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I arrived late, as was becoming more my custom recently. It amazed me how comfortable I had become with me, not needing to be in the center of everything. The calm, the quiet sense of self had definitely grown on me in the past few years.
Looking in the mirror before getting out of the car I could see the difference. The light wisps of grey hair around the temples showed outside what I was feeling inside, I was growing wiser–some may say older, but I knew the truth. Age is a small price to pay for wisdom.
Walking into the crowded conference hall used to be so chaotic. Arriving early when the throngs of people were rushing to get registered, get their nametags and coffee and a donut was always so chaotic and frustrating. I enjoy it much more now, arriving after the “social hour”, having just a couple of minutes to mingle before the meetings began.
Today was no different, or so I thought. I picked up a stick on nametag, chuckling to myself at the memories of years going by. I remembered the times that I refused to be a part of the “lemmings” by wearing one, then making sure that my title was prominent for everyone to see. Today, I just wrote “TJ”, no title, no company, just TJ, after all that’s who I am. As I grabbed my cup of coffee I saw her, across the room… the long brown hair, the slim figure… it had to be her, but I couldn’t be positive. It looked like her, she was surrounded by a crowd of admiring men – that would have been typical – my military training took over, I had to know, but didn’t want to be foolish about it. Then I heard her laugh and she turned her head… our eyes met. It was her. Alex Kavenaugh, she who knew me better than anyone else, the woman who probably had more impact on my depth and maturity than anyone would ever know.
I walked over to where she was standing; the rest of the room seemed to fade into the background as she hugged me.
“TJ, it’s good to see you, it’s been a long time,” she said.
“It’s been too long Alex, way too long, time has been very good to you, you look better than ever.”
“Oh, time is nothing that a little exercise, a little discipline, and a good hair color can’t fix,” she said with her characteristic wit and flourish.
“Nonsense, you look wonderful. I didn’t expect to see you at this conference. If I had known you were going to be here I would have decided to stay instead of making the drive back to the city after tonight’s session,” I said.
“I thought that this conference could be helpful to the company, and I came along with the H/R team, probably to chaperone,” Alex replied.
Just as I was about to ask her if she had a chaperone with her to keep her out of trouble, the Conference Facilitator called our meeting to order and the crowd began to flow into the auditorium. I saw the look of curiosity in her eyes as I went to the platform and took my place with one of the speakers. As I was introduced Alex raised her cup of tea, Earl Grey with a touch of honey, Alex wouldn’t have been caught dead with coffee, and smiled.
I could only hope that I remembered what I had been preparing for the past week. She always did have a way to fluster me, damn woman.
Today was going to be one of those roundtable discussions with four of us speaking on leadership and ethics in business. Somehow in the past few years I had become one of those “talking head” experts that I used to despise so much. I’m still not quite sure how it started, an article for a journal, a couple of small consulting jobs, a speaking engagement in which a local newspaper reporter was there.
She was intrigued and wrote an article, fortunately leaving out some of the more personal details of our interview. The article got picked up by some magazine and suddenly here I was speaking at conferences of Business Executives, H/R people, government folks, university eggheads, eager students. I had to shake my head in amazement at the twists and turns of life that had brought me to this point, in this place, with her sitting in the audience.
Alex and I went back a long time. We had been friends in college. We were young, naïve, adventurous. She dated and ended up marrying my college roommate. He had been an avid hockey player, good enough to go to the NHL if it weren’t for injuries. We spent many hours sitting and talking as Mark practiced or traveled with the team. She would repair my broken heart, and chastise me for being a “player”, she would listen to me mourn my parents divorce and clean me up after a fight in a bar or too much bourbon.
I had been in the wedding party when he and Alex got married. I remember being surprised at how jealous I was when Alex started down the aisle.She was the woman I loved, and I could only love her from a distance. A couple of years after they were married, as I was visiting them on leave, I had probably had one too many Long Island Iced Teas I told her of my jealousy and I kissed her. Fortunately, I don’t think Mark ever found out, but I was so embarrassed I packed up the batıkent escort next day and headed back to Fort Campbell, promising myself that I would never interfere in their lives again.
Life went on its normal path, I back to the army, and they to their careers. I survived my injuries from Desert Storm, (plus the army put me through my PhD program), Mark didn’t survive the drunk driver. I wanted to be there for her, but my embarrassment and pride wouldn’t let me. I sent a card and flowers, but couldn’t bring myself to be there.
The presentation went well, as presentations go. It was probably a good thing that for most of the presentation that the lights were bright enough I couldn’t see into the audience. When they turned the lights down for audience questions I caught myself more than once being distracted by the beautiful lady sitting on the left hand side of the auditorium.
The group broke for lunch before we had an afternoon of small group workshops. I was casually preparing for the small group I was facilitating when she walked through the door and took a seat in the front row/center.
I looked up and smiled and she raised her hand…
“Yes,” I coyly asked, looking at her over top of my glasses with a sly smirk.
“Doctor, I’m not scheduled to be in this workshop, would you mind if I stow away here in front?”
“As long as you promise to behave and not be too disruptive,” I responded.
She crossed her long legs underneath her long woolen skirt; suddenly I was reminded that in her college days Alex was a bit of a snob when it came to her clothing. One night as we were sitting around watching some show on television she had said, “Panty hose? No real woman wears pantyhose… stockings and garters are the ONLY way to dress.” What a time for that memory to come flying back into focus from the recesses of my mind. Now, through no fault of her own, I was distracted, silently thankful that I was well hidden behind the podium in front.
“I promise to be a good girl, Doctor.”
Was she flirting with me? Was she wearing a ring? I had made these small group presentations hundreds of times, why was it so warm in here? Thankfully, the answers to my questions would have to wait as the registered part of the group began to arrive.
The presentation was an adventure. As I was trying to present some of my findings and thoughts I was continually interrupted by a woman who must have thought that she was the one being paid to be here. I tried, as politely as I was able to steer her disruptions back to the topic at hand, but she would have none of it. I could see by the look on Alex’s face that she was frustrated. I wondered if she were being protective, or just annoyed at the distraction. I secretly hoped she was feeling protective. Finally, my frustration got the best of me. I stepped away from the podium, took off my glasses and said, dripping with sarcasm, “Martha,” I began.
“That’s Ms. Banks,” she replied.
“Martha,” I continued, … obviously there is a grievous lack in my education and years of expertise. Since you seem to have a much better handle on the topic at hand, perhaps you would like to take over the podium and put some of your REPRESSED energy to work and enlighten the group? Assuming, of course, that the rest of the group has no problem with it.”
I calmly walked over and sat down next to Alex. “Well, Ms. Banks, the floor is yours…” She didn’t stir; she just glared daggers through me. Ms. Banks, you have paid your fees, and are entitled to be here, as are the others in this group. Since I can’t throw you out of here, if you continue to behave like a child then may I suggest that you can go stand with your nose in the corner.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she snarled.
“Wouldn’t I?”… “Now where were we? Ah, yes…”
As I looked at Alex I could see that her cheeks were flushed. Had I embarrassed her, yet again?
The rest of the presentation was routine except for the fact that I was nervous. Following the presentation as I was gathering my materials I looked up, hoping to see that Alex was lingering behind. No luck – as I looked up she was walking out with a couple of the guys from her firm. I shouldn’t have been surprised, she was here on business and I had been a bit harsh in the session. “Great job Blaine,” I muttered under my breath.
I tossed my stuff in my briefcase, grabbed my sport coat off of the back of the chair and headed for the door. “Ah well,” I thought, “I’ll grab dinner with the panel and drive back home and call it an early evening.” I started walking down the hall when I heard the group from Alex’s firm talking about plans for dinner and where they were all going to socialize afterwards. I didn’t see her with them, which was good. That way I could show up at the same social spot just by `coincidence’. There were times I loved the way my mind worked. I ran into Alex in the atrium and we shared pleasantries about how good it was to see one another and beşevler escort yes we would be here tomorrow and to have a great night. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. I think I may have actually blushed.
Dinner was a non event. The group talked and laughed. They got a chuckle out of my run in with Martha Banks, I’m sure wondering if the she-devil would be in there break out sessions tomorrow. Dinner broke up and Phil Johnson, Jennifer Webster and I decided to go to a local place to wind down. I quickly suggested that we go to Mycroft’s, which thankfully they agreed.
We arrived at Mycroft’s before the folks from TAK and Associates and I quickly found a place away from the entrance that was fairly dark and offered a great view of the entire place. Military minds always have a way of looking for a strategically beneficial place. The group ordered a drink and quickly engaged in small talk.
Alex walked in alone. She must be early. She didn’t see me sitting in the corner. It was fun to watch her. Professional, confident, relaxed, she oozed power. Of course I’d go talk to her in a bit, but for now watching the woman that she had grown into since college was fascinating.
There is only one problem with conventions and bars… that’s right, the bar trolls. It didn’t take long for a woman as beautiful as Alex to attract attention. She was holding her own… turning down numerous drinks and offers to dance. One table of guys was particularly interested in her and that aroused my suspicion. The boldest of the group finally approached her, she politely declined his advances. Maybe it was the peer pressure, maybe it was too much to drink, but he obviously didn’t like taking no for an answer. Phil and Jen were having their own conversation, of which I was oblivious.
“TJ, where are you going?” asked Jen.
Phil jumped up, “TJ, hello… what’s going on?”
I walked right past them, slowly walked up behind the Troll.
“Excuse me sir, what part of no don’t you understand? From where I was sitting it’s obvious the lady isn’t interested,” I calmly said.
His dominance had been threatened, as I knew it would be, he turned on me, sizing me up, “Look buddy, this is between me and the lady and you should learn your manners and not interfere.”
“Well now, it looks like we are having a communication problem, because I’m pretty sure I saw her declining whatever you are selling. Now, go back to your pack, let me buy you a beer, and you can find another damsel to charm.” By this time one of the guys from my Reserve unit, Kevin, who worked at the bar had wandered over. I leaned in close to Troll Boy, “Go on back to your friends, and don’t force me to embarrass you in front of this pretty lady and all your buddies,” I whispered.
“Maj. Blaine, is there a problem sir?” Kevin asked.
“I don’t think so Kevin,” I never took my eyes off of Troll Boy, “We don’t have a problem here do we?”
“No, no problem,” Troll Boy said as he sulked off to the table.
“Sir, I’ve got your six if they try to make trouble later.” Kevin said.
“Thanks Lieutenant, I appreciate that.” I said.
I turned to look at Alex whose cheeks were flushed again, she looked at me and smiled… but the smile dripped with ice.
“I don’t know whether I should thank you for rescuing me, or slapping you for thinking I need rescued,” she said.
“Alex, I didn’t think you needed rescued, I’m sorry you took it that way. Let me buy you a drink and I’ll head back over to the table with my friends. I just didn’t want to see you being harassed like that, my apologies.” I went over to Kevin, asked him to get her whatever she wants and headed back to Phil and Jen.
Alex reached out and touched my shoulder. “No, I’m sorry… I’m just not used to anyone standing up for me since Mark died, I’ve gotten along just fine and your appearance, the way you handle yourself… with that woman in the group, tonight with that guy… well it’s a little unsettling for me.”
I looked deep into her eyes. “I’ve missed you.”
She looked away and said quietly, “Me too.”
We spent the time until her friends arrived talking, catching up, and reminiscing. When the group walked in I smiled, took her hands, looked into her eyes and softly said, “Enjoy your evening with your friends, I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“Wait,” she said, “Don’t leave. Sit with us, invite your friends over.”
Looking at Jen and Phil I could tell that going back to that table would have been more of an intrusion than staying here. “Are you sure?”
Alex just nodded, took me by the hand and led me over to the table where her colleagues had gathered. Just to be ornery I stopped by the Trolls table and grabbed an extra chair. “Thanks fellas, doesn’t look like you’ll be needing this chair.” Alex laughed and rolled her eyes.
She introduced me to her co-workers, I found out that she had taken over the architectural firm that she and Mark had started years ago. The company ankara escort had grown and had quite a reputation especially when it came to designing medical facilities. I could tell that the folks that worked for Alex had tremendous respect for her. She was admired and trusted and that said a lot about her. I really enjoyed the time we spent. Even though I was one of the presenters at this shin-dig nobody at the table expected me to be working that night. As the evening got later Alex even drug me out on the dance floor once or twice.
Finally, I looked at my watch. “I really need to get going. I’ve got a 45 minute drive home, and have to be back here at 730 in the morning for round two. Thank you all for a wonderful evening.”
Alex looked at her watch and grabbed my arm. “Walk a lady back to the hotel first?”
I helped her on with her coat, she put her arm in mine and out we went. A long slow walk back to the Marriot. We entered the elevator and when the door closed I turned her to me and we kissed. Slow and sensuous… her head tilted back, my lips found hers, our lips parted and our tongues danced… she gently pulled my tongue into her mouth… I suckled on her lip… she tasted wonderful… she smelled wonderful… I struggled not to let my senses be overwhelmed.
Finally the kiss broke; she looked up at me, grinned and said, “A little different than stealing a kiss at the kitchen sink when Mark went to the bathroom.”
I stepped back as if she had slapped me, “Alex, I’m really…”
“Shut up and kiss me soldier,” she said as she touched her finger to my lips
“Alex,” I started to say again… “About that…”
“TJ, hush,” she said as she put her finger against my lips, “I need to confess that I wanted you to kiss me that day, the fleeting memory of that kiss has been in my memory for a long time. I know you were embarrassed, don’t be. I wanted it too, and besides that was a long time ago, now, are you a good soldier?”
“I can hold my own,” I said
“Then follow an order, shut up and kiss me.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I said, as I offered a mock salute, and we kissed again.
We reached her room; she found her key and opened her door. “I would ask you in, but…”
“No, not tonight. It wouldn’t look good to your employees knowing I walked you back and then I had to wear the same clothes tomorrow.”
“Then this must be good night…”, this time I put my finger to her lips.
“Get some clothes and come home with me…”
“I couldn’t… that wouldn’t be right… what if someone found out?” she was blushing, not just a little, but bright red.
“I understand,” I said, and I kissed her again.
She went into her room and closed the door, I walked down to the elevator and hit the button. My heart ached, the love that I had struggled so hard to bury years ago came rushing back. It took my breath away it hit me so hard. 10,11,12… here came the elevator. From behind me I heard a room door close… the elevator doors opened and I stepped in.
“Hold the damn vator!” came the cry from around the corner.
My face lit up like a Christmas tree, “Haven’t heard that comment since…”
“College”, came the reply from the tall red headed woman with a duffle bag slung over her shoulder slowly jogging down the hall.
She reached the elevator, kissed me on the cheek and hit the button for the second floor.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What does it look like, and you call yourself a soldier. We will leave the elevator on the second floor, head down the stairs, out to the parking lot, nobody will see us,” she said as she winked at me.
“Oh, and this comes from your years of counter-espionage training with the CIA?”
Alex laughed that laugh that mesmerized my heart, “Shut up!”
I hadn’t heard that laugh, or her flirtatious embarrassment in a long time. It felt good to hear, and know that she was flirting with me. For years I had watched her flirt and play while silently wishing that her affection would be meant for me.
The elevator stopped on the second floor. The doors opened and we started sneaking down the hall. I took the lead as we turned the corner. I stopped in my tracks. Alex fell into me, giggled, and used my butt to balance herself.
“Shhh,” I said, “Phil and Jen are down the hall, and unless you want two of the presenters knowing you went home with me… Hey, are you feeling my butt?”
“Mmm-hmmm”, Alex said, “You aren’t wearing any underwear, naughty boy”
“Left over from my army days,” I blushed.
“Really…? I wonder what other secrets the mysterious Major TJ Blaine hides underneath his armor?” asked Alex.
“Come on, they are gone,” I whispered. We crept down the hall, through the door, down the stairs and down to my Jeep Liberty.
I kissed Alex under the street light before tossing her bag in the back and opening the door and ushering her inside. I started up the Liberty, put Sinatra on the CD player, and started the drive back home. I looked at my watch, we wouldn’t arrive until 12:30 or so and had to leave to head back by 6:15, it would be a short night. I reached over and took Alex’s hand, but even a few hours and a sleepy presentation was worth it. To share time with the one woman I truly say that I have loved.