The call came in on her cell phone when Jake was getting her coat from the maître d’. She had ignored it the first time it rang, but now she realized that whoever it was, they really wanted to get a hold of her.
She had a full ‘to do’ list waiting for her at the office. In fact, the whole week she was stretched to the max, not only with her usual workload and editorial deadlines but now, planning for the up-coming design awards gala Jake had just invited her to participate in, which was in six weeks time. With dress designs nowhere near completion and finishing touches to do on others, this new commitment was going to take every ounce of remaining time she had left. In total, she had been asked to submit eight selections to the show. This was unheard of for a first time entrant. She wondered what part Jake had played in this, but didn’t dare ask.
Then there was Jake. She was falling for him – hard, but how would she manage to fit him into her life, especially now? She knew he’d understand about her work pressures, but this was beyond just his understanding. She wanted him, wanted to spend time getting to know him. She was already picturing them as a couple, things they would do together, how they would live. After only one afternoon, it was clear; she loved staring into those big blue eyes, hanging on his every word as he talked about his work or his life, or just laughing at his dumb jokes. Only all too well did she understand that getting to know someone the way she wanted to get to know Jake took time, and time was something she had little of at the moment. There has to be a way, she thought, as she pressed redial on the number stored in her missed-call list.
“Hello,” said the woman’s voice at the other end of the receiver.
“Hello, this is Joanie Scott. You called?”
“Joanie! It’s your mother. It was me who called you a minute ago. You’d think with all the new- fangled phones these days, you would have known it was me. Caller ID. Isn’t that what it’s called – caller ID?”
“Mom! Wow, hi. What are you doing calling me in the middle of a weekday afternoon? And no, your number didn’t appear in my ‘caller ID’ Mom. It said unknown, as in unknown caller. Is everything alright Mom?”
“Oh dear, of course you wouldn’t have recognized the number. I’m not home. Actually dear, no, everything is not alright. I’m at the hospital.” She paused. “It’s your father, dear. He’s had a stroke – a small one, but a stroke just the same.”
Silence hung between 639 miles of air space that separated mother and daughter. No words were available to express how Joanie felt. Her head fell into her arms that rested on top of the table. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes then unleashed into full-blown sobbing.
“Now, now dear, don’t worry. He’s doing just fine. He’s lost some vision in his left eye, and the left side of his body seems a bit stiff, but the good doctor tells me it’s nothing that can’t be improved on with rehabilitation.”
Silence ensued, along with continued crying jags. Joanie was thinking back to her childhood, the time when her father had carried her on his broad shoulders, hoisting her above the sea of heads so she could watch the Easter Parade march down Main Street. Or the time when she was sixteen and he had patiently given her driving lessons. Stalling at the stop sign at Broad and King streets, he had gently coaxed her through the steps of restarting the car, easing off the clutch and giving just a little bit of gas, while honking cars lined-up behind them. Walter was everybody’s friend, and he had been especially fond of Peter.
“Honey, I know how busy you are,” Alice Scott continued. “But your father would love to see you, even for a few days, if that’s all you have. We’ll pay for your airline ticket to get you here. It’ll cost a pretty penny being last minute and all, so it’s the least we can do.”
Joanie held the receiver taking in her mother’s soothing words. When she was a teenager, Joanie had detested her mother’s use of so many old fashioned terms, but now they were music to her ears.
“Mom, of course I’ll come home! Don’t give it another thought. And no, you will not pay for my flight. I make a perfectly decent income. I can afford it.”
Joanie let out a big sigh, the tears momentarily ebbing.
“Let me make a few calls and see how much time I can manage to get off work, tie up some loose ends at the office, and I’ll try to get a flight out by this evening.”
“Oh, honey. It will be so good to have you home again. We’ve missed you so, particularly your father.”
“Okay, I’ll keep you posted from this end, and remember, call me anytime. I’ll keep my phone handy.” She paused. “Bye Mom. Love you, and take care, okay? I’ll see you soon.”
Tears began streaming down Joanie’s cheeks again as she ended the call, the impact of the situation almost more than she could bear. She also realized she hadn’t even asked when it had happened or if her Dad had asked about her. And she hadn’t even mentioned her brother, Kevin. She wondered if he was there. All of a sudden Jake appeared from around the corner, her coat draped over his arm. When he saw her sitting there mired by tears, he handed her coat to the waiter, who happened to be standing nearby, pulled his chair around beside her, and put her hand in his.
“Joanie, what’s going on? What’s the matter?” Concern written all over his face, he gazed into her eyes, waiting for a reply. Tears rushed forth more fervently. Jake tightened his grip until she was able to compose herself, until she was ready to talk. Distraught as she was, Joanie was beyond feeling foolish in front of him, even if they had just met. Finally, she blurted it out.
“My…my Father…I…I just got a call from my Mom telling me Dad has had a stroke.”
Again, she broke down. Jake waited, giving her time to calm down, even though the agony of her situation, the pain she must be feeling, was undoing him emotionally.
“Joanie, that’s awful. What happened, do you know?”
He squeezed her hand, immediately regretting the question he just asked.
“Forget it. You can find out details later. Right now we’ve got to get you there…right away.”
“Oh Jake, you’re so considerate,” Joanie said between sobs. “Thank you for that. And you’re right. I do have to get home, as soon as possible. I just have so much to deal with. There’s so much going on at work, and now the annual design gala that I have to prepare for. How am I going to do it? I guess Ruthy will take on my editorial work. I hope she can manage on top of her own workload. And I’ll have to call Sara and Brandy to head-up the production of my newest designs, to prepare them for the show. Oh dear, I won’t be here to oversee everything…and what about Carlyle?”
She stopped talking, searching for answers.
“Never mind,” she said, giving her head a shake. “You’re right Jake. I have to get home as soon as possible. I’ll figure the rest out along the way.”
Joanie was aware she had been rambling but she didn’t care. It was the only way for her to cope, to sort out and process what was going on in her life, especially now that she’d heard such sudden, terrible news.
“Listen, I’ve got a good friend at Virgin. Leave it to me. Just tell me where you need to go and consider it done.”
“Oh Jake, no, you can’t…”
“Can’t what, help? You have enough on your plate at the moment Ms Wonder Woman. This is the least I can do for you…as a friend. Okay? Now, let’s go back to my place. You can freshen up, and make the necessary calls to work, and check in again with your Mother back home. Then I’ll take you to your place so you can pack. We’ll get you on that plane in no time. Don’t worry.”
Joanie couldn’t believe it, but she allowed Jake to help her up out of her seat and slip her coat on. A car picked them up in front of the restaurant and delivered them to a swank high-rise apartment in the upper Westside. Spacious and bright, his large suite had vaulted ceilings, a built-in multimedia center, high-end furnishings, and hundred and eighty degree views of the city. Joanie was breathless. However, as distracted by this beauty as she was, she kept to task and managed to make all the necessary calls on Jake’s land-line, while he took care of the travel arrangements from his cell phone. Wishing things had been different, that this was the beginning of the evening Jake had hinted about, only made it worse. Don’t worry now Joanie, you’ll have your romantic moment, she reminded herself.
It seemed an impossible feat to get a flight out of New York City that night, but thanks to some helpful Virgin service representative that Jake’s friend put him on to, Joanie was ready to board the red-eye out of JFK at 11:47 PM. Of course Carlyle had been understanding about the whole thing and offered her as much time-off as she needed. Despite his kindness, Joanie knew she could only stay away for a week tops, but it was nice to know there was no pressure. Work could wait. Her designs could not however, but she was able to get a hold of a few of her trusted seamstresses, and gave Sara and Brandy explicit instructions on what to do in her absence. Besides, she could be in touch by phone and email. They knew how to find her if they needed her.
Jake had done everything. She was more than impressed. She was smitten. After spending only one afternoon with this man, albeit a full one, Joanie felt something special. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was there – a feeling. It was uncanny the way she and Jake had been thrown together like this; the impromptu lunch date, the easy conversation over appetizers and Prosecco, the offer by Jake to show her work at the annual design show, the allure of an evening together, that had been put so abruptly to a halt discovering her dreadful news. And through it all, Jake had acted the gentleman from start to finish. Finish. Was it over? She felt not, by the way he acted toward her, especially in dealing with this sensitive personal trauma of hers. He was more than understanding and seemed to innately know when to dive in to help and when to back off, always remaining present and available. The perfect man. She sighed. But what was he thinking? Who would want get involved with someone whose life is as complicated as this? Joanie thought. She didn’t know what to think, but she didn’t have time to worry about it now.
By the time he dropped her off at the airport, e-ticket in hand, he had helped her organize her entire week, pack her bag, and manage her travel plans.
“Jake, I just don’t know how to thank you. I mean, we just met and you’ve done all this work for me. Really, I just don’t know what to say. What would I have done without you? Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. There’s no need for you to say more. As I said earlier, you have enough on your plate to have to deal with all the technicalities of this situation as well as everything else. You just have to get home to your Dad. It’s that simple. I’m glad I could be of some assistance.”
“I know we just met and all, but you’ve really gone beyond the call of duty.”
“No duty here. It has been my absolute pleasure. And I hope this isn’t the last time I can be involved in your life, although hopefully under happier circumstances next time.”
“I look forward to really getting to know you better when you return Joanie. I know it hasn’t ended well, but I’ve had a lot of fun with you today. I’d like to see you again, and hopefully again and again.”
Now Joanie was beet red and smoldering under her collar. And she knew he knew it. They shared a hug. Then, what started as a peck on the cheek, moved gradually to the meeting of lips, then to a kiss of more passion and feeling. Warm and wet, they lingered in the moment a first kiss provides; the rush of emotion, warm flushes, tingling body, and twinges of arousal. Their world stopped, amidst the comings and goings of travelers at one of the countries busiest airports.
At check-in, Joanie discovered, much to her surprise, that Jake had upgraded her to First Class. She was led to a roomy window seat, offered a chilled glass of sparkling wine, which she drank too quickly, and afterward, relaxed against the leather seat falling fast asleep. When she arrived in Charleston, she collected her bags and made her way out of the terminal to flag a cab. But when she got outside, she was taken aback with what she saw. Leaning out the window of a black Jeep Cherokee, flagging her down, was Peter.
…To be continued next Tuesday, April 12th…
To read More Than Just Friends from Chapter 1 to 4, click the tab on the homepage