Emily waited quietly in the lobby, sitting stiffly on the dark green sofa that had seen better days. The receptionist’s desk was unmanned, with only a phone and a sign that said to ‘call “222” to be admitted’. She sighed. Even the sign on the wall opposite her was 80s retro – she knew that David had liked to keep up with new styles, and equally well that he couldn’t afford it.
His story was a common one – a small company or chain run under by competitors on the Internet or in the big box malls. Emily knew it had to be weighing on him, that service and quality didn’t matter as much as cost.
David, his black hair almost completely gone grey, opened the door and leaned out. “Emily? Did you want to see me?”
The lines on his face had deepened so she almost didn’t recognize him – he didn’t look anything like the dapper man whose commercials used to be common fare on local TV. He looked like a man on the verge of giving up. Giving Up. Maybe even the ultimate “giving up”. Her jaw firmed. She could help him and she was determined to do it, determined not to lose her friend.
“Well,” she started, uncertain. “Actually, it’s – can we go somewhere private?”
“Let’s go to my office.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Yes, David, I am. I can’t bear to see how things are with you and I want to help.” Her voice, which had started off strong, faded, as she pleaded with him in a near-whisper. “Please let me help.”
David stared at his hands as though he’d never seen them before. “Emily, you’d only be throwing bad money after good. The stores are going to close – we’ve lost our market and all but a few customers. GoodFit is going to go away and there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Yes, but – you must have debts that have to be paid – that you’ll sleep easier when you know you don’t have to worry about.”
“I do. And they’re my responsibility, not yours.”
“Can you pay them?”
“I’ll figure something out.”
“Let me help you and you won’t have to. Besides,” she said, suddenly shy, “I seem to remember you helping us…”
David turned to look out the window. “Emily.” He stopped, uncertain as to what he wanted to say.
She began again and he raised his hand for silence. The clock on the wall was loud in the stillness.
Finally, he turned back to her. “Yes, I accept. It will make things easier for me, no question about that.”
“I remember, how good friends we’ve been, you and Linda and Mark and I, and the children…”
David managed a smile. “And now you’re being a good friend again.” He cupped her face, gently. “Everyone should have such good people in their lives.”
“Oh, David…” Emily’s eyes filled with tears.
“Now, now.” He hugged her gently and patted her on the back, almost as a child.
She pulled herself together and stepped away, fumbling in her purse. She slid the checkbook and pen out, took one of the chairs in front of the desk and wrote firmly.
David was reluctant to take the check, so she sat it on the desk and stood. On the way out the door, Emily turned suddenly. “David, this will make things right for you, yes? You won’t… you’ll be all right?”
He smiled and nodded. “Yes, my dear. This makes everything all right.”
She relaxed, nodded and turned to go.
After David heard the door close, he picked up the check and looked at it for a long time. He walked around his desk and took an envelope from a drawer and put the check in it.
“I couldn’t have done it otherwise, couldn’t have left Linda and Evvie with the debts, but now…”
He laid the envelope on the corner of his desk and opened another drawer.
Emily waited in the lobby for the elevator. Dear David. I was so afraid he’d … take another way out. Now, it should be all right. The elevator doors opened.
As the elevator closed and began to move, she heard the gunshot and began to cry.