Archive by Author

story time by juleshg

16 Jan

Janet sat down in the cement stairway in the back room of her little book store and leaned forward to let her chin fall to her chest. As she closed her eyes she tried to focus only on her breath.

Come on Janet, you can do this… She inhaled slowly through her nose then pursed her lips trying to control the stream of air as it left her lungs.   In, two, three… Out, two, three…

It had been almost a year since her last panic attack but the heart palpitations and the tightness in her throat were just as terrifying as Janet remembered.   In her younger years she would sit herself down with her head between her knees until the dizziness and the shakiness subsided but since she turned fifty the arthritis in her spine had left her too stiff to even come close to that position.

She wiped her clammy hands on her pants before reaching up to unbutton the top of her white cotton blouse trying get some extra air into her lungs. Letting her head roll from one side to the other, she tried to relax the muscles in her shoulders that always pulled up tight when she was stressed. Her first instinct was to climb the staircase and retreat back to her small apartment over the store. She wanted to climb into bed, pull the covers over her head and forget everything that had happened today. But, this afternoon was children’s story time and she needed to get herself under control before one of her customers got concerned and ventured into the back corridor to check on her. Since she could imagine nothing worse than someone seeing her in this panicked state, she took one last deep breath, stood up straight and re-buttoned her blouse. It was time to put on a happy face and greet the world — whether she felt like it or not.

Usually Janet loved story time. It was a small town but the weekly session had been drawing steady crowds since she introduced it last year. The young children liked to arrive early and jostle for a spot in the front row where they could see the book’s pictures more clearly. Sometimes Janet even chose a ‘helper’ from the front row to come up and turn pages with her. Meanwhile the moms browsed the shelves and gossiped over coffee. In a town the size of Cranton Creek it was inevitable that a gathering this size would lead to a run-down of who was divorcing whom, who had been drinking too much at the bar last night and which newly-married woman had been seen flirting in the bank line with the new doctor in town. Janet always joked that there was one story for the kids and lots of stories for the moms. She would be damned if the talk of the town was: did you hear that Janet at the book store is having a breakdown? I saw her last week and she looked horrible.

She hadn’t looked horrible when she woke up that morning and headed down the long familiar staircase to open up the shop. In fact Mondays were her favorite day of the week. She loved seeing the children and the moms always left with a book or two so sales were typically strong.

This morning she was extra happy when she saw Bob walking down the street. Bob had arrived in town a few months ago and had become a regular at the shop. He was a writer so books were his passion and he frequently came in with an extra coffee for Janet so they could chat about the books they both loved.   Last month when he asked her to dinner she knew all of the  story time moms would be discussing her date the following week but she couldn’t have cared less. At her age, she would be foolish to turn down a shot at romance.

Bob came into the store with a big smile. “Hello there beautiful,” he said with a wink. “I thought I would come by to hear this morning’s story. I have heard through the grapevine that you are wonderful with the kids so I thought I would come check it out for myself.”

Janet felt herself blushing like a schoolgirl as she turned away to get the kids ready for their story. As she went to sit down she realized that in her fluster she had forgotten her reading glasses behind the counter. She looked up to see if one of the mothers was around to grab them for her but instead she saw Bob. While his back was half-turned to her she could clearly see the book he had stuffed under his jacket.

Janet sat stock still for a moment before jumping up and racing to the back room. Bob had stolen from her. Was this the first time? She doubted it… She was an old fool for believing that he had been smitten with her in the first place but she would be damned if that was the rumor that headed through town.

Instead, she stepped back into the store and said in her loudest voice: “there are my glasses. I thought I had left them upstairs.” She headed back to her spot in the middle of the children and announced that today she would definitely need a helper. As children’s hands flew up all around her she looked up and saw Bob smiling at her. With only a quick second’s delay she looked him straight in the eye and smiled back.

junkyard barter by juleshg

9 Jan

Standing in the marble lobby of the trendy Empire Hotel, John wondered if he looked as out-of-place as he felt. As looked around he saw several men wearing tailored European suits worth more money than he had made last month.  Not that he was struggling for money. In fact, this year was shaping up to be a good one and he hoped that trend would continue once he handed the reigns of the family business over to his brother so he could ‘pursue other career interests’.

Robert had seen right through that story. His kid brother loved the family business and could never fully understand why John had worked so hard to distance himself from the company their father had poured his heart and soul into. But John had hated the junk yard ever since he was a little boy.

His friends, however, thought it was fabulous and they begged John’s dad to take them on tours of the lot. Some days John would return home from school to find a dozen of his buddies following the old man around. But never John. He hated the fact that his family was the guardian of a glorified garbage dump; buying and selling the old heaps that no longer worked, that no one wanted any more. When he reached his teenage years the appeal only grew stronger for his friends. They would come by and chat with his father about their car problems and he would spend hours helping them to find the replacement parts they needed in the lot out back.  He would pull an old wrench out of a pocket of his filthy overalls and climb over scrap piles knowing exactly where to find the old car they needed to raid.  No matter how rusted or dirty or hard-to-reach the old car was he would emerge with the part in hand and a smile on is face so wide you would swear that he had discovered a treasure.

He never charged them a dime. John knew that his father enjoyed sharing his love of old cars with whoever had stopped by and for him that was payment enough. Even in the lean years, he gave away carburetors and fuel pumps that could have boosted their profits in exchange for a long chat and a cup of coffee with a fellow car lover.

Robert would do the same no doubt and the business would be in the same shape it was in when he returned home to take the helm two years ago. His father had dropped dead of a heart attack one afternoon as he was trying to find a headlight for a 1971 Camaro being restored by a twenty-year old kid that the old man had befriended.  Robert still had to finish college and John’s mother begged him to stand in so Robert could finish his education. As the junkyard was the family’s only source of income someone needed to keep it afloat and that fell to John.

His wife Sandra was furious but tried to hide it and told John that she fully understood. Of course he needed to support his family:it was the right thing to do. But in his mind’s eye he recalled the look of horror on her face when he first brought her home for his father’s funeral and she realized the true nature of the ‘family business’ he had been so vague about.

“A junk yard! Your family owns the junk yard,” she sputtered as they pulled up in their rented sports car. The shock only worsened when she realized that he had grown up in a small apartment upstairs from the main office just past the front gate. He had dreaded this moment for the full three years he had been with Sandra. The moment when she would finally look at him as the junk man’s son. The man she met — the man she fell in love with — was a business consultant in a big city. He wondered if she could be just as happy as the wife of a scrap yard operator.

It turned out that she couldn’t. The day after Robert walked down the aisle in his cap and gown she had given him the ultimatum. “You have two months to get us out of here. Two months or I am leaving here alone.”

So here he sat waiting to meet with his new boss. Malcolm Chambers understood his hiatus from the business world because he was running his family business as well. Chambers and Associates may have been Malcolm’s junkyard but to John it was an oasis. Funny enough, they had met in this very hotel only a week earlier when John overheard Malcolm telling a colleague about a part he needed for an old Ford Mustang he was refurbishing on the weekends. John gave him his card and when Malcolm showed up the next day he gave him an alternator in exchange for a new job as a business consultant. It was the kind of deal his father would have respected.

latte on the terrace

24 Oct

“Oh God, it’s her again.”  Mickey said looking out the glass door to see a familiar woman walking up the path.

For the past two weeks she had been coming by the Java Junction every afternoon, and every afternoon she had caused a ruckus.  The after-work crunch was the second busiest time of the day for the small cafe and customers often had to wait ten to fifteen minutes in line before being served.  Most of the regulars were used to the wait and chatted amongst themselves but the arrival of this woman and her damned dog made Mickey’s job as manager a living hell.

Mickey looked around behind the counter and nodded to Sarah.  “You — go outside and tell her to grab a seat on the terrace and we’ll bring her a latte.  There are fifteen people in line none of us need to listen that mangy little creature barking for the next twenty minutes.”

Sarah looked reluctant but eventually moved around the counter towards the door before the woman had a chance to come in.  As a regular barista Sarah had seen the dog take a nip at more than one customer.  Mickey did not blame her for being cautious but someone had to go.

“Bob,” he barked at the guy beside him. “Make the chick on the terrace a decaf latte with extra foam.  Since I can’t make you smile at any of the other customers I am going to assume that you do better with dogs.”

Bob nodded quietly and started to heat the milk for Emma’s drink.  He may have been chastised for being unfriendly with the regular customers but he was willing to bet that he was the only one on staff who knew the woman’s name.  He had been saying hello to Emma everyday for two weeks while all of his co-workers were too busy sneering t her and her dog.

When he was finished preparing the latte just the way that Emma liked it he grabbed a coffee for himself, a few napkins and headed out to the terrace.  “Hey Mickey,” he shouted over his shoulder.  “I’m going to take my break.”  If Mickey objected he did not hear him over the customers chatting in line.

As the door closed behind him Bob took a deep breath and then walked over to Emma’s table with her drink.  “Here you go Madam,” he said putting the cup on the table with some extra flourish.   “May I join you?”

Emma smiled and pointed to the chair beside her.  “I would love that thanks.”

As he sat down Bob noticed that Emma looked tired.  Usually well put together, he noticed that today her hair seemed a little messy and her eye make-up had smudged into a black smear under her eyes.

“Rough day?”

“It has been hell actually.  My ex just flew across the country unannounced to ask that I return a pair of earrings he gave me on our six month anniversary.  I am not sure if I am more annoyed that he made the request or that he had the nerve to walk into my office as if we were still friends.”

Emma grabbed her purse and started rummaging around for a Kleenex to dab her teary eyes as Bob took a sip of his coffee pretending not to notice.

“Snookie decided that today would be the perfect day to pee on one of the firm’s best client’s shoes then took a nip at one of my best accountants.  As I left today I believe my staff was in the process of voting on what they hated the most:  Snookie, me or any idea that came out of my mouth.”

“Wow,” Bob said with a chuckle.  “And I thought I had it bad trying to juggle my manager Mickey and a cranky art professor.”

“Are you in art school?” Emma asked.  “Please tell me about it.  I wanted to go to art school but my family insisted that I take business instead.  When your last name is Stone your priorities need to be as follows:  the firm, the family then your happiness.  The firm won out and now I am in line to take over Marsters, Stone and Shore whether I like it or not.”

“I hear ya,” Bob said.  “When I went to art school my old man threatened to disown me.  ‘I have not spent the last fifteen years slaving away so that my family can turn their back on my legacy.’  We haven’t talked in five years.  My mom used to ask if I needed cash but I am not taking a cent from them.  I love my mom but I have to do this on my own even if they do have more money than they know what to do with.”

“Wow, I think you are my hero,” Emma said with a smile. “My grandfather took me in after my folks died.  He has been telling me ever since that day how I have been a disappointment to him.  I think he expected me to be taking over his job in the firm by now so he could retire.  Instead he has been forced to hide me away in Chicago trying to forget how I have let him down.  I am sure he has already had his lawyer look for ways to disown me and adopt my ex who is his top sales guy.”

“Well, I don’t know about hero.  Right now my biggest claim to fame is doodling in the foam of my favourite customer’s latte.”

Emma looked down at her cup and smiled.  “Is that Snookie?”

Bob smiled as Emma started to chuckle and shake her head.

“Thanks.  I think the only thing that would make my grandfather happier than adopting Iain,” Emma continued, “is to see Snookie made into a rug.”

“He’ll have to get in line behind Mickey on that one,” Bob said.

“I know he is a pain in the ass,” Emma said as she picked up Snookie and began to finger his long pointed ears.  “But this little dog is all I have left right now.  He may bark up a storm but I love him.”

“I get it,” Bob said.  “He’s a Chinese Crested, right?”

“How did you know?”  Emma asked.  “Usually people just call him a rat dog.  When I was a little girl, we used to visit one of my dad’s business partners.  The guy’s wife was always really nice to me.  Anyway, she had a little dog like Snookie here and I adored it.  Granted, that dog was much better behaved than mine.”

“Oh, you only saw her on her good days.  Mocha could be a pain in the ass too,”  Bob said looking up at Emma.

Emma’s mouth fell open as she looked at Bob.

“I knew you didn’t recognize me.  I’m Bob, but my folks still call me Robert.  Robert Marsters.”

wilcard by juleshg

9 Oct

Marcy whistled as she walked home from the dry cleaners.  Earlier in the day she had been nervous as she headed off to her lunch.  June had sounded so distracted when she called to invite her to lunch that Marcy had wondered if the gig was up.

Marcy had been friends with June Watkins for three months.  She had first seen her picture on Iain Sommers’s desk one afternoon when she had gone in to get an expense report signed.  As usual, Iain had barely glanced at her as he looked over the paperwork, so she took the opportunity to look around.  On the credenza were two framed photos:  one of Iain and Emma Stone, his then girlfriend, and one of Iain with June Watkins.  While the photo of the mother and son was a few years old, Marcy immediately recognized the woman as one of the ladies-who-lunched who visited the yoga studio at her gym.

Well, well… it looked like she and Iain Sommers were about to have something in common.

Marcy had been fascinated by Iain since she first laid eyes on him on her first day as an administrative assistant at Marsters, Stone and Shore but Iain had never given her a second look.  Her colleague Susan shook her head and smiled.  “That’s Iain Sommers, don’t bother.  First, he is living with the CEO’s granddaughter and second, he would never stoop to dating someone from the secretarial pool.”  Marcy simply nodded and thanked Susan for the warning.

Maybe Marcy-the-typist was beneath Iain but Marcy-who-lunched-with-his-mother was going to be a whole different story.  The next day she unfurled her brand-new purple yoga mat on the floor behind June Watkins and complimented her on pants she was wearing.  The week after, she positioned herself next to June and commented on how gracefully the older woman moved from one position to the next.  Within the month they had been regularly meeting for coffee after class and June was telling Marcy all about her wonderful son.

Their first set-up had been a disaster.  Iain had been cold and just short of rude when he saw that his mother had invited Marcy to dinner.  A few moments into the evening she overheard Iain in the kitchen with June as he accused Marcy of using his mother to “improve her station in life”.  Marcy feigned horror and embarrassment as she apologized profusely to June.  “I am so sorry June,” she lied.  “If I had any idea that your son was Iain Sommers I would have never agreed to come to dinner.  He is practically my boss.”

In the end June had sided with Marcy and told her not to be ridiculous.  She was her friend and she was staying for dinner – June would hear no arguments about it.  She also apologized for Iain’s behaviour and told her privately that he was under stress because things here not going well with Emma.

The lunches with June continued and Marcy did her best not to meet Iain’s eye as he gave her dirty looks at the office.  Whenever she had documents he needed to sign she asked a colleague to go for her.

Three weeks later she received the corporate memo from Marcus Stone announcing that Emma was moving to Chicago.  Iain returned to the office looking sullen and tired but no one dared to mention it.  Usually the women in the office noticed every move Iain made but since the break-up everyone was careful to keep their eyes on their computer monitors when he passed by:  everyone but Marcy.  She would simply look up at him and smile sympathetically before returning to her work.

At their lunch date Marcy nodded quietly as June told her about Emma and Iain breaking up during their trip to Europe.  “That’s horrible.  I noticed that he was looking distracted but I had assumed that he was just finding it difficult to manage their relationship over a long-distance.  What a shame.”

June looked up at her coolly.  “Really?  You and I both know the truth Marcy.  You don’t feel bad at all.”

“Well, she is all wrong for him,” Marcy said quickly.  “You have said it yourself, he deserves better.”

“Someone like you?”

“Yes,” Marcy said holding her head up high and staring the other woman in the eye.  “Someone just like me.”

June laughed.  “I was right.  I wondered at first if you had it in you.  I even talked to Marcus Stone when I realized that you and Iain worked in the same office.  He assured me that you had a good background, a good education and some interesting references.”

Marcy was relieved.  Apparently June had figured out her scheme and approved.  June Watkins would make and excellent mentor and mother-in-law.   She would also be a formidable opponent if crossed and Marcy knew that she would have to be very careful.  A starter-husband like Iain would only be around for a few years before she would move on to someone more successful.   I would be a difficult transition to manoeuvre without making an enemy of June.

But June of all people knew this marriage would not last forever.  June herself was already working on her next trade-up and Marcy wondered if she would still be in the picture when June finally landed Marcus Stone.  Marcy was glad that she did not have to tip her hand and admit that she already knew about the budding relationship between June and her son’s boss.

Marcy had a lot to learn but she was no amateur.  It was nice to have a wildcard up her sleeve.

the heir apparent by juleshg

26 Sep

“Have your earrings back.  Will bring them tmrw.  Flght lands @ 3”

June read the text quickly and smiled before slipping her phone back into her handbag.  Usually she ignored incoming messages when she was on a lunch date – after all the chime of a cell phone did not give one the permission to dispense with good manners – but she had been rather anxious to hear from Iain.

“Good news?” Marcy asked from across the table.

“Sorry, dear.  It was a message from my son Iain.  He had to fly to Chicago on short notice.  He wanted to let me know he would be home tomorrow.”  June smiled and nodded at her purse which lay on the table.  “I must admit that I never believed I would use text messaging.  But, Ian insisted on showing me how it worked and it has proved to be quite convenient.”

“I am very impressed.  My mother doesn’t even have a cell phone,” Marcy said closing her menu and looking up at June.  “It sounds like you and Iain have a wonderful relationship.  Have you always been close?”

“Iain’s father died when he was quite young so for a few years it was just him and me.  When he was a teenager I re-married and he pulled back a bit but we have always stayed in touch.”  June made it a habit to be vague about her background when she was with new people. It was hard to explain to explain four marriages in twenty-five years without sounding like gold-digger.   To some, she was a widow and a divorcee several times over but in her own mind June was a business woman: pure and simple.

She looked at Marcy and saw herself twenty years ago.  Marcy had sought her out at a yoga class a few months back and the two women became fast friends.  On several occasions, June would return from a lunch date and tell her husband Stanley how Marcy would be the perfect match for Iain.  At the time her son was living with Emma Stone but June knew that relationship would never last.  She may be the granddaughter of the successful Marcus Stone, her son’s mentor, but Emma was not cut out to be Iain’s wife.

Emma was a weak, timid, little woman who carried around that small, ugly dog as a security blanket.  Not willing to waste time waiting for Iain to see sense on his own, June set up a dinner party with both Iain and Marcy one weekend when Emma was out-of-town.  She had invited two other couples so her intentions were not painfully obvious but she had no doubt that both Marcy and Iain knew what she was up to.

The dinner had not turned out the way June had expected.  Iain was reserved and sullen.  Apparently Marcy worked as an administrative assistant in Iain’s office and her son was convinced that Marcy’s newfound relationship with June was no co-incidence.  “She is using you to get to me mother.  I think she sees me as her ticket out of the secretarial pool.”

Iain had demanded that his mother cut off ties with Marcy but June only smiled and changed the subject.  If this were true, if Marcy had orchestrated the entire relationship with June to get to her son, then perhaps the younger woman was more like June than she had previously thought: a kindred spirit.  Emma Stone did not have the wherewithal to get things done.   Clearly a woman like Marcy had some potential.

June smiled and looked up at Marcy imagining her wearing the pearl earrings she had sent Iain to retrieve.

successful mergers by pheonix.writing

19 Sep

“Can you give me five minutes?”  Iain sighed as he heard Emma’s voice coming through the intercom.   “I am just finishing off an e-mail to Chris about the quarterly reports then I will be right out.  Perhaps Mr. Sommers would like a coffee.”

The grey-haired lady with the pinched face looked up at Iain and pointed to the leather chair in the waiting area beside him.  “It appears that Ms. Stone is running a little late this afternoon.  If you take a seat I will get you a coffee if you would like.  I am sure it won’t be long.”

Iain unbuttoned his jacket and sat down in the chair laying his briefcase on the small table beside him.  “Coffee would be lovely.  Black, please.”  While he had just finished his third cup of coffee on the way over, Iain could not imagine sitting there for five minutes under the watchful eye of Emma’s new assistant. If it was not for his mother – whose disapproving gaze could easily put this woman to shame – he would have left without even seeing Emma.

His mother was the one who had insisted he take the flight to Chicago in the first place.  He had wanted to call Emma but his mother had vetoed that idea immediately.  “These things must be handled delicately.  You have already made enough of a mess out of this situation.  Let’s not make it worst.”

The directive had come when he returned from a two-week trip to Europe and announced that he and Emma had split up.  “You did what?” she asked when he told her the story.

“I broke up with her.  We were sitting in the cafe in France taking a quick break and watching people walk by.  There was this one couple that was holding hands and laughing as they made their way up the street.  They were tourists, you could tell by their clothes and the huge camera hanging around his neck.  Anyway, the man stopped for a minute then leaned over to whisper something in the woman’s ear.  She laughed and he put his arms around her and they just stood there holding each other for a few moments before they kept walking.”

Iain took a deep breath before continuing.  He knew his mother would never understand how he felt.  Since his father passed away twenty-five years ago his mother had made her way through a series of marriages, each husband slightly more wealthy and successful than the last.  June Watkins did not believe in romance.  She believed in practicalities and marrying well.  Until that moment in Paris he had thought that he felt the same way.  It was why he had approached Emma Stone in the first place.

“It is hard to explain Mother.  This couple just seemed so at home with each other, so comfortable that it did not seem to matter what city or what country they were in.  They just wanted to be together,” he sighed knowing that he was doing a poor job of explaining such a pivotal moment in his life.   “I looked over at Emma and realized that I had never felt that way with her and I never would.   Before I knew what I was doing, I was breaking up with her.”

His mother remained silent on the other side of the line and Iain closed his eyes waiting for the inevitable disappointment in her voice.  “Iain, dear, that is all well and good but one cannot just leave a relationship without any thought.”

“Mother, I am not going to change my mind.  Emma is just not the woman for me.”

“Of course she is not; I had trouble ever believing she was.  But you insisted on moving in with her and I know you feel about her grandfather so your step-father convinced me to keep my opinions to myself.  I wondered if you had finally given up on your crazy romantic notions and realized that marriage was a business arrangement like any other.”

“Maybe I haven’t given up on romance.  Maybe I finally understand that there is more to relationships than a ‘successful merger’,” Iain said.  “I’m sorry that I hurt Emma but Mr. Stone understands and has made arrangements for Emma to move to another office so we don’t have of face each other every day.”

“… and the earrings?”

“The earrings?  Mother, I broke the woman’s heart in a city halfway across the world.  Since then she has had to leave her home and her friends and start a new job and a new life in a city sixteen hours away.  I think it would be a little much to call her now and ask for a pair of pearl earrings that I gave her on our six-month anniversary.”

“You listen to me Iain Sommers.”  Iain was silenced by the sudden icy tone in his mother’s always-calm voice.  “Those earrings were a gift from your father to me on our wedding day.  To be honest I was hesitant when you decided to give them to Emma but I assumed that you had made your decision and that an engagement was around the corner.  If Emma Stone is not going to be part of this family then those earrings should be returned to me.”

“But Mother…”

“But nothing!  You will call her, explain the sentimental importance of those earrings and get them back.”

Iain sighed.  Emma tended to be emotional and would never understand the cold-blooded logic that framed his mother’s view of life and love.   He looked up to see Emma’s assistant coming back to the room with a steaming cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” he said as he took the mug from her.  “May I ask a quick question?”

The woman nodded.

“Did I hear a dog earlier?”

The grey-haired lady smiled slowly.  “Yes, you did.  Snookie is here today for a visit.”

Shit, this was going to be even worse than he had imagined.

the inner office

14 Sep

Yap, yap, yap…growl

Emma looked up from her spreadsheets to find Snookie growling at her office door.  She smiled as she watched the small dog with the big ears snarling at an invisible enemy and wondered what had roused him from his nap to go stand guard.

“Snookie, come here baby.  What is wrong with mommy’s Snookie?”

Without hesitation the small dog turned away from the door and ran behind the desk to leap up on Emma’s lap.  The feeling of his warm body comforted her immediately.  “It’s okay baby.  Mommy doesn’t like it here either, but we’ll be okay,” she cooed in his ear.

Emma cuddled the dog into her chest and began to rub his ears feeling the dog relax against her.  It had been a long day for both of them.  Snookie had peed on a client’s shoe during a briefing first thing this morning, he bit an accountant named Chris when he dropped some quarterly reports and then proceeded to bark all afternoon.  She knew that today had been a disaster but she needed Snookie with her today.

“Ms. Stone?” called a hollow voice from her desk-top intercom.

“Yes, Shirley,” Emma said with a sigh.  She wished her assistant would come into her office to speak with her but the older woman had a fear of small dogs and had flatly refused to enter the room several times today.  Her protests only grew stronger once word that Snookie had bitten Chris spread though the office.

“There is an Iain Sommers here to see you.  He says that he has an appointment but I don’t see anything on your calendar to confirm that.  Emma could picture Shirley sitting behind her large desk giving Iain the evil eye.  She fought a childish urge to leave Ian in the outer office for an hour to let him squirm a little more.

“I’m sorry Shirley.  My grandfath… – uh, Mr. Stone – called yesterday to let me know that Mr. Sommers was in town and asked that I see him this afternoon.  I apologize for not mentioning it.”

She heard Shirley take a deep breath and her voice softened slightly at the apology.  “That’s fine Ms. Stone.  Shall I send him in?”

“Can you give me five minutes?”  Emma knew that Iain could hear her conversation but she needed time to re-group before she faced him.  “I am just finishing off an e-mail to Chris about the quarterly reports then I will be right out.  Perhaps Mr. Sommers would like a coffee.”

Emma took a few deep breaths and rolled her head side-to-side trying to relax her shoulders.  She knew that she was a coward for hiding in her office but she needed to calm down.  Truth be told, this meeting was the reason Snookie came to work with her today.  She had been having panic attacks almost daily since she last saw Ian and the small dog was the only thing that calmed her.  She knew that Snookie was an ugly, annoying little dog but he was also her safety blanket and her only friend in Chicago.

Ian Sommers… she wondered why he was here.  She knew this meeting was not her grandfather’s idea but she also knew he would go along with anything Iain proposed.  In addition to being the company’s top sales vice-president, Iain was like a son to Marcus Stone.  When Emma and Iain first began their relationship he was cautiously optimistic.  He was thrilled at the idea of Iain being part of the family one day but worried that an ugly break-up would be bad for business.

Last month everything was perfect in Emma’s life.  She was sitting in a cafe in Paris with Iain, sipping espresso and watching the locals and the tourists walk by – it was easy to tell which was which.  She was sure Iain was going to propose that day.  He had been nervous and distracted and after a year together she could sense his anxiety though he tried hard to hide it from her.  Instead he told her that he was ending their relationship.

She was stunned.  They were an ocean away from home, with two days of their trip, in a country where she didn’t speak the language.  In the weeks that passed she wished that she had had the nerve to confront him that day; to ask why he had been so cold and thoughtless.  But she could not muster up enough courage.  Instead she had checked into a separate room and secured an early flight back to Wilmington.

Her first stop when she landed in America had been to her grandfather’s home.  He was her closest relative and she needed a friendly face and a shoulder to cry on.  Instead he had handed her a plane ticket and an inter-office memo which had been issued that morning.  Effective immediately she was leaving head office and heading to Chicago where her presence would not be as awkward or potentially bad for business.  It was best for the firm, for Iain and for her, the old man explained.

And now Iain was just outside the door.  She wondered if he looked as tense and uncomfortable as when she had last seen him at that French bistro.  She hoped he did.  She hoped that Shirley was giving him the look of disdain that she usually reserved for Snookie and stationery salesmen who arrived at the office unannounced.

She looked at Snookie sitting at her feet and realized now what had caused his outburst at the office door a few moments.  “I hope you are not too full from biting Chris, Mommy has an even better snack for you.”

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