Every Tuesday at noon, a gaggle of nurses, receptionists and sometimes residents rush to the hospital cafeteria hoping they’ll have the opportunity to experience a miracle. This isn’t the place you come to repent your sins or ask a higher power to spare your sister with cancer. It’s the hospital cafeteria.
Somehow, my receptionist Don has turned it into his oyster. Everyone wants a piece of me and he’s the only one with the power to put them on my calendar. As a grief counselor it’s my job to help people cope and manage losses. You sit in an office & ask a person to recount their worst life experience. Then you try to pull them out of the living death they’re experiencing. What would posses so many men and women to claw & bribe to see me? It’s actually quite mad. A mind blowing experience expanded my ability to connect with these people and I don’t mean that figuratively.
A month ago, Don and I were having lunch at my favorite Greek restaurant, Setio Plaza. The minute we sat down, he couldn’t sit still. Every 10 seconds or so he’d look over both shoulders and then at me. I made eye contact the first 3 times. The 4th time I gently placed my hand on top of his hand gripping the silverware wrapped in a dinner napkin.
“Don, what’s the matter? You’re freaking me out” I whispered out of my teeth trying not to speak to loud and fake a smile.
“I’m just so excited for you, this is a big day!” he lied checking over both shoulders again before looking back at me with sheer panic on his face.
The occasion was the completion of my first year as a grief counselor. It was nearly impossible to get a reservation at Setio Plaza but Don’s sister was married to the sous chef who was able to get us a decent table. Don’s sister died in a car accident a month or so before our dinner. Victor, the sous chef, survived. Victor blames himself for the accident and grovels at Don’s feet to make up for it.
The server approached our table and Don flinched as if the hulk was about to punch him. I scrunched my eyebrows at Don and ordered the hummus sampler as an appetizer. Don asked for water and requested black olives in oil for the table. I kicked him in his shin as the server left us.
“Damn you!” Don exclaimed sounding more like himself. He reached down to rub his shin.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked
He looked down at his hands before hesitating and pursing his lips together.
“I saw a medium last night” He whispered.
“Uh, okay. What happened?”
“My sister came to us in the seance”
I looked around to see if anyone could hear us.
“Okay and what did your sister say?”
“Julia, when I tell you this, please understand I’m only doing this for my family”
“Doing what Don? You can tell me anything”
In all transparency, I was terrified. I’ve only seen seances performed in horror movies and that was usually around the time I’d conveniently use the restroom. Don gave me a place to stay after my last serious relationship. We lived together for 7 months. I could at least hear what he had to say, crazy sounding or not.
“DouHnë Bah Tœdä” he bespout.
The words left his lips and pervaded my ears. A chill went through my eyes, sinuses, tongue, throat and teeth. It was like I gargled with listerine and then drank ice cold water.
He said the words again not moving his eyes away from mine.
“DouHnë Bah Tœdä”
To be continued......
Questions out & in
Have you ever been in love? Do you know what it is? Have you ever fallen? Is there fluff down there or a blazing fire? Or fluff on fire? Or is it a hole? A deep hole. Can anything live there or does everything die eventually? Can you fly once you’ve fallen? Is there a way of looking up? Can you see the sky from down there? Is my “old self” up there?
Personal Lines- Chapter 1- Tomato Tomáto
"Seriously?" I groaned rolling my eyes in irritation. A line of twelve people on a Sunday at 9am. Are you kidding me? I've been coming to this Farmers Market for 20 years and the day I’m in a rush, there's a line of twelve people?
I grew impatient because I was meeting Vance in ten minutes. It was nearly impossible to through the line in time. I clenched my teeth in anger and reluctantly walked back to Jerry's Tent.
Jerry was a long time friend of the family. My mom went to High School with him back in the 80's. He and his wife Wendy started the Market when I was 4 years old. My mom would take me there every Sunday after Church and I always left with a sweet peach, a crispy apple or a deep red tomato. Sunday dinners weren't the same without something from Jerry's. So naturally, the tradition continued into my adult years.
I placed my tomatoes back in the basket and headed to my car. Just then a sweet voice shouted behind me "Hey Chicken Wing where ya goin?" There's only one person that calls me Chicken Wing. I turned around and Jerry's Wife, Wendy, was standing next to the tomato basket.
"Hey Ms. Wendy!" I said walking back to the tent.
"Why'd you leave your tomatoes?" She asked with her arms out motioning me to come closer. I smiled and breathed in her perfume as I hugged her.
"I've gota run and you guys are really busy today so I figured I would come back" I said quickly remembering that I have 7 minutes before I meet Vance.
"Well, sweetie you can take these tomatoes, we hate to make you pay" she said bagging up two tomatoes in a plastic bag.
"Ms. Wendy you know I can't take these".
"It's just two damn tomatoes girl. Take the tomatoes!" She insisted.
I pressed my lips together and gave in. I was short on time and I knew she would never give up.
"Okay! Just this once" I said, taking the bag from her hand.
"Go on now! I know you've got a hot date with those twins of yours out"
Shit! Are they really out there? Is my shirt too tight? Damn you Ms. Wendy. I laughed nervously and headed to my car.
I looked back at Ms. Wendy. “Thank you! I'll see you next week"
Our meeting place was Gramencia Park. It was quiet at this time of day. Only a few runners taking laps around the lake and a couple canoeing. I pulled into my usual space in the gravel parking lot. Of course Vance beat me there. His White 2013 BMW 325i was already parked face forward with the windows down. I saw him standing on the shore of the lake looking out across the water; reflecting I suppose.
I hadn't seen Vance in over a month. The last time we spoke he suggested that we take a break. His ex wife and their 4 children were moving in with him. So why was I fantasizing about cutting down the line at the Farmers Market Kill Bill style with a Samurai sword for two tomatoes?
He gave me butterflies with just one look. When he’d touch me, my limbs would become weak. My body would bends at his will. The world disappeared when we kissed. Vance was my kryptonite. Love does that to you sometimes—makes things cloudy. Some people say love is blind. I just think you start to see things selectively. The other things blur. Get cloudy.
I met Vance at my first big bucks job, Greenford Appliances. He was the hiring manager. The job was strictly a tool to fund my Podcast dreams. Who knew the time spent with Vance would change the course of my career and life forever.
Vance led me into the office where the interview would begin. He unlocked the windowless room with a small silver key and held the door open for me. Pushing the strap of my purse onto my shoulder, I nervously walked into the office. I politely stood far enough in so that he could shut the door and show me where to sit.
“Do you think that I am going to steal your purse?” He asked raising one eyebrow.
I chuckled nervously. “No I was just-"
He cut me off. “I was just joking”
The door automatically closed behind him.
“Oh” I scoffed.
“Have a seat anywhere” he motioned his hand like he was telling a child to go play.
I grabbed a leather chair from the left corner of the office and rolled it to the small white table in the middle of the interrogation room. I’m kidding, it wasn’t an interrogation room but it was small enough to be one. Four walls and four corners. There wasn’t a desk, just a long table stretching across the left wall and the table I was sitting at. Two tall filing cabinets against the back wall with a bunch a printer paper stacked on top of them. The carpet was scratchy office carpet. It was ocean blue with fine navy colored lines. It looked like my 3 year old cousin flicked paint onto a piece of paper and then called it a masterpiece.
Vance positioned his directly across mine. I placed my purse on my lap gently and started to fiddle with my fingers a little. Gah! Get it together you got this!
“Ok now that we have all of the awkward stuff out of the way and we are clear that I am not trying to steal your purse, let’s get started, shall we?” he breathed sarcastically.
“Lets!” I exclaimed.
I smiled a sweet smile and he smiled back. Noticing his reaction, he quickly turned his attention to the papers in his hands for the interview. Shit! This is my potential manager! What are you doing? You can’t flirt with this man! Ugh. My thoughts were interrupted by his voice.
“Okay, Phoenix. How are you today?”
“I am doing well thank you. I actually prefer Zoey.”
“Zoey huh? From Phoenix”
“Phoenix, Arizona, Zoey”
“Got it” he nodded slowly and scrunched his lips.
I hated my name. I’m thankful that my best friend Dani gave me that nickname in 3rd grade. It’s who I am now. I diverted.
“How are you?”
“I’m alive. Everyday above ground is a good day! ALRIGHT, So..."
“I don’t like doing this whole, uh, interview thing, so let me ask you what I want to ask you, cool?”
I chuckled and pushed my hair behind my ear.
“Ok, I’m ready”
“I like that attitude, we need that here”
Things became inaudible and I noticed something silver. Hold up! Is that a tongue ring?
“So how old are you?”
I cleared my throat.
“Uh, I am…23”
“Ok, nice, nice and what made you apply here?”
“Well, I am currently at a place where there is no room for advancement. I’ve been with this company for over a year now and no promotion or raise has been mentioned. I work at 3 different stores in the area without them having to ask. I do it because I know they need the help. I am basically taking care of a company that doesn’t care about me. I'm just looking for something new.” I explained.
“Well, we will definitely care about you here, that’s for sure” he looked me in my eyes and the energy between us became electric. I shifted in my seat.
“I’m sorry about your current job. Hopefully, if everything goes well here today and the background check is good, we can get you out of there huh?”
“I surely do hope so" I smiled again.
“Do you drink?”
“Occasionally “I answered quickly.
Are these really the interview questions? If that’s the case, I can relax.
This man is extremely handsome. Slacks neatly pressed, mint and silver paisley tie coordinated with the mint colored shirt. Haircut sharp. Skin smooth with a cork-board color. The deepest dimples you could skateboard in! My God this man is gorgeous. Those lips and that tongue ring are such winners. I shifted in my seat again feeling a little bothered, sexually that is.
My thoughts were interrupted by his next unprofessional question.
“Do you have kids?”
“No I don’t” I said.
I wrinkled my eyebrows and twisted my lips. He smirked looking me in my eyes again. Gah! I can't hold still. I clenched my lips together tightly and crossed my legs.
"You ok?" He asked watching my legs cross.
"Yes, I'm fine!" I assured.
“Well, I’m asking you these questions because I need to make sure that your head will be here and nowhere else”
“Understandable” I lied.
“How much are you making biweekly?”
“Umm please don’t laugh at me when I tell you this but only like $500.00”
“WHAT? You work at three different stores and you’re only making half a stack? That is bullshit, excuse my language”
He started to laugh wholeheartedly and I was offended because I specifically asked him not to laugh. I guess I can’t be that offended, he looks damn good laughing with those dimples and that smile and that-
“I can triple that here for you,” he said seriously.
Now we’re talking! I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“What we do here is Sell Sell Sell. You can make a lot of money if you know how to do that and judging by your employment history I know you know how.”
“That I do” I boasted.
"Great! Well do you have any questions for me?" He asked with one eyebrow raised.
"How old are you?"
"I'm 33. I know I look old-"
"No you don't" I said cutting him off.
There was a 3 second pause that lasted 10minutes in my brain. What was it about this man that made me so comfortable yet uncomfortable? It was the most annoying yet exhilarating feeling.
He cracked a half smile and I witnessed a moment of weakness. I don't think that he's ever had someone compliment him in that way. At least not recently.
I walked the small path to the shore of the lake.
"What?" I asked with attitude approaching him
"What? That's how you greet me?" He gasped sarcastically turning around to face me.
"Cut the bullshit Vance, why are we here? You said you had something important to tell me so WHAT?"
"We're here because this is a relaxing place and you are very hostile" he chastised.
"So why are YOU here?" I asked a little irritated. I hated that he was so skilled at pushing my buttons.
"Because I missed you and I wanted to see your face"
"You had plenty of opportunities to see my face" I barked crossing my arms.
"I thought I was dead to you"
"You are" I confirmed.
"No I'm not. If I was dead I wouldn't be standing here"
"Yes you would. You're dead not blind. You can still see me from time to time" I said softening my tone.
"I'm not dead"
"I'm not fuckin you so you're dead"
"So we're dead bcuz we're not fucking? That's bullshit and you know it"
"How?" I asked.
"It was more than sex"
"Yea it was"
"You and I both know it was more than that." He said taking a step closer to me.
"Anyway, you're here bcuz you missed me?" I asked taking a step back.
"That and I like having a little monkey wrench thrown into things. I don't like being tied down"
"But you have a girlfriend. Excuse me! Ex wife you’re living with. Not to mention your fucking kids and a successful career in architecture. Not really understanding the logic here"
"Yea but I'm here. I don't like settling. It's unrealistic. No one is meant to be with one person. Do you believe in monogamy?"
"Yes and some people don’t but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist"
"Exactly! No one really does. That's why I can't settle. I can't get married because I can't lie to God and say that I'll stay faithful to ONE woman for the rest of my life"
"So it's ok for you to have a monkey wrench but not her?"
"If she had a monkey wrench id be pissed"
"Exactly, So why is it ok for you?"
"I haven't even touched you so it's not a problem"
"But you're thinking about it"
"I think about it often. But does that make me unfaithful? I'm human"
We stared at eachother for a minute. The pool of energy between us was filling up...FAST. He took another step forward and I took a step back. He walked toward me slowly biting his lip. His eyes were locked on mine. I sighed heavily and just let go. There's no use. He still has me. I stood still and he approached me. He reached his hand around my backside, grabbed my ass and pulled me in close. Before I knew it we were eye to eye. He closed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh through his nose.
"I miss you so much" he whispered
I tried so hard to resist but the truth was, I missed him just as much if not more.
"I miss you too" I breathed.