“Put that book down, Danny, and go to sleep.”
“In a minute.”
“Danny, I’m tired and I can’t sleep with the light on.”
“In a minute.”
An exasperated sigh, the disgusted shuffling of covers, the irritated bounce of the mattress. “Thank you for caring about my feelings once in a while.”
“In a minute.”
She was asleep by the time he finally reached a stopping point—four hours later. He hadn’t really wanted to read it when his best buddy forced it on him, but once past page two he was hooked. What philosophy, what brilliance. He had a headache from thinking too hard, but it was a good kind of headache—a good kind of thinking. It was three a.m. and he had to get up in three hours to go to work, headache notwithstanding.
“You’re a wreck, pal,” his friend Craig said at work the next day. “What’d you do—spend all night playin’ doctor with Sylvia?”
“My wife? Mrs. Junior League? The Ice Queen? You gotta be kiddin’. I was reading that book you shoved down my throat.”
“Atlas Shrugged? You mean you’re finally into it? Whaddaya think?”
“It’s great. I think I’d like to play doctor with a woman like Dagny Taggart.”
“If you like her, I know this woman who’s a wri—”
“No. Oh, no. I may not like my wife much, but I am married to her for the time being and I like to think I have a few morals. A few, not many, mind you. Besides, I have to think of the kids.”
“Oh, who are you kidding? You’re thinking of that damned prenup you signed.”
“That’s no joke.”
“When was the last time you had sex?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“That long, hunh? Well, tell you what. Why don’t you and Sylvia come over for dinner Saturday night? See me and Shelly. She’d love to have you over now that we’re back on our feet. My way of apologizing for trying to corrupt your morals.”
“Uh hunh. Well, I’ll talk to Sylvia and get back to you tomorrow.”
“Danny, do I look all right?” Sylvia asked as she clipped a large, elegant pearl earring on her lobe that Saturday evening.
“I can’t wait to see Shelly again. We should invite them over more often. Of course, what with that little trouble between you and Craig a few years back…”
“Put that book down, dammit!”
She snatched the book out of his hands. “Is it too much to ask that you pay just a little attention to me once in a while? Not much, just a few words of conversation would be nice. Something I don’t have to drag out of you. Now get dressed for dinner.”
His lips tightened and he dutifully got dressed. They were silent in the car. If it weren’t for the kids and the prenuptial agreement…
He wasn’t ready for the sight that greeted him as he stepped into Craig and Shelly’s new house. He was brought up short the moment they stepped into it and were warmly welcomed by their hosts. He couldn’t avert his eyes through all the greetings and coat-takings. He was thoroughly fascinated, entranced, and no one noticed. He moved as if in a fog as Craig introduced him to the woman who had caught his eye.
“Danny, Sylvia, this is a long-time friend of ours, Gertrude Harrison.”
The woman held her slender hand out to Craig. “My friends call me Maggie,” she murmured and turned her attention to Sylvia. Danny watched her intently. Sylvia was much prettier than this woman; Sylvia had a model’s figure that she worked hard to keep and naturally blonde hair always perfectly coiffed. She had a peaches and cream complexion and the requisite sky-blue eyes.
This woman—Maggie—was too curvy. Her breasts were a mite large as were her hips, both exaggerated by a nipped-in waist she emphasized by wearing an expensively tailored forties-style shirtwaist dress of delicate yellow. Her hair was red and obnoxiously curly. She had freckles that made her look younger than she probably was and gunmetal gray eyes that he knew he would never be able to forget.
No, in looks she couldn’t begin to compete with Sylvia. But there was something about her… She seemed to know everything about him.
They went into dinner after cocktails and it was there that Craig delivered the big blow. “Did Maggie tell you she’s an Objectivist?”
Danny’s eyes finally had an excuse to turn to her, and they did so, willingly. “You read Ayn Rand?”
“Oh, I’m a devoted disciple,” Maggie murmured. Maggie didn’t talk; she murmured. Not out of shyness, but out of total self-confidence. And her husky tone was driving Danny wild. “Have you read The Fountainhead?”
“No. I’m not even through Atlas Shrugged yet. It’s taking a very long time.”
“He can’t put it down,” Sylvia interjected sweetly, a sting in her voice, with a wave of her hand. “I don’t know what he sees in it.”
“Mrs. Wilson,” Maggie murmured gently, “Atlas Shrugged is capitalist philosophy at its best. It embraces and explains the social benefits of self-interest, excellence, and making money in the ways one is most talented. I, as an Objectivist, try to apply these standards to my own life, but it is difficult work getting through one of Ayn Rand’s books. Her words should be digested very slowly and very carefully if one wishes not to be stricken with mental indigestion. I applaud your husband for having such temerity.”
Danny’s eyes met Maggie’s across the table when Sylvia had no clever, swift retort. She had a slight smile at the very corner of her too-generous mouth which Danny thought he might have imagined. Her eyes spoke volumes without saying anything at all. The awkward moment passed as Maggie suddenly chuckled softly and took a sip of wine.
“I can’t believe how nice Craig and Shelly have been to us after that nasty stock business a while back. It was so nice to know that all was forgiven,” Sylvia said brightly as they were driving home. She was unusually talkative and that made Danny suspicious and wary.
“Yes, it is.”
“I mean, after all, they did lose everything and they’re basically starting from scratch now. Shelly said that bankruptcy wasn’t so bad, considering how much they had to pay off. At least they paid everybody back. That’s more than I can say for most of our friends who’ve had to declare bankruptcy.”
“Must we discuss this, Sylvia?”
“Why not? It’s not as if we haven’t helped them. After all, you got him the job he has, and it’s a good job. And whenever Craig asks for money, you give him some. And that’s good,” she hastened to add. “I mean, we do owe them that. But I think you’re still feeling a little too guilty over the whole thing.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I’m the one who gave him the bad advice.”
“Danny, remember that we lost money on that deal, too. You told him to sell when you did, but he wouldn’t listen.” When Danny offered no response, she continued on a different line. “I wonder where they met that girl Maggie. She seemed to be an odd sort. What did Craig say she did for a living?”
“She’s a writer.”
“What does she write?”
Funny, he hadn’t thought to ask. The memory of her sharp wit and rapier perception still lingered in his brain, like the scent of her fruity perfume. “I don’t know.”
“How old would you say she is?”
He shrugged. “Twenty-five? Twenty-six?”
“She’s a little young to be so opinionated, don’t you think?”
“I guess so.”
Sylvia said nothing for a moment as she looked out at the passing scenery. Then, “Did you think she was pretty?”
Danny pursed his lips. “She was okay, I suppose. Why?”
“Prettier than me?”
“No,” he answered with conviction, because that was the truth.
Craig caught him on Monday. “So what did you think of her?”
“Who?” Danny asked, knowing exactly who Craig was referring to.
“What does she write?”
Craig laughed. “Romance novels.”
“You’re kidding. The bodice rippers?”
“Them’s the ones. So what did you think?”
“Nothing. I’m married.”
“Well, if you weren’t, what would you have thought?”
“She’s—” Gorgeous? No. Beautiful? No. Pretty? No. Cute? Ha. Never. He wasn’t a lyrical man. “Elegant. Brilliant.”
“That she is; that she is. I’m having lunch with her and Shelly today. Want to tag along?”
Her hair was braided. And even in old faded jeans, tee shirt, and cowboy boots she was utterly fascinating. She was also sexy as hell and he was tremendously grateful that they were all sitting at a booth at Houston’s when he realized that he was hard.
She knew he was and why.
“Hello, Danny,” she murmured when he called her the next day on a lark. She didn’t sound surprised.
“Hi, Maggie. I was wondering—are you doing anything for lunch today?”
“I expect I’m having it with you.”
“Can you meet me at City Light?”
They met at the jazz club on the Plaza and she reached up to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you for inviting me to lunch, Danny.”
Suddenly he was nervous. “Uhm, I’ve never—”
She laid a finger across his lips. “I know. You’re faithful to your wife. And that’s as it should be. This is only lunch after all. Between friends who have something in common. That’s all. That’s all it ever was and ever can be, right, Danny?”
He felt relieved. “Yes,” he released on a sigh. “You’re right. I was being stupid.”
“No, Danny. You couldn’t be stupid.”
They were seated at a dark corner booth. “Craig tells me you write romance novels.”
She snickered a little at herself. “Yes, well, it helps to pay the bills. They tell you to write what you know, but I know absolutely nothing about romance, so I’m pulling this tremendous fraud on my reading public and enjoying every minute of it.”
“That’s not in line with Objectivism, is it? I thought you had to make lots of money at what you know best.”
“Nobody said Objectivism was a practical philosophy in toto. And nobody said it couldn’t be practiced in different ways. There will always be men who will follow the leader and there will always be those who think for themselves. I think for myself, but I must follow the tastes of those who read my books even while I shape those very tastes. It’s a symbiotic relationship at best, but it serves my purpose.”
“What is your purpose?”
A ghost of a smile touched her lips. “Why, Danny, what a question. I’m an Objectivist. My purpose is to excel at whatever I do.”
“Will you ever write anything more substantial than romance novels?”
“I have. They’re not publishable—yet. They will be.” She took a drink of water. “Do you think for yourself, Danny? Do you have anything substantial you want to say, to put on paper?”
“I’m a pension funds manager. The only significant things I put on paper are numbers.”
“Do you feel you’re making a contribution?”
“To the world, to your company, to your family?”
“None of which would give a damn if I did make a contribution. I go to work because I need to support a family. I do my best for my company because if I don’t, I’ll get fired. I don’t do anything for the world. Why should I? It doesn’t do anything for me.”
“So you work for other people. What do you do for yourself?”
“Surely there’s something you’ve always wanted to make your living at.”
He thought a moment, and fringes of memory came back to him. Memories of details he had long suppressed.
“What is it, Danny?”
“I like,” he said slowly. “I like standing in the Pit and trading.”
“Why don’t you do that?”
He snapped back from his temporary stupor. “I once gave bad advice to a friend and he lost everything he had on a margin call.”
“I’m sure your friend didn’t blame you.”
“No, he didn’t. But I couldn’t get rid of the guilt for a long time.”
“So you now have no guilt?”
“Not much. Everything worked out for the best.”
They parted with a kiss on the cheek, and he found himself thinking of her at the oddest times. In the shower, on his way to work, as he read the last pages of his book. He didn’t see her or talk to her for a month.
“Danny…” Sylvia whimpered in bed one night.
“Not tonight, Sylvia.”
She kissed him on the cheek. He remembered Maggie. He made love to Sylvia. Then, when Sylvia was asleep, he got out of bed and padded downstairs to his library. Sitting at the broad mahogany desk, he picked up the phone.
“You sound bright and cheery,” he rasped.
“Don’t you sleep?”
“I should be asking you that. Did you just wake up?”
“Is that what you were hoping for?”
He said nothing for a moment. Then, “Yes. I wanted to know what you sound like when you first wake up.”
“I sound very much like I do now.”
“Right now you sound angry.”
“Most people would be when their phones ring at two o’clock in the morning. I was working.”
“Where do you live?”
“Tiffany Springs. My complex is behind the Ramada Inn. Number 304.”
“I want to come see you.”
“I gave you directions, didn’t I?” she asked, and hung up. She met him at the door forty-five minutes later looking rumpled and sexy. He ran a hand through his hair and drew in a large, shuddering breath.
“Ah, hell,” he muttered and hauled her up against him, kissing her. She kissed him back and pulled to him. Her perfectly sized breasts crushed against him. When had he thought they were too large?
They lay together in her big white bed. He hadn’t made love to her; he’d mated with her. Violently, deliberately. It was a mating of not only bodies, but souls and intellects. It was a meeting of the minds, to Danny the only manifestation of love.
“I love you, Maggie.”
“You just think you do.”
“No, I mean it.”
“Oh, I’m quite sure you do. You’re welcome to come here anytime you want, but don’t say you love me until you know for sure.”
Danny felt no remorse for cheating on Sylvia and in fact, he made love to her more often now than he had before. He didn’t know why that was so, but Sylvia was delighted and he began to notice a newer, softer side to his wife he hadn’t remembered.
He didn’t worry about being found out. Nobody but Maggie knew.
“Say, Danny. Sorry you and Maggie didn’t hit it off. Got another Rand book for you.”
He passed a month in Maggie’s bed, yet found time and energy to be Sylvia’s doting lover. He slowly got reacquainted with his wife and to his surprise found that he might like her again, given the chance.
But he got in his car at lunch one afternoon and drove to Maggie’s apartment. He knocked and knocked with no answer and found that he was livid that she wasn’t there to receive him. As he realized to what pass he’d been brought by a woman he wasn’t sure he understood, he turned, frustrated, and dropped back against the door.
It opened out from behind him suddenly and he almost lost his balance before turning to see what he’d come for, fresh from the shower, her red hair almost black because it was so wet, the curl just beginning to pop up.
“Danny.” She wasn’t surprised. “Tell me, Danny, who do you love?” Her voice, rich with knowledge and humor, irritated him.
“I don’t know.” He stared at her for a long moment, as if seeing her for the first time. His lips were pursed and his eyes perused her body. If he’d looked at the new and improved Sylvia that way, she would have begged him to take her to bed or better yet, dropped on her knees in front of him and blown him all to hell. But Maggie—Maggie just watched him watching her with nothing more revealing on her face than vague interest in whatever it was that he saw.
“Were you going somewhere?”
“As a matter of fact, I was.”
“None of your business.”
Frustration surfaced inside him. “Why such a secret?”
“It’s not a secret. It’s an attempt to keep my autonomy.”
His eyes sparkled in suddenly triumph. “You mean you feel that you’re losing it to me?”
Craig stopped by his office once in a while to chat—about this, about that. “We’re such good friends, Danno. I feel like I could tell you anything and you’d understand.”
“Man, that’s what friends are for. Come on in and close the door.”
He did and sat down in the sofa across the way. “Uh, I was wondering if I could borrow a couple of C-notes from you—you know, just to get me through the rest of the week.”
Danny immediately pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out two crisp one hundred dollar bills and gave it to him without question.
“No. Don’t even think about it. I owe you, remember?”
“Don’t you even want to know what it’s for?”
“Only if you want to tell me.”
“I’m supporting a mistress.”
Danny’s eyes betrayed nothing, but his mental jaw dropped open. “Well, okay. Enjoy.” Danny had a mistress he didn’t support in any way. He felt very lucky.
“What happened to the money I gave you this morning, Danny?” Sylvia asked that evening when he told her needed more money.
“I gave it to Craig.”
Enough said. Sylvia understood completely and it was at times like these when he actually loved Sylvia. Or when she put the kids to bed and read them a story. Or when she responded so sweetly to his lovemaking. She went to him and enfolded him in her arms.
“You’re a good man, Danny Wilson,” she murmured into his chest. “I don’t know what happened to us, but I’m glad I married you and I’m glad we’re back on track. I love you.”
Danny gulped when he saw the unabashed love and desire shining in her soft blue eyes, but he couldn’t let Maggie go.
Danny’s phone rang a couple of weeks after that. “Wilson here.”
“Danny . . . ”
He smiled at the huskiness in Sylvia’s voice after two days of cool civility for an offense Sylvia had not, as yet, apprised him of. “Mornin’, Sylvia. Want me to come home early this afternoon?”
He knew what that call meant, and he was eager to get home and get her into bed. He drove home in haste, dodging the Plaza traffic with an expertise he didn’t know he had. He walked through the door and stopped cold at the sight before him. He looked at Sylvia, a question in his eyes, and she gave him an arresting smile, but her lips trembled. “Danny, honey, look who’s come to see us. She’s the writer whom we met at Craig and Shelly’s.”
“I see. Hello, again, uh—”
“Maggie,” Maggie supplied and reached out to shake the hand he had extended.
“Sit down, Danny, and talk to us.”
Danny’s stomach began to munch on itself. He sat heavily in a chair and listened to them talk, wondering if this was a torture experienced by many men whose mistresses met their wives. He wondered if Craig would feel this way if Shelly met his mistress.
They talked about nothing in particular—Danny didn’t say a word—for nigh onto an hour. But he couldn’t leave. He wanted nothing revealed, and his presence ensured silence on the subject.
Sylvia finally turned to him with a smile that could almost be called bitter. “Maggie was telling me the most interesting things just before you came in, Danny, and showing me the most interesting pictures.”
He waited for the bombshell, but the doorbell rang instead.
“Would you get that, honey?”
He rose obediently, then halted slightly to look back between Sylvia and Maggie. It hit him then: He loved his wife and he didn’t know what he’d do if he lost her. But his gaze was caught by something sparkly shining in Sylvia’s eye, running down her cheek. He turned to open the door. “Yes?” he asked the man at the door.
“Are you Daniel Wilson?”
The man held a long, slim white envelope out to him. Danny took it without thinking. “What is it?”
“Summons. Have a nice day.”
He turned around as the man left and saw Sylvia hunched over, her shoulders quaking as she wept. “Sylvia?”
“I told you, Danny,” she sniffled inelegantly. “I told you if you ever cheated on me that I would take everything you had. I told you that. You signed the prenuptial agreement. I told you it was the one thing I couldn’t forgive and you did it anyway. I loved you. I did everything you ever asked me to; I tried to be the best wife I could, but you still cheated on me.”
She looked so pathetic, but all he could say was, “I’m sorry. How long have you known?”
“Long enough to get the divorce filed.”
She continued to sob and to blow her nose in a delicate handkerchief monogrammed with Maggie’s initials. He looked helplessly at Maggie, who sat on the couch, her knees demurely crossed and a delicate teacup and saucer in her hand. She had that smile on her face again—the one that wasn’t quite a smile, but the look of a victorious conqueror. She slid a disgusted look at Danny’s heartbroken wife then took a sip of tea. Her smile widened when she looked back at Danny and mouthed, “I love you.”
* * * * *
Craig stopped by his office as was his habit. “Sorry about the way things turned out, bud. Wish I could help, but you know, I don’t have much to spare right now.”
“That’s all right, Craig,” he said wearily as he packed the things in his office. “I know you don’t.”
“I’ll put you in touch with some of my buddies over in Carter’s office if you want.”
“Tough break—getting fired just because of the publicity. And then Sylvia getting everything like that.”
“Well, hey, if you need anything—do you have a place to live yet?”
“Yeah. Over on the east side.”
“Like I said, if you need anything—”
“All I need is for you not to get caught with your mistress,” Danny said wearily. “Take a page out of my book and avoid it.”
“I don’t have a mistress.”
“But you said you were supporting one.”
Danny’s brow wrinkled, then he shook his head, not willing to think about the discrepancy at the moment. “Thanks for the offer. You’ve been a real friend, Craig. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to pay you back.”
Craig turned to go, a smug, knowing smile on his face. “Oh, you already have, Danny.”
©1995 Moriah Jovan