- Those Christmas Angels
“Her father said she could either take the bus or wait until he was available to give her a ride. She decided to walk.”
That was exactly what Roy would have expected. “Any idea how much of a hike that is?” he asked.
Jason nodded. Grinning, he glanced down at the polished marble floor. “I think it’s about ten miles.”
A smile tempted Roy. “I see.”
“You can rest assured she won’t make it past me a second time, Mr. Fletcher. Her father’s banned her from the building, too, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”
“I appreciate that,” Roy said, pushing through the glass doors, but as he walked out of the building, he realized that wasn’t true. Despite everything, he’d enjoyed his encounter with Julie, reveled in it. He felt alive in ways he’d forgotten.
Roy turned back. “Do you know which direction she was headed?” he asked the guard.
Jason looked surprised. “North, I’d guess.”
“Thanks.” Roy was going south himself, but a small detour wouldn’t be amiss. He didn’t think she’d accept a ride, but he’d ask. Perhaps a brisk walk would help her vent her anger and make her a little more amenable to reaching some kind of agreement.
Roy drove a black Lincoln Continental with tinted glass. He could see out but no one could see in, which was precisely the way he wanted it. He exited onto the main street heading north and stayed in the right-hand lane. He drove a couple of miles, mildly impressed by how far she’d gotten. She’d made good time. Perhaps she’d grown tired and taken a bus. Or perhaps she’d hailed a taxi.
Then he saw her, walking at a quick pace, arms swinging at her sides. Roy reduced his speed to a crawl as he approached her. Traffic wove around him, some cars honking with irritation, but he ignored them and pulled up alongside Julie. With the touch of a button, the passenger-side window glided down.
She glanced in his direction and her eyes widened when she recognized him.
“Get in,” he said.
“Why should I?”
Time to play nice, he figured. “Please.”
She hesitated, then walked to the curb and leaned down to talk to him. “Give me one reason I should do anything you say.”
“I’ll drive you home.”
That didn’t appear to influence her. “I’m halfway there already.”
Horns blared behind him. “If you don’t hurry up and decide, I’ll get a traffic ticket.”
“Good. It’s what you deserve.”
“Julie, come on, be reasonable. I said please.”
She looked away and then capitulated. “Oh, all right.”
She certainly wasn’t gracious about it, but he felt thankful that she opened the passenger door without further ado and slid into the car. As he hit the gas, she fastened her seat belt.
“Give me your address,” he said.
Obediently she rattled off the street and house number.
Now that she was in the car, Roy couldn’t think of the right conversational gambit. He had no intention of meeting her demands and she apparently wasn’t interested in complying with his. Silly woman. With the stroke of a pen, she could be twenty-five thousand dollars richer, but she was too stubborn to do it. Perhaps she was looking for more.
“You don’t have anything to say?” she asked him after a moment.
“Nope. What about you?”
“Not a thing,” she returned testily.
He eased off the main thoroughfare and onto a quiet side street. It was a middle-class neighborhood of older homes, mostly small ramblers with a few brick houses interspersed among them, just enough to keep the neighborhood from being termed a development.
“Are you ready to listen to reason yet?” he asked as if he possessed limitless patience and was more than willing to wait her out.
“Are you ready to accept responsibility and write me an apology?”
“Not on your life.”
“I’m not signing that settlement offer, either,” she said, tossing him a saccharine smile. She exhaled sharply. “You can rest easy about one thing, however.”
He looked away from the road to glance at her.
“I can’t afford an attorney.”
Far be it from Roy to point out that in liability cases lawyers were more than happy to accept a chunk of the settlement. Generally it was a big chunk. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet you are.” She closed her eyes and leaned back.
Roy didn’t completely understand why, but he found himself not wanting to drop her off at her house; he wanted to continue driving so they could talk. “We should discuss it further. Perhaps we could reach a compromise.”
“Like what? I take twelve thousand five hundred dollars and you just apologize and don’t accept responsibility?”
“Something like that. Why don’t we have coffee and talk it over?”
Julie’s head snapped up. “You’re joking, right? Did I hear you invite me to coffee?”
“A gesture of peace and goodwill,” he said in a conciliatory tone. “I hear this is the season for it.”
“Oh, puh-leeze.” She crossed her arms. “Thanks but no thanks.”
Roy shrugged off her rejection, although he had to admit he was disappointed. “I was only trying to be helpful.”
“Were you?” Her eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“It’s no big deal.”
“Yes,” he said simply. He felt her scrutiny as he drove.
“Fine,” she agreed, “but I’d like to suggest we have coffee at my house.”
Roy pulled to a stop in front of the address she’d given him. It was a small, well-kept house, probably two bedrooms. Green shutters bordered the windows and a rocking chair sat on the front porch. Christmas lights were strung along the roofline.
“You have coffee on?” he asked.
“No, but I’ll make a pot.”
“Why not a restaurant? Neutral territory.”
“Because,” she said, and sighed heavily. “I’d feel more comfortable on home turf.”
He considered that. “Should I worry about being poisoned?”
“Hmm.” A smile teased the edges of her mouth. “That’s an interesting possibility.”
“Perhaps we can use this as a lesson in compromise,” he said.
“Compromise? How do you mean?”
“If I come onto your turf, we’ll order dinner and I’ll buy—”
Julie didn’t allow him to finish. “Dinner? I thought we were having coffee.”
“I’m hungry,” he said. “And we’ll eat in the security and comfort of your home.”
For a moment he was sure she was going to reject the idea; then she turned to him with a tentative smile. “All right. We’ll order pizza and I like anchovies.”
“Pizza it is. I like anchovies, too.” He’d never met a woman who did; once again she’d surprised him.
From the expression on her face, he wasn’t convinced she believed him.
“I’m just a regular guy, Julie.”
Muttering, “That’s what Benedict Arnold used to say,” she climbed out of the car and closed the door.
Roy joined her on the concrete walkway that led to the front steps. “I’m really not so bad, you know.”
“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”
He chuckled. “I guess it does. Friends?” He held out his hand.
She looked at his extended hand, sighed and gave him her own. “Don’t think this means I’m going to change my mind about the settlement check.”
“We’ll see about that,” he said as she inserted the key into the lock.
“Yes, we will,” she responded with equal determination.
Roy grinned. This might not be so bad. A girl who liked anchovies on her pizza was obviously reasonable some of the time.
Exhausted, Mercy flung herself onto a passing cloud. “This romance business is hard work,” she complained.
“But Julie’s having dinner with him.” For her part, Goodness felt encouraged. She had to give Dean Wilcoff’s daughter credit; Julie had spunk, which was something Goodness admired.
The young woman hadn’t been willing to accept Roy’s settlement because money wasn’t important to her. That was a rare human trait. The issue of earthly wealth confused Goodness. Money couldn’t buy the things that were truly important. Roy owned a fabulous condo on prime waterfront real estate. The three of them had gone to it and investigated, needing to learn what they could about him. Goodness had hardly ever visited a more beautifully decorated place, but it wasn’t a home. By the same token, Roy was surrounded by all kinds of people, employees and yes-men, but he had few friends. Those he’d once considered friends had drifted away out of neglect. While Roy was looked upon as rich, he was one of the poorest humans Goodness had ever seen.
“He likes Julie,” Shirley said with a rather smug smile.
“She amuses him.” Goodness wasn’t fooled. Roy had no real feelings for Julie. She wasn’t typical of the women he’d known and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. The laughter had been good for him. It had felt good, too, and that feeling had left him with the urge to laugh more. She suspected it was the reason he’d pursued Julie during her long walk home. Their shared pizza dinner had come about unexpectedly, and yet he was enjoying himself. They both were.
“Her stubbornness intrigues him,” Goodness added. “He can’t understand why she isn’t interested in the settlement.”
“Julie has principles,” Shirley announced, “and Roy hasn’t seen that in a woman in quite a while. Since before Aimee.”
Mercy agreed. “What should happen next?”
The other angels looked at Goodness as if she was the one with the answers. “How should I know?” She shrugged, as much at a loss as her friends. This relationship was a flyby-the-seat-of-your-pants affair. “I’m making this up as we go along.”
“Yes, but you’ve done such good work so far.”
“Me?” Goodness cried. “This is a team effort.” She peered down through the cloud cover and stared into the house below. “They’re eating their pizza now.”
“And talking,” Mercy noted with delight.
“No one seems to be yelling, either,” Shirley said. “That’s a good sign, don’t you think?”
Goodness nodded. “He should ask her out next,” she told the others, suddenly inspired. That seemed to be the most logical step. Not that she was convinced this relationship had much of a future.
“Out?” Mercy repeated. “You mean like on a date?”
“Yes, a date. He implied that he was interested in getting her on neutral turf, remember?” That was the way humans generally did those things, Goodness reasoned, because then no one had an unfair advantage. She gave a rueful grin. Humans tended to be so competitive….
“Roy doesn’t date,” Mercy pointed out. “Not in years. He’s forgotten how. Besides, he’s got this thing about women.” From the exasperated look she wore, one might think Goodness had suggested Roy propose marriage as his next move.