Frank takes Ralph Penwarren to visit his mother. Mable makes it very clear she doesn’t want Ralph staying in her room. Once again, Frank has to lay down the law with the obstreperous man. Afterward, he meets with Marka for lunch.
“Gotcha. As it happens, I’m an incredibly good cook. I have nothing to cook. . . ..”
“I’ll show you the grocery store while we’re out. There’s an IGA not far from campus. Close to your house. Nice place, by the way. Did you buy it?”
“I talked the guy into renting.”
“Must be nice! I looked at that place when I first came to town. It’s within walking distance, well built, roomy. . . . But he had his mind set on selling. I didn’t want to rope myself into a mortgage, so I looked elsewhere.”
“No offense, Frank. You don’t have what it takes to negotiate properly with Mr. Simpson.”
“Oh? So, my business savvy let me down, huh?”
“Has nothing to do with that. I have one thing you lack.”
She leaned back, shoving her chest forward provocatively. “Tits.”
He nearly ran a stop sign, admiring her firm, round breasts. “That’s—uh… two things that you have that I—don’t.”
“Good point.” She sat back, eyeing him curiously. “You okay?”
“I’m great! Couldn’t be better.” I could, but it would involve getting naked.
“You look ready to choke.”
He continued to sit at the stop sign. “You say that after what you just did?”
Marka frowned. “What’d I do?”
“The whole tits thing.” He motioned abstractly with his hand, raising and lowering it in front of her chest.
“Is that all? You act like you’ve never seen a woman’s chest before.”
“Untrue. More than a few times—just not so much here lately.” He mumbled as he made the turn into the restaurant parking lot.
Marka gazed at Frank’s profile as he concentrated on parking the car. Every line of his body was tense.
“Must’ve been quite a breakup,” she said quietly.
“It wasn’t good, that’s for sure.”
“Sometimes talking about it helps make it go away.”
“Not much gonna make this any better.”
“You remember that I’m a trained psychologist, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah. And?”
“I’m a good listener.”
“Thanks. Right now, all I want is some mushu pork.”
“It does sound good.”
He came around and opened her door. As he helped her out, Marka’s fingers lingered on his arm.
“I don’t mean to pry. You have the look of a man who needs to unburden.”
He forced a smile. “Maybe another time.” He didn’t feel much like unburdening to a woman he was interested in. Trained psychologist or not, he kept past relationships to himself.
“Mushu pork is calling.”
“Something like that.” He forced a smile.
They had a good time at lunch, finding that they had a great deal in common. By the end of their meal, Frank knew she also had a military father, a teacher for a mother and a younger sister, and loved rock climbing and rappelling.
“There are some great places to go around here. One of the guys who works in the kitchen has wilderness training. He’s cool. We’ve been out a few times. If you ever want to go, I’ll set it up.”
“I’d like that. Once I’m settled. Most of my stuff is in storage. Can’t go hiking and climbing without my gear.”
“Never let it be said I dragged a woman into the wilderness without her hiking shoes.”
He walked her to her office, saying a polite goodbye. He wanted to ask her to dinner, but thought that might be overkill. He wanted to kiss her, but that really wasn’t the way to go.
“We didn’t go by the grocery store,” she said as he was leaving.
“Totally forgot. I was too enthralled with the company.”
“I thought I’d cook you dinner. As a thank you.”
“I’d like that. We can head over after work.”
“Super. See you then.”
“If not before.”
Her eyes sparkled as she smiled at him. “That’s a given.”
The urge to kiss her was stronger by the minute. Mentally kicking himself into gear, he went to his office. A rude note from Ralph Penwarren was scrawled on his desk calendar. “Call me,” followed by a cellphone number.
Frank angrily jabbed the number into this phone, cursing vociferously as he waited for Ralph to answer. He figured it would be just like the man to insist he call immediately and ignore him when he did. He wasn’t surprised when it went to voice mail. He left a terse message and hung up.
Of course, once he was in the middle of something else, Penwarren called.
“Good, you got my message.”
“Don’t go in my office without my permission,” Frank countered. “Don’t leave messages on my desk calendar and don’t treat me like a menial peon. No one on this staff is your servant.”
“I made eighty-five thousand dollars last year, Atherton.” As if that made any difference.
“I don’t have time to play games with you, Penwarren. Why did you want me to call?”
© Dellani Oakes