Word count, start of day -- 20,600
"Here you go, Mrs. Pendleton. Let me get that for you."
I held the door for most of them, one after the other. They all seemed to arrive five to ten minutes before the seminar. Among here, fashionable was not late. At Canterbury, fashionable was early. It was a little sad, actually. Some of these people had so little to do in their lives that arriving early for a meeting was a good use of their time. The saddest time of all was the cafeteria. I walk by it some afternoons. The place opens for dinner at half past four. Even opening that early, there was always a line. A line that seemed to begin close to four. It made a little depressed, just a little, to see that line in the afternoon.
But today was about something else. This afternoon's seminar, sandwiched between the end of lunch and the star of dinner, was about a topic that effected them all. Canterbury was an upscale retirement facility, and some of these people had decent money stashed away somewhere. So, some residents might be interested in the topic. Some of them may even learn something.
"Good afternoon, everybody." Carrie was speaking, even more upbeat than usual. "Welcome to our financial seminar this afternoon. Today we have a representative of the accounting firm Phares and Barnes to speak with you. Phares and Barnes is a national accounting firm that performs the annual audit of our financial statements." It was like watching one of Erin's Saturday morning television shows. Carrie was all sweetness and light as she spoke. "Today's topic is the recent changes in trust and estate law. Our presenter will be a staff auditor of the firm, Brian X. Norton." X? His middle initial was X? Brian X. Norton? I would have to find out more about that. "Everybody, let's all make Brian feel welcome."
Carrie clapped. I followed her lead. No one else did. So much for making Brian feel welcome. He looked my direction. It was probably the clapping. He did not seem to have noticed me before. This was quite depressing, actually. A man does not notice me, even when I'm forty years younger than anyone else in the room. Thanks for the compliment, Brian. Our eyes met and I waved. Then, I got out my paper and pad to learn about trust, taxes, and estate planning.
Brian's presentation was pretty good. He seemed a little nervous at first, which I thought was kind of cute. He certainly seemed to know his stuff, though. It was very impressive. At least, I was impressed.
Of course, at night school we had never studied any of these topics. It was just the basics, none of this fancy stuff. But I think I could answer the basic questions a resident would have. I think I knew the difference between revocable and non-revocable trusts, and what generation-skipping tax shelters were. I even knew the effects of President Bush's ten-year tax cut in the estate tax, and the prospects of it becoming permanent in light of his party controlling both chambers of Congress. Well, I was not sure that I could explain all of it, but I held onto every piece of paper Norton distributed. Every chart, table, and bulleted list would go right into a simple file. I already had the folder made up, with "Trusts and Estates Seminar" printed in black letters. More than likely, any questions a resident would ask me would involve my handing them one of these forms. I was comfortable that I could do that.
Brian approached after the meeting broke up and residents began to leave the room. Just to say hello, nothing more. He asked about me and my job, and then about Erin. He did not ask directly about me and Dennis. Instead, he asked more generally about how I was doing. He asked it with such concern and interest in his eyes and voice. I almost broke down and wept. Nearly fell into his arms. But that would not have been good. Well, it would not have been appropriate, at least.
"I'm doing okay, I guess."
He winced, like this hurt him or something. He was such a nice guy. Someone I could really, uh, someone I could really -- someone I could really be good friends with. "But we're moving into an apartment this month."
"All three of you?" he asked tentatively.
I nodded. "Dennis is staying in town. He turned down the job."
"That's good," he said. He sounded encouraged. I said nothing in response. "That's good?" This time he said it as a question.
I sighed. "I don't know, Brian. It's good for Erin. Dennis will be nearby, no matter what."
Brian nodded. "It's tough sometime, but you need to keep Erin in mind, too. That's a good sign for her that he's staying in town."
"But we still sold the house." And it still annoyed me. Tremendously. "I still lost my house."
He was standing next to me, and reached an arm around me for a side hug. I melted into it. It felt good. No, it felt great. I realized at that moment that I had wanted some contact with him, any contact for a long time. I was really -- No! That was not true, it could not br true. I was just lonely. I was so standoffish to Dennis the last few months that this was the only contact I'd had from a man -- any man -- in too long a time. That's all this was. Loneliness and comfort. From a friend. From a good friend.
I sucked back my tears and pushed away from him. "I'm not worried. I'll be alright, whatever." I tried to smile, but I doubt he bought. I barely bought it myself.
"You're strong," he said.
I looked at him. Men had called me many things in my life, but none had ever called me strong before. It sounded good coming from him. "I try." It was all I could say.
He reached down and picked up his big clunky bag from the floor. "I need to check back with the office. If there is anything I can help you with," he paused, then changed his tone to something more personal, "don't hesitate to call." He put out his hand. I thanked him for his friendship and smiled. This one was sincere. I realized the handshake had lingered a second or too longer than beyond what it should have.
I disconnected, with regret.