He was going to be late. It was one of his habits that vexed her. But she was the reason he lost track of time.
“We’re going to be late.” He had heard this admonishment from her before.
“I can be quick.”
“No you can’t. Not that that is a bad thing. In fact, I love that sex is never hurried with us so we can enjoy every moment. But we don’t have enough moments to enjoy this morning.” She started to push back the covers. He gently slid his hand around her arm and pulled the comforter up again.
“Just a taste?”
“Good lord, you are insatiable.” She rolled her eyes and huffed with mock distain. But he knew she loved to be wanted. And he knew where to start. His head bowed over her left nipple and he licked it lightly. She immediately stretched to her full length on the bed: her body’s response to his touch was involuntary. “And you know I can’t resist that.”
“Do I?” He laughed. “Let’s see.”
He did know. He knew her areola were the avenue to her arousal, so he approached it slowly by licking each one lightly. The anticipation made her breathe deeply in response to him, and he wanted her to be ravenous. Slowly, he slid the left nipple into his mouth and sucked lightly.
“Oh, that’s good.” She writhed slightly with the electric sensations of his tongue on her skin.
As he moved to the right nipple to apply the same attention, he rolled the left one lightly with his finger and thumb. Her eyes flew open widely and she exhaled with more intensity. “Oh my god. I swear you could make me cum like this.”
“You still want to hurry?”
“What do you think, you lascivious demon? You know what you do to me.”
As he renewed his suckling on her right breast, his hand slid between her legs. He found what he wanted: her vagina was dewy and wet. To test her, he gently inserted the tip of his middle finger into her cleft. She responded involuntarily, contracting around his digit and pulsing her hips upward.
But the intensity of his attention to her erogenous zones could only last so long.
“Now you’re done it. I can’t wait anymore.” She spread her legs as she impatiently reached for his erection, driven to the edge of her anticipation. “Are you going to make me beg?”
She was everything he wanted. Soft and hard, gentle and rough, sweet and salty, refined and vulgar. And her desire for him wrapped it all into the perfect package. He shifted his attention to positioning his penis, plunged into her with ecstasy and she returned his passion.
“Now we’re going to be really late,” she growled. “But you’re worth it.”
+ + +
At 20 minutes past 6 o’clock, I was nervous and little peeved. I was comforted by the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be the one missing the flight to Denver, but I was uncertain how I was supposed to proceed. Would Magnus missing the flight be a catastrophe or was it routine? Would I somehow have extra responsibility or was he prepared for this all along? Should I be grateful to avoid his interference or would his presence have made my job easier?
“We would like to begin the boarding process …”
I waited for the Super Road Warriors to line up for their first class seats as the Passengers Needing Assistance made their way to the gateway. At one point in time, I still qualified for the first class upgrade. But with the dramatic increase of business travel to Asia and the Middle East, my measly domestic miles only earned me a set of head phones and a free drink. At least I still got to choose an aisle seat towards the front, and for that I was grateful.
After the Super Road Warriors cleared their exclusive lane, I moved forward with the Regular Road Warriors into the swarm before the gateway.
I should not have been surprised that Magnus was slightly disheveled and out of breath. Out of politeness, I started to exit the swarm to fall back with him. But I paused when he motioned me to the exclusive Super Road Warrior bypass lane.
“I don’t have a first class ticket,” I shook my head and fairly shouted, surprised that he would pay a premium price from his own budget.
“I got an upgrade. You can board with me.”
Despite the ugly glares from the Regular Road Warriors who knew we would cut in front of them, I reluctantly bolted to join Magnus. I mean, he was my superior after all and I had to comply with his instructions. We breezed into the jetway ahead of the swarm.
“You must have put in a lot of travel this year,” I noted as we trekked toward the plane.
“Eh, a trip to Eastern Europe and a couple to India.”
“Sounds like fun!”
“Not really. Here’s my seat. Catch you on the other side.” He slid into this first class seat and I continued to the midsection, happy to have overhead space thanks to Magnus’ international travel.
+ + +
After I was served a free drink and meager pretzels, I opened my laptop and worked on re-writes for half an hour. When I could smell breakfast being served to first class, I looked up to see the sleeve of Magnus’ shirt several rows ahead on the opposite aisle.
As I often do with strangers, I began to imagine his story. The grooming suggested upper middle class, which in turn suggested at least a middle-class upbringing and an upscale education. His parents probably took the family on vacations in Florida, but not the seedy parts. At least one trip to Washington, DC and the Grand Canyon was part of the travel package as well. They might even have taken the family to the Bahamas for spring break one year. He probably grew up in the suburbs of some eastern city, graduated from a private school, and then moved a university with Georgian architecture. I am imagining a fraternity with other aspiring upper middle-class young men – who drank to excess and made important connections with alumni who came back to remember drinking in excess. He was captured in black-and-white yearbook photos of healthy young men with beautiful teeth in athletic shorts, lounging on steps and holding a football. He most likely has a home in a leafy neighborhood on the east side of town, belongs to a country club and plays golf. He drives an Audi, a Volvo, or a BMW. His wife is either his sorority sweetheart or a former co-worker in a big corporation, who stays home or is a C-suite executive. She might even be wife number two, a younger version of the first. He probably never met his children’s teachers or stepped foot in their classrooms. He is definitely an MBA type and had Account Executive positions at other ad agencies where he made connections with all the major Pharmaceutical companies in the US – who then sent him to their international subsidiaries. It says so all on the left sleeve of his pin-stripe Oxford cloth shirt.
In comparison, my own upbringing was solid middle-class. Growing up in the flat part of town in a treeless three bedroom tract home on a slab. Vacations were car trips to state parks. Attending public school and state university, because I earned a scholarship. There was no sorority or fraternity life because I couldn’t afford the fees. Besides, I did not need to buy my friends or have my dates arranged. I could binge drink without having to pledge loyalty to society ladies from 1910 in a secret ceremony. I stuck around for graduate school because I couldn’t imagine getting a job, my parents thought it was a ticket to a professorship, and I just plain loved reading research and taking tests. There were no black-and-white photos of me in gowns or golf attire from then or now. My marriage to my neighbor in grad school did produce a house in a leafy neighborhood, but it was now missing my belongings. And my perpetual student status did produce an advanced degree, but there was no professorship due to the glut of tenured PhDs from 1965 - so I sold my soul to advertising research instead. And I wondered how much of that story was told by my blouse from an online retailer.
The self-assessment led me to think about my circumstances, and I tried to keep them in a worry-free zone. The worry-free zone meant I did not allow myself to think about a tangible future, but I focused on an idealized time-to-come – what I would really want if there were no obstacles in my way. What would I really want?
Security. The assurance of a comfortable physical existence – a place to live and money in the bank and someone to take of me when I’m old. Even if I have to pay them to do it. And I would have that if I stayed in my marriage.
Belonging. Which I have from my sister and my life-long friends. Unconditional acceptance. But they are not there every day. While I value their presence in my life immensely, they aren’t there to listen to me complain about a client at the end of the day. They aren’t there to hold me when the grief from my mother’s death wells up in the middle of the night. They aren’t there to be patient when I ask questions about my choices and how to shape my life after motherhood. They love me – but they’re not with me when life seems lonely.
That’s where I expected James to be. And that’s where I didn’t find him. On the third rung of Maslow’s hierarchy, I wanted intimacy.
And what is the intimacy I craved exactly? The acknowledgement of my existence as special, the recognition that my essential nature is pleasing and desirable just as I appreciate the unique essence of another. Contact and comforting familiarity. A shared delight in life.
But you have to engage in conversation to maintain that quality of relationship. And conversation with James had grown cold. There wasn’t even anything I could worry about because there wasn’t anything being discussed.
The overhead announcement about our impending descent broke me my from my reverie. I spent too much time with my head in the clouds, and it was good to have a tangible reminder that I needed to put my feet down.
+ + +
We landed in Denver and shared a cab across the wide, flat space between the airport and downtown. With our briefcases wedged between us in the back seat, Magnus scrolled through the messages on his flip phone. He frowned at the screen.
“I’m sorry, I need to make a personal call before we get to the hotel.”
“No problem,” I replied because it wasn’t a problem and because I didn’t want him to carry the stress forward into our day.
“Thanks,” he said as he dialed. “Family matter.”
I tried to shrink into the corner of the cab, reduce my size to reduce my physical presence and my intrusion into his personal life.
“Got your message … Yes. When? … Did you try to talk to her? … You know I can’t do anything until I get back in 2 days … I can try but … Let me call you later. Don’t do anything. Just wait until I talk to her… Just wait, please.”
As he ended the call, I was the one who waited to see if we shifted back to a conversation about business or a casual discussion of the weather or a debate of the relative merits of Denver or plunge into his family drama or sit in silence.
He chose family drama. “It’s my daughter. The oldest one. Always something with those girls.”
“I only have my own experience as a daughter. I have one son.”
“Maybe that’s lucky. I don’t know. My girls tangle with their mother and give the appearance of being Daddy’s Girls.”
“Just give the appearance or actually are Daddy’s Girls?”
“I knew I had to watch my language with you. They actually are Daddy’s Girls.”
“Is that a bad thing? How old are they?”
“Seventeen and twenty-two. We call their age difference ‘The College Plan.’ Get one out of college before the next one enters. How old is your son?”
“Twenty. And very independent. He comes home when they close down the campus. And not an hour before.”
“Where is he in school?”
“Ohio State. And your daughters?”
“The oldest is graduating from a small liberal arts school, Haniford, and the younger one wants to skip school altogether.”
“Ah, it seems like the last one would be the cause for concern but you say it is the oldest daughter.“ I caught myself. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to get into your personal life.”
“It’s okay. You know what it’s like to worry about your kids, I suppose.”
“Yes, I do.” And we sat in silence for a moment, contemplating our parenthood.
The rest of the ride was devoted to a discussion of the performance of the ad concepts and changes to the research guide. We arrived at the hotel and decided to separate for work and lunch in our rooms, then walked at the research facility to meet Magnus and the next interviewer. I was relieved for the time to myself and the break from conversation.
+ + +
I had forgotten to be nervous about my lack of experience in Pharma. With Deborah at the previous sessions, I could kick back and observe. With Magnus micro-managing on behalf of the client, it was hard to tell how things should unfold naturally in the interview. But here I was – no client and no Deborah – plus a new interviewer. Usually I would not have recommended a new interviewer in order to maintain the continuity of at least one aspect of the research. But Deborah had taken the previous interviewer to Florida with her for whatever reason. Thus I am facing the chill of Denver with Magnus and Damian.
My misgivings were already alerted when I heard his name was Damian. And then I met him.
“Sure, sure. I’ve got this under control. But it’s such a pleasure to have you here to observe.” I actually had not considered myself to be an observer and Damian to be the center of attention, but his wording gave me the impression that was his view of our situation. I wasn’t sure who he thought Magnus was supposed to be but I did not want to wait to find out.
“Actually, I’m here to do more than just observe. While I do want to learn firsthand how consumers respond to the message and imagery, I am also here to make sure our research objectives are met. And Magnus will provide the conduit to the client, since she has shared with him the objectives she needs to attain with the advertising.”
“But I’ll be in charge of the interview.” Damian was not asking a question. He was staking a claim.
“Yes, but if there is a time that the interview deviates from the research objectives, then I will be responsible for making an adjustment to the direction.” Which means no, you are not in charge.
“And I will be telling Susanna when the interview deviates from the client objectives,” Magnus chimed in absently as he checked his email. “But Damian, you have participated in the briefings, yes? And you watched the last set of interviews?”
“Sure, sure. I’m up to date, so no worries. I’ve done hundreds of interviews with diabetic patients.” I had a distinct feeling that last bit of information was meant for me.
“Then we won’t worry.” And with that Magnus ended the conversation.
In reality, Magnus should have worried. Damian’s interpretation of the discussion guide was slightly different than our interpretation, and it required several small consultations to get him back in line. Beginning with my concerns about his techniques.
“Damian, I think we are covering the content, which is great. But before the next interview can we talk about question phrasing? I have a couple of concerns …”
“Question phrasing is usually up to the interviewer. Unless you want to tie me down to a script? And I’m not comfortable with that.” I anticipated he would get defensive.
“Here me out. I don’t want to script your questions because, like you, I believe in the importance of spontaneity and a natural interview flow. My concern has to do with potentially introducing bias by limiting the range of answers from the respondent. I would avoid anything that assumes we already know what they think, such as ‘I can tell you thought A …’ or ‘Don’t you think B …’”
“That kind of preface helps the respondent more easily through the interview,” he explained.
“My concern is that kind of preface tells them what you want to hear. It constrains their answers or give them an easy way to reply. We need to hear it in their own words.”
“That’s just going to draw out the interview if I have to ask them to explain every answer,” Damian replied sharply.
From the dim corner of the observation room, Magnus interjected. “Isn’t that the point? I mean, having them explain every answer is the point of the interview?”
“I’ve been doing it this way for hundreds of interviews,” sputtered Damian.
“But that doesn’t mean it was standard procedure for the type of interviews we want to provide our clients. Susanna has made an excellent point.” There was a moment of silence.
“Can we make the minor change and see how it impacts the timeline?” I requested.
“Sure. Anything else?”
“Yes, you will probably want to choose you dinner order and we’ll place it after you start the next interview,” I suggested on a positive note. Perhaps food could assist in assuaging his feelings.
When the door to the observation room closed behind Damian, I turned to Magnus. “Thanks for backing me up.”
“It’s easy to do when you’re right. And since you are on a streak, what are your dinner suggestions?”
In truth, Damian was very knowledgable about Type 2 Diabetes. I was learning a lot by listening to the interviews. The issue was that his knowledge sometimes led him to make assumptions about what the consumers wanted or what they meant with their answers. After getting the same feedback from Evan and D’arsay via their audio link, we had the conversation about leading questions a second time. By the end of the evening, he had quite enough feedback from us.
“Quick nightcap at the hotel?” asked Magnus as he packed his enormous briefcase.
Predictably, Damian declined. After agreeing to a time to reconvene in the morning, his exit was swift.
But for me - “About the stop at the bar, I could use a drink after whipping Damian all evening.”
+ + +
“It’s an early morning, so I can only manage one glass of wine. I’m only telling you now because I don’t know what you really mean by nightcap.” I felt it was important to establish expectations upfront so I did not get caught up in a night of drinking to appease the AE – because that had happened before.
“I don’t know what I really mean by nightcap, either. But I do like for the agency to buy us a drink after we drag our asses across country and sit in a dark room until ten at night.”
“Hear, hear. I’ll have a Pinot Noir,” I said in the direction of the bartender.
“And I’ll have a Cab.” He relaxed into his seat at the bar. “Do you prefer reds?”
“I’m rather eclectic. Depends on time of day, the menu, the food. I don’t consider myself to be a refined oenophile since I don’t enjoy very dry wines. I’m middle of the road in my tastes.”
“That’s a fair assessment. Where did you get your wine education?”
“Here and there. I drank crappy wine in college, which probably gave me an unfair perception of some grapes. Then I went for years having mixed drinks before trying wine again. Wine tastings help to try new things.”
“Yes, cheap college wine. Where were you in school?” I prepared myself for the Ivey League discussion, in which he told me he went ‘Out East’ after I dropped my attendance at a state school.
“Ohio State. And you?”
“Ohio University. Here’s to Ohio state schools!” He raised his glass to his alma mater that was east, but not as east as I expected.
“How did you end up at Ohio University? I understand it’s a lovely campus.”
“I grew up near there.” Curious – since there were no metropolitan areas nearby to Athens, and I had guessed he was the product of the suburbs. “A small town named Easley. You have probably never heard of it.”
“No, I have not. What goes on in Easley?”
He laughed. “Farms. I grew up on a sheep farm.”
I almost fell off my chair. A farm boy! I had in no way seen a farmer under the button-down collar.
“What was that like? The closest I’ve been to a sheep is seeing them from the interstate.”
“In some ways, idyllic. In some ways, a lot of hard work. I was feeding the lambs by the time I was six.”
“Lambs! Is there anything cuter than a lamb?”
“I don’t know. Piglets are pretty cute,” he laughed. “And ducklings.”
“Aw. I’m like every little girl. Baby animals make me weak in the knees.”
“And how did you end up at Ohio State? Football fan?”
“No, not at all. Which makes me an outlier. A scholarship got me there. But I’d rather talk about the farm. Were the animals raised for slaughter? Because that would break my heart. Even though I know I probably bought them in the grocery.”
“We sheared the sheep for wool. We would keep some of the lambs, but usually sold them and … then don’t think about it.”
“Okay,” I made an uncomfortable face I am sure he seen before related to the subject of what happened to the lambs after their sale. Then a deep breath. “New subject. How did you get into advertising?”
“The short version: I have a background in health administration, and someone offered me a job in advertising to capitalize on my knowledge. Health administration was looking dicey at the time, so I took the leap. What about you?”
“I completed an advanced degree in Experimental Psychology, someone offered me a job in advertising to capitalize on my knowledge. Academic Psychology was looking dicey at the time, so I took the leap.”
“Thanks. I listen carefully and parrot perfectly.”
He laughed. “I have found those skills to be invaluable in … Hold on. I’m sorry I need to take this call.”
The call came at a fortunate time, since I felt the conversation had the potential to become more personal and I did not want to go there. Not into the murky description of my marital relationship. Not into a description the story of how we met and how we made a family and how our family was falling apart. Those were things I was not willing to share, so I slid off my seat and made a quick wave.
“Yes, I did … No, look I was tied up all day … I realize that … Can I call you right back?”
I shook my head vigorously and mouthed “No, that’s okay.”
He covered the phone with his hand. “Meet at the facility tomorrow at seven a.m.?”
I nodded as I stepped away from his conversation and into the welcome solitude of my evening.
“Hey!” he called after me. “Good job of managing the interview today.”
“Thanks,” I replied quickly. And then smiled to myself that maybe my first impressions were wrong.