By CJ Vermote
Today is a very exciting day. As I stand here looking out of the window watching cars drive by, going here or there, none of them are important…only she matters. Thankfully the sun is shining, a pleasant surprise after days of rain. I let my fingertips brush lightly across the extraordinarily beautiful teak desk. The four-inch planks held together with perfect dovetails visually constructed as an architectural element. I love the feel of the fine wood. Teak is my signature, and worth every penny. As I bend down to the beautiful vase that holds a few branches of Lilacs, I breathe in their delicate fragrance. I knew better than to forget her favorite flower. I turned my attention to the teak credenza and adjusted the sparkling cider in the ice bucket. I knew she would be here soon, and I wanted everything to be perfect. Standing behind the leather desk chair, I picked off a piece of lint, evidence of its recent delivery. Standing here now, waiting for her arrival, I let my mind travel back in time eleven years earlier when I first met her that day.
We go through life meeting many people. Some we remember, some are like passing leaves from a tree that flutter by, only to land somewhere in a distance land. And, other times still, we meet someone very special. But before I tell you about her, let me tell you a bit about who I am…and how it all started.
I come from a good family. My mom and dad were hard working people that did everything the right way. They met in college, got married, bought a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house in an up and coming neighborhood. Then they had me. I was the apple of their eye…and because I was so perfect, they decided not to have any more children. At least that’s the excuse they gave me. I enjoyed a wonderful life. If I asked for something they provided it or made sure I understood why my request would not be granted. My parents wanted me to be grateful, not entitled.
After living in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, my appreciation for design grew into a passion I could not deny. I went to college and eventually earned my Masters in architecture. I took an internship with a firm that pushed hard to become known for their intricately designed high-rise buildings. It was a young firm, but filled with grand ideas, so being a part of it, even as an intern, meant being in the public eye the right way. Personally, it was a stepping-stone to home design for me, but I had to get my name out there first. In my spare time I would design a house, which when you are trying to prove your worth in an internship wasn’t a lot of time. But I managed a few, and I would store my designs away for a raining day when I would start my firm, Harrison Homes. Has a nice ring to it, right?
Life was going along beautifully. My work was perfection, and so was my ability to make friends…mingling my way to the top. On Fridays a few of us started hitting “Happy Hour” at the local watering hole. I would flirt with some of the local beauties, but getting into a relationship wasn’t in my focus. Before long I was getting invited to the firm’s elite parties. Rubbing elbows with men that knew the industry like the back of their hand. After my internship was over, I wasn’t surprised when I was offered a permanent position with the firm. Off to the races I went…design, socialize, design, and socialize some more.
Unfortunately, I was too young to handle the attention, and I grew cockier as time went on. Pointed out, ever so sweetly, by my mother. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was sitting on my parents’ comfortable patio furniture watching my mom cut roses for a waiting vase. Her beautiful rich brown hair lightly streaked with silver strands made me aware of how well she was aging. The sleeves of her flowered blouse rolled up to her elbows, while her shirttails softly move in the breeze. My mother is delicate and strong at the same time, and her opinion ranks right up there at the top for me. However, that particular day I wasn’t really in the mood for her input when she decided to put me in my place.
“I feel like you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself, son.”
“What do you mean by that, Mom?” I asked as I took a big swig of my beer.
“I feel like your humbleness has taken a back seat, that’s all.”
“Mom, I’m fine. I’m just enjoying the appreciation I’m getting with my career.”
“Well, don’t forget where you came from,” she answered as if my beginnings had been in a shack somewhere in the backyard of a starving farmer’s home.
“Right, Mom,” I answered. I downed the rest of my beer and then went to find my dad in the garage. I was done with my loving, but at times critical, “Mother’s Eye” for the afternoon and thought Dad could use some help cleaning out space for his new project of building Mom some bookshelves.
I stayed for dinner and then headed to my condo in Lynnwood. My home wasn’t large, but it was sleek and modern. My front window overlooked the Cascade Mountains, which still held deep snow from the winter storms. Next to my living room was my dining room, which had a slider leading out to my patio. Thankfully, it also faced the mountains. Whether I was lounging on my comfortable cream leather couch, or having coffee at my wrought-iron bistro set on a warm summer morning, the view was breathtaking. When I got home that evening there was a message on my answering machine, duly noted by the blinking red light. When I pushed the button to listen, I was a bit taken back by the voice I heard.
“Hi, Steve, it’s Janet,” said the voice of my boss’s wife, “I need to go over some of the design elements you were suggesting. I wonder if you could talk over coffee? If you’re free, meet me at the Starbuck’s on 164th, by the Fred Meyer at ten tomorrow morning.”
Now mind you, I knew she was involved in the business, but I had no idea to what extent because I was too busy hanging onto her husband’s shirttail. If she had something to show me, who was I to deny her input. So, Sunday morning I showered, put on a nice blue cotton shirt, pressed khaki slacks, a pair of loafers (without socks) and made my way to Starbuck’s. When I walked in, I spotted her right away. I’d only spent time discussing the weather and such at her home on Mercer Island a few times. Being invited to your boss’s house means you make nice with everyone, but your focus is on the boss. Every word that is uttered from his lips should be gold as far as you’re concerned.
His wife, fifteen years my senior, is a beautiful woman. Today she was stunning as always. Her hair was in a casual ponytail and draped over her shoulder. She was wearing a powder blue ¾ length sleeved dress that hugged her body beautifully showing off her great figure. Not that I made a point to check her out, but she made no attempt to hide herself either. When I attended parties at her home, it was hard not to notice her eveningwear was always an indication of money and style.
I ordered a cup of coffee and made my way to the table she was at, sat down and asked the obvious, “Where’s Peter?” I assumed my boss would be with her.
“He’s working on some project,” she said, and then paused slightly before adding, “I decided it was time for a project of my own.” Her smile left no doubt what she was thinking…and proposing. My mistake was letting it happen. It was a short affair, but not because either of us was ready to end it, but because within a month of taking her into my arms, her husband tried to break both of mine. Apparently, he was aware of her affair when she came home smelling of another man. He hired a private detective to track the culprit down. When he found out it was me, he couldn’t fire me fast enough. But that isn’t where it ended. He spread my bad name everywhere. I couldn’t find a job in the industry to save my life. I started drinking my problems away as I went from one desperate job to another. I tried to get funding to start my dream job, but I had run my credit into the ground within a year of getting out of college. I turned to my parents for help, which they did for a while, but when I showed them the true colors of my failure, they slowly started cutting me off from financial and emotional support.
Within ten years, at the age of almost forty, I found myself without anyone. I’d been out of work for years, had gone through most of my available savings, and had lost the great condo I had worked so hard to buy. I know you‘re thinking, “Wow, ten years, and you couldn’t pull it together?” I know it doesn’t make sense, but when you start living in a bottle, instead of real life, you go downhill fast…and you don’t care.
So, there you have the background of my life. I’ll tell you losing everything was enough to get me to stop drinking. Though I won’t lie; I still want a drink now and then, but thankfully I’m strong enough not to indulge those cravings. I wish I could say getting a job after pulling my head out of my sober backside was easy, but I couldn’t put my emotional baggage back where it belonged. I’d given up and decided the streets were more accepting of me than anywhere else. The day I lost my condo, I took what I could carry on my back and found a spot in the woods. I learned to beg for money and used it to build my green house (cute name for what had become my home in the woods) when I wasn’t buying food essentials. Most of the people I came across that lived in the woods were doing whatever they could to get their next heroin fix, but I had cleaned up my life and just wanted to be left alone. It seemed to be impossible to find privacy anywhere. That is when I took a few of the dollars I’d managed to set aside from my corner “work” and boarded a ferry over to Whidbey Island. I walked until I found the densest forest area and set up camp. I had a good size green tarp, one saucepan, a plate, bowl, a couple of utensils, green sleeping bag, and a few personal items I couldn’t let go of and I carved out a small spot for myself. It was a long walk to town for my begging routine, and though I could have taken a bus, I walked because in reality what else did I have to do with my time…right?
I had never engaged in any long-term relationships…affairs included…and at this point in my life, I was grateful for that, because it was one less loss for me to recognize and brewed over. However, as time when on, loneliness did set in, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. That said I had to accept my life as it was, and I did my best to be fine with it.
It was a normal drizzly spring day in the Pacific Northwest. I had celebrated my fortieth birthday the day before by going to town and eating at the local café. I’d been at my new location in the woods for close to a year, so you can imagine my surprise when here I am all tucked inside my sleeping bag, snoozing away when I am woken by a young voice saying hello. I almost peed my pants she scared me so bad. Mind you I am a strong man, but that small voice weakened me into a little mouse. Trying to get out of my sleeping bag, I became a tangled mess. I tried hard to stabilize myself, and in turned snapped back a “Who are you?”
She told me her name was Jade, and she was a neighbor. I couldn’t see her house, but apparently, she lived in a nice area outside the woods with her mom, dad, and two younger brothers. Once the shock of her standing there was over, and I was composed again, we began to chat. As she spoke, I watched her take her hand behind her head and pulled her blonde curls around to one shoulder while loose strains fought the containment letting the mild breeze lift them. One side of her coat hung off her shoulder as if in protest of being worn. Her jeans and t-shirt didn’t appear to have ever seen dirt. But it was her eyes that caught my heart…piercing, but kind…inquisitive, but sweet. She told me a bit about herself, school, and her family. Somehow I felt comfortable talking to her, but I told her it was probably not a good idea for her to come back, me being homeless and all. I was sure her parents wouldn’t be happy, and I didn’t need the authorities coming to boot me out.
As I’ve gotten older, I recognize the vastness this world has to offer…and a day not too long ago was no exception. You know that moment when you feel life has more angles than you thought? I guess that is what maturity is all about, and I was rounding that corner. I turned twelve in October, just before Halloween. A few month later my mom, dad, and two younger brothers, who, I might add, are obnoxious, moved across the water from our old neighborhood in Edmonds, Washington. My dad had taken a transfer with a new office on Whidbey Island. Our new house is a bit smaller than what we had before, but my bedroom had its own bathroom and four windows along the outside wall. I should tell you I made every attempt to stop this move. I begged my parents not to take me away from my friends, my school, and the only life I had known. I said Dad could take a ferry back and forth…what was the big deal? Why did the rest of us have to move? For such loving parents, they were firm and unfortunately still the bosses, so we packed up, left our friends and moved into a beautiful home with a swimming pool.
Back to the reason I’m telling this story. One day I stayed after school because I had an activity for a sixth-grade project. I was about an hour later than usual returning home after getting a ride with another girl’s mom. When I went to my room, I found my ten-year-old brother, Billy, in my closet. He said he and Tony, who is eight years old, were playing hide-n-seek and he thought it would be okay…well it wasn’t. After a huge fight broke out, my mom, Ruth, blamed me for the fight because I’m older. I was so angry I ran out the back door and into the woods behind our house. I hadn’t ventured into the woods yet, but as I found each step taking me further and further into the depths of the trees, I liked the way it felt…almost as if I’d found a secret hiding place.
I touched the trees as I walked by them. Feeling the strength they held. The ivy covering the ground had flowers poking through that obviously didn’t need much sun because the woods were pretty thick. When I decided to sit and rest, something caught my eye. I looked to the right and could faintly see the color green in the distance, but not a true forest green. I had to investigate of course. As I got closer I could see it was a tarp that was tied to a couple of trees. Under it was a green sleeping bag…and it wasn’t empty. I stopped and thought long and hard about what to do. Okay, so not that long, or that hard. I walked up to the sleeping bag and could see the top of a head poking out. I stood for about two minutes before I said “Hello.” I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone jump up so fast, only to stumble back down to the ground in a jumbled mess of feet and sleeping bag.
That afternoon we spent about an hour talking. He was a nice man, and though you might think I’m crazy, I felt safe with him. I had found a friend…a secret friend in my secret woods.
It was a couple of days later when I thought I should bring him something to eat. I got home from school, did my chores and then hit the pantry up for some crackers, and a couple of fruit chew packs. I had no idea what a homeless person likes to eat, but I figured it was a good start.
As I was turning the knob to open the back door, my mom came in the kitchen. Fortunately, I had already slipped the crackers and fruit snacks inside my coat and was holding them tight with my arm.
“Where are you off to this afternoon? And isn’t it a bit warm for a coat? It’s almost seventy outside.”
“Nowhere special. And I like wearing my coat. I’m still adjusting to spring.”
“Well, stay out of the woods and don’t be long. You can help with dinner tonight.”
“Sure, okay,” I said knowing I’d have to be careful that she didn’t watch me from the kitchen window.
Just in case, I walked out the back and made a beeline for the south end of the yard. There weren’t any windows in her line of sight, so it was easy to scale that end of the yard right into the woods.
Once I was out of sight, I found my way over to Steve’s makeshift camp. Everything was as it had been last time I’d was there…the only thing missing was Steve. I waited for about a half an hour, but he didn’t show up. So I left the crackers and fruit snacks on his sleeping bag and walked back home…disappointed.
When I came back into the house after leaving Steve the crackers and fruit chews, Mom immediately handed me a bag of potatoes and asked me to start peeling. I tried to hide my disappointment of not finding Steve, but I’m like an open book.
“What’s the matter with you? You look like you lost your best friend,” she asked.
Thinking fast so Mom wouldn’t know I’d been in the woods I said, “I’m fine, just a long day at school. And I’m still mad about Billy in my closet the other day. I guess thinking about it put me in a bad mood. I don’t want boy smell on my clothes.”
“He’s a boy, and he has no understanding of personal space. I’ve talked to him already. Neither boy will go in your room again, Jade…so let it go. My goodness, young lady, I hope this isn’t a sign of a drama-filled attitude you’re going to hold onto through your teen years.”
I decided to ignore her last statement. Thankful I got away with making up a lame story to hide my true issue of finding the woods empty.
The rest of the night was an average evening…dinner, dishes, and homework. Even though it was Friday, I wasn’t one of those kids that waited until Sunday night at 8 pm before getting homework done. I got mine done while dinner cooked, and was able to relax. After a couple of hours of TV, all three of us kids were pushed off to bed so the grown-ups could have “their quiet time.”
I don’t mind really. I like hanging out in my room by myself. Even more so because my bedroom windows face the woods, and though he is too deep in the forest, I can imagine seeing him there. I bet he’s there right now, eating the crackers and enjoying a fruit snack. I knew when the sun came up I’d be sneaking off to the woods to see how he liked them. I liked Steve, and though we don’t know each other well yet, I’m sure he’ll warm up to our friendship soon.
The next morning I was up and dressed by eight a.m.…ready for breakfast. When I got to the kitchen, I was surprised to see my mom, dad, and brothers already eating.
“I thought I was the first up,” I said.
“Your dad and I are taking the boys to sign up for summer camp. Have you decided how you might want to spend your summer? It’s only a couple months away. I don’t want you sitting around the house doing nothing while your dad and I are at work.”
“I’m not sure. I’m thinking about getting a full-time babysitting job. Since I took that class at my old school, I’ve done pretty well getting the occasional job.”
I had to come up with something. I don’t plan on going anywhere this summer, other than the woods to spend time with Steve. No one should sit in the woods without family or friends. There is something kind about his heart, and I have every intention of finding out what happened to him.
“I suppose it won’t hurt for you to make more money. I’m proud of you for wanting to do something grown-up this summer. Let me know if you need any help finding jobs. Now that I think about it, I talked to our neighbor Judy down the street when I was at the store. She might be looking for some help a couple of days a week, do you want me to check with her?”
“No, I’d like to do this on my own if that’s okay?” There was no way I wanted my mom to know when or where I was working…much easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission…right? I heard that somewhere and think it applies here.
As the morning progressed and the four of them left to go sign the boys up for day camp at the local YMCA, I gathered up more food and headed to the woods. When I got within twenty feet from Steve’s camp, I could see him sitting on the log with his back to me. I didn’t want to startle him, so I called out.
I watched him straighten his back, and then it looked like he was wiping his eyes. Not that I could see the front of him, but it was his hand motions to his face that lead me to believe he might have been crying. I gave him a few seconds before I asked permission to come closer.
I am nosey, and though he tried to shrug off his crying with a general answer it didn’t satisfy my curiosity. I decided to give him a few minutes before I pushed more. I hoped he’d accept the next bag of stuff. When I held the bag out, he looked at me, slightly shaking his head, but not to say no, more like disbelief. He nodded and held out his hand. I handed him the bag and watched as he examined the contents. One by one he removed the items. His smile was getting bigger as he found crackers, cans of soup, a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jam, and a bag of potato chips.
“Thank you, Jade. Not to sound ungrateful but don’t you think your parents will notice all this food missing?”
“Are you kidding? We have a pantry twice the size of your camp. It’s like a walk-in closet. We have two or three of everything. My mom and dad act like the stores are going to close tomorrow, so they stay pretty well stocked up. I didn’t know if you have a pan or can opener for the soup, so if you don’t, I’ll bring one later today.”
“I do have a sauce pan, and a can opener, so thank you for the soup. Even with the days getting warmer, it’s nice to have a hot meal sometimes.”
“I looked out my bedroom window last night and didn’t see any fire. Don’t you get cold at night?”
“I have a hole I build a small fire in to keep warm. I try not to let too much smoke fill the air. Don’t want to draw attention to me. It makes it hard to have a hot meal every night, but an occasional fire seems okay. I’ve been here about a year and haven’t had anyone other than you find me, so I must be doing something right.”
“We use to go camping a lot when I was younger, but we haven’t been for years. I think all the work it takes setting up camp, and trying to keep the boys out of the mischief in the woods got to be too much for Mom. Now my parent’s ship us off to summer camps, or YMCA day camps to keep us busy during the summer. I’m finally old enough to be on my own more, thankfully. At the end of summer we go on a family vacation somewhere, but we stay in hotels.”
“That must be fun.”
“It is, but I miss camping sometimes. Like roasting marshmallows and sitting around the fire. We have camping gear we never use anymore. My dad never wants to give stuff away even if he never plans to use it again. I’ll bring you our camp stove, and the propane and you can use that to cook on.” I said. I almost felt bad for not bringing these items sooner, but I never claim to be the brightest bulb in the box.
“I think your dad would notice them missing. That’s probably not the best idea. I’m fine with building a little fire now and then.”
“My mind is made up, and I’m going to bring you a pillow too. No one should have to sleep on the ground and not have a decent place to rest their head.”
“How old are you again?”
“Twelve, but I’ll be thirteen in a few months,” I answered, hey six months goes fast, so it seems like only a few.
“You are wise beyond your years, young lady. And your kindness is beyond anything I have witnessed in many years. I don’t want you doing anything that will cause you hardship, or get you in any trouble…are we clear about that?”
“Yes. Will you tell me about yourself now?”
“There isn’t much to know.”
“Of course, there is. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you aren’t that young…so you obviously have a story to tell.”
I don’t know how I managed it, but I got Steve to open up a bit about his life. I watched as he let out a little humph of air, which meant I’d won…so I sat down on the ground, leaned my back against the tree and waited.
“You’re going to sit there until I talk I gather.”
“See, you’re figuring me out already. Smart man. Let’s start with your age.”
“It’s not a pretty story, Jade, but if you insist on digging up my past, here goes. First off, I’m not that old. I’m forty. It may seem old to you, but it’s not, which you will see when you get there. I grew up in a good family. I had good parents, a nice home, and a great education. I finished school with good grades and went to college on a football scholarship. I worked hard and got my Masters in architecture. All I ever wanted was to create beautiful homes. I had a great job, but I made personal choices that changed my life which landed me here.”
He hesitating before he added, “Did I mention my muse has always been Frank Lloyd Wright. I doubt you know who he is, but he’s famous for his mid-century design?”
“Yes, I do. He was famous for his design, but he was also a writer, and interior designer…the ultimate of creativity. You might not know this, but Frank Lloyd Wright inspired my house. My mom and dad weren’t looking for any specific style house, but they were excited when they did find it.”
Steve had a look on his face like I was an alien or something.
“I do know things. I plan to be a designer someday myself. Not sure in what area, but I’ve been sketching houses on paper since I was ten. I’m probably the only kid that uses toothpicks to build houses instead of picking her teeth,” I said. Steve couldn’t help but laugh at that little disclosure.
“I come in and out of the woods from the west side,” Steve said, “so I don’t go through people’s yards. I’ve never paid any attention to the houses.”
“Come on, and I’ll show you which one it is.”
“You ask too many questions.”
“I’m a kid, remember?”
I watched the look on Steve’s face change…almost like pain. He stopped talking, picked up a ratty looking paperback, turned his back and started reading as if I wasn’t even there. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading signals from adults. They think they are subtle, but they are rude. I don’t like being ignored, but since I didn’t know Steve very well yet, I decided to give him some privacy. I went home and didn’t come back for another three days.
Days went by with no further visits from the little girl again…and yes, I did miss her. She truly intrigued me. Her bouncy blonde curls that blew in the wind about her face led to her youth, while her words spoke of knowledge and experience. Her piercing green eyes captivated my attention making me wonder if her parents knew her eyes would be green, or if her name was a coincidence. Jade seemed down to earth with her casual jeans and t-shirts, not the princess type. Almost as if she had no idea she was a beautiful girl. I admit it bugged me how her coat was always dropping off one or both of her shoulders as if a weight was attached to each end of the collar.
I did feel bad about my behavior the other day, and though it was likely for the best, I regretted snubbing her and hoped against hope that she would come back and give me another chance. Day after day I waited, and after a few days I assumed her parents told her to stay out of the woods, at least that’s what I’d tell my child. The day I came back from my “town-begging day or corner work” – you choose your preferred description, and found crackers and fruit chews on my sleeping bag I went to bed wondering what I should do. How I should feel about this new little intrusion of mine. I woke up the next day, ate a few crackers for breakfast, and a package of fruit chews.
Later that day, I was sitting on my couch (log) looking into the woods toward the water’s edge. I can’t see the water, but I know my directions and as long as I can sense where the water is I’m good. I was sitting there enjoying the lasting flavor of the mixed berry chews I’d finished when I got back from town and became so grateful for this little girls’ generosity I was overwhelmed with sadness for my pathetic life. I found I couldn’t hold the tears at bay.
I can stand on the corner in town for eight hours and not be of any visual interest to anyone. They don’t care who I am. They only know me as a bum, if they see me at all. Then here comes a young child, who doesn’t care what my circumstances are, or how I got here, and she shows me the simplest act of kindness that caused my “I don’t give a damn” attitude to crumble.
I miss my parents. Miss family time. I remember the day I finally got the nerve to call them after I moved to Whidbey Island. I still had an MCI calling card I’d kept from years ago that had minutes left on it, so I took that scary step and called my parents. The first time was the hardest. It had been years, and I was worried they wouldn’t want to talk to me. When I heard Mom’s voice say hello, it broke my heart. Somehow she knew who it was without me saying anything.
“Steve, is that you? I know it is, please say something.”
I heard her voice crack, and I knew I was the only thing that could cause that pain. I finally spoke, and after that call, it wasn’t as hard. I call once a month now, but only because she puts time on my card. I told her she didn’t need to. I had some money, but it was her assurance that I would always be just a phone call away. My dad was on the extension once and asked me to please come home, for my mother’s sake. I knew he missed me too. I lied and said I was happy in my life and planned to continue living “off the grid” as I called it. I’m sure they knew I was too ashamed to show my face, and eventually the calls became more of how they were doing.
Sitting here on my log, feeling sorry for myself and missing my family, I didn’t hear Jade arrive. When I turned around to where she stood the look of sympathy made me want to shed more tears. But instead, I bucked up and tried to brave up my answer when she asked what was wrong. I assured her it was simply life. I told her how sweet she had been to me, regardless of my life of begging, and how grateful I was for her kindness.
Then what does she do? She hands me another bag of goodies. I don’t know what I did to deserve this little angel, but she was a gift for sure. I didn’t ask her to bring me anything, but here she was with goods regardless. I immediately pictured her parents following her into the woods to find out where she was taking all the stuff they found her stashing in a bag. I could see the shock on their faces when they saw her handing it over to a homeless man. Quickly shaking that awful view from my mind, I decided to let her know how much I appreciated her gift, but not at the cost of her getting in trouble.
When she mentioned camping gear, I couldn’t help but get a little excited, then again, it couldn’t be at her expense. We started talking, and before I knew it, she had me telling her about my life, and me hers. There was something about her thought process that intrigued me, and having someone to tell my dreams to felt good. We had similar interests in architectural design, and her knowledge was exciting. When she told me her house was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, my interest was peaked even more. She wanted me to see her home, and though the thought interested me, it was not a good idea. I needed to stay hidden from her life, and it was time to shut her out of mine. I couldn’t afford to get too close to her. She was a child that had parents that could cause me to lose the only place I felt safe.
The next few days felt like weeks. It was a gray day when she, thankfully, returned. The rain had stopped, but the ground still held the moisture as if it was its best friend. I started a small fire, just enough to get warm and burn off some of the dampness the spring rain brought. I was sitting on my log crying over life again when I heard a noise. My alarm system went on high alert. I admit I was rude to Jade that other day, and she could easily have told her parents where I was staying. The thought of police appearing was a real concern. But, what came tromping through the woods was Jade. I wanted so much to tell her to leave but found myself smiling instead. She didn’t bother asking what this round of tears was for. Instead, we talked about the day I gave her the cold shoulder, and why. After that I admitted I’d missed her company. She became giggly and said, “Good because I brought you some eggs. If you didn’t take them, I was going to start throwing them at you,” and then she laughed some more, and I laughed with her…the first time in days.
We continued to talk, and when she said, “Nothing is stopping you from being an architect again,” her naïve thought caused a lump in my throat…and brought on an old craving. There is no rhythm or reason these cravings hit, and I hate to admit it, but I wanted a drink. No, I won’t take one, but the shame that hits sometimes is overwhelming. I look at this child and wonder how is it this little girl believes in me more than I believe in myself? Look at her…watching me cook eggs like I’m conducting a symphony. Maybe she doesn’t trust me to cook them correctly…or maybe she knows I will, and the movement of my utensil fascinates her. The innocence in her eyes is enough to make me want to cook them to perfection.
I couldn’t help but smile, knowing somehow this little angle would keep me on the straight and narrow…and someday the need to drink would vanish completely, or at least I hoped. I ignored her last statement, and she didn’t push the issue. Instead, I turned our attention to the food.
“Would you like some?”
“Eggs? Oh, no thanks. I’ve eaten. Two eggs probably aren’t even enough for you, but Mom only had half a dozen, so I didn’t want it to be too obvious.”
“I was taught it isn’t polite to eat in front of someone, so how do you think we can resolve this concern of mine?”
Jade simply smiled and pulled a pack of fruit chews from her pocket, sat down on my log and tore the package open. I wish I could tell you how she makes me feel…how my insides become a beam of light in her presence but it might sound weird, or perhaps perverted. But it’s not like that, not at all, I’m forty, she’s twelve…yet, I feel like we are equals, like two minds working together to create one solid person.
I’m about half done with my eggs. I’ve put a large bite into my mouth, and suddenly she says, “I’d like to hear the rest of your story.” Why am I not surprised? I knew she wouldn’t let it rest.
I have to think about this for a few seconds while I slowly, ever so slowly, chew my food. Unfortunately, stalling is not something one can do for long, especially when it involves a young, tenacious twelve-year-old.
“Can I take the last couple bites of my food?”
“Yes,” she answered, but stared at me with a look that said, “Hurry up,” without uttering a sound.
Once I finished my food, I set everything aside, took a drink of water, and a deep breath.
“I know you will pester me until I cave, so I’ll tell you the rest of my story. After I’m done, you can decide if you still care to be friends or not. I’m warning you ahead of time; you may not feel as compassionate for me when I’m done. I told you I landed a good job after college, right?” I asked. She nodded. “What I didn’t tell you is…boy is this awkward…I slept with the boss’s wife.” I paused long enough to hold up my hand when she started to say something. “You can ask questions when I’m done. Anyhow, I had been partying too much, so perhaps good judgment had already started to evaporate. Needless to say, I was fired. I couldn’t get work anywhere, and with some resolve realized the only thing I was still good at was drinking. I drank myself right into the situation I am now…homeless. Don’t look around for a bottle of booze, because you won’t find one. I quit drinking a long time ago, and though I miss the buzz and the numbness, I will not let myself go down that path again. I’m one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I quit and can remain sober. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of throwing up, sweats, nightmares, and…well, we’ll leave it at that, but I did it. Due to my drinking I didn’t only lose my job, I lost my friends, my family, and my home. I had never been without anything in my life, and suddenly I found myself with not much more than the clothes on my back. If I had died in that moment of realization, I wouldn’t have cared. I spent years in the woods on the Lynnwood area. I moved here to these woods about a year ago, and I’m quite happy. But, admittedly, I was lonely for company, someone to share thoughts with, and then you came along. In one fell swoop, you have shown me more kindness than I deserve, and you have come back more than once to show more kindness. You are my angel…perhaps sent to save me from myself.”
I stopped talking. I could feel my emotions brewing, and I didn’t want to cry in front of her. I sat and wait to see what happened now.
“Almost. When I came out to the island, I finally got the nerve to call my parents. We’ve kept in touch since then. I haven’t seen them, and even if they do believe I’m not drinking I don’t think they will trust me again. Which is fine, I hurt them more than I can comprehend, so I’ve realized I need to be satisfied just hearing their voices.” About that time the tears started, and I couldn’t seem to stop them. Sure I missed my parents, but until I talk about them out loud, I didn’t realize how much. Jade didn’t ridicule me, and she didn’t bash me, she didn’t utter a word. I closed my eyes to the world and let the tears flow. Soon, I felt her small delicate hand lightly rubbing my back. It reminded me of my own mother’s gentle touch when she would rub my back if I didn’t feel well, or if I’d been bullied my the kid down the street. Human touch is more than healing; it’s approval to release the pain in our hearts and souls. No matter who sent this child into my life…God, a guardian angel, or simply fate…I knew she was a turning point in my life.
When the tears finally subsided, I thanked Jade, and asked, nicely this time, if I could be allowed some alone time. Perhaps she could come another day. She smiled, gave me one final pat on the back, and quietly slipped out of sight.
After Jade had left, I was exhausted. I’ve cried more since I met Jade than in all the years before. It’s like she has broken down walls of toughness I use to get through my day. Protective walls I’ve built up over these years. Why crying drains a person so much, but is so cleansing at the same time is a mystery. I curled up in my sleeping bag, sure I would fall fast asleep, but that is not how it went.
My mind started going over my past, but not in a negative way. I was thinking about my designs. When I was fired, I was smart enough to have my designs at home. I never left them at the office, in fear of pirating from my co-workers. I’d shown them to my boss at one point, but he wasn’t ready for me to advance that much. I was his protégé, so any designs I created for work were by his design specs. Now my designs stay snugly packed in a plastic tube specifically designed for blueprints. I kept the tube in a black garbage bag to protect it from the elements, so far so good. I could picture the houses in my mind. Three styles, different, but with identifying marks as to my design style. I had been in my prime at twenty-five. Eager to get my name recognized, eager to have someone take a chance on me. But instead, I landed a good job and did what I was told.
I got out of my sleeping bag and pulled the tube out of the black bag. I took the rolls of paper out and laid each one out carefully. I smiled as my visions became so real again. My mind hearing Jade say “Nothing is stopping you from becoming an architect again.” I rolled them back up carefully and put them away. Then got back in my sleeping bag, bearded and dirty as her words echoed over and over again in my mind. I want to believe I can start over, but reality is I’m a failure. Tomorrow would need to be better. A good night’s sleep will help. Every time I started feeling too down on myself, I would take some of my begging money and hit the men’s restroom at the local fuel station or park and clean up. I would change into clean clothes (I had two of everything), and do laundry in the local Laundromat. Somehow, it made me feel better to be clean, though my clothes were threadbare and out of style, being clean always helped. I almost started getting a taste of what was, and what could be again, but I doubt anyone is going to trust me to work for them. I haven’t worked a job in ten years. What am I going to say, I’ve been on sabbatical for ten years…yeah, right. I decided I couldn’t think about it anymore tonight. Time to get some sleep and pretend tomorrow will be different.
I spent the next couple days panhandling, and made enough to get some extra supplies. I didn’t let myself get on the pity-potty, and somehow I was feeling much better about life. I liked my simple life. I got up this morning feeling pretty good. I hadn’t seen Jade for a few days, and there hadn’t been any signs that she had been around. I admit I was a bit disappointed she hadn’t brought the camping gear, but I assumed perhaps her dad had gotten rid of the gear without telling her. I decided to stick around camp today, and see if she would show up. I find myself missing her. She is like the daughter I never had, or likely ever would. I went to the bush to take care of business, and as I was walking back, I spotted her sitting on my log.
“What brings you my way?” I asked.
“We need to talk.”
“Sounds pretty serious. Your parents haven’t figured me out have they?”
“No, it’s about your future.”
Oh, boy, here we go. What is it about this little girl that makes me smile inside?
“I’m going to get you back in the workforce. I know I should have talked to you about my plan, but sometimes resistance is our worse enemy. And somehow I think you’ve gotten too comfortable being…well, like this,” she said as she waved her hand around the area. Then she stopped talking in mid-stream staring at the tube.
“What is that?” Jade asked, pointing to the tube.
“Nothing,” I answered, hoping against hope that she would drop being nosey and talk about something else.
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me.”
“Jade, maybe it’s none of your business.”
“Listen, Steve, I can be very persistent. You can either give it up freely or listen to me nag for the next hour or so…your choice.”
Good grief…she is relentless. I guess I have no choice but to give in and show her.
I got up and pulled the tube out of the bag. Opened the lid and said, “Straighten up my sleeping bag, would you?”
She made a bit of a face, as if the dirt was catching, but did as asked. I could feel her eyes on me as I spread large sheets of paper out on the sleeping bag. Jade got on her knees and stared at them for a long time. I wasn’t sure how to take her examining them, and about the time my confidence was ready to jump off the cliff she spoke…almost in a whisper.
“Steve, they’re beautiful. Look at the angles, the amount of windows. It’s not even an actual house, and I want to live there.”
“You’re kind,” I said. I could feel a slight blush hit my cheeks, and was glad her focus was staying on the paper.
“No, I’m not. I’ve been studying Frank Lloyd Wright’s stuff, along with others, and you have a gift. I can only imagine the family that would love this house. I’d like to show you some of my drawings…if you are willing to look at them that is.”
“Of course, bring them with you next time. And thanks.”
“For saying mine are good. I’ve always thought so, but I couldn’t get anyone interested enough to invest in them. The firm I worked for had ideas of their own, so I was stuck doing their styles, never mine.”
“Okay, so here is how this is going to play out…”
Suddenly she is expecting information from me, personal information. She says she is going to create my resume’ and help me get in contact with a firm here. And then the bomb hits, she’s going to sneak me into her house. About that time every bell, alarm, and siren started going off in my head. This girl is twelve; I’m forty years old. No matter how you add it up, I’m going to come off like a pervert and be arrested for doing nothing. Time to put a stop to her “plan” before it goes any further.
“Whoa…wait one minute. I’m not going to risk you bringing me into you home. Also, I don’t have any proper clothes to wear, and without a physical address, I can’t even apply for a job. Jade, you are treading in waters you don’t know how to swim through. Just give it up and let me be,” I told her. I turned and sat on my log facing away from her. I didn’t need to see her disappointment or whatever my rejection of her plan might evoke. I thought she might turn and run home, all dejected, but instead, I saw her sit next to me. She didn’t say anything right away, just nudged me with her shoulder.
“Hey, you don’t have to worry. I’ve been thinking about this long and hard. You and my dad are about the same size. Once I get your resume’ done, I’ll get you in the house when my parents leave for work. You can shower, borrow my dad’s clothes, and off to town we go. Oh, and I brought my savings so you can get one of those disposable phones when you go to town next. Which better be tomorrow, because you need to get it activated. I’ll need the number, too.”
“You know, Jade, I love your enthusiasm, but I’ve been out of the workforce for years. No one is going to hire someone with a gap like that on their resume’…I’ve told you how long I have been out of work.”
“I’ve got that worked out already. I’ll explain that part later. If I can’t get an interview set up online, I figure we will go to them. If we walk into the front door of a business, they can at least talk to us. If you show them your work, they are bound to take a chance on you. We’ll give them my address as yours. Tell them you will work the first two weeks without pay. That way if they don’t like you, or you don’t like them, it won’t cost them anything. I read about people doing that if they are trying to prove themselves. The Internet has all the information we need. I’ll help you, I promise. Please, Steve?”
“Jade, why do you want to do all this for me? I’m nothing; I’ve been nothing for many years. I had a humbling experience that put me here, and I’m happy. Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Happy? Yeah, right…that’s why I keep catching you crying. Besides, I have a good sense about people. I knew from the moment we met that you were not a criminal, or bad guy in any way. You just lost your way, and maybe I came into your life to help you get back where you need to be. You need to share your talent with the world.”
That was when I heard for the second time how she believed in me. This young child has faith in me, more than I have in myself. And I quickly get the impression she isn’t going stop until I find that faith in myself again.
“Let’s not get dramatic,” was all I could think to say, and finished with what I felt was the truth, “I don’t think I’m that good. I simply have a vision.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. I know she’s waiting for an answer, but I need to think about this. There’s a lot of risks, at her expense, not mine. It’s not like I have anything better to do. I suppose if we were careful we could pull this off. I think I even know the firm she’s talking about. Well, here goes nothing.
“Okay, but here’s the deal. The minute this plan of yours gets risky for you, I’m pulling out. Do we agree?”
All she did was smile and nudge me again…so I took that as a yes.
Perhaps it was the amount of tears Steve shed that led me to believe in my heart he didn’t want to continue living this way. But he did need guidance and assistance to change his situation. I apparently had been sent his way to help…and I wasn’t going to let him, God, or myself down. As soon as he said ‘yes’ I hurried off back home. Time was wasting, and I had work to do.
I had some ideas on what to look for but lacked the experience. I had to come up with a plan to get my parents help. They knew I was interested in architecture, so it was easy to put into play. That night at dinner, I brought the subject up with my parents.
“Mom, I’ve been thinking about a project for school. Like a career building experience,” I said, at which point my father choked on his sip of wine, causing my brothers to laugh. My mom promptly scolded my dad for the half laugh he thought I didn’t hear, and asked me what I meant.
“I think if kids my age start understanding what it takes to decide on a career, to do a resume’ and stuff it would help prepare us. Like interviews. What are they like? I can do a lot of the research myself, but I need your permission to do some YouTube research. I thought maybe we could work on this together. Since Dad thinks it’s all a big joke,” I added with a side-glance his way.
“I’m sorry Jade, I didn’t mean to react that way. I guess I thought girls your age were still playing with Barbie dolls,” he said.
“Karl, you are not helping to make her feel better, so let’s hear her out. I think it’s a great idea. If children would take their future as serious as Jade does, maybe we wouldn’t have a generation of kids with their hands out.”
Boom…take that, Dad, I thought. Mom had a way of putting people in their place, and Dad was no exception.
“Will you help me, Mom? I know you are busy, so I’ll try not to take up too much time. Mainly I need you to point me in the right direction. Go over what I come up with and see if it is realistic or needs anything.”
“I would love to help you. Do you have a timeline?”
“I’d like to present the project to my teacher before school is out, so I’ve got a few weeks yet. I think if she likes it she might be willing to take it to the school board and get it implemented for next year. Even though I’ll be leaving and going to Middle School next year, it could be implemented there too.”
“I give…I’m impressed,” Dad said, though I know he was only trying to make up for the Barbie comment.
“I’d love to help. I think since your father is dutifully trying to make up for his poor attitude, he’d be happy to clean up after dinner so we can get started right away. Isn’t that right, Karl,” Mom said…but not as a question. He knew better than to argue.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll go make a list, and I’ll meet you in my bedroom.”
It’s been four long days since I started this project. Thankfully, I had the weekend, and Mom, to get so much done. We were on spring break fro m school, and I was able to convince Mom I could stay home alone. The boys, thankfully, would be taken daily to the sitters since they won’t listen for me. When Mom was home she was a big help. We did a mock resume’ along with watching some interview videos. I pretended that I was an architect looking for a job, and everything I did flowed perfectly. Yes, I am aware that I’m twelve and life as an adult is different, but it’s a start for Steve.
I was grateful for my computer because that was our ticket to success. I had typed up Steve’s resume’ and it looked so professional I was excited. I made two sets, so if my mom wanted to see how I was doing on the project, I could show her the “John Doe” version. I always kept my bedroom door closed so I would know when she came in and could flip active screens on my computer real quick. I submitted Steve’s resume’ and started planning out the rest of the needs. I had picked out, in my mind, what suit and other stuff Steve would need if I heard back from the company. Everything was set. All I needed now was an email from them. The next couple days dragged on, and then boom, the email came saying they would meet with Steve on Friday at eleven. That was the next day. I don’t think I slept a wink all night. I could hardly contain my excitement. As soon as everyone left that next morning, I got dressed in a nice outfit and ran out to the woods.
“Well, hello, stranger,” Steve said to me, “I haven’t seen you for a while. You are looking quite lovely in your outfit. Are those Lavender flowers on your blouse?”
“No, they’re Lilacs, my favorite.”
“Did you bring your sketches?”
“Not today, that can wait.”
“What’s going on? Are you going somewhere special?”
“Sort of…I’m not going anywhere special. You are, though, and I’m tagging along.”
“What’s that suppose to mean…you are starting to make me nervous, Jade.”
“First, you are coming with me to my house. You will shower, shave, and get dressed…you have a job interview.”
“I submitted your resume’, and they will meet with you today at eleven o’clock. I was afraid I wouldn’t hear back before my vacation was up. But it’s perfect because now I can go with you. Come on. I’ve got the bus figured out and everything, but we’ve got to get going.”
I expected more arguing, but Steve got up and followed me home. When we got to my house, he didn’t say one word, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. He was just staring at everything like I do when I go shopping.
“I’ll be in the living room when you are done. Don’t worry my dad won’t even notice anything is missing. He has forty of everything. Shoes and socks included. Put all your stuff in this bag. You need to hurry, so we have time to drop your stuff at your camp before we go. The shower is still wet from my dad’s shower this morning, so it won’t even be noticeable that someone else was in there. Just be sure to clean up after yourself.”
I went to my room and double-checked that I had turned my computer off, in case Mom got nosey. I’d put a password on it to be safe, and so far she’s never attempted to get on it, or she would have asked for the password. It was no more than thirty minutes and Steve stepped into the living room. I couldn’t believe how great he looked clean and dressed professionally. All I could do was whistle.
“Thanks, but I’ll feel much better when we are out of your house.”
“Let’s go then. We’ve got only twenty minutes before the bus arrives.”
“We made it. Remember to offer them a hard copy of your resume’ too.” Jade said to me as she tapped the manila envelope I held tightly in my hand.
I feel numb with fear, but I don’t want to let this little girl down. What if they take one look at my work and throw me out?
“Come on, Steve. I know you’re scared, but you will be fine.”
We walked through the front door. Jade left my side and sat in one of the lobby chairs as I walked to the front desk. When I told the lady who I was, she stood and asked me to follow her. With shaky knees, I did as instructed.
We walked into a large conference room where I was told to take a seat. I was barely sitting when two gentlemen stepped into the room. I stood and shook both of their hands as we made introductions.
When the three of us sat down, I handed over a hard copy of my resume’…which I might add I had read for the first time on the bus. The child was inventive. What was most interesting that day was the conversation that followed.
“I noticed on your resume’ that the past ten years have been in a monastery. Can you elaborate for us, please?”
“Yes. After being dismissed from my prior employment,” I said, regretting that Jade had put my reason for dismissal on the resume as ‘indiscretions’ – she didn’t go into detail, and I could only hope they didn’t ask for any further explanation because I wasn’t going to elaborate. I quickly continued, “I felt it was important to find who I was, and how I wanted to be viewed in this world.”
Trying hard to remember everything Jade and I had discussed, I went on with the fib, “I found a monastery that allowed me to work toward a better me, a person who was ready to show the world my talent, with humbleness as my guide. As you can see, I left the name and location off the resume’ for my privacy. Though I know my background is important, I’d like to be evaluated on my ability, my passion towards architecture through my designs. I believe my work will speak for itself. If you will oblige me, I’d like to show you,” I said as I pulled my blueprints from their tube. I didn’t look at either man while I laid them out. Mainly out of fear their reactions would stop me cold. I needed to feel the belief I had in my work…not their doubts.
It was hard to read their reactions to my drawings, but I think they were impressed. We talk for a while longer, and then they shook my hand and said they will be in touch. I provided my phone number for them since Jade didn’t get a chance to add it to my resume’ and left the room with my tube of designs shaking in my hand.
I walked straight past Jade and outside. I need to drink in fresh air as quickly as possible.
“So, how did it go? You were in there for almost an hour,” Jade asked as she pulled on my arm to get my attention. I started walking, not able to respond. When I saw the bench at the bus stop, I sat down. I suddenly felt drained and knew my legs wouldn’t hold me. Thankfully Jade realized I needed a minute and sat quietly next to me.
“I don’t know how to express my feelings right now. I’m glad it’s over, but I have no idea how I did. It was like I was a robot answering all the questions they asked. Don’t get me wrong; both men were very nice, but they were all business. From what I could tell they liked my designs. They said they would be in touch within the week, and asked for a phone number. Thank you, Jade, for helping me get the phone. I forget how the world works. I’ll be honest…I shocked myself answering their questions. It was like I’d never stepped away from the profession.”
“That’s because you love it. It’s not a job to you; it’s a passion. Let’s get some lunch before we go back. I still have some money.”
“Sure, but lunch is on me. I have money too. Panhandling can be very profitable if you aren’t using it for booze and the like.”
We walked down the street to Café Mostar and ordered lunch. I didn’t realize until the food came how hungry I was. Once we finished, we went back to the bus stop. Time had slipped away, and the pressure of the day had caught up to me by the time we got back to my camp. I let Jade know I needed to rest, and she understood. When we brought my bag of clothes back to camp, Jade had thought to bring a hanger and a plastic bag to protect the suit and accessories. I marveled at her maturity and was grateful.
A few days later, I was finishing up my oatmeal from a packet you added hot water to when my phone rang. It was the first time anyone had called, so it took a minute before I realized what the noise was. I grabbed the phone from my bag and answering it said, “Hello.”
I don’t remember a lot of what my “new boss” said after that, only that I was to be there at nine o’clock the following Monday morning. I can tell you adrenaline is a real thing and can get off the charts when your excitement level peaks twice over. I had a job. Everything would change now. I was going to need to pack up and get into town as soon as possible. I knew where a hotel was, so that is where I’d stay until I figured the rest out. I started gathering everything up but felt like a crazy man, so I stopped and tried to pace the adrenaline down. I couldn’t stop smiling. I paced as my mind tried to remember everything Mr. Sawyer had said. When I turned to go back the other way, there she was…my little angel.
“I just got off the phone. They want me to start Monday. Jade, do you have any idea what you have done for me? Do you have any idea how terrified, but excited I am?” I said, and then walked right over and hugged her.
“Congratulations, Steve. I’m so excited for you.” Jade said as she hugged me back.
“First I want to give you this,” I told her as I pulled $50.00 from my pocket.
“What’s this for?”
“Payback for the phone. I had the money, but you were so set on helping me, I didn’t want to dampen your spirits. I’ve got enough saved to stay in a room close to the office. I don’t have a car, so I need to be smart about how I get to work each day. Once I get paid, I’ll buy some clothes and bring your dad’s suit and stuff back. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” she said, then pulled some papers out of her back pocket and asked if I wanted to see them.
I was on such a high she could have shown me blank papers and I would have been thrilled.
“Yes, let’s have a look.”
I was surprised to see they were more than I had expected from a twelve-year-old. They were quite remarkable. This girl has talent.
The next hour I talked to her about what worked and didn’t work. What structurally needed to be developed further, but her work was good. I wanted her to keep pushing the envelope and to be sure and keep me up on her progress. I hoped she felt my excitement was not only for my job but for her good work too.
I was anxious to get the rest of my gear packed up, promising to get her dad’s stuff back as soon as I could. I guess she could feel my need to get going because she wished me luck and after gathering her papers together headed back home.
It was Wednesday afternoon before I got back to see if Steve had heard anything about the job. Almost a week earlier when we went to town, he needed to be alone when we got back. I was fine with that, mainly because I needed to get home and be sure there was no evidence of the morning invasion we had done getting Steve ready. Though I knew Mom would ask what I’d done all day, I must have been daydreaming because she caught me off guard and I choked on my food. My younger brother immediately accused me of doing something wrong. I was able to recover and told her I’d spent most of the day reading and working on my project.
I wasn’t able to visit Steve for the next few days. I had to stick around the house after school that the following week because my mom was home sick. It was killing me not knowing what Steve was doing, or if he’d heard anything, but I needed to watch the boys while I took care of mom and dinner.
Finally, when I got up this morning, I heard her getting ready for work. I was glad she was better, and even more excited because I’d be able to see Steve after school.
As soon as I got home I grabbed my sketches to take with me, in case he still wanted to see them. When I got to his camp, it was like he was a caged tiger. I could see he was pacing back and forth before he even knew I was there. When he spotted me, he started smiling, and I knew what he had to say without hearing one word…he’d landed the job.
There was no denying Steve was excited at his new chance at life, and I was happy for him. That said I knew things would change. Life would move forward for Steve, thankfully in a good way. He had already started packing up his belongings since he wanted to move into town and be closer to work. He was sweet enough to look at my sketches. Though I didn’t get the impression his focus was real, I let him give me ideas and thoughts…all the time feeling my heart break just a little. Even though I’d done it to myself…I was about to lose my secret friend, who lived in my secret woods.
By the time mid-August had rolled around I had settled into my new life. I found a studio apartment to rent from an elderly couple about a mile from work. It was over their garage, so I had plenty of privacy. I’d stayed at a hotel for the first week. Long enough to get my bearings. I had put one dollar a week away for a few years. It wasn’t much, but I also had a CD that I’d opened up over ten years earlier before my life went into the toilet. As a drunk, you know the money is there, and you’re pissed you can’t get to it. As a sober drunk, I’m beyond grateful. Between the CD and my meager savings I’d been smart enough not to touch, I had enough to get started. I know you are asking yourself why I didn’t help myself out of the deep hole sooner? Why it took a child to urge me on? My only answer is I became conditioned to my life. I would dream of a different life, actually of getting my life back, but I’d given up hope. I wouldn’t touch my savings, only because it was the only sense of me that I had left. I’d lost everything…I’d stopped believing in myself.
I didn’t want to show up at Jade’s house until I’d proven myself at work and felt a sense of worth again. My boss was still keeping me on a short string, but I was making good money and building up my reputation at the same time. I bought a second-hand car and was ready to make the visit.
Funny, I feel as nervous now as I did for my job interview. I’m about to confess personal things to people I had intruded on. I had items that belonged to them, and I had become an intricate part of their daughter’s life without their knowledge. I can only hope this confession doesn’t cause too much trouble for Jade. It’s her I’m more worried about truthfully.
It was close to seven o’clock when I rang the doorbell. A young kid about ten or so answered the door. He never said hello, just stared at me waiting. I asked if Jade was home. He told me she was and to follow him.
It was almost the end of summer before I heard from Steve again. I had gone back to his camping spot many times, in case he’d come back. But the area was clean of debris and any other signs that these woods had once been a home for him. I thought many times of calling on him, but I figured he was too busy and didn’t need to be interrupted by a twelve-year-old. Truthfully, my feelings were hurt that months had gone by without him calling me.
After dinner, we were all sitting in the living room when the doorbell rang. My brother, Billy answered the door. I heard voices and watched as Steve stepped around the corner from the foyer. I jumped up so fast my mom let out a shriek.
“Steve, oh my gosh, I thought you’d forgotten about me.”
“Who is this person, Jade?”
“It’s okay, Dad. He’s a friend of mine. Mom and Dad, meet Steve. Steve, this is my family.” I finished the introductions and then added, “Mom, Dad…we have a story to tell you.”
I let Steve give them his background before I told my side, and then Steve fill them in on his job, and how life was going.
“I need to apologize for anything I’ve done to intrude on your lovely home. And I want to thank you for having such a wonderful, and caring child. Jade is an extraordinary young lady, and I couldn’t have made it without her. I hope you’ll accept my apology for my prior deception.”
My parents sat speechless for what seemed like an hour. My dad stood up and shook Steve’s hand and said, “Apology accepted. But only because my daughter was not hurt, and this is the best human interest story I’ve heard in a long time.”
Then Steve handed my dad a check for a lot of money saying he’d like to keep the clothes I’d given him…more as a memento of his new beginning. My dad took the offered check, laughed and asked if he could share the story with others.
My mom didn’t speak a word through this entire confession. When she did, it was through tears. I’m not sure if they are sadness or happiness.
“Thank you for being a good man, and for not taking advantage of my young daughter. I can’t believe all this happened right under our noses, and,” she said as she looked at me, “if I had figured it out you would have been grounded for life. But as it is everything worked out, and your good character helped someone in need. I can’t be any prouder of you, Jade.” Then she squished me in a hug. We sat around and visited for about an hour before Steve said he had to leave. He said he’d stay in touch…I nudged him and said I hoped so.
“Yes, Mom, I’ll be home for supper.”
I slipped my coat on but didn’t button it. It had rained for a few days, the normal April showers expected in the Pacific Northwest. Today, however, the clouds had parted enough to let the sun pop through. It was cool but refreshing. I’d been home from college for a week now. The last few days had flown by as my parents, friends, and even my brothers had welcomed me home. I’d gone to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York straight out of high school. My scholarships provided everything but the funds needed to travel back and forth between New York and Whidbey Island, so the visits home were few and far between. Now that I’m home, I’m anxious to get my career going. I was starting in a small firm, one I had a special interest in joining.
I turned as my mother came down the hall to where I stood facing the mirror to get the few crazy strands back where they belonged. The hall mirror had been there since the day they moved into the house. The old owners had left it behind. Now it continued to hang in the same spot all these years later…as if the rightful owners might return for it some day.
“Your dad and I couldn’t be more proud of you. You know that right?”
“Yes, Mom. But I want you and Dad to remember none of this would be possible without your love and support. So, please give yourselves a pat on the back too…you deserve it.”
I wrapped my arms around my mom and whispered in her ear, “I’m scared to death.”
Mom rubbed my back and whispered, “I’m sure you are, but just believe in yourself…the best is yet to come.”
I continued to stand behind the chair as I heard voices make their way down the hall, and realized I was holding my breath. I had arranged everything as I imagined she would like. Every detail from the furnishings to the custom art. Thanks to her mother sending her first drawings she found in Jade’s bedroom. I had called Ruth once my building was close to finished, and hoped against hope Jade’s drawings were still around. She said she found them when Jade went to college and had tucked them away for Jade as a reminder of where she started. Ruth was very excited to turn them over to me for wall art to go in her daughter’s office.
Suddenly there she is, stunning as she stopped at the door. My receptionist didn’t need to introduce us. Instead, she stepped back to let the beautiful woman cross the threshold.
“Welcome, Jade. It’s so good to see you again.” I said surprised at the slight tremor in my voice…she simply smiled.
Jade walked to the couch that lined the wall next to the door. Without a word she removed her coat as her eyes took in every detail of the lovely room. After laying her coat, purse, and briefcase down she walked around to where I stood and put her arms around me and said, “Thank you, Steve. You even remembered my favorite flowers. So, here we are. How does it feel?”
All I could manage was to hug her back and say, “Peaceful.”
But I had one more surprise for her. I took her small hand in mine and walked her outside.
“Was it hard to find?” I asked.
“Not at all. Even being away at college for the past four years I could picture the building. I love what you’ve done to the place. I noticed you have a tarp out front…is there more to do?”
“We have one task, and that is what we are going to do right now, you and I together.”
“You know for an old man you are still very mysterious. I thought I knew all your expressions by now.”
“I may have a lot of years on you but I’m not too old, and I’ll always be full of surprises.”
As we stepped outside, I turned her around to face the building. The other few employees had joined us but stood to the side. I picked up the end of the rope from the sidewalk and handed it to Jade, telling her to wait. Once I picked up the other rope end that lay a few feet away, I simply nodded and said, “Pull.”
When the large canvas sheet fluttered to the ground, everyone applauded. Jade stood staring but soon a smile showed her approval. I walked over to her giving her a little nudge and asked what she thought. We stood together and looked at the business sign that held both names Harrison & Clover, Architects LLC.
“I’m speechless. I don’t deserve to have my name up there, I haven’t even started work yet, and I’ve only been out of school a week. What reason would you have to make me a partner?”
Without taking my eyes off the sign, I could only answer, “Young lady, you are the reason.” I put my arm around her shoulder, and with a nudge as I gave her shoulder a slight squeeze added, “Now let’s crack open that sparkling cider and put our lives in motion.”