When Vicky D'Angelo lands her first secretarial job after high school at a prestigious engineering firm in Manhattan, she hopes only it will lead to a better life for herself and her struggling, single mother. It isn’t long, however, before she realizes the company she works for is no ordinary engineering firm, and the colleague she has fallen in love with, no ordinary young man. Both will deliver her into a brilliant, unexpected life -- but at a cost.
Based on a true story and Edward Hopper's painting Office at Night, this is a short story about growing amid great uncertainty, accepting both loss and life coming full circle with love.
She didn’t for the life of her understand why she needed an escort when she was only walking a few blocks away to drop off the blueprints at another brownstone. But she was not about to raise any objections, especially as Clive McAdams was, well, so manly -- tall, dark and handsome like something out of a movie or a newspaper comic strip -- and such good company. Walking beside him, her virginal self was aware for the first time of what a man really was -- how much bigger they were than women and how much stronger they smelled and how much they were willing to do to win a woman’s favor. As much as she loved Mama, the love of her life, there was no one quite so entertaining as Clive.
“Like a stick of gum?” he’d invariably ask on these walks.
“No thank you,” she’d say primly. “Dr. O doesn’t approve of gum-chewing.”
“And do we always do precisely what Dr. O wants, even when he’s not around?”
“Precisely,” she said, turning up her nose with a laugh. “You know, Mr. McAdams, I really don’t need your help. I’m perfectly capable of delivering these blueprints myself since I’m the one doing all the heavy lifting here.” And indeed, she walked a little taller with an extra bounce in her step as she carried the blue tube under one arm and her clutch under the other. Thanks to her job, she now had the wardrobe to match that confidence as well as treats for Mama, money to fix up their apartment and savings for their future.
“Well, you wouldn’t want me to lose my job when I’ve just arrived, would you?” He walked along with his hands in his pockets in that way of American men, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, as if it were his oyster, which she supposed it was.
“No, I guess not,” she said.
“Besides, maybe I’m along for protection. Or maybe you’re the one protecting me.”
She laughed at that, even as she wondered why he wasn’t in uniform like all the other young, able-bodied men who were missing from that New York summer.
“He must have some condition, his heart or something,” her mother said as she poured her coffee later that night. “I’m sure Dr. O wouldn’t hire anyone who was less than worthy.”
Already, Dr. O was a god among men to her mother, responsible for everything from the food on their table to her daughter’s happiness. But what did they know of him or Clive or anyone?
Just how little they knew became apparent on another blueprint delivery day. They were walking along as usual when suddenly Clive quickened his pace and, taking her by the elbow, nudged her into a cab.
“Mr. McAdams, what’s the meaning of this?” she said.
“Look, fella, I don’t want any trouble,” the cabbie said.
“No trouble. It’s just that I sensed we were being followed, and I wanted to give whosever was doing it the slip. Driver, I want you to take us around the block to the nearest pay phone and wait while I call our office.”
They did just that before Clive delivered the blueprints to someone waiting at the door, then asked the driver to take them to Grand Central. “I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day. Time to get you home.”
They rode there in silence, broken only when Clive insisted on escorting her to the train.
“I don’t work for an engineering firm, do I, and you’re not some guy who was classified 4-F, are you?”