Saturday, December 17, 2011
T'was The Day Past Christmas
Putting on her new blue sweater, Adriana felt completely renewed. Not completely, there was that strange gift left at her door. What if she had been home when the messenger came, or had it been delivered by the giver, him or herself? The thought made her shudder. Someone knocking at her door, uninvited? Unthinkable. But someone had and they had left not only a gift, but the note. The telling note of love and affection which Adriana had not enjoyed reading one bit. A real cold stabbing feeling ran up her spine with the thought of having someone care about her. Or pretend to care about her. They would, no doubt stop caring as soon as they got to know her in the real world. The only people who loved her or cared about her where living in her head and they could be trusted to cause no harm. People living on the streets and in houses and breathing their own breath, they could NOT be trusted.
Shaking herself loose from these thoughts, she reminded herself she had a job to do and needed to put on her public face and go to work. Work was the only place she really interacted with people and managed with a great deal of effort, at first, now with ease, to make it seem sincere and natural. There was really nothing natural about saying good morning to someone you see each morning without really seeing their face. If she had to describe most of the people in her office for a sketch artist, she would fail miserably. She never looked at any of them. She spoke with the mail guy everyday because he always smiled at her and called her by name, so she did the same. Tom was one of a handful who actually called her by name or whom she could call by name. Mostly she just did her job and interacted as little as possible. Her job wasn't an important one, nor was it one which required cooperation with others in her department. She simple balanced out the financial sheets that were placed in her basket and then electronically sent them on their way to the bookkeeping department for records. Her's was a nerds job, of sorts. Just enter all the info, make sure it all balances and forward it on to the appropriate people. She was very good at it and she had been doing it for a long time. No offer of advancement had been made and for that she was grateful. This job was suited to her personality and to her lifestyle. No overtime, no pressure and not much conversation. Numbers and typing were two things she was very good at and everyone in the office knew if she did any reports, they were correctly done.
This day she had fielded a couple of compliments on her new sweater and thanked each of the co-workers for noticing. She had chosen a well fitted pencil skirt in black to show off the softness of this light blue knitted sweater. Her gift from her "mother"; chosen because it was perfect for Adriana. The mother in her head couldn't have done a better job. She was always hugging her daughter and smiling at her and encouraging her to be her perfect best. She was the mother Adriana needed and the best part, she was immortal.
Approaching her front door Adriana noticed a note stuck to the wall next to her door. She feels panic and with shaking fingers manages to grab it down and hustle inside. The note is in a sealed envelope. Who is doing this? Why are they doing this? Just leave me alone, please! All these thoughts are running through her confused and frightened mind as she opens the envelope. Inside:
"I want you to know that I am not looking to upset you or intrude. I left the gift and now this note because I decided it was very rude of me to not disclose my identity. I fear I may have scared you or at the very least baffled you and that was not my intent. I just wanted to thank you. You may call me, or you may choose to ignore me. You have the lead now. I will not be leaving anything else or trying to contact you. I promise. I am now employed with a doctor's clinic because you took the time one day to smile at me over the counter at Walgreen's. I was working my shift out and had then planned to take an overdose of pills when I got home. My life was in turmoil and I was so lost. I was on my way out as soon as you were done checking out with your purchase. I cannot explain why your smile made me rethink things. I cannot explain why you saying, "Have a good evening. Thank you" would make any difference at all. But it did. I am alive and I am doing well and that night was over a year ago. I saw you in the store last week. I was picking up a few things and I followed you here to where I assumed you lived. I waited outside and saw your lights come on, so I was certain. Nothing scary, nothing for you to worry about, just one person thanking the one person who saved my life.
Adriana had fallen onto the dining chair as she read. This was incredible. She had saved this girls life by saying such a simple and cliche thing. She had made a difference without trying. She tried to remember the girl, tried really hard. Nothing came into her mind. It had been a meaningless encounter and yet, it changed someone. No, it saved someone. Her friends were all excited and talking all at once now. What a hero they thought she must be. If only she could meet this person, maybe, this person might be worth knowing. Or this person could be another hurt source. Carmen could be another real person who cared about her until she did something that made Carmen not care anymore and Adriana would again have to grieve a loss. Again have to feel that pain.
She reaches for the phone and almost dials. Almost. It lands hard back in the cradle. No not now. Maybe tomorrow or next week or next month. Not tonight. The magic of Christmas might be playing with her and it all might not be real. She feels the note with both hands as it lays flat on the table. It is real and the message is the same as what she just read. Carmen does appear to be real. Tomorrow, maybe she would call her. She would just thank her for the gift and the note and wish her well. Yes, tomorrow.
Her friends and family all agree she should reach out to Carmen. They all seem to think they can trust this one. She owes Adriana her life, she would be a real friend.
After work the following day all the way home Adriana thinks about calling Carmen. What would she say? "Hi, it's Adriana. Oh, you don't know my name, do you? I am the woman who saved your life." No. That sounds stupid and she isn't stupid. How about, "Hello, Carmen? I am just calling to say thank you for the lovely gift and card. It was so thoughtful of you and by the way, my name is Adriana." That sounded better. Something like that would do nicely. Friendly, but not over the top gushy. Okay, she would make the call when she got home.
"Hello, Carmen?" Her voice was low and steady, not at all how she felt, but it was good.
"Yes, this is she." Nice voice. Middle range and kind of soft.
"I am just calling to say thank you for the lovely candle holder and the follow-up note. It was so thoughtful of you." Precise and not too friendly.
"You don't need to thank me, I am breathing because of your kindness. I couldn't ever repay what you gave me, but I wanted you to, you know, just know!"
"Well, I had no idea, of course, but if a smile saved your life, I am very glad I felt like smiling that particular night." She actually was enjoying this give and take.
"Enjoy the candles and maybe when you light them, you could just remember how precious your smile was for me. I know nothing about you, but I imagine you are very much loved by those in your life because you just exude warmth! I have seen you a couple of times since that night, but I never had the nerve to follow through with the stalking you part! I felt kind of like, I don't know, just weird because I knew you had no idea. But, I thought you should know. Listen to me rattle on and on. I'm sorry, I do that sometimes."
Adriana actually found herself laughing lightly. "Listen, would you like to meet me for coffee? Maybe down at the Finely Ground Cafe? I love their coffee." Had she said that outloud?
"Really? I would love that. In about an hour?"
"Sure, that would be good." She had said it and Carmen said yes and now she had to go.
This was the beginning of a nice friendship. The two girls talked for hours and got to know a little about each other. They even made a date for lunch the next week on Saturday and Adriana wasn't afraid at all. Carmen didn't know about Adriana's friends and family, but there would time for that later on, maybe.
About 6 months later the two were having a nice walk through the park on a perfect Sunday afternoon. Carmen seemed a little quieter than usual so Adriana asked if everything was okay.
"I met someone last Thursday. I mean I met a man who I really want to get to know a lot better. He works in the same building where I do and he's just like so dreamy and nice and he asked me to dinner. I went out with him Friday. I was waiting to tell you after the date and now it's after and oh, Adriana, I really like this man."
Adriana was amazed. Carmen had never talked of any men prior. Never even acted like she might like a man in her life. How weird this felt. Someone was sharing about the possible new love of her life and if that worked out, Adriana would be alone again. She had mixed feelings about this development.
Her face must have shown some concern because Carmen finally said, "You look confused? You didn't think I was gay, right? (laugh) I mean I'm not overrun with men chasing me, but every now and again I do have a date. Just not like this one. He is so special, I think."
"Special? You had one date and he's special? Okay, I guess I'll work on being happy for you, but I think you should not expect too much. Men can really be cruel sometimes." She spoke from experience. The one who had pushed her down the stairs, accidentally. The one who cheated on her with her neighbor's daughter. The one who lied about everything and wasn't even who he said he was. She knew a bit about men.
"I could be wrong, I have been before, but I feel different with him. I can just be myself and not feel the need to impress him. I just talk and laugh naturally with him and he smiles with his whole face, Adriana. His eyes light up and his cheeks raise and his teeth are straight and white enough to require sunglasses! We are going out tonight again. This time to a show off Broadway type thing somewhere. He has season tickets to this little theater and says they try out shows before moving off Broadway there. I gotta run and get myself ready, but I'll call you tomorrow after work and fill ya in! Later Sugar..." and she was off.
This was probably not going to be a good thing. Adriana would have to do some investigating on this guy. She didn't have room or desire in her life for two people. Just for Carmen. She needed Carmen and she did NOT need this guy.
It took a couple of weeks for Adriana to gather the information she needed on Craig. He was everything Carmen had said he was and more. Good looking, rich, employed and a really nice man. Carmen could have a great future with him, if he loved her and she loved him and it appeared to Adriana that was the case.
Her phone rang at half past midnight. Adriana answered, it was Carmen and she was hysterical. She needed Adriana right now, please. "Do you want me to come to you or are you coming here?"
"I need you here, I can't drive now! Did you hear me? Craig is dead. Dead, Adriana!"
Adriana jumped from her sofa and grabbed her jacket from the dining room chair. She headed out the door and there seemed a small, but definite smile creeping across her lips. She needed Carmen, she didn't need two people.
Craig had been parking his car near his front door when out of nowhere a drive-by shooting. This neighborhood was not accustomed to drive-by shooters. There was nearly zero crime here. It was not a gated community, but it was a small and closely watched community of neighbors who mostly knew each other. It was a shame Craig had only recently moved in because no one knew him and no one saw him come home. The car driving by was dark and that was all anyone had noticed. There had been 4 shots fired and 2 had hit the target. Craig had died immediately.
Among Adriana's talents, target practice at the range had been one of her most outstanding. She was a sharpshooter in high school, but had not pulled a trigger since leaving that home at age eighteen. Just like riding a bike.
She comforted her friend and stayed the night with her. All the other friends had to stay at home. Carmen needed her full attention tonight. What one will do for a friend is limitless.
Again, Adriana knew people who hurt her or who might hurt her simply cannot be allowed to continue. No one from her past could tell stories about her and Craig would not hurt her or Carmen again.
Carmen needed her, exactly as she had planned.