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Four Years Later. To the Day.
What a difference four years can make.
I sniffed and dabbed at my eyes as I scrolled through the countless photos on my phone. Selfies on roller coasters; shots of beautiful scenery, taken on weekends when we got out of the city and drove upstate; Central Park, covered in snow — serving its premiere purpose as a worthy backdrop in every picture I could manage to sneak of him.
Those were always my favorites. The sneak attack photos. When he knew I was taking his picture, it was as if his face wasn't capable of a non- goofy expression. And I liked those too. But when I caught him taking in his surroundings, delighting in ... anything? Well, that was when Will Whitaker was the most photogenic man on the planet.
I hadn't taken a sneak attack photo of him in almost a year. Actually, I had to go back six months to even find any photo of him at all.
If no longer feeling compelled to snap adoring photos of the person you're supposed to be in love with isn't a sign that the relationship's in trouble, I don't know what is.
I threw my phone against the cushions of the couch and stood — finally resolved. That phone call had pushed me as far as I was willing to go. I crossed to the mirror beside the front door.
"Okay, that won't do," I told myself upon witnessing the brown-black mascara circles underneath my eyes. I hurried to the bathroom and grabbed a washcloth. "What's your rush, Cadie?" I muttered. "It's not like you have anywhere to be for 'A day or two. Three at the most.'" I groaned as I repeated his completely noncommittal brush-off.
I couldn't remember the last time he'd been on time. At least not for a date with me. For work? Sure. Kickoff? You bet. He'd never so much as missed a performance of the national anthem. Punctuality was, apparently, completely unnecessary for evenings with his girlfriend. But cancelling altogether? That hadn't happened very often at all before tonight.
The number seemed to magnify and expand each time it entered my thoughts. The number of years had felt like a huge, wonderful accomplishment back when I thought Will and I were building toward something — and a huge, disastrous waste of time now that I finally accepted that we weren't. And if we weren't building toward something, it had to end. That was all there was to it.
Work would be awkward, of course. I wasn't looking forward to that. But it wasn't as if either of us ever had much reason to visit the area where the other worked — and we'd have even less reason now. In fact, I'd be perfectly content if I never had to step on The Field again, whether Will worked there or not.
I dropped the white washcloth covered in dark smudges into the sink. "Who cares?" I groaned.
I stared into the mirror, but I wasn't looking at the remnants of makeup, or the angry red hue of my fair skin, splotchy from crying and agitated further by my careless use of the washcloth. I wasn't even looking at the constellation of freckles across my nose, which had once made me self-conscious until Will convinced me they were one of his favorite things.
I was trying to see deeper than that. What was it about me that would never be enough for him? I knew my flaws, and of course Will knew my flaws. But he still called me his girl-friend. He still professed his love for me. Nothing had ever made him run. Nothing had ever caused him to seek comfort in the arms of another woman or to grow bitter with me.
Nothing had ever caused him to ask me to be his forever, either.
I could play it tough all day long and put up the defenses that had to be in place in order to keep from being destroyed by him, but staring in the mirror, with only my doubts and fears and fragile heart to guide me, I knew I was in very real danger. My heart had been claimed long ago. It belonged to Will Whitaker for as long as it was beating. And I didn't know how it would survive the final, painful realization that he didn't love me quite enough to give me his in return.
I stopped in my tracks, midway between the bathroom and the kitchen, where the cold, congealed marinara sat in its pan and unlit candles sat on the table, taunting me.
Am I actually going to end things?
Tears pooled in my eyes as I thought of it all as an inevitability for the first time. No more trying to figure out how to keep things fresh. No more wondering if something had caused him to lose interest — if something had caused me to lose interest — or if our ho-hum monotony was normal for couples who had been together as long as we had. No more dropping hints about marriage. No more disappointment each time another significant date or special occasion concluded without a proposal.
No more walking through doors that he held open for me. No more laughing together at four years' worth of inside jokes, lost in a language that only he and I understood. No more of that bewitching smile, reserved just for me.
Stop it, Cadie. I couldn't afford to spend time thinking about all I would lose by ending my relationship with Will — not when there was so much to gain. After all, I had had two very important realizations.
1) I didn't need to get married in order to be happy or fulfilled.
2) My chances of convincing myself I actually believed realization number one would increase exponentially if Will Whitaker was out of my life.
About Twenty- five Minutes Earlier ...
Are you absolutely sure, Will?" Kevin asked — all eyes on the guy at the table who really needed to be sure.
"Yes. Of course I'm sure," Will replied, almost as sure as he was trying to convey that he was.
If there were two things Will had learned in his four years at ASN, they were that Kevin loved it when The Daily Dribble staff stuck their necks out and made bold assertions, and that he hated it when their bold assertions proved to be incorrect.
"You can trust me on this," Will continued. "There's going to be a doping story break, some of baseball's biggest names are going to be at the center of it, and it's going to break before the World Series."
"Who's your source?" Lorenzo Bateman asked from across the table.
Will raised his eyebrow. "I think you know I'm not going to tell you that, Enzo."
Enzo sat up taller in his seat in an attempt to intimidate, but he always seemed to be the one person who forgot he wasn't the least bit intimidating, in any way. Lorenzo Bateman worked in legal and sported less of an imposing presence than even Will, the only other person in the room who had never been a professional athlete.
"Okay then," Enzo pushed with a sigh. "How big are we talking?"
Will took a deep breath, ready to put it all on the line. "Big enough that, if my source is correct, we may not have a World Series this year."
"Oh, come on!" Enzo retorted through his laughter.
His deep chortles seemed strangely out of place considering everyone else in the room had been consumed by completely silent shock.
Kevin cleared his throat. "Hey, everyone, can you please give us the room for a few minutes?"
This can't be good, Will thought, though he refused to back down. He was sure about this. Absolutely positive. His source was ironclad, the intel was indisputable, and most importantly, his gut told him he was right.
"That means you too, Enzo," Kevin boomed, and the lawyer made his way out into the hallway along with everyone else. Suddenly, Kevin and Will were alone, and Will was completely aware that his career was on the line.
"Okay, Kev ... listen. I'm sure about this. If I'm wrong, fire me. But if I'm right, I just can't stand the thought of any of the other networks getting the exclusive. Can you?"
"Besides, wouldn't it really be more surprising if it weren't true?"
Kevin did a double take. "You think it would be more surprising if we weren't about to encounter the biggest scandal in baseball since 1919?"
"Yes." Will nodded and remained resolute, though he couldn't help but realize that maybe he'd overshot somewhat. "Surprising" was difficult to defend. But he hadn't come this far to not even try. "We've been hearing the stories coming down the pipeline for years, Kev. And then the stories have magically disappeared. And if they're magically disappearing, someone must be making them magically disappear."
"Sure. Yes. You bet." Kevin lifted his giant frame from the chair at the head of the conference table and began pacing the room. "I'm with you on all of that. I guess what I don't understand is why you're so sure they aren't going to magically disappear this time."
"Because ..." Will took a deep breath and glanced around the room cautiously. No one else was present and the door was shut, but it still didn't feel secure enough. He walked to the windows and drew the blinds before facing his boss and saying, "Because my source is the Magician."
A proud, surreal disposition overtook Will as he reflected on how perfectly he had managed that moment. He felt like Kevin Costner confronting James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman taking on Nixon in All the President's Men — all at once.
"What magician?" Kevin asked, shattering the perfection of the moment.
Will groaned and threw his hands up in the air. "You know! The Magician. The guy who has been magically making things disappear."
Kevin's deep, booming laughter filled the room. "I'd bet a month's salary that you've spent every bit as much time coming up with the best way to set all of that up as you have actually working on the story."
"And you would win that bet." Will nodded, undeterred. "It was perfect. Seriously, how did you not get it right away? Should I have worked 'magically' into the setup a little more?"
"I don't know that you could have worked it in more than you did." He sat back down in his chair. "So, walk me through it."
Will sat in the chair next to him. "We protect his identity and he's ready to talk."
"He just wants to go away."
Kevin leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers behind his head. "I bet he does. So, what? We put him on a plane and send him to Tahiti?"
"Papua New Guinea, but yeah ... you get the idea. We get his story, and he's on a plane before we run it. That's the deal. He won't negotiate."
"And then we're left to clean up the mess, and we're left with the burden of proof, and it's as if our source no longer exists."
Will smiled. "Simple, right?"
"Simple was when my job was to get a ball through a basket. Or, actually, simple was before I hired you. We used to talk about the joy of the game, and the thrill of competition. And then I hired this researcher —"
"To research, presumably ..."
"Who seems to think we should be covering hard-hitting news."
"Only part of the time," Will replied with a shrug.
Kevin shook his head and then buried it in his hands. It was from that posture that he muttered, "I trust you. You know that. I've got your back on this. But I also need to make sure you understand that if you're wrong, I won't have any choice but to fire you. You know that, right?"
"All right then." Kevin sighed. "Set it up. Let's talk to the Magician."
"I knew it!" Will exclaimed as he pushed his rolling office chair back from the table and pumped his fist in the air. "You like it. I knew you would. I really think every reference we make, we need to call him the Magician. We might actually want to talk to legal and see if we can get a trademark on that —"
"Don't make me every bit as likely to fire you for being right as for being wrong."
Will nodded. "Got it."
Kevin put his hands on the table as he stood. "Okay, I'm heading home."
Will glanced at his watch and then slapped his forehead. "Oh, man. Yeah, me too."
Just as he began to stand from his chair, Kevin put his hand on Will's shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. "I don't think so. I want a full preliminary report on my desk before I get here in the morning. Timeline, expenses, backup sources —"
"Okay. No problem. I'll get in here early and get it done. But it's Cadie's birthday, Kev. She's making dinner, and —"
"She's making her own birthday dinner?"
Will shrugged. "It's also our anniversary. She wanted to. I'm already late, so —"
"Sorry, man." Kevin's firm grip became a kind pat. "And please tell Cadie I'm really sorry. But I think you're going to have to make it up to her later. It's not just your career on the line here. You've got an entire program — an entire network — counting on you. If we miss a single step, it will be disastrous."
Will sighed deeply and nodded. "I know. You're right."
"But seriously, tell Cadie happy birthday from Larinda and me. Maybe you can both take some time off and get away for a little while once we're finished with ... The Magic Show?" They both scrunched up their noses and shook their heads. "Well, whatever. You'll make it up to her. And if this all goes down as quickly as you seem to think it's going to, you should have some free time in a day or two. Three at the most."
"Sure thing," Will said, though all he was thinking was, It would be difficult to make up for missing a birthday dinner.A birthday dinner and an anniversary? That's where we're going to need some magic.
"And tell her I miss the days of having time to get her Over the Hill cakes. Of course that's your fault, Whitaker." He grabbed the door handle and grumbled, "This job used to be simple ..." as he walked out of the conference room.
A Day or Two Later. Three at the Most ...
I just wasn't sure how much longer I could avoid him. Thankfully, he was busy and I was busy — Will on The Field, me on The Bench — so it wasn't as if we kept running into each other. Quite the opposite. I hadn't been in the same room with him since the afternoon of my birthday. But I hated the feeling of knowing he might peek around the corner at any moment. Worse, I knew he could peek around the corner and think that everything was okay between us.
I used to love waiting for him to peek around the corner. It was like this glorious anguish, knowing that he was just about fifty yards away, doing his thing, and that he could possibly be in need of something administrative at any moment. Knowing that at any moment he could pop his head into my office and sternly say, "McCaffrey. Lunch. Let's go." He could never remain stern for more than a second or two before an enormous smile would break out on his face, and I would grab my purse and kiss him in the doorway. Whoever was walking by would whistle or clear their throat and then he would throw his arm over my shoulder and we would escape to our own little world for an hour or so.
For so long, for years, I couldn't imagine ever growing tired of that.
But for a day or two, maybe three, I had lived in absolute dread that I would hear his voice. "McCaffrey. Lunch. Let's go." And how would I respond? I had no idea. All I knew for sure was that I wouldn't grab my purse and kiss him in the doorway. I couldn't allow myself to act as if we were still us.
I was absolutely dreading that, and so ready to just end things. I mean, I was dreading that too, of course. But I was ready for it to be over. I was ready to stop waiting for the moment when he thought everything was normal, and I had to tell him it wasn't.
But it would be really difficult to end things without talking to him.
Apart from a couple of texts, we'd exchanged no communication with each other since he called me to cancel our plans — if you don't count interoffice memos, which were also shared by sixty of our co-workers.
"Maybe he's breaking up with me!" I suddenly exclaimed in a hushed tone to my best friend, Darby, as we stood at the copier.
"What?" she asked as she shut the copy room door behind us. "Not possible."
"Why is it not possible? Why wouldn't he? That would totally explain it. That would explain why he's been avoiding me, and why he ditched me on my birthday, and why he hasn't bothered to call. That's it, Darby. He's dumping me."
Excerpted from "Wooing Cadie McCaffrey"
Copyright © 2019 Bethany Turner.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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