A seal upon your heart, p.13
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       A Seal Upon Your Heart, p.13

           Pepper Pace
 

  He carried the tray of steaks outside and she followed, listening to his every word as if he was a sage and she his disciple.

  “Next the grill has to be smoking hot.” She could see that he had achieved that. He had used a charcoal grill and said that he preferred it but that was because he was old fashioned. “Propane is for girls.” He joked. She liked this Tim.

  “Can we put some zucchini on there?” She asked.

  He nodded. “Go grab a few and squash if you see any.” She hurried to do as he asked and when she returned he had already flipped them. They were sizzling and brown and her belly began to yearn for them. He sent her into the kitchen to slice the vegetables long ways and she made quick work of getting them prepped. He returned with the steak as well as the foil wrapped potatoes.

  “Right on time.” She said. He left the meat to rest and quickly seasoned the vegetables with lemon pepper, kosher salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. It took less than five minutes and by that time she had the outdoor table set. Tim grabbed the salad from the refrigerator along with wine and two glasses. She thought fleetingly of the odor of beer on him this morning but dismissed it.

  Once the food was set before them Martier stared at it in admiration. “I can’t believe we prepared this.”

  “Shall we see if it tastes as good as it looks?”

  She nodded enthusiastically and sliced into the tender meat. She gave him a pleased look as she chewed.

  “Like butter.” He said as he chewed.

  “The rosemary gives a hint of…freshness, like the wild.”

  He smiled and raised his wine glass to toast. “Good food and good company.”

  Martier pressed her glass to his. This is what a date will feel like, she thought.

  ~***~

  Tim was in his home office but he could barely concentrate on his work when he kept humming and thinking about the orphanage and the time that he had spent with Martier the day before. She was good company, and funny without trying to impress him with witty banter. And she listened very intently seeming to enjoy when he talked even though he rather enjoyed when she did. Her voice was musical and its slight accent captivated him. Sometimes he thought of her voice in terms of music.

  He was happy that she was living in the little cottage but kept wondering what she was doing. Several times he got up to satisfy his curiosity and saw that she was gardening. He had watched her from the kitchen window for a while before returning to his office. But now he found it hard to concentrate. He wanted to help her with the weeding and he definitely didn’t like weeding.

  Slow up, old man, he cautioned himself. She is not here to be your companion or to help you cope with loneliness. Besides…you are twice her age and…

  The doorbell rang and his head jerked. Shit, he already knew. He strolled slowly to the door and opened it without even looking out. Because who else would show up on his doorstep unannounced on a Sunday afternoon?

  “Hello Jakob.”

  “Tim.”

  He came inside and noticed immediately that the room had been freshly cleaned. Jakob gave Tim a look. “You finally hire someone?”

  “Yeah.” He nodded. “I did.”

  “Good for you.”

  “Want a drink?” Tim went into the kitchen.

  “No. I think we should have a talk.”

  Tim peered into the refrigerator silently. He retrieved a bottled water. “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not going to become an alcoholic-”

  “I want to talk about Corrine, not about your drinking.”

  Jakob glanced out the window and paused. “You hired a gardener, too?”

  Tim sighed. Shit…this was not the time to have Jakob read him the riot act over having his assistant living in his guest house. But his friend surprised him. Tim carefully explained the situation and Jakob listened. He looked at Tim and then out the window.

  “She’s a young one Tim.”

  “It’s not like that.”

  “Whatever.” Tim was about to become angry and Jakob continued. “Whatever it takes you to keep your head straight, even if it’s just a minor distraction.” He didn’t like his friend’s characterization but ignored it.

  “So do I get a reprieve from ‘the talk’?”

  “No.” He said adamantly.

  “Well before we go there I want to show you something.” He led his friend upstairs and to his bedroom. He opened Corinne’s closet and Jakob entered it in complete amazement. “Before you say anything, I want you to know that cleaning out this closet was damn near the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m sure you know what was harder. I donated her things because…” Tim concentrated on the empty hangers, “because I don’t need them here anymore. And once I realized that, it was actually harder having them in the house.”

  “Tim. You should have told us, we would have helped you.”

  Tim nodded. “You’ve helped me enough. And thank you. But from here on out, I think I’ll be better able to help myself.”

  CHAPTER 18

  As the days progressed Tim and Martier developed a routine that was both fulfilling and careful. Each morning he would be waiting to take her to work. And at work she learned that part of being a good assistant was not to wait for a list of duties but to anticipate what Tim would need to make his day run smoothly. He was very busy. He didn’t just have one client at a time and sometimes he’d have to be at court all day. Sometimes he would get court dates scheduled that conflicted with each other and it was her job to reschedule. No she couldn’t ask him when was the best time, she just had to know.

  There were days when he had meetings that lasted for two or three days. And there were days when his schedule was clear. Those days were the best because Tim would say lets discuss client briefings and they would go out to lunch, discuss the case for a few minutes and then spend the rest of the time relaxing.

  After work they would have dinner together two or three times during the week. When either ate alone they spent much time wondering what the other was doing. Tim discovered that she didn’t like that he always paid for their lunch or dinner so he offered to purchase groceries if she would occasionally make home cooked meals, and in that way he found a perfect excuse to have dinner with her.

  Sometimes Dhakiya would meet her after work and would offer to drive her home. Tim would smile but Martier thought he seemed disappointed, just like she became disappointed when he revealed that they wouldn’t t have their usual Saturday barbecue because Jakob and Elaina had invited him to a big Memorial Day cookout.

  It had been two weeks since she had moved into the cottage. The days had warmed up and everyone predicted that summer would be a scorcher. The pool man said that he’d have the pool ready by the weekend and Martier had bought baby back ribs in anticipation of she and Tim bringing in the holiday together.

  It was going to be her first holiday outside of the school and when Dhakiya had invited her over for a barbecue she had declined. She wanted to spend it with Tim. She’d come to look forward to their Saturdays together. He would grill something that she’d never tried and tell her stories about the food and places that he’d gone. And sometimes when it began to get late he would light torches and candles and she imagined that she saw him look at her with interest. But maybe it was just the flickering of the flames. Sometimes she wished that he would look at her and see more than just a young girl that he’d helped out in a bind and other times she would think that they worked too closely together and it would not be a good idea.

  But she could imagine it and imagining never hurt anybody.

  Martier and Claudette had gone to Macy’s to find her a bathing suit that was both modest yet simple. She didn’t even know how to swim, but Tim had promised to show her this Saturday when they celebrated the opening of the pool.

  Claudette eyed a two piece and Martier had shaken her head adamantly. It looked too much like underwear, as a matter of fact, she had underwear less revealing! Besides, it would be hard enough to wear skimpy cloth
ing around Tim without her wondering if a body part would become exposed. But then Claudette had spotted something and her eyes lit up even before she had even picked it up.

  “It can’t be…” She looked at Martier in excitement. “It’s the white bathing suit.”

  “The white bathing suit?”

  Claudette was hugging it to her body as if she would wear it. “The Marilyn Monroe white bathing suit!”

  Martier scratched her head. “I was raised in a convent. If this is some type of iconic thing then I missed out on it, like I missed out on rap music, Star Trek, The Brady Bunch-”

  Claudette thrust the suit at her and Martier examined it. Simple. Modest. She smiled. “I like it.” They searched for her size and she tried it on and felt naked even though she knew people wore things like this every day. Claudette barged into the dressing room when Martier was too shy to come out.

  “Oh.” Claudette just stared at her.

  Martier became self-conscious. “What?”

  “No no no, stand up straight! Never ever slouch in a Marilyn Monroe bathing suit, girl!” But this time when she spoke she wasn’t kidding. “Hold your head up high. Yes, like that. Wow.”

  “Good?” Martier asked but kept her head high.

  Claudette just nodded. She had her get dressed and they went back to work.

  “What are you thinking, Claudette?” Martier asked when they didn’t talk much on the way into the building. The older woman gave her a soft smile.

  “I’m thinking that what you have in that bag is not as much a bathing suit as it is a tool.”

  “A tool?”

  Claudette chuckled, but mostly to herself. “You have no idea how to use it and that is both a good thing and bad.”

  Martier’s face warmed as her back bristled.

  “I may be…inexperienced. But I’m not stupid.”

  Claudette looked at her. “No, but you don’t see what is in front of your face.”

  Martier’s eyes darted around. “What are you talking about?”

  Claudette stared at her for another moment. “Exactly.”

  When she returned to the office, Martier was still puzzling over Claudette. If it was important she had no doubt the woman that had become her friend would tell her. But she had learned that Claudette had a reputation for being a busy body. And Martier didn’t want to mix office and personal together too much.

  Jakob Marx was just leaving Tim’s office. The two were laughing quietly. Martier knew that Tim considered Jakob to be a close friend. They often went out to lunch together and he was known to spend time in the other partner’s office.

  “I’ll see you Saturday. And come early because it’s going to be an all day affair.”

  Tim shook his hand and gave him a light slap on his back. “I’ll be there, I’ll be there.” When he left Martier met his eyes in speculation and Tim hesitated.

  “Oh…about Saturday, Jakob and his wife Elaina invited me to their barbecue. Maybe we can break in the pool Sunday or…?”

  “Oh, yeah. That’s fine.” She smiled. He nodded and went into his office.

  He should have invited her, he thought as he shut his door. But it wouldn’t have been proper and there would be partners there. It just would not have been a good idea. It would give the appearance that there was more going on, and there wasn’t.

  Even though he’d successfully convinced himself of his right, he still felt wrong. It’s just that she had seemed kind of left out. Or maybe that was just his own sense of guilt.

  ~***~

  Martier spent Saturday alone. When she had called Dhakiya to accept her invitation she was told that Rodney had made plans to take them out of town for the long weekend. Dhakiya seemed on the verge of cancelling but Martier made up a hasty story about using the time to hang up the African artwork that Dhakiya had bought her. She had actually already done it.

  She’d watched Tim drive off a few hours ago. He was wearing cargo shorts and a white polo. Since he couldn’t see her watching, she allowed herself the luxury of studying him. She knew that he’d been running the treadmill because she’d seen him sweating one day after his work out. He was still big, he still had a bit of a belly but now he was tighter. She turned away from the window and picked up a new book that she’d gotten from the downtown library.

  It was a romance but the guy was a jerk and he was nothing like a man should be. He was sarcastic and kind of mean to the woman. She didn’t think she’d find any interest in reading about their love affair. She picked up a book called The Invitation by a female poet named Oriah, and finally she was able to become absorbed in the written word in the way that the Songs of Solomon captured and swept her away.

  Martier closed the book quickly, feeling the words touching her soul as if the author knew her inner most secrets. She took a notebook and pen outside and sat by the pool, staring at the depths and imagining her hearts truest desires. It sparkled so invitingly that she reached out to touch the water with her fingertips, imagining her and Tim in it together. He would place his strong hands against her back as she floated along the water’s surface. He wouldn’t allow her head to dip back too far and if she panicked he would pull her to his body and hold her tightly.

  She closed her eyes and allowed her thoughts to flow together into words and then she quickly wrote them in her notebook.

  I wonder when he looks at me

  Exactly what it is he sees

  Black skin? Insecurity? Youth?

  Or comely breasts and hips, in truth

  When his stern mask slips out of place

  Could I be seeing in his face

  A flicker of desire for me

  Or is that what I want to see?

  I listen to his every word

  And cling to every whisper heard

  Steal glances when he’s not aware

  Afraid to let him know I care

  Martier drew in a shaky breath. Claudette thought that she didn’t know what was right in front of her? Oh she knew. It was a man that she had fallen in love with.

  CHAPTER 19

  Why had he accepted? Because Jakob had said that he needed to stop being cooped up alone and to get out. Because Jakob had said that the partners were worried about him, and because Jakob and Elaina were family. And besides his brother Butch, who had not even stayed one day after Corrine’s funeral, the couple was his only family.

  Before their invitation he had really been looking forward to this Saturday. He had monitored the progress on the pool. He’d done yard work so that the yard would be at its best. And at the grocery store he had seen Martier place baby back ribs into the cart along with corn on the cob and he couldn’t wait to show her what he could do with corn on the grill.

  He sighed and parked his car a block down the street because everyone in the neighborhood seemed to be celebrating. He went around back and noted that all of the usuals were present; the partners and their wives—except Aaron who wasn’t married, several other attorneys of the firm, the country club crowd, Jakob’s sister and her husband, Elaina’s siblings and their spouses and Priscilla Hosgrove.

  He wondered fleetingly if she was there with someone and hoped that she was. But when she spotted him and came forward he figured that that was not the case.

  “Hello Priscilla. You’re looking lovely.” And she was. She was wearing a red dress that flowed down to her ankles. It was gathered at her neck by a bit of decorative material. It flowed loose but showed her curves in a curiously effective way.

  She leaned forward and kissed his cheek surprising him. She smelled of expensive perfume but he could also smell the liquor on her breath.

  “Tim, you’re not looking so bad yourself.” And she latched onto him at that point. He didn’t mind as much since it kept him from having to fake his way through conversation with twenty different people who didn’t really care what he had to say anyway. Elaina and Jakob came over to greet him and Jakob thrust a beer in his hand. It was cold and he had it finished before he reme
mbered tasting it.

  “You and Priscilla should join me and Jakob at the Aronoff. God of Carnage is playing and there are still plenty of good seats.”

  Priscilla beamed. “I heard that was a very good one.” She slipped her arm around Tim’s. “Have you seen it?”

  “No…I never heard of it.”

  “It’s fabulous! Do come.” Elaina said excitedly.

  “I’m game.” Priscilla indicated while watching him. Tim tipped his empty bottle to his lips before remembering he’d drained it.

 
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