Sunday morning found me sitting on the patio at the cafe down the street from my apartment, huddled over the employment section of the classifieds as I downed cup after cup of coffee. After another day with my parents, I had decided I’d had enough of being taken care of and had been anxious to return home. So, on Saturday, I took a mid-day train back to Manhattan, arriving home in time to sit in front of my computer for a few hours, polishing my resume and deciding who I was going to call on Monday. Now, I was furiously scanning the help wanted section for anything that sounded remotely interesting, in case my calls the next day turned up nothing.
“There you are,” a voice said. I looked up and Clark was standing there, a big grin on his face, his brown eyes offset nicely with the light blue shirt he was wearing. He looked freshly scrubbed, and I could smell a hint of soap and aftershave.
“Hey, there,” I said, half-heartedly, my mind still on the newspaper spread in front of me.
“Hmm, someone doesn’t seem too happy.”
“Well,” I said, indicating the newspaper. “I think I’ve officially started that freaking out thing we talked about.”
“Can I join you?” he asked, pointing to the empty seat across from me.
I pushed the newspaper aside. “Be my guest. But, I don’t know if I’ll be such great company.”
He sat down across from me. “Well, try.”
“Okay,” I sighed. “I’ll try.”
“I have good news.”
“Okay, don’t get mad.”
“I don’t like it when people start sentences with ‘don’t get mad.’ What should I be worried about?”
“Nothing, really,” he held up his hands. “It’s just that I was talking with a friend of mine about your situation at work.”
“You were talking about me? What did you say?”
“Oh, just how you were so passionate about what you do, how good you were, and a little bit about what happened there at the end. He said he could sympathize with you. You know, small fish in a big pond and all that.”
“About how good I was? You haven’t even seen anything I’ve done, so how could you even know?”
“I know how much you love it. You really light up when you talk about it. And, from the way you described it to me, it sounded good.”
“Thanks,” I said, wondering where this was heading.
“Listen, my friend has his own ad agency, and he wants you to give him a call tomorrow.” He proceeded to take a business card out of his shirt pocket and laid it on the table in front of me.
I picked up the card from the table and scanned it, unable to believe my ears. Smith Weston Group, the card said. “Smith Weston?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s his name.”
“The guy has two last names?”
Clark laughed. “His first name is Smith. It was a family name. Anyway, he started his own agency about six months ago -- used to work for Ogilvy & Mather -- and he said he’d be interested in talking to you. So, there’s his card. Why don’t you give him a call?”
“Thank you,” I gushed out. “I mean it. I will. I’ll give him a call.” I put the card in my wallet. “Thanks so much,” I said again.
“So,” he said, grinning. “How many brownie points do I earn?”
“Well, I have to get the job first, right? But, I guess I’d say you at least earn a beer.”
“Only a beer?” He shook his head. “I’d say we’re talking a beer and a dinner, at least.”
I laughed. “Okay, fine. Dinner and a beer. If I get a job out of it.”
“Boy, you’re tough.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I guess I am a little stressed out. This is the first time I’ve been without a job since college. It’s a little nerve wracking.”
“So, what have you been doing the past few days? I stopped by a couple of times to give you that card, but you were never home.”
“Oh, I went out to Long Island for a couple of days to see my parents. I thought having them take care of me for a few days would make me feel better.”
“Well, it was nice to see them and all, but the whole time I was there, I could never really relax, you know? I kept feeling like I had to get back and start on this next part of my life. My dad even offered to let me move back home.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t lived at home since I left for college, and part of me kept thinking it would be like taking a step back. So, I came back home yesterday and, as you can see,” I indicated the newspaper, “I’m ready to jump back in and get things going.”
“Well, definitely call Smith tomorrow. He’s a good guy -- I’ve known him for a few years. If he can’t help you, maybe he can steer you in the right direction.”
“Good idea.” I decided to get brave. “Look, about that dinner. . .”
“Right, no pressure. I was just kidding about that.”
“No, that’s fine. It would be fun. How about Friday?”
“Oh, sorry. Camille and I are going to my parent’s house for the Memorial Day weekend. They always have a big party at their place every year to sort of kick off the summer.” He looked at his watch. “Speaking of Camille, I have to meet her in about half an hour. She just got back from a job in Milan, and we’re meeting for lunch downtown. So, I’m going to have to see you later, okay?”
“Oh, sure.” I felt slightly jealous of Clark’s girlfriend. I was wishing it was me he was having lunch with. I put on a brave face and continued. “I’ll see you around. And, thanks again for speaking to your friend for me. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
“Right. Good luck with that,” he smiled. He stood and then walked out of the patio gate, waving a quick goodbye to me as he headed toward the subway.
I watched his retreating figure for a moment, disappointed that our conversation had been so short, and then turned back to my table. My coffee had gone cold, and I didn’t really feel like sitting there anymore. I grabbed my paper and bag, left a tip, and then headed home. Once there, I changed my resume for about the tenth time, and then settled on the couch with my book -- a fun-filled afternoon of mystery and intrigue involving a psychic and her cat.
The alarm went off at seven-thirty the next morning, and I crawled out of bed and quickly showered. I wanted to be fully awake and dressed before I made any calls, as if somehow this would make me more prepared for the task ahead. I made a pot of coffee and settled in front of my computer around nine o’clock, phone list in hand.
I decided to wait until at least nine-thirty to let the people I wanted to call arrive at work and get settled. So, to kill time, I checked emails, smiling at one from Emile that included pictures of the new baby. After responding to him and shooting another email off to Jim -- who’d texted me on Wednesday when he realized that my quitting was indeed not a joke -- I started to make my calls. Two messages, a half-hearted “good luck” from a friend who’d switched agencies a year earlier, and a polite but firm rebuff from a receptionist later, I hung up the phone, head in hands.
I grabbed another cup of coffee to give myself some time to build up my courage again and then opened my wallet to pull out the card Clark had given me. I’d never heard of a Smith Weston, but that didn’t mean anything. It was a big city, and Ogilvy & Mather, his previous employer, was a large, prestigious company. Expecting another dead end, I picked up the phone and dialed. After two rings, someone picked up.
“Smith Weston,” the voice on the other end said.
“May I speak to Mr. Weston, please?”
“This is he.” I looked at the business card in alarm. I hadn’t realized that I would be calling the man directly.
“Hi, um, this is Kate Markson. I’m a friend of Clark. He gave me your card and told me to give you a call.”
“Right, Kate. Yes, Clark and I spoke last week about you.”
“Yes, well, I would very much like to talk to you about any opportunities you have at your company at the moment. I have several years of experience and . . . .”
“Kate, sorry to cut you off. Now is not a good time -- I have to get to a meeting.” There was a pause, and my heart sank. “However,” he continued, “I could meet you tomorrow. How is ten o’clock?”
It took a second for me to recover. “Yes, fine. That time is fine.”
“Great. In the meantime, why don’t you email me your resume, and I’ll look it over before we speak?” He confirmed his email address, which was on his business card, and after a few more pleasantries, I hung up the phone in much better spirits than when I’d started. I composed an email to him, complete with a list of some of the clients and accounts I’d worked on. And, not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket, I spent the rest of the morning making a few more calls and typing a couple of inquiry letters to send out before calling it quits.
The next day, I woke before the alarm went off. I opened my eyes to peak at the clock; it said 6:12 a.m. I groaned. I never woke that early even when I did have a job to go to. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but after ten minutes, I gave up.
After making my bed, I looked around the apartment for something to keep me busy before I needed to get ready to leave. I straightened a few magazines on the coffee table and wiped down the kitchen counter, but then there was nothing else to do. So, on an impulse, I pulled on a pair of shorts and an old gray T-shirt, fished my sneakers from the back of my closet, and decided to go for a run. I hadn’t done anything exercise-related for a while -- Mike had been the runner and I sometimes went out with him -- so I decided to just go a few blocks to try and get back in the swing of things.
Once outside, I jogged in place for a few minutes to warm up and then proceeded to do a few stretches.
“Hey, you,” a voice called. Clark had come out of his building, dressed in similar attire to mine, and was headed my way. I waved. “I didn’t know you were a runner,” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” I lied. “I usually try and get out a few times a week. I just haven’t been that good at getting out, lately.”
“You wanna run together?”
“Um, sure. That’d be great.”
After a few more stretches, we headed over to 2nd Avenue, turned downtown, and started jogging. I was a little slow, but he didn’t seem to notice, easily keeping pace with me. After ten blocks -- the point at which I’d originally planned to turn back -- he kept going and I followed. By the time we’d reached 60th street, I was completely winded and out of breath.
“Okay, I give up,” I panted, as we stopped for a light. “I mean, I’ve got to start heading back. I’m meeting your friend at ten o’clock today, you know.”
“Oh, really? That’s great. Well, no problem. I need to get back, too. I usually don’t run this far, but I kept going because I thought you did.”
”Now you tell me,” I said, still out of breath.
“C’mon. I’ll race you back.”
“Nope,” I said, holding up my hand. “Let’s not even go there. You win. I’d just like to head back at a leisurely pace, if you don’t mind.”
Clark laughed. “Sure. Tell you what, we’ll race the last two blocks. Loser buys the coffee.”
Twenty-five minutes later, I was sweaty, tired, and five dollars poorer. Clark and I had run back at a slower pace and, when we’d been two blocks from our street, he’d let out a whoop and run ahead, as fast as his feet would take him. It looked like I had a chance to catch up at one point when he’d had to stop and wait for a light, but before I could overtake him, the light turned green and he easily beat me back to our block. I begrudgingly bought him a cup of coffee, with money I’d brought along to buy myself some coffee, and presented the cup to him with a flourish as I conceded the race.
I climbed the steps to my apartment to take a shower. Every muscle in my body was sore, even ones I didn’t remember having, and I looked forward to stripping off my clothes and getting into a cold shower. I took one look in the mirror and groaned. From the way I looked, I’m sure Clark had gotten a good laugh. My face was still red from the run and my hair, which I’d put into a sleek ponytail before the run, was now sticking out on all sides and plastered to my forehead.
After my shower, I felt a little more human. I dried my hair and started thinking ahead to my meeting. I hadn’t had an interview in several years, so I was a little out of practice and hoped my nervousness didn’t show. I dressed carefully and then headed downtown. The address on the card led me to a nondescript building on Madison Avenue near 49th Street. The lobby looked outdated and, as I rode one of the two ancient-looking elevators, I wondered what I would find when I reached the office. The elevator stopped on the seventh floor, and I got out, quickly finding Suite 700. The shining glass doors were not what I expected, with Smith Weston in gold lettering and, in small print, the words, Expect The Unexpected. Through the doors, I could see a small but elegantly furnished lobby, in dark woods, leather, and chrome. The receptionist looked up from her desk when I walked through the doors.
“May I help you?” she smiled.
“Yes. I have an appointment with Mr. Weston,” I said.
“Please be seated. I’ll let him know you are here.” Just off of the lobby, I could see through more windows into another carefully appointed room -- the conference room, most likely -- with a group of five people immersed in some sort of meeting. The receptionist knocked on the door and walked in. A man at the head of the table looked up and out of the windows at me and then said something to the receptionist, who returned to tell me that Mr. Weston was just finishing up a meeting and would see me shortly. After about ten more minutes, the meeting started to wrap up and then suddenly Mr. Weston was in front of me, all smiles and apologies.
“Kate, sorry about the delay,” he said, holding out his hand. An older man, probably in his forties, I guessed, he was casually but neatly dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt. His dark hair was graying at the temples, and his sparkling blue eyes and friendly demeanor helped put me at ease. I stood up to shake his hand.
“No problem,” I said. “I was a little early.”
“Right, well, why don’t you come this way,” he said, leading me around the corner toward another part of the office.
I quickly saw that the lobby and conference room were the only parts of the office that were actually decorated and were probably just for show. The rest of the office was an open space filled with several cubicles, with a couple of smaller offices at the back. I saw the people I’d seen in the conference room seated at various desks, along with about four or five other people. The office was a flurry of activity, some people on the phone, others working intently at their computers.
As if reading my thoughts, Mr. Weston explained. “We’ve been in these offices for about six months. As you can see, we haven’t quite settled in. Actually, we’ve grown so much in the past few months that we keep having to rearrange our space and bring in more desks and phones. It is an utter nightmare.” He indicated an office as we walked past. “That’s our CFO, Chris. I brought him over with me from Ogilvy & Mather when I left. Actually, he’s the brains of this whole operation.” I heard a laugh from the man in the office as we passed. He finally showed me to an office at the end of the hallway, indicating a chair in front of the desk. “Have a seat,” he said.
I took a deep breath and sat down in the chair. The office, slightly larger than the other one I’d seen, held an L-shaped desk with a computer, a large bookshelf along one wall, and the chair in which I now sat. Piles of papers and folders were stacked on the desk and in various spots on the floor. Poster-sized displays of various ad campaigns covered the wall opposite the bookcase. Some of them I recognized; a few I did not.
Mr. Weston sat behind his desk and shifted a pile of papers to one side. “Sorry about the mess,” he apologized. “I just never can seem to get organized.”
I smiled and nodded, as if to say ”yeah, I know what you mean,” but, in reality, I wasn’t over my nervousness enough to trust my voice.
“So, Kate,” Mr. Weston said, picking up a piece of paper from his desk. “I’ve looked over your resume, and it is pretty impressive. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
I took a deep breath -- okay, here goes -- and launched into a brief summary of my work experience. At first, it was a bit surreal, as if it was someone else speaking. Boy, I’m out of practice, I thought. After a while, though, I started to loosen up. I talked about the campaigns I’d helped design and at one point was even able to refer to one of the displays he had on the wall as an inspiration. He asked several questions, including what had happened to make me decide to leave my old employer. At that point, I tried to play up the positive aspect -- I’d gone about as far as I could go at the company, I wanted to find a place where I could advance my career, etcetera -- but he wasn’t buying it.
“Kate, I know how this business is. I’ve been in it for almost twenty years. I can tell you’re trying to be very diplomatic about why you left your old company. Clark told me more then he probably should have -- we’ve been friends for years, so he doesn’t hold much back. Your story intrigued me; it’s similar to my own. But, for me, leaving my old company has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you leave? Ogilvy & Mather is a great company.”
“Oh, it’s great, all right. I agree with you. But, we’re talking politics and not much vision, at least where I was concerned. I wanted to try something different. I just felt that I could do something bigger, better, on my own terms. Now,” he paused, “ask me that same question again tomorrow, and I might give you a different answer.” He laughed.
“It must have been a hard decision.”
“Not really. I just got to a point in my life where I knew it was now or never. Chris and I had been talking about it for a while and we thought now was as good a time as any.”
“And, it seems to have worked out so far,” I said.
“So far.” He hesitated before continuing. “I won’t beat around the bush. This is definitely a startup company. We’re very bare bones. Up until now, I’ve pretty much been the creative director on all of the projects that have come our way. I hire kids straight out of school -- up and coming kids who are bright and talented. However, I just can’t do it all anymore. I’ve got to shift away from the design and more toward the running of the business. Like I said, we’re growing so fast.” At this point, he paused before continuing. “This is where you come into play.”
I held my breath, wondering what was coming next.
“I’m looking for someone to come in as a creative director to sort of spear head some of the newer projects we are getting. Mind you, this would be on a trial basis, to first see if the company could support this position and also to see if you are as good as Clark says, of course.” He smiled. “I would be willing to hire you as a consultant, at first, on a sort of freelance basis, with no benefits. As you can see,” he said, indicating the area outside of his office,” we are bursting at the seams. I have a deal on the table to lease some more space on this floor, but until that is ironed out, you could do a lot of your work at home. We can get you a laptop, and we’ll set up a little table for you when you are in the office. How does that sound?”
I paused to let it all soak in. It was a job, as a creative director, something I’d been working toward for years. Sure, it was only temporary with no benefits, but it was a start. Maybe if I worked hard enough, it would actually turn out to be something. Plus, I got to work at home, which would be different but nice. A day or two a week in sweats with no commute! Before I could open my mouth to respond, Mr. Weston continued.
“I have a couple of big clients coming in this week that I would like you to meet. Of course,” he added with a smile, “we still need to talk about what I can pay you. You might run out screaming once we talk numbers.”
“Tell me again about this job,” my sister said, as she sifted through the rack of clothes in front of her.
“I told you. I will be working as a consultant for this company as sort of their creative director. I will be in charge of organizing and overseeing most of the new projects that are coming in,” I explained for the second time.
“And, how much are they paying you?” she added, her tone dubious. She pulled a blouse off the rack and held it up.
“Enough for me to live with it for now,” I said, shaking my head at the blouse.
When Mr. Weston -- no, Smith, he wanted me to call him -- had told me what he was willing to pay, I had been pleasantly surprised. It was just about equal to what I had been making at my previous job, without the benefits. Smith’s company benefitted, too, because without having to pay for benefits, the expenses for me would be less. At the end of our six-month period, we would sit down again to discuss any changes to the agreement and whether the company would hire me officially. At the very least, I thought, it would be good experience.
Michelle had pulled another shirt from the rack. “What do you think?” she asked, turning to look at it in the mirror.
“Um, too peachy,” I said, shaking my head again. She put it down, and I followed her as she moved on to the jeans section.
“Well, if you think you’re doing the right thing,” she said, returning to the previous subject. She was busy comparing two pairs of jeans.
“Look,” I said, “He’s already brought me in on two meetings. I have stacks of papers to go through, and I have to pitch my initial ideas to him next week. He’s going to guide me through the first couple of clients. After that, he said I’ll get to do a lot of the work on my own.”
She put down the jeans and looked at me. “Sounds like you’re already set on this idea.”
“I am. I’m actually kind of excited about it. This could be something really big. I’ve been there almost three weeks, and I really like the company so far. Everyone is nice, and it’s a totally different atmosphere than what I’m used to.”
“Well, good,” she said, patting my arm. “I’m sure it will all work out.” She turned and looked around. “So, can we please find me something to wear?”
“What are you looking for, anyway?”
“I want something new to wear for my date tomorrow night.”
“No, not really. Just a normal date. It’s just that we’ve been dating for over a month, and Zach’s seen most of my clothes.”
I rolled my eyes. “God forbid you should wear something in front of him twice.”
“I know,” she said seriously.
After equipping my sister with suitable attire for her evening out, we headed back to my place to drop everything off. It was Thursday, and I’d agreed to meet Emile and the other guys from the band for drinks at “our” bar.
Emile was already there when Michelle and I arrived.
“Hey, how are you?” I asked, giving him a hug. “You look tired.”
He laughed. “Well, the perils of a three-week-old baby. The longest stretch of sleep we can get out of her so far is three hours. It does not make for very well-rested parents.”
“I can’t believe your daughter is already three weeks old,” Michelle gasped. “It seems like only a week ago that Kate told me about her.”
“Um, it was aweek ago, Michelle. You didn’t return my phone calls before then.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. Emile and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. It wasn’t the first time we’d joked about my “dumb blonde” sister. We ordered a round of drinks and staked out a table to wait for the other guys.
“So, how’s Charlotte doing?” I wondered.
“Motherhood really agrees with her. She’s a little upset that over half of her maternity leave is over and she’ll have to head back to work soon. Good thing the baby was born when she was. I’ll have the whole summer with her before school starts in the fall.”
“It’ll be good for her to have her dad with her,” Michelle said.
“Yep. I’ve become a real pro at diapering. I can change a diaper in under two minutes,” he grinned. Michelle wrinkled her nose in disgust and took a sip of beer.
“Hey, the dad’s here!” a voice boomed. The rest of the guys had arrived and soon all was laughter and merriment, as Emile shared his tales of life with Maxine and even showed a few pictures he had snapped with his cell phone.
After a while, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned, I was pleased to see we had an addition to our table.
“Clark!” I exclaimed.
“Hey, Kate,” he said. “Long time no see.” He stood up and gave me a hug. Over his shoulder, Michelle caught my eye. I shook my head slightly in response to her questioning look.
“I know,” I replied. “I’ve been out on a few runs in the past couple of weeks, but I haven’t seen you.”
“I went out of town last week -- for business. We should make plans to meet up for another run.”
“Sure,” I smiled. “I’ve been practicing for our rematch.”
“So, are you guys going to join us?” Emile asked. I was startled for a second -- I had forgotten we were still standing. Clark held out a chair for me, and I sat down.
“Do you want another drink?” Clark asked me as he sat.
“No,” I held up my beer. “I’m good for now.”
We turned to join the conversation but, after a while, Clark leaned over to me and whispered, “So, I hear you owe me a dinner.”
“Oh, you heard?” I whispered back. “Yeah, your friend Smith is really nice.”
“Yeah. I’m glad it all worked out for you. Are you liking it?”
“I am. It’s amazing what I’ve learned in such a short time.”
“It’s rude to whisper, you know,” Michelle suddenly said. I looked up; all eyes were on me and Clark.
“Yeah, do you have something you’d like to share with the class?” Paul teased.
“Very funny,” I said. “I was just telling Clark about my new job.”
“Why don’t you tell all of us,” Emile said. “I wanted to know how things were going so far.”
“I didn’t know you had a new job,” Paul said. “What’s going on?”
I filled Tom and Paul in on my recent job change, giving them a little background on why I quit, and how Clark had put me in touch with my new employer.
“Way to go, Clark!” Tom said.
“It was nothing,” Clark said. “I just happened to know someone. It’s Kate who got the job.”
“Yeah, well, so far, so good,” I said.
When we finished our drinks, Michelle and I decided to call it a night. We stood up to leave, making plans to meet the band the following Thursday. The bar owners were anxious to have Emile’s band play again, and I spoke with Emile about possibly being on babysitting duty some Thursdays so Charlotte could come sing with the band. After a few last goodbyes, Michelle and I made our way out of the bar. Before we were even two steps out of the door, Michelle spoke.
“So, that’s Clark,” she said.
“You should go for it,” she added, as we made our way down the sidewalk.
“He has a girlfriend,” I sighed. “She’s a model. He’s gorgeous. I don’t think that will happen.”
“He clearly likes you.”
“What? No, he doesn’t.” I didn’t want to think it was possible. “He’s just a very nice guy.” Before she could say anything else, I heard someone calling my name. It was Clark, slightly out of breath from running to catch up to us.
“Kate,” he said again, “I decided to call it a night, too. Thought I’d walk you guys home.”
Michelle raised an eyebrow at me and smiled. “How very gallant of you,” she said.
Clark smiled at her. “If you say so.”
He matched our step, walking next to me as we headed to our block. Once there, Clark waited downstairs to hail a taxi for Michelle as I walked her upstairs to get her purchases from earlier that evening.
“Make plans with him,” she told me as we made our way back downstairs. “You owe him a dinner, right?”
“Michelle, drop it. I’m not going to force myself on him.”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “Whatever.”
We walked outside to find Clark waiting with the cab, holding open the door for Michelle.
“What service,” she said, raising her eyebrows to me. Giving me a quick hug, she bounded down the steps and over to the cab. Holding out her hand to Clark, Michelle said something I couldn’t hear but I presumed was a thank you. Clark laughed and shook her hand. Michelle turned and waved to me before getting in the cab. I waved back, but Clark was already closing the door and the cab was leaving. I watched as the cab made its way to the far end of the street before turning and heading downtown.
“Well, thanks for walking us home, Clark,” I said, meeting him at the foot of my steps. “It was a fun night.” I started to turn around and head back inside. “I’ll see you, okay?” I added tentatively.
“Kate, wait.” I stopped to see what he wanted. “We need to make plans,” he said.
“Plans? Oh, yeah. For our run?”
“No. You didn’t think I’d let you weasel out of dinner, did you?”
I swallowed. Was this what he and Michelle were whispering about? “Right, dinner. Well, when do you want to go?”
“I’m free this Saturday if that works for you.”
“Saturday?” My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t think straight.
“Or,” he hesitated. “If that doesn’t work, we could make it Sunday.”
I pulled it together. “No,” I said. “Saturday would be great.” I didn’t relish the thought of another Saturday night all alone.
“Great,” he smiled. “How about if we meet tomorrow morning for a run and we can firm up plans then? Say, seven o’clock? Maybe we can catch a movie on Saturday, too. Penelope told me about a good one at the Angelika -- I think it’s French.”
“Okay, sure. Seven o’clock.” I said. Then, as an afterthought, I added, “I guess you’d better go home and get some rest, then.”
“Oh, yeah? Why?”
“I told you,” I smiled. “I’ve been training for our rematch. I think you’ll be the one buying the coffee tomorrow morning.”
The sound of Clark’s laughter followed me as I walked into my building.