Short Story: The Nature of Things
Short Story: The Nature of Things
Quinn squinted at herself in the bathroom mirror, sighed, and quickly twisted her hair into a loose bun. She stuck her head into the corridor. “Sophie and James! Are you ready yet? We have to be out the door in 5 minutes – 5 minutes!” she said.
She brushed on mascara and lip gloss and headed towards the kitchen. Her husband was finishing off his breakfast and she brushed a kiss across his cheek. “Don’t forget I might be late tonight, so you have to pick up the twins.”
“Should be okay – but I’m quoting a job with Davo this afternoon and you know how that goes,” he winked at her.
“Right,” she said, irritated. “Sophie! James! Let’s go!”
Quinn swung her car into the parking bay, grabbed her bag and made her way through the staff entrance at the rear of the building. It was still early and there was only one other office door open. She went to unlock her door, hesitated, then kept walking until she stood outside the open door.
He had his back to her, concentrating on the laptop in front of him, one ear bud in, probably listening to the Stones. She stood quietly, watching him for a long moment, allowing herself to revel in the feeling of seeing him again. She tapped on his door and he turned.
He closed his laptop and stood, his eyes not leaving hers.
“Hey Quinn,” a voice called from the end of the corridor. “What time are drinks again? I have to run my daughters to a rehearsal at 5.”
Dan turned back to his laptop. Quinn watched him for a minute longer then turned and smiled as the newcomer approached. “Hey Arnold, 5.30 is fine. Most people probably won’t get there ’til 6 anyway.”
Arnold stuck his head around the door and saw Dan.
“Dan my man,” he said. “Good to see you back. How’d things go with your daughter?”
“Yeah, good. She’s all settled into the share house, keen to get started at uni. Couldn’t get rid of her old man quick enough.”
“I’ll see you later, Dan,” said Quinn and she then stepped aside as Arnold moved past her into the office.
Dan got to work early. His wife Rachel was on night shift, and he had risen as soon as he had woken, wanting to be gone before she got home. No-one was at work when he arrived, and he made his way towards his office in the quiet darkness.
He stopped when he got to Quinn’s office, leant in towards the glass door and allowed himself to look into this window on her life; the prints she had chosen for her walls, the ornaments and keepsakes that adorned her bookshelves, the pot plants, the rug on the floor.
His gaze travelled past the framed images on the windowsill, the school photos of her twins and the one of her husband, grinning out at her from some ski slope somewhere. He scratched his jaw as he turned away. Best not to think too long on that one – better to concentrate on the deadlines that were due.
He worked for almost two hours and was halfway through a carefully composed email when he heard a knock on his door. Half-annoyed, he turned.
“Hi, Dan.” She smiled at him. Without taking his eyes off her, he closed the laptop. It took everything he had not to move towards her; it had been a week since he had last seen her and the hit to his chest was the same as ever.
Did she know? Sometimes he thought she did; sometimes he thought he read something else in the way she looked at him that was not there when she looked at everyone else.
“Hey Quinn,” a voiced called down the corridor. “What time are drinks again? I have to run my daughters to a rehearsal at 5.”
Shit. He cursed and turned back to his laptop. Flicking it open, he stared at the screen.
“Hey Arnold, 5.30 is fine. Most people probably won’t get there ’til 6 anyway.”
“Dan my man,” he said. “Good to see you back. How did things go with your daughter?”
“Yeah, good. She’s all settled into the share house and keen to get started at uni. Couldn’t get rid of her old man quick enough,” he said.
He heard Quinn say, “I’ll see you later, Dan”, but Arnold had already stepped into his office and his view of her was obscured. He breathed out his frustration and focused his attention on listening to Arnold’s account of his own experiences with wilful teenagers.
He disguised his relief when the phone rang, signalling that he was expecting the call. He waited until Arnold had left before lifting the receiver. “This is your friendly ‘saved by the bell’ service,” said Quinn over the phone.
“Jesus! Thank you!” he said.
“Thought you might have needed an ‘out’.”
“I don’t know what gave you that impression.”
“Call it my woman’s intuition.”
He was about to say something else, but she had already hung up.
Five o’clock was approaching and the other team members were wrapping up for the day.
Computers were being logged off, coffee cups were being rinsed and put back on shelves in the staffroom, office lights were switched off and doors locked.
Light banter drifted into Dan’s office as he typed, still not finished with his proposal. Arnold rapped on his door.
“How much longer you got?” he asked. “I’m heading out to pick the girls up – are you right for a lift?”
“I’m good thanks, Arnold – I drove today.” He nodded towards his laptop. “Better get on to this if I’m going to get it finished today,” he said.
“Sure man, I’ll save you a seat,” said Arnold.
Excellent, thought Dan but he just nodded and returned to his work. He glanced at the time – he had at least an hour’s work left, maybe more. He scratched the side of his jaw absently as he read through his last paragraph.
He heard another knock on his door and with a resigned sigh he turned again.
“Hi Dan.” It was Alison, one of the interns. “I’m just heading down the pub – do you need a hand to finish anything off?” He smiled at her. She was a quick study and could probably help and he was about to take her up on the offer when Quinn appeared in his doorway.
“All good, thanks Ali. I’ve already offered,” she said.
Dan, flicking a glance at her, felt the familiar jolt.
“Thanks for the offer, Alison but the two of us should be able to get this nailed away by 6. I’ll see you down there.”
“No worries, see you both later then.” And she disappeared down the corridor.
Quinn then walked into the room and pulled a chair over to the desk.
“Better get started,” she said. “We don’t want to miss the fun.”
After working for almost an hour, they sat proofreading copies of the submission. Dan threw his copy onto the desk and leant back in his chair.
“Looks good?” he asked. Quinn had the lid of a pen stuck between her teeth and she spoke around it. “Yep. I think if we tinker around with it much more we’ll risk losing the essence of the idea.”
Dan nodded and leant forward; he looked at Quinn, an eyebrow raised.
“Yep,” she said again. “Hit that ‘submit’ button.”
Quinn pushed her chair back and glanced at her watch.
“Jeez, it’s almost six. We’d better get going.” She stood to leave and Dan, considering for no more than a second, reached out and took her hand. Her breath caught but she did not move. Dan did not look at her as his fingers traced the edges of her hand. Quinn felt her heart quicken. He turned her hand so it was palm up, his thumb drawing slow circles on her palm. Quinn was staring at him, but he just kept holding her hand, his fingers sending tendrils of quicksilver along her spine.
A vestige of restraint dissolved, and she relinquished herself to the moment, she could not think beyond it. He stood and gazed down at her. She tilted her head slightly so she could look back at him and they stood that way for a long moment, each regarding the other. She noticed his chest rising and falling; he, the stray hair that curled out of her bun. He noticed the scent of her; she, the whisps of grey in his beard. He leaned towards her, slowly and carefully, and his lips brushed softly against hers. Still, they had not taken their eyes from each other. She breathed in his smell, twisted her fingers around his, drowning in the feel of him. His arm encircled her waist, pulling her to him – he wanted to feel, to know, every inch of her –
“Dan, you still here, mate?”
Dan let go of Quinn, stepping away from her as if scalded.
“Oh, hi Quinn – you still here too?” Arnold said as he appeared in the doorway. “I saw the light as I drove past and thought I’d check in to see if Dan needed help finishing up. Looks like you got it all sorted though.”
Quinn blinked, regaining her composure. “Yep,” she said, “We’ve just submitted the proposal – your timing is perfect, Arnold.”
“Good stuff,” he said. “Let’s get down to The Royal and celebrate!”
Quinn turned towards the door. Dan, staring out at the darkening sky, still had not spoken. She looked at him now.
“See you down the pub, Dan?” she said.
Dan wrested his gaze from the window and looked, not at Quinn, but at Arnold.
“Yeah, I’ll see you both there in a minute – just got a quick phone call to make.” He reached for the phone. Quinn still hesitated but could think of no excuse to stay so she followed Arnold along the corridor and out the door to her car.
Quinn arrived at the bar, ordered a vodka and tonic and sat, oblivious to the conversations and laughter that surrounded her.
Her mind kept straying back to Dan – that sucker-punch feeling that had knocked all the air from her. God! Had it even happened? Had she imagined it? She heard a whoop from someone and turned to see Dan making his way to their table. He looked at her.
“Quinn,” he said. “My shout – to say thanks for today. Come and choose something outrageously expensive.” And he moved away without waiting for her to respond. She caught up to him at the bar and he handed her the cocktail menu.
Without looking at her, he said “I’m sorry about what happened earlier.”
“Are you?” she asked.
He glanced sharply at her.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “I’m sorry that Arnold turned up and interrupted us.”
She ached to say that she wasn’t sorry, but she could not. The fleeting madness that had possessed her only half an hour ago was spent. “What do you want, Quinn?” he asked.
She studied the cocktail menu. He reached across and took it from her.
“What do you want?” he asked again.
She felt her throat tighten. I want you, she wanted to say. But I need my family more.
Her silence told him more than her words ever could.
He gave her a rueful smile and then gestured to the barman. “A couple of double Negronis, please.”
They sat in silence watching as the drinks were mixed. The barman put down two coasters and placed the ochre-coloured drinks on them.
He bent down and brushed a kiss across her hair, inhaled the beautiful, warm spicy scent of her. “I guess that’s just the nature of things,” he said.
They looked at each other for a long time, then, smiling, Dan raised his glass to her. Quinn leant over and clinked her glass against his.
“Yes,” she said softly. “I guess it is.”
About the author
Gillian Turner is a retired academic who has worked in education and transformative learning for more than 15 years, writing when she could between delivering tutorials and marking. In 2017, she and her husband started a beekeeping business and they now operate 200 hives. Gillian lives with her husband and daughter in a coastal suburb 50km south of Perth.