“Hello?” The voice on the opposite line was rather monotone, but shown through itself hints of sadness, “Is this Andy Lilith Johnson?”
I longingly gazed toward my pillow but forced my eyes to drift further toward the clock. It was a mechanical clock that read 6:27 in the morning, who calls at such an early hour? Pondering I told myself maybe it is a client, that would explain the sorrow, and, depending on time zone, the early hour as well. “I go by Lilith Johnson now, but yes, this is she. Pardon my asking, but are you a client? Because if so, please check my website for business hours and-”
“No,” he cut me off, “I am not a client of yours and this is a rushed matter so would you please allow me to explain?”
“Oh! I am so sorry I-” this time I cut myself short, there is no time for long apologies, “do continue.”
“My name is Doctor Adams of Perkinson Hospital, I have called to tell you, at your father’s request, you must rush to the hospital immediately. Your father is dying and has maybe two hours left.”
Neither of the lines went dead but it felt as if the world engulfing me had. One continuous note ringing through my ears and everything else had halted in its presence. Without thought or feeling, I swiftly gathered basic necessities such as proper clothes, shoes, and a coat. As for my mental necessities they still lay sprawled across the floor, and there they stayed for that day and long after. “I will be there as fast as I can.”
“Who was that?” Jessica asked gleefully as her rolling chair spun towards mine.
Today was just one of those days, things seem average until depressing news strikes the mood. Jessica faintly smiled, as I turned towards her we both noticed our matching outfits. I tried to smile back but it was so desperately weak it might as well have been pointless. The outfits themselves consisted of a tight, light gray, knee height skirts and tinted blue, fitted blazers backed by white shirts. “My lawyer just called, her father died last night. The hospital was able to call her so she could see him one last time, but she was merely seconds too late arriving. It was so close that when she arrived at his room the nurse walking out said that he was still alive, only moments later, after she asked the nurse his physical state and walked in, did he pass. The poor lamb.”
Jessica’s joy withered, “Oh, how devastating. How did she sound? Is she sufficing?”
“Those sort of things are difficult to depict over the phone, but, it sounded like her voice was shaken and cracking. Wait, I have an email,” as I scrolled through my phone checking my schedule and notifications I saw it. Frantically I read and re-read the message, “Groan. Why would this happen to me? I work hard, I desire little, seriously?”
“Come on what is it now?!” Jessica responded with frantic quality equal to mine.
“An email from my husband, he wants me to pack all my belongings today,” at this point, I was pacing back and forth. “Not to mention my schedule is officially demolished by this lawyer of mine,” I stopped, “I mean, I understand her reasoning, but come on. I have a life too!”
Jessica attempted to relax me despite rolling her eyes over my last statement, “Look, I can help you move and I am sure you will fix your schedule.” Then her voice softened, “Also, remember, he has a new title now.”
“Right, not husband, divorced husband.”
“See you after work darling!” I yelled behind myself before bumping into Christine, “oh, hello darling.”
She delivered to me a sweet peck on the cheek, “I will not be home until five tonight, the Montessori is hosting a field trip and I volunteered.”
“Of course you did,” I looked her up and down, she was wearing a “Guns and Roses” shirt with red jeans, cute, but not exactly school appropriate.
Noticing my concern Christine addressed it with, “Do not worry, I am going to change later,” then she reached into her bag and plopped a donut from it to my mouth, “here is breakfast.”
“Thank you,” I replied gleefully the words half muffled, then continued talking after retrieving the donut from my mouth, “is there anything I should grab from the store, pick up food, just anything I can do?” But she was already halfway out the door, “Oh, bye.”
“Bye,” and the door slammed shut, isolating me.
Stardollars should open around 5:30, it is 8:34 now, and the hiring lady said my shift starts three hours and thirty minutes after opening so...I grabbed a notepad and began to work it out. Carry the thirty, add two hours, ok. “Oh! I did it! Wait, oh! I only have twenty-six minutes!?” I rushed through my dresser before deciding on a white Hamilton shirt with a short, floral pink skirt. Cancer awareness month, pink, perfect. I mean, I’m glad my family is aware my mom has cancer, better than not knowing, right?
“Hey!” Jessica said with newfound encouragement. “You are a female powerhouse, CEO and founder of Stardollars coffee don’t need no cheating man!”
I rolled my eyes and slumped into my chair, “If I am so astounding then why was I not enough for him? Why did he feel the need to have a secret affair with some woman?” My thoughts were consumed by negativity, I do not care what he did to me, I do not care how fake our relationship was, it was better than the deserted feeling now consuming me.
Maybe what lay in my eyes gave it away, but Jessica seemed to have translated my thoughts. “Fine, you want to look at the negatives, go ahead, list them off. That way I can find solutions for you. Is loneliness one of them?”
Gradually I lifted my head until our eyes met, the look we shared was one of amused confusion from both of us. I nodded in reply.
“Wonderful! Well, not wonderful, obviously, but that has an easy solution. I’m setting you up on a date right now!” Jessica whipped out her phone and within minutes had me set up on several dating accounts.
So far this day was not productive in reference to work, but my mental state improved. Attempting to stay professional I stated that this date matching idea was poppycock and misuse of time, but it was not long before I joined her in the giddy excitement.
“What about this one? He is a lawyer, named Andy Johnson, went to Harvard, and he is very passionate about his work! Trying to stay more fit, creative and artsy, extremely hard working, basically the soulmate for a certain girl named Scarlet. Darling, when are you free?”
His characteristics sounded promising so, “Fine, I will go, ask him if he has an open schedule Sunday morning, next week. Unless he prefers otherwise I am fine with him picking, oh, and you might want to tell him about me.”
Ding, it was a notification from an app I had dismissed the existence of on my phone. It read of some lady named Scarlet who talked of wanting to meet me on Sunday, throughout the entire text she called me Andy. Suspicious, unless I forgot to alter my profiles. In the end, I replied yes to her invite, and seeing as this was my first date since breaking up with Adam I found myself dedicated and determined to make it special. Once I told Scarlet of my extravagant plans she asked for something more casual, and we decided on dropping by Stardollars. My thoughts have been thundering and spinning up a storm, the death, my family, the funeral, not to mention his will. Maybe this date can be my eye of the storm. Anxiously searching for something cute but casual I concluded on a dress with a white, blousy top and a light blue wavy skirt bottom. The blouse of the top delicately fit my broad shoulders and showcased my wavy golden hair. Staring in the mirror pleased with my image I came to a realization. I am planning for a date eight days away, am I really that desperate to escape my problems and find a new relationship? No, not desperate. I forced a smile, just...passionate.
“You are taking your date to Stardollars? Seriously?” Jessica's words kept reminding me how weak of a move this was. I already know I am insecure and cautious about trusting others, but she is right, this is a whole other level of substandard. With every new disheartening thought, I felt my steps pound with greater intensity and speed. Upon opening the door I was greeted with a fresh waft of sweet smells.
“You must be Scarlet!” announced a voice that sounded a little too eager.
I spun around to encounter an attractive, rather short girl in a blue and white dress, confused I responded, “And you are?”
She shared my perplexity before displaying realization, “Oh that’s right! My name is Lilith, but you know me as Andy Johnson. Lilith is my middle name and I prefer being called it.”
“Oh...well this was unexpected.”
The quality of my day rapidly diminished after arriving at work, an hour into my shift I had already burned myself five times which another employee joked was a new record. Even more embarrassing was squeezing through tight spaces with my plus-size body. I exercise often and as a result am not fat, just wide. Of course, I stayed optimistic, but it proved a challenge.
By the end of it, it seemed my manager was singing of sweetness with the words, “Naomi this is your lunch break. I am giving you extra time for your first few days, but for those days only, you have an hour.”
Deciding to stay at least for a while at Stardollars had been so far, the easiest decision of the day. Just as my food arrived I received a call from my father, “Hey Dad.”
“Naomi child, I bear horrible news, as of fifteen minutes ago a nurse came in the waiting room to update me about Mom. Her surgery did not go well, the tumor was bigger than predicted or something along those lines, I was not really focused. I just came to tell you to prepare for another surgery, mentally. Also, I just thought I should update you.” his voice sounded terribly glum, so I tried to help it.
“Dad I am sure our top-notch doctors will solve any problem! Mom really is not that sick, she is going to be fine.”
“Honey, you do not understand, this is a serious problem. Cancer is a serious problem, this is not easily fixed.” I did not recognize it then, for I was too naive, but his voice was slowly increasing in aggravation.
“Just stay calm and have hope, do not worry until there is something to worry about, and there is not!”
“No Naomi! Your mother is hanging on a thin thread, so close to death. The chance she going to die before five years has passed is eighty-eight percent! When will you grow up and face the reality that horrific things happen, hope is not always the answer Naomi. Do not come to your mother until you can face that truth, stop telling her lies and promising her that she will make it! Grow up.”
He hung up, the line went dead. I found myself welled with tears, they flooded my face, my drink, my lap.
“Excuse me, are you all right miss?” it was some lady in a white and blue dress, beautiful golden hair and a notably short body. “I apologize for imposing, but you seem upset.”
She walked me over to her table where a second girl sat waiting, she seems surprised at both me and her friend in the blue and white dress. The second girl had a look that, combined with her posture, just exerted importance.
“Thank you for welcoming me to your table,” I said while taking a seat, “is there any reason you two are here specifically? I know this is not why you brought me, but I am not ready to talk yet, for once I want to listen.”
“For once?” the professional girl muttered in question to herself, she was a loud mutterer.
Taking turns in speech, both of them told how they had been planning for a date but Scarlett (girl number two) did not realize Lilith (the blue and white dress girl) was female. In the end, they realized they knew each other and due to working with each other, they also already knew of each other's problems. For the past hour they had talked and comforted one another, that is when I came in.
“How interesting...I guess it is my turn to explain now.”
So this seemingly fragile girl explained her situation, her father, her optimistic attitude, her confusion.
“I just don't know why he was so enraged, was I naive?” Naomi had asked.
Bluntly Scarlet responded yes, at which I scolded her, but instead of breaking down again Naomi just took it in as input.
“Huh, thank you. Would either of you mind discussing your problems?”
So I did. I must admit Scarlet was extremely helpful, she told me how to be strong and legally handle my father’s death, but Naomi delicately assured me he was in a good place and died knowing his family loved him. Both pieces of advice and reassurance would be empty without the other, they would still hold but would stand weaker.
Naomi told me I deserved better than him, her hearing must be superb because she noticed me muttering that I do not deserve anything and pointed it out. As counter-evidence Lilith began to rant of my excellence but made sure to also offer me constructive criticism. Never did she offer a positive without a negative for me to build on. Whereas Naomi showered me with praise in the beginning and slowly caught on to the more productive method Lilith was taking in our communication. Not only was it emotionally supporting but I saw intelligence in Lilith which before I had missed. And Naomi? She showed a pure sense of compassion.
I believe we all walked away that day with a sense of something new, and that what was once lost was renewed.
We exchanged more than numbers, but knowledge and consideration. New hope that the everyday strangers around you have meaning that should be recognized much more often.
Our problems may not have been solved, but new options, opportunities, and opinions were introduced.
Naomi, Scarlet, Lilith,
Meet a stranger, invest your time, hold close and carefully what you find.