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Wagon-wheel chandeliers and red velvet. Why on earth every damn hotel in Wyoming seemed compelled to decorate their conference rooms like nineteenth-century saloons escaped me.
But then, everything annoyed me lately.
I shifted, sipping from my glass of Jameson. My feet throbbed from standing around in my heels all evening, and restless irritation crawled across my skin. I'd rather be home, having a quiet evening with my cat, Isabel. I should be in the lab trying to make sense of that last batch of probably worthless data. Being Clive's convenient arm-candy fell pretty low on my list.
And yet, look where I'd ended up. I'd caved to him. Yet again.
The reception was really important to him, and as his fiancéeand here Clive had pulled out the big guns, since he usually only referred to me as his girlfriendI should be by his side. I always found the energy for my job so if I really loved him, I would. On and on and on. Sometimes I think I agreed with him just so I wouldn't have to hear about it anymore.
What the hell was wrong with me these days?
My brain pulsed against my skull. The fragile bones felt as if they could explode from the sheer pressure of what seethed inside.
I couldn't keep living my life this way.
How did you realize these things? Not in a flash, I thought. Not the epiphany complete with rays of light and singing angels. Instead, it was a slow, creeping restlessness. A depression that sent out fingers of anguished rebellion. You gradually noticed that every morning you dreaded going to your prestigious university research job. Worse, every night you came home to face the guy you thought was The One and you find yourself on the doorstep, hand on the doorknob, and you're suddenly desperate to be anywhere but walking into that house.
I suppose I was finally facing the fact that I was miserable. Dreams about a black dog, both compelling and terrifying, had been disrupting my sleep with a message I couldn't interpret.
Or, more precisely, that I didn't want to hear. When I met Clive he'd seemed so different, so mature and, well, like husband material. He fit the neat little peg-hole in the car of my personal Game of Life. Somehow in shining up that image, I'd forgotten that a nice salary and polished shoes didn't make someone a good partner. I'd been just as guiltyletting him see me as the cool, logical scientist. He'd never signed up for a woman with a formless restlessness and these dreams that lately obsessed me.
No, it hadn't been a flash, but standing at that party, it became obvious to me.
I didn't love Clive. Half the time I didn't even like him. Nothing in my life had turned out quite as wonderful as it had seemed when I planned it.
The conversation washed over me. The usual ballyhoo about oil, more drilling, politics, crazy environmentalists. Nothing new. I'd heard the conversation twenty times over and knew better than to argue any of the points. I didn't even think I was listening until I found myself saying, "Oh, Clive, that statistic has been discredited ten times over!"
Clive gaped at me. The other men looked surprised that I spoke.
Try to be softer, my mother said. So far as I could see, soft got you nowhere. Soft got you married to a man who spent his life making up problems to solve and leaving you to sleep alone. Besides, Clive knew I was right. I'd proved him wrong on that point before.