I slap the snooze button off and roll over to grab another nine minutes of sleep.
I keep my eyes closed thinking it might delay the work day a few more minutes. It doesn’t. It just puts me behind. I feel the other side of the bed.
Empty? Where’s Danny?
I sit up startled.
He’s with my man-child ex- Josh. Great. That’s right. I have something else to worry about for the next month. Josh texted last night that they were in St. Louis. My little five-year-old Danny in a strange city with Josh. Okay, I guess I’m awake now. There will be no sleeping with that worry rolling around in my head.
Since Danny moved out of his crib into his big-boy bed, he wakes up every morning at 5:30, uses the potty then climbs into bed with me. Sometimes he falls back asleep and other times he plays quietly with a toy. He only makes noise if the alarm goes off two times. If it does, he gets to jump on the bed and yells, “Mommy! Mommy! Quit slapping Mr. Snoozy. He wants you to go to work!”
That won’t be happening for a month. Josh got the bright idea to drive from Cincinnati to San Francisco to visit his parents for a couple of weeks then drive back. He said it will let him and Danny bond and see the country. When he first brought up the idea I shot it down, but Josh whined and whined until he wore me out. He is Danny’s dad. A boy needs his father. Even that father. And they are his grandparents. Even if they are California hippy-dippy, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson-Bernham are nice people. Heck, Josh is nice. He’s just silly and irresponsible. And my mom and dad aren’t the most doting grandparents. Maybe when Danny can golf they’ll be. That’s what my parents do. They golf. What else? I have no idea.
I point my toes to the end of the bed and stretch. I reach my thumb up to my forehead and try to rub the furrow out. The furrow started out as a crease on my thirtieth birthday and over the last three years has blossomed into two full blown permanent ruts that gives me a constantly questioning look. I push my thumb from the middle of my brow across to the right three times then do the left trying to smooth it out. I know it won’t help, but it can’t hurt.
I run my hand down my stomach. There’s a knot there. Well, not so much a knot as a hardness in my gut. The hardness isn’t from my three time a week ab workout. It’s inside. It’s like I have a rock in my belly. The doctor says it’s stress. No kidding, doc. He says to take a vacation, do yoga, relax. Well, I’ve taken vacations and I’ve done yoga. No help. Oh, and I can’t relax.
I eyeball the clock. It practically screams 6:04 AM. With the day ahead and worrying about Danny in the Show-Me-State, I’m not going to get back to sleep. I swing my legs to the floor and run my hands down them. Yikes. I need a shave. Why? The only male the stubble ever bothers is Danny.
I grab my running shorts and a tank top off the chair and slide into them. I keep a treadmill in the spare bedroom so I can run while Danny eats his breakfast. He has a little desk next to my treadmill that he uses as a table where he eats his cereal. He comes in and watches one of his shows while I run. With him gone, I could run through the great outdoors. I peek out the window and it looks like a nice day. Screw it. I need a lazy morning. I don’t have to get Danny ready. I might as well give myself a break this morning.
On my running chart I put an “X” on today’s date. I allow myself three ‘X’s a month. This is my first for May. The rest of the days it’s three treadmill miles at eight miles per hour.
I stick my head in the fridge and begin to pull out the carton of liquid egg whites for my omelet but remind myself this is a lazy morning. I close the door and decide I’ll buy a muffin at Starbucks instead.
In the bathroom, I strip out of the workout clothes I’d just put on. I force myself to stand in front of the mirror. When I kicked out Josh, I’d told myself I’d get my breasts augmented. I’d probably earn more money. Men would rather deal with a commercial loan officer with a c-cup than a b-cup, right? But the thought of going under the knife scared me. I pictured something going wrong and me dying and Danny growing up with his dad. Anyway, I like to run and don’t want giant jugs flopping around on me. I run my finger over the ridge of my abs in the mirror. What I don’t offer upstairs, I have in abs. I like them. There’s still a little softness in my underbelly from Danny, but the abs are better than most. I look lower. It’s a black mass of hair I’ve left untended so long, it’s now an overgrown mess. I used to care. Josh supposedly liked the au naturel look. He even wanted me to not shave my legs and pits, but that’s okay for his job. Me? I gotta impress. But even then I’d trim it up down there. I don’t know when I just let it go to seed.
I start the shower and get in. With no Danny to worry about sticking forks in outlets or walking out the door, I just let the hot water run until it goes cold.
My office is downtown, but my first meeting was with Frank DiTella, a client with a business near my house on the east side. I’d head out there before heading to the office. DiTella Manufacturing is an old school tool-and-die family business. One of the last left in America. They’d borrowed $440,000 on not-so-great terms to purchase a new conveyor system that moved things from one machine at their plant to another. That’s as technical as I cared or needed to get. The new conveyor system was not working and Frank was looking to sue the guys who sold it to him, unwind the entire deal and start over. He was going to ask me to exert some leverage to get the conveyor guys to eat it. Good luck with that, Frank.
Frank says, “Oh, Shit” when he saw me walk into his office.
Frank is as Italian as they come in Cincinnati. About my age, a little older. Dark close cropped hair that I guess would curl up if he’d let it grow. He was a little short for me at 5’7” but was built like a fireplug
“Good morning to you to, Frank.”
“Not ‘oh, shit’ you, ‘oh, shit’ me. I should have called you. The company that built the thing sent a guy down from Milwaukee last night to get it working.”
“You think they will get it working.”
“Yeah. Well, I think so. Don’t ask me why. The guy seems...competent. Anyway, he’s only been here about thirty minutes. He’s back looking at it now.”
“You want me to go back there? Go all bank-bitch on him?”
He laughs. “Can’t hurt.”
I follow Frank’s shoulders out to the factory floor. I feel out of place walking past Frank’s guys in jeans and plaid shirts already covered in dust while I strut past in my white blouse and pencil skirt with three inch heels echoing off the concrete. Each of them eyes me up and down. Not a lot of women work here. It’s still a man’s world on this shop floor.
Frank and I come up on three men at the back of the plant. Two are dressed like they work on the floor. The other is in a royal blue Oxford with a red patterned tie and suit pants. I see a matching suit jacket hanging off the corner of a shelf. He’s in his early forties. In good shape, not perfect, but nice to look at for his age. He has brownish hair, but it’s streaked with strokes of silver. He’s completely silver at the temples.
Frank stops short and I stand back a few feet watching the three men over Frank’s shoulder.
“Diego,” the suited man says. “You watching this?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m watching,” a Latin-looking man says.
“You put the crow bar right here. Right where the flywheel comes in. Right on this ridge. You see it?”
Diego exaggerates looking in.
“Then, Diego, you give the other end of the bar a big mother-fucking pull.”
The suited man pulls the free end of the crowbar with both his hands. His sleeves are rolled up and under the skin of his forearms the muscles ripple like taunt cables down his arm.
The suited man is speaking through his teeth, straining.
“Now Bill, you swing that sledge and hit the center of the wheel. Hit it hard.”
“Don’t worry about hitting me. Just do it, Bill. Trust me.”
Bill swings the sledge missing the suited man’s hands by about six inches and hits the center wheel dead target. There’s a loud pop. I don’t understand what’s going on.
“Now try it,” the suited man says.
Bill pulls down a lever that moves the wheel and he loops a belt over it. Bill pushes the lever up then punches a button. The machine fires up and there’s motion. Again, I have no idea what’s going on, but Diego shakes the suited man’s hand, and Bill and Frank smile at each other and gives a thumbs up.
The suited man flexes his hands after putting down the crow bar and looks my way. Our eyes meet and he smiles. I can’t help but looking him over. He catches me doing it and smiles wider, but I also catch him putting his chest out and, almost imperceptibly, pulling in what little gut he has.
Bill shuts down the machine.
Frank walks over and shakes the suited man’s hand.
“You think that’ll do it?”
“I know it will.”
“How do you know it?”
“Because I designed this thing and I designed it wrong. My fault. But this is the solution and it’ll work.”
The suited man’s eyes keep roaming over to me.
“Sorry, Ben. This is my banker with First Southern—Tess Quince, Ben Sheppard.”
We nod at each other.
“It was you who financed this thing for Frank, right?”
“Yes,” is all I can muster.
“Did he ask you out here to twist my arm if I couldn’t get this working?”
“Something like that.”
“Not something like that,” Frank says. “That.”
I flush for some reason and Ben Sheppard laughs.
“No need,” he says. “I don’t think Diego and Bill will have any more problem. But I’m doing an installation down in Crittenden, Kentucky for the next couple weeks. What’s that—an hour away? If there’s a problem, you call me.”
Mr. Sheppard pulls out some business cards and hands them to Frank, Diego and Bill. Instinctively, I put my hand out for a card, but he doesn’t hand me one. A bit embarrassed, I pull my hand back. Diego and Bill hold their cards in front of them with both hands like they rarely touched business cards.
With business done, the men look to want to get back to work. Frank stammers around trying to figure out what to do with me then remembers his manners.
“Let me walk you out, Tess.”
Frank turns on his heels and I start to follow.
“Excuse me,” says Mr. Sheppard. Frank and I turn back to him.
“Tess, I’ve no plans tonight and I’d love to buy you dinner. Maybe you can show me some of the city, too?”
I’m caught off guard.
“Yes. Dinner and maybe a driving tour of the city.”
He’s taken a pen out of his suit coat and is holding another of his cards. I’ve still said nothing. All he does is look me dead in the eye and smiles.
I look to Frank who is looking anywhere but at me. Diego and Bill who are each smiling their faces off.
“Yes. Sure. Tonight?”
I nod and again look to Frank who is looking at the ceiling now.
“What’s your address?”
I give him my address. Just like that I give it to him. He writes it one of his cards.
“Seven it is,” he says. “Here’s my card. I’ve written my personal cell on it. I’ll see you tonight.”