Shelli smiles at me out from under her hat. Not for the first time, her eyes remind me of hard blue marbles pressed into the chalk oval of her face. I set the tray down on top of the desk, needing to be free of the weight of it before it hits the floor.
“No problem,” I say, trying to mean it. “I have some things to catch up on, anyway.”
“See?” Shelli says, tapping your arm, flexing her red talons into the heavy wool of your coat.
She’ll need to change the color of her nail polish if the two of you continue to see each other. If she lasts longer than the ambassador’s daughter, or the dean’s wife, or the grad student with the white Jeep. Of course, the grad student was allergic to Leo and that was a problem. I remember running out of the office to buy Benadryl on more than one occasion when she was sneezing and puffy and miserable.
The two of you move toward the door. You open it with one hand and usher Shelli out ahead of you. I wonder if you will be in tomorrow, or if I should start cancelling your appointments in the morning. You have a meeting with the History Chair at 10 a.m.—he’s interested in pursuing a grant based on your findings in York.
At the last instant, you turn your great lion’s head back to glance at me. “Best cancel everything for tomorrow, Een,” you say. “Shelli says it’s getting nasty out there.”
Een—that’s worse than ‘Miss Harris,’ if possible. Sounds like a horse or a dog or a faithful old retainer, patted on the head or the muzzle for a job well done. Shelli says something, her voice carrying in from the landing, her tone unmistakable.
“Yes, coming, darling,” you soothe, smiling out into the darkness where she waits. Turning back to me you add, “If it’s not too bad in the morning, you might just come in and get those notes organized for the presentation at Carlyle’s.”
I nod, dismissed, and you are gone. The door settles back into its frame with a wheeze and a sigh, tired of being held open on its elderly hinges. I am drawn to the window, lifting one slat in the blind with one cautious finger, determined to see what I have no desire to see. Scarlet and cinnamon entwined, oblivious to the swirl of snow that dances around them and flashes diamond-bright in the glow of the lamps that line the street.
Nothing left for me but the Morris chair and my solitary tea. Three cups reflect the shimmering firelight, mocking me. I reach for my own, accidentally knocking over the one that I set out for Shelli. It falls, its amber-green contents splashing out in a wet fan to darken the priceless Khibiri rug under the desk. The cup lies unbroken in the midst of the stain, its wide mouth turned to me in a grin.
I look at the cup. The cup looks at me. I think of you, Gil, and Shelli, somewhere together, drinking a hot, fresh cup that some stranger brought to you in a new pot with no history.
Three strokes, with my whole heart and weight behind them, and the fireplace poker makes its own sort of history with Shelli’s cup. You’ll be picking china shards out of your precious Khibiri for years to come, Gil.
Leo appears atop your desk, sure paws unsure atop the sliding stack of papers and charts and notes. After settling his haunches on a diagram of some tomb, he raises one front paw, the white-toed one, and licks it round and round to his satisfaction before raising it to polish his mysterious ‘M.’ It looks more like a salute than his usual self-absorbed bath.