by Dorien Kelly
Cara’s Rule for Success #3:
Reasoned thinking must always prevail over impulsive behavior...unless you’re temporarily incapable of thought.
It was no tribute to self-restraint that Cara lasted until Saturday afternoon before she conducted a drive-by of her office. No, a killer harpy of a hangover, with its filthy, curved talons piercing the flesh of her skull and its foul breath curling down the back of her neck, had a lot more to do with it.
She couldn’t recall how much she had drunk the night before, except that she hadn’t stopped until the cranberry juice was exhausted. She had a blurry memory of scrambled eggs and chili-cheese fries with a far more sober Bri and her fiancé, Seth, at one of those all-night greasy spoons where the only things slower than the cooks are the waitresses.
She wasn’t certain when, exactly, Seth had arrived on the scene, but knew for sure that the enamored couple had taken her home, since they had also awakened her at nine this morning to return her car keys.
After they flitted off, she’d dragged her sorry, aching carcass back to bed for a party girl’s ménage a trois with a pitcher of water and a couple of aspirin as her companions. There was a reason she didn’t drink frequently: she was no damn good at it.
Just past three, Cara managed to shower without drowning, and then pull on her best pair of ripped-at-the-knees jeans, a T-shirt and the Spitfire cap her eight-year-old, skateboarder nephew had given her for her thirtieth birthday. She’d found the hat a lot more entertaining than the office her co-workers had filled floor-to-ceiling with black balloons.
Once she’d completed a mandatory stop at the dry cleaner’s to pick up half her wardrobe and drop off the other half, Cara headed north on Woodward, telling herself that she was just going for a relaxing drive. If it so happened that her randomly selected route took her past the imposing edifice of Saperstein, Underwood, it was mere happenstance.
Yeah, and she’d be singing backup for Aretha real soon.
As Cara neared her building, she asked herself a crucial question, one that should have occurred to her a good while earlier: Wasn’t there something the smallest bit sick in needing to see her office, if not actually be in it? She supposed there was, which meant she could always blame it on the hangover. Feeling marginally more justified, she flipped on her right turn signal and approached her brick-and-mortar security blanket.
In the lot were Vic Mancini’s Beemer and some cars she knew belonged to first-year associates. Among those, she still hadn’t bothered to sort out who owned what because they weren’t even blips on her "path to partnership" radar screen.
Cara slowed. Stewart Harbedian’s dark blue Mercedes was parked on the back side of the building, far from its usual spot of honor by the entry. Stewart was a partner in the finance practice group, which meant he was supposed to be a few hundred miles north in Bay Harbor, plotting the future of the free world.
Just the other side of Stewart’s car was the same black convertible she’d seen leaving the lot yesterday morning. She was sure of it; this wasn’t the sort of car you’d overlook. Cara narrowed her bloodshot and rather dry eyes.
Maybe this odd tingling she felt was an aftereffect of too much Aretha Franklin.
Maybe it was a harbinger of true craziness.
Or just maybe she had good instincts.
Whatever the reason, she pulled into the open spot on the other side of the sleek black car, and after glancing at the building to be sure nobody was watching her, switched off her Saturn and got out for a closer look.
"Michigan plates," she murmured. "No dealer tag." She ventured nearer, to see if any papers or other hints of ownership might have been left on the seats. No such luck. Anyone checking out her car would immediately know that she was addicted to tall lattes, alternative rock and Diet Coke. This piece of fine British machinery was cleaner than a surgical field.
Since it really needed a smudge of some sort to remove the pretentious aura, Cara touched the very tip of her finger to its shiny fender. Just then, the back door to the building slammed. Even her hangover-slowed neurons and synapses got the message. She jumped backward, but not with much grace. One foot tangled with the other and she staggered into the side of her own car.
"Oof," she grunted as her hip hit the passenger door latch. Arms flailing in a losing battle for balance, she brushed her hand against the front of her hat, knocking it crooked.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a stranger heading her way. Between the sun in her face and the fact that she remained pretty fried, she couldn’t see him too clearly. She needed to escape before she had to explain why she was skulking around his car. He was too close, though.
In a bad imitation of the already stupid Chicken Dance, she spun in a tight circle between the two cars. All the while, this little song played in her head, one with unimaginative yet heartfelt lyrics of ohcrap, ohcrap, ohcrap. Since there was no place to hide that didn’t involve crawling, she decided to take comfort in anonymity. She could just lie to him, hop in her car and drive off.
"Cara, is that you?"
Un-freaking-believable. Six years of peace, now this.
Before answering, she sent a desperate plea to Olympus that this man was a hangover hallucination. "Morgan? Mark Morgan?"
"Yeah." He pulled off his sunglasses and smiled at her. Bastard. His looks were as killer-handsome as ever. "It’s good to see you."
The do-over gods had obviously had one fine party themselves last night, because today they were total zip-heads. What had happened to the part where she was supposed to magically travel back in time? Huh? Would that be too much to ask?
Cara righted her cap, pulling it low over her eyes. "So what are you doing here, Morgan? Slumming?"
He didn’t answer immediately, which gave her some satisfaction. He glanced up at the building, then back at her. "Were you just headed inside?"
"Yes," she lied. "Yes, I was."
"Why don’t I join you? I think we need to talk."
Cara froze. The last time she’d heard the phrase we need to talk given in such dire tones was back when her college boyfriend had told her he was entering the seminary.
On top of that, even if she wanted to talk--which sounded about as appealing as licking the asphalt beneath her sneakers--the Saperstein offices remained strictly off-limits.
"I’m sure whatever it is can wait," she said while edging past him and working her way to the driver’s side of her car. At least she’d left her keys in the ignition. "I mean, we’ve gone six years without speaking to each other, so why start now?"
"Cara..." he said in a tone even darker than the one that had signaled priesthood.
If she were four years old, like her sister’s youngest child, she could plug her fingers in her ears and incessantly chant, "Can’t hear you . . . can’t hear you." To her deep regret, she was thirty and had already expended her dignity by snooping around his car, so she forced herself to stand tall and take it like a woman.
"I’m joining the firm," he said.
With no help from her brain, which had shut down, Cara’s lips tried to form an appropriate platitude.
"How- how nice for you," she finally managed.
She reached for her car’s door handle and pulled. Nothing happened. She gave it one more frantic yank.
Why did she have to be such a pathetic creature of habit? Always come to the office. . .
"I, ah, think the car’s locked," Mark said.
And always lock the car doors.
She could see the beginnings of a smile he was fighting to hide and hated him all the more for it.
"And it looks like the keys are inside," he added, gesturing at the ignition.
Somewhere just beneath the low rumble of a passenger jet cutting through the cornflower-blue sky overhead, Cara was quite sure she heard a pack of gods up on Olympus, laughing their asses off. And she had only herself to blame.
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