Page77 Nothing and Every

—          EVERYTHING AND NOTHING.                    11-4-11

Roy Garde.

None of Patricia Woodward siblings could figure her out.

She was easily the most attractive member of the family and many of their male friends and acquaintances angled to get an introduction to her so that they could ask her out on a date but, with them all, as soon as she saw where the conversation was heading she backed off and disappeared so quickly that they usually figured that they were inadequate in some fundamental, basic way and they’d be apprehensive for weeks afterwards whenever they met someone new.

Her father thought that he knew why she did her Marlene Dietrich act but only Patricia and her mother really knew and they weren’t telling.

Several Gynecologists and other specialists knew too and, of course, they couldn’t tell any one even if they’d wanted to.

She never wore any make-up and she always let her hair hang down any which way and she wore cheap, shapeless clothes and old sneakers – all of them hand-me-downs because she rarely shopped for herself – and she usually had a beige-colored baseball cap on her head that she took off only at home and when she was told to do so by someone in authority.

In spite of that, many boys in her high school, and later on in college, saw how attractive her features were and caught glimpses of the nice figure that was under her camouflage and many of them wanted to play Prince Charming and rescue her from the cinders but she’d refused to have anything to do with any of them.

She went on to Law School and she did well and later on she passed her bar exam with relative ease, partly because she had a good mind and partly because she rarely left her room after classes. She studied assiduously and any other result would have surprised everyone who knew her.

When she got back home, with her several degrees, she hinted to her father that she wanted to start studying medicine but he quashed that idea immediately because, although he was a CEO of a large company and could have easily afforded it, he recognized her request for what it was – she was aiming to become a perpetual student so as to hide from the real the world for as long as possible.

When she’d reconciled herself into accepting his decision she re-visited the soliciting letters that she’d received from several big law firms and she picked out one that had a good reputation and was of medium size.

The company’s HR department head was delighted to offer her a position and she was allowed to choose her job from a list of open positions but they weren’t nearly as delighted when she insisted on being given one that was far from the limelight. It was in their bankruptcy department.

She kept a low profile – going as far as to take a brown bag lunch and a vacuum flask of coffee to work everyday and then eating it at her desk – and so she was able to effectively keep away from work-place entanglements. In spite of the huge amount of work she was given she tackled it so diligently that she could leave her little office on the stroke of six o’clock at night, every night. She liked her job because although the work was boring it demanded her full attention and she could get fully immersed in it. And thus lost in it, too.

However, although that took care of her week it did nothing to help her avoid other people over the weekends.

Her mother, knowing exactly what ‘ailed’ her and with all the sympathy in the world for her plight, was completely unable to put herself in her shoes and so she left it up to her to do whatever she wanted but her father took it upon himself, at first, to ‘bring her out of her shell’ and so he practically dragged her with him to lunches and dinners and parties on both Saturdays and Sundays but he had to admit defeat when he found, time after time, that she deliberately closed down in other people’s presence to a degree that, notwithstanding her attractiveness, everyone would give up on her after a while at which time she’d gratefully slip away, unnoticed and unmissed, and look for a quiet spot where she could read the current paperback novel that she always kept in her purse.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like people – she got on well with women at all times and with men too in professional circumstances – but in social settings she saw to it that, to avoid having to deal with tedious introductions and then getting hit on, she never stuck around long to avoid having to be rude if, or more likely when, some guy started coming on to her. To her dismay she found that that happened more and more often as time went on and it was because she was one of those lucky women who take on a higher level of attraction – it’s difficult to pin down why that is exactly but if it could be bottled it would be more successful than pherones – as they approach maturity.

After around ten years of hiding away at work her life changed radically when the head of her department took an early retirement and an outsider was brought in to take his place.

His name was Paul Harrison and he’d held a similar job at his old company and he’d quit in disgust after a blatant case of nepotism came to light even though it hadn’t concerned his department in any way.

Like all new brooms he wanted to do a good job by getting to know every aspect of his new department and, by doing so, he soon came to realize that something was very wrong with the whole set-up.

The company was handling approximately the same amount of business as his old company had done but it was doing it, and was doing it well, with not nearly as many associates and thus with a much higher profit margin.

Obviously that fact was both intriguing and very interesting for him so he began delving to find out why.

It took him several days before he found out why just about every case was being managed exceptionally smoothly and quickly and that that had been the case for several years. He’d found that it all revolved around the fact that the name of an associate named Patricia Woodward didn’t appear on any of the hundreds of final results but her initials were everywhere on the preliminary submissions and summaries which had to be done, by everyone who got to be involved, to show that that person had read them. Also there was an unofficial page added to each one that had a printed heading that was new to him: ‘Suggested courses of actions that might well be advantageous to the attorney involved and, at the same time, profitable for the company.’

He started asking around about this overly-modest member of his staff and he found that it was common practice for just about every associate involved to dump his new cases on the desk of said, ‘Patricia Woodward,’ – before so much as reviewing them himself – so that she could take care of assembling all of the tedious but all important details – such as facts and precedents and established procedures – and then send it back to him, or her, with her findings attached. He found that they’d all being doing it for so long that it was by then so common a practice that they presumed something similar was standard practice in all law companies.

Paul asked for, ‘this Patricia Woodward’s,’ time log and it told him that she checked in at nine o’clock every weekday morning and out again at exactly six o’clock every night, which was a little later in the AM and a lot earlier in the PM than any of the other associates did and much more so of course – by a long chalk at both ends – than any of the partners did. Also, she’d never worked on one Saturday nor Sunday in all of her time with the company which was also unheard of for associates because the work was constantly coming in and piling up and deadlines had to be met punctiliously and, consequently, the only road to a partnership, and the big money, was to work all the hours God sends.

When he checked out her salary history and the amount of her annual bonuses he was appalled to see that her salary had been increased only by the fixed, mandatory, cost-of-living adjustments and that she’d received no bonuses at all!

He called in his Controller and was told that no employees of the company get raises until they ask for them, excepting mandatory ones, and bonuses were paid according to the amount of business that each associate generated in the previous year and seeing that her – Patricia Woodward’s – name has never shown up on any of the relevant ‘bottom-lines’ that was – “Clearly, what else?” – taken to mean that she generated zero business each year and thus merited zero bonus for that year.

She was thus a highly paid clerk or a poorly paid associate.

He asked Patricia to come to his office and when he’d shaken her hand he asked her to be seated and then he put the pages that detailed the history of her remuneration in front of her and then he sat back in his chair and waited for a comment.

She glanced through the pages and nodded when she got to the end and she put them back down onto his desk and then she sat back in her chair and waited for an explanation.

 He lifted both of his hands as a query and as a request to explain the anomaly but all that he got in the way of a response was to see her raise both of her hands, less abruptly, to indicate that she didn’t know what he wanted from her.

“My dear Ms. Woodward,” he said when he’d capitulated, “I’m at a loss for words. Please be good enough to explain to me how what you’ve just read can possibly be true and why has it been allowed to remain true for close to ten whole years?”

“Well, Mr. Harrison, first let me say that I’m very relieved! When I was told that you wanted to see me here – by the way this is only the second time that I’ve ever been in this office and the only other time was on my first day with the company – I presumed that I’d done something wrong or that the word ‘redundancy’ would be, uh, in the offing. But not so! In fact the boot is on the other foot, so to speak, in that you think that I’ve been wronged.

“Well please put your mind at rest. I am content with things the way they are and I’d like to maintain the status quo because this way the only pressure that I’m subjected to comes from the work that I do and I love the work because of the constant challenge to find the quickest and the best and, of course, the correct path to follow in each new case.

“As for my remuneration – well, I still live with my parents so I leave most of my salary in the bank and thus, obviously, it’s more than adequate for my needs and, further to that and to my point of view, not only do I think that it’s an adequate amount but I also know that by not asking for increases I’ll most likely be allowed to continue with what I’m doing and thus remain content with my, uh, my lot.”

Her new boss stayed quiet for a moment or two and then, – “Well, I am now even more at a loss for words . . . . I must ask you to let me think about it for a while and I’d like us to have another talk then.”

He gathered up the papers and then shook his head and then cleared his throat before saying, “Well, thank you for coming to see me Ms. Woodward but let me tell you this, off the top of my head there’s no way that I can let your status remain quo for very long because if I do so it could well undermine the reward system of our entire profession.

“I mean, like in any profession anywhere, we can increase salaries and we can give out prized parking spots and a key to the executive bathroom and a bigger office maybe, or more assistants perhaps, but, seeing that we don’t produce saleable products, surely you’ll agree that the only real measuring stick of an associate’s value to a law company is in the amount of annual bonus that he or she gets seeing that its size is directly related to its recipient’s ability to do the work well and in a timely fashion and thus help generate good will with clients which leads to repeat contracts and, in turn, higher profits and, yes, a higher bonus the following year.”

He got no response to that so he thanked her again and she got up and left.

Three days later Patricia was asked to go back to her boss’s office and when she got there she was directed to the adjoining conference room where, she saw, all of the company’s partners were gathered.

They all came over to her and wanted to shake her hand as they murmured things like, “Remarkable,” and, “Never would have believed it to be possible,” and, ”It never would have happened in my department, I can assure you.” and so on.

When they’d all gone away her boss told his secretary to bring in all of Patricia’s associates who had been waiting in her reception area.

When his secretary had closed the door behind her he made them stand there in a bunch like schoolboys while he lectured them on what the word ‘Associate’ means and how they should be ashamed and that they would have to do their own plodding ‘leg work’ from then on and that, starting right then, everyone who does any work at all on any and all of their cases have to be given credit for it, along with an estimate of the extent of their contribution, with the aim of seeing to it that their annual bonuses were of the correct amount.

When he was alone with Patricia again he told her that her salary had already been doubled, in an attempt to ‘catch up,’ and that, from his assessment, she’d be getting annual bonuses in the high six figures from then on.

He went on to tell her that he’d had some research done on her contribution to past cases and he was so impressed with the results that, “Notwithstanding your stated preference to be allowed to stay where you are I’ve shuffled some of the offices around on this executive floor and you are going to move into the one that adjoins mine and there’s another one next to it for your new staff and, what’s more, all of this is going to start happening this same day.”

He stood up just before he stopped speaking so as to not leave her an opening to put in so much as one word of objection and he showed her to the door and when he’d ushered her into the corridor he said that she was to go down to her old office and supervise the moving of all of her files and any other items that she wanted to be brought up to her new office.

 In spite of his bulk Paul was a gentle man, aside from making business decisions, and he and Patricia got on well together.

When he’d established her main strengths he gave her two assistants to help her to exploit them better.

At six o’clock in the afternoon of every weekday she’d come into office and sit down and they’d follow their custom of not discussing business as soon as she entered at that hour and they’d talk of various happenings in the world or in their world before she wished him goodnight and she’d let him go back to work. He usually finished up at around nine-thirty but if, as often happened, he had to stay at it until later than that he’d sleep on a collapsible cot that he kept in a closet.

He had no close family members in the city and so, happily for the ones that he did have, he could stay at his desk as long as he needed to without having to answer to anyone.

As the months went by he and Patricia got to be closer and closer and because he never got overly personal with her she began to trust him and to enjoy being with him.

She knew that he was fanatically opposed to company romances – he knew that far too many of them come to grief and affect company business as they disintegrate – and so, even as he was getting to admire her more and more, he stayed aware of the dividing line and he never crossed it.

Because of the troubling times that the whole country was going through, his department had to take on many more associates to deal with the onrush, and the inrush, of new business and, because of that and due to his management skills and his own hard work and their combined abilities, profits soared and, consequently, Patricia’s bonus at the end of her first year in her new position was bordering on three quarters of a million dollars and his own was so obscenely high that he, and all of the partners, saw to it that no outsider got to know the exact figure.

In light of his success he could do no wrong in the eyes of his partners and so when, at the next general meeting, he proposed that Patricia be made a partner but allowed to continue working where she was it was approved unanimously.

A few weeks before his fortieth birthday Paul found that he couldn’t get out of his bed one morning and when his housekeeper arrived he asked her to call his doctor who, after examining him, got him admitted to a hospital and when he got the results of a half dozen tests back he told him that he had to ease off on his work load and lose thirty pounds and take steps to keep them off.

Paul took advantage of his position to turn the time that he’d stayed off work into being his annual vacation and he was back working in his office, and for just as long as ever, three days after he’d been discharged from the hospital.

 He was candid about what had happened to him but only to Patricia and she was appalled at his foolishness and she told him so right there and then, “The very first thing that you must change is your diet and so, to start off, tell me what you usually have for breakfast?”

“Oh, eggs and bacon and tomatoes and toast and coffee. I’m good at preparing breakfast for myself.”

“Not any more you’re not, you hear me? From now on you are to have breakfast here instead of at home. I’ll bring it in for you and your lunch too. That way there’ll be no more three vodka cocktail aperitifs with it. Now, what about dinner? Are you good at preparing that too?”

He told her that his housekeeper left a full meal for him and he heated it up in his microwave.

“What is it usually?”

“Oh, let’s see. It’s pasta or rice or potatoes with meat and vegetables.”

“And no doubt you always have a huge dessert after eating that?”

“Well, yes. I’ve always had a prodigious fondness for desserts.”

“Well no longer. That’s got to stop immediately, you hear?” She was abrupt with him because she’d thought up a scheme that would serve her in two ways. She went on, “From this day on you are going to leave this office, no matter what, at the same time that I do and we’ll have dinner together so that I can supervise and alter your eating habits with a view to lose that potentially fatal thirty pounds. And then, after we’ve eaten, you are to go straight home and have nothing more to eat or drink – except water – until you get back here again. Also, you must see to it that you get eight hours of sleep every night and you are to time yourself so that you arrive here at nine o’clock in the morning and not a moment earlier. Agreed?”

He saw that there was good sense in her suggested regime and so he agreed to go along with it for that reason but also because he was secretly thrilled at being given the chance to spend several hours more in her company every evening and, notwithstanding his policy regarding office romances, he was finding that he couldn’t help but enjoy her presence through each day although he knew that nothing serious was to be allowed to come of it.

She felt the same way exactly about wanting to be with him for longer periods, which was what had influenced her decision about their having dinner together in the first place although she knew that nothing serious was to be allowed to come of it.

He found it to be quite impossible to finish his work by six every night so she opted to pull up a chair next him at that hour and help him finish up. From long habit he was given to trying to sneak additional work in by saying, “This one has to be dealt with right now,” and so she had to make another rule which was to come into force the moment that she sat down with him. She’d say, “All right, pick one and then no more no matter what.”

By sticking to that policy they successfully reduced the extra time that they had to stay at his desk, ’after hours,’ to one half hour or so.

They found that it wasn’t difficult to follow an all protein diet in the restaurants that they picked, in turn, and inside a few weeks Paul began to feel both thinner and fitter.

However, his weight wasn’t going down nearly faster enough to satisfy his doctor and he questioned him so cleverly about his new diet that, after describing his new eating habits and his new enforcer, he was made to admit that he over indulged at the weekends when Patricia wasn’t around to supervise.

 “Who is this ‘Patricia?’ ”

He explained.

“Well, I strongly advise you to try to get her to marry you because it seems to me that you’d benefit enormously from having her become a permanent fixture in your life.”

The seed was planted even though he knew far too well that the very idea was totally unfeasible.

At dinner a few nights later he struck up enough courage to tell her what the doctor had said and he saw, to his consternation, that she immediately took on a stricken look and began to, literally, look around for the nearest exit.

“Whoa, back off at once,” he told himself and he tried to think up a way to quickly change the subject and just then a garbage truck went by on the street outside the window and he seized on the chance to bring up the threat of a city-wide garbage-men’s strike and was relieved to see her relax back to normal as she listened and then made a commen.

He couldn’t know that by retelling her about his doctor’s remark he’d planted a seed in her too nor that it had slipped easily into a place that she’d been aware of for several months by then even though she’d known all along, and all too well, that its very presence was an exercise in futility and would leave her open to rejection and most probably – no, certainly – subject to enormous pain yet again.

  She was approaching thirty-five by then and while Nature had cruelly deprived her of being able to have any maternal instincts, or sensual ones with the exception of the tactile kind, that, combined with a life-time of self-control and stringent rejection of inherent and acquired feelings that leaned towards ‘sharing,’ had nearly succeeded in suppressing them completely. However, she did crave male companionship and, apart from her father, Paul was the only man who she’d ever liked consistently while knowing that she could also trust him implicitly.

She knew that he was just past forty years old and there had never been even a hint of his having any romantic entanglements and, although she knew that his marital status could never become relevant to her life, she did wonder why he hadn’t been snapped up already seeing how attractive he was, and how affluent, and she also wanted to know whether his excessive work ethic was responsible for the stifling of his needs or were they being satisfied in a way that was completely unknown to her or to her colleagues at work.

After much agonizing she decided that the sensible way was to ask him!

By then they’d found a restaurant whose good minute steaks were always available and that also sold a flan, made with soy and an artificial sweetener that wasn’t corn sugar that was, wonder of wonders, a halfway to being good.

The following Friday night, she waited until he’d savored the final spoonful of his flan and then she asked him straight out, – “Tell me Paul, I know that this is a very personal question so please forgive me for asking it but, why don’t you have a wife and a family of your own by now? I mean, let’s face it, you’re quite a catch, right?”

If she hadn’t cleverly waited until he’d swallowed the last of the flan he would have sprayed spittle and pudding at her as he spluttered, “Uh, yes. I would say that that’s a personal question all right and to cover my confusion let me redirect the same question to you. Why aren’t you married already?”

“Well yes, but it won’t do you know? I asked first so tell me. Have you ever been married?”

“Well, that one I can answer easily. No. Never.”

“And the answer to my first query?”

“Well,” he took time to consider and then he sat up straight and said, “I’ve not told a living soul about what happened to me a long time ago and I didn’t think that I ever would but, seeing that it’s you who’s asking, I can’t be flippant about it nor can I be anything but completely honest but, even so, I have to warn you that if I do tell you it will bring down a pall onto this table and, perhaps, on our relationship too.

“So, knowing that, please consider withdrawing the question or brace yourself for an answer that you might wish to have not heard.”

“Paul! This is me! Patricia. You can’t not tell me so please go ahead and I promise that I’m already sufficiently braced enough to be able to hear anything on God’s earth.”

“Aw, hell! I knew that you’d say that but I had to try to evade it, right?

“I tell you what, let’s do a deal. I’ll tell you everything if you promise to do the same thing after I’ve – uh – come clean, as they say. Do we have a deal?”

“Ah, well now, I don’t know about that . . . Uh, well all right then. I’m all for total honesty and especially between you and me but I must warn you, in turn, that mine is not a pretty story either.

“OK then. ‘Deal,’ as they say . . . .

“Well, it’s been so long that . . . Uh, it really is very difficult for me but . . . well, here goes.

“I joined the ROTC in college and we got sent out into the country to rough it on four weekends every year. Well, uh, I was eighteen years old and in the early spring of my first year with them I went on my second trip and, as usual, the first thing that we had to do was to build a rope bridge across a small creek that was about ten feet wide which separated our tents down the middle.

“Well, the leader of the group that was on the other side from mine used standard wooden stakes that were only a foot and a half long even though the ground was wet. On our side we’d used three feet long steel ones and ours held properly but when a half dozen of us were testing out the finished bridge, by walking across it, the far side gave way and we were all dropped into the water.

“Well, the other guys only got wet but I was unlucky enough to fall squarely onto a half-submerged, half-rotten wooden post and I – wow, I still find it hard to tell – anyway, I landed on that post and it crushed and destroyed my testicles, both of them. I’ve still got them but they are non-functional and always will be.”

A halfway through his story he’d dropped his eyes to his dessert plate and had clasped his hands together on top of the table and after he’d finished it took him a few seconds to compose himself and she knew how much time that he’d needed to do that by looking at his face and seeing its color return to normal.

“There. I’ve told you. Not a happy story is it?”

She reached over and held and then squeezed his hands and said, “Oh Paul, you poor, poor man. I really am very sorry.”

“Yes, well thank you, but you know, seeing that it happened over twenty years ago I guess that I should have learned to live with it by now but the truth is that I’m still bitter and still not willing to forgive that idiot who was responsible.”

“I guess that he’s still wracked with guilt too. Errors that serious don’t ever get forgotten, true? Although knowing that doesn’t help you much does it?”

“No, it doesn’t, but you know what? I think that by telling you about it has helped me a lot already, and will continue to help me I hope. So, thank you for asking in the first place and then for listening . . . Wow! I told you a pall would descend on this table didn’t I? . . . Well now, am I the world’s best raconteur and the world’s most entertaining dinner companion or what?”

“Paul, please stop. Please?”

She squeezed his hands again and then said, “Well, it’s my turn now, right? My story is remarkably similar to yours except that I’ve had all of my life to ‘learn to live with it.’

“You know what? That pall that you talked about barely touched down on this side of the table except for when you described the actual horrible event and you’ll soon see why that’s true and let me say, first, that like you, I too have never told anybody about it –

“Well, my mother told me that when I was born, I am the youngest of my two siblings, her doctor and two nurses were in the delivery room and after the usual commands like, ”Push, push,’ and, ’Good, it’s crowning so give me one more push for the shoulders,’ and so on until she’d succeeded in delivering me into the world, she realized that there was a strange silence in the room when there should have been chatter and congratulations so she broke it by asking, “Well, is it a boy or a girl?”

“Well, the doctor could see that I wasn’t a boy so he told my mother that I was a girl but there was zero joy in his voice as he said it and she told me that on hearing him her heart sank. She knew very well, having had two other babies before me, that something was very wrong.

“Well, the thing of it is that I was born without genitals. There is just smooth skin where they should be located.

“Well, they took me away immediately for X-rays, and whatever, to find out if they’d have to operate at once to – uh – make an outlet for my bladder and they found that while my – uh, this difficult for me but we’re being frank here aren’t we? You want the full story, right? – Right. Well, they found that my anus and colon are normal and that my urethra is connected above my – uh – my other sphincter.

“Because of that they held off on the operation to see if I’d be able to learn to function properly the way that I was.

“When my mother took me home she wouldn’t let anyone else look after me nor even be around when she was bathing me and so no one else in the family got to know that there was anything different about me.”

 Here she paused to wave away the sympathetic noises that he was making so that she could get on with her story and finish it.

“Well, because I was able to learn how to deal with the problem satisfactorily a few months after I was out of diapers they decided to leave well alone – hah! ‘Well!’ – and they held off on doing more tests until my body had matured. Well, when I got to be around nine years old they did more tests and they discovered that I don’t have any reproductive organs at all and so, again, there was no point in operating on me and that’s the way it is to this day.

“They started me on hormone treatments and all the rest of it when I got to be about eleven and, sure enough, my breasts grew out and my hips widened and I grew pubic hair. That last was a real blessing because when I was able to trim it until it got to be a dense triangle when I had to get naked in front of the other girls, like, for instance, to take a shower after a gym class, or whenever, I looked like any other girl and, later, like any other woman.

“Well, after that my mother and I could relax some but still, I never could and never can forget that I’m not a normal woman. In fact, I’m not a woman at all and seeing that I’m not a man either that means that I’m an ‘it.’ I’m a freak.”

Being that frank for the first time ever affected her deeply and she started crying softly into her napkin which made Paul reach for her free hand but he didn’t know what to say so he simply let words flow out as they wished and the words, “You’re not a freak, Patricia, no way. In fact, you’re a real woman and a very attractive one at that and I love you very much,” emerged from amongst the, “There, there’s,” and the, “Now, now’s” and the, “Please don’t cry any more’s.”

Slowly, slowly that, “I love you,” bit somehow got to be isolated and then writ large in a stand-by part of her brain and when it did, and had been acknowledged, its import was strong enough to get an immediate cessation of her teary misery-wallow and she looked up at him and tried to do some beaming but she didn’t succeed very well and she didn’t say anything because, deep down and, because she had to battle with her life-long self-imposed social ostracism she couldn’t make herself believe what she’d heard.

He was still holding one of her hands and so as a brave but tentative gesture she offered him her other one to hold, or not, knowing that by being presented with the choice it would allow him to withdraw gracefully from the edge of the cliff of commitment. Or jump off it.

He took her other hand too and squeezed both of them it and when she squeezed back he took that as a sign and he knew what he had to do about it but before he could speak she said, “Paul, it’s amazing and almost unbelievable but clearly this could be kismet for us, right? Let’s face it, we’re perfect for each other, don’t you agree? In fact it would be close to criminal folly if . . . ” She stopped because she feared that she’d been far too impulsive already.

He leaned forward and said, “What you said is very true – it is quite amazing that we’ve found each other – but you know what Patricia, I sure would like to hear you tell me that you love me so that I’ll know that there’s more to it on your side than the fact that we both . . . “

“Oh, I do. I do. I’ve loved you for months now but I couldn’t say it before because . . . “

“Wonderful! That’s marvelous and, of course, it was the same for me, but now . . . “

They both knew that they had to take their relationship up a notch, and had to do so before that very night was up, so when he asked her if she should call her parents and tell them that she wouldn’t be coming home until the following Monday after work she didn’t so much as blink before saying, “I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your apartment so can we go there right now? That way I’ll be able to use your phone up there to call them?”

 He saw tears in her eyes and correctly interpreted them to be tears of joy and the fact that they were present was quite understandable because he’d already seen anxiety flee from them and exhilaration move in and take the vacated space.

On further thought he advised her to use the phone in the restaurant’s foyer and it took her a minute to fathom out his reason for saying so.

When he’d closed his front door, although she’d told him that she wanted to see his apartment, its layout was very far from both of their minds and he led her into the bedroom and they kissed for a while and then he pulled back the covers and the sheets on both sides of the bed and then switched off the lights and they got undressed and met in the middle of it.

They both got lost in the wonder of tactile bliss – which engendered lots of, “Mmmmmmmmmmm’s,” from both parties – and the kisses kept coming, accompanied by caresses of course, and after a while, impatient to know all that there is to know, they broke away to do some serious exploring and he was delighted with all of her body – what was there for him to dislike? – and because she’d never in life seen, much less touched, a male’s genitalia – except for seeing  the ones on statues in Museums and in open squares in various places, including Michelangelo’s David in Rome, and not knowing that they were all, to a man, as it were, depicted on the small side – what she found on him compared favorably with all of the ones that had been carved in marble – he’d been eighteen at the time of the accident so his was already fully developed by then – and she delighted in being allowed to take one more step on the road to ‘normalcy’ by being able, at last, to have full and free access to a complete set of the strange and mysterious, and hitherto denied to her, objects that are positive evidence of, “La Difference.”

Of course, neither of them were overtaken by lust because they both lacked the wherewithal that generates it but they could and did revel in ‘sharing what we’ve got’ which was bolstered no end because, for both of them, there was the additional joy that came from their having held a life-long belief that they’d never be allowed to share their secret with another person much less find themselves actually naked and meeting up with that person in the same bed.

When they’d dealt with their initial, all-consuming need to share and to explore they found, by chance almost, that getting into the spoon position pleased them both equally – she felt cherished and safe and warm and protected and he, well, he could feel all that he wanted to feel – they started to talk and they commiserated with each other about never being able to cleave properly nor to give each other orgasms – he told her that he’d had several of them as a teenager, although he’d just missed the time when BF/with benefits became prevalent – and when oral sex is just one of those benefits – and none of the things that B/Fs did for each could be classified as anything that remotely called for a commitment.

He guessed that it must be magical for present day teens but, try as she might, she couldn’t relate to the ‘whys’ of the practice of oral sex and so he tried to convey what a double triumph it has to be of being given relief and physical pleasure at the same time as being able to see one’s BF’s head bobbing away down there as she concentrates on getting the job done on a purely, ‘This-is-what-BFs-do-for-each-other-and-I’m-going-to-do-it-expertly-for-you-and-what-a-pity-it-is-that-you-can’t-do-the-same-thing-for-me-without-making-a-whole-production-out-of-it-and-we-both-know-that’s-true-don’t-we-buddy?’ but can’t, uh, get the words out.

They agreed to skip the subject and they talked about how it had been for him before the accident and, when they’d exhausted that topic too, how strange the whole area of sex had been for her and she confessed that it was only in the last hour or so that she’d realized that all of the disagreeable aspects relating to men that she’d suffered through up to then – like the way they constantly bring sexual nuances into just about everything that’s under discussion and their distinctly different body odor after various strenuous sports, or in Gym, and the fact that they’ve got hairy chests and the way that they curse and blaspheme so often and their sometimes childishly crude behavior in the name of pranks – were in fact a part of the whole and so, “I guess, the whole comes as a package and if any one of them was eliminated women would have to give up something too and it’s becoming clear to me now that doing so would pull down the whole house of cards and ‘making-love’ and ‘getting-knocked-on-the-head-before-being-raped’ would become dangerously close to being synonymous phrases.”

They shed some tears through the night, at various impasses, but they soon got over those patches of sadness at what might have been, and there was one thing that they were both positive sure about – loneliness would no longer occupy a significant part of their lives.

Their weekend passed agreeably for them both and when it got to be late on the Sunday evening they knew that they should get serious regarding the implications that would arise following the drastic change in their relationship, especially as it pertained to their jobs.

They knew that the fact that they’d were now a couple would fly in the face of their company’s strictly enforced ban on inter-office relationships and they went on from there.

They were in difficult territory because they both liked their jobs and wanted to keep on working for the same company and so that forced them to go over their options: Can we stay as we are and tell no one about our changed circumstances? (this one was brought up by him and was promptly shot down again by her by telling him that inside two days, tops, everyone in the whole building would know about it); Shall we start our own company? (that one didn’t cut much of the mustard because they both knew that it would call for them both having to work all the hours that God sends to get established); Should one of us shift to another company? (having to start over to prove their worth and abilities was anathema to both of them); and so on.

When her eye caught the time she saw that it was too late to prepare a full meal so she got him to agree to have an omelet in lieu and as she was whisking the eggs in the pan to keep them fluffy a clever solution to their problem came to her.

She took the two plates of cheese and salami omelet to the table and she saw that Paul had already made a stab at setting the table and had poured Chianti into both of their glasses and seeing the down-to-earth-domestic-aspect of it pleased her no end. When she’d discreetly made a few changes – like bringing eating utensils – they sat and ate.

After pushing their empty plates away he suggested that they have some special brandy that he’d been keeping for years for just such an occasion and she nodded her thanks and then moved to the couch that was near the wood fire that he’d built and lit to go along with his newly acquired exuberance with life in general.

He brought the bottle and two glasses and she moved to let him sit next to her and when he’d done the pouring she sipped, and purred some appreciation, and when she’d put the glass down on the table she took his hand and said, “Paul dear, this is what I think we should do. I’ll submit my resignation tomorrow morning – no, let me finish please and then you’ll see how perfectly logical my plan is – and you’re going to stay in your present, uh, exalted position.

“This is how I see it. God knows that we both have enough money to last us several life times – I haven’t yet had a chance to tell you about my trust fund and we could live well on that, on its own, if it came to that – and so that’s why it’s all right for me to say what I think should happen.

“The over-riding condition is that I want you to be here, with me, for dinner every night and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. OK? And, besides that, I want us to take two months vacation every year, split in half preferably and with the winter part somewhere where it’s warm.”

“But, but . . . “

“No please, no ‘buts’ until I’ve laid it all out for you. Those conditions that I’ve already told you about are the bare-bones, unalterable ones that have to be met or else I won’t marry you. You hear me? Oh, dear, you haven’t asked me yet have you? Well, please tell me now. Do you want to marry me? Yes. Good. I was sure of it. Well, now, where was I? Ah, yes. I remember all too well how my parents went through life – still do for the most part – and how they practically have only enough time to wave hello as they, uh, pass each other at home on the way out or the way in and I will not accept having the same thing in my life. Up until now it hasn’t much mattered what I thought about how living with someone should be arranged but since we’ve, uh, gotten close, I know that I have to put my foot down right now if what we have is going to be given a chance to work.

 “So. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty details. To be able to get home for dinner every night at a reasonable hour you’ll have to leave your office on the stroke of six o’clock no matter what is piled on your desk.”

“Oh, that’s completely out of the question without you being . . . “

“No! Don’t say anything and just listen because I’m getting to the core of the matter here.

“Like I just said, at six o’clock on the dot every weekday you are going to stand up and tell yourself and whoever is there with you that you’re going home and that you’ll finish whatever it is that you’re working on in due time. Then you’ll put all of that, ‘work that has to be done yesterday’ into your briefcase and you’ll walk out of there and come home.

“You’ll be able to promise them that all of that urgent work will get done in due course because it will be – by me! Not just in a vague ‘due course’ but the next day. D’you see? We can work together to halve your workload although it’s very true that you’ll have to be very vigilant or they’ll simply pile more work your way and double your usual amount and we’ll be back where we started. Right?

“Well, I came up with this idea only about a half hour ago so I’ve not had time to think it through properly so bear with me for a minute. Ah, let’s see – – – – Uh, if I can’t find the necessary verifying reference books here, nor in your club’s library, I’ll simply flag that part and you can give it to one of your assistants to deal with, yes? Right. Well, leaving aside that small problem, I’ll type out my findings fully and you’ll just have to skim through them on your computer at work before printing and signing them. OK? It’ll be something like we’ve done ever since I moved into the adjoining office to yours except that my signature won’t appear anywhere from now on. True?

“Well, that’s it. What do you think?”

“My word, Patricia, I think that it’s a brilliant idea and, you know, my computer here already has access to the files of the ones in my office and I’m sure I can find a way to get the rules bent slightly to allow you to refer to the archives there too. As long as we can come up with an effective security system no one will object to that.

“But you know, it won’t be a bit fair as far as you’re concerned. I’ll be the one getting all the, uh, glory and you’ll get nothing. Can you live with that over the long term? Should you?”

 “Ha! You’ve forgotten that I arranged it to be like that from choice all through the ten years that I was stuck in that poky little office in the basement. Being allowed to get on with the work and not be bothered with office politics nor with having to deal with people nor with the limelight was exactly what I wanted then and I’ll be as happy as a clam doing it again especially seeing that now it will be for both of our benefits.”

They went back over her plan for a while and they drank their brandy and then they turned to face each other and, without need of the slightest gesture, moved together simultaneously for some long kisses and, as had happened more and more frequently and more and more fervently as the previous two days and nights had progressed, they found that they had to limit their French variety ones to just a few seconds because they worried that the sheer intensity of the feelings that they were generating might make one or both of them lose control and – well – they both knew that biting into tongues is definitely painful and potentially disastrous.

As you’d guess, it didn’t take long before one of his hands slipped into her robe to find one of her breasts and, as had also become more and more usual of late, when, after weighing it and then smoothing and fondling it, her nipple – ‘no, wait until I check the other one. Yes!’ – her nipples had already responded by tripling in size and, at the same time, she was, quite involuntarily, breathing out heart-felt, “Mmmmmmm’s and, “Grrrrr’s.” and, Ooooooh’s.”

The two anomalies in swift succession combined to alert him and get him to examine the evidence and that made him break away to be able to face her squarely and tell her what had occurred to him and that they should surely talk about its implications.

His discovery excited her profoundly too and before long they came to think that perhaps – just as blind people’s other senses get to be more potent by taking over and making use of the no longer used brain cells that pertain to vision – their senses of touch and taste and smell – but not hearing surely! – were, perhaps, beginning to learn how to expand into, and make use of, the unutilized cells in their brainstems that pertain to reproduction and – Wow! – could it be that if they examined the situation thoroughly, and encouraged it carefully and fully, perhaps, just perhaps, that road might eventually lead them along to where they could generate and share orgasms? Not ones of the real kind, of course, but – one thing was for sure – pseudo ones would be infinitely preferable to none at all.

She insisted on having the two milestones revisited right there and then and, after getting positive confirmation on both counts, she took back her tongue and pushed his hand away and said, “Woo-hoo! Hooray for our side! It’s true! Isn’t it exciting?” – and lots more like that and then – “So, what say we stack the dishes in the dishwasher and then go back to bed? I can’t wait to get started on researching the phenomenon and not the least strange aspect of it is how is it possible for Mother Nature to let us get all of this pleasure for ourselves while knowing that she can’t possibly get anything useful out of it for Herself? Especially seeing that that pleasure, it now seems, has the potential to increase exponentially with time and careful-step-by-exciting-step practicing?”

“Wonderful idea but here’s a better one. How about we leave the dishes where they are and go back to bed right now and that way our research can start that much faster?”

The motion was put to the vote and the ‘ayes’ had it and when they got into the bedroom they found that only the lamp at her side of the bed was switched on and so he turned on the overhead ones and then the one that was on his sidetable and when she had walked around to her side they dropped their robes at the same time and stared and ogled and feasted their eyes – he on beauty and she on the fact that that hairy, nicely muscled man over there, whose sweat was far more pungent that hers and rightly so because, at certain times, that was exactly appropriate and welcome, was about to get very, very close to her and, wonder of wonders, he posed no threat and, close to miraculously, he was hers forever – and then he pulled the covers down all the way and they hurried to meet up in the center of the bed as full partners.