Chapter Sixteen: Do Unto Others
I sat across the table from Percy, watching him nibble on his third chocolate chip cookie. He just got better and better looking every time I saw him. Fresh from the shower and clean shaven, his classical features with those smooth, chiseled lines were even more mesmerizing. His hair had dried into a halo of radiant amber waves that just touched his shoulders and long spiky bangs which kept falling across his eyes in an alluring disarray. True to his word, he didn’t seem bothered in the least by my staring, and like those other women before me, I just couldn’t seem to help myself.
Occasionally, Percy would glance up at me and smile, but I was too down to offer him a smile in return. I didn’t bother going over his application with him since I knew I wanted to hire him and I didn’t see the point. He was ready and willing to work and that was good enough for me. I’d have him sign a contract as soon as I had one drafted. That would make it all official.
My phone call with Marco had gone about as well as I’d predicted and I ended up hanging up on him again. I knew it was ironic that he was angry at me because he was worried about me, but he made it sound like he was angry at me for not listening to his good sense when I clearly had none of my own. He made me feel ashamed offering kindness to anybody I didn’t know--especially when it required a little sacrifice on my part with little or no personal gain in the end. He’d all but dampened the cheerful mood Percy had put me in and I resented him for that, among other things.
The storm was finally winding down, but it was late now, and I hadn’t yet decided what to do with my new groundskeeper for the night. Let’s face it, I had five empty bedrooms in this rectory. I didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t just stay here for now, and besides, having the cordial company put my jittery mind at ease. I had extra linens he could use with his sleeping bag as bedding. It would be good enough for tonight until I could get him something more permanent, like a trailer.
“Delicious, Miss Mya,” Percy announced, jerking me out of my sullen reverie. “The sandwich was great and these cookies are a real treat.” He smiled again, leaned back in his chair, stretching out his long legs, looking full and satisfied after the egg sandwich on rye, the two glasses of milk, and the five cookies he’d consumed. “I haven’t had homemade baked goods since…well, I can’t even remember, it’s been so long.”
I tried to smile back at him. “Look…Percy, it’s late. I’ve got another full day ahead of me and-”
“Don’t say another word,” Percy told me, holding up his hand to stay further comments from me. “The rain’s let up so I’ll just gather my things and be on my way. I know the town’s a little west of here. You wouldn’t happen to know if there’s lodgings there, would you?”
“No,” I replied with a shake of my head. “You don’t understand.”
“That’s all right,” he conceded. “That hot meal and shower did me a world of good. It won’t take me long to hike into town.”
“Shut up for a moment and just listen to me!” I growled at him.
Those big blue eyes of his got even bigger and his expression reminded me of a little boy’s who’d just gotten caught feeding the dog under the table. It made me crack a grin.
“Now listen. I meant, it’s late and you and I both have full days tomorrow. Why don’t you just crash here tonight? Take your pick of the empty bedrooms. Really. I was going to make some of them into guest bedrooms anyway. Maybe one into a studio. Maybe one a sewing room. You know.”
Percy blinked back at me as if I’d suddenly started speaking Greek to him. Apparently I had rendered him speechless. No small feat.
To encourage him, I grinned. “Yes really. It would actually make me feel better having someone else in the house. This is my first night out here and well…. It’s not that I’m not used to living alone, it’s just that I’m not used to being so isolated.”
Percy lowered his eyes and licked his lips. His long lashes seemed even longer angled down like that giving those pretty eyes of his even more boyish appeal and with his lips slightly moistened now, the soft curve of them appeared that much fuller. He seemed to be mulling my proposition over in his head, but then he smiled. I found myself sighing in spite of myself.
“In that case, I accept,” he announced, looking me in the eye now. “I like the fact I’d be doing you a favor by staying too, but I have to say, Miss Mya, you’re being very hospitable…considering we just met and all.” He paused and raised his brow at me. “Are you always so trusting?”
That made me laugh, but I did nod my head. “Other people would say I was gullible. But I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character. And you know how sometimes you can read people right off? Well, I can tell there isn’t a mean bone in your body. For some reason, just being close to you makes me feel safe and secure. Yeah, I know we just met and don’t really know beans about each other, but you’ve got a good heart. I can tell.”
Percy was gazing at me now with an enraptured expression. He offered me another sweet, shy smile that told me that good heart of his was pleased.
“I’m glad, Miss Mya. I have to say, that is just about the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
I sighed, happy I was able to make him happy. “Good. So don’t judge me. My boyfriend thinks I’m insane for even letting you in the door.”
I noticed Percy’s sweet smile slip at that. “Oh. He’s your…boyfriend?” He frowned outright now. “Begging your pardon. I couldn’t help but overhear you on the phone the way you were yelling. I suspected you might have forgotten I was around.”
My face warmed with embarrassment. Exasperated, I sighed. “I’m sorry, Percy…. I got so caught up fighting with him I think I did forget you were around. It’s just that he makes me so mad, I can’t seem to help myself! He thinks he needs to protect me--from myself!”
“Oh, I’m sorry if I’ve caused trouble for you,” Percy lamented. Sitting up, he propped his elbow on the table and dropped his head into his hand.
I couldn’t help but notice the way his bangs slid over his eyes. It made me want to reach over and push them back.
“Oh, it’s not your fault, Percy,” I said, a little distracted. “It seems Marco and I are always fighting--except when we’re in bed.” I thought I saw Percy wince when I said that. I probably shouldn’t have disclosed such personal information right off the bat, but I felt Percy should know the truth about my relationship with Marco if he were to fully understand what was going on between us. Sometimes it was good to get another man’s objective take on the situation. I took a deep breath and forged onward. “Marco can be very condescending at times, and I can’t stand that. You know, I appreciate his advice because he’s super smart and very business-savvy, but he doesn’t have to belittle me for choosing to do different. I have to trust my own instincts on things and if it turns out to be the wrong thing, well, it’s my mistake and no one else’s. He’s got his own agenda on certain issues and I’ve got mine. He doesn’t understand how anyone can not think along the same lines he does. And he’s always pressuring me to do things I don’t want to do. Like sell this place. He doesn’t get the fact it means something to me beyond its monetary value. He needs to just back off.”
Percy listened to my bitching with his head between both hands now as if what I was saying was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard.
“If you ask me, it sounds like he wants to change you into the kind of woman he thinks you should be, but aren’t. Maybe he doesn’t feel comfortable with you the way you are now. Maybe you don’t quite fit into his world.”
I peered over at Percy and nodded. “You know, that’s it exactly ’cause I’ve felt that way since the beginning with him. And it’s not just the bigger things, it’s the little things too. It’s like, he doesn’t want me to give any of my inheritance money to charities, or do something for the community, like rebuild the church--which wouldn‘t be feasible anyway, but that‘s hardly the point, and he doesn’t even want me to dare put someone else’s needs before mine. I can see that on some levels, but doing for others actually makes me happy and he can’t understand that.”
“No, he can’t,” Percy replied. “…From what I hear.”
I shook my head. “At one point, I was thinking I just have to get out there and fend for myself and to hell with everybody else. After my daddy passed, I was suddenly alone and I felt like I had no one to turn to anymore who could truly make me happy. I decided I was going to indulge myself to regain my happiness, because there wasn’t anyone else who’d indulge me anymore.” I sighed and looked Percy square in the eye. “But that kind of happiness doesn’t last. I have a real chance to do some good with this money he left me. I’d rather donate to a children’s cancer ward or a little backwoods animal shelter than have a penthouse in a high rise worth a million dollars. I don’t want to live extravagantly. That wouldn‘t make me happy. I want to give back, like my father did. It’s what he would have wanted.”
“I don’t understand,” Percy murmured. “Why would your boyfriend want to change that about you? You’ve a good soul, Miss Mya. God will bless you for it. Your compassion for others is a real virtue. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.”
I sighed, frustrated. Of course he’d make this into something religious.
“Look, Percy, don’t take this the wrong way, but I just don’t believe having a good soul means anything anymore. Don’t bother telling me how blessed I am or that God loves me, or even so much as cares. I’m not trying to impress God with my virtue. In fact, I don’t want anything to do with God. You do what you do to make yourself happy and if that means giving to a charity, then it’s because it makes you happy, not because it earns you a higher place in heaven.” I looked away from him and studied a crack in the tile on the floor instead. I hadn’t wanted to get into this with him, but I supposed he best know where I stood on the subject.
I could feel the weight of his unflinching gaze however and the fact he said nothing in reply spoke volumes of its own. I looked up at him bracing myself for his condemnation.
I thought it was odd that he remained silent. My anger ebbing and my curiosity getting the better of me, I peered back at him.
“Well, well. Are you just too shocked? Is that it? Aren’t you going to quote scripture at me or fling holy water in my direction to ward off my evil thoughts?”
Percy sat back in his chair and offered me a slow smile. “Like it or not, Miss Mya, you’re a good person. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Doing something for others because it helps them and makes you happy, is the only reason you ought to do good.”
I looked away again. “It’s complicated,” I began, my voice low.
“No it’s not,” Percy stated gently. “I can see the pain in your eyes, Mya. I can hear the anger in your voice.” He paused and took a deep breath. “What if I told you, it’s all right to be angry? That sometimes it helps with the hurt and the confusion you feel and that’s understood. Sounds to me like you’ve found the key to happiness by doing for others the way your daddy wanted you to, so why not indulge in that?” He gestured at his empty plate. “Just like you did for me this evening. You could have kept those eggs for yourself for your breakfast in the morning and maybe you’d feel good about having eggs to eat tomorrow, but you’d feel worse letting me go to bed hungry. You made yourself happier by feeding me those eggs. See, that’s the real you, Miss Mya. Over that bridge is where you’ll find the key for your anger and your pain. Remember that.”
I closed my eyes and sighed, feeling drained, but in a good way as if a heavy burden had just been lifted off me. It was as if Percy had given me permission to be who I really was again. I had to admit, I was still trying to find myself and discover the real me, but one thing I knew for sure now was that I didn’t want to be the kind of woman Marco seemed to want me to be. When I opened my eyes, I felt a lot better and even managed to return the warm and openly affectionate smile Percy was giving me.
“Thanks,” I told him. “I guess I needed someone to unload on. I appreciate you listening.”
Percy nodded. “Anytime.”
Pulling myself to my feet, I gestured towards the bedrooms. I knew I was going to sleep like a baby now.
“We should probably get some sleep. It’d do us both good to get an early start.”
Percy nodded. He stood up and stretched and yawned. “You’re right. I’m beat. I’m going to sleep like a baby.”
I grinned at that. It was like he had just read my mind. “Me too. Have a good night and I’ll see you in the morning.” I reached out to touch his hand. “Thanks again.”
At first, Percy seemed startled by my touch, but then he seemed to melt like butter in a microwave from it. He gazed into my eyes as his large hand clasped mine and squeezed it.
“Good-night then, Miss Mya,” he whispered, sounding somewhat breathless.
We proceeded up the hall in a kind of weary silence. Percy retreated into the room across the hall from mine that he had used to change in and closed the door behind him. I drifted into my room and closed the door as well. I also turned the lock--just to prove I wasn’t so trusting after all.