Chuck stared into the campfire wishing that life had a rewind button. How nice it would be to roll the clock back for even the past few days, and gain a second chance. A gust of wind stirred the fire bringing the taste of wood smoke, then a shiver that the fire's warmth was unable to quell-a reminder that the night was rapidly turning chill. He glanced at the sky ablaze with October stars. The moon had crossed nearly a quarter of the sky and set without his noticing. There was no comfort to be found in the stars.
I should just say the hell with it and turn in. But crawling into the sleeping bag would be a waste of time. Sleep wasn't going to come for hours this night, and the cold was an annoyance not a problem. She was the problem. So, what do I do? An answer refused to come, and a rewind button wasn't available.
He watched the flames for a time while he thought back over the day's happenings. Had any of it been real? That thought brought his eyes to the cloth of his pants legs, where they ended raggedly just above his knee. Experimentally, he took the cloth between his fingers. Using both hands, he tried to rip the denim by pulling it apart. It didn't work. Yet she had pulled the cloth apart without effort. So, the shortened pants legs were proof that she was real, at least.
Or were they?
With a sigh he pushed such speculation from his mind. He turned to the woodpile, and to the mundane task of feeding the flames, before settling back on the log to think back over the past few days-yet again. Perhaps he should start at the beginning, on the day when it all began to come apart. Maybe there was something he'd missed. He thought about Stern and Sons, and about Betty, and how little he knew about women-and how much less he knew about angels.
"Hey, Boswell." Without looking up, Chuck had waved a finger to show he'd heard. "Boswell, I'm talking to you, dammit."
Chuck took a deep breath, saying, "Glen, can you hang on for a minute? Something's come up." He put the phone on hold and forced a neutral expression, turning toward the man blocking the entrance to his tiny cubicle. "Yes, Ralph?"
"Altman wants to know where his God-damned lamps are. I want to know why you haven't called him back yet."
Forcing calm, and wishing fate hadn't dealt the man physical perfection and vanity in place of intelligence, he said, "The lamps are on a boat that's two days away from port and five days away from the contract date, so both of you can stop worrying. As for why I haven't called him, I've been working on the Berkawitz deal, which you said was the only thing I should be doing this afternoon."
In the interest of continued employment he kept silent on why their best customer was so angry. Ah, the joys of working for an imbecile. Ralph's expression twisted into a frown.
"You have a lousy attitude, Boswell-a damn lousy attitude. I don't know why the hell my father's carried you all this time."
With that he turned and headed back to his office, where he would pretend to be busy. Chuck frowned at the man's back. Maybe the fact that I bring in ten times as much money as either you or your idiot brothers combined has something to do with it. You think? He sighed, deciding he'd better update his resume and do something about finding a new job.
Fifteen minutes after Ralph departed for his weekly golf lesson he was heading out the door. The situation at Stern and Sons was turning toxic, and he was far too grumpy to deal with clients, so maybe he could make some calls from home to check the job prospects within the competition. And in any case, this was Betty's day to get home early. A bit of cheering up would be nice, and her smile always did that.
He took the steps to the apartment two at a time, wondering if it was time to talk with Betty about the future. After living together for three months, and dating for nearly a year, maybe it was time to stop pretending they were only friends. He was whistling when he came through the apartment door.
"Hi, my love. I-" He stopped. Suitcases were lined up by the door. Curious. He continued on to the bedroom. "Betty, uh, is there something I should know?"
She was dressed as if she were going to a party, in the act of putting a blouse into yet another suitcase. For a moment she seemed surprised to see him. Then she tucked the blouse into place and turned to get another, folding it as she spoke.
"I'm leaving. There's nothing to talk about."
"But... " He waved his hands, seeking something that would put the situation into some sort of focus. "But you said you loved me. Last night... " He sighed. "I don't understand."
She didn't meet his eyes, as she said, "I was coming when I said it. What else would I say?"
"You were... " Again he shook his head, licking dry lips, unable to find a handle to which he could attach any sort of logic. "You did love me, and I do love you."
Her body language showed annoyance, as she snapped "I did, okay? Now I don't, and I don't want to talk about it. Right now I can't stand you, so get the hell out of here and let me pack."
He spent a few seconds weighing the probability of them having a meaningful conversation, while Betty continued with her packing, pointedly ignoring him. Finally, he turned and left, deciding that he only thought he knew about women. Three times on the stairs to the street, he stopped, only to shake his head and move downward once more. When he reached the street, he decided he should talk to someone about what had happened. It was early, though, and anyone he might turn to was at work, so he headed for the corner taproom and a serious conversation with his favorite brand of scotch. It didn't help.