Andrew Harrington surveyed the crowd gathered before him with disbelief. He had booked an early morning flight specifically to avoid being caught in huge lines, but it seemed like everyone else had had the same idea. He was waiting to use an automated kiosk to check in to his flight, print his boarding pass, and check his bags. There were several, each with a long line. Andrew pulled his brown leather laptop case off his shoulder and set it on top of his roller board. This was going to take a while.
He was glad to be heading home, even though the conference had been a good break from his daily life. He’d gotten a chance to visit with some of his friends from medical school, which was a rarity these days. Although happy enough with his little house and the stability his practice brought, Andrew missed the days when all his friends were a short drive away.
He especially missed seeing David, his best friend, and the two of them had spent as much time together as possible during the conference. They had spent plenty of time catching up and swapping stories of their recent adventures, although Dave’s had been much more exciting. It had always been that way, with Dave pulling Andrew out of his shell, and without him around to come up with some crazy idea, Andrew’s life had become positively boring.
Not as boring as waiting in line, though. Things had come to a standstill. Craning his neck and taking advantage of his height, Andrew could see over the heads of the travelers ahead of him to identify the problem.
There was an older woman attempting to use the kiosk without much success. She was starting to mumble to herself with frustration. Andrew noticed a tall, thin woman in the airline’s uniform worming her way through the crowd of people in an attempt to get to the baggage desk. He was about to flag her down to see if she could help the woman at the kiosk, but the older woman noticed the employee herself before he had a chance to catch her eye.
“Excuse me,” she said, her voice sounding a bit weary. “Would you please help me with this machine here? I’ve been trying to get my boarding pass and it just doesn’t seem to like me.” She laughed nervously. “Maybe you could print the boarding pass for me at your computer? I think that you used to do that, right?”
The tall woman didn’t even fully look at the woman speaking to her, although she did stop walking for a moment. “The system is fully automated now, ma’am,” she told her coldly. “Just use the kiosk. It asks some simple questions and then prints your boarding pass.” She started to walk away.
“Miss, I’m sorry, it’s probably my fault but I just can’t…” started the older woman.
“Yes, it’s your fault,” snapped the airline employee. “We have a simple system to keep things streamlined and you’re holding up this whole line because you can’t figure it out. Look at all the people behind you! Do you think they want to wait here because you’re technology resistant?”
Andrew felt his face start to get warm as he listened to this. The poor lady looked like she was starting to tear up, her cheeks getting pink with embarrassment as people started to stare at the scene that was unfolding. He was hoping that this horrible woman would get her act together and help the customer, and knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from saying something soon if she didn’t.
“I just need help. I’m sorry,” she muttered.
The employee sighed melodramatically, moving her shoulders far more than she needed to. “Let me help you then, since you can’t figure out the easiest thing in the world.” Her tone was as condescending as can be. “First, you have to push the button on the screen that says start. Can you do that? Can you take your finger and push the button?”
The woman looked positively humiliated as she reached out with her trembling, aged finger and tried to press the button. Not used to using touch screens, she didn’t make the contact properly on her first attempt.
“No? You can’t?” the employee asked. She started to actually laugh out loud.
Just then, a second airline employee stepped out from behind the baggage counter. She was a shorter and younger girl wearing a slightly rumpled uniform. Her face was unmade up, although her plump lips were shiny with Chapstick. Her chocolate brown hair was tied behind her head with a fuzzy pink barrette, which Andrew guessed probably wasn’t technically permitted with the company’s dress code.
While all the other flight attendants and check-in employees Andrew had seen that day had been wearing pumps, this girl had on a pair of scuffed black ballet flats. The girl’s awkward motion as she attempted to climb over a duffel bag brought a clear image of Lisa to his mind. In fact, everything about this girl reminded him of her. She seemed as lost and out of place in her uniform as Lisa had in her lab coat.
“Are you laughing at a customer, Theresa?” the second employee asked with anger and indignation. “How dare you talk to her like that! She’s just confused by the system. That’s not her fault.”
Theresa, the taller airline worker, rolled her eyes and stared down at the second girl. “This isn’t your problem, Molly. Get back behind the baggage desk. When this dumb old woman finally figures out how to pay for her bag, I’ll need you to print the stickers.”
Molly’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it. You can’t treat people like this. It’s mean and awful and I’m going to make sure that someone stops you from being such a bitch to everyone. I don’t care if you’re my supervisor. I’m done listening to you and I’m done standing aside while you treat people like garbage.” She put her hands on her hips.
Theresa leaned in closer. “You’re right. That’s it. That’s it for you working here, Molly.”
“What are you talking about?” Molly asked, confused and annoyed.
“You just called me a bitch and told me that you aren’t going to listen to the direct commands of your supervisor. As soon as I get off the floor I’m going to go right to HR and start filling out the paperwork to have you fired. You’ve had it coming for a while now anyway, you little brat. You don’t listen to anyone, you’re hard-headed, and you always look like a slob. When I look at you, the first thought that comes to my mind is ‘easy to replace.’” With that, Theresa turned and walked behind the baggage counter and then through a door.
Molly stood wide-eyed, looking like she was doing her best not to cry. Remembering what had caused the whole conflict, she turned back to the older woman.
“I’m so sorry about that, ma’am,” she said, her voice trembling a little. “Let me walk you through how to use the system. It’s totally understandable to have some trouble with it, but I’ll help you figure it out.”
The woman smiled at Molly, and she gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “You’re a sweet person, dear,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
Molly tried to smile back, but her eyes looked worried. She got to work showing her how to use the touchscreen system, and soon she had her boarding documents printed. Watching this whole proceeding had gotten Andrew very impassioned. His first thought had been that Theresa surely wouldn’t be able to get Molly fired for this, but after mulling over it for a few moments, he realized that she probably could.
Sad as the thought was, Molly probably would be easy to replace. She hardly looked old enough to have the job anyway; she seemed like she was right out of high school. Andrew knew that in today’s market, there wasn’t a lot of slack to be given. He sighed, then stepped up to where Molly was working at the counter just as she finished lifting the older woman’s bag onto the conveyor belt.
“Can I help you?” she asked, brushing a few stray hairs behind her ear. Her voice, her gestures, and her quiet, meek demeanor all made him feel like he was talking to Lisa, not a stranger.
“I wanted to let you know that I was impressed with your behavior today,” Andrew told her. “You’ve obviously got a good heart. I’m going to call the airline as soon as I get through security and let them know what happened here today and tell them that I, for one, do not think you deserve to be fired.”
Molly blushed a little, and smiled a genuine smile for a second. It was unbearably cute. There was nothing that made Andrew’s mind wander more than an adorable girl blushing.
“Thanks so much,” Molly said. “I hope it helps. I really wanted to keep this job. I don’t have a lot of other options right now.”
Andrew reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small silver case. He flipped it open and pulled out a business card, which he handed to Molly.
“Look, if it doesn’t help, give me a call. I’m a doctor, and I know quite a few people in the medical field in this area. If you find yourself in need of a job, just give me a call, alright? I’ll see what I can do.”
Molly nodded and put the card in her pocket. “Thanks again,” she said, her voice not much louder than a whisper.
Andrew smiled at her, then snuck back to where he had left his bags in the line.
The line had started moving again after the woman who was holding things up had been taken care of, and before Andrew knew it he had his boarding passes and had checked his bags. As he walked toward the gates, he couldn’t help but take a final glance back at Molly, who was dutifully checking bags still, but kept peering at the door through which Theresa had exited earlier. He felt a little bit silly about how concerned he felt toward a girl who he basically knew nothing about.
There was just something about her that made him feel particularly protective. She had a kind and sweet demeanor, but obviously wasn’t used to be reined in. It was her feistiness, combined with her big, dark eyes and her sweet little smile that drew him, he thought.
They were the same features that had made him fall for Lisa all those years ago. He had them both on his mind as he waited in the line for security, wondering what the chances were that Molly would actually call him. Part of him hoped that she wouldn’t, because that would mean that things would have worked out alright for her. Part of him wished that she would. He was sure that he could help this girl in more ways than just giving her a job. Something about her screamed to him that she needed to be loved.
Once Andrew had gone through security and he had gotten himself together again, he checked the monitor to figure out where his gate was. As he walked toward it, he pulled out his phone and looked up the number for the airline on its website. He had been serious when he told Molly that he would do his best to make sure that she didn’t get fired.
Andrew was immediately put on hold once he dialed the airline, so he walked the rest of the way to his gate and then paced back and forth, occasionally glancing at his watch to make sure that he still had plenty of time before his plane took off.
The conversation when he finally did get through went by very quickly: Andrew told the man who answered what had taken place and had been assured that a note about it had been made. He was unable to connect Andrew to anyone higher up, but he thanked him for his concern. Andrew felt a rush of frustration as he hung up the phone, just before his boarding group was called. He had to let it pass, though. There was no use in dwelling on a stranger who he was about to fly away from.
Molly Parker opened the door to her old, battered Toyota and sat down in the driver’s seat. She couldn’t understand why this sort of thing kept happening to her. She had been so thankful to get hired by the airline after three long months of unemployment. It had been hard to get a job when she didn’t have any references that she felt comfortable giving out: this made the sixth job she’d been fired from in the past year. That’s probably a record, she scoffed to herself.
It didn’t make sense. Molly had just been trying to do the right thing today. Theresa was a bully, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to talk to travelers in a rude or hurtful tone, but something about seeing that woman’s face as Theresa belittled her had broken Molly’s heart. In fact, she was angry that only she had felt the need to say something.
True, she knew that she could have been gentler about it, but it seemed like the best thing to do at the time. Still, she hadn’t expected Theresa to really try to get her fired, or for it to actually work, and so quickly! The last thing she had expected that day was to end up in a disciplinary meeting in Human Resources, and for that meeting to end with her being told to collect her things.
Discipline. That’s what people had always been telling Molly that she needed. She needed to get herself together. To run her life better. To have a cleaner apartment. In school, she was always being told that it took self-discipline to meet deadlines. At her series of short-lived jobs, she kept being told that she needed to be tidier, calmer, more proactive, more punctual… the list of traits that she was lacking went on and on.
I guess I really am just a fuck-up, she thought, just like my parents. At least she wouldn’t have to call them and let them know that she had been let go from yet another job.
Molly started the car and drove off. It wasn’t like she had enjoyed working at the airport anyway. The hours were always so weird and her feet ached from standing on the hard floor in her cheap shoes all day. Still, it was better than nothing. And now, that was what she had: nothing. The combination of disappointment in herself and anxiety about what would happen next made tears build up in her eyes.
As her mind wandered over lists of bills that needed paying and chores that needed to be done, she remembered the man at the airport who had given her his business card. It had been unusual but nice to have someone stick up for her. That tall stranger had been handsome, too, in a distinguished kind of way. His blond hair and pale, storm-gray eyes had stuck in her memory. Molly wondered if he had actually called the airline. If he had, it hadn’t mattered anyway, but she liked the idea of that. It made her feel cozy inside to think of him caring enough about her to want to prevent her from being fired.
It was a strange feeling, like a light touch on her skin. It felt warm and inviting that someone wanted to look after her. She thought about the business card in her pocket, and considered calling him as soon as she got home, but she realized quickly how silly that would be. He obviously hadn’t meant that he would give her a job if she got fired. Besides, Molly took care of herself. She always had.
Four months later…
“There you go,” Andrew told the young man who he had just finished examining as he handed him a prescription. “This should help clear things up. Remember to ask Samantha to make an appointment for a follow-up in about a week.”
The patient shook Andrew’s hand and thanked him, then Andrew exited the exam room. In the hallway, Rebecca, Andrew’s nurse, caught up with him.
His practice was small but efficient: it was just him, Rebecca, and Samantha, who did all of his clerical work and billing. She had just had her first baby, and it had been a mess to use temps while she was on maternity leave. She was back now, but only working part time, which meant that in the evenings Andrew still had to deal with the most recent temp. She was nice enough, but didn’t understand the way that Andrew liked his office to be organized and often ended up making things much harder for Samantha.
“You have a little down time before your next appointment,” Rebecca told him. “I left some paperwork on your desk for you. Can you take a look at it when you get a chance?”
Andrew told her that he would, and went into his office.
He sat at his desk and picked up the papers that Rebecca had left. They were mostly charts that he had left information off of by accident, but there was a sticky note saying that a drug rep from Questru had called to see when it might be convenient for him to stop by. He didn’t pay it much attention, certain that Samantha would have given a good answer.
Just then, his desk phone rang. Andrew picked it up.
“Dr. Andrew Harrington,” he answered.
“Um… hi?” asked a quiet, timid female voice on the end of the line.
“May I ask who’s calling?” Andrew queried, a little confused by the call.
“This is Molly, from the airport,” the girl told him. Andrew had to think for a second, but once he realized who it was, he felt his heart race for a second. Molly. Of course he remembered her.
“Hi, Molly,” he said, his voice sounding gentler. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you after this long. I figured everything must have worked itself out.” He could hear Molly gulp a little on the other end of the phone.
“I hope I’m not bothering you,” was all she said.
“No, not at all!” Andrew told her. As surprised as he was to hear from her, it certainly wasn’t an unwelcome call. “Is there something I can do to help you?”
“Well, you see, I’m having kind of a situation,” Molly admitted.
“Go on,” Andrew encouraged.
“So, I did get fired from my job at the airport the day that I met you. I don’t know if you called or not, but I got called down to the Human Resources office and they fired me that same day.”
Andrew frowned. “I did call, but I was worried that my call wasn’t actually all that helpful,” he told her. “The person I spoke too wasn’t particularly receptive to my comments.”
“Well, after I got fired I was out of work for a while, but I did get a job as a waitress at a restaurant in my town, which was pretty good, except…”
Andrew could see where this was going. “Except you got fired from that, too?”
“Yeah,” Molly said, her voice sounding embarrassed.
“What did you get fired for this time?” Andrew asked. He had promised her help finding a job in a doctor’s office, so he wanted to make sure that she was actually a responsible girl. He had made a lot of assumptions about her character, and had to keep in mind that although he felt like he knew her already due to the similarities between her and Lisa, he didn’t really. It would make him look bad if he recommended her and she created a problem for one of his friends.
“That time I got fired because I gave away too much free stuff,” she told him. “People would complain that something wasn’t right and I felt bad so I gave them discounts or free desserts or even free meals, and I wasn’t really supposed to do that. After that, I got another job working as a pizza delivery driver but I was pretty bad at that. That only lasted for a few days.”
Andrew put his head in his hand. “A few days?” he asked with disbelief.
“Yeah, I was always getting lost and never got to the place I was going on time.” Molly sounded like she wasn’t proud of this.
Andrew couldn’t help but shake his head, even though Molly wouldn’t be able to see.
Molly continued the story. “So, not too long after that I got a job in a tax office as a secretary, but…”
Andrew finished her sentence. “You just got fired from that?” he asked.
“It was not my fault!” she defended herself. “I did everything right with answering the phones and doing the files and the other stuff I was supposed to do, but I kept being late to work so they fired me just for that!”
“So, now you’re unemployed?” Andrew asked. His tone was caring and concerned, but also stern, carrying a level of seriousness to it. It seemed silly for him to be disappointed in a girl with whom he had spent less than fifteen minutes total, but he couldn’t help his feelings.
“Yes, sir,” Molly whispered. Andrew couldn’t help but smile at that. Everything about this girl screamed that she needed to be taken care of. “And I have been for almost the whole month. My rent is due soon and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have any savings or anything like that. So, I was wondering if you were serious when you said you would give me a job with one of your friends. It would really save me.”
Andrew had a few questions for her. “How old are you, Molly?” he asked.
“I’m twenty,” she told him. That was about what Andrew had guessed.
“What’s your educational background?”
“I, uh, I finished high school,” she muttered. Again, it was right on target with what he had in his mind.
“Did you do well in school? Any trouble?”
Andrew could tell by Molly’s voice that she was blushing. “I did okay. I got into trouble from time to time. Okay, I got into kind of a lot of trouble. But not for anything bad.”
“You didn’t listen to what you were supposed to do?” he figured.
“Yeah. And a few other things that everyone does, just stuff like drinking.”
Andrew couldn’t really blame her for that. He had been feisty in his youth, too.
“What about your parents? Are they able to help you out?”
“No,” was Molly’s first answer. It came out immediately, as if it was something that she didn’t even have to consider. Andrew wondered if she was an orphan. He decided that he wasn’t going to pry any further into that at the moment.
There was silence on the line for a moment as Andrew thought seriously about what he was going to say. He knew that he couldn’t really recommend her to one of his friends. It didn’t sound like she would be able to just adapt to a new job environment, and if she was disrespectful to her new boss, that would make things really uncomfortable for Andrew. Besides, Molly didn’t just need a job. She needed to be looked after. She needed rules and structure in her life. She needed to learn how to behave in a professional environment and how to keep a position. He knew what he had to do.
“Well,” he told her finally. “My secretary just had a baby and she’s only working part time these days, and realistically, with the way that the practice has grown in the past couple of years, I think she could use a little help when she is here anyway. I’d be willing to offer you the job with the understanding that you’re going to have to put your very best effort into this, and that I’m not going to let you fail this time. Do you understand me?”
“Really?” Molly’s voice sounded bright and excited.
“Really. If you’re serious about doing your best,” Andrew said, making sure he sounded like he really meant it.
“I am! I promise I am!”
“Alright,” Andrew said. “The only issue is logistics, now. Are you located in New York? That’s where you were the last time I saw you. I’m in the suburbs of Chicago.”
“I live in New Jersey,” Molly explained.
“Are you comfortable moving out here?” Andrew inquired. “I know that it’s a big leap, but I’d be willing to let you stay in my guest room until you get on your feet. Besides, I could use the company,” he admitted.
“I promise I won’t be any trouble,” Molly said, although Andrew wasn’t entirely sure about that. He was betting that Molly would be at least a little trouble, but it was trouble he wouldn’t mind dealing with. “I have a car, and I’m sure that all my stuff would fit into it. I could drive out to you,” she suggested.
“That’s probably a twelve-hour drive,” Andrew guessed. “Are you okay with that?”
Molly told him that she was, suggesting that she could spend a night in a motel on the way.
So, Andrew agreed. “Alright, I’ll call you again tomorrow to make sure you’ve thought about this and you’re still comfortable with it. Remember, I’m taking this very seriously, and any issues that come up will be dealt with firmly.”
“I understand,” Molly affirmed.
Andrew said goodbye to her and they hung up. He felt like he should be questioning his own judgment, but he wasn’t.
Andrew could tell that she had lived a fairly hard life, but she maintained a childlike nature and a sort of innocence that he couldn’t describe. He knew what would probably fix the problems that Molly had with her jobs and other responsibilities: she needed a lot of love and regular discipline. Andrew had always felt a pull to be a caretaker, but he had to admit that he felt a rush of arousal when he thought about what kind of discipline he thought would be best for Molly.