Good Will Inc.

Chapter 4 | Lou

Gideon left at 9:00 am sharp. ”Ill be around, ” he said to me on his way out. ”Im always around. Well continue our chat soon. Until then, remember: moxie! ”

I wasn really sure what ”moxie ” was, or how to have it, but I grinned and tipped my hat as he walked out the front door into the gloomy autumn morning. How I wished I could just go with him.

Both the drunks on the first floor (I put them there in case they should have an ”accident ” in the lift or on the stairs) left between 10:00 and 10:30. When Lara Bennett (another brave, unfortunate soul working in hotel servitude) came in to relieve me at 11:00, the Penthouse drunks still had not emerged.

”Just so you know, they started a fire on their carpet very early this morning, ” I told Lara as I packed up my few things. ”Red knows about it; I called him, of course. Hes vexed, but Im sure he won give you any mickey about it. ”

”You okay, Ted? ” Lara asked. She gave me a once over with an expression of genuine concern. She really was far too good for this place, or an employer like Red Toulouse. I found myself wondering, not for the first time, how he had convinced her to work here. Flexible hours to accommodate her university schedule, perhaps? Still, even a gentlmens club wouldve been a step up from this pit of despair.

”What? ” I asked. I realized my mind had been wandering and I hadn answered her question. ”Oh, yes, fine. You know. ”

She looked at me with her lovely green eyes in a way that clearly said she didn believe me, but was going to humor me nonetheless.

”Well, go get some sleep, okay? ” she said. ”How you can stand to work five or six twelve-hour shifts a week, Ill never understand. And as for Red…hes a jackass, we both know it, and whether or not he appreciates the work you do for him, youve got to stick up for yourself. You
e tougher than you think you are, Ted. ”

”Or perhaps Im just a fool, ” I replied, trying with all my mental power to act like I didn fancy her. She was only twenty-two years old for pitys sake! Not to mention, she was seeing a Greek god of a chap who had the ability to make Adonis look like…well, me. I could barely open the airtight seal on a jar of pickles. I should have played a sport in college rather than joining the book club.

”See you at 11:00 tonight, Ted, ” Lara said, thankfully interrupting my embarrassing inner monologue. ”And please, do yourself a favor: don think about this place at all for the next twelve hours. ”

”That, my dear, I can promise you, ” I said with a genteel tip of my head. I grabbed my bag and coat and headed out the front doors.

She waved in farewell as I passed outside the front window. Such a sweet girl. And it was beyond obvious that she felt ridiculously sorry for me. Pity – that was the word. Well, so be it. Even William Shakespeare once wrote, ”Pity is a degree to love. ” Of course, the very next line had been, ”Tis a vulgar proof that very oft we pity enemies. ” But I could dream, couldn I?

As I rounded the corner, I tripped. Even for me, the fall was none too graceful, and I landed in a heap of skinny limbs and burgundy polyester on the sidewalk. I didn even bother to look around to see if someone had witnessed my fall. I knew someone had. I also knew he or she was probably laughing. No need for visual confirmation.

I glanced down. Sure enough, my shoe was untied. Stupendous. Why hadn I thought to double-knot the laces?

I pushed myself into a sitting position and tied my shoe securely. Then, just for good measure, I retied the other.

I was about to push myself back to my feet when a slender, ebony-skinned hand appeared in my line of vision. I looked up. A woman, by appearance about Laras age, was leaning down, offering me her outstretched hand. She smiled kindly – easily the most sincere, genuine smile anyone had ever sent in my direction. She wore a calf-length white dress with long fitted sleeves, white sandals, and, despite the cold autumn air, she had no coat. Her raven hair fell in spindly curls down her back and almost glowed with radiance. But best of all were her eyes: a warm golden-brown reminiscent of honey, chocolate, and sunshine. She was by far the most beautiful woman Id ever seen. No, ”beautiful ” wasn the right word at all. More like glorious. Or heavenly.

Her smile deepened into fond amusement. ”Will you not accept my help? ” she asked. Her voice was rich and melodic, and she spoke with the beautifully rounded vowels and accent of East Africa. ”It is far too cold to be on the ground, is it not? ”

I tried to voice an answer, but nothing came out. I just nodded and accepted her hand. Her skin felt as soft and smooth as it appeared.

”Are you hurt? ” the woman asked.

I shook my head. I think my jaw was somewhere near my knees. Why was she speaking to me? Me — with my unkempt hat-hair, and the googly eyes of a bobblehead figurine. Why? I couldn wrap my head around it.

”No? ” she asked. ”I am glad of it. ” She surveyed me for a moment, then smiled again. ”Tread with care, will you? No one wants to see you hurt, Theodore. ”

My mouth was still ajar as she glided away. It wasn until she had disappeared around the corner that I realized shed called me by my full first name. A name I hated and protested against. A name the existence of which no one in the United States, least of all her, should be aware.

It had never sounded so sweet.


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