ChoiceBy Julie BradleyI believed when I put my hands over my face covering my eyes, I actually for a minute thought the demands in front of me would disappear. I was sadly disappointed.“You do realize I can still see you?” Dari said. I slowly lowered my hands. “Of course, I was just hoping you would go away,” I answered smirking. Dari kept looking serious and raised an eyebrow. “Are you done playing?” She asked. I took a deep cleansing breath.“Ok, what else is on the table?” I responded. Her list was long, but that was nothing new. Dari is my human resources manager. She has worked with me now for five years. So far she has kept me in line with what corporate expects from us. I am the manager of a home improvement warehouse which keeps me working 24/7. My store generated over thirty-five million dollars last year, which virtually makes me the CEO of my own company. I am known for being a bit of a workaholic; okay, definitely a full blown accomplishment addict. Managing the store is just one of the things I do with my time. I also volunteer with a horse rescue and two equestrian therapy classes, and do odd jobs for friends just to help them out. Last Saturday, I met my friends at Dave and Buster's for my forty-first birthday party. Apparently I was a little late.“I left work two hours ago and you’re a half hour late!” Dari feigned a harsh tone, still sitting in the booth. I apologized with a grin. Kris stood from her seat.“Jewel, how does it feel to be forty-one?” She smiled.I said with a twinge in my heart, “I don’t feel that old. I can’t believe I’m over thirty.” Suddenly Kris' kids came running up yelling, “Happy Birthday!” Her son is fourteen and her daughter is eleven. They are great kids, big smiles and all.After eating, my friend’s kids went to play games and left us adults to chat. “Jewel, you ever going to settle down?” Kris asked.“I haven’t found the right man,” I replied. “No, you haven’t given the men a chance. You are very independent and you don’t take time for yourself. You put your volunteering and work first. You have a ton of animals at home to care for morning and night,” Dari said. “I love the animals and like helping out.” I defended myself.“No one said to get rid of your horses and dogs. Just find some time and give a guy a chance,” Dari finished.I opened my mouth to argue and then shut it realizing she probably was right. Kris changed the subject and talked to Dari about something else and I sat there thinking about my life. The truth is that I would love to find the right man, and I would still love to have kids. I wondered if I had missed out on that chance now that I am forty-one. What if I had been working too hard to compete with the men managers and I missed out on a wonderful relationship? Is this a mid-life crisis already? Sadness hit me so hard. How could I spare the time for a date? How would I even find a date? Kris' kids interrupted my sad introspection by asking their mother when they were going home. I took a deep breath and tried to snap out of it. I went home that night wondering about all the chances I didn't even know I had missed.Sunday I was walking around Wal-Mart grocery shopping. I watched small families envious of the bond between parents and kids. The couples I saw made me think of how I wanted a relationship. My blackberry went off with a message from my district manager asking me to follow up on a special. I stopped what I was doing and called my store to give my assistant manager directions. Putting my phone away I noticed how quickly I just dropped everything for work. I started thinking, look at me, it’s my day off and I rush to ensure I get everything done 110%. Heaven forbid I screw up and one of my fellow male managers find out about it. I feel I have to always be better or I wouldn’t have the position I have. I took a huge breath to clear my mind. I decided to pick up the pace and get home to get everything done I needed to.The next Wednesday after the staff meeting Finnie, the receiving manager caught me heading to my office. “Hey Jewel, Charlie said to tell you to get out to see him. He wants to show you a great deal.”“Charlie loves this store. He never gives any other store his personal service.” The garden department supervisor chimed in. Dari overheard and asked, “Who is Charlie?” “The owner of the nursery that supplies us with all of our landscaping live goods,” Finnie answered. “Finnie, tell him I will be right out. I just need to return a phone call”. Finnie nodded to my answer. As I walked in my office I heard Dari ask Finnie more about Charlie.I walked out of the office and started heading to the gardening department. Dari caught up with me.“What’s up?” I asked. “Nothing, I just wanted to go see the flowers. I don’t get much of a chance to get out to garden,” she responded. “Well you can stay late tonight and help us stack the soil and manure.” The only response she gave me was a sigh and the shaking no of her head.I walked around the corner into the gardening center and saw Finnie and Charlie laughing at something hysterically. Finnie was in her late 50’s and stood around my height of 5’9”, Charlie towered over her. Charlie was maybe in his mid 30’s and about 6’5”. Charlie’s laugh was loud and deep, very masculine. Their laughter was contagious and Dari and I started smiling and laughing as we approached them. Dari whispered to me, “Hey, Charlie’s cute.” I glanced at her, then back at Charlie; I hadn't noticed him that way before. “What's so funny, guys?” I asked. Finnie was holding a phone looking at a picture, still chuckling.“My daughter and I went over to my brother’s house for dinner and she stepped in something she didn’t like,” Charlie said. He must have read my question right from my face. “My brother is a dairy farmer and she was chasing a calf.” I understood and started to laugh realizing she stepped in a cow pie. Finnie handed me the phone. The picture showed a young girl maybe around ten holding a really brown running shoe in the air. The shoe appeared to have been originally white.“Fresh, huh?” I said laughing. I looked up to very proud father’s face.“It was very fresh, but her Aunt washed it right away, so she is happy now.”I said, “She has blond hair like yours and she looks a lot like you”. He responded as he was handed back his phone, “She has her moms smile and ears”. Dari asked, “Do you have a picture of her Mom?” He nodded and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out a much worn photo of a beautiful brown haired woman. Dari said “Your wife is beautiful. You two must be very proud of your daughter.” He nodded and said very monotone, “My wife was beautiful and I am very proud of my daughter. She takes after my wife in many ways.” He paused for a minute and we all could tell there was more. He took a deep breath and said “Tammy was killed in a car accident 6 years ago.” We all were silent for a second and I said, “Sorry.”He said focusing on putting away the photo “Thanks. She was amazing and such a good Mom.” Finnie, being the very caring woman she is asked, “Charlie. How is your daughter doing?” He gave a real smile and said, “Great. Really, Jane and I are good with it. She wonders about her. When she misses her a bit too much I have her spend some time with Ruth, my sister in law. In matter of a fact she and her Aunt pick on me to get back out there.”Finnie said encouraging, “You should you’re a handsome man, a good catch”.Dari not missing a beat said, “You should, and take Jewel with you. She needs to get out also.” Charlie looked at me curiously. I felt warmth filling my face with color. Charlie smiled and said, “Maybe. What do you think Jewel?” I really did know how to talk, between my brain and mouth nothing came out. Dari let out a single laugh and said, “That’s a yes. She just gets tongue tied when she is looking forward to something.”Charlie said cheerfully, “Great, now I don’t have to get out there alone.” His smile turned a little shy looking then said, “Good, then you can come out to the nursery Saturday and I will show you the great deal then. After that we can go out and face the world together.” My voice came back to me a bit and even though I stuttered I said, “I work Saturday.” Dari said in a bossy tone, “Oh no, I will get you plenty of coverage here by noon so you can go visit Charlie’s nursery. That is work related.” Finnie spoke quicker than normal and said, “Great then. Charlie here is your paperwork lets get you out of here.” Charlie gave Finnie an understanding nod and said, “Jewel I will see you Saturday, let’s say around two at the nursery. I will email you the address and dress in jeans so you can get dirty.” I nodded a bit and I think my eyes where still a bit wide because Dari answered for me saying, “She will be there.” He raised his hand in a single wave and I did the same. I watched him walk away wondering what the heck just happened and where did I loose control.I was so deep in thought I was startled when Dari touched my arm. She started laughing and asked, “You okay? You have been just standing there for a few minutes.”“I can’t hang out with Charlie he’s a vendor,” I responded.She gave me a big grin and said, “There is nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t let you get into too much trouble.”“Thanks a lot!” I said with complete sarcasm.Proud of herself she said, “You’re nervous, it’s just hanging out.” “Now that was fun,” Finnie said approaching us. As they laughed and I turned to them and asked, “What the heck just happened?” “Don’t worry about it, just have fun Saturday,” Finnie said still laughing. “No kidding he is good looking and his daughter Jane, cute as a button,” Dari said.“Charlie isn’t interested in me like that we’ve known each other about a year and we haven’t ever flirted,” I responded.Dari said, “Wow, you don’t have a clue do you?” I frowned at her.Finnie said, “Dari is right, Charlie does like you. He comes to this store himself for a reason.” After a minute I said, “I thought he just saw me in a friendly way.” Both women shook their heads as if thinking poor pitiful me. The department supervisor walked over to us and Dari asked him without pause, “Hey, Jason do you think Charlie likes Jewel?” He didn’t even hesitate and answered, “Oh ya, and I love it. We get the best selection and the healthiest plants.” Jason kept passing us, I said to Dari, “He is at least 5 years younger than me.” “So?” She said“Don’t you think he is cute?” Finnie asked“Well ya I guess,” I answered. I really started thinking about it and added, “He is tall and very athletic looking.” “See that’s more like it,” Dari saidSaturday was busy and I was working hard helping an employee load a grill into a customer’s car when I saw Dari. After wiping sweat off my brow I asked, “What are you doing here?” “It is after 11:30. It is time for you to leave,” she said. I felt frustration because I wanted to stay to ensure everything went smoothly. Dari sighed and said, “Come on my husband wants to go to a movie, so I need to get out of here and I am not leaving with out you.” I paused to long and she said, “You have trained everyone well. You want a life outside of work and this is the first step. I’ll wait for you in your office. If you are not there in 20 minutes I will get on the pager and announce you are scared to have a personal life.” I had to laugh, she would do that.By noon I drove out of the parking lot. I thought of two things while driving home to shower and change. One was that I worried about my responsibilities at the store. The other was I was about to go to Charlie’s nursery. The past few days I had thought about him. I guess I had assumed he was married. When I am at work I put myself in the mind set of work first and everything else second. I never took the time to completely see the man Charlie. He was attractive and had a great personality. We always had a great time talking as we worked. I never allowed myself to pay attention to what a great person he was. Sometimes I really blind myself from things around me to focus in on being as close to perfect as possible concerning work. I found myself shaking my head disappointed in myself.When I was within a mile from the nursery I found myself nervous. I ran my fingers through my hair. I started licking my lips and then quickly put more Chap Stick on. I saw a huge wood sign saying “Nursery From Heaven”. Rows of green houses stretched out on the left side of the property. On the right was a log cabin style house. There was a huge tree in the front yard with a rope swing hanging from it. I parked my truck in front of the house. As I stepped out I ran my hands nervously through my hair again. Instead of heading straight to the front door I headed for the swing instead. I swung the rope and suddenly a child’s voice from behind me said, “You can swing on it if you want.” There stood a young blonde girl with a ponytail smiling at me. “Oh, that’s ok, I was just looking. I had one of these when I was kid,” I responded.She studied me a minute and it made me nervous, then asked, “Are you Jewel?” I nodded not knowing if that was a good thing or bad. She actually checked me out from head to toe. I felt more nervous than if I was giving a presentation to regional management. A minute later she held out her hand for me to take and said, “Dad’s waiting for you around back.” I wiped the nervousness from my hand and took hers. I did well with kids and liked them, but for some reason I really wanted Jane to approve of me.We walked around the back of the house and I saw Charlie working over a large table. He had flowers and soil piled on the table next to him. Jane said “Dad, she is here.”He looked up and smiled at me and I couldn’t help but smile back. When we reached the table she let go of my hand and walked around the table next to her Dad. She climbed up on a step stool and leaned over the table like her father. I asked, “What are you doing?”He stood straight and rubbed some of the dirt off his hand and said, “Making you a hanging planter. Jane has to make one for her girls scout project and I already have plenty around our house”.“Wow, thanks,” I said. Jane smiled and said seriously, “Dad was just helping fill the planter while I went to go get you.” The wooden pot was rustic and beautiful. I asked, “You built this?” “I am only nine and a half. I found the old bucket and cleaned it up,” she said. “Well great job. You’ve worked hard.” I responded. Jane smiled and said, “We are planting wild flowers since they are your favorite.”I was surprised. I asked, “How did you know they are my favorite?” Jane looked at her Dad and Charlie answered, “Several months ago you said that you loved wild flowers and would prefer potted flowers to cut ones. You don’t like to see the cut ones die.” I watched him help Jane and was amazed he remembered our conversation.Jane held up the planter full of flowers and Charlie took a picture. She then brought them over to me. I took it saying, “Thank you, I’ll hang it first thing in the morning on my porch.” We smiled at each other and her Dad said, “Go clean up we’ll drop you off with your cousins in a little while.” She ran in side the house taking the camera. Charlie said, “Leave that here and let me show you around.”The first few minutes we didn’t speak. I was actually really nervous being alone with him. He told me the history of the nursery and showed me the process of growing potted flowers. When we came to one building he showed me a very healthy flowering plant full of blooms. He explained that this plant would be a great item to sell in my store because of how hearty it is and how long the blooms last. “Special deal?” I asked. He nodded, “Next shipment?” “Deal,” I responded. “These will sell better than hot cakes on a Sunday morning,” he said. I laughed at the comparison and he said, “Your face lights up when you smile.” I felt my face turn red and said, “Thanks.” He was smiling. As we walked back up to the house Charlie said, “Your Birthday just past so I will get you the best steak for dinner. How old are you now, twenty-nine?” I shook my head and answered saying, “Older than you.” “Can’t be by much, I’m turning thirty-five next month,” he responded. I took a deep breath and said, “I turned forty-one.” He acted relieved and sarcastic saying, “Is that it, wow what a relief.” I moved to hit his forearm and he grabbed my hand. I was startled and looked up to his eyes. He gave me a warm smile that made me want him to keep holding my hand.After we dropped off Jane at his brother’s house, we drove just a couple miles down the road to an old railroad station that was remodeled into a restaurant. The restaurant was cozy and very casual. The waiter or host yelled out, “Hey Charlie just pick a table.” Charlie turned to me and said, “I’ve been here a few times.” That look in his face when he smiled at me made my stomach tighten in a good nervous way. We had such great conversation through dinner. We laughed until we had tears and we shared personal life stories. Every time one of my phones beeped I tried not to pay attention to it. Charlie asked, “It’s hard and to find time for a personal life?” I nodded, disturbed by my work interrupting our time together. He said, “My sister-n-law is a lawyer and I assume you, like her, have to constantly prove yourself to you peers.” I nodded again. He took my hand on the table and held it tight. He said, “You will never have to prove yourself to me. I know how great you are.” I stared into his eyes and felt my heart pound. I said, “I’ve worked so hard to get where I am.” He grinned and responded, “You don’t have to prove yourself over and over unless you want the career to be your life. It may not be fair how people are judged, but what you have to decide, is if you care that much what they think.” Two weeks later Charlie and Jane picked me up from work. Charlie asked, “Are you sure you can leave early to go to the movie with us?” I responded by taking his hand and saying, “You are more important and I will make time.” Jane took my other hand and looked up to me smiling. In almost a whisper back to Charlie I said, “You are both definitely worth it.”
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