I exited the door to the garden and turned down the path towards our table. Jill hadn’t seen me yet. Her head was bent, her eyes focused on her hands which were clasped together and resting on the table.
I was angry. Confused. Why hadn’t she told me she left Paul? Does she not trust me? Damn it! We’ve spent a year building trust, or so I thought.
She looked up as I took a seat. What I saw in her eyes…a mixture of fear and love… made me forget about being angry. I loved her with everything I was. Did it matter? Did anything matter except that she loved me? The rest…it can be worked out, can’t it?
“Hi,” I said quietly. My mind hadn’t slowed down at all. I was sorting and analysing, trying to process the last year to come up with how we ended up here.
“Hi,” she returned my greeting shyly.
Half of me wanted to say to hell with explanations, grab her hand, take her to her room and let nature take its course. The other half of me desperately needed clarity.
I reached for her hand, our fingers tangling. “For the record, I do love you. Have for a while. The same’s true for you. True? False?”
I saw a bit of relief in her eyes at my use of true and false. It was a thing we did. Familiar. Comforting. Grounding.
“True,” she acknowledged.
“I have questions.”
A hint of a smile appeared. “I imagine you do. I’ll answer them as best I can.”
“I….” I stopped and took another deep breath. Where do I even start?
Before I had a chance to continue, she asked, “Do you remember our first discussion about power and attraction?”
“Yes, about five months ago.” I paused, recalling it. “The bar at the Trafalgar Hotel after a Royal Society meeting. We had an hour or so. I don’t think we talked about anything else but that before you had to leave. I’d never seen you so disturbed before. I could tell at the meeting you were off your game. You’re never off.”
“Rarely, very rarely,” Jill agreed. “It was over six months ago, 30th October last year, to be precise.” She let go of my hand, reaching for her wine and sat back in her chair. A long sip and she resumed. “I thought about that discussion for weeks. I tried to do what you do. Dissect it word by word. Look at each of those words from all angles. Each word led me down a different path. I started seeing things about myself. How compartmentalised I’d become, these disparate parts of me no longer connected. It was utterly terrifying. I wanted to talk to you about it but I didn’t…couldn’t.”
“Why not?” I questioned.
“I just couldn’t, Ade,” she said, shaking her head. “I needed to decide for myself what I wanted to do about my discoveries. The decisions I needed to take would have ramifications that…well, I just couldn’t let you influence me. It was when I first became aware I had feelings for you. Your influence would have tainted the process. Given me an avenue for doubt. And I don’t want that,” she said adamantly, her eyes holding mine. “No doubt. No second-guessing. My decisions are my own.”
I thought about what Jill had said. Pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together. “I knew something…was happening…going on with you. I had no idea what, though. The emotional undercurrents between us changed then, didn’t they?”
“Without a doubt, at least for me. I mean, that spark we have, it was always there. Even V’s noticed. But it intensified then,” she sighed. “I learnt to pay attention. Like you do, Ade. Our interactions have always been multi-layered. I hadn’t fathomed how many layers until my little personal meltdown. When I realised it, everything took on new meaning.”
“Leaving Paul?” I asked. “That decision part of it?”
“A small part, but it’s been a very long time coming. There are, well….” She paused. “I just hadn’t left him yet. I needed to for me, not because of you. The marriage was…untenable. Not just the sex. Every damn bit of it.”
“Why did you wait to tell me? Do you not trust me? Did you think I’d…I…I don’t even know.”
“It had nothing to do with my trust in you.” Jill leaned forward, sitting on the edge of her chair and reached for my hand. “I did what I needed to do, Adrienne. I waited because it’s what the situation demanded. I waited because I had to settle things with Paul. I waited because I had to work through all of it…come to terms with my feelings for you, the attraction.”
I stared at our joined hands for a few moments before looking up. “And your declaration of heterosexuality earlier? Is that you coming to terms with the attraction?”
“No,” she said quietly. “That was…my panic. I…I don’t know what I am, Adrienne. I’m very attracted to you. Would I be attracted to other women? I…don’t know. I don’t want to find out. I want you. That’s all that matters to me.”
“I can’t be a one-night stand, Jill.”
“Neither can I. It’s not what I want.”
“Then I need for us both to make the decision to consciously pursue this further. You and I are too important to not lay the groundwork for this properly. To not set rules and boundaries. It will be difficult enough if we do decide to.”
“Adrienne!” she exclaimed, releasing my hand and sitting back. “Why will this be difficult? We’re not a bloody corporate merger.”
“Close enough,” I argued. “You hold a very public-facing position with a well-defined public persona. You’ve been in training for it for years, the golden girl of Landers. Like it or not, your actions have a direct effect on the market capitalisation of a Global 500 company. You sneeze, the stock price drops. You smile and there’s a ten point jump. True? False?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m the golden girl.”
“Come on, Jill, don’t disappoint,” I urged.
“True,” she conceded. “All of it true.”
“Should we decide to pursue this, the nature of our relationship will become public knowledge at some point. That’s when, not if,” I said very seriously. “There will be ramifications. Are you prepared for those?”
“Why on earth would anyone care who I sleep with? I’ve been married to Paul for 20 years and no one’s cared.”
“Don’t be naive.”
“I am anything but naive,” she snapped.
“Landers will care. You’re directly responsible for five of the last eight blockbuster drugs brought to market. And with anacalderol, you’ve hit another home run. Six out of nine. Billions in sales annually when it’s approved.”
“Whether I’m in a relationship with you or a man or even on my own is irrelevant,” she declared.
I looked at her, my eyes wide. Jill could be incredibly stubborn and short-sighted at times. “To you, maybe, but not to Landers or the investors. Have you not read the lede in the article from the last interview? The reporter said, and I quote, ‘Attractive, sexy and smart, this scientist is every man’s dream.’ Operative word there is ‘man’, Jill. Most of the world still thinks straight. And with anacalderol going to market, better for Landers stock price you’re sleeping with a man or woman? True? False?”
“I….” Her mouth snapped shut as she shook her head, frustrated. “Nothing’s ever black and white with you.”
“No, it’s not. You know that. You know how it works,” I pleaded. “You’re a marketer’s dream. Do you really think your sexuality won’t matter?”
“It never mattered for the other medicines. It shouldn’t matter for this one. Besides, we’ve moved beyond that.”
“Jillian Marsden! Are you kidding me?” I was amazed she’d even say something like that. I pleaded, “Come on, help me out here. You need to think. I need for you to make a fully-informed decision about us pursuing a relationship. Reality sucks. Delusions suck even more.”
“You are so maddening! Do you honestly think I haven’t thought about all of this? It’s all I’ve thought of for months. You are very, very real. Right here in front of me. No delusion, damn it!” Her voice softened. “Ade, every conversation we’ve had…for months now…our minds have made love. I want you. I want an us. I want to discover…explore the physical reality between us.”
I was stunned and stared at Jill, speechless for a few moments. “We have been doing that, haven’t we?”
“Yes, we have,” she acknowledged.
“It’s a bit overwhelming to realise….” I said, my voice trailing off. How had I missed it?
“‘A bit’, she says,” Jill said wryly. “Emotions always are overwhelming for me. Logic and reason are my arena. What can I say? I’m a scientist. All this, it’s an arena I’ve stayed away from. You have as well. True? False?”
“True,” I answered.
“What will it take for you to believe I’ve made an informed decision to pursue this?” she asked, looking at me expectantly.
“Nothing more,” I replied sincerely. “I believe you.”
“Do you want to pursue this?”
“I do, Jill,” I said, letting my feelings show as I gazed at her intently. “More than anything.”
“Excellent. Shall I have my solicitor draw up the proposed merger papers or did you want to have your solicitor handle it?” she teased, her eyes sparkling.
“Funny, Dr. Marsden,” I chuckled. “Very funny.”
“Where do we go from here, Ade? I’m not sure what….” Jill said, her voice trailing off.
The waitress chose to appear at that moment, handing us menus. “We’ve started serving dinner.”
Jill and I looked at each other, startled. Dinner? What time was it? I glanced at my watch. Five? Where had the time gone? We’d been here since a little after noon. We hadn’t even paid the bill for lunch and all the wine we’d drunk.
“Great, thanks,” I said to the waitress as she left then asked, “Are you even hungry?”
“I suppose we should eat. It’s been hours and I’ve had quite a bit to drink. I’m afraid if I drink much more without eating again, I’m liable to pass out. And we can use the time to decide our next step.”
“Sounds like a plan, Jill.”