Epilogue – December
Ken discreetly watched as he pretended to be going over a catalogue to determine which items to restock and what new items they might try. He wouldn’t order until after inventory at the first of the year, but planning never hurt anyone.
Evan had just finished the last of his exams for his first semester and was now assisting a customer, explaining to them the special needs of an iguana with smiles and charm. He showed them how tame this particular one was, letting it ride on his shoulder and wrap its tail around his neck. Ken had a feeling he’d be selling it today, along with various supplies.
It had been Julie who had recognized Evan’s talent last summer. Evan had talked a customer into buying a ranchu goldfish and a small bowl when Ken intervened. After the customers left empty handed, Evan and Ken had gone to the back of the sales room.
“What did you do that for? They were going to buy it!”
“And kill it within two days. You can’t keep a ranchu in a one gallon fish bowl. He needs at least ten gallons and lots of filtration.”
“Nothing I do is good enough for you. What’s the use of even trying?” Evan went into the break room and sat at the table, resting his elbows on it.
Julie passed Ken and followed Evan to the break room. Ken stood in the doorway. “Evan,” Julie said. “I think you’re a very good salesman. You’ve got a lot of charm and charisma with people. That’s good. All you need to do is learn a little more about fish. You’ve got reptiles and small pets down great.”
Evan looked up at her, and Julie sat in the chair beside him. “A good salesman, huh?” He shook his head. “You’re just talking.”
“No, I’m not. In fact I know you haven’t decided on a major, but maybe you should consider marketing. You’ve got natural talent, and with training you could probably have a good career with a place that can pay you a lot more than we can.” Julie put her hand on his back. “But at least we get to keep you until you get your degree, right?”
Evan stared at Julie. “You want me to keep working when you think I’d kill the fish on purpose.”
“Neither one of us think you’d kill the fish on purpose. Just don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something. I think the customers will be happier. Just tell them you’re the reptile expert here, and you’ll help as much as you can, but for the hard questions you need to ask someone who knows fish better.”
Julie rubbed his back a few times, and then stood. “The books show that we’ve sold more snakes and lizards in the last two months than the store did all last year. I think we can give you credit for that. In fact, Linda told me you’re getting almost as many calls about reptiles as she does about fish now.”
Julie left Evan and went past Ken, catching his arm as she did and leading him back to her desk. She reached up and kissed him. “Now get that look off your face, my jealous but very lovable husband. He needed that, and you know it.”
She was right. Evan had needed the encouragement, and Julie was good at giving it. And all she had said was true. He’d even joked about it with Linda, but he hadn’t said anything to Evan. “You’re right. Maybe I should have told him that a while ago. I never realized how good he’d be here.”
Ken had talked to Evan, and a few days later Evan announced that he was enrolled in Mott Community College for fall term. He would major in marketing as Julie had suggested.
Ken’s attention was brought back to the present when, as suspected, Evan sold the iguana. He stretched and looked around the store as Evan wrote out the receipt and helped them take their purchase to the car. It was snowing again. Fresh snow for Christmas Eve tomorrow. It was already dark, but they would be open until nine today since tomorrow was Sunday. Julie had gone home early to bake.
Ken smiled at the thought – home. The place was nice, and larger than anything he’d lived in before. Julie had decorated it for the holidays, and her mother and grandmother would be with them Christmas day, while staying home Christmas Eve to entertain the rest of Julie’s uncles and relatives. Then Katie and Mrs. Hansen would fly to Cancun for two weeks. It was the first of many vacations the two widows had planned at Julie’s encouragement. Grandmother had hesitated, but Julie talked to her Uncle Cal. At his approval, Grandmother seemed as giddy as Katie.
Ken’s mother and stepfather with his children would be up to spend tomorrow with them since their home was larger. There was a lull in the customers, and Evan came to Ken. “That was a nice one,” he said, referring to the iguana.
“Only because you worked with him for hours.”
“Yeah. I’ll miss him. Of course, I got Fred and Ethel at home. I wish those babies had gotten here. I could have sold them all.”
“Maybe they’ll come Tuesday and give you something to do.”
“I’ve already got something. I think Ethel is ready to mate.”
“Hey, great. Hope it works out. What time will you be over tomorrow?”
“Mom’s coming by one . . . I guess I can get there by noon.” Evan grinned. “And here you weren’t going to hire me.”
Ken shrugged. “At the time I didn’t need anyone.” After Sue and Mike had left last spring, Thomas had targeted two more part time employees before he finally left town. A small rumor placed him in Saginaw, but Ken didn’t care as long as he wasn’t around here. The openings gave Ken enough work, plus over twenty hours a week for Evan, which was all that was reasonable to expect with full time classes.
Ken had suggested Evan quit Taco House and just work at the pet store after he announced his enrollment in college. He’d be able to make it since Ken made sure his bills were low at the apartment, and he helped him with college expenses.
Evan still had a temper sometimes, but he seemed to be working on it. Most Sundays he was in church, but Ken still didn’t know where he stood in relationship to his walk with Christ.
Another group of people came into the store, and Evan went to talk to them. They wandered over to the birds, an area that Linda had taken over since Sue left, but Evan was just as competent as Ken when it came to birds. Julie had slightly more interest when she wasn’t doing accounting or fish.
Julie only went to the accounting firm twice a week for half days. During Katie’s vacation she had agreed to go every day for a half day, even though Julie said she thought the new manager did well enough that the place could run without either one of them. Ken would miss her, but at least she’d only be gone four hours a day. He had become very used to her presence.
Evan sold a set of lovebirds, a cage, and various other supplies, while Ken assisted a customer in choosing just the right sweater for their terrier for Christmas. “Have you got him a stocking yet?” Evan asked, glancing up from his order to Ken’s customer. “We have a few left.” He indicated the display.
“Oh, no. That’s a great idea.” The woman followed the direction of Evan’s arm and went to pick one out.
A small boy with Evan’s group followed and came back, holding up the last stocking of rawhide chews and other dog toys. “Mom! We got to get this for Bear. We don’t have a present for him!”
From the mother’s expression, Ken guessed she wanted to say that Bear didn’t need a Christmas present, but Evan spoke up. “It’s only ten dollars, and Bear won’t be tempted to take anyone else’s presents.” Evan sold both stockings. The rack was empty. They wouldn’t have those hanging around after Christmas.
After the customers left, Ken laughed. “Did I ever tell you how good you are?”
Evan shrugged. “It’s easy at Christmas. No one wants to be a Scrooge. Not even to their dog.”
Another hour and Ken was able to go home. He pulled into the garage next to Julie’s car and let himself into the house. Gingerbread and sugar cookies mixed with the scent of pine and peppermint. Christmas hymns played softly from the stereo. Julie hugged him, and then backed away. “I’m almost finished, and then we can snuggle on the couch.”
Ken grinned. He hadn’t had any plans and that sounded perfect.
A few minutes later she dimmed the lights and sat beside him, bringing him a cup of cocoa and a plate of cookies. “So how was it today?”
“Good. We’ll be in business another year,” he joked. It was better than that. Julie would know for sure, but Ken suspected they may even be able to pay extra on the mortgage this month.
“That’s good.” Julie snuggled against him, watching the lights blink and twinkle on the tree. “I probably won’t be working as much next year.”
“Well, since your manager is so good, I don’t imagine you’ll need to.”
“Yes, that, too. But I thought of taking a vacation.”
“I don’t know.” Ken didn’t think they were doing that well. He still had to help Evan through college. “Maybe when Evan’s out of college we can go away for a few weeks.”
Julie laughed. “I was just thinking of going across town. Maybe to the hospital for a couple days.”
“The hospital? Julie . . . .”
She laughed again, and he knew she was teasing him. “You can tell Evan tomorrow that we plan on having that little seven pound slave driver next August or so. Not that he’s needed much help keeping himself in line.”
Ken shifted and kissed her. “You’re a big tease, you know that.” He kissed her again.
“I told you we’d fill this house up. You just have to have patience.”
“I love you. Thanks for the Christmas present.”
“Me? I couldn’t have done it without you.” Julie grinned. “I bet you’ll announce it tomorrow like you did it without me.”
“Never,” Ken couldn’t help teasing her back. “We’re partners, remember? We do everything together.”
The end of Angels & Bettas
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© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.