Friday Fiction: The Foreign Language of Friends

If you’re just joining this blog, please feel free to look back at previous Fridays to get earlier chapters of The Foreign Language of Friends (now available on Amazon as an e-book — Sony, B&N, and Apple soon!). I’m working on a POD version of the book as well.

Have a great weekend! See you Monday!

CHAPTER SIX – JUNE 26

 

Claire woke in the morning feeling as though she hadn’t slept at all. Her head ached, and her eyes struggled to focus. She stretched, circling her sore left arm. Must have slept on it wrong. She hadn’t overindulged the night before and had, in fact, gotten plenty of rest. Thank God it was Sunday, when she always maintained a light workload, just three or four hours.

She’d planned to meet Heather and Anne for Sunday brunch, a monthly ritual they’d begun after the girls finished college. Claire often lost track of time during the big McClendon projects, so the monthly brunch was her way of not losing touch with her girls. Evelyn’s idea. Evelyn, Claire’s longtime and long-suffering assistant, had nudged Claire toward a more involved motherhood, despite Claire’s ongoing resistance. Claire brushed off a moment of guilt, reminding herself that Heather and Anne were far better off with their hard-driving, ambitious mother than if she had let them stay poor. She had provided them all the advantages she’d had to fight for, and now they were strong, successful women themselves. Claire enjoyed visiting with her daughters and looked forward to their monthly gatherings, where they could relate as adults. She had struggled through their childhood, seeing her children as mysterious and unfathomable creatures. Never playful herself, Claire found their sense of whimsy and silliness confusing. Now that they were grown, they could all speak the same language.

She moved slowly, fatigue adding heaviness to her limbs. When she tried to move more quickly, a wave of nausea stopped her, and she hoped she wasn’t getting the flu. Never having taken a single sick day during all her years at McClendon, Claire couldn’t even remember when she’d last had a cold.

She thought back to the day before, to the so-called study group that looked like it would end up being a waste of time. Everyone seemed nice enough, but the slow pace drove Claire crazy. Afterwards, she had gone straight to work, just as she did every Saturday, relieved to slip into the one environment where she felt like she belonged. She was most productive and enjoyed going into the office when few others were there. Of course, with the end of a major deal drawing near, this time she had plenty of company, but everyone tended to be quiet on Saturdays so they could get home as soon as possible. Claire always outlasted everyone else.

They were down to final clauses. McClendon had won a bid to construct a natural gas pipeline to connect Atlanta Energy’s platform in the Gulf of Mexico to McClendon’s processing plant in southern Mississippi. Atlanta, flexing its “Big Oil” muscle, had sent its lawyers shut down the deal during their last meeting, wanting McClendon to cut its bid to the bone. McClendon had already cut their profits just to get the business, and while Claire knew that deals like this always worked out in the end, those last weeks and days were the worst. One pissing contest after another.

Yes, she had put in a long day, but she’d felt satisfied when she walked out the door that evening. She had picked up an order of pasta primavera from the Italian place around the corner from her loft, and had drunk just one glass of wine.

No matter how much she dissected the day, Claire didn’t notice anything odd or different. Well, there was that sinking spell she’d had at mid-afternoon, but that was probably from lack of lunch. She had been too absorbed in her tasks to take a break, but that wasn’t unusual. An overall indifference to food was what helped her maintain her lean frame.

Still, something had felt a little off. And certainly, today was worse. She would never cancel the brunch, though, and closed her eyes for a while longer, hoping that the feeling would pass. It didn’t, and when she realized she was going to be late unless she got moving, she gathered her will to get up from bed. She waded through the quicksand of her tired body, showered, dressed, and put on her makeup. The shower helped, at least. When she got to the restaurant, she felt triumphant. I just needed a little rest. I’m fine. Squinting under the sun’s glare, she scanned the restaurant until she saw two hands waving at her. Smiling, she went to hug her daughters.

“Mom, you’re late again,” Heather scolded. “Working all morning, I suppose!”

Claire shook her head. For a moment she felt vulnerable — small, as her mother used to say. She ignored the feeling and smiled. “No, believe it or not, I took the morning off to rest.”

Anne laughed as she reached out to hug Claire. “That’s funny, Mom.”

“No, really, I mean it. If it’s any comfort to you, I worked all day yesterday after my study group.”

“How’s that going?” asked Heather. “Have you chewed up and spit out your fellow classmates yet?”

“Not all of them,” Claire said, “but there’s still time.” She made herself comfortable at the table. Heather and Anne had already ordered mimosas, and Claire waved to the waiter for the same.

“My girls,” Claire said, appraising them. Heather looked like her father, something that still pained Claire after all these years. Though tall like Claire, she had a sturdier build, wavy brown hair, and large, deep-set brown eyes. Anne, Claire’s little fairy princess, resembled no one in the family that Claire knew of. Petite and small-boned, Anne looked almost frail. She had straight blonde hair, which she wore loosely down her back, making her look younger than she was, and a dusting of tan freckles covered her nose and cheeks. Annie sometimes deceived people with her looks, disarming them with her soft appearance. She had inherited Claire’s ability to go for the jugular and had followed Claire’s footsteps into the energy industry, though she preferred the “real action” of selling the commercial deals to prospective customers over legal work, which she saw as boring paper-pushing.

“Are you okay?” Heather asked. “You seem a little pale.”

“Just tired, dear,” Claire said. “And I could use some food. I’m famished.”

They chatted as they always did, though Claire at times lost track of the conversation. From time to time she saw Heather giving her quizzical looks, but she just smiled and pretended that nothing was wrong. She talked about work, of course, though she found herself talking more about the Spanish class and the new friends she had made.

“Mom, that sounds great,” Heather said. “You could use some friends who talk about something other than work.”

“Maybe so,” Claire said with a sigh. “I’m just not sure that your mother has anything else to talk about anymore.”

“What about taking a little time off?” Heather asked.

“Not going to happen anytime soon. The big project I’m on now has gone on long past what we expected it to, and we’re going to start negotiations with a multinational corporation soon.” Claire spoke in code to her daughters, as all of her work was highly confidential. She never used corporation names, even when they weren’t out in public.

Heather laughed, the earthy, hearty sounds echoing those of her father. “Seriously, Mother, why don’t you do something fun? They’ve got to let you out sometime.”

Anne rolled her eyes. “Heather, this is how things are done. We’re not all teachers, with the summers off and a long winter break. Some of us have to work for a living.”

“Excuse me for trying to bring out the humanity in this family,” Heather said. “And I won’t even go into the myths about a teacher’s schedule. Mom, I know you’re a big mover and shaker and all, but haven’t you ever considered relaxing for once?”

“Not really,” Claire said, her face deadpan. Seeing the look of horror on Heather’s face, she added, “Honestly, work is my fun. I’m sorry you don’t understand that. Although, Anne,” she added, noticing the triumphant look on her younger daughter’s face, “we should be thankful that we have someone trying to keep us in balance.”

Anne frowned at that, and she and Heather eyed each other warily. Though grown, with fulfilling lives of their own, they had never stopped competing with each other.

Claire changed the subject then, regaling them with stories of outgoing Julia, shy Ellen, and Mickey the human pinball. She wondered aloud what Señora Martin’s story was. Claire and her daughters spent the rest of their brunch in relaxed conversation, and Claire found herself laughing more than she had in a long time. She realized that in the study group, despite her impatience, she had felt — dare she think it — happy. For the time being, her fatigue disappeared.

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