Chapter Twelve, part 1
“Sounds like you really like your new job,” Jim said to me a few weeks later. We’d finally been able to meet for lunch so we could fill each other in on our respective lives. We were at one of Jim’s favorite places, just steps from the Lego Store near Rockefeller Center. It was a few weeks into June, and Mother Nature was blessing us with some perfect mild temperatures. Not too hot, but just right for sitting outside to eat and people watch.
“Yeah, it’s so cool to get to do exactly what I’ve been wanting to do after all this time. I’ve got more freedom than I had before. And, I’m learning so much!” I took a sip of my soda and closed my eyes, basking in the sun shining down on us.
As usual, the plaza was busy with tourists and other lunch goers like us. Jim took a sip of his own drink and watched a few people who were ogling the Lego displays before responding. “Well, we miss you at the office. I miss you,” he clarified. “I have no one to joke with or wow with my humor.”
“I highly doubt that,” I said, shaking my head and giving him the once-over. He’d gone decidedly casual today. Instead of his normal shirt and tie, he’d opted for a small patterned blue plaid shirt, paired with slacks and loafers, his hair its usual slight mess. “Everyone loves you.”
“I know for a fact that Tina misses you,” he said, gesturing with his soda cup for emphasis. “She’s having to work late just about every night to get stuff done. It’s been a little tense around the office lately. From her side, at least.” He shrugged. “She and Mark are usually some of the last people in the office when I leave.”
“Well, maybe they just have a lot ot catch up on. The Benson campaign is still pretty new.”
“Don’t give them a break. They’re the ones who screwed you over anyway, remember?”
“Worked out okay for me.”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, it did. But, tell me more about this Clark guy. The one who got you the job.”
“I got me the job,” I insisted. “But, yeah, he’s the one who told me about it.”
“Right,” he agreed. “But, now the two of you are an item?”
“No,” I sighed. “That’s not what I said at all.”
“Earlier, you told me that you guys see each other a lot. He’s even been to the bar to see your friend’s band. We’d known each other for months before you even told me about the band thing.”
“Well, he’s in the neighborhood, so it’s not the same thing. We bump into each other a lot of the time anyway.”
“Uh huh.” He seemed unconvinced.
“We’re just friends,” I said, punching his arm for emphasis. “Like you and me are friends. Besides, I told you. He has a girlfriend.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, rubbing his arm and pretending to be hurt. “An international jet-setting model who he so conveniently dumps you for when she arrives back into town.”
“That’s not how it is,” I insisted.
In reality, that’s almost exactly how it was. Clark and I had spent the past few weeks hanging out. Some mornings, we would go for a run or he’d meet me at the coffee shop, where we’d grab a coffee before heading to the subway on the way to our respective jobs. A few nights, we met for dinner, and he came by the bar on Thursdays when the band played.
I had looked forward to those times. They always left me feeling happy. The conversations were fun and spirited. And, Clark’s straightforwardness became something I started to appreciate and, rather than being annoyed, somehow being with Clark always made me feel special.
I had tried to be careful to remind myself, though, that Clark was just a friend and I shouldn’t get my emotions too involved. Clark himself had reminded me of that fact one morning by bringing along a copy of Vogue magazine, where he had happily showed me a 10-page fashion spread featuring his girlfriend who, he told me, was due to visit from Paris that weekend. I had smiled and nodded my head and basically pretended to be as enthusiastic as he was. But, for the week after that, there had been no calls, runs, or meetings for coffee or dinner.
I had spied Clark once that week, one morning on the way to the subway. He was in line at the coffee shop -- I saw him through the window as I stopped, hand on the door, about to go in. He was holding hands with a beautiful girl -- Camille, of course -- and he laughed and leaned down to kiss her, as if she had just said something funny. Just when I’d decided to turn away, he looked up and saw me and gave me sort of a wave. I started, my face flushed red with embarrassment at being caught spying, but I had tried to cover by looking at my watch and, pretending to be late, waved back and then turned for the subway.
Rather than focusing on Clark, I’d spent the time since then focusing on my work and reconnecting with old friends, like Jim.
“Tell me what’s going on with you,” I said to him. “Are you still going out with Kristen?”
“More or less.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, looking for clarification.
“It means I would like to go out more, and she wants to go out less.”
“Oh, Jim.” I reached out and grabbed his arm, hugging it close to me. “I’m sorry about that.”
“No,” he responded, patting my hand with his. “I’m good. I’m not ready to give up on things just yet.”
“Do you want to go into the Lego Store and look around?” I asked. “I know that always cheers you up.”
“I’ve got a better idea.” He stood, reaching a hand down to help me up. “C’mon.”
“How’d you find out about this place?” I asked Jim after he proceeded to drag me a few blocks. We were now in front of a pet store tucked away on 48th Street off of 5th avenue. In addition to the fake diamond-studded collars and pet-inspired jewelry, there was a section with cats who were up for adoption, run by a few of the local animal rescue organizations. Jim was currently tapping the glass in front of two blond tabby kittens, both of whom were busy trying not to look interested in what he was doing.
“I walked home from work this way one day. I didn’t even know this place was here.”
“Well, it’s pretty cool,” I said, eyeing a 3-legged cat with a fuzzy tail in one of the cages.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I like to come here every once in a while. Like, when life starts to stress me out. It’s pretty relaxing.”
“I can imagine.”
“That’s what’s great about animals, you know. They’re always happy to see you. They give love without asking for anything in return. I mean, unless you treat them so totally shitty, they’ll still love you, no matter how you dress, or what music you like, or how you look, or anything.”
I looked at Jim, who was still staring at the cats, his forehead pressed to the glass. “Are we still talking about cats?” I asked.
Jim turned his head toward me, smiling. “Yeah. But, I guess, if you think about it, maybe we’re more like dogs in this metaphor.”
“Because, we can’t help who we like?” He smiled. “I mean, despite my relationship ups and downs with Kristen, I’m like a puppy dog, tail wagging, tongue hanging out of my mouth, who will always come running back for a treat or a head rub. Someone shows us a bit of attention, and we come running.”
The following Thursday night, I was spending a peaceful evening at Charlotte and Emile’s apartment. I’d agreed to babysit for baby Maxine so that Charlotte could enjoy a night singing with the band. I’d just gotten the baby back down to sleep after a bottle and a quick diaper change, when I heard Charlotte and Emile come in the door. I quietly closed the door to the baby’s room and walked out to meet them.
“How’d it go?” Charlotte whispered.
“Fine,” I answered. “She’s an angel.”
“Yes, she is,” she sighed, as she plopped down onto the couch. Emile walked in from the kitchen carrying three cans of soda, one of which he handed to me, the other to Charlotte.
“So, how was it tonight?” I asked. I sat down on the floor, crossing my legs. “Did you have a good time?”
“It was fun to get back onstage,” Charlotte said. “I forgot how much I missed it.”
“She was great,” said Emile, sitting down next to Charlotte. “A real powerhouse.”
I took a sip of my soda. “Sorry, I missed it. But, we had fun here, too.”
“Yeah, a 3-month-old is a barrel of laughs,” Emile smiled.
I smiled back. “No, really. She has quite a personality. And, she can really eat, not to mention poop.”
“Oh, God. Sorry about that,” Charlotte cringed. “But, honestly, I’m glad to get away from it for a few hours at least.”
“It’ll be good practice for when you go back to work. When do you start, anyway?”
Charlotte looked at Emile and then back at me. “Umm . . .” she hesitated.
“Actually, Kate, I wanted to talk to you about that,” said Emile, jumping in.
“What?” I looked at Charlotte. “I thought you were looking forward to getting back to your job.”
“I was. I am,” she amended.
“Then, what’s the deal?” I asked.
“I’m only going back for a few weeks. Then, I’m leaving.”
“What?” I asked. “Did you get a new job? You always told me you needed the income from your job for you two to get by.” I turned to Emile. “Oh, my God. You got a raise?” I smiled.
“Well, yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that,” Emile said.
“How so?” I looked from Emile to Charlotte, confused about the hesitation in their voices and wondering what they weren’t telling me.
“We’re moving,” Charlotte blurted out, “to Pennsylvania.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “How could you be moving?”
“I got a better teaching position in Pennsylvania, at Villanova University. The way things were going here in the city, it would have taken many more years to make tenure. This is a better job, better pay considering our cost of living, and Charlotte will be able to stay home and take care of Maxine.”
“I didn’t even know you were looking,” I whined, trying to keep the accusation out of my voice.
“I know. I was going to tell you, but then things happened with Mike and then your job. I wasn’t even sure it was going to happen anyway. I got the final call on Monday, and we’ve been discussing it since then.”
“But, you guys are my best friends. What am I going to do without you?”
“It’s not that far away,” said Charlotte. “Just a few train rides or only a few hours if you drive. You can come visit anytime.”
“It’s not the same,” I complained. “I’m supposed to be Maxine’s godmother. How can I be all godmothery from a distance? I won’t be able to just drop in on you guys when I need to see a friendly face. What about the band?” I added.
“The guys have known this might be coming for some time,” said Emile. “I just asked them not to say anything until I knew for sure. Kate, we’ve had this band for years. I think we all sort of felt it was time to move on. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a new band at Villanova.” He looked at Charlotte. “How do you feel about grunge?”
Charlotte laughed, nodding her head in agreement.
Emile continued, turning back to me. “I’ve got to do what’s right for me and my family, and right now that means moving us to Pennsylvania.”
I looked at them, trying to hold back my tears. “When do you leave?”
“Four weeks.” Emile replied.
“We’ve got to get settled. We’ll be going there a couple of weekends to try and find a place to live, and then we’ve got to pack up everything. I’ve got to report to campus near the beginning of August. In the meantime, I’ll be busy here trying to wrap everything up, and Charlotte’s going back to work for the next few weeks just so there won’t be issues with her short-term disability and to give her official notice and all.”
I looked at them both. They both waited with an expectant but nervous look on their faces, as if they weren’t sure how I’d react next. I could tell they were both excited about this next chapter in their lives, but I knew it would be hard to have them move away. I took a deep breath and struggled to put a smile on my face, despite how I was feeling. “Well, congratulations, Emile.” I held up my soda can. “Here’s to you guys, your new job, and your new life in Pennsylvania. I’m sure you will do great.”
“Oh, Kate.” Charlotte got up and gave me a hug. “I really do mean it. Please come and visit us anytime. It isn’t that far away, and it will be fun. I’ll need a familiar face now and then.”
“Right,” echoed Emile. “She’ll be sick of looking at me so much.”
I laughed. “I will be visiting. Believe me, you can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Great,” Charlotte said, breathing a sigh of relief. She settled herself back on the couch. “Now that’s out of the way, someone was looking for you tonight.”
“Yeah, Clark was there tonight,” Emile said. My heart skipped a beat on hearing Clark’s name.
“He’s cute,” Charlotte added. “What a nice guy.”
“Yeah, what did he say?”
“Oh, not much. He came in before we started the set and had a few beers with us. He kept looking around and finally asked where you were. I told him you were babysitting for us tonight. He stayed for the first few numbers and then I saw him leave a little later.”
“Did he have anyone with him?” I asked.
“No, should he have?” Emile wondered.
“I don’t know. His girlfriend was visiting him from Paris, so I wondered if she came with him, that’s all.”
“Is that the model?” he asked.
“Well, he seemed pretty distracted, almost bored tonight. Not his usual self. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t come to the bar on Thursdays to hear the band.” Emile gave me a knowing look, which I ignored.
“Hmm. Well, I don’t know.” I stood up. “I should get home. It’s late. Want to walk me down to get a cab?” I asked Emile.
“Sure,” he stood to let me out.
I turned to Charlotte. “Okay, we’re meeting tomorrow at two o’clock, right?” Emile and Charlotte had accepted my parents’ invitation to come out to their house with me for the weekend to celebrate the July 4th holiday.
“Yes, we’re looking forward to it. But, I’m sure your parents are going to regret having a baby in the house all weekend. She hasn’t traveled exactly well when we’ve gone up to visit Emile’s folks.”
“Don’t be silly. They’ll love it. I think they need to get rid of some of their grandparenting urges, seeing how neither I nor my sister looks to be getting married anytime soon, let alone giving them grandchildren.” I kissed my goodbyes and walked downstairs with Emile, where he helped me hail a cab to take me the few blocks uptown to my place.
“Thanks again for babysitting tonight,” Emile said, as he hugged me goodbye before I got in the cab.
“No one else but you guys,” I hugged back, smiling. “See ya tomorrow.”
The ride back to my place was quick, and when I got home, I was surprised to find not one, but two messages on my answering machine. The first was from Jim, apologizing for taking his relationship woes out on me at our lunch that week. After all our talk of relationships and dog metaphors, he said he realized it was dumb. Clearly, we were both cat people, not dog people. His message made me smile.
Then I heard the second message. It was from Clark, who said he was leaving me a message at home because he couldn’t reach me on my cell. I grabbed my cell phone from my bag, where’d I’d put it earlier. Sure enough, there were two missed calls, both from Clark. I wondered how I’d missed them when I remembered I’d set the phone to vibrate because I’d been worried it would wake the baby. I kicked myself for not having my phone next to me -- I missed talking to Clark.
A quick check of my watch showed me that it was much too late to call anyone back. Disappointed, I sat down at the computer and jotted off a quick email to Jim telling him he had nothing to apologize for, and that we’d make plans again soon. Clark, I hoped I would see tomorrow getting coffee or something or, if not, I thought I’d give him a quick call before meeting Emile and Charlotte to head out to my parents for the weekend.
Despite the late hour, it took me a long time to fall asleep that night. My mind was racing, thinking about all of the changes that had come my way in the past few months. First breaking up with Mike, then my job, and now my best friend was moving away. But, most of all, my thoughts kept returning to Clark and how he’d seemed to become part of it all.
I hugged my pillow and rolled over, still thinking. I had to admit to myself that I was happy Clark had called. I’d missed him. Maybe he’d missed me, too. That happy thought put a smile on my face. I hugged my pillow closer and finally drifted off to sleep, where I had crazy dreams all night of Clark meeting me at the coffee shop and telling me how he had to move to Pennsylvania with his model girlfriend and their adopted puppy because he needed something different.