Jesse left Maryland to get over an affair. She returned to Maryland while in the midst of one. Not completely sure why she followed her lover to Baltimore, Jessica Davies found herself held up in a Federal Hill town house, waiting for Jim Rizzi. Jim, himself a former expatriate, returned to Baltimore after finishing an EMR expansion deal in Italy. He had no real intention of staying with Jesse, neither she with him, but there they were. For their separate reasons they’d remained entangled with one another. The couple had been in Baltimore for over a month and Jesse hadn’t bothered to inform her family that she was there. She would, of course but not until she was content with her surroundings. She knew Jim would eventually be spending more time with his wife and she would have the entire place to herself, free to entertain as she pleased and never having to explain the older man hanging around her. It was a hopeful hunger, the idea that she might live rent free and without having to put out, but for now she was waiting for Jim Rizzi.
Texting before realizing it was time for Jim to be home, Jesse asked how long he’d be. As she threw her Blackberry onto the sofa she realized Jim’s car was pulling up out front.
“You’re missing me?” Jim threw his keys on the coffee table and reached for the stack of mail which lay beside them.
“It seems later, Jesse stated. After a minute, Jim kissed her on the forehead.
“What’d you do today? I tried to call you before lunch.”
“There was some sort of sales meeting I had to attend; boring is the only word to describe my day.” Jesse watched as Jim combed through the mail, not really listening to her excuses. “I stopped over to Lexington Market and picked up some of those hotdogs you like.” Jim appeared not to hear her.
“The kids are coming in town.” Jesse hated Jim referring to his daughter and son-in-law as the kids; his daughter was two years her senior. Jim had a daughter who lived in Denver but who also visited twice a year. This had never been an issue. Jesse was overseas and Jim would come home when his daughter was visiting, giving Jesse an opportunity to be with friends her own age. But now there was a problem. The townhouse now being used as their love nest was the same place his daughter and family stayed whenever they visited.
“Are they really coming here?”
“That’s what the email said.” There was silence. They sat quietly until Jim said, “I wanted to ask you if you could stay with your family.” Jesse looked at Jim and sighed.
“Yeah, sure, why not,” she said. Jesse was angry but what choice had she. The townhouse had its own use and that use was understood. Jesse would have to go home.
“How long will they be here?”
“Not sure. Bridgette’s got a thing or other and she says Don’s in Boston on business.” Jim took out his checkbook, wrote a few checks for the bills, put them in their respective envelopes and lay them back on the table.
“We’ll have to see what happens. You need some money?” Jim grabbed his keys from the table.
“We’re not going out?” Every Thursday since their return to the States, Jim and Jesse had a standing date for sushi. They would drive to Towson, hit the mall, and afterwards grab a meal at San Sushi on Pennsylvania Avenue. Jesse still looked forward to it even though she was sure she was over the relationship.
“You go. Buy yourself some shoes or something. I’ve got to work on something back at the house.” Without waiting for a response, Jim pulled out three hundred dollars from his wallet, counted it, and tossed it on the table. Jesse didn’t bother to look; Jim was always generous. She knew better than to express her anger; she had no right. Jim had always been honest about his feelings. He loved her but his family would always come first. Without expression, Jesse walked Jim to the door, kissed him, and leaned against the door frame.
“I guess I should mail those?” Jim smiled politely and headed for his car. He stopped just as he got his key in the lock.
“I’ll call you when I know what the kids are gonna do, okay?” Jesse also smiled politely but didn’t answer. She watched Jim pull away and then stood motionless in doorway. For a minute she did nothing. Then, realizing that she would have to depend on her family for shelter at least for the foreseeable future, she tore up Jim’s mail and put the money he’d left, in her back pocket.
“Fucking loser! Mail your own God damn shit!” Jesse grabbed her Blackberry, her keys, and her purse. “Fuck you!”
Jesse was not the sort to be governed by social rules. She didn’t send out friend request on Facebook, didn’t tip the grocery bagger at the local Safeway, and couldn’t be bothered with informing her mother of her current plans; staying at home until Jim’s kids were gone. Jessica’s snapshots of her childhood were filled with incomplete situations. She’d attended an elementary school where she met the person she thought would be her best friend forever but then her father decided to move the family to Reston. She got into Madame Tchectky’s gifted program for promising dancer’s before age ten but by spring recital her father decided to move the family to Maryland. When Jesse was thirteen her mom persuaded her dad to buy instead of renting which gave Jesse a sense of stability and comfort but then her father decided to move, without them. By age fifteen, Jesse had been introduced to three “this may be your stepmothers” and one aerobics instructor. Angry and full of terrible ideas, Jesse seized on an opportunity to study abroad and during her senior year she left for Spain. While in Spain, she became obsessed with her interpreter, a man who never met a shot of tequila he didn’t like and together they destroyed her scholarship. Jesse returned to Westminster with no money, no real education, and no plan. After a long-awaited divorce, Jesse’s mom bought a home in Roland Park to be closer to her job. Jesse, fresh out of an affair with her Towson State Drama Teacher, bought a ticket to Europe and launched what she now refers to as whore tour. She found the most expensive bars and restaurants and waited for her meal ticket to show up. Jesse had had a string of financially successful, yet physically exhausting romances when she met Jim. Taking in an afternoon at The Musee Rodin, Jim caught Jesse glancing sideways at Wim Delvoye’s Maquette. The pair spent the greater part of a rainy afternoon discussing contemporary Art. By dinner, they both decided to add the other to their life in some way but without emotional attachment.
Unlike the others, Jim wouldn’t put up with Jesse’s temperament. An American himself, Jim could smell middle class a mile away. He knew he had more to offer Jesse than she could ever offer him. Once they became lovers he made it clear to her he had no intention of paying for a part-time lover. He wanted a companion. Jesse would act responsibly with his money and with hers. They would entertain his acquaintances at his flat and he demanded it be kept tasteful and orderly. Jesse was never to dress tawdry; always with class. Jim insisted on accompanying Jesse on shopping jaunts until he realized Jesse had excellent taste. Jesse initially believed she wouldn’t be into it but eventually gave in. Besides, Jim gave head better than any man she’d known and she was never without good dinner reservations. Jim also had a softer side Jesse really enjoyed. He taught her French and about great French wine while taking her on holiday to the vineyard, Coteaux des Baux, just outside of Marseille. They took a cooking class in Poisitano where no one spoke English. Jim seemed to like watching her make do and Jesse enjoyed how his eyes roamed her body while she cooked. They became lovers and companions and never spoke of parting because neither of them had to stay. It was the perfect arrangement. When Jim went home, Jesse worked and explored and when Jim returned they did as they always did; never speaking of home, and always enjoying fine art, fine food, and fine sex.
It was already a humid eighty-nine degrees when Jesse left for work on Friday. She packed all her belongings, what little she had, and threw them in the trunk of her late model Acura, a gift from Jim. Her flip-flops were practically melting as she made her way from the parking lot, carrying her laptop in a bag not made for the task and a very large cup of coffee in her tiny, perfectly manicured hands and entered the lobby of Arts IN Motion, her employer of the last five years. Jesse developed applications for smart phones. She felt it was her true calling of the moment. Jesse saw application development as an art form. She would spend hours coming up with new features and functions. She worked for Blackberry International but was not taken seriously in her opinion. Eventually, consumed with the idea that Blackberry wouldn’t continue to develop their own applications, Jesse resigned from her bottom feeder job and accepted a position with the trendier Arts IN Motion. Applying through the European office, Jesse’s work was more respected, she thought and she would eventually be made the head of her department. Just as she was starting to feel secure in her new position, Art-IN-Motion was purchased in a leverage by-out deal by Blackberry International. While Jesse still loved developing applications, she felt that her creative control was being manipulated and eventually she would suffocate artistically. But for now, still able to travel back and forth, she was content.
“Couldn’t you just die,” the receptionist spoke as Jesse walked by her desk. Jesse, annoyed by the notion that she’d have to speak to anybody before her third cup of java just stared blankly at the smiling girl.
“Are there any calls?” The smile did not leave the receptionists face. She simply bit back, “Nobody called you; ab-so-lu-tely no one. Yup!” Jesse gave her best “fuck you” stare and continued on to her office. She threw her belongings onto the captain’s chair she kept in the corner of her cramped little office and plopped down into her chair. It was normal for Jim to call first thing in the morning and she purposely arrived late to miss his call. “Let him wonder where I am, she thought as she adjusted the straps of her new black plunge bra she’d bought while still fuming over Jim’s decision to kick her out. She wouldn’t call him at all today, she decided and she wouldn’t go back to that condo, ever.
“There’s our star,” Ian stated as he entered Jesse’s office. Ian Newburg was the current CEO and founder of Art-IN-Motion. His position within his company was secured during the buy-out but he still possessed the work ethic of an unnecessarily enthusiastic new hire, always trying to impress and amaze. He stood in Jesse’s doorway smiling his gentle smile.
“Is something wrong?”
“Something! Everything. I sent that design package over to Brian Caldwell two days ago and he hasn’t bothered to call. I hate suspense,” she declared.
“Are you sure he received the package? Caldwell is not one for waiting but he does travel quite a bit. Maybe you should call him” Ian, convinced that nothing would alter his good mood; he’d recently become a very rich man, tried to stroke Jesse as best he could.
“I’m not calling him. If he wants to talk to me he’ll call.”
“What’s up for the weekend; big plans?” But Jesse wasn’t listening. Her attention had been diverted elsewhere. Her life, if she had one, was a mess, she thought. Not only was she currently homeless but her career was suffocating her, she thought. She controlled nothing and had nothing. Still standing in Jesse’s doorway, Ian waited. He waited because he was happy and his genuine father-like affection prompted him to want for her happiness as well.
“My pearl, please do something to change this hideous disposition. It’s not attractive and who cares anyway. George and I are going to see the Cherry Blossom’s on the mall on Saturday; come with.” Jesse was very aware of Ian’s affections for her but could hardly appreciate them. After one of her affairs ended badly, Jesse vowed never to mix work with pleasure, not even for a father-figure.
“No thanks,” she said unapologetically. “Was there something else?”
“Ah, no; I guess not,” Ian said; his voice sounding slightly wounded. He left Jesse’s office, the smile no longer on his face but walking swiftly and with a sense of purpose. While Jesse continued to change channels in her head; Jim to homelessness, homelessness to failed career, failed career to Jim, she swiveled in her chair. Just behind her, outside her window Jesse could see a couple kissing. Jesse sucked in her breath. I’m not calling him, she thought. Several feet beyond the couple was the edge of the harbor. Jesse looked out onto the water and wondered how hard it would be to find another assignment overseas. I’d love to go back to Spain, she thought. Resigned to the idea that she was for the moment bound by a lack of opportunity and funding, Jesse dug into her work, working long past quitting time and into the evening.
Jesse, who hated anything cliché stood in front of her mother’s Roland Avenue home thinking how nice it was to see the old Victorian. Within a few minutes of entering the vestibule, a familiar smell swept across Jesse’s nose. Jesse’s mom was obsessed with French Cooking and forever for as long as Jesse could remember her mother was equally obsessed with butter and onions. Everything was made with generous amounts of butter and Jesse hated it. Dropping a large duffel bag and her Coach on the floor, just inside the living room, Jesse followed the smell. Instead of her mom’s red bob, she found her sister’s big head staring down into a pot.
“Gin-a! Geeze,” Jesse threw her keys on the counter and embraced her sister.
“I thought you were mom,” she said laughing. Jesse’s sister embraced her immediately, shocked to see her sister appear seemingly out of the blue.
“What are you doing here?” Both girls were now laughing.
“I’m back; decided to let the creative juices flow this way for a while. What are you cooking?” Jesse didn’t want to explain the circumstances which brought her home but being there made her realize how much she missed her sister.
“I was trying to make French onion soup, remember?” Gina was more full-figured than Jesse, not afraid to enjoy good food more often. Her long chestnut locks framed her cheery face. Her joy at seeing her sister was evident from the way her hair fell when she turned around to the way her smile seemed to stretch beyond her ears.
“Mom’s got you making soup?” Jesse couldn’t recall ever seeing her sister cook, not even eggs.
“No, Eric. Eric loves soup so I’m trying to learn different types so he, you know, doesn’t get bored with my cooking.” Gina was beaming.
“Who cares?” Is this still Eric Streidel?
“I care. I plan to be married forever; for as long as we both shall live.”
“You’re marrying Eric? What the hell-!”
“I sent you a text. And don’t make fun of my fiancé.”
“Where’s mom?” Jesse suddenly realized that she’d asked the question more than once and hadn’t received an answer. Gina’s smile suddenly turned cautionary.
“She’s away.” Jesse’s mom never went away. Her whole life was Hopkins and her girls; away met work or school functions. That’s it.
“Belize, I believe.”
“Yeah, right; is she working or what?” Jesse wouldn’t consider any other reasoning.
“Mom’s away on a little vacation, Jess.” She, you know felt like getting away and she went. She’ll be back in a week to help me look for a dress.” Jesse looked confused. It was if her family had continued turning with the rest of the world and hadn’t stopped as she had depended on, making everything seem wrong.
“Wait! Did I walk into the wrong house? You’re marrying evil Eric and Mom’s left the state. Is that what I’m hearing?” Gina was no longer smiling at all.
“I asked you not to make fun of Eric. And yes, mom took a vacation, ok!” God Jess, you act as if we all don’t have a life. You think you could call home every once and awhile? You’re not the only one with plans, you know?” Gina got up from the table and turned down the burner on the stove. She grabbed a wooden spoon and removed the top from her sautéing onions. She stirred the onions a few times and turned to her sister.
“What’s going on with you? Are you staying a week, a month, what?” Jesse was silent for a moment and then, realizing she was once again plan-less, plainly answered her sister, “I accepted a position near Federal Hill. I was just going to stay with mom until I found a place.”
“Well, it might be a good idea if you ask mom. You know she may not want someone crowding her space. I just came by to check on the house and use her kitchen.” The comment struck Jesse as odd. Why would she have to ask her mother if she could stay in her house; the very house Jesse had for a short period of time lived in. And there was no other choice.
“I would tell you to stay with me but Eric’s already moved in and my place is small, you remember.”
“I’ll just stay here until mom gets back and then I’ll see what she says,” Jesse said plainly. She suddenly felt like a stranger who had just asked if she could use the phone. This is my home, she thought.
Gina showed Jesse her traditional pear-cut diamond and talked about her wedding plans. It quickly became apparent to Jesse Gina was completely in love with Eric and she’d better edit her comments. From what she could remember about Eric Streidel, he was quite the bully. Jesse recalled an incident from high school when Eric threw some kid through a window and was expelled. It was hard for her to fathom Eric chasing after her sister and her sister liking it. I guess people change, she thought, as she cleared the table. Jesse watched as her sister seemed to admire her ring. Why, she thought, had she not gotten the bride gene. Her sister seemed lost in the idea of getting married. Jesse never imagined marriage as anything but a footnote to the disaster that was her parent’s life together. Marriage was not done on purpose, it was done out of need or fear, she thought. Although she’d never thought of her sister as particularly needy or fearful, she suspected she very well may be. She’s never gone anywhere, Jesse thought. Of course Jesse didn’t think marriage would make her sister fearless either. I hope she doesn’t get any fatter and become one of those Roland Park mothers who stroll around with their kids on a leash pretending that PTA bulletins were the scrap book items of the day. She could hardly keep from laughing out loud as she watched Gina thumb through a Crate and Barrel registry packet.
“You guys going anywhere great for your honeymoon? I could tell you where all the great restaurants are.”
“Eric says we can’t afford it right now; maybe next year.” Gina’s voice trailed off. Jesse could tell she was lying.
“What does Eric do? I can’t remember.”
“He’s working with the McCauleys.”
“Eddie McCauley? Remember when his dad chased that black guy over at Overlea cause he thought he was messing with Sarah?”
“I remember she was screwing the whole football team, including that guy,” Gina belted out. She’s married now, which I cannot believe.”
“She’s married?” Who would marry her? Talk about getting the cow for free!”
“She married Rodney Grandison. They’ve got three kids; two play for Hamilton, Gina stated sounding somewhat jealous.
“Well her dad should have seen that coming. That girl had more black men than a night club on Christmas and she loved hanging down Overlea.” Jesse thought that Sarah was the only girl in the area equal in both beauty and brains. For a time they were friends but when Sarah found out Jesse had applied to study overseas without mentioning it to her she abruptly ended their friendship. Being as shallow as Sarah, Jesse really didn’t mind. She left for Spain and the two never spoke again.
“What’s Rodney doing? He was such a clown.”
“Orthopedic freakin Surgeon! Union Memorial Hospital. That bitch reminds me every time I see her.” Jesse has never seen her sister jealous of anyone. Jesse pours them both a glass of wine.
“Here’s to Rodney banging a hot nurse whose not friends with his skank wife!”
The girls lift their glasses and toast another three times before emptying the bottle. Gina, insisting she had to get home and freshen up before eleven, refused to stay over. She put her soup into one of her mother’s plastic containers, leaving just enough for Jesse’s dinner.
“Are you sure you’re ok to drive?” Jesse was sure she had more wine than her sister but wanted to be cautious.
“I’m sure I’ve gotta get home before Eric. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Gina hopped into their mom’s old Mercedes and sped up one side of Roland Avenue and after a few minutes back down the other side. Jesse watched her sister disappear into the night and walked back into the house.
Jesse grabbed a phone book from the kitchen desk, fixed herself what turned out to be a very good bowl of French onion soup and sat down at the dining room table. She thumbed through the yellow pages until she came to the entry for McCauleys. Try as she did, Jesse could not remember what Eddie McCauley’s dad did for a living. Worked for the McCauleys, she thought as she continued to turn the pages. Jesse then thought how easy it would be to look for Eddie McCauley on Facebook. And so she did. Anonymously, she got on Facebook and put in, Edward McCauley, Baltimore, Maryland. And there it was; Eddie’s picture. Jesse was so shocked to see how much Eddie had aged that she almost forgot why she looked him up in the first place. McCauley’s was a pawn shop. Jesse had a vague recollection of the McCauleys and now she could remember clearly the commercials that ran every morning on local television about their pawn shop. Gina was marrying a pawn shop worker. Mom must have left town to get over the shock, she laughed to herself.
Jesse got the remainder of her belongings from the car and carried them into the house. Roland Park was pretty settled by dusk. The only sounds were those of neighbors out with their dogs on the last walk of the evening. Jesse smiled at one neighbor she thought she remembered but he didn’t seem to know who she was and only nodded as he went by. With the prospect of seeing her mother all but forgotten, Jesse took a few remaining bags inside and headed up to her old room. Forgetting which side of the hall contained the light switch, Jess stumbled over a pile of what seemed like giant art pads while trying to make it into her room through the darkness. When she finally located a light switch, she turned to see what had tripped her up. In the hallway near the stairs lay her old drawing pads. Every one of her pads she’d all but forgotten was now scattered across the hallway floor. She turned back to her room, reached for another switch and turned it on. To her surprise, the room was completely empty. No bed, no bureau, nothing. Her belongings, what little she’d left there were gone. Jesse walked down the hall to Gina’s old room. She turned on the light expecting to find it bare as well but instead she found it furnished with a small sofa and chair. As Jesse opened the door wider she could see her mom had turned the room into a den, complete with new curtains and a small flat screen television mounted on one of the walls. Jesse, not wanting to disturb anything, put out the light and returned down the hall. She sat next to the pile of pads and reached for the one nearest the stairs. Jesse, confronted by the reality that she no longer lived in this house was suddenly sad. Sad was an emotion Jesse rarely felt but at this moment it overwhelmed her. Maybe consumed by wine or consumed by loneliness, she wasn’t sure but she felt out of place. It was as if she’s broken into someone’s house and was going through their belongings. All that was hers were the pads. Jesse began flipping through the pages of the pad she’d picked up. There on the pages, etchings in charcoal and some in pencil were images from her childhood. The house in Reston, a dog she’d all but forgotten, a picture of her sister in her mom’s heels, it was all catalogued. On one page, Jesse had drawn a self-portrait. She could recall the photograph she’d used. In an old photo album she’d found a snapshot her mom had taken of her sitting on a porch, waiting for her father. She drew that self-portrait, she recalled, while she was sitting on the hallway stairs, waiting for her dad. Jesse signed. She
turned to another page and came across a reproduction she’d attempted. Light on an Empty Room was written in the lower left corner. Jesse loved Edward Hopper paintings. This particular one she tried to reproduce over and over again. She could never quite capture the light, she thought, as she removed the page from the pad. Jesse walked to her mother’s room, by now desperate for a place to rest her head. She opened her mother’s door to find nothing she remembered. Her mother’s room was complete with modern furnishings. The room always seemed larger than life but it now had larger than life furniture. A king sized bed, a Mitchell Gold loveseat, and a mirror that ran from the floor to the ceiling. Why mom would want to look at herself in that, Jesse thought. Her first impulse was to jump onto the bed and fall into the night but the room looked so undisturbed that Jesse felt that it would be an intrusion. She left the room as she had found it. She took her picture to her old room, found a tack, and hung it on the wall. She then grabbed a blanket from the linen closet, lay down on the small sofa in the den, and thought about Jim. She hoped they would leave soon and return to Rome or anywhere, she thought. The thought of leaving was the only thing that allowed her the ease of mind to rest for the evening. If not for that she might have cried herself to sleep in this stranger’s house.