"... reached an acceptable compromise."
Greg Dawson knew something was wrong when he flinched at the word. It was nothing, a meaningless phrase, used countless times, in equally meaningless discussions. So, why should it cause him to recoil? He didn't have to search very far for an answer.
Disliking the implications, he used it now deliberately. "A compromise, yes."
He tested his reactions and found, to his relief, that there were none. Well, practically none. Why should it matter?
Intrigued, he pondered over the answer, delegating one part of his brain to deal with the conversation going on around him while the other tussled with the problem.
Sara had never known how to compromise. What would she think of the deal-making going on now?
He didn't have to wonder. Sara would have walked out. Sara would have told them what she thought of their game-playing in no uncertain terms. Sara would have ...
He scowled at the direction his thoughts were taking. It didn't matter what Sara would have done. She wasn't part of his life. Not any longer.
"Greg, what're your feelings about the subject?" the senior partner, Alister Harper, asked.
"Uh ... I agree. Compromise is the only answer."
The others smiled. He'd made the correct noises at the correct time with the correct amount of deference in his tone. He hadn't even had to think about it. So why was he thinking about not thinking about it? The absurdity of the question would have amused him at any other time. But not today.
Again, he wondered why today should be different.
"... glad we could get together and get this hammered out." The other partner, Cyril Cameron, stood.
Everyone else stood, and after a beat of silence, Greg stood as well, realizing the meeting must have ended.
He controlled the urge to ask what had been "hammered out." It must have been all right, for his boss was smiling widely. Greg smiled too, knowing it was expected of him.
He couldn't shake the mood later that evening. He'd turned down a party with friends, pleading tiredness. That wasn't exactly a lie, he decided. He was tired. Weary was more like it, weary of pretending that what he did made a difference.
When had trial work ceased to be challenging and become simply a trial of endurance? When had he stopped caring about his job? When had he stopped caring about everything?
The answer wasn't hard to find: he'd stopped caring a year ago, the same day the divorce papers had arrived.
Greg avoided the carolers who strolled the streets, singing of Christmas joy and good will toward men.
He let himself in to the rented apartment. As he had every evening for the last month, except those he spent with his son, Danny, he switched on the television and flopped onto the sofa. He stared unseeingly at the screen.
When the phone shrilled, he was tempted to ignore it. Habit had him reaching for it.
"Greg, it's me. Sara."
"What's wrong?" Sara never called unless something was wrong with Danny.
He listened, not sure he'd heard correctly. "He what?"
"Danny put the female rabbit inside the cage with the male at school."
Greg suppressed a chuckle. "What does the school want us to do? Adopt some rabbits?"
"Greg, this is serious. Lately, Danny's been in one scrape after another. It isn't like him. His teacher said he could be suspended if we don't do something."
His grin faded at the worry in Sara's voice. Sara wasn't the kind of woman to overreact. "I'll be there in an hour."