3 - Audrey
Solitaire was neither a waste of time nor a nuerotic addiction; it was a form of meditation. Jim played often, although since the computer kept a running score, the games melded into an eternal whole; an Amazonian river steadily replenished by the rains of short breaks and stolen moments. These fugitive sessions lasted about five minutes, give or take. Jim had developed a lightning quick eye for the cards and was so adept at the point and click mouse mechanisms that he could often finish two and sometimes three games in that span.
In the past three years he had only been interrupted mid-game twice, both times by Gracie, the daft receptionist. (Daft. British again. What was going on?) On each occasion he had reflexively switched out of Solitaire into some other program quickly enough to cover his sin.
In his first year with Can-Am he had come upon the philosophy of Solitaire as meditation. It gave him no pleasure to win and no pain to lose. His skill was so keen that once the pack was shuffled, the outcome was determined. He would miss no opportunity to win if it was possible given the sorting of the cards, and would certainly lose if it were not possible. It was his cigarette break or his trip to the water cooler. He played as if in a trance, and upon completion, a game drifted out of existence like a forgotten dream. It was lost time, a time of not-being--a transcendental Zen moment. Afterwards he would return to his duties fresh and productive, in theory.
Audrey appeared, registering his third ever interruption. This was no crisis; even if he wasn't lightning quick Audrey would not have noticed Jim's little game. Audrey never noticed anything that didn't directly affect her.
She wore a conservative, but noticeably tight dress of solid burgundy. No one could ever accuse her of being a provocative dresser, but there was no doubt about the underlying shape. She was fashion model skinny, angular, almost slinky in a professional sort of way. As the Decrepitude's daughter, and his presumptive heiress, there was no one Audrey needed to impress, but one should not waste any assets, including severe beauty. Her beauty came from perfectionism; from elitist rejection of anything less than complete and obvious superiority.
And she had chosen Jim.
Chosen. Jim had no doubt that chosen was the right word. Attractive and wealthy, with uncompromising standards, Audrey chose because she could. It was not malicious or vindictive, it was simply the way of things. On their first date, her conversation had been quite openly autobiographical, as if already knowing it was a story for the ages. Jim was impressed by how so much of life just happened the way it was supposed to for Audrey.
The only reason she ever wanted for anything was that her parents decided she should. Despite their comfortably upper (way upper) middle class station they would not raise a spoiled child, and they did not. By the time she reached puberty, house policy was that when Audrey wanted something that was not within reach of her thirty-five dollar weekly allowance she would have to come up with half the cost. Her first car--a used but still pretty Toyota Celica--at age sixteen was a toughie. Luckily, a college friend of her mother had just opened a toney boutique and Audrey offered her unerring sense of style, her status among the other girls, and her social connections to the enterprise by working weekends and Thursday evening after school. Often Audrey's little girlfriends would visit and spend hours just trying things on without spending a dime, but later their mothers would buy, relying on their savagely fashionable daughters to identify the trends. Audrey, in contrast, did not spend one penny of her paychecks until the pretty Toyota Celica was hers.
Two months in Switzerland after high school graduation was even more difficult. Her first attempt at this was modeling. Dutifully, Audrey took a few classes offered by a professional agency but found the whole scene thoroughly disappointing. The instructor seemed to be making things up as she went along. Audrey would spot the inconsistencies in the lessons from day to day, whereas the other girls didn't seem to notice. The teacher--an aging model herself with perfect makeup and clothes; only crow's feet and a slight sag in the hips betraying her fallen status--would have a girl strike a certain pose to illustrate whatever principal was on her agenda; how a certain angle of the shoulders or carriage of the head was used to invoke a certain impression. Subsequently she would pick an opposite pose and suggest it portrayed the same thing.
Audrey asked naively, "Miss Marlene, yesterday when you posed Rachel, you said that head down and open shoulders showed allure. This pose has the head up with shoulders turned. Does that mean allure has two poses, and if so, what is the underlying principal for allure poses in general?"
"Both poses can show allure depending on the circumstances," Miss Marlene responded tersely.
It was not immediately clear to Audrey whether Miss Marlene's reaction to her question was incomprehension or indignation, but Audrey rightly sensed it wouldn't pay to inquire as to the circumstances to which she was referring. The effect of this was to make Audrey associate modeling with happenstance and fortune. Modeling was not, in Audrey's view, a skill to be mastered. It was hit or miss and hope providence smiles on you.
So Audrey quickly lost interest in modeling and settled for an intern position at Can-Am for Daddy and Jake. She answered phones and did some filing and was, of course, better at it than the women who were actually hired to perform those tasks. She found those people appalling. They seemed to do as little as possible, even to the point of putting effort into determining what was as little as possible. And could they talk! They would prattle on endlessly about their boyfriends-husbands-children-parents-siblings-cousins-neighbors-strangers. This banality was expressed in unimaginably minute detail. 'Can you believe the price of little Billy's toy' and 'Henry didn't take out the garbage so now it has to sit in the garage for a week' and 'Aunt May forgot to take her pill so she turned orange from eating the rice pudding' and 'Sam refused to drive around the parking lot and look for a closer space even though she knew it was going to be raining when they came out.' Didn't they realize nobody cared? They weren't even listening to each other. They never discussed work, except to complain about how much they had to do and how mistreated and underpaid they were. They were all either looking for another job or planning on going back to school to get their degree so they could get out of there. There was never a wasted sick day.
In one particularly telling incident a relatively new, lacquer-haired receptionist had spent the better part of the day complaining about some filing she had to do and how she didn't have time for that kind of thing. Audrey, willing to do just about anything to end the complaining, completed the all filing while the woman was on a cigarette break.
"I overheard how busy you were, so I took care of that filing for you," Audrey offered.
The woman returned a false grin and said, "Well, aren't you Daddy's sweet little girl."
The woman left early that day with a headache. Audrey never forgot what those people were like, even though those specific those people were long gone by the time she returned to Can-Am with her Masters degree from Princeton.
Jim looked up with disapproval at the appellation 'Darling.'
She eased through the office with the stylized step of the runway. "Oh don't worry, darling, nobody's listening behind the walls."
"Don't be so sure," Jim cautioned.
"It's not like it's a big secret."
"It has to be. Even if everyone already knows." He could correct Audrey on this issue because it was not important to her and because it was a ready-made acknowledgement of Audrey's superior position. It would bring no harm to Audrey if there was open discussion of their affair, but Jim would suffer the alienation and awkward prejudices of his peers.
Audrey grinned a you're-so-precious grin. "Out to dinner with my Princeton friends tonight. Café Provenance. What do you think? I'll pick you up at seven-thirty."
Was Jim given an option there? He couldn't tell. And he hated her Princeton friends already (as much as he hated the word 'B-school'), without even having met them.
She gave Jim's right ear lobe a little bite, just to be a bit of a naughty girl, then exited with her professional saunter. Jim eyed the bitter angle of her spare waist as she left. He shuffled a couple of papers and decided he needed another solitaire break. Maybe two.