An excerpt from Lady in the Room, now FREE at Amazon.com and many other fine online retailers.
After a quick stop by our kitchen to carefully arrange the pastries in one of my wife’s dessert trays, I was back in front of the Walton’s door banging again. I could sense the doorbell via my peripheral vision, but I wasn’t going to give in. A man knocks on the door, and so I did, a second, and a third time. When no one came, I twisted the knob and walked in. One invitation was enough, I reckoned.
The din of the party was coming from my right. The crowd was jam-packed in the living room standing around a young tanned Mitch Jr. who was recounting some story about him doing hand-to-hand combat. His crew-cut looked the part, but he never really seemed the type that could climb out of a ditch by himself much less take on two members of Al-Qaida at one time.
Mrs. Walton came to my rescue, guiding me and the pastries to the kitchen for a quick deposit. She looked at me with worried eyes as she took the plate from me. She pointed me back out toward the living room, nodding politely. In our thirty-four seconds of interaction, she hadn’t opened her mouth to say a word, but then again, I didn’t care. I didn’t like the Waltons.
The small crowd roared at some line he had just delivered, and my wife was deep in the middle of them – she hadn’t noticed that I’d returned. A few got up to hit the refreshments about the same time as I found my way into the room. Brooklyn passed me with a nervous smile. Mitch Jr. got up and twisted a little bit, flexing his torso to stretch out muscles that really didn’t exist. I couldn’t help but walk up and shake his hand. He seemed just too good to be true. His face beamed when he recognized mine.
“Mr. Donka!” he said, reaching out for my hand.
“Mitch.” His hand felt soft, though the shake was firm. These were not the hands of a man that carried heavy ammunition around in the desert. It didn’t mean he wasn’t in the service of country, but it certainly explained the absence of medals which Mrs. Walton would have most assuredly been passing around if any of it were true. My family hadn’t been raised like that: my grandfather lost a toe in Germany and never bragged about it. I never knew about the Purple Heart until his funeral.
“You still runnin’ the bank up the street?” His eyes were ecstatic, as if I had stayed all the same just for him.
I nodded, but kept my mouth shut on purpose. I was tempted to ask what he was running, or running from, but Mrs. Walton’s eyes were boring in me – I could feel them from the kitchen where she stood. She didn’t trust me, and she probably could tell that I didn’t care for a single word coming out of her son’s mouth.
Something caught my eye from the corner of the room, and this time it wasn’t a Walton. The faint hue of dull brown centered with a slight smear of red got my head to turn on an impulse. There she was … sitting on a piano bench. The lady from the market before. Her happy eyes were on mine; her red-lined smile forcing mine to appear. I turned to Mitch and excused myself. I couldn’t hold back my own surprise and giddy smile when I walked over, and reached out to shake her hand.