After the phone call to Ken, Julie stayed at the office a few more hours working. She dreaded the confrontation when she went home, but finally she knew she needed sleep and her fish needed attention. She straightened her desk, and took all her papers with her about the pet store.
The drive home was short, and as she suspected the living room light was on. Her mother was waiting. She was at the door before Julie could reach it. “Where have you been? You haven’t been with that man, have you?”
Julie went through the door Katie held open and took off her coat. “His name is Ken, and no, I was working late at the office. I took a drive and stopped at Elias Brothers for a little while.” She gave details because she knew her mother would ask her to account for that time.
“You shouldn’t scare me like that! Anything could have happened.”
“I’m sorry. I needed some time.” Julie headed for the basement.
“Mom, the fish.”
“You’re not seeing that Ken Wright again, are you? He’s just after your money. Thomas said….”
Julie whirled around at the top of the steps. “Thomas is a liar, Mom. Haven’t you noticed how he has no good thing to say about anyone? I wouldn’t be surprised if he talks about us behind our back.”
“Oh, Julie. How can you say that? Thomas is just looking out for you.” Katie grabbed Julie’s shoulders. “Oh, Julie, you haven’t fallen in love with that man, have you? Please. I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“It’s just a business relationship,” Julie said, turning away from her mother and continuing down the stairs.
“Julie, don’t let emotions cloud your common sense. He’s just after your money.”
Julie shook her head, as she reached the basement. Then she turned toward Katie, right behind her. “Of course he wants my money. He can’t get the pet store without it. That’s what business is all about, Mom. He gets to manage the pet store; I get a place to keep my fish. It’s either that or move out of here.”
“No, it’s not that. I told you what to do. I’m even letting you take an aquarium to the office.” Julie ignored her and began feeding her babies. “Julie, listen to me. He’ll take this money, and in a few months he’ll need more and more. He’ll bleed you dry with that place. He’s a con artist, and he’s taking advantage of you.”
Julie whirled to face her mother. “Just how stupid do you think I am?” Droplets of water flew from the brine shrimp net in her hand and landed on both of them. “Don’t you think I know how to read accounting records? Do you think I’m that naive? Do you think I didn’t even check him out? You’re the one who’s naive, believing every stupid little thing Thomas says.”
Her mother’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, Julie,” she said, and the pain in her voice jerked Julie from her anger. “Oh, Julie, I can’t believe….” Katie turned and ran up the steps.
“Mom. Mom! I’m sorry,” Julie called up the steps, but the door to the kitchen slammed. Julie sat down between her make shift tanks. “Why, Lord? Why is this so hard? I didn’t mean to hurt her. You know, Lord. I’m sorry. What should I do?” As the tears rolled down her face, she was tempted to give in to all her mother’s demands to atone for the harshness of her words. That’s what she had done before when things went a little too far, and Katie would forgive her. Should she call Ken and back out? Julie got up and continued feeding her fish. Then she went upstairs to attend to those fish. Katie had gone to bed, but her grandmother wandered into the dining room when Julie was almost finished.
“Your mom says you’re taking that tank to the office.”
Julie nodded without speaking. The lump in her throat wouldn’t let her.
“Need to talk,” Grandmother asked, placing a wrinkled hand on Julie’s sleeve. Her knuckles looked a little larger than Julie remembered.
Julie grasped the hand tenderly. “How’s the pain?”
“I’m okay. Just took a few more pills. I’ll be up another half hour before they start working if you need to talk.”
Julie shook her head. “No. Not about tonight. I’ve missed you though. Next week taxes will be done. We can talk a lot then, and there’s no need for you to do those dishes, Grandma. Leave them, and I’ll do them no matter how late I get home.”
“Oh, Julie. I need to do something. Besides the warm water sometimes helps. Don’t worry about me. It’s just old age, and I’ll be fine.”
“When I sell these fish I’ll have a lot more time to do things with you,” Julie promised. She took one last look at the angels and rainbows before turning away. “I guess I should get some sleep.” She had to get away and be by herself. She’d lost it all again, and it hurt worse because she’d had gotten her hopes up so high. She hugged her grandmother briefly and then retreated to her room.
In the morning Katie barely spoke, but her eyes were red, convicting Julie along with the silent look Katie gave her. At work it was quiet and subdued. Katie only spoke when necessary. Julie stayed in her office, trying to catch up. At noon Julie decided to surprise her grandmother for lunch. She had seemed so lonely last night, and Julie felt guilty for rushing off on her. She also wanted to call SaveMart and talk to Ken without the others listening. It would be difficult to back out on him.
Thomas stopped her as she was leaving. “Lunch?”
“I’m going home for lunch.”
“Julie, please don’t be upset with me. I don’t want to see you hurt.” He seemed sincere, but Julie just felt repulsed. A chameleon, except a chameleon changes colors to protect itself, not to gain favor or hurt others. Well, maybe the flies don’t agree. Perhaps chameleon does fit. “What are you thinking?” Thomas asked softly.
Julie blushed. “Sorry. I… I need to get moving if I’m going to get any work done this afternoon.” She grabbed her coat and left abruptly, not allowing him a chance to speak further.
Grandmother was surprised to see her when she arrived home. “Oh, Julie, if you’d told me, I could have had lunch all ready.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I can fix us sandwiches.” Julie went to the refrigerator, but Grandmother wouldn’t let her work alone. It wasn’t long before they had leftover meatloaf sandwiches with potato salad. Grandmother said the blessing, and then they began eating.
“How is work?” Grandma asked. She took her time with each bite, enjoying the food, and Julie tried to slow her pace.
“It’s fine,” Julie said neutrally.
“Your mother is fine?”
“I guess.” Then Julie shook her head. “No. She’s still upset.”
“Glenn used to give in to her every time she got into one of these moods. Your grandfather told him, ‘Glenn, you’re just encouraging her. You’re spoiling her.’ But of course, your father always felt he was in the wrong.” Grandma paused, and studied Julie. “I don’t know what it’s all about, Sweetheart. I’m just saying, you’re not always wrong when someone is upset. I’ve seen her do this to you before, and I’ve held my peace, but….” Grandmother shrugged her slight shoulders. “Make sure you pray about it. Sometimes it helps to get a second opinion.” Grandmother picked up the first half of her sandwich again. “Don’t mind me. I’m an old busybody with too much time on her hands.”
“No, Grandma. You’re not a busybody. Thanks. I’ll think about what you said, but I shouldn’t have yelled.”
“Perhaps not. But that doesn’t change whatever you disagreed about.”
“It’s just this Thomas thing, and Ken… and the fish.”
“Ken? Do I know him?”
“He hasn’t been to our church long, but Jim Greene has worked with him for five years and thinks very highly of him.”
“Jim’s a good judge of character. And you like this Ken? Frankly, Julie, he must be better than Thomas.”
Julie grinned. “I think so. He raises fish also.”
Grandma chuckled. “Then you two must have a lot in common. If you and your mother were arguing over Thomas, then you mustn’t give in, Julie. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I don’t want you hurt. Your mother is trying to relive the past through you, but Thomas is not like your father.”
“You’ve seen it, too, haven’t you?” Julie asked quickly. “That smooth, changing veneer and the way he can say an unkind word about someone as if he were remarking on stock prices.”
“Yes, yes. Julie, I’m so relieved. I love you, Sweetheart. I just wish your mother could see past that facade, but… she has never been good at that.” Grandmother glanced up. “I’m sorry. She’s a good woman – your mother. Glenn was happy with her, and that’s what counts, right?”
Yes. For the most part Julie had a very happy childhood with only the usual rough spots of adolescence. But her father had been so encouraging. She had been able to come to him with anything, and he helped her diffuse the conflicts that arrived with humor and wisdom. Again she wondered if the ache of his death would ever dim. “I miss Daddy so much sometimes,” she admitted quietly.
“So do I, Sweetheart.” They finished the meal in silence, each remembering the ones they had lost. Grandmother had lost her husband three years before her son’s death. The last few years had been hard on her. As she got up to clear off the table, Julie hugged her grandmother tightly.
“Thanks for stopping by,” Grandma said quietly. “I guess you’ll have to work through dinner again.”
“Yes. I’m sure I will. I’ve been goofing off too much lately, but I’ll try to come home more often, okay?”
Julie left to go back to work before remembering that she had wanted to call Ken. But then should she cancel? Her mother was just as dour when Julie returned to the office. Julie wanted to make her happy, but was it all an act to control her? That’s not exactly what Grandmother had said, but the implication was there. If she didn’t get her way, she’d sulk. Julie again had a hard time studying the numbers as she thought back over her life and the times Katie’s normally cheerful countenance had clouded. She could come to no definitive answer. If her mother did do it, she didn’t do it often.
Her two-thirty appointment interrupted Julie’s introspection. When they left, Julie looked at the clock. Almost three. Ken would be on his way to the bank soon, and she hadn’t made up her mind. It was too late. She couldn’t give him no warning. Her briefcase from the night before was still in the car. She slipped out of her office. “I’m going to be gone for an hour or two, Bethany.”
Katie came into the room, her eyes as soulful as ever. “Where are you going?” she asked in a subdued tone. “You have an appointment at four thirty.”
“Do I? I’ll try to be back.” Julie slipped out the door without answering the first question. She wondered when the four thirty had been penciled in. She hadn’t seen it when she had checked Bethany’s schedule book after lunch.
Julie made it to the bank early, even before Ken. She watched for him to enter. He was the one who was several minutes late. He rushed in and looked around, relaxing when he saw her.
Julie grinned. “I made sure I wasn’t in front of the door. I didn’t want to get plowed over in the rush.”
Ken laughed. “Sorry. Work was a little hectic. Looks like they need me longer than they thought.” He shrugged. “It won’t matter too much because it’ll take a few weeks or more for this paperwork to go through.” He took a deep breath to relax and smiled at her. “Are you ready to buy a pet shop – a Wet and Woolly pet shop at that?”
Julie grinned. “More than ready. What do we do now?”
Ken led them to the desk, and the loan officer was ready to see them. Julie signed the papers they needed that spoke of her intent, and she also pulled out the agreement she’d finished the night before. The loan officer wanted them to bring that back as soon as it was signed and notarized. “It looks good to me,” Ken said. “If you like it, Julie, let’s just sign it now. They have notaries here.”
Julie only hesitated a second. It was almost an exact copy of an agreement used by a firm Hansen Accounting worked with, and she had made the changes herself. She knew it was a good document. She glanced at the loan officer.
“Just a second.” He called in a couple people from the outer office. First Julie and then Ken signed the paper, followed by the witnesses, and then the notary’s signature.
They left the bank together. The sun had shone brightly all day, and the air hinted that spring may finally be coming.
“What do you want to do, Partner,” Ken asked, taking her hands and facing her. “We could celebrate.”
Julie studied him. She loved the way his hair fell across his forehead into his eyes. He didn’t bother to release her hands to push it back in place, either. “Oh, Ken, I’d love to.” She hated herself for her next words, “Unfortunately….” His smiled seemed to dim. “I’ve got another appointment. Tax season is so busy.”
Ken dropped her hands, turning to look across the parking lot. “I know. Maybe some other time.”
“Yes. I promise.”
His attention came back to her with intensity. “When? Tomorrow?”
“We could take lunch together after church and talk about our store.”
Julie smiled. “That sounds good, Ken,” she said softly.
Ken studied her eyes a little longer before he said, “Sunday,” and turned abruptly to his car.
Emotions ran through her – hope, longing, excitement, and a twinge of fear at where this new relationship might go. She didn’t move until he had driven off in an old, light blue, Sunbird. Did she imagine it, or was there more in his look than just business? Too bad her mother couldn’t see that she would be following her and her father if this worked out with Ken. She was right. It would be great to have that. Julie went to her car, and she drove back to work. She knew many relationships never survived working together. She’d seen several couples start a business either to have the business or the marriage or both fall apart. Only a few could do it. But she vowed not rush anything.
Back at the office Julie checked Bethany’s schedule book. “Where’s the four thirty?”
“Oh, after you left, your mother realized she’d made a mistake. You’re free until six.”
“Great. If I’d known that I’d have grabbed dinner before I came back. Let me run across the street for take out.” She shrugged her coat back on.
Thomas stopped her. “Dinner, Julie?”
“I’m eating in. I’m just going to get it now.” She slipped out. Oh, it would be such a relief if he was a seasonal, but no, he would be here torturing her forever.
And why not? If he could convince her to marry him, he’d inherit the firm.
Yes, that would explain it all. Julie was tempted to go in and tell her mother to just give it to him if she loved him so much. But then her guilt returned from the night before, and she’d ruined any opportunity for absolution from that crime.
Go to Chapter 9
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.