The door to the office suite was unlocked, leaving Angie relieved that she didn’t arrive too early. While some of her friends had cautioned her not to appear too eager, she had always put stock in showing her interest rather than merely talking about wanting a job. This was a bit different, but she still hoped to please. A painting caught her eye; a woman holding a little child.
“Ms. Tennyson? “
She turned around to find that the secretary was already at the front desk early as well. Front desk was putting it mildly, since the furniture was rich and well-appointed and would likely be more suited to the office of an executive. The woman smiled and stepped close; a warm touch on the back to usher her to a comfortable looking chair at a large conference-style table near the back of the outer office facing a broad array of windows overlooking Puget Sound from on high.
“We find it helpful to make our employees welcome, and that of course includes candidates.” Angie nodded almost absent-mindedly. The woman looked almost too elegant for the moment. Expensive didn’t begin to describe her suit. And her demeanor, while welcoming, seemed to exude all business.
“Coffee? Dark, no sugar?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. We pride ourselves in knowing what all of our people here….prefer.” Her explanation seemed began to put Angie at ease until she wondered exactly how ‘they’ knew about her taste in beverages, hot or otherwise.
“Let’s see,” the woman said as she poured the coffee into two large mugs, both with the word ‘just’ emblazoned in bold purple ‘papyrus’ script. Angie picked up the mug and stared at the logo.
“Just? More about that later. Let’s look over your qualifications, shall we?” Angie nodded almost absentmindedly.
“BA in Art History at Wilkes followed by dual MA’s in Psychology and Art Therapy. right here at SU.” Angie blushed at the description.
“No need to be embarrassed. And I understand you interrupted your doctoral studies to care for your dying brother?” No additional comment but the woman looked genuinely concerned, leaving Angie more than a bit vulnerable.
At that point she looked away and sighed, pretty much acquiescing to the idea that these people would do whatever it took to learn all about her. She gazed downward reflexively and her cheeks grew even darker than only moments ago.
“I expect you’ll take advantage of our educational studies support.” The woman smiled and reached down into a large, very expensive looking leather bag, withdrawing a dark purple folder the same color as the ‘Just’ logo on the mugs, with the word emblazoned in white high-lighted bright pink.
“Do you need more information?” Angie asked, feeling foolish since they probably had every iota of biographical information in hand. The woman smiled but ignored the question.
“The benefits are only the beginning of what we consider excellent treatment. I do have one question, however, Ms. Tennyson.” An odd question from someone with every ounce of information already at her disposal. Angie nodded almost sheepishly.
“Do you find me attractive?” The woman half-smiled; almost confident in the answer. Angie’s eyes widened in surprise and she hesitated.
“Go ahead, Ms. Tennyson. Take your time.”
Angie looked away again, almost lost in overwhelming speculation. First? What a completely inappropriate question for a secretary to ask at a pre-interview meeting.
Of course, in Angie’s mind, she did find the woman extremely attractive. Her scholarly endeavors weren’t the only things that were curtailed. In the interim, she came to the realization that she liked girls. A brief foray into the occasional if entirely recreational sex with men proved entirely unsatisfying. She had never intended to have ‘bottom’ surgery to put it entirely indelicately and her decidedly welcome gynomastia made any other intervention unnecessary.
“Would you care for more coffee?” The woman pointed Angie’s now-empty mug. She was tempted to say ‘go ahead, you tell me,’ but the woman went ahead and refreshed her mug.
“I find you very attractive. Ms. Tennyson.” The woman would have seemed almost impertinent but for the almost sad look growing across her face. Nevertheless, Angie held her hand out in caution.
“I’m sorry, but I think I can’t wait for the interview. I think I need to leave. She went to get up but the woman grabbed her hand.
“There’s been somewhat of a misunderstanding, and I apologize, Ms. Tennyson.”
“Yes there has,” Angie snapped at her, misunderstanding just exactly what the misunderstanding was.
“No, Ms. Tennyson. I mean to say that you already have the job if you want it.” Angie looked askance at her and she returned the gaze with a broad smile.
“This,” she said as she used her hand in a broad gesture between them and the suite.
“Is the interview.” The woman stood up and walked around the table. She leaned close and spoke.
“I’m Elizabeth Justice. This is my company.” She laughed softly and sat down in one of the other chairs next to Angie.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m 46, Angie…May I call you Angie?” Her words might have seemed condescending but for the growing frown on her face.
“This interview is for you to decide if you like me?” How could such an attractive woman be in a place to want Angie to like her?
“I’ve been following your…you since my sister told me about your devotion to Johnny.” Angie winced at the mention of her late brother. It then came to her that his doctor’s name was Giusti.
“Your…your sister was Johnny’s doctor?”
“She said ‘Oh Betti, there’s this extraordinary….woman. She’s here every day. Her brother is.... She sings to him. She helps bathe him. She is so much like….” Elizabeth gasped and turned away, finishing,
“’Just like Mommy.’”
“She said that?” Angie did not want to hope, but what else could she do?”
“I know about everything, Angie,” Elizabeth said, this time not seeking permission to be familiar.
“Yes, everything.” Angie’s eyes filled with needlessly shameful tears.
“I cannot offer much, Ms. Tennyson. I need you more than you’ll ever need me. I need someone who will be for my daughter what I will never be.”
“I… I don’t…”
“Understand? My daughter is seven. She’s... Shortly after your brother passed, my sister was killed in a plane crash. Going to a hospice care provider conference in Yuma. And I’m…” Elizabeth paused and sobbed. Angie put her hand on the woman’s shoulder, evoking an odd broad smile.
“Only six months or so. Sarcomas can be neat and unobtrusive, but they are insistent upon having their way.
“No…nobody to care?”
“I treasure my friends, but there is no one on earth I would trust besides my sister… and whom she recommended. I’m only sad that I will not enjoy all the benefits of coming to know you better.” Elizabeth leaned close and spoke softly.
“I’ve come to love you almost like a teen reading a novel. Can you love me, Ms. Tennyson? Can you love my daughter? Her name is Angela, you know?” Of course her name was Angela…what else would the little girl’s name be? Angie paused. Too good to be true? Or instead, too good not to be true. She nodded.
Elizabeth motioned to her face, pulling Angie close. Angie smiled and blinked back tears as she kissed Elizabeth on the cheek.
Romance? Perhaps not quite at that moment, but soon if all too short. But what Elizabeth Justice … Bettina Giusti needed at that moment and beyond was exactly what Angie had also longed for all her life. Someone to love.
“I always asked my Mommy why she loved me,” Elizabeth said as she kissed Angie.
“Why in all of everything we went through as kids? Daddy’s death? All the teasing my brother endured. Yes, Angie… Dr. Natalie Giusti began life as Salvatore. In a way, Natalie gave my brother life. Salvation?” Angie nodded even as the tears fell freely.
“Mommy would hug her little girls…she always knew Sal was a girl. She’d hold us in her lap and laugh her little mommy laugh and say, I love you just because.”
Epilogue – years later…
The older woman looked out of the window overlooking the Sound. New office with the same warmth and welcome as years before.
“Will you be okay while I’m….” Angela smiled at her mother.
“If Moira is as nice as you say she is, I have every confidence that you’ll be just fine. And you’re a phone call away, sweetie.”
“Do you think Mommy sees us? That she’s….”
“She was proud of you from the moment you were born. She knew exactly how things would turn out because she had a heart filled with love.”
“I mean…” Angie looked down at her body in the exact manner that Angie Sr. had years before.
“It’s not how your started, Ang, but who you have become that will ever matter,”
“Why do you love me, Mom? Why did you ever… How did you…’
“Fall in love with your mother? A very wise woman…the wisest person I have ever known, told me that she loved me….exactly why your grandmother loved her and exactly why I love you.” Angie smiled and picked up a purple mug from her desk – emblazoned with the corporate logo of the non-profit whose responsibility she and her adopted daughter inherited. A brief glance by both women at the same painting Angie had noticed years before was followed by the answer of circuitous sorts.
“Our mission statement,” she recited almost musically,
“We seek to come alongside our neighbors to provide unconditional support in times of crisis and in times of want and need. We love…” Angela Marie (Tennyson) Giusti Sr. pointed to the pink logo on the side of the mug – ‘Just’ before turning it around to point to the recently added second half of the logo, mirroring the sign on the door. ’Because.’”
“Just because, sweet girl. Just because.”
the painting Maternal Love
by the artist Ms Mitra Shadfar
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