It was strange for Joanie, being back at the office. As she sat down at her desk it occurred to her the last time she had sat there was when she was fantasizing about Peter. Peter Thompson, her old buddy, her old flame, was now pent up in some asylum waiting for a psychological assessment. Pleading insanity would be the best course of action for him to take, Joanie reasoned, but still, it stung her heart thinking of him locked up, possibly for the rest of his life.
While paperwork and post-it notes sat piled on her desk, most of Joanie’s morning was spent daydreaming about Peter. But this time, the daydreams were not the least bit erotic. She went over and over in her mind all the things he had revealed to her that fateful day in her apartment. His strange behaviors, his need to torture, and his ability to push the limits with people but not go all the way, all this fascinated and confused her. How had things gotten so out of control? Thinking back, she should have seen it coming. Peter was right. They had been living a fantasy that, during their lives, never blossomed into a reality. When he hadn’t made more definitive advances toward her, and had married Clarice, Joanie went to New York to try to move on from the emptiness she was left with. He had let her down. But even more recently, when he had become so moody and irrational, she had still been unable to admit that Peter – her Peter – was losing control. What had made this friend of hers become such a monster? And more, what made her want to protect him?
She dug up old memories of them as children and then as teenagers, wondering what she had missed, what she couldn’t see at the time. Sure, Peter had always been a bit odd but so had she. That’s why they got along so well, at least that’s what she thought. Even her parents took him in because he didn’t get on well with his own father, she remembered. Their family home had become Peter’s home. Now she wondered what more there was to that puzzle, what more had gone on in Peter’s young life. Poor Peter. Yet she couldn’t help feeling distain for all the hurt he had caused not only to her, but to Clarice and her brother, both whom she had completely misjudged. She wondered – hoped – that one day soon she would be able to mend those bridges and start anew. At least, she thought, she had reconnected with Kevin during her last visit home to Charleston when her father had been ill. She wondered how her father and mother would feel when they found out about everything. Surely she couldn’t keep it from them for too much longer. Perhaps they already knew. Word traveled fast, she knew that much.
“Knock, knock, anybody home?” Hearing a familiar voice brought Joanie abruptly out of her reverie.
“Hey Ruthie, c’mon on in.” Ruth placed a steaming cup of coffee on Joanie’s desk.
“Always looking out for me, aren’t you, Ruthie? I still can’t get over the fact that my heroic rescue was all your doing. If you hadn’t gone straight to Jake’s place and alerted him to the fact that something was fishy, as you put it, I may not be here today.”
“Oh, I think you would have been fine. I mean, Peter is a pretty messed-up guy, but he cared for you Jo Jo. I don’t think he would have actually hurt you. I think it was all just smoke and mirrors.”
“Maybe you’re right, but smoke and mirrors landed him in the clink. It’s so sad, but I guess it’s for the best. I didn’t realize it before but someone like Peter is best kept off the streets. All I can say is I’m sure glad it’s over. Wow, what a ride these past few months have been.”
“You’re not kidding. But listen, Jo Jo, unfortunately I didn’t come in here to chat with you over coffee. I’ve got a ton of work waiting for me at my desk.” She eyed Joanie’s pile and continued. “Carlyle wants to see you in the boardroom after work. I have no idea what it’s about so don’t ask. He just wanted me to tell you to get your purdy little arse down there at five sharp. Well, he didn’t exactly say that. I added the purdy little arse bit.” Joanie smiled, despite the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Shit. Well, can you at least tell me if he’s in a good mood or not?” Ruth shrugged and looked at her friend sheepishly. “I barely got a chance to talk to him, and he’s been out for most of the day. Meetings. Anyway, don’t worry hon. Carlyle adores you. I’m sure it’s nothing.” Ruth headed out the door. “I’ll see you at lunch, ‘kay?”
Joanie remained at her desk for a moment, trying to compose herself. She couldn’t imagine what this meeting might be about, unless Carlyle was just plain fed-up with all the disruptions she had caused, and all the time-off hours she had incurred. She took a deep breath and attempted to tackle the pile of work in front of her. At least that would make the day go by faster.
She worked solidly for about two hours when the phone rang. “Joanie Scott,” she said into the receiver as she stapled another stack of completed papers together.
“Jake, is that you?” There was silence from the other end.
“Hello?” Joanie ventured.
“Hi, yes it’s me, Joan.” He paused, as if formulating the right words to say.
“I’ve wanted to call you for days, since seeing you briefly down at the police station that night, but I just didn’t know what to say, Joanie. I didn’t know if you were ready to hear from me.” Joanie waited, to make sure he was finished before she answered.
“Oh, Jake, of course I’ve wanted to hear from you. I’ve also been waiting. I thought you might need – want – some space after what you’ve been through because of me. God, I feel so awful, so embarrassed.” It seemed like forever before Jake spoke again, but it was with such tenderness. Because Joanie had been so caught up in the world of Peter Thompson, she had forgotten about how sweet and attentive Jake could be.
“My darling Joanie, don’t ever feel embarrassed around me – ever. As I mentioned in one of our earlier conversations, we still have so much to learn about each other. After all, we practically just met. I hope it’s not too late to pick up where we left off and see where it takes us.” Joanie smiled, revealing her happiness over the phone line to Jake with a relieved sigh.
“No, Jake, it’s not too late. I only wish we could have avoided this whole mess, but I guess it’s kind of fast-tracked our ‘getting to know each other better’.” He laughed.
“So, when can I see you?” Joanie asked with an eagerness she didn’t try to conceal.
“I’m out of town on business for a couple of days, but that will give you time to relax a little after your horrific ordeal, get things sorted out, and then, hopefully we’ll both be more available.” Slightly disappointed at Jake’s less than eager reply, Joanie slumped down in her chair. But, she admitted, he wasn’t putting her off, just their getting together. Besides, he was a busy man. She had to be reasonable.
“Of course, Jake, I understand,” she said, hiding her disappointment as best she could. “Why don’t you give me a call when you get back into town and we’ll go from there.”
“I’ll do better than that. I’ll call you from Phoenix. We don’t have to wait to be together to talk, do we?”
“Of course not,” she said, grinning from ear to ear. I look forward to it.” She hung up, sat up at her desk and, after taking a moment to absorb this encouraging news, resumed her work.
Five o’clock arrived in no time. Joanie shut down her computer, stacked the small amount of paperwork left to finish, and gathered her things. She felt good, despite the fact that she was about to have a meeting with her boss, in the boardroom to boot. That always meant something serious but Joanie dismissed the thought. She was nervous enough about the meeting. Although she and Carlyle were friends, and she was well aware he liked her, he was still her boss. He could be heavy handed if he wanted to be, Joanie knew that all too well. Having pushed the limits at work a good deal lately, she suspected it was about time she paid the price. Carlyle had been more than patient.
However, she had gotten a lot of work done today, which was a huge load off her shoulders. Somehow it made the impending meeting easier to swallow knowing she could boast about her accomplishments, if not simply tell him she was almost caught up. Surely he would take that into consideration.
Joanie walked slowly down the empty hall. Everyone had gone home, which she thought odd, as it was only five. The boardroom was dark as she entered. When she flipped on the light-switch she was hit by a loud, shrill chorus.
The room was filled with balloons, streamers and people. The entire office was there, along with Joanie’s own personal design team, Allan, Sara and Brandy. And there in the middle of the crowd, standing between Ruth and Carlyle, was Jake. Unable to contain her overwhelming emotions, Joanie burst into tears. Carlyle approached her and put a fatherly arm around his protégé.
“Now, now, Ms. Scott. This is no time for tears. It’s time for laughter and merriment. Lord knows you’ve been through enough to cry away the rest of your days. But instead we’re turning a new leaf, alright? There, there now.” He gave her a long, heartfelt hug, then pulled away and faced the crowd of people.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know why we’re here this evening, but I’m afraid our friend and colleague doesn’t. Shall we let her in on our little secret?” A resounding yes reverberated throughout the room.
“As we all know, our very own Joanie Scott, who has been with Design International for almost five years, just won two prestigious design awards, one for Creativity in Fashion Design, and the other, Most Accomplished New Designer.” There was a round of applause. Joanie blushed, leaned in to Carlyle and said, “Please, Thomas, stop. This is so embarrassing.”
“Sorry, hon,” he whispered back. “You’re going to have to suck it up.” Then he announced, “The team and I decided it was time for a little office gathering, to commemorate your individual success that, as we all know, is also our success, which brings me to the point.” Ruth suddenly appeared at Joanie’s side with a large bouquet of peonies and a card, signed by, what looked like, the entire state of New York.
“So, Joanie, we have gathered here today to celebrate your new partnership with Design International, and to commemorate your being the youngest partner ever to be instated in the history of DI.” He momentarily paused. “All of us here at DI voted unanimously in favor.” Then in an aside, Carlyle whispered, “We’ll talk particulars another time.”
Carlyle turned and gave Joanie a big kiss on each cheek, seeming anxious to move on. “Congratulations dear.” Before she had time to react to this incredible news, Carlyle faced the gathering again.
...stay tuned... Chapter 16 - and the final chapter, will be posted next Tuesday, July 5th.