Chapters One, Two, and Three

Captured by the game

 

I cannot see. I have been straining my eyes, trying to dissect the darkness in the hopes of discovering a slither of light. I have not found any. I cannot move, not even shift my posterior in this hard rock chair. I am covered in rope from my neck down to my feet. I am not simply tied down, I am hog-tied! My neck and feet seem to be connected by a single rope. Every time I move the line tightens and digs into my skin, burning like the dickens. My neck feels as if it is going to snap. My knees feel as if they are about to pop out of their sockets. Screaming for help only brings about more pain, my tongue lies against the driest of cloths.

I guess I should be thankful for what I do get, two meals and two glasses of water a day. Let me stop lying to myself, I am not thankful. I am in this chair all day long. I am forced to relieve myself right where I sit, downright embarrassing. They have not told me what this is about. They don’t say anything. They just shove spoonful after spoonful of food in my mouth. I have no idea of the time or the day, the last day I remember was October 10th.

The door opens. With it comes the coolest of breezes, the temperature must be in the 40s. Winter will be here soon. I am cold because they have taken all of my clothes. They have stripped me bare including my shoes and socks. I do not smell any food, what I do smell is cologne, very loud and pungent cologne. Do not know anyone who wears that fragrance. Not sure of who they are, they are not one of the regulars. It is someone new. New can be a good thing, maybe I can get some answers. Who am I kidding, new is not good at all. New means a change has arrived or is on the way real soon.

“What do you want with me?”

“Personally I don’t want anything from you. The people who hired me, they want something.”

“They want what? Why am I here?”

“You are here because they want to remind you of all the dirty deeds you have done.”

“This does not sound good at all.”

“No it does not.”

 

The story begins with…Khloe Spencer

 

Mother and Daughter

 

“It’s 6:45 Philly, time to get up and get going. Go on and make that money, then swing by later and spend some of it at Sensations. Tonight’s guest is Smokey Robinson, come and hear him croon his greatest hits.”

“I am up Patty, I am up!”

I don’t feel like working today. I feel like staying home and lounging in my pajamas, similar to Regis who is flat on his back at my feet. Unfortunately duty calls, I kick the covers off of me and he springs into action. He slinks closer to the head of my bed and curls up underneath my arm. I know what he wants, he wants to be stroked and petted. I reciprocate and quickly run my fingers thru his champagne coat.

“Today’s weather is brought to you by Paragon, the city’s number one source for gas and heating. Today is expected to have plenty of sun, but don’t be fooled, the temperature is expected to reach a high of only 55 degrees. We told all of our listeners in the tri-state area that last night was going to be colder than usual. And it was, Philadelphia had an overnight temperature of 33 degrees, our suburbs were below freezing. Overall the region was ten degrees colder than normal.”

Well that explains why it’s chilly in here. I will grin and bear it, not ready to start the rapid accumulation of a Paragon heating bill. The bathroom, the bathroom, I hope I make it.

“OW! Damn it Regis!”

We both groan. He groans because he knows he is in trouble with me. I damn near break my foot on shoes that I know I put away earlier. I have been told that all puppies like chewing on ‘things’ like shoes, furniture, newspaper, doesn’t soothe my anger. Damn it! I don’t make it, waited too late, it’s okay, I have to take a shower anyway. It is going to be a quick shower. Mother wants me at her annual mother daughter symposium. Xavier is supposed to be back today, I wonder how his trip went. He never discusses his trips. He doesn’t talk much about anything. He is absolutely quiet for a number of days, and then all of a sudden the Xavier I know steps back into the room. The intensity is still there, but not as prevalent.

I turn off the water and wrap up in a towel to hurry back to my bedroom. Since the weather is quite cool I think I will wear a cashmere sweater with some slacks. The office is still running the air conditioning so I know I won’t be overly hot. Besides, if Philadelphia is cool I know New York will be cooler. I wonder if Xavier remembers we are supposed to be going to there. I better hurry up, Regis’ pacing back and forth can only mean one thing. He needs to go outside immediately.

It is indeed October weather, beguiling sunny skies and chilly breezes. I guess my neighbors have already been here or we are the first to arrive, there are no fresh piles of poop. I release Regis from his leash and watch him run like a gazelle on the African Plains. My peripheral vision detects a shadow. I turn to see who is creeping up on me, and I am not surprised, its Mystery. I call him Mystery because I do not know his name. He’s always here when I am here. I never hear him walk up on me, I just turn around and he is there, like now.

Most people who come here have a dog or a cat, but not him. He sits on the park bench and pretends to read the newspaper, intermittently drinking coffee, tea or whatever he has in that cup. He calls himself blending in with the crowd. The plan isn’t working, it has never worked. Today I see him as plain as day. His eyes are barely visible in their sockets, almost swallowed by chubby cheeks. He and I are the only two out here. I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. The poor sap could very well enjoy the outdoors in the early morning hours.

 

®

“Welcome Mothers and Daughters. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this year we decided to extend our invitation to not only the survivors, but to their daughters in the hopes of educating them on the importance of early detection, and having the courage to face their fears with the ones they love. I’m Sharon Spencer and I’m here with my daughter Khloe.”

I’m lucky Mom’s tumor was benign. Most of the women here aren’t as fortunate, they’re either victims of lumpectomy, mastectomy or double mastectomy. You can point out the woman who has undergone a mastectomy. Their prosthesis sits higher than the surviving breast. Mom is one of the organizers for this event. Although she never had cancer, that time when she suspected she did was agonizing, especially knowing the odds of inheriting it from her mother. She bonded with the women of her church, joining the women’s committee and the choir. I’m glad she has them.

I helped her write the opening speech. It’s the first time she has asked me to collaborate on a pet project of hers. She asked me to accompany her, taking the opportunity for quality mother daughter time and to discuss something she deemed serious. The podium is empty due to the break. Everyone is sampling the continental breakfast. Mother has returned just in time, the waiter is here.

The tall slender waiter stands next to mother, I can’t tell if it is really a man or a woman. Flat-chest and a straight up and down figure suggest male. The face, soft and quite beautiful suggest woman as does the red hair pulled back neatly in a ponytail and centered down by the neck. Ah the neck, thin with no traces of facial hair or a prominent Adam’s apple doesn’t help me discern either. Then it spoke.

“Morning ladies,” he said in a southern voice, “Welcome to the Betsy Ross Hotel, our continental breakfast consists of fresh orange juice, seasonal fruit which happens to be sliced oranges, honey dew melon, and cantaloupe. From the Chef’s Bakery we have an assortment of mini-muffins, croissants, sweet butter, preserves and marmalades. Beverages include Columbian coffee and a selection of Earl Grey teas. What would you like?”

Mother orders first, “I think I’m speaking for both of us when I say bring us two of everything.”

“I think that is the best choice, sample everything,” I said.

“Very well then, I shall return soon with your order,” he said.

A quick glance around the room gives me an estimate of at least 300 families here. Mothers are laughing and talking with their daughters.

“Khloe…”

“Huh!”

“Sorry to startle you.”

“Oh I was just looking around the room.”

“We did have a very good turnout, thank you for your help on the speech, it was well received.”

“You are quite welcome. If you ever need help don’t hesitate to ask.”

“A mother asking her daughter for help, I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, except it makes me feel like the child and you…never mind, Khloe while we are here I have some things to discuss with you.”

Suddenly crestfallen, Mother’s mood is no longer festive, she is in distress. Her eyes are closed, her hands massage her temples. “Do you have a headache?”

“As a matter of fact I do.”

“Do you need aspirin?”

“No I have already taken something though it does not help. The only thing that will help is to talk about why I asked you here. I need to tell you a few things.”

“What kind of things?”

Her usual straightforwardness dodges me as does her famous direct eye contact. She is the one looking down at the plate. She is the one with the pitchy voice. Grudgingly she speaks, “Things you need to know about love, marriage, and friendships.”

I can’t believe she’s rehashing this conversation, “Mom, remember telling me all of this the morning of my 16th birthday?”

Mom’s eyes lift off the table and make contact. They are red, and moist. Her lips quiver ever so briefly, and then they muster courage.

“That was 12 long years ago and I want to talk about it now! It’s important that I say this. It is important that you hear me.”

“Sorry to interrupt.”

“First you must maintain your weight, exercise…try to keep your figure the way it was when you first met him. Men don’t like overweight, shapeless women. Don’t let him come home to a woman walking around in a house coat, hair rollers in her hair and a cigarette dangling out of the mouth. When his key turns in the lock, you should be in position, standing at the door looking as glamorous as Naomi Campbell.”

“Mom I don’t do hair rollers, I don’t smoke, and Naomi Campbell is a fantasy, why on earth would you suggest her?”

“Yes Naomi is a fantasy, but that girl got it going on. She makes her own money…”

“I make my own money!”

“Yes you do and I am proud of you, don’t ever stop making your own money…”

Her lips are quivering again. Something is wrong, very wrong. She is on the verge of breaking down. She composes herself and continues.

“A man will have more than one woman in his life, e…even, even though he chose you there will always be other lovelies. It is something you will have to deal with.”

The waiter is here with his serving cart. He places the small basket of breads in the center of the table. Next to it he sits a small boat of butters, jellies and marmalades. The fruit platters are placed opposite the basket. The coffee is on the left of the plate, the orange juice is to the right. “This looks positively scrumptious.”

“I hope everything is to your satisfaction, I will be back a little bit later to see how you’re doing,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re quite welcome,” he said.

He walks away and Mother’s face comes into focus. She is staring at the empty plate. I want to console her but mother is not one for public displays. The last time I did she pushed me away as if I were a complete stranger, contrary to my affectionate godmother Saki. Mother will be fine, like always, I on the other hand am starving. “Can’t wait to sample these golden brown pop-ups, I think I’ll take a cranberry muffin and a croissant.”

I split them open and spread on a thin layer of butter. I look up and see mother still sitting there staring at the empty plate. “Mom, the food is here, aren’t you hungry?”

“Not really, my appetite has been poor the last couple of days.”

I dropped my croissant, “You’re not sick again are you?”

“Physically I’ve never been better, maybe I should eat something, neglecting myself is not going to change the situation.”

“Change what situation?”

She does not give me an answer. Instead, she is adding two teaspoons of sugar, something she never does, and two creams to her coffee. The spoon knocks the inside of the cup as she stirs. I don’t think she knows what she is doing. Mother is elegant and refine. She normally would use the butter knife to apply marmalade to her muffin, not a fork. She is stirring the coffee again, irritatingly knocking the spoon against the inside of the cup. She lifts the cup to her mouth, takes a small sip, and slams it down onto the saucer, spilling some of its contents on the table. She is not hungry, she is angry. “Mother why are you angry?”

“Where was I? Oh yeah, I was saying your future husband will always have other women. It is something you will have to deal with. I don’t want you to get a divorce either; all it does is let the other woman get more control. When he remarries he’ll forget about you and your children.”

“You’re predicting that my future husband will have an affair.”

“Not an affair, several affairs.”

“Why? Why would he? How can you be so sure about a man I haven’t even met yet?”

“Because I know men, at some point during the marriage they will. They all do I’m just trying to prepare you for it.”

I cannot believe what I am hearing. My own mother predicting the demise of my marriage before it even happens. Why is she jinxing me? Of course that’s it, “Mom…did Daddy have an affair?”

“Yes, he has had several.”

“Who? When? Where?”

“Someday I promise to tell you all the details, but for now I want you to listen. Listen to me and remember all that I’m telling you.”

“Of course I’ll remember, I’ve remembered everything you ever told me.”

“Good. Another point I want to make to you is that wealth sometimes attracts undesirables. Honey carefully choose your friends, you want them to like you for you, not for your money and status. Khloe you cannot tell your friends every little detail about yourself. You will unintentionally reveal your weak spots. You must keep some things to yourself, even when you’re hurting.”

“I knew it! That’s what this is all really all about, you hate Kiera, the only real friend I have. What have you got against her?”

“I am not talking about Kiera, you brought her into our conversation. I don’t want to talk about her, what I have to say pertains to you, for your ears only. Now I am here to give you the heads up, where was I? Oh yeah, if you should get married and your father and I aren’t a part of the wedding, please…please get a pre-nup. Don’t get married without one, even if he has equal status or money than you.”

My engagement is a secret. No one knows except the two of us, the bride and the groom. If I left it up to him he would have it announced in the newspaper. I haven’t told anyone because I am not sure. Why is she talking about marriage, did she somehow find out? “Mom why are worrying like this? You’ll be there when I get married.”

“I have to make sure you know how to protect yourself. Your father and I will not always be with you.”

All I can do is look at her. Now it all made sense, the red eyes, the somber mood, the trembling lips, the motherly advice. She is scared. “Oh my God, you are sick! Why didn’t you tell me? Does Daddy know?”

“Khloe! Khloe sweetie, lower your voice, everyone is looking at us.”

“I don’t care who’s looking, you can’t be sick again!”

“Stop! I’m not sick! I’m hurting! Your father has broken my heart yet again, and this time it’s bad, really bad…I always wanted you to have a brother or sister, and now you have them!”

“I don’t need siblings, I’m fine.”

“Well you have them, courtesy of your father.”

“What!?”

“That was a fantastic continental breakfast! I want to thank the staff here at the Double Tree Hotel.”

Dr. Stanislaus has returned to the podium. Everyone applauds except me, I feel like crying. For myself, and for my family, how could he? How could he betray her? Who is this woman that he loves so much? Did he purposely give her a child?

“Mom let’s go.”

“We can’t leave yet.”

“Yes we can, tell them you have a family emergency.”

“That would be lying.”

“No, it’s not! This is a family emergency, I can’t stay here another minute. I want to see Dad.”

“You can’t, he’s gone.”

“Gone! Gone where?”

“Somewhere, I told him to pack his bags and get out.”

Wait! Did she say she threw him out? She just gave me a whole sermon about not getting a divorce, and she threw her husband out. My mind cannot absorb the information just relayed. I can’t, I can’t get our conversation out of my mind, I have a brother or sister…look at her, she is struggling to hold herself together. This has made her weak. It would make any woman weak. The man you love sleeps around and creates another family. Maybe it is better that I don’t see you Dad.

“This concludes our annual symposium on Breast Cancer Awareness. I hope we provided each of you with valuable information. I also hope that many of you have joined one of our support groups. We want you to know you do not have to endure it alone, let us help.”

Dr. Stanislaus interrupted my thoughts with the announcement that the symposium is over. I can’t take it anymore. I have to get out of here. I turn to her and ask, “What time is it?”

“10:45, we’ll be leaving in a minute or so.”

I push my way through the crowd, I don’t want to talk to anyone but my Dad, the door is up ahead.

“Khloe!”

Who’s that calling me? I look in the direction of the guttural voice and find a familiar face, its Mrs. Wilson and I guess her granddaughter. I love her, but Mrs. Wilson is a talker, I am not in the mood to socialize. My getting out of here is not meant to be.

“Khloe? My goodness you have really turned into a fine looking young woman, how you been? Sharon’s been gloating about you running your Daddy’s company. Think you can give my granddaughter Chandra here a job?”

I lean in to give her a kiss on the cheek, “How are you? You’re looking all young! I see you lost some weight. You’ve been on the treadmill?”

“Forever the flatter, just like your Daddy, I have been in the gym. My knees have been giving me the devil so I decided to take off some of the load.”

“I need to lose some weight too.”

“Child please, you look like a Barbie doll, you don’t need to lose no weight! I bet that man of yours like you just the way you are.”

“As a matter of fact he does, I have to get going, I’m late. I’m sure I can find something for her, it’ll probably be part-time though.” I opened my purse and whipped out a business card, “here this is my business card. Call me sometime tomorrow and we’ll set up an appointment.”

“Oh shucks now! Ms. Thang has her own business cards, ooh she’s a vice president, go on girl which your bad self! That’s what I’m talking about Chandra, you gotta have drive and be ambitious to make it in this world!”

Cute little Chandra, most likely a recent high school graduate, just gave me the dirtiest of looks. I don’t think she’ll be coming to work for me. “I’d love to stay and chat Mrs. Wilson, Chandra, but I’m late for a meeting. Please excuse me.”

“You’re quite alright.”

“Chandra give me a call.”

I walk away in search of mother. I see her at the door, saying goodbye to the attendees. She is so graceful. How can she after having a bomb drop in on her life? Graceful or not, she should be leaving like the rest of us, but then again if she did leave where will she go, back to the office to work alongside Dad? I must tell her I am leaving.

“Mom, I want to discuss this further, we will continue our conversation later.”

She nods in agreement and pushes me along so she can extend her hand to the next person in line.

 

At work…

 

 

Finally I arrive, it’s a little after one o’clock, still lunch time. A Flora’s Flowers van has been in front of me the last hour or so, making the exact same turns as me. He or she has been driving at their leisure. Maybe they have all afternoon, but I don’t. I want to see dad as soon as possible. I want to hear his side. What mother said cannot be true, it simply can’t be. But then again she was pretty torn up at breakfast. She said she threw him out of the house. Did he go willingly?

The van is going where I am going, it turns into the driveway of Spencer Foods. Maybe Dad sent Mother some flowers. Mother, an excellent speaker and company spokes-person, serves as our public relations person. Flowers can go a long way in soothing a woman’s heart but I don’t know if it can fix this. An outside child is a slap in the face, the type of news that would be a public relations nightmare not mention utterly embarrassing. They are both wrapped up in presenting a picture of the perfect couple who has it all and works together to keep it all. One thing I know about both of my parents is that they will fight to keep this under wraps.

The driver pulls the van up to the curb of the delivery lane. I drive around it to get to my designated parking spot a few feet away and across from him. I get out of my car and close the door, but don’t go anywhere. I want to know what is being delivered. I walk around to the passenger side and get my briefcase. I lay it atop the hood of my car, all the while peering at the van. The driver has gotten out and is adjusting his cap, he’s rather cute. The majority of his hair is tucked underneath the cap he sports backwards. A few free shoulder length strands fly about in the wind, resisting his attempts to restrict them so he readjusts his cap again.

He glances at me as he walks to the back of the van. I look away and pretend to be rummaging thru my briefcase. I look up. He’s standing at the back of the van. He opens the door and tucks the clipboard under an arm. I close my briefcase and walk along the sidewalk, towards him. Just as he pulls on the door latch I cross the driveway and peek inside the van. He is delivering flowers just like I thought. He reaches inside and grabs hold of two bouquets. He’s delivering flowers to whom? I hurry to the entrance of the building and wait for him, the perfect opportunity to find out where they are going. Here he comes. “Let me get the door for you.”

He smiled. Some people have the perfect smile, the kind of smile that shows all 32 teeth. He does not have a single cavity.

“Jake,” he said.

“Well Jake you have a beautiful smile. Follow me and I take you to the front desk. Here, why don’t I take your clipboard, wouldn’t want you to ruin your delivery.”

I eased the clipboard from his slightly opened armpit.

“Thanks,” he said, stepping inside the vestibule.

I escort him to the front desk. Lazy Phaedra, one of our security guards, is on the phone as always. I should give her the benefit of the doubt. She could be talking to one of our employees.

“Larry why can’t you do your fair share? I can’t send kids to school and work too?” she complained.

Totally self-absorbed, we have been standing here five minutes now and she has yet to acknowledge me or the deliveryman. I have been meaning to have her replaced. She is a lovely person plagued with personal problems, most of them caused by her selfish man. Too bad she didn’t discover this before her children were born. At last, she ends her call.

“I apologize Ms. Spencer for not greeting you…family emergency…sheez! Some girls have all the luck, red roses in crystal vases. Me, I got stuck with a man from the Stone Age. Sir, what can I do for you?”

“I have a delivery for Ms. Khloe Spencer.”

“Wait a minute, that’s me, two dozen of roses for me?! Wow! Who are they from?”

“Apparently you are the love of some lucky guy’s life, there’s a note card, I’ll be back,” he said.

They are for me, not mother, me! Someone is completely smitten with me. I wonder which one, Xavier or Danny? I pluck the note card hidden amongst the bloom. My name is not on the envelope, there’s only a number, the number one is written. What is meant by “1?” I flip the envelope over. It’s not sealed very tight. My finger works along the crease rather easily. I remove the note card and read.

“Will you hurry up? Got me sitting here in complete suspense while you take forever to read the card,” she griped.

“Okay, okay, okay, they are from…” I look up Jake has returned. He has two more dozen of roses, these are pink. I gasp, “What the?”

“See, we are not all cave men, where do I put these?” he asked.

“I can leave one here with Phaedra,” I said.

“You are going to need more room than that, there’s more,” he said.

“More!” I gasped.

“Yes, more,” he said.

“How many more?” I asked.

“Six more,” he said.

“Six!” I blurted, “You mean someone sent me ten dozen of roses?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Your man sure loves you,” she said.

“I guess he does. I am going to share my gifts. One of the pinks can stay here with you the rest can come with me. I need Bailey, have you seen him today?”

“He’s here.”

She picked up the phone, turned the handset down, push a button on the console and spoke, “Bailey delivery at front desk, Bailey delivery at front desk!”

“I’ll take this one, he can bring the others.”

I pick up the two note cards and the bouquet and make my way to my office. Co-workers stop what they are doing to glance at me, commenting on their beauty and their fragrance. No one has ever sent me roses. I am not sure which one sent them, but I am willing to bet they came from Xavier. Ten dozen of roses is chump change for him, costly for Danny. Besides Danny and I are friends having fun, nothing serious in the feelings department. Xavier is the one I am serious about, guess these flowers prove the feelings are mutual.

I open the office door. No one has been in here today, the drapes are drawn. My hand brush across the light plate and immediately the lights flicker on. I survey the room, where will I put them all? For starters the one I am holding can sit in the center of the conference table, two can stay on my desk, the others can sit on the window sill. Oh my, their fragrance already wafts in the air.

“Where do you want these?”

It’s Bailey, soft-spoken and a bit of a featherweight for a man. His size is not to be underestimated, he is extremely strong. I once saw him reposition one of the boilers in the basement. I think he did it to impress me, I still think he has a crush but has wisely buried it. He knows that I think of him as a brother, “In the window sill.”

Bailey talks while I rummaged through my handbag.

“Somebody sure loves you. That’s good though, you deserve it. If he does not treat you right let me know, I’ll smack’em upside the head.”

“I’ll be sure to call you.”

“What are you looking for in there, the kitchen sink?”

I pulled out a $20 bill and held it between my fingers.

He stepped forward and raised his hand, ready to accept, “For me?”

Jake is here with another bouquet. I promptly pulled back, “It’s for him.”

“What about me? Don’t I get something?” he complained.

“Yes, you can get my Dad,” I said.

“Oh so it’s like that huh? Okay I’ll go find him and send him your way.”

“Please close the door behind you.”

Note cards stick up out of the orange, yellow, and white bouquets, “What could he possibly have to say on so many cards?”

I arrange them in numerical order and open them one by one. “It’s a poem:”

Red is for the lover in you,

Yellow is because your warm and affectionate,

Pink for your elegance and refinement,

Orange because of my desire,

White because you are pure and worthy.

There is more to come, beginning at five,

Are you sure you’re ready to take the next step?

After this morning I’m not so sure…the door opens. It’s Tamara the ever prompt secretary that I share with Dad. She is all business, all the time. She has worked here for two years now and I have never seen her wear makeup, change her hairstyle or take off her glasses. Her clothes always scream ultra conservative, the very top button on all her blouses are always fastened, her skirts and dresses are never above her ankles. Her shoes are always flat, she never wears heels. Not good for a young woman in search of a man, assuming she wants a man. I should not jump to conclusions. She may very well be content with her lifestyle.

“How was the symposium?”

“It was a bit of an eye opener.”

“Oh.”

“What are your plans for the weekend?”

“I don’t know probably take in a movie or something. How about you, what are your plans?”

“I haven’t made any. How are things around here?”

“Busy as always, Bill Kessler called, he said the coffee shipment would be delayed by two days. Leighton Manufacturing claims their shipment of containers arrived just today.”

“The weather out west is horrendous. What affects them affects the rest of the country, anything else?”

“Yeah Philadelphia Liberty Stars’ Mark Clothier has agreed to be our spokesman.”

“Yayy! I scored my first major contract without Dad. Speaking of Dad have you seen him today?”

“No I haven’t seen or heard from him. Someone is trying to get in contact with him. They have been calling him all morning.”

“Oh yeah, who?”

“Some lady, she won’t leave her name or number. She says it’s personal.”

“I have an idea who it may be. The next time they call, transfer it to me.”

“Sure will. Also Scott Warner wants to speak with you about the advertising campaign involving Mark Clothier. He’s put together a few ideas and wants to get your approval.”

“Where’s Scott now?”

“He’s at lunch.”

“When he gets here tell him to come see me. Tamara I am starving can you order lunch for me?

“Sure.”

“I’d like a grill chicken salad with two servings of Thousand Island dressings. I also want garlic bread and a large ice tea.”

“Sure Khloe.”

“Any other messages?”

“Remember you have a three o’clock meeting with the Regional Managers.”

“You better add a slice of chocolate cake, that’ll help me stay awake.”

“Sure, that’s all that is happening around here unless you need something else.”

“No that’s more than enough on my plate. Oh wait a minute! I need the folders for the meeting.”

“I had them transported up, they are over here.”

She turns and walks toward the table. Her hand rests on the back of a chair that she lifts up and pulls out. I see the folders stacked on the seat of the chair she is holding. She pushes the chair aside and stands closer to the table, gingerly she touches the petals.

“They are captivating aren’t they?”

She doesn’t reply, suddenly she exhales as if she had been standing there holding her breath.

“Tamara is everything okay?”

“Never been better, I heard thru the grapevine that you had gotten flowers today. Didn’t realize there was so many, who’s the secret admirer?”

“He’s no secret to you, Xavier sent them.”

“Oh.”

She has a frown on her face, “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing, I was thinking, wondering, that’s all.”

“Would you like to take a bouquet back to your desk?”

“They would not have the same effect. They are for you, not me. I should be getting back to work, enjoy your flowers.”

“Thank you, I will, could you close the door behind you.”

I pick up the handset and call Bill who answers on the first ring, “Bill this is Khloe, I understand the shipment is going to be late, do we have enough coffee cups in stock?

“No, we have only five thousand cases.”

“Is that five thousand cases of cups of each size or the sum total of all cups on our shelves?”

“Total sum of cups, the shipment was to bring in 20,000 cases–five thousand cases of small, regular, large, and extra large cups, in which we would in turn distribute to the stores.”

“Leighton should have a minimum of three thousand cases of our cups already made.”

“Jim Leighton sent us what he had in stock last week, which was our emergency supply of 10,000 cases. He said he always has on hand 10,000 products for each of his customers, that’s a lot of storage space considering he has a huge customer base. He is asking that we remain patient and give him the extra days to prepare the cups, he’s got his staff working overtime…this extreme weather is affecting all of us Khloe.”

“Take what we have and divide it evenly among the stores. Wait, that won’t work, supply the stores with the most demand, the rest will have to purchase basic styrofoam cups until the shipment come in. Tamara said something about a back order for coffee…”

“The coffee is also going to be delayed. They are having a hard time getting the coffee to the airport due to flooding of the roads.”

“How long of a delay?”

“Two days maximum, the roads leading directly to and from the warehouses are clear. It’s the low-lying roads on the way to the airport that are flooded.”

“Call me back and let me know how things are going.”

I hang up the phone, satisfied that our contingency plan works. Now onto problem two-Mark Clothier and the marketing campaign. Our sketch should be similar to his style of playing, fast and smooth. Scott, very blonde and very blue-eyed, stands in my doorway with his portfolio carry all. The man is always prepared.

“Hi Scott, I heard the good news.”

“Yeah we got Mark Clothier!”

“I also heard you have a marketing campaign in the works.”

“Yeah I do, care to take a look at it?”

“Certainly.”

Scott unzips his portfolio carry all and lays his presentation boards on the conference table.

“Beautiful flowers, and so many, what’s he apologizing for?”

“Who’s apologizing Scott?”

“The man who sent them…never mind, let’s stay on task ‘cause we don’t have much time. I want the commercial up and running before the Stars’ first playoff game…anyway I was thinking, Come to Spencer’s, where the food is good, the service is smooth and fast like my fastball.”

I examine his work, “Here’s what I was thinking, of “Come to Spencer’s, where the atmosphere is surreal, the food is excellent, and the service is as genuine and memorable as my fast ball.”

“We can incorporate both ideas. I took the liberty of surveying local advertising companies and Kent and Brown came highly recommended. I met with them and I’m confident they will provide us with exactly what we need.”

“Good, can things get underway first thing Monday morning?”

“They said yes.”

The button on the phone blinks, its Tamara calling on the speakerphone, “Yes?”

“The regional managers are here, I seated them in Conference Room 2.”

“Thanks, have you seen my Dad yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Tell them I’m on the way.”

I gather the folders while Scott packs up his presentation. He accompanies me down the hall since he is going back to his office, which happens to be right next door to Conference Room 2.

“Is Greg in today?”

“He’s not in yet.”

“We was supposed to have lunch together to talk about a deal he was working on, he never showed or answered his phone.”

“He’s probably caught up somewhere.”

“I was thinking that too, it’s unusual for him not to be in touch though, I hope he’s alright.”

“I’m sure he is, when I track him down I’ll remind him to call you.”

“Thanks Khloe, see you later.”

I step inside of the room. Four of the six regional managers are here, which is a good thing, this meeting can wrap up a lot sooner than expected and I can be on my merry way to New York. In attendance is: Bob Cummings representing our stores in Delaware, Zachary Buspry representing our stores in New Jersey, Stephen Spiel representing our stores on the Main Line/Western Suburbs of Philadelphia and Central Pennsylvania up to and including State College. Anthony Lipton represents our stores in the Northern Suburbs of Philadelphia up to and including Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Absent are the regional managers representing New York and Maryland. The clock on the wall says four o’clock. I intend to wrap this up in 45 minutes. “Good afternoon Gentlemen, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long, I know you all have very busy agendas so let’s get to it. Let’s start with Bob, how are things in Delaware?”

Bob Cummings, a transplant from Oklahoma is a man in his mid-30s with the beadiest of eyes. He is of average height and weight, not bad looking, a few crows’ feet has set up shop in his temples. His Stetson pulls your eyes away from those details. Bob loves his western wear. Every time I see him he’s wearing some shade of green and brown. Those clothes define him, complimenting his fair skin and curly sandy brown hair. Today he’s wearing a sage green western shirt underneath a chocolate suede vest. I have no doubt he’s wearing cowboy boots. I bet his Stetson occupies the seat next to him. Boisterous like most mid-westerners, I can say that he takes the time to listen attentively before attempting to hog the spotlight. Now only if he can get rid of that drawl…

“Overall things in Delaware are not bad, the restaurants are making us money, steadily increasing in profits,” he reports. “The stores under me have taken the reins so to speak and prepare cuisine unique to Delaware, and even added a few unheard of international dishes. They prefer to use fruits and vegetable from local farmers as much as possible. Customers are not only buying goods off the shelf and taking them home, but they are stopping to have a meal before heading back to the corral.”

“I know my restaurants have chosen Loretta Wineries as their source of wine,” said Zachary.

Zachary Buspry is the youngest of the four and the handsomest. He’s our flamboyant dresser who loves the non-traditional colors. However he makes every effort to wear business attire. I once asked him why he wore such bold colors and he said, ‘they make me unforgettable.’ Boy was he right, his presence is quite unforgettable.

Zachary continues, “Loretta Wineries is unique to New Jersey. One would think this region would be too harsh to grow grapes, but the soil is ideal for them. Swedesboro was chosen as our promo site because of its lack of restaurants, this has proven to be a wise decision. Business is booming simply because the people can stay in their own town.”

“Well that’s two good reports. I wish I can say the same,” barreled Stephen.

Stephen Spiel is a middle-aged man quite tall and very noticeable. His voice is the product of years and years of chain smoking. I look at the clock, half an hour has already passed and here he comes with bad news.

“There are too many specialty boutiques, Mom and Pop stores, and restaurants owned by the local rich and famous. Not to mention hot and heavy competition from Hawa’s.”

“That damn Hawa is everywhere!” thundered Anthony.

Anthony Lipton, the oldest of them all, is chose to sit rather than stand. Bald and significantly overweight, he speaks with his enormous hands, “I was always taught if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”

Time for me to intercept, “Gentlemen we are, you may have heard we had been pursuing Phillies first baseman Mark Clothier. Well he just signed to be our spokesman.”

“What’s he going to sell?” asked Bob.

“The Spencer brand,” I said.

“Which is?” Zachary asked.

“Genuine,” I look at the clock. It is five o’clock, perfect timing, “genuine and memorable like Clothier’s fast ball. Further details will be forthcoming as soon as the ad campaign is complete. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I must be going. I have another meeting to attend.”

I gather up my folders.

“Where is Greg?” Anthony asked.

“Dad will probably be in later this afternoon.”

I try to walk out of the room fast, but the folders are quite heavy and uncomfortable in my arms. I shift them to my hands, instantly feeling relief. Thankfully I don’t have too far to walk, next time I will definitely bring a cart. I wonder where Dad is, it is unusual for him to stay away and not phone anyone. He and Mother had marital problems before and it never stopped him from being at work. Unless he is with his girlfriend, but who is the mysterious woman calling him? Here comes Tamara, maybe she’s heard something new. “Hey Tamara, have you seen Dad?”

Her eyes shift to the floor. The floor is not talking to you, I am! What’s on the floor that is so interesting? Oh no she didn’t, she just walked pass me without saying a word. How can a secretary walk pass her boss without speaking? Maybe she did not hear me. “Has Dad called Tamara?”

She pauses where she stands, and at a snail’s pace turn towards me, “No he hasn’t.”

She sounds like she swallowed a frog, maybe she isn’t feeling well, “Has anyone called him?”

She slowly lifts her head up to look at me. Bulging eyes appear in her bifocals, “You mean the person I told you about earlier?”

Her voice is back to normal. I don’t remember her clearing her throat. Maybe she did, but if she did and I did not hear her, it would not immediately fade back to normal, “Yeah.”

She is really irritating me. Her eyes shift up at the ceiling, down to the floor, to the adjacent wall, everywhere but at me, “No they haven’t called, neither has your mother.”

“Tamara is something wrong?”

“I have a lot on my mind, nothing to do with you.”

She is lying. “For a minute I thought I was making you uncomfortable.”

“It’s not you…I just received some bad news.”

“Can I be of help?”

“There’s nothing anybody can do. I just have to wait and let it work itself out.”

“Okay, well I won’t hold you up.”

“You’re not holding me up. In case I don’t see you again I want you to know you’ve been a great boss.”

“Are you leaving?”

“No, I’m not leaving, I don’t want to, but I might have to take a leave of absence.”

“Listen, take the afternoon off. Don’t worry about these folders. I’ll hide them in my file cabinet in my office.”

“Okay.”

She is running towards the exit. Something is wrong, I shouldn’t have let her leave, clearly she’s upset about something. I sit the folders on the floor against the wall and enter the stairwell. The onslaught of the sun streaming through the glass block momentarily blinds me. I can’t see her, but I hear her, her shoes scrape against the steps. I put my hand on my brow like a visor and peer over the railing. She is already on the second floor. “Tamara!”

She ignores me and keeps going, she is running full steam down the stairs, her heels scuffing even louder than before. “Tamara!”

A door opens and closes with a deafening force, there is only one door that opens and closes like that and it’s the exit door on the ground floor, it leads to the parking lot. She can’t drive in that state. “Tamara, stop!”

I jet downstairs as fast as I can, trying not to wrench my ankles. I finally arrive on the ground floor, but I am too late. She is already in the car and has started the engine. The wheels spin on the asphalt, kicking up so much smoke that I can’t see her. Abruptly the car jets out of the parking lot.

“What’s wrong with her?”

Phaedra and Bailey have joined me.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Probably some man missing with her head,” he said.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“I’m a man and I know men. Sometimes were the nastiest sacks of shits…” his voice trailed off.

Phaedra replied, “Hear ye! Hear ye!”

“I’ll call her later, make sure she’s okay,” I said.

“Good thinking, by the way Roseman is waiting in your office,” she said.

“Who is Roseman?” I asked.

“Mister dozens and dozens of roses!” she blurted.

“He is!! Let me get going,” I said.

“Yeah you better get going before I take him from you,” she cackled.

I run back to the third floor, to the place where I left the folders and pick them up. I hurry on to my office and find my door shut. They said he was here, where is he? I sit the folders on Tamara’s desk and turn the doorknob. I find him, the love of my life sits at my desk with his feet propped up. He stares at me with those big eyes. Sometimes they are gray, other times green or hazel. Regardless of their color, they are eerie, like now, dark and penetrating, burning a hole in my soul. I counter with my own stare.

“Glad you made yourself at home.”

His hand glides across his right breast and finds its way inside his jacket. I can see the bulge and I know what it was looking for, cigarettes. He is the first to blink. He lights one and inhale, his square jaw momentarily sinks in.

“It’s that good huh?” I asked as I move over to the file cabinet to lay the files in an empty drawer.

“Not as good as you. Enjoying the flowers?”

“Yes I am. I knew you sent them, tell me why so many?”

“Did your mother ever explain that you are supposed to be grateful for the gifts you receive?”

“Yes she did.”

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“What is this? Answering a question with a question, you know what I’m talking about. Are you ready to take the next step?”

I thought about today, the conversation with mother, seeing Tamara, and Bailey’s unforgettable comments. I’m not sure if now is the best time. I won’t completely blow him off though. “Sure I am ready to go to New York, first I want to touch base with Tamara, make sure she’s okay.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Something happened. She tore out of here like a jet going up in space.”

“I just saw her and everything was fine.”

“How long ago was that?”

“About ten minutes ago, she let me in here.”

“How was she?”

“She was fine. How about you stop worrying about her and worry about me, find out if I am okay.”

Xavier stands up and my lips part, I can’t help but relish his presence. He is impeccably dressed as always, another characteristic that pulled my attention. His charcoal grey suit, tailored just for him, is very becoming. The skinny tie-black, grey, and white stripe lies against a crisp white shirt. The whole ensemble moves with his chiseled body. Within seconds his eyes close in on mine. His soft moist lips rest on my lips. His sharp teeth sting, forcing my mouth open, his unopposed tongue worm its way in. Hot and cool all at once, I don’t dare move, I don’t want to move, but he will. I feel his cell phone vibrating in his jacket pocket. I have no doubt he will answer it.

“Hello…oh we’ll be right down.” He closed the phone and said, “That was the limo driver, we have to get going. You can call Tamara from there.”

“Limo! You said limo!”

“Yes I said limo. I want to ride in style. C’mon we gotta get going, get our show on the road. It’s only two days, but I promise when we clear our calendars we will sail the world for a month.”

“Sail!?”

“Yes sail, okay, fly, whatever method of travel you prefer. We can discuss that in the limo too.”

 

 

 

 

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