“I’d like to be murdered by a jealous wife.”
Perry Como on the phonograph filtered into the dining room, but the other women seated at the table with Addie were smacked with a sudden dead quiet. Madge Wilson, slouching on the other side of the table, slowly picked up her cocktail, and the little white napkin peeled off the bottom of the old-fashioned glass and floated down to the table surface. Addie glanced to her other two friends, Gloria Foreman on her left and Fern Davidson on her right. They were erect and wide-eyed, clearly soberer than Madge. Addie calmly laid her cards face down on the table. “Well,” Addie explained her answer to tonight’s “if you had your choice” question,” it certainly sounds more exciting than keeling over from a heart attack. Is that really what you want for your last seconds on earth, Fern? A heart attack? I’d prefer to go with a little . . . ” Addie swirled her wrist, “pizzazz.”
“Yes,” Gloria said, drawing a card, “but what you’re implying is that you’d be caught up in an affair . . . adultery. I don’t understand why you’d consider that when you’re only twenty eight and still single. Now if you were middle aged like the rest of us—”
“It would still be immoral,” Fern interjected, glaring across the table.
“Regardless”—Gloria continued—“is that something you’ve been pondering? Would you really do that, Ad? I mean—”
“She said it, she meant it,” Madge slurred. “I wish I’d thought of it. Wish I had the guts.”
“I’m not saying I have the guts,” Addie said, “just that I don’t want my final moments to be dull.”
“That certainly wouldn’t be dull,” Fern said, “but think of your reputation.”
Madge swirled her glass, and a few drops of diluted whiskey landed on the draw pile. Fern wiped the top card dry with her finger.
“Who cares about your reputation when you’re dead,” Madge said. “That’s Addie’s whole point.”
“Not really,” Addie stated. “Let’s just—”
“I think affairs were more acceptable in the 1920s,” Gloria said, tossing an ace of heart into the discard pile. “But now, in the ’50s . . . well, they’re just not very fashionable.”
“They happen,” Madge said, “and they’re not like hem lengths. But if Addie wants to try one on—”
“Of course she doesn’t,” Fern stated.
“Can we please finish this round,” Addie said. “It’s your turn, Madge.”
“No, it’s not!” Gloria snapped. “It’s my turn.”
“You just drew and discarded an ace, dear,” Fern said calmly.
“I mean to answer the question. It’s my turn.”
All eyes were upon Gloria, and her full cheeks reddened slightly. A few seconds passed in silence, and Addie imagined Gloria was thinking so hard her blue, silk, Christian Dior hat was about to pop straight off her head.
“Well?” Madge hinted.
“Oh . . . well I can’t top Addie’s answer, so why bother.”
Madge smiled and retrieved the ace. Gloria, in defeat, slapped her playing hand down. Fern brushed a cracker crumb off her French provincial dining table. And Addie mentally left the game for a moment. An affair . . . She knew it was wrong, but did she have the guts? Could it get her killed? She wasn’t even thirty and was way too young to die. But the enticement of it all sounded glamorous at the moment; a handsome and flirtatious man, a naïve yet willing woman, and a homicidally jealous wife.
* * *
Addie primped in the fifty-year-old Victorian mirror. Her store was devoid of customers at the moment, so she took her time, reshaping a few blonde curls with her fingers, tilting her hat, shifting the seams of the green taffeta dress, and flicking a speck of lint from her matching, velvety heels.
“I thought you were just meeting with your lawyer to discuss business?” she heard from somewhere behind her.
“I am,” Addie said loudly, running her fingers over the hand-carved walnut frame around the mirror. The relic no longer matched the updated, Moderne décor of her shop, but she couldn’t bear to replace it. It was the first fixture Great-Aunt Mae, the store’s founder, owned outright, and it made a beautiful, sentimental statement. “But—you know—,” she admitted to Louise, “David is rather attractive, and we don’t just discuss business.”
“I heard he’s seeing someone.” Louise, Addie’s only employee, appeared in the reflection of the mirror. “Didn’t you tell a customer yesterday that the dress you’re wearing was better suited for evening cocktails than weekday lunches?”
She had. Addie turned around and pulled a complementary stole off the back of the blond, wooden chair next to the mirror. She wrapped it around her shoulders, and the white fox fur sensually tickled her neck.
“Now it screams evening engagement,” Louise insisted. “You know better.”
“What I know,” Addie said, picking up her clutch purse and portfolio from off the chair, “is that this dress will sell quickly, long before I have a chance to wear it for an evening engagement.”
“Young, pretty, good head for business . . . ”
Louise straightened up a rack of house dresses, and Addie noticed in the mirror’s reflection that her assistant was shaking her head.
“I don’t understand why you don’t have evening engagements every night.”
Addie headed toward the door. “I thought your theory was that I don’t have a man because I lack the essential domestic skills.” Addie honestly thought her aptitude for homemaking was adequate, but she didn’t want Louise to know she spent many of her evenings at the store, pouring over the accounting ledgers, buyer’s catalogs, and competitor’s ads. She tried on a lot of the merchandise, inspecting the quality and comfort of different designers and designs. And some nights she sat alone in the dark in the blond chair next to Mae’s mirror, looking across the store, through the large front glass window to The Marquis restaurant on the other side of the street. From early evening until late into the night, couples went in and out of those heavy, wood double doors. But Addie only went in and out of The Marquis between eleven a.m. and three p.m. Today’s meeting at Gian-Tony’s Ristorante was a rare lunch exception. “Should be back in an hour or two,” Addie said over her shoulder, walking through the front door.
Once on the sidewalk, the sharp, January chill convinced her to slip on her gloves. The bright sun had been deceptive, and it had not warmed up as much as she had hoped since she was out at seven a.m. She popped open her metal-framed purse.
Addie glanced up from the inside of her bag toward a man she was positive she’d never seen before. The hair below the rim of his felt hat appeared as a warm-brown color, and under his sensible, long, wool coat she guessed his frame was lean. But the two things about him that struck her the most were the way he looked at her and his large, shiny, metal case.
“Can I help you?” she asked, hoping she could.
He pulled a business card out of his pocket. “I hope so. I have a twelve-fifteen appointment with Edgar Rothschild of—”
“Rothschild, Newton & Willoby,” Addie interrupted. “And you’re wondering why the address you have is for an abandoned storefront.”
“I knew I was asking the right person,” he said. He glanced to Addie’s shop. “Were you doing some modeling here this morning?”
Her cheeks flushed. Was he serious? “You were inquiring about Mr. Rothschild . . . ”
“Oh, yes. I’m assuming his firm relocated.”
“About a month ago.”
“Not only do I know where to,” she said, “but I’m on my way there now to meet Mr. Newton. It’s just up the street.” She started to walk in that direction, and he remained by her side. “I couldn’t even give you the address, I just know the building. It’s been one of my favorite buildings since I was a child.”
“So you grew up here?”
She saw calendar pages flipping furiously in her head, the years coming and going in both directions. She’d never lived anywhere else and probably never would. “Yes . . . ” She glanced at his case. “Are you a salesman?”
They stopped at the corner of Jefferson and Third for the street light. He scrunched his face and seemed to glance inside every automobile that went through the intersection. Then he gazed up to the clear, blue sky without a smile.
“I’m sorry,” Addie said as they entered the clear crosswalk. “I thought that would be a yes or no question.”
“I don’t have a yes or no answer,” he said and then seemed to relax, “but maybe you do.” He stopped once they were on the sidewalk and extended his hand to her. “Gene Maxwell”.
He reached inside his coat and produced a slender, silver object. He offered it to her, and she couldn’t resist taking it. “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”
“Is it a pen?”
“Well, I suppose you could call it that. I call it Silver Ink.”
She rolled the pen in her white glove. “So . . . does it write in silver?” Addie twisted her left wrist to get a peek at her watch. She started walking again.
“I’m glad you asked that. You can write in your choice of blue or black ink, and the ink cartridges are of the highest quality. But to me,” he plucked the pen from her hand and moved it around in the air as if it were a symphony conductor’s baton, “the weight and feel of the instrument generate such confidence in the user. It feels as if the silver of the pen is melting and pouring upon the page. Instead of writing a letter or signing a document, you’re creating a piece of art.”
They were half a block from the new location of Rothschild, Newton & Willoby. Addie glanced at the pen, and then up toward the optimistic face of Mr. Maxwell. “I’ve known Mr. Rothschild since I was a kid,” she said sincerely. “He couldn’t care less about art. He’s only interested in profits and his professional reputation. He’ll be looking for a quality pen that’s economical, and he’ll want his signature to say smart and successful.”
“That makes sense,” he replied. “You know, I disregarded the last half of the twenty-page booklet of sales pitches that came with the case of pens. They weren’t my words and didn’t feel natural to me. But maybe . . . ”
Addie stopped sharp. “What you said was fine, Mr. Maxwell. But it’s not what Mr. Rothschild will want to hear.” She gestured toward the revolving glass door just a few feet from them. “The attorney’s office is on the second floor, but I’m meeting Mr. Newton in the lobby of the bank on the first floor.”
He smiled at her, and warmth radiated from his eyes. “I deeply appreciate all that you’ve done for me. It was nice meeting you, Miss—well, I assume it’s Miss—Blonde.”
He extended his hand again, and this time they didn’t shake but rather gripped tightly for a moment. “It is Miss,” she confirmed, “and . . . ” How could she say what she was feeling in only a sentence or two? They were both a few minutes late as it was. “Just so you know, unlike Mr. Rothschild, I’m very interested in art. I want to know more about your pen, and I’ll be back at the clothing store later this afternoon.”
He gestured toward the revolving door. Addie pushed through, and when she looked back at him through his glass confines, he was smiling. “Will you be modeling something else this afternoon?” he asked once they were both inside, and instantly, his cheeks turned red. “I mean . . . ”
Addie laughed and then noticed David Newton walking toward her. “Definitely. I’ll be wearing something quite different this afternoon.”
After she introduced the two men, Mr. Maxwell removed his gloves and the two men shook hands. For Addie, it was a moment of fuzzy revelation and high anxiety.
“Thanks again for your help, Miss Blonde,” he said as he hurried toward the staircase. “I plan to see you later in the day.”
“Uhh . . . I’ll be at the store—Blondie’s.” Where else would she be? She hooked her hand in David’s arm, more as a polite gesture than with any romantic intentions. But his attractiveness seemed diminished. And she was less excited to discuss with him Mae’s trust, the store’s contracts with Adeline Designers, and a possible personal real estate contract for a little house on Meadow Lane. At the moment, she was much more intrigued by Silver Ink and a possible small, circular, silver band.
* * *
She arrived back at the shop around two forty-five, having satisfactorily moved forward on her legal business with David Newton, but without confirmation of his personal relationship status. Perhaps she’d been too distracted to coerce or trick the information out of him, and it somehow seemed less important than it normally did. Unfortunately, this monthly update had proved to be an important gossip point for Louise, and Addie realized her employee would be disappointed.
The store was crowded when Addie walked through the door, and Louise had called in her recently married and very bored sister, Velma Parsons, to help out. While unsuccessfully assisting a young woman with several wool suits, Addie discovered her friend Madge was browsing in the hat and glove section. Madge was positioning a bone-colored, Manning hat into her curls when Addie walked up behind her. “The blue band of that particular hat matches your eyes,” Addie said, standing back in admiration.
“Actually, it’s a little more turquoise than my eyes.” Madge removed the creation and placed it back on its chrome and cream velvet stand. She turned around and her eyes appeared amazingly clear considering her condition last night. “I know why you made that comment last night,” she stated confidently.
Addie tweaked the placement of the Manning and adjusted a few pair of evening gloves. “Which comment specifically?”
“Oh really, Addie . . . your answer to how you’d prefer to die. I figured out why you want to have an affair.”
Addie turned around and walked toward undergarments. “I never said I wanted to have an affair.” On the far side of the brazier’s rack she found a teenaged girl and her mother. “Can I assist you?”
“Mrs. Parsons went to get a tape measure for us,” the mother explained.
“Oh, I’m glad.” Addie said sincerely. She walked away, and of course, Madge was just a step behind her. Addie spoke over her shoulder: “I can’t believe you remember that conversation, considering—”
“Just because I was sloshed doesn’t mean I didn’t retain important and interesting statements. Besides, I wrote it down on the next page of the score tablet.”
“So that’s why you always insist on keeping score when we play Gin Rummy.”
“I do everything for a reason,” Madge insisted, stepping beside Addie and grabbing her arm.
“Why do you get drunk every time—?”
“I have a reason,” Madge whispered. “And you’re changing the subject. I think you want to have an affair so you never have to give up the store. That way you can have a man—be in love, whatever—and never worry about children. The clothing shop will always be your baby, never replaced with the flesh and blood kind of child.”
Addie forced herself to breathe. “I can’t believe you said that.”
“It’s true,” Madge said with a layer of smugness piled on top of her confidence. “You won’t be stuck at home as a poor, bored housewife if you never become a wife. Look at Velma, measuring the breasts of that girl for her first bra. You know every day she’s waiting by the phone for Louise to call her to come in here to help out. You love this store, Addie. An affair would give you everything you want, and nothing that you don’t want.”
The woman was completely serious. “That’s ridiculous!” Addie snapped. “I only made that remark in the spirit of the conversation.”
Madge smiled, and Addie knew her favorite friend could see right through her self-doubt. “I’ve enjoyed this conversation,” Madge said, walking back to the hat and glove section. “And as always, I enjoyed our game of cards last night, and that includes my five Rob Roys.” Addie followed her until Madge picked up a teal hat off the counter that perfectly matched the gloves she was wearing. She positioned it on her head, and the color was a perfect complement to her unnaturally colored red hair. “But at the moment, I hate to admit, I am not enjoying your hat selection.” Madge winked and confidently strolled to the door.
Louise clocked out at five o’clock on the dot, as usual. Addie locked the door behind her and put the closed sign on the easel in the window. She headed toward her office but heard tapping. She didn’t turn around but listened until she faintly heard “Miss Blonde . . . ” The voice was fuzzy but recognizable so she turned quickly and smiled.
“We’re closed,” she teased.
“I’m sorry,” Gene Maxwell said through the glass. “I got tied up—you won’t believe my afternoon. But I still want to sell you a pen.”
She considered her security and knew she didn’t have to open the door. She was legitimately closed and very safe behind the heavy tiger oak door and the thick glass windows. But his expression through the window that was now becoming fogged . . . his eyes were so honest yet insistent. Perhaps she misread his conduct earlier. Maybe his mild flirtatiousness was simply his salesman mannerism, and the possibility that he was married was merely veiled under his left glove but not purposely concealed as an inappropriate intention.
“I’ll offer you a discount,” he said. “Without you, I might have missed out on all my sales this afternoon.” She walked closer to the window and determined his hands were gloved again. Was it possible she didn’t see what she thought she saw in the bank? She was genuinely interested in the beautiful pen. Addie walked up to the glass.
“How much of a discount?” she asked.
“Let me in, and we’ll discuss it after I demonstrate—”
“How much of a discount?” she shouted.
Addie fought back a smile. “Make it thirty, and I’ll unlock the door.”
He reluctantly nodded his head.
They stood at the checkout counter, and Mr. Maxwell pulled Silver Ink out of his inside coat pocket. He said something about the cold, but Addie was too mesmerized by his merchandise and his hand. As he eased into the sales pitch she focused on his words and actions. A minute into the demonstration he unbuttoned his coat and began to remove his right glove, but then pulled it tight, admitting he was still chilled. He took apart and wrote with the pen with his gloves on, but they never seemed to encumber him. They only bothered Addie. At the end of his ten-minute presentation, however, she was completely sold. The silver writing instrument was like a magic wand, and apparently even discounted magic wands were expensive. But the magic that was ever flowing from the pen onto the paper pad and into the air never once made his left glove disappear. And the more time that she spent with Gene Maxwell, the more she needed to know if something was under his glove.
It was the moment of truth. She was going to buy one, but . . . “Well, I’m really impressed,” she said sincerely, “and I believe your price is reasonable. But . . . ” She couldn’t think of an excuse to stall the transaction.
“I could offer you a money-back guarantee,” he submitted. “I’ll be back in town in two weeks. If you’re not happy with Silver Ink, I’ll refund you completely.”
“Two weeks is a long time,” she said slowly.
“Well, I’m leaving town early in the morning.” He glanced at his watch. “If you weren’t closing up the store I’d leave a pen with you for a few hours, but—”
“Oh,” she said quickly, “I’m locking up, but I’m not going anywhere. I have at least three hours of office work.”
“You’re going to be here until after eight? Alone?”
“I do it all the time. It’s quite safe. With the restaurant across the street, the sidewalks are busy until after ten. My back delivery door is made of steel and bolted securely. And . . . ”
After a few silent moments, he asked: “And what?”
She extended her palm to him. “Can I borrow the pen for a bit, as a kind of test run?”
He laid it in her palm, and they both clasped an end. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said softly, “and this is my last deal. You can use it for about an hour, then I’m coming back and taking you across the street for dinner.”
She stared toward the pen but was focused on his ring finger. She imagined pulling his glove off as she pulled the pen from his hand. She looked into his soft brown eyes. “Let me try the pen for an hour. When you come back, if I’m satisfied, I’ll buy Silver Ink and join you for dinner.”
He stared at her with a subtle smile, and she knew he was assessing the possibility of an unsatisfactory situation. His fingers completely released the pen, and she pulled it effortlessly away. “You won’t be disappointed.” He put on his hat and went straight for the door.
* * *
Addie estimated she had about ten minutes remaining until Mr. Maxwell returned. The pen was magnificent. It was as if luscious ink was flowing from her fingertips, and it made drafting her invoices a pleasure. The sheer enjoyment almost distracted her from her racing heart and her anxiety. Why the heck hadn’t anyone called her back? She had just written in “Blonde, Inc.” as her company name on an order form for Accessories by Aileen when the phone rang.
“Are you okay, Ad?” It was Gloria. She had honestly hoped Fern or Madge would call back first, but she was nearly out of time, and Gloria would have to do.
“I’m almost panicked,” she admitted. “I think I’m about to have dinner alone with a married man.”
“Well . . . you work fast.”
“It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since our card game, and you’re already diving into your affair.”
“I’m not going to have an affair!” she shouted.
“Why not? You want to.”
“Gloria!” Her palms were icy cold, and she dropped the pen on her desk and squeezed her right hand around the dress fabric covering her thigh. She sighed. “I need your help. I really like this man, and it’s only dinner, in what’s probably a very crowded restaurant. And I’m not a hundred percent sure he’s married.”
“Why are you questioning his marital status?” Gloria sounded very mature and calm now.
“I thought for a second this afternoon that he was wearing a ring. But now I’m not sure. What I saw was silver, and his pen is silver, so maybe, somehow . . . ”
“Is he planning to take you to The Marquis across the street?”
“Dear God, go with the man. And wear that pink chiffon number that you showed me on Monday. My pot roast is done—need to go.”
When Addie was confident the telephone line was dead she reluctantly hung up the receiver. She glanced to her desk clock, and then to the pen, and then hurried to the showroom floor.
She changed quickly and did all her adjusting and primping inside the dressing room. When she opened the door Mr. Maxwell was standing a mere two feet from her.
“How did you get in?”
“Through the door. I’m confused,” he said. “Are you the store owner, the store model, or both? If it’s both, then . . . ”
“I take it by the way you’re dressed that you were satisfied with my pen.”
She walked toward her office and glanced at the package on the checkout counter. In her panicked state, she must have forgotten to lock the door behind the delivery man thirty minutes ago leaving it open for anyone to walk in. “Can we discuss my thoughts on the pen over dinner?”
“No. Let’s talk about other things during dinner.”
Addie grabbed her purse and stole off the hook near her desk. “I agree. I’m sure there’s more to your life than your pen.”
Her routine lunches at The Marquis didn’t compare to tonight’s dining experience. The little table lamps Addie admired for years were actually illuminated in the evenings. Background music seemed to encapsulate her; it was louder, clearer, yet more sensual. And Gene Maxwell was different from Louise, Madge, and David Newton—he looked into her eyes more confidently, spoke directly to her, and rested his left, un-ringed hand very near to hers. He shared with her that he grew up on a farm outside of town, was too young and thus missed being drafted into the war, and that he had studied business and chemistry in college. He had been at the DuPont Plant in Louisville, Kentucky until his life took a major turn two months ago. Every indication was that he didn’t want to elaborate on the story, so Addie didn’t pursue it. But throughout his discourse, there was no mention of female friends, girlfriends, or wives.
Addie explained she had essentially grown up in the clothing store and was now a fifty-one percent shareholder, with the remaining interests belonging to her father, her grandfather, and her Aunt Mae’s trust. She had complete control over the day-to-day operations of the store and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“So how did your Aunt Mae fit into this business?” Gene asked.
Addie grabbed her wine glass to wash down the building lump in her throat. “Umm . . . well, she started the store in 1900. I think she originally called the business E. M. Blonde Dry Goods, but,” Addie ran her hand over her own blonde hair, “because of her light blonde hair everyone called the place Blondie’s, which I think was her nickname when she was younger. I think during the Depression she officially changed the name of the store to Blondie’s in order to lighten the mood.”
Gene laughed. “Lighten . . . Blondie’s . . . that’s funny.” He grabbed Addie’s hand. “I’m really enjoying this, Miss—”
“Call me Addie.”
He squeezed her hand. “I’m really enjoying this, Addie. I haven’t done something like this for a long time. Look,” he glanced down to her hand, and his thumb rubbed softly over her knuckles, “I need to call my hotel. They wanted me to verify I’d be staying with them tonight. I know you said you had a few more hours of work to do, but would you consider spending some time with me after dinner? Maybe we could see a movie or go dancing or . . . ”
She told herself it was natural to stare at their connected hands. That’s where the movement and enticement were, after all. “Well . . . ” She had been hoping to markdown several items for clearance tonight and wanted to pour over the accounts receivable and get bills out tomorrow to her biggest charge customers.
Gene interrupted her thought process: “I need to make that call before our dinner arrives.” He smiled. “We’ll talk more in a minute.” He rose, and she watched over her shoulder while he strode to the lobby.
Addie leaned back and stretched in her chair. Like every day, she’d spent most of the day on her feet. Her lower back was tight. She tried to imagine herself dancing—it had been years—and the mental image just wouldn’t form. As she rolled her head in an attempt to relax her neck, she was distracted by something very curious—something deliberately out of place. She spied a woman in the far corner seated alone at a table for two, a cigarette dangling from her red lips, its smoke rising and fashioning into a vile word. The glowing end of the cigarette was no rival for the flames in the woman’s eyes, their stare burning into Addie, sparking a suspicion: could that inflamed woman be the wife of Addie’s momentarily absent date? Addie reached for her wine and extinguished the growing heat in her belly. She cautiously glanced back to the corner, and the woman was still there, still alone, still glaring.
After a long minute, Gene came from behind her and dropped down quickly in his seat, his face ashen. “Do you trust me?” he whispered.
She hadn’t fully thought about him in that way yet, but as the events of the day processed in her head the truthful answer became more complex.
“Of course you don’t,” he finally said. “You barely know me.” He leaned forward, and fear had replaced the romance in his eyes. “Listen, I can’t even begin to apologize, but there’s no time anyway. We need to leave quickly and . . . well, I guess in a way that is inconspicuous.”
“I can’t believe I’m even going to ask this,” he continued rapidly. “I want you to stand up, very casually, smiling, maybe a little flirtatious, and then pick up your handbag and walk to the lobby. You need to give the impression that you’re going to the powder room and that you’ll be right back.”
“Am I coming back?” she asked through clenched teeth, resisting the temptation to look at the woman in the corner.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“And what will you be doing while I’m in the powder room?”
“You’re not going to the powder room. I imagine you’ll go straight home, and I’ll never see you again. But if I’m fortunate, you’ll go over to your store, keep the lights off, and wait for your dinner to be delivered. As for me . . . ” Gene glanced and nodded to a table near the lobby, “there’s a man near the front of the restaurant who doesn’t know it yet, but he and I were in the same army battalion during the war.”
“But you weren’t in the war.”
“You and I know that, but he doesn’t, and after what will hopefully be a very confusing two-minute conversation with him, I’m going to slip into the lobby and out the door.”
“And . . . ?”
“And tap on your glass window again, hoping you’ll be there to let me in right away. If not you get to keep the pen, and I’ll leave you alone.”
Addie smiled sweetly and grabbed her purse. “You could always send me a bill.” She stood gracefully. “Or better yet, send me a postage-paid return box, and after ten days I’ll return the pen if I’m not satisfied.” She winked at him with such exaggeration that she hoped the woman in the corner was completely clear on her intended movements. Then she continued straight out of the restaurant, not bothering to retrieve her stole from hat check, not needing it to wear it home, because there was a whole rack of coats across the street at her disposal.
* * *
Addie watched from the darkness, knowing she wouldn’t hear his taps from where she was. She witnessed a single man leave the restaurant and run across the street, heading straight for her shop window. She opened the door slightly and peeked down the sidewalk. It was clearly Gene. He tapped for a moment, turned and looked back at the restaurant, and then dropped his head and began to walk down the street.
“I’m open for business if you’d like to come in,” she said after cracking the door.
He turned around, studied her for a moment, glanced into her store window, then down the street at her. “What are you doing over there?” he asked, walking toward her.
His smile grew as he approached, and she waved him to move faster. He ran the last fifteen feet, and she quickly shut the door once they were inside, locking up.
“How did you get in here?” he asked.
“I own this building,” she said. “Well, technically, I own fifty-one percent of it. Let’s go to my percent. Stay close behind me because I don’t want to use the flashlight.”
She started to turn, but he placed his hands lightly on her arms and spoke softly. “Thank you. I’m not sure why you trusted me, but maybe you’re feeling what I’m feeling.”
“This is all new to me,” she admitted, “but I think we’re on the same page.” She giggled softly, but then her face flushed at her over-enthusiasm. “I’m sorry. I really like you, and the reality of this all is exciting and yet . . . ”
He came in and kissed her cheek. “I’ve never been so aggressive,” he whispered in her ear, “but I thought about this the moment I first saw you on the sidewalk. I know it’s happening fast, and—”
She gently pushed him away. “And our dinner is getting cold. Follow me.”
“Sorry it took me so long getting over here,” he said as they walked through the dark, empty store. “The man I randomly picked to be my old army buddy, well”—Gene laughed—”apparently he remembered me. The crazy guy told his wife some story about us getting drunk in a café in France, and after a while, even I started to believe him. But I’ve never even been out of the country.”
She laughed as she led him through the empty building back to an open door. “This was Mr. Rothschild’s office.” Once they were both inside she shut the door and flipped on the light. “Please sit down.”
Gene sat at a very old, small, conference table the law firm had left behind. The restaurant boxes were on the table, neatly positioned on a makeshift black table cloth that Addie had previously used as window dressing. Louise’s old phonograph was in the corner. She’d brought it in for the holidays along with a few Christmas albums, so, whether appropriate or not, the office was currently swirling with “White Christmas.”
“Aren’t you going to sit down?” he asked.
“Something’s not quite right.” She walked over to a table lamp that remained in the corner. Mr. Rothschild was planning to update his decor so he left it behind also. Addie flipped it on and then turned off the overhead light. “Much better.”
She sat down next to him and opened her box and pulled out the China plate with a filet, baked potato, and grilled asparagus. “It was so nice of the restaurant to do this,” Addie said, pulling out her steak knife and fork.
“They have considerable trust in you,” he said.
“Well, I have lunch there a lot, and I have a way to purchase their uniforms wholesale. Actually, the law firm—Mr. Rothschild’s firm—and Louise and I had a little Christmas party there last month. They gave us the banquet room for no charge.”
He put down his fork and reached for the wine glass. “I can’t believe they sent over a wine bottle and glasses.” He took a sip. “Look, speaking of Mr. Rothschild’s firm . . . I’ve been wanting to ask you a personal question, and I wasn’t sure if it was relevant earlier, but now I have to ask.”
“Are you seeing David Newton?”
She’d been asked that before and, considering their monthly business lunches he never billed her for, she often wondered that herself. His answer to her question wouldn’t affect her intentions but might satisfy her curiosity. “Are you seeing anyone, Mr. Maxwell?”
He picked up his knife and fork and cut a small piece of ribeye. “I get your point. I guess this dinner is my way of saying thank you. You got me to Mr. Rothschild on time, gave me a little bit of very helpful advice, and an enormous amount of confidence this afternoon. Mr. Rothschild was so impressed that he bought ten pens for his staff and referred me to a handful of his business associates, clients, and friends. I did a lot of business today, and I’ll always be grateful to you.”
“You’re giving me too much credit,” she said. He remained quiet, eating somewhat quickly, and his sudden coolness was unbearable. Addie laid her fingers on his wrist. “I’m not seeing David,” she explained. “He’s my lawyer and friend, but nothing more.”
He grabbed her hand. “This has been an almost perfect day,” he said.
She felt herself sliding in the chair, moving closer to him. “What would make it perfect?”
He pulled her arm, and for a moment, as her heartbeat intensified, she looked down to his bare left hand again and knew this was exactly what she wanted to do. He kissed her lips and heat rushed over her, the connection in her heart never feeling stronger. Addie didn’t know the rules for this kind of thing; she only knew she suddenly wanted romance. He broke away, but she reached for his neck, pulling him closer, kissing him deeper, and enjoying the perfection of the moment. She could have never planned this or even orchestrated it. Surely it was meant to be, just as it all happened before.
“That was really nice,” he said, straightening up. “Perhaps too nice.” He started to cut another piece of steak, but then dropped his utensils. “I’ve been thinking . . . do you have another tenant lined up for this building?”
“A few businesses have expressed interest, but it hasn’t gone beyond that.”
“Well”—he reached for his wine and finished the glass—“it became apparent to me today that this downtown area could use an office supply store. The businesses I spoke to are unhappy with their current suppliers, and I honestly don’t like traveling and staying in hotels. I realize it’s kind of harebrained, and I may need to work out some unusual types of arrangements with you, but perhaps I could sell Silver Ink and other supplies directly from this storefront, six days a week, next to you.”
Addie closed her eyes for a moment, and she was sure the images in her head were very different from what Gene was imagining. “I can’t see it working out any better,” she said. “Silver Ink next to Blonde, Inc. I like that idea.”
“Yes, my store’s name is Blondie’s, but after Aunt Mae died and we reorganized, we decided to name our family company Blonde, Inc.” She reached for his hand. “I think we should get started right away. What if I go next door and grab a pad of paper and Silver Ink and we create a little art. It can be our contract.”
He looked stunned, but Addie hopped from the chair. “I’ll be right back.” She left the office but didn’t need to go to the front door of the building. She took the side door that only a few weeks ago had been hidden by David Newton’s bookcase. It led directly into her storeroom, next to her office. As she picked the silver pen up off her desk and marveled at its beauty, she heard tapping on the glass. Addie giggled. She’d left the connecting door between the buildings open, but apparently, Gene didn’t notice it and went through the front door of the adjoining building and outside in order to get to her store. Addie exited her office and walked toward the window in the dark, but froze when she realized that it was a female figure standing there, staring at her. She thought about the softness of Gene’s hand in hers, the passion behind his kiss, and the rage of a jealous wife. Is this a repeat of the past, she asked. Did it happen exactly like this before?
“Addie . . . why won’t you let me in?”
She slumped, recognizing the voice at the window as Fern’s. She quickly unlocked the door, and her favorite cousin rushed in.
“I only have a minute,” she said. “I told Bob I was going out for a loaf of bread before the market closed. I figured it all out,” she said quickly. “Your comment last night—that was the last piece of the puzzle. You do want to have an affair, don’t you?”
Addie started to shake her head, but the gesture was possibly a lie.
“I always wondered why Aunt Mae favored you so much. Why you spent all your free time here, and why she spoon-fed you business knowledge your whole life. Why your father was the only one of the three sons to go to college—a very expensive college. And the way Great-Aunt Mae looked at you and Uncle Leonard, with so much love and pride . . . ”
“I only found out recently,” Addie admitted. “I thought about telling you.”
“She wasn’t your father’s aunt, was she? She was his mother. You were special to her because you were her only granddaughter. And you always admired her and looked up to her and wanted to be like her. She had an affair, Addie, and now you want to—”
“Don’t say it!” Addie snapped.
“No, keep talking.” Addie whipped her head around, and Gene was standing there, near her office door. “This is fascinating and very insightful.”
She focused on standing and breathing. Gene lifted his hand in front of his face, and from the faint light coming in off the street, she could see a glimmer of silver around his finger. “Is this what you want to see? This silver band? You did see it this morning when I took my glove off in the bank lobby. And that’s why you kept staring at my hand when the ring wasn’t there this evening.”
Addie heard the front door close behind her and assumed Fern snuck out. “Gene, I . . . ”
“The way you kissed me—that wasn’t a first kiss. That wasn’t a ‘I really like you’ kiss, it was more of a ‘I want you’ kiss. I was actually flattered for a moment.”
Addie stepped toward him, but he backed up. “I do like you.”
“Do you like me, or are you merely wanting to like a man who’s married?” He turned around and walked toward the connecting door. He stepped over the threshold and once inside the other building he turned around quickly. “My God, you saw her, didn’t you?”
Addie grabbed the door frame inside her shop. “Who?”
“You saw Clara in the corner of the restaurant. You knew she was the reason that we needed to get out of there. That’s why you winked at me the way you did; so she would see it.” He leaned toward her and smiled. “Were you trying to make her jealous?”
“I was doing exactly what you asked,” she snapped. “You used the word flirtatious—that wink was flirtatious. I was trying to help you.”
“Then I guess we’re both at fault, Miss Blonde. You’re hoping to have an adulterous affair, and I’m hiding from my obligations. Perhaps we’d better stop before we both end up in hell.”
Before she could think, her right hand smacked against his face. “There’s no way my grandmother is in hell. She was loving and kind and treated people with respect. She did what she thought was best for my father—he was raised by my great-aunt and uncle as one of their own. But Mae provided for him financially until he was out of college, without him ever knowing. She supported herself, and I suspect kept my great-uncle and the entire family afloat during the depression, consolidating her store from both these buildings to just this side, allowing the man who I always thought was my grandfather to operate a grocery and deli in that building, rent free.” Addie wiped her cheeks, angry that he was seeing her cry.
“Fern was exactly right, possibly about everything. I just found out that Mae was my grandmother six months ago when I read through the stack of letters she left for me. But I’ve always loved her like a grandmother, and I’ve always wanted to be exactly like her, and I’ll never judge her for having a brief affair with a married man. She loved him—that’s why she never married. And she was so beautiful, Gene, she could have . . . ” Addie covered her eyes. “I honestly can’t say if I was more excited about you or the fact that you’re married. But when I kissed you I felt such a strong bond, and I can’t tell you if it was with you or with the kindred spirit of my grandmother.”
She turned around and heard his feet moving across the old wood floor. She heard the door close in the other building and thought about how much money she was losing each day that half of her property sat empty. For a moment she imagined what could have happened; her and Gene and Silver Ink, creating a masterpiece on a blank sheet of paper, fulfilling their needs and possibly her destiny.
* * *
The line at the teller window was unusually long, but Addie normally didn’t make a trip to the bank at the beginning of the lunch hour. For a few minutes, she was amused by a small boy with a giant lollipop in front of her, but his attachment to his mother’s hand became too emotional for Addie, and she began to take in her surroundings. After all these years, this was still her favorite downtown building.
She noticed a woman was seated behind Mr. William’s desk along the south wall, and after a customer stood up, shook the woman’s hand, and walked away, the woman behind the desk pulled out a cigarette. Once smoke began to rise from her thin, tiny foible, Addie’s stomach cramped and she realized that, although it would be unpleasant, she needed to say her piece. She left the teller line and walked across the marble floor, sitting down at the desk, across from Clara.
“I’m sorry,” Clara said politely, “I have an appointment in a few minutes—.”
“This will only take one minute,” Addie said. “Do you recognize me?”
The woman nodded her head. “I believe I saw you two weeks ago at The Marquis.”
Addie took a deep breath. “I owe you an apology. I knew about Mr. Maxwell’s…status…and my conduct was inappropriate. It won’t happen again.”
“Frankly,” the woman said, “I wish it would. It’s easier to find him when he’s out in public. He’s been difficult to catch.”
Addie ran her fingers down the length of her jaw. “Is that why he travels?”
“I don’t know why he travels, Miss….”
There was no point in hiding her identity, half the people in the bank knew exactly who she was. “I’m Addison Blonde.”
“Nice to meet you. I just started this job, replacing Mr. Williams about a month ago. He wasn’t really on top of things. The position has kept me on my toes, trying to clean up our loan portfolio.”
Addie noticed a gentleman was standing behind her. She stood up, but felt too disgraced to shake the woman’s hand. “Thank you for speaking with me,” was all she could manage to say. She was too embarrassed to stand in the teller line and have Clara look at her, so she hustled through the lobby and out the door, and was still in an uncomfortable daze five minutes later when she was seated across the table from Madge at The Marquis.
Addie sat down her menu at looked at Madge who appeared to be delighted with the dessert choices. “I just met the jealous wife,” Addie blurted out.
Madge gently placed her menu on the table, closed it carefully, and rolled her eyes up to Addie. “At some point in the last two weeks, did you—?”
“I had a brief affair,” Addie said quickly.
“A little over an hour.”
Madge crinkled her forehead. “Ten minutes is brief. I’d give anything for an hour.”
Addie shook her head quickly. “That’s not what I mean—that particular encounter didn’t happen at all.”
“Are you sure it was an affair?”
“I kissed a married man.”
“With your tongue?”
Addie dropped her forehead into her fingers. “Yes,” she said. “And it only lasted about ten seconds, but the rest of the hour was very up and down.”
“I assume you don’t mean physically…”
“I mean emotionally. I’ll probably never see him again, and it would be best since he’s married, but I felt something with him.”
Madge waved off the waiter, opened her menu, and began perusing the dessert listings again. “You’re not supposed to fall in love when you have an affair. Not that I know from experience, but it seems like common sense.”
“Then what’s the point?” Addie said, possibly as a joke, but even she wasn’t laughing.
“You’re young,” Madge said. “The whole point becomes more obvious when you’re middle-aged. So tell me more about the jealous wife. Obviously you weren’t murdered by her.”
“No, not even threatened.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“Madge, I think at the moment I’m the jealous one. I want what she has. The first time I saw her she looked like she wanted to kill me—and that made me think he was an incredible catch. At the bank today, I was thrown off by her lack of emotion, but you know what I’m thinking now—that it was an act. She wants me to think that she doesn’t care—that he’s not worth her anxiety. And something inside me is telling me that he’s worth a lot of anxiety, but….”
The waiter had returned and Madge was giving him a very detailed, descriptive order. Addie was too sick to her stomach to eat. Her only desire at the moment was forbidden, and she didn’t know how to purge him from her system.
* * *
At five o’clock straight-up, she locked the door behind Louise. She tried to straighten up the merchandise racks, but almost everything was already in place. She couldn’t come up with a thing to do on the floor so she convinced herself to tackle her office, where paperwork had been mounting. But once behind her desk, she mentally drifted away like she had for several days, often picking up Silver Ink and rolling it in her hands. A bill or return package for the pen had never arrived from Gene, but the instrument had gotten plenty of use and been held by countless people. Addie opened her middle desk drawer and pulled out the list of now fifty-six very interested names with associated contact information. Every evening she asked herself why she continued to show off the pen to store customers, friends, and colleagues, and often considered ripping up the sheet. If she did, she could probably end the situation with Gene and move forward because at this point she assumed the pen was hers, discounted a hundred percent due to embarrassing circumstances. But the growing list had become an obsession. Addie finally folded it neatly and placed it in her purse so she’d have it for tomorrow’s professional women’s luncheon. Then she moved on to her other preoccupation.
She rolled Silver Ink in her fingers as she had so many times in the last two weeks, the silk of its surface delighting her skin. She pinched the ballpoint end with her left fingers and spun the pen in both directions on her right index finger, increasingly slower, until it came to a very natural balance on the pad of her finger. She let go with her left fingers and breathed slowly, in awe of the clean lines and continuous streak of light across the silver surface. She considered the two halves. To the left of her fingertip was the portion with the ballpoint—the part of the pen that pressed into the paper and that was gripped by the fingertips. The ink poured from this end—creating a variety of masterpieces—and this, in fact, was the whole purpose of the instrument: to toil at the request of the user. Addie’s eyes shifted to the right half of the pen. Obviously ink was stored inside its uncluttered shell, but what was its purpose? It didn’t “create” anything. It didn’t “work.” It looked nice, but only seemed to rest between the thumb and index finger, putting extra weight on the hand. Would a pen at half the length function?
Addie heard a tap on the glass, and the pen fell off her finger and clinked on her desk. Chills worked over her as she contemplated how to react. She’d been worried about the possibility of this occurrence but had yet to figure out how she’d respond.
“Miss Blonde, I know you’re in there.”
She bounced up and smiled. David Newton. She rushed out of her office and to the store front window. David and Mr. Rothschild were on the sidewalk, staring in at her. “It’s been a long week,” David said. “Come have a drink with us.”
She studied their dark faces haloed by the street light. She was elevated above them, and they appeared as excited children, released from the confines of the school yard, at last able to run free and frolic. Addie had never been a frolicker.
“Thank you for thinking of me, but—.”
“No buts,” David interjected. “We know you spend every night holed up in that office. Not that we’re much better, but—.” Mr. Rothschild put his hand on David’s shoulder and appeared to say something to him, but, of course, Addie couldn’t make out his words from the other side of the glass. “Hope to see you over at The Marquis,” David said to her and he turned and headed toward the street.
“Can I come in?” Mr. Rothschild asked.
It would be disrespectful to say no and her only objection was because Edgar Rothschild was a notoriously persuasive man. That’s why Addie had taken up David as her lawyer instead. She unlocked the door, and Mr. Rothschild stepped in and quickly dwarfed her, and suddenly she felt like the child, about to get a lecture. He looked firmly into her eyes, and she felt even smaller. “You know I’m getting married in April….” he said.
“Yes,” she answered softly.
“For the third time….”
It had been the topic of much local gossip for months. “Yes….”
“I’m not really proud of that, but it is what it is. I was very much in love with my first wife, perhaps unnaturally. That may sound odd, but my career suffered, because I didn’t want to be away from her, and even when we were physically apart, I was still with her.”
“That’s very romantic—.”
“Romance doesn’t put food on the table. I was fired twice—once by my own father—and the stress and my financial failing were apparently not what Edith wanted from a man. She left, I threw myself into my work and became involved with my secretary. We married, and she stayed home to raise the children, but our relationship never left the office. She pushed me hard—and trust me, we put a lot of food on that beautiful, hand-carved, walnut table—but on the morning of my 45th birthday, I woke up and realized what was missing in my life. I….” he turned his head and chills worked over Addie’s body. “Three years later, when my son left home, I did, too. I’d lived both extremes, and neither made me happy—I was never a complete man. So I moved to the middle.”
He paused as if Addie was supposed to confirm that she understood “the middle.” “You’re engaged to Rosalind Thompson?” she asked. He nodded. “Does she share your thoughts on ‘the middle’?”
“I used to think you were intimidated by me, Addison.”
“I used to think I was, too.”
He smiled. “I don’t think I’ll honestly grasp Rosalind’s understanding of the middle until we’re married, but I have it figured it. It’s the best place to balance from.”
He gently wrapped his hand around her arm. “Come have a drink with us. I won’t take no for an answer.”
* * *
Although Addie had peeked into the bar room of The Marquis several times, she’d never been inside, kicked back, and taken the edge off. And she still wasn’t doing that tonight. She was physically sitting near the bar at a small table for four, across from Mr. Rothschild, staring at a Manhattan she didn’t want to finish, anxiously awaiting for David to return from the telephone. The small talk had been okay, and now Mr. Rothschild was enjoying a cigarette, his eyes more than casually staring around the room. Just for something to do, Addie picked up the Manhattan and raised it to her lips.
“Gene Maxwell came in to see me today,” Mr. Rothschild announced calmly.
She sat the drink back down, untouched. “About his pens?”
“He needed a professional consultation.”
Addie wasn’t feeling very clever, but her mind was racing. “Regarding…?”
“I can’t divulge the details, but I believe I successfully advised him against his intentions. He asked about you before he left.”
“What did he ask, specifically?”
“His question is irrelevant. I think he’s aspiring for the middle, also.”
Addie picked up her drink and slammed it down. “Perhaps I have the wrong understanding of the middle. Excuse me.” She grabbed her purse and stood up, unsure of where she was going but heading toward the ladies room. As she walked along the bar, a face stopped her dead in her tracks.
It was difficult opening her purse, as her fingers were trembling. “I have something for you, Mr. Maxwell.” She finally flipped the tiny clasp and pulled the sheet of paper out of her purse. “I’m confident most of these people want to buy a pen. A few of them had questions I couldn’t answer, but I have either an address or telephone number—.”
“Why did you do this?” he asked, taking the list from her hand. His eyes scanned it for a moment. “I was such a jerk to you.”
“When it comes to being jerks, I think we were equally balanced…” Her eyes were welling, and her last word became stuck in her constricted throat. “I know having an affair with you would be wrong, but…” She tried to smile to calm herself, but the look in his eyes was so serious. “Honestly, I thought about tearing up this list several times over the last two weeks, but…well…do you know why I didn’t?”
“Tell me,” he said quickly.
“Because I like you, and if I judge you, then it’s only fair to put myself and my grandmother in that same box. I don’t want to do that. I want to like you and help you, not judge you. And I hope…”
Gene slowly lifted his left hand that had been dangling by his side, below the seat of his bar stool. The silver band was firmly on his finger. He brought it up to his face, but then his eyes left Addie’s, and they focused on something beyond her. They closed slowly, then very tightly, and he mouthed something subtly. “I think you’re wonderful,” he whispered, “and I want to be worthy of you.”
She shook her head quickly. “That’s not what I was saying. We can’t have an affair.”
He twisted the ring off his finger and placed it in her palm. “Hold this for me. It’s all a lie.”
Its feel and weight was instantly familiar. “Are you going to divorce her?” she asked. “Is that why you talked to Mr. Rothschild, today?”
He stood up from the stool, but his gaze was still planted firmly behind Addie. “Divorce is a perfect word,” he said. “I need that woman out of my life.”
Addie turned around and found Clara seated at a table in the far corner. But she wasn’t alone. David Newton was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Gene took a step, but Addie grabbed his shirt sleeve. “Don’t hurt David,” she said quickly. “He can’t possibly know…he’d never do that…he’d never knowingly get caught up in an affair.”
Gene’s head snapped to her. “But I would…?”
Addie let go of his sleeve, a coldness settling over her. “Please don’t hurt anyone,” she whispered, and he walked past her. She turned over her fist and studied the silver ring in her palm. It didn’t require balance. It wasn’t going anywhere. And that’s how it should be, she thought. She turned around and rushed to where Mr. Rothschild was sitting alone, appearing very relaxed. “What is David doing with that woman?” she snapped. Mr. Rothschild looked over his shoulder, and Addie watched David stand up next to Gene about thirty feet away.
“He’s been seeing her for a while,” Mr. Rothschild said.
Addie’s jaw dropped, but she couldn’t push any words through her open lips.
“You don’t look so good,” Mr. Rothschild said. “Sit down, and I’ll get you another drink.”
She shook her head and looked back to the threesome at the far table. Clara was now standing and Gene’s face was red and David appeared angry. “You have to do something,” Addie begged.
“About Gene Maxwell and our love birds? No…he’s doing the right thing. He needed to resolve this months ago.”
“But not like this…”
“Better here than around a desk, especially a desk in an attorney’s office.”
“David’s office would be better than here…and I’m thinking…” Gene appeared to be shouting, and David put his arm around Clara. She was pointing at Gene and possibly crying. “I’m thinking about jail at the moment more than the comfort of David’s office. I don’t want anyone—.”
Mr. Rothschild picked up his drink and swirled it gently. “Jail is very possible at this point. And I—.”
“How can you be so calm about this situation? Divorce seems to be no big deal to you. How can you all be so callous about mar…?” She slapped her hand over her mouth. Two weeks ago, she knowingly kissed a married man and began mentally planning an affair with him. “I’m no better than the rest of you.”
She turned away from them all and quickly left the restaurant. She didn’t stop running until she was in the safety of her office in the store. She paced for a while, considering all the emotions that her grandmother must have dealt with daily. The feeling of loving a man who belonged to another—a man she could never be with. The feelings of loving a child who belonged to others to whom she was limited regarding time, influence, and affection. Were all these feelings of love a wonderful thing in her heart, or a painful point of longing? Did they get her through the long, hard workday or keep her awake at night? Did the situation give her all she needed to balance her life or…. “Balance…” Addie looked at her desk. Silver ink was resting there.
Her fist was clenched so tightly she could barely open it. Gene’s ring was slowly revealed behind her fingers and she twisted her wrist so it would fall, but it seemed to be a part of her, stuck to her icy palm. She flicked her wrist and it released, falling to the desk, landing next to Silver Ink. The revelation stole her breath. The ring was Silver Ink. They were the same.
“There were three reasons I wore that ring.” Addie turned her head and found Gene standing in the office doorway. “I was not trustworthy, I was afraid, and I was desperately trying to make a sale. But I’m not and never have been married.”
“It’s made of the same metal and has the same chrome finish as the pen,” Addie reasoned out loud and then thought for a moment. “The ring was part of your sales pitch if needed.”
He stepped inside the office. “Yes.”
“Not trustworthy . . . ” Addie ran her finger over the ridge of the ring as it lay flat on her desk. “I guess if you’re not married then you’re not a family man, and they certainly seem more trustworthy.”
“That was presented as factual on page eight of the sales brochure,” he said.
She flicked the ring back and forth over the desk surface. “Funny . . . my grandmother denied her family in order to survive in the world of commerce. And you gave the false impression of having one.”
“I regret that,” he said, and then moved close to her.
“I wonder if my grandmother did.” She looked into Gene’s brown eyes. The final revelation had to be buried there, but…. She smiled. “Your eyes. I saw so much fear in your eyes the night you took me to dinner at The Marquis. I knew Clara put that fear there. I was almost certain she was your wife then, but…” He started to speak, but she put her finger over his lips. “So she’s not your wife…who is she? I know she works in the loan department at the bank, and she’s new to that position, and she’s aggressive.” Addie grabbed his arm. “Are you in deep financial trouble?”
“My father is. He lost the wheat last June to hail, my mother in December to cancer, and he’s about to lose the farm to First National Bank. I came home to help, but we desperately needed more income. I saw an ad for selling pens in a magazine. It seemed to be the only way to help Dad when he needed me and earn extra income when I could. Clara Johnson has been very threatening about the seven months of loan payments that are in arrears, and, perhaps it’s her job, but she’s made an already hurting and depressed man into a wreck. I figured out who she was by standing in the bank for a few minutes. She’d never met me, but knew I was single and that I’d returned to the farm. I guess the ring was also my failed attempt at a disguise. I think David Newton must have mentioned my name to her, and she figured out who I was. I feel like such a stupid coward.”
“I was a coward, too,” Addie admitted. “I think I convinced myself that having an affair would be my best option for keeping my romantic life limited so I could focus on my business. But,” she laughed, “why would I want to limit myself? Do you think, Gene, that I can legitimately and successfully have both?”
He kissed her and this time it seemed completely real, and the connection she felt was clearly with Gene. “I plan to do both,” he said. “I believe Silver Ink and Blonde Inc. can coexist together, right here, side by side, in these two buildings. And someday, I imagine your granddaughter will be playing in this store, hoping that she’ll grow up to be just like her grandmother. And I’ll be proud if she does.”