Julie dreaded going into work. Her mother went out of her way to put Julie and Thomas together. Julie tried to be civil, and even tried to look for his good side, but she couldn’t. Every time she started to think he might not be so bad, he made some little remark about someone that made Julie uncomfortable.
Sunday Julie’s day had brightened a little when she saw Ken. She couldn’t explain why, but every time she was forced to be with Thomas, she started comparing his features to Ken. She barely knew him, Julie chastised herself. Why did she keep thinking about him? The little betta was now in a small two gallon hexagon aquarium on her desk at work. Her mother had just said, “That better be the only one.” Julie had laughed and suggested that one of her larger tanks be moved into the waiting room. “It’d get it out of the house.” Katie hadn’t said anything then, pretending she hadn’t heard the suggestion.
Now the three of them were eating lunch at Annie’s Kitchen. Her mother and Thomas had kept the conversation going, and Julie unintentionally tuned out with thoughts of bettas and Ken. She should call Linda again and see if they were ready for more fish. She wondered who bought the store, and if they would keep Linda and Sue.
“About the waiting room,” Katie began. “Maybe that tank in the dining room with the angelfish that don’t have babies.”
“What?” Julie said, finally realizing she was being addressed.
“For the waiting room. You can bring in that tank with those two spotted angelfish – the one in the dining room.”
“The two leftover leopard males in the twenty nine gallon?”
“Whatever. That whole tank would look pretty in the office, but no more. No babies – nothing. Just that one on a nice stand.”
It contained the platies she no longer wished to breed, plus a small school of rainbowfish and her cory catfish. She wanted to breed both the corys and the rainbow fish, but at least she’d get to keep them. “Thanks, Mom. I’ll move it as soon as I have a few hours free.”
“Thomas could probably help you this weekend, couldn’t you?”
“Uuh, yes, of course. Saturday afternoon would be fine. We should have all our last minute returns done by then,” Thomas said.
Julie wanted to refuse, but she knew she would have a hard time moving it on her own. She’d have to drain most of the water into clean containers to take with her. Those would be heavy, and so would the tank with the gravel and a small amount of water to keep it wet. The fish and plants would travel in the other water. The faster the move went, the less chance that the water would get too cold for the fish, or that the aerobic bacteria in the tank would die. “Saturday is good, Thomas. Thanks.”
“And then you’ll let me take you out to dinner.”
No. Oh, no. She was trapped.
“That sounds wonderful, Thomas,” Katie said. “You’ll both be able to relax. The taxes will be out of the way. Your father and I always celebrated on the fifteenth of April – celebrated that we had survived.” Katie laughed her light, airy laugh. She was very pleased.
Julie wanted to protest. Somehow she had to let him know she wasn’t interested. No one seemed to listen to her, though. No matter what she said her mother brushed it off and told Thomas it was just a matter of time. Julie was starting to fear that her mother was right, and she had no choice even though Paul Israel had said she did.
Again no one seemed to notice that Julie hadn’t agreed as they walked back to the firm. Julie went into her office and shut the door. She stared at her computer screen, but didn’t see any of the numbers. She was glad she didn’t have any appointments until three thirty, because she needed the time to herself. She doubted she’d get much work done.
The intercom on her phone rang. “Line two, Julie,” Bethany, the secretary, said.
“Thanks.” Julie took a deep breath and picked up the line. “Hello?”
“Hi, Julie. This is Paul Israel from church.”
“Oh, Paul. I was just thinking about you.”
Paul gave a low chuckle. “Really? Good thoughts I hope.”
“Oh, I’m so confused.” Julie looked toward the door and lowered her voice. “Mom really is pushing me to marry Thomas.” Her voice cracked, and she held her hand to her eyes. Why did her emotions betray her now?
“If you don’t want it, Julie, you must stand up for yourself.”
“I’m sorry,” Julie whispered when she could speak. “I don’t know how. She doesn’t listen.”
“It’s alright. Why don’t you come in to see me?”
“I work. Taxes.”
“I understand. When you’re ready. And remember – you do have to say yes. Nat won’t marry you unless you do. It’s not a one sided affair.”
“Promise?” Julie had to ask.
“I promise. Is it all right if I discuss this with Nat? I’m sure he won’t marry you to anyone unless you proclaim your undying love first,” Paul teased gently.
“Yes. Thanks, Paul. It’s just so hard, everything at once, and my dad… I wish my dad was here.” Her eyes clouded again as she fought her emotions.
“We’re here for you, Julie. Nat and I both.” He paused until she regained control. “I did call about a little business opportunity that I thought you might be interested in.”
“I… but… what?”
“Well, it seems the buyer of that pet store you wanted is in need of a partner. He’s short on cash. Maybe the two of you could work something out, with him being a working partner and you a silent partner with a controlling interest. You might be able to work out a deal to keep some of your fish there, if there’s room.”
“Room? There’s this huge room that’s just empty, waiting for breeders. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding? Who is it? Can I trust him?”
“Jim Greene seems to think pretty highly of him.”
She remembered the last time she’d seen Jim Greene. Ken was standing next to him. “Oh. It’s Ken? Are you serious?”
“You’ve met him.”
“We’re run into each other a few times.”
“Well then call him if you’re interested, because he’s going to lose the bid if he doesn’t come up with the cash soon.”
“Oh, thanks so much, Paul. You really think this is right?”
Paul laughed. “I thought you might be interested. Just put everything you agree to in writing. If you want, I will go over it with you two, or Jim will. Just remember, there isn’t much profit to be split on this deal. It’s mainly the property you’re investing in.”
“He has to let me use at least half of that back room for breeding.”
Paul laughed again. “I better let you go so you can call him then.”
“Wait!” Julie cried to prevent him from hanging up.
“What is it?”
“I don’t even know his last name or phone number or anything. I just know he breeds bettas, mbunas, and gouramis.”
“Just the important things, huh?” Paul chuckled again. “Ken Wright.” Paul dictated the phone number. “Let me know how it goes.”
“Thanks, Paul. I’d completely given up. This is so… Thanks.”
“I hope you’ll thank me later, after you’ve worked out your partnership. This kind of thing is almost like a marriage. You won’t always agree with each other.”
“Are you available for partnership counseling?” Julie asked lightly.
“Whenever you need me, Julie.” Paul hung up then.
Julie prayed in thanksgiving and then for courage. She stared at the phone. Finally she picked it up and pressed in the number. Her nerves jumped inside her. Two rings… three…. The answering machine. She felt so let down she almost missed the beep. “Ah, Ken. This is Julie Hansen. Paul said… you know, Paul Israel… that you needed a partner to buy the pet store. We could… Well, I have some… Just call me.” She managed to leave her number before the tape clicked off.
Nanci was making it harder for Ken at SaveMart. She and Bob had already decided who would do which of his duties. Nanci got back a few of the duties she was originally supposed to have, and Ken was to train her. He was also to train all the others. Jim had guessed correctly again. Bob was not going to replace him or promote any one person.
Ken went to his phone as soon as he got home, intending to call and see if Jim had found anyone for him. He was surprised to hear Julie’s voice when he played back his messages. He debated whether he should call Jim or Julie first and then dialed the number Julie had left. “Hansen Accounting,” said a female voice. She owned an accounting firm?
“May I speak with Julie Hansen?” He was put on hold, but finally he heard Julie’s voice. He took a deep breath and tried to remain professional. “Hi, Julie. This is Ken. You called me?”
“Yes… I, ah, have a client right now. Are you home?”
“Sure. You can call back. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Or… or maybe we could meet for dinner.”
Ken hesitated. He’d vaguely thought about going to dinner with her, but he never expected her to ask. But this was business. He needed to get his fantasies under strict control. “Sure. If you’d like. You called about investing in the pet store with me, right?”
“Yes. I wanted to buy it, but….” Julie glanced at the Johnsons. “We can talk more over dinner. Ah… Olive Garden?”
Ken hesitated again. He’d only been there once, and that was when he was dating Lynn. He’d spent thirty dollars that time. Half that would buy his lunches for a week.
“If that’s not good….”
“No, it’s fine,” he said quickly. “Miller Road, right? I’ll bring my paperwork. What time?”
“A little after six?”
“I’ll be there.”
After his brief conversation with Julie, Ken called Jim. “Hi, Ken. Did anyone call you? I friend of mine thought he might know someone.”
“Julie Hansen called.”
“Really? I forgot all about her. I keep thinking of her as too young for business, but she must be in her mid-twenties now.”
“She owns an accounting firm?”
Jim laughed. “No. Her parents do – well, her mother now. She’s an accountant. I remember when she graduated from college.”
“Great, Jim. And you thought I could date her.”
“Rich is a relative term. You should know that having your own business doesn’t mean that. In most cases it means the opposite.”
Ken hesitated. “You’re right. Evan thought I was rich when I talked about the pet store. But… well, do you think she’d be a good partner?”
“She knows business and accounting. Show her the records so she knows what kind of money you’re talking about. She’s a smart girl. Hey, I’ve got to go. I’m here alone, but I can talk later if you have any questions.”
“Sure, Jim. Thanks.”
Ken attended his fish and then gathered his papers together in a notebook-type, vinyl, brown folder. It was the closest thing he had to a briefcase. He arrived at Olive Garden five minutes early. Julie was not around, and Ken wondered how much it would cost him to not appear backward. Jim was wrong about one thing. Julie was obviously used to this. He was not.
Ken let the waiter seat him and ordered water to drink as he waited for her. Where could she be? Did she change her mind? He reread the menu and decided on one of the cheapest meals he could. Then he looked through his papers. This was hopeless. Once she saw there was no money here, she was not going to want to be a part of this. Ken was about to leave when the waiter escorted her to his table.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Julie began. “I was distracted leaving, and the traffic… And I had to run home for my papers.” She set a slim, soft leather briefcase on the booth next to her. She glanced at the waiter. “Oh, yes. Tea, please. Thanks.”
They studied each other for a few moments. Ken searched his mind for the right words. His hands felt warm and he wiped them on his jeans. She was just as pretty as he remembered, and they were out together. What if he blew it? He closed his eyes as Julie reached for the menu and glanced through it. He had to focus on the pet store. There was no personal relationship to blow, he firmly reminded himself.
The waitress came, and Julie ordered soup and salad.
“You wanted to….” Ken began.
They both laughed nervously. “You first,” Ken said.
Julie reached for her briefcase and pulled out a few folders. “Paul said you were looking for a partner.”
“Silent partner? He said you’d be the working partner.” She pulled out some forms. “This is a partnership that I do the books for. See this guy….” She pointed to a blank next to a number. “He gets a salary. The other guy gets nothing, but at the end of the year, they split any profit. If there’s a loss, the working guy has to take home less salary.” She looked up at him. “There’s still going to be a mortgage, right? I figured that any profit we get we should use to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible. After that we can split profit and stuff, but since I’m working with my mom….” She stopped. “I’m sorry. You haven’t said anything. I’m just so excited about this.”
Ken wasn’t sure what to say. She had everything worked out, and it didn’t sound like she wanted to cheat him. “You want nothing out of the business?”
“Well, actually I do. I want half that back room for breeding.”
“Do you know how much money I need?”
“Approximately. Tell me.”
He did. “You want to spend that much money just for a place to breed your fish? I wish I could spend that much on a hobby.”
“Wait,” Julie said, and Ken was surprised to see her smile leave. The waitress came with their salad, but left quickly. Julie hadn’t moved. “If you don’t take me seriously, then….” She studied her food. “Will you say grace, or shall I?”
Ken complied. “Father, thank you for this food, and… for the company. And Father, if it be Your will, let us come to an agreement that will honor You. In Jesus Name. Amen.” Ken looked up. Julie still studied her plate.
“What are you thinking?”
She looked up. “What are you thinking? I don’t know what you want at all. Do you just want money? I want to have a say. I wanted to buy it, but….”
“But you didn’t have enough on your own either?”
“I don’t know. The bank said I probably did.”
“That’s what they told me at first, too. So why didn’t you pursue it?”
Julie picked at her salad again. “I have family obligations,” she said quietly. “I don’t have the time.”
“Family obligations,” he repeated. It was something he understood well. In a few days Evan would be invading his home. A thought came to him. Without full control his family couldn’t expect more of him than he was capable. “What do you want to have a say over? I thought I’d manage it since that’s what I do now at SaveMart.”
“Well… we really shouldn’t be open on Sunday.”
“Agreed. Give our employees the day to worship whether they want to or not.”
“And I don’t want Linda or Sue to lose their jobs.”
“Neither do I. So you want to be in on the hiring and firing?”
“Payroll is one of the biggest expenses. Maybe not who, but what kind of position we can offer. I mean, you’ll know what we need, but… let’s talk it over. Sometimes I can work. I would be there every day, anyway, taking care of my fish. I have to have at least half that back room,” she insisted.
“Because I live with my mother and grandmother, and they want all the fish out of the house by summer – except one aquarium. That’s all I can keep.”
“Why don’t you move?”
Julie hesitated, and then shrugged. “If we’re going to be partners I guess we should tell each other everything.”
Ken realized that would work both ways. “Not necessarily. If you don’t want to talk, just say so.”
“No. It’s fine. I think Grandma isn’t feeling as well as she says, and she needs someone.”
“Your mother is there.”
“Yeah, I know. But Mom doesn’t always notice. I did think about buying a house, but Mom doesn’t want me to. This solves the problem, though, and I can’t do both.”
The rest of their food arrived, and they ate in silence for a few moments. “Will you go with me to the bank tomorrow?” Ken asked.
“We should write up our partnership agreement tonight, and… I want Paul to look at it. Paul or… or Jim.”
“Here? Or can we go someplace else?”
“We can go anywhere you want. We just need a word processor. I’ve got a few examples with me.”
“Sorry. I don’t have one.”
Julie hesitated again, and then shrugged. “You can come back to my office, if you want, but it’s pretty hectic over there. Most of the people will leave by nine. I’ll be there later finishing up. Is nine too late?”
Ken had a feeling he wouldn’t get much sleep since he had to be to work early the next morning, but he didn’t let her know that. “Sure. It’s fine. I’ll think about what I want and meet you at nine. We shouldn’t bother Jim that late though.”
“We can do that in the morning.”
“I have to work.”
“What about the bank?”
“My appointment is for three thirty.”
They finalized their plans and finished eating. Julie gave him directions to her office, and then they parted, each paying for their own meal.
Go to Chapter 7
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.