Chapter 22: Interlude

In which love happens to the best and the worst of us…

The interview over, Stephanie told her car to drive, and it did. The car drove back down into the valley. For a few moments, she thought she might sleep. With her head back against the seat, her mind drifted. She couldn’t explain why, but she felt like sobbing.

Perhaps her work hours had caused it. She had her usual work day, which mainly consisted of creating bylines for other reporters and correcting their errors. She spent hours every day doing that before she could ever meet her granddad or her fake uncle for an interview. She didn’t have a day off; she spent her days off interviewing or typing up her notes. When she’d ventured into this project, she hadn’t conceived of its magnitude.

They were great men, and they wanted to tell her everything. Everything—even what was mundane. It would be difficult to determine what to retain in the final version. She could do this. She had editorial skills. She was a byline writer. She simply had to extend her skills to a giant mess of notes.

Even with a mess of notes, she still had so many questions, some of which her granddad could answer and indeed had, such as whether he approved or disapproved of men’s clubs. His scorn had been quite evident regarding the Analgest, which was no longer in business.

Of course men’s clubs were right and necessary, he told her.

“Right and necessary? How so?”

“If you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”

The network of underground clubs in Nob Hill—he’d provided the funding for the first one to open, which spawned many more to open, linked from cellar to cellar in a labyrinthine manner. Some businesses dug out cellars where there previously had been none so that they could be linked to the labyrinth.

She also wanted to know how long his relationship with Cameron had lasted. Surely, not very long, as he had married Grandma Bernadette soon after. Or she hoped not. However, her granddad failed to answer that question. His eyes darkened, his mouth closed, until she changed the subject and asked him why he had remained friends with Gilly all these years.

“He’s my best friend.”

“Isn’t there a point where somebody crosses the line and is no longer a friend, or are you trying to convince me you’re loyal to a fault? I mean, I appreciate loyalty and all, but there’s got to be a limit. Right?”

“Oh, sure, there are limits. When I’ve reached it, I never look back. I’ve never reached it with Gilly.”

She was a little incredulous at that. She couldn’t imagine too many reaching the level of treachery Gilly had. “You’ve had people do worse things to you?”

“It isn’t a simple equation, Stephanie. If I’ve invested years in a relationship, the limits are going to be broader. Surely you understand that.”

Yes, she understood it. She’d created an entire network of friends and relations around her. Some dated from childhood, and to those people she gave more leeway. A sharp pain of anxiety hit her in the abdomen. Her life had greatly diminished since she’d taken on this project. Who was in her network, now? Granddad, Gilly, and the occasional Mark.

She was overwhelmed. Perhaps she needed more than the occasional Mark. She raised her head and spoke to the car. “Call Mark,” she said.

“Calling Mark,” the car said.

She was worried he wouldn’t answer, that he might be covering an event. As the phone rang and rang, she racked her brain, trying to remember what his schedule of events was. She had lost touch with reality—that was why she wanted to sob. She was living in her granddad’s reality.

Just as she thought it would go to his voicemail, he answered in a long drawl, “Hey, babe.”

“Mark!” Her voice broke into a sob, and a few tears strayed down her cheeks.

“What’s going on? Where you at?”

“I’m on my way from Granddad’s. Hey, do you wanna hang out? I need a serious break. With you and no one else.”

“I like the way this sounds,” he said.

“However it sounds, I need you right now. Where do you want to meet?”

“I’m at home.”

“Okay. Should I…?” She’d never hung out at his place; she’d avoided that misstep like the plague.

“Yes, you should.”

“All right.”

“All right.” He paused. “I guess I should, uh, get off the phone and clean up a little.”

“See you in a few.”

Exhaustion made for foolish decision making. But something in her said it wasn’t foolish to love Mark. Something in her wanted to get committed, to have something better than what her parents had, or her granddad, for that matter, before Grandma Berna.

Before Grandma Berna, he’d made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes that had affected his children. She didn’t want that. She had two uncles and an aunt she didn’t know all that well. And then there was Uncle Adam, who turned out all right, but only after he was abandoned by his mother.

He’d turned out all right because of Grandma Berna.

Stephanie groaned. Now she was lost in the story again. She needed to forget it for the evening. And so she put it away—it wasn’t easy—and she stopped at the store and purchased expensive beer for Mark and a few snacks that would have been too costly to consider not that long ago, such as blue corn chips and guacamole.

Tomorrow was Saturday: tomorrow she would visit Gilly again and type up the latest notes into a cohesive structure. Tomorrow. Her stomach turned over a little. She didn’t know what tomorrow would bring because she didn’t know what tonight would bring.


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