One very long night between Ben Stone and Claire Kincaid starts with laughter and ends in tears. Author Yanna would like to add profuse apologies over "any liberties I may have taken with the English language. It is not my mother tongue. I didn't have much choice really because, had I written my fiction in Greek it would have beenů'all Greek to you.' " Well, we think the apologies are far premature.
By Yanna P.
Ben turned and looked sharply at Claire as she gave out a loud laugh. It had been a long day and they were both wiped out. They were in Stone's office, she was sitting on the floor, her back propped up against his desk and he was sprawled on the couch studying a file and sipping what was probably his second gin and tonic. He had loosened his tie and unbuttoned two of his shirt buttons. Hardly noticing how it happened really, the years of working together had allowed a certain intimacy between them. Claire had taken off her shoes, something she would have never even dreamt of doing when she first started working for Ben Stone.
But even though they now called themselves friends rather than co-workers and felt more comfortable around one another, still nothing could have ever prepared Claire for Ben's comment that morning. Now, at nine thirty p.m. she finally got over her initial shock and the enormous embarrassment that had followed and managed to laugh about it.
"I was just thinking about what you told me this morning."
"Oh, really? What would that be, I told you a lot of things this morning." Ben kept his eyes on his file but Claire could see his teasing smile on his voice. She decided to play along:
"If I remember correctly Mr. Stone, you said: 'I'm glad that one of us is having sex, Ms Kincaid, but I wish you wouldn't rub my nose in it.' You then explained that you had deduced this by the fact that I was wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday as well as by the presence of an enormous love bite on the left side of my neck. You suggested I do something about it before our court appearance." She had kept a straight face throughout, sounding exactly as if she was testifying in a court of law.
Ben laughed so hard at this, tears started streaming down his face and he choked on his drink. She considered going over to him to pat him on the back maybe but there was no need apparently. Actually there was but she was too tired. His face was red all over and he would stop and breathe for a while and then laugh again, coughing at the same time.
"Are you trying to kill me?" he croaked wiping his eyes.
"I nearly died of embarrassment this morning," she said trying to cling on to that straight face and nearly succeeding.
Ben turned and looked at her. Claire never ceased to wonder at how different he looked whenever he smiled. "It's a pity he doesn't do it more often," she thought.
"That should teach you to look at a mirror before coming to work, young lady."
She sighed in mock exasperation. "I did look at a mirror, I don't understand how I missed the damn thing!"
They had both put down the files they had been studying or rather looking at since after a certain hour nothing registered anymore. Claire went to the bar and poured herself a drink.
"Mind mixing me another one?" she heard Ben behind her. "I think I spilt most of my second one."
She prepared their drinks in silence and went back to where she had been sitting. Ben was sitting on the couch now, so she could have sat next to him but somehow she felt safer on the floor.
"I really needed that," she said after taking a large sip. "I was thinking of going out for a drink but it's like I 'm stuck in this damn place!"
"Hey," he said playfully, "watch how you talk about my kingdom."
She laughed, spilling some scotch on her shirt.
"Oh, well, it's just yesterday's clothes..." her voice trailed off to a yawn. "I'm beat," she said. "I hope I'll find the courage to drive home."
She could feel Ben's gaze on her, studying her. He was sitting sideways on the couch now, his head propped on his elbow. Claire wanted to joke about the him staring at her but couldn't. There was an intensity she didn't think she had ever experienced before in all the times she had been alone with him.
Except maybe for that night. They had never discussed it afterwards, it was as if they had made a pact to never, ever talk about it. It had been, what, two, three years ago? Could it have been as much as four? She remembered how he had been after hearing Anne Madsen was dead, his pale, haggard face giving her a glimpse of what he might look like in ten, maybe twenty years' time. She had found the courage to talk to him when she realized he was planning to resign. She had felt as though she was walking on a minefield, every word out of her mouth sounding like a cliché, wondering when he would lose his temper and take it all out on her. She had almost wished he had done that instead of staring at her impassively. He hadn't sneered at her. He had seemed genuinely touched by her faith in him considering they had only worked together for a year.
She didn't know whether it had really been her doing. She was sure Ben had also talked to Adam that night. On any case, Ben hadn't resigned. Was he different afterwards? She couldn't tell. Adam had said something once about him being more cynical. Not that she remembered him having being cynical before.
"A penny for your thoughts." Ben's voice brought her back to reality.
She avoided his eyes. "I'm too tired to think," she said lamely. "I fell asleep with my eyes open."
"So, I assume you won't be meeting the young man who left his mark on you last night," he teased her again.
"No!" she said rather more abruptly than she had intended.
"It wasn't an accusation, Claire." The teasing tone was gone from his voice. It felt as though he was afraid he might have taken this too far.
Claire wanted to assure him she wasn't offended even though she felt she had every reason to be.
"I know," she said quietly.
A heavy silence fell between them for a while. Still, they sipped their drinks, neither of them getting up to leave.
"Isn't it strange how time passes?" said Ben, more to himself than to Claire. "It seems to me that only yesterday I took my daughter to her First Communion. I had tied her braid myself because she said her mother hurt her when she did it." He sighed. "Now my daughter has hair short enough to join the marines if she wants and is dating a boy with hair long enough for both of them." He snorted in disgust. "Some asshole by the name of Brad, or Brett, yeah, that's it, Brett. He french kissed my daughter right in front of me. And then I ask my beautiful daughter why she's talking so strange and she says, 'Oh, it's nothing, I'm just not used to the stud in my tongue yet.' I nearly threw up when I saw it, Claire. She put a stud in her tongue. I guess the divorce messed her up more than I had thought," he said bitterly. He turned and looked at Claire, trying to read the expression on her face. "I'm sorry, he said wearily, putting his hands over his face. "I don't really know where all this came from." He sounded embarrassed.
Claire turned her eyes from him. "When I got home yesterday," she said, her own voice sounding foreign to her, "I cooked myself a lousy dinner and sat in front of the TV. Suddenly I felt as if I was watching myself from a distance. I was a member of the audience watching the 'The Claire Kincaid Show' and I was so bored I wanted to slit my wrists. So, I panicked. I got dressed and arranged to go out with a couple of my friends who are still single and I run into Lyle. It was the same Lyle I've constantly rejected the past three months but last night I went to bed with him." A single tear ran down her cheek. "I'm not saying the sex was bad, that wouldn't be fair, but it should mean something. I didn't want to settle for Lyle. I wanted someone... someone special. Someone who would..."
"Whisk you off your feet?" Ben interjected gently.
"I guess you could say that," she said bitterly.
"I whisked a girl off her feet once. It was a very long time ago. Believe it or not I was quite handsome then."
Claire wanted to tell him that either because of the lighting or her own strange mood, he actually looked quite handsome to her right now but she kept quiet.
"She loved me and she wanted to give herself to me but I wouldn't touch her. I respected her too much for that. I was under the impression that it's not so hard for girls to wait, that it's only boys who get all hot and bothered. Anyway," he made a dismissive gesture with his hand, "the bottom line is I didn't touch her, not so much because I respected her but because I was scared. When I wouldn't take her," he said simply, "she gave herself to someone else."
"Splendor in the Grass," murmured Claire.
Ben laughed. "Yes, there is a similarity, isn't there? I guess you'll never know whether I'm making this up."
"What happened to the girl?" she said quietly.
"He left her, she came back to me. I didn't want her anymore, she was no longer pure. I often think of her, how she took off all of her clothes and told me she loved me, she was no longer a virgin and I could do anything to her. The first time I chose to respect her, the second time she wasn't good enough for me," he said sarcastically. "And now I look in the mirror and see all the times I backed out because things weren't perfect. You wait too much for things to be perfect, at some point you end up with a fiftyish fat divorcée telling you she finds you 'yummy'. And you follow her to her apartment because it is expected of you but then you take a better look at that cow and you tell yourself ok, you're hard up but not that hard up. So you leave with some ridiculous excuse. She thinks: 'The poor dear could use a couple of those magic blue pills.' And you go home and catch your reflection in the mirror; only it isn't you anymore, it's some stranger, at least ten years older than you. But then you realize it's not some stranger, it's really you, so you deserved that cow you got, the one who wanted you in her bed but you thought you were too good for her. So you get depressed; you drink too much; you wake up with a hangover and a look at the calendar depresses you even more and on top of everything your beautiful young assistant comes to work with a huge hickey on her neck."
Ben had said all that without looking at her, hardly even pausing to breathe.
"Your beautiful young assistant," she said dreamily.
"Surely you don't need to be told how beautiful you are Claire," he said in a matter of fact tone.
She got up slowly. Ben's outburst was still ringing in her ears, all that anger in his voice had scared her. She held on to the desk to steady herself. She wasn't drunk, not with one drink but her tiredness and the sheer weirdness of that night had overcome her. She went over to the couch and sat on the floor facing Ben.
Almost abstractedly he reached and touched her face, running his fingers over her cheekbones, her lips, her chin and finally her neck. She closed her eyes. His fingers were warm and gentle. They moved to the nape of her neck and she moaned softly as he massaged her. Without a word she unbuttoned halfway her shirt exposing her back to him and leading both his hands on it. He massaged her for a little while, his warm, tender fingers taking away her tension and her weariness. She had almost lost herself. She had no idea where she was or that the owner of these hands was the man she worked for. She murmured in dissatisfaction when he suddenly stopped. She turned and faced him again. She felt as though she was really seeing him for the first time. She brought her face closer to his. He stayed still, letting her come to him. She kissed him gently. He didn't respond to her kiss, he let her kiss him. Swiftly she unbuttoned her shirt completely and took it off.
There was silence between them, neither of them feeling the need to speak anymore since they had already said so much. She leaned to kiss Ben again but he stopped her. The feel of his hands on her bare shoulders made her shiver.
"Does this feel right?" he whispered hoarsely.
She leaned over him again. "It feels perfect."
He stopped her again. "I don't want this to be out of pity," he said gravely.
She looked at him incredulously. "I'd never do something like this out of pity!" she snapped. "Or because I work for you! Or because you said I'm beautiful! Do you really think so little of yourself? And me?"
She got up, shaking with anger. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked around to see what had happened to her shirt. She intended to grab it and get out of there. Ben was too fast for her. He hugged her waist and pressed his face on her flat belly, warming her with his breath. That feeling was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She moaned softly as that warmth spread all over her body and she felt her knees give out. Ben lifted her like a doll and placed her next to him on the couch. Everything else followed fast, maybe a little too fast the first time, but there was also a second and third time. Exhausted, they slept for a while in each other's arms.
"Wake up little Susie," sung Ben softly to the naked sleeping beauty lying on the couch. It was about 4:00 a.m.
Claire opened her eyes. She felt totally disoriented for a couple of seconds wondering first, why she was still at the office and second, why she was naked. Then it all came to her. She smiled and stretched her arms. "So, I didn't dream it," she said.
"We have to leave before the cleaning lady gets here," said Ben. "I'd like to be spared this embarrassment."
Claire started getting dressed as fast as she could. Ben was looking out the window at the lights of the city that would be waking up for good soon. He was already fully dressed before he woke up Claire. She gave him a sideways glance as she was struggling with her bra. Her smile vanished from her face. There was a stiffness about him as if the man who had made love to her only a few hours before was now gone. "What happens now?" she thought.
When she finished getting dressed she went to him. She put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm ready," she said simply. He didn't move.
"I must thank you," he said quietly.
She sighed. "Whatever for?"
He finally turned and faced her. "For a rather unique birthday present."
She stared at him blankly for a second. "It was your birthday yesterday?" she asked feeling a little silly.
He looked out the window again. "It was my birthday, I had a mid-life crisis, I banged my assistant. Busy night," he said bitterly.
She took a step back from him. Her cheeks were burning hot. She felt as if he had just slapped her.
"You banged your assistant?" she whispered.
"How old are you, Claire?" he said curtly.
"Thirty-three," she said, her voice still no more than a whisper.
"I'm not thirty-three anymore. What I got from you yesterday was wonderful. And real. I've wanted to do it for a long time. But if this goes on, I'll fall in love with you and that I couldn't handle. Because I'm in my fifties and you're in your thirties, Claire, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's no way around this simple fact. I'll be happy to resume my excellent working relationship with you as if last night never happened."
He stated all this in his best lawyer's voice, as if he was making a case. He was still looking out the window, his hands in his pockets.
"And you get to decide over both sides?" yelled Claire, tears streaming down her face. His back was still turned to her. "You bastard!" she screamed, hitting him with her fists, "at least look at me when I'm talking to you!"
He turned slowly. She tried to slap him but he caught her hand before it reached his face. Claire was surprised to see that despite his harsh words he was on the verge of tears. He relaxed the grip on her hand and lowered it slowly. Then suddenly he leaned and kissed it gently, unwittingly shedding a tear on it.
He straightened again and breathed deeply, trying to regain his composure. "I'm sorry..." he began.
"You don't have to say anything," said Claire gently. He tried to protest but she put her finger on his lips. She was calm. Somehow the moisture she felt on her hand, as clearly as if it had been battery acid instead of a simple tear, felt more of an apology to her than a thousand words. "Right now," she said simply, " I need a shower and a clean change of clothes. And maybe 2 or 3 hours sleep if I can manage it. Then I'll come back and we'll work together. Then maybe, when we're done working we might talk for a while. No one says we'll have to decide over what we're going to do with the rest of our lives. We can just...talk."
"I'd very much like that," he said. And then he smiled. Claire wondered once more over how something as simple as a smile could transform him. "And he has no idea," she thought.