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Jordan Collins hated shopping. He especially despised the malls with all the shops and the people milling around. Since his wife of twenty-two years had passed away he had avoided them like the plague. When she was alive he rather enjoyed taking her to the stores. She delighted in spending hours at the mall. He was happy to patiently mull the time away as she browsed through a rack of clothes to find the one blouse she would take home. Now, without her, it was different. When he needed something, he would rush into the nearest shop, purchase the item, and then hastily take his leave.
Life had been lonely for the past eighteen months. His son and daughter lived in other states and had families of their own. They had tried to get him to sell his house and move in with one of them, but Jordan knew it would put an unnecessary strain on their relationships. Besides, a man in his forties had plenty of life left in him. There was no need to abandon the home and life he was accustomed to. In fact, the familiar surroundings had actually helped in healing the bitterness and feelings of loss over the death of his beloved wife.
One Thursday evening Jordan arrived home from work to find the roast he had planned to eat for dinner had spoiled. Silently cursing to himself, he made his way to his car and headed to the mall. He had the taste for roast in his mouth and the best, besides the ones he could cook, was found at the Meaty Meat restaurant. The traffic was horrible, but Jordan bit his lip and before long he was sitting at a table waiting for his order to be done.
Meaty Meat had been his wife's favorite diner. As he savored the morsels of roast beef his mind wandered back to happier times of good food and laughter. Jill had been the love of his life. He had met her as a freshman in college. Before long they were inseparable and were married shortly after graduation. She had foregone a career in the theater to concentrate on raising their two children. Life was one big normal family, with its ups and downs, until the day she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Time stood still for a while as he focused on making their last days together the best he could. Eventually the disease took its toll, and his heart ached as Jill wasted away.
As he finished his dinner a flood of emotions overtook him. Meaty Meat was the last restaurant he and Jill had eaten at before her death. He remembered clearly how they had ate in silence and afterwards he had taken her hands in his. They smiled at each other as both realized the end was near. Within a week, she had slipped into a coma. For two days he stayed by her bedside refusing to leave. He was holding her hand when she took her last breath.
Slipping into a trance, he envisioned her sitting across the table from him. Closing his eyes, he let the memories overtake him until he felt a tear roll down his cheek. Quickly he wiped it away with his napkin as his eyes darted around to see if anyone was watching. His attention was drawn to the shop across the walk. It was Mademoiselle's Nails. He smiled as he watched women go in and come out of the store. One year for their wedding anniversary, he had purchased a day of care as a gift for Jill. It was called the "Tender Loving Care" package. The treatment included a facial, massage, hot oil manicure, hairstyling, pedicure, mud and steam baths. That evening she came home looking like a school girl. As they made love that night, he could not help but think this was the best $200 he had ever spent.
A woman caught his eye as she emerged from Mademoiselle's Nails. Her beauty was apparent as she smiled at a passer-by. She walked with confidence as she made her way out of the store. With a toss of her head, her black hair flowed like silk. Her skin was finely tanned and the dress she wore revealed the woman without revealing too much. Jordan was transfixed with this creature until he realized he knew her. They had attended the same high school together. He desperately tried to remember her name. Rising from his chair he rushed to catch her attention until he remembered he had not paid his dinner bill. Throwing a $20 bill at the waitress and yelling, "Keep the change!" he rushed out of the restaurant as the woman turned the corner leading to the parking lot.
Trying to move as fast as he could without running, he rounded the corner and was blocked by a mall attendant moving a long line of shopping carts. As she approached the door she waved at someone she knew. Jordan did not see who she was waving at, but he definitely saw no wedding ring on her finger.
Finally the attendant moved the carts enough so he could squeeze by. In a half trot he hurried out of the mall in time to see the woman drive away. He reached for his keys and had thoughts of following her until he remembered he was parked on the other side of the mall. With a heavy heart he watched as her car faded from sight.
Heading back into the mall, Jordan went straight to Mademoiselle's Nails. He approached a little Italian lady who worked in the store. "Excuse me," he said, "but you just had a lady in here."
"We have lots of ladies in here," she smirked.
"Yeah, but this one had flowing black hair and beautifully tanned skin," offered Jordan. "I believe she's in her mid-forties."
"I know her," revealed the woman as she turned to wash her hands in a nearby water basin.
"Do you know her name?" inquired Jordan as he worked his way around to where he could see the woman's face.
"Yes, I know her," replied the woman. "I suppose you want her address too?"
"That would be nice," said a hopeful Jordan.
"What are you? A stalker?" asked the woman with as much disdain as she could muster.
"No! No," protested Jordan. "It's just that I went to school with her."
"Then you know her name," smirked the woman.
"I can't remember her name," said a frustrated Jordan. "Would you please give it to me?"
"No! You go! You stalk her," replied the determined woman.
"Lady, I'm not a stalker," objected Jordan. "I just want to know who she is."
"You go! I call police!" yelled the woman as she reached for the telephone.
"There's no need for that," stammered Jordan as he slowly backed away. He turned and hurried to the parking lot and his car. As he drove away he was sure he saw security guards coming out of the mall. With his heart in his throat he sped down the highway and headed toward the safety and seclusion of his home.
That night, as he was surfing the TV channels, his thoughts were drawn back to the woman he had seen. He was positive they had gone to school together. Try as best he could, he just could not put a name to her face. After fretting over it some more he decided to retire for the evening. In the middle of his restless sleep he awoke and bolted upright in his bed. Jumping up, he stumped his little toe against his shoes in the middle of the floor. Crying out in pain he hopped to the hall closet and flung open the door. In the corner was a stack of old books. He quickly sorted through them until he found the one he wanted. It was his old high school yearbook.
Sitting in his recliner he slowly turned the pages as he scanned the pictures of his former classmates. It was his senior year and he did not find her among his fellow seniors. That made sense to him; because he thought for sure he would remember her if they had been in the same class. She was not among the juniors, but on the fourth page of sophomores, there she was.
Her hair was different. It reflected the times. But there was no mistake; this was the woman he had seen at the mall. To Jordan she did not look much older. She had matured but had retained her girlish looks. He quickly searched the names and found hers. It was Wendy Polk. Closing the book he let his mind wander back to the days of pimples, homework, and raging hormones.
Jordan had been a normal kid in high school. His aim was to study hard and make good grades so he could attend college. Of course, the main distraction to his studies was girls. He now remembered actually speaking to Wendy on one occasion. They had sat across from each other in the cafeteria. She was pretty but he was a senior and she was a silly sophomore. Besides, he was only interested in girls his age. As most young men, he especially lusted after the ones who would not give him the time of day. He had no desire for an under class romance. Now, to a man in his forties, the age difference was trivial.
The next day at work his thoughts were consumed with Wendy Polk. He had never been a compulsive person, but there was something about her that touched his inner being. Maybe it had been the moment. Or possibly the good food and memories of the love he had lost with Jill's death. Either way, he only knew that the two minutes of time spent in her presence had changed his life and it would never be the same. Some way or some how he had to find her and explore the feelings she had stirred deep in his soul.
He checked the phone book and could not find a listing for Wendy Polk. This did not surprise Jordan, as he surmised she probably had been married and was no longer known by her maiden name. Just because he had not seen a wedding ring on her finger did not mean she had never changed her name. In fact, he could not imagine a woman like her remaining single all these years. Of course, it could be a simple matter of her having an unlisted phone number.
At lunch he spent his time looking for her on the internet. They were several sites that offered, for a fee, to search for old school classmates. Also, there were advertisements for detectives who would find people. Even though he could easily afford such services, Jordan balked at the idea of using them. If they did provide her address, what was he going to do? Just walk up to her door, ring the bell, and announce his arrival? There had to be a better way.
It was later in the afternoon, when he was trying to concentrate on his work, that the answer came to him. He pulled his personnel file up on the computer and checked how many vacation hours he had accumulated. After Jill's death he had used all of them, but over the last eighteen months he had not taken any days off. It had proven to be somewhat therapeutic to immerse himself in work and avoid the leisure moments that would have only lead him to dwell on his terrible loss.
Picking up his phone, he dialed his supervisor's extension. "Larry, this is Jordan."
"Yeah, man, how's it going?"
"Fine, but I do have a big favor to ask," replied Jordan as he nervously toyed with the computer mouse.
"Go for it," declared Larry.
"I've built up three weeks of vacation and I would like to use them," explained Jordan.
"All of them at once?" asked a somewhat surprised Larry.
"Yeah, all of them," answered Jordan. "I've got something I've got to do. It can't wait."
"With you gone that long, where will it leave us on the Paradise Gate project?" inquired Larry.
"We'll be fine," offered Jordan. "We're ahead of schedule and Lisa can do some of the background checks while I'm gone. Larry, I know this is short notice, but I really need to do this."
"All right," agreed Larry. "When you taking off?"
"I'll need to start this Thursday," replied Jordan. "Thank you, Larry. This means a lot to me."
"Glad to help out," offered Larry. After a moment of reflection he continued, "You know I was hoping you'd get to the point where you could take off and relax. The last year and a half has been as tough on you as it gets. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"No, this is plenty," replied a grateful Jordan. "Larry, thanks again."
Even though the weekend rushed by it was not quick enough for Jordan. His impatience ate at him as he tried to divert his attention by watching a marathon of horror movies on TV. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday was pure torture. Finally, the day was over and he was headed home to make his final plans for Thursday, his first day of vacation.
Thursday, 10:00am, Vacation Day One
The security guard unlocked the door and opened the mall for business. Jordan and a few others made their way through the entrance and scattered in different directions. Before long he came to Mademoiselle's Nails. He quickly surveyed the scene and located a bench in the middle of the walkway. It was made of wood and was as hard as rock. Jordan made himself as comfortable as he could as he started his vigil.
It had been one week since he had seen Wendy coming out of Mademoiselle's Nails. He knew this was the type of store that a woman would not go to every day. Most women would go there once or twice a month. He did know some at work who attended a salon every week. Wendy did not seem to be the kind who would need to do that. But Jordan was not willing to take a chance and miss seeing her. He was determined to sit on the bench all day if necessary. Once she made an appearance, it would give him the opportunity to approach her and hopefully become reacquainted.
He had made no plans beyond greeting her. All his efforts had been concentrated on finding her. Now he had time to pause and think about what the conversation would be about. As he sat and watched the mall fill with more people his mind tried out different scenarios of what it would be like to talk to her. Finally, he settled on keeping it simple. He would ask her to dinner. From there he would make it up as it went along.
From his vantage point, Jordan could easily see who entered and exited Mademoiselle's Nails. Also, he had a bird's eye view of the shoppers as they meandered down the walkway between the shops. It was not long before the whole scene had reinforced his distaste for the stores and the shopping public. He could not help from muttering to himself, "I hate this mall."
His thoughts were interrupted when he noticed a little woman staring at him. He immediately recognized her as the Italian lady who worked at Mademoiselle's Nails. She glared at him with all the venom her little body could muster. Jordan made an attempt at a faint smile, but she turned in disgust and walked into the store. He blew a sigh of relief and wiped his moist brow. It dawned on him that his vacation may not be as easy as he had first imagined.
When morning slipped into early afternoon, the lunch crowd arrived at the mall. Not only were there more people but the hustle and bustle increased. Jordan was busy scanning the crowd in hopes of locating Wendy when he realized he was getting hungry, too. He had eaten an early breakfast and now his stomach was telling him it was time to eat again. The Meaty Meat restaurant was directly behind him, but he was not willing to go there and take a chance on missing Wendy if she came into the mall. He remembered there was a hamburger joint just around the corner. But to go there to eat would be taking a chance of not seeing Wendy. He studied the matter for a while when two young men walked by.
"Hey, guys," yelled Jordan to get their attention.
"Yo, what's up man?" asked the taller of the two.
"I was wondering if you could do me a favor?" inquired Jordan.
"What you want?" asked the shorter young man.
"I can't leave this bench," explained Jordan. "I'm waiting on a very important person. So, I was wondering if you could go around the corner and buy me a cheeseburger?"
"Hey, man, we ain't got no money," replied the young man.
"That's OK," offered Jordan. "Here's $10. You can keep the change when you bring me my burger."
"I don't know, man..." hesitated the taller of the two.
"Look, here's another $10," offered Jordan as he handed them the bills. "This will be enough to buy us all a hamburger."
"OK, man, you got a deal," they replied as they took the money.
Jordan watched as they rounded the corner and vanished from sight. At that moment he realized they would never bring him a burger and he would never see his money again. Two hours later as his stomach growled with hunger he was pressed with an even more urgent need. With all his careful planning he had forgotten to take into consideration the need to go to the rest room.
The hardness of the bench and the fullness of his bladder made Jordan squirm with pain. Finally, he could not take anymore and rushed to the rest room. Quickly finishing his business, he washed his hands and hurried back into the mall. He checked Mademoiselle's Nails to see if Wendy had entered the store while he was indisposed. She was not in there, and he quickly returned to the bench when he saw the little Italian woman staring at him.
It was 10pm when the mall closed. Jordan rushed to his car and headed to the nearest fast food place. He was famished and the greasy cheeseburger hit the spot. While consuming the burger he made his plans for the next day. This time he was resolved to make things better.
Friday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Two
The mall opened for business. Jordan and a few other shoppers made their way inside. He checked his pocket to make sure his cell phone was still there. At Mademoiselle's Nails he laid the padded cushion he had brought onto the bench. As he settled down he closed his eyes and sighed with relief. He was not sure he could have made it through another day sitting on the hard bench. Now with the cushion, he was convinced he could stay and endure the rigors of a day-long sit.
When he opened his eyes he saw the little Italian woman staring at him again. He smiled at her and wiggled his fingers in a halfhearted wave. With a grunt of disgust she turned and walked into Mademoiselle's Nails.
Jordan was listening intently to the conversation of two elderly women sitting on the bench behind him when his cell phone rang. They were having a lively discussion about their husbands' impotence and the effects a new herb treatment was having. Reluctantly, he turned his attention to the ringing phone.
"Dad, are you OK?" asked the voice on the other end.
"Sure, Mary, I'm fine," he replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I was worried," answered Mary as she sounded relieved. "I called your office and they said you were not there. They said you were on vacation."
"Yeah, I decided to use up some vacation time and take some days off," Jordan offered, as reassuring as he could.
"Well, it scared me," declared Mary. "You haven't missed work since Mom died."
"Yeah, I know," agreed Jordan. "I figured it's time."
After a moment of silence, Mary asked, "Where are you at? What's all that noise?"
"Oh, I'm at the mall," replied Jordan. "There's quite a few people walking around."
"What are you doing there?" asked a surprised Mary. "You hate shopping."
"Yeah, well, I'm just picking up a few things," offered Jordan. "Hopefully I won't be here much longer."
"Where are you going on vacation?" inquired Mary.
"Oh, nowhere. I'm gonna just hang around home," replied Jordan. "It's nice just not going to work everyday."
"Why don't you come up here for a few days?" asked a hopeful Mary. "Jon's on business this week about thirty miles from here. That way you could see both of us."
"Oh, sweetheart, I'd love to see you and your brother," reflected Jordan. "But I really don't feel like traveling. I just want to hang around here for a while."
"Well, OK. But if you change your mind, come on up," offered Mary. "You take care of yourself. You're not used to all that mall stuff."
"I will," laughed Jordan. "I love you."
"Love you, too, Dad. Bye."
Jordan closed his phone and turned his attention back to the elderly women behind him, only to find they had left. He was mildly disappointed he had missed the rest of their conversation.
After sitting a few more hours it became necessary for a rest room trip. This time he had planned exactly what he would do. On his way he quickly scanned Mademoiselle's Nails to make sure Wendy was not in there. When he returned he checked again before taking his place on the bench. He knew if she had gone into the store while he was in the rest room, she would be in there for a while. Mademoiselle's Nails was not the kind of shop a woman would rush into and rush out. All he had to do was wait and watch for her to come out.
It was not long before hunger struck again. This time he was prepared. He dialed a number on his phone and waited for someone to answer.
"Meaty Meat restaurant, how may I help you?"
"Yes, do you have roast beef today?"
"Yes, we do."
"Good. I'd like to place an order. You will deliver, right?"
"Yes, we will. It'll be a 10% added delivery charge."
"That'll be fine. I'd like the sandwich with chips and tea."
"Uh, well, you see, I really don't have one."
"Well, Mr. Collins, it's kinda hard for us to deliver without knowing where you are."
"Oh, that's no problem. If you'll look out toward Mademoiselle's Nails, you'll see me. I'm sitting on the bench there."
The man looked through the glass surrounding the restaurant and saw Jordan waving at him from the bench. He waved back at Jordan.
"Uh, why don't you just come in here and place your order?"
"Oh, I wish I could. I know this looks sorta strange and all, but I'm waiting on a very important person and I can't take a chance on missing them."
"So, you want us to deliver your order all the way to that bench?"
"Yes, I do."
"It's still gonna be 10% added to the bill."
"That'll be fine."
"OK, sir, it's your money. We'll have it there in about ten minutes."
The sandwich was delicious and later that evening, Jordan ordered dinner. It was delivered to him as he sat on the bench.
Saturday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Three
Jordan placed the cushion in just the right place as he settled down on the bench for another day of vacation. Learning from the last two days, he had his Wendy Watch down to a science. He knew exactly when to order lunch and dinner, and he had worked out a nice rest room schedule. His derriere was feeling much better with the use of the cushion, and he had learned to stand several times during the day to stretch his legs and relax his muscles. In fact, he had become brave enough to walk around some, although he never ventured far from Mademoiselle's Nails.
His thoughts were interrupted as he noticed the little Italian woman walking his way. This time she did not stop. She never took her eyes off him until she entered the store. Her icy stare sent a cold shiver down Jordan's spine. To get her off his mind, he turned his attention to the comings and goings in the mall.
In two days he had seen more than he had ever wanted to see. He had seen families shopping, lovers strolling, and singles spending more money than they should. There had been people laughing, some arguing, and a few who looked like their thoughts were miles away. Jordan watched lovers stroll by arm in arm. He had seen husbands and wives come by who could glance at each other and immediately know what the other was thinking. Then there were other couples that had no interest in what their partner was doing. It was obvious their relationships were going nowhere.
He saw elderly people, couples and singles, milling around looking for bargains. It seemed they always had time to stop and talk to anyone who was willing to listen. He delighted in people sitting on the bench with him. They would make small talk and sometimes he would pretend not to listen as people behind him conversed on any and every subject imaginable.
There were couples who only had eyes for each other. Then there were the men who were so busy checking out other women, they never saw their woman making eyes at other men. Anything a person wanted to see was found at the mall.
Jordan was brought back to reality by the little boy's voice. He looked to be about eight years old. "Well, hello, son."
"I want a dollar!"
"You'll have to ask your parents for that," offered Jordan as he smiled at the audacity of the young man.
"I want a dollar!"
"Well, like I said, you'll have to..."
His words were interrupted when the boy raised his leg and brought his foot down on Jordan's with all his might. Jordan grabbed his ankle and yelled in pain.
"Why, you little..."
"Jeffrey!" screamed his mother as she took him by the arm. "How many times have I told you to never talk to strangers?" Tugging on his arm, she drugged him with her down the walkway. Jordan massaged his throbbing foot as he watch them disappear around the corner. To anyone who would listen, he muttered, "I hate this mall."
Sunday, 1:00pm, Vacation Day Four
As Jordan settled onto the bench at Mademoiselle's Nails he was glad the mall was only open until eight. He was definitely tired of spending his time there, and yet, he was just as determined as ever to wait for Wendy to make an appearance.
It was later in the afternoon when he realized he had not seen the little Italian woman. He reckoned this must be her day off from work. While watching the movement around him, a mall security officer sat down beside him. Jordan nodded his head at him and the man returned the acknowledgment.
"You know," offered the man. "When I left from work on Thursday you were sitting here. Now that I'm back at work, what do I find? You're still sitting here."
"Well, I'm just waiting on someone," replied Jordan.
"Who would that be?" asked the man.
"She a friend?" inquired the man.
"Well, she's more of an acquaintance," explained Jordan. "Hopefully she'll be here before long."
"Now you're not just another vagrant trying to pull my leg? Are you?" smiled the security officer.
"No, not at all," protested Jordan. "I've spent a lot of money in this mall. In fact, I'm one of Meaty Meat's best customers. You can ask them. They'll tell you."
"You can believe I'll ask them," asserted the man.
Jordan looked at the man and then offered, "Have you had lunch?"
"No, not yet," replied the security officer.
"May I buy you a meal?" inquired Jordan.
"Well, I don't know..."
"Please, it'll be my pleasure," interrupted Jordan. "Do you like roast beef?"
"It's one of my favorites," replied the man.
"Meaty Meat has the best," reflected Jordan. "Let me order for us."
Before long Jordan and the security officer were eating lunch while they shared the bench. After sipping some tea, Jordan introduced himself, "My name's Jordan Collins."
"The name's Beaver. Chuck Beaver," offered the man. After a moment of reflection he continued, "Tell me, Jordan. You had Meaty Meat deliver all the way to this bench?"
Jordan smiled and replied, "Yeah, I know it doesn't make much sense. But I don't want to miss the lady I'm waiting on." Trying to change the subject he asked, "How long you been a security guard?"
"At this mall we're not security guards," replied Chuck. "We're security officers!"
"Oh, I didn't know," reflected Jordan. "So, how long have you been here?"
"A little over a year," replied Chuck. He looked down the walkway and then turned back to Jordan, "Why are you really here? Tell it to me straight man."
Jordan bit his lip. He turned toward Chuck and told him the whole story of his life with and without Jill. Chuck listened intently as Jordan explained about seeing Wendy coming out of Mademoiselle's Nails. He told how he was using his vacation time to sit and watch for Wendy to come back to the mall. Chuck scratched his chin and then said, "Man, she must be one hot chick for you to sit here waiting on her."
"Well, I don't know," replied Jordan. "I believe she's a very classy lady. All I know is if I don't try to meet her I'll never know."
"All right, Jordan," offered Chuck. "I'm gonna believe you for now. But if I find out you're some kinda weirdo or a stalker or something, I'll throw you in our holding tank 'til the cops get here and lock you up. That's a promise."
"You'll have no problems out of me," declared Jordan.
The day unfolded as usual, and eventually it was time for the mall to close. There had been no Wendy sightings. Jordan gathered his belongings and headed home.
Monday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Five
Jordan clutched the box tightly as he entered the mall and took his place on the bench. Once again he did not see the little Italian lady go to work. However, he did see Chuck strolling down the walkway. He yelled for him to come over and join him on the bench.
"Good morning, Chuck."
Chuck flopped down beside him as he opened the box. "Care for a doughnut?" he asked.
"Why, thank you very much," replied Chuck as he took two. Jordan ordered some coffee from Meaty Meat and the two men spent the better part of the hour talking sports and women.
Today the minutes dragged by. Jordan felt some relief when the day was over. He could not hide his disappointment in not finding Wendy, but he was especially tired and wanted to go home. It would not be long before it was another day and he would be back at the mall to start his Wendy Watch again.
Tuesday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Six
Chuck joined Jordan on the bench for coffee and doughnuts. While they were eating, the little Italian woman walked by on her way to work. She looked long and hard at the two men but continued toward Mademoiselle's Nails without saying anything.
After eating and conversing for a while, Chuck continued on his way. The morning hours gave way to the afternoon as Jordan maintained his vigil. About the middle of the afternoon he was joined on the bench by one of the women who worked for the janitorial service who kept the mall clean. She took off her shoes and started rubbing her tired feet.
"Long day?" asked Jordan as he felt sympathy for the woman.
"Long week," she wearily replied. "But bills have to be paid, so I have to keep working."
Jordan introduced himself and found out the woman's name was Helga. They were immersed in chitchat when another worker walked by. Helga stopped in mid-sentence to watch the man empty a nearby trash container. Jordan smiled to himself as he recognized the look of love on her face. He broke the silence with a question, "Is that a fellow worker of yours?"
"Yeah," Helga replied as she sighed deeply. "That's Jonas."
"He looks like a very nice man," offered Jordan. "You two ever go out?"
"Oh, no," reflected a very embarrassed Helga. "He's nice, but he keeps his distance. There are days when he doesn't even know I exist."
"Well, keep trying, Helga," Jordan said as he tried to encourage her. "Believe me, it may take a lot of patience, but hopefully one day it will pay off."
As the mall was closing for the day, Jordan rounded the corner heading to the parking lot. He looked back at the bench he had been sitting at and muttered in frustration, "I hate this mall."
Wednesday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Seven
This day was much the same as the previous six. Jordan shared coffee and doughnuts with Chuck, talked with Helga a while, and watched as the little Italian woman slowly walked by on her way to Mademoiselle's Nails. With each passing day Jordan's heart weighed heavier with disappointment as he headed to the parking lot and drove home.
Thursday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Eight
Jordan was joined at his bench by Chuck and his fellow security officers, Brad, Jim, Bill, and Will. They shared coffee and doughnuts. Due to all his business, Meaty Meat was no longer charging a delivery fee and was, in fact, now giving Jordan a 15% discount on all orders.
Later in the day Helga joined him and before long their conversation turned to the subject of Jonas. She was so infatuated with him and, at the same time, very afraid of letting him know. As afternoon turned to evening Jordan was left alone on the bench. His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone.
"Hi, Dad, how are you?"
"I'm fine, Mary," he replied. "And how are you?"
"We're all well," she answered. "What's all that noise I hear? Are you at the mall again?"
"Yeah, I stopped by to pick up some things," Jordan replied as he tried to shield his phone from all the noise.
"Dad, what's going on?" demanded Mary. "You hate the mall. Why are you there every time I call you?"
"It's just coincidence," he offered. "I can't explain it."
"You're not telling me the truth," declared Mary. "Or, at least, you're not telling me everything that's going on."
"There's nothing to tell," offered Jordan. "There's really not."
"All right, if you say so," reflected Mary. "You sure you're OK?"
"Yes, dear, I'm fine," Jordan said as reassuring as he could. "There's no need for you to worry."
"OK, then," she said. "Dad, one of these days, when you're ready, you're gonna tell me all about this. Aren't you?"
Jordan thought for a moment, smiled and said, "Mary, you'll be the first I tell."
Closing his phone he looked up to see the young man looking at him.
"Mister, I want a dollar."
"No," Jordan said as sternly as he could.
"I said I want a dollar," demanded the boy.
"Now look, Jeffrey. It's like I said before, you're gonna have to ask your..."
Once again his words were interrupted when the boy raised his leg and brought his foot down on Jordan's with all his might. Jordan grabbed his already sore ankle and yelled with severe pain. Through clinched teeth he mumbled, "You little..."
"Jeffrey!" screamed his mother as she grabbed his arm. "I've told you and I've told you to stay away from strange men!"
Jordan looked up at her while rubbing his throbbing foot, "Look, lady..."
"You look here, Mister," yelled the mother. "You stay away from my son!"
With a huff she turned and pulled her son with her as she headed down the walkway. As they turned the corner Jeffrey stuck out his tongue at Jordan. Later that evening as he was limping to the parking lot Jordan felt as frustrated as ever. Not only did he hate the mall but he was beginning to have doubts as to whether his plan would ever work. He was beginning to feel that fate would never allow him to see Wendy Polk again.
Friday, Vacation Day Nine; Saturday, Vacation Day Ten; Sunday, Vacation Day Eleven; Monday, Vacation Day Twelve; Tuesday, Vacation Day Thirteen
One day led to another. They all started to feel the same to Jordan. His mornings were spent sharing coffee and doughnuts with Chuck and the other security officers. The little Italian woman would walk by and give him a stern look as she headed to work at Mademoiselle's Nails. He watched shoppers come and go and some would share the bench with him. In the afternoon he would be joined by Helga. Their conversations would ultimately turn to the subject of Jonas and his lack of attentiveness to her. When the mall closed, Jordan would trudge to his car and drive to his home. In the morning he would awake, shower, get dressed, and start the routine all over again.
Wednesday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Fourteen
This day started and proceeded like all the rest. There still had been no Wendy sightings. In the afternoon he approached Jonas as he was emptying a trash can.
"Jonas, my name's Jordan Collins."
"Look, I know you don't know me, but we have a mutual friend," he explained. "May I ask what you think of Helga?"
"Helga? Well, I guess she's all right," reflected Jonas. "I see her here, but I haven't thought too much about her. She's nice."
"She's a real nice lady," offered Jordan. "You're off from work tomorrow, right?"
"So is she," reflected Jordan. "I've got an idea."
He explained to Jonas what he wanted to do. Jonas hesitated at first, but Jordan used all his persuasive powers and it was not long before Jonas was on board. Later in the day Helga joined Jordan on the bench.
"You're off from work tomorrow," reflected Jordan.
"Yes, and I really need the day off," offered Helga. "I feel really tired."
"Well, how about meeting me here tomorrow morning around ten thirty?" asked a smiling Jordan.
"Come here on my day off?" asked a perplexed Helga.
"Yes. Please, do this for me," requested Jordan. "And make no plans for the whole day. I think you'll like what I have in mind."
"Jordan Collins, what are you up to?" Helga asked as she tried to read his face for any clue as to his plans.
"Just trust me," he replied. "You'll have a wonderful day."
Even though she had her doubts, Helga agreed to meet Jordan the next morning. After she resumed her work he opened his cell phone, called Mademoiselle's Nails and made the appointment. Closing his phone he took a quick look around the mall. Whether he was able to finally see Wendy tomorrow or not, he was convinced it was going to be a good day.
Thursday, 10:00am, Vacation Day Fifteen
Helga met Jordan at ten thirty. He took her by the arm and walked her to Mademoiselle's Nails.
"What are we doing here?" she asked when they reached the store.
"I have a gift for you," he replied. The little Italian woman approached him.
"Madam, this lady has a ten-thirty appointment for your TLC treatment," declared Jordan.
"Jordan, what are you doing?" asked a surprised Helga.
"This is a gift from one friend to another," he explained. "You're gonna be treated like a queen today."
"But this costs way too much money," protested Helga.
"Don't worry about it," smiled Jordan. "It's all been taken care of. You just enjoy the day."
"I don't know," Helga mildly protested as the little Italian woman started placing an apron around her dress.
"It's OK, Helga," Jordan said as he gently touched her shoulder. "And later this afternoon I have another surprise for you."
"There's something else?"
"Yes, I have made a date for you this evening," declared Jordan.
"I can't tell you. It's a blind date," laughed Jordan. Turning to the little Italian woman he said, "She's all yours."
"But Jordan..." protested Helga as he turned and walked back to the bench. He adjusted his cushion and settled in for another day of Wendy Watch.
The day was proceeding as normal when Jordan's attention was diverted to a disturbance down the walkway. He looked in time to see a man snatch a woman's purse and take off running. Chuck and another security officer took off in hot pursuit, but were a good thirty feet behind the man. They were running directly toward Jordan. He suddenly recognized the thief. It was one of the young men that had stolen his $20 when he had asked them to buy him a burger on his first day of Wendy Watch at the mall.
He watched intently as the man approached him with the security officers lugging behind. Jordan timed his action and as the man was rushing past the bench, he stuck his leg straight out. The man tripped over Jordan's leg and went sprawling face first to the floor. All the contents of the purse scattered over the walkway. Chuck and the other officer pounced on the robber and put him in handcuffs. Jordan clutched his bruised leg. Not only was his foot still hurting from the last time Jeffrey had stomped it, but now, his shin was smarting from tripping the fleeing man.
After pulling the man to his feet, Chuck approached Jordan, "Man, are you all right?"
"Yeah," he replied. "He just banged my shin."
"You need a doctor?"
"No, I'll be all right," offered Jordan.
"I'm gonna sue you!" shouted the young man. "You had no right to do that!"
"Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you," declared Chuck. "You're gonna be too busy trying to defend yourself to sue anybody!" The other officer grabbed the man by the arms and started escorting him toward the holding cell. Chuck turned to Jordan and said, "Thanks, man. You did good."
Jordan closed his eyes to help ease the pain when he heard, "Hey, Mister!"
He opened his eyes to see Jeffrey looking at him. Jordan quickly brought his legs up on the bench and away from Jeffrey's reach.
"I want a dollar!"
Jordan looked at the young man and said, "I tell you what, Jeffrey. I've got something better than a dollar."
"I want a dollar!"
Standing up on the bench, Jordan looked around the mall. He yelled, "Hey! Lady! Jeffrey's mother!" The woman approached him and stood by her son. Jordan continued, "Listen, everyone. May I have your attention? Please?" All the shoppers in hearing distance stopped and turned toward Jordan. "I'm gonna buy my little friend Jeffrey an ice cream cone at the Cream Shoppe over there in the corner. If any of you parents would allow me to buy your children some, I would be more than happy to do so. Please, everybody come with me!"
About thirty children and their parents joined Jordan at the Cream Shoppe for ice cream. He even bought the parents a cone. After thanking everyone he returned to his bench and adjusted the cushion again. The parents and children broke out in applause and Jordan took a bow. He was certain he had finally made a friend of Jeffrey and his mother.
It was late in the afternoon when he saw Helga emerge from Mademoiselle's Nails. He was momentarily stunned by her beauty. She was indeed a beautiful woman. It had just been hidden all these years.
"Wow! Helga," he gasped as he limped over to her. "If I was ten years younger I'd be your blind date."
"Oh, Jordan," she blushed. "That was wonderful! Thank you so much."
"You're more than welcomed," he said with a big grin on his face.
"How much did this cost you?" asked a somewhat somber Helga.
"Oh, don't worry about that," he replied. "It's only money."
"The ladies in the store said the TLC package cost $250," declared Helga.
"Well, maybe it did," agreed Jordan. "But how do you feel?"
"I don't know," she pondered for a moment. "I feel great. I feel beautiful."
"Then it was worth every cent," he declared as he saw Jonas approaching from behind her. Jordan could tell he was dressed in his best clothes and he was quite a handsome man.
"I believe your date is here," he said as he gently turned Helga around to face Jonas. Putting her hand to her mouth she gasped at the sight of him.
"Hello, Helga," said Jonas as he was taken back by her beauty. "You're beautiful! I mean, uh, you've always been beautiful, but Wow!"
The two stood staring at each other until finally Jordan broke the silence, "Uh, Jonas, don't you have something you want to ask Helga?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah," stammered Jonas. "Helga, will you join me for dinner?"
She turned and looked at Jordan and then smiled and said, "Yes, I will."
"Great!" declared Jordan. "Look, if you two will dine at Meaty Meat I'll be glad to pay for the dinner."
"Thank you very much," offered Jonas. "We appreciate all that you're doing, but if you don't mind, I would like to pay for Helga's dinner."
Helga turned, smiled, and nodded her head at Jordan. He laughed, "Sure. That's great! You kids go on and have a wonderful evening."
Jordan turned and walked back to his bench. He adjusted the cushion and took his seat. Helga and Jonas waved at him as she slipped her arm into his and they left for their romantic evening. Jordan was lost in his thoughts when he felt a presence beside him on the bench. He glanced over and there she was. Wendy Polk was sitting beside him. Breathing deeply to calm his nerves, he cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me, but I believe I know you."
She turned to face him and asked, "Really?"
"Yes, aren't you Wendy Polk?" he asked.
"Yes, I am, or at least, I used to be," she replied. "Who are you?"
"I'm Jordan Collins," he answered. "We went to high school together."
"Jordan Collins?" she pondered. "It seems like I remember a Jordan Collins. But that was a long time ago."
"Yeah, it's been more years than I want to admit," laughed Jordan. "So how have you been all these years?"
"Fine," she replied. "My name is now Wendy Morris."
"Oh, would I know your husband?" Jordan asked.
"Well, he's my ex, now," she explained. "I knew when I married Chad he would never be faithful, but I was blinded by love."
"That's happened to a lot of good people," offered Jordan. "I don't think I recognize a Chad Morris."
"He went to South West High," she continued. "We met at a football game. How about you? Is there a Mrs. Jordan?"
"Well, there was," he answered. "We met in college and were married until she died about a year and a half ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," offered Wendy.
"Yeah, it's been tough," he reflected. "But we had two wonderful children and life goes on. That's about all you can say about it."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," she agreed. "Well, Jordan, it's been nice seeing you again. Take care of yourself."
"Thank you, and you do likewise," he offered. "Uh, Wendy, I hope I'm not being too forward, but would you join me for dinner this evening?"
"No, I can't," she replied. "I've got somewhere to go."
"I understand," he said as he cringed with the rejection. "Well, maybe we'll cross paths again one day."
"Maybe so," she said. "Well, Jordan, take care."
"You, too, Wendy."
She rose from the bench, walked down the mall and disappeared around a corner. Jordan stared at Mademoiselle's Nails. Now he knew how it would end. No more would there be any nagging doubt as to whether he and Wendy could have a life together. He thought about the fifteen days of coming to the mall and sitting on the bench. All that vacation time spent in a place he had never liked. For a moment he thought what a waste of time it had been. Then he thought about Chuck, Helga, Jonas, Jeffrey, and all the other people he had become acquainted with. He reflected on how he had helped in catching a robber. These people at the mall he would remember for the rest of his life. No, it had not been a waste of time. In fact, it had been a pretty good vacation after all.
Jordan gathered his things and started to rise to head home when he saw Wendy sitting on the bench again. He settled back down and said, "Well, our paths meet again."
She smiled at him and asked, "Can I be honest with you?"
"Sure," he replied. "It's the only way to be."
"First of all, I do have plans tonight," she said.
"I understand," offered Jordan.
"No, really," she continued. "My mother is in a nursing home and every Thursday I join her for dinner. I try to spend as much time as I can with her."
"That's what you should do," he agreed. "I lost my parents a few years ago. You can never take them for granted."
"And there's something else," she continued. "I know you've been sitting on this bench for over two weeks."
"Yes, that is true," he admitted.
"Don't you have a job to go to?" she asked as a smile spread across her lips.
"Well, I've been on vacation," he explained.
"Vacation? You've spent your vacation sitting on this bench?" she asked almost in total disbelief.
"Uh, yes, I have," he replied.
"Why did you do that?"
He glanced at the ceiling and then back at Wendy, "I was waiting on you."
"Waiting on me?"
"Yeah, I was," he replied as he gave a weak smile. "Since we're being honest here, I need to tell you about it. I saw you coming out of Mademoiselle's Nails about three weeks ago. I recognized you and wanted to talk to you, but I didn't know how to contact you. So, I figured one day you'd come back here and I'd have a chance at getting to know you better. I mean, I'm not a stalker or anything weird like that. When you said 'No' a while ago, I was just gonna go home and continue with my life."
"That's what I thought," she reflected while slowly nodding her head.
"You knew that?" he asked with surprise.
"Yeah, Nora called me and told me a man had been sitting out here for days hoping to see me," she explained.
"Yeah, she works at Mademoiselle's Nails," she replied.
"Oh, is she that little Italian woman?" he asked.
"Yes, that's her," agreed Wendy.
"Well, I don't think she likes me too much," he reflected. "I didn't mean to upset anyone. I just wanted to ask you to dinner."
"Oh, nobody's upset with you," she offered as she laughed. "Nora thinks it's kinda cute of you to spend all your time looking for me. She said you were a kind and handsome man."
"She said that? About me?" he asked as he scratched his head in wonderment.
"Yes, she did," she replied. "And she's right. You are nice."
"She said I was handsome, too," he sheepishly offered.
"Well, that's true, too," she agreed as they laughed together. "Look, after all this, do you still want to have dinner with me?"
Jordan gazed into her blue eyes. "More than ever," he replied.
"Well, how about tomorrow night, or even better, Saturday night?" she asked.
"Either day would be great," he replied.
Wendy took a small piece of paper out of her purse and handed it to him. "Here's my phone number," she said.
As he took the paper her fingers rested briefly on his. "Thank you," he said. "I'll call you tomorrow."
She rose from the bench, smiled and said, "Don't forget." Jordan laughed and asked, "Forget what?"
He watched with pleasure as she walked toward the end of the mall. As she rounded the corner to the parking lot she turned and waved goodbye to him. He sat in silence as he reflected on what had happened. Jordan looked up at Mademoiselle's Nails and saw Nora, the little Italian woman, looking at him.
Walking over he stopped about five feet from her. He smiled and opened his arms as he approached her. Giving her a big hug he whispered, "Thank you." He kissed her on the forehead as she pushed him away and said, "You go! Be good to her! You go! You make me cry!"
Nora wiped tears from her eyes as Jordan headed toward the parking area. As he was passing Meaty Meat restaurant, he paused and looked through the window at the table where he and Jill used to sit. He watched with fascination as the image of her appeared. There she was sitting in the chair and staring at him. She smiled and slowly nodded her head. Jordan returned the smile and then blew her a kiss. Her vision slowly faded until she was replaced by an elderly woman staring at him. She was in shock at the thought of a stranger on the other side of the glass blowing her a kiss. Slowly, she raised her hand to her lips and blew a kiss back at him. He laughed, caught the kiss in his palm and brought it to his chest. After bowing toward the woman, he turned and walked toward the parking lot. As he turned the corner, he glanced up at the ceiling and yelled to no one in particular, "I love this mall!!"
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