Page 12

 Penelope Ward

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After the chores, we would go back to her room and work on some reading and trying to get her to read aloud. Last, we would head to the dinner table and I would sit with Callie while she ate and made sure she fed herself properly and cleaned up.
Bettina insisted that I join them for dinner on the nights I worked, so I, too, would get fed, which worked out great, since by the time I got back to my apartment it was quite late. Bettina was a great cook and every night was a different Italian dish: things like lasagna, gnocchi or eggplant Parmesan. Thank goodness it was only two nights a week or I would need a new wardrobe.
Some nights if dinner was early enough, I would help Callie bathe and dry her hair before bed. I would marvel at the fact that someone with the mind of a child had the body of grown woman, voluptuous in all the right places. It saddened me, because I also realized that this would be a curse for a girl who could so easily be taken advantage of. No wonder Bettina only allowed women to work with Callie and never considered putting her in a group home, since many were male dominated.
Bettina told me that when I wasn’t there, Callie would ask for me. That made me so happy to hear. I could tell she liked being with me, too, because I was getting more and more eye contact, smiles and sometimes she would hold my hand when we sat together. It warmed my heart.
Get your dancing shoes ready, dearest Gemini, because celebration is in the stars. You will be jubilant in the very near future and you are going to party. A good time will be had by all.
One Thursday evening, just a few days before Christmas, Bettina asked if I would be willing to stay a bit later since she was having some friends over for a pre-holiday dinner party. She wanted Callie to be occupied and someone to keep an eye on her. She offered to pay me extra, but I insisted that she pay me in the form of the delicious holiday treats she had spent most of the day baking and that I would surely nosh on at the dinner party.
I helped Callie get into her plaid party dress and then we set the table together. Having advanced warning about the dinner party, I decided to wear a red sweater dress today.
Together, we placed a red and green table cloth over the oval table in the small dining room and followed that with my showing Callie the order of the place settings.
I felt nervous about not knowing exactly who was coming over. The guests were expected to arrive at 7:30. Of course, it dawned on me that it could be Cedric walking in that door, but he hasn’t shown here yet and I really didn’t feel comfortable asking Bettina who she was expecting, although she did mention that it would be ‘some friends’. Or maybe I didn’t really want to know if he was coming. I would find out soon enough.
I realized that Cedric probably didn’t know I was working here, since his mother never mentioned anything to me about her son acknowledging that he knew me. She never asked me if I was the same person her son had inquired about the job information for, so I knew she had no clue I had ever met Cedric.
I was doing a good job letting go of the whole Cedric fiasco, aside from the fact that being in his mother’s house twice a week assured that I couldn’t exactly forget about him altogether.
Not to mention the fact that Callie looked so much like her brother.
I decided that I needed to be strong and prepared for whatever walked through that door, even if it were Cedric and his girlfriend. Oh God, I really hoped that didn’t happen.
But Bettina needed me here for Callie and that’s all that should matter.
At 7:25, the doorbell rang as Callie and I sat in the living room reading.
My eyes nervously followed Bettina as she opened the door and let in a couple who appeared to be in their sixties, hugging and kissing them.
“Allison, this is my dear friend Maria and her husband Kurt,” Bettina said.
I got up from the couch and shook their hands.
“Allison is Callie’s new therapist. She is going to join us for dinner tonight.” Bettina smiled.
“It’s great to meet you,” I said, holding out my hand to greet them and then quickly returned to my seat next to Callie on the couch.
White Christmas played softly from a cd player.
Bettina brought her friends into the dining room, as I continued to wonder who would be arriving next. There were two additional place settings. My heart started to pound as I thought about the fact that it could very well be Cedric and Karyn. That would be so incredibly awkward.
The doorbell rang. My heart pounded faster.
Bettina clicked her heels as she rushed from the dining room to the front door, which was off of the living room.
“So glad you could make it!” Bettina shouted.
I couldn’t see who was coming in because they were lingering and it sounded like they were wiping snow off their boots.
Relief consumed me as I saw an older man who also looked to be in his late sixties or early seventies walk in the door.
“Allison, this is my friend Bruno…Bruno, meet Allison, Callie’s newest therapist.”
Bruno walked toward me and startled me when he grabbed my face. “Hello, sweet, Allison. My goodness if I were fifty years younger.” He winked.
“That is very sweet. Great to meet you,” I said and sat back down.
Bettina grabbed the bottle of wine that Bruno carried in and they both disappeared into the dining room.
“Allison, why don’t you join us with Callie in here?” Bettina shouted from the other room.
This Christmas now played on the stereo as Callie and I entered the dining room.
Callie went straight for the chips. When I spotted her licking the salt off them and sticking them back in the bowl, I immediately stopped her.
“Allison, can I get you some wine?” Bettina asked as she opened a bottle of red.
“Oh, no, thanks. I am on the job.” I’ll help myself to some soda later, Bettina.”
The guests picked at the appetizers that sat on a buffet table at the corner of the room. I counted the place settings again and thought to myself: Bettina, Callie, Me, Bruno, Maria, Kurt…and one more.
I would likely not be able to relax until the last person arrived, so that I could be sure it wasn’t Cedric.
A half hour passed, as I sat with Callie while she ate a plate of appetizers that I gathered for her to deter her from attacking the chips.
Bettina began setting some food that had come out of the kitchen on the table: a roast surrounded by potatoes and carrots, French style green beans, salad, a rice casserole and a chicken fettuccini alfredo dish.
Then, I jumped as the doorbell rang.
My heart started pounding furiously again.
“Allison, would you mind answering the door for me? I think that’s my son,” Bettina shouted from the kitchen.
Oh God.
Oh God.
Oh God.
Without having time to think or prepare, I got up from the chair, took a deep breath and slowly walked to the door and opened it.
Peggy-Rose Kim was an aspiring news reporter, a few years out of Columbia University’s journalism school. Her father was the general manager at one of the stations I consulted for in Chicago. Peggy-Rose lived in Boston now and as a favor, I agreed to a coaching session after hours at the agency, where I would meet her, look at her resume reel and critique it.
When she walked into the office, I was immediately drawn to her exotic look. Her mother was Korean and her father was Caucasian. But she used her mother’s maiden name—Kim—on her resume.
Her vanilla perfume was really strong.
“Hi Cedric. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You have quite the reputation,” she said flirtatiously holding out her tiny hand.
“Peggy, the pleasure is mine,” I said as I shook her hand, not exactly sure which reputation she was referring to.
She batted her eyelashes. “I brought my demo disc; it’s mostly stuff I did in school and footage I was able to put together while interning at one of the Boston news stations. I have no real experience on-air. That’s why I am hoping for your advice, so I can land my first real job.”
I nodded, staring her up and down. “Ok, Peggy…let’s get to it.”
I closed the door, then slid the disc into the machine and we both stared at the screen.
The video started with a shot of Peggy in front of a building talking in an uncomfortably high pitched voice: ‘This is Peggy-Rose Kim reporting live from the scene of a fire on Broad Street.’ It then cut to a clip of her reading the news from what looked like an amateur college TV station news desk: ‘Police are investigating a homicide in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood...’
If I could have chucked the video into the garbage then and there, I would have. In the second clip, Peggy was actually smiling on camera when talking about the murder.
She sucked ass.
I stopped the DVD abruptly and turned to her.
“Peggy, I am friends with your father which is why I am here now looking at your reel. If I were a news director, that is as far as you would have gotten. Do you realize you were smiling in that footage while you were talking about a murder?”
Peggy looked at me dumbfounded. She said nothing, looked down, and then looked up at me with tears in her eyes. “I am sorry. I should have never come here. I know I am not ready to be showing a big agent my tape. I needed your advice, but obviously I am way out of my league,” she sobbed.
Aw, shit. I grabbed a tissue from my desk and handed it to her.
“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa…come on. It wasn’t that bad. I was just trying to make a point, that there is a lot of competition out there and you do have a great look; you just need to work on your voice and presentation. You get ten seconds to wow a news director before he shuts off your demo. But you have potential.” I put my hand on her shoulder as I lied through my teeth because I felt like shit for making her cry.
“You think I am pretty?” she asked.
“Yes, I think you’re gorgeous, Peggy.” I immediately regretted my use of that word. She was gorgeous, but that was inappropriate under the circumstances.
Before I could clarify what I said, Peggy stopped crying, looked me in the eyes, grabbed my tie, pulling me toward her and kissed me suddenly and fiercely.
I froze, but didn’t stop her. We continued to kiss for about thirty seconds, when I pulled back.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, huffing and puffing.
I wiped my lips. “Nothing, Peggy…I meant what I said, but this isn’t right. Your father would kill me.” It was the truth. But I hadn’t been this close to a woman since Karyn and felt conflicted.
She grabbed my tie again and we continued kissing. Just as I was about to push her off me, she kneeled down and started to unzip my pants. I had to stop this, but my brain and my body were on a break and not speaking to each other.
Should I let her do it?
She pulled my boxers down and my decision got easier as I noticed the desperate look on her face, which made her less and less attractive and my dick less and less hard by the second.
I abruptly pulled my pants up. “Peggy, this is not right.”
“What my father doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she said grabbing at my pants again.
This time, I was saved by the bell, as my cell phone rang. I stood up with my pants still hanging down and moved away from Peggy.
“This is Cedric,” I answered hoarsely, my breathing erratic, as Peggy continued to try and kiss my neck.
I covered the receiver. “Please, stop,” I whispered to Peggy.
“Cedric, it’s Caleb. I need to talk to you. I am at Mom’s.”
Why was he at Mom’s and why was he whispering?
“Is everything ok?” I panicked.
“Yes, it’s not an emergency, but—”
“Hold on, Caleb.”
I turned to Peggy, zipping up my pants. “Peggy, this was a mistake. If you want to mail me your future demos, I’ll be happy to look at them and give you my feedback but this…here…can’t happen again. I need to leave. Something’s come up, so you’ll have to go, so I can lock up the office. I am very sorry.”
With that, Peggy took her DVD and stormed out without saying a word. I waited until she was out of sight.
“Caleb, are you still there?” I said as I left my office and locked the door, walking toward the elevators. I noticed the elevator door that Peggy just entered closing shut. I pushed the down button for myself.
“Cedric. Did you know that Allison has been working with Callie?”
My heart nearly stopped. What did he just say?
“What…what do you mean?” I asked.
“When was the last time you spoke to Mom?” he asked.
I ran my hands through my hair. “About a week ago, but she never mentioned anything to me about an Allison working there. She’s working there?”
“Cedric, she’s here now.”
Caleb continued. “Mom knew Denise was away on business, so she invited me to this holiday dinner she’s putting on for Bruno, Maria and Kurt. I drove down. Allison opened the door and let me in. I knew immediately it was your Allison.”
My Allison.
I was silent and in shock.
Allison has been at my mother’s house…with Callie? She’s there now? This was unbelievable.
Caleb kept talking as his voice competed with the numerous thoughts floating through my head. “I played dumb, Cedric. She told me she was assigned here after Callie’s Tuesday-Thursday person suddenly quit. She has been working here for a few weeks now.”
I stayed silent in shock as I exited the elevators and walked aimlessly out the revolving door onto the noisy hustle and bustle of State Street. I ran my fingers through my hair again as I absorbed what I was hearing, looking up at the evening sky.
“Cedric…are you still there?” Caleb asked.