Mr. Love: A Romantic Comedy (9 page)

BOOK: Mr. Love: A Romantic Comedy
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23

 

 

 

 

By the time Bitsy has finished half a glass of wine, Jane can see the woman is wilting.

The day has taken its toll, even though the transformation—externally, at least—
is
remarkable.

The
Ms. Rushworth who will face the media tomorrow will bear very little resemblance to the country mouse who arrived yesterday.

Gordon, with two glasses of red wine under his belt, can’t take his eyes off his sister, and her
metamorphosis seems to have left him uncharacteristically subdued.

Jane stands.

“Well, I should go. I was going to invite the two of you out for dinner but it looks to me like you’re done for the day,” she says to Bitsy.

“Thanks, Jane, but I’ll just about manage room service. Thank you for everything. It was quite an experience.”

“You were a Trojan. And you look gorgeous.”

“Well, I don’t
know about that, but I don’t look like
me
anymore, that’s for sure.”

“I’ll be here at eight in the morning to
do a final briefing on the interviews.”

Jane
sees the look of apprehension on Bitsy’s face.

“Don’t worry, you’ll ace the media stuff.”

Gordon stands.

“I should go too. Jane, let me walk you out. Night, Bitsy.”

“Night, Gordon.”

They leave the suite and head toward the elevators.

Gordon says, “Now that Meryl Streep is indisposed, I guess it’s out of the question to have dinner with Kathy Bates?”

All Jane has in the refrigerator of her apartment is a bowl of dubious left overs
.

If she takes Gordon to dinner she can legitimately charge it to her expense account.

And—what the hell?—it’ll be better than spending another lonely night.

“I’m game,” Jane says
, pressing for the elevator. “Just one proviso.”

“What?”

“No shop talk.”

“We can’t talk about books?”

“Oh, I think it would be very difficult for either of us not to talk about books. Just not
Ivy
or
Too Long
. . . ” She sees his face. “ . . .
The Night
.”

The elevator arrives and Jane steps
inside, laughing.

Gordon follows her. “You have a deal.”

“Any objections to going down to the Meat Packing District? It’s close to my apartment and I know a nice Italian place.”

“I’m in your hands,” he says, as the
elevator doors close.

 

 

Forty-five minutes later they’re drinking Chianti and eating pasta at Luigi’s on
Washington Street.

Tom Bennett loathes Italian food and had refused to set foot in the trattoria, so the place has no unpleasant memories for Jane.

Gordon, it seems, has no such reservations and he’s tucking into his gnocchi.

“So, Jane, tell me about the authors you represent
,” he says, dabbing his chin with a  napkin.

“Well, I’ve just made the step
up from junior agent, so my list still has to grow. Until now I’ve been nurturing a memoir written by a doctor who worked with
Médecins Sans Frontières
in Africa and Asia.”

“Sounds worthy,” he says.

Jane sucks in a string of fettuccine with a little smack of her lips.

“Don’t be so dismissive.”

“Oh, I’m not. I imagine there’s an appetite for that kind of thing among the women who’re addicted to those awful agony aunt talk shows.”

Jane
shakes her head.

“You
’re such a prig. The book is beautifully written and very inspirational.”

“The author is a woman, I’m assuming?”

“Yes, but why is that relevant?”

He shrugs.

“Women are drawn to writing about certain themes.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, the bleeding heart, ten-tissue weepy kind of stuff: love affairs and failed marriages and so on.”

“So you’re dismissing all women writers?”

“Oh, not at all. They have their place in the literary firmament.”

“But they’re less important than men?”

“Well, I don’t think it can be argued that the
great
writers are all men. Certainly, those who have strived to write the Great American Novel have always been male.”

Jan
e laughs.

“God, Gordon, that is
so
Axis of Dick.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You and your boys’ club! Is a novel only significant when it’s a testosterone-heavy epic about war or adventure?”

“I’m not saying that.”

“I think you are. And tell me this, why is it that supposedly lightweight
feminine
themes like divorce, adultery and family life suddenly become
important
when tackled by male novelists like Updike, Eugenides or Franzen?”

“Perhaps because those men elevated them beyond chick-lit
?”

Jane
shakes her head.


God, you’re insufferable.”

She throws back her wine.

Jane knows she should shut up but the alcohol, the stress of the last few days and this man’s pomposity have lit her fuse.

Her eyes
narrow dangerously.

“I assume you consider
Too Long the Night
to be superior to
Ivy
?”

“I thought talk of those books was
verboten
?” Gordon says with a smirk.

“Answer
me.”

He throws down his fork with a clatter.

“You’ve read enough of
Too Long the Night
to answer that absurd question yourself.”

Jane can
no longer hold back and all the walls she has built around her contempt for his book come tumbling down.

“That book is amongst the worst I have ever read, and believe me I have spent enough years wallowing in
the Blunt Agency’s slush pile to see some lulus. It takes a compelling story of human emotion—the story of a boy broken by the loss of his first, and it seems, only love—and turns it into a clumsy and intellectually bankrupt meditation on the meaning of life and death. It
stinks
, Gordon, and only through your extortion is
Too Long
ever going to be published. It does not deserve to be. And yes,
Ivy
, is the superior book. In every way. It deals with emotions and desires in a lighthearted and humorous manner, but it’s honest and moving, and even—dare I say it?—profound.”

She sees the color drain from his face and realizes she has gone too far.

Reaching across the table she takes his hand.

“Gordon, I’m sorry
, I spoke in anger.”

He yanks his hand away and stands
, almost toppling his chair.

“I will be outside getting some air.”

He strides away and Jane beckons their waiter and settles the check.

She
exits to find Gordon trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab, flapping his arms like a penguin.

She flags down
a taxi and opens the rear door.

“Get in, Gordon
. My apartment’s just a couple of blocks away and then you can get the driver to take you on to The Pierre.”

Gordon sits beside her, staring out into the night.

They drive in silence until they reach her apartment building and as she slides out she says, “I’m sorry, Gordon. Let’s talk about this another time, okay?”

He ignores her and she slams the door and walks toward her lobby, fishing in her purse for her key.

Before she can get her key in the lock she feels somebody grab her arm and turns to see Tommy, a nasty grin twisting his face.

He’s dressed in a suit, but his tie is pulled askew and
that chemical smell hangs over him like a mushroom cloud.

He throws
Jane up against the wall beside the door and says, “You’ve ruined me bitch, now this is where I get to ruin you.”

24

 

 

 

 

What makes Gordon look back as the cab pulls away he doesn’t know.

Perhaps it’s still the shock at what Jane Cooper said about his book
?

Perhaps he looks back in some pathetic belief that she
is going to be waving at the cab to stop, that she’ll come running to his window and say, “I was just kidding, Gordon. I love your book. It’s going to be huge, I promise.”

But when he looks back
all he sees is her walking toward the lobby of a building, about to let herself in.

And then he sees a man appear out of the shadows and throw her against the wall.

Before he has time to think Gordon shouts, “Stop! Stop the cab!”

And before the taxi has halted he is out the door, sprinting down the sidewalk, shouting, “Hey! Hey!
Leave her!”

Believing that his cries will scare the mugger away.

But the thug merely turns to him and stares him down.

This gives Gordon
—never the bravest of men and certainly no pugilist—pause, and he slows to a walk.

“Let her go,” he says.

“Who is this nerd, Janey?” the man says. “Your new boyfriend?”

“You should go, Tom.”

“You know this man?” Gordon says.

“He’s my ex-fiancé,” Jane says.

“I see.”

Believing that good manners trump all, Gordon sticks out a hand.

“Gordon Rushworth.”

The man takes his hand, but not to shake it, merely to
bend Gordon’s index finger to the point of breaking.

Gordon yelps and sink
s to his knees.

“Jesus, Tom, what the hell are you doing?” Jane says, pulling at his
assailant’s arm.

Gordon, eyes blurred by tears, sees the man let go of his hand and swing on Jane, slapping her through the face.

Gordon scrambles to his feet and lunges at the swine.

He is met with a
shoe to the groin that fells him, leaving him lying curled like a worm
on the sidewalk, weeping.

 

 

As
Gordon topples, Jane’s fear is replaced by raw, red, rage.

She s
pots a cyclist’s lock and chain lying on the sidewalk and grips it, swinging it at Tom’s skull.

It connects and blood wells, soaking his hair and seeping through his fingers when he puts them to his head.

“Jesus, Janey, what have you done?” he says with a whimper.

“The question, Tom, is what I’ll do if you don’t get lost. Right now.”

She swings the chain again and he backs away, blood dappling the sidewalk, then he turns and sprints into the night.

Jane
kneels down beside her would-be savior.

“Gordon, are you okay
?”

“I’m fine,” he says in a high voice, “I just may never sing tenor again.”

She laughs and so does he, even though it causes him to suck in his breath in agony.

Jane
helps him to his feet.

“You’d better come upstairs,” she says and they lurch into the lobby.

“Okay, but please don’t offer me an ice pack,” he says.

25

 

 

 

 

“So, are you going to tell me why you were engaged to Patrick Bateman from
American Psycho
?” Gordon asks as he slumps on Jane’s couch, taking the glass of water she brings him from the kitchen.

She sits opposite him, her face even paler than usual.

“Are you okay?” she says.

“I think my pride is more bruised than my . . .”

He wags a hand in the vague direction of his groin.

“Why?” Jane says. “You were very brave.”

“Well, the damsel in distress
did
end up having to rescue her rescuer.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gordon. If you hadn’t come charging up like that
God knows what Tom would have done. You distracted him and took most of the punishment.”

“You’re dodging my question,” he says. “What were you doing with that creep?”

Gordon drinks his water as Jane tells him how she was duped by Tom Bennett’s buttoned-down charm.

How she walked in on him sporting with a trio of playmates in her bedroom.

And how she emailed the photographs to his bosses.

“God, Jane, I’m sorry. You must be devastated.”

“Humiliated, more than anything, that I was taken in by him.”

“He’s clearly a sociopath. That’s his talent: duping people.”

“Perhaps. But it still stings.”

Gordon puts down his water glass and can’t suppress a grimace as he shifts to the front of the couch.

“You have to call the police. That guy is dangerous.”

“You’re right of course, Gordon, but just think of the publicity? On the eve of the
Ivy
media blitz tomorrow?” She shakes her head. “I can’t.”

“So work comes before your own safety?”

She shrugs.

“You boss must love you,” Gordon says.

“I’ve waited years for this break. I’m not going to let Tommy screw it up.”

Jane
stands and walks over to the window, staring out into the night.

“I owe you an apology, Gordon,”
she says, turning toward him.

“Why?”

“You were the unintended target of a lot of my rage against Tommy when I lashed out at you earlier tonight.”

“Perhaps, but I
was
being a real prig.” He shakes his head. “The thing is, I don’t even believe half the nonsense that I sprouted. It’s like somewhere along the road I started playing the role of the cranky academic and it became a suit of armor that I’d trot out whenever I was nervous.”

“You were nervous? Tonight?”

“Come on,” he says. “You’re the only person I’ve ever sat face-to-face with who has read my book. Or part of it, at least.”

“Hasn’t Bitsy read it?”

“Good God, no! I never had the courage to give it to her.”

“Then I’m even more sorry, Gordon. I was cruel.”

He shakes his head.

“No, you were honest.”

“It’s unfair of me to give an opinion based on seven chapters.”

“Seven
very
long
chapters.”

“Admittedly.”

“And you weren’t exactly champing at the bit to read on, were you?”

She stares at him, saying nothing.

“It’s okay, Jane. Give it to me straight.”

“I’d rather have my fingernails
ripped out with pliers than read more of your book.”

He laughs, and then yelps, and has to restrain himself from cupping his nether regions.

She approaches him.

“Are you okay?”

“What’s the old gag about ‘only when I laugh’?”

He waves a hand at a chair.

“Sit, Jane, you’re making me nervous.”

She sits.

Gordon says, “I no longer want
Too Long the Night
published, Jane.”

“Oh come on, Gordon. There may be an editor out there who loves it.”

He shakes his head.

“There won’t
be. I’ve had enough rejection letters to wallpaper your apartment. It’s time I moved on.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes.”

She nods.

“Well, okay then.”

“Don’t tell me you aren’t relieved?”

Shrugging, Jane says, “I hated the deceit, Gordon. I hated having to hide my feelings about the book and I hated being complicit in the extortionate way in which it would have been published.”

“Talking of deceit . . .”

She looks at him warily.

Gordon says,
“Perhaps it’s time for me to be completely honest about
Ivy
.”

Jane rockets to her feet, holding up a hand as if she’s
halting traffic.

“Hold it right there, Gordon
, before you say another word. If you raise issues about the authorship of
Ivy
I’ll be obliged to put a stop to tomorrow’s media junket. And—talking hypothetically, of course—if the author should be a person other than your sister, then the identity of that person is going to be revealed in a
very
public way. I know that tonight has been emotionally charged and perhaps you aren’t thinking clearly, so I’m going to make some coffee and give you a couple of minutes to ponder this.”

She leaves Gordon alone.

Well, not quite alone.

Suzie appears on the couch beside him, resting her chin on her hand, staring at him with her green, slightly almond eyes.

“Spill the beans to her, Gordo. You know you want to.”

He looks away, hoping she’ll evaporate, but she doesn’t.

“Spill the beans and take her into the bedroom and bang the bejesus out of her. That old aphrodisiac, adrenaline, is still coursing through your veins and it’s plain to see that you’re dying to tear into each other like alley cats.”

“Go away!” he hisses.

“Did you say something, Gordon?” Jane calls from the kitchen.

“No, I sneezed.”

“Gesundheit,” she says.

Suzie is doubled up with laughter beside him.

“God, you’re such a wimp! Play Tarzan with Jane and then get in front of the cameras at The Pierre tomorrow and claim what’s yours, Gordo. You know you want to.”

As Jane steps back into the room carrying two mugs of coffee, Suzie dematerializes.

Jane, handing Gordon, a mug says, “So? Is there something you want to tell me?”

And the words are
right there, lining up on his tongue, ready to fly out and change his life, but all Gordon can do is shake his head and say, “No, Jane. There’s nothing I want to say to you, nothing at all.”

And is that relief he sees in her eyes, or disappointment?

BOOK: Mr. Love: A Romantic Comedy
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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