income tax."
I felt the blood rush to my face. "Oh," I said, catching the slight curve at one corner of his mouth. Son of a bitch.
"Goodnight Joan. Happy New Year." He slid into his BMW, revved up the engine, and drove away.
"You too Obi-Wan, I thought as I got into my car. You too. Another year. and so much to learn. I sighed. It could wait until January 2nd.
Next week: New Year's Resolutions Revised