BOTH Legally Yours by agouderia (BHM, BBW, MWG)

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agouderia

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At home in the evening, she cried herself to sleep with three pints of ice-cream, wondering what she had done so wrong to have Henry start hating her, put her down in front of the entire firm. Even if she didn’t have the makings of a sleek, presentable girl-friend, she’d always thought she had those of a likable friend and competent colleague, had mostly received positive feed-back for filling the role of the good, fat friend and academically bright member of the team well. Starting out at Palmer Associates, in her opinion they had hit it off well; Henry seemed to be at ease with her as his office mate. Whatever she had done wrong, she wanted to set it right, apologize – and even if they couldn’t be nice office buddies anymore, she hoped they could at least get back on polite speaking terms.

Then that Palmer had noticed how much work she had been doing for Ryan – although she felt he hadn’t been really angry at her, she did understand the warning, wondering how she would convincingly explain this to Ryan. But she could think of that next week when they were in Miami .

Working all day on the ‘HermesShield’ file, she bought ingredients on her way home and pulled out her Italian ‘colomba’ pan, for making the traditional Easter dove in a fruit & nut version, the dried fruit soaked in sherry, literally as a peace offering to put it on Henry’s desk, with an apology note in its baked beak the next morning. Only to wait nervously for Henry to come in, making her fidgety.

By mid-afternoon, Henry still had not appeared, instead there was a very hesitant knock on the door. “Come in.” Looking up she was nonplussed to see Jasper standing in front of her desk.

“Errrr … hi Louisa. Where’s Uncle Henry?”

“Hi Jasper, how nice to see you here. I don’t know where Henry is. Does he know you were coming?”

“Of course. Harper’s mom dropped me off here from our choir rehearsal. Henry’ll take me home.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where he is, I’ll check with Melissa, who does their schedules ….”

“Why don’t you know where Henry is, Louisa? Don’t you talk, tell where you’re going?” Jasper’s puzzled look mirrored her own confused and hurt feelings regarding Henry’s behavior quite well.

“We haven’t seen much of each other here in the office lately. Henry is … umm … well… not like he used to be … different … somehow strange …. like he doesn’t want to talk….” blushing she stopped guiltily; she couldn’t talk to the little boy like this, Henry was his uncle and probably role model.

“Yeah … he’s been strange at home too. Mom complains he’s going nuts. Last week he forgot to pick me up from soccer – I waited all alone on the field till it was dark. Or he went out with Tata and Squeaks, our dogs, you know … and came home with only Tata, hadn’t noticed that Squeaks hadn’t jumped in the car! We looked for over an hour to find him again!”

“Poor Jasper, poor Squeaks! Being forgotten alone out in the dark!” A bright smile crept over Louisa’s features, as if Jasper’s words had lifted a dark cloud from her mind. Whatever it was Henry was mad about, it seemed to have nothing to do with her, or the office – if he was just as grumpy and absentminded at home. “Well – even if Henry forgot you were coming – you’re at least not alone here in the office. Nor is it cold or dark. Let’s make the best of it. Do you have any homework to do?”

“Only one reading assignment.”

“Well – why don’t you do that, settle at Henry’s desk? Ouuh – do you like hot chocolate?”

“Yumm! Can I have some?”

“I’ll go make it for you. Our coffee machine makes the best milk foam – so it’s great for hot chocolate too.” There was almost a skip in her step as she headed towards the kitchenette, giddy with relief that whatever was wrong with Henry, it wasn’t her fault. She was so happy; she made herself only a tea, her previous sweet craving wiped away by the news that Henry was not angry at her specifically.

“Thank you for the hot chocolate Louisa,” Jasper stated politely as she set it in front of him. “Could I maybe have a piece of this cake here on Uncle Henry’s desk?”

“Ummm…,” she was undecided, given that she did want Henry to see the complete cake, the symbolism behind it. “I’m not sure Jasper. It’s got some liquor in it, I don’t know if you’re allowed to have that…. Let’s wait till Henry comes….”

“Okay…,” Jasper pulled a disappointed face, but went to sipping his hot chocolate and reading. After maybe half an hour he came back up to her desk. “Homework is finished. What can I do now?”

“Hmmm … well this is an office. So of course we have paper in all colors, pens, pencils markers, glue … in case you want to draw, make cards, or so. Then we have the TV over at the conference table … so you can watch something.”

“But if it’s an office … you’re supposed to work in an office. Don’t you have real office work for me Louisa?” he looked at her eagerly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think so. We only have work here for people who’ve been to law school….”

“Please Louisa! I want to know what it’s like to really work here, like Henry. I’ll try really hard … I’m good in school…. I’ll pay attention, not make mistakes…”

His eagerness was irresistible, so she racked her mind what kind of things she sometimes gave their interns to do. “Hmmh … I might have something, “ she went to the top of her file cupboard, pulled out some binders. “I need to find out how often a certain grant number – you know, that’s money you get for a special project – has been used by one of our clients.” Quickly writing down 4 numbers of bits of colored paper, placing little stacks of same color index strips on them, she spread 5 binders on the conference table. “So- can you look through the documents in these binders – and every time you see one of the numbers in the spare column on the right, just stick an index strip here on the side of the page, like this. Can you do that?”

“Of course I can!” Jasper sat on his knees, leaning over the table, scanning the pages with a chubby finger, his brow furrowed in concentration. She went back to her desk, every once in a while looking up to see him working away diligently, the binder’s sides becoming colorful.
“I’ve finished the first binder. Shall I start on the next one?”

“Let me see…,” she leafed through the pages and saw he had worked thoroughly. “Perfect job… I’d be delighted if you could do the other ones for me too, Jasper. You’re a great help!”

“Ummmh … Louisa …. Hmmmh … when you do good work, you get paid money, don’t you?”

It proved difficult to turn her bubbling laugh into a grin, but she managed, finding his shrewdness adorable. “Yes, you get paid here for a good job. Since, you’re working for me, I’ll pay you then. How about $ 2 per finished binder? And the money goes into your piggy bank for the new soccer boots?”

“Great! I’ll work real hard!”
Jasper showed patience in his work as she occasionally looked over to continue seeing him scan the pages in concentration. It was already dark when the door opened and Henry walked in.

“Henry look – I’m working for Louisa!” Jasper’s proud statement let Henry go pale and cough, not saying anything. “I’m already on the fourth of five binders…and Louisa is really paying me! And she baked you a cake! Can I have a piece?” as he walked over to Henry’s desk to get the cake on its tray to show it to Henry.

Peeking out from under lowered lashes she could tell Henry was completely overwhelmed by this onslaught of information, just stood there, stuffing his hands in his pants pockets.

“Why don’t you sit down with Jasper at the meeting table while I get him another hot chocolate and you a double espresso latte, the way you like it?”

In passing, she gave his shoulder a light shove and he indeed obediently started moving towards the conference corner. As she came back, Jasper was explaining her cake to Henry: “May I read the note in the bird’s beak?”

“No, that’s a note only for Henry!” her voice went a bit shrill, letting Henry take the slip of paper from Jasper.

“I wasn’t sure Henry; may Jasper have a piece of cake? The fruit are soaked in sherry. It’s baked though, so the alcohol has evaporated…” instantly trying to distract Jasper’s attention.

“ Huh … what … cake?” Henry shook himself, then nodded. “Yeah, let him have a small piece…” letting her cut him a very big piece and Jasper a small one, who grimaced, but didn’t say anything. Henry sat staring at her note and munching down the cake, automatically cutting himself a second piece. “Fabulous cake, thank you so much Louisa,” not looking at her, making her heart sink a bit again. “Uggh … now … well… I guess I need to take Jasper home…”

“No … please … no, not yet Henry! I want to finish my work for Louisa … otherwise I won’t get paid! Can’t we stay until I’m finished? You must have work to do!”

Henry met her eye over Jasper’s head with a real smile for the first time in weeks. “Okay, I’ll catch up on my e-mails while you finish your work for Louisa.”

As they left, she thanked Jasper with a hug and gave him a $10 bill. Jasper had exited the door as Henry turned to her, clasped her hand between his thick, paw like ones and bowed over it, muttering: “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. You did absolutely nothing wrong. I’ve been an idiot…. a total idiot. Please forgive me. You’re so … very kind … that you still want to be office friends with me. I promise I’ll be back to normal on Monday.. . “

“It’s okay. I’m relieved to hear I’m not doing something wrong. We’ll start our normal mode then again week after next when I’m back from Miami,” she laid her other hand on his; with a light shock tingles starting to run through her. Immediately she regretted she had to go on that business trip with Ryan next week- alone preparing the dossier of the real estate buy out by a major European bank of fore-closure properties with him over the weekend left her less than motivated. It wasn’t her field of expertise –and Ryan seemed less and less able to think straight. “Take good care of our office while I’m away!”
 

fritzi

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Great to see a promising story being continued- abandoning them is so cruel!
Thanks for the update & hopefully more soon.... can't wait to see what's in store for Henry next. :)
 

agouderia

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[Thank you everybody for welcoming H&L back... here's what's in store next for them!]

Smouldering haptics

“What are you doing here?”

“Palmer sent me. Hannerston has been detained because of some problems with that HermesShield-case, can’t leave the office now. So you’re stuck a week in Fort Lauderdale with me….,” the tail end of the sentence went gruff, since he was not able to completely mask how hurt and disappointed he was at her displeased exclamation.

Louisa shook herself irritably for a moment, closed her eyes and took a deep breath: “No, it’s fine. Sorry for my reaction – I haven’t had my second coffee yet. Actually … regarding the negotiations…”

“Mr. Conrads …. Ma’am … I infer you’re travelling together for business…?” the check-in lady interrupted them. “Well then … it’ll certainly be more convenient if I seat you together. Please hand me your boarding pass again Mr. Conrads…” before he fully realized what was happening, with a lot of brisk computer tapping, he had a new boarding pass, Louisa’s check-in was taken care of and they were sent to the gate. “It’s gate B17, you have a nice row in the plane to yourselves, Ms. Grenburgh has the window seat. Have a nice flight.”

They looked at each other uncertainly, walking slowly in the indicated direction, before Louisa said: “Would you please excuse me for a minute? I need to get that second coffee so I’ll be bearable company..” and as he nodded, she quickly went off towards the ladies, his gaze following the enticing swaying of her ample buttocks until the door closed behind her.

The crowd at security and the disorganized line at boarding kept them separated until he reached his seat, where Louisa was already settled by the window, giving him a faint nod, gulping coffee and looking positively beatific. The morning sun through the small window made her hair glow around her face like a halo and brought out the most delicate shades of the creamy skin of her bosom, which was trying to escape the confines of bra and t-shirt.

Squeezing into his seat was more of a struggle than he remembered; he must have put on some serious pounds lately again. Trying to smother all his confused feelings regarding Louisa – shame, lust, jealousy, hurt, and a wagon-load of others he had trouble identifying clearly- with excessive quantities of food had not been the best idea. Jill was right in gently cutting his portions, carefully suggesting he should stick to meals only, not snack so much.

Although he had made some attempts at doing so, got through the weekends under Jill’s all day meal regime, when he didn’t see Louisa, Hannerston or the office, better than through weekdays, he just needed to look down at the heavy dome of flesh in his lap to realize how much bigger he was than during his last flight. Now he was paying the price for his gluttony: His fat ass was wedged between the arm rests, but roles of flab bunching on the side of his gut were overflowing and he had problems retrieving the ends of the seat belt from under them. Louisa wordlessly reached over and handed him the one on her side. Then he sucked in as far as he could, tugged and tugged to get the ends to meet, quickly fighting for breath and pinching his fingers with the clasp; the last thing he was willing to do was ask for a seat-belt extension in her presence. Ostentatiously Louisa kept staring out the window, probably embarrassed by his ill-fitting bulk until he finally managed to squeeze the ends together, breathless and red in the face. Only for two straining buttons at the widest point of his middle to pop open as he exhaled, a loose one tearing itself off the fabric and falling to the floor, causing more flesh to bulge out daringly.
Paralyzed in mortification, he closed his eyes, as if that could make the awful situation disappear. Something was slipped into his hand, a small button. “If you want, I can sew it back on when we arrive….,” Louisa whispered.

“Thank you …. I’m so sorry …. I’m being impossible …. how embarrassing for you… I have some shirts that fit better, for our business meetings … I’ll change,” he babbled, searching for something more meaningful to say.

“It’s ok, don’t worry, such things happen in these cramped planes,” she buckled herself back up, murmuring. “I know what it’s like …. though my issue are zippers, not buttons….”

Zippers? He didn’t quite understand what she meant; only saw that she looked at him with understanding, no longer seemed as shocked and angry as she had at check-in. “Louisa, I can’t say how sorry I am. Please accept my sincere apologies,” he wanted to try and make amends, ensure they could work well together the coming days. “I’ve been an idiot these past weeks, somehow too much work … I’m sorry you have to go to Miami with me and not…”

“Henry, it’s okay. You don’t need to apologize again, you already did last week,” Louisa interrupted him. “I just wasn’t prepared to see you here instead of Ryan. As I tried to explain at check-in, I’m actually a bit relieved you’re coming with me.”

“Relieved? Honestly? How come?”

“You’re much better at the tax and financing side than I am or Ryan is. I trust your professional expertise and know I can fully rely on you – that makes everything much easier for me. It’s actually good we’re doing these contract negotiations together – we’ll get the best results…” her smile deepened as her cheeks went pink and dimples appeared.

“Are you serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Weak with relief he leaned back; Louisa was as kind and considerate as ever – she even had a realistic assessment of Hannerston’s legal abilities, didn’t seem blinded by romantic love. Maybe he had been over-reacting, attributing things to her behavior that didn’t exist. Having worked through the entire dossier all weekend, he was drained and felt himself nodding off as soon as the plane was air-born.

“Use this, you’ll be more comfortable…,” Louisa slipped an inflatable pillow around his neck. “Palmer made you read all the paperwork this weekend, didn’t he, so you could come along, right?” letting him nod in exhaustion. “Okay, then have a good nap during our flight…”

But he only half dozed fitfully, couldn’t turn his mind off completely. The past weeks of his idiotic behavior towards Louisa, the family and god knows who else kept circling through his mind. It had started with that fateful evening when he took somnambular Louisa home from the Partner’s Reception. He had been so ashamed of himself, of taking advantage of her, feeling her all up, it had been mortifying to lose control in such a manner – he had no idea how he could face her again. Although she had left him ‘thank-you’ brownies on his desk with a guarded note next Monday, it didn’t convince his inner doubt and took him almost the entire week before he could really face Louisa again, talk to her, pray she honestly was oblivious to his transgression. Since confession was out of the question, the only way he could half-way redeem himself was by being particularly nice.

But Hannerston had barged in on their first attempt at talking again – to from then on positively besiege Louisa. Always coming in as if the office belonged to him, discussing things with her, flirting with her, eating the baked goodies she made for him, inviting her to do things together – it was physically painful to hear and watch. Had his office once been his castle, of late wonderfully embellished by Louisa’s presence, now it was more like the torture dungeon, letting him avoid it as much as possible when he knew she was going to be there. Imagining what Louisa and Hannerston were doing together started to become obsessive, as tormenting as the thoughts were. These daylight nightmares often ended with the vision of his having to attend their wedding with the entire firm, a Louisa looking like a Jordaens angel in bridal gear kissing Hannerston.

In the attempt to clear his head and half run away from these mental antics, while at the same time being able to nurse them privately, he went on more and longer solitary walks than ever. The best remedy he could find though was a very full, warm stomach – being stuffed and sated was what calmed him best, let him relax and be able to do his work in the office and at home. Home life suffered too from his preoccupancy – like the day he had forgotten Jasper on the soccer field in the dark, Jill had actually yelled at him, something which had never happened before. He had tried to apologize, made amends, but he could tell his heart and mind were somewhere way off.

The full extent of his self-obsessive idiocy hit him when he came to the office last Thursday to find Jasper there, Louisa caring for him in the best manner possible and handing him a literal peace offering in the guise of a delicious dove shaped cake. Looking into her hurt and puzzled eyes as he read her note, it hit him like a ton of bricks that his jealousy of Hannerston had fabricated a highly distorted version of reality that had nothing to do with the endearing office-mate the genuine Louisa still was. The fact that she had come to apologize to him, for his paranoid misconceptions had left him stricken, knowing how much he had wronged her in every respect.

So he swore to himself to make it up to her, get a grip on himself and be a good, friendly colleague once more. Palmer calling him late Friday evening with the order to accompany Louisa to Miami for the foreclosures deal was an omen, the chance he hardly deserved to fully get back on normal amiable terms with her. And he vowed to use this chance.


Working together over the next few days did let him get back to the most pleasing ‘normal’ he could imagine. It was sunny and warm, so his day started with breakfast by the pool-side with Louisa, who seemed to enjoy assembling the most tempting plates for him from the buffet. Aspiring to show himself on his best behavior, he tried to reduce his eating in front of her, to not come across as a glutton – unfortunately with little success. Over the past weeks he had over-indulged himself, so reining in his hunger and appetite proved difficult. If he held back at breakfast, his stomach would be growling by mid-morning, letting Louisa push all the meeting snacks his way to demolish. She was very polite about it, acting as if his food consumption was nothing out of the ordinary, considerately getting him big plates full or reserving last pieces of favorites for him. As all women, she ate notably less than he did, went for all the ‘healthy’ choices like a big bowl of fruit&yoghurt for breakfast and the like. Yet from what he could observe, she did eat more than for instance slim Jill, and never could resist their afternoon ice-cream at the lovely little shop around the corner from the meeting room.

To make the most of this unexpectedly wonderful business trip, he decided not to agonize over dieting; he’d ask Jill to help him get back to normal eating and weight at home. Right now it was all about maximizing the pleasure of having Louisa almost all to himself for 16 hours a day, working with her, having meals with her, joking with her when watching silly local TV shows, strolling with her in the sun – no office, no Hannerston or other disturbances in sight. Doing all this with a happily full gut in his lap somehow reinforced the pleasure, especially when he accidentally brushed her arm or foot at the narrowly arranged meeting table and that explosion of lusty tingles went off.

Even the actual negotiating and drawing up of the contract was fun – playing ‘legal ping-pong’ with Louisa, who was a great at it, coming up with continuously improving solutions for their clients. They also seemed very pleased, for after three days Palmer forwarded him and Louisa an e-mail in which they thanked him explicitly for sending such a fantastic team, making them grin at each other in glee and have champagne with dinner. Louisa had a different style in working and negotiating than he did – she was far better at convincing the clients of the practical implications of legal measures, combining them with a common-sense, solution oriented approach he knew from and admired in Jill.

Despite the contract being on the uncomfortable issue of a investor buy-out of fore-closed properties or semi-defaulted mortgages, she steered their clients to implementing the change in ownership cautiously, not evicting owners unless absolutely necessary, letting them downsize within the selection of houses to be able to meet obligations, all in all keeping the communities livable while safeguarding their own investment by ensuring good maintenance of the property. News of this also limited scheduled protests of owners and their neighbors as well as actually getting them favorable responses from the city councils and the local media.

The only downside of this good work and success was that their stay in Fort Lauderdale might be cut short – as far as he was concerned, it should go on forever. On the 4th day they had finished all chapters by early afternoon and had to wait for some registration of property deeds with the local notary public – leaving nothing really to do.

“Henry, why don’t we take the afternoon off? Get outside into the sun, relax a bit? We still have all the time in the world to do the triple check of the next chapters to be negotiated regarding the transfer of ownership either this evening or early tomorrow morning.”

“You’re right. I could use some real outside time, go for a long walk, too,” hoping she would suggest going together. For once, she did no such thing, just smiled, packed her things and left: “Okay, I’ll text you when I’m ready to continue…”

Changing into casual clothes, he was relieved he had picked up a real big, loose football jersey at the airport, because his short cargo pants from last summer were so tight he couldn’t button them but needed to hold then together with a shoe-string under his belly and even then they strained over his bulging ass-cheeks and much thicker thighs. This meant either reduce food or go shopping – neither being particularly appealing. In the hope of maybe meeting Louisa there, he first went to the ice-cream shop – but no luck, he had to console himself with a triple fudge sundae.

The long sandy beach beckoned, so he set out on a long hike, thoroughly enjoying the smell of fresh sea air and walking in solitude, letting his thoughts wander; replaying some of his favorite literary scenes in his head with Louisa as heroine. The sun was considerably lower as he turned to go back to the hotel, surprised at the stretch he needed to cover.

About a quarter of the way back he suddenly became aware of a figure getting up and walking down to the water edge a little ahead of him, realizing in surprise it was Louisa. “Hey Louisa…!” instantly asking himself whether this was a good idea, maybe she didn’t want to see him here on the beach.

She turned and smiled on identifying him: “Hi Henry, walking back to the hotel too?”

“Yeah… you too? Did you go for a walk?” Looking at her, he once more knew why he was so smitten by her. In the setting sunlight she was a vision like a cloud in a William Turner painting: Wearing something pale blue and white softly billowing in the breeze, her skin and hair was rose-gold tinted set off by artful rumple of her wet hair and a lot of very shapely cleavage on display.

“No – I went for a swim in the ocean.”

“Right here? Not in the hotel pool? Or the hotel beach? Why didn’t I see you then on my way out?”

“Is this an interrogation on the minutes of my free afternoon?”

“No – just checking my eyesight, whether I need new glasses..” giving himself a mental slap for badgering her with stupid questions. Maybe they weren’t that dumb a way for masking his confusion, for she laughed: “I hate pools if I have the ocean as an alternative…. and I prefer being alone with myself and the ocean, it feels better.” Her voice faded a bit before she winked at him. “You can save a trip to your optometrist – I was in the water for a long time, probably also while you came by.”

Slowly they walked back to the hotel. “Sorry for my stupid questions, know what you mean. Going out alone with the dogs, listening to the ocean or the wind or the woods, letting my thoughts go where they want to…, that’s simply the best.” her words had given him a sense of kinship. They walked on quietly, exchanging only occasional observations – but it seemed the perfect thing to do. He had never cared for taking any human company on his walks, not even Jill or her kids. Here with Louisa, it was as if a warm heavy stone had settled on his chest, slowly diffusing a cocoon-like bond around him, including Louisa in its fine web creating a form of closeness without words that was new to him.

“Look – that pelican over there is hauling his dinner home in his throat pouch…,” Louisa lightly touched his arm making him jump.

“Big dinner,” he smiled down at her dopily, struggling to get back into the reality of where they actually were. “We’re right near our ice-cream shop – have you had your serving for today?”

“No- I’ve been a good girl so far.”

“May I treat you then?”

“Oh no, it’s okay …. I don’t need one…. you can get yourself one though…”

“If you’ve been a good girl today, worked hard, swam hard – you definitely deserve and need your ice cream. I’ve been a bad boy, already had my ice cream, but I’d like a second helping … so let’s go over and I’ll get us some…,” fumbling for his wallet in the tight back pocket of his pants.

“Okay, if you say so. You know that good girls always make the mistake of listening to bad boys…” Louisa grinned at him before blushing so furiously he could even see it in the reddish evening glow, in turn making hot prickles run through his cheeks. “Let me brush the sand off my feet and put on my sandals.” In an odd flamingo-like position on one leg Louisa tried to clean her foot and put on her shoe; with the first foot it worked, with the second, standing on a flimsy sandal, she lost her balance. Her groping arm to steady herself landed on his belly, her hand clinging into the soft fat on its side, making his hair stand on end and the throb in his loins rear.

“Oh I’m so sorry…,”

“Never mind. Get that second foot down, I’ll hold you…” he grasped her by her upper arm, shocked at how firmly pliable it was, cool on top with warm undercurrents, the skin so smooth he could feel the crystals of sea salt on it, letting him hold his breath to suppress further strong sensations.

For the rest of their walk back to the hotel with ice cream there was even more, now tense quiet between them. In the lobby the concierge intercepted them: “This package was delivered for you.”

Louisa scanned it, sighing: “These are the detailed plans for the property transfer. They’ve been checked by the client and the local banks – to be 100% on the safe side we should double-check the deed numbers ourselves. I don’t feel like it – but why don’t we do that tonight in case something comes up tomorrow morning?”

“Yeah … you’re probably right…,” mild disappointment set in, since he had hoped to talk Louisa into a sea-food dinner on the waterfront with champagne again. But any evening with Louisa was fine. “Shall I reserve a meeting room?”

“Hmmmh…” she turned up her nose. “I’m sick of those stuffy meeting rooms. I’ve got a bit crazy idea… Well … I have this great balcony with real spacious lounge furniture, also a big low table. Why don’t we do it on my balcony, order some food?” she said this very quickly in a low voice.

Dinner on Louisa’s balcony … wasn’t that as good as seafront? “Sounds like a plan…, thanks for offering…,” he tried to conceal his eagerness. “Shall I maybe order us some pizza? There’s a place not far from here that makes real Italian stone oven ones.”

“Your many fields of expertise are always a true pleasure to discover,” Louisa teased, making him go scarlet remembering his late night pizza run on their first evening when he had been starving after only sandwiches for lunch and dinner. “I’ll get us some wine from that liquor store we got the champagne in, they had decent Spanish red. Come up at 8:00.”

Whistling while shaving and showering, he was thanking his lucky stars for an extra-load of work from their clients, for a mild evening, for Hannerston’s professional incompetency keeping him in DC, that all let him have a working dinner à deux with Louisa, all to himself. Getting dressed he panicked for an instant, that he had nothing to wear, but then was thankful that Jill had insisted he get new jeans and polo shirts to take along, since his old ones had clearly gotten too tight. New jeans and a dark blue new polo shirt, untucked to camouflage his belly a bit would have do.
 

agouderia

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The scenery that greeted him on Louisa’s balcony was even more perfect than he had imagined: She had spread out the plans and maps on the large, low lounge table and had grouped three smaller tables around the sofa with dishes and cutlery, three bottles of wine and glasses as well as nuts and crackers in small bowls. “Looks like the perfect work environment … but three bottles of wine?”

“I brought them just in case you’re thirsty…,” she looked down, twisting some end on her dress.

“Ummhugh… you look perfect too,” he wasn’t aware he had said this out loud, until he saw her deer in the headlights look and her sputter: “Oh sorry … it’s a plain old summer house dress … wasn’t comfortable dressing up again….. Let me pour you a glass of wine and maybe some water…”

She did look perfect even from behind, her full apple-heart shaped backside provocatively shifting under the clingy material, when she turned, the ends of some part of her dress were gathered under her breasts, framing her cleavage in the most inviting manner. From the office, he knew she smelled nice, but had never had to deal with the bewitching allure of the scent of Louisa right out of the bath – it was sweet, yet fresh, a tiny bit spicy and very appetizing. Her hair, bouncing and swaying in glossy waves like in a commercial, distributed it with every move. For months one of his favorite day-dreams had involved an all evening tete-à-tete with Louisa – now in the desired situation, he became aware that he had no idea whether he could handle it. The intimacy of being in her room was overwhelming, her closeness, that he only needed to reach out to grab her, he worried whether he could control his instincts and urges without going completely rigid or bolting away.

Louisa made things easy though: She seated him with drink and snacks on the broad lounge sofa, placing a pack of papers before him. “Do you know when the pizza is going to be delivered?”

“They had some oven problem …. probably not before 9:00…”

“That’s actually good timing. If we hurry, we’ll get through the check of the property plans before that, then we can eat in peace.”

After a few tense moments, the evening started off much easier than expected. He sat comfortably on the broad sofa with drinks and snacks, munched and sipped away while ogling Louisa’s breasts and lips from across the table like he did in the office, keeping track of the simple task whether the property deed details matched the contract numbers. They were almost finished when the pizza arrived, and he noticed he was already on the border of tipsy as he hauled himself up to pay the delivery boy.

“You ordered 3 large pizzas?” Louisa looked incredulous opening the box.

“Well … they had a special, buy two large, get one free… and we have more variety. I ordered 4 cheeses, bacon & spinach and Portobello & gorgonzola – how does that sound?”

“Delicious! I’m starving … would you pour more wine? Even though I need to watch it, I think I’m getting a little tipsy already…,” she giggled, cutting the pizzas and handing him a plate with a selection of ready-to-eat pieces.

“Eating something will help, thank you.”

While eating they drifted from the case at hand to their favorite legal movies to stories of why he couldn’t understand that Tata had flunked police dog academy, being as determinedly protective of the family as she was. Louisa ate heartily and laughed a lot, making him lean back and relax to enjoy how wonderful yet uncomplicated the evening was progressing.

“Ooops, we’ve already eaten 2 of the 3 pizzas,” her expression fell as she looked into the insulated carrier box. As he looked from his own puffed stomach to her cutely bulging belly roles, she visibly tensed up, sucked in and draped her arm across her midriff, forcing his focus of attention up to her divine neckline.

“We’re also far into the second bottle of wine. Before we get into the third, we should finish the contract check.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Louisa set aside her plate to spread the print outs of the contract across the table. All the time she had been perched on a small cushion stool at the side of the table, leaving the sofa to him – yet it was immediately clear this set-up would not work for proofing the contract.

“Louisa, you can’t read the contract side-ways or upside down,” he didn’t look at her while saying this, afraid she’d notice the mix of greed and fear in his glance, as he partially moved over, crossed his arms and tried to make himself as small as possible. “Even I leave room on this sofa for you to sit facing the table…”

“It would be easier … if you don’t mind?”

“No, I’m good, there’s more than enough space,” as she squatted far on the edge of the sofa. Although he desperately tried to avoid any real physical contact, he had underestimated the effect of Louisa’s total proximity. Three of his four most basic needs as a man had been very successfully met – he was well rested, fed and had drank sufficiently; only the fourth most basic need, mating, was to be taken care of. With the perfect prey of all his mating urges as good as sitting on his lap, his was reduced to trying to control his body’s reactions. He shifted in his seat to painfully squash his erection, quenched his breathing to turn it shallow, his thinking narrowed to one loop: “Don’t let her touch me, then my will-power will break down, please no touching…” She said something about the contract and he managed to press out ‘hmmmhmm’, to again start praying she wouldn’t touch him.

“Okay, I don’t see where anything could turn up in this part of the contract. One last look at the appendix…” Louisa reached to pick up the next folder, thick strands of her soft, shiny hair spilling over his hand resting on his knee. An irresistible force, far beyond any means of his humble human control let his fingers grasp the hair, feel how silky it was, a tantalizing sensation as it snaked through his fingers. She turned her head, looking at him with hooded eyes, as the force compelled him to smooth the hair behind her ear, letting his fingers slide in slow motion down her neck, to the sublime spot were her neck merged to the slope of her décolletage, over the marble-like roundness of her shoulder, along the side of the curve of her breast until he was at that odd piece of fabric which ostensibly held together her dress.

Her eyes closed slowly as she took his fingers and kissed their tips, placing them against her cheek, as she leaned over and let her other hand wander under his polo-shirt, with little circular motions palpitating the extensive flab of his belly, letting her fingertips sink into its softness, sending off a titillation he had never experienced before, causing him to moan wistfully and his stomach to utter a faint grumble.

“Oh you’re still hungry, let me see to that….,” she opened the pizza container with one hand, delved in and brought out a piece of 4-cheeses pizza, murmuring: “Open up, here comes a bite…” letting him close his eyes and feel the gooey cheese engulf his taste-buds, while her fingers fondled and patted his flesh. This was new to him, that his world could be reduced to physical sensations, no thoughts left: the taste of the cheese, the texture of the pizza, Louisa’s hands making his flesh tingle, her fingertips letting his lips burn, over time her weight and warmth as she pressed herself against his belly made his groin throb. The combination was instantly addictive, he craved more and more didn’t want it to end, although a pleasant pain of a very full stomach was joining the sensual onslaught.

As suddenly as it had started, it stopped. No more tasty morsels reached his lips, he smacked into a void, only Louisa’s hands went on caressing him. “More…,” he groaned.

“There isn’t any more… we ate up the three pizzas…,” her lips teased his ear as she whispered, her fingers pulling off his glasses.

“More… more…” he sank his lips into the next tasty morsel at hand, Louisa’s neck, nibbling down, biting into her shoulder, stunned by how much more arousing oral contact with her flesh was than with anything eatable. “More…” he tugged at the fabric covering shoulder and breasts.

“Shhh… there’s more coming…,” she breathed as for the first time her lips met his, igniting the sole impulse to delve as profoundly as possible into her, taste her completely, until he had to come up, gasping for air, clinging tight to her, literally wanting to hang onto the source of this unaccustomed physical rapture.

“More…” he went back to kissing the velvety skin of her cleavage, his fingers digging into the incredibly tender flesh. “More…,” his plucking at her dress was rewarded because it suddenly all slid down, milky white abundant perfection of breasts with the daintiest rose-colored, very puckered nipples filled his hands, coming closer to his lips as she arched her back letting him first reverently, then more and more greedily kiss them, biting into the nipples vaguely aware that the intensification of his own arousal was partially due to what must be Louisa succeeding in undoing his jeans and toying with his manhood.

From very far away he heard wolf-whistles and some calls: “Great boobies baby!” as his film was cut, Louisa covering her breasts, making him gulp: “No… more … please….”

“There’s more for you inside Henry …. If we stay out here, we’ll get in trouble with the law…. I forgot this is a balcony….” She pulled him up and he stumbled blindly after her back into the room, breathing heavily. He was a lawyer; he could handle the law …. what he couldn’t handle right now was letting go of Louisa, murmuring plaintively: “More… please more….”

“Who would’ve thought you’re such a greedy boy,” Louisa giggled lightly. “So it’s true what they say about appetites…,” In his lusty blur, he wasn’t able to fully follow what she was doing, but in the dim room, with light shining in from the small hall way, he was lying on Louisa’s bed, his polo and jeans gone – with an instant to try and collect his wits. He has no idea why this was happening, what exactly was happening or whether it was a good idea it was happening – only that 99.9% of his body cells told him he wanted it more than anything else in the world. The remaining 0.1% located in a remote part of his brain raised feeble doubts.

As with many things in life, he was a man of erotic theory, less of practice. On hitting puberty, he had discovered the restricted erotica section of the library; and with his father’s official pass had made thorough use of it. From ‘The School of Women’ over ‘Fanny Hill’ to ‘Lady Chatterley’ and ‘Emmanuelle’ he had read them all, de Sade and Sacher-Masoch were household names for him, and while he had been disappointed by Casanova’s memoirs, he found Anaïs Nin rather inspiring. On the practical side, his experiences were limited: It had not been until his junior year abroad in Oxford that he had lost his virginity to Maisie, a pushy Scottish girl who had initially fascinated him with her extreme accent, despite having an advanced scholarship in chemistry. Then towards the end of his PhD program there had been Dana, his house-mate’s sister, who was doing prep-classes to study food-sciences and used him as a willing guinea pig for her cooking endeavors. Although it was an intellectually and physically bland fling, she introduced him to the combination of food&sex, a concept he immediately feared might become a dangerous habit. This experience coincided with the disastrous final phase of Jill’s marriage, her unexpected second pregnancy giving him only a few weeks with Dana before he was job hunting and moving back to help. In addition to Jill taking up his time and attention, her case also offered another effective deterrent against relationships and emotional involvement.

Celibacy in consequence had come naturally for him – until the day Louisa entered his office. Since then he was fighting many long buried desires, urges and impulses on all levels of his physical, mental and emotional self – ultimately getting him right into the present situation: Stuffed, inebriated, out of practice on her bed, probably also the heaviest he had ever been. Could he handle love-making with this big a gut – or how would Louisa handle it? With slow horror it dawned on him, that he had no clue as to her amorous history, which experiences and expectations she might have….

“Remember we still have some work to do…?” Louisa bent over him; pressure rubbed the thick flesh of his chest and kissed him with slow intensity, obliterating any conscious thinking. All he knew that if her touch could displace him into such exhilarated spheres, he wanted to try his very best to give her all the pleasure he was able to in return. Only why was her dress in the way again?

“Mmmh… what’s this….”

“This better..?” She had half-slipped out of her dress again, her naked breasts touched his chest, her hot, hard nipples brushing his skin teasingly as she kissed him while massaging the sides of his belly moving downward in the most enthralling manner, his arousal start to burn as he dug his teeth into her lip, moaning. “Oh, poor little one down here is trapped … let me see… I can fix that…” Louisa murmured, deftly pulling his erection out of his boxers which she yanked down, moving on to exploring his privates with coaxing fingers.

Although he could have lain there infinitely until he melted with lust from the excitement her lips and fingers induced, he wanted to explore more of her luscious body, actually embrace the forms he had fancied incessantly from a business distance. As he ran his hands over her backside, pulling her into him, once more fabric bunched in his hands. As he lifted it, he finally was grasping cool, meaty nakedness, as he moved further around, once again a piece of cloth got in the way.
“What’s all this dress?”

“Just my dress … but no panties…” she bit into one of his nipples.

“No dress …. I can’t feel you…,”

“Are you sure?”

“More… more than sure…,”

“Okay…,” he felt her small sigh as he had buried his face between her breasts. “Here’s the no dress, no panties version…”

“Mmmh…” finally having nothing between him and Louisa, in pure delight he rolled himself over her, kissing her passionately leading to an extended make-out session that periodically left them breathless. Reality timidly brought itself to mind as his erection was painfully hard and desired only one single act – but he could feel the brakes on this impulse. As non-bothersome, if not to say the opposite, as his big gut had been so far, he still wasn’t sure how he would manage actual penetration. And then, Louisa was his colleague, he couldn’t just push his way into her womanhood like that, who knew which legal conflicts that might lead to?

Louisa’s hand caressing his abdomen seemed to have gotten the message: “Come … move on in…” as she pushed up against him, lifted her leg, slid it between his and guided his cock in, holding him tight with a pressure that made him gasp as a bolt of the most heavenly pain shot through him. Rocking energetically against each other, she pressed herself up against his gut again and again, sending resonant vibrations through his flesh, until he was overpowered by the climax of his life.

When he could register where he was, he was laying on his back, gulping air, Louisa hovering over him with a soft smile, her fingers running through his hair and stroking his cheek, her face flushed, her hair artfully tumbled, more naturally gorgeous than ever.

“Hope you’re fine…,” he croaked. “You’re so beautiful…. I can’t…”

“Shhh…, don’t ruin the moment,” she snuggled closer down to him. “You have no idea how beyond wonderful you feel….,” starting to kiss him again.

From then on he lost all track of time, concentrating only on his body and Louisa’s, extracting the ultimate sensuality from them until he rolled off Louisa after his third orgasm drenched in sweat and totally spent. Louisa was gasping for breath too, but seemed to recover quicker than he did, for she got up and handed him a small bottle of water, downing one herself before wrapping herself into his side again, letting him instinctively grab that bounteous hip of hers leaning into his belly flab.

“Thanks…. What time is it?”

“3:10 a.m.”

“Ugggh …. I think we need some sleep…,” hesitating, because it was the last thing he wanted. “Shall I go back to my room?”

“No… bed is big enough … but we should really sleep together now. Good night,” she rolled on her side and tugged the sheets over them as he spooned against her, his hand hanging onto the very tender flesh betweens her abundant thighs.

The ringing of the room door bell woke him with a start. The bed next to him was empty and he was disoriented. His glasses were on the nightstand though; Louisa must be the most thoughtful person on the planet, as he slowly realized where he was and what was going on. She had murmured something to him while he was half passed out – now he saw the note that had lain under his glasses.

“1.000.000 thanks for my most wonderful night. Palmer called – Ryan has major problem with HS, wants me to come back immediately on first flight. So sorry will miss finalizing of contract here – C U in DC, L, L”


“Oh sir, please excuse … so sorry…,” the maid stepping into the room consummated his impression that last night’s dream had turned into a true daylight nightmare.
 

fat hiker

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Another wonderful chapter - and I greatly approve of the title. Communication through physical touch is what Henry and Louisa need more of!
 

ashblonde

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Yes! So glad to see this one back - wonderful update!

(and making me feel guilty I haven't had time to get my own story update going)

Thank you agouderia!
 

agouderia

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Reality transfer

Breathless but giddy on adrenaline Louisa sank into her seat in time for ‘Boarding completed’. After only 3 hours of sleep she was exhausted, yet on some sort of post-coital high, overtly alert, her insides sore while ringing with the aftermath of intense satisfaction. Taking off into the rising sun, sipping her coffee and snuggling into her sweater, she replayed last night’s events in blue movie clips in her head, until her panties were soaked. The power and abundance of his body had been spell-binding; she couldn’t rationalize why she had been so turned on by all of his flesh – digging her hands into it, rolling and kneading its plushness, the weight pressing into her and exponentially increasing her lust. It made no sense, as badly as she had suffered from fat phobia and thin pressure her entire life. She didn’t want to analyze it, only give into visions of Henry once more rolling over her until spasms in her nether parts made her very plump thighs tremble.

What didn’t work so well was envisioning how waking up next to Henry would’ve turned out: Would he have made love to her again? Would they have just hugged to shower together and order room service for breakfast on the balcony? Or would he have snuck out quietly to his room, avoided her at breakfast to then awkwardly circle around addressing her during their meetings? Had last night been just a drunk and horny one-night stand for him – and they’d have to get back to being normal colleagues one way or the other? Or did it mean something to him too, that they could move from friendly office-mates to clicking sexually – she was convinced of that – to something more, like dating, love and a relationship?

She desperately wanted the latter – but was acutely aware that she had no idea how to make that happen, avoidance had been her tactic so far in the relationship business. After two short, hurtful mini-experiences first in high school, then in her freshman year in college, she decided that she should put off the dating question until she hopefully someday got to a normal, socially acceptable weight, would receive the male attention she might then merit. Fulfilling this resolution had been surprisingly easy – no man had ever showed even remote interest in her, they’d at best treated her like Ryan did, as their good fat friend. Well … that was if you counted out Peter. But Peter hadn’t been interested in her as a woman, only as a double X-chromosome carrying species that had piqued his predator instinct, probably because her initial response had been incredulous and very stand-offish. He was the blue-print of the notorious polygamist with tendencies to sex addiction who went after anything that wore a skirt: He had been married to a rather plain woman who fluctuated between sizes 10-16, his previous official mistress had been a 6’2” size 26 valkyrie, his then mistress was 5’2”, 100 pounds soaking wet … so she gave into his tireless pursuit convinced that he was a true body democrat who saw the pleasures in any female form. Landing in his bed after a drunken faculty party, it had been an eye-opening enterprise to have sex with a serious pro, who knew how to make the most of the act for himself and his partner.

Despite knowing he was unthinkable as a partner, had many deficits as a man, she hitched up with him at every opportunity the following 10 years until he had a heart-attack for the straight-forward gratification of fabulously worthwhile intercourse. Peter had also overtime managed to break her habit of body shame, at least as far as actual carnal intimacy was concerned. As long as it was touching everything except her belly, kissing, cuddling and fornicating at best with low lights, she was fine, could totally relinquish herself to sensuality and have a good time. Like last night. How to turn that into working daytime personal interactions – that was something she needed to work on.

As shocked and disappointed she had been by Palmer’s emergency call of the NSA investigating something with ‘HermesShield’, asking her to come back immediately, help Ryan resolve the case, it had its upsides. Now she had time to think about how to show Henry how much he meant to her, slowly find a footing to deal with each other without the awkwardness of being inescapably together all day. Maybe send him a message, talk to him on the phone…..


Getting back as fast as possible left her little time to think. As Palmer ordered she didn’t go home, but took her luggage to the office, quickly changing from sweater into blazer, heels and silk scarf before she directly went to his office.
“Ms. Grenburgh – you didn’t see Ryan Hannerston before you came to see me?”

“No sir. I didn’t speak to him on the phone either, as you requested.”

“What do you know about HermesShield, apart from your well-written assessment of their short-comings in transparency and compliance regarding public funding?”

“Not much. I worked through and analyzed the dossier you gave me mainly from that perspective. Naturally I crossed checked Henry Conrads memorandum on their tax policy, since these fields are related,” saying his name sent little shivers of lust down her spine, making her fidget in her chair. “Other than that, back-story, other dealings, affiliates, not much…”

“I don’t know what kind of legal trouble with Homeland Security they’ve gotten themselves into, nor do I know in how far Hannerston might be involved – they specifically searched his office, but maybe just because he’s the lead partner on the client.” Palmer looked at her sternly over his glasses.
“What I want you to do – help him write up an exonerating testimonial explaining the case. Find out in the process where HermesShield might have committed any criminal offences and whether they might need to get a team of criminal defense lawyers on board. Can you do that?”

“Of course sir. I’ll do my best. I won’t disappoint your trust.”

“I believe you won’t. This is a personal favor to Ryan, letting you do the job with him. There are more senior associates who could do it too – but I doubt they could get as much out of him as you can. He trusts you fully – and that right now is more valuable than a few more years of legal experience,” he sighed. “I hope it isn’t too much for you. It probably already was a mistake to take Ryan on as a partner so young and inexperienced …. you know, his uncle…,” he stood up abruptly, paced around his desk. “Forget what I just said. Never forget though where you loyalties lie – with the firm and with the law, not with Hannerston personally, do you understand?”

“Of course sir. This is a legal question for me, not a personal one.” Inwardly she groaned, already seeing the conflicts of loyalty rising before her inner eye.

“One more thing – Ryan requested to move your office. To the small one almost next to his. You can go pack and move your things. So this’ll at least give you the personal office we promised you.”

“Move my office?” Moving out from Henry, not sitting across from him all day, not sharing the lovely view with him, now this was a true crisis. The dismay was audible in the high pitch in her voice.

“I thought you’d be pleased.”

“Oh … it’s okay … I’ll move. I … I didn’t mind sharing the office, the window front was adequate compensation. So if you need the single office for anybody else, I’d honestly be fine with staying.”

“You move. It’ll be easier to work through the Hermes Shield files, or the back-ups we can find if you don’t have to go downstairs all the time.”


Ryan immediately smothered her in a desperate hug as she came into his office and she was appalled to notice he started crying in her arms. “It’s okay, I’m here now, we’ll work this out,” she murmured, soothingly rubbing his back, letting him cling only tighter. Feeling his hands on her chubby sides, she sucked in, stiffened up and tried to move out of his embrace. “Everything’ll be fine, don’t worry, let me get some tissues….”

It was not only that she was embarrassed by him fondling her flab – she was acutely uncomfortable, even a bit revolted by how thin, bony, even flimsy his body felt. Nothing like the tactile delight and turn on of Henry’s thick, meaty frame, so cozily substantial. Ryan was like patting a poor starved mongrel – but maybe she only felt this way because her own body was so big and soft, letting her prefer a likeness to a contrast for reasons of self-esteem and preservation.

“Sorry, all of this is getting to me,” Ryan wiped his eyes and blew his nose. “I’m so glad you’re back. Have you already moved into the small office up here?”

“No – I came directly to see you. What happened with HermesShield Ryan?”

All explanations Ryan offered remained vague or were even contradictory, so she broke off their discussion after taking a few notes. “You’re not in good shape, Ryan. I could’ve used a few more hours of sleep too – coming back unexpected on the first plane. We’re both hungry. We’re not getting anywhere here. I’ll go pack my stuff, and we can have it moved while we go to lunch.”

“I’m not really hungry…”

“Yes you are …. no back talk, I’ll pick you up in maybe 30 minutes.”


Looking around her office, her and Henry’s office, she felt a big lump in her throat. One brief look at the new office had told her she’d be, even aside from Henry, much less happy there. Small stuffy, worst of all, no windows – it was on the inner side of the building.

“Hope you had a good morning. Office here is so empty without you … and everything else is a mess. Please call me asap, L L” she at least texted Henry before going to lunch, praying for a quick response to compensate for the awful packing task.

No such luck, it was not until the next morning Henry answered briefly: “Everything here is fine. Clients say hi.” And no other communication.


Worn out and frustrated after an entire weekend in the office with Ryan, who made trying to piece together the facts of their legal counseling of HermesShield as difficult as possible by being totally scatter-brained, unable to concentrate and borderline amnesiac, Louisa slammed a folder shut on Sunday at 5 p.m. “That does it for this weekend!”

“Louisa, please, another hour or two! We’re nowhere near where we should be in sorting out the real course of events!”

“No Ryan – we’re not making any progress anymore. I’m exhausted, you’re even farther gone, can’t remember anything – and we’re both hungry, haven’t eaten since breakfast…. Which I doubt you even had…”

“Nah… I’m fine. Shall I take you out for dinner … then we continue?”

Looking over at him, how drawn and almost ill he looked, she sighed, got up and gave him a pat on the back, pity getting the upper hand over annoyance. “No – let’s walk home, to my place. Get some fresh air, then I’ll fix us dinner. How about Swiss style turkey steaks, the way you like then, stuffed with ham, cheese and herbs? The mini potato pancakes? Cooking can be inspiring, maybe we’ll come up with some ideas in the process?”

“Sound’s tempting. I can’t thank you enough Louisa, for all you’re doing for me…”

As much as she would’ve liked to be alone, the walk followed by fussing around in her kitchen had the desired calming and boosting effect. She was energetically slapping grated potatoes into little patties as her cell phone rang.

“Shall I get it?”

“Ummm … take it and hold it to my ear….”

“Caller ID is Conrads…. What does he want on a Sunday night? Hopefully no more bad news…” Ryan fumbled with the phone and held it to her ear.

The name sent a high voltage jolt to her core. “Hi Henry, how nice of you to call…” straining her neck since the angle Ryan held it at was odd.

“Hi … Louisa …. how are you?” with a lengthy pause.

“I’m fine, thank you. How was the end of the contract negotiations in Florida?”

“Went as planned … umm … everybody says they missed you though …. mumble, mumble, mumble”

“Sorry Henry, could you please repeat what you last said, I didn’t catch that.” Louisa motioned to Ryan. “Please hold it closer to my ear…. Sorry Henry, I’ve got my hands full of potato dough…”

“Oh … sorry to disturb, it’s not so important, if you have guests…”

“Don’t worry, no guests, it’s just Ryan, working dinner …. I guess you know what happened…”

“Ittt’s okay. Don’t want to bother you. Only wanted to …… deliver greetings and thank you from the clients. Have a nice evening, bye.”

Before she knew it, he had hung up. Since the situation with Ryan had indeed been awkward, she’d get back to him later, after dinner in peace and quiet. But she was to no end relieved that he’d finally called. Hungry as she was, she ate heartily; to then spend much time coaxing Ryan, who only picked at his food to eat more. Preparing and selecting food for Henry’s voracious and appreciative appetite was certainly much more fun and rewarding.

Seeing Ryan more or less falling asleep on her dinner table, she checked the wine: the second bottle was almost empty, although she had drunk not even two glasses. Ryan had never been able to hold his liquor very well; as skinny and worn out as he currently was it was hopeless.

“Hey, “she said softly. “You look like you need some rest. Let me get you a cab home.”

“Please … don’t send me home. It’s so lonely there … and cold … and dark ….” Ryan swayed to his feet unsteadily, to drape himself over her, rubbing his face in her neck and lightly groping her in disorientation.

Louisa sucked in her full stomach slightly and sighed. Being in a sorry state as he was, he naturally was looking for something warm, familiar to hang onto, like a teddy bear – a role she certainly fit. “It’s okay … don’t worry…” she patted his back. “We’ll figure it out, write a good testimonial…. Sure you can sleep here. I’ll get the guest room ready,” leading him upstairs.

Letting Ryan stumble into her bedroom, she pulled out extra bedding and went into the guest room, to first of all try to call Henry back before it got too late. No luck, his phone went direct to voice mail. And she didn’t want to call his home number, maybe have to talk to his sister or wake her kids.

“Bed’s all cushy and ready…” she stepped into her bedroom where Ryan was sound asleep on her bed, his face buried in her pillow. Shaking her head, she retrieved her comforter, covered him with the guest bedding and went to sleep in the guest room after having cleared the kitchen.


The next morning she made Ryan some good hot porridge with coffee and got him to eat it before showering, washing and drying her hair. As she tried to button into her blue glen-check pants suit, she was unpleasantly surprised: The waist band’s button could be squeezed into its hole; with a massive muffin top bulging over it, but there was no way she could get the zipper to close over the round sphere of flesh straining it apart. Why these pants had fit last time … that was when … before she had been to Florida with Henry. A glimpse in the mirror told her she was as round as can be, with massive pumpkin buttocks filling her pants seat to bursting and two well pumped up spare tires on her front oozing above and below her waistband. No wonder Henry hadn’t gotten back to her - he’d been drunk enough to overlook how fat she was in the dark, but probably had recoiled at the thought of being seen with someone her size in broad daylight.

Until this moment she thought she’d done a reasonable job of not overindulging during their business trip to Florida – her pants obviously disagreed strongly. True, she had been good at avoiding unnecessary bread baskets, fries, donuts and the like – opting for fruit, salad, fish and other healthier offers. But instead of her usual skipping meals at least semi-regularly she’d had three square, extensive and unfortunately highly enjoyable meals with Henry every day, plus the daily afternoon ice cream. Given Henry’s big appetite, even eating much less than he did mostly likely had made her ingest many more calories than she should have – with the visible negative effects. Yet she had, with the exception of their crazy last pizza night, never been overfed or stuffed – only plain satiated and very comfortable.

That last night though … stuffed and tipsy as she had been, she had felt spectacular. Engulfed in Henry’s warmth and weight, his flesh pressing into hers, how his hands moved over her body it had been as if she suddenly had more neurons to transmit lusty sensations partly to her brain, but more so to the nervous system in her woman hood. Alone re-running that little clip in her head made the sensations re-surge, heat starting to creep between her thighs. Opening her eyes she became aware she had been unknowingly kneading her backside like Henry had done with one hand, with the other stroking the flesh role of her love handle into the belly role of her waist. All this stress was turning her into a some sort of lunatic! Petting herself and imagining it was Henry fondling her fat – as if he would ever care to do that sober and voluntarily again.

Shuddering several times, she put on fresh, dry panty liners and then slipped into her new size 18 navy suit; relieved she had meetings with one of her favorite clients all morning – the Dutch chamber of Commerce and Industry, helping nice, uncomplicated medium-sized Dutch businesses navigate US contract law. No Ryan, no Henry, no office, normality for half a day.

Returning to the office in the afternoon amounted to a full dive into the current crisis: Ryan running to her every few minutes, not being able to sort his HermesShield issues out, Henry actively evading her – and the depressing new cubby hole of an office she now had. She missed the view of the Mall, how it let her relax, inspired her to take a new look at things almost as much as she missed Henry. A personal office was worth nothing if it meant no daylight, no view, no Henry … only ugly beige walls to stare at.


The next 10 days were no better: She worked endless hours to bring sense into Ryan’s HermesShield mess, put together a convincing memorandum justifying his legal actions. The files and dossiers were nicely sorted, but had many obvious gaps and omissions, as if they had been purged. What was there didn’t offer much as evidence, be it incriminating or exonerating. Ryan’s memory or coherence weren’t getting much better either. Apart from the actual work she was doing for him, the amount of coddling, consoling, cooking, and calming he required started to give her the uncomfortable feeling of being exploited.

Nor was she getting anywhere with her attempts of really talking to Henry again – he wrote short, barely polite, bland answers to her messages, didn’t answer his phone and evaded her as well as possible, now a lot easier since she was on another floor and no longer in the same office. She couldn’t muster the courage to openly ask him to lunch or coffee to talk, fearing an outright rejection and her own response to it.

One afternoon though, she was so frustrated, wanted so bad to see Henry, hear his voice, she cast caution aside and knocked on her old office door. Despite it being a gray overcast day, she was once more stunned by the beauty of the scenery, how the wide window front truly opened horizons, seemed to wipe out narrow-mindedness.

“Errr … hi …. What are you doing here?”

“I … I … well I guess I missed the view, how lovely it is….”

“Well … you got your own office now. That’s what you always wanted. And I got mine back.” There was an uncomfortable finality in Henry’s voice.

“Hmmm … I didn’t exactly ask for a cubby hole downstairs with no daylight. This here … everything up here …. was … hmmm … much more inspiring,” she had completely forgotten what she had planned to say. Had he always wanted this office back as his own, wanted her out? A lengthy silence followed, before she lamely ended: “Umm … just wanted to check the cupboard whether I left my insulated tee mug there…..” bending down to check, where it wasn’t. “I’ll have to look in the kitchenette then. Bye…” fleeing the room.

She was crestfallen; she had never expected him to be so cold. So she had been nothing but a fat drunken fling for him. Sober up – and act like it never happened. Right now she had no way of reversing his opinion as she was unable to stick to a meaningful diet. She managed to skip breakfast – but only because she had a big comforting evening meal with home cooked pasta, risotto, polenta, or whatever to warm and console her after a shitty day. And a hot lunch with dessert, she plain needed that in this combination of professional crisis plus cold spell. Her clothing told her that her weight remained half way stable, but she clearly was not losing any pounds.

After a second working weekend with Ryan she had a least a first draft of his testimonial ready and submitted it to Palmer. A longer term project took her to Wilmington for two days, a welcome relief to get away from everything; get back to actually steering her own work.

On Thursday morning she dragged her feet a little in going to the office, put on a hair masque to let it soak during a small relaxed breakfast as her phone rang – Palmer’s office.

“Are you seated? If not – sit down! The FBI was just here to arrest Ryan!”
 

Tad

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The great white north, eh?
Yay for a new chapter! Poor Louisa though :(

(and I've had those inside rooms where people are talking about how great it is that you have privacy and quiet, and all you can think of is 'really, then how about we trade, I'll give this up for some natural light in an instant!')
 

agouderia

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Thank you everybody for the kind words and encouragement!

Henry's and Louisa's problem is more that they - for different reasons - dare not really communicate with each other, speak of their true intentions, can't see beyond their own mind-set. Probably a rather common afflication, as many of us will know.

Here's the next chapter!
 

agouderia

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Tunnel Vision

“It’s just Ryan…..” these words had cut through him like a guillotine, literally chopping up all his self-persuasion work of the past days. After waking up alone in her bed, it had taken 24 hours and an e-mail von Palmer himself – who apologized for summoning Louisa back - to convince himself she had not tricked, deserted or betrayed him by leaving early. That she had only left for business reasons, and not on her own free personal volition. Depending on how you read them, her text messages confirmed this assumption. But now she was with Ryan, cooking him dinner in her home on Sunday night. So all his suspicions had been right – she was with Ryan; had only done a stop-over in his bed courtesy of an excess of Spanish red.

“Uncle Henry, dinner’s ready. Mommy says come!” Jacqui’s chirping interrupted his dark thoughts.

“Coming!” Yet he couldn’t move, remained seated at the desk in his study staring at his cell phone. Sometime later Jasper came in, grabbed his hand and tried to pull him up from his chair: “Mommy says come right this second, dinner is on the table!”

Staring at the roast rosemary chicken on his plate, one of Jill’s best dishes, he could barely eat a bite, his throat had been buttoned up tightly.

“Eat up Henry; you don’t need to be shy. I made a big ‘welcome home’ portion for you…”

“Huhh … umm … sorry Jill, I’m more tired than hungry,” as he half-heartedly ate one small drumstick, not the usual 3-4 he would like to have. As soon as Jacqui finished, he used the excuse to bring her to bed, supervise her brushing her teeth. Afterwards he rushed out with the dogs, venting some of his frustration in hurling sticks for Tata to fetch. Some of them flew so far off, it took Tata some time to recover them in the underbrush; others crashed into trees with such a loud ‘thunk’ that Tata stopped in her tracks to bark at him as if in reprimand.

It was late when he returned and he went to bed immediately, only to toss and turn, images of Louisa writhing in pleasure in his arms haunting him. Had that truly been only three night ago, only 1000 miles away? It might as well have been in another eon or a different galaxy; it seemed so far away, so unattainable right now. All the memories achieved were to give him a painful hard on that hurt as bad as the negative thoughts running through his mind – sleep was out of the question. With a groan he got back up, went to his study and took his favorite 1908 original banned English edition of the “120 days of Sodom” out of his cabinet, with the colored lithography’s of classic nudes. Thumbing through it to find one of his preferred fantasies, he stopped dead at one of the pictures – a very voluptuous blonde luxuriating sleepily on a divan, a grizzled old man watching her. ‘P.P. Rubens – Angelica and the Hermit’ the caption read – nothing less than the spitting image of Louisa as he had seen her that night, pure naked loveliness. Before he jerked off to this vision, he went online, found the original painting and downloaded it as his hidden screen-saver.

With so little refreshing sleep, he felt as if a truck had run over him the next morning and only shook his head to all Jill’s breakfast suggestions. Knowing she was right in her advocating for breakfast, he finally had some plain cornflakes with milk and banana like Jacqui did, under Jill’s raised eyebrows.

On his way to the yellow line, he took Jasper to drop him off at school, stopping at the destination: “Okay Jas, have a good day … don’t pester the teachers.”

“Uncle Henry, why are we here! This is the soccer field! It’s Monday morning – school not soccer! I don’t have practice until Wednesday night! What are you thinking!”

Looking at his surroundings, he noticed he had in automatic mode driven Jasper not to school but to the soccer field. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

“That’s a dirty word…”

“Yeah I know. Don’t tell your mom – and can it also stay between us that I took the wrong direction this morning?”

“Hmmm…,” Jasper furrowed his brow. “Only if you buy me those new soccer boots.”

“That’s blackmail, that’s a criminal offence. Shall I call the police?”

“No, it’s not criminal. It’s called … ummm …. nee-go-gating a deal”

He couldn’t help laughing at Jasper’s cheekiness. “You mean negotiating. Okay – I’ll top up what’s in your piggy bank to buy you those new boots – and no word of this to your mom. Deal?”

“Deal!” Jasper gave him a high-five.


The incident left him in a slightly better mood until he reached the office.

“Hi Henry, welcome back,” Melissa, their unit assistant, greeted him. “Here’s your snail mail in order of importance. And I have good news for you – your office is once more really your office. Hannerston had Louisa moved downstairs to her own office.”

“Louisa moved out to her own office?”

“Yes – she’s supposed to help them down there with that HermesShield investigation. Isn’t that great for you? What you always wanted, your office back to yourself – even though Louisa admittedly is nicer than the other people we’ve had in here.”

Still digesting this blow, he entered his office and look around. It was empty – and the knowledge it would stay empty, never have Louisa sitting there again, smiling at him in welcome, gave it the emptiness of a wasteland. There was nothing he hated more than this dull aching hurt of emotional loss, of being deserted and having his trust betrayed, it brought back the worst memories. His family had taught him early that too much emotional involvement mostly resulted in pain and doom.

His father had been the cliché of a military man – command and obey, don’t feel, don’t think. Henry even got the impression his father not only believed emotions were unmanly, but also intellect. Or how else could he have explained the constant criticism for his good grades, the bitching of his lack of athletic achievements. His mother had been a soft, conflict-shy, not overtly motherly woman who wanted calm and stability, gave up on the life of the constantly moving military wife when he was six, leaving him with his father who claimed that was where a boy belonged.

Love and warmth had entered his life with Mimmy, Jill’s mother, his step-mother whom his father had married when he was ten. Despite being a successful, tough military career woman, she gave him and Jill the emotional stability they needed, shielding them from the difficulties that remained in her marriage. When his father died following a maneuver accident, this had little significance, he even guiltily assumed life would be easier with only Mimmy, Jill and him together. Mimmy being diagnosed with cancer and dying weeks after his 18th birthday was the blow that undermined the foundation of their lives. Yet it was the ensuring third shock that lead him to doubt any sincerity in adult emotional behavior and relationships: Jill being underage when her mother died led them to contact her birth father to address the question of custody. He curtly replied via his attorney that he had only been Mimmy’s husband, not Jill’s biological father – so what became of her was none of his business. The following insurance blood test revealed that they indeed were half-siblings, Sidney Conrads also being Jill’s father from an affair during a short-term posting in Korea while he was still married to Henry’s mother.

This left him questioning everything his father and Mimmy had tried to teach him: What good was talking about command and obedience, the honor of the military code as highest duty if you broke one of the most basic rules, probably constantly, by fathering a child with one of your married colleagues? What was the illusion of love, trust and emotional stability worth if you kept such basic facts from your children, leaving them to find out as an additional burden in an emotionally and practically desperate situation? He drew two consequences: One, he was never going to let his emotions get the better of his reason, was never going to endure such pain again. Second, he wasn’t going to let Jill suffer for it, but applied for legal custody as her brother; letting them stay together, take care of each other, fortunately half way provided for by military orphan benefits that paid for their college education. Jill following in their parents military footsteps, marrying a fellow military comrade early who unraveled himself and their marriage as he couldn’t handle the stress of three consecutive postings in Iraq and Afghanistan cemented his views.

Helping a very vulnerable Jill piece herself, her life, her professional progress back together afterwards with two little children to fend for, overthrowing his own initial career plans to do so, had confirmed his resolve to not to let any relationship skirmishes interfere with his life. It had all worked well, his emotional batteries were charged by good food, a glass of heavy red, the innocent affection of a little girl who’d fall asleep on his belly pillow, a little boy whose role model he was and Jill’s reliable caring and gratitude. Not until Louisa’s entry into his life did he have the feeling that there might be more to it, more love, more lust, more pleasure but all served with the unrequested side dishes of hurt, deceit, uncertainty and jealousy.

It took him over half an hour staring out the window before he could sit down at his desk and mechanically start sorting through his work, checking whether the files for his meetings of the day were complete and the like. Shortly before lunch there was a message from Louisa, saying she’d tried to reach him again last night and whether he had found everything to be in order back here at the office. What was she thinking, acting as if nothing had happened? That she hadn’t pulled him into her bed out of the blue before leaving him and then his office to move down to Ryan? He had no idea how to face her again, what to say, how to suppress his wounded feelings and the lust to kiss her senseless all at the same time.

Routine got him through the day and in the evening left him more time to brood since it was Jill’s gym class evening and he was in charge of Jasper and Jacqui. Since he still couldn’t concentrate he sat in at meetings with Palmer where in the strict sense his expertise wasn’t needed all of the next day, not joining them for the business lunch though to use the two hours to do his mail with a small sandwich. On his way out in the evening, he caught a glimpse of Louisa standing in the small downstairs lobby, her fine profile framed by the waves of her hair, her breasts swelling most invitingly as she took a deep breath for what sounded to be an argument with Hannerston. This sight caused the queasiness he had been fighting half the day to turn into an outright stomach ache by the time he got home.

“Baked Turkey casserole with vegetables and fresh corn bread – one of your favorites Henry.” Jill put a big plate in front of him.

“Thanks Jill looks great,” although it did, he found it difficult to force down barely half the portion. “Sorry, I’m not that hungry tonight, had a big business lunch,” which was an outright lie. “I was late, is it okay if I walk the dogs now?” heading out as fast as possible, taking deep breaths of the cold night air hoping the tightness in his chest would finally ease.


Jill entered quietly as he later was sitting in his study on the couch; reading excerpts of ‘War and Peace’ – the only piece of world literature where the fat guy in the end gets the lovely heroine – as consolation. She slid over the arm rest to lean against him, her head on his shoulder.

“Henry, what’s wrong? Please talk to me.”

“Umm … nothing’s wrong. A bit tired I guess…”

“Something is wrong, you can’t fool me, I’ve known you most of my life.” she rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re re-reading ‘War and Peace’, that’s like other people starting to read the bible in times of crisis.”

He gave her a weak grin. “You’re a good cultural psychologist. Nothing is really wrong, bit of a mess at the firm, with an NSA, Homeland Security investigation going on- pretty disgraceful.”

“You don’t have professional issues Henry, you react differently to them. Why are you trying to diet?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, you were eating a lot before your business in Florida, and you’ve gotten a bit rounder. Since you came back you’re almost not eating at all – you don’t even seem to notice your stomach growling often. So again, what’s wrong?” she soothingly rubbed his belly.

“As I said nothing really. Don’t worry.”

“You sounded so happy and content when we talked on the phone while you were in Florida, better than in a long time. You were there with this Louisa Jasper talks so much and you so little about. Does it have something to do with her?”

In brief shock he gave her a furtive glance before he closed his eyes – but she must have seen his look. “Henry, if you’re interested in her, had a good time with her in Florida – there’s nothing wrong with showing her back here at home, at the office that you care. Palmer Associates doesn’t have a no-dating policy among colleagues. You even have two married couples in the firm, don’t you?”

“Jill – I’ve told you before she’s dating one of the partners, there’s nothing I can do about that. Let it rest, leave me alone.”

“But you would like to do something about it, you care for her very much – like I’ve never seen you care for a woman before, isn’t that so?” Too late did he realize his gaffe; that his answer had implied his romantic interest in Louisa, unintentionally saying more than Jill had ever been able to extract from him on such a topic. She settled fully in his side, hugged him tight and intensified her soothing baby-tummy massage. “I’m so sorry that the first woman you’ve been attracted to in a long time has to be with someone else. Which options are there?”

“Well – for one – I could finally take that offer of Broad.com Industries and become head of their tax department. Move on professionally, take that 25% raise, then we could build the pool for the kids…” The idea had come to him now as he was cornered, maybe it would be good to physically get away from Louisa, the situation at Palmer Associates, do something new professionally.

“Oh no Henry, that’s overreacting. Running away from a crush, ruining your professional options is such a teen approach. We discussed that when you first got the offer. You’d be bored to death there within a short time span. You need the diversity of work and case load an international firm offers. You’re in line for partnership at Palmer Associates, that’ll come sooner or later. There is nothing better for you here in DC. If you truly want to move on professionally, which of course is always an option, you’d have to look in New York or London. Why don’t you do that, test out which completely different paths might open up for your life?”

“I can’t do that … I can’t leave you and the kids here all alone…”

“Yes you can Henry – it’s your life,” she must have sensed him bristling, for she stroked his cheek. “Don’t think I don’t know how much you’re doing for me and the kids. That you gave up on an academic career, your dream of becoming dean of one of the big law schools to earn more money here from the start to help me out. I could never have done it without you, I’m eternally grateful for it. But I don’t want to be a ball and chain holding you back. Things are so far settled that the kids and I could manage on our own – like extend the mortgage, get an au pair – they’re easy to find here for the DC area….”

“You can’t be serious..”

“Yes I am Henry. You need to think more about your life, less about mine. What are your next personal and professional goals? Where can you find true happiness and fulfillment? If that would entail you moving away, to get to the next step in your life, so be it. Sure, Jacqui, Jasper and I would miss you like crazy … but that shouldn’t keep you from living your life.”


The rashly expressed idea of leaving Palmer Associates spooked through his head, a mental outlet for handling all his conflicted feelings. To preserve his sanity, he tried to stay as far away from Louisa as possible, make sure he didn’t see her around the office. Yet there were these compulsive urges to get a chance to look at her, listen to people talking about her, endlessly composing answers to her messages, to in the end always opt for the shortest most bland one. Currently he couldn’t tell when he felt worse – when he didn’t see and hear her, or after he had just met her.

When she came into his office one day looking for something she had forgotten he said as little as possible, fearing if he started talking his frustration would burst out, or he would try to kiss her again or crack in some other manner. Seeing her standing there, so fresh and lovely in a grey and lavender skirt suit silhouetted against the view knowing she didn’t belong here anymore, was as agonizing as a kick in his privates.

After their talk Jill was more gentle and caring than ever, treating him like an invalid, carefully monitoring that he ate all the healthy comfort food she made for him. Simultaneously she saw to it that he was very busy around the house and with the children so he had less time to brood.

Since tax fraud was one of the possible charges in the HermesShield investigation, his team was asked to give their assessment of the dossier. Thumbing through it once, he knew he couldn’t do it. Not only that it might mean he’d have to work directly with Louisa on it – he could do that, but not with the goal of saving Hannerston’s stupid ass. Seeing Hannerston’s incompetence and mistakes on almost every page of the dossier made him livid, not only for his having snatched Louisa, but also for having been awarded the partnership. It had been a letdown that he had been bypassed to give it to Hannerston after only a year as an associate, but witnessing the full extent of how unqualified he really was let the old anger flare again.

What puzzled him in this context was also Louisa’s behavior, that she was so loyal, was obviously doing her best to help Hannerston out of the mess he had gotten himself in. From working closely with her, he had come to see her legal smarts as in his own league, admiring also the high ethics she professed in her work and admiring that she was better on the business common sense side of things than he was. How could she not see than Hannerston was not only stupid, but also dishonest, not meriting her support? These doubts got stronger after Hannerston was arrested and from what he could tell Louisa continued to work on his acquittal. He couldn’t understand why she was so keen to bail out a jailbird. Why did he have a crush on someone with so low legal and ethical standards?

The rumor mill in the office was notoriously in overdrive these days: That Hannerston was taking the blame for Palmer, that he had blackmailed Palmer into taking him on as an associate, that the fines in question would bankrupt the firm, that other clients were leaving the firm, that Hannerston had only brought Louisa into the firm to cover for his messes and so on and so forth.

Almost two weeks after Hannerston’s arrest Tim Brewer from Henry’s team, whom he had entrusted with the HermesShield files, had spread out his results on the conference table in the office corner to be joined by Clayton Barner to compare their findings. He had declined his participation, was in and out of his office during their meeting, but naturally overheard some of what was being said.

“Did you find anything incriminating in the tax records?” Clayton asked Tim.

“No – as Louisa wrote in her internal report, there are reasons to believe there might be a missing link. If this is really all the material there is, Hannerston’s arrest is absolutely unfounded. I don’t get why he wasn’t able to write up that evidence himself, has Louisa do all the work. Can’t believe somebody like that was made partner.”

“Hmm… from what I understood Hannerston’s partnership is due to political reasons, something like his uncle was in a fraternity with Palmer or so…”

“Yeah, it clearly wasn’t on merit,” Tim took a big bite out of a glazed donut.

“Some lucky bastards get it all – looks, connections, partnership … now a great girl…”

“She’d already be his third wife …. And I wouldn’t call being held in investigative custody lucky…”

“You know what I mean – that’ll blow over. He’ll weasel his way out, with the help of Palmer and Louisa. Is it official yet? Melissa said Hannerston already told Palmer…”

“That’s what I heard too – no announcement so far though. They’ll probably save it to celebrate when he’s out of custody. Funny, I always thought she was keener on brains than on looks. Like she got along a lot better with Conrads …,” Clayton turned to see whether Henry was in earshot, but didn’t see him behind the door. “than any of us here. Went to lunch a few times with the two of them, they’d talk about odd ancient books, or bizarre UN charters, or never heard of medieval painters – didn’t understand half of what they were saying.”

“Yeah, Melissa said so too, Louisa was the first one Conrads didn’t want kicked out of his office right away. Guess she’s one of those women who’re really good in managing any type of guy.”

“Probably …. It was even more of a surprise that Hannerston went for Louisa. Did you know his wife, or his last fiancée? They were all the super slim, brunette college model type … where as Louisa is almost beyond chubby … and blonde.”

“She is really pretty though …,” Tim’s words were once more muffled by donut. “Did you see her in that dress at the partner’s reception? That cleavage with those perfect boobs… and they’re the real deal, according to Melissa, no silicon.”

“Girls tell each other that? Still, she’s seriously chunky…”

“Wait till she does that ‘bride-crash-diet’ before the wedding – she’ll be a stunner then…” the word ‘wedding’ let his mental penny finally drop. They were talking about nothing less than Louisa and Hannerston getting married. Palmer was in on their engagement, only it wasn’t officially announced yet. So his nightmare was coming true; if his life were a comic strip, it would now show his world crashing down around him, burying him in the debris. And it hurt; it hurt so bad, he clutched the cabinet for support, and then slowly made his way over to his desk to sink into his chair.

“Henry … sorry for interrupting… Henry?” Tim was handing him a folder over the desk. “I wanted you to sign off the HermesShield tax report, make sure I didn’t overlook anything…” Tim’s scrutinizing him was an indicator that his response must’ve been at least totally absentminded.

“Conrads … shall we leave the rest of our meeting brunch here on the table for you?”

“Huh?” Looking over at the assortment of left-over donuts, Danish, fruit spits and sandwiches made his stomach turn. “No thanks Clayton – have them taken away, please.”

“You sure? You on some sort of diet?”

A very timid knock on the door interrupted them and Louisa stuck her head in the room. “Hi Henry, hi Tim. Here you are Clayton – can we please look through the last version of this HermesShield report? I have to meet with Palmer, discuss it with him in 20 minutes.”

Louisa appearing on the scene was the final straw. “Would everybody please get out of my office right this minute! I let you use the conference table while I was in a meeting, not for endless hours of idle chat and snacking!”

“We’re leaving, I came to pick up Clayton anyway,” Louisa’s hurt glance sparked him viciously.

“Do that! Make sure we all get this blasted investigation off our desks as fast as possible! So we can concentrate on our work again, actually make money for the firm, not waste it on partners who’s hobby is burning cash instead!”

“We’re on it Henry. All of us want to leave this episode behind us as quickly as possible! Thank you for yours and Tim’s help with the tax records.”

“Yeah … let’s hope that Mrs. Ryan Hannerston is at least a bit more competent, has a few more legal brains and standards than Mr. Ryan Hannerston does!”

Louisa’s look now was shocked, there was the same pain and wronged innocence as to the reason of her punishment he had seen in Tata’s eyes when she once was accidently hit on the head by a stick he had thrown – leaving him feeling like guilty shit as Clayton shut the door behind them.
 

agouderia

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Straight Talk

With a deep breath and something like an instant prayer, Louisa pushed open the door to Palmer’s office. After Henry barking at her, she was shaken, couldn’t concentrate on what Clayton tried to tell her so she sent him off again, claiming she needed to put things in her own words.

“Well Ms. Grenburgh, how has your investigation progressed so far?”

“In a nutshell, the results are so harmless and inconclusive that they are worrisome,” she handed him the 2 page synopsis and went through the various points with him. “If this is all the NSA and Homeland Security have, there are no grounds for Ryan’s arrest. It wasn’t even worth the bother of getting a search warrant in my opinion.”

“You don’t seem happy about these findings.”

“No sir, since it’s a firm with our standing, a client like HermesShield, that has been a Pentagon contractor for probably 20 years by now – there’s got to be more to it. They wouldn’t come after us and this client on such non-evidence. I doubt they’d even think of investigating.”

“I tend to agree with you. I tried to speak off the record with some good contacts at Homeland Security, they totally blocked it off. So what are we overlooking?” with a small sigh he unbuttoned the straining three lower buttons on the waistcoat over his stately senior paunch.

“From what we have in our files, we can’t be overlooking anything – I’ve had 4 people go through them independently. There’s got to be something missing. I’ve tried to talk to Ryan about it, before his arrest, and then on my one visit, he wouldn’t answer that question. He remained vague, repeated and contradicted himself. It could just be he’s stressed …”

“Let me rephrase my question then – what might be missing?”

“So far I don’t have any proof - it’s more of a gut feeling. It’s as if someone pruned the files of any substantiating information. What’s there is all fine, complete – but too non-descript, too smooth, too hinge-less to tell the full story. It’s as if it were only the outer-shell to the real story.”

“I trust you’re right – I read through what everybody else supplied, the findings are all similar. What do you suggest?”

“If you could maybe talk to Ryan again, as senior partner, remind him of his responsibilities…”

“I’ve tried that twice, with fewer results than you’ve gotten out of him. You at least managed to get him to tell about the minor tax issue, and the out-contracting of that one semi-combat unit via that holding on Aruba,” he took off his reading glasses, leaned over the desk and looked at her piercingly. “We’ll have to rely on your good personal contacts – you’ll have to go talk to him again. In this context, I would encourage you both to announce your aspirations – then we can also see whether that might grant you privileges in an eventual criminal hearing.”

She wondered which privileges in a criminal hearing he might be referring to. “Excuse me sir, criminal trial law and proceedings are a weak point of mine, I’ve never done anything in the field except the requirements at law school … I can’t quite follow.”

“Your discretion is truly admirable – what I mean you is can come clean, wear that ring in public.”

“I’m very sorry sir; the past days haven’t been easy – and right now I must be having my ignorant five minutes. I don’t know what you’re referring to.” This reminded her of tech classes in school, when she also could never comprehend what the teacher was trying to explain.

Palmer scanned her searchingly before he answered. “Either you’re an Oscar worthy actress or you really don’t know what I’m talking about – meaning Hannerston hasn’t asked you yet.”

“Asked me what?”

“Whether you want to marry him. He told me the two of you were getting engaged.”

She thought her hearing was misguided; bit her lip to not blurt, so it took her a while to ask quietly: “Ryan Hannerston told you he wants to marry me?”

“Yes. I related to him how hard you were working on the investigation, writing up his testimonial. He answered you were the loveliest person he knew and the only thing that currently kept him going was that you would soon be his. He only needed the right timing so you could finally wear the ring.”

If the situation hadn’t been so serious, if it wasn’t Palmer who was above suspicion of being in on some cruel prank, this could only be a sick joke – like when some girls at school had tried to trick her into believing she would be asked to their prom by the popular chair of the debating society. Why on earth was Ryan telling Palmer such a thing? He had never been in the remotest interested in her as anything else but a useful friend or colleague. Louisa knew she must have stared at the floor for probably minutes because Palmer eyed at her expectantly as she raised her eyes.

“Please forgive me for saying so – you don’t convey the impression of a happy bride-to-be very well. The circumstances might be less than desirable, yet you must’ve been aware of Ryan’s interests and feeling for you…..”

“No sir, he never showed any interest in me…..,” she noticed she was incessantly lightly shaking her head, wondering if this might not end up being a twist of her imagination and she’d wake up any minute. “We always were good friends …. never more….”

“Initially, that was what I thought too when you first came here. But seeing you and Ryan interact, the familiarity, the way he looked at you with true adoration – I was convinced there was more to it. You can be honest to me – don’t have concerns because of HermesShield….”

“MercuryScutum!” the inner turmoil unleashed by this situation made a flash of recognition shoot through her mind – maybe that was the missing link.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry sir – I might have an idea where to look for the missing link in the HermesShield files. I need to talk to Ryan about that. Under client-attorney privilege. Could you please have that arranged as soon as possible?”

“That does sound very legal and rather non-romantic,” Palmer gave her a small dry smile.

“Sir, I can assure you there are no romantic connections between me and Ryan Hannerston. I doubt there can ever be any on my or on his behalf …. as I said, we’re old friends …. no more. If you’ll excuse me, I need to try and find out more about that potential connection …”

Sensing her urgency, he nodded. “Go ahead; let me know if you discover anything. I’ll make sure to arrange your visit at the earliest possible option.”


Louisa more staggered than walked back to her office, bracing herself against the wall repeatedly for support; her high heels had never seemed so wobbly before. So many thoughts were doing somersaults in her mind; she couldn’t even concentrate on walking straight. Back at her desk, she opened the internet browser and typed “scutum” into the search function of the Encyclopedia Britannica – to read what for the past minutes she had expected with anticipatory dread: “The Roman imperial legionnaire, who closed in with a short sword, protected himself with the scutum, a large cylindrical shield of leather-clad wood that covered most of his body.”

What had struck her like lightening during the disturbing talk with Palmer was that Hermes and Mercury were the same god: Hermes was the Greek, Mercury the Roman name of the messenger of the Olympian Gods. How could she have overlooked that? And a scutum was a Roman army shield – meaning that MercuryScutum probably was a cover-up, a phantom company set up to carry out certain, most likely not 100% legal transactions. That had to be the missing link. That was what the NSA and Homeland Security were looking for – some dirty business HermesShield had been carrying out through its hidden subsidiary. And Ryan must be somehow involved – after all he had shown her that one MercuryScutum contract draft.

Unlocking her storage cabinet, Louisa pulled out the external hard drive on which she had everything she did for Ryan that did not overlap with her regular work. Sure enough, there it was ‘MercuryScutum’. Since even she couldn’t handle Ryan’s grotesque system of filing documents according to color, design or size and only in second order according to date, alphabet or content, she always backed up everything she worked on for him. This was a blessing now, although she had only the one set of documents Ryan had asked her to check. Browsing through them again with an even more watchful eye, she detected that what she had thought to be an all too perfunctory contract must in reality be some sort of contract framework, like for a holding, leaving the details to sub-contracts or more specific legal stipulations. Again she was irritated that the exact business content in the contract was omitted – and could only reiterate her assessment that the proposed ‘re-allocation’ of the government grants was doubtlessly illegal. Printing everything out, including her notes, she called Palmer’s assistant and requested a meeting immediately.


The next two days she spent in Ryan’s office, together with Clayton, who had been seconded to her as the most senior and trustworthy member of the team going through all files, dossiers, in print and electronically to see whether they might find any more traces or evidence on ‘MercuryScutum’. Palmer had been as shocked as she had expected, given her full authority to go through all available files and arranged visiting time for her with Ryan in custody on Monday. But that was two work days and an endless weekend to go – Louisa was clueless how she would get through that. Her functioning was being held together by a corset of cold dread, what she might find out at the end of the day about Ryan, his dealings, the firm – or maybe even her own involvement, not that she was aware of such – and which legal repercussions all this might have.

Clayton seemed to sense her anxiety, for he was as quiet and considerate as he never had been before as they sifted their way through all the material, though in vain, finding very little. She couldn’t remember whether she ate or not, food had dropped from her mental map. She didn’t really sleep either – she just lay in bed, curled in a stiff ball all night, in a blank state barely below the consciousness level. Her thoughts circled around ‘HermesShield’ and ‘MercuryScutum’, what Ryan had gotten himself into and why he had done this. Oddly enough, she wasted almost no thoughts on the unsettling information that Ryan had told Palmer he wanted to asked her to marry him. The idea of her and Ryan as a couple, as husband and wife, was so preposterous, embarrassing, silly, humiliating, far-fetched – despite Palmer’s earnest statement, she couldn’t take this seriously. Probably Ryan had meant some sort of arrangement that would ensure she’d work loyally for him. Her newest discoveries let her doubt the wisdom of doing so in general, feelings of betrayal and of being professionally exploited surfacing.


On Friday afternoon she was putting together all her findings to take along to Ryan on Monday as there was a timid knock on her door. “Come in.”

“Hi Louisa….,” Jasper poked his tousled head through the door.

“Why hi Jasper … what a surprise….,” becoming aware that she hadn’t given Henry one single thought either for the past 48 hours. “Are you coming to see me in my new office? Where’s Henry?” not sure whether she hoped or feared he would enter right after Jasper.

“Umm … Henry’s late … isn’t in his office… I thought you’d at least be there….” Jasper looked around with big eyes.

“How do you like this new office?”

Jasper pulled a face. “Yeah … it’s an office … looks really like an office… it’s so dark …. I liked it better when you had the office with Henry upstairs…, “he mumbled, staring at the floor.

“So did I,” she sighed, but couldn’t help smiling at the boy. “I miss the big windows, the lovely view…”

“Then why did you move down here?”

“I didn’t decide to move down here – I was moved for a work project…”

“Then you’ll move back up when the project is over, back to Henry’s office?”

The question gave her a painful sting, remembering how hurtful and dismissive Henry had last been to her, what was 2 days ago, but felt like in another century, pre-MercuryScutum.

“I don’t know Jasper …. Things are so busy right now, I don’t know what’s next with work here..,” wanting to end this uncomfortable questioning, Louisa got up. She couldn’t concentrate on work anymore. “This office has one great feature the one upstairs doesn’t have – a luxury marble backgammon board. Do you know how to play?”

“Back-what?”

“Backgammon – an oriental board game. Gift from some Lebanese media client we have. It’s classic and fun, I’ll teach you. Before that I’ll go get us some hot chocolate – the machine down here isn’t as good as upstairs, but it’ll do.”

They were already into their fourth game, Louisa laughing as Jasper tried to bend the rules or fiddle with the dice, being almost grateful for this carefree little respite from her worries as there was a knock on the door frame.

“Here you are Jasper …. Why didn’t you wait in Henry’s office?” It wasn’t Henry, but since she knew her from pictures, it must be his sister, Jasper’s mother Jill. “You know you’re not supposed to run around all by yourself in this big building. It was lucky Melissa had a hunch where to find you..”

“But I’m also not supposed to stay alone in the office either … so I thought I’d stay with Louisa….”

“I’m so sorry he bothered you… by the way, I forgot to introduce myself, Jill Warden, his mother.”

“Pleasure to meet you. As you probably already know, I’m Louisa Grenburgh. Jasper wasn’t bothering me, it was great to have him here, we had a really good, productive time.” Jill truly was as pretty as in her pictures, in a professional pin-stripe suit with skinny pants high-lighting her great legs and a bright baby-blue blouse bringing out her eyes.

“Louisa – I don’t know whether these meeting notes are of any…. oh hi, sorry for interrupting…,” Clayton entered, to immediately extend his hand to Jill. “Clayton Barner, I’m one of the associates here, a great pleasure to meet you…?”

“Jill Warden, I’m Henry Conrads’ sister.”

“Who would’ve thought Conrads’ had such a lovely sister….,” and the rest of their banter was lost on Louisa. Only the old familiar sting of painful envy was back. No man had ever looked at her as smitten and flirtatiously as Clayton was now eyeing Jill, no man had ever showered her with such positive attention. Not that she wanted to flirt with Clayton, surely not …. but for once she wanted not to have to work so hard to simply be noticed by a man, to get him to overcome his initial disdain at her fat, unattractive appearance to let him acknowledge that she was a nice person underneath, at least worth friendship. More, counting out drunken intercourse was out of the question anyway – as her most recent experience with Henry had proven.

“Jill – Henry’s back – you and Jasper can come back upstairs,” Melissa entered to pick them up.

“Well – it made my day to meet you Jill, hope to see you again here soon,” Clayton thankfully left.

“Melissa, could you please take Jasper with you? I’ll come up in a minute,” Jill asked.

“Sure – come along Jasper.”

“Bye Louisa, thank you for backgammon and hot chocolate,” Jasper shook her hand with quaint seriousness. “May I come down to your new office again some time?”

“Any time you want to Jasper – you’re always welcome here. Bye.”

She was a bit taken aback as Jill didn’t follow them out but lingered and actually shut the door behind them. “Would you have a minute?”

“Umm … yes…” wondering what Jill might want.

“I’m actually glad Jasper disobeyed and went wandering to find you. That gave me the opportunity to meet the woman my two men are so infatuated with…”

“Ughugh?” she raised her eyebrows.

“I don’t think I’m telling you a secret if I say that Jasper adores you. Little males at his age fortunately still are very open in displaying their emotions…”

Louisa had to smile. “Those emotions are reciprocated – I adore Jasper too. You’ve got a great boy – so bright and interested.”

“Thank you. But I’m here because I’m worried about my other boy…. He’s Jasper’s exact opposite, doesn’t acknowledge his emotions at all…”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t see how I can help though, since I don’t know your other boy.”

“Of course you know him … I’m talking about Henry …,”

“Oh..”

“Sorry,” Jill sighed and shrugged. “This is a stupid idea – to talk to you. I mean … you’ve got your own obligations and commitments here in the firm, are engaged…”

“Would everybody please stop going on about this blasted, made-up engagement?” Louisa felt something inside her snap, not knowing why she was venting on Jill, who was non-involved.

“You’re not engaged? Not to one of the partners?”

“I’m not engaged, never have been and never will be! Not to Ryan Hannerston or anybody else! No idea who started this stupid rumor – I only wish everybody’d stop pestering me with it!”

Jill beamed at her in what she considered a most inappropriate response. For someone who’d known her for only fifteen minutes it was a bit steep to show such obvious delight that a person like Louisa naturally was not engaged. “I can understand you want such a rumor stopped. That must be very annoying.” Taking a deep breath she continued: “That does make it easier for me to speak to you about Henry. He’d probably kill me and feed me to Tata if he knew what I was doing, but I’ll do it nevertheless…”

“Do what?” she was getting a splitting headache and only wanted to be alone.

“Talk to you about Henry, his feelings and interests – and ask you to help.”

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to help – Henry won’t even talk to me since we’re back from Florida, this whole investigation here has started…”

“As I said, I’m aware Henry wouldn’t want me to talk to you – but I have to. He’s the most important person in my life, next to the children. I want him to get the personal and professional happiness he deserves. Right now I fear he’s in the process of ruining both.”

“Again – there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Yes there is. Henry doesn’t talk to you because he believes you’re engaged to one of the partner’s. He’s consumed by jealousy because he’s in love with you. Has been for months, from what I could figure out right since you came into his office. I’ve never seen him like this before, having feelings for a woman he can’t hide or suppress. I know I shouldn’t be telling you this …. but I hope you’d understand… and maybe ”

Louisa glared at her, nausea rising. Who was coming up all these perverted stories to torture her? Having someone tell her that guy x or y or z loved her … but wouldn’t tell her himself? What kind of cruel psycho trick was this? Ryan had just been friendly to her like he would be to a pet dog …. And Henry … well he’d been a good colleague, who’d succumbed to SUI – screwing under the influence - because she was the only object available… Looking at Jill, standing there all slim and pretty, who probably didn’t have the faintest notion, what it was like to constantly be put down, disrespected, emotionally abused for being a fat woman, talking about love … the tension of the past days cracked and pushed open the flood gates. She closed her eyes, but too late, the tears were already pouring.

“Are you okay? I honestly don’t want to trouble you …. And I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t so important. There is nothing I can say or do to get Henry to talk about his emotions – but maybe I can at least convince you to…”

“Convince me of what? Henry doesn’t talk to me anymore … he’s accused me of low morale and legal standards …. Why should he listen to me? What should I tell him anyway?” she sobbed, rummaging in her handbag for tissues. Jill couldn’t possibly suspect she had an unrequited crush on Henry, could she? Like reading her mind…

“I’m very sorry to hear that. He has been beside himself for some time. While you had an office together, you seem to have gotten along with Henry pretty well. That Jasper – who’s normally very skeptical of adults – is so taken by you speaks totally in your favor. Henry was so happy on your business trip to Florida…,” remembering the peaceful, sunny days of normal run of the mill legal work there, with pool side breakfasts, Henry smiling at her over the table – contrasting this with the in every respect dreadful situation in the office right now made new tears start flowing. “So I thought … well … if you at least saw him positively as a colleague, whether you could talk to him about not leaving the firm…”

“Henry is leaving the firm..?” Currently the only news must be bad news. Why would she want Henry to stay if he didn’t talk to her anymore?

“I fear so. He can’t handle the crush he has on you, even though things might get better if you tell him you’re not engaged to one of the partners. He also fears he won’t be made partner, given the turmoil you seem to be going through here right now. And he has another offer here in DC – which I fear wouldn’t be good for him professionally. Could you please talk to him, encourage him to stay?”

“Mommy, why are you still here? Henry and I wanna go home!” Jasper barged into the office, and through the open door Louisa could see Henry standing there, irritatedly blinking at her as he saw Jill’s guilty look and the tears streaming over her face.
 

fatmac

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This is becoming my soap opera addiction...
Amazing writing. Thank you for the new chapter.
Mac
 

agouderia

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[Thank you for the praise. I hope this is getting to 'soapy' ;) ]

Communicative Crossroads

“Louisa – why’re you crying? Are you sad?” Jasper asked in a small voice, letting her nod while blowing her nose. As Jasper started to move into the office, Jill shot him a warning look, so he grabbed the boy’s sweat-shirt hood and gently pulled him back, closing the door.

The scene they had walked in on left him as stricken as it had Jasper. “Can’t I go in? Talk to Louisa, try to make her smile again?”

“No Jas – Louisa needs some me-only time ...” he sat down on the sofa in the lobby with the boy on his knee. The constellation alarmed him too: Why was Jill talking to Louisa in the first place? What kind of talk would make her cry? He could only remember Louisa crying once, at the reception – he had never been able to figure out the exact causes for that either.

Jasper seemed to be thinking along the same lines: “Henry, why is Louisa crying? Did Mommy do something wrong?”

“No, Mommy probably is only trying to help Louisa,” he sighed. Knowing Jasper’s persistence, he’d have to find some convincing explanation to get him to let the issue go. “We have this big, very difficult case right now here in the firm. There’s a criminal investigation going on, you know the police have been searching our files, people have been arrested. That’s what making Louisa sad.”

“Will Louisa be arrested too?”

“No Jas, definitely not…,” his instincts told him Louisa would not get herself into such legal trouble, he couldn’t honestly see her that way, yet the thought alone frightened him.

“Why was somebody arrested? Did they kill someone?”

“No Jasper, nobody was killed. It’s more about …. I can’t tell you that. You know I’m a lawyer right`” Jasper nodded in understanding. “When I as a lawyer work with a client, what we work on, what we talk about must stay confidential – meaning we aren’t allowed to tell anybody about it.”

“Like keeping a secret?”

“Almost more than keeping a secret – really not telling anybody.”

Jill joined them and they drove home in silence. She was invited to a baby shower that evening so he was in charge of Jasper and Jacqui, giving her the time to dress up. First he took Jasper with him on his long evening walk with the dogs, get his mind off his visit to the firm and make sure he was really tired. Then he warmed dinner – home-made lasagna Jill hat pre-cooked with a salad he chopped up – before he ate with the two children, less than ever being able to stomach something. The day’s events once more had left the indigestible concrete sensation in his insides.

As he collected some of the kid’s toys in the back yard, Jill went to the car, all dressed up in a black mini-dress with high heels. Even he could tell it was pretty racy. “I always thought a baby shower was supposed to be a demure affair… you look really sexy…”

“Competition amongst mothers these days is stiff…,” Jill giggled, before she instantly went somber. “Henry, we couldn’t talk with Jasper around, but there’s one thing I need to tell you before I leave. Food for thought. You were wrong – Louisa isn’t engaged to this partner. She’s actually extremely upset that everyone believes she’s engaged. I would say she never even dated the guy. Think about how you’ve been acting,” getting in the car and heading off, leaving him standing on the lawn.

“Uncle Henry, Jasper stole my tooth paste!” Jacqui’s wail roused him considerable time later from his freeze, made him go inside to put the two to bed.

The next hour he spent in a schizophrenic state: Half his brain was going through the motions of bringing first Jacqui, then Jasper to bed, with brushing teeth, wrestling into PJs and reading bedtime stories. The other half of his brain was digesting Jill’s information – Louisa was not engaged to Hannerston, not engaged, not engaged, not engaged….. the phrase must have run through his head a thousand times before it sunk in.

As he returned to clear the kitchen, it was as if the lights were brighter, the ceiling higher – and suddenly he was ravenously hungry, like he hadn’t been in weeks. While stacking the dish washer, he re-heated the half full pan of lasagna, poured himself a glass of Chilean red and greedily started plowing his way through the stack of pasta and vegetables as soon as it was hot. It tasted so good, with fresh herbs and creamy sauce, pure warm comfort sliding into his stomach. As two-thirds of the portion was gone, he knew this would never be enough to satisfy his raging gargantuan appetite; he could devour the world, preferably of course starting with Louisa. But right now the Premium Mixed Grill Platter from the local Balkan grill, which normally fed the whole family, would have to do – he ordered it along with their dessert special.

With a soft growl he sunk his teeth into a thick piece of meat after it arrived, catching the juice with his tongue, reveling in the primal pleasure he had missed for weeks. He didn’t want to even try and analyze why simply the information that Louisa wasn’t engaged brought on such tremendous, physically palpable relief paired with carnal hunger. The steady stream of food he was ingesting made his gut swell, the initial softness giving way to a domed hardness, a most delectable sensation he didn’t realize how much he’d missed it. The final bites of the super-sized grill platter were accompanied by the benign pain of an overloaded stomach, which he patted soothingly, grateful that he had changed into sweats. Arching his back for comfort so his bloated belly stuck out even further, a swaying colossus in slow-motion before him as he waddled to bring the debris of his feast out into the trash so Jill wouldn’t see it right away.

Massaging his gut, he knew he shouldn’t eat anymore – but the temptation of sweet satisfaction was far too strong. Taking the dessert platter with its large assortment of miniatures – éclairs, baklava, walnut-honey rolls, brownies – to his study along with a pint of strawberry cheesecake ice cream to make it slide down more smoothly. He settled at his desk with the chair in recline position and opened the secret Louisa picture file he had made. Some of them were official pictures from the firm, some he had secretly taken – particularly during their days in Florida. It hadn’t been easy, since she tried almost as hard as he did not to be caught on camera, insisting she was not photogenic. But he had gotten pretty good at covertly taking snap shots of her when she was distracted, many of them truly more lovely than when she was posing. Like the one he was eying now, where she was licking ice cream on the beach, a drop escaping onto her cleavage.

Of course he didn’t have pictures of their night together – but fortunately Rubens had anticipated that centuries ago as he had painted his ‘Anjelica’. Popping a mini-baklava into his mouth followed by a spoonful of ice cream, he pulled up his t-shirt like Louisa had done; someday might even do again on some business-trip, since she wasn’t engaged. Very slowly he started teasing his fingers into the thick, soft flesh of his belly, mobilizing it, so it first only vibrated, then jiggled over the hard gorged sphere of his stomach. She had done that too, as she had fed him pizza – it had been a first. Although he was used to his body, hadn’t known it without extra weight and squishy-ness to it, before Louisa’s touch he had never imagined its abundance could be a source of sensual gratification. His fingers now tried to imitate her motions, rolling a bulge, jouncing some fat until the entire belly wobbled, small spasms emanating because it was so packed. Fingering further down, he toyed with his twitching manhood, closed his eyes and conjured the fantasy; this was Louisa satisfying him between those beautiful breasts of hers. He continued to mimic her technique of exciting him, alternating between teasing hard and withdrawing until he came spasmodically, his release draining him and his flab wobbling at length, echoing his pleasure.

Exhausted he somehow made it to bed, lying there, cradling his crammed stomach to sleep, satiated as can be, images of Louisa drifting through his mind with an uncomfortable subconscious twinge that he had overlooked something.


Waking up the next morning, it instantly hit him what he had blocked out last night in his overfed erotic haze: Louisa might not be engaged, but she certainly was still angry at him. No wonder – he had behaved as jerk-like as possible lately. And she continued to work on saving Hannerston’s ass, so no chance she’d cozy up to him again like in Florida anytime soon. That remained a wishful day dream. What within the next hours would materialize as torturous reality though was Jill giving him a talk – she didn’t tell him he was wrong, needed to think about something without having an agenda.

For breakfast he only had some yoghurt since he was still so full from last night, but Jill didn’t say anything. She only sent him off to hunt for and buy a Christmas tree: “We’re late as always, it’s only 10 days off. See what you can find. Uggggh … shoot – I forgot I promised to make a cake for tomorrow’s Christmas party of Jas’ soccer team….”

Wound up in his hopeless obsession with Louisa and the crisis at the firm, the holiday season had so far bypassed him even more than usual. True they’d had a turkey for Thanksgiving the week after he came back from Florida – but since they lacked a bigger family, these holidays remained minor affairs. Because of the HermesShield mess, seasonal festivities be it Hanukkah or Christmas had been called off at the firm. Palmer had said he wanted to make up for it with a major New Year’s reception, but that depended on the outcome.

Searching for a nice fir tree that might meet Jill’s design requirements, he had to remember that one reason why Christmas was so muted for them was that Mimmy had died a week before the holiday. She had made them swear holy oaths they’d celebrate, have a Christmas tree. So it was the day after the funeral, Christmas Eve, in a raging snow storm as he had set out to fulfill the promise, bought a tree, Jill decorating it in tears. Since then, they waited with the tree until Christmas Eve, leaving it up until January 10th, Mimmy’s birthday.

On Sunday around lunch they went off to the soccer club’s Christmas party, starting out with a match parents against children, where he played as a mostly unemployed goalie – in contrast to overworked Jasper on the other side. The parent’s team included some seriously ambitious fathers from several European embassies who had played their entire lives, beating the children 19:1, despite Jasper’s best efforts. This lead to an uncomfortable coaching and parenting discussion from which he did his best to get away by starting to throw sticks for impatient and bored Tata. He remained in sight, but was far off at the edge of the woods as Jill caught up with him.

“Smart move, using Tata’s antics to get away,” she grinned as the dog nudged her fondly in greeting, tail wagging. “It’s great Jasper loves playing soccer so much – but I’ll never be a soccer mom!”

“Yeah – that coaching rant was too much for me!”

“I know, you’ve got a lot of other things on your plate right now,” Jill linked arms with him. “Thank you for coming, for playing on the team and for making the effort of finding a really pretty Christmas tree for us though…”

“Least I could do. Ummm … one thing though … I’ve forgotten presents for the kids. What shall I go get next week?” mentally making a note to also remember a gift for Jill herself.

“I’ve taken care of that. Remember Jasper wants to attend that summer soccer academy in England? The trip is our present – that’s definitely big enough. And for Jacqui the little girl’s bike – I can understand she doesn’t want to use Jas’ old one.”

“I’ll pitch in of course.”

“Sure…. hhhmmm … you know Christmas is the season of love and forgiving? There’s one more thing you need to take care of before the holiday….”

“Ummghhh” … here it comes, he thought with dread.

“What I said the other night, that Louisa isn’t engaged …. “

“That isn’t exactly bad news … but what’m I supposed to do about that?” he muttered.

“You should apologize to her!”

“Apologize?”

“Yes – good old plain apology! Like – ‘Louisa, I’m really sorry I’ve been giving you a hard time, have been unresponsive. It was stupid, you gave me no reason. Can you please accept my apology, let us be good colleagues and maybe friends again?’ How does that sound?”

It sounded like just the thing he wished he could say, see Louisa smile sweetly in response. “I can’t say that, she won’t listen, won’t believe me, she’s really angry at me…”

“No she isn’t…”

“How do you know? And why did you talk to her in the first place? That’s none of your business!” Feeling corned, he realized how annoyed he was by Jill’s interference.

“I was in her office looking for Jasper when Clayton came with papers on that nasty case you have. She isn’t angry. She seems mainly sad and hurt, Jasper saw that correctly. Everything that’s going on – that awful investigation, all of you going on about some engagement behind her back, that’s been getting to her. So I think she’ll take kindly to a sincere apology, a sign of friendship…”

“ I can’t….”

“Yes you can. Apologizing to Louisa will get you much further than agonizing over her and using her pictures as wank fodder …”

He stared at her, so mortified he had trouble breathing. Jill wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay Henry … I came home early Friday night… we all need our outlets, everybody does that, you don’t need to be embarrassed,” rubbing the side of his belly, before she grinned wickedly. “Actually I kind of appreciate it you use classic nudes instead of crude internet porn… shows you even believe in cultured masturbation…. That blonde does look a lot like Louisa…” she hugged him tight. “Go to her, say I’m sorry…. See what happens….”

“I don’t know …. Don’t think I can …. with Hannerston and HermesShield …. You know I can’t … don’t … shouldn’t …. Yeah too much emotional involvement….”

“Henry, constantly repeating nonsense doesn’t make it any less nonsensical!”

“Sorry, I’ll try again, be more articulate…”

“Not how you said it, what you said,” Jill gave him a small shake. “You keep going on about not wanting emotional involvement, not acknowledging you have emotions …. That’s all nonsense. I know few guys you’re as emotionally involved as you are….”

“That’s not true… I never…”

“Just because you avoid dating and love affairs doesn’t mean there’s no emotional involvement in your life. What would you call what you’re doing for me and the kids? The amount of love and commitment that shows? Few men would do that.”

“That’s not the same, you’re family…”

“Family is a relationship with an emotional base, Henry. What you need to make it work is not that different from what it takes for a good couple relationship…”

“Yeah – until it falls apart…”

“Any relationship can fall apart Henry, don’t be so bull-headed. Just because you haven’t seen too many functional couples in our family doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you find the right person..,” Jill noticed he wanted to protest again so she clapped her hand over his mouth. “You’ve finally stumbled upon someone who has touched you so deeply that even you can’t deny it. Louisa seems like a genuinely sweet person, worthy your attention and emotional investment. Alone that Jasper is so smitten by her speaks in her favor. Remember – he’s the kid who finally grudgingly accepted 2 out of a pool of 37 baby-sitters we introduced him to?”

He nodded with a weak grin. “Hmmh .. Jas is tough on adults…”

“See –you can trust his judgment. Promise me you’ll at least apologize to Louisa, make sure you get back to friendly work relations? And don’t reject moving on from there! You’ll regret it if you don’t!”

“Promise..” he muttered.

“Now while we walk back – tell me more about your colleague Clayton. What kind of guy is he?” waving to Jacqui who came running in their direction.


As much as he tried to pass off what Jill had said as her romantic streak, his mental as well as his emotional recesses reluctantly conceded she was probably right. Louisa had touched something in him, made him envision things as desirable that had never come up for him before. He could see her as part of the family, his logical addition, baking cup cakes with the kids, having brunch out on the porch in the summer, snuggled in his arm retiring to his bedroom, being loved and welcomed. Warmth and longing ran through him whenever these images appeared before his inner eye.

On the other hand, cold dread shook him at the thought Louisa might give him a try, only to realize after some time that he was too screwed up, too complicated, too fat, too ugly, too boring, whatever for her lovely self. Then she’d cheat on him, dump him – and the entire mess he’d always witnessed would start again. Or the much more obvious outcome that she’d respond coldly to his apology, not want to hear him out, being too offended by his behavior.

Notwithstanding that he dreaded her potential negative reaction to an apology of his, he knew that for simple professional reasons he needed to get back on good speaking terms with her. Over the next few days he mentally rehearsed several apology speeches, thought of inviting her to lunch or coffee, but somehow the right moment never came. He had no less than 9 versions of an apology e-mail&invite in his draft folder, tried to come early to meetings to speak beforehand with her, only for her to be late. Or when he spent an entire meeting summoning up the courage to talk to her afterwards, there was always someone who by-passed him to get her into a conversation.

In one of the meetings discussing the legal fall out of HermesShield for the firm, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. As befitted the season, she was wearing a burgundy velvet jacket, which blended with her soft skin, making her look all glowing, a matching lipstick making her eyes wide and bright. The jacket strained a bit over her bust, every once in a while offering peeks at luscious flesh in black lace. That she kept twirling a strand of hair that curled itself over her temple to push it behind her ear irritated him even further – he knew how captivating those thick, silky strands felt between his fingers. As she looked up, seeing him staring at her, she turned away with such a hurt expression, it killed off all his resolve to deliver his apology in person.

Instead he went to the – according to Melissa – best flower shop and after surveying plants for over half an hour he decided on a blooming camellia in an elegant silver planter. The full blossoms in various shades of pale pink, abundant yet delicate looked like a good match for Louisa. The day before Christmas he put it on her desk in the morning along with a written apology, wishing her happy holidays and hoping for a fresh start in the New Year.

On Christmas Eve he found a pretty card with a picture of some Christmas illumination in a quaint old town on it along with a glass of homemade apple preserve: “Thank you for beautiful camellia and holiday wishes. A wonderful Christmas for you and Jill with the children – hopefully the New Year will truly bring us all here a fresh start.”

Given the ongoing investigation, the firm hadn’t even shut down between Christmas and New Year as usual, only the colleagues who had family far away were granted a few days off. So he too was using the quiet days in between to clear his desk as he was surprised to be summoned by Palmer to his office for tea.

“Mr. Conrads – I assume you know why you’re here?”

“End of the year – performance review? I know the usual bonus talks have been suspended.”

“Performance review falls a little short. Actually I would like to offer you Hannerston’s position as equity partner in the firm.”

“When you least expected it…” he whispered to himself.

“No matter what the exact outcome of this HermesShield – MercuryScutum affair is – Hannerston can no longer stay partner. In hindsight it was a mistake to bring him in so young and inexperienced … but his uncle, you know,” Palmer sighed and sipped his tea. “I should’ve known better, I should’ve made the young talent I know partner instead. But you were really a bit too young – although you’d already proven yourself well with your rare tax expertise by then…”

Not knowing what to say or whether he was supposed to say anything at all, he drank more tea too and ate at least four cookies before Palmer addressed him again. “So – what do you say?”

Since a response seemed to be expected: “I’m honored I’m being considered. Naturally other circumstances would’ve been more agreeable.”

“You’re not being considered – you’re the only one who’s getting the offer. Either you take it – or we’ll have an equity partner vacancy.”

“Does that mean an up or out for me?”

“No, not necessarily. Myself and the other partners would understand it if you would like to wait a little, don’t take on actual partnership until the HermesShield case is resolved. But don’t come with excuses like you’re not ready for partnership yet, for the responsibility – because that’s bullshit!”

“What about the capital contribution?”

“Right now I can’t tell you exactly how much that would be. The Hannerston case also showed us we should come up with a more stretched out payment mode – we’re working on that. We would also consider the new clients you’ve brought in the past two years. I don’t think it would be beyond your means to raise the required sum.”

“You know sir I’m inclined to accept, this has been my goal for a while …. Right now it comes as a real surprise, so I need time to think about your offer.”

“Take your time. I would like an answer until the New Year’s Reception – which won’t be before end of January though. Because then we’d like to announce it.”
 

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