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Jane Louise Parker sat at her drawing board looking out her office window. The late September light was hazy and warm, but the breeze--the window was open a crack--was slightly chill. This was what the Chinese called "pneumonia weather." Jane Louise knew this from having designed the interior of a book entitled Magic Needles: The Story of Acupuncture in the West. She yawned.
Two weeks ago she had stood up in front of a judge and had been transformed from Jane Louise Meyers into Jane Louise Parker and become the lawful wedded wife of Teddy Parker, named Theodore Cornelius for his father and great-grandfather. After wedding cake and champagne they had gone off to Maine for a week and then returned to the apartment they had shared for a year. Now they were married and back at work.
Back at work ! Jane Louise had occupied this office longer than she had known her own husband. She had lived in this office for more years than she had lived at her present address. In some ways this office was her true home. She had come to it a comparatively young woman, and in not so long she would kiss her thirties good-bye.
In this very chair she had agonized over love affairs gone wrong and wondered, as she had stared out of this selfsame window, if she would ever meet and fall in love with someone she might care to marry. At this drawing table she had realized that she had fallen in love with Teddy and had spent hours daydreaming about him.
Then, after one short ceremony in the formal room of a rented mansion, she had been reclassified as a married woman.
She could not stop looking at the plain band Teddy had bought for her at an antique store. His parents'marriage had been short-lived and acrimonious, while Jane Louise's mother's hand was tiny. Therefore no family rings would have done. Besides, Teddy's mother favored white gold, and Jane Louise's mother preferred pink, whereas Jane Louise liked gold that was almost green. She was gazing at her hand when she heard a noise in the doorway and there, staring at her, was her boss, the art director, Sven Michaelson.
"Nuptial radiance," he said. "Covered like a veil."
Sven was compact and well made, like a good canoe. He had short-cropped silver hair and light, cold-blue eyes. His clothes were very beautiful and expensive. It was said that he had two real interests in this world, besides running the art department of a prominent publishing house: poker and fucking. There were numerous stories about him. His mother was a Dane. His father had been something of a shady character in show business. He was half Jewish, half flinty Scandinavian, and it was said that the art departments of major New York publishing companies were littered with his victims. When once confronted with this reputation by Jane Louise, Sven said: "I don't discriminate against editorial."
He was married to his third wife, with whom he had produced his fourth child. His secretary, Adele Lewitkin, claimed that Sven's motto was "A family for every decade."
There was no question about it: Sven exuded a kind of louche, creepy charm, a sex appeal devoid of such frills as affection or love. You looked at Sven and saw that action, plain and simple, was the name of his game.
For years he had been nosing around Jane Louise, of whom he liked to say that he had seen her grow from a callow girl into a ripe peach. And one night, four years ago, Sven had made his move.
They had both worked late, and Sven had come into her office. Only her drafter's lamp had been on, throwing a cone of light onto her desk. The rest of the room was a dark, velvet brown.
As Jane Louise bent over her work, her hair, which was shiny brown, shoulder length, and very straight, had parted. Sven had leaned over and placed his lips on the back of her neck. The electric jolt she had felt was as good as a dire warning.
It was sort of depressing to spend your first day back at your office as a married woman being scrutinized by a man whose interest in you was almost exclusively carnal. Sven seemed unable to take his eyes off Jane Louise.
"Married," he said, settling into a chair. "Let's have a look at you to see how you've changed."
"Why don't you shut up, Sven?" Jane Louise suggested.
"My sweet girl," said Sven, taking a little cigar out of a leather case. "You can't imagine how I pined for your return." He crossed his legs, revealing blue-and-white-striped socks. He had many pairs of these sent to him from Paris by Anik, the beautiful product of his second marriage. He was still tan from having spent his vacation in Martha's Vineyard with his present wife, Edwina; their little son, Piers; as well as his twins--Allard and Desdemona--from his first marriage, and Anik.
"Ah, Jane," he said. "I feel almost grandfatherly, watching you turn from a scrawny chicken into . . . " His voice trailed off.
"A married hen," Jane Louise said.
"Oh, sweetheart," he said, crooning. "A wedding ring only adds to a woman's basic appeal. I mean, of course, if she is basically appealing."
"Listen," Jane Louise said, almost pleading. "This is my first day back. My desk is piled with work. Don't sit around here being provocative."
"In that case," Sven said, "I'll wait until your desk is clear."
Jane Louise gave him a look.
"Never mind, Janey," he said, flicking his ashes into her potted orange tree. "I must say marriage looks wonderful on you."
In the ladies' room Jane Louise wondered if this was true. She felt she looked as she had always looked, but then she had never been married before and had no idea what was supposed to happen. She was tall and skinny, pale with the kind of paleness that is prone to blush, and her eyes were blue. She wore plain, trim clothes: She liked her skirts short and her sweaters large. For jewelry she wore a large gold man's watch that had belonged to her late father--she had snagged it before her older sister, Nora, got it first--and she wore a Navajo silver bracelet with one round turquoise, and a plain brass bracelet, both presents from Teddy.
She peered into the mirror. Had she changed? Was there now some new creature named Jane Louise Parker who was older, wiser, more grown-up? Did married people look and smell different?
Back in her office she picked up the telephone and dialed up her closest friend and former college roommate, Edie Steinhaus. Edie was a caterer and pastry chef. It was she who had made Jane Louise's pink wedding cake, festooned with sugar violets and roses.
"Hello," Jane Louise said. "Is this Miss or Mr. Edith Steinhaus?"
"Oh, hello, darling," said Edie.
"I have just returned from a voyage to another planet," Jane Louise said. "I am a stranger in your country. I wonder if you could help me out."