Julie didn’t know if she’d gotten any sleep at all, but she dutifully went into the office to work Saturday morning. At ten she realized she couldn’t concentrate. The questions from the night before still plagued her. She needed to take a break. She had no more appointments, just paperwork, and she could finish that later in the afternoon. Julie straightened her desk and stood to leave.
Her mother came into her office. “Julie, your grandmother said you were thinking about buying a house now. What is this?”
“Well, I have to do something with my pets.”
“Just give them away. You don’t want to buy a house. You already have one.”
“Grandma’s?” Julie shook her head. “I want to own a house.”
“Not Grandma’s. Ours. You own half, you know.”
“That’s too big for just me… well, maybe all the fish.” Julie had not considered the possibility of moving back to the home she’d grown up in. The memories would be hard without her father, but she should face them someday, and she’d been avoiding it. “You’d give the renters notice so I could keep my fish?”
“Oh, Julie. Don’t be silly. It’s for you to raise a family in, not fish.”
“But I have no husband. I’m not even dating.”
“But that will change very soon. You’re an attractive girl. Besides as soon as you’re ready, I know Thomas is.”
“I won’t push you. But don’t you buy a house, okay? Now I have to get back to work.” Katie left the office. Julie slumped down in her chair and tried to shove her emotions back into place. Well, it looked like she wouldn’t have to worry about facing those memories yet. But is that it, Lord? Is that my option? Just give up my fish altogether. You know how I love watching those new little creatures grow into beautiful fish.
Thomas peeked his head into her office. “Lunch in an hour?”
“Ah,” Julie’s desire to escape and be alone was even stronger. “I was just leaving. I’m not sure when I’ll be back.” She grabbed her purse, stood, and rushed past him before he could protest.
Julie drove for fifteen minutes before she decided to see if she could talk to anyone at the bank in the loan department. If she couldn’t buy the store, then that decision was made. But it wasn’t that easy for her. After looking over the financial papers of the pet shop, the loan officer said that there was a good chance she could get a loan approved in the amount she needed. Julie thanked him and left just as unsettled as when she had come.
Julie drove for a while and found herself at the church. She wondered if Pastor Nat was in. Was this something she should even bother him with? But Julie parked next to a truck in the lot and went inside. A few seconds later Paul Israel looked out of his office down the hall. “Hi, Julie. Come on back. How are you doing?”
“Fine.” Julie looked into Pastor Nat’s dark office as she passed it. “Where’s Pastor Nat?”
“Still on vacation. He’ll be back Tuesday. Anything I can help you with instead?” He indicated a chair beside his desk.
Julie finally focused on Paul. It was actually Colonel Zachariah Paul Israel, she had heard, and he still wore his brown streaked hair in a military haircut. His mustache was precisely cut and didn’t hide his slight, friendly smile. “I’m not sure if anyone can help. I guess I’m just a little confused about some decisions I have to make. I probably shouldn’t have even bothered Pastor. I know he’s so busy.”
“Never too busy to talk to his sheep, he would tell you.”
Julie shrugged and sat in the chair Paul again indicated. “I know, but I also know there are people with a lot worse problems than mine.”
“But it’s bothering you.”
“Yes.” Julie took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to say it. Is there a time when a child should stop acting on their parents’ wishes and live their own life? Is there an age, or should we always follow?”
Paul grinned. “This is definitely not a question with an easy answer. And I don’t think it’s a frivolous problem, if that’s what you’re worried about. How old are you?”
“You’re an only child, right? And you live with your mother and grandmother. Your father died two and a half years ago.”
Paul paused only a few seconds before continuing. “And what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a CPA in my Mom’s accounting firm. She….” Julie sighed. “She expects me to take over the business someday.”
“And you don’t want to.” He said it as a statement.
“How did you know?”
“By the way you hesitated. What do you want to do?”
“I… I think I want to buy a pet store.” Then she hurried on. “I have a ton of fish and hamsters and guinea pigs, and I’ve been breeding for years, but now… now there’s too many, and… and I have to give up everything, or move, or something. I don’t know what to do?”
“Do you have the means to buy a pet store?”
“The bank thinks so.” Julie fumbled with her purse and pulled out the papers she had collected. “If I don’t make an offer by Monday they’ll sell it to someone else, but… but Mom wants me to stay with her. But I have to do something with the pets. Grandma needs them out of the house.” Julie realized she was rattling on. “I’m so confused,” she confessed, looking down at her purse in her lap.
“It sounds that way.”
“I could just buy my own house. That’s another option. But… but mom thinks I shouldn’t until I get married.”
“Oh? And who’s the gentleman?”
Julie shook her head in frustration. “No one. Actually Mom wants me to marry Thomas Randall.” Paul gave a look that Julie interpreted to mean he wasn’t quite sure if he knew Thomas. “He’s only been in the church maybe seven months, give or take a few.”
“Yes. I know. Do you like him?”
Julie remembered Thomas’ slurs on Paul’s character. It embarrassed her that she had even listened to them. “Not really,” she whispered.
“Well, I can definitely say that this is one area where you should make your own decision. Don’t marry because someone else wants you to.”
Julie suddenly felt that Paul knew who Thomas was, and he also knew Thomas was saying things against the leadership of the church. “I… I don’t listen to Thomas.” She didn’t say that her mother was. She was not only ashamed of that, but didn’t know if she would be disloyal to her mother to admit her shortcoming.
Paul nodded slightly and looked over the papers she had set on the desk. “You’d be draining your entire savings to buy this place. You’d have nothing to fall back on to tide you over during an emergency. From what I understand retail isn’t always reliable, and you never know when the roof will spring a leak or the furnace need repair.”
“So you don’t think I should buy the store?”
“What do you think, Julie? You’ve seen more business records than I have.” Paul handed her back the papers. He was right. She had nothing to fall back on, and if she went against her mother’s wishes she wouldn’t be able to ask for any help. “Is there a chance your mother would invest with you as a silent partner?” Paul asked.
“No. No chance. I tried to talk to her yesterday. She’s got her mind set on me taking over the accounting firm.”
“I just hate to see you with no cash for emergencies.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve seen a few businesses crumble because of unexpected expenses or lower than expected revenue. You can’t be too careful.” Julie sighed and then another thought hit – one that had flirted into her mind the night before. “God wouldn’t really want me to give up all my fish, would he? I mean… He couldn’t, could He?”
“I don’t know, Julie. Sometimes He does want us to make sacrifices to help the ones we love. But it’s a hard call to make. Your own house might not be a bad choice, unless your grandmother is getting to the age that she needs care. Does she need someone there?”
“She’s seventy-two now, but she seems fine.” But isn’t that what Uncle Cal said? The reason she had moved in with her was to help her. Less than six months after her grandfather had died her father suggested that Julie move in with her Grandmother to help her over her depression. She hadn’t been eating right or keeping things up like she had. Then three years later her father had died suddenly. Instead of leaving one widow to live alone, Katie decided to move in with them away from the memories of their happy years together.
Julie sighed. “I guess I have to pray about it some more.” But Julie was afraid she had to give up everything.
“Let me pray with you. I know this is a hard decision.” Paul prayed with her and then Julie left. She stopped home to feed her baby fish. Before she left, she took the papers from her purse and put them in her small file. There was no need to look into it further. She closed the file and then went back to the office to finish her work.
Julie was deeply engrossed in a monthly report when Thomas came into the room. “Hey, how about dinner?”
Julie jumped a little. “I didn’t know you were here. I’m not ready to eat yet. I got in late.”
Thomas sat in one of the chairs before her desk. “What did I do wrong? Is it the cars? You don’t like that, do you?”
“I’m not planning on having a junk yard or anything. I only work on high quality antiques. Honest.”
Julie shook her head. “What are you talking about? I don’t care what kind of cars you work on or that you even like cars.”
“Well, then give me a chance. How about Chinese?”
“Thomas, really. I have to get this done. I’m too busy to think about anything.” Julie wished he would leave. Was she going to have to face him every day at work now?
“Your mom said you were trying to sell your fish so you’d have more time. How many do you have?”
Julie almost laughed. “I don’t know. Over a thousand.”
Thomas did laugh. “No really. How many? Ten?”
“I have over ten aquariums, and I don’t know how many make shift baby tanks I have.”
Thomas’s eyes widened. “You’re joking. Why would anyone want that many fish?”
“They have babies.”
“Get them neutered or something.”
“I breed them. It’s what I do for fun,” Julie said, trying to keep her voice even.
“Your mom is right. You’ve been working too hard. Come on. Let’s go out.”
“I have to finish this. Please. I need to concentrate. I don’t want to be here all night.”
“You can come back tomorrow.”
“No. I’d rather not.”
“No,” Julie said firmly.
Thomas stared at her a moment before he finally gave in. “See ya tomorrow then.”
Oh no. Not at church, too! But he left. Julie quickly finished her work and went home.
At home her mother sat alone in the living room, watching television. “Where’s Grandma?”
“In bed. She wasn’t feeling well.”
“Oh, no. She’s not sick….”
“No. Just a little arthritis I think. You know, you should contact a few more pet stores.”
“Yes. I do deal with more than one.”
“I mean, go to Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Saginaw. It shouldn’t take long at all if you do that.”
“I’m not the only angelfish breeder in Michigan. Beside I have no time until after the fifteenth.”
“That’s true. But right after that, you do that, okay?”
Julie saw no way out. “Sure.” She went into the kitchen. The dishes were stacked in the sink. Grandma must not be feeling well. She never left the dishes. Julie washed them and straightened the kitchen before feeding her pets and going to bed. It looked like Grandma needed her here no matter what she said.
The next morning, though, Grandmother was up before Julie or Katie and had breakfast waiting for them. Julie studied her as she ate her waffles. Grandmother seemed fine, but Julie didn’t know if she was hiding her pain or she was actually better. She had always done what was best for everyone else. Julie felt guilty at the thought. Grandma did what was best in spite of physical pain, and she wanted to be selfish. Is there any way, Lord?
They went to church. It was an old turn of the century stone building with a newer attached wing which housed the school. They were barely in the church door when Thomas made his way to them. Katie greeted him warmly, and he sat with them. Julie managed to sit on the other side of her grandmother, as far from Thomas as she could. Paul delivered the sermon.
Julie left the pew as soon as the benediction was over to avoid Thomas. She spotted her friend Nicole and worked her way through the crowd. Someone ran into her, and she backed up abruptly into someone else. “Excuse me,” the woman said. “I must reach Jenny before she leaves.” The woman was gone, and Julie no longer saw Nicole. She turned to see who she had run into.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Julie raised her hand to her mouth and backed in the opposite direction.
“Careful. You might run into someone else. Or am I the only one,” Ken teased.
“You… you go here? I mean… There’s been so many new people in the last few years, it’s hard to….”
“I’ve been coming over a year. My old church is in Midland, but when I’m too rushed, I come here since it’s closer.”
Jim Greene who had been a regular member for as long as Julie could remember stood beside Ken. “I’ve finally talked him into joining, I think.”
“I’m taking the classes,” Ken said with a laugh. “It’s not easy switching churches.”
Jim put his hand on Ken’s back. “I don’t think I could leave here. I’m just glad I’ve always worked close by. So, Julie, how’s your grandmother.”
“Fine, I think.”
“And your angelfish?” Ken asked. His grin entered his eyes as he teased her.
“They are all well. So is my little betta – and my cory cats and my platies and my guinea pigs and my hamsters.”
Ken did laugh then. “Your apartment must look like mine. Except I don’t have any furry friends right now – just a few chameleons.”
“There you are, Julie,” Katie said. Thomas was right behind her. “Come. Let’s all go out for lunch. Hello, Jim. How’s your wife?”
“She’s around here somewhere, visiting.”
“There’s never enough time, is there? We’ve got to get going. You never take time for fun, Julie, so we’re going to make sure you go out today. Bye,” Katie said to Jim, before taking Julie’s arm to lead her away.
“Mom, I’m coming.” She removed her arm from Katie’s grasp. Her stomach churned. A dinner with Thomas. She wished she could think of a legitimate excuse to back out. She smiled weakly at Ken. “See you around.” Then she turned to follow her mother. Thomas moved to walk beside her.
Go to Chapter 5
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.