I’m zipping down Parker Avenue, cursing myself and wondering why I didn’t charge my cell phone last night. If I were a smart man, which I sometimes claim to be, I might’ve called Tessa and asked her to sneak my charger over during lunch. Only, Mr. Boss-man was hovering around my desk all day. I could see his reflection in my computer screen. It’s like he knows. They were supposed to call today.
Now I’m flying through the intersection at Wildwood. It’s dark—- already past the close of business. I corner Stone Row (my home row, as I like to say). Suddenly, I’m slamming the breaks. I didn’t notice when I turned that Felicity had just backed down her driveway into the street and was taking her merry old time shifting from reverse to drive. Stop. Stop. Stop!
Felicity’s Toyota creeps into drive and eases into momentum as my Nissan skids and stops. I lay on the horn as she pulls away. I turn in my own driveway and close the garage door behind me.
Inside, Tessa’s sitting on my couch, watching a Law & Order rerun.
“Hey,” she looks up at me. I nod and rush past her into my bedroom.
“Well, hello to you too, Tessa. How was your day?” she mimics, and then shouts to me: “Don’t worry about tidying the bedroom tonight dear, I can’t stay. I have a thing in the morning…What are you doing?”
“Getting this,” I walk out holding my charger. I march to the kitchen, clear the counter with my arm, and plug the darn thing in. Whew.
“Did they call?”
“Maybe. My phone died.”
“Can’t you call your voicemail from another phone?”
“I’m not that fancy.”
“Couldn’t you call them from work?”
“For a job offer? They should call me. I don’t wanna seem needy.”
“Not like you are or anything.”
“And you didn’t give them your work number?”
“Well, that stinks… So, I heard this screech;”—- Tessa shifts gears faster than a Mercedes-— “I look outside and there you are almost plowing into your neighbor’s bumper.”
“Yeah. Felicity across the street.” I fiddle with the phone, “Shush. I’m trying to listen.”
“Whoooo! They want me to come in tomorrow. I think I got it!” I run over to the couch, throw my arms around Tessa, and give her a wet kiss on the mouth.
“Don’t you have to tell them you’re coming?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got the guy’s cell number. I’ll be back in a sec.”
I disappear in my room for privacy. Thankfully, Dave answers. I give my sincerest apologies and arrange to come in at nine.
“I’m going in tomorrow!” I yell and jump on the couch.
“Yay! I’m so proud of you,” Tessa says and kisses me.
“What did you say about not staying tonight?”
“I’ve got to go in tomorrow—early. My place is closer.”
“No, stay tonight. I could drive. We could carpool. It’d be pretty fast.”
“Rick,” she says in her don’t-mess-with-me tone.
Tessa’s gone home. It’s late. I’m listening to jazz and finishing off the cabernet we cracked open to celebrate. Tess said I shouldn’t drink too much in case they send me for a drug test tomorrow. I said unless she’s laced the cabernet with something, I should be fine.
I’m looking out the window. There’s a fine late-September mist falling. I see Felicity pull in her driveway. My, we’re out late. Felicity’s house is a mirror image of my own—small, one level, with a fake brick façade and faded green shutters.
I call in sick in the morning: the third time in three weeks. No wonder Frank is wondering what’s going on. Oh well.
Before I know it, I’ve got an official handshake, a compensation package, a stack of papers from the HR guy, and internet directions to the drug testing center. I am absolutely elated. I’ve called Tessa to tell her the good news. Whoever said there’s no such thing as a dream job never met me. I feel like a kid. Dreams do come true!
Now I’m downing bottles of water as I speed along. I hope there’s not a long line at the clinic: My bladder can’t take this kind of abuse.
I find my way to the mega office center and take the elevator to the third floor. Down a beige hallway. Room 303… I open the door. Every seat is filled in the waiting area, and someone is standing at the clinic window. The lady moves away from the office window. I move in to sign my name. I look up, and there’s Felicity sitting in the office.
She smiles when she looks at me. “Hey, Rick.”
“I didn’t know you worked here.”
“I don’t. Well, not totally. I’ve agreed to temp here once a week on my days off. I’m a nurse at Mercy down the block.”
“Oh, I see.” She looks at me placidly. Felicity’s maybe a year or two older than Tessa, but definitely not as cute.
“Were you okay last night?” she asks. Oops. What does she mean by that? Was I “Okay” when I almost crunched her back end, or when I blasted the horn at her for moving too slow?
“I… um… sorry about that—I was in a rush to get home and share the good news about my job offer with my girlfriend.”
“Thanks… where were you headed? I noticed you got back late.”
“Church. I go every Tuesday and Thursday night.”
“Church? At night?”
She nods as the phone rings. I go back into the waiting area and find a place to stand along the wall, with my legs crossed.
Felicity actually processes my urine sample to send to the lab, which I think is weird. She acts strictly professional though—- she does not initiate any more conversation. I leave the clinic, relieved in more ways than one. On the drive home, I vaguely wonder if Felicity belongs to a cult.
That was Friday. Tess and I celebrate all weekend. It’s great. A BBQ Friday evening, and then a trip to Blockbuster to rent DVDs for an all-night movie marathon. We sleep in until Saturday afternoon, and then I take Tess out to dinner—- Vinny’s, this Italian place you only go to if you’re willing to sacrifice one of your limbs. We go out for drinks after that, wander in sometime Sunday morning, and sleep all day.
Monday is Monday… like any other workweek Monday… except I’m sure I’ve got this silly grin on my face—- I’ve got it made. I’m going to draft my resignation letter tonight. I can’t wait to see the look on Frank’s face. Perfect!
Tuesday comes. It’s a little rainy. I’m in the break room, mixing powdered creamer into my coffee. I have a meeting this afternoon with Frank, and my resignation letter is in my pocket. My cell rings. It’s Dave.
“Dave! How are you? Thanks for calling.”
“Sure, Rick, listen. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we have to rescind our offer.”
“Rick, you’re a great candidate, or you were, but your drug test came back positive. We have a no-tolerance policy. I’m sorry.”
“Wait. That’s not possible. Can’t I retake the test? There must have been a mix-up. I’ve never done drugs of any kind in my entire life.” I’m panicking. I’ve been falsely accused. I smoked pot once when I was seventeen with some kids from school. I hated it and never touched the stuff again. “What if the collection site mixed up my sample with someone else’s? There has to be a mistake. I’m completely clean!”
“Rick, our testing center is top-notch. In general, incidents are rare, and we’ve never had a problem before. You’ll have a formal letter from us tomorrow. We’re sorry.”
Dave hangs up. I sit stunned. How can this be? The greatest job opportunity of my life just told me I’m a pothead. I try calling Tessa. I get her voicemail. I leave no message. I take my luke-warm coffee back to my cubicle. Frank comes by asking if we can push back our meeting to tomorrow morning. Well, that’s something. At least I hadn’t quit my job yet. “Never mind,” I tell him. “I think I’ve got things figured out now.”
I’m staring at the Excel spreadsheet on my screen. The shock is beginning to wear off — now I’m getting angry. I’ve been sabotaged. It’s not possible that my drug test was positive. Not at all. There must have been a mix-up…
Felicity must’ve screwed up. She’s working two jobs; she’s probably too tired to keep things straight. She’s stupid and greedy.
No. Felicity did it on purpose.
With this thought, I can feel my face flush. It’s all starting to make sense. Of course, she was upset at me for being a jerk and almost rear-ending her. So she decides to get back at me by switching my sample, or by doing something to it. That must be it. Felicity caused me to lose my job.
I’m swerving down Parker Avenue. It’s dark already. My palms are sweating. I’m swinging through Wildwood, cutting some guy off, and turning on Stone Row and into Felicity’s driveway.
I buzz the doorbell repeatedly. She opens.
“Rick! Hey…come on in. What’s up?”
“You don’t know.” I walk through the door.
“No…?” She asks with a giggle.
“You caused me to fail my drug test!”
“Rick…” She looks at me. Guilty as charged. I can tell by her expression.
“You did. You are going to tell your superior, or whoever, that you tampered with samples, and you are going to tell them that I am perfectly fine. You tell them to give me my job back. Call right now.” I thrust my cell phone in her face and let it hang there.
“Rick…” She’s looking at me funny, “I don’t do any of the actual drug testing. I collect the samples and send them to the lab.”
“You switched mine.”
“I did no such thing! I process samples one at a time. You signed the label that I sealed the bottle with, remember? You witnessed it.”
“You did something to it.”
“Why would I do that?”
I am seething by this point. Why can’t she just admit it? I’ve cornered her.
“Why would I mess with anyone’s samples? Especially my neighbor’s?”
“You were getting back at me.”
“For what? Rick, I am sorry if the results caused you to lose your job offer, but I had nothing to do with it.”
“I did drugs once when I was a kid and that was it. It’s not possible.”
“Well… maybe you were around someone who was doing drugs?”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. I consider this. Tessa used during college. We went to a party with her college buddies Labor Day weekend. Were they smoking?
“Rick, would you like to come in and sit down? I could put some coffee on, or tea. Do you drink tea?”
I look at her. For the first time, I notice that she is wearing a jacket.
“Where are you going?”
“St. Mary’s, just down the hill. I can’t make Mass every day because of work, but I try to go to Adoration a couple of times a week.”
Is she speaking English? My agitation is lessening, and confusion is settling in. “What are you?” What I really meant to say was, what, are you an alien?
“Catholic. But I don’t have to go tonight. If you’d like to come in, we can go over what happened. Maybe I can help you figure out what went wrong.”
I am staring at her.
“Or you could come with me to church. Even if you’re not Catholic, it still might be a good place to sit and think in peace and quiet. Silence is God’s language.”
“God.” I snort. What a big help he’s been lately.
“Maybe that job wasn’t meant for you.”
“How could it not be?” I growl.
“Maybe there’s something else in store for you.”
“Like what? This crappy job that I’ve got right now? This job I’m miserable at and can’t get out of? He’s not listening to what I want.”
“Maybe God’s trying to tell you something.”
“Like what? That I’m supposed to be miserable for the rest of my life?”
“Maybe there isn’t a God, and maybe He doesn’t listen.”
“Maybe there is a God, and maybe you don’t listen.”
“You can’t prove to me there is a God.”
“You can’t prove to me there isn’t.”
I pause. “Prove to me that He listens.”
“Prove to me that you listen to Him.”
“If He doesn’t speak, how can I listen?”
“If you don’t take part in the conversation, how can He speak to you?”
“Well, that’s just great. How can I talk to God? It’s not like I can just pull up a chair and say, ‘Hey God, listen, about this job, I really wanted it, so why don’t you just give me a chance?’”
“Wanting something and needing something are two different things, you know. God knows what you need.”
“And I need my crummy job?”
“Rick, what would you like to do?”
I look down at the floor. Suddenly I feel embarrassed. I realize that she is making a genuine offer to me: Either join her at church or sit on her couch and drink tea. I have this sensation of complete loss and frustration. Maybe I’ll just go home. “Felicity… I wanted that job. I had it.”
“I’m very sorry.”
“Really. I’d like to help.”
“…Would you like some tea?”
“No, I’ll go with you.” The words escape my mouth before I know what I’m saying. She pauses and looks at me. I must be wearing an expression of shock. I did just say I would go with her to church.
“Oh! Okay… good! Um, listen, you’re blocking me in the driveway, so would you mind driving?”
And so it happens. I drive. She talks. I listen. I hear all about Christ and the Eucharist and Perpetual Adoration and a thing called a monstrance. I start to panic. What have I just agreed to? She talks some more. About God’s will. About hope. Prayer. Then she stops as if she realizes that maybe she’s given me more than I can handle. She looks worried.
“Do you want to ask me anything? About this or……or about drug testing?”
“No. That’s okay.”
I park the car. We get out and walk up the steps to the old church. She pulls open great wide doors, and we walk inside. We pass through another set of doors, and I stop. Felicity looks at me with concern. I look around. It is quiet and dark and smells kind of smoky. I look ahead and see the marble altar and candles everywhere. I smile. I don’t why… I just do. I smile. I don’t understand it, but somehow this place is comforting. I nod to Felicity, and I slide into a back pew. Felicity moves up the aisle. I am grateful she’s left me alone.
Alone with my thoughts… or maybe… alone with God?
I can’t explain it, but I feel as if something is ending and beginning at the same time. I sit back. “Hey, God,” I whisper. “Listen, about this job…”