Word count, start of day -- 48,800
I can't believe that I hadn't not called her. I can't believe that I had not spoken to her. It had been eight, maybe nine weeks. But I saw her as soon as I got Gwen out of the car. To be honest, I saw a hot redhead and hoped it was Annie. Maybe I did not know it was her right away, but I did decide to walk straight up to her, just in case it was her. Then, when I knew for sure that it was Annie, I had ten to fifteen seconds to decide what to say and how to behave. I considered casual. I considered repentant. I even considered aloof.
I guess I settled on casual. And I guess it worked. The afternoon was pleasant enough. I even pumped Natalie afterward for info and reactions. "Did you have fun?" I asked her.
"Oh, yeah," she said enthusiastically, before turning serious. "She is a very good sand builder."
This was high praise coming from Natalie, a girl who would live in a sandbox if she could. "Erin seems friendly. Maybe we can do something with her again some time."
"Great," Natalie said, clapping her hands in front of her.
I had the same reaction myself. Maybe it ran in the Norton genes. "I sometimes work with her Mom, Annie. So maybe we will be able to schedule something."
I had told Annie that I would be at the Center in the next week or two. "I am so glad that I saw you here first, though. If could not have been this casual, this peaceful." I was struggling to find words to describe the day. "It would have been very uncomfortable if I first saw you in the office." I shook my head at the thought. "I can't believe I almost let that happen."
Annie had pulled me into her arms are that point. "But it didn't happen that way."
It was a simple statement that I imputed a grand profundity to. We were back at that mystical connection thing I thought I had felt before. Call it fate, call it coincidence, or just call it dumb luck. Whatever it was, I was just going to ride with it.
"What's up at my office," she asked. "Are we going to be bought out?" She seemed a little nervous at this thought.
I chuckled. She was fishing for information, it was clear that's what she was doing. But that was no reason for me to not give her any information. "No, it's not that. The Center is going to be a purchaser, not a purchasee."
She took that in. "Is that a good thing for us?"
"Well it's a good thing for me, and probably a good thing for you." She asked me to explain this comment. "Well, your accounting department will get more work, you may get more workers, and you may get more responsibilities. Do you want to be a supervisor?"
"Sure, a raise and a promotion? Of course."
"Not everyone does," I pointed out. "Extra responsibilities, too. But if you are interested, you will probably have a chance to be a supervisor, at least a little while down the road."
"That's great," she said. "I'll be needing the money," she said. I took this as a reference to her separation, but I let it go without comment.
"And it's good for me," I went on, "in that if I can shepherd this deal through, my stock at the firm will rise, too."
"A win-win?" she asked.
"I sure hope so." The Center had way bigger plans than this in the next year or two, and at least I kept those secrets. I let her know that the purchase would be announced next week or the week after. I pledged her to secrecy, and also told her I'd let her know if there were any changes I would let her know that. If it went well, there would be an announcement at the Center, and I would be there afterwards to answer questions for the accounting department and explain what they would need to do during the transition. And we would have a lunch together. Or two, if I could find a reason to stretch myself out to two days.
When Natalie and I arrived at home, she announced with gusto that the "answer phone" was blinking. Most of the messages were usually junk or hang-ups, but ever since my mother left a message for Natalie and only Natalie, she enthusiastically announced any time we found the message light
blinking. And this time, it was a message for Natalie, sort of.
They must have called from the park itself. It sounded like a pay phone, and it was only twenty minutes after we left. A little girl's voice cracked. Haltingly, we heard, "Hello, Natty, this Erin. I have fun today at the park." Then we heard some whispering, then Erin's voice came on the tape again. "Right, I know, mom. I hope maybe we can see each other again soon. I liked playing together." There was three seconds of silence. Well, three seconds of ambient park noise.
Then a strong female voice I recognized came on the recording. She spoke slowly, knowing that she was talking to both Natalie and me. "Yes, Brian, this is Annie, Erin's mom. We both wanted to say again that we like playing with you two today. We both liked seeing you and hope to again soon. We don't want as much time to pass before we see you again, okay?" She left their phone number and then both yelled "goodbye" into the phone before hanging up.
I eyed Natalie, who listened carefully to every word of the message. Of course, it was for her! "Well," I asked," what do you think? Do you want to play with them again?"
She was enthusiastic in her response.
"Well, Natalie, I can't promise, but I will try to give them a call in a few days, all right?"
My daughter agreed with me, then wagged her finger in my face. "But don't you forget, Daddy."
"I won't forget, Natalie, you don't have to worry about that. I won't forget."