Unexpected encounter, part IV

Many, many thanks to my friend Chayil for encouraging me to write this week in the middle of summer insanity.  I’m not sure how everyone else manages family, home, kids, church, AND work, but Stu and I don’t do a very good job.  While we’re working, school is all-consuming.  As a result, other things don’t get done.  I’m currently buried by endless laundry in a house that I would be embarrassed to host visitors in… even a month after school got out for the summer.  I could use work as an excuse, but the fact is that when we come home, we want to do just about ANYTHING but clean our house.  So we put it off and put it off until summer comes and we can’t stand being at home.  Plus we’ve been traveling for work (me to Jacksonville for an AP Summer Institute and Stu to Sarasota for yearbook camp) and doing other projects… so that’s summer insanity.  I could have been doing a million other things… writing curriculum, scouring websites for AP resources, sorting laundry, folding socks, or sleeping (it is 1 am after all), but I’m writing.  And I’m thrilled about it.

So here’s a continuation of Zara’s story.  Catch up on it here, here, and here.  And thanks for visiting!

Once everyone had plates piled with pasta, salad, and bread, the three dinner companions fell silent to enjoy the meal.  For Zara, she took the few moments of quiet to think about her realization about Jack.  What did it mean that he was jealous of Steve?  This wasn’t her first date; in college she had dated regularly, but not for any extended period of time.  Only after college had she dated seriously; she had been with Matt for three years before a transfer took him to San Francisco and ended their relationship.  Jack had been a good friend to Matt and they often spent evenings together.  Occasionally Matt and Zara would serve as dating buffers for him; Jack would prearrange to bring his newest lady friend along with him to dinner with Matt and Zara, and they would help Jack make decisions about whether or not he should see them again.  In fact, Jack had initiated a relationship with Mary, the girl Zara was sure he would marry, at a meal with Matt and Zara.  Mary was beautiful, successful, and so calm in dealing with Jack.  Zara’s only complaint was that Mary never seemed eager to form a relationship with her; in the years that Jack and Mary dated, Zara was only, at best, an acquaintance to her.  But that relationship had ended almost a year ago, without drama or any swell of emotion from Jack as far as Zara could tell, and Jack had picked up where he left off, dating women, introducing them to Zara for her approval, but never taking anyone very seriously.

“So, Steve, how was your day?” Zara asked, suddenly aware of the direction of her thoughts.  She would not allow Jack to dominate this meal, whether he meant to or not.

Steve beamed at this opening.  “Well, I spent most of the morning managing a large claim from an important client.  Evidently, a fire caused significant damage to one of this company’s major manufacturing operations.  But I was able to provide significant comfort in a difficult time.  Normally, I don’t work with clients,” Steve smiled to himself a little, but Zara could tell he was holding back.  “But I’ve had some encouragement from the department manager to get my feet wet in customer relations.”

Steve fixed a bright, expectant look at Zara then.  “Oh, that’s really great, Steve,” Zara smiled, but wasn’t quite sure what this meant.

“I think what Steve is trying to tell you is that a manager is looking to diversify his role within the company, perhaps move him to account management, which would require significant customer contact,” Jack interjected.  Zara frowned.  “Is that about right, Steve?”

“Oh yes,” Steve responded, a slight frown wrinkling his forehead.  “I didn’t realize there was confusion.”

“It’s just that I didn’t know you were interested in working more closely with customers.  You told me you were proudly just a numbers man,” Zara persisted.  For some reason, this news rankled her.

“Well, I am,” Steve frowned more deeply now, “but as I work with customers, my own standing with the company will improve.  This really is good news, Zara,” Steve smiled at her then looked to Jack, as if asking for his help.

“Of course.  If you’re happy, I’m happy for you.  But I don’t know how you could fit more into your already very busy work schedule.”  Zara smiled as she uttered the last, but was really concerned.  Steve was already consumed by work; she could guess what this development would mean.  Jack seemed to sense her frustration.

“Steve, does your work give you much time for relaxation?  For leisure?” Jack asked, jumping at the opening.  “You must work 80 hours a week as it is!”  Steve beamed at the compliment.

“Well, no actually.  I’m very lucky that the office provides a gym space for employees or I fear I wouldn’t get any exercise.  And if I continue to eat like this,” he smiled at Zara, “I would weigh 500 pounds!”

Zara’s nostrils suddenly flared as the cause of her discontent dawned on her: this man, who Zara had invested three weeks of her time, was casually congratulating himself on a work development that would make it nearly impossible to foster a relationship with her.

“I guess I’m lucky that you could spare time tonight,” Zara smiled, a saccharin smile that Steve didn’t recognize as such.

“A man’s got to eat,” Steve grinned, leaning toward Jack with an uncharacteristic eyebrow wiggle.  “But I’ve got a few hours of processing to be done tonight after dinner.”  Jack just smiled; Zara fumed.

“What about you, Jack? How did the law treat you today?” Steve couldn’t keep the goofy giddiness from his voice.

“I’m sure Zara has told you, but I work at a firm that specializes in business law.  However, I’m lucky enough that my practice encourages associates to participate in community service.  So I spent my day today offering pro bono legal advice through a program sponsored by my firm,” Jack never took his eyes off Steve.  “That’s why my day ran so late.  I never like to leave before everyone has been helped.  It makes for quite an interesting day, I’ll tell you.”

Zara knew how Jack spent his day.  He participated monthly, and more often when he was able.  He was always exhausted after these days, but to a certain extent, more joyful and full of life.  But for the second time tonight, she was forced to see Steve in light of Jack, and she wasn’t happy with what she saw.


4 thoughts on “Unexpected encounter, part IV

  1. Allison, Just to make sure, I am on Jack’s side, and he’s the one we all want to end up with Zara, right????? With my limited experience reading romance novels, and even less experience at reading women’s minds I need all the help I can get. Cliff notes would also help. But please no tests!!! Soft smile, Allison, I know they are going to take my manlyness card away. But I am enjoying your story, just as much as I enjoyed your novel. But please do no insist I read other romance novels to gain experience. Love Dad

  2. I agree that Jack and Zara should end up together–it seems like friendship got in the way of them recognizing their true feelings, but I’m sure you will engineer some sort of catalyst to solve that problem!. Still, there’s a long way to go ’til we get to the “happily ever after” part, and it would be nice if Steve finds his soul mate along the way too.

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