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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

PRIDEFUL PAST

by Karen Wallace-Shephard

    Liza Pennfield leaned against the thick glass of her office window to gaze out over the bustling city below. She let her cheek slightly touch the pane hoping the coolness of the glass would ease the headache. She should be reviewing her notes again, but decided instead to give herself these few brief moments before the meeting. The chill of winter against her skin soothed the migraine and she sighed. Why couldn't the corporate world be less cut-throat, she wondered?
    She raised her head to glance out over the streamline of buildings and caught the weariness of her own reflection. "Buck up, Pennfield," she chastised out loud. "Two more hours and it'll be over." She watched the gloom of her eyes perk slightly in the disciplined fashion she expected from herself. The frown of wrinkles eased out of her forehead and the rest of her facial lines relaxed as she took a couple of steadying breaths.
    Although Liza would never consider herself beautiful, she worried from time to time that the high pressure job she chose would one day lead to a haggard look - making her old before her time. She appreciated the punch her petite form gave to her short body and it didn't hurt that mini skirts were a personal favorite. She could show off her legs whenever the whim hit. All in a controlled attempt to remind herself that she could be feminine and she wasn't insensitive. She just had a crummy job to do.
    Liza turned to answer the quiet buzz of her intercom. "Yes, Carrie?"
    "Mr. Holland and his attorney are here to see you."
    One more deep breath. "Show them in please, and hold my calls."
    Liza picked up her eyeglasses and positioned them not quite tight to the bridge of her nose. She picked up her notepad, shifted it to her left hand, then took two strides to open her office door. The two gentlemen appeared at the threshold.
    "Mr. Holland. Thank you for seeing me." Liza extended her arm towards Vessa Holland but allowed her gaze to quickly bypass his eyes to meet with the gentleman's behind him. Her stomach quickly revolted with swirls of panic and regret.
    She felt Mr. Holland's grip tighten. "I want to introduce you to my new council, Ms. Pennfield." His voice was bolstered with confidence. "This here is . . . "
    "Jeffrey Calder," she broke in coolly, hoping to mask her earlier surprise. "I didn't know you were practicing on this side of the continent."
    It had the effect she was looking for. Mr. Holland stepped back and turned to Jeffrey in shock. "You know each other?"
    Jeffrey sidestepped his way past Mr. Holland and shrugged awkwardly. "Ah, I guess the surprise is all the way around, Vessa. I hadn't caught onto Ms. Pennfield's name. She was a 'Kaines" the last time we spoke."
    Pushing back her glasses was a way of distracting her opponents, but at this moment Liza utilized it as a gesture to enable herself from having to keep eye contact with Jeffrey. "Gentlemen, please sit down. We have a lot of work to do."
    She might as well have slapped him, as coldly and with as much sting as she had two years before. She watched his calm, easy eyes turn cold and threatening. His voice remained level and firm. "Ms. Pennfield. You're quite correct. We do have a lot to discuss."

    "Can I get either of you some coffee before we begin?"
    Both men shook their heads as they settled into the plush chairs and opened their briefcases.
    Almost two hours later Carrie watched warily as Mr. Holland stormed out of the office with Jeffrey Calder close on his heals. Neither one spoke as they entered the elevator.
    It didn't take long for Liza to discard her shoes and lay down on the leather couch. She opened one eye when Carrie tapped on the door and peaked around to find her. Liza watched the normally cheery secretary frown. "You've got to find another line of work. This one takes way too much out of you." She dropped her hands from her hips and walked into the small bathroom.
    Liza could hear the water running. "I think if you push a little harder today I might just let you talk me into it." She moaned in grateful relief as a cold compress covered her eyes and eased the pressure of the migraine, now in full bloom. "Oh, Carrie. What would I ever do without you?"
    "You'd probably go crazy and have a nervous breakdown. That is if the ulcer doesn't get you first. Bad meeting, huh?" Carrie wheeled over a chair and slipped off her shoes so she could place her feet on the coffee table. The two had been working together for two years now and Carrie was twenty years older than Liza's thirty-one. Carrie not only kept pace with the rigors of executive corporate life, she maintained a nurturing, maternal manner that gave Liza the stamina to face her daily obligations. A weary huff of laughter confirmed Carrie's statement.
    "Yeah, you could say that. Mr. Holland doesn't like me very much."
    Carrie crossed her feet. "Liza, here's a news flash. He's not supposed to. You work for the enemy."
    "I know. I just hate it so damn much." Liza pulled the cloth off her eyes and strained to sit up. "Everything we do is legal, but I hate that I have to violate honest, hardworking men like Vessa Holland to make a living. He doesn't stand a chance against Broadview."
    "Mr. Broadview's really putting the squeeze on this one?"
    Liza set the cloth on the table, then as if realizing it might harm the surface, snatched it back up and stood to pace. "I'll say. He wants this cleaned up within two weeks. That's pushing beyond arrogance. I'll have to work night and day to make this happen."
    "You mean we'll have to work night and day," Carrie corrected in her matter-of-fact way.
    Now the laughter did escape, along with a bit of relief. "Thanks, Carrie. I can always count on you." Liza tossed the cloth into the bathroom sink. "Okay, take off. It's going to be a long week starting tomorrow."
    Carrie stood and gave a mock salute. "You're the boss. Need anything before I go?"
    "No, thanks. Give the mongrel a pat for me." She gave a reassuring smile in reference to Carrie's terrier dog.
    "I will. See you in the morning."
    Liza waited until she heard the elevator door close behind Carrie before she slumped back into her chair to rethink the meeting. She closed her eyes in silent meditation, trying to find a way to get out of this particular buyout.
    Jeffrey had made the difference. Anyone else and she would have had the particularly ugly details wrapped up today. But, she couldn't bring herself to pull out all the stops. She couldn't bear to show him how callous and unyielding she had become.
    The muffled ring of her private line jolted her thoughts. "Yes. Liza Pennfield."
    "How did it go?"

    "Oh, Mr. Broadview. Good. I'm confident we can meet your deadline." He always preferred short, curt reports.
    "Excellent. I'll keep in touch."
    She hung up the phone and leaned her head toward her desk to rub the ache across her neck.
    "The door was open," Jeffrey said quietly. She jerked her head up to see his eyes evoke the tenderness she'd always admired in him. Calm, lingering - beautifully sensual eyes that more than once had her at a loss for words. "You look as though you've had a rough day. Buy you a drink?"
    "Jeff. I thought security would have locked up by now. I didn't hear the elevator."
    He walked over and sat down. Only self discipline contained her urge to squirm under his scrutiny. "It's nice to see you too, Liza. I think we should talk."
    Her mind raced. If I'm cool to him he'll leave, she thought silently. "Jeff. I don't think it's a good idea for two opposing attorneys to be meeting after hours."
    He sat forward and she thought she'd hit home when the frost covered his eyes again. "I don't really give a damn about after hours. Liza. You walked out on me two years ago, changed your name and by the looks of you, have physically worked yourself into the ground. I think you owe me an explanation."
    She swallowed hard and drew back from the desk. Pride stiffened her voice. "Well. Thank you for coming all this way to comment on how badly I look. I feel much better knowing it isn't just me who thinks I look like hell."
    Impatience edged into his face. "Don't try to turn this around. You've got shadows under your eyes. You must be at least twenty pounds thinner than the last time I saw you." He turned away as is trying to get a grip. "My God, Liza! What is so wrong that you're doing this to yourself?"
    The torment was so close to the surface that she didn't know if she could contain the emotions battering her senses. "Jeff. I don't want to talk about this. Please leave." Liza turned to the window hoping he'd give up and walk out as she'd asked. She watched his reflection turn and begin a slow stride to the door. She lowered her head with relief and leaned into the glass.
    "No, I don't think so," he stated determinedly. "Not until I have my say."
    She turned to face him, knowing it was the only way to end it. She felt the anger and the frustration cut through her and a new torment gripped her. "You couldn't share whatever the crisis was back then. You wouldn't ask for help. You left without telling me where you were going. It wasn't fair, Liza! I would have helped and you shut me out. It wasn't fair to either of us."
    It was difficult keeping her voice level but pride was all she felt she had left. "I know I hurt you, Jeff. I'm sorry. But I can't change the past."
    "That's why I came back. We can't change the past but we do have a whole lot of control over the future." He took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck. His voice softened. "I'd like to spend some time with you. Let's see if we can figure this all out."
    Her eyes filled and she fought to keep herself in control. "Why are you doing this?" she croaked.
    He moved around the desk and took her face in his hands. "You are such a fool, Liza. You're intelligent, diligent and tough as nails, but you're blind if you can't see that I'm still in love with you. I was in love with you two years ago when you walked out and I couldn't deny it the second I laid eyes on you this afternoon. I won't leave without knowing this time."

    He lowered his mouth to hers, demanding and possessing her while overwhelming frustration poured from him. She struggled with the turbulent ache and need he pulled from her. Dazed and dizzy from thoughts whirling viciously in her head she yielded to the softening, gentle nips he traced over her lips as he pulled away. Ever so slowly he pulled back to search her eyes. She could do no more than let the tears flow and beg inwardly for strength. How could he still love her after everything she'd done? She clung to his wrists as if clinging to hope that maybe there would be a chance.
    "Talk to me, Liza. Tell me what happened."
    She felt weak and it was difficult to admit that she was vulnerable to his insistence. She tried to convince herself it couldn't be this easy. "Jeff, it's not that simple. There's so much to it."
    "We're lawyers, Liza. We know that everything is as easy or as complicated as we want it to be." He leaned back against the desk.. "Tell me."
    She turned back to the window wanting to keep a little distance between them. "When you and I were together I thought I could put my past marriage behind me. But I made a horrible mistake of not tying up the lose ends. Imagine a lawyer not filing for a legal separation or divorce. It wasn't until the creditors started calling that I found out Kevin had incurred a great deal of dept in both our names. I felt so stupid. He'd cleaned out the savings before we split, there weren't any investments left. The gambling had taken everything, and then some. Kevin wanted to declare bankruptcy. I wouldn't allow it."
    Liza sighed. "I finally kicked in - filed for divorce. Then I needed to bolster my income and I knew that corporate law was my best chance. I wouldn't make it your problem. That's why I left."
    She stopped talking and waited for his response. She felt his body position behind her and anguished at the touch of his hands on her shoulders. "You could have come to me. My God, Liza, it's only money. I would have helped." His hands tightened and she could hear the restrained anger in his voice.
    "It wouldn't have worked, Jeff. I couldn't ask you to bail Kevin out. It was my own fault. I knew he couldn't control himself. I should have protected my own interests and I didn't. It wasn't your problem." She felt the quick jerk to her body as her turned her around. There was no mistaking the anger fuming to be released.
    'I don't give a damn about Kevin! He was the weak one. He had no right to trap you that way. I can't believe you allowed this to come between us."
    "Jeff, you don't understand. We'd been together barely six months. I was still trying to get my feet back under me and I felt as though I'd failed him."
    Jeff interrupted her. "Failed him! You've got to be joking. The creep danced to the piper and left you to foot the bill. You didn't fail anyone." His speech became pitched and his hands were waving with his lecture. "Instead, you pick a fight with me and then take off. You didn't even give me the chance to tell you I loved you." He paused when he saw tears break through again but kept the slight space they'd put between them. He took a breath and continued with less harshness. "Did it work? Has corporate law been everything you wanted it to be?"
    Liza let the tear spill over and brushed it away. At least they could clear the air. "It worked. But, I hate it. Especially since Broadview took over INS Industries. It's my biggest account. His only ambition in life is to acquire other people's assets. He's a vulture." He looked back to her eyes and she watched the anger turn to tenderness and strength. It was enough to undo her and she couldn't contain the hurt any longer. "I'm sorry, Jeff. I really did think it was hopeless."

    He gathered her to him and let her cry it out. "Let me come back, Liza. I've never stopped loving you . I want to be a part of your life again."
    He sank his mouth into hers. Liza could feel the want and desire seep into every fibre of her being. With a last desperate effort to think rationally she pulled back from him. "Jeff. We have clients to think of. What will we do?"
    "I'm with a firm. I can have one of the partners take lead council and I'll advise based on the work I've already done. You can finish this and then decide what to do."
    Liza became very quiet - in awe that one day should make such a difference in her life. "When I finish this case I figured I could refinance - make things easier so that I could be more choosy about my clients. It could take some of the pressure off and I could enjoy my work again. I'm almost convinced it could work." She gave a cautious glance towards him. "There's never been anyone else, Jeff. I've missed you terribly."
    He looked to her reverently for a moment and she watched a slow smile cross his face. "I never doubted it for a minute," he boasted confidently. When she lifted an eyebrow he shook his head. "Okay, okay. I was scared stiff. But, that's the only admission you'll get out of me, councillor." He picked her up and hugged her fiercely. "Welcome back, Liza. I've missed you."
    She smiled nervously. "Thank you for coming back. I can't believe I let pride keep me away from you."

THE END

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