“Mommy! I’ve been calling and calling…” Meadow yelled through my door, and when I invited her in, she burst through it, tears streaming down her cheeks. When was the last time my daughter had cried like this?
I held her in my arms, looking into her face quizzically. “Whatever is wrong? You sound like the whole world has crashed down around you.” I was hoping to bring a dash of humor into the exchange, but now her lower lip stuck out, her eyes huge with tears, and she rubbed her face desperately, as if to wipe away the evidence.
“I can’t find Dahlia,” she sobbed.
Dahlia was her favorite doll, one that she hadn’t actually played with in a long while. But when her doll had been her favorite companion, she’d been essential for those times when Meadow was feeling sad or worried about something.
“Oh, my. Well, let’s go look. Where did you see her last?”
“I don’t remember,” she cried softly. “I think she was on the window seat, ’cause she likes to sit with me when I read.”
In her room, which looked pretty messy, I saw that the yellow and white covers on the bed were hanging halfway on the floor; the pillows were tossed aside, too, which must mean that the search had been rigorous. We looked under the bed, in the closet, and under the window seat pillows.
“Well, maybe you took her downstairs. Why don’t you straighten up your room and I’ll go look.”
I had a feeling that when she actually tidied up, she might find the doll, and I was right. I had no sooner gone into the kitchen and started casually checking when Meadow burst into the room with the doll, her eyes huge and shining, and a big smile on her face. “I found her,” she cried out.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said, hugging her. “Why don’t you put her here while you get dressed? She’ll be waiting for you, okay?”
As Meadow trotted up the stairs, I turned and poured my coffee. I really needed the caffeine this morning. My sleep had been restless, my morning reverie had taken me to some dark places, and I needed to focus. Glancing at the clock, I felt a momentary panic. My idling around and the search for Meadow’s doll had set us back, time-wise. But I didn’t want to risk Meadow’s mood by pressuring her to hurry. Instead, I quickly checked her backpack, made sure she had lunch money, and then poured the cold cereal for her breakfast. Yes, normally I would prepare a hot meal, but some situations demanded shortcuts.
Finally we stood outside the front door, ready for Meadow to catch the bus. Despite my vow to start driving her, I had realized how impractical and unnecessary that would be. I watched her walk to Jolene’s and then waited until the bus came before hurrying back inside.
Caroline arrived within fifteen minutes of Meadow’s departure, and my day had officially begun.
We had been working away for an hour or so when Caroline approached, with a strange look on her face. “You have a call on Line 1,” she said mysteriously.
“Okay,” I laughed, glancing at her, waiting for more information. “And who is it, please?” I went on, when she failed to supply the missing clues.
“Oh, that client—Zachary Lowenstein.”
“Thank you,” I replied in what I hoped was a businesslike tone. I reached for the phone, but when she still stood there, I frowned and dismissed her with a gesture. Afterwards I thought: well, I guess that was rude of me!
In an attempt to regain my composure, I held the phone to my ear for a moment before speaking. “Well, hello, Mr. Lowenstein.”
I thought I sounded appropriately businesslike, but he chuckled. “Well, Marty, I guess it has been awhile since we talked, but I was pretty sure that you would have recalled my first name.” His teasing tone helped relax me.
“Of course,” I answered. “How have you been, Zach?” I was trying to buy some time, to shore up my strength, as it were.
“Oh, so-so,” he answered. I could almost see him shrug. “But why don’t we have lunch and catch up? What’s your schedule like this week? I’m free today and tomorrow.”
Very businesslike, but also to the point in his usual friendly way. “Tomorrow might be best. I got off to a late start today.”
We exchanged the details, and as we were hanging up, he said: “I can’t wait!”
I knew my cheeks were burning, which was why I was very glad that Caroline had left the room. Struggling to regain my focus, I began moving papers around on my desk, tucking some into folders, and finally I stood up and approached Caroline’s space. “Just in case you were wondering, he’s still pleased with our work. We’re just going to have a friendly lunch to touch base. Maybe he can refer some other clients,” I added.
Caroline’s expression was unreadable, so I nodded and returned to my office. Well, she must suspect something, I thought. But why does it matter? It’s not as if I’m having an illicit affair.
Thoughts of illicit affairs sent me spiraling into memories again, which I had to fight in order to manage the day’s tasks. Pushing my troubling past aside, I somehow got through the morning.