~ Letting Go ~
J. M. Dragon
e-mail: J. M. Dragon
* * *
“You ask her Stella she knows you, she might be more generous.” Tom Esparanza whispered as they wheeled the lottery trolley through the newsroom of the newspaper. Every three months the company allowed a lottery to take place and all residual profits went to the social club charity nomination.
“Give me a break Tom, we aren’t exactly bosom buddies. We served in the same Army unit over two years ago. Besides, I suspect she’ll be generous anyway. It’s your turn be a man and ask her,” Stella announced in a soft voice. She had already asked the majority of the people in the newsroom and was eager to be done with it. The task had taken up most of her lunchtime because of Tom’s dithering and she was starving.
Tom frowned. “You’re not going to change your mind are you?” He saw her shake her head and then he dug down deep into his lack of confidence and knocked on the office door.
There was no immediate answer and Stella rolled her eyes. “Here, knock harder you idiot.” With her gaze fixed on Tom her hand was about to make contact with the door when it opened and she felt her closed fist rap on a soft object rather than a wooden one. Jerking her head around, she was mortified to see an amused Reggie looking at her–her hand was resting in the hollow of her ample breasts. “Oh crap!”
With a soft chuckle, Reggie moved slightly so that the contact disengaged. “Well they’ve never been called that before but each to their own.” A teasing sparkle glittered in Reggie’s hazel eyes as she waited for Stella to speak–she didn’t.
Tom found a voice from a place deep inside as his youthful face diffused into red. He muttered, “We were wondering if you wanted to contribute to the lottery for the social club charity?” He pushed a book of tickets almost in her face and stood there waiting in anxious anticipation.
Reggie wanted to laugh, but she didn’t. Instead, her face remained clam and nonplussed. “Sure, let me find my purse.” Retreating inside the office, Reggie continued to stifle the giggle that threatened to bubble up. She found the look on both her visitors faces to be comical. Stella looked like she had been pole axed and the young red faced man was in a nervous quandary. Moments later she returned to the door where the others stood–no one had moved, “How much?”
Stella was still in shock. How she managed to embarrass herself like that was beyond her–she’d never hear the end of it. She didn't take in the conversation at all but did hear Reggie ask Tom the price. Ok, it isn’t all that bad it was an accident. Feeling the breasts of another employee at work must require firing…doesn't it- shit!
“Thanks Ms. Stockton,” Tom said with bulging eyes. “We’ll let you know Friday if you’ve won or not.” Glad that the encounter with the boss’s daughter was over he said, “Come on Stella, we don’t have any tickets left so we can have our lunch now.”
Stella picked up on the words, ‘don’t have any tickets left’ and moved her eyes from the floor to Reggie’s relaxed position at the doorjamb. “You didn’t have to buy them all.”
“I didn’t?” Reggie asked in amusement as her eyes twinkled. “Do you want them back?”
Reggie’s attitude mystified Stella. She wasn’t so sure that that she would be that composed if someone had decided to use her breasts as a door. “No, not if you want them.” She shrugged slightly and gave Reggie an apologetic gaze. “Sorry about…well you know… Thanks. Bye.” She nodded and turned to leave only to stop when Reggie spoke.
“No problem. Did you say you hadn’t had lunch yet?”
Stella blinked rapidly and then looked at Reggie and then at Tom. She knew the young man would be listening intently so he could gossip to the other guys in the press room. “We haven’t. Not yet. I don’t think we’ll have time to do more than grab a sandwich and get back to work.” Turning to her co-worker, she handed him five dollars and said, “ Tom can you get me a bacon roll? I’ll meet up with you in a few minutes.”
Reluctantly, Tom took the money before departing the newsroom. He really wanted to stay and hear what else Stella Hawke and the boss’s daughter had to say.
Reggie watched as the man walked away. “He takes orders well,” she remarked.
Once Tom left, Stella felt her body finally begin to relax after her gaff. “Yeah, well you never forget how to order people about.”
“I’m sure you don’t Sarge. Too bad, you asked your friend to buy something for you. I was going to invite you to have lunch with me.” She winked and then continued, “I’m sorry I haven’t called you about dinner. Dad’s been in a bit of a mess this week, which means I’ve had to work longer hours.” Reggie felt her heart drumming in her chest before she asked, “Would you like to go tonight, I’ve been invited to a charity dinner and I’d rather not go alone. You’d be doing me a favor?” Her heart picked up its beat to hammering while she waited for the response.
Stella’s eyes widened. “You want me to go to a charity dinner with you? Won’t that look odd?”
“Well I can ask Elaine…you remember her don’t you? She was the obnoxious one in the food line. She’s desperate to get her claws into the society column so I know she will jump at the chance, but I’d rather not go that route. Like I said, it would be a huge favor.” Reggie eyes turned serious as she stared into Stella’s blue ones.
Stella had all kinds of red flags waving when she first heard the invitation. They all disappeared as she recalled the Elaine person. “You bet,” Stella said with a bright smile. “Anything to get one over on that woman.”
Reggie’s smiled beamed. “Great. Let me call you with the details later. Are you sure I can’t offer you a canteen lunch?”
Stella glanced at her watch. “I wish I could…I’m starving. Tom will have the sandwich waiting and I need to get back to work.” Captivated by Reggie’s smile, she lingered a little longer until she said, “See you tonight.”
Reggie smiled. “It’s a date. I’ll see you later.” She didn’t move until Stella had left the newsroom. Then a bubble of joy erupted silently inside her and she felt warm all over. “Can’t wait for tonight,” she said as she closed the door and went back to work and the chicken sandwich waiting for her on the desk.
* * *
Stella glanced around the tables closest to the one where she sat at as Reggie's guest. The meal had been a sumptuous affair. It encompassed a five-course meal with all the various wines that accompanied each course. While they were waiting for the liquor coffee they ordered, Reggie took the opportunity to visit the bathroom. It was the first time Reggie left Stella alone since she picked her up at her home around seven that evening.
As she discreetly watched several people from different angles, she shook her head slightly amazed that she was actually there. The function was at the Cornelian Plaza Hotel, which was the most expensive in town. The number of dignitaries who were present was a who's who of the most influential and rich in the state. The only reason Stella recognized any of them was because Reggie broke a particularly quiet moment with a game of guess the celebrity. Reggie won easily but the game made Stella felt at ease for the first time since they had arrived at the charity event.
Musing over the evening, she marveled at how the time, which was longer than she anticipated, went faster than she expected. It was now well after eleven and she twirled the remnants of her wine around in the glass. She overheard one young man deploring the cost of the ticket and she pondered why Reggie would take her to such a prestigious event. Before she could immerse herself in any more thoughts on the subject, Reggie arrived back at the table.
“I tell you Stella, there should be a limit to the number of women allowed at these events. Or, they need to increase the facilities in the bathroom. I've been waiting for over ten minutes to get inside the door never mind to use the damned toilet.”
Stella laughed as she saw the exasperated expression in Reggie's face while she flopped down with a slight thud on the chair next to her. “Don't tell me it was three to a cubicle?” Stella arched her eyebrow suggestively and allowed a chuckle to pass her lips.
With a wide-eyed look, Reggie replied, “Why yes, that happened too.” She smiled and winked at Stella. “Not to mention the ones who hogged the basins when there was a perfectly good area to freshen up by the door. Why do they do that?” she said in exasperation. I do my business, wash my hands, dry them and flake a hand through my hair. Why can't they do the same?”
A strangled chortle escaped from Stella at the image that evoked. “ Reggie not everyone has your training.”
Rolling her eyes, Reggie looked down at the Peach Melba in front of her and smiled. “Hmm, anyway, there are compensations…this looks delicious.” She picked up her cutlery and began to eat the treat.
Stella felt her chest heave at the sudden change in conversation. It was a trait of Reggie's that she was beginning to, if not understand, expect. Several times during the evening, Reggie’s conversation would just go in a completely different direction. Normally, that would have irritated the hell out of her but with Reggie, it bordered on endearing.
When the waiter appeared with their coffee, Reggie had a mouthful of dessert, so Stella inclined her head and did the honors. “Irish there, Drambuie for me, thanks.”
Five minutes later, both were swirling their coffee as they enjoyed the wonderful nightcap. Then the music changed from soft background tones to a more boisterous tempo and suddenly the room was a whirling mass of bodies eager to exercise their sumptuous dinner away.
Reggie gazed at the couples dancing. Some were in tune with the music while others stumbled along seemingly enjoying themselves immensely. Her eyes refused to make contact with Stella as she kept her hands busy with her linen napkin. She was no dancer and doubted that the woman at her side would want to dance, at least with her. If Darien were there, Stella would probably be on her feet in an instant.
Stella moved out of her chair, stood next to the taller woman and held out her hand. “ Reggie, dance with me, please,” she said with a smile.
Gulping quickly as she collected her scattered wits, Reggie rose automatically. Then with a nervous laughed she said, “I need to warn you that I'm not much of a dancer.”
Stella tapped Reggie’s nose gently and winked. “Neither am I but my legs were becoming a fixture under that table.” She accepted the hand thrust in her direction before turning and heading toward the throng.
Within seconds of arriving on the dancing floor, they gyrated and swayed to the beat as the band belted out a familiar tune. When Cyndi Lauper’s song, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, resonated around the room, Stella and Reggie felt like they were back in the army; it had been one of their unit's favorite songs.
Half an hour later, the gentle strains of the classic Unchained Melody had the more boisterous dancers groaning at the sappy song. The couples either left the dance floor or attached themselves to their partner's like limpets as they swayed gently to the song.
Reggie felt self conscious as she turned finally to look at Stella and awkwardly shrug. “I guess they decided to dig up an oldie for the romantics.”
Stella laughed. “Sounds like it.” She saw Reggie's nervous body movements in the electric blue fitted dress that accentuated her curves–very curvy indeed. A part of Stella that she thought had died when Darien left her, reasserted itself. She responded to the sexuality of the woman’s movements, in particular the heaving of Reggie’s breasts and she felt disappointed that they weren’t dancing close. Attempting to take her thoughts from the gutter she said, “I need to go soon Reggie, sorry.”
Reggie felt the sexual tension that was building disappear like magic. Hiding her own frustration she quickly replied, “I can take you now. It looks like they'll play a few sappy songs before they let the more energetic back on the floor.”
Stella felt saddened by the quick response before she shrugged. “Yeah that sounds good.”
Half an hour later, Reggie drove the Corvette up Stella's drive. Then, as she switched off the engine, she turned to Stella and with a friendly smile. “Here you go my lady…home safe as promised.”
Stella smiled back. “Thank you.” She reached for the door handle and then turned back. “I had a great time Reggie thank you for asking me. Goodnight.”
Reggie wanted to make Stella stay for a few more minutes but she knew it was ludicrous. The woman needed her sleep. When she was in college, she worked the press shift for a couple of months, and it started early. “It was my pleasure. Goodnight Stella.”
Stella nodded and climbed easily out of the car. As she walked toward her gate, she heard the slight throaty rev of the engine and closed her eyes. Then she swung back around, ran back to the car, and tapped on the driver’s window.
Reggie was pleasantly surprised as she smiled and lowered the window. “Did you forget something?” Her heart raced as she waited for the answer.
“I was wondering if I could return the favor and invite you out for dinner. Well, more like a movie and pizza afterwards but...” Stella babbled and inwardly shook her head at her lack of confidence. They were friends not lovers, how hard could it be, to make a date that wasn’t romantic?
Reggie beamed at the suggestion. “Great. You know where I am… call me.” That phrase was almost a standing joke between them. Stella nodded and was about to turn away when Reggie continued. “I had a great time too Stella. Thank you for being my escort. Next time I have a stuffy event to attend, you might find yourself roped in again.”
There was a teasing about the words but Stella heard something more serious. Just what that was she hadn’t a clue. It was almost one o’clock and her tired brain refused to function clearly. She would figure it out in the morning. From her vantage point, she could see the soft rise of Reggie’s breasts and swallowed hard before flippantly saying, “If there's food and a venue like that you have a sure thing.” The words ‘the company too’ lingered on the tip of her tongue–that would make things too complicated.
“Yeah the food, well we'll catch up soon. Sleep well.” Reggie this time revved the engine and the horsepower pulled her down the driveway and past the sidewalk before it shot off down the street.
For a few seconds Stella watched as the vehicle left her line of sight. She sighed and walked silently to the front door and let herself into her home. She was too tired to analyze the nagging feeling she had that Reggie was upset about something. After locking the door behind her, she kicked off her shoes and headed for much needed sleep. Her feet had a buoyant step and that was something she hadn't experienced since Darien.
* * *
John Stockton paced the floor of the maternity ward and prayed again that everything would be ok. He was already annoyed and embarrassed that his own phobia about blood prevented him being beside Susan. Two false alarms and Susan's doctor, Neil Preston, decided that a caesarean section was the best option for both mother and child.
As he turned around for his hundredth lap of the waiting room floor, he heard the distinctive voice of his daughter. Her voice was coming from the nurse’s station and seconds later, he rounded the corner and called her name.
Reggie swung her gaze from the nurse to her father. “Dad, how's Susan?” she asked in relief. “I came as soon as I got your message.” She blew out the breath she had been holding since she left the office and broke every speed limit to get there.
Clasping her in a bear hug, John shook his head. “Not sure Reggie. They have decided to do a c-section.” His voice wobbled precariously. “Am I glad to see you? I didn’t want Susan to be alone and figured that maybe you can go hold her hand for me. I’d be more of a hindrance if I keeled over in the operating room.”
Reggie felt a certain amount of relief–Susan and the baby were in good hands. Deep down, she was certain that both mother and child would be ok. “Dad you only had to ask,” she said with a soft smile before it turned into a slight laugh. “I drove so fast that I’m surprised I didn’t get several speeding tickets.” When she saw her father’s expression, she chuckled. “Don't worry Dad I promise, I wasn't driving recklessly. Besides, I want to greet my new brother or sister. I'm almost as nervous as you are.”
John felt tears welling as he listened to her heart felt words. “I love you Sparky and that isn't going to change once the baby is born.”
“I love you too Dad, but it will change.”
Surprised at the comment, John pulled away to look in her eyes. “What do you mean?”
Reggie chuckled again then winked. “It means that I'm no longer the youngest and maybe now you won't be so protective,” she said flicking her eyebrows in a mocking gesture.
“ Mr. Stockton?” a man in green scrubs asked.
John walked rapidly toward the man, who he recognized as Susan’s doctor. “Hi Dr. Preston I was just asking my daughter to be there for Susan if that’s ok?”
The doctor shook his head and grinned. “Sorry Mr. Stockton, but Susan managed it all on her own. Your wife and son are both healthy.”
John grinned until the facial muscles finally gave way as he shook hands with the man in excitement before turning to his daughter. “It's a boy Reggie, it's a boy.”
With his arm around Reggie, he looked at the man and asked, “When can we see them?”
“I'll take you there now.” The man spun around and they followed with a light spring in their step.
* * *
“Frank what’s all the fuss about?” A voice asked impatiently before adding, “ Cory says we have to hold the second edition press run.”
A beaming smile generated from the man sitting in his chair with a cigar twirling between is thumb and forefinger. Then, without a word, he dragged the conical shaped object slowly under his nose as he sniffed its aroma.
This time, the person stepped completely inside the office. Stella Hawke stood shaking her head with her hands on her hips, “ Frank?”
“Take a seat young Hawke,” Frank ordered. “Sometimes in life you just have to seize the moment to savor how wonderful it can be.”
Stella heard the quiet certainty in Frank’s voice telling her that he understood what savoring a moment meant. Frowning slightly, Stella took the chair opposite the man. “Ok, I’m sitting. Why are we holding the run? Has something happened?” Usually the only reason for a delay was a breaking big story and if a big story broke, news of it ran around the press room like a rat infestation.
“You know that’s the reason I’ve promoted you to my assistant Hawke. You’re always on the ball. I told Cory that a few minutes ago.” The man furrowed his brow. “If I recall right, you were with Janine working on the typecasting of tomorrow’s publication when I spoke with him.” Frank smiled. In spite of their initial getting off on the wrong foot, he had grown to like the woman. As each day passed, her knowledge and confidence grew to such a point that he almost told his wife that they would take the long vacation she nagged him about for the last ten years.
Stella nodded. “Yes, I was,” she said as her frown threatened to crease her face permanently. “ Cory never leaves the machine until he’s set it and someone checks his work. When he came to your office I figured…”
A deep chuckle emanated from the man. “The Stockton’s are now the proud parents of a son. Reggie’s on her way with all the details and she wants to write the story and set the type herself.”
This time Stella’s frown deepened. “She wants to do what? How can she do that Frank? The delay will last for hours…we might as well call the second edition a no show.”
“Now that’s a jump to a conclusion if ever there was one. Reggie knows the ins and outs of the press room Hawke. She, present company excepted, was the brightest assistant I ever had when she worked here during her school breaks. She has a photographic memory so what she sees she remembers. It’s just like Reggie to want to do this.” Frank saw Stella’s frown and added, “She’ll be here soon.” Frank sat back and considered his cigar in depth again; he would smoke it after the press run was complete.
Amazed, Stella sat silently in the chair as she digested the new information. When they heard the unmistakable sound of the throaty roar of Reggie’s car near the loading dock, they both stood up and headed out to greet the woman.
In quiet fascination, Stella watched as Reggie, in heels that made her look like a giraffe, sped incredibly fast toward them with her face wreathed in smiles. Stella realized that people don’t really know each other–there was always something new to find out. Reggie was one person she wanted to know more about.
“ Frank thanks for holding the run. I promise not to take too long. Is Cory ready?” She was so preoccupied with her task that she glided past the man and a partially obscured Stella toward the computer that would send the information to plate.
Frank followed closely behind and then stopped and looked back before saying, “ Stella, tell Janine to leave a spot in Reggie’s column for her to do a more in-depth piece for tomorrow’s paper.”
Chagrined that Reggie had ignored her, Stella remained rooted for a few more moments before she left in search of Janine. As her pace quickened, she tried to make sense of the snub. She and Reggie weren’t an item and they’d only been out socially twice–the charity event and a movie with pizza thrown in. That was hardly enough to warrant Reggie’s acknowledgement especially at such an important time in her life. Still, it irked her and she didn’t know why.
An hour later, the first copy of the second edition was in Frank’s hands. He looked it over and then grinned. “Here you go Reggie. Take it to your dad with our congratulations.”
Reggie scanned the copy and smiled as the words hit her fully–she had a brother. “Thanks Frank. Will you please tell the team thank you for me?” She looked at her wristwatch and said, “I need to go now. Dad thought I was going for coffee so he could have the first moments alone with Susan and the baby.” She headed for the door but stopped when Frank restrained her lightly.
“Will do Reggie and bring us back a picture of the newest edition.” Frank smiled warmly as Reggie nodded and rushed out of the building.
Stella saw Reggie leave and still felt slightly miffed that her new ‘friend’ hadn’t even said hello. She walked over to Frank and took a deep breath before asking, “Everything ok?”
Frank grinned, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It is now. Come on Hawke, let’s open that champagne we’ve been holding on ice and celebrate with the team.”
“Great,” Stella said half heartedly. “Is it ok with you if I leave half an hour early?”
“Sure thing Hawke. Who knows, before you know it I might be leaving you in charge of this part of the operation when I take an extra half hour leave.” He chuckled as he bit down on the cigar again.
“You got it.” Stella smiled as her mind drifted to the fact that she felt irrationally upset at Reggie ignoring her.
* * *
Janie Brinkman checked the list on her agenda for the day. Satisfied she had everything, she knocked on the door and entered her boss' office after she heard, “Come in.”
“God am I glad to see you Janie. I've had call after call of congratulations along with various demands that I set up meetings for who knows what.” The woman, sitting behind a large wooden desk immersed in paper, looked up through her reading glasses. She blew out a breath before pushing the glasses back up her nose and then looked in exasperation for a lifeline from the woman.
“It was bound to happen Reggie…so many people know your dad and Susan. The meetings can wait for your dad to get back...except for one. The press union needs to speak with someone in authority immediately or they'll have the workers walk out,” Janie announced cautiously.
Reggie frowned. “Dad never mentioned we were having trouble with the unions…are we?”
Janie moved closer to the desk and sat at one of the two available chairs in front of it. “Well, not really. We had an issue some weeks ago but Frank said he'd taken care of it. Your father was preoccupied with the baby so he let it slide. He would have spoken to them eventually.” She said with a shake of her head. “I'm not sure we have the luxury of putting them off anymore.”
“Do you think the threat to pull the workforce is one-upmanship?” Reggie asked.
“ Daniel Epson doesn't bluff if that's what you're thinking. For a union official he's quite a reasonable man. Perhaps if we arrange an early meeting and ask him to reconsider until your dad returns from leave, he might take the extenuating circumstances into account.”
Pulling at her lower lip, Reggie contemplated various scenarios. “You'd better ask Frank to come see me right away. Tell him to use the stairs and I don't want any excuses about deadlines. We won't have one if they pull the workers.”
Janie smiled at Reggie’s authoritative tone. Good for you Reggie. Too many people wrote the young woman off as a push over. Reggie was like her dad, she chose her battles. “He'll be here before the coffee is made. Should I arrange for Daniel to meet with you at ten?” Reggie nodded. “Here's the rest of the schedule. You can take your pick of what you want to do…nothing else is this demanding.” After Reggie nodded again and the woman left the office and returned to her desk.
Ten minutes later, Frank arrived and Reggie could see he wasn't impressed with the demand for his presence. She pointed to a seat in front of the desk and said, “Take a seat Frank…we have trouble.”
The word trouble resonated around the room and Frank changed his angry stance to one of concern. “Ok Reggie, what's the problem?”
“The union is threatening to pull the workers because of something that happened a few weeks ago. You'd better tell me what I'm dealing with because their official is due at ten. I’m hoping I can stall him until my dad gets back from leave.”
Frank grimaced and puffed up his chest before he spoke. “It was that incident with Hawke, Ms. Hawke.” When he saw her frown he said, “Remember, you calmed her down and got her out of the office and asked me to keep a lid on it. I put around she was on meds like you said and that was why she wasn't laid off. Most of the guys on the floor like Stella so they bought the story and never made one comment when she was promoted above a few of them.”
Reggie waited for more. When Frank didn't immediately say anything, she asked, “So where’s the but…there has to be one if you say there wasn't any animosity.”
“I never said there wasn't any. Apparently, Cory Jefferson thought he had a chance of being my assistant. When I chose Stella over him he decided to talk to the union.”
“Right, right so we're not talking about Stella being incapacitated that day are we. It’s the promotion and jealousy is the best word to use.” Reggie's lips curled slightly as she considered the options available to her.
“I guess. I expect they'll bring it up at some stage if they think they’re losing the case.”
Reggie stood up, went over to the door and opened it. “ Janie, tell Cory Jefferson and Stella Hawke that I need to see them right away.”
She closed the door and turned back to Frank. “Thanks Frank. Go on back to the press room and I'll call you when Epson gets here. I'll need your experience to back me up.”
Puzzled, he asked, “You don't want me to be here with the other two?”
“Nope. If you aren't part of any deal I try to make that might backfire on me, you will still have credibility with the union. Don't worry Frank, we won't have a work force out I promise.”
The older man stood up and walked toward the door. “I hope you know what you're doing Reggie. This is people’s livelihood’s you're playing with.”
“I know…believe me I know.” Reggie smiled and watched him leave as the elevator door opened revealing the two protagonists.
With a bright smile, she ushered them inside her office. “ Cory, Stella I'm glad you could make it at such short notice. We have a situation...”
* * *
Stella was fuming as she walked down the stairs to the bottom floor rather than take the elevator with the traitor Jefferson. With her face matching a thundercloud, she entered the press area, preceded to Frank's office and rapped heavily on his door.
Frank bellowed come in and after she went in, she slammed the door behind her. “She's given my job to that mealy mouthed no good Jefferson! He can't even typeset without someone checking it first. Who does she think she is anyway? She shouldn't be making that kind of decision…it’s yours to make!”
By phone, Frank knew about Reggie's decision only seconds prior to Stella bursting into his office–he was expecting her. “ Reggie needed to take care of a dangerous situation that involved the running of the paper,” he said in an even tone. “Would you have done any different?”
“Yes…no…I don't know. Hell Frank, if it were anyone but Jefferson I could understand. Crap, even Tom is better! How can you let this happen?” Stella plopped into the chair nearest to her. She craved a scotch.
“Take it easy Hawke. Reggie is a making an executive decision with the facts that are available to her. Did she actually say that he had the job? Did she say anything other than you had to surrender the position?”
Stella thought about that for a few moments. “I wasn't paying attention once she demoted me.”
Frank raised his eyebrows at her belligerent attitude. “Look, it isn't that cut and dried.”
A sneer crossed Stella’s lips. “I didn't give a damn what she said afterwards! I was good and mad! She had no right to do what she did!”
“Ok, ok settle down Hawke. Just let me tell you what she wants to see happen...” The phone rang. He answered it and then replaced the receiver moments later. “We'll talk about this tomorrow Hawke…I promise you by tomorrow it will be ok.” He watched the emotion of rage on her face and prayed she wouldn’t do anything irrational. “Why don't you take the rest of the day off? I have to go…that damned union official is here and Reggie needs me to sit in on the meeting.” He stood up and walked out toward the elevator.
“ Reggie needs me,” Stella mimicked as she watched the elevator door shut behind him. “Damn you Reggie Stockton! I'm not going to be a pawn in any rich kid’s game you want to play.” She stood up and stormed out of the office. Once she collected her jacket and backpack, she left the building for the nearest bar.
* * *
Reggie settled back in her chair and grinned at Frank. “That went better than I thought it would.”
Frank laughed. “You’re a chip off the old block. You had that union official eating out of your hand. Can't wait to tell your dad this one…he'll be proud of his little girl.”
Reggie laughed, “Less of the little Frank. It would have worked out anyway. Once we brought Stella's earlier behavior to the table and cleared that up and Jefferson had the opportunity he asked for, Daniel Epson and the union had no issues.”
“Well...” Frank said with a frown.
“Well?” Reggie gave him a concentrated look.
“Hawke was mad at you big time. I'm not sure the proposal of merit tests for the promotion quite got through to her.” Frank scratched his ear.
Reggie pursed her lips. “Ok…ok we surely can clear that up. She knows that Jefferson isn't cut out or even capable of taking on the role of your assistant. It will be a walk in the park for her to get the position back. Didn’t she understand that by testing them, she doesn't…we won't, have to worry about any undercurrents from the union?”
Frank nodded. “I wish I could say she understands, but she looked really angry…so much so that I gave her the rest of the day off.”
“Oh, ok.” Reggie felt deflated. Stella was annoyed and in all probability, the anger aimed firmly in her direction.
Frank pressed her shoulder gently. “Hawke’s a smart cookie she'll figure it out. Don't worry Reggie…you did well. Now, I'd better get down there and see what mischief they are making without me.” He smiled warmly before leaving the office.
Reggie slumped in her chair pondering Frank’s words regarding Stella. She pulled out her cell and began to call Stella only to cancel. She dialed again just as Janie put her head around the door. With a heavy sigh, she closed her phone.
“You have the current affairs team in the conference room now. Should I bring coffee?”
Reggie absently replied, “Yeah, sure.” She stared at her phone before pocketing it as she dragged herself out of her chair and headed for the next meeting. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
Stella walked or stumbled, depending on whose story you chose to believe, up the drive of her house. After a few minutes of fumbling at the door, she managed to place the key in the lock and enter the house. About to close the door she thought she heard someone call her name and she glanced around the hall–no one was there. She popped her head out of the doorway. Although her glazed vision made things a bit blurry, she could make out a figure emerging from the shadows of the porch–Reggie Stockton.
“What the hell are you doing Reggie? You scared the crap out of me.”
Reggie gave Stella a tight smile and said, “I did? I hardly think so since you didn’t even notice I was here waiting for you.” She held up a hand. “Before you say it, I wasn’t hiding… I’m a little too large for that. I did call you several times,” she said as she shrugged.
Stella looked the woman over. She was tall, muscled in the right areas and in a beautiful fitted earthy toned business suit that complimented her curvaceous body. Her own body began to betray her as she wondered what it would be like to bed Reggie. Then, with as much will power as she could find, she contrarily asked, “Yeah, what are you doing here anyway?”
“Are you going to invite me in or do we have this conversation out here?” Reggie took in the inebriated woman who swayed dangerously. It was Reggie’s opinion that Stella only stood up because she held onto the doorjamb.
With a snarl, Stella growled, “I’ve nothing to say to you Reggie. You’ve said your piece for the day to me. I’m not at work now so go away and leave me alone.”
Reggie moved closer and shook her head. “You know, you’re a mean drunk Stella. Frank tells me you weren’t receptive to my plans. Ask me in for coffee and I’ll explain what happened today.”
“Of course I’m angry,” she slurred. “I’ve only been promoted for less than a month and you took it away from me! Go away Reggie,” she said as she hung onto the doorframe. “I need another drink and as you pointed out, I’m a mean drunk.” Stella turned her back and began to shut the door.
A firm hand kept the door from shutting. “I thought we were friends Stella.” Reggie said quietly.
Stella pulled the door wide open and shot Reggie a malevolent look. “If what you did today was in the sake of friendship I’m not surprised you don’t have any.”
In a low voice Reggie said, “Perhaps I was presumptuous.” Hurt by Stella’s words and the jibe about friends, Reggie decided it was pointless to try to explain. “Ok, I’ll leave you to your bottle. I’m sure it has more answers than I do. Goodnight Stella.”
Stella felt her senses and ignored her brain that told her she was making a mistake. “Good,” she said. “You and I have nothing to say to each other.”
“Apparently not.” Reggie turned and walked rapidly down the porch steps and to the street where she parked her car. After she sat inside and closed her eyes, she felt the sting of tears welling up. “Why do I keep trying?” Engaging the starter, she swiped away the errant tears and drove off into the night.
Stella watched Reggie leave as a part of her screamed for her to do something–she didn’t. Instead, she sighed heavily and went in search of more alcohol. She held a glass of whiskey poised at her lips but didn’t drink. In the wake of her conversation with Reggie, the need for alcohol abated and melancholy took its place. Something was broken and she knew that it would take a long time to fix if that were possible. In the back of her mind, two words shouted out at her–Reggie and love.
* * *
John Stockton marveled at the glowing reports from the department heads. He paid particular attention to what his personal assistant Janie said about how Reggie faired in his absence.
“I think their being kind me the daughter of the boss and all.” Reggie said to her father with a grin. She was pleased with her performance. It was hard work but she’d taken to it like a duck to water.
“Kind…no sir…those people are never kind Sparky. I’ve read the reports of the meetings along with the way you handled the union problem and I’m proud of you,” John said with a glow in his eyes.
Reggie felt her cheeks grow hot. With a self-conscious shrug, she got up and shyly smiled at her father. “I guess I’d better get back to the grind. I have a luncheon with the ladies of the town guild. Flora Andrews has been calling me for the last three months to attend and do a piece on them. I thought it was about time and I could do with the light relief Flora and the ladies provide.”
John chuckled. “Oh, how is Frank’s new assistant working out?”
Reggie didn’t answer immediately. For the last five weeks, she hadn’t set foot in the press area unless she knew Stella wasn’t there. “The woman, who had the job that caused the trouble, passed the tests with flying colors. She was reinstated on merit.”
“That went down ok with the others?” John asked as his eyes became serious.
“Apparently. Frank of course, has all the details. I haven’t had any bad vibes so I assume all is well.” Reggie snuck round the desk and planted a quick kiss on her father’s cheek. “Got to go Dad see you at the weekend.”
John pulled at his clean shaven chin. “Guess I’m going to have to ask Frank what’s going on since Reggie wasn’t very forthcoming.” He looked at the name of the woman who had made his daughter hesitate then rush off. He grinned and dialed Frank’s direct line.
* * *
Reggie picked up a few things off her desk and spun around only to cannon into Stella Hawke. The woman’s hand held onto Reggie’s waist to keep her from falling. They stood like that for a few seconds each silently watching the other for any reaction.
Breathlessly Reggie asked, “What can I do for you Ms. Hawke?”
The polite words sent a cold shiver down Stella’s neck as she felt the hairs stand on end. “I’m…look I was out of order a few weeks ago and I wanted to apologize. I’m sorry Reggie.”
“Fine you’ve apologized. Now, I’m late for an appointment so please let me go.” Her eyes traveled pointedly to the hands that were burning into her waist.
“I’m sorry,” Stella muttered as she dropped her hands. “Look, I know I said some horrible things and you didn’t deserve them. I just wanted you to know that.”
Reggie shook her head in resignation as she saw how uncomfortable Stella was. “Yes, well, it was a hard day for all of us. I’m due at a luncheon, I have to go.”
“Yeah, I should have guessed you’d be busy. I was hoping to take you to lunch to make up for my behavior…if you wanted to that is.” Stella stopped not knowing what else to say. “I’ll let you go.” She turned to leave and was outside the open door when Reggie called to her.
“ Stella, do I get a rain check on lunch?”
A beaming smile was her answer as Stella nodded.
Reggie smiled back. “Great, see you later then.”
“Sure, I’ll call you later in the week?” Stella waited for a reply.
“Let me call you. I need to check my schedule. Why don’t we share the elevator?” Reggie stepped out into the hall and shut her door as they waited in uncomfortable silence for the elevator.
Stella decided to make small talk to break the ice. “How’s the baby?”
Reggie grinned as her eyes lit up. “Wonderful! He’s got my dad’s eyes but thankfully Susan’s hair.” When they elevator doors opened they entered it was otherwise empty space.
“They must be ecstatic. What about you Reggie…how do you feel?” Stella asked quietly. “Won’t he be a usurper to your crown of taking over the newspaper one day?”
Reggie frowned. “What do you mean? Why would I care? Besides, it isn’t like that. All that matters is that everyone is happy and we all are.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t being nasty or anything I just wondered with the age difference and all that.” Stella looked forward and closed her eyes. She’d made a mess of a conversation with Reggie once again. It was becoming a habit. She really needed to break the cycle if she wanted to continue as Reggie’s friend–she did.
The door of the elevator opened to the reception area and Reggie stepped out. “Age has nothing to do with it,” she said over her shoulder. “See you Stella.” Reggie left rapidly and her long stride ate up the yards to the street. After she waved to the receptionist, she disappeared out of the revolving doors.
Stella watched until the elevator doors closed. “That went well…not!” She rolled her eyes and hoped that Reggie would call.
* * *
The doorbell sounded loudly through the house as Stella grimaced at the thought of an unwelcome caller. It was seven and she’d just managed to shower and was about to settle down and watch the news on TV to relax. “Ok, ok I’m coming.” She muttered as she walked down the hall and wrenched open the door. Her eyes bulged when she saw Reggie standing on the porch with two bags–the aroma said Chinese.
“Hi. We couldn’t have lunch so I figured why not bring takeout for dinner. I saw you leaving late and thought I’d take my chance that you hadn’t cooked anything yet.” Reggie pushed the bags forward and was relieved when she saw Stella grin.
“Even if I had cooked, this would be far better than anything I can find in a freezer. Though I'm proud to say, cooking is a skill I've acquired over the years. Come on inside,” Stella said as a flourish of her hand motioned for Reggie to enter.
Reggie looked around the small entry. It was tidy, comfortable, homey and well lived in just as a house should be. “Great place.”
Stella felt a rush of happiness at the genuine observation. “Yeah, it belonged to my grandmother. She loved the place. It was the only house she lived in once she married my grandfather.”
Reggie nodded as they headed to the small but not claustrophobic kitchen, “I know what you mean. My grandparents left me their townhouse and apartment. Dad has the house and I chose the apartment…it’s more in keeping with my lifestyle.” Reggie chuckled wryly.
“I never thought of you as the party animal,” Stella said with a wink. “It would seem that you have hidden depths Ms. Stockton.” Stella collected plates and cutlery and waved towards the lounge area.
Reggie giggled. “That’s just it, I’m not. At least I wasn’t. I have…well you know friends in town and these days I go to some late events all in the name of the job.” She sat on a well worn sofa and sank easily into its depths. “Wow this is comfortable.”
Stella laughed. “Yep my favorite.” She saw Reggie trying to get up out of the sofa with dignity and said, “No, please don’t get up I love the armchair too.”
“Thanks I was struggling,” Reggie said with a laugh. “Once it gets you inside its cushions you can’t get out or is it because I’m so big.” Amused by her predicament, Reggie shook her head.
“Once you’ve eaten all this food you’ve brought it will take a crane.” Stella held up a hand. “No offense.”
“None taken. I hope you don’t mind me turning up unexpectedly like this. I checked my schedule for the rest of the week and I’m all booked up at lunch. I’ll need that crane if I carry on eating all the food they pile on me at these society functions.” Reggie bit into a dumpling and savored the spicy taste.
“No, not at all. I’m glad you came and I mean that Reggie. I know we haven’t exactly seen eye to eye and I know it’s my fault most of the time but…”
Reggie selected a spring roll before she intervened. “Forget it. Friendship often doesn’t always get off to a great start. I figure ours will stand the test of time at the rate we’re going.” She motioned to the food. “Eat or it will get cold.”
Stella smiled and dove into the deliciously smelling food.
Three hours later Reggie reluctantly looked at the clock on the wall. It was ten-thirty. “Sorry, I need to go and I’m sure you need your sleep. I’ve worked in the press area before. What time do they have you getting there now? It used to be four-thirty when I worked there.”
Stella grinned. “Guess I caught a break because I don’t need to be there until five. I’m one of those people who can cat nap and are refreshed afterwards. I bet you’re going to tell me you need the prerequisite eight hours.”
“Lady I need ten if I have the opportunity.” Chuckling, Reggie began the task of getting out of the sofa that had her in its clutches.
“Here let me help you,” Stella said as she jumped out of her chair and took Reggie’s hand. As she did, they almost toppled over and after steadying themselves they found that there was a mere inch between them.
Two sets of eyes gazed into the other. “I had a great night Stella thanks,” Reggie said, finally breaking the magic of the silence that entwined them.
Stella didn’t move away immediately as she felt an emotion running in her veins that she buried when Darien left her. It felt good and that made her feel alive again. “I did too. Let’s have to do this again. Maybe I'll cook next time.” She moved away and thought she saw disappointment reflecting in Reggie’s gaze.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Reggie said as she followed Stella to the door. Standing in the open door, Reggie impulsively placed a kiss on Stella’s cheek, said a hurried goodbye before dashing down the porch steps. Moments later, she drove down the street toward her home.
Stella stood in the threshold with her hand to her cheek as a bemused smile filled her face. Once she could no longer see the Corvette’s taillights she closed the door and grinned.
* * *
The restaurant was full to capacity. Laughter filled the room along with chatter and a pianist trying desperately to play above the noise. Luigi’s was a favorite haunt of Stella’s and she introduced Reggie to the culinary Italian fare on their third dinner together. They’d decided that at least once a week they’d have dinner together to cement their growing friendship. Tonight it had been Stella’s choice.
“Doesn’t look like we’ll do much talking tonight…the place is verging on riotous,” Reggie commented with a sparkle of laughter in her eyes. She glanced around the place, watched the happy revelers for a few seconds, and smiled.
“Yeah, bad choice in one way,” Stella remarked quietly. She too was doing some watching of her own–Reggie was all she saw.
Switching her attention back to her friend, Reggie raised her eyebrow in question. “But in another?”
Stella felt tongued tied which seemed to be a normal occurrence of late…especially when she was with Reggie. The fact that they had been seeing each other platonically for the past three months had its own repercussions. With a smile, she glibly replied, “The food is great.”
Reggie grinned. “I know. I’m glad you put me onto this place it’s wonderful. I told Dad and Susan about it last weekend and they said they’ll give it a try when the resident babysitter,” Reggie placed a finger on her chest, “Moi, decides to stop gallivanting around long enough for them to take a night off.”
“ Reggie Stockton the party girl, whatever will it be next. If you want, and your dad doesn’t mind, I’ll babysit with you and keep you company.” Stella turned her eyes to the menu thereby giving her best impression of indifference. The only problem was she did care.
Reggie laughed as she too looked at the menu. “Ok, you have a deal. Besides, most of the time I’m out and about partying I’m with you.”
The words tripped off Reggie’s tongue easily but Stella held them like a lifeline to what she wanted to ask next. “You know I was thinking Reggie…about us.”
“Yes it’s been great the past few months and no differences of opinion. I’m impressed with you Stella.”
“Hey, it isn’t my entire fault. Sometimes you provoked me.”
Reggie looked up and exaggerated the batting her luxuriously long eyelashes. “Me, provoke you. You just have a foul temper when something doesn’t go your way Sarge.” The twinkle in Reggie’s eyes removed any sting in the comment might inflict.
Pursing her lips, Stella shook her head. She wasn’t going to win this war on words and most of what Reggie said was true. “You’re good for me Reggie. Thank you for sticking around.”
“That’s what friends do Stella. It’s my pleasure. Thank you for putting up with a party girl.” She winked and then waved for the waiter who was hovering nearby.
“Thank you for putting up with a grouchy old soldier.”
Reggie gave Stella a mock salute as the waiter stood by to take their orders.
Half way through the meal, a woman walked over to their table. “Why Reggie, I didn’t know you dined in the depths of suburbia.”
The conciliatory tone irked Reggie but she held her annoyance and smiled sweetly. “ Elaine, I didn’t realize you dined here either. Are you a regular?”
Stella placed a hand over her mouth to prevent the chuckle that bubbled up after hearing Reggie’s answer.
After a long hard look at Reggie, Elaine turned her attention to Stella. “I see you haven’t ditched your penchant for unsuitable friends. You could do so much better than butch here.”
Stella growled and wanted to take a swipe at the woman, but stopped when Reggie reached under the table and grasped her knee. The pressure was both pleasurable and painful as Reggie’s nails cut into her trousers.
“Who I chose for my friend is of no possible business of yours Elaine. Now, if you don’t mind, we’d like to finish our dinner minus indigestion. I’m sure your own friends will be missing you.” Reggie remained calm as she quietly answered the bitchy comment.
Elaine bent down to whisper something in Reggie’s ear with her large breasts almost spilling out onto Reggie’s dinner plate.
“Thanks, but no thanks Elaine. Have a nice evening.”
The woman gave them a tight smile and left to join her table.
Stella was seething. Judging by Reggie’s body language, the woman’s inaudible whisper could only have been suggestive.
“Thanks for not getting involved Stella. Elaine and I go back a long way and she occasionally thinks she still has the right to tell me what to do,” Reggie explained.
“Has she? I mean has she ever had that right?”
There was a bubble of laughter in Reggie’s tone but she couldn’t hide the seriousness of her answer. “No, not Elaine. We had a short affair once…before I joined the Army. She’s been trying to make a play for me ever since. I wish I could say I was flattered but she’s rather obnoxious.”
Stella quietly digested that piece of information and felt a stab of jealousy. She chewed the piece of fillet in her mouth so long that if the chef saw he would be incensed. When she was finished she said, “I thought there must be some history…her being so familiar with you and all. How long was short?” she asked before she realized it might not be an appropriate question. “Sorry, it’s none of my business.”
Reggie sighed silently and chewed on her lower lip. “I was working at the paper over my Christmas break from school. She came on to me at the office party. There was some talk that she and…well some of the others had a bet that she couldn’t go all the way with me. She proved them wrong. It lasted all of another night together. She was upset when I told her I’d joined the Army.” The quietly spoken explanation hung heavy in the air.
Swallowing hard, Stella asked, “She didn’t force you did she?”
Reggie shook her head. “No, no she didn't force me. I went willingly, and she’s the one that keeps coming back. Therefore, I deduce I must have been pretty good in the sack.” Reggie winked and returned her attention to her meal.
They ate the remains of their dinner discussing inconsequential subjects and unable to make eye contact.
Stella felt angry and her temper rose as she locked her gaze from time to time on the table where Elaine sat with friends. Reggie saw the discreet looks Stella was giving Elaine’s back and she felt a surge of sexual excitement go through her body. Maybe there was hope for her yet.
* * *
Seated in the car outside Stella’s house, Reggie winked then remarked, “I guess you need your beauty sleep.”
Stella smiled warmly and teased. “Yeah like it would do any good for this ugly mug. I’m on a double shift tomorrow.”
“Wow, that’s a long day…is it allowed? I hope you are getting at least time and a half. Maybe I’ll have to have my dad talk with Frank about his staff hour policy.”
Both women laughed easing some of the tension that had steadily been building between them after the Elaine scenario.
Stella turned to Reggie and their faces were within inches of each other. Tracing a finger gently along the dark circles under Reggie’s eyes she quietly said, “I’d have to speak with your dad about the hours he makes you do. In the office by eight and sometimes you don’t finish until early the next morning with those functions you attend.”
The sensual motion of Stella’s fingertips on her skin had Reggie wanting more. She could feel the tension of emotion charging inside of her. Huskily she said, “I guess we could both do with a day off.”
There was silence for a moment as both women stared deep into the depths of each other’s eyes. Then Stella smiled as she moved a fraction closer and with lips hovering next to Reggie’s full red ones she whispered, “And a night too.” She slowly placed her pliant lips on Reggie’s in a first tentative kiss.
Moments later, the kiss became more exploratory as they felt the passion between them take over as mouths opened and tongues investigated the silky inner cavities that craved research. Hands feverishly moved over clothing until they came up for air.
“I…is this what you want Stella?” Reggie finally asked as she felt her world spinning beautifully out of control.
Stella felt a rush of protectiveness come over her at the tentative words. She pulled Reggie into her arms and her kiss lingered before she breathlessly said, “I do if it’s what you want.”
“Yes, oh god yes but don’t you need sleep?” Reggie felt an idiot for effectively throwing cold water over the ardor.
Stella aghast that she was going to fast quickly loosened her hold. “I’m so sorry if I was taking it too fast Reggie. I never want to do that…I’m so so sorry.”
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Maybe next time we can be more comfortable like on your sofa, when we have several hours to spare.” Reggie’s eyes twinkled at the memory of being stuck in the old piece of furniture.
Stella chuckled as she shook her head. “Yeah great idea, though we might not be able to get out.”
Reggie giggled. “I’m counting on that.” She winked and then their lips met again and she lost all sense of reality.
“I really want to ask you in but if I do…’
“I know and we both have to work tomorrow,” Reggie said with a note of remorse. “Remember that I’m away for a couple of days with Angelique. The wedding is Saturday… you still want to go with me right?” Reggie was excited at the prospect of taking Stella to the wedding–they both had a day and night off.
“You can’t keep me away. I’m looking forward the dancing up close and personal with you. We can get into all that emotional fever and no one cares,” Stella said as she did a quick flick of her eyebrows.
Reggie laughed and laid her forehead on Stella’s forehead. “I’ll pick you up Saturday at ten. I’ll miss you.”
Stella drew in a deep breath as she felt a smile tug at her lips, “I’ll miss you too Reggie. Now, I’ll get out of here before we both ignore that we have deadlines to meet.” She stole another long draining kiss before she slid out of the car and floated toward the porch.
Reggie watched her go inside. “Wow did that really happen? I’m in heaven. Oh god now I know what it really feels like to kiss her instead of all those fantasies I’ve had over the years.” She revved the car and shot off down the street to head home.
* * *
“You think this is the real thing?” Angelique asked her close friend after Reggie related the change in her relationship with Stella.
Reggie raised a glass containing a martini and took a sip. She and Angelique shopped all day and they were enjoying a moment of rest in the hotel bar. “She’s special. She’s always been special,” Reggie softly replied as her eyes became dreamy and far away.
Angelique chuckled quietly. When her friend shot her a glare, she held up her hands. “Hey, I wasn’t laughing at you. I think it’s cute…kinda reminds me of me when I met Ralph. Does she give you goose bumps when you think about her and when she’s in the same room or within a few feet of you chills run down your back? Good ones I mean.”
Reggie stared in amazement. “Yeah, that’s exactly right. I used to find it hard to concentrate for ages when we first met then things changed.”
The sadness of Reggie’s the last words piqued Angelique’s curiosity. “Oh…you didn’t get on at first? That happens. In fact, Ralph was a rather stiff upper lip Brit when I told him I’d fallen for him. Talk about breaking through a block of concrete.”
“No, at least eventually we did. She was my sergeant in my Army platoon. I think I’ve been in love with her from the first moment I saw her bawling a few of us out for being society weaklings. She said she’d make us into good soldiers or we’d be in the brig.”
Angelique watched as Reggie’s eyes took on a far off look. “My god Reggie, how great. That’s worthy of a column or two in your column. A love story that transcends time…what a coup…you need to write it Reggie.”
Reggie laughed and cuffed her friend gently on the arm. “Silly, we weren’t an item back then. She didn’t even know I carried a torch for her. There was only one person who did.”
Angelique saw a subdued expression cross her friend’s features and placed a hand on her arm. “Who or don’t I need to ask? It was Darien wasn’t it.”
Reggie gave a pained expression and looked down into her drink.
“Shit Reggie, she’s been a pain in the ass from the first day you met her. How can you still call her your best friend? Ever since I’ve known her, she’s had a thing about making you take second place when she’s around. What did she make a play for the woman before you did. I hope this Stella gave her the brush off. Darien is such a slut.” Angelique wished she’d bitten off her tongue as she saw the hurt her remarks caused. “Oh no…I’m sorry Reggie. It’s ok right. She loves you now and maybe Darien didn’t make that much of an impression.”
Reggie remained silent for a few minutes then drank her martini in one gulp and placed the glass with a clunk on the table. “She made an impression. Right now all I can hope is that I’ve made a better one.”
Angelique motioned to the bartender to refill the glasses. Tonight was going to be interesting–Reggie hardly ever drank. “I guess we’ll find out sooner or later. Here you go Reggie, let’s do some toasting to old friends and enemies. Do you remember that idiot who used to climb over the dorm wall at midnight every Saturday? What was her name?”
Reggie burst out laughing her insecurities shelved for the time being. “Mandy, Randy Mandy we used to call her.”
* * *
Stella felt a little left out as she sat alone in the pew in the church where Angelique and her fiancé Ralph were due to be married. Reggie had apologized profusely when she called and asked Stella if she would meet her at the church. Last minute alterations of her dress meant she wouldn’t be getting there herself until just before the ceremony. She promised to make it up to her when they did get together and Stella planned to hold her to the promise. She watched as various people ventured inside and found seats. She had to admit that Angelique had some very wealthy relatives or friends for it was definitely a society wedding. The gaggle of photographers outside in the church was a testament to the importance of the family.
From her location in seat next to the aisle, Stella knew she’d see Reggie when she walked down the aisle. There was no doubt in her mind that Reggie would look stunning. She watched as everyone took seats and held her breath in anticipation of seeing Reggie walk by.
The wedding march began by booming out over the loud speakers and the wedding procession began in earnest. Stella who had her head bent listened intently for the oh’s and ah’s of people around her then she looked up and saw the procession gliding past her. The bride looked beautiful but not as beautiful as Reggie who happened at that moment to catch her eye. Stella grinned broadly and winked her approval. After the procession passed she sucked in a breath as she realized how beautiful Reggie was.
The ceremony lasted forty minutes and it was refreshing in a strange sort of way to sing the old bible songs of her childhood. As the bells pealed out and the guest threw confetti at the bride and groom, she hung back in the hope that Reggie might go with her to the reception. It had been a long shot as the photographer called for various line-ups with the bride and groom, and she realized it could be a lost cause.
The reception was at the same hotel that she and Reggie had their first date, the Cornelian Plaza Hotel. Rather than feel like a lost sheep in the crowd of people, she decided to hail a taxi and go to the hotel rather than wait for Reggie. She saw one of the other bridesmaids pulling Reggie toward the alter for another photo. Stella saw her friend’s hazel eyes brimming with happiness and laughter as she traded a remark or two with others in the lineup. Then, as if Reggie had radar, she caught Stella’s stare and halted in her steps.
If Stella thought, she was the odd one out it didn’t feel that way when Reggie gazed at her. An apology in her eyes and a plea for understanding nestled there as well. When someone pulled her away for even more photos, their eye contact was broken. Ten minutes later, she noted that the photographer hadn’t taken pictures of the bride and groom’s parents. Resigned that Reggie wouldn’t be going to the hotel with her, she settled in the back of a cab and told the driver her destination.
In the foyer, a display board in gold lettering announced the scheduled wedding reception and in which banquet hall it would take place. Stella noted the room and looked at her watch. She still had at least an hour before the reception began and headed for the bar.
Sipping a cold beer, she smiled as the image of Reggie in that flimsy peach dress invaded her mind. The picture sent a quiver to her belly and then drifted lower. Her smile grew wider as she thought of what might happen later if everything went well. Why wouldn’t it? She sat facing the hotel’s main lobby so she could see the people as they drifted in and waited for the arrival of the bride and groom. Once that happened the final formal part of the day would be the receiving line then she would have Reggie all to herself.
She watched the antics of children dress to the nines who were wandering off to explore different parts of the hotel. Their parents constantly ran after them as each child moaned about being bored. Somewhere in the mix, an infant was incessantly crying while another screamed. Stella shook her head as an indulgent smile crossed her face–children never change.
“Well, well, well now I would never have expected to see you here. Or is this your usual haunt on Saturdays?”
An unwelcome voice from the past caught Stella’s attention as she spun around and gazed at a woman dressed in a slim fitting sea green silk dress. It accentuated her curves to perfection. She had slim hips with cleavage, though slightly revealing, didn’t give away the whole story of how tantalizing they were. Stella’s throat went dry as she tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t reveal her inner turmoil.
The woman walked closer and her heady perfume enclosed Stella in a haze, “ Stella Hawke, what a surprise. Aren’t you going to say anything to me? Surely you don’t bear a grudge after all this time?”
The silky words shook Stella out of her trancelike state as she stood up and came shoulder to shoulder with the woman. She wished she had remained where she was. Up close and personal with Darien Landers had the potential of danger, as she knew only too well. That snake bit her once before and she didn’t want to go there again–or did she.
“Sorry Darien, I was surprised that’s all. How have you been?” Her voice fortunately didn’t betray her trembling emotions as she felt that subtle weave of the chemistry Darien had always created within her.
Darien moved her head back and forth for a few seconds as she took in the beautifully cut trouser suit Stella wore. The short, beautifully cut honey blonde hair framed her square face perfectly. “You look great. Things must be going well for you.”
Stella creased her brow sure that she heard an undertone of incredibility in the woman’s voice. “Yes they are. I thought you were out of the country.”
With a girlish laugh, Darien replied, “I was. A close friend was getting married and I took the opportunity to come back and give her my best. I only arrived from Europe last night and I can’t wait to surprise her. Clare is on tour in the Middle East and she wouldn’t mind if I have some fun…with old friends.”
Stella felt the wall she’d built to dull the pain the woman caused her begin to crumble as the tentative idea of a reconciliation filtered in her mind. The offhand manner that she spoke about her partner made Stella think she was in the market to move on. “Is Angelique Grant one of those old friends?”
“Why yes, don’t tell me you know Angie too, how?”
As the voluble voice washed over her, Stella remembered the good times with the woman and her body reacted as it always had with Darien–lustful. Then, the next words effectively blanked down her urges. “ Reggie Stockton is a friend of mine. I work at her dad’s newspaper.”
An enigmatic expression settled on Darien’s face as she softly said, “ Reggie Stockton, Reggie, Reggie. Hmmm…” A sly smiled crossed her lips as she hooked her arm in Stella’s and with a bright smile tugged her towards the foyer. “Well, let’s go meet the old friends shall we? I’m sure they’ll be surprised to see us.”
Stella didn’t answer as she allowed Darien to guide her away from the bar to the throng of people. The bride and groom were there but she didn’t notice, as a part of her became an unwilling captive in the spider’s web called Darien Landers.
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