Marge entered the office carrying two cups of steaming coffee. She set one down on the corner of her desk then carried the second to Kim's desk. “You look like you can use this,” she said placing the cup next to the stack of folders Kim was sorting through. Kimberly smiled appreciatively. “Dorthea get home okay?”
“Yes. In fact, she came home a day early.”
Kim slipped a folder out of the stack then put the rest back into her in-box. As she lifted the cup to her lips, she flipped through the pages inside the folder. “Oh, good, these shouldn't take too long.”
“More budget adjustments?”
“Yes. And Mr. Jackson wants them by noon.”
“I can help.”
“You already have,” Kim said, raising her cup in salute. “I did need this.”
“Not that it's any of my business, but I thought you were going to stay home and clean house this weekend. You look like you've been up all night.”
“I did clean house on Saturday. Then Dorthea helped me finish up yesterday.”
“Sheesh. I'm sure hope I don't look like that after a weekend of cleaning.”
Kim laughed. “It wasn't the cleaning. We went to see Dorthea's aunt.”
“Ah, now I understand.”
“No. It was actually okay. But we ended up staying so long the busses had stopped running and we had to get a taxi. It was pretty late by the time we got home.”
“So, that explains the black bags under your eyes?”
Kim nodded. That, and not being able to fall asleep until three this morning, she added to herself.
The door to the company president's office opened and an elderly man stepped out. He looked around the office the women shared then turned his attention directly to them. “I was hoping to speak to Ms. Kapin.”
“I'm sorry, Mr. Gilroy,” Kim responded. “We haven't seen her all morning. Is there something we can do for you?”
Gilroy glanced at the women's in-boxes then walked further into their work area. “I have this letter that I need typed. I know you are both busy with work for Mr. Jackson and Mr. Eyler, but I would really appreciate if you—”
“That's okay, Mr. Gilroy,” Marge said, reaching her hand out toward him. “I can do it.”
With a look of relief, Gilroy handed a sheet of paper to Marge. “I think you'll be able to unravel my scribbling… if not, come ask.”
Marge nodded. “Shouldn't be a problem. I'll have this done in a jif.”
“Thank you,” Gilroy said then turned back to his office. “Please tell Ms. Kapin I wish to see her when she arrives,” he added before disappearing behind the door bearing his name.
Marge smirked. “Oh, I'll be more than glad to do just that.”
Kim shook her head. “I'm sure you will.”
“Don't you go shaking your head at me. The old bat was due in an hour ago.”
“Maybe she ran into trouble on her way to work,” Kim suggested while inserting the budget disk into her computer.
“Ha. Most likely she's down in personnel again complaining about how overworked she is and how they need to assign her an assistant.”
“I thought that's what we were.”
Kim opened a blank letter form and began typing. “Not officially.”
Dorthea sat alone in a corner of the lunch room staring out a window that provided an unimpeded view of the structure housing the factory offices. The dirty gray concrete was less than six feet from the window but her unseeing eyes barely registered the cracked surface. Absently, she nibbled at the peanut butter sandwich she had made before leaving the apartment that morning.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Dorthea looked up to see Char standing on the opposite side of the table looking at her curiously. She blinked her eyes as she tried to focus on what her co-worker was saying. “Um… I'm sorry… What?”
Char pulled out a chair and sat down. “I said are you okay? You looked like you were a thousand miles away.”
Dorthea sighed. “I think I was,” she said glancing at the clock on the other side of the room. “Aren't you a little early?” she asked the woman who normally replaced her at the end of her shift.
“Yes. Mr. Fudley called and asked if I could come in. Shelley had to leave early; she thinks she's got the flu.”
“I hope she hasn't passed it on.”
“Me, too. Anyway, I'm going to cover her spot on the line then work my normal shift.”
“That's going to be a long day.”
Char nodded. “Yes, but I won't complain as much when I see my paycheck this week. Shelley's spot pays thirty cents more an hour.”
“Really? But isn't she in packaging?”
Char nodded again. “It doesn't make sense but you know they pay more the further down the assembly line you work. Being stuck at the beginning like we normally are doesn't pay as much.”
“Even if our work is harder.” Char nodded. “I knew they paid more… I guess I just didn't realize it was that much.”
“Why haven't you moved before now? You've been here long enough to do just about everything.”
Dorthea shrugged. “I think I just like the solitude of our spot. No one else around, except when they switch the part baskets. I can think.” And, today, I really need that, Dorthea told herself. “But thirty cents is a lot. Maybe I'll check with Mr. Fudley about the possibilities.”
“He'll probably say it's about time you did. I'm surprised you're not thinking of retiring.”
Dorthea smiled. “Don't think I haven't. If we had a better retirement plan, I probably would.”
“Ain't that the truth. You better finish that sandwich, lunch break is almost over.”
Dorthea padded into the kitchen, her feet bare feet barely making a sound as she walked to the refrigerator. After arriving home, she had changed clothes then retrieved her notepad from the top of the box of her aunt's papers resting on the floor in the corner of her bedroom. She poured herself a glass of milk then moved to the end of the counter where the phone hung on the wall. Taking a swallow of the cold milk, she flipped through the notepad's pages until she found the one with the information she needed. Setting the glass on the counter, she lifted the phone's handset and dialed.
Kimberly pushed the door open and walked into the apartment.
“Hi,” Dorthea greeted her roommate. She was slouched on the couch, her bare feet propped up on the coffee table.
“Hi,” Kim responded, pushing the door shut. “You look comfy.” Perching on the sofa's arm, she dropped her purse on the floor. “How many times are you going to re-read those?” she asked of the notepad in her roommate's lap.
“These are new.”
“I called Gwen this afternoon.”
“At the museum?”
Dorthea nodded. “I asked her if she could remember anything more about where Paul had gone.”
“Why don't you go change and I'll start dinner. We can talk then.”
“Better idea. I'll change and we'll walk over to the park. We can grab some take-out from the café and find a nice spot to eat down by the pond. Then you can tell me what Gwen had to say and I can tell you about my day.”
“Are you sure? That café can be a little expensive.”
“I'm sure and it will be my treat.” Kim bent over to grab her purse then stood up. “Come on. We haven't been to the park in a while and it's a prefect evening for it. Not too hot and not too cool.”
“You sound like the little baby bear in Goldilocks.”
“As long as I don't look like him, I guess I won't protest. Are you coming?”
Dorthea nodded. “Yes. You go change and I'll put on some shoes.”
Being early evening, the park had few visitors as most residents of Rapid Falls were home enjoying a meal with their families. Dorthea and Kim, each carrying a plain brown paper sack, walked along a footpath toward the pond in the center of the park.
“Looks like a good spot over there,” Kim said, pointing to a shaded area under a very large bur oak tree with numerous leaf burdened branches spreading out from its massive trunk. When Dorthea nodded in agreement, they veered off the path to walk across the grass. “Perfect,” she declared as she stood between the tree and pond. She settled down on the grass and waited for her friend to do the same.
Dorthea sat next to Kim then opened her sack. “I'm starving,” she said as she pulled out the sack's contents. After much discussion, they had decided on chicken salad sandwiches, chips, and carrot cake for their meal. Her sack held the sandwiches and carrot cake, wrapped in foil. She spread the foil surrounding the food before placing it on the grass between them.
Kim removed the chips and two paper cups containing soda. “It's not fancy,” she said handing one of the cups to Dorthea.
“It's perfect. And it saves me from cooking.”
“I thought you liked to cook,” Kim said as she lifted half a sandwich from its foil plate.
“I do. It's the clean up I could do without.”
Kim laughed. “I guess we both feel the same about that. Now, tell me about your conversation with Gwen.”
Dorthea opened the bag of chips and removed a couple. “At first, she said she couldn't remember anything about Paul's return address on the postcard. But I…” she popped the chips into her mouth. “I was a little forceful,” she admitted after swallowing. “I kept asking her to try. Finally, she did. Sort of.”
“Sort of?” Kim asked while Dorthea took a bite of sandwich.
“She said she remembered thinking the name of the city sounded pretty… like a flower.”
“I thought you said he went to Los Angeles.”
“I asked Jo about that. It seems when people say Los Angeles they don't necessary mean just that city but the area around it, too. Los Angeles covers a pretty big area made up of several small cities.”
“I'm getting ahead of myself. Jo is our librarian; I called her after I talked to Gwen.”
“I guess Gwen wasn't of much help then.”
“Well, actually, it turns out that she was. After I talked to her, I called Jo and asked her if there was any way to get a list of cities in California, especially around Los Angeles. She said she thought they had a map but she would have to look for it. She called me back just before you got home.”
“Gardena. It sounds like a flower, doesn't it?” Kim nodded. “That's what I thought, too. It's a city not far from Los Angeles.”
“The town or the area.”
“The town.” Dorthea swatted Kim's arm. “But you knew that.”
Kim giggled. “Maybe… But don't you need an address?”
“It would help. But narrowing it down to a specific city is better than nothing.”
“I guess it is.”
“Now, tell me about your day.”
Kim took a drink of soda before answering. “Nothing as exciting as yours; unless you count Mr. Gilroy taking Mrs. Kapin to task.”
“Really? For what?”
“He needed a letter typed and she was no where to be found. Marge ended up doing it and when Kapin finally showed up, Mr. Gilroy was not very happy. He called her into his office and when she came out, she looked like someone had run over her with a bus. She sat at her desk and actually stayed there the rest of the day.”
“You're kidding. She actually stayed at her desk.”
Kim nodded. “Never left it.”
“Boy, I wonder what he said to her.”
“We couldn't hear— not that Marge didn't try. I thought she was going to put her ear to the door at one point.” Dorthea laughed. “Anyway, Mr. Gilroy kept coming out adding work to her in-box. She was still there when we left.”
“Did she ask you to help her?”
“No. And when we offered, she gave us a real ugly look and said I am fully capable of doing it myself,” Kim imitated in a high pitched voice. She grinned when Dorthea burst into laughter. “That's exactly what Marge did as soon as we got far enough away from the office so Kapin couldn't hear.”
“I bet she did.”
“It's probably the most fun Marge has had at work in a long time. Watching Kapin struggle to get through her in-box; and just about every time she thought she'd reached the bottom, Mr. Gilroy would walk out and add more to it.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You didn't enjoy Mrs. Kapin's struggles?”
“It's not like I don't like her,” Kim explained, “it's just that… Well, I'm sure that when she started with the company, she did just fine. But she isn't comfortable using the new computers and she would much rather spend the day walking around kibitzing with the other secretaries her age. I just think she knows the job has grown beyond her abilities but…”
“She can't say so.”
“And she knows you and Marge will pick up the slack.”
“That, too. I think she's waiting for Mr. Gilroy to retire.”
“Then she'll retire and ride out in grand style on his coattails.”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I think people should face facts when they're staring them in the face.”
Kim chewed on her lip for a few minutes. “Speaking of facts staring us in the face,” she said hesitantly.
Dorthea sighed. “Damn, I think I just opened a can of worms I'm going to wish I hadn't.”
“Oh? Um… well, I… never mind then.”
Dorthea reached over to place her hand on Kim's arm. “No. That isn't what I meant.”
Kim looked down at the hand warming her skin then slowly raised her eyes to Dorthea's. “What did you mean?” she asked timidly.
“I'm afraid,” Dorthea answered, her voice trembling.
Kim placed her hand on top of Dorthea's. “So am I but I think I'd prefer to talk about it than not.”
Dorthea lips pursed together tensely. “I don't know where to start,” she finally murmured.
“How about we start with what Faye said?” Kim said looking again at their hands, neither of the women having found a need to separate them. “She was right. We've been together longer than most marriages.”
“Almost forty years,” Dorthea whispered and Kim nodded. “But… does it mean…?”
“I don't know what love is, Dorthea.”
“What do you mean? You've been in love with many men—”
“No. I mean… I don't know that I've ever truly felt it. At least…” Kim pulled her hand free and began to gather up the empty wrappings of their dinner and stuff them into one of the sacks.
“What are you doing?”
Kim looked up sheepishly. “I'm trying to figure out what I want to say.”
“Just say it… please.”
“Okay,” Kim sighed. “You once asked me why it never felt right with any of the men I dated. I think it was,” Kim reached for Dorthea's hands and gently entwined their fingers, “because none of them were you. I hate to think of myself as a fool but what else would you call it if I've spent most of my life searching for that one person who could make me happy when you've been here all the time?”
Dorthea shook her head. “You're not a fool.”
“Did you know?”
Dorthea laughed. “If only I had been that smart. All I knew was that I just wanted to be around you. And for that, I was willing to risk you falling in love and getting married… and leaving me alone. It never really occurred to me that what I might be feeling was love. At least, not until recently.”
“You mean what Faye said?”
“No. Well, yes. But not really.” Dorthea grinned at the look of befuddlement on Kim's face. “When I was in Kalona, I missed you so bad it hurt. I think that's really why I came home early,” she confessed in a soft voice.
“I'm glad you did. I missed you too. I didn't just fall asleep on your bed,” Kim said as her cheeks started to color. “I wanted you to be there, so I thought if I lay on your pillow…”
“You're cute when you blush,” Dorthea commented, causing Kim's blush to deepen. She grinned at her friend's sudden shyness. “Oh, hell, I think you're cute no matter what you're doing. Kimberly, I think we make a fine pair of fools. To think it's taken me forty years to figure out that I just might be in love with you. There, I've said it.”
Kim smiled. “I think I am, too.”
“You think you're in love with yourself?” Dorthea asked in mock shock. “Now, that's just sick.”
Kim laughed, releasing the tension built up inside her over the past several minutes. “You know what I meant.”
Dorthea allowed the laughter to subside. “Maybe,” she said in a serious tone. “But I think I'd really like to hear you say it.”
A smile slowly spread across Kim's face. She took a moment to look around at the other park visitors and was grateful to see none seemed to be paying the pair any attention. She scooted closer to Dorthea. “I think I may be in love with you.”
Dorthea smiled. “I'm not sure I know what to do now,” she said candidly.
“I'm not sure I do either. But I am sure we can figure it out… together.”
“I like the sound of that.”
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