Secretary: Part Nineteen

by Allegraslade

May 18, 2005

“Hey, Wes. It’s your darling girl calling again,” Faith mutters into the voice mail for the third time that morning. “When you get out of that freakin’ endless meeting, call me. Sam and I are disagreeing about something. Again. Kitchen this time, so thought you’d be interested. So yeah, call me. Bye.”

She sighs and gives the subcontractor a weary look. “No answer, again. Look, I know you want to install these, but I really think Wes should be here for that." She and Sam have only what she can describe as a barely functioning professional relationship -- hinging mostly on the fact that he refuses to call her by her first name. Even after two months.

Sam starts to challenge her, but she’s saved by the ringing of his cell. “Yeah. Sam here. Yeah, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. Well, sure, it’s all here, but she...” He pauses, and she can hear Wes’ voice leaking out from the tiny cell phone. Doesn’t sound too happy, but hey, he’ll be glad she checked in before his precious Aga cooker and Smeg fridge – shipped straight from the mother country, naturally --  were installed. “Oh yes, sir, I told her that but... Yes, she’s right here. Right. Here she is.” He holds out the phone to her with a snarky grin. “Wants to talk to you, miss.”

“Thanks,” she says a little more sourly than she wants to and swallows down her frustration before chiming brightly into the phone. “Hey Wes, what’s up?”

“Well, Faith, I have to say, my patience is worn about as thin as possible. I’m in a rather important set of meetings right now, and really, it’s very distracting to have the phone vibrate with calls from you every half hour.”

“I’m sorry. I just thought you’d like to speak with Sam when your stuff got here.”

“Faith, had it occurred to you that I’d already consulted with Sam about what he’s to do in the kitchen?”

“Well...”

“And haven’t I specifically asked you not to alter any of the existing plans for that part of the house?”

“Well, yes...but...”

“Faith, could you please stop interrupting me?”

“Sorry, Wes, it’s just that...”

“Yes, I know, Faith. But I’ve entrusted the rest of the house to you. And we’ve discussed this; you’re not to interfere with any plans for the kitchen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was the agreement, was it not? I can have Anya fax over the contract if you like...”

“Oh no, that’s quite all right,” she says, not very successfully controlling the quaver of anger in her voice. "I remember."

"Very well," he says, surprisingly and unexpectedly softening a little. He's invoked the contract and Anya just to get a rise out of her, of course. "Now let Sam do his job and stay out of his way for the rest of the day. Can you do that for me, Faith?"

"I'll do my best."

"And will you only phone me in an extreme emergency?"

"Of course. I'll only call if we need to pay off an inspector." She sighs when he makes a strangled noise of dismay and she knows the joke's fallen flat. "I'm sorry, Wes, I'm just so..."

"I know, Faith. Matters pertaining to one's home are always stressful. Now, I'll see you tonight?"

"I love you," she breathes into the phone. "And I am sorry."

"Stop apologizing, Faith, or you might raise my ire again, and not in a good way," he sighs. "I'll expect you home at 7."

"Yes, sir."

“That's my good girl,” he whispers before hanging up, sending a little shiver down her spine.

She flips the phone shut, takes a deep breath with eyes closed. "Sorry, Sam," she says, handing him the phone. "And I'll get out of your hair now."

Sam just shakes his head with a laugh. "I've dealt with far worse than you, miss. But you certainly are a handful."

"Whatever," she says over her shoulder as she flounces out of the gutted kitchen. "I could be so much worse."

"I don't doubt that one bit, miss," Sam yells over the hum of the circular saw.

***

She stops off at the coffee shop on Broadway where they're totally beginning to recognize her, and there's a hot barista with great taste in music and a million tattoos that makes her lattes just the way she likes 'em, strong and with tons of foam.

And she's practically zoned out, thinking about paint chips and all the furniture that's on order, and the rugs and the curtains and everything else that's been acquired on long weekends scouring every furniture, antique, and gewgaw store on the island of Manhattan, and a few in Brooklyn as well, when her phone vibrates furiously in her pocket.

It's Darla, though goodness knows what she's calling for in the middle of the day on a weekday.

"Faithy, honey, how are you?"

"Hey Mom, what's up?"

"Oh, you know, the usual -- just happy in love, sweetie." Things are still working out for her and Ted then, 'cause usually she'll only call when they've had a fight, no matter how small -- a throwback to the days when Faith had been conscripted into therapist duties all those years Darla had been on-again off-again on-again with Liam. Faith shoves down those thoughts, though. No use wallowing in ancient history, especially when Darla sounds so damn chipper. "I need a favor though..."

"What, Ma?"

"Well, you know, when you... when you moved up there, you were in such a hurry, you left some things behind."

"Yeah, I know -- thought I'd told ya, I'm gonna pick all that up later this summer -- maybe Wes and I can come for a visit then."

"That's the thing, honey -- this summer might be a little inconvenient. We kind of need that cleared out now."

"Wait a second -- did you just say 'we'...?"

"Yes, honey! Ted's moving in! We decided we'd better see if we can stand living with each other before getting hitched..." Darla's peal of laughter is full of girlish giddiness, and Faith knows she can't completely begrudge her mother this happiness.

"And so you're calling me ..."

"Oh, Faithy, we're throwing a big housewarming party this weekend and we'd just love it if you and Wes could come."

"This weekend, Ma? Kinda short notice. I mean, we're redoing the house and all and ..."

"Oh, I know, honey ... but we really would love to have you here." Darla turns on the motherly guilt, which, damn, she really is good at. “Even if it's just you. Now, I know Wes is always busy with that lawyering work of his. And Ted's offered to pay for your flight...”

“Mom – Mom, chill! Okay? Let me talk to Wes about this tonight, and I'll call you tomorrow?”

“All right, honey. But that'd better be a yes!”

She doesn't even say goodbye, just flips the phone shut with a snap. She didn't even have the chance to edge in that the house is actually nearly done, that Sam has actually said it there's just a few more days to go since the appliances have arrived. Which means, of course, if she goes to Florida for the weekend, she won't be around to check on all the finishing touches. Which will please Sam to no end – and no doubt Wes will secretly be glad to get rid of her for a few days as well, just to make sure his precious kitchen was just so.

Which means only one thing. She's going back to Florida. Already.

“Try not to look at it as a banishment, Faithy,” she mutters into her coffee. “It is just the weekend.”

Yeah, but only just the most important one of her new life. Well, except maybe for the big date circled in red sharpie in every calendar owned between the two of them, including the one hanging in the almost-finished kitchen.

**

Of course, Wes doesn't blink an eye about her going to Florida that weekend. He's much too busy with work and finishing the kitchen, but she should definitely go, he says.

She spends the evening in a sulk in the spare bedroom while Wes discusses the details of her flights with Ted and gives his sincerest regrets and best wishes to Darla. And she pays for that sulk all right, with a spanking that left her wet and wanting and pissed off as hell when he gives her a chaste kiss goodbye and shuts the door of the hired black sedan with a tiny wave and a wicked smile the next morning.

**

February 5, 2005

After two weekends holed up in various practically closed-for-the-season resorts along the eastern seaboard, she's flown to Manhattan in early February for the all important house-hunting expedition. The weather is freakishly unpredictable. First it dumps a foot of snow, then it all melts in a full-on slam of springtime weather, so she spends the first two days bundled up in her Miu Miu coat and Marc Jacobs hat and scarf only to be stripped down to a sheer, tight fitting t-shirt, cropped velveteen blazer, and jeans the day they plan to meet with the realtor from The Corcoran Group.

“You can't possibly expect to wear that...” Wes says, eyes narrow and summing up the full effect of her outfit when she bounds out of the bedroom to find him on the sofa engrossed in a thick, glossy magazine of real estate listings full of Post-It note-flagged pages. They'd sat up the night before, laughing at the pretentious names that seemed to plague too many Upper East Side co-op buildings and the ridiculous amenities they offered as well, including doggie play dates and chefs on site to cook up fresh Zone Perfect meals instead of having them delivered daily from a service like the rest of the hoi polloi.

“Hey, you got any better ideas?” she asks, snatching the magazine out of his hands and slipping on to his lap, careful to make sure he could see how her perfectly-cut jeans are just the right kind of snug and not the slutty kind, how the thin cotton of her t-shirt clings to the heavy curve of her breasts. “Everything else is too hot and woolly, Wes. It's not thirty degrees out anymore. In case you hadn't noticed, spring's come kind of early this year.”

She can see he's fighting to keep his game face on, to stay stern, but when she snuggles up closer, brushing her lips ever-so-lightly across his, he slides his hands over her ass possessively with a wicked grin.

“Very well, Faith. I admit, you do look rather charming despite being dressed-down. I'm sure, based on what I've seen some of the young ladies in this neighborhood wearing on Saturday afternoons, that the realtor will have seen much worse. At least you're not in one of those dreadful Juicy Couture tracksuits.”

***

Faith expects the realtor to be some blond woman with big hair and a teeny dog and a Hermes handbag. At least, that's the image that springs into her mind when Wes tells her their realtor's name was Shirley Vanderhooven. What she certainly isn't expecting is the tall, effusive man with architecturally spiky hair, dressed in a rippling, dark magenta suit, green shirt, and yellow and baby blue tie who's currently bounding across the room toward them. The effect isn't altogether unpleasant, really, and she's surprised to see that on some weird level, it all actually does kind of look good together.

“Hey kittens, what's shaking?” he asks brightly, practically blinding them with his thousand-watt smile. If this is a high-powered Manhattan realtor, she's the Queen of Spain.

“Lorne! How wonderful to see you,” Wes says, the two shaking hands warmly. “I thought that we'd be meeting with Shirley today...”

Really, it's as bad as back home; everywhere they go in Manhattan, there's always some new acquaintance lurking behind decorative silk trees in theater lobbies or having a raucous good time in trendy bars – though, those always seem to be friends of Doyle and Lindsey's too.

“Oh, well, yes,” Lorne says, clearing his throat nervously before launching into a barrage of explanation. “I didn't have time to call you about that before you arrived, sweet pea. Dear Shirley's had a bit of an incident at her monthly Botox and collagen injection. Seems like they got the injections mixed up, or some silly thing like that. I couldn't quite make out what her best friend was saying on the phone, but something about 'permanent rictus of horror' managed to make it through all her shrieking. So, you're my responsibility now as dear Shirley's off to a quiet, secluded little cabin in the Poconos for six weeks of r-and-r, if you know what I mean.” He winks at Faith, and she laughs as he leans in and pulls her outstretched hand to his lips. “You must be the enchanting Faith. Wes, here, you know, speaks of nothing else but you when you're not in our fair city. And I must say,” he says letting his eyes devour every inch of her, “you're certainly living up to your PR.”

She knows there's a high blush on her cheeks, but between Wes' steadying hand at the small of her back and Lorne's bright smile, she can forget that everyone in the reception area of the busy real estate office, it seems, is staring right at her.

“Oh, stop, really. It's lovely to meet you too, Lorne,” she sputters through a nervous laugh. “I can't wait to hear how you guys know each other.”

The two share guilty sidelong looks. “Uh yeah, great story about that...” Lorne begins, his voice trailing off into a stuttering chuckle.

Wes butts in, giving Lorne a sidelong warning glance that she'd have to be blind to miss before smoothing things over. “We can discuss that later, over lunch, Faith. We really do have quite a few properties to look at today. And Lorne and I really don't want to bore you with a silly story that's really not that interesting...”

She peers at both of them suspiciously when a light bulb goes off and she makes the connection to a little story Doyle and Lindsey had drunkenly tried to relate to her when she went out for drinks with them last time. “Sure, right. Whatever. But like, if you two met at Francis' birthday party at that fetish-y strip club in Chelsea and ended up drunkenly, but good naturedly squabbling over one of the fine ladies on offer who actually ended up being a drag queen.” She pauses to beam at them beatifically because now it's their turn to stare at her, agape. “I think I've already heard that story.”

“Well, knock me over and call me Martha Stewart -- guilty as charged,” Lorne says, clearly annoyed, but still smiling. “Never can depend on those two to keep anything in confidence, can you?”

“Going to bury them under so much paperwork they'll never set foot in another bar again...” Wes mutters under his breath. “They'll be sorry they ever...”

“Hey, hey, boys, chill. It's cool – I promise, I'll never bring it up again. I swear!” She links her arms through theirs and steers them out of the office and to the elevator. “Besides, Doyle and Lindsey told me they'd have made the same mistake, given the circumstances. I think you really are being too hard on yourselves, it's not that embarrassing.”

Unfortunately, her attempts to keep a straight face fail the moment they're all three alone in the elevator, and she collapses in a fit of hysterical giggles she knows will most certainly lead to some sort of delicious punishment as soon as she and Wes get back home that evening.

**

The portfolio of apartments Shirley has picked for them to look at is pretty dreadful. One stuffy, Upper East Side co-op fronted by unfriendly-looking doorman after another. Sure, some have spectacular views, or incredible formal dining areas, or libraries that threaten to be too grand even to house Wes' collection – but they're all incredibly inappropriate. They're places to show off to your snooty colleagues or function as upscale pied-a-terres -- not actual, homey, nice to come back after hours of shopping on a rainy day kind of places.

“And here we have yet another fabulous 6500 square foot, three story duplex, completely furnished with Louis Quinze originals, not reproductions.” Lorne says, ushering them into a dusky foyer before finding the light switch. When the rest of the apartment is illuminated, he sniffs disdainfully at the sight of yet another round of nasty gilt furniture and toile upholstery.

Faith sighs heavily, not even moving to check out the view. “Wes, do we even have to look at this one? Please?” She fixes him with her most pathetic pout. “Face it, these places suck. Let's just call it quits and have Lorne find us a bunch of other places to look at tomorrow, in say, the Village, maybe?”

Wes shoots her a steely glare and shakes his head. “Lorne, perhaps Shirley was confused; though these homes certainly are very lovely, these were definitely not the kinds of places I asked her to find...”

“Well, you know Shirley,” Lorne says with a smile, ushering them back out into the hallway. “Or well, you don't, do you? Lovely woman really, but a pretentious bitch. Has a bad habit of showing clients the kinds of places she'd like to live and not the other way around. She actually has the penthouse atop the Pierre Hotel on your list. That place is going for $70 million. Now, no offense, Wes  -- I know you've got buckets of scratch with that cushy gig you've got going at Travers & Giles – but I think that's a just a teensy bit out of your price range, n'est pas?”

“You could say that, yes,” Wes says, looking slightly pale and horrified. “Definitely not in our price range. Shirley certainly did take a very liberal view of the parameters I provided for her.”

“Seventy million?” Faith manages to choke out as they step back out on to the street. “Please tell me you're kidding.”

“No, babydoll. You heard that right. Three stories, with a ballroom and five fireplaces.” He gives her a sympathetic look as she fidgets on the curb while Wes hails them a cab. Lowering his voice conspiratorially, he says, “Look sweetheart, I've got one place up here that may strike Wes' fancy, but if he doesn't like it I promise, I'll find you the townhouse of your dreams down in the Village.”

“You won't find that one. We had it, but well...”

“I know, heard the whole tragic story. But look on the bright side. There's literally thousands and thousands of places we can look at. We'll find something just as good – probably better, now that you've got me looking instead of Shirley.”

**

The last property, she has to admit, does have potential – with the requisite lovely views, space for Wes' library, and mercifully, also delivered unfurnished. But it's much too far up in the East 90s – perfectly respectable as a high-end residential neighborhood but deadly boring.

“There's not even a good bar on this block,” Faith points out, with a melodramatic sweep of her arm. “Or on the next one. And like, the nearest deli is totally too far.”

Wes gives her a pointed look but keeps his voice maddeningly pleasant. “It would do you a world of good, Faith, to walk further than a block and half for your junk food supplies and cigarettes.”

“Now, now my little lovebirds, don't squabble.” Lorne elbows his way between them in an unsuccessful attempt to herd them to the end of the block. “There's already an offer in on this one, but from another couple that makes Liz Taylor and Richard Burton look like Romeo and Juliet.”

“Which means...” Wes trails off, pointing that lethal cocked eyebrow at someone else for once, Faith's relieved to see.

“Which means if they show up on the Times' Vows page next week, this baby's definitely off the market. But they might go all “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on each other at any moment, so you just never know.”

“Wonderful,” Wes mutters. “Finding a feasible living space here is worse than London. Or Moscow.”

“Thankfully, the ghosts are a lot less demanding here.” Lorne retorts, and he barely sounds like he's joking.

“Ghosts in Moscow?” Faith asks, all impatience. “Wait, don't tell me -- I don't even want to know. So hey, is there like, somewhere around here I can get a double caramel latte and a snack? And maybe light a candle that our possibly doomed couple sticks together? I'm getting punchy and peckish and desperate.”

“Really, Faith -- the condo's not as bad as all that.” Wes slides up behind her, gently resting his hands on her hips. A subtle move, to be sure, but one she knows all too well. Just a little warning, but an effective one that's driven home by his next words, a little too close to her ear for comfort. “It does have lovely views. And we can always get Anne's sister in to do the decorating.”

Unable to squirm away from his grasp and face him with a snappy retort, she just bites her tongue. Yeah, she's reading his message loud and clear. And she's just about to put on a good proper pout for Lorne alone when Wes spins her 'round and gives her the ultimate reward of a bright smile and the mischievous glint in his eye. “Now, let's see about that coffee, hmm?”

“Just so we're clear on one thing, Faith, there is a sweet little bistro around the corner. This neighborhood isn't a complete gastronomical wasteland – even if it doesn't have a Dunkin' Donuts,” Lorne scolds her, turning on his heel and practically marching to the corner. “You with me, kids?”

The bistro is clogged with ladies who lunch and their little dogs and shopping bags, but they manage to snag a big comfortable booth, and soon Faith's settled in with a giant latte and roast duck, currant, and chevre salad – which Wes orders for her, and honestly, is quite tasty. But her eyes start to seriously glaze over when they start discussing maintenance allowances and down payments and mortgage brokers.

She's kind of picking at the remains of her salad and zoning out on how this one woman's bouffant hairdo matches that of her bichon frise when a laptop's plunked down in front of her almost synchronous with the waiter's removal of her plate. She snaps back to reality to see Lorne grinning at her.

“Well, aren't you just a lucky girl? Turns out this charming little bistro also has a convenient wi-fi connection. Why don't you do a little of my job for me and check out what's on the listings website, chickadee, while Wes and I continue our fascinating conversation that's barely keeping me from being bored to tears?”

Under the table, Wes' hand is caressing her knee, and above it, he's rolling his eyes melodramatically so she's forced to hide a giggle behind her hand – she really is managing to loosen him up more and more by the day – before swallowing her laugh so she can thank Lorne. “Sounds good to me. Uh, let's see here, I'll just tick the box for anything below Midtown and hope for the best.”

“Whatever makes you happy, dearest,” Wes says, and she thinks she just might keel over and die because he's actually attempting to be amusing.

She just searches the West Village and Greenwich Village – no point in trying to interest Wes in an “interesting” property tucked away in a “secluded” corner of the East Village or the Lower East Side. Besides, she's turning out to be such a subway girl, and the lack of any good lines to the east side of Manhattan below Union Square pisses her off to no end.

Which is why she's shocked, stunned, and generally speechless when the search results pop up.

“Um, Lorne? How often is the website updated?”

“Real-time, princess. Why, you found something that snagged your interest already?”

She just nods distantly, turning the laptop around in front of Wes, so he can see the listing she's pulled up.

“That's it,” she whispers, still stunned. “That's our house.”

He shakes his head, equally mystified. “Must be a mistake, I was told it was no longer available,” His hand slides over hers and squeezes it tightly.

“Oh no, my darling lovebirds, that's no mistake. Hell, if I'd known you wanted that money pit, we could have saved tramping every square inch of the Upper East Side. I'll be honest with you, my dogs are barking like crazy, and you two are officially the craziest people I've ever met.”

Wes turns to Lorne, pinning him with what's got to be the gravest look in his arsenal. “We'll take it.”

“Just like that, you don't even want to see the diabolical mess that the previous owners made of the remodel?”

“We'll take it, Lorne.” Wes says again, simple as that, and her heart's melting and if she's not mistaken, she might start to cry – even if this stupid bistro is about the most inappropriate place in the universe for it.

**

May 21, 2005.

In their time apart, she's become used to the bumpy turbulence taking off from Florida and then getting caught in the daisy chain of jets circling over Manhattan a few hours later, all queued to land at La Guardia. Used to the pampering treatment from the cabin crew in first class, with champagne and shortbread cookies and pillows that aren't itchy and enough room to stretch out for a nap. But she hasn't missed all the shuttling back and forth in the slightest, and there's something consoling about the fact that this will be the very last time she'll be making this journey, for a while at least. Somewhere in the cargo hold is the very last of her possessions, cleared out so Darla and Ted could have their guest room -- a guest room she'll get to share with Wes on their next visit to Florida. Guess they'll finally have a chance to get up to no good there, only it won't be the same, not if every bit of Faithyness is stripped out and there's just flounces and valences and gingham and guest towels folded on the edge of the bed.

She's giggling when she gets to the baggage claim though, because even though she's cursed Wes' name a thousand times that weekend, even after a late night dirty phone call, he's totally on the road to making things up to her when she sees the chauffeur hanging on the edge of the baggage claim area with the sign that reads 'The Future Mrs. Wyndam-Pryce.' The first time she'd seen it, in the Baltimore/Washington airport a few weeks back, her fellow passengers assumed that she'd just been the recipient of a creative proposal and smiled, looking around for the surprise entrance of her erstwhile suitor. But it's the same every time, he's never there to pick her up – there's just some dude in a semi-ill fitting suit instead.

And yeah, she's a little melancholy that this is the last time she'll see that placard firmly clasped in the rugged hands of a stern chauffeur, and it's almost enough to make her start crying all over again.

They'd thrown her a final -- absolutely final -- farewell party the night before – Darla, Ted, the Rosenbergs, Dru, and Spike. All the other faces had swirled into a bittersweet swirl of kisses and goodbyes. Everyone seemed to be there, really. Even Lilah made a brief and cursory appearance. But no Xander.

Faith figured he'd show up to the engagement party, but Darla informed her that his cell number was different – only took one call (after days of psyching herself up to punch it up on speed dial) to find that out. And she already knew his email bounced – only took one message in a moment of forgiveness months earlier to find that out, too.

So yeah, she'd left for good, for real this time, without seeing Xander again.

**

The limo winds its way through the cramped streets of Greenwich Village and takes a hairpin turn down a narrow residential street. Her street. Their street. Pulls up in front of their house.

He's standing on the stoop, grinning like a fool, with a massive bouquet of flowers.

“You survived a trip back to that hellhole, I see.”

“Just barely. God, Wes, I'd be really pissed off at you if it weren't for those flowers.”

“Well, I always heard they'd help diffuse tense situations with your partner. You understand, my darling girl, I couldn't have you underfoot for the last few days, I just couldn't. I'm sorry about that.”

“Wait, sorry about ... what?”

”Let's go inside, shall we?”

“Wait – wait, you orchestrated me being gone for a weekend? So you could do what exactly?”

“If you can curb that infamous impatience of yours for another few minutes, you'll be pleasantly rewarded.”

“Oh Wes, I'm totally at the end of my patience, especially after you set me back home hornier than hell...”

“I'm sorry, that really was rather cruel of me, wasn't it?”

“You're not fooling me, Wes. You're not sorry.”

He laughs but doesn't answer, unlocking the door and turning to her with a serious look. “You'd better put your things down.”

And before she can ask why, the flowers and her handbag are tumbling to the stoop because he's scooping her up in his arms and carrying her over the threshold.

The house is full of flickering candles, hundreds of them. He sets her down gently in the foyer, reaching up to brush away the little tears of happiness rolling down her cheeks, and leads her into the dining room to see the piece de resistance --  the candelabra from the old house, a bank of tealights twinkling above them.

“Thought we'd paid top dollar for some like, electrical fixtures...” she laughs, throwing her arms around his neck and swooping in for a greedy kiss that goes from sweet to dirty in about 30 seconds.

“Shall we christen this room first?” he says, and with an uncharacteristic moment of uncontrolled passion takes the sheer silk chiffon of her blouse between his hands and rips it open, sending buttons flying and pushing her back against the giant mahogany dining table. “Want you laid out here so I can devour every inch of you...”

“Well, someone missed me while I was gone...”

“You have no idea,” he murmurs, tugging her hand and leading her out of the dining room and up the stairs. “Thought it would be romantic to bring you back to the house like this...”

“It is, Wes... wait, what about fucking me on the dining table? Devouring every inch of me?”

“I've got something else to show you...”

“If I didn't love you so much right now, I might have to punch your lights out – I mean really, this whole teasing and making me wait an entire weekend away from you really was the ultimate in...”

She never finishes her thought, though. He pushes open a door that's flush with the wall of the second floor landing. The latch releases with a pop and the door swings open to reveal a vista of red upholstery and books.

It's the inner library; that jewel box of a room, perfectly reproduced and restored to its glory, right there on the second floor of a brownstone in New York City. Everything's the same except three new additions – her photographs hang on the far wall, hotly lit with tiny track lights hidden high above their heads.

“This is why you wanted me to leave,” she whispers.

“Yes.”

“You did this in three days?”

“Sam and Lorne helped. Lindsey and Doyle said they would – but mostly they just watched television and yelled at some game that was on. Basketball, perhaps? Oh, and Rupert came by.”

“Please tell me you put the photographs up after they'd all left...”

“Of course, my falsely modest darling – your secrets are still safe with me.”

“Well, that's a relief.” She leans in for another kiss, pressing him against the door frame. “This really is lovely and all, but I think you still owe me for all the time I spent in airports this weekend, 'specially when I was certain I was done with traveling alone. So, like, what book are you going to read to me first, Wes?”


Part Twenty

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