At the office Julie tried to get as much work done as she could, because she suspected she’d be working with Ken on the partnership agreement quite late. She hoped both her mother and Thomas left before Ken came. She wanted to start this relationship off right. She had almost backed out when Ken had implied she wasn’t serious. She didn’t need to be treated like a child anymore. She wanted to make her own decisions. No one took her seriously here; she didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars to be treated the same way elsewhere.
Julie forced herself to concentrate on her work, until she was interrupted. “There’s a man here to see you,” her mother said. “I told him we were closed, but he says you made an appointment with him for nine. Julie, you know we don’t do that.”
“Oh, no. Is it nine already?” She jumped out of her chair and rushed past her mother to the lobby. “Where is he?”
Julie opened the door. Ken stood with his notebook clutched in front of him to fight the cold. Winter was not letting go, and it felt colder than it had when she had come back to work an hour and a half earlier. “I’m so sorry, Ken. I was concentrating again. It looks like everyone is working late tonight. I should have thought they would be with the fifteenth so close.” Julie realized she was rattling on again and shut her mouth. That always happened when she was nervous.
“I bet that’s why you ran into me a few weeks ago. You were running late then also.”
Julie had started leading him to her office, but glanced back in surprise. He was teasing her. “I… yes, I guess I was.”
“Julie,” her mother said, drawing her aside. “We don’t have time for any more taxes. It’s too late. We just have to finish what we have.”
Julie glanced at Ken. His face revealed nothing, but he looked around the office, studying everything. “This isn’t about taxes, Mom. It’s about fish.”
“Later, Mom. Please.” She glanced at Ken, and he studied her face now. At her look, he concentrated on removing his coat. She indicated the coat tree, and he put his coat on it. Julie led him into her office and shut the door. “Sorry about that.”
“You haven’t told her what you’re going to do?”
Julie hesitated. When he said it that way, it sounded like she was being sneaky. “Not yet. We’ve been busy.” She indicated the chair for him to sit, and she sat in front of her computer, straightening her desk to have room to work.
Ken sat, and pulled out his papers. Then he smiled and looked into the small aquarium. “I see you’ve taken good care of the little guy.”
Julie smiled as she looked at Baby Blue. He noticed the attention and wiggled in response. “I bet you want a bit of food, don’t you?” Julie took it from her drawer and dropped in a couple pellets.
“Do you give him any live food?”
“Before I brought him in, but I had a little tift about keeping frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms in the freezer. Mom is used to it. One of our seasonals thinks worms in the freezer are too gross. I don’t dare keep live ones in the refrigerator.”
They worked for an hour and a half when her mother came in. “Julie, Thomas and I ordered pizza. Would you like to join us? You may, too,” she told Ken. “I’ve seen you at church, haven’t I? You’re a friend of Jim Greene?”
Ken stood. “Yes. Ken Wright.”
Julie didn’t want to join her mother and Thomas, but since Katie had offered, Julie made the effort. “Are you hungry, Ken?”
“Join us anyway,” Katie said lightly. “You’re buying all Julie’s fish, right?”
Ken turned to Julie. She took a deep breath. “Not exactly.”
“What do you mean, not exactly,” Katie asked. She motioned Ken and Julie into the conference room where Thomas, the pizza, and pop were waiting.
It was now or never. “Ken and I are going to buy the pet shop.”
“What? Julie, I thought we discussed this. You don’t have time.”
“I know. Ken will do the work. I’m just investing.”
“How much,” Thomas asked. “You shouldn’t waste your money like that.”
“Thomas is right, Julie. You never know when you’ll need it.”
Julie wasn’t sure what to do. She glanced at Ken. He said nothing, but the muscles around his jaw looked tight. “Let’s forget pizza, Ken. We’re almost finished.” She left the conference room, and Ken followed.
“Julie, wait,” Katie said, coming after her. “We need to talk about this. Don’t sign any papers.”
“Later,” Julie said sharply, and then closed her office door.
Katie opened the door and followed her in. “Now, Julie, we have to have a talk. Ken, please excuse us. She won’t be investing in any fish store. She has more than enough to keep her busy here.”
“Mom! Please….” She looked at Ken, but she knew he couldn’t interfere. It was her fight. “Ken, I… I’ll call you.”
“Yeah.” He gathered his papers, stuffing them in his notebook. “See you around.” He left, grabbing his coat on the way out.
“Oh, Mom. Why’d you do that?”
“Me? What are you doing? This is ludicrous. I can’t believe you’d consider wasting your money like that. You’ll need that money someday. Especially when you start your family. Sending your children to college will cost even more then, and if you have a big family….”
“I’m not getting married! Ever!” Julie put a blank CD into the CD-RW drive and saved her files to it. As she waited for the computer, she gathered her papers into her briefcase. Then she threw the new CD into her briefcase also.
“Julie, stop being unreasonable. I don’t know what has gotten into you. You know this isn’t right for you,” Katie insisted.
Thomas stood in the doorway to her room. “Ken Wright has a brother in prison for theft. It’s a good guess Ken just hasn’t been caught. Don’t throw your money away to a family of thieves.”
“What do you know? How can you know that? You’re just being mean again. You’re always saying mean things about people. I can’t stand it.”
“Julie!” her mother chastised. “Don’t yell at Thomas for telling you the truth.”
“It’s not the truth. It’s not!” Julie shut off the computer, picked up her purse and briefcase, and ran to the door. She grabbed her coat as she passed it, but didn’t put it on.
Julie got into her car, and left without heating it or scraping the light layer of frost from the windshield. Two blocks away she pulled into a parking lot. She was freezing even with the heater on full power. She pulled on her coat and waited for the windows to clear. Then she drove until she came to a 24 hour restaurant. A phone was just inside the door.
She found her small address book and called Paul Israel. His wife answered. “Oh, Elizabeth, this is Julie Hansen. Is… can I talk to Paul… he was counseling me, and….”
“Sure, Julie. No problem. Just a moment.”
It was barely a second before she heard Paul’s voice. “Julie. How are things going?”
“You’ve decided not to invest.”
“Paul… my mom… Thomas… they ruined everything. And Thomas… Thomas says Ken is a thief, and his brother is already in prison.”
“Julie, don’t believe everything Thomas says. I don’t like to say this, but we’ve caught him doing this with other people. He’ll say a partial truth, and then add his own spin.”
“He’s causing dissension, isn’t he?”
“I was afraid when I first heard him. Mom believes him though.”
“I don’t know Ken well, but Jim Greene does. If you have any questions about his character, call Jim. Or would you like me to ask for you?”
“You still think I should go through with it, even though Mom doesn’t want me to?”
“Pray about it, Julie. But I believe you are capable of deciding how to invest your money. You know there’s not going to be any short term advantage to this relationship. It’s a long term investment. You know what the risks are, and you have a good guess what the property is worth even if the business fails. You even know the risks of bad management and bankruptcy. You know all this, don’t you? You’ve worked on other people’s accounts who’ve had all these problems.”
Julie’s emotions leveled out. “Paul, you’re the only one who really thinks I can do this.”
“I’m just saying what your father would say if he were able.”
“Thanks, Paul. I’ll call Jim.”
After Julie hung up with Paul, she wondered what her father really would say about the pet store. She couldn’t imagine. She’d always wanted to please him before. Whatever he did, she wanted to do it with him. In fact he had bought their first aquarium when she was a senior in high school. She still had that first pair of angels. The original platies had died of old age. She dreaded the passing of the angels. That first tank was the one that she would keep in the living room. Julie leaned her forehead against the wall next to the phone.
“Lord, what should I do?” She prayed silently. “This is so confusing. I barely know Ken, but he does know fish. And he knows management. My Lord, my emotions aren’t clouding him, are they? Because I think, oh Lord, You know, I like him. I’m not sure why. Emotions are such tricky things, Lord. Please, don’t let me make a mistake because of them. Thank you for the counselors You’ve given me.”
Julie took a deep breath and called Jim. His wife answered also. “Hi, Sara. This is Julie Hansen. I know it’s really late, but… well, Jim is the only character reference I have, and I have to make a decision by morning.”
“You need to talk to Jim? Sure. Just a minute.”
Jim took the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jim. It’s me, Julie. I need to find out about Ken before I sign these papers.”
“Sure. What do you need to know?”
“Do you trust him completely?”
“I worked with him for five years at SaveMart. He was my assistant manager for three years. Yes, I trust him, and I’m sure he’s a committed Christian. Is that what you need to know?”
“Kind of.” Julie hesitated. She didn’t want to spread rumors, but she had to know. “Someone told me he was a thief.”
“No. He’s not.”
“Julie, his brother answers for his own sins. Ken isn’t responsible for them.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that… well my mom doesn’t want me to invest, so I had to ask, you know. I had to know where Thomas got that from.”
“Ken will not cheat you. He’s always been fair and honest. It’s a business though. You’d both be taking a risk, but I think Ken has good management skills. We’ve talked over many things, and I wouldn’t hesitate to have him oversee my store if I could afford to hire him.”
“Thanks, Jim. And I’m sorry it’s so late, but Ken said he needed a decision by tomorrow.”
“No problem, Julie. I know that. I hope I’ve helped.”
“Yeah. Thanks again.” Julie hung up.
She wasn’t sure what to do next. She really didn’t want to go home and face her mother yet. A quick drive by the office revealed that all the cars were gone. She let herself in and went to her desk, turning on the computer. She pulled up the partnership agreement and reread it. She added a little more from the sample and read it over again. It needed to be done by morning. No. He needed to know by morning.
Ken should have known better than to hope. He threw his notebook on the table when he entered the house, and debated about the best way to retract his resignation at Savemart. The answering machine showed several messages, but when he played them back, they were all from Evan trying to get through to him.
It was just as well she wouldn’t be around. Evan would have ruined everything anyway. Why did he even keep thinking about her that way? She’s pretty, smart, and… and obviously taken. Maybe he wouldn’t get the pet store because he’d need the money to help Evan. A streak of jealousy hit him. He always had to work so Evan could goof off and mess everything up. “I’m sorry, Lord,” he prayed. “Please, I pray that he’s grown up and that he’s sincere about wanting to work.”
Ken went to bed. He had to be up in less than six hours for work, but he had a hard time falling asleep. He must have slept though, because the next thing he knew the phone was jarring him awake. He fumbled for it on the bedside table. “Hello?”
“Ken. I’m sorry it’s so late, but I thought you needed this agreement by morning.”
“Julie?” Ken pushed himself into a sitting position and leaned against the headboard. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m still interested if you are.”
“You are? I mean… yeah, I am. I thought… well, your mom was pretty upset.”
“I’m twenty-five.” Her voice hardened. “I can make up my own mind on this.”
“Yeah, of course you can.”
“And Ken? I can be an equal partner. I’ve learned a lot about business working here and seeing the mistakes of others. Jim says you’re a good manager, and I believe him, but I want a say, too. Don’t treat me like I’m a child.” Her voice had risen slightly as she spoke.
“No, Julie,” he said softly. “You’re not a child.” He saw that the first time they had met. But she was right. Her mother did treat her that way. “Business disagreements will be kept private.”
“Except if we can’t work it out, we’ll go to Paul or Jim.”
“Agreed. We’ll go to Jim. I don’t really know Paul, but I guess he’s a friend of Jim’s also.” That must have been who Jim went to first. “Does Paul have his own business?”
“Paul? He’s an elder. They might hire him as assistant pastor.”
“But he doesn’t know anything about business?”
“He seems to. Ken, I trust him. I don’t care what anyone said about him. If I believed everything people said, I wouldn’t be talking to you.”
“Oh? Who said what?”
“Never mind. It’s not important. Lies shouldn’t be spread. Oh, I know how he might know about business. His wife, Elizabeth, has her own desktop publishing business in her home. She’s done that for years. She even did our newsletter for a while before she was pregnant with Ruth.”
“Okay. Paul and Jim will be our mediators.” Ken yawned.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Ken. You were sleeping. Do you really need this first thing in the morning?”
“No. I just needed to know if you’re still going to meet me at the bank at three thirty.”
“Yes. I’ll be there. And I’ll try not to be late.”
Ken laughed. “I’ll try not to stand too close to the door when you rush in at three thirty-five. Tomorrow then. Bye.” Ken replaced the phone and lay back down in his bed. She stood up to both of them. The thought amused and encouraged him. “Is it possible, Lord, that she might be the one? Could there be more than a business relationship?” But then he sobered. “Lord, don’t let Evan mess this up. If it’s meant to be, he can’t, can he?”
Go to Chapter 8
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.