Summary: Another conference might be in order to resolve some of the action items that were missed at the last one. *cough*
Author’s Note: I left a few bits and pieces dangling with the last update. My bad. Expect me to revisit some of the background characters, too.
Warnings for mature themes regarding childbirth that some may find unsettling. I made that section blue, in case anyone needs to skip over it and just read the rest of the chapter.
“That was a cute little stunt ya pulled, Summers. Wanna gimme one good reason why I shouldn’t kick yer ass?”
“It’s worth it if I don’t have to watch you two tap-dance around and snipe at each other for five minutes. Did you at least resolve anything?”
“There wasn’t anything ta resolve,” Logan grumbled as he took a sip of his coffee. He grimaced, annoyed that it was too hot when he scalded the roof of his mouth and gums. Damn it.
“Like hell. I’m not the only person in the office with eyes, pal. Don’t you think people will start talking if they notice the hostility between you two, and wonder if there’s drama behind it?”
“Ya act like it’s a friggin’ soap opera. People have lives, Scott. Yer givin’ me an’ Tory too much credit for takin’ up anyone’s time.”
Three days hadn’t sweetened Logan toward his closest friend and colleague, and if anything, Ororo had simply grown more withdrawn around them both. Logan almost regretted it. Almost.
He was too busy feeling grateful, though, that she hadn’t jumped on any opportunities brought on by him “oversharing” his past. There was such a thing as too much information, and Logan crossed that boundary when he told her about Jeannie.
Her eyes held so much sympathy for him, the same way they had when she gave him a ride to the airport. Had it been any other two people in any other place, with any other history between them, he would have welcomed any small gesture from her, words of comfort or a squeeze of her hand. She seemed to hold herself back from offering either, and Logan didn’t blame her. He’d gone on the attack; it didn’t matter if it had been justified.
Now she wasn’t speaking to him.
Real fuckin’ improvement, bub. Nice job.
It felt odd, and more than a little off. Logan watched her in the conference rooms, hallway and lounge furtively, not wanting her to catch him looking. It was like being at sixth grade recess all over again, only without the hair pulling or barrage of insults across the kickball field. Almost wish I were arguing with her again. The oppressive silence sucked a lot worse.
“You two still need to talk.”
“Don’t leave things like this between you.”
“Like what? There ain’t anything else ta discuss.” Logan stirred another packet of sugar into his drink and stirred it impatiently; work coffee sucked, but he didn’t have time before his meeting to run out to Starbucks or Peet’s. “We don’t have anything in common, Summers. She’s too damned uptight, and we got off on the wrong foot ta begin with.”
“She just believes in going a good job. Underwriters are supposed to be a little uptight. When she’s not talking about work, she’s a big softie. You know that.”
“Ya sound like an expert on the subject. You gettin’ cozy with the Dragon Lady?” Logan felt a flash of indignant jealousy when Scott shot him an odd little smirk. He hated it when Scott smirked.
“She’s just a good friend. A very good friend. I thought about taking her to lunch, but she has a conference at two. She said she needed to go over some materials beforehand and didn’t want to spend too much time out of the office.”
“Good friend,” Logan snorted into his cup. It was still too hot; he burned his lips again and hissed.
“Geez,” Scott muttered as he watched his old friend from the other side of his desk. “You two do have a lot in common. You’re both hardheaded and refuse to see what’s right in front of you.”
“There’s nothing ta see.” Logan perused the knick-knacks on Scott’s desk and squeezed a small purple stress ball rhythmically, pretending it was his friend’s head. Scott sighed and went back to his typing until Logan mentioned, “Where’s her conference?”
“She’ll hafta leave at one, then,” Logan mused.
“Why won’t she have time to eat before then?”
“Because she’s in a meeting with Selene all morning.”
“Damn,” Logan tsked. “Gotta pity her. I’d wanna kill myself if that was my boss.”
“Sometimes I think Ororo keeps something stronger in that bottle of Tylenol she always has in her desk,” Scott agreed.
“Might be easier if she just started huffing office supplies. That whiteboard cleaner’s strong enough to get high off of.”
“How would you know?” Scott teased.
“Ya don’t wanna know.”
“Sure. Now I’ll know what’s really going on when you have your out-of-office wizard turned on in your Outlook.” Logan was still squeezing the stress ball; it was the kind with a face whose features bugged out of its head like you were strangling it. He toyed with the eyes, sadistically poking them back in with his thumb.
“Feel sorry for the poor schmuck that’s gotta deal with that woman if she doesn’t eat,” Logan mused.
“You’re no better,” Scott reminded him. “Godzilla’s got nothing on you until you wave a foot-long under your nose. And even then, see how much of your hand you come back with.”
“Pfft…” As if on cue, Logan’s stomach growled. Scott gave him a worried look.
“Right. Time to call the National Guard. Tell them to bring a turkey sub.” Before either of them could act on his suggestion, Scott noticed the envelope icon flashing across his screen, prompting him that he had new mail. “Great,” he muttered. “Another potluck.”
“Who’s leaving now?”
“Amelia, over in Eligibility. Maternity leave.”
“Is she coming back?”
“I don’t know. That’s nice, though.”
“Sure,” Logan murmured, distracted by the way the latex of the stress ball stretched thin where it swelled as he squeezed, at how the color seemed to grow more transparent.
“You ever wish you had kids?” Scott prodded.
“Eh. Once in a while. I like bein’ an uncle.”
“Never wanted to be a daddy?”
“It just never happened. Didn’t mean I never wanted it to happen. It is what it is. It ain’t the end of the world.”
It hurt a little every time he spent time with Vic and Laura, wondering what children with Jean would have been like. If they would have had her hair and eyes or his laugh and disposition. Logan didn’t often ponder what kind of father he would have made, or even what kind of husband he would have continued to be in the long run. What-if’s exhausted him and made him ache. They didn’t bring her back.
No. What he missed the most was the scent of her hair and how soft her skin felt beneath the covers and the low, husky groans she made whenever he kissed her awake. Their marriage had been young when she was taken from him, short enough that they hadn’t had discussions like birthing methods or preschools, bottle feeding versus nursing, homeschooling or organic foods, how to decorate a nursery or what kind of carseat to buy. Jean and Logan were still a work in progress as a couple in love; being parents could wait. It certainly wasn’t out of the question, no longer a matter of if, but when.
The closest they had come was to watch in silent longing when their friends came over with their children, or when Sara or John brought the kids to see their favorite aunt Jeannie and Uncle Jimmy to dote on them and spoil them rotten. They tiptoed around it whenever they went to Costco and walked past baby crib mattresses on sale or saw racks of Carter’s sleepers with feet in a pastel rainbow of colors. Her automatic “Awww, look” was always greeted with a wistful, helpless shrug; did they know anyone having a baby? No. They just looked like a good deal. That was okay; it was good for future reference. Wasn’t it.
They both had steady jobs and lived in a nice apartment, with the intent to buy a house big enough to start a small family if they wanted to eventually, but in the meantime just to spread out. A picket fence, two-point-five kids and a dog made perfect sense. They were the right age, it was the right time, and they loved each other. Nothing could be better. Their future never looked brighter.
Yet Jean still left Logan without a word.
“Whaddya wanna bring to the potluck?”
“Huh?” Logan paused mid-squeeze.
“What should we bring? It’s tomorrow. That’s enough time to figure out what to pick up.”
“Eh. Big sandwich,” Logan shrugged. “Or chips an’ dip.”
“Everyone always brings chips and dip,” Scott pointed out. “That, or ten different bags of salad.”
“Order a couple of pizzas,” Logan said absently. “Ain’t that creative, but it beats salad.” Scott nodded.
“Cooking’s out of the question, then.”
“If I hardly ever do more than opening a can of something for myself, Summers, ya can’t imagine me making much more of an effort for twenty other people. I ain’t exactly Emeril.”
“Pizza it is, then.”
“I’ll go in with ya for half.”
Ororo escaped back to her desk at a little after eleven, and her stomach told her she’d been in there an hour too long. Selene loved to hear herself talk. Overall, she wasn’t a bad person, but Ororo always had the sense that a little more of her soul was being sucked out of her body every time she came away from those meetings.
Ororo went through her emails and hunted down the attachments she wanted in the database, including the benefit summary of what was sold. Selene was working on closing the deal on two mirror plans that the group wanted that flexed what they already had for their incoming new hires, and that meant Ororo would have a full plate until they were installed in the system and their premium checks had been signed. Ororo couldn’t see or think straight, telling her that it was time to eat. She was ready to kill someone for some chicken salad.
She checked her email and noticed the party invitation for the potluck. Ororo sighed; that meant she’d have to go to the market on her way home. Her refrigerator was appallingly bare, since she’d been putting off going food shopping for a week. She had one expired carton of blueberry yogurt, the last few swallows of orange juice in the pitcher, the heels of a loaf of wheat bread, and one egg left in the crate that gave the illusion of the shelf not being completely empty. Her cupboards weren’t much better; she’d been living on Campbell’s and Pop Secret shamelessly and didn’t have any immediate plans to change her ways. There were too many restaurants in the neighborhood where she worked, and they were far too convenient and cooked a lot better than she did.
Spinach dip and a bread bowl. It was a no-brainer, a staple of every bridal and wedding shower she’d ever been to. She didn’t even know Amelia that well, but there was nothing wrong with having a potluck at work. It was food and an excuse for everyone to get up from their desks for an hour. And this time, it was Ororo’s turn to indulge in all of the usual annoying questions. When’s it due? What are you having? Is he moving around a lot? Are you having any more? What are you naming the little guy? Are you excited for him to get out of there?
She’d never minded the solicitous hands on her belly or people’s tendency to have one-sided conversations with it; her friends were as excited as she was. From the moment the stick turned blue, Ororo and Vic were all about waiting for Nate. He was going to be long-legged just like both of them, if the way he shoved his feet between her ribs was any indication. Judging by her cravings, Nate was a meat and potatoes man and wasn’t shy about demanding ice cream at inconvenient hours of the night, particularly butter pecan. Ororo told herself that he liked it when she sang to him or rocked him in her glider chair, one of the only comfortable seats in the house once she grew really large and had more stress on her pelvis and lower back.
Victor’s hands were possessive in the dark, easing under hers to steal the feel of her growing abdomen for himself, to enjoy the little ripples and kicks. He often promised the baby a spanking whenever Ororo had bouts of morning sickness or insomnia. “You an’ me are gonna hafta have a talk, bub,” he’d tell Nate jokingly, holding Ororo’s hip in his warm grasp as his breath feathered over her bare belly. “These late nights of yers ain’t workin’ out.”
One of the things that had hurt the most to pack away was the baby album, empty except for the first page. Ororo saved both ultrasound photos, even though they were just black and gray blobs printed with the date and the baby’s size. Stevie had batted it and covered it in pastel blue Thomas the Tank Engine flannel and lovingly painted the wooden letters herself, “Nate’s First Year.” Ororo protectively bundled the book in bubble wrap and set it in a large box, never having the heart to give it back to Stevie or to use it for any other photos. Stevie had been big about it; Ororo could always just take the lettering off. No harm done. It was just glue.
No. It wasn’t.
Before Nate was taken from them, Victor began coming to bed later, with fewer explanations for why. She missed his husky rasp and large, warm hands and his breath at her nape. Their arguments during the day were more frequent and began to rob her of more sleep and of her patience. Some cruel, shrill voice inside her insisted that it was her fault that he was making himself scarce; she was too fat, too needy. The baby was making her too peevish; she wasn’t thinking of her husband enough, only of her baby. Maybe that was the problem; maybe he just needed more attention.
The first time the phone rang and she heard the caller hang up as she said hello, she thought nothing of it. Sure. A wrong number. That had to be it. It didn’t even bother her – much – when Victor began furtively taking his calls into the bedroom when they were in the middle of dinner. Why not tell them he would call back?
After a time, there was always an excuse. All of Ororo’s questions became accusations to Victor’s ears, and every reply became a challenge. She asked him if he wanted to leave, if he was really tired of what they had, when they had so much already, and so much to gain once Nate entered the world.
He said he didn’t know. Ororo was devastated. The pieces began to fall into place as Ororo’s world fell apart.
Before Victor could pack so much as one suitcase or box, Ororo noticed that the baby had stopped moving. It wasn’t an abrupt change; the baby was abnormally quiet even after she’d eaten a large, sweet breakfast. He didn’t stir as she worked or after she took her afternoon work. A slow, cold, sinking dread wrapped around her and she called her doctor in a panic.
No heartbeat. The KY jelly chilled her bare stomach as the transducer rolled over the beloved curves, pausing, then moving again. Still no heartbeat. Her eyes pricked with hot, blurry tears that rolled thickly down her cheeks. He’s not responding. She heard Victor’s exhausted, shuddering sigh and saw him bow his blond head out of the corner of her eye, then tuned him out as a low sob escaped his throat. Ororo felt raw as the attendant left them alone, giving them a moment to process it, knowing they’d need a lifetime to mourn.
Ororo’s definition of hell rewrote itself as Victor carried the bag he packed for her into the hospital. Ororo found herself in the blue cotton telemetry patient gown this time instead of the pink paper exam drape. The looks of sympathy on the nurses’ faces were all wrong; her consciousness screamed that this surreal, tragic mess wasn’t happening, that wasn’t her being rolled slowly, unjarringly in a wheelchair to the delivery suite.
The epidural did nothing to numb her pain; it was almost a joke. The contractions were regular, but there was no telling swoosh of a second heartbeat inside her anymore; the Doppler was eerily silent. The walls of the suite mocked her. Someone had decorated the walls with framed prints of mothers and children, rosy-cheeked and downy haired, dressing in pinks and flowing white.
When it came time to push, she wanted to refuse. He’s not ready to come out yet, it’s too soon…his birthday’s on Valentine’s Day, for fuck’s sake! Why are you making me do this? Victor held her hand in a death grip, willing her strength that he didn’t have, blue eyes swimming with her anguish and channeling her physical pain, too. Her helplessness. Her disappointment and the sense of overwhelming failure. No matter the state of their marriage, whether he was her husband or not days or weeks or months later, he wasn’t going to be a father that night.
She lay in the labor bed, cleaned and stitched, numb and barely responsive as they let her say goodbye to Nate. Tiny, silent and swaddled in a cheerful pink and blue receiving blanket. She needed to touch him, they told her, to tell him goodbye and to make things more real. Nothing would accomplish that. Victor stayed with her on a small, hard cot in the patient room, flipping through the hospital’s limited cable channels until she told him in a low, gravelly voice to please stop. He stroked her hair absently, kissing her shoulder through the homely gown one last time before he retreated from the bed. It was the last time he’d kiss her again.
Ororo snapped out of it and promptly shoved the memories back on the shelf. Enough…enough. All right. I’m all right.
A potluck. Ororo wondered if there was a card to sign.
She was surprised moments later to hear a tentative knock on her door. “Come in?”
“Ororo?” Scott stood at the threshold holding something that brought the scent of cold cuts into her office dangling from a plastic bag. “I hope you’re hungry. I brought you something back from lunch.” Ororo’s face rearranged itself into a smile of gratitude, but not before Scott caught her sad, pensive look. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m good. Thank you so much, Scott, that was thoughtful of you. I’m starved!” she exclaimed. Scott beamed and came forward, setting the Subway bag on her desk.
“There’s baked Lays in there, too. I didn’t know what kind of chips you liked.”
“I appreciate it. I love those. Lunch is a good thing,” she chuckled. “I’ve got another conference today; I was going to just work through.”
“I know. I saw it when I peeked at your Outlook calendar.” Ororo forgot that people could do that, and she sighed.
“Then you know I’m swamped. I’m burnt out, Scott. Can we go to Mexico again?” His grin was mischievous, making his face look younger.
“You buy the tickets, I’ll buy the margaritas when we get there.”
“That’s what I’m here for. Hey, Ororo…about the other day…I got ahead of myself. That wasn’t cool. My bad.”
“I guess it’s my bad that you felt you had to take desperate measures, but you were taking your life in your hands there for a minute, Scott. Logan and I kinda wanted to kill you provided that we didn’t wring each other’s necks first.”
“Can’t you two bury the hatchet?”
“Again, not a good idea to give us sharp objects. Scott,” she said, holding up a hand briefly when he looked like he was growing frustrated, “we did talk. It didn’t solve much of anything. We’re two adults who made a mistake, in hindsight, and we didn’t know we would end up working together.”
“It wasn’t a mistake back when it happened, was it?”
It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Every moment of it was beautiful. She mentally shook herself.
“It doesn’t matter. Logan’s not a bad person, Scott, but we rub each other the wrong way. I’m not his cup of tea.”
“Maybe that’s the problem. You are his cup of tea. You’re bright, funny, beautiful, kind and straightforward, but at the same time, Ororo, you’re as hardheaded as he is. Locking you guys in the closet wasn’t the answer. I should’ve just knocked your heads together.”
“His head’s harder than mine and would have done more damage,” she pointed out. She’d warmed initially beneath his praise until he compared her to Logan.
“Did he tell you that he’s a widow?” Ororo paused in opening the bag of chips. Suddenly she lost her appetite.
“Yes. He did. I had no idea.”
“He’s a strong man. Jean was a sweetheart. She was the love of his life.”
“I sure as hell can’t live up to that.” Scott frowned.
“No one’s asking you to. Just talk to him. Don’t give up on Logan, Ororo.”
“I’m not. Not professionally. I’ll try harder to get along with him in the office, Scott, but beyond that, I’m done. I’m sorry if it’s been hard to watch the two of us. You don’t have to babysit us anymore or play referee.”
Scott held up his hands. “That’s fine. Sorry I got involved.”
“I’m not. You meant well. You were being honest.” She ate a chip, grateful for its salty flavor. “I hope you being friends with me doesn’t conflict with your friendship with him? Am I imposing?” She felt a moment of dread that he might say yes.
“Never,” Scott insisted, shaking his head emphatically. “Don’t think that. I’m a big boy. I can hang out with different kids on the playground once in a while.” His smile was warm. Scott got up and rounded her desk and leaned down to give her a brief hug. “I didn’t just do this.”
“Mum’s the word.” He felt solid and smelled nice, and aside from a platonic token of affection, it gave her no sparks; it reaffirmed for her that Scott was safe. Ororo thought nothing of the fact that Scott had left her door ajar, but thankfully, their conversation was low and easygoing, giving any eavesdroppers no real entertainment if they lingered.
Logan stood openmouthed in the hall, silently seething at Ororo and Scott as they embraced. He shook himself and stalked off, wondering if anyone could see the steam rising from his scalp.
Sonofabitch. SonofaFUCKINGbitch… What was THAT?
So that was it? Wait for him and Ororo to duke it out in a supply closet and stop speaking to each other, and then move in on her once he was out of the way? Logan fumed as he logged back on to his email. That was some bullshit…
He calmed down and forced himself to focus on his work. He didn’t realize he still had Scott’s stress ball; he must have walked out of his office with it, distracted. He squeezed it, pretending it was Scott’s fat head.
It ain’t like ya didn’t decide already that things wouldn’t work out. Yer done with Ororo. This is a done deal. Finito. End of story. She wants to play with Scooter, that whoop-de-doo. Logan felt a hot flush creeping over his skin, making his ears tingle. MotherFUCKer. What’s he think he’s playing at? That’s her game? She can just skip away as nice as you please after that mess in the closet? Logan felt a weird, nagging sense of betrayal. He’d laid himself open and told her things, heard him say things out loud that he hadn’t even told himself yet in his own musings about Jeannie. It felt raw and strange, and he could tell it affected her, maybe even cut her deeply, and he didn’t like the look on her face that combined pity with guilt. Talk about emotional blackmail…
It took all Logan had not to march back into Ororo’s office, give Scott the bum’s rush out of there and hold her captive until he’d had his say.
The opportunity would arrive sooner than he thought.
The gathering in the break room was predictably large; people loved free food, and there were enough people circling the trays and dishes like vultures that it was impossible to distinguish who’d actually brought anything. The card made the rounds for signatures as everyone congratulated the swollen but glowing mother-to-be.
Ororo smiled for her in empathy. “You look uncomfortable.”
“Enjoy the rest while you can. In the meantime, have a cookie.” Ororo lost interest in the conversation as several of Amelia’s immediate coworkers swamped them in a flurry of questions and well wishes. It still occasionally hurt too much. Ororo was grateful that this office didn’t know her past or her pain and there was no reason to bring it up.
Logan skirted the lounge, nursing his third cup of Dr. Pepper and wishing it was beer. He watched Ororo furtively, avoiding her gaze when she would glance up, and it frustrated him, this cat-and-mouse, this unwilling avoidance and pretending he didn’t want to talk to her. Why the hell couldn’t he talk to her?
She was beautiful in a spring-weight, long, slightly flared, navy blue skirt with a tiny floral print and soft white twinset. Her concession to the warmer weather was a pair of peep-toe pumps, and she’d left her hair hanging in a long French braid down her back, softening her usually harsh look. She was still undecorated, no jewelry or makeup, and Logan finally noticed that she wore no wedding band. Even when she did wear anything like a necklace or occasional bangle, they weren’t gold or silver “souvenirs” of a committed relationship that a husband would give a wife.
Why did she look so sad? Why was she holding herself apart from everyone, particularly the guest of honor? Ororo just picked idly at her plate, nudging the spinach dip she brought back and forth with a wedge of sourdough bread.
Selene came between Logan and his obsession. She sidled to Ororo with a plate that held only low-fat offerings, a couple of turkey rolls and two skewers of fresh fruit. “Stop by my office when you get a chance?”
“Did you update the logs when you added the spreadsheets to the database?”
“I did that this morning.”
“Could you double-check?” Logan saw her tight, hard smile and momentarily shared Ororo’s desire to give the account manager a swift kick in the shin. He hid his own smirk behind his cup.
“No problem.” Selene swept away and caught up to Donald, who was holding court with Amelia and going on about his grandson’s antics, regaling her of all the fun times she could expect.
The crowd thinned as people began to retreat to their desks. They periodically returned to root through the leftovers, to steal one last brownie or pluck up one last turkey roll. The spinach dip was decimated down to the last few smears in the now stale bread bowl; Ororo was glad she wouldn’t have to take it home.
By four o’clock, she went back to the lounge to grab herself a soda from the vending machine and noticed that the table still had a few things left out. She hated clutter and decided to put away whatever was salvageable and throw out the trash. She bunched up and tossed out an empty Tostitos back and poured out the last few ounces of flat Pepsi from a two-liter bottle, setting it on top of the recycling bin.
Someone was by her elbow, clearing away a couple of paper plates that held only crumbs, folding the plastic wrap over a dish of cream cheese and salsa. Ororo looked up and startled slightly as she noticed Logan casually cleaning up beside her. “Think this can get thrown away?” he asked, nodding to the last of a veggie tray whose cup of dip was empty.
“Someone might eat it. Eh. Nah. Maybe not.” Logan shrugged and dumped the last few celery sticks and radishes into the trash.
“Guess everyone thinks their mother works here,” Logan mused.
“Still beats the smell of burnt coffee or popcorn,” Ororo chimed in easily, trying to keep her end of the conversation light, but it was hard.
“That or people forgetting to take home their Tupperware. I hate it when Sam cleans out the science projects left over. That stink’s enough to wake the dead.”
“Sure,” she agreed. Her mouth went dry. “You didn’t have to help. I just wanted to neaten up.”
“I did too. I hate looking at a mess.” He suppressed a chuckle; Ororo didn’t allow herself to look at him or see his lazy smile. “This is still neater than yer desk.”
“Pfft…” That earned him a narrowing of her eyes over her shoulder.
Her body language was stiff and shared little with him; her voice was tight and Logan still wanted to get a rise out of her, make her scowl at him, fuss at him, laugh at him, anything to break down her civil mask.
His brain and mouth were of different opinions about how to do it sensibly.
“Why the hell were ya hugging Summers?” Her mouth dropped open.
“Wait…what?” Logan wanted to clap his hands over his mouth, but he couldn’t turn back now.
“Is he all of the sudden yer type now?”
“Logan…have you lost your damned mind?”
“Looked like the two of ya were awfully cozy.”
“I’m a little lost here,” she told him, gesturing for effect. “First of all…WHY is it any of your business what I was doing with Scott? Second of all, I wasn’t even DOING anything with Scott. And third…what are you now, a peeping Tom?”
“I don’t know. Here I was wondering why ya seem ta resent me so much sometimes, and maybe our little ‘misunderstanding’ was the problem, but I guess I was wrong.”
“I don’t resent you!” she hissed. “And we don’t have a misunderstanding anymore. We went over that already!” Fires burned in her eyes and Logan noticed a hint of color rising in her cheeks.
“Are ya interested in Scott? Ya’ve always been awfully friendly with the guy.”
“That’s because he’s friendly with me. Don’t jump to conclusions.”
“Can’t blame me when I saw what I saw.”
“Then you were seeing things. Get over yourself. And news flash, Logan, who I hug or not is my business.” Ororo left the lounge, but to her annoyance Logan followed closely on her heels.
“Maybe I just wanted ta know where I stand,” he muttered.
“Wherever you want. It’s not up to me,” she informed him haughtily as she ducked into conference room two to better confront him. “Even if I didn’t like Scott that way, and I’m not saying I do, what’s it to you? You can’t stand me.”
“Yer uppity. Ya drive me friggin’ crazy, if ya wanna know the truth. I’m pissed off that ya make assumptions about me based on the ones ya make about men in general. Don’t blame it all on me because yer a little bitter.
“A little…a little bitter?” Ororo’s jaw worked. “So now I’m ‘bitter’?’ And I drive YOU crazy? What would you have said if I’d stayed? What would have kept that from being awkward and unnecessary? And hey, let’s get back to that whole ‘bitter’ thing…” Logan realized he stirred up a hornet’s nest, but he folded his arms across his burly chest and set his jaw at a stubborn angle. “ ‘Bitter’ is when your ex tries to make it sound like it’s your fault for everything going to shit when he cheats. ‘Bitter’ is how you feel when every time you clean the house, you still find bits and pieces of the crap that you thought you’d never have to see again, like his old razors and commuter cups and three years worth of Hooters’ calendars. ‘Bitter’ is when you realize the best part of you, and the best part of your ex just…died and that you’ll never get it back…” Ororo clapped her hand over her mouth and drew back.
“Never mind,” she insisted. “Never mind that. Scratch that.” She put her mask safely back into place and centered herself. Logan felt her close up and wanted to shake her.
“What’d you mean, the best parts of you?”
“I didn’t mean anything. We’ve both got a busy day, I’ll let you get back to your meetings.”
“Screw my meetings,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “Uh-uh.” He looked around the room briefly and shut the conference room door. She looked at him like he grew another head.
“What the hell are you-“
“Time fer a conference,” he told her, grabbing her elbow and steering her toward the supply closet, whose door was ajar. He shoved her ungracefully inside and jerked the door shut behind him with a brisk slam. She whirled on him, blue eyes flashing and indignant.
“Oh, this is just great.”
“What’d you mean, the best part of you, Tory?”
“Just drop it. I never should have even said it that way. It’s nothing.”
“No it’s not. Not to you.” Her back was still up and she folded her arms beneath her breasts, glaring daggers at him.
“He was an asshole. You’re not,” she assured him. “Okay. I’ve said it. Happy?”
“There’s nothing going on between me and Scott.”
“Ya sure are all cotton candy and kittens whenever ya hang out together.”
“Cotton candy and kittens?” Ororo’s brows drew together. “Gads…” Slowly it dawned on her. “You’re jealous.”
He huffed. “No’m not.”
“You are. You’re jealous.” Her voice was incredulous and tinged with amusement.
“*Pffft..* Yeah. Sure I am.” He finally noticed how she’d nimbly changed the subject from the original issue he wanted to discuss.
“Scott and I are too much alike,” she pointed out.
“Just thought I would mention it. You seemed…irked.”
“ ‘Irked,’ I ain’t, Tory.” He’d started calling her that nickname again.
She missed how it sounded coming from his lips, lately.
“Sure. Never mind. You’re fine.”
“I am. It’s yer affair if ya wanna waste time with Summers.”
“Glad you think it’s my affair.” He was losing ground again, even though he was going on the attack. “And it’s my time to waste. Don’t know why you’re worried about it anyw-“
He closed the gap between them and pulled her roughly against him, snapping his arm around her waist, cupping her nape, and tugging her down for a mind-numbing kiss that turned her knees into jelly. A tiny, desperate mew escaped her as he dominated her mouth, letting their breath mingle hotly as intense sensations sizzled along her nerve endings. Her hands trembled as they gripped the collar of his shirt and wove her fingers through his hair.
He felt so solid and hard and delicious against her. She’d craved him so much, his heat and strength and the way his muscles rolled and rippled beneath her caress. It was a sacrilege to cover a body like his up in such staid business clothes, to hide that deep, broad, tanned chest with its fine mat of hair that begged to be stroked, those broad shoulders that were so satisfying to knead and mold in her needy grip. He tasted so right and Ororo shivered in pleasure at the low rumble of contentment he made in his throat. Logan slanted his mouth over hers, urging her to give him entry, and she drowned in the slow, seductive stroke of his tongue. They stumbled back against the shelves, almost knocking over the toner cartridges and boxes of staples.
He cupped her smooth, hot cheeks in his hands and devoured her lips. “Tory,” he murmured. “God, Tory…”
“Mmmph…” It was all she could manage; her body told her brain to shut up and just enjoy the ride. She felt Logan’s blunt fingernails scrape down her back through her thin sweater, making her shiver, and her leg hooked around his; somehow she’d managed to kick off her pump, and the ball of her foot was stroking the bulge of his calf. Her touch and her kiss were driving him crazy, the smell and taste of her and the feel of her smooth skin. Her lips were wreaking sweet havoc at his ear, suckling his lobe like a piece of hard candy, and his hips bucked against her unevenly. He was hard as a rock, straining beneath his slacks and needing the soft nest of heat between her thighs.
He lapped at her neck, whispering raggedly “I can’t help this. Damn it, I’ve tried…”
“Don’t talk, don’t ruin it,” she pleaded, begging his silence with more kisses and a firm, rough groping of his ass that made him whimper. His hands crept under her sweater hem and feathered over her smooth skin, finding the silky cup of her bra and undercurve of her breast. She moaned at his gentle, teasing caress and arched into his hand. She felt him, that hard, unsatisfied, throbbing bulge of his manhood that flexed and squirmed against her as though it had a life of its own.
A sharp jingling of keys intruded on the haze of lust that clouded their awareness of anything else. “Ah knew Ah heard this thing slam earlier…wondered who left it open in the first place…”
Shit! Their eyes spoke the same sentiment as they sprang apart and straightened their clothes. Ororo turned away and faced the back corner of the closet, pretending to be fascinated by the reams of printer paper and packs of Bics. Logan rubbed his nape and realized belately that his hair was a wreck.
“Aw, man, Ah did it again,” Sam cried, throwing up his hands. “Hope ya didn’t end up in here fer too long, pal,” he told Logan. He looked at him oddly. “Aw, hey, miz Munroe.”
“Heh. Hi, Sam.” They hurried out past him and dashed for the conference room exit, both out of breath and flushed.
“Where did you park?”
“Third floor of the garage.”
“Follow me home?”
“I can take the train back in the morning.”
“Uh-uh.” Logan was having none of it. He followed Ororo back to her office, where she dashed to her PC and turned it off without logging off, grabbed her purse and dashed back out. They followed the same process as they approached his office. His briefcase came with him and his jacket was looped over his arm. No one thought twice about seeing them hurrying for the elevator; they were both busy people.
The doors shut after them and they fell on each other. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. The car chimed each time they passed a floor, and they were grateful that no one else got on before they reached the lobby. Their kisses were hungry and did too little to quench the fire burning between them.
More groping ensued as they climbed into the car; Logan almost got into a fender bender as her hand dipped between his legs to stroke and coddle his hardness. “Damn it,” he hissed.
“Watch the road,” she husked, leaning over to nip at his neck. He gave her a desperate, tongue-tangling kiss at the next red light.
They reached his apartment and tripped up the steps; Ororo was already wrestling him out of his jacket as he punched the key into the lock. They groaned in relief as the door slammed behind them, and Logan fumbled to lock the deadbolts as their clothes began to hit the floor.
No more desks and conference phones and PCs between them. No more moments stolen behind office doors. No more arguing by the water cooler of coffee pot. This was luscious and vital and familiar, the feel of cool sheets that craved the weight of two bodies, the bounce of the firm mattress as they gave themselves up to what had been building between them for months. Finally she was bare beneath him, whimpering his name, and it sounded so sexy and right when she said it. He loved her voice and soft, full lips, he loved her long spill of thick hair when he tugged her braid and unraveled it, letting it swell to its full volume and tangle around his hands.
Their legs tangled and fingers laced together as they made love. They fitted together easily and relearned each other’s passion and preferences, favorite spots and hot zones.
“Tory,” he grated out, dipping his mouth to lap a sizzling trail down her pulse.
“Logan,” she moaned, “please. Please…” She chanted it as he rutted inside her, craving the way her body cushioned him, how her snug sheath embraced him and fitted him so well. They didn’t hear the low tick of the clock on his nightstand or feel the gradual fade of afternoon into evening as the sun sank in the sky.
They found fulfillment twice before they were finally sated. Ororo lay against him in languorous satisfaction as he stroked her hair. This time she basked in the heat of his body and stayed snuggled against him under the covers as he began to doze off.
“Stay…” His fingers tightened convulsively around her shoulder, then relaxed as he gave himself up to sleep. Ororo watched the shadows lengthen along the wall and eventually consume the room in darkness. Her eyes drifted shut and she eased herself against him naturally, as though they’d always slept like this. Her last thought was she slipped into sleep was that she wasn’t going anywhere.