Friday, August 29, 2008

August 29, 2008

Alex answered the phone after the fourth ring, sounding slightly out of breath.

“Hi, Alex,” I said. “It’s Vivian LeVeau. Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No, no. This is a good time,” he said. “I was just getting out of the shower.”

I took a moment to enjoy the naughty visual, imagining the water droplets trickling down his toned body.

“Down, girl,” I thought, getting myself back on track.

“I got the flowers you sent,” I said. “They’re gorgeous, and they smell heavenly. Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m glad you like them,” he replied.

“So,” I paused, suddenly feeling shy, “Are you still interested in taking me out to dinner?”

“Most definitely,” he said. “Are you free Saturday night?”

I thought ahead to my original plans for Saturday: Do laundry, clean out my linen closet, and figure out what’s causing that funky odor in the back of my fridge. I think I can rearrange my schedule.

“Yes,” I said. “Saturday’s perfect.”

“Great,” he said. “May I pick you up at 7?”

“Seven is good,” I said.

“Oh," I added, "Where are we going?” I need to figure out what to wear.

“How about Chez Henri?” he asked.

I almost choked on the water I had just taken a sip of.

“Chez Henri?” I sputtered.

“Yes, is that ok?” he asked, concerned.

“Yes,” I said, regaining my composure. “Chez Henri is ok; it’s more than ok.”

Alex chuckled and said, “Great. I’ll see you on Saturday then.”

“I can’t wait.”

I immediately called Sonia after hanging up with Alex.

“Are you sitting down?” I asked her.

“What? Yes, I’m eating dinner,” she said. “What’s up?”

“I just spoke with Mr. Alex Hayes,” I said. “Guess where he’s taking me.”

“Wait a minute,” she replied. “You said you weren’t going to go out with that guy.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to, but he was so thoughtful in sending me a bouquet of flowers to tell me how sorry he was for being so rude after the accident,” I said.

“Geez, Viv,” Sonia laughed, “I didn’t know you were such a sucker for a bunch of weeds.”

“They’re not weeds, Sonia!” I said, sounding more exasperated than I’d meant to. “You should see them.”

“But anyway,” I continued. “Back to where Alex is taking me to dinner. Guess.”

“Oh, I don’t know...TGI Fridays?”

“Ha. Nope. Get this—he’s taking me to Chez Henri,” I said.

“What? I thought you said he just lost his job,” she said. “How can he afford to take you there?”

“I don’t know,” I said, feeling a bit deflated. “I guess I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Well, maybe you should,” she said.

“It is a good question,” I admitted. “But it’s not like I have any business asking him that. If he thinks he can afford it, who am I to question him?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” she said. “But I hope he’s not getting in over his head. You don’t need another ‘Adam’ situation.”

I hadn’t thought of Adam in years, ever since he skipped out on our lease in college after we broke up. My father had warned me about living with someone when I was so young, and especially of living with someone to whom I wasn’t married. But of course, I wouldn’t listen. As a matter of fact, I am still paying off one of the credit cards Adam and I had shared—it had been in my name only. Adam had known what he was doing; I have no doubt.

“So, anyway,” I said, clearing my thoughts, “I need something to wear. Will you go shopping with me tomorrow to find a dress?”

“Absolutely,” she said.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang.

Who’s that? “Oh, Kelly and Kaitlyn," I mumbled. "It completely slipped my mind....”

After Kelly left for her therapy appointment, Kaitlyn and I settled in to the serious business of coloring pictures. Once she got bored with the crayons, I broke out my acrylic paints and let her go crazy with them on papers I’d spread out across my kitchen floor. I swear her paintings are better than some of the stuff my co-workers have produced and tried to pass off as acceptable. I wonder how they'd feel if they knew a three-year-old put them to shame.

When she’d finished her last masterpiece, Kaitlyn handed it to me and asked, “Do you like it, Aunt Vivee?”

“It’s beautiful, honey, just like you,” I said, giving her a one-armed hug around her shoulders and a kiss on the forehead.

“Aunt Vivee?”

“Yes?” I asked.

“You got it upside down,” she said, taking her painting from me and turning it right side up.

“Ohhh, well, yes, I can see that now,” I said, suppressing a giggle.

I looked Kaitlyn over and realized that the acrylics might not have been the best idea. She was covered in paint. She’d even somehow managed to get it in her hair.

“Ok, Kaitlyn,” I said, “We’d better get you into the tub or else your mom’s not going to be too happy with me. You’re a mess!”

Kaitlyn laughed and asked, “Can I have bubbles?”

I nodded.

“Yay! I love bubbles!” she exclaimed as she ran down the hall to the bathroom.

“Man, to be a kid again,” I thought. “So easy to please.” I smiled to myself at how cute she is.

Once I’d finished up Kaitlyn’s bath and had styled our hair with the new barrettes, we made some mac ‘n cheese with broccoli for dinner and settled onto the couch to watch my “Lion King” DVD.

Kaitlyn and I sang along together to all the songs in the movie, but about half way through, I noticed that I’d lost my accompaniment: Kaitlyn had fallen asleep.

I turned off the movie and covered Kaitlyn up with a blanket. I looked at the clock and realized that Kelly should have been back to get Kaitlyn probably a half an hour before. I wondered what was taking her so long.

I called Kelly’s cell phone to check on her and it went to her voicemail.

“That’s strange,” I thought. “Well, maybe her session with the therapist ran late or something. I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”

I decided to go look through my closet to see if I had any possible dresses to wear on my date with Alex and to check out my shoe situation. I have a million shoes, but I never seem to wear half of them because I don’t have any outfits that match them. I am hoping to be able to find a dress that will go with at least one pair of my shoes I haven’t worn yet.

I had pulled out about ten dresses and had them splayed messily across my bed, and I had a small mountain of shoes piling up on my bedroom floor when I heard a knock at the door.

“There’s Kelly,” I thought.

I ran down my hallway to answer the door. When I opened it, Kelly was standing there with black streaks of mascara zigzagging across her cheeks. She looked miserable.

I pulled her inside and gave her a huge hug. She seemed to fall apart in my embrace, and as I hugged her, I noticed how thin she had gotten. I wonder if she’s been eating.

Kelly sobbed onto my shoulder. I felt her tears begin to soak through my shirt when she pulled away suddenly.

“Do you have any Kleenex?” she sniffled.

“Of course,” I said, as I ran and grabbed the box out of my bathroom and handed it to her.

“What’s wrong, Kel?” I asked, my heart breaking for her. “What happened?”

She honked into a Kleenex and said, “Well, I went to my therapy session, and of course, we talked about John.”

I nodded.

“I was able to keep it together while I was there, but once I left Evelyn’s office, I fell apart. I stopped crying long enough to drive over here, but once I put my car in park, I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer.”

“Honey, why didn’t you cry at your therapist’s office?” I asked. “That’s what she’s there for. It’s ok to let out your emotions there.”

“I know,” she sobbed, as she blew her nose again, “But I just couldn’t let Evelyn see me cry when I’ve only just met her. It felt so surreal to be talking to a stranger about John’s death.”

“I’m sorry, Kel,” I said. “This has to be so difficult for you.”

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a year since John died. When he’d been called to active duty, Kelly hoped that it wouldn’t be to serve in Iraq, but that’s exactly where he was stationed. Kelly had attempted to keep her feelings secret from John because she didn’t want to add to his stress at leaving his family and going to fight in this “war on terror”. He tried not to show it, but she could tell he was scared, too.

In the days before John was deployed, I can remember Kelly’s phone calls to me late at night after John had gone to bed. She would share her fears with me about his safety over in Iraq. She was terrified that he wouldn’t make it back home to her and Kaitlyn. She kept telling me that she just had a gut feeling that he wouldn’t be coming back. At the time, I thought that Kelly was just having a normal reaction to her husband being sent away to a war zone. I didn’t know then that she’d be right.

“Viv, why didn’t I try to convince John to move to Canada or France or something?” she choked. “We could have left the country and he’d still be here. I shouldn’t have let him leave.”

“Kelly, you know John wouldn’t have wanted that. He never would have agreed to it,” I said. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up with thoughts like that, Kel.”

“Those are the only kinds of thoughts I’ve had the last 10 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days, Vivian,” she cried. “I don’t know how to have any other kind of thoughts.”

“I can’t do this without him,” she went on. “How can I raise Kaitlyn without her daddy?”

Kelly looked at me with red, tear-filled eyes, and I almost couldn’t breathe for the grief I felt coming from her, pulling me down into her despair. I felt my own tears begin to fall.

“Do you know that Kaitlyn told me the other day that she can’t remember what her daddy’s voice sounded like?” she gasped as she choked out another sob.

“I can’t do this, Vivian. I need John here with me. He was supposed to be here with us. It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she continued through her tears.

“I’m so sorry, Kelly,” I said. “Whatever you need, I will help you and Kaitlyn. I will help you through this.”

Kelly looked up at me with her bloodshot eyes, and I could tell from her expression that she believed me. For the first time since she’d walked through my door, her tears slowed, and I felt her relax as I hugged her tightly.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Viv,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I’d do.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

August 15, 2008

“So, can you believe that guy?” I said to Sonia, referring to the man who’d rear-ended me, as we dug in to our second order of nachos.

“He sounds like a real tool to me.” she responded.

“Whatever his deal is, he probably has some serious problems to just blow up at me like that. That’s all I know.” I said.

“Yeah, it sounds like he’s got more issues than People magazine.” Sonia joked.

We both laughed. I was glad to be able to de-stress after everything that had happened that day. It seems like I’ve had more than my share of negativity lately. I hope that things will start to look up soon.

After too much food and too few drinks, we both decided it was time to head home from the cantina because we both had early meetings the next day.

In the morning, when I was in my bathroom getting ready for work, I stood at the mirror staring at the lovely purplish-blue bump that covered a third of my forehead and wondered just how I was going to cover it up without looking like a clown. My head still ached a bit from having hit it on the steering wheel in my fender-bender the night before.

I wondered if Preparation-H might bring down the swelling a bit. I once read that models sometimes use it under their eyes to reduce puffiness. I don’t know if it’s true because you certainly can’t believe everything you see in print, but it’s not like it matters because I don’t have any Preparation-H lying around anyway.

As I was scrutinizing my face up close in the mirror, I also noticed that I am beginning to get crow’s feet around my eyes. When did that happen? And how, exactly, is it fair that I am getting wrinkles when I still get zits every month? You’d think you would get to give up one if you’re going to get the other. Not me; I get both. Color me lucky.

I did the best I could to camouflage the bruising and ran out the door, ten minutes late, as usual. When I got to the office, I saw that people were just starting to converge on the conference room. Thankfully I’m not the only one who runs late around here.

At the meeting, I found out that we’d just landed a new account for Cline’s Furniture. I love doing the ad layouts for furniture companies. I suspect it’s because I always loved playing with my dollhouse when I was a kid. My favorite part was laying out the rooms with furniture and rearranging the rooms as the mood struck me. I never did play with the dolls that much. And with my job, taking the images of furniture and placing them on the page reminds me of playing with that dollhouse, so these accounts never feel like work unless I’m under a tight deadline. Then everything feels like work. Fortunately, there isn’t a quick turn around on this project. I’ll have a bit of time to play.

At 2 o’clock, my cell phone rang. I looked at the screen: Kelly.

“That’s weird,” I thought. “She doesn’t usually call in the middle of the afternoon.”

“Hey, Kel.” I said, as I answered.

“Hey, Viv, how are you doing?”

“I’m good; what’s up?” I asked.

“I’m calling to see if you’d be able to watch Kaitlyn for me tomorrow night for a couple of hours.”

I flashed to my schedule for tomorrow evening: all clear.

“Sure thing. Do you have a hot date or something?” I teased.

“Hardly.” she replied. “I’ve got an appointment after work with a therapist.”

“So you finally asked your doctor for a referral?” I asked, relieved. She’d seemed especially depressed the past few months, and I was beginning to worry about her.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I just left his office a few minutes ago. I called the therapist’s office, and she had a cancellation for tomorrow at 6, so she asked if I could come in then. Sorry for the short notice.”

“It’s quite all right, Kel. It’s not like I had a hot date planned, either. Besides,” I continued. “You know I love spending time with my favorite niece.”

“She’s your only niece, Vivian.” Kelly chuckled.

“True, but that doesn’t mean she still can’t be my favorite.”

After work, I stopped off at the dry cleaners, and as I walked across the parking lot back to my car, I remembered that I need to get my bumper reattached, as it is still sitting in my back seat. I’d do it myself, but I don’t think hot glue would cut it.

When I got home, I called my insurance company to report the accident and file a claim. What the claims adjuster said surprised me.

“Regardless of whether or not you stopped short, if you are rear-ended, the other party is 100% liable. The way the state law is written, the man who hit you, or rather his insurance company, is responsible for your damages.” she told me. “You’ll have to contact them and speak with an adjuster there.”

I thanked her and hung up.

“Great,” I thought. “Here we go.”

I despise making these types of phone calls. I know from past experience how quickly things can become adversarial. Trying to extract any money from an insurance company is like trying to separate black from a skunk. It’s going to be near impossible, and things could get really stinky, really fast.

I pulled out my copy of the police report from the accident and looked at the other driver’s information. I hadn’t even glanced at it after I folded it and stuck it in my purse after the accident yesterday.

Let’s see...the man’s name is Alexander B. Hayes.

“The third, no doubt.” I thought wryly.

His insurance company is...MFR4oGP and some spastic-looking scratches that appear to have been made by a drunken mongoose. What the hell? From the looks of it, the police officer who wrote this report was a doctor before she swore “to protect and serve”. Her handwriting is atrocious. I can’t make out the insurance company’s name to save my life.

“So, now what?” I asked, under my breath. “I suppose we call Mr. Hayes.”

He answered on the second ring.

“I’m so glad you called,” he said. “I was going to call you today myself, but I couldn’t make out your phone number on the police report, and when I looked you up, I saw you are unlisted.”

“Well, it’s actually because of the officer’s illegible handwriting that I’m calling.” I replied. “I can’t read your insurance company’s name. What is it, please?”

“It’s The Mercury Alliance Group.”

“Thank you.” I said, thinking that there’s no way I ever would have made that out from the gibberish that was written on the report.

“Listen, I want to apologize for the way I treated you yesterday.” he said. “I was out of line. I know this doesn’t excuse my behavior, but I lost my job yesterday, right before the accident as a matter of fact, and I took it out on you. Will you let me make it up to you? Perhaps I could take you out to dinner tomorrow night?” he asked, hopefully.

This certainly didn’t sound like the same guy who yelled at me in the street. He seemed much kinder, softer, so maybe the way he had acted was out of character for him. I thought over his offer, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had a weird feeling about it. It was a moot point anyway because I’m watching Kaitlyn tomorrow.

“I don’t think so.” I told him. “Thanks for the offer, though.”

The next day, after work, I stopped off at the grocery store to pick up some coloring books and crayons for Kaitlyn. She loves to draw, just like her aunt Vivian. Maybe she’ll follow in my footsteps. That would be cool, having a little protégé. Although, I don’t think she’ll be worrying about her career any time soon, seeing as she’s only 3.

I headed over to the hair accessories aisle, hoping to find some pretty barrettes or cute ponytail holders. Kaitlyn loves it when I do her hair for her, and we always come up with some funky styles. After we settle on something fun for her, she “helps” me do my hair the same way. My sister always gets a laugh out of our creations. And these days, I’ll act as goofy as I have to if it will make my sister laugh. She hasn’t laughed much lately. I really hope this therapy helps her. I can’t stand seeing her this way.

When I got up to my apartment, I saw a package leaning against my door.

“What’s that?” I wondered. “I didn’t order anything.”

I brought the box to my kitchen counter and opened it up. Inside was a gorgeous bouquet of flowers: Peruvian lilies, gerbera daisies, tulips, and some unusual, dainty, pale pink flowers that smell wonderful. It was one of the nicest bouquets I’d ever received.

I was searching my brain, trying to think of who would send me flowers when I saw a card.

“I wanted to apologize again for my behavior the other day. I hope you’ll reconsider my offer. Sincerely, Alex Hayes.”

So he goes by Alex. That’s certainly less pompous than Alexander B. Hayes.

I felt my resolve soften. The flowers are a nice gesture, above and beyond, really, for a stranger who rear-ended me. Maybe Alex really is a good guy who simply had a bad day. We all make mistakes, right?

I decided to give him a chance. I picked up the phone and dialed his number.

Friday, August 1, 2008

August 1, 2008

I hung up the phone with my mother and wondered for the millionth time why it was that I bothered trying to talk to her at all. I had only been on the phone with her for about 30 seconds when she went off, yet again, on one of her favorite subjects: Vivian’s lack of a husband—oh, what a horrible waste. She is forever pestering me about getting married.

“You know, Vivian, no man wants an old maid. Have you seen a calendar lately? You’re already 29! Just how long do you think your looks are going to last, huh? And without your looks, how do you suppose you’re going to get a man?” she sniped. “You know, when I was your age, I’d already been married for 10 years! I had everything: three kids, a house...”

“And five gin and tonics to get you through each day,” I thought bitterly, as I tuned her out.

Why does she have to keep harping on me all the time about getting married? It’s so frustrating. It really irks me that my own mother can’t see that I have more value than just my looks. It doesn’t seem to matter to her who I marry, either, just as long as I do it. What are her criteria exactly? Is he male? Does he have a pulse? Yes and yes? Well, hot damn, let’s get this girl married off! It’s no wonder she’s been married 4 times.

The sad part is that I really would like to have a relationship and be married someday, but it’s not like I could ever admit that to her because that would only make her increase the pressure on me. So, I continue to pretend I’m not interested in marriage, and she continues to drive me up a wall.

It’s so hard to relate to my mother, but I try to tolerate her from a distance because she’s the only mother I’ve got, as I’m so often reminded by my relatives. I bet if they knew the real woman behind the facade, they wouldn’t be so quick to criticize me for not visiting her more often. They wouldn’t want to be around her either.

I should call Sonia and get out for a while.

“Hey, chica. I need to decompress after yet another wonderful phone conversation with Lois. I swear, if they ever make a Mommy Dearest 2, I’ve got their leading lady.”

I heard Sonia laugh, and I asked, “How about some margaritas at the cantina tonight?”

“Absolutely!” she replied. “I could use an escape. Paul’s been making me nuts trying to pick a paint color for the kitchen. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between ‘mocha cream’ and ‘cafe au lait’ anyway. They’re both just brown to me.”

I heard Paul gasp in the background, feigning indignity.

“You know, you really don’t have a flair for details, Sonia.” I teased.

“That’s an understatement!” she laughed. “I probably wouldn’t even notice if the kitchen didn’t have walls, let alone what color they are.”

“Yeah, and I can’t claim to understand you.” I said jokingly.

I’m a freak about details, or so I’ve been told. I notice if a picture is hanging slightly off center or if books aren’t lined up straight on a bookshelf. I guess that’s part of what makes me a good graphic designer: my attention to detail. I think I’ve finally gotten over my perfectionism, too—well, for the most part anyway.

I used to get so caught up in the small details like a line of text being off by a smidgeon or an image not popping off the page just how I wanted it to that I’d spend hours at work after everyone else had gone home, trying to get my layouts exactly how I wanted them to be. My clients always appreciated my level of commitment to their projects, and since I couldn’t see billing them for my anality, they got a pretty good deal, too.

Now that I’ve decided to let some of that control go, I know that the world won’t explode if I don’t get things “just so”. And maybe now I’ll have time to have a life.

After I hung up with Sonia, I showered, got dressed, did my makeup and hair (ugh, I really need a haircut), and headed off to the cantina to meet her.

I was driving along 3rd Street when I saw a mouse suddenly dart out in front of my car. Without even thinking, I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting him, and before I knew what was happening, the car behind me smashed into me.

My neck snapped forward, and my forehead hit the steering wheel. I didn’t hit it very hard, but it was hard enough to hurt.

I looked up to see if I’d run over the mouse, and I saw that my mouse had actually been just a leaf that was blowing across the road.

“Great.” I thought.

I shook my head a bit and tried to catch my breath. I was shaking when I got out of the car.

“Are you ok?” I asked the man who was getting out of his car behind me. The front end of his car was dented in, and my rear bumper was laying in the street between us.

Even with the pain in my head, I couldn’t help but notice how good-looking he was. He had to be at least 6 foot 2, and he had wavy dark brown hair.

As he approached me, I saw he had the prettiest teal-blue eyes I’d ever seen. Like the ocean in the tropics, they were almost an unreal color. I couldn’t look away.

That is, until he opened his mouth.

“What the hell did you slam on your brakes for?” he yelled. “Were you trying to kill me?”

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I thought I saw a mouse run out into the street, and I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“Oh, but it’s ok to hurt me? What’s your problem, lady?” he snapped.

This guy was really catching me off guard; I didn’t expect him to be so angry. It wasn’t that serious of an accident. But when he kept pushing, I couldn’t help but push back.

“Well, what were you doing so close to my bumper anyway? If you weren’t so close, you could have stopped without trying to sit in my trunk!” I snapped at him.

Before I could even finish my sentence, he was dialing his cell phone to call the police. I went back and sat in my car until an officer showed up to take a report.

After we each told the officer our version of what had happened and she had taken down all of our personal information, she gave each of us a copy of the report. She told us that since she was feeling generous that day and the damage to each of our cars wasn’t that bad, she would let both of us go without issuing any tickets. At least that was one less thing to worry about.

I grabbed my bumper off the ground and threw it in my back seat.

I drove over to the cantina to meet Sonia, and when I walked in, I was relieved to see that she was already there, sitting at a booth near the window in an empty part of the bar. I was glad for the isolation because then I could complain freely about the guy who’d rear-ended me. There was no need for anyone else to hear what I had to say.

Sonia smiled when she noticed me walking in, and she waved me over. I smiled back as I realized how grateful I was that I had such a good friend to talk to about the day I’d had.