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Emotional Ties

Emotional Ties by Elizabeth Neff Walker
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What do you do if you’re thirty years old and you still haven’t found your life’s companion? Sometimes you make a big mistake…

Sarah Reed’s position as online librarian at Pacific Coast University not only offers a cutting edge career, but puts her in a position to meet the type of man who most appeals to her—someone intelligent and intense.

So it’s easy to convince herself that Mark, an English professor with a fascinating research project, is the perfect man for her. Except that he hasn’t told her quite the whole truth about himself.

Then there’s the English businessman, not a type Sarah has found particularly endearing—previously. This one appears funny, carefree and clever. Kevin offers her a week of pure, unadulterated fun. No promises, no expectations. A week of pleasure; then—poof!—real life begins again.

But Sarah knows herself well enough to fear that if she accepts, she’ll turn Kevin into Prince Charming.

And wouldn’t she just be compounding her string of bad choices by taking a chance on him?

Contemporary Romance by Elizabeth Neff Walker (Laura Matthews)

Belgrave House; June 1984
208 pages; ISBN 9780966064391
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Emotional Ties
Author: Elizabeth Neff Walker; Laura Matthews
 
Excerpt

After a wet and chilly winter, Sarah was determined to enjoy the refreshing sunshine by eating her lunch on the grass outside the library. She might have gone even farther afield, but it was a good vantage point from which to observe the students wandering about the campus, reveling in the best weather they’d had in months. Every year the students looked younger and she felt more separated from them and closer to the faculty. After graduating from the library program at Berkeley, she had come to Pacific Coast University in San Francisco feeling more akin to the students, but over the years her vision had gradually shifted. At thirty you preferred being recognized as a working member of the academic community.

Not that Sarah was an academic herself. She had originally assumed she would follow in her parents' footsteps and teach English literature or history at the college level, but she had gotten sidetracked at Berkeley and found that her eclectic interests and her fascination with research led her into the library program. She specialized in on-line searches, more attuned to the advancing computer field than to her youthful image of a librarian as a woman who wore glasses and had pencils permanently stuck in her hair while she pored over reference books. Sarah’s genius was her familiarity with the one hundred databases of the Lockheed DIALOG system, and printouts tailor-made to individual specifications. Over the last eight years she had risen to her position in charge of the on-line search services at the university library.

As she dipped her spoon in the container of flavored yogurt, she watched the blue-jeaned, Nike-shod groups pass by her. Some of them she recognized, but the majority she’d never seen before, or at least had had no contact with. Her attention was caught by a trio headed her way from the Humanities Building. There was nothing inherently unusual about it: a professor flanked by two of his students, who were plying him with questions and then listening eagerly for his words of wisdom. He would draw thoughtfully on his pipe as they spoke, and then cup the bowl in his hand as he replied, gesticulating with it to emphasize some point he was making. The young woman looked adoring, the young man solemn.

Sarah grinned to herself and pulled an apple from the canvas purse she always carried, letting her gaze drift across the main lawn, past the Student Union, toward the gymnasium. All her life she had witnessed similar scenes, first at Northwestern, where her parents both taught, then at Berkeley as a student, and now at Pacific Coast as an employee. No one ever regarded her with such wonder, of course, but she was no longer unduly impressed with the phenomenon, either.

The Pacific Coast University campus was not particularly large compared with the others on which she’d spent so much time, but it was located in a city that intrigued her and it was academically quite adequate. From the time she’d been a child wandering about the Northwestern campus with her parents, she had intended to find a similar spot for herself. Not Northwestern. She couldn’t have felt the sort of independence she needed that way.

At first she had dreamed of Ivy League campuses with their vine-covered buildings and the New England atmosphere of charming colonial houses and intellectual conversation. But she had been drawn to California for quite another reason. Her high school boyfriend had chosen to go to Stanford, and she had wanted to be near him. He had professed great joy at her decision—but she’d only seen him twice after their arrival on the West Coast. Though it had been devastating at the time, and she had for the space of a month contemplated returning to Chicago, she had grown accustomed to the idea in time—and with the advent of dating men on her own campus. Sarah had long since learned to laugh at her folly.

She finished the apple and turned her gaze toward the library, where the professor now stood with his two students, though it was obvious to her that he was trying to disengage himself from them. He would take a few steps toward the library doors and they would turn away, only to turn back almost immediately with one more small inquiry. She watched this pantomime last for almost ten minutes, while the man edged foot by foot toward his escape, remaining patient with the students as he clenched the pipe stem between his teeth. Finally he glanced at his watch and shook his head sorrowfully as he excused himself and purposefully pushed open the door directly behind him, disappearing into the building, where the students had enough sense not to follow. They walked off together, passing close by Sarah in animated conversation, snatches of which drifted back to her as she dug in her purse for the granola bar she was sure she’d tossed in that morning.

It was another twenty minutes before she reluctantly stood up and dusted off the seat of her denim skirt. The sun felt so good she was hesitant to enter the library again, where she would be imprisoned for another four hours. Sometimes she envied the academics their relative freedom. They often worked at home, or had the leisure to run errands in San Francisco between their scattered class hours, while she was required to spend all her working time in the library itself, often communicating only with the computer. But most of the time she got so involved in her work she didn’t even notice the passage of time. Sarah was convinced that was one of the two most important aspects of any job – the enjoyment of it. The other was confidence in one’s ability to do it. She had always said that salary ran a close third.

Her position paid well, and Sarah felt sure she was worth every cent of it. It might have been possible to make more money as a librarian in private industry, but there weren’t that many jobs available and she was content with the one she had. As she took the elevator to her office she spoke with several of her colleagues–another of the advantages of her job. She liked the people she worked with.

Just as she was swinging her purse under her desk, she heard her assistant say, "Here she is now." Sarah looked up to find herself facing the pipe-smoking professor she’d observed outside, though he had stuffed the pipe in the pocket of his tweed jacket, where the stem stuck out like a bit of gnawed licorice stick. The patience she had noted in him was notably lacking now. He looked annoyed, his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed.

"I had thought anyone in the on-line search department would have been able to help me," he said, his tone milder than his expression, "but this young woman informed me you were the only one who could be of assistance. I’m sure you realize how frustrating it is to be passed from one person to another, only to be told that the only person who can provide you with the necessary information is not currently available."

"The university generously allows me a lunch hour," Sarah said, smiling, "and usually any one of my assistants can be of help. Please sit down. I’m Sarah Reed."

Her assistant, Judy Black, made an exasperated but cautionary grimace behind the man’s back. "This is Professor Armstrong. He’s in the English Department," she added as she withdrew.

"How can I help you? Have you filled out a search request form?" Sarah asked, partially extending her hand to take the slip of paper he held. "Our databases don’t generally have much information on literature."

"So I’ve been told." He released the form to her with a negligence born of having turned it over to successive people and having it returned to him no doubt with the comment that they couldn’t help him. "It’s not just literature I'm interested in. Diaries and tracts of the early nineteenth century in England would be just as useful."

"What is it specifically you’re looking for, Professor Armstrong?"

He leaned back in the chair he’d taken and observed her with speculative brown eyes. His moustache looked slightly lighter brown than his hair, which was very dark and curly. When he spoke his voice carried a deep authority of which he seemed perfectly aware.

"I’m writing a book, Miss Reed, on the discrepancy between public and private revelations of family life in early nineteenth-century England. That is, the glorified version of it we often get in novels, as opposed to the reality expressed in some diaries and tracts of the time. I’ve already done a thorough search of what diaries are available for the period, but there are quite a few of them, and many are merely political diaries when all is said and done. Though I plan to spend the entire summer in England, I want the field narrowed down before I go if I possibly can. Do you have any suggestions?"

Sarah was jotting notes on a pad she always kept on her desk. "Tell me what sort of family relationships, Professor Armstrong. Roles of husbands and wives? Treatment of children? Families from all levels of society?"

"All of those and more," he replied, interest beginning to light his eyes. For several minutes he went into his subject in greater depth, giving examples of the instances he’d found to date, explaining the purpose of his project.

As he talked, his enthusiasm overcame hie impatience and Sarah responded to him more positively than she had previously. Even while she listened her mind was turning over possibilities for ways of getting at the information he wanted. When he finally stopped speaking, absentmindedly drawing his pipe from his pocket to hold it cupped in his hand, she admitted, "We’d have to come at the information from the other way around, probably. Go through the social science bases looking for references to family life of that period, and finding from the bibliographies and references what sources had been used to generate the articles. Our databases just go back to the late sixties or early seventies, so they’ll only cover printed sources since then. You might do better in England, not for earlier references, but because they’d cover the English territory more thoroughly."

"Let’s see what we can find here first," he suggested "I don’t know that I have any contacts in England that I could use to get the kind of information you’re talking about. Do you think your search would turn up much?"

Sarah shrugged at his eagerness. "It’s always hard to tell. We’ll have to narrow the subject down so we get the most pertinent references." She drew his request form toward her and started to ask questions which would help her find proper access to the information he wanted.

While she systematically jotted down his answers, she sensed he was watching her with a growing appreciation. Occasionally as she worked her hair fell down over her face and she brushed it back with one impatient hand. Sarah had learned that men were fascinated by amazingly silky and incredibly long her hair was. It flowed over her shoulders and down her back to a point well below her waist. Sometimes she actually had to shift in her seat to avoid sitting on it. People often asked her if she didn’t get it caught in things, and one man she’d dated told her it looked like maple syrup pouring from a bottle.

Sarah believed her hair was her most obvious physical attraction. She had wide hazel eyes and a short nose, and a rather round face with deeply bowed lips that tended to turn down when her expression was neutral, making her look a little sad. Her mobile brows moved as she thought and questioned and listened to the professor’s answers.

In her pierced ears she wore dangling earrings and there was a ring on her little finger. She was of average height, and full-figured, which was to say she had a round body some men saw as voluptuous and others as overweight. She wore a denim skirt and a plaid blouse–a sort of prairie-style outfit—which made her feel young and feminine. Sarah wasn’t comfortable with the tailored look so many women wore now.

"That should be enough for now," she announced at length, giving her head a shake to ease the hair back over one shoulder. "Do you have a department account you want the search charged to? And I’ll need a campus number to reach you if we have any questions as we go along." She looked up abruptly from the sheet on her desk and found him studying her. There was nothing out of the ordinary in his gaze, nothing lustful or suggestive, or insulting, but she was aware of his interest and returned his look with an impersonal one of her own, waiting for him to answer her questions.

"I’ll have to call you with the account number." He tapped the pipe in the palm of his hand and rattled off his office phone number, rising as she did after she had written it down.

"I can’t start without the number," she said as she walked to her office door, "and you’ll have to give me a maximum amount you’re willing to spend. We only charge direct costs – computer connect time, telecommunications fees and the cost of printing citations – and most searches don’t exceed thirty dollars, but some do. We can’t guarantee the relevance of what we come up with, but the more specific you are the better, so if you think of anything further that would be useful, let me know."

He smiled at her, a devilishly attractive smile that crinkled his eyes and pulled the corners of his mouth higher on one side than on the other. "I’ll do that, Miss Reed. Thanks for your help."

"Not at all," she replied politely, refusing to be moved by the delightful smite. Professors thought they could charm anyone, Sarah knew from long experience, and it did little good to allow oneself to be taken in by their easy mesmerism. They were used to their authority and to the adulation they received. Sarah had found it a worthwhile personal policy to deal with them objectively, so no misunderstandings arose on either side. She was a career woman and took her job as seriously as any of the academics she encountered. As Professor Armstrong walked away, she turned back to her desk, immediately putting him from her mind as she took up the project she had left off when she went out to lunch.

By the time she left work she had cleared a number of projects from her desk. Her shoulders ached slightly with fatigue and she walked out into the sunlight with a feeling of release. The noontime warmth had diminished, but there was still a wonderful scent of new-mown grass in the air and enough lingering heat that she could leave the top down on the car. Sarah had purchased the used MG Midget as an indulgence, and because it had cost a great deal less than any of the new cars she’d looked at the previous year. But the university was far enough out toward the ocean that there was often fog morning and evening, and a day when she could drive in the open air both ways was a rarity.

Molly was already seated in the low-slung red sports car, and waved gaily as Sarah came in sight. "Let’s take advantage of this and eat out in the yard tonight," she said as Sarah wedged herself into the car. "I have cold chicken in the fridge."

Propping a pair of sunglasses on her nose, Sarah snorted. "You know it’ll be too cold by the time we get around to it, but what the hell. I’ll stop for some salad at the deli in West Portal."

Though she kept a shawl under the seat, Sarah tried to appreciate the fading warmth in her light cotton blouse. Molly obviously felt no such compunction as she slipped a sweater over her short, black curls and her small shoulders. Her slight build was only minimally enhanced by the bulky covering and her green eyes apologized as she said, "Sorry I couldn’t join you for lunch on the lawn. I had something I had to finish up and didn’t get my lunch hour until two."

"It was glorious," Sarah assured her as she swung the car out into traffic. "We needed a day like this after that awful winter. Maybe we should plant some flowers in the yard this weekend to celebrate."

"It’s bound to be raining again by then."

"Pessimist. Do you know a Professor Armstrong in the English Department?"

Molly pursed her lips in thought. "I think I’ve met him. His first name’s Mark, if it’s the one I’m thinking of. A nice-looking man, tweedy, and smokes a pipe?"

'That's the one. He came in with an on-line search project today, and he wasn’t thrilled about waiting for me to get back from lunch. Turned out to be okay, though. I think he reminds me a little of one of my parents’ friends at Northwestern. English professors always seem so esoteric. I mean, making a living discussing literature is so otherworldly."

Molly laughed. "Just the sort of man you like, Sarah. Nothing the least crass and commercial about him. Men in the Business Department aren’t nearly as appealing to you, I’ve noticed. They can’t quite shed the image of ‘filthy lucre.’ The science types don’t interest you because they’re too wrapped up in isotopes and protoplasm, or whatever, and the creative arts people are too ephemeral—and sometimes too gay. Yes, an English professor is just the thing, and you don’t run into them very often with the computer work, do you?"

"No. We don’t have many databases that are useful to them. We may have some luck for Professor Armstrong, though, if we go through the social science end of his problem. He’s going to spend the summer in England." At a stoplight she turned to grin at her friend. "Such a hard life they have. I wouldn’t mind having the whole summer off to ‘replenish’ myself for the fall semester."

"Is that why he’s going to England?"

"Apparently he’s writing a book and he’ll be doing research on it there. A working holiday. Always the best kind, tax-wise."

"You’re a cynic, Sarah."

"Not at all. I just wish I had a good reason to do the same thing." She pulled into a parking space near the deli. "I’ll be right back. Don’t let the meter maid give me a ticket. I don’t have any change."

San Francisco is divided into neighborhoods, and most have shopping areas of their own. West Portal, having the good fortune of serving affluent St. Francis Wood as well, has a more elegant stretch than many of them. In the course of three rather lengthy blocks there are banks, restaurants, beauty parlors, groceries, a toy store, a stationery store, several interior decorating shops, a Woolworth’s, card shops and any number of other businesses. The surrounding area was made up of single-family homes, some detached, others built cozily side by side. Sarah and Molly had purchased one of the few pairs of flats in the neighborhood, because neither of them could afford a house of her own.

When Sarah and Molly originally met on campus six years previously, they’d each been looking for a roommate, and for a year they’d shared an apartment before the idea of purchasing a building arose. They were both aware that the longer they waited the more they would have to pay, and they were also aware of the financial benefits of owning a piece of property. But the concept of buying a building together, each of them taking one of a pair of flats, had developed gradually, and almost grudgingly.

The arrangement would be difficult to sort out if one of them got married . . . and there was always that possibility . . .

Twice, in the four years they’d owned the building, it had looked as though Sarah might settle for the man she’d been seeing. One of them had even moved in with her for a while, but that had proved disastrous. Sarah had insisted it wasn’t his parsimonious ways that had finally gotten on her nerves (he didn’t offer to help with the monthly payment and he rarely bought groceries), but she had muttered something about not intending to support a man for the rest of her life.

"I don’t expect any man to support me,’ she had grumbled to Molly, "but I have no intention of doing the reverse. For God’s sake, he makes more than I do and he expects me to take his laundry in and pay for it. He can wash his own Lacoste shirts!"

After that Sarah and Molly had gone in together to put a washer and dryer in the basement/garage, but the situation had not arisen again. "It’s my own place," Sarah said one day, "and I’ve gotten to feel very possessive about it. If I ever do get married, I’m going to insist we find a place together and rent out the flat. Living in his place or in my place just won’t work. I read in the paper the other day that the more money a woman makes, the less likely she is to marry; and the more money a man makes, the more likely he is to marry. What do you suppose that indicates?"

"I hate to think about it," Molly had admitted.

Sarah emerged from the deli with a small sack and climbed into the MG. "We’re going to have to put on coats to have our picnic," she said, finally hauling the shawl out from under the seat.

"Bill would have built us a protected patio if he’d stayed around a little longer," Molly reminded her, sounding a little wistful.

As she turned the key in the ignition, Sarah glanced over at her companion. "It was you who told him you weren’t interested."

"Maybe I was wrong."

"No, you weren’t." Sarah chuckled, her eyes sparkling with remembered humor. "Who needs a man so abstracted he can’t remember to wear two socks of the same color? He’d never have gotten around to the patio anyhow, and I doubt he had the first idea how to build one. It was just one of those misty dreams he was always having. He thought it would be nice to have one there, but he’d never have been practical enough to actually build it. It would be a lot simpler, in the long run, for us to have it done if we want it. You can’t just marry a man because he’ll build you a protected patio."

"It was nice having a man around." Molly sighed. "And I wouldn’t have married him ’til he’d actually done it."

"He wasn’t actually around; even when he was there," Sarah muttered half under her breath. "You know he wasn’t."

"So who’s perfect?" Molly demanded, but she’d begun to smile. "A good man is hard to find."

"You’re telling me."

The weather alternated between sunny and gloomy for the next week. Sarah had long ago adjusted to the schizophrenic changes and had learned to appreciate the good weather when it came. Since the school year was drawing to a close, there was a great deal of activity at the library, and much of it ended up at the on-line search department: students doing papers, faculty researching writing projects, even staff with investigations of their own. Sarah’s assistants were perfectly capable of handling most of these requests, but it was her responsibility to supervise them and involve herself in any job that caused difficulties.

Professor Armstrong’s project she worked on herself, since it was anything but straightforward. He had called with an account number and a reasonable maximum for the search, so when she could make the time, she worked out a plan for getting at the most likely bases for the information he wanted. Her first attempt reported far too many references in the given file for practicality, and she continued to narrow the search until she got a report of a manageable number of references. When the printout came, she notified him and he said he’d come to see the results that afternoon.

It was one of the gloomier days, and his tweeds looked more appropriate than they had before. His pipe stem still peeked from his jacket pocket and his dark brown hair curled cleanly away from his face. There was no trace of impatience on his features now, merely a subdued eagerness as he took the printout from her and seated himself to peruse the sheets. He pursed his lips under the thick moustache and withdrew a pen from his pocket as he went down the list, nodding or shaking his head.

At length he looked up at her and smiled. "Excellent. Some of the references I have, but if the others are of equal value, this should be a good starting point for the research. I wouldn’t be able to get most of the journals here, but in England it should be simple. Was it difficult?"

Sarah lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug. "Not as bad as I’d feared. Sometimes a search can be a complete waste of money, even if it seems right to start with."

"Yes, I know." Professor Armstrong leaned back in the chair opposite her, looking for all the world as though he intended to sit and chat for the next hour or two. "I found the most incredible diaries, a fellow who’d been a ship’s surgeon and then a man-midwife. Their picture of family life was minimal, but they were fascinating. In fact, l was so impressed I looked into them further and found that the diarist's name had been changed. Imagine! I wonder . . . " He regarded her with his head cocked to one side, appraising, and then he said ruefully, "I thrust them on everyone who might be the least interested. They’re just so remarkable. I don’t suppose they sound all that intriguing to you?"

Since it was a question, really, Sarah considered the matter for a moment. With one parent s historian and the other an English literature professor, she was indeed intrigued, but she had a feeling his offer might be more a gesture toward maintaining some contact between them than a simple act of academic generosity. When his enthusiasm rang through that deep, compelling voice, she found herself curiously attracted to him.

"I'm fascinated," she admitted. "But I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble. If you give me the information, I may be able to find it here in the library."

Professor Armstrong laughed. "I’d be astonished if you could. The first volume I didn’t have too much trouble finding, but the second and third were almost impossible. One of them eventually came from the Library of Congress and I photocopied the whole book, since its copyright was over. I tell you what," he said as he rose, "I’ll bring you the first volume and you see whether or not you like it. The other two are both photocopied and more awkward to read. When you’ve finished the first you can let me know about the other two."

"Okay. I could stop by the English Department and pick it up from the secretary."

"I have a better idea. How about joining me at the Faculty Club for lunch tomorrow and I’ll bring it to you then. I can give you a little more information on what I’ve learned about them."

Sarah nudged her hair back with one elbow. "Fine. About twelve-thirty?"

"Perfect." He folded the printout sheets and stuffed them into an overflowing briefcase. "See you then."

Subject categories
ISBNs
0966064399
9780380873616
9780966064391