By Julie Webb Kelley
Liz sat at a forward angle straining to catch a glimpse of her brother through the swarm of travelers running to catch their trains. Beside her a fat woman with pear-shaped calves flipped through a magazine.
“Excuse me,” Liz interrupted her flipping, “do you have the time?”
The woman shoved a pink fluffy cuff up her arm to expose a watch, and then flattened the pink fluffy collar that encircled her throat before answering, “8:08 A.M.”
“Thank you,” Liz said standing, holding her purse close to her side.
“Liz!” She recognized Carl’s shout and ran toward him.
“Hey,” he gave her a smiling hug, “I’m so glad you made it into the city today.”
“I only have until three o’clock. The last train back to Aurora leaves exactly at 3:36, I have to be on it.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’ll be on it, don’t worry. I’m just so excited for you to finally meet Bill.” Her big brother took hold of her hand and led her to the cab he had waiting.
Carl told the cabby to take them to the Starbucks at the InterContinental hotel.
“Magnificent Mile it is,” the cabby flipped the lever on his meter then pulled out into traffic.
During the twelve minute ride all Carl could talk about was Bill. The joy in Carl’s voice worried Liz -- but by the time she decided to let it go, they were stopped in front of the grand InterContinental hotel in downtown Chicago
Carl paid the driver and swept Liz inside. Stepping out of the way of the circular door she smoothed her palm across the back of her head. “Where’s the bathroom?”
“You look fine,” Carl said without looking at her. He strained his neck in all directions scanning the tables for Bill.
“I don’t see him yet. Let’s order and we’ll wait.”
They took their place in line. At 8:24 A.M. at any given Starbucks in the continental United States the line will be at least a dozen people deep. Liz sighed. Carl kept looking back toward the circular door.
“Hey, Carl. How are you today?”
Carl looked up to see Agatha, several heads in front of him in line. He waved, “Hi, Agatha. This is my sister, Liz.”
“She’s come into the city today to meet Bill.”
Liz thought Agatha grinned larger than her face was used to. “That’s great. You’ll just love Bill.” She said, waving at Liz again.
Liz parked her body directly behind the man in front of her in line, tucking her purse under her right arm. When she noticed that the back of his neck unfolded in three separate bulges over his collar, she took a step backwards, but then the tri-necked man walked away. They were next.
“Good morning, Carl. A tall Mint-Mocha Cappuccino?” The sandpaper voice came from an older woman with a name tag that read ‘Mel’.
Carl nodded and pulled Liz forward. “Mel, this is Liz, my sister. She’s here to meet Bill. What’ll you have, sis?”
“A tall Chi Tea with soy, please.”
“Bill? He’s great.” She told Liz. Then looked at Carl, “But you know you just missed him.”
“What?” The color drained from Carl’s face.
Another worker stepped into Mel’s personal space and leaned toward Carl. His nametag read ‘Max’. “He told me to tell you he’d be right back. He got a call from the office. But he’s been waiting here since eight o’clock.”
“Thanks Max.” Carl sighed as he shoved a twenty dollar bill toward Mel.
They sat on the couch by the window; Carl wanted to make sure that Bill would see them when he came back. Liz sipped her Chi Tea.
“Ahh,” she leaned forward and threw her hand over her mouth.
“What? Burn your tongue?” Carl laughed.
“Ow! That is hot!”
“Didn’t you know that Starbucks is hotter in Chicago than anywhere else?” He teased.
After letting their drinks cool and emptying their cups, Carl decided they should walk down to the office to see what was keeping Bill. Three blocks later as they reached the office building, Carl noticed Bill’s car leaving the parking garage half a block away. Just then his phone rang.
“Bill? What’s up, man?” Carl didn’t bother to say hello. He nodded and made agreeing noises into his phone while Liz stood next to the tall brick building loosing the fight her hair was having with the Windy City.
“What’s going on?” Liz asked as Carl closed his phone and dragged her inside the building.
“Ouch!” Liz tripped through the doorway, stubbing her toe. She stopped to grab her foot; Carl kept walking and talking.
“Bill just remembered that he has a business meeting at the InterContinental at 11:30 today. So . . . you OK?”
“So, what?” Liz snapped.
Carl stopped at the receptionist’s desk.
“Good morning, Evelyn, this is Liz, my sister from Aurora. She came into the city today to meet Bill.”
Evelyn rose from her seat and reached toward Liz. “Good for you,” she reached across the desk and took both of Liz’s hands in hers. “Bill is great. Oh, that’s just wonderful, Carl.” Evelyn continued to shake both of Liz’s hands as if she had just won a trip to Hawaii.
“Any messages for me, Evelyn?” Carl asked.
“I thought you were off today?” Evelyn said.
“Yeah I am, my sister’s in town to meet Bill. But since I’m here . . .”
Evelyn dropped Liz’s hands and plopped down into her seat, her face suddenly taking on the shape of her skull, “But Carl, Bill’s just left. You missed him.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Carl motioned for his sister to follow him as he left a deflated Evelyn behind. Inside the office suite he told her, “I want you to meet the staff before we catch up with Bill.”
For the next hour Liz was scooted from office to office meeting Bill’s boss and Bill’s secretary. Seeing Bill’s office and the new project Bill was working on.
“Isn’t that your boss too?” Liz whispered to Carl as they left the boss’s office.
“Yeah, but he likes being introduced as Bill’s boss.”
Liz nodded with no conviction of understanding.
As they left, Evelyn reached a paper toward Carl and Liz, “Are you going to be seeing Bill? Could you give him this?”
Liz took the paper as Carl muttered something polite. “Ahhh,” Liz’s hand flew to her mouth.
“A paper cut. Dang it.” She nursed her finger, trying to ignore her toe that was still sore and her tongue that was still throbbing.
In the taxi, Carl laid out the new game plan.
“He just called me again; he said he got hung up at the copy store. He should be there for another 10 minutes or so. We’ll swing by there and then we can all take his car back to the InterContinental. That’s where his meeting is. We can hang out there until he’s done.”
This cab ride was a bit rougher than the early morning one. Liz tried to roll down the back window for some air, but it wouldn’t budge. When she asked the driver to roll down a window, he muttered something in a foreign language that sounded like ‘donuts dancing on a garbage can’.
“I think he said we’re almost there.” Carl said.
“That won’t keep my stomach from unloading all over his backseat.”
“Maybe he said the windows are broken and won’t roll down,” Carl thought aloud.
The driver hit his brakes, screaming something loud at his rolled up window, then turned to Carl and Liz, “$8.55.”
Liz’s head slammed into the seat in front of her. She held her stomach with one hand and her head with the other as Carl said, “I understood that.”
Liz followed her brother into the copy shop. The strong smell of copy chemicals hit her in the face, twisting her stomach into further rebellion. Carl was greeted by happy Mr. Kim. “Hello, hello. Good morning, Mr. Carl, how you are today?”
“Doing great, Mr. Kim. How are you?”
“Did copies for Mr. Bill today, so happy to serve.”
“Where is Bill, he’s supposed to be here.”
“Mr. Bill finish his copies, go to meeting. We have fine talk today, fine talk.”
Carl smiled and thanked Mr. Kim for his time. Out on the street Carl pulled out his phone and called Bill. Liz thought Carl was laughing a bit too hard at his end and when he hung up asked him about the big joke.
“Bill is just so funny. I can’t wait for you to meet him. Let’s a grab a cab and get back to the InterContinental, his meeting starts in an hour. We can have a quick lunch before he goes in.”
Not another cab ride, Liz thought. Her sour stomach, her throbbing tongue, her sore toe and her cut finger kept her mind from hearing anything Carl said on the way back to the InterContinental. Not even the sight of the beautiful restaurant helped any part of her body feel better. As she and Carl waited in the lobby for Bill, Liz excused herself to the restroom. When she returned she couldn’t find Carl. She sat in an oversized leather chair watching people come and go through the large circular doorway and became increasingly irritated with her brother. Soon she was considering taking a cab back to Union Station by herself, then Carl walked up.
“Where you been?”
“Waiting for you . . . and Bill.”
“Bill has already gotten us a table inside. Come on.”
She followed him into the restaurant. Walking passed the tables covered in linen and hearing the tingle of water glasses all around her, Liz felt unexpectedly excited as if finally being able to get through after being on hold with the airline for an hour. But the feeling leaked away as she noticed that the table they were approaching was empty.
“Where’s Bill?” Liz asked. Carl looked just as confused. The waiter motioned for them to be seated helping them with their chairs while explaining that Bill had been called away early to his meeting, but he had insisted on paying for their lunch before leaving. Then he handed them both menus that seemed to have been pulled from a magic hat. He took Bill’s used water glass away and waved a fast hand at the water boy who placed two fresh water glasses on the table. Then he disappeared.
“I’ll call him, as soon as we’re done, I’ll call him.” Carl promised.
Liz sighed, deciding to enjoy this elegant lunch with her brother. Her stomach was feeling better, although her tongue still felt raw. She ordered a salad. Something my tongue can handle, she thought. Before they knew it, two hours had passed.
Just as Carl reached for his phone to call Bill, his phone rang – it was Bill. Carl talked and laughed into the phone. Liz leaned forward in her chair, then straightened up tall against the back of it. Her head was beginning to hurt, her temples were pounding. I don’t get headaches, she thought closing her eyes for a moment. As her stomach began to churn and twist, she knew she was going to be sick. She ran from the table toward the ladies’ room, screaming something about food poisoning to Carl.
Later she found Carl waiting for her in another overstuffed leather chair in the lobby. She noticed that he was alone, no Bill.
“What was all that about?” He asked.
“That salad made me sick.”
“Well, you just missed Bill.”
In the bathroom, sometime around the sixth or seventh heave, Liz had forgotten her original reason for coming into the city today and just wanted to get home.
“What time is it?” She asked, looking for the lobby clock and realizing that it was after 3 o’clock. “I have to get to the train station.”
Together they twirled through the huge circular doors and ran across the sidewalk. Carl jumped into the street hailing a taxi, Liz, following him too closely, stumbled off the curb and twisted her ankle, falling onto her brother’s back just as a bright yellow taxi stopped in front of him.
“Get in,” he said, realizing what she had done. Liz was rubbing her ankle and moaning while trying to scoot over so Carl could get in too.
“Where to?” The driver asked looking in the rearview mirror at them.
When Liz saw the flat of his face in the mirror she gasped aloud. Carl hit her on the arm trying to shut her up.
“Union Station,” he said. “How are you Bill?”
“This is Bill?” She asked too loud. Carl hit her leg this time, the leg she had propped up on the seat because the ankle was growing larger. She yelled in pain.
“Liz, this is my pal Bill Majowski. He’s been driving cabs in Chicago for 42 years. Bill was in a car wreck five years ago, barely got out of the burning wreckage alive. But here he is back at the grindstone day after day, eh, Bill?” They smiled at each other through the rearview mirror while Carl finished the introductions and explained that Liz had come into the town to meet Bill.
“Could you hurry, please, my train leaves in twenty minutes,” Liz said.
“Really? Bill’s a great guy. What’d you think of him, Liz?”
“I haven’t met Bill yet, Bill.”
“I’ll get you to your train in plenty of time,” he boasted.
Carl’s phone rang. It was Bill. Carl told him they were heading to Union Station for the 3:36 train to Aurora. After more laughing and talking Carl made Bill promise to try to get to the station to see Liz off.
Twenty minutes later, Liz was limping through Union Station holding onto her brother’s arm and digging in her purse for her return ticket. As the final boarding call was being announced, they found the right track and raced as quickly as possible toward the train. Carl didn’t see Bill anywhere.
“Thanks for coming, Liz. I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet Bill.”
“That’s okay, it probably wasn’t worth all of this anyway,” she said climbing abroad the train with the help of the attendant. When she got to the top of the steps she turned to see Carl waving at her and noticed that he looked incredibly sad. She thought then that she shouldn’t have said that about it not being worth it.
“Bye, Carl, it’ll be okay. We’ll try it again sometime. I promise.”
The attendant told her she needed to be seated so they could pull out. As she entered the train she heard someone shout ‘Carl’. She couldn’t see behind her, the attendant was following her through the doorway. She bent over to look out the tiny train windows and caught a brief glimpse of someone running toward Carl and of Carl’s face smiling and his arms waving frantically.
“Can you find a seat, miss?” The attendant asked.
No I can’t find one, she thought as she limped along bent over trying to see Carl, trying to see if that was Bill, telling herself that the whole day had been wasted. Someone shoved passed her forcing her weight onto her twisted ankle, she groaned.
All the pain and trouble of this day wasn’t worth meeting anybody, she thought. Stepping over a thick-figured man and lowering her aching body into a window seat she was finally convinced that this day had been a bad idea. She looked out the window and there was Carl on the platform, waving hysterically at her and shouting and pointing at the man standing next him.
“Hey, Bill, how are ya?” The thick-figured man yelled in her ear, leaning across her, filling her window with a large waving hand.
“You know that man?”
“That’s Bill, he’s great. We went to the University of Chicago together.”
Carl was still shouting and waving, dragging Bill a few steps closer to the train. Bill stood beside him with his hand half raised ready to wave if Carl could somehow manage the last minute introductions.
The train jerked into slow motion as Liz leaned into the window toward Carl and Bill. She placed her hand on the glass, realizing that Bill’s eyes were the color of pecan shells.
“Do you know, Bill?” The thick-figured man asked.
“No, but I’ve got to meet him."