“Did you know you’ve got ants all over your kitchen?” Char was back, and had seated herself gingerly on the edge of the bathroom counter. “Do you have any bug spray?”
“Under the sink.” Good, maybe she’d leave Kate alone if she could go kill something.
That woman was impossible. Who else would even mention the ants, let alone offer to get out the bug spray.
If only she could just stay in the shower and fantasize – about the parrots returning, about Clifford…. She was more fascinated by his presence, his genuine interest in what she had to say, than his appearance. Oh, he was pleasant enough to look at, but there was also an electric charge about him, a magnetism, that worked on her like a drug. What would he be like as a lover? Not that George couldn’t be good…but it had been a very long time. With Cliff it might be…well, she didn’t know what it would be, did she? She signed deeply and stepped out of the shower as Charlotte was coming into the bedroom.
“That’s done. I found where the little buggers were coming in on the back porch and sprayed all around the stoop. Now you’re out of spray, though.”
“God, Char – that was a new can!”
“Well, you probably won’t have any more ants in the kitchen for awhile. Hurry up – I thought you’d be dressed by now. Your very particular presence is quite necessary at this lunch.”
“Why? I’m not on the program.”
“There’s some big alum, and Warren thinks he is about to drop a bundle on the university, and this guy asked if you would be there. I promised I’d make sure you were.”
Kate felt a little shock in the pit of her stomach. She had to sit down on the bed.
“Clifford somebody…I think it’s Clifford Stewart. He’s in town to collect the rest of an impressive inheritance, which he probably doesn’t even need, and has been behind closed doors with Warren several times in the last two weeks.”
The bubble of hope was rising. She brushed her damp hair back and fastened it with a clip. She wished she had time to get it up off her neck, but this would have to do.
“Don’t wear that tacky clip! Use the silver one I bought you – it’s good with your red hair.”
Kate sighed, and did as she was told.
“And put on that white halter-top dress – you look fabulous in that.”
That dress was clean, but she couldn’t wear a bra with it. Oh the hell with it, she’d wear it – but not to please Char. She’d wear it to please Clifford.
She grabbed a pale green sweater to throw over her shoulders and slipped into a pair of flat sandals.
“Aren’t you going to wear stockings and heels?”
“I am not.”
“Oh well, come on then. Warren’s probably worked himself into apoplexy.”
Kate glanced up at the palm tree next door as they left the house. No green parrots there. Yet.
They were thirty minutes late. The University Club was freezing, the air conditioning cranked up to accommodate the number of bodies packed into the dining room. Kate was glad she had grabbed a sweater. The room was, as always, divided into factions. The fine arts and humanities people had the two round tables at the back of the room, the social sciences were, as usual, split between two tables on opposite sides, leaving science and math in the middle. Nobody had to assign tables, this was just how the faculty always sorted themselves. George was missing from his usual spot. Where was he, anyway? But she was glad he hadn't come.
“We’re at the head table.” Char was nudging Kate to move forward. President Warren Fordham, Char’s husband, was looking at his watch.
“Where were you?” he hissed as he rose to pull out Charlotte’s chair. “I was afraid you weren’t coming!”
“Kate wasn’t ready when I got there, so I had to wait while she made herself presentable.”
“And I’ll take all the blame, as usual,” Kate said, smiling.
Cliff pulled out Kate’s chair. “I was afraid you might not be here today,” he whispered.
“Oh, yes, I’m here, finally. But I had no idea you were on the guest list! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I should have called. I wanted to.”
Someone was putting a salad on her left. Cliff poured wine into Kate’s glass.
“Not for me, thanks,” Char lightly grabbed his wrist before he could fill her glass, looking up at him and smiling. “I’m driving! So, you two already know each other?”
Kate knew it wasn’t driving Char was thinking about. It was her waistline. She kicked off her sandals under cover of the long tablecloth, and sipped her wine. Damn. Now she’d have to cook up some response about how she and Cliff knew each other – and be grilled later about why she hadn’t mentioned this very salient point when they were on their way to the Club.
“I’ve known Professor Walding since my last visit. She was the speaker the last time I attended one of these events. How’s the Center going, by the way? You were just getting started and looking for funding, I believe.”
Pretty smooth talker, fast on his feet. She smiled at him and said, “Well, the Center is probably going to fold after this semester for lack of that very funding I was looking for. I’ve come to the end of all resources, personally and campus-wide. The trickle of support we did get from the University has been diverted, apparently.” She looked at Warren. “Right, boss?”
Warren cleared his throat and started to respond. But before he could, Cliff said to him, “Actually, that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. I have a proposal that might solve the funding crisis with the Center.”
Then he turned to Kate. “Would you be able to meet with me after this lunch today? I’d like to discuss my plans with you.”
Kate could feel Char’s eyes on her. “Sure. We can talk. But you’ll have to give me a ride home.”
Char cleared her throat loudly and said, “So, Mr. Stewart, is your wife with us today?”
“I’d prefer Cliff – and no, my wife is no longer with me at all. I’m recently – and happily – divorced.”
Kate smiled. Char was a real pain in the ass, but she did go right for the bottom line.
The salad was surprisingly good. Pears, blue cheese, and fancy baby greens with sugared walnuts. Disappointing to have overcooked salmon served up next. At least she was sitting next to Cliff, who was obviously bored stiff with Charlotte. She kept on and on about litigating some issue on behalf of the city against a radical environmental group. He was, however, attentively filling Kate’s glass. She sat in a kind of hazy glow, startled when he pushed back his chair and went to stand by Warren at the podium.
After the usual welcoming remarks, Warren turned to Cliff and said “I’m very pleased to announce that Mr. Stewart has generously donated a sum of money to the University which will allow four new, full scholarships for deserving students. I’ll let him tell you how students can qualify, and who has been selected to receive the first awards for next year. And, Mr. Stewart will be honored next June at our commencement ceremony with our first honorary doctorate degree!”
Kate snapped to attention. She’d been trying to get an honorary doctorate in place for the last five years. How, now, suddenly was it so easily accomplished? And why didn’t she know about it? Her fund-raising for the Center could have been so much more effective with that honorary degree as an incentive! Cliff must have made one whopping gift to turn the academic council around so completely.
George had to have known about this. He was on the council, and the university couldn’t award any honorary degree without approval from that body. Why hadn’t he told her? One more betrayal.
Kate slipped her arms into her sweater, and signaled a waiter for coffee. Suddenly, she was very cold.