Friday morning, I arrived at work early so I could get a jump on the day. I was in the kitchenette getting some water when Alex Newton, our newest junior salesman, walked in, visibly upset. He had been crying, I was sure, but I wasn’t going to say anything. He got some coffee and was stirring his cream into the cup with a ferocious circular motion through the brown liquid.
“Can I ask you something, Jack?” he asked.
“Uh, sure, Alex, what’s up?” I replied.
“How is it one minute a woman can tell you she wants to be with you for the rest of her life, and then, like only a week later, tells you she thinks she’s made a mistake? I don’t get it.” Oh crap, girl trouble. I’m so not the right guy for this. Help!
“Ummm, Alex, what’s going on?” I figured I could stall by asking for more information and then hopefully one of the other sales guys could rescue me with some real advice for him.
“My girlfriend, Rose, and I just moved in together a few weeks ago. Actually I moved into her place. My lease was up at the beginning of this month so it made the most sense. And I was great with it. Really looking forward to living with her. I mean, I’m thinking this is the girl I’m gonna be marrying soon. It was serious.
“Then I get home last night and she’s sitting on the couch with this upset look on her face and I can tell something’s up. So I ask and she tells me she’s really, really sorry...she doesn’t want to hurt me, but she just isn’t comfortable with us living together unmarried. I mean like, you didn’t know this before I gave up my apartment? Now I have nowhere to live. Fuck!” His coffee splashed a little as he smashed the cup down on the counter. He was getting seriously upset. I needed to get him calmed down. I kept looking, but no cavalry on the horizon to rescue me.
“Alex, calm down and come sit over here.” We moved to one of the two tables in the kitchen. “So what happened next? I assume you moved out?”
“Yeah, I packed up my clothes and shit and split. I was too mad to talk so thankfully she got out of there while I gathered my things. I’m sleeping on a buddy’s couch until I can find a place to stay. All my stuff’s in my car. Damn it, man. I love her. Why did she have to flake on me like this?”
“Did she say she wanted to break off the relationship?” I asked. Scary question, but it popped out. But it stopped him and he sat there and thought about it.
“You know, she never said that. She just said she didn’t want to live together until she was married. When she told me she needed me to move out, I freaked a little and she took off so, no, we never discussed it.”
“So Alex, what you’re saying is, Rose may still want to be with you, just not live with you. So you have some choices to make. If it’s not a deal breaker, find a place to live in the short term, ask her to marry you and start making wedding plans. The faster you get her down the aisle, the faster you get to live with her again.”
“Damn, Jack. How’d you get to be so smart about women? You give good advice.” Oh, Alex, you have no idea how little I understand women. Men, either.
“I’m gonna call her right now, see if she’ll talk to me. Thanks, Jack. Hey, you don’t have any other miracles up your sleeves, like an apartment I can rent quick, do ya?” And that’s how my apartment was sublet in record time.
My Tumi luggage was delivered to my apartment on Saturday morning right after I finished laundry and cleaning, and I spent half the day admiring it, playing with the zippers and loading and unloading my toiletries in the Dopp kit. I liked my new toys and I was looking forward to using them for real in a week’s time.
I had decided to leave everything in the apartment but my clothes for Alex. He had nothing and there was no telling how long he might be there. I had no use for any of it and it made me feel good someone would be able to use it. I was giving back, like Laura Thompson, Marcus’ wife, had encouraged me to do. I was sure she would approve.
I still had to figure out my car, but I had an idea. I needed to speak to Mary on Monday to see if it would work.
My final week in Chicago flew by. Marcus hired Andrea Paulson, an extremely intelligent woman in her forties with a knack for accounting systems. She was professional, diligent, and best of all, she didn’t require nor really want any training from me. In fact, I learned a thing or two from her about managing accounts payable which might have saved me many hours every month doing the books. Marcus loved her.
The other person who loved her was Mary. She and Andrea got along from day one like they were best friends. They were roughly the same age and apparently they had a lot in common in terms of personality, family issues, and other things which I didn’t pay much attention to. I just knew the two of them would be cracking up at some joke or another many times a day. I think everyone in the office was relieved Mary had someone to talk to to keep her occupied and not nosing into anyone else’s business.
I showed Andrea how we did payroll–how the calculations were done and how we uploaded the data to the payroll service. I showed her how to add herself as a new employee and how to figure the payroll tax settings and other admin things. We got the file sent off on schedule and Marcus breathed a noticeable sigh of relief. I think at that point I could have quietly slipped out the door and he would have hardly noticed.
On Wednesday, I approached Mary with my idea for my car. I hoped she didn’t think I was meddling in her family squabbles.
“Mary, I have a question,” I said.
“Sure, Jack. What is it?” she replied.
“Your son, Stewart, runs an auto mechanics school in Addison, correct?” She did not speak to her son often. He was apparently still angry with her for something she did many years ago which she had never divulged.
“Yes, I’m sure he still does. It’s a decent size school too. It’s my understanding nearly all the students are sought after by the better car dealerships in the area.” Still a proud mama even if the relationship was on the rocks.
“Well, Mary, I have my car which I still need to get rid of. I was thinking of donating it to Stewart for use in his school.”
“Jack, you can’t do that! You need the money, I’m sure. Can’t you just sell it outright?”
“The thing is, it’s a used car and it’s not worth much. I’m leaving in three days and I really just want to settle it now. It seemed like a good idea, but if you think he wouldn’t want it, I’ll have to think of something else.”
What I was really trying to do was to get her to call him on the pretext of me gifting the car and maybe it would spark a conversation which could lead to some healing of the rift. I really did care for Mary despite how hard she made it at times. And I suspected her stubbornness and pride was the real roadblock to Stewart relating to her again.
“No, no, Jack. Don’t do that. If you really want to donate it, I suppose I can call him and see if he wants it. When do you need to know?” Yes! She had taken the bait.
“The sooner the better, Mary. It’s the last big thing I have left to cross off my ‘Leaving Chicago’ list.”
“Fine, I’ll call him at lunch time.” Then the phone rang and she was on task again. I really hoped he said yes. My plan was to leave the car there at work and she would have to give him the paperwork personally. It was all I could do. I hoped it worked.
Alex came up to me as I was putting on my jacket to go to lunch. “Hey, Jack. Wait up a minute.”
“What’s up, Alex?” I asked.
“Listen, I was wondering. I know you’re leaving Saturday morning and you said I could move in later the same day. Would it be possible to move my stuff in on Friday after work instead? My buddy is having a big blow out party on Friday and I really have nowhere to go. I’m sorry to ask. I really appreciate all you’ve already done for me.” He was looking like a lost puppy—pathetic, cute and cuddly.
“Well, Alex, it’s only one bedroom and I only have the one bed. You’ll have to sleep on the floor for one night. Are you cool with that?”
“Sure, sure. No problem, Jack. I got the floor. No big deal. Thanks man, I owe you one.”
“Oh, Alex, I almost forgot. I have to go to a farewell dinner at some friends’ house on Friday, so I won’t be home until afterwards. I can give you a key on Friday and you can let yourself in. You know where everything is, right?” He had come over on Monday after work to check it out and sign the sublease agreement with the management company running the place. He was thrilled with the apartment, especially when I told him I was leaving all my leftover things for him. He nearly cried but saved himself at the last second. It was touching.
After I got back from lunch, the phones went a little crazy. We had introduced an improved version of one of our systems a few weeks ago and suddenly we had orders coming in at a fast clip. Marcus kept walking around, his smile beaming from ear to ear like his prized heifer won the blue ribbon at the state fair. I was happy for him. He worked hard to make the company a success, as did everybody else. Mary fielded the phones and transferred calls to various sales guys and I typed up orders as fast as they could write them. Even Alex, who had only been with the company a short time, had two sales in one afternoon. He was on cloud nine. His commission on those two units would pay the rent for a month on the apartment. I was happy too.
When things finally died down around four-thirty, I asked Mary if she had had a chance to call Stewart at lunch. She had.
“Well, did he go for it? Can he use the car?” I asked.
“Yes. He wants it. Said it would be a big help. He’s been looking to expand his schedule of class offerings, but hasn’t been able to for lack of resources for equipment and cars to work on. He’s actually excited about it, Jack. Told me to tell you thank you very much.” It sounded like it went well, but she had a funny look on her face.
I frowned. “Mary, are you alright? You don’t look happy. I thought you would feel good about helping Stewart with his business.”
“Oh I do, Jack. I do. It was a really thoughtful thing for you to do and I appreciate it too. It’s just that...he said something to me...on the phone today. It kind of upset me.” She looked like she could cry any second. Oh boy, now I’d stepped in it.
“What’d he say, Mary? Are you gonna be okay?” She reached for a tissue just as the first tears fell.
“Damn it, Jack. He told me he missed me. He has so much he wishes he could tell me about his life, his school. He’s met someone he thinks is the one. Oh, Jack...I’ve been such a fool. I don’t even remember why I’ve been so mad at him. Do you think he could ever forgive me and give me another chance? I do miss him. So much. I didn’t realize how much until I heard his voice.” Now the tears were free flowing with frequent nose blowing as well.
I exhaled, relieved. “Mary, I think this is great. Yes, he’ll forgive you. Sounds like he already has. He made the first invitation. Go see him. Let him tell you everything and let him be excited like a little kid. And whatever you do, Mary Ricketts, don’t go judging his decisions and questioning his plans. He’s doing fine without any judgment from you. Oh, Mary, this turned out better than I ever hoped.”
“What? What do you mean, Jack? What did you hope?” Oops! My big mouth strikes again.
I started pushing things around on my desk to avoid her eyes. “Oh...you know...nothing really. I just knew you really missed him. I can tell every time he comes up in conversation, you get this far away look in your eye like you’re remembering some good time with him and wishing it could be the same again. I hoped calling him about my car would maybe spark a conversation and you guys could move past whatever pain there was from the past. And it looks like it worked.” I looked up with an apologetic smile.
“Oh my...You did this on purpose? It wasn’t just about the car? Damn it, Jack, now you’ve got me crying again.” She was smiling through happy tears now, looking at me like I was someone special or something. I wasn’t. I just can’t stand it when people refuse to get along, especially when they don’t even know why any more.
Mary blew her nose and got herself in reasonable order. We decided to call it a night. As we were walking out to our cars, she stopped me with a hand on my arm. “Jack, I’m really gonna miss you, you know that, right? You are a really special guy, and it’s been a privilege to work alongside you these past two years. I hope you get everything you ever wanted out of life. You deserve it.”
She turned quickly and walked to her car. I think she was trying not to cry again. I didn’t even try to fight my own tears. I just let them fall as I started my car to head home. I was going to miss her too.