She had barely hung up the phone, after a necessarily intense and hurried conversation, when she saw his car pull up across the street. As she watched him climb out, slamming the door with force behind him, the building tension within her escalated sharply, and she shivered in spite of the warmth of the sunny June day.
He opened the front door of the building, and the attached bells sounded his entrance in their sweet voices, while the heavy door with its large glass pane quaked loudly in response when it met its frame.
He approached the window, and though he gazed through the mottled glass toward her, didn’t make eye contact.
Without a word, she handed the envelope to him through the narrow opening. She watched with oddly and gratefully detached interest as he opened the envelope and inspected the tickets for two, connecting flights she had purchased with money saved for their wedding; observed his eyebrows as they shot up in surprise.
“First class. Well, thank you for that, then,” he said in his proper British way. Today, that proper British way was at odds with the dark expression on his face, and the scathing tone of his voice.
“Talk about what?” she asked in reply.
“What do you want me to do? Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.” He finally looked directly at her, his eyes angry, yet pleading.
“You want me to tell you what to do?” She was never so grateful for her acting experience, which was currently in overdrive, and allowed her to speak without her voice cracking, and maintain a relatively calm demeanor. “You want me to tell you what to do?” she repeated, dumbstruck at whatever ignorance within him prevented him from understanding that he, solely, was responsible for what was happening.
That was well and truly the last straw, from her perspective, in amongst straws that were almost too weighty for her to bear.
The man standing before her, her fiancé, who she was scheduled to marry in less than four months, had molested an 11-year-old boy, the son of a mutual friend. He had confessed to it only after the boy reported the incident to his father, and then to her only because their friend forced him to.
The boy’s father made it clear he didn’t want the police involved, and he wanted the perpetrator gone. What he said to her was, “I want you to take care of this.” She accepted the burden, and did the only thing she could think to do.
“I want you to want to get help. I want you to know that what you did is wrong, and take responsibility for it, rather than asking for forgiveness; rather than continuing on as though nothing has happened,” she said, her voice rising slightly in spite of her desire to stay in control.
“I’ll get help, if you want me to,” he said eagerly, looking for all the world as though a carrot named “Hope” had been dangled before him, his for the taking.
She shook her head as much in disbelief as in refusal, control fully regained when any remaining softness in her aching heart was replaced with rock-hard resolve. “I want you to get help because you know you need to, not because I want you to. You need to leave now.”
He sputtered for a few seconds, unable to find adequate words to sway her decision. Finally, he turned around and left, slamming the front door as he exited, then slamming the door of his car after he got in, and screeching up the road as he drove away.
As soon as he was out of sight, she took a piece of plain white paper from the printer, chose a black Sharpie from the pen holder, and wrote in careful print, “Closed temporarily due to an emergency. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please check back after 1:00.” It was 12:30.
She tore two pieces of tape off the dispenser, took the phones off their hooks, made her way around to the front door, affixed the sign to it, engaged the lock, and returned to the empty room behind her office. Taking a folding chair from the stack against the wall, she opened it, then sat upon it while staring at the wall before her, blank save for a simple clock. Her eyes were stinging with tears that wouldn’t come, even though her chest was heaving with them.
|Stock photo used with permission.|
At 1:00, she stood, folded the chair, and placed it back in the stack. She walked around to the front door, removed the sign, crumpled it into a tight ball, and disengaged the lock. She returned to her office, dropped the ball of paper into the trash basket, and put the phone receivers back on their cradles. She made phone calls to three different friends, telling them in a matter-of-fact manner that she had broken up with her fiancé. She didn’t go into detail, telling them only he would be on a plane to England early the next day, and, no, she wasn’t driving him to the airport, their mutual friend was.
At 5:00, she closed the office, and went home to her parents’ house, where she was currently living. She told them only what she’d told her friends, then abruptly announced she needed a shower.
In the shower a few minutes later, with the hot water pouring over her in its soothing way, the tears finally came.