It was December 31st, the day of the Palmer Company New Years Eve party. In days prior to this one, the office staff had spent hours putting the vandalized filing room back together again. But as far as cleaning goes, that was all they had gotten done. The place still had not been swept or vacuumed since the break-in. At George’s request Connor called his buddies for help.
“Willie?…. It’s me Connor …. much better thanks….. Listen, I was wondering if -uh you and Grace could go to work with Daisy and me today? Yea man, we could really use the help. What-do-ya-say…..”
“Sure, we’ll help. Does this mean we get to go to your fancy shindig too?”
“Yea, you can come. Call Grace. Then meet us there at 3 o’clock. Deal?”
“Deal, see you at 3.”
Connor shoved his cell phone into the pocket of his blue jeans and very carefully leaned back against his pillow again. He could hear Daisy doing crunches in the living room. He wanted to get up. It had already been 5 days since the fight. But everyone around him kept insisting he remain in bed. It was very frustrating.
“Awe man….” he moaned. “This stay’in in bed stuff is for the dead and the dying.” He rolled slowly over onto his side “Ow,ow, ow” then he pushed himself up into a standing position as quickly as he could. Once he caught his breath he walked gingerly to the living room.
Crunches being done, Daisy was now frozen-solid in a plank position. She stared severely at the alarm clock, counting seconds.
Connor walked up behind her and rested his foot lightly on her rear.
“Connor!” She screamed. “You’ll mess me up! Quit it!”
“Really?” He chuckled as he applied a little more pressure. “How long have you been hold’in this plank?”
He counted the seconds and lightly bounced her hip with his foot as she screamed at him. “51, 52, 53, 54…..”
“Con-nor-nor-nor, I’m gonna ki-ki-kill you when I’m do-ne!” Her voice wavered and her arms shook as she screamed.
“55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60…”
She dropped to the floor, irritated.
“1 minute, good job!”
Quick as a whip, she rolled over and grabbed his foot and pulled each of his toes until they cracked loudly.
“Ow, ow, ow …. ” He struggled to yank his foot from her clutches, but it hurt his chest too much to laugh or fight with her. “Ow, ow, ow…” He half laughed, half howled in humorous misery.
“That’s what you get for mess’in up my time.” Once all five toes had been cracked, she released his foot and raised herself into a sideways plank. With her free hand she adjusted the clock to a new position, where she could see it better and began silently counting the seconds again.
At present, irritating Daisy seemed to be the best entertainment in the house, so Connor put one leg on either side of her waist and counted numbers out-of-order for her. “…. 20, 51, 32, 45 ….”
“Don’t mess me up…” She growled as she tried to hold her position and keep the counting correct. “23, 24, 25, 26….”
“I’m bored Day-Day…. I don’t wanna stay in bed any more….. ” he whined playfully.
“Hold on …. 56, 57, 58, 59, 60” She collapsed, rolled over and stared up at him. “One more side plank and I’m done. Then we’ll figure something out.” She pointed a fierce finger up at him. “Only don’t mess me up!”
“Kay” he moved out-of-the-way and just watched her this time.
She rose up on her other elbow and held her last side plank for 90 seconds. Then she fell to the floor and wiped her sweaty brow with her shirt sleeve. “It’s so hard to pass a minute with these things. I just don’t see how Maria can do 2 minute planks.” She combed her hands into her hair and massaged her head. There was always a tinge of disappointment when she couldn’t match Maria.
“Maria’s an android.”
“Hahahaha….. don’t tell Andy that.” She giggled as she sat up.
“They’re both androids. I’m sure that’s how Ms. Victor came up with naming him Andrew, it rhymes with android.”
“Geez Connor….” she giggled “What’s your problem? You’re that sick of the house, is it?”
“Yea…. let’s go to the boardwalk….. I wanna run …. I can’t take another day all cooped up in the house.”
She smiled at him sympathetically. “You’re not well enough to run …. you know that…. but uh….. we could walk down there. What about that?” She patted his calves. “Give those stiff legs of yours a little stretch’in.”
“Anything…. just as long as it’s outside this apartment.”
“Did you call Willie?”
“Yea, they’ll meet us at 3.” Connor looked around the room like something was wrong. “Hey…. where’s Dad and Peggy?” He peeked into the kitchen then returned to Daisy in the living room.
“Grandma took Peggy wedding dress hunting. Your Dad went up to Palmer to help with the decorating. We probably won’t see them again until the party.”
“Oh, well let’s get out-a-here then.” Connor opened the front door. Daisy grabbed her water bottle and followed him out.
Down stairs, everything was as cold and grey as old, faded street pavement. But no matter how bleak the appearance of things, Connor could not have been happier to be taking a walk outside. He placed his hand on the back of Daisy’s neck and inhaled the cold air as deeply as he could without causing pain to his ribs. He looked up at the grey sky as they strolled along. There was a smattering of clouds right in front of the sun that caught his attention. He watched them briefly then returned his attention to Daisy. “Man…. your neck is hot. How long did you exercise before I got out of bed?”
“Just 40 minutes I think… maybe 45. I did two, 15 minute, freebie workouts I found on-line. Then I turned off the computer and did… maybe 15 minutes of just my own stuff.” She opened her water bottle and absent-mindedly chugged water down.
Connor returned his eyes to the clouds on guard duty. He knew the sun was there. But the only visible evidence of its presence was the luminous whiteness of the clouds that covered it. A message he’d heard Pastor Thomas preach once, suddenly floated through his brain. In a nut shell, the message floating around in his noggin went something like this:
“Even though you cannot always see the sun, you know it is always there. It faithfully rises and falls without fail. It never misses a day. It never quits or takes a holiday. You know it is always there, even on cloudy days when you cannot see it. You know, it is there.”
“There was a verse too.” Connor mumbled to himself. “What was that verse?” He scratched at his bandages and tried to remember. “God, what was that verse?”
“Hu…. ” Daisy quit her water chugging. “Did you say something?”
“That verse….. that verse about the clouds that Pastor Thomas likes. He’s always quoting it. Do you remember how it goes?”
“Oh yea…. ‘Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds’…. that one?”
“Yea, but that’s not all of it….. it goes uh….. ‘Lord, Your faithful love reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds.’ I think, it’s a Psalms…..” Connor continued scratching his bandages, trying to remember the whole thing. “Psalms 36:5” He stated victoriously. “That’s it, Psalms 36:5.”
They waited a minute at an intersection for some cars to pass. Then they crossed the road.
Daisy looked up at the sky, wanting to understand what was triggering his thoughts. The sky was the same grey color as the pavement beneath their feet. The grass was dead. Only neutral colored sand and the paved boardwalk parking lot were about them, now. Except for the clouds….. the clouds stood guard, in the center of the sky, adding a shimmering white brightness to the otherwise bland scene.
“His love reaches to the clouds….. that’s an awful lot of love, isn’t it.” Daisy whispered her thought, wondering if she were on the same track as he.
“Yea but it’s more than just ‘a lot of love’……. it’s…. His love is so much…. it’s so much, even if I can’t see it, even if my ribs are broken and I can’t run like I want to, He loves me. Even if you get to exercise and all I can do is watch, He loves me. His love for me is faithful, it’s a lot, it’s there, even if I can’t see it.”
“Wow…. you get all that from look’in at the clouds?” Daisy smiled in wonder as she took the boardwalk steps with him.
“Yea, I do… so I wanna see you to run. I want you to really push it and do your best. I’ll walk behind and time you.”
“No way, I’m not leaving you alone.” She shook her head in a negative manner.
“I’m not alone.” He patted the back of her neck. “Now you get your butt in gear and run to the end of the boardwalk and back. You haven’t got busted ribs, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it your all. I want to see it girl!”
“I don’t like leaving you alone.” She pouted, hoping that would help her to get her way in the matter.
He smiled at her bottom lip, but ignored her comment. “Run fast. It’s just two miles down, two miles back, you’ll be back in no time.” Without waiting for any more disagreement, he set his watch. “Ready?”
Daisy crossed her arms. “Con—–nor”
“If you don’t practice through the holidays, when you get back to school Android Maria is gonna smoke your butt in every race. Now, are you ready?” He held his watch out ready to push the button.
She smiled insecurely. “Really?…. You really don’t mind?” She wasn’t quit sure he meant it.
“I really want you to run. Run like the wind, for both of us.” He beamed a radiant smile her way.
Somewhere in his smile, she saw Jesus looking at her. She reached up and kissed his cheek. “I’ll run my very fastest.”
“I wanna see it…. now are ya ready?”
She shook her arms and legs out, then giggled the word, “Ready”
And she was off …….
He knew she would not try to pick up speed until she turned at the end of the boardwalk but he liked shouting ‘GO’ anyway. He missed the excitement of a race, the gun crack, the challenge, he missed it all, even more than she realized. Cheering for her was about as close as he was going to get for a while, so he hollered again. “GO DAY GO!”
She stuck her hand in the air and waved a backwards wave at him.
He wandered down the wooden platform, watching her run farther and farther away, remembering how it felt. “Once you make the turn” he whispered into the wind. “Let me see you fly.”
Not wanting his walk to turn into a pity party, he redirected his attention to the ocean. It was placid and completely silent. He eyed the grey glass and the horizon beyond it as he walked along. The beach was vacant of all life except for a small circle of men clustered tightly together about a mile down. He looked at his watch. Estimating Daisy’s pace, he figured she was about halfway to the end.
Unruly shouting rose from the circle of men on the beach.
He stopped walking and looked in their direction. The men were still too far off for him to see who they were. He took out his cell phone, set it on camera and zoomed in on the shouting men. “holy crap” He quickly looked down the platform for Daisy. He could see her bobbing along a good distance ahead of him. “Man, she’s not even turned around yet.” He resumed walking but at a much faster pace now.
The shouting from the men on the beach continued.
He stopped again and zoomed his camera in on the men a second time. They were a little closer now. “Crap” was all he could say as he stared at the picture on his phone screen. He saved, sent the photo to his Dad, then looked anxiously down the platform for Daisy. He was glad that she was now on the return. “Come on Day!” He shouted.
She heard him and picked up her pace.
“Come girl! Let’s see some wind in that hair of yours!” He hollered enthusiastically.
Her eyes set on his, she pushed to finish her last mile faster than her first one.
He held his arms out for her, like he always did at races. When she reached him, she jogged playfully around him, avoiding his ribs. “What’s my time?” she breathed.
He held his watch out to her so she could see.
“This isn’t where I started from. That time is whack.” Hands on her hips she made another circle around him.
“I’m guessing I walked about a mile to this spot. That means you ran 2 miles out, 1 mile back. That…” he tapped the face of his watch. “…is an excellent time for a three miler.”
“Yea ok, a 3 miler, not a four.” She agreed with his logic.
He draped his arm across her shoulder and pulled her close to his side.
“I’m all sweaty” She moaned uncomfortably.
“I don’t care, come here” he hugged her close. As he did so he looked over her shoulder towards the beach again. The cluster of men had quieted down but they were still there. “Let’s go home” he whispered in her ear.
She looked up at him, puzzled by his mood swing. “You were so desperate to get out of the house. Don’t you want to stay a little longer?”
“We’ll just go home long enough for you to get a shower and refill your water bottle.” He gave her a nudge and they began sauntering back the way they had come. “Let’s go to Shop-Smart Deli. Do you wanna split a sub?”
“Yum, I’m starving” She affectionately wrapped her sweaty arms around his middle and melted into his side softly.
“See’in stars babe, not too tight, ribs, ribs…”
“Oh, sorry” she loosened her hold a bit as they crossed the parking lot.
Connor’s phone buzzed. “Hey Dad…… yea, we’re on our way home…. Do you think it’s him?…… Come on Dad, anybody can change clothes ……… No, they never looked our way….. Really, we’re fine….. I’m sure they didn’t see us. We’ll be down there at 3. Bye”
“What’s that all about?”
“Look what I saw on the beach while you were running.” He pulled up the photo on his cell phone and passed it to her.
Daisy studied the photo for a long while…… then she handed the phone back to him. “He’s wearing a tee-shirt and blue jeans. I’ve never seen Mr. Adams in anything but suits.”
“That’s exactly what Dad said.” Connor stared at the photo while they walked along the road. “You don’t think it’s him?”
“Well….. it definitely resembles him…. but…. a tee-shirt?” Daisy reached for another look at the photo. “The tee-shirt throws the whole look off.”
Connor rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Come on Day…. the man is bound to have other clothes besides suits.”
“Yea, I guess….. what else did your Dad say?”
“He doesn’t really think it’s Mr. Adams either, but he’s gonna send the photo to the police station anyway. He wanted to come pick us up. But I’m sure those guys were too busy arguing to notice us. I told him not to.”
They turned into the apartment complex and walked up the stairs to Daisy’s apartment. After a quick shower, they left again for the Shop-Smart Deli. They ate a leisurely lunch then headed on to Palmer Company. It was exactly 3 when they arrived.
Willie and Grace were waiting for them near the front door of the office building. “How’s it go’in?” Willie stuck his hand out to his buddies as they approached.
Connor slapped Willie’s hand in a friendly fashion. “Go’in good man, just hang’in out with Baby Day.”
“She’s spoil’in your ass, I’m sure. Your jaw’s look’in better. It’s changed from that creepy blue-black color to puke green.” Willie teased.
“Yea, it matches your shirt, very cool.” Grace gave him two thumbs up.
Connor rubbed his chin lightly. “Yea, I did that on purpose. I like being color coordinated.” Everybody laughed as Connor opened the glass door for the girls. “Bye Babe, come find us, when you’re done.”
“Kay” Daisy and Grace walked into the office building still giggling over Connor’s rainbow chin.
“Now for you…” Connor elbowed Willie. “You can come with me.” So Willie followed Connor around to a different building in the back to do the sweeping.
Inside the office building, employees were scattered about, carrying ladders, chairs, and staple guns from place to place, fixing things up for the party. Silver and gold streamers, brightly painted signs, large silver stars, and all kinds of other glittery things were being tacked on walls, or hung from ceilings in every room.
Much of the office furniture had been rearranged to make a place for the food. Catering staff, wearing starched white uniforms, carefully arranged platters of festive food on stainless steel serving equipment.
Daisy pulled the vacuum cleaner from the hall closet. She slowly maneuvered through the hub-bub, vacuuming every nook and cranny. Grace tagged along at her side, chattering a mile a minute about all her holiday activities.
When all the rooms were done, they put the vacuum cleaner away. “Usually, Connor is back before I’m finished. Let’s look in the lounge.”
Sure enough, they found the guys seated at the lounge table, too engrossed in conversation to look up.
Connor was busy explaining the court hearing that happened on Christmas day and reenacting his huge fight with the stranger. In slow motion, he attempted to show Willie how the fight occurred. “Oh… and look at this.” He jumped up and held out his phone. “I just took this, this morning.”
Willie looked closely at the picture. “Do you think it’s him?”
“I do, but Dad doesn’t.”
The girls picked out drinks from the Coke machine and sat down at the table.
Connor put his arm across the back of Daisy’s chair and continued his discourse. Once he’d explained every single detail, he took a sip of Daisy’s drink and relaxed.
“Do you think there’s any connection between Mr. Adams and the vandalism going on here at Palmer?” Grace asked curiously.
Connor took another sip of Daisy’s drink, pondering the question. “Don’t know”
“Well, I’m glad you guys are Ok.” Willie handed the phone back to Connor. “I can’t tell if that’s him or not. They’re too far away.”
George Palmer walked into the lounge. “Hey kids, how’d the cleaning go?”
Connor spoke up for the group. “It’s all done. Your floors are totally ready for a jam’in, all-night party!”
“That’s what I wanted to hear. Here’s your pay with a little, Happy New Year Bonus, for you and Daisy.” George handed Connor an envelope.
“Thanks. Do you know where Dad is? I can’t find him.”
“He went up to the police station with that pic you sent him. They wanted him to fill out some papers. Make it official.”
“So far, nobody but me, even thinks it’s him.” Connor shook his head, wondering if he was wasting everyone’s time.
“The police can blow the photo up on the computer and get a better look at who’s in it. They’ll figure it out.”
“I hope so. I’d hate to make a mistake with something like this.”
“You’re supposed to tell, if you see something suspicious. Anyone resembling Mr. Adams is suspicious in my book.” Daisy defended his action loyally.
“Ok Babe.” He kissed her nose, appreciating the fact that she always thought he was right.
“Don’t think I forgot you two.” George redirected his attention to the other side of the table. “This is a little, New Year Cheer, for you and Grace. Thanks for helping us out like this.” George handed an envelope to Willie.
“Connor, I’ve been talking to your Dad about your work. He says you’re interested in working with kids. Is that right?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
George looked at him seriously for a moment. “My employees have been asking me for years…… and I do mean years……. to open a company child care facility on this property. I was throwing around the name ‘Baby Builders’. What do you think?”
“Do you mean like a Day Care Center?”
“Yea, like a Day Care Center. But I’d need someone to run it. Are you interested?”
“Am I interested!” Connor grinned ear to ear. “That’d be great.”
“After we get your Dad all married off this summer, maybe you and I can get together and discuss it further.”
“That’s a definite!”
Then George smiled in Willie’s direction. “If Connor moves into this new line of work, his janitorial job will be open. Do you think, you and Grace could replace Connor and Daisy with the vacuuming and the sweeping and uh…. what else do you do, Connor?”
“Take the trash out, fill the coke machines, clean the bathrooms, typical janitor stuff.”
“You bet Mr. Pal….. ” Willie started to speak but Grace interrupted him. “Hu.. excuse me…. Mr. Palmer…. ” she stuck her hand up in the air like she was asking a question in school. “Are you hiring me as well?”
“Yes, of course”
“Well then…. if you don’t mind…. I’d prefer to have my own paycheck.”
“Oh.. well…. the janitor position has always been just one position. Connor brought Daisy into it, on his own. They worked as a team and split the money. I just assumed you and Willie had the same idea.”
“We can work as a team, there’s no problem with that.” Willie jumped in, not wanting to lose the job opportunity.
Grace looked at Willie and then back at Mr. Palmer again, concerned that she wasn’t being heard. “But…. I still would like us to have separate paychecks. One paycheck, for two people, just seems…. well it seems very old-fashioned to me.” Grace tried to be polite but she didn’t feel comfortable with the way the pay was handled.
Connor felt Daisy squirm in her chair next to him. Sensing the rising tension in his girl, he spoke out, “Hu… just for the record, I’d like to say that Daisy’s name is on my bank account.”
Daisy crossed her arms. “Old fashioned or not, I still have money.”
“Look, I don’t mean to slam what works for you guys. But… me…. I’m different. I want my own job and my own pay.” Grace then mirrored Daisy’s crossed arm pose.
Connor stuck his hand up. “Oh …. and I’ve never once touched the vacuum cleaner either.”
Daisy couldn’t help but giggle when he said that. Relieved by her happy sound he looked down at her and whispered quietly in her ear. “Whatever I have, is yours. You know that right?”
“I know” she whispered back.
Eager to seal the deal, Willie raised his voice over the whisperers. “Two pay checks is fine with me Mr. Palmer. I really need a job and I’m very happy to comply with Grace’s terms.”
“Fair enough, two task lists, two pay checks, not a problem.” George tapped the table, for good luck then continued. “Connor, my man, make two task lists for me. When you’re done, bring them to me. I will look them over and figure out the pay. The new arrangement will come into effect this summer, how’s that?”
“That’ll work.” They all nodded.
“Ok then, I’ve got to get go’in, lots to do before tonight. I hope you’ll coming back for the party. It’s gonna be a doozy!”
“For Sure!” The teens agreed. “We’ll be here!”
“Great! See you tonight!” George walked out happy that everyone else was happy.
“Ok, let’s get started….” Connor pulled some paper from a cabinet in the corner of the room and returned to the table. “This shouldn’t take long.” He wrote out two task lists for Willie and Grace to see. “This is how we’ve been doing it.”