by Philip Johnson
"Evan, Mr. Franklin would like to see you if you're available."
"I'm on my way, Francine." Evan hung up the phone, grabbed his notebook and ran up the back stairs to Francine's door. As he caught his breath he made sure his shirt was tucked in and his tie was straight and brushing his hair back with his left hand opened the door and went in.
"My you were fast, Evan."
"Used the back stairs."
"Sure can tell you're young."
"Not so young, twenty eight this week in fact."
"Well, that's young to this old lady." She called Mr. Franklin's office and said, "Evan is here to see you...he's on his way", and she hung up. He gave her a wink and went to Gene Franklin's door and tapped before entering.
"Good morning Evan, come in and have a seat." He did as he was told and waited for the boss of bosses to speak. "Evan I got some sad news this morning. Lance Hagan in Knoxville was in an accident yesterday and will be out of commission for three to six months."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"He's a good manager. Anyway that presents a problem of sorts. I know you're young and have only been with us a year as a materials manager, but I'm impressed with your work. I'd like you to go to Knoxville and take over for Lance. We'll start with three months and then reevaluate the situation. Think you can handle that, Evan?"
"Yes sir, I'm sure I can."
"I am too. Wait until the first of the week. That will give you a few days to get yourself organized and I'll let them know over there that you'll be arriving sometime
Monday. They will set you up in the company apartment and help you with anything you might need, any questions?"
"Well, if you come up with any, just see Tracy in Human Resources there." Evan stood up and Mr. Franklin said, "Oh and of course, while you're there your pay will be that of their head of materials management."
"Yes sir" and Evan almost bounced out of Mr. Franklin's office.
Francine knew all about what was going on so as he appeared she said, "Congratulations."
"Make us proud."
"I'll try to do that very thing." Evan ran back down the stairs and into his office, closed his door and jumped around like a kid. If he could just do a good job in Knoxville, he might end up with a promotion when he returned to Chattanooga.
He was due in a meeting with Carly Rogers in ten minutes, so he made sure he had the files and notes he would need and then tried to settle down. He sat for all of two minutes and then he was up and into the bathroom to check his tie and hair again and unfastened his slacks and tucked his shirt in. He thought Carly was about the best looking woman around and she seemed to like him. But there was a problem or two with that scenario. One problem was he would think about asking her to dinner or something, and then his self confidence would waiver so it would never happen. But in his defense, Carly was friendly, but a little aloof too. It was like she had drawn a line around her, and as long as you were outside of that line she would smile and even joke a little. But if she felt that you were inside of that unseen circle, she would shut down and become all business. Evan had seen it happen more than once, but thankfully not to him. Evan reached for his door to leave and stopped long enough to wipe the toes of his shoes on his pant legs and then headed down the hall softly whistling a tune.
"Good morning, Carly", Evan said as he moved to the small conference table.
"Morning, Evan." After dropping his files and notebook on the oval table he went to the credenza to pour coffee.
"Yes, thanks." He knew she liked a touch of cream so he fixed that for her and delivered it to her.
He didn't even wait until she sat down to tell her, "I just came from Mr. Franklin's office."
"No, this is good. I mean really good."
"What, tell me."
"I'm going to Knoxville as temporary head of materials management."
"I'm serious. Lance was in an accident and will be out of commission for a few months."
Carly put her arms around him and gave him a warm hug and then said, "Congratulations Evan, that's a wonderful opportunity." He had a hard time thinking straight after feeling her arms around him and smelling the sweetness of her hair.
"It sure is, my feet hardly touched the floor when I left his office. And get this. My pay will be the same as a starting department head."
"That's awesome, when do you go?"
She paused then and said, "Well, I'll miss you." Once again she had knocked the wind out of him.
"Thanks, I'll miss you too. I like working with you."
She just smiled and asked him, "Think you can keep your attention on me and your mind on our project?" Keeping his mind on her was no problem at all and he wanted to tell her that so much, but what came out of his mouth?
"Yeah, I think so."
"Where will you be staying all that time?"
"At the company apartment."
"Oh, I stayed there for a week when I first started and was being trained in before coming here."
"It's nothing fancy, but it's okay."
Evan smiled and said, "I'm not used to fancy anyway so that's no problem." Their project meeting was over in just over half an hour and Evan went back to his office and reminded himself what a dumb shit he was. Carly had asked him if he could keep his mind on her and what did he say? Yeah, I think so. He knew he couldn't have handled that much worse if he tried. It was Thursday, so that meant that Evan had just a little more than one more day to clear his desk before heading to Knoxville. Evan was on his way home from work on Friday when it suddenly occurred to him that since he would be in Knoxville in the home office and head of materials management, he would technically be Carly's boss. Damn, why didn't he think of that on Thursday? He could have teased her or maybe even told her she had to have dinner with him. It was a nice fantasy, but he knew that's all it was.
It had been a year since Evan had been in the Knoxville facility, but when he got there he did remember where Human Resources were. Up one flight of stairs, hang a right and third door on the right. He went in and asked for Tracy and waited until she emerged from one of the back offices. With her hand extended, she stepped up to him and said, "Welcome to home base, Evan, I'm Tracy." Damn she was tall, but so nice looking too. He was beginning to wonder if he was love starved and maybe all women were starting to look good to him.
"Listen um...Evan we have a complication." All Evan could think was they had changed their mind and he was going back to Chattanooga. "Evan, the company apartment had a fire early this morning."
Tracy bit her lip and said, "We're working on finding a place for you but it could take some time."
A woman was just walking past when she stopped and asked Tracy, "Got a problem, Tracy. If you do, I'll wait here until you talk to Graham."
"Oh hi, Mrs. Foley, I don't know if you heard, but the company apartment burned this morning."
"Oh, that is bad."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Foley this is Evan Walker, he's from Chattanooga and is stepping in while Lance is recovering."
"We have had our share of disasters lately, nice to meet you, Evan."
"Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Foley."
"So I take it you're in a scramble to find him accommodations."
"That's it exactly."
"It won't be easy."
Tracy smiled and said, "I've already learned that and we need at least three months."
"Let me go talk to Graham. I just may have a temporary solution and we can work out the rest later."
"That would be fantastic."
Once she was out of sight Tracy told Evan, "Mr. Foley is the director of human resources and a member of the city board and Amanda Foley is his wife."
"She is big on helping people, so if anybody would know of a way to find you a place to live, it would be her. Listen, I'll be back in a minute." Evan sat in one of the chairs in the waiting area and looked around. He felt a little bit like an orphan waiting to see if any family would choose him.
It was several minutes later when Mrs. Foley returned and said, "Mr. Walker, you'll stay in our guest room for a week or two, or whatever, while we find out about the apartment and what our options are."
"Mrs. Foley, I can survive in a motel room."
"Of course you can, but not at all comfortably and that isn't a pleasant environment after a few days. Just follow me and I'll take you out and get you settled."
"I don't know what to say, but thank you."
"You're quite welcome, but after all none of this is of your doing." As they went out the door she said, "Graham will tell Tracy. Now it's about eight miles out to the house, but it's an easy drive so just relax and I'll have you there in no time."
"Thanks, Mrs. Foley."
"You better start calling me Amanda and I'll call you Evan."
"Thank you, Amanda."
It was a quick drive out the Pellissippi Parkway, and they soon pulled into a long driveway that took them to a very impressive home. Evan jumped out and Amanda joined him as he pulled his bags from the back seat. "Amanda, you have a beautiful home."
"Thank you, Evan." He followed her in and she led him up stairs that had to be eight or ten feet wide and then down the hall. She went into a room on the right and as he followed her she said, "You can call this home for a while at least."
"This is so kind of you, Amanda."
She smiled and said, "Just come downstairs when you're ready and I'll fill you in on the details."
"I'll be down in just a few minutes." Evan tossed his bags on the large bed and looked around. The guest room was almost half as large as his whole apartment and it was complete with a nice desk and chair, a television, couch and side chair. Add a kitchen, and he could live there was his thought. He could deal with his bags later and after checking out the bathroom, and the empty dresser drawers, and closet, he went downstairs.
He found her in the living room flipping pages of a magazine. She smiled and put the magazine down and standing up said, "Okay, let me show you around." She casually hooked her arm through his and guided him along pointing out the dining room saying, "We only use that when we entertain. It's just too large and pretentious for everyday", and they moved on to the kitchen. There was a large table near the windows and she said, "That's where I eat most of my meals. Oh, and Dorenne is the maid and cook. She comes in about eight and will be happy to fix you breakfast, so just ask her. She keeps the house together, so don't worry about making your bed either, she'll see to that too. She prepares lunch if anybody is here of course, and she makes dinner and leaves it for me to warm up when I get home. Any questions so far?"
"Just one, how will you get me to leave when the time comes?" She laughed and just moved on with her arm still through his.
On they went past the guest bathroom and on to the den where she said, "This is where I hang out a lot of the time if I'm not out at the pool area. Oh, and I'm sure you'll need to use your laptop while you're here, so I better tell you the house is all wireless internet. Oh right, the pool area", and she did an about face and led him back and out through French doors onto the patio. "Of course you're welcome to use the pool night or day, and it's a great place to read while you sun." Evan's head was almost spinning as he tried to absorb the luxuries that she seemed to take for granted.
She guided him back through the house and said, "Okay now, here's the bar so help yourself to a martini or whatever." "Um...I don't even know how to make a martini."
Looking at her watch she said, "Well we have to do something about that this afternoon. I'll give you your first lesson in making the basic martini. Do you like them, Evan?"
"Not the ones that I've tasted."
"Well it is an acquired taste. I'll still show you how to make them just in case you want to make one for your girlfriend or whoever." "Sorry, but no girlfriend either."
"Really, I'm surprised. Well, no matter, martini lesson about one anyway."
"I take it you enjoy a martini."
"Yes I do."
"Then teach me well and I'll be your bartender."
She just smiled and said, "You know, I think you and I will get along just fine."
"I'm sure we will, Amanda."
The next few days kept Evan busy at the office and one evening was spent with Graham and Amanda over dinner and then drinks on the patio. Then it was off to his room to do some work on his laptop. Thursday after Evan had retreated to his room, Amanda told Graham, "Honey, I don't see why he can't just stay here. He's no bother at all, Dorenne seems to like him quite well. In fact, he brought her a red rose yesterday and it made her day. It just seems silly to uproot him and send him off to some extended stay motel."
"You don't mind him under foot?"
"Not at all, I even taught him to make martinis the way I like them."
"Is that right, then he's going to have you spoiled by the time he leaves."
"Honey, he is so sweet and naïve and young."
"But remember you're only forty two."
"Forty three, honey. Were we ever that innocent?"
He laughed and said, "I'm sure we were. Now remember we're talking three months and maybe longer."
"I know. I'll just tell him we'll be honest and up front, if it starts to bother us."
"Okay, you're here and around him a lot more than I am, so it's your call to make."
"Then he stays. His youthful energy and sparkle is a refreshing boost to my day. I think I'll go tell him now if you don't mind."
"Of course not, I have some work to do anyway."
Amanda kissed Graham's cheek and headed upstairs and tapped on Evan's door. "Come in."
She found him at his desk and said, "I'm sorry to bother you."
"No bother at all, Amanda." She sat on the end of his bed and said, "Graham and I were just talking and we'd like you to stay on here, but we both have to promise to be open and honest."
"Honesty is always very important in all relationships." She smiled and then realized he was right, it was a relationship.
"If we start to drive you crazy and you want to leave at some point, you won't hurt our feelings. Then in maybe a month we'll talk again, but right now I see no reason for you to move into some God awful motel or something."
"Amanda, thank you, and please thank Graham for me. You've taken me into your home and...well, embraced me and I can't thank you enough. We both know that you're not in the habit of doing this, so I feel honored." She studied this young man as he sat there talking to her and she felt a bond with him. Was his sweetness and innocence bringing out the mother in her? What was his story and why was there no woman in his life? It flashed through her thoughts that were she younger and single she could be interested in this handsome and modest man.
Pulling herself from her reverie she said, "Well, I'll let you get back to work. Will you be down before calling it a night?"
"I will be and it shouldn't be more than an hour or so. I think I'd like a rare night cap."
"Wonderful, maybe I can coax you into making me a martini."
"I'll just bet you could." She stood up and moved to the door as he watched her. She was wearing simple and modest white shorts and a sleeveless fire red top, but he also noticed how perfectly those shorts fit her. He blinked his eyes and before she could catch him staring he said, "See you shortly, Amanda." Evan sat there for a minute admonishing himself. He remembered Carly and smiled, but then also remembered how he was afraid of his own shadow when he was around her. Now he was just staring at the butt of a woman quite a bit older than he was, but that stopped him. Just how old was she? How old did he think she was? Her skin, what he could see of it, seemed young and smooth and her hair had a very nice sheen and bounce and in fact, Amanda herself seemed to have a bounce to her. Crows feet at the eyes? Maybe just a touch, but not bad at all. Graham looked older than she did by several years in fact. He thought about him being twenty eight and then again about Amanda. Thirty five? She certainly could pass for that but...thirty nine? Maybe so. Not so much older than he was. He could imagine himself in eleven years and that didn't bother him much so that was her age he decided, thirty nine.
Over the next few weeks, Evan was able to relax around Graham and Amanda but on several occasions, even though he had no need to be there, he went home for the weekend to give them a break from having a house guest. On a Wednesday night after the fourth time of Evan doing that, Amanda had him fix her a martini and at her urging he fixed a vodka and tonic for himself. "Evan, let's go out to the patio and enjoy the warm night."
"Can I fix something for Graham?"
"He's gone to bed because he has to be up by five tomorrow morning and gone before seven."
"Oh." Amanda moved a chair close to him and sat down. The night was quite warm and still, and the pool lights were still on and cast a soft light across the flagstone patio. Amanda was in what was becoming her trade mark shorts, but this time she wore a cropped top that showed a fair amount of her belly.
They were quiet for a minute and then Amanda said, "I love July nights in Tennessee and this night is a perfect example of them."
"Have you always lived in Tennessee?"
"Oh no, I've lived in several different states, but this is what I think of as home."
He looked out over the pool and said, "You certainly have made it feel like home for me, Amanda."
I'm glad to hear that Evan." Then he made the mistake of looking right at her. Her eyes danced from the pool lights and he openly stared at her for a second before catching himself and looking away. She watched him for a second and then asked him, "Do you remember telling me that honesty is very important to you?"
"Sure I do."
"What was that about just now?"
"The way you were just looking at me." His heart jumped and he stopped breathing. "Evan?"
"Amanda, I can't answer that."
"Why not, will I be offended?"
"I don't think so but..."
"Is something bothering you?"
"I can't say without...well, it would be inappropriate. I apologize for staring at you."
"Oh come on Evan, we've lived together for the last what...almost three months?" She was absolutely right, they had lived together, but not in the way that he might have liked. "So you're not going to tell me?"
"Amanda...it's the pool lights."
"What about the lights?"
"I mean when I look at you, the pool lights just dance in your eyes."
She studied him for a minute and then said, "Evan, that is so sweet and I'm so flattered that you noticed that." It just came out. It was in his mind and for once in his life he didn't clam up or say something stupid, but he should have kept his thought to himself and he was smart enough to know that.
But that didn't stop him and without looking at her he said, "I notice a lot of things about you." She didn't see that one coming. "I'm sorry Amanda, that wasn't...I shouldn't have said that."
Amanda shifted in her chair slightly and she said, "Evan, tell me about yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't exactly know. You said you don't have a girlfriend."
"What about in the past?"
"Sure I've had girlfriends in the past, but never for very long.
"Why, if I may ask." Evan looked up at the stars for a minute, and at the pool, and about anyplace, but at Amanda. Then he felt her hand touch his arm but she didn't speak and that made him just let go. It was like something broke inside of him and he had to tell her what his life was really like.