An Office Slave Ch. 03byJaineEire©
[Note from the author: Sorry, this is another short one. It is the second part of the flashback, so it will set the stage for Chapter 4 which will have more action.]
The next Saturday, we took Amelia to the park by the lake for a picnic lunch. Minnesota summers are glorious, and on weekends like these, the park was our favorite spot. After lunch, Hardy took Amelia down to the water to feed the loons, herons and turtles, an exercise that Amelia loved.
I remember spending many hours here at this very lake back in high school, reading my books under the tree, and well, waiting for Hardy to realise I was the love of his life.
I had known him since we were in primary school. When I was in 7th Grade and he was in 10th, he had a job at the doughnut shop that stood at the east corner of this park.
The doughnut shop wasn't there anymore, but I remember it like yesterday, and the young boy Hardy serving doughnuts. That doughnut shop made a killing just because of Hardy. Each and everyday, I would count not less than 20 girls from school who came to buy doughnuts and to chat him up. I never did it, of course. I didn't know how to flirt for the life of me. But I watched him over the rim of my books.
He never noticed me as the girl of his dreams, sadly. Eventually, I stopped hanging around the park but I met him again years later when I went to work as Project Manager at Hunter Innovations, a company his father started. To my surprise, I did catch his eye then, and he married me.
I turned my attention to them now, my small family. Hardy, much taller than me, six feet, to be exact. Blonde hair with dark roots, so handsome with his long thin nose that flared every now and then depending on what he was thinking.
Eyes of blue that turns dark as to be nearly black when we would make love. Mouth that was always ready to smile at me, simply because I made him want to laugh, he said once, although I'm not sure if that's good or bad.
And Amelia, an exact baby girl replica of Hardy, as cute as a button whose cheeks were now so pink from the sun that I thought it was high time we went home.
Hardy had been chasing Amelia for what my watch showed me was a full half hour. No wonder my daughter was now draped over his shoulder, all exhausted, sweaty, and fully satisfied, her emotional tank all but overflowing.
We walked back to Tiller Street in companionable silence. I did think it was a bit too silent though. Something was on his mind.
I was putting Amelia to her afternoon nap when he appeared behind me, watching me in the mirror. I pulled at Amelia's bed sheets unnecessarily, strangely not wanting to look at him.
'What?' I said, finally.
He jerked his head towards the hallway, and I followed him to the living room. He turned me around to face him.
'You're right.' He said. 'I want you to know me, everything about me.' I expelled a gust of air. 'And,-' he put up a hand to stop me from speaking. 'And I want to know everything that I don't know about you.'
I was bemused by this turn of events.
'And,' he looked at me with a warning in his eyes. 'I want us to keep on staying together after knowing it all.' He ran his hands up and down my bare arms. 'No running.'
My mouth had gone dry. I attempted a joke. 'Sort of, like, airing our really dirty laundry to each other, hey?' But underneath my bravado, my self-righteousness, I had begun to cringe. If he knew me, if he knew what I had done... Oh God, Nina, Nina, shouldn't you have kept your mouth shut? My dirty laundry was best kept hidden if I wanted to keep this man. But some demon in me wanted to tell him; it had to be told! and dare him to still love me as his wife despite it. And so similarly, I must dare myself to also see him in all honesty.
'But I feel telling is not as effective as doing it, Neen.'
'What do you mean?' I asked, curious.
'Well,' he said carefully. 'This rubbish thing you so want me to reveal to you – a lot of them concerns you, Neen.'
'What do you mean?' I asked again, this time feeling a prick of foreboding.
'Neen, you're my wife, okay?' It wasn't easy for him, but at least he was trying. 'I love you. You understand that, right?'
I nodded, warily.
'If we have to do this, I want to do it all the way, my way. No half-baked confessions, or nothing like that. It's eating me up now, since you brought it up, Neen, so I want to get it out of my system. You won't understand me if I just tell you; I have to show you. Do you know what I mean?'
'No, I don't know what you mean, Hardy.' And I was nervously thinking of what I thought he had hinted at last week, that he might be wanting a mistress, like what Roy did. 'Do you want me to watch you have sex with another woman, is that it?'
And if Hardy did ask me to do something like that, what would I do other than kill him?
A laugh escaped him. He rolled his eyes and went into the kitchen, punched a beer open for himself. My eyes followed him but all I could see was Hardy kissing another woman, undressing her, and -
My heart went cold and I felt dizzy. I shook the image away and he was there in front of me, with a cold coke for me.
'Do we have to do this then?' I asked, appalled my voice had come out as a whine.
He faked a lecherous leer. 'Getting chicken, are you? Yes, we ARE going to do it. You had me when you said you had things in your closet too. And I want to know what Nina Hunter does when Hardy's away at work. So what is it, you looking at naughty pictures now?' He barked a laugh which he cut short at the look on my face.
'Okay, seriously now.' He moved away from me, gulping cold beer, looking at one of my paintings on the wall.
'When I first saw you at Hunter, you were presenting a case to Dad about Troy Valentine's deal, remember that one? You were such a smart cookie, and Dad said you had a mind like a trap, but all I thought- well, I just thought you were the prettiest girl.' He didn't look at me, and I clutched at the coke.
'You married me and not Victor Belnave, thank God.' He barked another laugh, still staring at the painting. He gulped down more beer, raised his beer bottle to the painting in salute, and turned away from it, standing in front of me again.
'I love you, Neen. And now, after 5 years, it's like I love you even more, and when we, we, well, you know, have sex, I love it, Neen. You know that...'
I stared at him, my throat suddenly tight. So it wasn't only me dissatisfied with the sex. They did say that most divorces happened in the first 5 years of marriage. Was it because of the tired sex? Was it because of boredom? Infidelity like Roy and Lara? Was it the lies? Would he divorce me if he knew what I had done?
'I have to know this won't change a thing between us.' He looked at me, uncertain.
'I started this, Hardy. I promise I will listen to you and nothing will change how I feel for you. I promise –'
'You could hate me in the end, Nina.'
'No, I won't, Hardy. Tell me!' My voice had risen. 'You can't not tell me now!' Do you really want to hear this? My brain screamed at me.
He pulled a chair in front of me and sat down with his legs apart. He put his beer on the floor, and dropped his head in his hands. When he looked up again, he had a look about him I very rarely associated with my mild-mannered, sometimes absent-minded Hardy, a look that was quite eerie, seeing it directed at me. Like he was seeing me for the first time, so focused and alert to what I would do next.
I realised as I looked at him I was seeing his 'office' personality, one he never brought home to me and Amelia. He was always Hardy, sweet, gentle Hardy to me. But I had seen this other side of him sometimes at the office, and often observed that with that persona, he exacted obedience and compliance from everyone at Hunter. It was part of being Boss, I knew, but it was a part of him I had never wanted to know.
'For the next two weeks, I want you to go to the office, Neen. Start on Monday. I'll tell everyone we need your help with the coming conference. You can do the summaries again, and the powerpoint slides. Then on Wednesday, when I come back from New York, tell Mariella to stay overnight. In fact, ask her if she could stay until Friday, as we'd be coming home late from work every night. And then there's the conference, of course. You'll be needed at the hotel. Maybe Mom can have Amelia during that time. There's something I want to show you, what I want you to do. Like I said, if you want to understand me, I'd have to show it to you.'
'Dear God, Hardy, can't you just tell me?'
He fidgeted in his chair, smiled crookedly, and said, 'I want an affair –'
'I don't want to see it—' I erupted, again seeing him in the arms of that imaginary woman.
'-- and I want it with you.'
'What?' I said, nonplussed.
'But not, you as my wife, but as a, ... a... help me here, Neen.'
'A mistress,' I said, light dawning. 'You want an office affair with me as your mistress.'
He stood up, side-stepped his beer bottle, and held my upper arms gently.
'I want you to play-act with me, Nina. I want you to act like I wasn't me and I want you to forget you are you while we're in our roles.'
'Well, that would be really hard, Hardy. Are you serious?' I was heady with relief. He wanted an office romance with me. Unbelievable. But sweet.
'Yes. I am. And I've thought it through. We could play it out at the Penthouse, nowhere else. I know you don't like going to the Penthouse, but I don't want to play it out here, at home, or at the lower office.' I tamped down a shiver.
'I'll act like I was your mistress?' I said, whispering as though I thought someone was there to hear. But who was I kidding? I whispered so he would not hear the excitement growing in me. No, I didn't want to show it. I was a big phoney, but I was not ready to show I was intensely interested in this play-acting plan of his.
'We wouldn't call each other our real names. No, on second thought, I will call you Nina, but I will be – Richard.' I did shiver then. Richard is what everyone calls Hardy. Only I call him Hardy, a nickname from his childhood, short for Hardington, his middle name.
'What else?' I whispered, caught up now in this charade, a confession of sorts, this role play of my husband's fantasies.
'We won't bring any of this home. I'll come back from New York on Wednesday, then we'll start it, okay, Neen?'
I nodded, my mind racing over the possible details of such a situation.
'What if I lose my nerve? Or laugh out loud in the middle of play-acting? And what ever will I say?'
'Hmm. Good point. We'll play it by ear, but okay, here's the story.' He led me to the long sofa and pulled me down beside him, his hand twined in mine. 'You're working in my team, but you're only temporary. You need the job, but I'm about to fire you. You need this job, so you beg me. And then I force you to be my mistress. How's that?'
I was dumbfounded. He certainly knew the script. 'Is this like an ongoing fantasy of yours, Hardy? Have you been thinking about this a lot?'
He looked at me sideways, a quirky, self-effacing grin on his face. 'Oh, just since I first saw you presenting to Dad, and every now and then. And everyday since you brought the damned subject up. And there's more...'
'More.' I echoed. 'Sure, let's hear more.'
'You're desperate to have a job, and you've worked at the company before, but you left to get married.'
'Well, that at least is partly true.' I worked at Hunter for only three years, When I gave birth to Amelia, I left to be a full-time mother.
'In your role, you left the company to marry this other guy, and I've never forgiven you for it. So I want to get back at you by forcing you into this... this affair. And oh, by the way, that guy you married – he happens to be a wimp who can't satisfy you. And so you have fantasies about me. About Richard, I mean, hahaha.'
I laughed nervously.
And he told me all the rules. We were to promise that the play-acting would not affect our home life, or even our office life. I was only too glad to agree to that. I liked most of the people at the office, and my frequent visits to the office to help out during conferences and investor meetings were always met with much camaraderie. And then of course, I would never agree to something that will cause strife in our home. We had Amelia whom we both loved to pieces, and I knew Hardy would never do anything that would hurt our daughter.
It was to go on for a week, but I could choose to stop the whole thing if I was too uncomfortable about it. We were to speak a 'truce phrase' – and we agreed on a phrase that both of us would never use normally, play-acting or otherwise – 'Remember Maine' – in reference to the burning of a United States warship that started the US-Spanish war more than 100 years ago. How fitting.
If I could not accept what he was trying to show me, all I had to do was say 'Remember Maine.' And we would simply drop everything, acknowledge that that 'thing' existed between us, but would not speak of it again.
By the end of the seven days, he said, he would have gotten it out of his system, and we would stop his fantasy. And then, he said, 'Then it would be your turn next, to show me all your naughty business.'
We were not to discuss the role-play game when we were in our 'real' lives. If we were to speak of it at all, we were to refer to these roles using the words 'he' and 'she'.
'What about the conference?' I asked. If we were to do this role play seven days from Wednesday, that would take us through the conference which was being held from Monday to next Wednesday.
'Simple. We play act in the hotel room.' He HAD thought of everything.
'Can we still... call it off? I mean, now?' I asked worriedly.
He sprang forward, and pulled me to my feet.
'Too late, Neen. Remember, it starts on Wednesday when I get back from New York.' He kissed me fiercely, biting my lip.
I drew back with a gasp. He had never bit me before. Ever. He was wrong there about starting on Wednesday. For him, this had already begun.