Authors: Anne Calhoun
Tags: #A Walk on the Wild Side Release
Copyright 2011 Anne Calhoun.
All Rights Are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. This also pertains to uploading to free download sites, which is considered piracy and does not recognize the labor of this author or their livelihood from that work. Please discourage piracy and purchase works (other than those offered by the Author or Publisher as “Free Books”). Thank you.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Walk on the Wild Side
Her husband was late. As usual.
Natalie checked her watch, then crossed her legs as she flicked a dismayed glance at Dr. Lindstrom. The therapist offered a bland smile in return. “Twenty minutes late is pretty typical,” Natalie said. A white lie. Thirty minutes late was more typical, to dinners, family birthday parties, parties, doctor appointments. Everything except work. Shane got there early, seven days a week.
Her phone, clutched in her hand, buzzed with an incoming text.
Walking up to door.
No sorry. No explanation, but that was the trend lately. No conversation, unless you counted
Did you get my shirts from the laundry?
“He’s in the building,” she said, then slid the phone back into the outside pocket of her purse. Sunlight caught the facets of her engagement ring and the curve of her platinum wedding band. The set was beautiful, expensive, signaling her status as Shane’s wife. She used to smile every time it caught her eye. Now it raised questions more than possessive delight.
Dr. Lindstrom made a note on the legal pad on her lap, then asked, “How was your week?”
“Stressful,” Natalie said as she stared across Park Avenue at the windows in the opposite building, made opaque by a tinted film. Windows could offer a vista on the world while shuttering an outsider’s view of the soul behind the glass. They reminded her of Shane’s eyes lately.
Natalie crossed her legs and peered over her shoulder at the door. How long could it possibly take to get in an elevator and ride up fourteen stories? He’d probably stopped to take a call, or answer an email. She reached for her phone but froze when a double rap sounded against the door. Dr. Lindstrom called come in and the door opened to admit Shane, BlackBerry still in hand.
“Sorry,” he said to Dr. Lindstrom as he shook her hand, then took the chair next to Natalie’s.
No kiss. No greeting. He was twenty minutes late for their first marriage counseling appointment and he didn’t even bother to put on a show.
Dr. Lindstrom watched this lack of interaction, her gaze lingering on Shane’s face. Her husband wasn’t handsome by typical standards. His face was square with a blunt chin, hooded blue eyes and thick eyebrows that would have looked heavy if they weren’t as blond as his close-cropped hair. With that thin upper lip, the only thing that saved his mouth from looking cruel was his full lower lip. But women eyed Shane, overtly and covertly, because he had presence. Without a smile on his face he looked dangerous. Hard and edgy. His smile softened his face just enough to make you think he was worth the risk.
He wasn’t smiling now.
“I’d like you both to turn off your cell phones,” she said. Natalie obeyed without hesitation. Shane looked at the BlackBerry held loosely in his left hand, then back at Dr. Lindstrom. They all looked at his BlackBerry, and as if their stares affected the circuits inside, it rang. Natalie recognized the ringtone he’d assigned to his coworker, the one who had seniority on Shane and was up for partner but who couldn’t seem to order out for lunch without checking in with her husband.
“I should take this,” he started.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Shane!” Natalie sat on her hands to restrain the urge to reach over and snatch the phone from his hand. “Can’t Curt survive for thirty minutes without you?”
Regarding her evenly, Shane lifted the phone to his ear. “I’m at an appointment. I’ll call you back.”
“Thank you,” Dr. Lindstrom said after he disconnected and silenced the phone. “Dr. Copeland, Natalie said you had a Ph.D. in medieval history but are working at Blue Earth Funds.”
“That’s an interesting career choice. How did you come to work at a hedge fund?”
“It was the next logical challenge,” he said expressionlessly.
Natalie gritted her teeth at the fine example of his uncommunicative attitude of late. Shane had grown up in a Wall Street family. His mother was in-house counsel at Goldman and his father and uncles owned a boutique investment house. He’d gotten his doctorate because he wanted a worldview broader than daily P and L statements, position reports, and deal tickets. She’d fallen in love with the history professor, but it turned out Wall Street was in his blood. The day after he graduated with his Ph.D. he took a job as an analyst with a hedge fund, preferring to make partner on his wits and merit, not his last name.
Dr. Lindstrom spoke into the short silence that followed his brusque pronouncement. “Is this not a convenient time for you, Dr. Copeland?”
“It’s Shane, and there is no convenient time for me, Dr. Lindstrom,” he said.
“I’m willing to meet with your wife on her own, of course,” Dr. Lindstrom said pleasantly, “but couples counseling is most effective if both parties are present, committed, and working through the exercises at the same time.”
Dr. Lindstrom came highly recommended but Shane didn’t need an excuse to run back to work. “
don’t need counseling,” Natalie said hastily, cutting off this offered line of retreat. “
are not college students anymore.
are professionals in demanding jobs,” he returned. “When
announced you’d made this appointment was the first
heard we were having problems.”
That’s because you don’t hear me anymore. I’ve been saying we’re having problems for months now.
Natalie pressed her lips together and refused to be baited into a shouting match. Fighting released energy but usually ended in sex, which never solved any marital problem of substance.
Her lean body relaxed, Dr. Lindstrom made a note and Natalie briefly considered getting out her legal pad and taking some notes of her own. The firm, persistent, even tone seemed to work on Shane, and the therapist used it again when she spoke. “Will a lunch hour appointment work for you?”
Based on Shane’s glinting smile, he knew he was being managed. “I’ll make every effort to be here on time, but I can’t make any guarantees.”
“That’s fine. Tell me a little about your relationship,” she said. “How did you meet?”
This used to be a good story, told with private glances and laughter. Not anymore. “When I was a junior at Fordham I took his medieval history class. He was the teaching assistant and a student in the Ph.D. program,” Natalie said.
Sunlight glinted off Shane’s square, gold-rimmed glasses as he looked down at his hands. Probably wondering what to do with them without the BlackBerry adhered to his palm. The glasses suited the history TA he’d been when she’d taken the survey course in Medieval history, along with a hundred and fifty other, predominantly female, students. Most of his current peers wore contacts. Shane kept the glasses. Natalie thought of them as his disguise.
“I see. Did you begin dating then?”
“No,” Shane said flatly. “I was her teacher. She was my student. It was against the university’s code of conduct.”
Despite enough chemistry to melt steel, Shane had refused to do anything more than get a cup of coffee in the student union and discuss the week’s lecture. It was Natalie’s introduction to his iron will. He’d look at her through those gold rimmed glasses, his blue eyes glimmering with what she imagined was suppressed desire. As the semester progressed her skirts got shorter, her jeans and sweaters tighter, and her interest in medieval history went from
to intense. She read every assignment twice, outlined lectures, pestered her English major roommate into proofreading her papers, bought glossy red lipstick and did her hair for an eight a.m. class three times a week. Other girls admitted there was something about him, but feared his mean face, his hooded eyes. Even his standard uniform of a button-down shirt, cotton sweater, and corduroys couldn’t tamp down his sheer male presence.
The day she turned in her final paper she asked him out. Expressionless as usual, he declined. That night she went to a frat party, got drunk, and did the walk of shame back to campus behind a pack of grade school children on their way to a field trip to see the Christmas tree at Lincoln Center. Two weeks later Shane called her at home.
I turned in grades today.”
Her heart was pounding. “How did I do?”
“You got an A. Your final paper was excellent. The best work in the class.”
“Are you calling all your students over Christmas break to tell them their grades?” she asked.
“Just you,” he said. “I’m not your teacher anymore. Will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“I’m back in Hoboken,” she said.
“I’m calling from the PATH station.”
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes
She told her parents she was meeting a friend for a drink, picked him up at the station, and drove to a hotel. Dinner came after, in the form of room service.
“We started dating when the semester ended and got married after I graduated,” Natalie added quietly. She looked past Dr. Lindstrom to Shane’s face, reflected dimly in the windows. Did he remember the passion? Was it gone forever?
“How long have you been married?”
“Eight years,” Shane said when Natalie’s silence made it clear it was his turn to answer.
An encouraging smile from Dr. Lindstrom. “When was the last time you talked to each other?”
“This morning,” Shane said with his first hint of defensiveness. “I kissed her goodbye on the way to the train station.”
Have a good day see you tonight
. That’s not a conversation! We haven’t had a real conversation in months!” Natalie took a deep breath and looked right into his impassive eyes. “We haven’t been on a date in months. We work in New York City, but we haven’t been to the ballet, or dinner, since last fall. We don’t talk. What makes a marriage if two people don’t spend time together?”
“People change, Nat,” he said.
His eyes glinted behind his glasses. “Really?” he asked mildly, in the tone he used to use when a student’s answer bordered on the ridiculous. She bristled, then swallowed her indignant response as she smoothed her skirt towards her knees. She would not respond to his provocations. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
Dr. Lindstrom cleared her throat. “Are you having sex?”
This time it was Shane’s turn to sit in silence, prompting Natalie to answer. “Not often. Not like we used to.”
Shane looked at the therapist. “I work from six in the morning until nine at night, five days a week, and most of the day Saturday as well.”
“And Sunday afternoons,” Natalie added, wondering when telling the truth started to sound like sniping.
“And Sunday afternoons,” he agreed. “I don’t set the schedule. You’re the one who went to B-school. You knew what I was signing up for when I took the job. We agreed we’d pay the upfront price for me to fast-track to partner. I’m a year away, maybe two,” he said.
“Another year of seventy hour work weeks, minimum, and you working on vacations, if you can take one at all. When we went to Vail last winter the partners were emailing at all hours, too. We don’t talk. We don’t have sex. We don’t have a life together.”
“This is what it takes to make partner, Nat. We agreed on this. It’s a big investment of time and energy up front for a payoff down the road.”
When we have children
was the unspoken end cap to that statement. Natalie clamped her lips together. “I didn’t agree to you being gone mentally and physically for years before you made partner.”
“It’s very possible for both partners to have demanding schedules, yet still enjoy a satisfying, committed marriage,” Dr. Lindstrom pointed out. “What characterizes those relationships, however, is a commitment to the marriage, and an equally strong commitment to communicating early, often, and well.” She looked at the clock on the wall and set her notebook on her desk. “We’ll continue next week, but before we meet again I’d like for the two of you to find some time to spend together. It doesn’t have to be a date. Get breakfast, or a coffee, if that’s all the time you have, but do something together and just talk to each other. I’ll see you at the same time next week.”
They rode down in to street level in silence. Shane left his BlackBerry in his pocket, probably because there was no reception in the elevator shaft. “Find some open time in the Gmail calendar and schedule the date,” he said as he watched the numbers tick down.
“I’m not your admin, Shane,” she replied as she rummaged through her purse in search of her Metrocard.
A ding in the tense silence announced their arrival at the first floor. After a moment, Shane said, “Do you have time to—”
“I’ll do it,” she said brusquely, then stalked out of the elevator and across the polished granite floors to the street.
Out on Park Avenue he said, “See you at home,” and turned for the 4/5 to Wall Street.
Again, no kiss. Her mouth tingled suddenly as the sweet pressure of his lips against hers swept through her body’s memory.
“Shane,” she called when he was a couple of steps away. He turned to face her. “You say you’re doing this for us, so I can stay at home when we have kids. But if we don’t fix this now, there won’t be an us after you make partner.”
A muscle tightened in his jaw. The cold breeze caught her hair, restrained in a ponytail, and tugged at his suit jacket. It opened, revealing the tapering line of his torso, clad in a crisp white shirt, his black leather belt gleaming in the belt loops of his suit pants. “Is that a threat, Natalie?”
“No,” she said bleakly. The truth hurt, made her ache inside when she let the possibility of their marriage failing enter her mind, but she couldn’t go on like this. “It’s a fact.”