chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

Katie looked down at the eggshell white business card and ran her fingers over the embossed name.
Michael Stanton.
He had been nice enough, but what were his intentions. She frowned, then shrugged. A lunch date, no harm in that. Maybe he even knew of a job opening for her.

Her eyes fell to the stack of bills piling up on her IKEA desk. Today was the day that she’d promised herself that she would open them. She logged into her online banking account.

Checking: $104.89

Savings: $511.72

The four jobless months after being laid off had taken their toll. Heaving a sigh, she logged out of the account. Easier not to see the gloom and doom. She snatched the first envelope off the stack tearing it open quickly, like ripping off a bandage.

Utilities, $75.33.

She swallowed hard, realizing how much damage her credit card was going to take. Katie finished opening the stack. It totaled $647.89. Thankful she’d paid her mortgage already, she sorted the bills by late fees, kicking herself for putting this off. It’d probably be $100 more.

She finished and picked the card back up. “Michael Stanton” she said aloud. She opened her cell phone. She carefully dialed the number from his card, checking it three times before hitting the call button. Just lunch, she thought as the first ring began.

“You’ve reached Michael Stanton. Please leave your name, number, and a succinct message, and I will return your call. Thank you.”

Perfect, Katie groaned. She deliberated the dreaded decision of whether to leave a message or call back. Would he see her number and wonder why she hadn’t left a message? Leaving a message took the control out of her hands though.

In these 10 seconds, her phone started beeping the incoming call signal. This escalated the dilemma. There wasn’t time to see who was calling without leaving a long pause before starting her message, if she even left one. Maybe it was him though. But if it wasn’t, and she switched over, the message would be dead air. Best to leave a message.

“Hi, it’s Katie from the park yesterday. Um, just giving you a call, so I guess I’ll try back.”
he hung up then went to see the missed call’s number, grabbing the business card to compare. It was his. She noticed there was a voicemail. He had left a message. She hit OK to listen.

Hi, sorry, I couldn’t find my phone in time. Just trying to call you back. It’s Michael.”
atie sucked in another deep breath and disconnected the voicemail. His voice was deeper than she remembered. Sexier. No, just lunch. She hit redial and exhaled once loudly. He picked up between the second and third ring.

“Hello?”

Michael?”

“Yes, is this Katie?”

Yes, hi.”

How are you?”

I’m good.” Katie felt herself flush and immediately felt embarrassed for doing so, making her blush a deeper crimson.

Good. So, then, would you like to grab some lunch today?”

Katie smiled. She liked how steady Michael’s voice was. It reminded her of hiking just out of sight of a tall waterfall, the loud rush of the water droning out the rest of the forest’s sounds, all the while the noise’s source remaining hidden.

“Yes, lunch today would be lovely.”

“‘Lovely’ in the English usage or the American?”

“English, I guess.” Katie replied, laughing. “I always use ‘lovely’ that way, though.”

Noted.” Michael said without laughing. Katie bit her lip, wondering what she’d said wrong. Best to get back on topic.

“So, when did you want to go?” She asked.

“Now is fine. I’m getting fairly hungry.” Michael replied.

“Me too.”

“So, I’ll come get you, then. Any ideas as to where you want to go?”

“Well,” Katie began and mulled over the options close to her house. “I don’t really care. There’s a few good spots by my place.”

“Great.” Michael replied, his voice now sounding dull. “I’ll leave in a few minutes.”

Are you okay?” Katie asked, unsure of how to assess his tone.

Yeah,” He said, sounding taken aback. “I’m fine. Why?”

You just sounded, well, annoyed, I guess.”
Katie held her breath waiting for his response.

“No, not at all. I sounded annoyed?” Michael said, now sounding almost flabbergasted.

“A little, but it’s not a big deal. I’m sure I just misheard your tone.” Katie said quickly, “So, you need directions over here?”

“Well, just give me your address, and I’ll plug it into my GPS.”

Katie gave him her address, and he said he’d be there in fifteen minutes. She wondered if she should change. She was wearing jeans and a fitted t-shirt. Opening her closet, she thumbed through her blouses, finally pulling out a green v-neck that matched her olive skin tone. 

After a dab of lipstick and a whip of the mascara wand, she analyzed herself in the mirror briefly. She looked simple yet elegant, a thrown-together look. Then she saw the rest of her house. It was a slight disaster, the bills in piles and dirty dishes stacked up. She calculated the amount of the fifteen minutes she had left versus how much junk there was to clean. It wasn’t looking favorable. Katie wondered if he’d even come inside. That was easy to solve. She would just wait for him outside. No one invites himself in, that’s plain rude. Katie grabbed her purse and shut off the lights throughout the house, leaving the hall light on. After locking her door, she sat in the wicker chair on her front porch. The chair was rarely used. She glanced at her cell phone clock, five minutes left if he was punctual.

Michael was punctual. He was not, however, conventional. He roared to a halt on his two-tone Triumph Bonneville T100, cut the ignition, dismounted, and pulled off his black helmet. Katie got up and walked down to the curb.

“You got a helmet for me?” She asked, flashing a grin.

“What?” Michael said, then immediately answered her. “Oh, no, I thought we would walk. You said the places were close by right?”

“Well, not that close.” Katie replied and shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand.

“Hm,” He said, frowning.

“It’s fine, Michael, I’ll just go without one.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. It wouldn’t be very responsible of me.”

“It’ll be fine, it’s only a few miles.”

Doctors can fix anything but a brain. Do you have health insurance?”

Katie went to reply but stopped. She didn’t have health insurance and realized that this was a stupid idea. They could take her car, but she didn’t think she should drive on a first date. Looking at the sky, she wondered why she hadn’t suggested walking from the get-go. There were no clouds in sight and the air was crisp, in the 70s.

She smiled brightly at Michael.“Let’s walk.” Katie said.

“Great!” Michael replied.

Katie began to walk towards her neighborhood’s “town square,” a stucco mess of franchises and an oversized parking lot. She didn’t think that town squares could exist in the States due to most cities’ sprawling infrastructures. Certainly they did not exist in Jacksonville.

As they ambled along the sidewalk, Katie hoped Michael would do most of the talking. There was a stretch of silence during which she let her mind wander to other things, mostly her lack of a job. She debated how tacky it would be to bring this up to him. Finally it hit her how simple it would be, she just had to ask him about his job. Then he should naturally ask her about hers.

“So,” She began. Michael turned his head towards her. “I couldn’t really tell what you do from your business card. What do you do?”

“Oh,” He said and laughed. “It’s actually an old card. I was hoping you wouldn’t need to call me about business, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“No, not a big deal.”

Well, now I’m working as an architect for a firm that mostly does sustainable projects.”

“Sustainable projects?” Katie asked, wondering what that meant.

“Sustainable architecture. It’s a lot to explain, but basically it’s more environmentally-conscious architecture. Like designing solar panels into the building in order to use that energy. It’s not a new concept, just popular right now with all the go green craze.”

“That’s really interesting.” Katie said.

“I think so. I’ve been with the firm for about a year.” Michael said. “But what about you, what do you do?”

Katie bit her lip. Now that her orchestrated moment had arrived, she felt ashamed.

“Actually, I was let go a few months back.”

“I’m sorry. This economy is rough.”

It is a rough economy. Finding another job is proving impossible. I’m going to Starbucks tomorrow, you know, to try and get something so I can finally have healthcare again. Then you’ll finally let me ride on your bike.” Katie added with a smile.

“Or I could just remember my other helmet next time.” Michael replied.

“Or that,” Katie said. She liked that he said “next time.”

“So, Starbucks, huh?” Michael smiled. “Guess I’ll be buying today then.”

“Oh,” Katie blushed immediately. “That’s not what I meant.” But it was exactly what she’d meant.

“I was planning on it.” Michael replied with a lighthearted laugh. “As long as you let me court you, I’ll be buying your food and entertainment.”

Court me? What is this, the Victorian era?”

Michael laughed again. “I don’t think Jacksonville held the same prestige as England during those years.”

“Yes, but women of stature in both places didn’t have the opportunity to support themselves. That sort of lent to male-funded courting being a necessity.”

“Will you be offended if I pay throughout our courtship?”

“Not if it means I don’t need to get a job.” Katie replied, grinning.

Michael just laughed.

“Kidding!” Katie said, still grinning.

“I just wasn’t sure how you would be paying your rent if that were the case.” Michael laughed.

“Yes, paying the mortgage is becoming a complication.” Katie replied, then frowned, remembering that she didn’t have enough money for the mortgage next month. “This reminds me of a skit I used to do with one of my sisters when we were kids.” Katie continued and smiled at the memory.

“Are you going to act it out?”

I need a napkin. I’ll do it on the walk home, but remember to get a napkin.”

“Napkin, napkin. Got it.” Michael said, laughing. “Now I’m really curious.”

Well, you’ll just have to wait. It’ll be worth it.”

“So, what was your job before you were let go?”

“I was a teacher.”

“Oh, what did you teach?”

“AP and honors history.”

“That’s cool. At what school?”

“Fletcher”

“Fletcher, really? That’s where I went!”

“Really? You’re from here?”

“Well, I grew up in Boston, but we moved down here to Mayport. My mom was in the Navy.”

“Really?”

“Yes, we moved here when I was sixteen.”

“That’s cool. I didn’t grow up here at all. I’m from Minneapolis.”

“What made you move down here to where the education system is the worst-funded in the country?”

It’s not the worst, but it is close.” Katie replied, laughing. “No, I moved here because I hate the cold.”

“Why here though? Why not Arizona or Texas? Or even South Carolina?”

Katie paused. The answer was embarrassing. She had moved here for a guy she met during spring break her senior year of college. He was a bartender in Daytona and they had hit it off while she was here. They’d kept in touch, and that summer she’d moved to Daytona. It turned out he’d moved back in with his mother, a fortune teller who worked from home, because he was kicked out of his complex for a noise complaint. Katie learned this after she’d arrived and had no money to go home. She’d stayed one night, then moved to Jacksonville.

 

© 2009 Lorena Gay


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