“What? No! This is strictly a professional visit. I have to get back to the office. William is coming at three for a deposition on a case where we have co-defendants and I want to read this through before I pass it to him.”
Nico’s jaw flexes and his playfulness is gone. The mention of spending my afternoon with William has the effect of throwing a bucket of cold water on him.
“Glad I coated you with my sweat now. It’ll keep the other lions away.”
I roll my eyes at him. He half pretends he’s kidding, but I know he’s probably really happy with himself that I’ll be spending the afternoon with William while wearing his scent.
“Back to business.” I point down at the contract. “Why don’t you tell me what I’m looking for so it’s easy to find then?”
“Well, there’s three things that don’t sit right with me.” He counts them off on his fingers for me. “It’s three times the amount of money that I got last time for a title fight. They added a dropout clause for Preach. And they don’t have to name the contender until seven days before the fight.”
“Okay, let’s take them one at a time. Three times the amount of money. Doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me. What has you concerned there?”
“Nothing really. I like that part. But it’s not really necessary. So it makes me wonder why they’re throwing it at me. I know a rematch for my title is a moneymaker, but we would have expected one and a half times what I took for the first title fight.”
“Okay, is adding a dropout clause for Preach unusual?”
“Yeah. He’s never had one before. If I dropout after they sell the fight, I pay a hefty penalty. It makes sense. They spent it and they want me to make them whole. It’s a common clause for a fighter. But why Preach? As far as I know, they never put the trainer or manager on the hook too. And his is almost as big as mine. Mine is risk vs. reward. But his is all risk.”
“Hmm. What possible reason could they have for wanting to put Preach on the hook?”
“At first I thought they could be planning on spending a lot of cash before the fight and they were looking to lessen the blow by splitting it between us. But I told them I’d take Preach’s dropout penalty on my contract and they said no. They won’t let me take on his risk.”
“So that means it’s not about money, they want Preach invested. What reason could they have for wanting your trainer invested? Other than they want you to win badly and they think he will work you harder.”
“I don’t know. But it just doesn’t feel right to me. Preach is fine with it. He knows I’m in for the haul and won’t screw him. But it still bothers me.”
“Interesting. Let me give it some thought…maybe I can think of a different angle since I’m an outsider. What about the unnamed fighter?”
“Usually you know who you’re gonna fight before the fight. I guess mine is a little different because I never technically lost my title and the guy who holds it now just retired because of an eye injury. So there’s no clear opponent, although we all assume it will be Caputo, he’s the next highest ranked guy.”
“Do you study your opponents?”
“So everyone who is a possible contender spends months studying you, but you could be studying the wrong guy and only find out seven days before?”
Nico leans back in his chair. “Yep.”
“Which term bothers you the most?”
“Preach having a penalty clause.”
“Not the part about not knowing who you’re going to fight?”
“Nah.” He crosses his arms over his bare chest. “I don’t need more than a day or two to learn a fighter’s moves.”
“Okay. How long do we have?”
“What’s the rush? I thought you had at least two months after the fight this weekend before your next fight?”
“I do. But they want this signed before my qualifying fight this weekend. The deal isn’t a go unless I win, but they want it wrapped up before the weekend anyway.”
“Okay. Let me work on it.” I stand. “I should get going. I need to give my file a quick read before my afternoon deposition.”
Nico stands and grips me tightly against his body when I attempt to leave after a nice goodbye kiss.
“I’ll be late.”
“I’ll be good.”
“I’m sure you would. But...”
My objection goes unheard when Nico’s mouth crashes down on mine. He kisses me long and hard with his naked muscles pressed up against me until my body defies my brain and succumbs to his demand.
An hour later I’m on my way back to the office, with Nico’s scent on my clothes and inside of me. I have a sneaking suspicion that Nico wanted it that way, knowing I was seeing William.
I haven’t seen or heard from William since the night at the bar when Nico decided to out us as a couple by kissing me purposefully right in front of him. Now I’m going to sit next to him in an all afternoon deposition with Nico’s scent on me and my underwear still damp from our mid day romp. I should really be pissed off at Nico for being such a neanderthal, but I can’t help but smile when I think about him wanting to mark me as his. It’s archaic and adolescent and the man is turning me into a foe for the women’s liberation movement, but god damn it, the man may well be my kryptonite.
Our co-clients are here early, earlier than William, which is unusual. He is normally the first one to arrive for everything. I put our clients in one conference room and the opposition in another room and go back to my office to review my notes. Regina buzzes me from the desk to let me know that William has arrived and I go out to the lobby to greet him with a little trepidation.
Unlike last time, and every other time we’ve seen each other over the last few years, he doesn’t kiss me hello, not even a kiss on the cheek. He’s professional, but distant. Immediately I can tell that he doesn’t want to talk about anything but business. Even my attempt at cordial small talk when I greet him is met with resistance.
“How are you?” I ask, in an attempt to put a feeler out for how things are going to be between us.
“Fine. Are our clients here?” He’s not even going to reciprocate my polite banter to inquire how I am.
“Yes, they’re in the conference room. Do we need to put together a game plan before we start?” We work well together and it’s usually not necessary, but we always spend a few minutes talking before we meet with our clients. Go over strategy or pitfalls we want to review.
“No. Unless you’re not ready.”
So that’s how it’s going to be? I straighten my spine and stand tall. I can do impersonal with the best of them. “I’m ready.”
An hour into our deposition, the ice between William and I thaws. Twice, we both went to ask the same question at the same time. Then we both grabbed for the water pitcher at the center of the table at the same moment. Even opposing counsel got a kick out of how we can finish each other’s sentences. We really are good together. Or were, I should be thinking were.
We are almost ready to wrap up for the day and I watch William as he finishes up the last of his questions. He’s intelligent and well-spoken and undeniably handsome. Financially sound, stable, and dependable. I don’t know what was missing. William catches my stare as he turns to me to ask if I have any other questions to ask, and I become a little flustered at being caught admiring him.
We make our way to the reception area to see our clients out and Regina tells me she’s going to head out on time for a change. She has a hair appointment. I smile and lie when I tell her that I’m not that far behind her. Both of us know I’ll be here for hours more. William walks back to the conference room with me and we spend a few minutes talking about the case. There really weren’t any surprises, but I’m glad we have the chance to talk before he goes. He’s friendly and less guarded and we easily slip back into our usual banter for a while.
I excuse myself and head to the ladies’ room. When I get back to the conference room, William is almost done packing up both our files. I’d have to unpack it and reorganize my files if it was anyone else, but I’m sure that William packed it away just as I would have. We’re a lot alike, both methodical in our work habits. I still have to speak to him about Nico’s contract, but it feels almost awkward to bring him up.
“Umm. I have a fight contract for you to look at.”
William stops packing the case and looks up at me. He seems confused for a second and then recognizes what I’m referring to and nods.
I walk next door to my office to get the envelope where I’ve stashed it with some of the notes I jotted down while I was with Nico. I’m surprised when I look up and William is standing in the doorway of my office. I walk to him and hand him the envelope. He doesn’t move from the doorway.
“Is he why we stopped spending time together?” William’s voice is quiet when he speaks.
I’m not sure how to answer the question. The truth is, it is the reason why I stopped seeing William, but not for the reason he thinks, but it seems rude to say it for some reason.
I look up at him and without realizing it, I bite my lip.
William looks at me and nods as if he understands, but then reaches his hand out and tugs at my lip where I’m biting. He keeps his finger on my lip after I release it from between my teeth and he rubs at the spot where I’ve probably left an indent.
“That always did drive me crazy.” He says with a small smile and a low voice, his eyes still focused on my lips as he speaks.
“What?” I sound confused, because I am. I have no idea what he means.
“You bite your lip when you’re nervous. It’s your tell.” William smiles and glances quickly between my mouth and eyes before he continues. “Since you’re superwoman, I didn’t see it very often, but I always thought it was sexy when it came out.”
William is still standing in my doorframe and now, between his words and his lingering touch on my mouth, the moment feels intimate. I don’t know what to say, so instead I stand there like an idiot. He’s caught me off guard, he’s always been an easy read. His finger that traced my lip falls away, but his hand moves to my neck. It all happens in slow motion and yet I don’t have time to stop it as he lowers his face to mine and kisses me on the mouth.
I’m shocked. Not at the kiss itself, but because I never would have expected it from William. It takes me a second or two before I snap out of it and realize I haven’t pulled away. But then I do. I pull my head back and look up at William, who I expect to be offended, or pissed, or just something…anything, other than what I find. He’s smiling. Like a Cheshire cat, a big ole grin on his face and I have no idea what to make of it.
I’m still standing perfectly still with Nico’s envelope in my hand, when William takes the envelope and leans down to whisper in my ear. “We’re good together, I’ll be here if you change your mind.”
After a long day, I usually have a glass of wine to help unwind and relax. Sometimes I take a bath to help my tense muscles loosen. Tonight I’m on my second glass and I’m running a bath. Between Nico in the morning and William in the afternoon, I’m in need of a little liquid assistance to unfrazzle my brain.
I sit in the warm water and soak, my head barely sticking up out of the water. It’s so warm and soothing and eventually, after a few minutes, I feel what amounts to a sigh roll through my body as it gives in to my deep breaths in my pursuit of calm. There’s serenity in the stillness of the water and my body absorbs it through my pours, desperate to find its peace.