I do love the changing seasons in this part of the world, but when water freezes I can't help but look forward to the Spring. Stephania is visiting from Columbia and she does not like the cold. I remember it took our Renata from Brazil (yes, she is the inspiration for my book, though the story is very different from reality) a long time to get used to the cold. Alberto from Mexico disliked it, but Bobby from Thailand took great delight in it. I still remember them running outside barefooted and shirtless. Alberto froze but somehow Bobby was able to weather it well.
Alberto is now becoming a famous singer in Mexico! Bobby is now quadri-lingual, becoming fluent in Japanese, while starting a fifth language: Vietnamese. It is hard to express how these young people will always feel like family to me. Yeo Joo from Korea and Johanna from Germany also have special places in our hearts. The Abbey Farm has been graced with wonderful, multi-cultural young men and women.
Our waterers are frozen in this cold winter, but our hearts are very warm.
I would like to ask for the favor of a comment, if you are reading Renata. I would appreciate feedback. I have been told that some have trouble posting comments here, so please contact me at: MomofTenPlus@Yahoo.com
Thank you! Stay warm!
The oak roll-top desk was immaculate. A few papers on the desktop were in a neat pile. A laptop was closed and housed deep in the recess below the upper drawers, each of which were labelled. Three framed photographs were angled slightly toward the center, so as to be viewed best by the one seated at the desk.
Claire sat looking at them, her face unreadable. She turned her head slightly to look at the one on the left. She was about twelve, standing between her parents at the summit of Haleakela, the dormant volcano on Maui. She remembered that though it was the middle of a hot summer, dawn at the top of the mountain was so cold she could see her breath. Her father had just given her a sip of the hot cocoa they’d brought in a thermos. She shivered as it went down, giggling. Then they asked another tourist to snap their photo.
Claire’s impassive look changed to a slight smile. She looked at the center photo. Claire and her Mom on horseback. Her father was an Army officer and when they were stationed at Ft. Leavenworth she was ecstatic to learn they had a foxhunting club. Her Mom was riding the big Thoroughbred they owned. “George” and her pony “Mugsie,” a scruffy grey large pony, were boarded at the Ft. Leavenworth stables. She and her Mom rode a few times a week. Sometimes, if her Dad was visiting from one of his deployments, he would join them. He had taken this photo of them, preferring to watch that day and follow the hunt by car.
The photo on the right was the official photo taken when her Dad was promoted to full Colonel. She was eighteen and remembered being so proud. He was deployed to Afghanistan right after she graduated. He was able to come home for a week or so at Christmas that year. Their last Christmas together. Claire fought the tears that came so naturally when she thought of it.
She shook her head slightly and reached for her iPhone. She dialed a number and almost immediately an old ring-tone was heard coming from her bedroom. After a few rings it switched over to the voicemail she waited for. It was the voice of her mother; just a typical greeting, asking to leave a message. A tear rolled down her cheek skimming the side of the iPhone as she listened. She had never gotten rid of her Mom’s phone. She left it plugged in so that she could call every once in a while just to hear her voice.
Claire drew a ragged breath, set the phone down and straightened, composure returning. She reached for the laptop, pulled it forward and flipped up the top. There was work to do that she wanted to finish before the next day. If her Dad had taught her anything, it was responsibility. And integrity. She told her boss she’d have a report on his desk in the morning. And it would be.
Sun shone through the large windows of Claire’s office. Her workspace was remarkably similar to her desk at home: neat piles, labeled drawers and a few personal photos. Claire squinted.
“Time to get glasses, beautiful?” Phil popped his head around the corner. Claire looked up, annoyed at the glare, not at him. She smiled.
“We need some shades over there.” She pointed to the windows.
“Coffee?” Phil queried.
“Sure! I can take a break. Where’s Jan?”
“She’s off on some mission. Said she’d be back in a bit. Maybe she’ll bring us some cheesecake or doughnuts or something.” Phil laughed. They alternately pined for sweets at work, then moaned about the diet they were trying to motivate themselves for.
Claire jumped up and they walked to the break room. Someone had just brewed a pot and it really did smell delicious. Chris, her boss, loved coffee and knew the owner of a local roasterie.
“No church coffee for us!” Phil joked. From time to time they’d bring latte’s from the shop down the street, but most of the time, they felt spoiled with the brew at work. He poured two cups. Claire took hers black but he paused a minute to look at the flavored creamers in the refrigerator. After pouring in his pick, he walked over to join Claire at the window. This side of the building did not have the blinding light shining in.
Phil was telling Claire about the house he shared with Ed, Claire’s cousin. She’d introduced them a few years ago and they’d lived together ever since. Phil was describing the countertops they were installing in the kitchen when he noticed she hadn’t been interjecting or even nodding at the appropriate times. She was looking down out the window.
She looked up at him as he came closer to see what she was watching outside. He wanted to see what was more interesting than Carrera marble. Then he understood.
At that moment, Jan came in with a box of doughnuts. When the two didn’t respond to her announcement, she, too, walked over and looked down. Her eyebrows raised.
“You know, I think this was a soda-pop commercial a few years ago.”
Outside the window, the addition had reached just two floors below them. There was a lot of activity, but the focus of their attention was on the foreman and a couple of t-shirted men, straining to position a beam. Just enough sunlight bounced off their sweaty, huge biceps. As they thrust and pushed the heavy I-beam, dangling from the crane above, all became silent in the break room. A loud thud could be heard as it hit its resting place. Phil, Claire and Jan let out audible sighs, as though they had been lifting the beam themselves.
Jan looked at Claire. “That was a helluva sight.”
“Heavy! Those guys are strong,” Claire said with a soft, admiring laugh.
“I didn’t mean that.”
Phil laughed. “Jan, I think your heart was pitter-patting. I could hear it. Those guys are gorgeous.”
“Uh, yeah.” Jan looked down at the men again, and then back to Jan. “Think I can go with you on your next meeting with Errrrnesto.” She dramatically rolled the r.
“Sure! That Pete is a sweet guy. And single,” Claire agreed.
“Oooh” Jan searched the men, “Which one is he?”
Claire motioned, “Over there, with the red shirt. He’s even got pop.” Pete was to the right of the men, holding some papers in one hand and a soda pop in the other.
Jan saw him and smacked Claire in mock irritation. “The fat one? Thanks!”
Claire’s jaw dropped. “You snob! He is the nicest guy. Probably of them all. Your loss!”
Jan’s lip curled. “Mmhmm. While you get the Latin-lover. I see how it works.”
“I. Get? Ya shippin’ me? No. This is professional. I don’t play those games you do.” Claire smiled broadly, egging Jan on.
“You know, I’m gonna take these doughnuts downstairs. They appreciate me down there and don’t insult me.” Jan acted like she was going to pick up the box but Phil got there first. He grabbed a cruller and then put his arm around Jan and hugged her quickly.
“You are so appreciated, Jan. Stop arguing. We all liked what we saw. Claire, too. She just isn’t admitting it. Her fascination out there had nothing to do with the timeline.” He smiled handsomely, his perfect teeth chomping into the cruller. He looked at it in his hand. “Oh, my word, that’s good. Thank you, Jan.”
Jan’s eyebrow raised. She looked at Claire, who gave her a puppy-dog look. “You can have one.” Claire reached in the box.
“You can certainly come with me the next time I meet with Ernie.”
Jan’s face softened. “Well, it’ll have to be next week, because I need to bug out early today.” She blew them a little kiss as she wheeled about on her black heels.
Claire looked at Phil, sipping his coffee. “How does she work in those things?”
Phil looked wistfully after Jan and shook his head slightly. “I don’t know, but babe, she rocks ‘em.”
Hours later Phil and Claire found themselves together on the elevator, headed down. A good work day for each, they discussed some plans and then shifted to the immediate.
“Meeting with Ernie now?”
“Yep. And no jokes.”
“Course not.” Phil continued, “But it’s going well?”
“I honestly can’t believe we haven’t had more glitches. Each week there’s a lot of progress.” She rubbed her cast, as if it would make a difference with the annoying itch.
Phil looked down. “You get that off soon, right? It’s really weird how Ernie has the exact cast on.” He looked at her quickly. “And no innuendo—I’m being honest. What are the chances?”
Claire chuckled. “It is weird. Hey, what do you think of him?”
The elevator had stopped at each floor and Phil spoke more quietly as each new rider entered. In a soft voice he said, “Nice guy. For real. But you wouldn’t be asking me if he wasn’t young and handsome. You’re attracted. Is this because he’s Mexican—or a construction guy?”
Claire was irritated a bit, but probably more with herself than with Phil’s bluntness.
“He is obviously attractive,” Claire admitted, “But it’s his manner, Phil. So different from the suits we work with. He has no hidden agenda, no obvious ego trip, or mold he has to fit. I find it so…appealing.”
The elevator door opened into the lobby and the people in front disembarked first. Phil was smiling at Claire.
“What?” she asked, looking up at him.
He held the elevator door with his large hand, keeping it from closing on her. “Well. I think you just answered your own question.”
They walked into the lobby and Phil turned left to exit the building where he’d be closer to his car. He winked and waved as he walked away from Claire.
She stood there for a moment after waving, then turned to head through the front doors. At that moment Ernie bustled in with some papers under his arm. Seeing Claire, he almost dropped them in the instinctual wave hello. As he did so, a man unrecognizable to Claire bumped into Ernie and jumped back, offended.
“Look where you’re going," he snorted, " ...alien!”
He hurried out the door as Claire overheard Ernie say, “Hey, sorry, man.” Ernie turned back toward Claire, now walking toward him.
“Hi Claire!” He smiled.
“Hi Claire!” He smiled.
“Hey,” she said in greeting, then repeated in a question, “Hey, why didn’t you deck that guy?”
He looked at the papers he was carrying. “Well, for one thing…”
They walked over to a nearby sofa where he off-loaded them.
“What a jerk!” Claire declared. “I think I’ll go tell him a thing or two.” She moved around Ernie toward the door and he stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Claire,” he laughed, “That guy’s got a hundred pounds on you, stop.”
Claire squared her shoulders and faced Ernie. “I can take him. I know karate.”
Ernie raised an eyebrow.
Claire nodded. “Orange belt!”
Ernie shook his head and they both laughed.
“Want to see the charts? I just thought we’d meet inside ‘cause it’s a little hot out there” Claire nodded, and they sat down to go over them. Claire mused that Ernie liked paper over a tablet, but she understood. Some important things felt even more-so on actual paper. He updated her on the dry-walling begun in interior rooms. The roof would be started soon.
Ernie looked pleased. He felt good about the accomplishments to date. He relaxed after he finished the update, and leaned back into the cool leather sofa.
“This is nice.” He smiled up at the decorated ceiling.
Claire had a chance to look at him more closely, here, inside, seated next to him. When he caught her gaze, she felt self-conscious and quickly asked, “Want a drink? There’s a vending machine over there.”
He looked down at the dusty denim jacket he’d thrown on before heading inside to intercept Claire. He exhaled quickly, “No wonder that guy said something. I don’t look like the typical person in here.”
“No—he was outa’ line, Ernie. Don’t you see that? Why do you take it?”
Ernie looked at Claire. He imagined she’d never experienced prejudice, never been racially profiled. “Claire, what would it do? Really. In that circumstance, would I change that man’s whole thought process by taking him on? What would it help to beat the crap out of him? --Which, by the way, I could.” He smiled broadly at her. Claire looked sideways at him, believing he could, but not yet understanding.
He continued: “I have my own dignity—and integrity.”
The last word rang out to Claire. The one her father had used so often. Integrity. She listened.
“I do not need that man’s affirmation.”
“I see.” Claire nodded. “But it just bugs me!”
“As it should. But how we react matters. If you live for someone else’s affirmation or admiration, then you crumble with criticism. You see?” He paused, looking at her. “I will not crumble.”
Claire nodded, impressed, and maybe a little ashamed.
Ernie sensed her feelings and continued, “Long ago I was taught how to fight.” He had her attention. “I was taught how to fight by my grandmother.” Claire’s eyes grew wide. “Yes, my grandmother. I still see her curling my little fist and saying, like this.” He laughed. “But she also taught me to fight only as a last resort. Find the good in everyone, she told me. One time in elementary school, this really fat kid who was ostracized by the others found me on the playground after I was beat up. He reached out his hand. I saw his chubby hand and looked up into his chubby face. I thought here was the kid made fun of by the others, but he was the one helping me. Saving me. After that, I tried to look at everyone different from me as capable of great good. No matter what they looked like. No matter if they were making a poor decision in that moment.”
Claire looked at Ernie, her emotions stirred. She felt a little shaky inside. “Well. I can’t find fault in that. I’m speechless.”
Ernie chuckled. “You should meet my grandmother! She’s something. I think everything good about my family can be attributed to her.”
Claire was intrigued and impressed. “Well, she didn’t put together those Gantt charts. I think you do pretty well, yourself.”
The next day Jan poured Claire a cup of coffee. Lamenting a lack of doughnuts they wandered over to the window seeking a good view.
Jan admitted, nodding, “He is certainly something to watch. Even with a cast, he’s graceful giving direction. He rarely looks ticked. Calm. Confident.”
Claire nodded. She watched as a co-worker walked over to Ernie and signed his cast. She saw them laugh. Ernie tipped his thermos and drank the last of it. As he did, he caught sight of her up in the window.
Claire laughed, making a loud snort sound, embarrassed to be caught. Ernie raised his thermos in a mock toast to her. She held up her mug to him, and they smiled at each other for a long moment.