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Crowning design, p.13
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       Crowning Design, p.13

           Leila Meacham
 
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  At the end of the final run, the sun began to set, and in silence they watched as the snow-clad mountain turned a molten red in the wash of its brilliant rays. In awe, their hands met and held tightly. “I think we’ve just been given some kind of blessing,” Dan said.

  That night as they lay together in blissful fatigue from the day, Deborah said, “Thank you for coming this weekend. I needed the pleasure of your company.”

  Dan propped up on an elbow to observe her. “I won’t be able to get back, Deborah, until I return to take the plans to the zoning office. That’s about three weeks away. Will they be ready?”

  “Yes, Mr. Parker. I promised they would.”

  “Don’t be brusque and businesslike.”

  “You’re the one who brought up business.”

  Dan sighed and fiddled with the lace cuff of her sleeve. “So I did. Forgive me. It’s just that…this complex means so much to me, honey. It’s the culmination of all my dreams, all my work.”

  “Dan, the plans will be ready on schedule. I’m surprised that you’re not more worried about the zoning commission approving them on time. What if they should not approve them for some reason?”

  “Well, now, my dear, that’s what I’m paying the Hayden firm a hefty commission to avoid.”

  “Oh, damn!” Deborah bounced out of bed, accidentally striking Dempsey on the rump. They’d allowed him to remain for the night since he’d spent the day in the backyard. He let out a startled yelp. “Sorry, Demps. Go back to sleep,” she said and reached for her robe.

  “Where are you going?”

  “Downstairs for some milk—to drown my disappointment.”

  “Disappointment?” Dan sounded bewildered.

  “Yes! Randall warned me that corporate business came first with you.”

  “Oh, he did, did he?” Dan followed her down the stairs, flapping into his robe. “Maybe you’d better explain that.”

  “Well, first,” she whirled to him, “let me explain this. After the most perfect weekend of my life, after I’ve been whisked off in a limousine to the most expensive restaurant in town, followed by a glorious night of love, followed by the finest skiing day in my experience, you lie in my bed the last night you’re here and have the audacity to bring up business!”

  “That was obviously not a bright move on my part.”

  “You’re so right; it wasn’t.”

  “Now let’s get back to Randall. Just exactly what has he been saying to you about me?”

  “Nothing I wouldn’t have picked up in the articles I read about you when I was designing your headquarters.”

  “Which is?”

  “That business, making money, is your whole life. Oh, you’re considered a nice guy, noted for your building integrity and all that. But your wife, your lover, your mistress, your—everything is business. You give it your primary allegiance, love, and time, and there’s no room in your life for anything else. That’s what Randall warned me about.”

  Dan allowed an expletive to express his thoughts on Randall’s opinion of him. Then he demanded, “I want to know what you think.”

  “I don’t know,” Deborah said. “I honestly don’t. Just when I think I’m making a space in your life, something comes up related to business that makes me feel tossed out on my ear.”

  “You’re referring to the theft of the documents, aren’t you, and how I jumped all over you?”

  “As I recall, that happened after another perfect day.”

  “Honey—” Dan went to her, and she let him take her into his arms. “I admit that business has been the sum of my existence. It still is, maybe. I don’t know. All I know for sure is that I used to work all day to the exclusion of anyone or anything else in my thoughts, but not anymore. I think about you constantly. I miss you. I want to be with you. You are making a space in my life. A big one. Please believe that. I’m just happy you want to be in it. You’ve never told me that before.”

  “Did I have to?” she murmured, her anger all gone.

  “Forget the milk,” Dan said huskily. “Let’s go back upstairs.”

  The next morning while Dan cleared away their breakfast dishes, Deborah telephoned the Hayden firm to inform Bea that she would be late for the usual Monday staff meeting. She was chagrined that, as luck would have it, Randall answered. After he mentioned that Bea would be out for the morning because of a dentist’s appointment, Deborah explained her purpose for calling. “I’ve a friend who needs a ride to the airport,” she began, but Randall cut her off.

  “Deborah, I am aware that Dan Parker was in the office Friday, so you may refer to him by name,” he said frostily. “Surely, he can make his own arrangements for getting to the airport.”

  “He could, I suppose, Randall, but I prefer to drive him.”

  “You left early Friday because of Dan. Doesn’t he realize you have work to do? After all, it’s his project!”

  “Randall, for goodness sake!” Deborah was calling from the hall phone, and just at that moment, Dan passed through on his way to the guest room. He stopped short at her exclamation. Calmly she said, “Please inform the staff that I have finished the drawings of the bank portico and will begin the restaurant today. I’ll be there just as soon as I can.”

  “You know, of course, dear child, that you completely forgot about my bridge party yesterday. I say forgot because I know you would have had the courtesy to inform me that you would not be coming had you remembered to do so. It was a most trying experience, not to say an embarrassing one, to try to find a fourth when you didn’t show up.”

  Deborah was shocked at her oversight. She had never once thought of Randall’s third-Sunday-of-the-month bridge party after Dan opened the door to her office. “I am so sorry, Randall. It was dreadfully rude of me, but I truly did forget.”

  “Obviously. We’ll discuss it later. Please try to make it to work as soon as possible.” Without a further word, he hung up.

  “What’s the matter, honey?” Dan asked as she slowly replaced the receiver. He came up behind her with a frown. “Is Randall giving you a hard time about something?”

  “His bridge party yesterday. It completely slipped my mind, and he’s in one of his quiet rages about it. I can’t say that I blame him.”

  “Look, if it’s going to present a problem for you at the office, I can get a cab to the airport.”

  “No, the damage is already done.” She gave him a quick smile. “I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.”

  But the traffic was so snarled due to snow that when they reached the airport, there was no time for a last cup of coffee together. Dan gave his luggage to the porter, then came around to open her door. Deborah scooted over a little to allow room for the silver-gray head, for the privacy of their last precious moment together. “Good-bye for a while,” she whispered. It was all her closed throat would permit her to say.

  “Until the twenty-second,” he said and pressed a hard kiss upon her lips.

  It was sleeting by the time she pulled into her parking space at the office. She let herself in the side door, dabbed at her eyes, checked her lipstick. Then she walked down to the conference room and quietly slipped into her seat. Randall was holding forth. He ignored her entrance, but from the look John Turner sent her way, she knew that in her absence she had been reprimanded.

  By four o’clock, sleet had completely encrusted the bay window. Deborah was at the drawing board, her spirits as overcast as the sky outside when the intercom buzzed. It was Bea. “Come see what’s arrived for you, Deborah.”

  With an eager smile, the secretary waited for Deborah to remove the florist’s paper from a tall arrangement of flowers. They were roses, two dozen long-stemmed tight red buds sprigged with fern and delicate baby’s breath. Slowly, holding her breath, Deborah removed not the usual florist’s card from the envelope, but a memo slip embossed with the name of Dan’s company. She knew that Dan had ordered the flowers in the last few minutes before he boarded his plane. On the slip was
drawn a circle. Above it was written: “This circle represents my life. The black areas represent the space you fill in it.” Tears blurred her eyes. The entire circle had been shaded black.

  Chapter Nine

  The construction documents were finished! They had been placed in the center of the conference table to be relished as a job well done. Randall beamed at his staff assembled for its Monday morning meeting. “If I had my druthers,” he twinkled at the digression from his usual vocabulary, “it would be, of course, that the documents could have been finished early enough to run them through a quality-control check. However, completing them on time has been miraculous enough, and I extend to you all my warmest congratulations.”

  His smile lessened noticeably as he addressed Deborah. “When will Mr. Parker be arriving for them? He has not seen fit to take me into his confidence. No doubt he has you.”

  Everyone, even John Turner, avoided looking at Deborah. It had become obvious that Deborah had fallen from grace. Rumor had it that Randall disapproved of her “romantic involvement,” as Bea phrased it, with the builder of the project. In staff meetings of the past three weeks, he had missed no opportunity to allude to the affair and remind her that he was displeased. Deborah had met his disdain with quiet dignity.

  Now she answered steadily, “His plane will be arriving this afternoon. He’ll come by the office to pick them up so that he can have them at the city planning office first thing in the morning.”

  “Why come here? You’ll certainly be seeing him this evening. Why can’t you simply take the documents with you after work?”

  “I do not want the responsibility of having them in my possession,” she answered levelly.

  “Very wise,” Randall said with a tepid smile. “Especially in the light of the theft you recently experienced. Tell Mr. Parker he will find the documents in my office.”

  That afternoon Deborah did not attend the celebration party in the production room. Not even the anticipation of seeing Dan within the hour could ease her pain. She was suffering from the knowledge that a rare and irreplaceable affection was crumbling, and she was powerless to prevent it.

  The last confrontation with Randall over Dan had been bitter. It had happened the morning of Dan’s departure for Phoenix. She had been summoned to Randall’s office and there, with a look of utter disgust distorting his sensitive features, Randall had termed her intimacy with Dan “a sordid little affair.” Since then he had hardly spoken to her. She looked up from her desk in surprise, therefore, when Randall came into the office carrying two glasses of Champagne.

  “A peace offering,” he said, “with the hope that you will forgive me.”

  Deborah took the proffered glass. “If it was your intention to hurt me, Randall, you’ve succeeded,” she said quietly.

  Randall sighed disconsolately and strolled to the bay window. “I know,” he said, looking out at the snow-covered landscape. “I’ve not been proud of myself lately. I’ve seen a side of me that I never knew existed until three weeks ago when you told me that you were in love with Dan Parker. The knowledge, the pain of it, has brought out the worst in me. I can only hope you will understand that I’ve been acting out of the anguish of my disappointment.”

  Deborah looked at him sorrowfully. “Disappointment, Randall? But why are you so disappointed? Is it solely because Dan Parker is the man I love and not someone else you consider more suitable?”

  “No, child.” Randall turned to look at her, and Deborah saw the disturbance in the gentle blue eyes. “I guess that I never expected you to…” he hesitated over his choice of words, “fall in love. There have been so many eligible, worthy men in your life, but you were impervious to them all. You seemed…above the desires of the flesh, the needs of ordinary women. You cared only for your work, the firm, for Bea and me. Frankly, I had become used to the idea that you would always belong solely to us, take over the firm when I retired, inherit it upon my death.” He gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. “That you have met someone in the space of two short months to whom you’ve obviously given so much,” he went on, “and from whom you hope for marriage and children, has been rather a shock to me.”

  Deborah got up from the desk, tears shimmering in her eyes, and drew him close. “But, Randall, you could be a part of it all. Why, you’d make a wonderful grandfather,” she said exuberantly. “Do you think I wouldn’t want you and Bea to share in my life still, that I wouldn’t need you anymore?”

  “And what about your talent, my dear? What would become of that between diaper changes and housekeeping chores?”

  “Is my talent so important when compared to the love of a husband and family, the making of a home?” It was a new and startling consideration. Deborah realized in amazement that if Dan married her, she would gladly set aside her career for a while, as long as it took to raise children in a loving, nurturing atmosphere. The idea thrilled her. To have a happy home and family of her own—now that would be a crowning design!

  “You would sacrifice your career for the nebulous rewards of child rearing and husband pampering?” Randall was shocked.

  “Many women are able to manage both,” she pointed out, trying to get him to envision gains rather than losses.

  But Randall shook his head. “No, my dear. A talent like yours, in order to realize its fullest potential, must be kept pure from mundane concerns.”

  “Randall, I can’t believe you feel that way!”

  He patted her hand. “Alas, but I do, my child. But let us return to the subject of Dan. I still very much fear for you in your relationship with him. However, if you must love him, you must. There is no accounting for the indiscriminate visitation of that emotion upon two people. I will try to accept your feelings for him as graciously as possible. And I trust you will find it in your heart to forgive my conduct of the last three weeks.”

  “You know I do. I just wish you could be happy for me.”

  “I will when I’ve been given sufficient reason. As of our last discussion, Dan had not, ah, avowed his feelings for you. Has that status changed?”

  “No,” Deborah replied, “but he’s invited me to return with him to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. That’s a good sign, don’t you think?”

  “Well,” Randall considered, “in my day it was. Such an invitation was usually tendered to the young lady for the reason of meeting the man’s parents. Er, uh, whom are you going to meet?”

  “Hang on to your socks, dear,” Deborah warned with a grin. “Alicia Dameron.”

  Randall’s eyes widened. “Alicia Dameron! Dan’s old flame? Oh, dear—” His delicate brow crimped into a series of fine wrinkles. “I am out of step with the times!”

  Deborah laughed and squeezed his arm affectionately. “It does seem unusual, doesn’t it? I suppose I should be jealous, but I’m not. I don’t know exactly how to feel about seeing her, but I do genuinely believe that whatever was between them in the past is over now. They’re just very good friends, like family it seems, and Dan says that Alicia is dying to meet me. This four-day weekend coming up is a perfect opportunity. Dan and I will fly to Phoenix together, then drive back. This time he’ll be staying in Denver until the plans are approved.”

  “I am sure you’ll like that.” Randall’s smile was fragile. Again he shook his head. “It’s a different world, to be sure, than when I was a young man, but I wish you a splendid trip. Bea and I will miss you, of course. We’ve not missed many Thanksgivings together, have we? What arrangements have you made for Dempsey while you are gone?”

  “He’ll have to go to a kennel, I’m afraid.”

  “Oh, but he can’t!” Randall protested. “Dempsey is too big for a kennel. What if I come out and housesit for you? Your house shouldn’t be left unattended anyway. Thievery is rampant during the holidays. Bea can come, too, and we can go on some short hiking expeditions into the foothills. We haven’t done that for a long time.”

  “Randall, Dempsey will love you forever!” cried Deborah gratefully. The world
was suddenly becoming all sunshine and warmth. “I hadn’t wanted to leave him in a kennel. He would feel so abandoned.”

  “We must spare him that feeling, mustn’t we?” Randall’s lips twisted with faint irony. “It’s the worst feeling in the world. Don’t forget to leave me a set of keys.”

  When he had gone, Deborah raised the glass of Champagne to her lips in a thoughtful glow. Randall had not been able to resist that parting shot, but she felt no rancor toward him now. He did feel abandoned. She understood his feelings and felt very sorry for him, a childless, aging widower whose only involvement with a woman had been the clearly platonic one he had shared with Bea all these years. Deborah could not imagine that he had ever known passion, the extreme compelling urgency eating through one like fire, to fuse in a single union with another human being.

  Deborah took her reflections and the glass of Champagne to the bay window and the aspen tree. What an ironic surprise that she wanted, after all, the life that her parents had tried to impose upon her.

  A pair of large hands closed round her shoulders. “Hello, my beauty,” said Dan, his voice husky and close, his breath warm as he pressed a kiss on her neck. The presence of him was enfolding, igniting. She relaxed against him, savoring the feel of him, anticipating the moment she would turn.

  In the night Deborah awoke, suddenly and completely. Dan lay asleep beside her, stretched out full length. She raised up to peer down at Dempsey curled in sound slumber on his pallet. The stars were overcast tonight. All was quiet, deep, dark. Yet she had been awakened by the revisitation of something—a dream, a memory, an idea—having, of all things, to do with Dempsey. It was like a feeling of déjà vu. Only recently—she couldn’t remember when—she had felt the same nameless exhortation, like an urgent voice lost on the wind trying to impart a crucial message that she must understand before it was too late.

 
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