a short story by Joan Horrigan
([email]joanhorrigan [at] msn [dot] com[/email])

Every time I pull into the guest parking at Benson’s Tooling Company and walk around to the shipping entrance, I know that Tim is going to have a story about one of the employees that he just can’t wait to tell.

“Well, if it’s not old Mike from Mills Metalworks! Howya doin’, Mike? Makin’ a load of sales and a lotta money?”

“Fine, sure, and you, Tim?” Tim, who had been in Shipping for twenty years, always said he knew what really went on at Benson’s because of his vantage point here at the shipping entrance, close to the corner from the main lobby. He knew which people and what products came in and went out of the company, each and every person here involved with getting the product out the door and what each one did to get it out. He knew all their stories and all their troubles because, for some reason, everyone confided in him, probably since he’s the oldest guy here.

Tim was a keen observer of people and was highly intuitive for a guy. When he told a story, it was usually about what had happened, rather than what was happening, with a fellow employee. He did keep a confidence, but afterwards, he had a new story. He certainly didn’t mind sharing them either, even with outsiders like me, just trying to make a buck and get a free lunch off the snacks and goodies these companies always have setting out, especially now that the Christmas season has begun. And they say women gossip. Today it was Janie’s turn under Tim’s microscope.

Tim knew Janie better than anyone, even if Janie hated him, which she did, he said. He told me about Janie finding her husband. Tim knew her like a book, at least that was what he would have me believe, claiming he was a firsthand witness to it all, from the first spark to the wedding vows. Now he thinks she’s pregnant, just by looking at her, even before Janie does. He might stretch a point, but he was fairly objective and could tell a story, so I listened.

“Sweet lonesome Janie was watching all the activity going on at the L. A. Convention Center last March when she and I had to man the company booth,” Tim started out saying, “then she spied this tall muscular dude working across the aisle from us. He was one of them manager types, pointing, telling and showing the six flunkies working for him how to hang the drapes for the backdrop, set up the tables and display all the tools on them. It must have been his air of authority that swept her up in the moment as she watched him in action, and I guess he was kinda good looking, at least to Janie, but she didn’t realize then that it meant finding her husband,” Tim informed me.

“Westec was growing in frenzied activity for the colorful week-long showing,” Tim explained. “Giant manufacturing machinery, some equipment as big as semi-trucks, and I ain’t exaggerating,” he claimed, “clear on down to bolts and drill bits, were being hauled into that giant cavernous convention building. All the companies were setting up their industry booths, like we were. The products would be on display to manufacturers from all over the country. The annual event was one of Janie’s favorites, she said, as it got her out of the office and away from that batch of rowdy wise-cracking biddies, the sales girls she oversees.

“‘[i]Janie, quit staring and come back to the real world![/i]’ was all I yelled at her, but she jumped back at me so fast, saying, [i]’Damn! I hate you Tim. I hope that guy didn’t hear you say that.'[/i] Then she cringed, and I knew she was already interested in that dude across the aisle, so all I said was, [i]’Put the stuff in that case over there, then set the case on the table and put the tools back in it.'[/i]

“I could almost hear her thinking, [i]who the hell does he think he is ordering me around like that. He is one pain in the butt![/i] However, she did as she was told, as is her custom and for the sake of her job, even if it was only [i]’stupid bald Tim from shipping who had no authority over her.'[/i] She knew I was watching her and she wanted to keep her job as it was all she had in the world. Her job was her life, her identity even. She had worked from inputting data to sales to lead position in less than four years and planned to keep it that way. Being head of sales was a lot different that just selling on the phone and taking orders, as she found out. Janie had more authority and mostly answered the girls in sales’ questions and kept track of all the tooling orders coming in and out of Benson’s manufacturing plant. It was a tough job, but she could handle it and got respect by doing it and doing it well.

“One of the girls in sales said she hadn’t been on a date in almost a year. She just goes home to an empty apartment. Who knows what she does then, probably talks to herself or to an imaginary boyfriend or watches movies till two in the morning or gets on some game-playing binge on the computer. What else could she do? She’s too shy to even admit to herself that she’s lonely, but you can see it on her face.

“Anyway, about that time, this dude from across the aisle walks over and asks to borrow her pen. Janie gets all flustered looking for one, and he starts up this conversation, saying something about her beautiful red hair. Well, Janie brightened up and before you know it, they are getting acquainted and taking off to the concession for lunch, just leaving me standing there. Said his name was Ken something. So I decide it’s time for my lunch break too. I follow them and I sit at a table near Janie where she doesn’t even see me. I was curious as to what that dude was gonna lay on her.”

“Are you sure you weren’t just a little jealous, Tim?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Jealous? Well, maybe a little, but she’s too young for me, Mike. You know,” he admitted?to my surprise. Then he continued.

“Janie’s cute freckled face gets all animated when he brings the sandwiches back to their table, and they are talking up a storm. I only caught parts of it, something about him owning his own company in Houston and even having an airplane and going all over the country on business or some such thing. Anyway, he is pouring it on and impressing the hell out of Janie and seemed to have a thing about her red hair. I heard him mention that twice, saying his mother and sister both had red hair and his wife, if he ever found one, would definitely have to have red hair. Then sure enough that evening he comes over and asks to take her to dinner [i]’at a much nicer place,'[/i] he says, and she goes off with him. So I have to drive back alone.

“The next day at work, she was telling the girls in sales about meeting him and was all excited that he could even be interested in her. He continued taking her out every evening after Westec, leaving me stranded every damn day of the show. By the end of the week, Janie was acting like she was definitely in love. She was getting better looking every day too. She got her hair styled differently and was wearing nail polish. She announced he was coming back on the 25th for three days and wanted to see her again then. All the girls were cheering her on because they knew how much this meant to her.

“On Monday after Ken had been back, she reported that he wined her and dined her in the finest restaurants at the beach, downtown and in Beverly Hills. He was coming back in two more weeks too.

“After his next trip to see Janie, she tells the girls that they had shopped together on Rodeo Drive, where he picked out a beautiful diamond bracelet for her. Janie loved it, but there was something wrong with the clasp, so it would have to be repaired before she could take it. He promised to send it to her at her company by Fed Ex as soon as it got repaired, as he didn’t want the package left on her front porch. Janie even missed Friday that week before he took off again for Houston.

“A couple of weeks later, she started looking a little sad because she said she hadn’t heard from him. The girls were telling her he had to be super busy if he owned a company and not to worry. Another week went by and Ken still hadn’t contacted Janie. He didn’t email or anything, just seemingly disappeared, but every day she asked Curtis, the tall lanky Fed Ex delivery guy, about the package she was expecting.

[i]”‘No package today, Janie. Maybe it will arrive tomorrow'[/i], Curtis had answered.

“The next day Janie was hanging around talking to me three or four times, but I knew she was waiting at the shipping entrance with the same question, getting more and more anxious about her package from Ken.

[i]”‘Could it have gotten lost? It’s a small package and could have fallen somewhere,'[/i] she had inquired of the Fed Ex guy with a more agitated and anxious tone to her voice.

“[i]’Sorry, Janie, no package again today,'[/i] Curtis told her. He had been repeating this message everyday now for over a month. Janie was developing a new forlornness in her face, he noticed, the same as I did. He himself even put traces on it every week, ever since she told him about it. However, she never told him what was in the package, just that it was expensive and she didn’t want it getting lost.

“It was going on three months, and Janie came out to meet the Fed Ex truck with faint hope in her heart now, but she still inquired about the package in her sad monotone voice. Curtis saw the devastation in her face and decided to ask her out to cheer her up, instead of having to give her the same negative answer. She accepted in a resigned way, and they went to a movie. Janie was mostly silent, Curtis told me. The movie helped because she didn’t have to engage in much conversation. She seemed a little better, I thought, on Monday when his truck pulled up, since she came out to meet him without asking about the package. Curtis knew she wanted to know, though, but was as impressed as I was that she didn’t ask, for the very first time.

“[i]’Hi, Janie,'[/i] he said gently to her and did not himself mention the package. They talked for a few minutes on casual topics while he was unloading the Fed Ex truck. Curtis waved goodbye to Janie when he drove off from the shipping entrance.

“That package was never mentioned again, but it led Janie to finding her husband, as she and Curtis married five months later in November,” Tim concluded. A big grin started spreading, overtaking his whole face.

“Tim, you ole son of a gun! You are one helluva story teller!” I said to him and had to add, “Why didn’t you tell me about Janie sooner? I’ve been coming to Benson’s once a week and hanging around here, feeling just as lost and lonesome as Janie. I would have asked her out, myself, if I had known that. So who’s this Curtis guy?”

“A guy strong enough to lift those heavy packages and Janie’s spirits! He’s a caring sort. I always thought of him as a wimp, really, until he showed his true colors with Janie. You know what he said to me one day? He said he wanted to get Janie a gift, a teddy bear he saw, and maybe that would make her feel better. He even asked me if I thought it’d be a good idea. Now, I knew he wasn’t a wimp, but a sympathetic sort when he asked me that. I told him it was a great idea and she’d even have someone to sleep with since he probably wasn’t up to it.” Tim laughed out loud remembering his own wisecrack and added, “No, right from the start, they seemed to have some kind of feeling connection…whaddaya call it, simpatico, yeah. It was kinda tender even, watching their love develop. One day Janie made cookies for Curtis. Another day he brought her flowers. They had a way of looking at each other liked they shared a secret, but they couldn’t keep it from me. They make a great couple.

“Curtis is still in night school but will get his teaching degree in June, he said. Then Curtis says they will be able to buy a house. He says he learned more working for FedEx, though, than he ever did in school, just by getting to know Janie. He says she is a lifetime study, whatever that means. You know how them educated guys talk.

“You’ll never guess how he proposed,” Tim continued. “I even saw that too, but I walked away so they could have some privacy because Curtis asked me to, but you know me, I watched. He had something private to tell Janie after he finished unloading the truck, he said. Anyway, I heard him say, [i]’Janie, here’s the package I think you’ve been looking for,'[/i] and handed her a FedEx box. When she opened it and saw a diamond ring and heard what Curtis said, you shoulda seen her jump into his arms. I could not believe it. She was all over him! I didn’t know that gal had that much passion. She kissed him a hundred times and never stopped smiling and saying [i]’Yes! Yes!'[/i] and hugging him.”

“That’s a great story, Tim. I get sick of those depressing ones. And you say Janie is pregnant now but doesn’t know it? That’s weird, Tim. How do you know that?” I asked. He was telling me when I had to interrupt him with, “…oops, here she comes now.”

“Hi, guys, what’s going on today?” Janie had the brightest happiest look on her cute freckled face. You could tell she was in love by her big shiny brown eyes. And yes, she did have that rosy radiance and blossoming that pregnancy gives to girls. At least that was how Tim described it, and he seemed to know more about those things than me.

“Nothing much. Tim was just telling me another of his fantastic stories,” I hedged.

“Guess what, Tim? I’m pregnant!” Janie enthused excitedly.

“Yeah, we know. That’s what we were talking about.” Tim said in his all-knowing way.

“How the hell could you know that? I just found out yesterday.” Janie looked surprised and taken aback, but we just smiled.

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