Several weeks went by and while Willie enjoyed the feeling of being able to help Papa, she found that she was becoming more and more puzzled by the intriguing ways of the fetching gentleman. He only appeared on Monday, which made her wonder if perhaps he was the weekly bookkeeper.
The next Monday as always, he appeared. She was surprised when he looked at her and said “you there. What is your name?” Timidly, she said “I’m Willowdean Prescott, sir. I’m the nighttime worker.”
“So I gather,” he said. “Carry on, then.”
He had asked her name. Her heart skipped a beat as she watched him walked down the long dark hallway. Not only had he finally noticed her, he had asked her name. Again, she had to remind herself that she was just a poor working girl and should read nothing into a casual glance or a simple polite question.
As she dusted and swept, she found herself constantly glancing toward the dark hallway. She even entertained the idea of trying to quietly walk down to catch a glimpse of him at work but she didn’t dare intrude on a space not designated for cleaning.
As the sun rose, the dark stain once again appeared as it did every Monday but it was no longer a surprise. She came to expect it just as she expected the fabric scraps and the thin layer of lint that covered everything like a blanket of low-lying fog.
The next week, the fetching gentleman spoke again. “Miss Willowdean,” he said. “I must apologize for my rudeness last week when I failed to properly introduce myself. My name is Albert Middleton.”
Willie could feel her face blush as she politely curtsied and said “no apology necessary, sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Her heart was racing. Not only had he asked her name the week before, he had remembered it. After he gave her a smile, he walked down the long dark hallway. She continued with her work and most likely unaware, had an extra spring in her step.
Her duties were fulfilled and while she waited for the foreman to unlock the door, she glanced toward the hallway as if hoping the fetching gentleman would appear again but darkness was all she saw.
As time went by, Willie noticed that Albert was becoming more attentive. He made her blush once more when he asked her if anyone had ever told her that she was beautiful. She said “only my Papa, sir.” He looked at her and said “allow me to say that you are very beautiful and I would be honored if you called me Albert.”
“As you wish, sir,” she said. “As you wish, Albert,” he said. She was nervously trying to find her words and caused them both to laugh when she said “as you wish, sir Albert.”
He held his gaze until he disappeared into the darkness and she wondered if what she was feeling was love. She knew the love of her family but she had never known the love of a man. In a brief moment of fantasy, she dared to think he might feel the same.
One day Willie asked Papa if she could wear her mothers’ ribbon. On special occasions, Enez wore a bright red ribbon tied around her hair. It was one of Papas’ most treasured possessions and he was surprised by Willies’ request. She had never asked that of him before.
He smiled and wondered if some “fetching gentleman” had caught Willies’ eye. He went into the bedroom and opened the small wooden box that he had kept the ribbon in for the last five years. As he took it out, a flood of memories momentarily overtook him. He ran his hand across the box and whispered “I’ll tell you about this tomorrow, my love.”
When he handed the ribbon to Willie, he said “you must be careful with this. You know how dear it is to me.” Willies’ eyes lit up as she hugged Papa.
When she carefully tied the ribbon around her long dark hair, Papa wished he could halt time, if only for that instant. She looked so much like her mother and although he couldn’t help the feeling of sadness, he also felt overwhelming joy.
“How do I look Papa?” she asked. With misty eyes he said, “you look beautiful, child.”
To be continued_____________