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Boundaries

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What some people don't understand about Jim Profit is that he values boundaries, and doesn't like crossing them unless he needs to.

Gail hadn't understood that about him, at first. She'd been too upset over having been caught--too afraid that the one illegal act she'd ever, ever committed was going to humiliate her, going to get her fired, going to get her thrown in jail--to acknowledge that, in finding her out, Mr Profit had just been doing his job. It wasn't until weeks later--after she'd been working for him a while; after he'd treated her, day to day, as if he'd never known she was anything but a valued employee; after she stopped expecting the police to knock down her door in the middle of the night--she realised that, by confronting her directly, he'd actually protected her. The fact that he'd gone on to blackmail her was beside the point: she wouldn't still be employed, and her mother wouldn't be receiving the kind of care Gail would never have been able to afford even with the skimmed funds, if he'd reported her.

He respects boundaries. And that makes him a really good boss, all things considered: he approves her every (rare) request for days off, without question; he doesn't go through her desk or her things; Gail can count on one hand the number of times he's called her at home. He certainly hasn't stopped by, not since those early, rocky days that began their working relationship.

So she knows he has his reasons when he pauses at her desk to inform her pleasantly that she doesn't have to stay for the meeting he has that evening: "I can bring the contract to your house on my way home, and you can witness it there. If that's all right."

The deadline to complete negotiations with Christopher Raines is nine o'clock tomorrow morning; Mr Gracen's been stomping around like an angry bull for the last week and a half. Yesterday, while turning in the latest data from the researchers, Gail saw a spread of internal memos written on Raines & Crawford stationery on Mr Profit's desk.

She decides that letting Mr Profit into her house for five minutes so she can sign her name to a contract she didn't physically, legally witness is a great alternative to actually attending the meeting, and nods. "Sure."

He smiles. "Good."


When she answers the door at quarter to ten, she finds Mr Profit with that satisfied look that means G&G's stock is about to go up. Standing aside to let him in, she asks, "How did the negotiations go?"

"Very well." He hands her the envelope he's carrying, then turns to close the door against the icy night. "I think the arrangements we settled on are best for everyone involved."

Gail laughs a little, unable to stop the nervous, fluttering sound. He's there, in her front hall, wrapped up in his thick, dark overcoat, gloved hands rubbing slowly together, and all of a sudden she realises he's in her house. What felt like the easiest option in the comfortably professional light of day now seems like an overwhelmingly bad idea, reminding her, inescapably, of how trapped and desperate she felt the last time he was here.

She can't fool herself that he hasn't noticed how flustered she is. The most she can do is hurry up and sign the damn contract so he'll have no excuse to linger. "I'll just get a pen--" she blurts; turning abruptly, she grabs her purse from its hook on the wall and begins digging inside, trying to watch him out of the corner of her eye while trying not to see how closely he's watching her.

Just as her fingers brush the ballpoint lurking at the bottom of the bag, a burst of voices from down the hall makes her jump. Blushing with embarrassment, she forces another laugh and turns apologetically to Mr Profit. "Sorry; I was watching TV, and my VCR's pause function is broken, so the tape doesn't actually stay paused--"

And then she stops talking, because Mr Profit's looking past her to where the flicker of the TV is visible in the other room, and the expression on his face is--

Gail looks down into the depths of her purse and renews her quest for the pen. While her fingers grope through her things (sunglasses case, pack of tissues, makeup, lipstick, roll of lozenges, where's the damn pen), her mouth runs on automatic, her nervous babble drowning out the TV's distant volume. "It's silly, I know, but my college roommate got me hooked. I don't tape it every day--I'm not that addicted--but a soap opera's a good way to unwind, sometimes. Not for everybody, obviously, but a little brainlessness at the end of the day works for me, and--" Her hand closes around her pen. Relieved, she pulls it free of her purse, even dares to look at Mr Profit again as she interrupts herself to exclaim, "Aha!"

He returns her gaze with what looks, for all the world, like the placid, finitely amused tolerance that usually greets her occasional neurotic moments. If it weren't for the hard set of his jaw and the faintest tension at the corners of his mouth and eyes, Gail would've sworn she'd imagined that...other...expression.

Not wanting to think about it, she busies herself with the contract, pulling it from the envelope, skimming it for where she needs to sign, then holding the papers against the wall while she scrawls her name. All the while, Mr Profit stands quietly, which Gail counts as a blessing--until, as her mind concentrates on her work, her mouth decides on its own to try filling the silence again. She's just flipped to the final page of the contract when, to her horror, she hears herself ask in a falsely hearty tone, "What about you, Mr Profit? Have you ever watched soap operas?"

His silence is heavy. She takes her time with the final signature, postponing turning back to him as long as she possibly can without being blatantly obvious about it. Finally, when she can't put it off any longer, she takes a deep breath, fixes what she hopes is an innocent smile on her face, turns--

And all he does is take the contract back, calm and casual. Focusing his attention on the unhurried movements of his gloved hands as he folds the papers back into their envelope, he says mildly, "I was eleven years old when Luke raped Laura."

It's nothing close to anything Gail might've expected him to say. It takes her a moment to process; when she does, she gapes, can't help herself. "Your parents let you watch at that age?"

He shrugs, a small, fluid movement almost unnoticable as he tucks the envelope into the breast pocket of his jacket. "It wasn't really a matter of letting me watch."

She barely understands him. The conversation's become practically incomprehensible: she's talking with her boss--with Jim Profit--about Luke and Laura and things children shouldn't be allowed to watch on TV. In the other room, the General Hospital closing theme begins to play, and Gail looks at Mr Profit standing in her foyer and thinks she will never experience a more surreal moment than this. "Did you understand it?" she asks, desperately curious all of a sudden, something in the back of her mind insisting she pay close attention to his answer. "What...happened, what it meant?"

He looks at her--right at her--and smiles, smooth and easy. "I was very young, Gail."

She's nodding and smiling back, instinctive agreement, before she realises that wasn't really an answer at all. But by then, Mr Profit's turned and reached for the doorknob, and she's lost whatever nerve she might've had to press him further.

He pauses before turning the knob. "Their relationship began with violent coersion," he muses, then half-turns to slant her a quiet, thoughtful look. "Yet they went on to become an iconic American romance."

Gail folds her arms against the chill, her body paying no attention whatsoever to the fact that he hasn't opened the door yet. "Well--she fell in love with him," she stammers, falling back on the old rationale she and her roommate had used to defend their viewing habits to the naysayers in their Feminist Studies class, "and that redeemed him. Everybody loves a good redemption story."

Mr Profit tilts his head, watching her, a glint in his eyes. Finally, he smiles again--small and amused--and says, "I think most people want to love redemption stories." His hand tightens on the doorknob, his leather glove flexing. "Thanks for the signatures, Gail. See you tomorrow."

She locks the door behind him, then threads the chain, then presses her clammy hands flat on the wood as if holding it shut. "Boundaries, Gail," she mutters, and it's both a reprimand and a reminder. "Boundaries."

End.