When it began, it as merely a number, nothing more. It was a number on his cell that told him that he'd missed a call from the person at that number.
One thing about John Chamberlain was certainly true: he was conscientious. Really, he was conscientious to a fault. For him that was the cornerstone of business success, and he certainly knew quite a bit about that: business success. He felt that being conscientious with the way that the business was run and the way that relations with employees was carried out was sure to 'win the day'. It's the way that he worked from day to day.
Those who worked with him would agree also about his conscientiousness. Especially his 'assistant/secretary/woman about everything Evie Williams.
For her, for Evie, John Chamberlain was one of the best. She had stood by and watched him take care of his dying wife, whose early life cancer took the joy and the light out of John's life for a long period of time But during that trying period, she never saw him falter or fail to take the very best care of Clair, his lovely young wife.
In Evie's book John Chamberlain was all but a saint.
At 48, John was a successful, a successful but fairly lonely man. He did have his compensations; namely, his compensation, these days, was the business. He devoted his time and energies, after his Clair was gone, to building up the business and he was very good at that kind of thing. It was succeeding in grand fashion, and making, in the process, John Chamberlain a very rich man.
He also had Dorcas, Clair's cat. That's the way the association with Dorcas began. She was Clair's kitty and, after Clair was gone, Dorcas and John seemed to mourn together. And after a time period, Dorcas was always there for John, awaiting his return and anticipating those periodic times, when John was home for lunch, more in order to see Dorcas than any other reason.
Evie kept a weather eye on John and his progress. They talked now and then about Dorcas and how things were at home.
After Clair had been dead for a while, John talked to Evie about his plan to do some renovating at home. She approved, hoping that it would give John some forward looking thoughts.
He had the work done and liked the results but he had also done over only various parts of the big house: his den/library, the master suite and the kitchen. Other areas were simply left alone. They seemed to remind John about Clair and were left that way.
So, it was a phone call that John had missed because he was, at that time, in the shower. But his conscientiousness prompted him to call the number back, though it wasn't one that he recognized.
John was home that day, a Sunday, and was lounging and talking to Dorcas, planning what he might do for dinner that evening would be a treat for him.
He put the number into his cell phone and waited as it rang.
To his utter surprise a rather cranky sounding woman's voice came on the line and demanded to know: "What do you want now?"
There was a pause, with John so surprised that he had nothing immediately to say.
But he woman went on: "Will you stop calling? It was you who left and wanted your fucking 'new life', so enjoy the damn 'new life' but LEAVE ME ALONE!"
John was stunned. She was actually shouting at him over the phone.
"Excuse me!" he said, and there was a silence on the other end for a few seconds.
"Who is this?" the woman's voice demanded to know.
"Um," John began, stunned still, "It's John Chamberlain."
"John who?" said the cranky voice.
"John Chamberlain," he said again.
"Why are you calling me?" she demanded to know.
John was determined to get this straightened out with the woman and then erase her number but he did want to get that done first.
"Madam," he began softly, "I am calling you because someone from your number called my cell number and left no message. I am only returning the call."
"Ohhhhhhhhh!" the woman's voice now wailed.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Do I sound okay?" she demanded to know.
"Well, no!" he said.
"Would you be okay if your fool of a husband, never a very good one, never a good provider, never fun to be around, never very considerate, up and left you for a fat young, blonde with money? Would you?" she barked at John.
"Well, I guess not!" John said.
"No, you wouldn't!" she said, and then she broke down and cried.
"Can I maybe help?" John asked, going out on a limb now.
"How?" she wailed.
"Well," he said, "It seems to me that sometimes you can talk to a stranger in a way that you can't talk to a really close friend."
"But you're not a stranger," she said, "You called me!"
"Well, yes," he reasoned, "But only because you'd called me first."
"That was a mistake!" she said.
"Yes, I realize that!" he said but then she was off again reciting her problems:
"He left me poor! No, that's not true. I'm not poor but I'm struggling. But then I've always had to struggle before I left home and all the while that I was married to the jerk, that Anthony."
"Are you still married to Anthony?" he asked softly.
"No, of course not!" she said, "He wanted that damn quickie divorce and I saw no reason to hold him back from his fat, rich bimbo."
"I see," he said then.
"All I seem to do is cry, when you call," she said, and John grinned in spite of himself.
"Well," he said, "This is the only time that I've called."
"I know," she answered and he stopped trying to challenge her logic, knowing how upset she was.
"He called yesterday and told me, actually told me, the damn fool, that he wanted to see me, 'for old time's sake'. That's what he said," she went on then.
"I see," he said.
"Do you know what 'for old time's sake' means? Have you even a clue about what it means?" she demanded to know.
"No, I'm afraid that in this context I have no idea what it means," he admitted.
"It means he wants to screw me! That's what it means. And I'll be double damned if I let him do that!" she said forcefully.
"Good for you!" he said.
"What did you say?" she asked then and he was afraid that he'd made some other kind of unwitting gaff with this rambling and emotional woman.
"I said 'Good for you'," he repeated, waiting for the next explosion.
"Oh," she wailed, crying again, "You're so nice! Why wasn't that damn Anthony like you?"
"I don't know," he said.
"Of course you don't, and I don't know who you are, and I don't know your name but I know that you're nicer than that Anthony, who wants me to be his piece on the side!" she said.
"I'm John Chamberlain," said.
"Yes, that's right," she admitted, "You told me that."
"And I say don't let him," he went on.
"What?" she asked, very softly now.
"I say don't you let him talk you into being his 'piece on the side'," he said.
"John Chamberlain," she said, "You're wonderful!"
"Why, thank you," he said.
"Will you, can you ... um ... meet me for coffee? I'd like to talk or ... or is there a wife and all?" she asked in a hurry
"No," he said, "No wife, and 'yes' coffee. Where?"
He decided to go out on a limb and meet and talk to this very emotional woman.
"How about 'The Coffee Clatch'?" she said, "Do you know it?"
"Yes," he said.
"Good," she said, "In half an hour."
She hung up then. He was stunned and called her number again.
"Hello?" she said. "Who is this?"
"It's John!" he said.
"Oh, yes, John," she said.
"I don't know your name or what you look like," he said.
"I'm Marian, Marian Conte, and you can tell which one I am, I'm the one that looks like Anthony Conte dumped me for a fat rich woman."
She hung up again and it left John simply grinning.
He turned then to Dorcas, who was there. She seemed to be there whenever John needed to talk.
"That was a crazy a thing as can be imagined, Dorcas, honey!" he said, and got an immediate cat noise response from her.
"But I will meet her at the coffee place and maybe talk with her," he said, determined now.
"Yeow!" Dorcas added to the conversation.
"Yes," he replied, "I'm glad that you agree, then it's a go."
He went to 'The Coffee Clatch' and looked around. No one looked expectantly at the door, when he entered. He decided that she must not be there yet.
Then the door opened and petite, redheaded woman entered. He guessed that her age was probably in the mid thirties, he was right about that. She looked around as though she were expecting someone. As her gaze scanned him, he held up a hand and waved.
She came in his direction, and he stood. He extended a hand and said: "Hi, I'm John Chamberlain!"
She ignored the hand and simply wrapped her arms around him for a hug, surprising him.
"I'm so sorry that I yelled at you on the phone," she said.
They broke the hug and he was smiling: "No," he said, "No sorries; you probably needed someone to yell at or complain to and I was convenient and a stranger."
"But you're not anymore," she said. "A stranger, I mean."
"You're right!" John said.
"Glad you came," she said next, after he'd gone and gotten them both coffee.
"Dorcas told me to!" he said.
"Dorcas?" she reacted, "I thought you weren't married."
"Am not," he said, "Dorcas is my cat!"
"Ahhh," she said with a faint smile. "She has good sense, this Dorcas."
"I have always thought so," he said, as he sat.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
"My pleasure!" he answered.
At this point in her life, Marian Conte was 36 years old, red headed and fairly lovely. She was petite but very pleasing, physically nevertheless. This day, for her meeting, hastily called together, with John Chamberlain, she looked a bit rumpled.
"This is terrible," she said.
"Terrible? What?" he asked.
"I look so ... so out of sorts and all, and you're so handsome. I'm sorry for that!" she said, explaining.
He held up a hand and said: "Now, no more 'sorries' are needed. You're going through a stress and it's certainly effecting you. So, just don't worry about how you look."
She smiled then and said: "Dorcas has done a good job on you!"
He grinned at her and said: "She certainly has! She's my pal."
"She must be grand!" Marian said.
"Oh, she is! Has been since my life took a turn toward the worse!" he said.
"Oh, what was that?" she wanted to know.
"No," he said then, "Let's take turns; you seem so upset and distraught. Let's begin there."
"Yes, thank you, John," she said.
Then she talked about Anthony, her former husband. She explained that he was no 'great shakes' but she had been in love with him.
"Had the terrible idea that I could kind of bring him around," she said.
He nodded. "Hard to do!" he said.
"Impossible to do with that Anthony!" she said.
She shook her head and went on: "He'd go out and I'd never know where he was going. It was just 'out'. It's the way he treated his sainted Mom, may she rest in peace."
"I worked; Anthony didn't keep a steady job. I mean we weren't poor but the word certainly comes close to our living conditions. He always lamented the fact that he never had what he called 'his big chance'."
John nodded and sipped his coffee.
"You're such a good listener!" she said.
He thanked her.
"And to think that I was yelling at you on the phone!" she said ruefully.
"Exciting though!" he said and she giggled, the very first sign of her mood lightening.
"WHO IS THIS?" he said and they both laughed.
"You must have thought that I was a harridan!" she said.
"I thought that you were stressed!" he said.
"You're so nice!" she said softly.
"Okay, then?" he prompted her.
"Well, his big chance came along. Her name was Hazel. Can you imagine naming someone Hazel in this day and age?" she said.
He only nodded and she went ahead.
"Hazel is blonde; she is fat and she's wealthy!" she said, shaking her head.
"I guess that she's what Anthony was looking for all along, at least her money is," she opined.
"I was devastated because I had been such a fool; I worked; I took care of the bills; I struggled. Anthony waited for life to become sweet for him!" she said, shaking her head.
She started to cry softly. He handed her his pocket handkerchief and she took it with a soft 'thank you' for him.
"But then! Then!" she went on, and now the fire was back in her eyes.
"Then I get a call from him and he hinted that he wanted to 'get it on with me'. Said he hadn't forgotten me! Can you imagine?" she almost demanded to know.
"No, I cant'!" he said. "Maybe only from the point of view that you are lovely and maybe, were I he, I wouldn't have left in the first place, or looked for a fat or skinny blonde with money."
She sighed, mopped at her eyes then and kissed him on the cheek!
"I was so mad!" she said.
"Yes," he said, putting up a restraining hand, "I know that, when my phone number got mixed up with his!"
She giggled then and, giving him an earnest look, said: "I'm not really that way. I mean my friends would tell you. I don't go shouting and making such a fuss, especially to a stranger. Especially to a friend of Dorcas!"
He laughed then and said: "It's such a good sign that you can laugh about it now. You simply need to get all of this with him behind you. That's what you need."
"Yes, thank you, doctor!" she said grinning at him. "But you were going to tell me about you. You mentioned your life taking a 'turn toward the worse'.
He nodded and said: "Yes, my sadness. It was my wife Clair. She was young, full of life, lovely and a total joy. But she also had pancreatic cancer that was unremitting and fatal. It took her most of a year to fade away and leave me. It was devastating."
She had tears in her eyes then and put her hand on top of his.
"Oh, what a terrible thing!" she said. "I"m so sorry to hear that."
"Thank you," he said. "It's taken me a couple of years, and the good services of Dorcas to come back from that."
"I'm sure it has," she said, now moping her eyes with his handkerchief. "How are you now?"
"Really pretty good," he said, "Dorcas has been very effective and I had the alternative of putting all of my efforts into my business. It's worked out well. It has provided me with a kind of life style and life possibilities that I would have loved to have shared with Clair."
"I'm sure," she said. "What's your business?"
"It's J.C. Industries," he said. "We're a manufacturer. We deal in all sorts of small but important items."
He mused for a few seconds and she gave him the time to do it.
"And since that time, the death of Clair, my attention to the business has paid off and it's all blossomed. Almost like 'my big chance' that your Anthony was looking for," he said.
"Yes, but with the difference that he was looking for someone to do something for him, whereas you were doing something for yourself!" she said, "And, I guess, for the memory of Clair."
"Was she at home for the ending, the bad parts of it?" she asked, and then she put a hand up and said: "Please don't tell me if it's too painful. I don't want to pry."
"No," he said, "It's that kind of it's easier to talk to strangers thing."
"Yes, but we're not strangers any more," she said softly.
"You're right about that!" he said, and smiled, "I'll have to introduce you to Dorcas."
"I'd like that!" she said. "That Anthony was a pet hater! I had pets, when I was a girl, before it all went south with Anthony Conte."
"Well aren't we the fine ones," he said, "Going on and on about our painful stuff?"
"Yes," she said.
"And ruminating about such stuff is hungry work; may I take you out for a bite to eat?" he asked.
"Oh, I look so horrid!" she said.
"All will be overlooked and I'll make sure that there is a 'next time' so that you can get all gussied up and present a fine front for me and Dorcas!" he said.
"I'd love that!" she said.
"What would you like to eat?" he wanted to know.
Then he held up his hand to interrupt and said: "Make it something that you like and Anthony didn't!"
She giggled: "How did you know that's what I was going to do?"
"Good guess!" he said.
"More like personal wisdom," she said. "So, maybe Chinese?"
"Wonderful!" he said, "The very thing, and there's a great place down the street from here."
She hesitated at that point, and he seemed to know what that was about too:
"Don't you be counting the money in your purse mentally. Dinner will be on me! I insist!" he said.
"You're so nice!" she replied, once again with a sigh.
He just smiled and got up, giving her his hand to help her up and they were out the door and walking toward the Chinese restaurant. On the way, she put her hand through the crook of his arm, and they walked companionably down the street.
He only turned and smiled at her.
Their dinner, at the Chinese restaurant, was a huge success. She loved it, and repeated the fact that Anthony would never go out for Chinese!
"He was such a stick in the mud!" she muttered, shaking her head.
"Sounds that way," John said in agreement.
He discovered, during dinner, that she'd taken a bus to get to the coffee shop to meet him. He insisted on giving her a ride home.
They sat outside of the apartment building, where she lived and she reached over and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you for everything!" she said. "I'm sorry that I yelled at you on the phone!"
"Got me interested though!" he said, and she giggled.
"But may I invite you to dinner on Friday?" he asked.
"My chance to get dressed up?" she replied happily.
"Exactly!" he said.
"Grand!" was her reply. Then she disappeared into the building.
He was precisely on time the next morning at the office.
"Well, what kind of foolery did you get up to this weekend?" Evie asked him, bringing coffee for him and her into his office.
"Oh, let me tell you!" he said, and went into an explanation with all of the details for her.
"She certainly sounds distraught," she said.
"Oh, she was!" he admitted.
Evie was surprised then that the woman had asked to meet him for coffee.
"But you have that kind of effect on people, John; you really do!" she said.
Her smiled and thanked her and said: "Well, we did actually meet for coffee!"
"And?" Evie said.
"I took her to dinner then," he went on, "She did say that she was in difficult financial straights, just making it apparently."
"Aha!" Evie said, "We sound interested. Was she pretty?"
"You know," he admitted, "She was; kind of petite redhead. Very nice!"
"And the boss approved?" she said.
"Yes, I got the okay from Dorcas!" he said grinning.
She laughed and said: "No, you don't get out of it that easily. Sounds like you were kind of struck. Any further plans?"
"It's so hard to get around you!" he said.
"I've known you for a long time," she said, "I've seen you at your best and worked with you, when you were at your worst. This looks so much, from my perspective, like a ray of sunshine!"
He just smiled at her. He knew that her opinions about him were normally quite accurate.
"And I want to meet her, after you sweep her off of her feet!" Evie concluded.
"Is that what I am going to do?" he asked, amused.
"Do you have anymore plans with her?" she wanted to know.
"Well ... um..." he began.
She laughed: "You do! Don't you? Admit it!"
"Yes, I plan to take her to dinner on Friday," he admitted. "She was upset by the way that she looked, although I thought she looked grand but she was a bit flustered and all by what had happened."
"And she wants to look good for this good looking man, who was so kind and considerate to her!" Evie said, grinning broadly.
"I guess so!" he said. "And by the way, should I offer her a job, if she needs one?"
"I'd watch out there," Evie replied. "There's a potential pride thing going on there. She might be proud of the fact that, though she's not raking in the money, she's seeing to her needs and doing okay. Just keep that in mind, if that kind of topic comes up."
"I will," he said, "As usual, you're priceless!"
"At your service, Boss!" she said.
He struggled through the week, looking forward, always to the coming Friday, when he intended to take her out. He had her number and called her to confirm on Thursday. She was seemingly in a flap about it.
"What shall I wear?" she asked. "I mean, formal or not?"
"Well, I'll wear a sport coat and a tie," he said.
"Okay," she responded, "Gives me something to go on!"
"Are you okay, Marian?" he asked softly.
"I don't know," she admitted. "It all went so bad with that Anthony and then his return with his crappy request. I'm just not sure about nice feelings anymore is all. Sorry."
"Hey," he said, "We're going out to dinner and we're going to enjoy it. That's all there is to it."
"Thank you," she said, sighing. "That's the best; out to dinner and enjoy it is all."
"I promise!" he said.
"Yes, promise," she repeated, "That's nice."
"I bet you'll look really special!" he said, before hanging up.
She giggled at that.
She did indeed look special. He showed up at her apartment building precisely on time the next day for their dinner out. She buzzed him into the building and opened the door for him, when he arrived at her floor.
She was wearing a simple yellow sun dress, with a high waist, gathered up just under her breasts. She wore a set of pretty orange beads with that and her heels were yellow also.
"Wow!" he said, standing in the door and admiring her. "Spectacular is what I say!"
"Thank you," she said and then he handed her a bunch of flowers.
"Ohhhh," she cooed, "Flowers! How nice of you!"
He was smiling as she took the flowers and let him into the apartment. It was a small efficiency apartment.
"Welcome to my castle or better yet, my cave!" she said with some asperity in her voice.
"It's nice!" he said.
"Well, it's at least mine," she answered. "Anthony left me with so much of his debts that's this is all that was warranted, when he was finally gone and I could get my own place."
She got some tears in the corners of her eyes then and he went to her and hugged her. She held onto him tightly and said a soft 'thank you for the hug'.
"Welcome!" he said, "And no more about Anthony who was either blind, or totally stupid or just plain out of his senses. You are gorgeous beyond gorgeous!"
She looked up at him now with a grin on her face. "You talk to me so nicely!" she said.
"The way that you should be talked to, is all," he commented and then she got up on her toes and she kissed him.
It had been coming, in a way, and, with the last comment, she wasn't about to resist any longer in giving him the kiss.
"Messing your tasty lipstick!" he said.
"I have more," was her reply.
"Good," he said, "Then this!"
With that he kissed her back. She clutched the flowers in her hand and her arms were around his neck. She pressed herself against him, and it was only then that he realized that her breasts were really fairly large, as the dug into his chest.
"Hmmm," he said into her ear, "Nice for me with hugs and kisses like that!"
"You are so special," she said, "Clair must have been one of the most lucky women in the world."
"Thank you," he said, "I tried to take good care of her."
"From what you said to me, you did do that right to the final time," she said.
"Yes," he said softly, and then: "Okay, no more Clair or Anthony; it's just you and me for an evening out to dinner."
"Yes, just you and me," she replied, "I like that."
"And you know what?" he said, grinning.
"What, you bad man?" she said, reacting to the look on his face.
"When I called this week, you didn't yell at me on the phone at all!" he said with a chuckle.
She blushed then and hid her face in his chest.
"Gonna get you!" she threatened.
"Yes," he said pleasantly, his hand idly rubbing her back, "Dorcas warned me about that possibility!"
'Oh, by the way," he said next.
"Yes?" she responded.
"My associate in crime at the business wants to meet you!" he said.
"She knows about ... um ... us?" she asked.
"Yes, I told her about our exciting first conversation," he said. "I think that she wants to reveal my secrets!"
"Goodie!" she said, "Then I need to meet her."
She put the flowers in a vase then and they went out to dinner.
He'd chosen, for their dinner, a steak house, where he had a part partnership. They were greeted by the other partner, who had a grin on his face.
"Hey, John," he said.
"Marian, this is my partner in crime here at 'The Steak's The Thing', Ray Tolbert, master chef," John said, making the introductions. "Ray this is my friend Marian Conte."
"Marian, it's a pleasure," Ray said, taking her hand. "Just watch out for this slippery character!"
Marian giggled and said: "Yes, I already had a message from both Dorcas and Evie to be on my guard."
"Ah," Ray said, "All the biggest guns!"
"Okay," John said pleasantly. "Dinner or just character assassination?"
"We're having fun!" Ray said.
"I noticed," John replied as they were led to a table, with Ray nodding to people on both sides of the aisle.
They sat in the back in a kind of alcove.
"Steaks?" Ray asked.
John looked at Marian inquiringly and she nodded 'yes'.
"Good," Ray said, getting their preference for how they'd be cooked. "Let me just take care of this."
When Ray's left, Marian said: "Thank you! I need to say that right at the beginning of the evening. I've never been treated this way. Not by anyone. Certainly not by you know who."
He smiled and said: "It's the way you should be treated."
She smiled in return.
The two of them sat over a glass of wine, as they waited for dinner and talked.
"Marian," he said, "I need to ask an impudent question; cut me off, if I'm out of bounds."
"My," she replied, "You have me wondering about that lead in."
He smiled: "How are you doing, financially?"
"Ah, yes," she said, "The wreck of my life, my post Anthony existence."
"I'm struggling just now to learn how it feels to have only me to take care of. It's difficult but I'm determined to make it and do just fine with it," she explained.
"I'd like to help, if that's what you need," he said.
(As it turned out, Evie's advice was right on the money with Marian's situation.)
"I appreciate that," she said, "You are kindness itself. But right now I need to find out if I can take care of myself, even with what might be called low or reduced circumstances."
"Yes, I understand," he said.
"Thank you," she replied, "This is important to me."
"I know that," he replied, Evie's advice went streaking through his mind at that point and he mentally thanked her for the advice, promising to remember to thank her in person.
"You are so kind," she said, taking his hand and smiling at him. "It's nice to know that the cavalry is right around the bend. You can maybe pick me up, when I fall."
"Don't think that you'll fall at all!" he said.
"I tend to be a good manager," she replied, "When people aren't playing with my affections!"
"Yes," he agreed and then he got serious: "Marian, I'm not doing that. I mean, playing with your affections!"
She gave him an earnest look and said: "John, I know that and that makes this so special!"
"Well," he said next, "It's what I want for us tonight. I want it to be special, as special as you look!"
She grinned and leaned forward to kiss him.
"Hmmm," a voice said, "Kisses in the near dark!"
They both laughed as Ray himself brought their meals for them.
"Enjoy, children!" Ray said, smiling as he walked away. Their dinner was superb. Ray took excellent care of the preparations and all.
They sat afterwards with coffee and talked.
"How long was it, I mean with Anthony?" he asked. "Please don't talk about it, if you don't want to."
"Oh," she said, "I don't know, Anthony is certainly beginning to fade for me, and I have you to thank for that." She smiled at him, when she said this and then she went on: "We dated for about 6 months and were married for 8 years."
She shook her head then. "I was so stupid; a kind of a starry eyed romantic, I guess. I kept telling myself that I'd change him, that I could love him enough to bring him around. It just never happened."
"What did he do?" he asked.
"Not much," she said, "It was I who held down the job and kept us afloat. I admit that it was never lavish but it worked okay, at least for me. Anthony was always into this and that and some other thing. He kept waiting for 'his big break', as he called it. It turned out that she, Hazel, was his big break."
"Yes," he said, smiling, "You mentioned her; I guess it was 'fat, blonde and rich.'"
"Got it right!" she said.
"I realize that I really stopped caring a few years ago but was still determined to try. It was never good from the middle point on. What really got my goat was the fact that Anthony thought, he actually thought that I was so into him that, when he proposed keeping me as his piece on the side, I'd be thrilled!"
"Missed the mark there!" he said.
"Yes, he did," she remarked.
"But," he went on, "Sorry to bring it up; don't want to be stirring the ashes."
"No, that's okay," she said, "What you said before about talking it out was the truth, though you're no longer a stranger." She smiled as she said this last part.
They talked then about him, about Clair and that process and how he took care of her. He was a bit emotional about that and she held his hand, while he talked.
Then it was the business that he spoke about.
"Looks like you were really good at that!" she said.
"Yes, as it turns out, I was, am," he answered. "Don't tell anyone," he said next in a conspirator's tone of voice, "But it's made me pretty much rich! And only Dorcas, and maybe Evie know that."
She giggled, and said: "My date the rich guy!"
He laughed and she gave him an inquisitive look.
"That's the answer!" he said triumphantly.
"The answer?" she said, not really following him.
"Yes, the answer to the question that you shouted at me: 'Who is this?'"
She giggled then, putting her hand over her mouth.
"Yes," she said then, "The answer is 'my rich date!'"
He got serious then and continued: "Marian, I'd like to make it easier for you. I really would but I'm also leery of insulting you."
She put her hand on his and said: "Don't just need the cavalry yet. That time might come but not yet. I'm sliding by, making it and watching my in-flow and expenses. Right now it's important to me to do that."
"Yes, I realize that but I also insist that I get to take you out to dinner frequently!" he said.
"Also my plan!" she said, smiling, "And I think that Dorcas would approve."
"Oh, she would," he said. "You need to meet her, today or at least soon."
They were finished with their coffee then and he paid the bill, with a farewell word for Ray and they left, with her putting her hand through his arm and leaning against him slightly.
They got to her apartment and she turned to him and said: "John, I need a little thinking time. This is being so nice and that hasn't been my kind of experience. I feel that I kind of need to let it sink in a bit."
"Yes, I agree," he said, "Dorcas next time. How about brunch on Sunday. I like to go in the morning, after mass at the Episcopal church, where I go, St. Andrew's, to the Pie Crust and have brunch. Join me there?"
"Love to," she said, "I need to work a bit tomorrow morning. I'm in accounts at work, Wayne Standard Inc, and there are a few things that are held over and I have to do."
Then she was in his arms, and kissing him. The kiss started softly and slowly and grew with more passion. She opened her lips slightly and licked his lips with her tongue, and got a similar response from him.
"Oh, my!" she sighed, when the kiss was finished.
"Oh, my, I guess!" he said and kissed her again.
Right then her resolve to have a night of thinking almost vanished but she thought again of the value of sitting with her thoughts for a while, and, after a last kiss, she went into her apartment.
John went back to Ray's, where the place had emptied out, and had a late night drink with Ray.
"Tell me about this lovely woman in your life," Ray said and John went into all of it, from the phone calls on. It made Ray chuckle. "Sounds like a match made in heaven," Ray said.
"Might be!" John said, and then talked about Marian's determination to make it on her salary.
"Well," Ray said then, "You just stay on the sidelines ready to get into the game, when you're needed."
"Good advice," John said, then he left with Ray saying: "See you in church!"
In fact both Ray and John were members of St. Andrew's Episcopal church.
That Sunday, John went to the early mass, the 8:00 AM mass. He waved at Ray and his family, as he made his way to a pew. It was only a little bit later that he was interrupted by a woman's voice asking: "Is this seat free?"
He began to say 'yes it is' automatically and suddenly realized that it was Marian. He gave her a broad smile, as she sat down. She turned and waved to Ray also.
"Hope you don't mind!" she said. "It's been a while, since I've gone to church."
"Don't mind at all," he said, "Coming to mass certainly helps to keep me calm!"
"Yes," she said, "I'd like that and I have to tell you that I'm going back to a kind of equilibrium that I haven't recognized in ages."
He smiled at her, as they settled down for the beginning of the liturgy.
They took time to greet Ray and his family, wife and daughters, and then they went off for their brunch at the Pie Crust.
Their brunch was pleasant, enjoyable. It was also a bit different from their earlier meetings and conversations. The pressure to dissect Anthony and his affect on Marian's life was nowhere to be seen. It was simply absent from their meeting and dealing with one another that day.
It was, for both of them really, a totally new feeling. It was a feeling, to be sure, that had been growing, appearing and showing itself now and again but on this day it was real and alive between them. They both sensed it and knew that, this day, for the first real time, they were a couple.
It made Marian smile, thinking that it was really grand, and John was simply pleased.
TIME FOR THE CAVALRY:
It was Wednesday of the following week. In the ensuing days, John had been out of town on business and he and Marian had been in touch with one another by phone and text, though it had been really busy for John, busy but, in the end, productive.
The office that morning was quiet, when Evie was told that a Ms Conte was there asking to see John Chamberlain.
"Conte?" Evie asked of the receptionist. "Yes, send her up to me."
Evie knew right away that it was John's Marian. As a matter of fact, they had been talking about Marian just yesterday. Evie knew how pleased John was with the relationship and how that was going.
(Evie Williams was as close to family as John really had. They'd been together from the beginning of the business ventures and were just pals. It was a new kind of thing, however, for them that they had issues with romance that she and John talked about. Those kinds of topics, in the past, had always been about her romance ups and downs. John had even been an attendant at her marriage to her Josh.)
Marian was ushered into Evie's office and stood trying to produce a smile.
"You're Marian!" Evie said with great warmth.
"Yes," Marian said.
"John's Marian!" Evie said then.
"Yes," Marian said again and nodded.
Evie noticed right away and said softly: "Is something wrong?"
Marian nodded her head in assent, that something was wrong.
"Bankrupt!" Marian said and, responding to Evie's obvious concern, began to cry.
"Where you work?" Evie asked.
Now Marian only shook her head 'yes'.
"All of us out! No jobs! Now no money!" Marian said. Then she said a hasty 'Sorry!' about 'unloading', as she called it, her stuff inappropriately to Evie.
"Not at all," Evie said, "He's not here but let's sit and have a coffee and talk about this!"
Marian nodded but seemed to dissolve even more in the face of Evie's concern. Evie simply went to her and put her arms around Marian, who then cried her grief at this latest huge roadblock in her path.
They sat with their coffee then and Marian talked: "I was making it. It wasn't grand; it wasn't lavish but making it. Now this puts all of that in doubt."
Evie held Marian's hand, as she went into what this bankruptcy meant to her.
"Life with my former husband, Anthony," Marian went on, with Evie nodding her head, she'd heard about this from John, "Was never great. I mean he didn't have a steady job and never provided well but I was determined to kind of make it on my own. It was working pretty much until this!"
"Roadblock!" Evie said and Marian nodded in agreement.
"Major!" Marian commented, wiping her eyes. She shook her head then: "I've been taking classes as I could and getting better skills but this now!"
"What did you do for them?" Evie asked.
"Accounting," Marian said. Then she went into her struggles to get further education and how that worked for her.
Evie smiled. "Sounds good. We need people here in accounting and are certainly not headed for 'chapter 11'.
"What will John say?" Marian asked in a soft voice.
"Oh, honey," Evie replied, "He's wanted to help you out in the worst way all along."
"I know," Marian said, "Stubborn me!"
"Not stubborn at all," Evie said, "Just trying to become aware of your own abilities, your own powers to get your life on track and all."
"Well, it has been until this!" Marian said.
"Then it's time for help!" Evie asserted.