Willow & Aiden After Forty

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Chapter 3

I take a deep breath, look at myself in the rearview mirror of my car to see if you can see the sweat on my forehead and face. My God, I haven’t parallel-parked since my driver’s exam. It took me three tries and four car-honks from rude people in the cars behind me before I didn’t hit the curb and parked my car. I pat under my eyes with a tissue. I’ve made an effort today in my appearance; I love the color of this dress. My Grandma was right, pale pink looks beautiful against my olive skin tone, and I wear the color often.

I’m meeting Lexi, my best friends all through school. Well, up until I got pregnant at sixteen, and Jake and I decided to get married and start having our family. After I was married, it was hard for Lex and me to remain close as we were before. She liked Jake and was happy for us once she saw how, even though we were young, we weren’t entirely stupid like many people first thought. She left for college, and our daily talks turned into once-a-week, then slowly, over time, it became only around the holidays. She graduated from IU, moved to Arizona, then Illinois, and finally back to Ohio. She is very career driven and has reached her dreams of a successful career.

She recently married a great man, Al, and is helping him raise his two young daughters from his first marriage. Lexi and Al met at Chaverin’s Bank, where they are both high up in the chain of executives. She reached out to me after her mother, Joy, told her about Jake and me. We’ve been talking and texting all the time since. She’s supportive, a strong woman with a kind heart, and I’m looking forward to spending time with her again. Her schedule is so busy with work and family we’ve decided to start with lunches. She suggested The Outline because it’s not far from her office. She scheduled an early lunch at eleven before the area gets jammed, packed with the lunch crowd.

I get out of my car and look across the street to the restaurant. I don’t know what Lex was talking about, it’s ten till eleven, and the shops and restaurants are full of patrons dressed in suits and business attires. I walk up the street and join the people waiting for the light to change. No one smiles; everyone checks their phones while waiting for the little green man to tell us to walk. I’ve lived here for over a month now, and one thing is clear; in the city, you don’t smile and make small talk or gestures of kindness with every person you come across. There are too many people with busy lives and daily stresses. It’s okay to look down at your phone, not make eye contact or chat with the person standing next to you. It’s not cold or rude. Vi describes it as real. What it is, is the total opposite of what I’ve known my whole life in Roseway.

I remove my sunglasses when I walk into the restaurant. It’s dark inside here; you would never guess that it’s a beautiful, sunny summer day outside. I look around for Lex, and I see her standing by a table across the room. She doesn’t notice me. She’s in deep conversation with a couple of men.

“Hi, can I have your name? The wait is thirty minutes,” a waiter asks and informs me as he fans himself with a menu.

“No, thank you, I’m meeting someone, and she’s here. I’m sure she put our name in already.”

“Gotcha,” he answers, but his attention is on the crowd of businessmen and women rolling in through the door. “Let me know if you need anything,” he says and walks away without another glance at me.

I notice that I’m the only person here who is not dressed as a career man or woman. A wave of self-conciseness overcomes me. I look down at my pale-pink shirtdress and my Birkenstock sandals. I thought I looked cute, but now I doubt my clothing choice, the light pink sticks out in the sea of dark color suits and mature, sleek dresses. Lex is wearing a dark-colored pencil skirt with a short-cropped blazer and heels. I curl my toes in my Birkenstocks, regretting wearing what Oliver, my oldest son, describes as ‘Mom’s clunky man sandals’. Lexi notices me and waves me over. I shake off my doubts and head over to where she is standing.

“Oh, my God, your dress is so cute. Did you have trouble finding a parking space?”

I hug Lex, “No, I nabbed one right across the street.”

“Good, I got us a table already, I got here early to do some work. Let me introduce you. Willow Nelson, this is Aiden Markley and Lamar Johnson. Lamar and Al go way back. Willow is my oldest friend, and she just moved to the city.”

I smile, “Hi, nice to meet you two.” Lamar smiles, stands, and holds his hand out for me to shake. “Willow, it’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard wonderful things about you from Al and Lexi. It’s nice to have a face to put with the pretty name.” His smile is white and full. He’s a very nice-looking man. His black skin is flawless, and his brown eyes are a soft brown; they are beautiful.

“Thank you.”

“Lamar comes over on Sundays to watch pro-football when we don’t have the girls.” Lex smiles and raises a blond brow, and I flush. I’d bet my life that Lamar is single, and Lex has a plan. “I’m sure you’ll be seeing him at our house. Aiden’s a soccer fan, we invite him, but he never shows.”

I smile at the other gentleman, Aiden. He stands to his full height, and I realize he must be well over six feet tall. Smiling, he holds out his hand. “Hi Willow, it’s nice to meet you.”

My goodness, he’s handsome. He has green eyes and dark blond hair that is cut close to the sides but longer on top. “It’s nice to meet you, Aiden.” I shake his hand, and he takes his seat.

“Well, we’ll let you guys enjoy your lunch. Lamar, I’ll tell Al you said to get his lazy ass up and meet you at The Swim Club tomorrow morning,” Lamar laughs. “Tell him, I expect him there at six in the morning.”

I look over to Aiden when I hear his deep, rumbly laugh. He says, “You have a better chance of me meeting you, Lamar, and we both know it’ll be a cold day in hell before I play racketball with you again.” The three of them laugh. I’m the odd one out on what must be an inside joke.

“Okay, gentleman, I’m not thinking or talking about work for the next hour.” Lexi puts her arm around my shoulders and asks, “Are you ready to gossip and talk about fun, exciting things that don’t include boring work numbers?”

I smile, “Yes, and hopefully, eat something yummy.” I place my hand on my stomach when it growls. I haven’t eaten this morning. The truth is, I don’t eat most mornings since I have a breakfast for one to look forward to each day.

I start to say my goodbyes when I notice that Aiden is staring at me. “Have we met before, Willow? I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere.” Aiden scans me up and down to my pink-painted toenails on display in my shoes.

“I don’t think so. I’ve only lived in the city for a month. Have you ever been to Roseway, Ohio?” I ask and smile because I know there is no way he has even heard of it unless Lexi has mentioned it to him.

“I can’t say that I have,” he smiles. Tiny lines fan out from his eyes. His eyes are green and gorgeous. I always get compliments on my green eyes, but I find most people with green eyes have hues of browns or blues. His eyes, like mine, are entirely green. I return his smile.

The waitress comes over with their food. “Enjoy your lunch, fellas. And Lamar, I’ll see you this weekend,” Lexi says. I wave bye as she leads us to our table.

We sit down at a corner table. “This place is swanky, Lexi. I stick out like a sore thumb, so casually dressed. Do you have lunch here often?”

“A few times a week. The Outline is where powerful people make shrewd business deals over lunch, which is a place where you want to be seen. Al and I try to have lunch here often. When I come in for lunch, I make certain I get here at ten-thirty to get a table, that’s when they open. They don’t take reservations, and only a few people are guaranteed a table, people like Aiden Markley.”

“Really?” I ask, surprised.

“Really. He’s a well-respected attorney. He just won a major judgment against Whestles Industries. He has never lost a case.”

“I think I read something about that case in the paper. What does Lamar do?”

She raises her brows and smirks like a fox, “He’s an attorney too. What do you think about him? He’s attractive, isn’t he? And he’s divorced.”

“I knew it. Please don’t, Lex. I’m still in a man-hating phase.” The waitress comes and takes our drink orders, and I’m half tempted to request a beer. Lex orders an iced tea, and I decide on lemonade. “So, how long do you think you’ll be in the man-hating phase?” Lex probs.

I raise my brows and tuck my long bangs behind my ear. I smile, “Maybe forever. And I need to rephrase that, I only hate men older than my boys.”

She giggles, “How are the boys? Is Drew liking Northwestern?”

“Yes, he loves it. I don’t worry as I did with the other boys since Drew and Elliot are together at school. That helped me relax when he moved to Illinois.” The waitress delivers our drinks, and we both order an appetizer instead of a meal for our lunch.

“Two successful boys in Roseway, one in San Francisco and two in college in Illinois.” She raises her ice tea, “God, girl, I don’t know how you did it. Congratulations on raising five fine young men.”

I tap my lemonade and take a quick sip to wet my throat. “Thank you, but don’t jinx me, please. How are Stella and Brooklynn?” I ask about her stepchildren.

“They’re great, busy. It’s weird how fall sports and clubs start in July. It’s the end of August, and I’m already worn out from them. The sports schedules never end.”

I giggle, “Get used to it; they are eleven and thirteen and both love sports. You are only going to get busier.” My tummy tightens, my mind going to all the free time I have now that I’m an empty nester. But then, the soft look in Lexi’s blue eyes when she mentioned being busy with her stepdaughters, makes me happy. She’s looking forward to it, and she loves every second of it. I know she didn’t think she would get this opportunity. “I was serious Lex, please let me know their soccer schedules, I’d love to come and watch them play.”

“I’d love that too. I’m kind of out of place at those things. Suzy, Al’s ex, already has an established little soccer group of moms that I’m excluded from at games. I have to sit back and watch by myself because Al helps coach and is on the sideline with the team.”

She scrunches up her face, and I do, too, “I can’t even imagine. Small-town soccer moms are very cliquey. I can’t imagine what it’s like here.”

She giggles, “God, I’m so happy we live close to one another again.”

I nod my head yes, “I’ll go to as many as I can for support.” I giggle.

“Thank you. I was on my way to the restroom when I stopped to talk to Lamar. I’m going to freshen up before our lunch gets here.”

“Okay, I need to check in with Henry, west coast time. I’ll get you a refill.”

I watch Lexi strut across the room, thinking of when we were little girls and awkward tweens. Lex was always confident about her smart mind and who she was becoming as a person. In the eighth grade, she cut her waist-long platinum-blond hair into a short pixie cut and shocked the whole school and community. Lex used to have beautiful, long, thick, blond hair that flowed down to her behind, and one day, she showed up at Grandma’s to show me what she had done. She cried for ten minutes, then ran her hand through her short locks and proclaimed she would never have long hair again, and she hasn’t.

“Excuse me, Willow.” Aiden approached our table; I didn’t see him coming, my back is to his table.

“Hi, yes.” I smile. He is very tall. Drew, Max, and Henry are six feet, Oliver and Elliot six one, and he’s taller than all of them.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but are you certain we have never met before? I’m pretty good with faces, and I think our paths have crossed sometime. May I ask where you work? Do you work at Methodist Hospital?”

“Nope, I recently sold three IGA grocery stores in Shelton County, Ohio. Do you have any connection to that county?”

He raises his brows, “No, I only know it’s up north.”

I giggle, “Nope, it’s south.”

He chuckles; tiny lines fan out by his eyes, and my tummy flutters. He’s what Vi would describe as GQ good-looking, and what Caroline would call smoking hot. Lexi walks back to the booth, and our food arrives at the same time.

“Sorry to bother you, I’ll let you enjoy your lunch. Nice to see you again Lexi, tell Al I hope to see him at the club sometime.” He walks away. I wish I could turn and watch. Lexi has a smile as wide as her whole petite face, and her blue eyes are dancing.

“Well, well, well, I was thinking Lamar, but maybe I should consider a different type of man.”

“Hello, remember the man-hating phase? This looks delicious.” I pick up my fork and dig into my plate.

“Okay, man-hating, got it. I have forty-five minutes, and I want to talk to you about something else anyway.”

I raise my eyes as I chew, communicating to spill and talk. My stomach growls, and I take another forkful of chicken. I need to start eating breakfast again.

“Have you decided, ‘Miss earned every degree and certificate that Middleton Community College offers,’ on which direction you will go on the job front?”

I sit my fork down. “No, I’ve planned for six months so I can make a good decision on what direction I want to go. I had an interview last week with a small family-owned law firm. I applied for a paralegal position.” I shrug my shoulder and smile, “I may not want to use my paralegal associate degree. I may want to use my associates in Accounting. I have an interview next Tuesday for a level two position at The Henderson Firm out in the Durbin.”

She nods her head and starts on her lunch. She and everyone I know make fun of me for attending Middleton Community College practically nonstop since graduating from high school. “Why do you want to know?” I ask.

“There’s a position opening up in the Internal Auditing Department I think you’d be great for.”

I laugh, “In your department. Are you offering me a job?”

She nods, “In six weeks, yes. Sarah holds the current position, and she’s not returning after leaving to have her third child. I’d love to have you on our team, Willow.”

I smile softly, it’s nice she believes in me. A memory hits me, and I giggle. Lexi smiles around a fork full of food, she is thinking it too. She puts her fork down, and in unison, we say, “Good afternoon, thank you for calling The Kiss Company.”

We laugh.

“God, I loved hanging out with your Grandma. When it came to playing pretend, her imagination was so much fun,” she reminisces.

I giggle, “She’d unplug every phone in the house and set them up on the dining room table to prepare our conference room.”

Lexi exhales longingly, “I loved it when she would take us up to the five and dime store. She’d buy us little things like tiny notebooks and markers. Whatever she thought we could use to improvise what we were pretending to be that day.”

“Yeah, she loved to play almost as much as we did. Now back the job offer, thank you for thinking about me.”

“Of course I thought of you. You’d be perfect.”

I sigh, “I’ll keep it in mind. When would I interview for the position?”

“Sarah told me and HR two days ago; it won’t be posted for at least two weeks.”

“Good, I’ll give it some serious thought and let you know by next week.”

“Okay, please think about it. We are a stable, giant financial institution with a good history. You’d be happy there; it’s a good fit. And since you still haven’t decided which avenue to pursue work-wise, and we can’t talk men, let’s talk about your fabulous park row house, and fill me in on what your crazy sister is up to this week.”

I can’t wait to see her face when I tell her Vi’s newest conclusion. “Violet thinks she might be bisexual. She accepted a date with a woman to test out her newest theory.”

We laugh so loud we draw the eyes of the tables and booths around us. “God, I love your sister.”

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