Katie hadn’t said much at all to Julie since she’d found out that Julie had actually signed the papers for the pet store. She said little at the office either, and others kept asking Julie what was wrong. What could take Katie’s smile and bright laugh away? Julie tried to brush it off, but soon everyone was frowning at Julie. Friday afternoon Thomas and her mother went to lunch. The office was relatively quiet. Julie knew the calm wouldn’t last for long and tried to get as much work done as she could. A noise caused her to look up. Bethany was standing in her office doorway.
Bethany came into the office and sat across from Julie, her expression sympathetic. “Oh, Julie, I can’t believe you did that. If you need to talk, I’m here.”
“What are we talking about, Beth?”
“That guy that conned you. We all get taken by a swift talking salesman once in a while, but so much money . . . your whole savings wiped out.”
“Bethany, I’ve invested in a pet store. I wasn’t conned.”
“If I ever see that guy, what’s his name, Ken . . . Ken Winters . . . Wright? I’ll give him a piece of my mind, for sure. You should prosecute.”
“No, Bethany. That’s all wrong. We bought a business together. No one got conned. Mom just doesn’t approve.”
“All your money? Oh, Julie, you’re still fooled, aren’t you?” She reached for Julie’s arm in a comforting way. “I’m so sorry. But we’ll be here when he shows his true colors. You’re so fortunate that your mom has this place and will be able to help you through this.” The phone rang. “Oh, duty calls.” Bethany stood. “Remember, we’re on your side.” She left the office to catch the phone on the fourth ring.
Julie wasn’t sure what to make of Bethany’s confession. Apparently the whole office thought she had been conned by Ken Wright. Every time two heads were bowed together that afternoon she imagined they were talking about her. She wanted to jump up and tell them to mind their own business. Instead she concentrated on her work and tried to ignore them.
Julie and Katie went home for dinner. Grandmother had fixed a roast, and Uncle Cal, Aunt Renae, and Julie’s two teenage cousins had joined them. They knew Katie and Julie would have to go back to the office afterward. Katie was still subdued, rarely speaking.
“What’s wrong, Katie?” Aunt Renae asked. “Is it business?”
“I’m fine,” Katie said quietly, but gave a look across the table to Julie.
Aunt Renae looked at Julie. “What is it? Are you okay, Julie?”
Katie shook her head. “You know children,” she said wearily. “No matter what you say, they think they know better. And then, of course, they end up getting hurt.”
“I’m not hurt, and I wasn’t conned, so quit telling people that,” Julie blurted out. “Just because you don’t agree with my decision doesn’t mean you have to lie about it.” She stood, threw down her napkin and left the table.
“Oh . . . Oh . . . .” Katie wailed as if struck. “She accused me of lying. Oh Mother, did one of your children ever . . . ?”
Julie retreated to the basement and decided to spend the rest of her dinner time attending her fish. She was back at the office before Katie, picking up a taco salad on the way. She had just settled down to eat and go over some papers when Darlene came into the room. Darlene had been with them for three years now. She had worked part time for the first few years except during tax season, but last fall her husband had taken ill, and Katie had granted her full time status.
“Is your mom back yet?”
“I didn’t see her car. Something I can help you with?”
Darlene came and sat in the chair across from her. “Julie, please don’t give this con guy any of the money from this business.”
“What con guy? Darlene, I’m not being conned.”
“Oh, I know you don’t think so, but please don’t risk this firm. This is our jobs. He’s just after you because he knows you’ll inherit this place. Then he’ll sell us out, and we’ll be on the street. Don’t risk any capital from this place. We all need these jobs.”
“Darlene, I’m not being conned, and even if I was, I have no control over this place. Right now it’s a sole proprietorship.”
“But you can sign the checks. Don’t let him talk you into more money.”
“I’d never do that! You think I’d embezzle from my own mother? Darlene, please. Put a stop to these rumors.”
Darlene had the decency to blush, but then she leaned forward. “But I know if you think you love this man, sometimes things seem okay that . . . well, not you, of course, but don’t let him fool you. You’ve already given him over fifteen thousand dollars.”
Julie shook her head. “Just stop. Please, just stop. I haven’t given him anything. Fifteen thousand? You guys have everything mixed up. Please just stop talking. Everyone just stop.”
Darlene quickly retreated from the room, and Julie put her head down in her arms. How could they possibly think that about her? It wasn’t fair. Julie managed to pull herself together so that she could complete the work she needed to do. She refused to look at her mother when she came in. Julie regretted her outburst at dinner, but she was too hurt right now to trust that she wouldn’t do it again.
Julie didn’t leave the office until after eleven. Everyone else had gone earlier, and her mother and grandmother were in bed when she arrived home.
Saturday morning Katie left for the office early. Julie attended her fish first, but as she readied to leave her grandmother stopped her. “Oh, Julie. Please wait.”
“Sure, Grandma. What is it?”
“Let’s sit in the kitchen a minute.” Julie followed her to the small table. When they were seated, Grandmother re-straightened the napkins and salt and pepper shaker. She glanced nervously at Julie.
“What is it?” Julie asked, reaching for her hands.
“What is really going on?”
“I’ve told you. I’m buying a pet store.”
“But who is this guy? Your Uncle Cal is going to go talk to him.”
“Grandma! You said he had to be better than Thomas, and he is. Please, don’t ruin this for me.”
“Julie, I want to believe you, but what if your mother is right? Your whole savings?
“It’s a store. Property and businesses cost money.” Julie stood and turned to the sink and stared unseeing out the window. It was a few minutes before she could think of a solution for her grandmother. “If you need Uncle Cal to talk to anyone, send him to Jim Greene or Paul Israel. They both know what’s going on. Jim has known Ken for years.” Julie faced her grandmother. “I told you that, remember? You trust Jim.”
Her grandmother finally nodded. “I’ll tell Cal.”
“I’ve got to get to work.” She pushed away from the counter and started for the door. As she pulled on her coat, she couldn’t help the resentment. “Of course, I don’t know how I managed a job all these years, being so stupid,” she mumbled. “I guess it helps if your parents own the firm.”
“Oh, Julie. You’re not stupid. We know that. It’s just that everyone . . . .”
“I’m not sure when I’ll finish up. Don’t hold lunch or dinner.” Julie left and was in the car before her face became wet with tears.
Last minute tax return pickups kept her busy most of the day. It was three-thirty before the office became relatively quiet. Everyone else had gone except Thomas, Katie, and Julie. Thomas stood in the door way to her office and leaned against the frame. Julie looked up and her jaw locked. She’d never disliked someone so much before. If it weren’t for him, no one would be questioning Ken’s honesty or thinking she was an idiot. “Are we still moving the tank?”
“No. I’ve got accounts to catch up on.” It was true, but it was also true that she would easily be able to catch up next week.
“No. I’m busy, remember?”
Thomas came to her desk and sat across from her. He leaned forward. “Julie, I know you’re upset with me.”
“What gave it away?”
“I just want what’s best for you. I love you. Ken just wants your money. He doesn’t care about you like I do.”
“Why don’t you just ask my mother to adopt you? Then you could convince her you’re the wiser, older brother, and that she should turn everything over to you. No need to worry about foolish little Julie then, is there?” Julie faced her computer screen and willed herself not to cry.
“Julie, I’m serious. I don’t want to be your brother.”
That was good, because she didn’t want him as a brother either. But she didn’t dare speak, lest her emotions betray her.
“I want to be your husband. I want us to run this agency together. You and me. Just like your father and mother did.”
Julie stood and glared down at him. “You want to run an accounting firm with an idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about business? Oh, please. You want to be partners with someone you think will steal from her own mother? You must really think I’m stupid, Thomas, but I will never marry you, even if I’m a spinster my whole life.” Julie stormed around the desk and then ran to the rest room. She locked the door and then sat in the corner to ride out her emotions.
When she emerged an hour later no one was left at the office. Julie went back to her computer and continued working until she realized she was hungry, her fish needed care, and she had to get up for church the next morning.
Grandmother was still awake when she arrived, and she greeted Julie as Julie made herself a sandwich. “Don’t worry, Julie. I talked to your uncle.” Grandma hesitated.
“Well, he’ll talk to Jim, but he wants Ken to give you back your money until he can investigate this whole thing.”
“Ken doesn’t have my money. The money doesn’t change hands until the closing, and then it will go to the Martins. I just signed a few papers.”
“You haven’t given him anything?”
“No. Everything is still in my account.”
“Oh, well, that’s different. We all wondered why you had given it to him like that. That’s strange that your mother didn’t realize that. I’ll have to make sure your uncle knows.”
“Yes. Please. I’m not that stupid.”
“No, Julie. You’re not stupid. It’s just that there are a lot of men out there trying to take advantage of . . . .”
“Yes, and one is named Thomas. Look, I’m tired.” Julie set her sandwich in the refrigerator and then went to her room.
She wished she could talk to her father. He could straighten out this mess. He could always fix everything. Julie was tempted to call Paul Israel to stand in for him again, but she realized it was too late to bother him. Julie hoped she had a chance to talk to him before church the next morning.
Paul was not there the next morning. Instead a note was posted on the door of his Sunday School classroom which indicated only that the class was canceled and that they were to avail themselves to one of the other classes offered. Dutifully Julie went to Pastor Nat’s class, but had a hard time concentrating. She wondered if Paul was running late and if he would arrive in time for the main service.
When class was dismissed, Julie went to the sanctuary. She didn’t see Paul or his wife Elizabeth. She did catch sight of Ken. She wondered if he remembered their plans. She had ridden to church with her mother and grandmother, expecting to leave with Ken. She hoped she hadn’t misunderstood him Wednesday. Uncle Cal and his family came in as the service was about to start. Where was Paul?
Pastor Nat came to the front of the church, and the service began. Then after a few songs, he came to the pastoral prayer. “Several in our congregation have special needs,” Pastor Nat stated. “Specifically, I want you all to be aware that David Israel, Paul and Elizabeth’s son, is in critical condition in a Phoenix hospital. Paul’s Sunday School class will be cancelled for the next few weeks, as he has gone to be with David. I don’t have many details. As many of you know David was touring with musician Dylan Trent. He collapsed on stage Friday night. Remember to keep the whole Israel family in your prayers. They are unsure if he’ll recover.” Pastor Nat kept speaking, going into the prayer, but Julie couldn’t concentrate, speaking her own prayer silently. “Oh, Lord, no wonder he’s not here. Please be with them – Paul and Elizabeth both. And heal David. His music, Lord. You gave him that gift, and he uses it to praise you so well. Please . . . .”
Julie was barely aware when the others rose around her for the next song. She stood and joined them, but her throat was tight. Here she had wanted to whine to Paul over being misunderstood, and his son was dying. She was going to have to get her priorities straight. This was not the end of the world. In a few months the rumors would fade, and everyone would see how wrong they were. In the meantime she needed to stop all the whining. Julie lifted her chin and raised her voice on the last verse, determined not to let them get to her again – determined not to let Thomas ruin her life.
“And I must try to forgive him, Lord, I know,” she continued to pray silently as she sat down. “But it’s so hard. I can’t do that without your help. Every time I’ve tried to forgive him he does something worse. Please help me, Lord.”
Julie stood and stretched when the service ended. “It’s too bad about David,” her mother was saying. “We’ll miss his piano and that little harp he plays.”
“Oh, Katie,” her grandmother chastised. “He’s not dead yet. Pray for him, and especially for Paul and Elizabeth. It’s hard to lose a son.”
Thomas leaned against the pew in front of him. “He wasn’t really theirs anyway.” He shrugged. “And he’d have never made it in Nashville. He was just some homeless kid they felt sorry for.”
Julie tensed and wanted to yell, almost forgetting all her prayers of the past hour and a half. But she met her grandmother’s eyes and there was pain in them. She was remembering Julie’s father. Julie reached for her grandmother, hugging her. Her grandmother gripped her tightly. “I’ll keep praying, Grandma,” she whispered.
When they pulled apart, Julie noticed Ken near the rear of the sanctuary. “Ah. I don’t think I’ll be riding home with you. Ken and I were going to talk over a few things this afternoon.” She made her way from the pew.
“Oh, Julie, no,” Katie called. “Wait for your uncle.”
Julie pretended she hadn’t heard and made her way to Ken. He watched her as her progress was stopped by friends and acquaintances greeting her. She noticed he was not friendless either. They finally were able to meet. Julie glanced behind her. Her mother was catching up to her. Julie held out her hand to him. “If we’re still on for this afternoon we better get out of here, or we’ll have another scene like last Tuesday.”
Ken grinned and grasped her hand. “Then we better hurry.” He led her to the parking lot and the blue Sunbird. He stopped by the passenger door. “Do you have a car here?”
“I rode with my mom. I assumed you’d take me home. That’s all right, isn’t it?”
“More than all right.” He opened the door for her and closed it after she was safely inside. Then he sprinted to the driver’s side and was maneuvering out of the parking lot when her mother and Thomas appeared. Julie waved cheerfully, pretending to misinterpret their motions for her to come back. Julie leaned back in the seat and took a deep breath when they were on the road, letting the music from the Wes King cassette in Ken’s stereo redirect her emotions.
Go to Chapter 11
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.