The next morning Julie acclimated a few more of her breeders into their new homes and attended to the rest. Then she forced herself to concentrate on business. She wasn’t comfortable with the advertising and selling of herself, but she contacted the newspaper to place an ad like Elizabeth had suggested. There were two phone lines into the store, and after consulting with Ken they decided to use the second number for her accounting. Linda and Sue were told about the change, so they’d know how to answer the phone and to transfer any accounting inquiries to Julie.
Sue still planned to leave them in another week. She had found a management position in a discount store, and it would be a good move for her. Julie and Linda planned a surprise going away party for Friday afternoon.
“That Thomas made everyone so paranoid about Ken, but everything has gone really well. I think Sue is sorry she panicked. She’s all nerved up about leaving, and even though she’ll get a raise, she won’t have as much freedom as she did here.”
“Has Thomas caused any other problems? Do you think we’ll lose anyone else besides Sue and Mike?”
“We won’t lose anyone else.” Linda said that too quickly.
“What else is going on?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Julie. I’m setting people straight.”
Linda rose from her seat beside Julie’s desk.
“Linda. Sit back down.”
“I told Ken.” At Julie’s stern look Linda finally relented and sat. “It’s just that we’ve had a few regular customers come in with questions about Ken and his integrity. In every case, I remember Thomas was in the store asking about you when that particular customer visited last. Don’t worry. I set them straight.”
“What do you tell them?”
“That he’s jealous because you chose Ken instead of him.” At Julie’s open mouth, Linda hurried on. “It works. They all understand that. And it’s the truth, isn’t it?”
Julie finally conceded. “Kind of. But sometimes I think he just causes trouble because he likes to. Don’t hide this stuff from me, Linda. I can handle it. Now . . . .”
“Can I help you?” Becky, one of their part-time girls, said quite loudly near the curtain which separated the breeding room/office from the rest of the store.
“I… I’ve come to see Julie.”
Linda went to the curtain. “Mrs. Hansen? Come on back.” Linda gave a thumbs up sign and left them alone.
Katie wore one of her casual pantsuits, and she came nervously to Julie with her small leather briefcase in one hand. “How are you doing, Sweetheart?”
Julie rose, went to her mother, and gave her a hug. “It’s good to see you.”
Katie hugged her tightly before they parted. Katie sat in the chair Linda had vacated, and Julie sat also. “You’ve got a nice store. Where is . . . your fiancé?”
“Ken had to go take his brother the car. He’ll be back soon.”
“So you plan to do accounting back here your grandmother said.”
“Yeah. I haven’t gotten any clients yet, but I placed an ad. Ken ordered a sign for the side door. Not much, but at least it’ll give people a clue that I’m here. Elizabeth Israel gave me a lot of ideas to help me get started.” Julie wasn’t sure what else to say. Katie had been against all of this the last time they had spoken.
Katie sat in the chair nervously. Julie couldn’t remember her so tense. She wondered if Thomas was the cause of that also. The silence wore on until finally Julie blurted out, “Do you want to see our store?”
“I looked around a little when I came in. It’s nice. All your fish from home are here?”
“Most of them.”
“Sorry about those at the office. You should get your tank.”
“Maybe it’d be better to do that after hours.”
“I brought your books. They’re in the car. And . . . .” Katie opened her briefcase and dumped out the diskettes on the desk. A few papers fell out, and Katie retrieved them. “I’m sorry about Friday. He just didn’t understand.” Then Katie seemed to break. “I miss your father so much, Julie. He was my best friend. I could talk to him about anything. It’s been so hard. You’re wrong, Sweetheart. I haven’t forgotten him. I haven’t, really. I just wish there was some way to bring him back.”
Julie reached for Katie’s hand and held it tightly. “I’m sorry. I was just hurt.”
“No. You were right about your books. I tried to tell Thomas that. I don’t want you to leave me, but I couldn’t stop you, and keeping your things will just hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Mom, this is right for me. I just know it. I can have what you did with Dad in this store.”
“I don’t know what to do with the firm.”
“I thought you were giving it to Thomas.”
“Oh, Julie, your father would never approve of that. It’s yours. I’m just so confused. You really are feeling okay, aren’t you?” Katie studied her intently. “You look a little better.”
“I’ve been getting more sleep.”
“And that helped your nerves. Good. Maybe Thomas will stop harping on your health.”
“What would Thomas care about my health? He hates me.”
“Oh, Julie, I don’t think . . . .” Katie shook her head, and squeezed Julie’s hand. “Please let’s not fight today. I came to give you something else.” Katie handed Julie one of the papers that had fallen from her briefcase. “It was half yours anyway, and I’m sure your father wouldn’t mind.”
Julie looked at the deed and realized it was for their family home. Her mother had signed over all her interest to Julie. It was witnessed, notarized, and stamped with a number. She’d already filed it. “But I thought you were going to move there?”
“That big home? I thought about it, but, oh Julie, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”
“They said you were engaged.”
Katie shrugged. “I’m not sure about that. At first it seemed right, but he’s not your father, and it’s not fair if I keep comparing, but I can’t help myself. He was just so easy to talk to, it was like I had a new best friend.” Katie shrugged again. “We haven’t seen eye to eye on a few things this weekend. With your father I knew he was right, and when something was important to me, he’d give in. But I know Thomas is wrong about you. He’s so stubborn about it, too. Maybe your friend is right, and he’s just jealous because you chose Ken. But if he feels strongly for you, then why marry me?” Katie sighed. “Oh, Julie, this is so confusing.”
Julie could think of nothing to say. She was afraid if she said anything bad about Thomas, her mother’s defenses would go up again, and she would feel compelled to defend him. Right now, Julie decided it was better to let her mother speak her own doubts. It gave Julie hope that her prayers might be answered soon. And if Thomas kept attacking her . . . Her mother really did love her. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, Sweetheart. You won’t elope, will you? You’ll have a regular wedding.”
“Yes. We have an appointment to speak to Pastor Nat on Thursday.”
“Are you sure Nat Morris is the man you want? He’s been abusing his office something terrible with Nicole, and he rarely has time for anyone.”
“Mom,” Julie tried to say softly. “Have you talked to Nicole? I did. Nat is counseling her with Rachel. She’s having problems right now. And please don’t go repeating that to anyone, especially . . . not even Thomas. I just want you to know that situation is not how it looks. As far as time, the church has grown so much in the last five years; that’s why we’re hiring Paul Israel. It’s not Pastor Nat’s fault.”
“But Paul is . . . .”
“Mom,” Julie said firmly. “It’s gossip. Everyone has rough spots, but we don’t need someone putting a bad spin on them and telling everyone.”
Katie was actually listening to her this time. She nodded. “Perhaps you’re right. I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do at the office. Everyone is upset, and . . . .”
“I don’t know. Different things. All these little things. And if you don’t want the firm, I don’t know if I do, but then what would I do all day. I just don’t want the responsibility anymore.”
“Maybe you could sell it. Or perhaps you could hire a manager to take care of the things Daddy did.”
“I wouldn’t know how. Maybe Thomas . . . .”
“Mom, you said Dad wanted me to have it, so I’ll ask you this. Let me help you decide. If you want to hire a manager, let me help you look.”
Katie gave her a weak smile. “I keep thinking you’re like me. You are a little, but then you’ve got a lot of your father in you. I’ve noticed you at the office since your father died. I couldn’t have made it without you, you know. You understand when someone needs an extra word or a firmer hand. Thomas doesn’t understand that I need you. I knew you’d leave me if you bought this store.”
“I didn’t want to leave, Mom. You weren’t listening to me. If you relied on me, why didn’t you listen?”
Katie laughed nervously. “I’m the mom, Julie. Now you’re making me feel like the child. Since your father died, it’s been so confusing. Besides, I listened. I was just selfish. I wanted you to stay with me.” Katie glanced at her watch. “I do have to get back. I’ll think about a manager like you said. But maybe you could come back for a little while, maybe even part time.”
Julie stood as Katie did. “I will work here for you if you want me to, but Mom, I just can’t go back into that office as long as Thomas is there. I’m sorry. I know you care for him, but . . . .” Julie hesitated. She didn’t want to admit to the nightmares or that she hated him. She didn’t want to say anything that could confirm any little doubt Thomas had planted about her sanity. She had to stay firmly in control. “I’m sorry. I just can’t work with him. He grabbed me, Mom. You saw. And I know he’s said things about my fiancé. Mom, if someone said things about Dad, could you stand to listen to them day after day? I love Ken. Thomas can’t change my mind. It only makes me sick to hear those things.”
Katie took her hand again. “I do know that I need you to keep up at least a few of those accounts you had. I’m way behind.”
“Will you bring the files here for me? Or just let me know when you’re positive he’s not there and won’t show up. I don’t want another confrontation.”
Katie finally agreed. “Perhaps that would be best. I’ll think about what you said about a manager. I’d still be the final boss then, right? You don’t think Thomas . . . No. Not when you two don’t get along. You are his boss after all, and you have to have complete trust in your manager, and you wouldn’t.”
“You lost me, Mom. I’m whose boss.”
“Why, Thomas’ and everyone else’s at the firm. Me and you. That’s what your father wanted.”
“But I thought it was a sole proprietorship.”
Katie laughed. “Your father added your name way back when you first passed your CPA tests. Didn’t you know? No, of course not. We were going to surprise you when you got married. Oh, well, close enough. So really any decision to sell or not is between me and you.”
“Does Thomas know this?”
“That you are his boss? Yes.”
“I always thought it was because I was going to inherit, not that I already have the firm.”
“You think Thomas just asked you out because he was after our firm? Oh, Julie, I’m sure he cared for you.”
“Yes. With undying loyalty,” Julie said dryly. “You’re right, though, Mom. If I have a say, I vote we hire a manager to help us, and it won’t be Thomas. In fact my vote is we fire Thomas, but you already know that.”
“But for what reason?” Katie shook her head. “I can’t, Julie.”
“I could. If you would let me.”
“Julie.” Katie’s tone meant she was becoming a little exasperated with her. “Let’s get your books out of the car. You need a little book shelf in here. A window would help also.”
Julie followed her out. “About the house. What do you want me to do with it?”
“Live in it. Raise your children there.” Katie stopped before Ken, who was assisting a customer. “You better not hurt her. And Julie? The house is to stay solely in your name for at least ten years after the wedding. None of this marrying you and then taking off with half your property. Get a prenuptial agreement.”
“Mom! You’re the one who’s thinking about marrying a gold-digger young enough to be your son.”
Katie stared at her a moment, surprised, as if she didn’t expect the attack or that Julie felt that way. Then she grinned. “I will if you will.”
Julie glanced at Ken. “Mom. I trust Ken.”
“You think I’d marry someone I didn’t?”
“But, Mom, that presupposes I’m going to get divorced and I’m not. Ever.”
Ken motioned for Linda to take over at the counter. Then he quickly came from behind it to encircle Julie with his arms. “And neither will I, so you’re stuck with me.” He kissed her cheek. “But if it’ll get your mom to protect herself against Thomas, I’ll play the game.”
Julie turned in his arms to face her. “You’re serious? You’re not offended?”
“I love you, Julie. I know you’ve been worried about your mom. If this helps her, I don’t mind.”
“Because you’ll get . . . .” Katie shook her head. “No, not if you sign. I don’t get it.”
“Because he’s wonderful, Mom. What have I told you? We better get out of the way. We’re blocking the aisle to the fish room.” Julie kissed Ken again, and then led them to the door.
“They’re engaged,” Linda explained to the customers as they left. “I feel like I’m working in the love connection.”
Ken grinned back before the door shut. “A wet and woolly love connection. We’ve got a ton of baby bettas back there. Did you see them?” The door closed, and Ken followed Julie to her mother’s car.
Katie unlocked the trunk of her Buick LeSabre, and then turned back to face them. “I’m sorry about the scene in there, but I just thought of that. You really have too much to risk, Julie.”
“It’s not a risk.”
Ken put his arm on Julie’s waist. “Julie, I don’t care. If it helps you feel better about what’s happening with Thomas, I’ll go along with it.”
“I’d feel better if he couldn’t hurt anyone emotionally. The money and things can be replaced. Slander and gossip are hard to fight against.”
“Julie, he doesn’t . . . Look, I don’t want to fight. I just want you happy.”
Julie stepped forward and took her mother in her arms. “That’s just what I want for you, Mom. Honest.” She hugged her and then stepped to the trunk to take the box of books. It was heavier than she thought, but Ken took it from her.
“I’ll set this by your desk. Good to see you again, Mrs. Hansen.” Then he left to do as he said.
“I feel like your grandmother when someone calls me Mrs. Hansen. But I guess he gets points for being respectful.” She opened the car door and sat behind the wheel. “I’ll call and let you know when it’d be good to come. I’d rather you go through your computer files.” Katie left, and Julie went back into the store.
“How’d it go,” Linda whispered so the few patrons wouldn’t hear.
“Good.” Julie mouthed, heading for the back.
Ken looked up from the paper he was reading when she entered the room. He set the deed on the desk. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. I understand her a little more also. I’m glad she came.”
“What’s this?” Ken asked, pointing to the deed. “Or shouldn’t I ask?” He sat in the chair.
“You can ask about anything,” Julie came, and instead of sitting in the other chair, she sat on his lap and hugged him. “I love you. I trust you completely. Don’t let Mom’s fear hurt you.”
“I haven’t. So do you want to talk about it?”
“The deed or the conversation?” she asked, just because she knew he was patiently trying to hide his curiosity.
“I could always kiss you until you told me everything.”
“That will probably backfire, because your kisses leave me breathless, and I can’t speak well when I’m breathless.”
“Really?” Ken laughed. “Okay, you little tease. Why is there a deed made out to you on the desk? What property is your mother afraid I’ll steal?”
“This is the house I grew up in. We rented it out after my father died. I thought Mom was going to move back there, but she says we should raise our children there, and she relinquished all rights. I hear the tenants were already given a sixty day notice, so . . . it’ll probably be free as soon as we’re married.”
“Your mother just gave this to you?”
“Her half, yeah. And she brought my stuff, and I don’t need clients. She just informed me that I own half the accounting firm already. Although I can’t fire Thomas.”
“So you’ll leave me?” He clutched her tighter. “I like you here.”
“And here I’ll stay. Even if we ditch Thomas, I told her I’d only go in part time over there.”
Ken held her without speaking, leaning his forehead against her shoulder.
“Ken? Is something wrong?”
Ken looked up into her eyes. “No. I guess I’m a little overwhelmed. In five minutes you have what I worked nine years for and more. I’m just not sure what you need me for anymore.” His forehead again touched her shoulder.
Julie was glad she was sitting on him, because she had the strong impression he just wanted to walk away from her. Julie raised his head and kissed his forehead. “I need you for your love, and your strength, and your sense of humor, and your love of God, and your friendship, and….” She kissed his forehead and face between each attribute until he caught her lips with his. “That, too,” she said huskily, when he let her breathe again.
His arms tightened. “I love you,” he whispered. They stayed together a few moments more until Linda came looking for Ken to announce she was leaving for the day. “I guess I better get out front. Will you stay here?”
“I think Grandma expects me for dinner, but I’ll keep tomorrow open if you’d like.”
“Sure. But… well, I guess we don’t have time. Remind me tomorrow. We have to talk about a couple things.”
Her curiosity was peaked. “Like?” She followed him to the front.
“My family, your family. That kind of thing.”
“Sure. Maybe we can have lunch together, and I can show you our house. It’ll be kind of weird for us to have the master bedroom, but I’ll adjust. I may get a little nostalgic at first, but you’re used to me being weepy.” She tried to say it lightly to make him smile, but he didn’t. A customer needed assistance then, and he left her.
Julie went home and shared the good news with her Grandmother that she and her mother were no longer fighting. Julie went to bed early.
A noise awoke her. Her clock informed her it was three thirty eight. She listened. A bump, weeping, and then a door shut. Who was crying? Julie quickly pushed back her blanket and got out of bed. She listened a moment and then went into the hall. It was still. Then her grandmother’s door opened. “Julie, is that you? What’s wrong?”
“It wasn’t me.” Julie walked to the room her mother had used and listened. She knocked. “Mom?” she tried the knob.
Her mother was lying on her bed, still clothed, and trying hard not to sob. “I’m sorry, Julie. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Julie sat on the edge of the bed, putting her hand on Katie’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Mom. What didn’t you know?”
“The fish. I’m sorry.”
So she’d seen his true colors. Finally. Thank you, Lord. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay. Are you all right?”
“He got so mad. They weren’t his books. It wasn’t his house. I can give my half away to anyone I want. And when I told him about the prenuptial agreement . . . oh, Julie . . . He wasn’t anything like Ken. He was so mad that I didn’t trust him. I tried to explain it was to protect you, but he . . . oh, Julie, you were right. He said such awful things to me . . . about me.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I’m just glad you found out now, before he hurt you worse. It’s okay.”
“Yes, Katie,” Grandmother said from the chair next to the bed. “You stay here with me. I know Julie’s worried about leaving me, but it’s her turn now. We’ll be all right here.”
“I’ll talk to him. Now that Thomas is gone… he is gone, right?”
“I told him never to go back to the office. I’d send his check. I even drove there and changed the security codes on my way home … here.” Katie sat up.
“Yes, this is your home,” Grandma said. “Don’t worry. Cal will understand.”
“You’ll come back, Julie?”
“Yes. Just like I said. Part-time.”
“Will you go in the morning? I need a few days.”
Julie couldn’t refuse. She let her mother rest then, and they went back to bed.
Go to Chapter 22
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.