Kerry toweled her hair dry and paused in front of the bathroom mirror, regarding her reflection. She hung the towel around her neck and leaned on the marble countertop, wrestling with that age old question of women everywhere.
What to wear.
Normally, it wasn’t much of an issue for her. She had work clothes, and she had casual clothes, and she had scroungy old rags in abundance. Twice as many as Dar, in fact, and she didn’t often spend much time deciding which category to put on.
However. Kerry studied the pale green eyes in the mirror.
“I think I feel like being a grown up tonight.” She announced, putting aside the fleeting notion of wearing jeans to her speech. She finished drying herself off and put on her underwear, leaving the bathroom and crossing the carpet to where she’d laid out her choices.
Without hesitation, she lifted the crisply pressed suit up and hooked the hanger on silent butler, sliding the jacket off and laying it across the seat as she loosened the silk, ice blue shirt and prepared to slip it over her shoulders.
A soft knock at the door made her eye the closed panel with some wariness. “Yes?”
“It’s me.” Angie’s voice answered.
Slipping the shirt on, Kerry started buttoning the sleeves. “C’mon in.” She glanced over as her sister entered, shutting the door behind her. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Angie dropped down onto the bed, leaning on one hand. “That’s a nice blouse.” She said. “So you’re not going to go strapless?”
“No.” Kerry smiled, finishing her sleeves and fastening the front closed. “I decided to present my professional side. Aside from not wanting to come off as a jerk, I always feel like I have a responsibility to encourage girls into IT.”
“Really?” Angie’s brows lifted. “Is it really that much a guy’s world?”
Kerry removed her teal skirt from it’s hanger and stepped into it. “Well..” She tucked her shirt in and buttoned the skirt, then buckled the leather belt. “Yeah, it is.” She admitted. “I think Dar’s one of the few female CIO’s, and our technical group is mostly guys though we do try to recruit women.”
Kerry went to her bag and removed her jewelry case. “Believe it or not, for some reason, women don’t seem to gravitate to infrastructure.” She took out a pair of favorite earrings and started to put them on. “I’ve seen great women programmers, project managers, service delivery reps, you name it. But high tech plumbers? Not so common.”
Angie got up and came over, peeking at the earrings. “Ker, those are gorgeous.” She said. “Can I see that other one?”
Her sister handed it over, then she retrieved her necklace and ring from the dresser and slid them into place. She brushed her hair out, glancing briefly in the mirror as the already drying, shortened strands settled around her face. “Sure is nice not to have to blow dry this stuff all the time.”
“You like it short?”
Kerry took back the proffered earring and inserted it. “Yeah.” She studied her reflection, and smiled. “I think it looks more sophisticated. Dar likes it. I keep trying to get her to cut hers short but she thinks she’ll look like a punk.”
“Mm.” Angie got up and stood next to her. “Her hair’s wavy, though. Yours is straight. It might look weird unless it was really short.” She pointed out. “I’m sure she doesn’t want to look like a guy.”
Kerry’s eyebrow arched. She turned and looked at Angie. “Shaved bald she wouldn’t look like a guy.” She said, bluntly.
Her sister gave her a wry look.
Kerry made a face. “Sorry.” She apologized. “I think I’m getting sensitive in my old age.” She brushed her hair out again, feeling a little embarrassed. “Smack me.”
“No way.” Angie said immediately. “Are you kidding? I’m not hitting She Ra. Not in this lifetime.” She bumped Kerry with her shoulder. “Mind if I come along to the dinner? I know I wasn’t in that class, but I’d love to hear you speak.”
“I don’t mind at all.” Kerry was relieved. “I’d love the company.” She finished her mild primping and reached for the jacket to her suit. “Thanks.”
Angie followed her as she pulled the jacket on and tugged the lapels straight with an automatic gesture, reaching back to clear the short hairs in the back of her neck from the collar. “Is Mike meeting us after for dinner?”
Kerry sensed a plot at hand. “Let me guess. He wants to come too.”
“Well…” Her sister lifted both hands, as she watched Kerry slip into her mid heel shoes. “Why not? We know we don’t have much time with you, Ker. Besides, if they start giving you a hard time, we’ll gang up on them.”
Kerry entertained herself with a mental vision of her siblings batting her old classmates around. She grinned. “Yeah sure, why not?” She said. “Let’s go and get this over with.” She clipped her Palm in it’s case to her belt and picked up the keys to the pickup. “Wanna drive?”
Angie chuckled, then she cleared her throat as they headed for the stairs. “Maybe.”
Kerry folded her hands over her stomach and watched as the once familiar landscape whipped by, only half listening to her brother’s chatter from the jump seat behind her. In her mind, she ran over what she might say at the dinner, reviewing a few different approaches depending on the reception she was given.
It would be the easiest if everything was just at face value. She could talk about what was needed to enter the business world, and ramble on about the state of the technical industry for any length of time without any danger of either scandalizing anyone or being completely understood.
She scratched her nose, wrinkling the bridge of it a little as she acknowledged how stuffy and jaded that sounded even in the privacy of her own mind. It was true, though, that the world she worked in was full of over arching concepts and buzzwords that tried to describe in layman’s terms what it’s functions were and most of the time it just ended up sounding like dystopian poetry.
“So Ker.” Mike got her attention back. “You think this is a publicity stunt or something?”
On the other hand, Kerry smiled grimly, her brother had probably just spoken aloud what her own primary suspicion was, that her school, always in search of funding, had used the opportunity of it’s class reunion to gain some press in an otherwise slow year.
What was that about any publicity being good publicity?
“Maybe.” Kerry said. “I don’t see what it really gets them though, except mention in the paper when the paper covers me.” She glanced at her sister. “Did you say the paper was going to be there.”
“Of course.” Angie said. She slowed, then turned onto a busier road. “I’m surprised they didn’t call the house looking for you. “ She added. “A half dozen other people did.”
Kerry blinked. “Huh?” She said. “They did? Who?”
“Guys wanting dates. We told them off.” Mike answered for her, reaching across the back of the seat and flicking Kerry on the back of her neck. “Then Oprah Winfrey called and we told her you were booked for the next two years already.”
“Oh damn.” Kerry had to laugh. “And here I really wanted to be on Oprah.” She twiddled her thumbs a little. “Did I ever tell you guys that I got a call from Face the Nation after the hearing, wanting me to appear?”
“Oh my god you’re kidding.” Angie gasped. “They would have had a fit!”
“Face the Nation? They’re used to weird political scandals.” Kerry chuckled.
“Our parents.” Her sister clarified. “He hated that show.”
“They roasted him the last time he was on it.” Mike snorted. “Don’t you remember that time, Kerry? I thought I sent you an email he was going to be on, they nailed him on the offshore drilling crap he was supporting.”
Kerry’s brow creased a bit. “I must have been swamped with something.” She admitted. “I don’t remember seeing it. That’s not something Dar and I usually watch.” She spotted the beginning of the brick wall topped by wrought iron gating that marked her alma mater, and almost wished they would just keep driving past now that it was here, and now.
“Looks like its’ busy.” Angie eased the truck into the turn lane, reviewing the line of cars ahead of her. The truck was positively out of place, and she could see the people in the car ahead of her staring at it in their rearview mirror. “Can this go over the top of those little suckers?”
“Bet it can.” Mike instigated immediately. “Creep up on that guy’s bumper, let’s see if we can freak him out.”
Kerry eyed her suddenly radical siblings. “What the heck’s gotten into you two?”
“You’re a bad influence.” Her brother informed her. “Everyone always said you would be.” He reached over again and tugged Kerry’s ear. “C’mon, you only live once. Let’s get into trouble.”
“Ah ah ha.!” Kerry grabbed his hand and held it. “It’s not you two who’ll get in trouble if we crash this thing, its in my name.” She pointed out. “Let’s just get inside. Then you can go around giving my old anything but pals wedgies if you want.”
Angie chuckled. She eased the truck forward as the line moved, holding down the brake, then giving the engine just enough gas to startle the car in front of her. “Vroom.”
Kerry just covered her eyes as she heard the crunch of the tires. She started thinking of what possible story she could come up with to explain why she’d totaled a rental car. At least Dar would probably find it funny. After no further sounds, she peeked out from between her fingers to see the car ahead of them pulling out of line, and heading off down the street. “What the heck?”
“We scared em.” Mike said contentedly. “Weinie!!”
Angie pulled the truck up to the next car in line. “Want to see if I can do that again?” She asked. “Get us through this queue in no time.”
“Holy crap.” Kerry sighed. “No, just chill, okay? Remember, you do live here. I get to go home in a day or so and I don’t have to hear all the gossip.”
“Screw that.” Mike said. “If they want something to talk about, let’s give them something. Otherwise they’ll just make stuff up about you and you know it. I’d rather have them saying we shoved some Lexus into the wall.”
The line started moving again, though, much to Kerry’s relief, and she rested her elbow on the doorframe as they made the turn into the entrance to the school and through the tall arched gates.
Mixed memories. She studied the name in the scrollwork as they went under it. She hadn’t really disliked school, and she’d been more or less successful at navigating it’s social labyrinths since she’d been old enough to know better when she’d started attending.
Being Roger Stuart’s oldest had brought both positive and negative attention, and now when she looked back on all the little things, the parties and invites, the snubs and the suck ups, she was content to acknowledge that all in all it could have been worse for her.
“Did Dar go to any type of.. ah..” Angie paused. “No, probably not, huh?”
Kerry smiled. “Just regular school.” She said. “But it wouldn’t have mattered, I don’t think. She’s brilliant. They could never keep up with her down there, and I doubt they could have here either.” She paused as Angie pulled up to the attendant, who peered inside with a doubtful expression. “Hi there. Is this Dominos Pizza?”
Mike fell back in the jump seat, chortling.
“Can I get a pepperoni and extra cheese?” Kerry continued pleasantly as the man frowned. “With a two liter of coke?”
“Ma’am, I don’t think…” He hesitated, thrown off by the sport truck filled with unexpectedly well dressed people. “Ah…”
Angie removed the invitation from the sunshield and handed it to him. “Maybe this helps.” She said. “Before my sister tells you we’re hauling fertilizer for the dance hall.”
The man looked at the invitation, then looked back at them. “Ah.” He said. “No problem.” He pointed to the left. “Valet parking’s over there, ladies.”
“Hey!” Mike popped his head up again. “Watch who you call lady, bub!”
“Thanks.” Angie closed the window and got the truck moving before they could cause more chaos. “And you say we’re causing trouble?” She said. “Ker, you’re the one who was going to show up in a tank top and jeans.”
“Shoulda.” Kerry chuckled, as they swung around the big, paved circle to the porta chachet, where valets were milling around, taking care of the well kept, expensive cars being dropped off. She had a moment to look at the crowd before it was there turn, her eyes spotting one or two people she was pretty sure she knew already.
Heads turned as the pickup pulled into the valet stand, and she was out of time to think about it. Kerry waited for the valet to hesitantly approach, then she opened the door from the inside and gathered herself to get out. “Okay, kids. Let’s go.”
As the door opened, the buzz of the crowd got louder, and she got that feeling she often did when she was about to enter a company they were acquiring and face the person she’d been once for the first time. She gave the valet a brief smile and turned to flip the seat forward so Mike could get out. “Evening.”
“Ma’am.” The valet reacted to her appearance and adjusted his attitude from seeing the truck. “Welcome to the homecoming.”
Kerry saw heads turning nearby, and her peripheral view caught the flash of a camera. “Thanks” She said, as Angie came around to join them, and they walked as a group towards the steps. “Ready or not, here we come.”
“Can I tell everyone I’m an alumni too?” Mike asked.
“It’s an all girls school.” Angie poked him. “What are you going to tell them, you had a sex change?”
Mike grinned evilly.
“Had to suggest that, didn’t you?” Kerry said under her breath, as she saw a group of older women start in their direction. She recognized several as once upon a time teachers, and the lady in front, incredibly still there, as the headmistress in charge.
“Ms. Hauderthorn’s coming right at you.” Angie whispered. “What a witch! She hated me!”
Kerry plastered a determined grin on her face. “Remind me to tell you later why.” She gave herself a little shake, and squared her shoulders. “But not until we’ve both had a beer.”
Dar opened her eyes, to see Alastair standing in front of her chair, holding out a glass. “What is that?” She asked, eyeing the dark liquid with some suspicion.
“Irish coffee.” Her boss said, in a wry tone. “I figured you could use it.”
Coffee. Dar took the offered mug without further preamble, and sipped gingerly from it. “Thanks.” She said. “Time lag’s still kicking my ass.”
Alastair took a seat next to her. They were in a quiet lounge off the main meeting space, the soft buzz of conversation trickling in through the adjoining door. “Well, lady, it’s late in anyone’s time zone.” He glanced at the door. “But I think we’re close.”
Dar checked her watch, and winced. “One AM. I sure as hell hope so.” She stretched her legs out and crossed them. “Is he done asking me questions?”
Her boss brought one foot up onto it’s opposite knee and rested his hands on his ankle. “I think so.” He said. “Actually I think he’s more tired of getting your answers so I think he’s just decided to beat me over the head with the terms again.”
Alastair chuckled. “They all are. No one in there wants to give money to anyone, least of all a bunch of smartass Yanks. I think our boys here are starting to piddle.”
“Ah.” Alastair sighed. “Hey, they’re bringing some dinner in. C’mon, maybe if we go in there together he’ll settle down some.” He patted Dar on the arm.
“Sure.” Dar obligingly got up. “I was just out here because I was bored listening to all the sales crap.” She said, as she followed the older man towards the double doors. She kept her coffee with her, though, sipping it as they entered the big conference room where Sir Melthon and his team, and their sales reps were going at it.
At this point, she figured, it was just a chest beating contest, and since she had no intention of bruising her own infrastructure she’d been sitting around merely waiting for a technical question to come up since she’d already gone over their plan four times and had no intention of doing it a fifth.
“Right.” Sir Melthon looked up as they entered. “Ah, there you are, and your little girl too.”
Alastair stopped in his tracks, turned, and looked Dar up and down. He then turned back to the magnate. “Sir Melthon? I know this lady’s father, and let me tell you, neither you, nor I want to make that statement even in jest.”
“None of that now, just get over here.” Melthon waved a hand at them. “I want…”
“I MEAN THAT.” Alastair suddenly raised his voice in a loud bark, cutting off all other conversation and making himself the sudden, startling center of attention. After a moment of silence. “I expect my staff to be treated with the same respect we show to yours.”
Sir Melthon leaned back in his chair and studied him. “You do say?”
Alastair stared back at him. “Damned right I do say.”
Dar stood quietly, sipping her coffee, not wanting to do anything to either escalate or downplay the moment. It went against her instincts to allow anyone to take her part the way her boss was doing, but she was smart enough to know there were dynamics here her usual bull in a china shop style would not mesh with.
Sir Melthon pondered a moment. “Well, then all right.” He shrugged. “Sorry about that. Didn’t think you were the sensitive type.” He directed the last comment at Dar.
“I’m not.” Dar put her cup down and settled into a soft leather seat across from him. “But Alastair is right. I’m the Chief Information Officer of the company. If you sign on, I hold your family jewels right here.” She held up her hand and crooked the fingers. “If you don’t respect me, how can you trust me not to send your business to hell or get bored someday and reroute your datastream to Iran?”
Melthon and his team stared at her, as Alastair took a seat next to Dar. “Is that a threat?” The magnate asked, in a splutter. “McLain, what is this?”
“Now, I am sure..” Francois started to break in hurriedly, stopping when Alastair held his hand up.
“This, is who we are.” The Texan folded his hands on the table. “So let me tell you now, if you can’t deal with my people being anything other than whitebread old men like me tell me now, and we’ll just cut the deck and go home. I’m not making us both miserable signing a contract with you.” He gazed steadily across at the magnate, his blue eyes open and guileless. “I do mean that.”
Melthon actually gaped at him.
“You are one fish, in my very very big ocean.” Alastair went on placidly.
Even Dar was hard pressed not to react, keeping her eyebrows in their customary places and concentrating on not letting her eyes widen. She leaned back in her chair and laced her fingers together instead, appreciating for perhaps the first time how hardball her boss was willing to be when he felt he needed to.
Hans was watching both men, with a fascinated expression as he tapped his fingers on the table, everyone else in the room was seemingly frozen in place.
Finally Melthon turned and looked at Dar. “I don’t like women in business!” He thumped his fist on the table.
Dar cocked her head, looking down at herself before she looked back up at him. “Too bad?” She said. “I’m not going to change into a man anytime soon. Sorry.”
“Hah!” The magnate turned back to Alastair. “She’ll get married on you, see if she doesn’t, McLean! Then what!?”
Alastair smiled. “Dar’s already married.” He said. “Hasn’t been an issue.”
“And have brats! You know how they are!” Melthon shot right back.
Alastair turned and looked at Dar, one brow edging up just a trifle.
“We have a dog.” Dar could see the twinkle in his eyes. “The mainframe will have kids before I will.” She leaned forward and picked up her cup. “Besides, can you imagine there being two of me?”
“No.” Her boss replied instantly. “I can’t afford two of you. My heart would give out.” He turned back to Sir Melthon. “So what’s it to be? It’s late, y’know? We can call it off now and I can get my people some rest before we move on to the next opportunity.”
Melthon eyed him shrewdly. “You’ve got brass ones.” He said. “This is not a small contract.”
“It isn’t.” Alastair agreed. ‘It’s got huge potential for us, and I think we can do a good job for you. But I’m not interested if it exposes my people, especially one of our singe most valuable resources to being treated like an afterthought. It’s not worth it to me.”
The magnate leaned back, most of his irascible attitude fading. “Valuing people is very old fashioned, you know. In this day and age, we are all expendable, or so they say.”
“People who say that are the only expendable ones.” Alastair replied quietly. “I’ve lived long enough in this business to have learned that the hard way.”
After a moment’s silence, Melthon nodded. “All right then. Fair enough.” He said. “I have long been accused by many..” He turned and deliberately looked at Hans, who smiled. “Of being old fashioned myself. I didn’t think I’d find an American who had any interest in anything but the dollar. You surprise me, McLean.”
“The missus says that on occasion to me too.” Alastair replied. “But that usually involves tacky Mexican jewelry and never comes with good brandy like this.” He held up his glass, tipping it slightly in Sir Melthon’s direction.
The magnate burst into laughter. He lifted his own cup and inclined it. “We will do business, McLean. I like a man who knows how to stand up for himself.” He glanced aside. “And for a woman!”
The sales execs relaxed and so did Sir Methon’s minions, as nicely tuxedo’d servers entered with mahogany serving trays from the far door. The first one of them paused and looked at the table, timidly eyeing the magnate before moving any further.
“Bring that in.” Their host waved a hand. “Bring that, and bring me a couple bottles of that rotgut my godson forced on me the other week. Might as well get rid of it with this lot.”
Dar eased back into her chair and drank her cooling coffee, the rich taste of the liquor in it burning her stomach as it settled. She watched the servers bustle around putting out plates and dishes and only after the noise in the room dispelled some of the tension did she glance over at Alastair.
Solemnly, he winked at her.
Dar lifted her mug up and behind it, poked the tip of her tongue out at him. She then glanced at her watch, and unclipped her PDA, opening it and tapping on the screen with the stylus.
You missed an eyeball busting moment here. It’s possible I might not leave this place tonight without kissing Alastair.
Hope your speech is knocking them dead. Buy your family a beer for me when it’s all over with and make sure someone took pictures.
Dar closed the Palm and turned, to find Sir Melthon now sitting in the seat right next to her. “So.” She repeated.
“My godson there.” The magnate spoke conversationally, as though the preceding standoff with Alastair had never happened. “Tells me you can do some very tricky stuff. Is that on the up and up?”
Dar peered over at Hans, who studiously avoided her gaze. “Maybe.” She said. “We have some very proprietary technology that I developed, to help us provide the best services to our customers. If that’s what he meant, then yes. “
Her PDA beeped. Dar resisted the urge to look at it while she waited for the magnate to continue, aware of someone putting a plate down in front of her on the table.
“You own it then, eh?” Melthon asked.
“He owns it.” Dar indicated Alastair, who was sitting by quietly watching and listening. “Or, more to the point, ILS owns it because I developed it on their time and their gear.”
“Ah hah.” The magnate got up and went back around the table. “All right, let’s get a bite to eat, and then we’ll carry on.” He said. “Hope none of you enlightened Americans are vegetarians.” He looked around the table, his bushy eyebrows hiking.
Dar studied the slab of beef in front of her. “Looks good to me.” She put the PDA down on the table and casually flipped it open. “Got any katsup?”
The men across the table stopped, and stared at her.
“Just kidding.” Dar smiled. She waited for them to start working on their plates again before she looked down at the Palm.
Get pictures. What the heck, give him a kiss for me too. I am about to go on stage and I’ve already had two confrontations with women older than my mother and just about kept my brother from kicking one of them in the shins. If I end up in jail, will you come home and bail me out?
Wish you were here. I have a headache.
“Excuse me.” Dar got up and tucked the PDA into her hand. “I need to make a phone call.” She ducked past the chair next to her and headed for the small antechamber, pulling her cell phone out as she cleared the door and keying the speed dial without looking.
It rang twice, then picked up. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Kerry’s voice sounded stressed, but also, wry. “Was the whining that loud?”
“Tell me some old witch gave you a hard time. What’s her name? I’ll hack into her pension and send it to the ASPCA.” Dar said. “I knew I should have co-opted you out of this.”
After a brief pause, Kerry chuckled. “Nah, it’s not that bad really.” She demurred. “I just ran into a few of my old teachers, that’s all.” She paused. “And..”
“I don’t know. I just want to get out of here.” Kerry admitted, in a quieter voice. “It’s just weirding me out. Too many memories.”
Dar exhaled, sensing the turmoil. “Hang in there.” She said. “One more day, Ker. Just blow through this and go have a plate of wings and a beer. I’ll be there with you in spirit.”
There was a brief pause on the other end. “Know something?” Her partner finally said. “When I get to Europe, I’m going to buy you a tiara.”
Dar’s nostrils flared and her eyes widened. “Huh?”
“You rule my world. Gotta go, sweetie. Love you.” Kerry hung up, leaving a faint echo behind her.
Dar tapped her cell phone against her jaw, before she turned to head back into the meeting room. “I’d look stupid as hell in one of those.” She sighed. “But I’d love to see her try it.”
“Was that Dar?” Angie asked, leaning against an unused podium as they waited behind the small stage.
“Yeah.” Kerry tucked her cell phone away. “How’d you know?” She glanced up in question.
“You’re smiling.” Her sister replied. “I haven’t seen you do that all night.” She put a sympathetic hand on Kerry’s back. “Listen, I’m really sorry I got you into this.” She added, softly. “I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.”
“Neither did I, but I probably should have.” Kerry admitted. “Anyway, we’re here now. I just want to get it done.”
Angie patted her shoulder. “Just think about the brewpub. If it gets too obnoxious out there, I’ll call Mike and have him moon the crowd and we can escape out the back.”
The thought was startlingly appealing. Kerry smothered a grin, and ran her fingers through her hair again, feeling the dryness in the back of her mouth and wishing she had a tall glass of ice tea. “We’re just a family full of scandal, huh?”
“Hey, it beats reading about the flower show in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Yeah, well.” Kerry sighed, as she spotted one of the event organizers heading her way through the small backstage area. She straightened up and twitched her sleeves out a little, taking a deep breath and exhaling it as she’d often seen Dar do before she presented. “Are we ready?”
The woman hesitated, glancing over her shoulder. “I think we are. Everyone’s seated.”
Kerry felt her nerves settle, as the waiting was over and now, at least, she could just do it and get it over with. “Okay, let’s go then.” She said. “Hope I don’t cause a riot.”
The organizer’s face twitched. “Let me just go introduce you and… oh.”
Kerry brushed by her. “You don’t need to. I’ll take it from here.” She unabashedly stole a page from Dar’s “do the unexpected’ book and slipped past the curtains, emerging into a pool of typically wishy washy school auditorium lighting.
She crossed to the small podium, mahogany wood and long worn with the forearms of decades of speakers before her, and rested her hands on it, simply standing there and waiting to be noticed.
It gave her a long few seconds to look out over the room. She’d last been in it for graduation, and her mind flashed back to long hours spent there listening to religious instruction and lecture s on morality and her place in the world.
The sudden absurdity of the contrast made her smile, and she felt her shoulders relax as she let her eyes scan the crowd as the crowd began to realize she was standing there. It was a full house, a mixture of current students, her old classmates, and teachers and she allowed herself a moment of surprised gratification that at least someone wanted to hear whatever it was she had to say.
The buzz settled down quickly, as all eyes turned to her. Unlike Dar, however, Kerry didn’t find this intimidating. “Good evening.” She injected her voice into the room, making sure to project a quiet confidence she almost actually felt.
“My name is Kerrison Stuart.” She hadn’t intended consciously to use her real name, but as it came off her tongue, it sounded right. “Some of you know me. Some of you only know of me, and some of you wish you’d never heard of me but since you asked me to speak here, you get what you get so let’s get started.”
She paused, and after a long moment of startled silence, the crowd applauded. “Mph.” She muttered under her breath. “Can’t be worse than that women in business seminar last year, now could it?”
Kerry waited for the noise to die down, then she studied the crowd for a few beats. Then she removed the microphone from the podium and came around from behind it. “Putting aside what’s mostly public knowledge about me, I’m going to take a minute to briefly introduce myself for the benefit of those of you who are wondering just who the heck I am.”
Angie watched from behind the curtain, bemused at the confident figure that had so recently been nervous and withdrawn back stage with her. She could just see Kerry’s profile, and her sister had seemingly transformed herself now that the moment was on her.
Kerry had always been funny that way. Shy and reserved, Angie remembered her keeping her own council mostly when they were teenagers. Part of that had been their parents, of course, by then Kerry had gone through the early stages of questioning their father and suffered the consequences.
Part of it hadn’t been though. Kerry had once told her that it was just too bad she understood as much as she did. That she’d have been a happier person if she’d been dumber. At the time Angie had thought she was being dissed, but now, knowing her sister a little better, she’d come to realize that it was just the truth.
Just the truth, that Kerry was smart, and though she didn’t want to see or admit it, she had their father’s calculating shrewdness and a certain toughness that she could hear echoing in Kerry’s voice when she probably wasn’t even aware of it.
Angie sighed. She and Michael had just been ‘the children’, but Kerry had always been something special to their father since aside from being smart, and good looking, girl or not she’d been his firstborn and no matter how rough he’d made it on her and no matter how awful things had gotten at the end there were parts of him that had been proud of her.
Seeing her here, now, in front of this crowd – Angie knew he’d be proud of her again.
“So now that we’re past the fact that I went to school here, and lived in town most of my life, let me tell you what it is I do now.” Kerry paused, and considered, aware of all the eyes on her. “The company I work for is ILS. We’re the largest IT services company in the world.”
Angie blinked a little. She hadn’t known that, though she knew Kerry’s company was large and she’d spent a few minutes reading about it on ILS’s website when she’d hunted down their public filings. Seeing Kerry’s name in them had seemed very weird, almost like she was reading about a stranger.
With a shake of her head, she turned her attention back to the stage.
“I’m glad I’ve gotten a chance to use the education I started here, and continued in college in the work I do now. “ Kerry was saying. “As Operations Vice President, I’ve had the opportunity to take what I learned and apply it in n industry that engages me mentally and provides me with an exciting work environment that I’m happy to go back to every day.”
Kerry paused, evaluating the crowd. “So now that I got that far, any questions?” She prompted, seeing the startled reaction from her old instructors. The crowd didn’t respond at first, and she felt a wry grin trying to emerge. “C’mon.” She said. “I can think of one question I know someone out there wants to ask.”
Angie stifled a laugh, covering her mouth with one hand as she heard the audience react, and a low hoot, definitively male, she knew was their brother.
Kerry heard it too. She managed to suppress a grin, then she turned as she saw first one, then a few hesitant hands go up. Questions were a risk. She figured she’d probably get at least one that would make her wish she hadn’t done it, but Dar had been right. The crowd knew more about her than she did about them, and she just wasn’t in the mood to preach the IT line tonight. “All right, go on.”
One of the current students, a dark haired girl stood up. “What made you pick high tech?”
Delightful surprise. “Why did I pick high tech.” Kerry repeated the question into the microphone. “Well.” She thought about it. “It was a lot sexier than law and it was like being on the frontier of something really new.”
Another hand went up. “How much money is there in that?”
Even more delightful. Kerry smiled. “In my job specifically or in the tech industry?” She replied. “As I was telling my mother the other night, my compensation’s public knowledge.” She felt the slightly startled reaction. “Our executive salary structure is equal or better than the industry average.” Her eyes twinkled a a little.“But in terms of high technology – our lowest entry level is at least twice what the minimum wage is.”
“Not really something you find listed in exciting careers though.” The girl suggested.
Kerry shrugged one shoulder. “Depends on how you look at it. We usually call the line teams button down blue collar staff because they do things like set up machines and run cabling but they also qualify for mortgages and drive nice cars.”
Another figure lifted a hand, this time older, one of her own classmates. Kerry recognized her and almost ignored the motion. Fairness overcame her though, and she turned and acknowledged it.
“Do you ever get tired of people making comments about you sleeping your way to the top?” The woman asked, making heads turn towards her in surprise.
Ah, yes. Kerry resisted the urge to throw the microphone at her. “C’mon, Stacey. Do you really think people say that to my face?” She asked, above the sudden murmur in the room. “Let me tell you something about what I do, and who I do it for. You can get a job like mine by sleeping with the boss, but you can’t keep it that way in a competitive business like ours. “
One of the event organizers was heading purposefully down the aisle towards her old classmate. Kerry caught her eye and lifted a hand, waving her off. “Please, I’ve had tougher questions over croissants in Vermont.”
The woman slowed, and hesitated, as the crowd looked around, and then back at Kerry with gathering interest. “We expect people to be respectful.” She glared at the woman who had asked the question. “Or else we’ll ask them to leave.”
Kerry’s heckler took a breath to answer, then the older woman’s eyes narrowed and she put her hands on her hips and Stacey subsided. “Sorry about that. I was just asking a question.” She apologized. “It’s not like it’s a deep dark secret.” She paused. “These days.”
Kerry’s right brow lifted a little. She wondered what that was supposed to mean, then she saw her old teacher’s face tighten in anger and realized the jibe possibly wasn’t pointed at her.
Ah huh. She heard the crowd buzz, some of the current students snickering a little and it occurred to her that there might be some drama in the room that had nothing at all to do with her presence. Something Dar once said popped into her mind and she scanned the crowd thoughtfully.
“It’s always nice to see how our students mature.” The organizer said. “Or not, as the case may be.” She gave the room a severe look, before she returned to a small group of the older teachers and resumed her seat.
The murmurs died down. “You have to walk the walk.” Kerry added, as her old adversary finally sat down and the attention swung back to her. “Besides, if it wasn’t people saying that, they’d be saying my father got me the job. What’s the difference?” She added, looking right at Stacey. “In the end, it doesn’t matter how you get there, what matters is if you succeed.” She said. “And I have.”
Stacey looked away casually, ignoring her.
Another current student raised their hand. Kerry nodded at her. “Go on.”
The blond girl stood. “Do you face a lot of bias when you deal with men in your same position?’
Kerry felt pretty good about this class, a lot better than she had about her own. “Sometimes.” She answered candidly. “When I go out to consolidate a new account, I have to deal with that sometimes because that’s usually an adversarial circumstance anyway and some people, both men and women, think they can take advantage of me.”
She went strolled around back to the podium. “If you decide to pursue a career though, you’re going to face that pretty much anywhere. It’s just something you learn to deal with, and if you’re smart you use it to your advantage.”
“How?” The girl asked. “If people treat you without respect, how do you use that?”
Kerry leaned on the podium. “Let me tell you a little story.” She said. “Maybe that will answer your question, because I wondered about that too, when I first started out.”
“Penny for your thoughts, Dar?”
Dar looked up from her plate of beef. “Kerry’s worth more than that.” She answered Alastair candidly. “She’s at her high school reunion tonight giving a speech.”
Alastair’s face squiggled between surprise and consternation. “Ah. Oh.” He murmured. “Well, I’m sure she’s having a good time.”
Dar looked at him.
“Or maybe not.” Her boss said. “Did she have a tough time in school? I wasn’t that fond of mine, now that I think of it.”
“Christian all girls school.” Dar said. “Actually, she’s never spoken badly of it, but she’s just not that comfortable going back to her hometown after the last couple of times there and she got roped into this speech at the last minute.”
“Ahh.” Alastair picked up his glass of red wine and swirled it a bit before he took a sip. “Yeah, she’s had a tough time up there from what you said. Surprised you didn’t go with her.”
Dar paused in mid bite. She swallowed the bit of potato and cocked her head at him. “And missed this meeting?” She asked, in a quizzical tone. “I offered. Kerry told me to stop talking crazy.”
Alastair smiled. “You know, I never figured you for a family woman, Dar, but you make a damn fine one.” He said, putting his glass down and checking his watch. “Well, damn it all. Does this guy think people don’t need to sleep? It’s two am!”
“Uh huh.” Dar ate another bit of potato. “On the other hand, I’ll be sick to my stomach if I fall asleep after I eat this so maybe staying up is better.” She glanced across the table, where Sir Melthon was in consultation with his minions. “By the way, thanks for kicking him in the ass for me.”
Her boss smiled as he neatly cut his steak into squares. “Figured I owed it to you.” He said, in a conversational tone. “But y’know, even if I didn’t, I’da done it. Man was giving me an itch.”
Dar frowned, her dark brows contracting across her forehead. “You owed me what?” She asked, puzzled. “Did I miss something?” She looked around, but the rest of the group was busy with their own dinners, or talking amongst themselves – even Hans was leaned over talking to Sir Melthon in a low mutter.
“Ah well.” Alastair chuckled softly. “Remember when that crazy feller Ankow was in our shorts?”
Dar snorted, and rolled her eyes. “Jackass.”
“Mm.” Alastair agreed. “But y’know, I felt like I was the jackass in all that, Dar.” He said. “I look back and that, and I know I sat back and let you take heat you didn’t deserve.”
Dar blinked. “Well… “
Her boss looked over at her. “He was after me.” He said. “And the only thing standing in his way was you.”
Dar blinked again, caught utterly by surprise, and unsure of how to react.
“You coulda given him what he wanted, Dar, and done well by it.” Alastair said, his eyes watching her curiously. “Any particular reason you walked into a bear trap on my behalf?”
Was there? Dar felt a little bewildered by the question. “Alastair.” She said. “It never occurred to me to do anything else.” She muttered. “Besides, you asked me to help.”
“I did.” He said. “So you know, when I look back at that, and how you were treated at that meeting, I kick myself every single time.”
Well. Dar ate a few pieces of her steak, and recalled that tense, angry few days when she’d been torn between the stress of the board’s being prodded to fire her and her anxiety about Kerry, testifying at her father’s hearing.
She paused, putting her fork down and taking a swallow of the wine that had been untouched in her glass. “You know, I almost walked away from it all in that meeting.” She tasted the unfamiliar tang of the tannins on her tongue. “There was one minute there, when I just almost said to hell with it.”
“Glad you didn’t.” Alastair remarked.
“Me too.” Dar smiled, and raised her glass towards him. “Alastair, you don’t owe me anything. I just did what comes naturally to me.”
Alastair lifted his glass and touched it to Dar’s. “Exactly.” He said. “I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure it’s been the last year or so getting to actually know you.”
Unsure if that was a compliment or not, Dar decided to smile anyway. “Likewise.” She covered her bases. “I just wish I’d seen my father kick his ass. I was incredibly pissed off that I missed that.”
“Security cameras caught it.” Her boss said. “I’ll send you copy.” He winked at her, and went back to his steak.
Dar took another swallow of wine, deciding that her life was enduring an evening of new experiences. She only hoped Kerry’s would turn out as pleasantly interesting.
“You know, the truth is that people don’t get respect.” Kerry moved around in front of the podium, taking her microphone with her as she closed in on the audience again. “Especially, if you grow up in the spotlight like I did, everyone assumes the worst of you because in a quirky kind of way, that makes people feel better about themselves if they do, doesn’t it?”
She scanned the crowd, finding a lot of very curious eyes mixed with those very full of disapproval. “So I knew that even before I started working for ILS.” Kerry paused, and made eye contact with a few people. “I knew that before I left here.”
Kerry walked over to one side of the stage. “I knew that, even though I was a good student, and that was I smart, even though I went to college and got a degree, that no matter what I achieved, everyone would assume someone handed it to me on a plate.”
The room had settled into silence.
“So I eventually decided that I couldn’t worry about what other people thought.” The blond woman said. “What mattered is what I thought about myself, and that’s why I decided to leave here, leave my home and my family to try and achieve what would be success in my own eyes.”
A hand lifted. Kerry pointed at the girl. “Go ahead.”
“Couldn’t you have done that here? Wouldn’t it have been more impressive, if you had?”
Good question. “I might have been able to.” Kerry conceded. “It would have been harder, staying here and being so close to everything that I felt was boxing me in. But the fact is, I didn’t.”
She paused, then continued. “What I did, was take a job in the field of my major, in a city far away from home. It was scary.” She said. “But the people who hired me had no idea who I was, only that I could speak English and construct compound sentences, so it was like starting from scratch in a way.”
Another hand. “What job was it?”
“Manager of an IT department.” Kerry said. “It was a small company, and I actually did well there until one day a much bigger company bought us.” She nibbled her lower lip. “When that happened, the person in charge of their IT department came in and told me that we just weren’t wanted or needed, and we’d be getting pink slips in very short order.”
The audience reacted, mumuring a little.
“In a way, that was pretty horrific.” Kerry said. “But in a way, it’s just reality. That’s what its like out there.” She made eye contact again with a few of the watchers. “That does happen, every day. It’s business. And one thing it meant to me was that I was being treated just like any other unwanted worker would have been. There was nothing personal about it.”
It was hard not to smile as she said it, seeing as now she knew just how much of a lie they were both telling themselves at the time. “When you grow up in privelege like I did, like a lot of you did…” She paused meaningfully. “You don’t expect that. You expect someone to come in and fix things don’t you?’
She could tell at least some of them were thinking about it. It had taken her a long time to be able to. “So for me, it was a learning experience because I hadn’t faced that kind of situation before.”
“What did you do?” The same girl asked. “Go to another company?”
“Well.” Kerry smothered a grin. “Not exactly. I worked hard to make the transition less painful for the people working for me. I wasn’t worried about myself, but there were people there who really were depending week to week on that job to survive.”
“Wait wait.” Her old friend stood up again, glancing behind her at the headmistress, before she continued. “You can’t have it both ways, Kerry. Either you were on your own there, or you were just posing, in which case you’re right, you had nothing to worry about.”
Kerry smiled. “I was on my own.” She clarified. “But I knew I was unattached, and I could get a job again fairly easily. Most of the people working for me had families and mortgages they had to worry about, which I didn’t.” She said. “But it was a very tough time for me, because the last thing I wanted was to have to come home, having failed.”
Several of the girls in the front nodded.
“So then I had my second big learning experience.” Kerry went on. “That same person in charge from the bigger company came to see me, and, not knowing me from Adam’s housecat, told me ‘Hey. You’ve got talent. We’ll keep you.”
The crowd laughed, a bit hesitantly.
“Honestly.” Kerry said. “It was the first time in my life practically that I’d been taken at face value and been told I was competent – by a virtual stranger.” She added. “So the lesson there was, you never know where your inspiration in life is going to come from. It could come at you from very unexpected places.”
“So you stayed.” The blond girl in the front called out.
“The bigger company was ILS. So yes, I did.” Kerry smiled. “And as you can see, it worked out very much in my favor, which is another lesson – sometimes bad things can lead to good results.”
“Would you do the same thing again?”
Kerry’s smile broadened. “In a heartbeat.” She said. “Do yourselves a favor – whatever you do, wherever you choose to do it, follow your heart. Do what feels right to you and you’ll end up being grateful for it.”
She stepped back to the podium, and put the microphone back in it’s holder. “Now I think it’s time to get this party started.” She said. “Thanks for inviting me to speak, but this is about old friends getting together, and rediscovering what they left here, so let’s let everyone get at it.”
There was a brief pause, then applause sounded. Kerry lifted a hand in acknowledgement, then she turned and headed back to where Angie was waiting, resisting the urge to wipe her palms on her skirt.
“Wow.” Angie greeted her. “That was impressive.”
“Gag.” Kerry made a face. “I wish I could have just kicked Stacey in the teeth. Now that would have been impressive in these heels.” Privately though, she felt good about her presentation. It hadn’t been her best, but it hadn’t been her worst, and at least no one had tossed a balled up program at her.
“C’mon.” Her sister gave her a hug. “Stop dissing yourself Ker. You were great.”
“I’m just glad it’s over. Let’s get out of here.” Her sister exhaled, rocking her head to either side to loosen up tense shoulders. “Boy, am I looking forward to that beer.”
Angie chuckled and she turned to lead Kerry out from behind the stage. They’d only gotten three or four steps though, before a tall figure intercepted them. “Ah, Ms. Strickfield.”
“Girls.” The older woman said. “A word with you please.”
Angie pulled up uncertaintly. Kerry, however, didn’t hesitate.
“Sorry, Ms. Strickfield.” Her older sister said. “My brother and sister and I have a previous engagement. Thanks for your hospitality, but we need to be going.”
The older woman seemed surprised. “You won’t be staying for the recption then?” She asked. “I thought perhaps you would enjoy meeting with your classmates. I think your speech was very well received.”
“No.” Kerry said firmly. “I appreciate that, and I’m sure the reception will be just lovely, but unfortunately I have prior family commitments.”
“Of course.” The woman recovered. “I’m sure you want to spend time with your loved ones while you are here. Forgive me – and thank you for coming, Ms. Stuart. It really was a pleasure to listen to you speak.”
Kerry blinked, caught a little off guard. “Thanks.” She said. “Bit of a tough crowd, but I did my best.”
Ms Strickfield smiled at her. “Ms. Stuart, I had no fear of that. Your grace under pressure is very well recorded in recent years. At any rate, since we won’t have the pleasure of your company at the recption, have a good evening, and enjoy your time with your family.” She gave Angie a brief nod, and slipped out a side door to the auditorium.
“Wow.” Angie murmured. “Who’d have guessed?”
Kerry scratched her nose. “Dar, actually.” She muttered. “But that’s another long story best told over lager. Let’s get Mike before he starts kissing someone and get out of here.” She resumed course for the door, straightening her jacket again before she put her hand on the knob to turn it.
“Why do I get a feeling I’m going to get more of an education tonight than I bargained for?” Angie followed her with a wry grin. “You know, Ker, life around you must never be boring.”
“So, it is agreed.”
Dar watched in utter relief as Sir Melthon and Alastair clasped hands. She avoided looking at her watch, resting her chin against her fist instead as she waited for the rest of the niceties to be finished. The negotiations hadn’t been that lengthy, but it was late, and she was tired, and she was very much looking forward to that nice big bed with it’s fluffily soft pillows.
“Good deal” Alastair said, briskly. “It’s been a pleasure spending the evening with you good folks, but now it’s time for me to get my team some rest so they can start planning the integration transition tomorrow.”
Sir Melthon nodded, looking tired himself. “Right.” He said. “We can pick up tomorrow at lunchtime. I will have my lot set up a workroom, and we’ll put a spread on. Mimosas’ll start the day off right, eh?”
“Sounds great.” Alistair waved at his group. “Let’s go people.” He picked up the signed contract paper in it’s folder and tucked it under his arm, as the rest of the ILS team stood up and started their goodbyes.
Dar stretched her back out, and let her hand rest on the back of her chair. She waited for Alastair to move towards the door, then she followed him, with a casual wave towards the rest of the team. “Goodnight, gentlemen.”
“Good night, Dar.” Francois responded. “See you tomorrow.”
Hans caught up with them as she reached the door and smiled, as he opened it. “It was a good day, yes?” He asked Dar in German. “Long, but good.”
“Long, but good.” Dar agreed. “I think everyone pretty much got some of what they wanted.”
“That is very true.” Hans was at her shoulder as they walked down the long, curving staircase that led to the ground floor of the big mansion. “I think he is happy. He likes your boss.”
“I like my boss.” Dar smiled. “In fact, today he’s on my A list.”
They reached the outer door, which was opened for them by a uniformed doorman. Another was standing by, holding their jackets. Dar took hers and escaped in the chilly, very early morning fall air and took a minute to shrug into the soft leather as they stood waiting for their cars.
“Damn good way to end the night.” Alastair commented.
“Any way you’d have ended it would have been good at this point.” Dar said, dryly. “I thought we were going to have breakfast over foxhounds or something at this rate.”
Alastair chuckled. “He’s a tough negotiator, but I think we’ll do all right.” He stepped forward as the first of the cars pulled up. “C”mon, Dar. We’re in the same place.”
Dar didn’t argue. She settled in the back seat of the sedan and pulled out her cell phone, checking the time on it before she dialed.
It rang twice, and then was answered. “Hey.” Dar listened, but heard only a quiet humming in the background.
“Hey, sweetie.” Kerry responded. “Are you finally done?”
“Mmhm.” Dar leaned back as Alastair shut the door on his side and the car started to pull away. “How’d it go?” She guessed not that bad, just from her partner’s tone.
“Not bad.” Kerry promptly confirmed. “We’re on our way to the pub now.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“How’d your part go?” The blond woman asked, after a moment of quiet.
“You’ve got your work cut out for you.” Dar informed her. “Bring your pencils and a bucket of patience.”
Kerry’s smile was audible through the phone. “Don’t worry, I will. Were they tough?”
“Want anything from here?” Kerry asked. “I have some shopping time tomorrow.”
Kerry chuckled. “Okay, you got it.” She exhaled and there was a faint sound of traffic that floated through. “That really wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.” She admitted. “I think I worked myself into a froth for no reason.”
“Well.” Dar glanced at Alastair, who was peering out the window with deep and abiding interest. “It’s a good thing for them they didn’t give you a hard time.” She said. “I’d hate to think I was stuck here babysitting Alastair when you needed me to kick some ass.”
Her boss turned his head and looked over at her, eyebrows hiking.
Dar grinned at him.
“Is he there?” Kerry asked. “You didn’t say that in front of him did you?”
“Sure did.” Her partner cheerfully acknowledged. “What the hell. It’s 2am and I’m so wiped if we had a problem I’d have to Fedex myself a box of brain cells to take care of it.”
Alastair snorted, and leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head. “Glad that fella didn’t tell us to meet him for breakfast.”
“Me too.” Dar agreed. “Anyway, I just wanted to find out how your speech went.” She addressed Kerry again. “Go have fun, and buy your sibs a round on me, okay?”
“Absolutely.” Kerry said. “Bye hon, get some rest.”
“I will. Later.” Dar closed up her phone and put it away. “I think he was trying to see if he could wear you down and get those last set of concessions.”
Alastiar snorted again. “Listen, he may be a big shot royal whatever, but lady, I’ve played poker with slicker men than he ever will be.” He said. “They’re big here, and I like their setup. Good properties, good business model – but in terms of volume it’s one of our smaller contracts.”
“I know.” Dar said. “Didn’t think it paid to mention that though.”
“Not at all.” Her boss cheerfully agreed. “And besides, I like to think we give all our customers top notch service, no matter what the size of the contract.” He glanced at Dar. “I don’t recall you ever asking if any of your high wire act schenanigans were worth the size of the deal.”
“Huh.” Dar grunted in agreement. “Yeah, never really mattered to me.” She said. “But all in all, it’s been a good day.”
“Sure has.” Alastair said. “Everything go all right for Kerry?”
They were both quiet for the rest of the ride to the hotel, and they got out in the subdubed quiet of early morning to a mostly empty street and a dim, very sleepy lobby.
“Evening.” Alastair greeted the doorman as they entered. “Well, Dar, I think it’s safe to say we can all sleep in. Give me a buzz if you want to do brunch before we go over. If his menu tonight’s any indication we’ll probably get whole pheasant or something for lunch.”
“Sure.” Dar got her key out as they rode the elevator up and walked down the stately hallway that held their rooms. She left Alastair at his and went gratefully to her own. She pushed the door open and let it shut behind her.
It was cool inside, and quiet, and smelled unnervingly like chocolate. Dar smiled as the scent hit her nose, and she rested her hand on the back of the chair in the room as she kicked her shoes off and looked around for its source.
Near the bed, she spotted it. A small tray was sitting on the table, a silver pot squarely in the center of it. Even from where she was, she could see the faint steam coming from the spout and as she walked over, she recognized little dishes of condiments meant to be added to the waiting cup.
Dar pushed these aside to retrieve a small, white card, turning it over to read the words on the back with an already knowing smile. “Thank you, Kerrison.” She put the card down, and inspected the dishes, selecting a few mini marshmallows and a gummy bear, dropping them in the cup, then pouring the steaming hot chocolate over them.
Then she left the gooey tidbits to melt as she removed her suit and returned it to it’s hanger, trading it for her long tshirt and bare feet.
She glanced at her laptop, then she deliberately turned her back on it and went back to the bed, pulling aside the already turned down comforter and sliding under it, appreciating the smell of clean linen mixed with cocoa surrounding her.
She picked up the cup, lifting it towards the window. “Heres’s to you, Ker.” She said. “Hope you like the cake at the pub.” She took a sip and smiled, and wiggled her toes in contentment.
Kerry leaned back in her bench seat, resting one arm along the back of it as she picked up her frosty mug and took a sip of her second beer. Having traded her suit for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and having her speech behind her, she found herself to be in a good mood, and happy with the world around her.
“What in the hell was that one chick’s problem??” Mike asked, around a mouthful of jalapeno popper. “Did she have a tulip stuck up her butt or something?”
“Who, Stacey?” Kerry tried to remember just what had been Stacey’s problem. Her first beer had put enough of a displacement between her and the event that it took an effort, and she used the arrival of her coconut shrimp appetizer as a delay tactic while she rummaged in her memory.
“She was the one you beat in that debating championship your senior year, wasn’t she?” Angie spoke up. She had a luridly colorful fruit drink in front of her and she was happily sucking the pineapple from it. “I remember she pitched a hissy fit at the Palace afterward.”
“You remember that?” Kerry found she did also, but very vaguely. She hadn’t known Stacey that well, they’d gone in different social circles. Just one of the many girls not too different from her and her sister that she’d known. “I sort of remember that debate.” She put her beer down and selected a shrimp to nibble.
“I remember, because I heard her mother yelling at her in the bathroom at the Palace that night.” Angie sucked her daquiri through it’s attendant straw. “She was blaming the fact that Stacey’d spent the night with her boyfriend before the debate on her losing it.”
Kerry made a face. “Ah, yeah, now I remember.” She said. “I forgot all about who I was debating because I was scared spitless having father in the audience.” She recalled. “I could have been facing Ronald McDonald and it wouldn’t have made an impression.”
“Oh yeah.” Mike reached over and stole one of Kerry’s shrimp. “What a big deal he made out of being there. I think every freaking paper within a hundred miles was straggling in the back of that place taking pictures.”
Kerry glanced casually around, but the pub was quiet, and she didn’t see anyone she knew around them. Not really surprising given that it was a Monday night and it was fairly late. There were a few men at the bar, and two groups of younger people near the pool table, and there was a low strain of Celtic music playing she found familiar. “I think that was one of the few times we had our picture together in the paper.”
She had a copy of it, that she’d saved. A slightly tattered bit of newspaper tucked in a protective sleeve she’d stuck in a scrapbook of her school years and ended up taking to Miami with her. She and her father standing next to the wooden school podium she’d only recently spoke at, her father with his hand resting on her shoulder, a pleased and satisfied expression on his face.
She wondered what he’d have thought hearing her tonight. Would he have been able to set aside all the crappiness between them and just been glad for her success?
“Yeah, what a photo op that was.” Mike said. “I remember him telling the paper he thought you might have a career in politics ahead of you.”
“Oh gag.” Kerry moaned, retreating to her beer. “I’d rather have flipped burgers for a living.” She stretched her legs out and crossed her ankles. “We should get drunk and show up to mother’s hung over tomorrow.”
Angie covered her eyes. “Let’s not.” She said. “As you reminded me, I’ve got to live with her now.” She glanced up as the waiter sidled up. “Can I get another one of these?” She ignored Mike’s snicker and held up her daquiri glass.
“Sure.” The waiter took the glass. “Your dinners will be coming out shortly, but remember to leave room for dessert.”
“Well…” Angie waggled her hand.
“Trust me, you’ll want to.” The waiter grinned and sauntered off.
Kerry chuckled, taking another shrimp. “Worse comes to worse we can take it home for breakfast.” She reminded them. “Cheescake in the morning’s great.”
“Hedonist.” Mike accused.
“If you think that’s hedonism, you’ve got a lot to learn.”
Kerry sat cross legged on the bed, writing longhand in a small cloth bound book propped up on one of the pillows.
It was quiet in her room, and quiet in the rest of the house. A glance at the clock told her it was well after midnight, and she pondered a moment before she went back to writing.
Sept 10th, 2001.
Well, today went better than I expected it to. I keep saying that. What was I really expecting? Did I really think they were going to throw rotten apples at me?
I don’t know, Maybe I did. I’m glad the younger crowd showed some brain cells and class, and to be honest I wouldn’t have minded talking to them a little longer if all of my old classmates hadn’t been at the reception.
Is that cowardly? I don’t think so. I just think it’s normal for someone not to like being insulted like what Stacey did there. What a jerk. But Angie was right – she was a jerk when we went to school here, she didn’t become one just because it turned out I was gay.
That was the one thing the kids didn’t ask about. They were more interested in how to succeed in business. That’s amazingly cool. I may even have to join my alumni society and start tossing them a few bucks if they’re turning out people with those kind of goals.
Does it really matter that I’m gay? It’s the 21st century. People shouldn’t care at this point in humanity’s history but you know, I think it does matter to the older crowd because I think they feel like they’re not in control of things and life’s accelerating out of control.
I’m used to it. Technology changes every minute. If you spend your life immersed in constant change, then when the world changes around you it just seems normal, doesn’t it?
I wonder if that’s how mom’s coping with everything. Just invest in the change, and maybe you stop stressing about how things used to be, and how you wanted them to turn out, and you just start surfing the wave and living in the minute.
I think I like that. Life is never boring if it’s full of change, is it?
I was worrying about what mom was going to talk to us about tomorrow, but I’ve decided to just not get mad about whatever it is, assuming it’s something I might get mad about. The only power to stress me out she has is the power I give her.
Isn’t that great? Only took me how many years to figure that out? I bet Dar would crack up.
Kerry reviewed her words, and chuckled.
After a few minutes, she heard footsteps approaching, then she looked up again to see Angie in the doorway to her room. “Hey. Thought you were sleeping.”
“Andrew was fussing.” Angie explained, entering the bedroom. “And I saw your light on when I came back upstairs. Why are you still up?”
“Oh.” Kerry glanced at her little book. “I just.. it sounds silly but I’ve started keeping a diary.” She explained, a touch sheepishly. “I’m about done. Is Andy okay?”
“Oh sure.” Her sister sat down on the edge of Kerry’s bed. “He’s teething.” She said. “After you go through that the firs time, like I did with Sally, you know what to look for and what to do, but boy, the first time it freaks you out.”
Kerry closed her diary up and capped her pen. “How’s Sally doing?”
Angie paused, then she shrugged a little. “She’s confused.” She said. “She doesn’t really understand what’s going on, or why she sometimes is in one place with her daddy, and sometimes here with me, but for all his other faults Richard doesn’t play the blame game so I think she’ll adjust after a while.”
“Mm.” Kerry tried to imagine what that would have been like, and found it hard. “We never had to deal with that.” She said. “It would have been weird.”
Her sister nodded. “It would have been. Fortunately for the kids, our divorce was a lot like our marriage was – passionless and businesslike.”
“Hey, it’s true.” Angie said. “Ker, when I see you and Dar, and hear you talk to each other – you have something I have no clue about, you realize that right?” She cocked her head to one side and regarded her older sibling. “The whole bit with you sending each other notes, and for Pete’s sake, sending fudge covered mousse cakes? Unreal.”
Kerry made a wry face. “You know, we’ve always done that.” She confessed. “I thought it was one of those things you do when you’re.. uh.. dating. Or whatever.” She cleared her throat. “But we just kept doing it. I guess we’ll stop sometime. Most married couples I know don’t.. do that.”
“But?” Angie watched her, as her words slowed to a stop.
“Dar’s parents still do.” Kerry chuckled. “Oh well. It’s nice though. That was killer cake.” She licked her lips in memory. “I didn’t even remember seeing that on the menu.”
“It wasn’t.” Her sister said. “The manager told me it was delivered from some bakery in Detroit, hand carried.”
Kerry had the grace to look mildly embarrassed. “All I had was hot chocolate sent to her room.” She muttered. “And you know what? She probably had that all planned way before I called her hotel.”
Angie covered her eyes in mock despair.
“So.” Kerry cleared her throat. “Are you going to stay with mom long term? “ She turned her pen in her fingers. “I know it’s a lot quieter here now.”
Her younger sister got up and wandered around the room, pausing to look out the darkened window. “You know, I wish I was you, Ker.” She turned to see a pair of blond eyebrows hiked up. “You’ve got guts, you’re successful, you’re in a great relationship…”
Kerry remained quiet, since there was no denying any of that.
“But I’m not.” Angie concluded. “I’m a typical second child, and you know what? I don’t want to risk what I’ll have to risk for a sexy, adventurous life. So yeah, I’ll probably stay here with mom, unless Brian decides to make a commitment and then we’ll see. Even so, we’ll probably end up living with her. She likes Brian.”
Angie chuckled dryly and sat back down on the bed. “With everything that’s happened in the last few years, I think she’s learned to take her successes where she finds them She wanted Brian for a son in law, so if it turns out he becomes one, she’ll take it even if it’s not really what she envisioned before now.”
Fair enough. Kerry sighed. “I hope that works out.” She said. “But anyway, if you ever do decide you want a radical change, you know where to find me.”
Angie smiled. “Sally wants to come down to see her Aunt Kerry’s log cabin. Maybe we can visit for a couple of days near Christmas, when it’s all snow here, and anything but there.”
“You’re on.” Kerry agreed instantly. “The kids would love it down there. It’s right on the beach, and there’s a bunch of cool stuff to do all around there, like glass bottom boats and paddle boats and things.”
“Great.” Angie got up. “Let me let you get to sleep. It’s going to be along day for you tomorrow.” She said. “And hey, maybe I can even get mom to come down and visit for a day. Show her you really don’t live in the middle of some third world country.”
Eh. Kerry waved at her, as she left. “Actually…” Though she loved her adopted home, very often between the massively immigrant population and the overly graft ridden political scene it did sometimes seem like they lived on one of the nearby Carribbean islands.
However, she figured her mother would actually be pleasantly surprised with a visit to the condo so she was content to let the chips fall where they might on that subject. She got up and put her diary into her briefcase, then she turned the lamp off and climbed under the covers.
Somewhere, halfway across the planet, she knew Dar would be getting up soon, despite her late night and she wished suddenly that they would be sharing breakfast with each other. She wanted to talk to her partner about the interesting things she’d seen and felt the last few days, and she was already looking forward to her part in the new project and wanting to get started on it.
When she got there, there would be the initial meeting with Dar, to find out what Alastair and she had promised as part of the contract. Kerry trusted her partner not to sell her down the river, but there were times when Dar would okay a concession if she thought the contract was important enough and then sometimes they scrambled.
This was an important contract. Not for the size of it, but for the visibility and the foothold it gave them in an area they hadn’t really been that successful in before now.
It tickled her to no end that she’d been a part of that win, even though she knew that it had been more pure luck than any real skill on her or Dar’s part that had achieved it. Take truffles where you found them, Dar had said.
Yum. So she would. Kerry closed her eyes and relaxed her body, hearing the patter of leaves against the window and the soft creaks of the big house around her, until it lulled her into sleep.