Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.
I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.
I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.
We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.
When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart. The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.
I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.
But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.
When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”
She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.
But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?
There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….
And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.
Keith starts a new conversation now that Glen has left the table. “So, you two have children?”
“Glen has a son. I have three kids of my own: two girls and a boy. They’re somewhere camping with their father this week. I’ve been going insane not knowing where they are or if they know yet. I can’t stop worrying about how my children will hear the news.
“I can’t even get them on the phone. We’re supposed to meet in Seattle, but since planes or trains are out of commission Glen and I are driving from California.”
Keith’s look travels from the wedding band on my hand up to my face. “I see,” he says slowly.
His wife’s next words surprise me again. “I don’t know the particulars (and I suspect I don’t need to) but clearly you and your young man love each other. That’s not a bad thing, Nicole. You’re right: the main thing right now is to reach your children and be with your family. Save the self-recriminations. The rest will sort itself out.”
I can’t speak. I want to thank her and can’t force any words out of my throat.
She’s standing beside my chair with a hand placed on my shoulder when I can bring myself to look back up. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Nicole.”
Joley and Cass watch us without blinking. They stay silent, listening intently as if they know something important is transpiring, as if it’s important that they understand.
We all watch Glen come back in the room. His eyes glitter and I can’t tell if it’s tears from missing Petey. Or being moved by the connection to these four people at the next table. Or a perfect storm of the lives and choices and events that led to Ocean Beaches and a candid conversation about the last time someone believed it could be the end of the world.
Keith smiles as Glen reaches our table. “After eighty plus years on this earth one thing I’m confident about is that answers are seldom pat. And they’re never what we first think. If only life were simple…. And if this is my last night on earth, I’ll have spent it with good people.”
We stand and everyone shakes hands, then hugs. “Don’t skip dessert. You have to try both the cheesecakes. Nectar and ambrosia, I’m telling you. That’s how this lovely evening’s conversation with you two all began,” his smile grows wider. “Life begins and ends happy when it involves food options!”
And with that grounding comment the four of them leave the dining room. Cass hands her grandfather his cane and takes his arm.
“The danger was all the candles. I’d set some on the back of the toilet and on the edge of the tub so people could see to use the facilities. And we placed an old candelabra in the living room. Lynn bent over it and just about lit her bangs on fire. After that just grownups were allowed to go near any candles or handle the lanterns or grill. Responsible adults only.” Her eyes focus far in the past.
“But it was like a party.” Keith contributes, “We were all together. The Robinsons were our best friends and our kids were all roughly the same ages and in the same grades and played together. If this was the end of the world, I was glad the kids were safe and well fed, I’d just eaten a great steak, and I was with the people I care for most. Although if I’m honest, if I remember right that steak had freezer burn. And it was cold outside; it was November. But I remember it this way, the best meal and one of the best nights of my life. Isn’t that funny?”
“Funny….” Sue’s voice trails off.
I don’t know if she considers it funny ha-ha or funny terrible. Maybe both. Cass and Jolie have finished their meals and sit. Their eyes move in their faces as they follow our conversation.
“We didn’t talk about what was happening. It’s not that it happened fast; just the opposite. It was all so gradual. Information kind of trickled out.”
Our own meals arrive, and they fall silent. The waiter leaves, Timber and I start to eat, and only then do they return to the story.
“On the drive home from work,” Keith continues, “I listened to the radio. And while no one reported it as a possible attack, I know that’s what I suspected. I was going to keep that to myself and not worry my family. But when I walked in the house I took one look at Sue’s face and knew that she was thinking the exact same thing. But all she asked was, ‘The city too?’ and before I could do anything more than nod a yes the kids burst through the door to tell me all about the lights in the whole neighborhood going out. We just kind of looked at one another over their heads and it was parents’ mental telepathy, as parents we were going to guarantee their last night on Earth was, like Lynn kept saying about the house being lit up with candles, ‘magic’. And, Jeff.” Keith takes a big swallow of water and resumes in a low pitch.
Timber leans forward to hear.
“He wanted to help. Together we filled a bunch of gallon jugs and pitchers with water. Then the sinks and the bathtub. Later when all the kids had gone to bed we sat with Jerry and Irene and had a night cap. They left and went back next door.”
“’I want to check on the kids,’ Jerry told you,” recalls Sue. “That night was the first time I thought of him as a good dad. Irene always had to haul him home once the two of you got going drinking beer or shooting the breeze out back.”
“Beer drinking doesn’t make someone a bad parent. But yeah, he liked his booze. A twenty-year old Scotch on the last night on earth isn’t a bad thing.”
Sue turns to the girls. “Cass, you referred earlier to Nine-Eleven. In 1965, the scariest thing was the not knowing. Nine-Eleven was a different story. With that one it was clear pretty quick who the enemy was. We used that information as an excuse to act out our lowest common denominators.”
Cass tenses. “Gram, you don’t really think that, do you?” It’s not a question; it’s a plea.
Timber, Sue, Keith and I exchange glances. Keith and Sue sit up a little straighter. “Never get old people rambling about the past,” Sue smiles at her granddaughter, asking forgiveness. “My story happened half a century ago, and kind of feels like more than a world away from what’s going on now. But it’s the same historic loop: humans scared this time we’ve blown it. But,” she folds the pleat in her cloth napkin, running an arthritic index finger along its seam, “maybe not. We’ll pull through. And the important thing is to be with the people you care about.”
“If you’ll excuse me.” Timber pushes his chair back and heads for the restrooms at the back of the restaurant.
Cass is eating too, but she pauses and frowns. “You mean Nine-Eleven when I was little?”
Her question reminds me of how I’d stumbled around an explanation about what happened with my daughters.
“No,” Keith shakes his head at her, “way earlier. Way before all your times. In the 1960s, there was a total black out on the East coast. No one knew what’d caused it. Information didn’t get out as fast. No computers, and no Internet.”
“It was 1965,” Sue states. “November. We were living in Connecticut. We’d just moved into this little ranch house, kind of a fifties bungalow, not quite a row house. A starter home, they called them. I loved our little house!” She beams with pleasure and places a hand on Keith’s for a second.
He smiles as he enjoys his sole.
“It had three bedrooms so the kids each got to have their own room, and a long back yard. Keith hung a hammock out there and we had a picnic table and a grill.”
Both eat as they reminisce. “The kids were little. They were outdoors with friends, playing.”
“Lynn and Jeffrey were, what, six and ten years old? Something like that.”
Sue nods. “I went to start dinner and the lights in the kitchen were out. The refrigerator light, too. I figured a power outage. Then our neighbor Irene Robinson knocked on the door; they had the same problem. So the two of us stood on the stoop trying to understand what had happened. It was getting dark and I was about to call the kids in when Irene said, ‘Shouldn’t the street lights be on by now?’ She was right; the streets were dark in any direction as far as I could look. Everything was.
“We realized it must be a blackout. I called the kids in to get ready for dinner. I figured I’d have Keith fire up the grill.”
Keith speaks up. “Lynn and Jeffrey would’ve eaten grilled hamburgers and hotdogs every night if they could.”
“And corn on the cob,” Sue adds.
I’m already nodding in agreement with both statements. My three kids are wild about meals outdoors on the picnic table. Louie prefers a good pork sausage to a hotdog, but he’ll eat a burger any chance he gets.
“My Petey, too,” Timber chimes in. He presses his foot against mine under the table and gives me a special smile. My stomach flutters and I smile back, our conversation in the car forgiven.
“Us too!” Jolie and Cass contribute.
Three generations represented by four adults and two almost adults in a fancy seafood restaurant agree: all children love summer meals.
“So there we were,” Sue resumes. “My freezer thawing as I stood and watched. Keith and I had a confab and decided we’d do a smorgasbord. Cook everything. To throw out perfectly good food isn’t just wasteful. It would have been sinful. Back then, people were frugal.”
“Of course, in the ‘sixties people worried more about food going bad. Stuff didn’t have shelf lives like they do today! Except Twinkies,” Keith adds.
His wife doesn’t miss a beat. “Hey. Don’t knock my emergency go-to snack in those days. Moms need one thing that never gets stale! So Keith starts the grill. I seem to remember there was a full moon that night…. I made an inventory of what we had to cook. About the same time Irene was back at the door. The Robinsons had the same idea. How about we combine meals? I’d been saving two T-bone steaks for special. God knows when I thought that evening was going to arrive. Anyway, the adults split them while the six kids ate burgers and hot dogs. Irene had giant turkey drum sticks and we rigged an aluminum packet with those and a can of tomatoes. Remember, Keith?”
“Yeah. It was messy.” His eyes are soft as he recalls a meal eaten more than half a century past.
Both old folks are silent for a minute as they relive the evening.
Timber and I are silent too. I relax into their memory.
Cass seems fascinated too. “You never told this story before, Gram. Neither has Mom. Did she understand there’d been a blackout?”
“I never explained. We never talked about it, not that night and not after.” Sue stares down at her meal and I’m shocked at how haggard her face grows. “That night I thought, This is it. The world’s coming to an end. Russia had invaded. Or Martians; didn’t matter which. When electricity on the eastern seaboard went out, it had to be a foreign attack. And if my government hadn’t been able to prevent that, I’d better get ready for the end. I was grateful to be with my family.” She’s somber, softer. “I knew I’d shield my children as long as possible. I told them the TV and radio weren’t working, and how about we treat it like an early Night before Christmas? It seemed that quiet to me, the full moon outside, the glow of coals in the grill out where Keith and the six kids were making s’mores.” Sadly, Sue adds, “Our son died in a car accident a few years later. That was still ahead of us.”
We order clam chowders, avocado halves filled with shrimp, sole with crab meat, and scallops sautéed with leeks and tomatoes. Another glass of white wine for me, a third local beer for Timber. Alcohol seems to have little effect no matter how much we drink. And I was never a drinker before.
Before. Back in the days when I was a faithful wife and knew where my kids were at all times. Back when the world was one I could recognize.
“Cheers.” My smile wobbles as we toast one another.
We’re diverted by laughter from the next table. An old woman leans over and kisses her husband’s cheek. She gives us a sunny smile. “I couldn’t help overhearing you order. You picked all our favorite dishes.”
“Oh, Grammy.” The tawny-haired young female who says this and rolls her eyes is improbably beautiful. She has the flawless skin and glossy sheen of someone with her whole life ahead of her. She’s nineteen, twenty maybe, tops, just a few years older than Theresa. She sits across the table from her grandparents next to a friend, who nudges her with a grin.
The young women slurp drinks in globe glasses through straws as they stare at us. I watch, amused beyond words, as they check us out. I can almost hear the category click into place: Our parents’ age group, probably parents themselves. The guy she’s with is cute though – for an old guy.
I’m grateful for the youth at the next table. That’s the thing with a catastrophe: you want your children to carry on, no matter what happens to you. I have a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album, with a song called ‘Teach Your Children’. Its tender lyrics about how you on the road should teach your children well are suddenly, acutely visionary.
“…Keith James; this is my wife Sue. And this is Cass and her friend Joley. Cass always stays with us in August.”
I come back to the present as the strangers introduce themselves. “Joley and I are starting nursing school and Gram told us, if we want to specialize in geriatrics start with them. Grandpa got his other hip replaced so it’s good we’re here. But I’d come anyways. I love summer in Ocean Beaches.” Their granddaughter in the summer print dress and sandals speaks politely, but she and her friend keep staring.
“I’m Glen, and this is Nicole. Nice to meet you.” Timber’s eager to talk, seeking an antidote to the grim calculations we just heard in the bar. “We had the best afternoon!” he offers. “We went to the beach.”
The two girls burst into laughter and for some reason it sounds familiar. For the first time the granddaughter’s friend speaks. “We were like, jogging, and saw someone who was like, almost bare, fighting a dog for her clothes. And, you,” she turns and looks at Timber and her eyes go glassy in admiration. “You did this amazing series of back flips and took off most of your clothes too! When we saw you come in the restaurant I knew that for sure it had to be you!”
With relish Timber and the girls tell Keith and Sue about the incident. I’m too embarrassed to do anything except nod. At the end of the telling everyone laughs and I join in.
Timber gives the two young women a smile that makes their cheeks flush like a blush wine.
Cass’s grandfather offers, “We’re on a budget, but we go out to dinner once a week no matter what. Thursdays, you’ll find us right here. It’s not just, um, old people’s force of habit. Or maybe it is…”
“Are you from here?”
“We moved here decades ago. We love the coast,” Sue answers. “Our daughter talked us into it. Lynn (Cass’s mom), and her family live in Corvallis. We’re glad to have Cass and Joley with us.”
Keith says, “Lynn’s anxious, but we’re fine. We keep telling her, Ocean Beaches just might be the safest place in the country right now. And if not, then not. Life goes on, and Thursday means dinner at The Sea Shore.”
“How can you be so calm with the world exploding?” It blurts out before I can prevent it. I go red, embarrassed and sorry to have ruined the relaxed conversation. I can’t seem to stop asking my desperate question of everyone we meet today.
I’m saved by the arrival of a waiter. He sets down two plates each of sole and scallops and in spite of myself I laugh.
“Okay, so it is force of habit.…” Keith picks up his silverware and prepares to dig in.
“Truth in advertising!” I tease.
“The scallops? They’re the best,” Joley declares. She widens her eyes and gulps more of her drink.
“By the way,” Keith says. “Your question? This isn’t the first time we were afraid maybe the world was ending.”
Marty Fuller worked his way around the table over to where I stood. He had on a cashmere sweater over gray slacks that exactly matched his graying hair. “Nicole! You made it!” He grasped my hand in an unfeigned welcome. Marty turned to my husband. “Like I asked last week: when are you coming back to us in Management?”
“Never!” Rich answered. “Life’s beyond the desk. It’s good to get out and see what the competition is up to!”
Marty took my glass before I could protest. “Let me top off that drink.” He replenished his too, and handed mine back with a smile.
“Nicole!” someone exclaimed, and I turned to say hello to Rich’s colleagues. Voices murmured. Should I measure the drinks by the alcohol content or the number of glasses? The room was too warm.
Marty was back. It dawned on me that my husband’s boss was flirting. The concept of Marty making a pass at me was absurd…so absurd I smiled back.
I looked through the open door of the conference room and the twinkling lights on the lobby’s Christmas tree glowed. Miranda stood by the window talking with a man. He turned, and it was Rich. My husband bent his head as he listened to what she was so earnestly saying.
Marty repeated my name.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said, it’s nice to see you again. Rich tells me the shelter keeps you busy and that’s why you don’t come to many office functions. Do you have a lot of women staying there?”
“Women?” I was baffled. “Oh! I get it, you’re thinking of a women’s shelter!” I began to laugh and couldn’t stop. “Yeah, women and children and house pets. All those helpless creatures. No, no, no.” My head felt thick all of a sudden.
Marty observed me with concern.
“I run an an-nim-mal shelter,” I enunciated.
“Oh Christ! I knew that,” Marty said. “I feel like an idiot.”
I touched his hand with mine. “It’s okay.”
“You just don’t look like someone who works with strays,” and his direct look swam through my fuzzy vision to embrace my outfit. His fingers squeezed.
“Well,” I remarked inanely, and braced my free palm against the conference table.
He put an arm around me. “Dizzy?”
“Don’t tell me, that drink was a triple.” In the other room Rich shook his head again at Miranda. She put out a hand and he gripped her wrist, stopping her movement. Miranda’s arm dropped to her side and Rich turned. He crossed the lobby and came back in the conference room to where I leaned against mahogany.
Marty’s hold tightened as Rich came closer. My husband’s boss gave me a hug. “You’re a lucky bastard, Rich.” Reluctantly Marty removed the arm. “I think that last drink I made Nicole was a little strong.”
“You know holiday parties,” Rich agreed. “Everyone likes them strong.”
“I just need to get something in my stomach.” I turned to look for silverware. I got a plate of food and sat down; I couldn’t eat fast enough. When my plate was empty I rejoined them.
“Feeling better?” Rich asked.
“Ready for another?” Marty asked, before Rich could do the chivalrous honors. He mixed me a fresh gin and tonic. I took the proffered drink. “A toast to the coming year!” Marty proposed.
“Here here!” we all approved, and lifted our drinks. A young woman hung a bunch of bright berries with silvery green leaves over the doorway. “Time for mistletoe!”
I shook my head back and forth, trying to focus. Suddenly, I was furious. “Rich.” I pulled him over to a corner. I stared over the rim of my drink. “Would you say that you’re really a glorified ambulance chaser?”
“What? God no, of course not! Everyone needs insurance.”
I grasped his arm. “What’s your insurance?”
Rich looked at me sharply and decided I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. He drained his drink. “You and the kids, Nick. The four of you are all that stand between me and the void. You don’t get that? That’s what it is for any man with a family. I’ve told you a hundred times: the job’s a game. A game,” he quietly repeated. “I do it for what isn’t a game: you.”
My husband was oddly out of character and I didn’t like how serious he was. “Let me read the fine print.” I wiggled my eyebrows at him.
“Nick, let’s get out of here. We still have to get the kids and go to your folks’.”
“Oh come on.” I patted his solid butt. “Show me your holiday policy’s bottom line,” I giggled.
Rich rolled his eyes as he hugged me. “I love you when you try to drink. You’ll regret this later, but not before I take advantage of you! By the way, I think Marty hopes you’ll grant him sexual favors.”
“It would be a big favor!”
Rich laughed at my indignation and hugged me closer. “Did I ever tell you the one about how the woman boss chose which applicant to hire?”
As we headed laughing out the door I caught a glimpse of Miranda’s face. It wore a look of desperate tenderness. She saw me watching and held my eyes. Miranda stared at us (at Rich) and raised her hands to her temples, massaging them. Her gaze dropped as she went red. I wondered, looking at her expression, if she had a migraine.
It was quiet at the animal shelter and I left early. I showed up for my husband’s insurance company’s party after all. A garland hung over the front partition. Lights reflected off strands of silver and gold glitter a secretary had hung around a Christmas tree in careful rows. Somewhere on the floor people were singing an off-color version of Deck the Halls.
I checked Rich’s office, but it was locked. When I got back to the front Miranda, the department coordinator, was at her desk. She bent over, tugging at the stockings she wore under a plaid winter jumper.
“You’re here!” Miranda exclaimed. She recovered quickly. “Hi, Nicole. Rich wasn’t sure if you were coming.” Something in the words was stiff, but Miranda and I had never hit it off.
“Is he around?”
“Everyone just headed for the conference room.”
“Thanks, Miranda.” I walked away before she could pretend to engage me in friendly conversation.
The conference room was filled with staff and their significant others, helping themselves to catered food. Rich and the sales reps stood together. Each was twenty pounds overweight and hungry for a deal. All carried cell phones. They formed a modern day, electronic posse at the OK Corral.
Rich waved his arms for the group to quiet down, his face flushed. “Someone told me a new one yesterday.”
I’d been about to make my presence known, but my husband tells a great joke. “One fine weekend in August Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson went camping,” Rich began. “They found a remote spot in a clearing in the woods. The two set up their tent and fell asleep. Some hours later, Holmes woke his faithful friend.
“‘Watson,’ Sherlock Holmes spoke urgently. ‘Look up at the sky and describe what you see.’
“Watson obediently stared up into the skies. ‘I see millions of stars.’
“‘What do they tell you?’ Holmes asked.
“As usual, his companion was setting a puzzle to be solved. Watson pondered. ‘Their light tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets beyond what I can count. According to the constellations, Jupiter is in Leo. The warm air and the trees’ full foliage indicate late summer. From where the moon is over there on the horizon, time-wise it appears to be a quarter to three. I can see the Milky Way. It follows that tomorrow will be a beautiful day without clouds or rain.We’re in the middle of the wilderness, so it’s evident we are small and insignificant, but safe in the Lord’s hands. What do the stars tell you, Holmes?’
“The great detective was silent for a moment. ‘Watson, you fool, someone’s stolen our tent.'”
The conference room burst into laughter.
“That one’s for my wife Nick, who thinks I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a camp site,” Rich began, and I stepped forward. “Hey! Speak of the devil and she arrives! When did you get here?” My husband put an arm around me and gave me a kiss. It was more than just a display of good will for his colleagues; Rich was genuinely happy to see me. “Look at you!” he exclaimed.
I wore a brocade jacket over a white blouse and narrow black skirt. “I changed before I left the shelter.”
“Babe, you look great. I always tell you, you should dress in skirts more often.”
I opened my mouth to retort that I do wear them, as often as time and place allow. He flushed more deeply.
I walked to the window. Slow traffic crawled along the streets outside the office. Gray snow sprayed from under tires, sludge like my attempt at holiday enthusiasm. We’d had a short thaw, but then the softened snow turned to dangerous black ice.
“While I’m at it, can I get anyone another?” Rich asked the room. How many drinks had Rich had? Later that evening we planned to head to my parents’ house for a family get-together. His hand touched my elbow. “Babe,” he began.
I gave him a wide smile, pretending I didn’t see his guilty expression. “How ‘bout a drink for the spousal unit?”
Rich’s face smoothed out as he realized I was passing on righteous indignation. “I was going to ask if you wanted a gin and tonic,” he lied. “Here – take mine.”
“If you can’t beat’em, join’em!” I brought the glass to my lips. I swallowed and almost choked. It was a double, no, it tasted like a triple. I finished off the drink and followed Rich over to the conference table. He mixed new drinks as he kept up a line of patter.