Angela sat with rapt attention listening to the keynote speaker who stood behind the lectern at the Cabot Convention Center, which was located just outside Madison, WI. How many of these conventions had she attended over the years? "Too many to count," she mused to herself. But, she prided herself on being attentive anyway. As if to drive the point home, the speaker concluded his lecture with, "I hope my anecdote has served as a lesson in why we, as the Advertising Executives of America, MUST know our target audience."
Angela took little notice of the man sitting next to her until he commented dryly, "Target audiences? I seem to recall learning about those in my first year of business school." She turned to him with a laugh; saying, "Tell me about it." "I'm Bradley Goodson, by the way, he said; extending his hand. Angela took his hand in hers, giving it a firm shake. I'm Angela--Angela Bower." As she mentioned her name, Bradley's smile widened as though he knew her. "Bower as in The Bower Agency on Madison Ave. in NYC?" he queried. "That would be me," she replied with a smile. "I'm so glad to finally be able to put a face with the name," he said enthusiastically; never taking his eyes off her. "Your name sounds familiar to me too," Angela said; rising from her seat to stretch her cramped legs. "Well, aren't we ad execs always just a jingle away?" Angela could tell Bradley was trying hard to keep focused on her face; at the same time, however, she could feel his eyes taking her in; inch by inch.
She laughed; more to herself than out loud, in partial admittance of the attraction forming between them. Bradley reminded her of 'Gus', the plumber on page six of the "Hunk of the Month" calendar she went out out with a few years back. Gus, though, wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and there was a blankness Angela saw in his baby blue eyes. Bradley, in contrast, was more than articulate, curiously witty, and his eyes, at times, expressed more than Angela wanted to know. His tousled dirty blond hair and Dior suit presented a rather rugged professional, and succeeded in keeping Angela as focused on him as he was on her. As for the calendar, it remained in her study's safe; conveniently turned to February where the image of a muscular Italian in apron grinned at her warmly as if saying, "I'm here to help you..." And only you, Angela All she had yet to do was ask.
"So Angela, would you care to continue this conversation over dinner?" Distraction had seemingly disoriented Angela in the last sixty seconds, and she wasn't quite sure why. Accustomed to putting into practice her best professional decorum, she certainly didn't let it show. "Dinner?" she said rhetorically; "As delightful as that sounds, my flight back to NYC leaves in two hours." "I'd settle for drinks in the airport lounge," Bradley countered. "Do we have a deal, Ms. Bower?" he asked; offering his arm to her. "Definitely," she replied; "Drinks I can handle..."
Angela swiveled her bar stool as to sit face to face with Bradley while she sipped her dry Martini. "Oh how funny," she said; "You work with your brother and I work with my mother." "Well, my father insisted we keep the business in 'la famiglia', if you know what I mean." he answered. The smile Angela wore grew wider. "I know Italian when I hear it." she said. "I take it you are--" "Half Italian, actually;" Bradley finished. "With the other half being English, or Anglo-Saxon if you prefer." he added. "Yet another thing we have in common," Angela said. "Although, I am 'all' Anglo-Saxon." "Maybe adding a bit of Italian to your life would give it some spice." he said; holding her gaze. Angela nodded; thinking Bradley didn't know how right he was. Just then, Angela's cell phone rang, bringing her back to reality. "You'll have to excuse me Bradley, I have to take this; it could be my office." Say no more, Angela; he chuckled. "I know the drill; business calls." As Angela moved away from the din of chatter wafting around the bar, she pondered how great she and Bradley would look on the cover "Wall Street Week." Identical cell phones the size of bricks, both in tailored business suits--the picture of professionalism. The more Angela thought about it though, the more the picture appeared a bit 'posed.' Shaking her head, she answered, "Hello?" "Angela?" "Hi Tony..." "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, yeah Angela; everything's A-ok."
"Somehow, I knew that..."
"With me runnin' the house, would you expect anything less?"
"That's my girl."
Angela felt her face warm in response to his last comment, and was thankful he couldn't see her over the phone. "How's everything at the office?"
"Mona's been managing things fine; well, at least now she is, since I took the batteries out of her Walkman."
Angela laughed. "Gosh Tony, with everything you have to do, you managed to check up on Mother too?" "You really do think of everything..."
"You know it, Boss."
"I called for another reason, ya know." "I wanted to know if you missed--the house."
"Yes Tony, I miss 'the house' very much." His omission of a certain personal pronoun was not lost on her.
He let out a very audible breath, "Good."
"And Angela?" "Don't drink too much; I want you sober when you get home."
"You sure about that?" "I've been told I'm more fun when blasted."
"I lo-- like you just the way you are."
"I know." She couldn't help but grin into the receiver. "See you in a couple of hours."
"Bye," he echoed.
As Angela made her way back to the bar, she saw Bradley busily rifling through some files in his briefcase.
"A man after my own heart," she mused to herself.
He looked up for a second and caught her eye, smiling broadly.
Angela couldn't help but return his smile.
The smile faded as Angela recalled her first home run, her first time at a comedy club, and the first time she tentatively poked at a ball with pool queue. All the while, Tony was by her side. "Don't get caught up in this, Angela; this triangle...not when we're so close...not when he said--" But what had he said exactly? The truth was, he didn't have to say anything. His feelings for her were ever present--in his every expression, his inflection. She just knew.
As Angela sat back down next to him, Bradley hoped all his years in advertising paid off in selling himself. She seemed preoccupied since getting back to the bar. Clearing his throat, he asked, "Is everything ok?" She startled slightly; his voice drawing her out of her thoughts.
"Yes, yes...everything's fine." "Good." "Because, I was wondering, how would you feel about me putting Madison 'On The Map' for you?" Angela was genuinely confused; he read it in her eyes. "Wait, wait, Angela; before you think this is the worst line you've ever heard, let me explain." "On The Map is the name of the advertising agency I own with my brother, Stan. I only said what I said, albeit awkwardly, in hopes that you might in stay in town for a few more days. I could, you know, show you around the area." As Angela smiled, she saw the color flood back into Bradley's face. "As tempting as that sounds, I think I may have misled you." Angela chose her next words carefully as she wasn't quite sure how to explain her own situation. "You see, Bradley, while there's no ring on my finger, I do have commitments--A son, a mother, a 'housekeeper'... And there is, of course, the agency too." Although Bradley had the look of a man who had just lost his biggest account, he took her deferment as any gentleman would. "I understand, Angela...my family means everything to me too." Handing her his card, he said, "Give me a call if you ever find yourself otherwise unengaged." "Will do" she said; nodding affirmatively.
"It's been a pleasure, Mr. Goodson."
"The pleasure was mine, Ms. Bower, he said; closing his hand over hers.
As she was walking away from him he called out, "Angela--"
Her head whipped about.
"Just remember to ask for me and not my brother, ok?"
"I wouldn't ask for anyone else;" her voice floated back.
"I'm home," Angela's voice rang out jovially.
Tony, upon hearing her voice, strode through the swinging door.
"Gosh, I missed the sound of those high heels clicking around this house."
"Hiya Ang," he said; placing a light kiss on her cheek as he took her coat.
"Hi to you too," she replied; her face flushed from the touch of his lips on her skin.
Bounding footsteps on the stairwell signaled a moment broken as they turned away from each other to look at their children.
"Mom!" Jonathan said with an ebullient smile; "Guess what? the prettiest girl in school spoke to me today."
"Yeah," cut in Samantha; "She asked to borrow his Biology notes."
"Well sweetheart, you have to start somewhere," Angela said; placing a kiss atop his head.
"Hey Angela, I got an 'A' on my Economics exam today."
"Sam, that's wonderful, she said; reaching out to give her a hug.
Tony beamed. "See Ang, she's takin' after you."
"What's all the commotion about?" Mona asked; coming through the front door, eyes peeking over the armload of shopping bags that were obstructing her vision.
"Ahh...the Boss Lady's back; the house is lively once again." "On second thought, maybe I'd better run...she said; turning the doorknob as if to leave again.
Angela walked over to the door placing her hand over Mona's.
"Mother--" she said.
Mona looked at her daughter like a child, cornered.
"Hi Dear, how was your trip?"
"Rhetorical." Angela answered.
"The Dairy State was that dull, huh?" Tony remarked. "Well, I'm sure you managed to impress some dairy farmers in that cream colored suit you're wearin'" he said appraising her.
"Gee, how interesting," Mona said; mulling it over. "That describes the ambiance of this house over the last week to a tee...Tony fretting, Tony moping..."
"What? I was just making an observation..." "Just seeing if the mouse would play while the cat was away..."
Tony looked at Angela with puppy dog eyes. I didn't play, not at all."
Angela looked as if she had just one a 10 million dollar account as she figuratively pieced together what he'd just said.
"Ang?" Can I see you in the kitchen please?" He motioned for her for her to follow him.
As she pushed through the swinging door, Angela wasn't sure which of her senses had been awakened first. The smell of the chocolate-walnut cake wafting around the room teased her nose and was making her mouth water, so she decided to focus on something else. Her eyes shifted to the table, adorned with the Tiffany vase he had given her for Christmas years ago; pink roses and daffodils filled its shimmering crystal, and in that moment, Angela couldn't find words for the multitude of emotions that were welling up inside of her.
There he stood; in a red and white checkered apron, smiling warmly at her.
In an effort to quell the tears that were threatening to erupt, she said as evenly as she could, "Oh Tony, those are beautiful flowers you bought for... the house."
"The flowers...and the cake, are for you."
"I know." she replied.
The image of him standing before her in his apron, conversations with their kids, and her mother, the secretary of it all. She nodded to herself, surveying the snapshot in her mind; deciding that nothing and no one would ever draw her away from the perfect picture of home.