“I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” Sophia said and laughed nervously.
“You shouldn’t doubt yourself! You’ll do just fine!” Chuck responded immediately, trying to fight the urge to reach over and touch her arm and verge into creepy territory.
“This is my first visit…”
“We’ll be there together and we’ll work through it together,” he tried to be reassuring. He was always a little nervous about these visits as it is and this was still his responsibility, so having someone there to help always comforted him. He always appreciated the back up. He was also nervous because he had developed a crush on her from afar. She was so pretty and so keen on jumping in and helping anyone and everyone out.
The week prior, Sophia approached him at the office out of the blue. He had seen her around, but didn’t know who she was. He had noticed her wandering through the office with her resonant smile and that long dark hair. Now here she was asking him if she could join him on his next run of home visits. Turns out she’s interning two days a week and wants to expand her experiences at their busy little office. Chuck straightened his back and stammered an approval. She brightened and said enthusiastically: “See you next week Charles!”
There she was sitting in the passenger seat of his car and he had been trying to prepare himself for this all week. He knew she would be with him, and he hoped that he would like her as much as he found her physically attractive. He wanted to make a good impression. So far during the drive across town everything had gone great in Chuck’s mind. Sophia was easy to talk with. She was interesting and engaging. She told him about what she wanted to do with her life and why she was interning. She wanted to help senior citizens. She wanted to be an advocate for them. She was going to school to study all angles of the social, political, and health concerns of all of our grandparents. She told Chuck about how her dream had been sidetracked as she initially dropped out of college to begin raising her two young children, but how after her divorce, she found the courage and wits to get her affairs in order and return to school. He marveled at the idea of her raising two young kids on her own, working a job, going to school full time and still taking time to volunteer (or intern) where he works in order to achieve her goals. It made him feel a great admiration for her and very sheepish about how much time he wastes away every day.
Still, despite, his own personal misgivings about the state of his life, that half hour with Sophia instilled Chuck with energy and inspiration. She helped him realize that his job is important and increased his focus on the few visits he had scheduled for them that morning.
“What will they think of me?” she asked him, concerned that his clients wouldn’t take her seriously.
“Just be the kind, courteous, and caring person you seem to be and they will all love you. They will prefer you over me, I’m certain. The most important advice I can offer is to genuinely listen to what these fine people say and ask,” Chuck offered.
Sophia let that last sentence hang in the air and they sat in the car wordless as Chuck turned left and pulled the car into an apartment complex parking lot. He kept hearing his own annoying voice echo around his thoughts. He always hated being aware of his voice and the stupid sounding things he would find himself saying. He didn’t allow this to deter him though. Being with Sophia made him feel positive and he had had a great week leading up to this day. He had been social and hung out with friends. He had found himself noticing an occasional smile from women he would pass at the grocery store and the bank and over the weekend he was pretty certain that the bartender at Bottles was flirting with him. He felt foolish thinking such a silly thing, but it made him smile anyway.
They grabbed some notebooks out of the back of his car after Chuck finally found an open parking spot and Sophia shadowed him as they made their way to the front entrance of the building to see Howard. Howard was in his 80s and mostly bed ridden and needed help filling out some insurance forms.
“You have a pretty girl following you! Heh Heh!” someone shouted towards them from the smoking area near the front door.
“I sure do. It must be my lucky day!” Chuck shouted back, as he grabbed a security card from his notebook and used it to open the door.
“Do you think Victor will be okay?” Sophia asked Chuck after they climbed out of his car at the office parking lot. He noticed that she had turned her face skyward to absorb the warmth of the sunshine after she asked about Victor. He cursed himself for keeping the car too chilly. Too much air!
“I sure hope so. His health hasn’t been very good lately. I’ll be joining him for his doctor’s appointment tomorrow, so we’ll see,” he told her with enthusiasm, but he knew that Victor was not doing well. “I sure hope so,” he mumbled.
“He’s so sweet,” she added before thanking Chuck for letting her go along.
Chuck did not want to say goodbye, but it was clear that their arrangement for the day had come to an end. He did need to file his reports and make some phone calls and so on.
“Thank you, Sophia!” he chirped back overenthusiastically. She headed off to see Theresa, her advisor, and he headed to his downstairs office to check his email. He couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. His face was flushed and his heart was racing. He was smitten, whether he wanted to be or not. He sent Sara a quick email about how his “hot date” had gone. Sara was the only one he had told about his new crush and how she had arranged their afternoon together. Sara was the wife of one of oldest and dearest friends. She had become his closest confidant, unwittingly, with his imaginary matters of the heart.
“Do you think you’ll pursue her?” was Sara’s immediate response, always the one to get straight to the point.
He pondered with his hands hovering over the keyboard, “Do I?” he thought. All of his crushes had gone nowhere except for one, which became a suffocating nightmare after only a couple of months before coughing, choking, and wheezing to a collapsing, yet merciful end.
“Not sure. She has two kids and is always busy. Not sure I’m ready for that,” he carefully pecked out. “I do really really like her though.”
“Hmmm…when will you see her next?” Sara replied immediately.
“Next Thursday,” he answered, realizing that the week ahead without seeing her made him feel sad. Again, he paused and wasn’t sure what to type. He knew he had all kinds of emotions boiling under the surface, but none of them made any sense. “I guess I’ll just talk to her then.”
Luckily for Chuck his week was incredibly busy. He had a weekend scheduled with friends and family. Nearly every night was booked with some sort of social engagement and work was always three weeks behind schedule and there to keep him occupied. Sometimes he had to over schedule his time because he struggled to be alone. Alone, his thoughts always turned to what he was missing. It was when he was alone that he realized that he had been alone for far too long. He thought of Victor. He thought about how he was close to the end and had no family and no friends around to care for him or to simply keep him company. All he had were occasional visits from people who were paid to check in on him. A big part of his job was employing a heavy dose of empathy and none of his clients could possibly know how deeply he understood their plight.
Chuck splashed on some cologne for the first time in about a year. He laughed as he glanced at the small bottle in his hand. He didn’t know what this was, where it came from, or if it still existed. He wasn’t even sure if he liked the smell, or if the smell was the same as it had been when it appeared in his medicine cabinet countless years ago. He tried to wash it off moments later. He smiled and bounced around that morning and hummed along with the Allo Darlin’ CD playing quietly from the oversized speakers in his adjoining bedroom:
“If I told you
I was never cool
And all I wanted
And all I wanted
Was just to have you
And when I see you
I will put my arm around you
It will be hard to let you go”
One of Chuck’s other crushes was with lead singer Elizabeth Morris’s voice, and the uplifting message of “The Letter” was a perfect song to start his hopeful day ahead. Even with his busy week behind him, the idea of seeing Sophia had always been at the forefront of his mind. He was hoping that she would join him on some more visits. He pulled the disc out of the player and took it with him for the commute to work.
That magical smiling face of Sophia’s caught Chuck’s eye as he finally spied her on her way into the office. He had kept looking at the window all morning and there she was. She waved a greeting to Cindy as they passed in the parking lot. He was stuck on a conference call, which he had long ago stopped paying attention to. All he wanted to do was drop the line and rush to the entrance to greet her. He didn’t know what he would say anyway, so he put his head down on his desk and continued to tune out the chatter coming from his phone. He didn’t see her again the rest of that day.
“Good morning,” Chuck said to Sophia as she wandered into the break room. She had her back to him and looked out the window. He was squirting old coffee from a broken urn. She had surprised him. He hadn’t seen her all morning and wasn’t sure if she was scheduled to work on Fridays.
“Oh, hey,” she glanced back over her shoulder.
“How are you doing?” he asked, ready to ask more rapid fire generic small talk questions to keep her around.
“Okay,” she said as she turned around. She turned her attention to the doorway. Chuck could hear voices. She trotted out of the room after them.
“Hey, Mark,” he heard her voice again. “Would you mind if I joined you for that meeting today?”
“Sure! I’m headed out now. Come on,” Mark encouraged.
Chuck poured his cold cup of coffee down the sink and sat down at the table. He thought about their drive the week before. It was then that he realized that through their entire conversation, the only questions she asked of him had to do with work, while he had touched on not only work, but also her life and her interests and her kids and childhood. When Sara asked him if he was going to pursue her, he only thought about the idea of him not being able to handle being a part of her busy life with kids, school, and work. He could only think about the amorphous directionless mess of a life he had always led – a life without a plan. All he could count on each day is that he would wind up at work the next day until he could no longer work anymore. He never considered what she might think of him. She smartly was on a fast track to achieve her goals, which had nothing to do with him. Chuck needed to get to Victor’s to take him to his doctor’s appointment. The last prognosis was not positive. He started his car and rolled down the window. Allo Darlin’s “The Letter” spurted on midway through the song. This time Elizabeth’s words made him feel overwhelmed with emptiness. He wanted a beautiful voice to be singing those words to him – not for him.