(note: this is a pet project of mine in the form of a book. If you're looking for the rest of it, the table of contents can be found here)
“Sorry, but you looked like you needed an arbiter,” he said.
“Sorry, but you looked like you needed an arbiter,” he said.
Aubrey found it amusing that Sean thought Neil had been the one with the advantage.
“He happens to be an arbiter, and all I really needed was to change the subject. Why is it I never miss sex until I see you?”
More strands of grey had appeared at Sean’s temples since she had last seen him, but the effect was to make him even more attractive.
“Because you miss Conner and you have a lot of male energy,” he said, as he kissed her on the forehead.
“Ah. In that case, I should be grateful my male energy has yet to manifest itself in stray facial hairs and an uncontrollable urge to rearrange my reproductive gear in public.” She finished the last swallow of watery scotch in her glass.
“Not to risk getting a rocks glass thrown at me, but you could scratch that itch if you would stop hiding behind your desk and start dating again.”
She chuckled in disbelief. “So who are you in this little melodrama, the pot or the kettle?”
“I don’t date. Abby wouldn’t approve,” he replied.
“Which is a much more delicate way of saying she’d choke you with your own intestines. But I was talking about the hours you keep, and I doubt she approves of those either. How are she and the girls doing?”
“All fine. She sends her love and insists that you come to the farm for the holidays. Seriously, Aubrey, or the girls are going to be forced to give the favorite aunt spot to someone with a mustache.”
Aubrey breathed out soft laughter. She hadn’t seen Elle or Katie since early summer, but even before then, they’d begun to outgrow their formerly hip aunt.
“Perfect. They’re beautiful, yet cruel. They’ll go so far in this world.”
For several hours, she and Sean enjoyed a languid evening over a bottle of floral young wine and some of the world’s best Dungeness crab. As the busy restaurant beyond the green velvet curtain finally grew quiet, the conversation stopped being about family or the interesting and amusing bits in their respective lives, and took a turn
“Aubrey, let us buy Conservator.” He said, and waited.
Sean's offer shocked her.
She leaned back against the banquette and twisted a single strand of hair into a ropey cord, a habit that she turned to when she didn't trust her first reaction. After a moment or two of contemplation, she found she didn't care about the reliability of her first reaction.
“Why? Does Hale need some boutique projects?” And if you’re thinking it could be a write-off, forget it. We’re still in the jet black.” She’d be damned if she’d let anyone think she had done damage to what Conner had built.
There had been fallout within the Hale family when Conner hadn’t taken the position reserved for him as Vice President of Operations for Hale-Wortham Shipping, Ltd. Inc. etc, etc. ad infinitum . He had declined the offer the same night he had told his father he was marrying Aubrey and intended to use a portion of his trust to purchase two trucks and forty-six thousand square feet of commercial property in the East Bay. Conner had started his own shipping company, one that specialized in the transport of fine art objects, because, ultimately, he had never been able to get anyone at HWS interested in his ideas. In their view, the complications involved in handling fine art were incompatible with a healthy balance sheet. Ultimately, art had been Conner’s real interest; not trucks or shipping crates, and he had taken Conservator from a simple transportation provider into a force within the art community, providing conservation, restoration and storage services for some of the worlds most beautiful objects.
“No, we’re going to sell it off piece by piece to pay for the office supplies. You have no idea what it costs to get a decent stapler these days.” He paused momentarily and softened the his tone.
“Aubrey, you’re never home, even when I’m calling at crazy hours.”
He stopped as if something had just occurred to him
“Have you met someone? God, you’ve met someone!” He looked stunned. She rolled her eyes.
“Relax. I would have told you. On second thought, I probably wouldn’t have told you. But no, I haven’t met anyone. I’ve just been putting in a lot of late hours and it’s easier to use the apartment at the office.”
“Apartment? A closet with running water and a cot isn't an apartment. And that is in a very questionable section of Oakland, which is saying something.“
“Coming from someone who lives on the Hill, ‘questionable’ isn’t exactly an objective value judgment. But you’ll be happy to know I found a sheriff who had red state leanings on the issue of concealed weapons. And while I’m thinking about it, if my safety is what’s keeping you up at night, I’m assuming HWS will want to buy the firehouse too? ”
It was a ten minute drive from one to the other and he knew it. She took a deep breath. He wasn’t the bad guy and if this was a misguided attempt at a truce from Conner’s family, there may not even be a bad guy, so she decided to simply reassure him.
“Sean, it’s temporary. We’ve taken on some really big conservation projects for the Asian Museum and we need them to go well. I need them to go well.”
“I love you, but no curator is going to let you within ten feet of a gift shop snow globe, much less a priceless bauble.”
“Thanks. I love you too, and those exact words are in their contract. ‘ten feet, priceless bauble.’ I’m making sure everyone stays on task and doing a lot of cheerleading. I can’t very well ask these guys to put in sixteen-hour days if I’m clocking out at four fifty-nine.
He carefully considered his next sentence, and ignored his better judgment. She was in her early thirties and he wanted her to know she had permission to let go.
“You should be creating a life for yourself with someone, not working yourself to death at Conservator.”
Her expression hardened.
“I already created a life with someone. This is it and I don’t need to be or want to be rescued from it.”
“A poor choice of words. I’m not trying to rescue you. I’m or rather we’re trying to give you a way to take care of Conservator and still enjoy some of your own life. Conner would agree, and you know it.”
He might have, but Conservator was all she had left of him, and he didn’t get a vote.
“What am I going to do, Sean? Travel? Knit? Take some classes at the community college? Oh wait, I know. I’ll volunteer to be the requisite widow on some social charity. As tempting as all that sounds, truly, I am in no way interested in changing the course of my life.”
“Okay, I’ve said what I wanted to say, but spend a few minutes considering it. If not now, later, or at least know the offer is there and will be.
She reached across the table and put both her hands on his arm.
“I appreciate your concern, and I even understand, but I’m fine. I’m even happy.”
“I hope so. I truly do, but you’ve stepped into someone else’s life choice and I don’t know that you’ve even considered making a different one, one of your own.”
“My life is hardly one of self-sacrificing nobility just because I work long hours, otherwise you’d be the Dalai Lama, and you don’t look so good in orange. Besides, all this will stop once this project goes through. Now stop trying to save me and walk me to my car before I plant the heel of my shoe in your forehead.”
“I’ll never know what Conner saw in you” he said.
She smiled at him again and said, “Texas women are like that.”