by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 28: Society’s Child
part 2 of 2
As the taxi carried the hardy Illuminators back through the wide streets of the city, Quo was sharply reminded of what had happened to Toni here a few weeks earlier ... and especially of what had been said about Maelene by the heartless thugs who had attacked them.
And she had little doubt that the memories of that evening were flooding in similar strength back into the presently rather fragile souls of her protégés.
* * *
Jacob Joshua Bay did not need to be given any second hints in the matter of his only daughter’s happiness and well-being. He had taken the entire afternoon off work to make sure he did not fail to meet this apparently gorgeous white boy who had clearly got deep under her dusky skin.
And nothing would have dragged his wife Maria away from the house that day.
The hugs and the polite welcomes and thank-yous were eventually done to death, and an uncomfortable silence descended. Yes, the boy seemed fine, Jacob was thinking ... but perhaps a little over-shy. Maria was reckoning he was just rather unsure of himself right now. So she decided to help him out.
‘Maelene’s told us so much about you, Toni.’
‘Sure! She phoned almost every day since she went away — ain’t that right, girl? Always found something nice to say about her lovely new boy ...’
Maelene scowled at her mother in undisguised irritation. Toni registered nothing.
Jacob tried a different tack. ‘Tell us about your parents, Toni.’
‘Ah ... well, Papá’s an architect and a lay preacher. He’s Spanish. And Mamá’s a fashion writer. She’s Italian ...’
He dried up.
‘Go on ...’
Toni swallowed hard and tried again.
‘And I’m really looking forward to seeing them both again!’
‘I’m sure you are, son. And if I read this right, you and our girl would appreciate a little more time on your own just now, eh?’
Jacob’s sensitive helping hand was not offered in vain. Toni inwardly sighed with relief, and outwardly just smiled and nodded his agreement.
‘Fine. So, Maelene, why don’t you and Toni go back to his hotel now, and then maybe later go for a walk, and sit in the park, and watch the sunset? And if you’d both like to come over later for dinner, well that’ll be just fine, won’t it, sweetheart?’
Maria Bay was rather disappointed, but took the hint. Maelene looked all round the room, saw the consensus, and went with the flow.
* * *
‘Well, it was a good sunset.’
‘Yeah. So, wanna come back for a late dinner?’
‘I’m not sure. You parents are lovely, but I don’t think I can handle it. I’m just so confused. I felt like an idiot this afternoon.’
‘You didn’t look like one. You just looked like your usual, charming young self.’
‘Hah! Thanks, honey. No, I think I’ll just get back to the hotel, and have a good sleep, and maybe see you in the morning for an hour or so before my cab arrives. OK?’
‘OK, Toni. Whatever you say. And cancel that cab. I’ll be there at eight, and I’ll drive you to the airport ...’
* * *
‘He’s flying out of Kennedy tomorrow afternoon.’
‘You mean to say you’re letting him go? Just like that?’
‘Yeah, Mom. He’s so sweet, and I still love him so bad ... but it could never work out. He’s four years younger than me, he’s still so naïve, and our worlds really are so different. I’ve got a fine career going for me back here, but he’s all over the place at his school. And how’s he ever gonna make any money as a musician? And ...’
‘You crazy child! All these years I spent teaching you how to think straight and not allow the dumb ideas of the rest of this world to rot your brain! And now I’m hearing this stuff and nonsense from your pretty little mouth! What’s come over you, girl?’
‘Oh, Mom, don’t be so unkind! I’m just trying to do what’s best! It’s been real hard to make this decision ...’
‘Making the wrong decisions is real hard, you little idiot! You have to put a whole lot of stupid effort into it! Making the right ones is easy. You just go with your heart ...’
‘But Toni agreed it was the best way!’
‘Did he really? Hah! Have you forgotten everything you know about me and your Dad?’
‘Of course not! I know how hard it was for both of you, and your families! I know you felt you had to break it off the first time, ’cos of all the pressures. I know it took years before the time was right for the two of you to make it happen ...’
‘You don’t know the half of it, my lady! You’ll never know the pain we went through — together, and apart. I’ve spared you most of that! But you wanna know something? You’re far stronger than I was, back then. And even Toni’s in better shape than your Dad was! We were young kids fighting the whole world, and we were doomed to lose ... for a few years, at least. But you two — jeez, you’ve got nothing and nobody standing in your way. Just your own uncertainties. Well, I’ll tell you what I reckon, young madam. Despite what you say, I reckon you’ve forgotten all about Love. And another thing. If you can’t be certain about this, there ain’t nobody in the world can be certain about anything ...’
‘Excuse me, Mom ...’
‘Hey, where you going so fast, missy? I’m still talking!’
‘I gotta find my car keys! Oh, Mom, I do love you!’
* * *
‘Open this door, Toni Murano!’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Just let me in!’
‘Hang on, hang on ...’
‘OK, sunshine! Sit right down in that chair and answer me one thing. Are you still planning on leaving here tomorrow morning?’
‘On your own?’
‘Well, yes. That’s what you want, isn’t it?’
‘What? Are you crazy? When did I ever give you that idea?’
‘Yesterday! When you talked about all the differences between us.’
‘You idiot! You didn’t think I was trying to dump you, did you?’
‘Well, yes ...’
‘You don’t know much about women yet, do you, Toni?’
‘How am I expected to, if you play those sorts of games?’
‘And what were you doing meanwhile? Humming and hawing like a silly little child. Never said a word about ... loving me ...’
‘Nor did you!’
‘Damn! Right, that does it! Last time I ever make myself a stupid promise!’
And she hit Toni with the most impassioned kiss either of them had ever experienced.
‘Wow! What was that all about?’
‘That, sunshine, was just a little something to be going on with. If, that is, you’re willing to let me leave with you tomorrow.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yeah. I’d rather live with you in your world than ...’
‘You want to come away with me? All the way to Spain?’
‘All the way, Toni.’
* * *
Late that evening, from the hotel’s Internet facility, they rescheduled the first day of the rest of their lives.
Maelene would need a little time to get her act together. They decided she could have a full eight hours. So they cancelled Toni’s morning flights to JFK, and booked themselves instead on an early evening departure direct to Newark (‘and there’s another one to La Guardia thirty minutes later, honey, just in case ...’). Then they fixed up a nice Manhattan hotel.
‘Now listen, baby — I’m gonna need time for some real girl’s shopping in New York City. Don’t you rush me out of there!’
So Toni called Aer Lingus, and switched himself off the Wednesday afternoon Dublin flight and onto the late Thursday evening one. Then, still courtesy of the Domans’ constant Italian benefactor, he purchased the adjacent Business Class seat for another very important passenger.
Jobs finally done, he sat back, exhausted from the strain of concentrating and the delayed emotional reaction that was just kicking in. But he was not going to be able to relax for a few minutes yet. He and Maelene heard a very familiar voice in their ears ...
‘It’s Carla, my friends. I’m really delighted with your new decision — and I hope we can soon talk more about it. But right now, Toni, while you’re still on the Internet, there’s one important little task we need you to do for us. I promise it won’t take long, and then you can get to bed. You’ll need your credit card again, but don’t worry — your great-uncle Giuseppe will be covering the cost, which is actually quite ironical. Ready?’
* * *
While Toni was busy placing Quo’s online order, Maelene hurried off home, and then spent two very late evening hours holding animated conversations with her stunned but happy parents while trying to build a plan for fitting everything in the following day.
She would have to be up and about very early, she decided. Lots of packing still to do, and she just had to call Raymond again with their newest news, and then she could drive downtown to shop for the essentials and a whole lot more.
And she had to see a man about a job ...
* * *
Norman Crofton looked up from his desk in the Forretan HQ building on Assembly Street, and found Lucia smiling sweetly and breaking into another of his beloved old Carolina beach songs. Before he could protest, or even say hello to this unremembered character, she quickly re-embraced him to the Doman closure cause, and the Chief brought him back up to just the necessary speed ...
So, Norm, you now recall a little of our time with you here last month.
‘Yeah. It’s a bit confusing, but ...’
Do not worry. We shall not bother you for long. We bring you good news, and bad news, and a small request.
‘OK, Chief — shoot. I’m a very busy man!’
First, the good news. Maelene Bay has completed her work with us in impeccable fashion, and is now back in town. And I’m sure you remember that “nice kid” Toni Murano? Well, he made a full recovery after the mugging, and he and Maelene are now, as I believe the saying goes, an item.
‘Hey, that is all great news, Chief! I’d really been hoping Maelene would find a guy worthy of her, soon — especially after having to put up with that pestering Sal character ya’ll dragged in here ...’
Yes indeed, Norm. We too are delighted.
‘So, when’ll she be back at her desk? There’s a huge backlog of PR work waiting for her — that’s why I’ve been so busy, ever since ya’ll up and snatched her away from me!’
Ah. Now for the bad news, Norm. Maelene is on her way to see you, but she will be tendering her resignation. She and Toni are leaving the city later today, en route to his home in Spain.
She will tell you more, I am certain, and she feels very bad about deserting you again. But this is probably the most difficult decision she has even taken. I know how much you cherish and respect her, Norm, and I do hope you will give her all your understanding and a minimum of discomfort. She has little time to spare today, and her emotions are already running very high ...
Crofton’s face had dropped, and he fell silent and stared blankly into space. Many seconds passed, and then a tear rolled slowly down his cheek. And then another ...
We share your unspoken sentiments, Norm. Toni is indeed a “nice kid” — and Maelene is a very fine girl.
Now, to our final business.
You and your generally honest colleagues — we have not forgotten your company’s rather dubious information withholding practices — know little of the results of our recent work with the Californian exploration outfit to which you kindly introduced us, and we intend it to remain that way. Suffice it to say that the ill-considered enterprise has now ceased to exist.
We have done our utmost to avoid the largely good name of Forretan being dragged through the mud in any possible aftermath of this affair, for we fully appreciate that none of you — ignoring the small team which discovered those REE deposits, erased your database records, and then quit to establish the mining operation — has since known anything about the unfortunate exploitations which then followed.
But in recognition of this discretion and protection on our part, we should be very grateful if your Board would see its way clear to rewarding Maelene Bay for her excellent, dedicated work here, over the past three years, with a substantial leaving bonus, to be paid directly into her bank account. I am certain this will be a major help in the challenging new life ahead of her — and I imagine she will also find many altruistic uses for it, too. May I suggest something in the order of a further three years’ salary ...?
Norman Crofton, rock-hard mining man and veteran PR Officer, wiped the tears from his eyes, shook his head in a sweet confusion of sadness, embarrassment and pride, and managed a throaty ‘Ya got it, Chief.’
Thank you, Norm.
You may now once again forget everything of us but the promises you have made. And Maelene will be here soon. I know you will be very gentle with her. And you need to know that we all hold you, sir, in the highest possible esteem. May you and your family live long and happy lives.
And so, adieu.
* * *
Maelene called Toni to say she was all done, and in the car, and on her way. He had already checked out of his hotel, and was waiting contentedly on the sidewalk when she drew up.
‘You look as if you’ve been crying again, honey. How did it go with Norm?’
‘Well, we didn’t do a lot of talking. Just a lot of hugging.’
‘He’s a very good man.’
‘He sure is. I’ll really miss him, Toni. You know, he’s not even going to enforce my notice, so I’ll get my full salary right up to the end of next month. And the company’s giving me a huge cash leaving present. It’s so kind of them, but I just can’t understand why!’
‘I suspect I can, Maelene. Think about it ...’
Quo and Carla simply listened and smiled in measured satisfaction.
* * *
Jacob had insisted on taking another afternoon off work. And once Maelene’s bags were zipped up for the very last time, everybody dived into his car.
This time they chatted easily and happily, all the way to the airport, and in the check-in line, and right up to the security hall.
Maria and Jacob had few lingering doubts now about Toni’s integrity and sincerity, and none at all about their daughter’s finally disentangled passion.
And one short hour later, from the observation deck, they watched the butterflies flutter away.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd