Big Talk, Real Slow

big.talk.real.slow@gmail.com

Preparing for Winter

“No, I’m getting this.”

He put his hand on her wallet, gently pushing it away. He took out his Platinum Visa. Overkill for two overpriced espresso drinks, Jill thought.

“I insist.”

He shook his head. “This is my treat. I feel bad. For having to cancel and reschedule.”

The two lattes came up on the bar and he grabbed both.

“Where to?” he said, and answered his own question by walking to a nearby table by the window.

Jill sat down and took her drink. She was rarely this far west. It was Stan’s idea, of course. Someplace out of the way. It felt too small, yet not intimate at all, with artwork that might work on the cold walls of a gallery, but died outside their habitat. The view of High Park, at least, made up for it. The strong winds were shaking the dead leaves from the trees and they raced in packs downhill, along the gutters. Fall was here.

“Horrible weather.” He said, sitting down.

“You know how you can spot an out-of-towner? He doesn’t complain about the weather.”

“If we’re not boiling to death, we’re freezing to death. Fall and spring aren’t seasons, they’re foreshadowing.” He tried a sip of his drink and winced. Too hot.

“Has it been so long that we’ve resorted to talking about the weather?”

Stan smiled and said, “No, it’s not that bad. How’s John?”

“Good. Good. He’s doing better.”

“He’s recovering?”

“Yes. It’s really…yes. It’s as good as it can get.”

“I’m sorry. For not being…available.”

“And how’s Karen? Does she still hate me?”

Stan made a face of mock surprise. “She doesn’t hate you. You’re bring overly dramatic.”

“Maybe.”

Stan blew on his latte. “Second wife syndrome. She doesn’t understand this, what we’re doing right now. She’s Catholic. Divorce in Latin means ‘scorched earth.’” The rattle of a spoon against the sides of a coffee mug.

“Next time you should marry somebody who can legally rent a car.”

“Oh hush. Does John worry about us seeing each other?”

Jill gave a little laugh. “No. He’s fine with it.”

“Does he talk to his first wife?”

“No. She’s Catholic too.” She took her first sip of the latte. She grabbed sugar off the centrepiece made to look like a flower, each packet a petal. She looked around at the other tables. Everybody else was younger, much younger. Some with kids, some were kids. Stan and Jill were in full business armour, downtown warriors, and everybody else was casual Friday. “This is a nice place.”

“Yes. Julian was thinking of applying here a few months ago.”

“What? Julian? Our Julian?”

“Do you know what they’re calling it? A quarter-life crisis. Too many choices, too many opportunities, and you’re frozen with indecision. That’s what he told me. With a straight face.”

“And what did you say?”

“Have you tried convincing that boy of anything? He gets his stubbornness from you. Thankfully, they didn’t hire him, and I got him that internship. My original point: I like the atmosphere. It’s a nice change from the park. It’s all just children and roving bands of power walkers there. This place maintains a healthy balance.” He took a another sip of the drink, and managed to not burn himself.

“I’m sorry. About Karen. I’m sure she is lovely. I wish you didn’t feel the need to play these cloak and dagger games to have a coffee with me. It’s disrespectful to her and it’s disrespectful to me.”

“Disrespectful?”

“You’re turning me into a secret. It’s not as flattering as you think.”

“I feel like we should change the subject.”

It wasn’t worth the fight. Jill knew better and conceded, giving a casual shrug.

Stan adjusted his seat. “How’s the new job? Julian told me you switched roles.”

“Not so much switched roles. I just…wasn’t going to get further.”

“Oh, don’t give me that glass ceiling bullshit. ”

“Alright, Stan, if it makes you feel better. Five years as a senior project manager with no movement and nowhere to go. It was time to branch out.”

“Consulting?”

Jill nodded. “Richard Barnes, remember him?” Stan nodded. “His firm was looking and we kept friendly after his split.”

“Tactical.”

She shrugged. “Necessary.”

Stan’s eyes tracked somebody behind her and Jill wondered what she looked like.

“And how are things in the world of high finance?” She asked.

“When the inquisition comes, I’ll be fine, but who knows about the company.”

“Skeletons in your closet?”

“I don’t mind if they find those. The whole place is built on an ancient Indian burial ground. I keep hearing these horror stories, like that JP Morgan loss, and a year ago I’d say that we weren’t going to be like that, but, Jesus, some of these kids they’re hiring. You’d think, in a recession, with a employee pool that is swelling daily, we could find somebody who doesn’t need to do simple arithmetic on their fingers. If the company lives much longer than I do, then truly, it was too big to fail from the start. There will be no trace of how I do things: It’s changing.”

“Now who’s the one being dramatic?”

“Maybe. How are you liking the coffee?”

“It’s good. Honestly, I’ve been trying to cut back.”

“So have I.”

They each took a sip of their lattes. Stan took his Blackberry out, looked disappointed and slipped it back into his pocket.

Jill broke the silence. “Going grey may have played a part in it. The consulting, I mean.”

“I knew it.”

“Oh, of course you did.” But she smiled all the same. “Kathy, one of the leads under me, saw it one day when we were out to lunch. She said it made me look more authoritative. What was it she said…’When you go grey, the men working for you will tug on your skirt instead of try to get under it.’”

“You still look wonderful, Jill.”

“Thank you Stan, but I wasn’t fishing.”

“You should learn to take a compliment.”

“And you should learn to keep them to yourself every once and a while. It would save you a world of trouble.”

Stan laughed. “You’re probably right. I don’t disagree. About the consulting. It does sound like a good fit.”

“It’s something. And, for now, I’m enjoying it. Are you planning on staying with your sinking ship?”

“Ummm…” Stan placed his latte down and looked down at the table. “Things are going to…well…something’s come up that…that changes things.”

Jill leaned forward and hunched down. In a half-whisper she said, “Is everything alright?”

Stan smiled. “Karen’s pregnant.”

“Oh.” And Jill’s face froze, for a second, and she knew that a second was all she had. She smiled, quickly. She was going to be happy for him. “That’s…wow. I didn’t…know you were planning to…”

“Yes. Well. You know. She loves Julian but—”

“Of course. Of course.”

“We’ve been trying. And. Well. Yes.”

Jill grabbed the mug with both hands and brought it up to her mouth, taking a small sip, but kept the mug close.

“How far along is she?”

“Six months.”

“Soon. Very soon.”

She placed the cup down. It wasn’t jealousy. Jealousy lives in the shadows of passion and that had died a long time ago between them. And it wasn’t that she wanted a child either. She was happy: Happy for Stan and happy for Karen and happy she had Julian and happy she still had John. Her and Stan had been together most of their lives, as college sweethearts, as a couple, as parents, as divorcees, as old friends. They had survived the strain of it all, their friendship endured. Now, it was different. Their lives were no longer parallel, and he didn’t even realize it. 

“Are you going to wait, or do you already know what…it is?”

“A boy. He’s a boy.”

She knew the answer to her next question. “Do you have a name yet?”

“Yes. Stanley Jr.” And he smiled and didn’t notice the leaves fall from the trees behind him, but it was all Jill could see.