When it rains it pours or so goes the saying. In general this had been a bad thing, until it got turned into a slogan to sell salt. And Lord knows I had been rained on pretty hard in the last couple of years. However, the rain coming down on me now in the warmth of June was sweet and refreshing. It felt more like the end of a brutal drought. I was literally singing in it. Umbrella cast aside, I was dancing in it.
I loved living with Miss Mary who treated me more like a relative than a tenant, and we had gotten into the habit of having Sunday dinner together, which sometimes included Mr. Leonard and Madison. She was fast becoming the kind of favorite aunt I hoped to someday be to Pam’s children—well to Jennifer at least. And speaking of Pam, I had forgiven her enough to send her a sisterly Mother’s Day card, although I had only signed my name to it and nothing else, as if that would prove something.
Madison and I had shopped for Mother’s Day cards together in the Target where I worked. I must have handed him a hundred examples for him to choose from for his mother before he had decided on one with the right sentiment. It had been lovely to watch, and it had made me eager to meet the lady who inspired such devotion from her baby boy.
“You will,” Madison had casually said handing me back yet another rejected greeting card.
“Do your folks visit during the summer?” I asked returning the card to the display.
Madison’s dad was semi-retired but his mom still taught school.
“Yep,” he replied. “They’re coming for Father’s Day.”
“This year?” I asked mildly panicked.
“Madison!” I had whispered a little shriek. “Just when were you going to tell me?”
“I’m telling you now.”
But I would get to meet his parents, and thereby finally see better who he was. Our families could tell our stories almost as well as we could. And maybe even better, with a degree of objectivity that a little distance could provide. I was terrified of the Reese’s once-over that I would undoubtedly get, but I was excited too. June was pretty much our 6-month mark. If all went well I might be here for a long time, maybe even forever.
Such were the dreams I carried into the summer as I cheerfully went through my typical Target day, restocking and straightening store displays, fetching and re-shelving returned items from Customer Service, and occasionally working the check-out since Chandra had informed the store manager that I had Target potential.
During one of those average days my cell phone vibrated in my khaki pants’ pocket as I was trying to restore order to a bunch of jumbled-up baby clothes. Expecting it to be Madison I eagerly looked for the first opportunity to escape the sales floor and return his call. Madison was very intense about his work, the consummate professional, the dedicated civil servant; and I absolutely loved it that I could break into his thoughts so much so that he would have to call me just to say hi. It was kind of like he was saying I love you just minus the self-incriminating words. Sure he was holding back but that was okay. Actions spoke louder than words, right?
But the call wasn’t from Madison. It was from Julie Longdon, my former supervisor at Friends for Life. “Paige, how are you?” her voice message began. “I got your number from your sister, and I got her number from Nancy at FFL. From your emergency contacts file. Call me. Please. It’s important.” Then she recited her own number which I scribbled down on a piece of paper towel as I was in the female employees’ restroom.
I didn’t have time to call her back at that moment, and I was hesitant to do so anyway. I hadn’t spoken to Julie in over a year, and the last time I had been pretty desperate, begging for any way I could keep on working at Friends for Life.
“I can be a volunteer,” I had pleaded, terrified of losing my clients and my identity.
“I’m sorry, Paige,” Julie had said. “We can’t do that. As great as you are. There would be liability issues.”
If Julie had gone through this much trouble to reach me it must be bad news. Maybe one of my former clients had died suddenly, or been killed, or something tragic. Maybe there was a funeral in my future, because I’d have to go, it would only be right. I wondered if Madison would be willing to go with me. Vainly, selfishly, I dared to think for a moment how nice it would be to show him off to my old colleagues. The last time they had seen me, Derrick had been in the process of dumping me. Madison would be the proof that my best had been yet to come.
During my lunch break I called Julie back.
“Paige!” she exclaimed happily. “How are you?”
“Great,” I told her really meaning it.
We exchanged assorted pleasantries and at least for the time being addressed nothing awful. I was reminded of how much I had enjoyed working for her, and how we had been more colleagues than supervisor and subordinate.
“How are things at FFL?” I asked.
“Good I guess,” Julie said. “But I’m not there anymore.”
Don’t tell me there had been more layoffs I thought drearily, thinking of old friends and our clients, because sometimes they did still feel like mine. I had been a very good social worker, oftentimes inheriting the more challenging cases, a real agency resource. All work might be honorable, like Madison said, but there seemed to be a whole lot more reward in straightening out jumbled lives compared to straightening out jumbled display bins.
“No,” replied Julie. “I’m at the Oak Wood Community Health Center. Nearly a year now. That’s what I’m calling you about. I’m a team lead, and there’s an opening on my team. You’d be great for it, Paige. Working with substance users and their families.”
“At Oak Wood?” I asked dumbly.
“Yes!” said Julie. “Look—we’re hiring like crazy. It’s the ACA. Health centers are staffing up. You’ve seen it in the news, right? So what do you say? Are you interested?”
“Ye-yes,” I said.
“Great! Now you will have to apply like anybody else. Go through interviews, etc. What about your certifications? Have you kept them up to date?”
I nodded as if she could see me.
“Paige?” Julie asked. “Are you there?”
“Oh sorry. Yes. They’re current.”
“Good. I’ll text you the information you’ll need. You have to apply online. The position closes in two weeks but don’t wait until the deadline in case something goes haywire.”
My social worker’s license was the one part of my old life that I had struggled mightily to keep, sometimes having to ask Pam to charge a course or a training session on her credit card and let me pay her back over time. My marriage license might be null and void but being a social worker was integral to who I believed myself to be regardless.
“Good,” said Julie. “I’ll text you the information you’ll need to go to our website. You have to apply online. It closes in two weeks but don’t wait until the deadline just in case something goes haywire.”
“I’ll check it out tonight,” I said. “Thank you for thinking of me, Julie.”
“I’m not just thinking of you, I want you. And I’m really thinking of our patients. You’re one of the best caseworkers I know. Where are you working now? What kind of notice will you have to give?”
She talked as if the position were already mine, and I was about to pee my pants. I might actually be getting my old life back!
“Target,” I said.
“You mean the store?” asked Julie incredulous.
I sighed, embarrassed.
“This recession did a number on a lot of people, didn’t it? Thank goodness things are looking up.”
They certainly were. And so would I. Let these rains keep coming.
And they did. The first thing I wanted to do after hanging up with Julie was call Madison; but I knew the first thing I should do was call Pam. After all she had given Julie my cell number and no doubt kept Ted from disconnecting me from service. I owed her the courtesy. But maybe she wouldn’t be available and I could just leave a thank-you-note voicemail message.
She answered on the second ring.
“Hi, Paige,” she said in that dry tight little voice of hers that had become her new normal.
“Pam, hi,” I returned.
“I just wanted to thank you for giving Julie Longdon my number. I just spoke to her. I may have a lead on a job. A social work position.”
“That’s wonderful, Paige.”
Her words were right even if the tone was a little lacking.
“Yeah,” I said. “Julie was my supervisor at Friends for Life.”
“So you’re going back there?”
“No. Julie’s at a community health center now, and they have a position she thinks I’d be good for.”
“I’m sure you will be.”
I believed she meant it. As secular as I was about my profession, Pam had always referred to it as my calling, at times practically equating my work to ministry and claiming someday I’d realize it.
“Anyways,” I said. “Thanks for connecting us.”
Now I had nothing else to say. The moving day was still just a little too fresh with us both I guessed.
“So I’m on my lunch break now,” I began my retreat. “I better go.”
“Okay,” Pam said.
“Okay,” I repeated.
“Paige?” she asked suddenly, urgently.
“Listen…I was thinking…we-we oughta have lunch or something. I mean… if you’re free.”
“I work most weekends, Pam,” I said before thinking how that might sound to her.
“Well maybe we could meet for dinner,” she tried again to her credit. “My treat.”
Peace offering, pure and simple.
“Okay,” I said.
I heard her exhale deeply.
“Good,” Pam said sounding better. “You wanna get back to me with a day?”
“Sure. But not Wednesdays, right?”
That was their church night.
“Well…” Pam hesitated. “But if it’s the only good time for you.”
She was willing to violate church night? I couldn’t believe it. But I wouldn’t be ugly.
“What about next Tuesday, Pam?”
“That works!” she jumped at the offer. “Do you need to check with Madison before you confirm?”
I laughed. A) He would be thrilled that we were getting together. And B) I didn’t need his permission.
“No, I’m good,” I said. “But maybe you need to ask Ted.”
“No,” she said quickly and with a surprising firmness. “I’ll just tell him. It’ll be fine.”
I waited until Madison picked me up from work to tell him my job news, and his reaction was as I might have expected, all business, so no date-night. I was pretty jealous of my time with Candy Man and so I was reluctant to forfeit it so readily. Besides, there wasn’t much I could do about the application tonight since Miss Mary didn’t have Internet access and I didn’t have hot-spot access through my smart phone, and I wasn’t about to press Pam, and therefore Ted, about it.
“I’ll go to the library tomorrow morning,” I promised Madison. “And--”
“No,” he interrupted. “We’ll go to my place. You can work on your application there.”
“But Madison, my resume and stuff is in my room.”
“We’ll swing by and pick it up.”
He was clearly on a mission and it kind of got me jazzed, the serious way Madison was taking the news about the position. It felt again like we were team, like my priorities were his priorities.
By the time we got to his place, a hard-copy of my resume in hand, it was just after eight. Madison immediately set me up with his personal laptop at the desk in his home office in the second bedroom.
“Get busy,” he said with a quick kiss. “I’ll get us some dinner. And don’t under estimate yourself, Paige Robinson. Make sure this Julie remembers exactly how fantastic you are.”
“Aye Aye Captain,” I said giving him a crisp salute.
“And just in case, I think I better review it before you submit,” Madison laughed turning his chair to leave. “I don’t trust you.”
Although he was trusting me with his personal computer, and Madison even had disabled the password protection so I wouldn’t have to fuss with getting locked-out. The laptop’s desktop was as spartan as his home; just your basic factory-setting blue screen with the start-up, Internet Explorer, Recycle Bin, and email icons. However, I knew there must be all kinds of clues to my beloved a mere two or three clicks away. Files with photographs perhaps, maybe a calendar in the e-mail program with his PT appointments, and where he went to get his hair cut. But since I had not been given permission to go on a treasure hunt through Madison’s personal cyberspace, I ethically and wisely resisted the wicked if understandable temptation, and focused on completing my job application.
A little while into the task, Madison reappeared bearing a tray in his lap carrying a plate full of one of those pasta skillet dinners with vegetables and chicken, and two mugs of hot green tea. We ate from the same plate which was intimate and a bit of a turn-on, but before I could finish my tea, Madison declared the dinner break over, and he left me alone again with the marketing of myself.
Eventually I finished the application and elected to print it out so Madison could review it as he had suggested. It never hurt to have a second pair of eyes on these kinds of things, and Madison’s was keen. He knew how to argue a case that was for sure. It kept me on my intellectual toes locking horns with him over politics, economics, criminal justice, even pop culture.
I found him relaxing on the sectional sofa, his feet propped up on the matching ottoman, watching an Atlanta Braves baseball game. There was the regular-guy side of him too.
“Finished?” he asked smiling.
“Uhm-hmm,” I nodded. “Still wanna see it?”
Madison patted a place next to him on sofa and I sat down there, offering him the document. Carefully pinching the document between his thumb and index finger he placed it on his lap and reached to turn on the lamp on the end table beside him. Then muting the television first, he began to read while I admired his studious profile.
He hadn’t changed out of his work clothes, although the tie was gone and the sleeves of the light blue dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows. His navy blue slacks still held their dry cleaners’ crease and he was still wearing his plain-toe black Oxfords. Madison really was a handsome man, and that was not just the love or sexual attraction talking. Seated like this, apart from his wheelchair, you would never know he needed it, although I was so used to it by now it was practically invisible to me anyway. At the moment he had this kind of professor-bad-boy thing working for him, kind of a cross between FBI agent and high school counselor, somewhat severe and yet approachable. Alluring. I wanted to kiss him in the worst way, and as if to cheer me on the center of my body warmed and wetted to make him welcome.
Nevertheless I somehow managed to track on Madison’s comments regarding the matter at hand i.e., my job application, and accepting each page as he handed it to me I marked in the edits he suggested, which in the end were few and helpful. I stood up to go back to the computer.
“I’m gonna hit the sack,” Madison said.
“But not to go to sleep, right?” I asked a little too urgently. “I mean you’ll wait up for me,” I recovered my casualness.
Too late, however, because Madison had the look of the man who was just bit cock-sure, so to speak.
“You want me to?” he asked gently stroking the back of my thigh.
Now there were little spasms firing between my legs with anticipation, raining into my panties. Date-night was back on and popping. I looked down at him longingly but kept my hands to myself.
“I’ll bring you an apple, Mr. Reese,” I said throatily.
“Is it red?” he wanted to know.
“And delicious,” I added.
“Don’t be long,” he replied, his golden-brown eyes drawing me to him in a way that made my legs all wobbly.
Once I made it back to the computer, I pulled up the job application file again with trembling hands and began to make Madison’s edits. My pulse was racing a little. It was countdown. Soon Madison would launch me to the moon. I’d have to take a shower first and that should help settle me down. I didn’t want to explode the second he kissed me. My lover had a slow hand. He enjoyed taking his time. I enjoyed it too.
“Okay, Paige,” I said aloud to myself. “Let’s read this thing one more time and--”
My voice stopped. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen in a soft blue box with bold lettering the notification of an email message appeared. From: Karen Armstrong. Re: My Parents’ Visit. My heart stopped too. The box faded silently away like an apparition. My trembling hands were now ice-cold as I stared at the place where the blue box had been. It was gone but in two clicks I could find it again. I could read it. I could know.
Was it from the Karen? The one who had purchased this condominium and right-fitted it for the man she loved—the man I loved? She had probably bought this desk, and the small desk chair I was sitting on, the one Madison had been keeping in a corner because his chair was always with him. She would have picked out the color of this room. Made sure the cooking range was installed at the right height for the man she was going to marry. Madison’s home had been her home too; first even while she had waited for him to come home from the hospital.
I swallowed hard, gulping down rising fear and budding suspicion. Maybe it was a different Karen. Madison had never mentioned his fiancée’s last name, and there was no sign of it anywhere, no mail in need of forwarding, or address label on a magazine, no name inscribed in a book. Nothing. But what if it was from another friend. Men could have women friends, friends they might even want their parents to meet. Maybe Karen was a colleague, someone who was going to cover his cases because Madison would be taking vacation time to spend with his parents. That made sense too.
I was trying very hard to make it be from anybody but the Karen whose place I thought I had taken, but of course that was useless. It must be her. And she still had her place, even though she had left him. And I couldn’t even ask Madison about it because that wasn’t my place.
Madison had loved her, perhaps even saying it to her, asking her to marry him, following her to Atlanta for her career’s sake. They must have been outstanding together. Brilliant beautiful people, who took exotic vacations to places I had only seen on TV.
My eyes burned picturing the images of them. I’m not over it yet, Madison had said. Maybe he had meant her too. I took a deep breath and forced my mind back to the as yet un-submitted job application. There would be no final review given the soft blue box-bomb that had exploded in my face. Clicking on the Submit button I let go and I supposed let God. I had a career too, one that I had been very good at, fantastic according to Madison. And regardless of what her message said tonight what Madison had also said was that Karen couldn’t do it anymore. She had wanted his then. I only knew his now.