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February 4th - 9th: Behind Frenemy Lines

 
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Jackie Sullivan
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:03 am    Post subject: February 4th - 9th: Behind Frenemy Lines Reply with quote

Tuesday, February 4th, 2013 -- afternoon

Ben didn't take Richard's advice as just talk -- he really didn't think about the business proposition the entire time he and Jackie were soaking up the sun and enjoying each other's company. It isn't until he goes back to work on Monday that he even thinks about it at all, and he's got so much catching up on his cases to do that he can't really think about it until a couple of days after that -- and then things get a little crazy with Harry, and with Peaches, and it isn't until after the weekend that he makes his decision and makes the time to give Richard a call.

Just like before, he's at his desk, leaning back in his chair with his feet kicked up, and just like before, "Hi, I'm calling for Richard Kensington. Ben Sullivan," when Richard's assistant picks up.

The smooth yet friendly voice of Rochelle perks when Ben drops his name. Although she had only spoken to him once before on the phone and was simply in charge of getting him information about his trip via email, she still manages to make it sound like they were longtime friends. "Of course, Mr. Sullivan, it's so nice to hear from you again. Mr. Kensington has been expecting your call. Just one moment, please." Apparently Richard surrounded himself with people just like him. People who could put you at ease with a few simple words.

Something about that puts part of Ben on the defense, makes him feel guarded, suspicious -- because that's an act, right? Just a subtle manipulation? But for whatever reason, it doesn't bother him the way it should. He's usually a good judge of people, so maybe some people really are just this nice? That's what he tells himself, anyway, while he waits through the short bit of hold music, murmuring, "So nice to hear from you again," to himself, amused.

There's a click on the line that leads to classical music. It only lasts a short while before there's another click and a man's familiar jovial voice on the phone. "Ah, Ben, I was hoping to hear from you this week. I'm actually rather pleased you put it off and didn't rush to calling right when you got home from your trip. What did you and Miss Daniels think of Fantome?"

He sits up a little straighter when Richard's voice is on the line, but then he's slouching down a little more. "It was amazing. Absolutely perfect. I can't thank you enough for letting us stay there. It was just what we needed, I think. I took your advice and didn't think about anything business while we were there, too. But now that I've had the time to think it over... it's a good proposition. I need the help, and I think you can offer me just what I need." A little pause while he pulls his feet down from his desk, starts hunting through the couple of scattered files on his desk for his planner -- old-fashioned enough to still use a paper one. "I still owe you dinner, right? Maybe we can hammer out details and make it official then. Better to talk business after a couple of drinks anyway."

"That's fantastic to hear, Ben. I told you, sometimes getting away is just what a man needs to clear his mind. That way he can return to business at hand with a fresh outlook. Fantome is perfect for that. And speaking from experience with Claudia, it never hurts to have a lovely companion with you for the week. I hope Miss Daniels enjoyed it just as much." Even when Ben switches to business talk, Richard's voice still has that crisp bounce in it. Upbeat and concise. "Of course I think you're making the right decision, Ben, but I am looking forward to speaking with you in person and laying out the details for you. Yes, we did agree upon dinner and as you said, a couple of drinks never hurt. Are you and Miss Daniels free at all this weekend? Claudia and I are more than happy to have you to our home when it's convenient for you both."

"She loved it, she really did." The smile is probably even audible in Ben's voice. It really had been nice to take Jackie on a trip like that -- not just to get the Southern girl some sun, but to have time to focus on just her. He tries to make time for her, even with all the other things he's juggling, but he can't always make as much as he would like. A week of just them had felt really good. "I think Saturday works for us if it works for you two. You're sure I can't take you and Claudia out somewhere as a thanks for the trip? If you really want to have us over to your home, though, I'm definitely not saying no."

"Glad to hear. Always much easier to stay happy and focused when the lady of your life is happy as well. I speak from experience and I'm sure you can relate." There was a chuckle in his tone before he scoffed lightly. "Saturday is perfect for us. And honestly, I insist you and Miss Daniels come to our home for dinner. Those were the terms of the trip, no taking Claudia and I out for dinner necessary. The four of us will be able to eat, get acquainted, then you and I can have ourselves a chat while the girls talk about the shopping at Kahili Bay. I hope you both made it into town. I know it's hard to want to to leave the island at times, but Claudia raves about the shopping in Kahili."

"Yeah, I can definitely relate." Amused. "Alright, okay, if you insist," faux-reluctant, and that smile doesn't leave his tone. "I'm sure they'll have a lot to talk about. We did manage to make it there for a shopping trip one day. I can understand why Claudia likes it so much. Jackie found a couple things she really liked, too." And then a couple more. "Alright, so Saturday? Maybe six-thirty, seven?"

"Considering how often Claudia lingers around Kahili even after all these years I believe their meeting about shopping will more than likely last even longer than ours. Saturday at six-thirty is perfect. I'll have Rochelle send along directions to you. Looking forward to seeing you both and getting a chance to talk things over with you, Ben."

"Probably it will. You know how girls are." He hopes, anyway -- he hopes the two girls will find some common ground, that Jackie will feel comfortable, that it won't be too, too stressful for her. He worries, sometimes, that this change in his life -- bumping elbows with the elite -- is too much for her, that it isn't worth the trouble it takes her to adapt. For now, though, there's nothing he can do about it. "Six-thirty, great. I'm looking forward to it too. See you then, Richard." After hanging up, he delays in calling Jackie to tell her that they've got plans on Saturday, but after a sigh, he dials her number, waits for her to pick up so he can tell her the news.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday, February 9th, 2013 -- early evening

At least Jackie had had more notice this time, right? She's known for a while now that they owed Richard and Claudia a dinner in exchange for letting them use their place on Fantome Island, and Ben had told her that it was going to be Saturday night a few days in advance. That had to at least make it a little bit better.

Ben's just as relaxed (at least outwardly) as he usually is for these sorts of things, business as usual: same rental car, a perfectly tailored dark grey suit, button-up shirt, tie (though it's already loosened a little), black wool overcoat. Not all-out, but not casual, either -- but he doesn't feel dressed up, really, or at least doesn't feel uncomfortable. If he isn't used to this, he sure acts like he is.

He picks Jackie up at six, just like he'd said he would, and the ride to Richard's is uneventful (even if Ben still pushes the car a little extra on the open stretches of road when he gets a chance to). "You're okay with this, right? --I mean, I guess it's a little late to be asking..." A little sheepish, when he rolls up in front of the home and puts the car in park, kills the engine. Doesn't get out of the car right away, though -- maybe he really would leave if she asked him to. "You know there's no reason for you to be nervous, right? Just be you."

When it came to the amount of warning Jackie had gotten to prepare this time around she had no room to complain. This dinner was something that had been weighing on her since before they had gone on vacation to Fantome Island, but she had tried as hard as possible to not let it eat at her. It wouldn't be a big deal, right? It was Ben, his business associate, and Claudia. Richard was a little much for Jackie to handle with a straight face at times, but Claudia hadn't been so bad. The real issue was that these occasions were becoming more and more intimate. These days Jackie longed for the Christmas Gala which felt so long ago, when she was able to sink into the crowd and get lost amongst so many faces. Now it was going to come down to one on one chit chat and her usual bar talk didn't seem it was going to fly with Claudia.

She was given days to prepare and she used every last minute she had. Everything in her closet either felt too over the top or too under dressed. After attempting to find a happy place in the middle it came down to a simple enough black dress with a pale pink rose pattern stretching across it. The dress paired with black heels, her hair fixed into loose curls, and a black waistcoat helped to put her at ease. It felt no different than what she would wear on a date with Ben for dinner and dancing. Ben had approved when he picked her up, so that was a good sign. But even with that vote of confidence she was still left fidgeting with her fingers in her lap the entire way to the Kensington's.

The house holds her attention for a long while. She's surprised yet not all at the same time. Considering what the vacation home on Fantome Island was like she should have already assumed they would live somewhere like this, but it was still shocking that someone would reside in such a large, lovely home. Especially since she was rather sure it was only Richard and Claudia there considering there hadn't been any mention of kids during the Winston dinner party.

Her silent debating came to a quick halt when Ben asked his question. She gave a little blink of surprise when she looked his way because, yes, it was way too late to be asking that now. "I'm fine." Far too quick to respond, too automatic. It was her go-to answer and she knew he was well aware. So, she paused to actually take inventory of her insides and think it over. "Bein' just me doesn't really work in this situation, Ben. Take me to a bar or a bonfire an' tell me to jus' be me. But that ain't happenin' here." She didn't mean for it to sound so negative and to soften the statement she gave a weak smile. "But I'll be fine. Y'know I always panic before these things. It's like a tradition or somethin'."

Ben doesn't call her on her automatic 'I'm fine;' he knows she knows he won't buy it. He just watches her for a few seconds, then turns to look at the house himself, fingering the keys still in the ignition. When she goes on, it does sound negative, and his brows draw together a little in concern. He turns to face her right about when she's giving him that smile, but it only gets a frown out of him. The little joke about her panicking being a tradition lessens it some, but it doesn't disappear completely, not until he lays one hand lightly against her cheek, leans in to kiss her, just to one side of her mouth. "Jackie..." Taking both her hands in his, he hesitates in whatever he's about to say, keeping eye contact with her during that moment. When he drops his gaze, he's sighing, but at least he's smiling then too. "Yeah, I know you always panic before these things. I don't know why, though." Lifting his gaze to meet hers again, he pulls one of her hands to his mouth at the same time, pressing a kiss to the back of it. "You always do great, sunshine. One more reason on the very, very long list of reasons why I love you." Letting that sentiment linger for a couple seconds, and then his smile quirks a little crookedly and he lets her go, finally pulling the keys from the ignition before getting out of the car.

Jackie had somehow managed to hold her smile even when he frowned. It wasn't going to help either of them if she allowed the worry curled in her stomach to come to the surface. Pale pink lips pursed against his misplaced kiss and her hands wrapped around his like she were the one assuring him everything would be alright. "Ben." It was said lightly during his hesitation, not wanting to allow that silence to linger. "It's the same way someone gets butterflies before goin' on stage even if they've done it a hundred times before." Funny since she always felt like she was putting on a performance at these sorts of things. "Like you said, I'll be fine. I know you'll be right by my side and won't let me flounder. Just one reason on a very, very long list of reasons why I love you, too." She smiled in return, making it a little brighter so he knew she was going to be okay and not lock herself in the vehicle once he got out.

It's funny -- Ben actually does sort of need the reassurance, and a little bit of the tension melts from his shoulders, even though it might not even be visible under his suit and his overcoat; the smile comes easier right before he gets out of the car. It isn't that he needs the reassurance that Jackie will be fine. He knows she will be. It's that he wants to know that she believes it too. He'll get her car door if she's not quick enough to do it herself, and either way, he's at her side as they make their way to the front door of the house -- at first his hand is at the small of her back, but after a few seconds, he breaks that contact, takes her hand in his instead.

She's learned already to not get out of the car. To wait for him to come around and open it for her. It was a habit of his and something she was growing to enjoy so why deter it? Heels click softly as they move up the path towards the front door, her gaze lifting to sweep the massive home in front of them appraisingly. "It looks like a museum from the outside." The words were thankfully mumbled under her breath because they were barely at the front door for a second or two before the great white door was sweeping open.

The woman in the doorway was somewhat on the heavier side, clothed in a simple black dress and white apron, with a round face and inviting smile so wide it caused her eyes to crinkle at the edges. "Mister Sullivan and Miss Daniels, I presume." Her faint accent was hard to place, made even more difficult considering the people of RhyDin could come from practically anywhere. "Please, come inside and allow me to take your coats. Mister and Missus Kensington are awaiting your arrival in the study."

Jackie might have mumbled those words under her breath, but they make Ben laugh, and even though he mostly stifles it, the door is swinging open right at the tail end of that, just as he's composing himself. He gives her hand an extra squeeze before letting go, touching her lightly at the small of her back again to usher her inside, staying behind her so he can help her take off her coat after she's got it unbuttoned. Gentleman. "Thank you, Miss...?" Letting her fill in the blank. He knows it's not always par for the course to get names from the help, but Ben usually asks anyway. After he's got Jackie's coat, he slips off his own, and he hands both over to the woman. "Which way?" As soon as his hands are free again, he's touching Jackie -- the small of her back again, then the back of her upper arm, and finally, just taking her hand again.

Jackie is practically ready to laugh at herself as well when she's briefly surprised that someone has answered the door other than Richard or Claudia. Of course they don't answer their own door. She reins her expression into a tame smile and steps inside past the woman with Ben's guidance. Her gaze sweeps the foyer... this was a foyer, right? It was a massive room with a stretching staircase straight ahead leading to the second floor. On either side of the room there were white double doors leading to the rest of the home. Jackie was pondering how many of her bedrooms could fit in this room alone while she unbuttoned her jacket and allowed Ben to take it from her.

The woman chimed in with an answer to Ben's question, looking rather pleased that he would even take the time to ask. "Zuzanna Szadkowski, Mister Sullivan. But you may simply call me Anna if you wish." The coats are taken and draped over one arm so Anna could gesture with the other. "Right this way, please." Anna wastes no time in turning towards the door on the left side of the room and Jackie is following right along after her, taking her time to make sure she doesn't get ahead of Ben and lose him. Not that she thinks he would flee, but that extra touch of his was helping immensely to calm her nerves. The door at the side of the room is opened and Anna's nodding her head from her place in the doorway. "Mister Kensington, your guests have arrived. Dinner will be ready shortly."
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Very good, Anna. Thank you so much." The smooth voice of Richard could be heard within the study followed by footsteps. Anna was already on her way to hang up Ben and Jackie's coats before checking to make sure all was in order in the dining room when Richard appeared at the door. "Ben, Jackie, it's so good to see you both." Richard reached for Ben's free hand to give it a solid shake before he was gesturing for them to follow. "Come inside, come inside. I figured we could wait in here for the final touches to be put on dinner."

The study, as it was so innocently referred to, looked much more like a library, boasting tall windows and shelves of leatherbound books on both the first floor and second floor that was reached by a spiral staircase. Off to one side was a massive desk, so some sort of work was accomplished in here, but the middle of the room was taken up by large leather furniture, a cherry wood coffee table, and an enormous fireplace. Claudia was casually rising to stand when Richard led the pair further into the room. "Of course you remember my wife Claudia."

"Thank you, Anna," Ben tells her when she takes their coats, leads them through the foyer to the study. He even gives her a smile, a friendly enough one, when she turns to go. His attention is on Richard as soon as he's visible, though, and he grasps the other man's hand for a firm shake before letting go and following him into the study -- keeping a hold on Jackie's hand the entire time. "Yeah, it's great to see the both of you, too. Thanks for having us -- your home is beautiful."

Claudia, for her part, is studying the two of them as they come into the study, though for slightly different reasons. Ben gets looked over first, but maybe surprisingly, that's pretty cursory -- he's attractive, first off, but she needs to know that the party they'd met at wasn't some sort of fluke, that he really was put together as well as he'd seemed that night. She takes more time to study Jackie, and there's something assessing in the way she does it. It all happens in the span of a few seconds, though, and she offers the couple a warm (if a little too easy -- she's got a glass of red in one hand) smile. "It's so nice to see you two again. Richard tells me you enjoyed the trip?" She takes a seat on the couch, where she'd been before.

Jackie keeps her hand in Ben's when they follow Anna and step into the study, but she's taking care to not lag along behind him like a child getting unwillingly pulled along to somewhere boring. Of course she would prefer to be hiding behind him right now with the uneasy way she was feeling, but that wasn't really going to convey the confidence she was aiming for. She smiled at Richard, tipping her head in greeting even if words escaped her shortly. There was something about Richard that made her think twice about everything she said, but for the most part he didn't seem bothered by it with the way he smiled in return to the blonde and shook his head at Ben. "You do us an honor by accepting our invitation. Thank you very much for the compliment, but Claudia is the one who really should take all the credit. She led the charge in decorating this home as well as the one you saw on Fantome Island. Made quite a few designers cry if I remember correctly." Richard said the final part with an air of pride as he moved across the room.

At the mention of Richard's wife Jackie's attention shifted to her fellow blonde. Claudia she had much better luck with. They hadn't exactly been rubbing elbows at the Winston Dinner Party but Jackie did manage to hold a conversation with the woman. The wine that Claudia always seemed to have in hand probably helped. If Jackie had noticed the look either she or Ben had received nothing in her expression gave it away. "The trip was wonderful an' there's really no way we could thank y'both enough for offerin' up your vacation home for us to use. I'm not sure how you both are stayin' in RhyDin during this winter when you've got a perfectly good piece of paradise at your fingertips."

Richard chuckled, gesturing for Ben and Jackie to take a seat on a couch he moved behind. There was a delicate clinking that gave away a tray of glass bottles filled with varying shades of liquor. "It would be nice, of course, but business calls here." He gave a good natured laugh, fingers lifting to twist near his lips set within his trimmed salt and pepper beard. "But no talk of that until after dinner." A wink in Jackie's direction then Richard looked between the pair. "May I please get either of you something to drink?"

Richard wasn't the only one that had a sense of pride about Claudia making people cry; she laughs when he mentions it, an open, chiming thing. It's hard to tell if the two of them are kidding about it, the way she laughs. She's still smiling when Jackie speaks up, and it doesn't fade after that, either, though her attention drifts to her husband when he fields the question about why they were here instead of in the tropics right now.

Ben takes the seat at the other end of the couch, leaving plenty of room in the middle for Jackie. He actually gives her a glance when Richard asks if he can get them a drink, still looking at her when he starts to answer. "Yeah," and then his focus finally shifts to Richard. "Jack and coke." It wasn't like he couldn't get by in social situations without drinking -- he'd gone eleven years sober, after all, and it wasn't like he'd avoided parties during that time -- but it definitely made things easier now that he'd given in to trying moderation instead of avoiding it altogether. "How long have you had the property there?"

As oddly maniacal as it was for Richard and Claudia to be laughing about her making people employed by them cry it sort of reminded Jackie of something her and Ben might do. Not that they had any employees for her to bring to tears, but still, they might chuckle about her making a roughneck at the bar cry if it ever came down to it. Jackie's lips pursed thoughtfully while she peered between the pair, but Richard's question along with Ben's emphatic look pulled her to the present. She sank down onto the couch beside Ben, legs crossing at the ankles and hands folding in her lap. She was positive she looked stiff. She felt stiff and she wasn't sure how to remedy it. Well, there was one way. "Red wine is fine, please an' thank you." Smiling at Richard with a glance aside to Ben at his question.

"Jack and coke. Red wine. Coming right up." Richard moved easily as ever while he prepared their drinks. "We purchased the property in the Summer of two-thousand and eight. Claudia and I were to be married that November and we were having quite a time deciding where to honeymoon. Through our search we came across Fantome Island and that home. Claudia, thankfully, took on the task of having the location renovated to our tastes while also having the final touches put on the wedding and we spent our first vacation as husband and wife there." As often as it seemed Richard was being just a little too over the top, his tone sounded very much the same as ever though he was obviously sincere with the smile he sent towards Claudia at the tail end of the story. It was then without any sort of fanfare that he rounded the couch presenting a Jack and coke to Ben along with a glass of red wine to Jackie.

Ben notices it too, that Jackie looks stiff, and even though he knows the wine is going to help, he still reaches over to put a hand on her knee. He doesn't even make eye contact with her when he does it, though, because that might make it too obvious that he's trying to reassure her, and he hopes that just the contact might be enough.

He keeps his hand there while he listens to Richard's background about the beachfront property, and only lets go, after a last light squeeze, when Richard brings them their drinks. "Thanks," as he takes the glass, though he holds off on drinking any for now.

That doesn't get past him, that Richard seems sincere -- and that Claudia, as sharp and calculating as she seemed sometimes, actually seemed to soften some when Richard smiled at her. "Well, that's pretty devoted. Making designers cry and toughing out the winter here with you even though she could get away to the island. I think if I had a place like that, there's no way Jackie'd be here for the winter." Hard to tell if he's teasing, or if he believes it, but he's amused either way.

The touch from Ben does help. It might make Jackie a little more aware that she looks awkward, but the fact that he's trying so hard to calm her doesn't escape her and it's actually rather sweet. He might not be looking at her but Jackie does cast a brief glance aside to Ben, an extra curl at the edge of her lips. The presented wine pulls her back and she's smiling up to Richard, taking the glass with a soft nod. "Thank you." She doesn't wait like Ben seems to be and she's taking a modest sip of wine without much delay. Thankfully, not quick enough to look like a wino (though maybe her and Claudia could bond over that). Ben's comment made her jaw drop into a state of mock incredulity paired with a chuckle. "I more than likely would flee to an island instead of waitin' out a winter here, but at least I would be kind enough to drag you along with me." A sweet smile and a crinkle of her nose.

The comment had Richard laughing and looking between the two. "Not a fan of winter, Jackie? From your accent I'm assuming you're displaced from warmer climates?"

Jackie couldn't really remember when Richard had ever actually asked her a question since majority of his focus always settled on Ben but she managed to reply without skipping a beat. Home was easy to talk about. "This is only my second winter in RhyDin and I can't say I'm gettin' much more used to them with time. I'm originally born and raised in Thomaston, Georgia. United States. Earth?" She continued adding qualifiers because she wasn't sure if Richard had traveled outside of RhyDin. It seemed like he would have, but it was never good to assume.

"Interesting." Richard settled himself into a high back leather armchair across from the couch, a glass of amber liquid perched in his hand. With the way he seemed to be contemplating her answer, going so far as to brush his fingers through the tip of his beard, maybe he did really find it interesting. "And what of you, Ben? Have you come from somewhere else as well?"

Jackie and Claudia probably could bond over that. Claudia nurses her wine in sips, but she drains the glass steadily, and somewhere during the getting-to-know-you-betters she gets to her feet and drifts over to the table behind the couch where she can get a refill. She retakes her seat once her glass is full again, though, and she's listening attentively to the conversation, though she doesn't add to it.

Ben finally does have some of his drink while Jackie is explaining where she's from and Richard is mulling over her answer and asking him one too. Just nodding at first, then, "Yeah, Vancouver. British Columbia, Canada. It turns out we're from the same Earth," with a glance aside to Jackie. The smile is a small one, but it isn't lacking in warmth, even if it only lasts as long as the short look and is more or less gone when his focus shifts to Richard again. "But we never would've met there." Saying that it must be luck or fate or something that they both ended up here is on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn't say any of that, instead just leaving it at, "So I'm glad we both ended up here."

Richard's gaze flickers aside to briefly follow Claudia when she rises to her feet, but aside from that quick moment his attention is on Ben while he's explaining where he's from. Jackie is taking small continuous sips of her wine, not a lesson she learned from Claudia but she did take it as a sign that she wouldn't be out of place if she did so. Ben's final thought on his explanation causes Jackie's smile to go just a little more bashful, her dark gaze sinking to the floor. She didn't have anything to add that would make the sentiment any sweeter but Richard took the lull to add his two cents. "It does seem RhyDin is quite good at tying those loose ends. Bringing those together who were meant to be." Knowing Richard and the way he thought? He didn't only mean lovebirds. Some business partnerships were meant to be as well, but he didn't voice that theory. That was talk to be held after dinner. And as if she had sensed that the dinner needed to begin so other endeavors could occur Anna was opening the door of the study and stepping inside. "Dinner is served."
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Good show. Thank you, Anna." Richard wasted no time in rising to his feet. His glass was still held steady in one hand and the other was offered to Jackie. "If you both will follow me, I can show you to the dining room." Jackie gave a brief taken aback blink not expecting this sort of gesture from Richard, but it wasn't like she could say no, could she? Her hand was placed delicately within his and she rose to her feet. Richard waited patiently then there was a tip of his head aside towards Anna who still lingered in the doorway. "Right this way." Richard walked on with Jackie in tow. When Ben rose to his feet Claudia seemed to take a cue from her husband with the way she delicately placed her hand in the crook of his elbow to guide him along after the pair.

The dining room was everything Jackie had expected after what little she saw of the rest of the house. A massive room containing a massive elongated table that almost looked odd with only four place settings down at the very end across from each other. The couples had barely taken their seats and set down their glasses when Anna was stepping out of a swinging door carrying a tray of four salads. And that was how the rest of dinner continued course after course. It was no different than how they were served meals at parties but Jackie had to keep reminding herself that this was their home, this was how Claudia and Richard lived their lives.

The dinner conversation was as light as it was in the study. Each of them attempting to get to know the others a little better. Making small talk over hobbies and jobs, it was the first time in her life that Jackie actually felt a little sheepish to say she was a bartender. For the most part she was able to keep up with the others but she had moments where she would lapse into silence, poking at her food only to be brought back when someone asked her a question directly. Overall she somehow survived and it was when the plates from dessert were being cleared that Richard wasted no time. "Ladies, you have been the most lovely of company, but it's time for Ben and I to retire to the study for a short while. Claudia, perhaps you can show Jackie to the sitting room where you both can relax?" He wasn't waiting for a reply and was already rising to his feet.

If Ben's thrown off by Richard staying paired with Jackie, and then Claudia putting her hand on his arm to follow behind, it didn't show. Just like it doesn't show when he does start to feel like maybe he's in over his head during dinner. Yes, Ben was used to some of this kind of lifestyle -- the parties, the diplomacy. But something like this, more intimate, was more than he'd experienced before. Like always, though, even when he's completely in over his head (which he isn't even, here), he manages to coast through without looking like it's taking any effort to keep up.

Still, he's sort of relieved when it comes time to switch to business, though it's tinged with a little bit of guilt, only because Jackie had mentioned him not leaving her earlier. He knows she'll be fine though, so none of that negative emotion comes through in his expression. He gets to his feet too, leans in to brush a kiss against Jackie's temple. "You don't want to hear this boring business stuff, trust me. I don't either." The grin, crooked as ever, is mostly for Richard, and then he's heading back in the direction of the study with the other man, empty rocks glass in hand.

Claudia waits for the two men to leave, and then she rises. She does wait for Jackie, and she even keeps a reasonably slow pace down the hall toward the sitting room. "How long has he been seeing you?" Her tone is conversational enough.

Jackie telling Ben to not leave her at these events had become as much of a tradition as her freaking out before getting out of the car. She said it out of habit, something to make herself feel better, but she wasn't so dim to think it was possible. Especially tonight when the entire affair revolved around Richard getting to talk business with Ben. She was fully aware at some point it would come down to only her and Claudia making small talk. Her temple is tipped into the kiss and paired with a soft smile. An effort is made to keep her features calm, she doesn't want him to have to worry about her while he's in the other room. "No, that doesn't sound temptin' at all. You boys enjoy yourselves though." Richard on the other hand gave a low chuckle at Ben's comment, waiting for the man to join him before making way for the study.

With the men gone and Claudia rising to her feet Jackie follows suit. She could do this. Jackie spent her days talking to people from all walks of life about everything and anything. Not that she could really see Claudia bellying up to the bar at the Busted Knuckle. Jackie fell in line beside Claudia, a glance aside to the woman at her question. "We've been together for about four months now come next week." It was probably more information than Claudia wanted, but Jackie was somewhat proud of herself that she remembered their anniversary was next week. Dates were never her strong suit. "And you both have been married since two-thousand and eight?" She had remembered Richard tossing out the date earlier. "That's somethin' to be proud of." A soft smile. This wouldn't be so bad.

Something about Jackie's answer causes Claudia to look aside at the other blonde. She's smiling -- looks like she thinks it's cute, maybe. "Four months next week. That's sweet. Was the divorce final before or after?" She doesn't explain how she knows, but maybe her response as she pushes open the french doors to the sitting room and drifts over to the -- of course -- tray of liquor on an endtable near the doorway sheds some light on it.

"Yes, since two-thousand-eight. He's my second. I'm number four for him." Pretty casually, as she's making herself a martini -- two of them; apparently Jackie's getting one too. "It should last, though. We understand each other." She heads back in Jackie's direction, handing one glass over to her before sinking down onto the fainting couch near the center of the room. "He's not number one for you, is he? You're lucky, if he is. Quite a catch for a beginner, especially considering you must be... number three for him?" The way she says it, it seems like she makes guesses like this often. She sips her martini, then tilts her head a little to one side. "Not that you're married yet, but just assuming it ends up that way."

Jackie's still smiling when Claudia says it's sweet, but you can practically hear the tires screeching to a halt in her mind when the woman asks about Ben's divorce. Everything in Jackie's expression sinks. How would Claudia even begin to know about that? She highly doubted it was a casual sort of conversation Ben would have with Richard who would then pass it along to his wife. "It was- we were seein' each other before he signed the divorce papers... there were some complications." Not to mention the fact that they had been dating but were broken up at the time to only get back together a short while later. "It's complicated." A curt reply but Jackie attempted to keep it as polite as possible.

Claudia is followed into the sitting room, though Jackie's movements aren't as relaxed as they previously were. It would take a little while for her to mentally recover from the odd question and although she wasn't one for martinis she accepts it with a solid thank you. "Well, that's always a good feelin', when you get the person you're with and you've got that bond you weren't expecting." She could still keep this all light and positive, right? No matter how many curve balls Claudia insisted on tossing.

Jackie trailed after Claudia to sink down onto the couch, probably putting a little more space between them than what was needed. A steady sip of the martini was interrupted with the glass lowering and Jackie's brows rising. "I was married once before. Got married too fast and divorced just as quick. I'm sorry, but I'm not exactly followin' what you mean by a beginner?" Jackie wasn't entirely sure what Claudia was getting at yet at the same time she felt like she was defending herself, Ben, and their relationship. Why and against what? She had no clue. "He was only married to one woman before. And... I couldn't tell you about marriage, really. We sort of follow this mantra of takin' it slow and haven't much discussed it."

Claudia probably isn't trying to make faces, but the expression on her face when Jackie says there were 'complications' with Ben's divorce. It's a mix of amused and sorry -- oh, you poor thing. "It's always complicated, isn't it." There's no upturn at the end of the statement, because she knows -- it often is with men like this, in this kind of scene.

She doesn't really respond to Jackie's comment on Claudia's own marriage; she's not really interested in talking about herself. Jackie's more interesting to her. "A beginner." At first she just repeats it, as though that will somehow make it make more sense to Jackie, but then she sighs, leans back into the couch, gestures a little with her martini glass. "To this kind of lifestyle. You're new -- I mean, you're doing a very good job, and I think you'll do just fine in it eventually, but... it's still pretty obvious." Shrugging, she toys with the string of pearls around her neck with one finger, thoughtful. "You know, I'd forgotten that he's just making a name for himself, too. I guess with that in mind it's not so surprising that he's only been married once so far." So far -- like he had several in his future. "But still... most women looking for a man like him wouldn't have much of a shot even if they were already in this kind of crowd. So," she gives Jackie a little smile, "it's like I said. He's quite a catch, for somebody like you. It's just unexpected, that's all."

It was unsettling that Claudia spoke of divorces like Jackie should have endless knowledge about them. Jackie's own divorce had been done and over quickly enough and maybe Ben's would have been too if he didn't get unexpectedly dropped into another world outside of his own. It made perfect sense and if Jackie could only explain it then Claudia would stop giving her that look and using that tone. On the other hand, what business was it of Claudia's? Jackie has no right to insist on explaining to make the woman understand. Ben would simply smile and shrug it off while telling Jackie it didn't matter, to let it go. That was the route she attempted, with a shrug traded out for a sip of her martini.
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Jackie Sullivan
The Hillbilly Belle
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A beginner. She says it again like it's supposed to mean something. Jackie knows that she's somehow irritating Claudia with her confusion but there's nothing she can really do about it. She doesn't get it until Claudia mentions the lifestyle and her automatic reaction is a laugh. Thankfully it's not a deep belly laugh but more an exhale of disbelief. "I'm not offended by you sayin' I'm new to all of this. I am and really I don't consider myself to be part of it by any means. Ben gets invited to things and he's nice enough to bring me along. Like you said, it helps him get his name out there and I'm around for moral support." Jackie was trying so hard to keep the conversation light and friendly, but certain comments easily stuck out to her like thorns and it was too difficult to pass them up without saying something. "So far? I mean, I don't want to speak out of line on Ben's behalf, but I don't think he's really looking to put notches into a marriage bedpost or anything like that."

A laugh was interjected in another hopeless attempt to keep her irritation as bay but Claudia's final statement makes her expression go flat again. "Ben is quite a catch. By someone like me you mean a beginner?" A gesture around. "I'm not beginnin' anything. I'm a date to things like this but outside of that I'm not looking to put myself in this lifestyle. This isn't the sort of person I am and Ben is fully aware of that." Her smile was found though it was just a little tight despite her best efforts. "Maybe when you get to know Ben and I a little better since it seems the boys will be doin' business together, you'll see him and I lovin' each other really isn't all that unexpected at all. It's as simple as me lovin' him and him lovin' me. Like you an' Richard."

Claudia laughs, and it's not really mean-spirited; she's genuinely amused, and she seems sorry for it afterward, in her expression and in her tone. "I'm sorry, I just... I wasn't saying he was looking to put notches into his bedpost. But it just ends up that way so often, and..." She looks sorry, still, but in a 'poor thing,' kind of way. Jackie just had no idea. "Dear, it's just not that simple, though. Richard and I care for each other, but I told you I'm wife number four, didn't I? I'm sure he cared for the first three, too. But men like Richard -- and the men that hire him, men with more money than they know what to do with, men with ambition and power -- men like Ben... well. It's not that simple for them, Jackie." She toys with the toothpick speared through the two olives in her martini, shrugs a little. "Of course, maybe you'll be the one couple that's different."

Jackie was draining her martini much more quickly than she would have wanted, only leaving a sip or two at the bottom of it by the time Claudia was finished, but this conversation was driving her towards it. "Maybe that is how it happens amongst you an' your circle." A gesture of her hand at the woman, a distinct separation between Claudia and herself. "But that isn't how Ben an' I are. Ben isn't one of those men. Ambition, sure. And I'm not knockin' him by any means, but power and money? That's not Ben. He's here hirin' Richard because he's overwhelmed with work and needs a hand. I don't know what other sort of clientele Richard has goin' on but I can't see lumpin' Ben in with them." Jackie had the urge to down the rest of her drink but instead she simply tightened her hold on it, fighting the urge to draw it to her lips. "Besides, Ben an' I met before his business took off. I can't see Ben changin' because of it or anythin' between him and I changin' because of it. So, yes, we will be different." She couldn't resist any longer and the rest of her martini was downed. Of all people for it to occur in front of she was least worried about Claudia considering the woman's own tendency to finishing a drink quickly and in style.

"Different." Claudia looks skeptical, openly. "How, exactly? He goes to parties, gets to know the elite. Even has pretty arm candy." She plucks the speared olives from her glass, delicately slides one olive off with her teeth, pausing to eat it before continuing. "He has money, he works in this circle, and he's about to make an alliance with my husband, who deals with some of the richest in Rhydin. How isn't he one of those men, exactly?" She cants her head slightly to one side, but doesn't wait very long for an answer. "He doesn't come off like someone who's only pretending to fit in. Not like you -- as good as an effort as you're making."

"He's workin' to build a name for himself and his company with those people, but this..." Pointing to Claudia sharply, a gesture she instantly regretted and it showed with the way she shoved her hand into her lap. "This sort of Ben you're creatin' in your head is not my Ben, I'm so sorry to disappoint you. And bless your heart," The words came out laced with sweet venom, a talent any girl from the South had to master early on. "I'm not just some arm candy for him. I'm his girlfriend. I'm around for more than just display, darlin'."

As much as Jackie tried to hold strong on her stance there was a visible fold in her posture when Claudia pointed out that Ben didn't seem like he was only pretending to fit in. It was true. Somehow, despite where he began in RhyDin, he managed to fit just fine in the world of crisp suits, fast cars, business talk, and pretty trophies hanging off arms. Fingers toyed with the toothpick in her glass, but it was nothing more than a distraction. "I don't know anythin' about where Ben stands financially, but I do know that wherever he sits it will not change the man he is or that I fell in love with. As for me? I'm just fine not fittin' in with this crowd." Her smile spread with an edge to it. "I've only been to a few parties, got a taste of it in Kahili, I'm more than happy stayin' at the edges an' lettin' women like you have run of it all. It's not really a level I want to sink to, if y'know what I mean." A sweep of her hand, be my guest.

That really is a talent, the 'bless your heart.' It irritates Claudia, but that just sets her further on the offensive. Even though Jackie had intended her last statements to be cutting, if that sharp little smile of hers was any indication, something she'd said only caused a mirrored smile at Claudia's pretty mouth. "Oh, I'm sure you're fine not fitting in with us. I don't doubt that for a second." Her smile sharpens even further; the claws were out. "The question is," she pauses, slides the other olive off of the toothpick with her teeth, chews and swallows before finishing, "is Ben just fine with that too?"

The fact that Claudia was smiling so easily in return made a shiver run through Jackie's spine. How could someone so boney and so bronze be such a threat to her? The only thing she should be fearing is Claudia's oversized wedding ring in a fistfight, but Jackie knew that wasn't how they solved problems in this circle. Jackie tried to keep herself just as calm as the woman seated beside her, but it was difficult when the anticipation over what she had to say was eating away at her.

What does Ben think? It was a good question that she didn't have an answer to. Not a real one, anyway. Maybe she did fit in better than she thought with the way she faked it. "Ben has no interest in me changin', he likes me just the way I am. I'm the same girl I am today that he knew when we first met." No, she couldn't keep up her unbreakable expression while she dropped that lie. Some sort of name brand dress, high heels, jewels, and a painted smile? The Jackie Daniels of six months ago might have just socked this Jackie Daniels in the face. The thought made pale pink lips dim slightly, but not enough for Claudia to claim victory.

Claudia must catch that little fade in Jackie's confidence, even if it isn't enough for her to feel like she's convinced her yet -- in fact, it might be because of that that she pushes further. One of her perfectly arched brows lifts; she obviously doesn't believe Jackie. "Really? This girl that dresses up to go to dinner parties at his side and cocktail hour on his arm is the same girl that bartends? Do you get good tips, acting like this at work? Because there's no way you're one way there in your real life and a different way at things like this with him, right? That's right -- he doesn't want you changing. He's just fine with you pretending while he fits in perfectly. Do you think he and Richard are talking about Ben's identity crisis right now? Of course not -- he isn't having one."

It was the lift of that brow that made Jackie brace herself. It was similar to seeing someone cock a fist back, readying for a solid blow. Her jaw was working about needlessly while she chewed at the edge of her tongue, just trying to contain it while Claudia continued on. It was around the point of Claudia talking about an identity crisis that Jackie had to put her glass down. If it stayed in her hand any longer she was convinced she would either grasp it so hard the delicate stem would shatter or she would simply throw it across the room. Not becoming and it certainly wouldn't leave Ben happy. Though, that was the point of what Claudia was saying, wasn't it? That Jackie had to reel herself in when she was at events like this. That she couldn't really be the same girl she was while bartending or going out with friends. Isn't that what she had said when they first arrived? That Ben saying 'be yourself' didn't work. It briefly made her wonder when Ben said that, what sort of self was he aiming for her to be? The girl he met in the bar, drunk, chewing on cherry stems before waking up in her garden the morning after. Or the girl from the dinner parties? The one who knew how to smile softly, nod when needed, could toss a witty comment or two into a conversation, but mostly busied herself with sipping champagne and looking pretty.

Claudia was making her doubt herself. Even worse, the woman was making Jackie doubt Ben and that was a huge issue in her eyes. There was no way for Jackie to deny what Claudia was saying, she was having an identity crisis in every sense of the word. At the same time she could picture Ben perfectly in her mind's eye. Laughing along with Richard over a drink, maybe even a cigarette or cigar. Unruffled by anything and so absolutely confident in his own skin that it was absurd. There was no way to tell Claudia that she was wrong, but it didn't mean she had to continue on in this conversation. Her shoulders rolled beneath the delicate fabric of her rose patterned dress, the confidence returning to her posture no matter how fake it was. Faking it, that's what she was good at, wasn't she? "Claudia, I'm done with this conversation. While I do appreciate everythin' you have done today and I'm so thankful to Richard for allowin' us to use his vacation home," It was his. Claudia did nothing for it except marry into it. "I'm goin' to have to stop you right now and tell you to shut your pretty little mouth. My boyfriend is hirin' your husband. He is an employee an' you are nothin' more than an employee's wife. I don't need to listen to this from you." The words all felt so foreign coming from her own lips and Jackie instantly felt ill to her stomach saying them. It didn't matter though. So long as she kept her shoulders drawn back, head high, and expression firm she could get through this. "I'm quite alright with sittin' here in silence while we wait for the boys to return if that's fine with you?" Though, the tone of her question made it clear it wasn't a question at all. Not even a suggestion. It was a demand.

Claudia actually looks like she enjoys Jackie's reaction, at least to a point. "Employee?" She scoffs, clearly offended. "Business associate. And at least I know better than to tell you what you are." Claudia rises to her feet, downs the rest of her martini, and then her heels click-click-click on over to the tray of alcohol and ice again. She lets the question hang in the air, what exactly, specifically, her problem with Jackie is, but whatever the answer is, she's still bringing the other woman a second martini, offering it over to her wordlessly with a sharp little smile. If Jackie doesn't take it, Claudia doesn't seem to mind -- that just means she has two drinks to occupy herself with as she waits in silence for the men to return.

Employee. Out of everything Jackie says, that's what bothers Claudia. Of course. Jackie's eyes narrow when Claudia muses about what she is. Really, Jackie didn't want to know. She was so disgusted with herself right now that she doesn't think she would be able to say any kind words about herself at the moment. When the second martini is offered out, Jackie mirrors Claudia's edge laden smile and accepts it with a short 'thank you'. She was getting far too good at at that expression, perfecting it in the brief time she had been along in this room with her fellow blonde. They really could have so much in common. How different were they? That was the question Jackie pondered while Claudia took her seat and the pair sat without saying another word.
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