“I heard Mr. Martin thanking Mrs. Kapin for the work you did Friday night,” Marge told Kimberly as they sat at their desks enjoying the cups of steaming coffee they had just carried from the break room. “He was telling her what a wonderful job she did reading his handwriting and how much he appreciated her staying late.”
“And she just let him believe she had done it. She never once told him it was you who stayed late.”
“No surprise there.”
“I almost told him myself.”
“Because someone around here needs to know the truth.”
“We know. And she knows.”
“How can you be so calm about this?”
“Because, at the end of the week, I get paid the same whether I do my work or hers. I don’t see any reason to blow a gasket over something I can’t change. Besides, if I tried, she would make my life miserably. And, probably, yours, too.”
Marge nodded and brought up the spreadsheet file she had been working on. “I’m sure of that,” she agreed. “Well, break is over. Time to get back to work.”
Kimberly glanced at the clock. “Still a few minutes. What’s the rush.”
“I’ve got to get these budgets done by ten. Big financial meeting this afternoon and they’re expecting these to be updated.”
“Oh, good, you’re back from break,” Mrs. Kapin said as she rushed into the room. “Budgets?” she asked.
“Working on them,” Marge replied without raising her eyes from her work.
“Oh, I thought they’d be done by now.”
Marge looked up at the woman. “If two of us had been working on them, they probably would be—”
“Well, why didn’t you ask Kimberly to help you then?” Kapin asked, missing Marge’s point.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kapin,” Kimberly interjected before Marge said something she might regret…they both might regret. “But Mr. Jackson insisted I finish the project he expected completed on Friday. He wasn’t happy it had been put aside.”
“I’ll have a word with him. He must understand that other priorities do arise from time to time. Now, please, hurry up and finish so you can help Marge. She isn’t as quick as you on these computers.” And with that, Kapin turned and left the office.
“I’ll give her quick—” Marge snarled as Kimberly silently giggled. “At least, I know how to turn the damn thing on; which is more that she knows most days.”
“Oh, come on, give her a break. You know the last time she called IT to complain really wasn’t her fault.”
Marge glared. “I suppose you could blame it on the cleaning crew. But you’d think she would have checked a few things out before making such a big fuss. The poor guys in IT were ready to install a new computer until they figured out hers was just unplugged.”
Kimberly laughed. “I think that’s the last time this office has been vacuumed.”
Marge chuckled. “I think you may be right. Do you think she’ll talk to Mr. Jackson?”
Marge shrugged. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Give me another half hour and I’ll be done with this,” Kimberly said as she turned back to her keyboard.
“That’s okay. I’m almost finished. I just didn’t want the old witch to know it. I should have the budgets down to the print shop in plenty of time for the copies to be made and delivered to the conference room. I may just wait and deliver them myself so Kapin can’t take the credit.”
Kimberly grinned. “You go, girl. But if you want help— After all, you aren’t too quick…” She ducked when a paper clip whizzed over her head.
“Was that quick enough for you?”
“Obviously not, you missed.”
Dorthea decided to wait until after the end of her shift to talk to her supervisor. Before going to look for him, she made a visit to the bathroom to wash the grime off her hands and arms. She combed her hair and did what she could to brush off her work clothes. She had given up trying to keep them clean during her shifts, everything in the factory seemed to be covered in a thin firm of greasy dust and it was impossible not to end a shift the same way.
She found her supervisor in his office. “Excuse me, Mr. Fudley,” she said, tapping on the open door.
He looked up from the papers he had been reading. “Hi, Dorthea. Problem?”
He waved her into the office. “Then come on in. I’ve had my share of those today and I just don’t want to face another. But if you don’t have one, then, by all means, come in and sit,” he said laughing.
Dorthea smiled and sat on the chair in front of his desk. “Thanks.”
“So, what’s on your mind? You don’t make many visits to my office.”
“I try not to be a bother…”
He laughed again. “You? Dorthea, of all the people in this factor, I can honestly say you are the one I never concern myself with. Now, what’s up?”
“I need some time off. Not much,” she hurriedly added when she saw his brow crease in consternation. “Just a few days.”
“Well, now just isn’t a good time,” he said, leaning back in his chair. He looked at a calendar hanging on the wall next to his desk. “I need everyone I have working until— well, let’s see— until, at least, the week after next.”
“That’s okay, Mr. Fudley. I can wait if you want. I just need it before too long.”
He turned his attention back to Dorthea. “Problem?”
“It’s— it’s personal.”
“Ah, I see. Well, if you can wait for a couple of weeks,” he said, reaching back and pulling a piece of paper out of a tray on the credenza behind him. He placed the paper on his desk and picked up a pen. “Let’s see, Dorthea Sanborn,” he said aloud as he filled in blanks on the paper. “Vacation— time to be determined…”
Dorthea leaned forward on her chair. “Umm—”
He looked up and smiled at her worried look. “No later than, shall we say, the end of the next month?” She nodded. “Very good,” he said as he made a notation on the form. He looked up again. “How many days?”
“Two. Thursday and Friday, if that’s okay.”
“Don’t see why not. Is that enough?”
“All right.” He signed the form, then separated the copies and handed one to Dorthea. “Let’s talk again the end of next week. I’ll know how close we are to completing the back orders by then.”
Dorthea folded the page and tucked it into her purse. “Thank you,” she said as she stood. She turned and left the office while Fudley went back to his work without further comment.
Paul Bingham sat in the overstuffed chair in the corner of the living room. The chair was positioned in front of the room’s large window so he could maintain his daily vigil for the mail carrier. “Esther, he’s here,” he called out in a voice feeble with age.
“I saw him.” a voice floated out from the kitchen. “Let me finish up in here and I’ll go see if you received anything.”
“I’ll do it myself,” Paul muttered, reaching for the walker beside his chair. He struggled to stand on legs weakened by years of hard labor.
“Poppa!” A woman rushed across the room. “I said I would be here in a minute,” she admonished as she gently eased the elderly man back onto his chair. “Now, what good would it do any of us if you fell again?” she asked, moving his walker out of his reach.
“I need to know…”
“And you will, just as soon as I walk out to the box.” Satisfied, he was settled, she turned for the door. “Though, why you think you’ll hear anything after all these years is beyond me.”
Paul watched her walk down the porch steps. “I can’t give up,” he whispered.
She returned a few minutes later with a fistful of envelopes. “Mostly bills and junk mail.”
“Are you sure, Esther?”
“Yes,” she told him, kneeling beside his chair to show him the envelopes. “I’m sorry, but there isn’t anything.”
“What could have happened?” Paul asked, his voice soft as memories flooded into his mind. “Why hasn’t she written?”
“I don’t know.” She pushed herself upright. It was the same everyday. He would sit all morning watching for the mail carrier to stop at their mail box. He’d wait impatiently for her to return with the delivered mail, only to be disappointed that the one piece of mail he desperately wanted never arrived. Then he would let his memories take him back to an earlier time and he would drift off to sleep. When his breathing evened out, she walked back to the kitchen.
“Why do you let him call you that, Mom?” A man in his mid-twenties asked when she returned to the sink of dirty dishes.
“It’s easier than trying to get him to understand.”
“But it seems so weird.”
“He’s an old man, Peter. There’s no harm in letting him have his memories. After the life he’s been through, he’s earned them.”
“If you say so.” Peter kissed his mother on the cheek. “But I still think it shouldn’t be too much for him to remember you’re not Esther.”
“Maybe for you, but not for him. Will you be late tonight?”
“Good. It’s so much easier getting him to bed when you help.”
“I’ll be here.”
Dorthea pushed open the apartment door and was greeted by an unexpected yet very pleasant aroma that caused her stomach to rumble in delicious anticipation. She quickly closed the door, tossed her purse onto the couch and headed directly for the kitchen, kicking her shoes off enroute. Entering the kitchen, she found Kimberly stirring a pot on the stove. “What’s this?”
“What does it look like?” Kim asked, waving a wooden spoon over the stove and a variety of pots. Steam seeped out from under the lids filling the air with mouth-watering scents of cooking meat and vegetables.
Dorthea grinned. “Like you’ve lost your mind. But it smells wonderful.”
Kim placed a lid back onto the pot of stew. “I can cook, you know.”
“I know. But you do it so rarely, I sometimes forget.”
“Funny. I hope you’re hungry.” Kim said as she opened the oven door and removed two cake pans.
“Starved. I didn’t get a chance to eat anything after lunch.”
Kim flipped the cake layers out of the pans and onto cooling racks then turned to face her roommate. “Dorthea, you worked an extra half shift today. Are you telling me you haven’t eaten since noon?”
Dorthea shrugged, giving Kim a chagrined look. “Umm— yeah. We’re so busy trying to get caught up on back orders that they really don’t want any breaks in the line.”
“You have to eat.”
“I know.” Kim stood with her hands on her hips glaring at Dorthea. “Hey, don’t give me that look. I already decided that I’m going to pack some snacks I can sneak at my station for the rest of the week.”
“Good idea. Now, go get washed up so we can eat.”
Dorthea leaned over the cooling cake layers then inhaled a deep breath. “Mmmm, lemon, my favorite. Can we start with dessert?”
“I haven’t even frosted it yet.”
“That’s okay. Just put the cake and frosting on the table. We’ll improvise.” She pressed her palms together. “Please.”
Laughing, Kim pushed the begging woman out of the kitchen. “Go. I need a few minutes to get everything on the table.” She waited until Dorthea hurried into her bedroom before returning to the stove.
“This is delicious,” Dorthea said reaching for the bowl of stew in the center of the table.
Kimberly smiled. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome. What’s the occasion?”
“Does there have to be one?”
“No. But you have to admit this is way out of the realm of normal.”
“Maybe not anymore.”
Kim scooped a spoonful of broccoli out of a serving dish. “Don’t go reading too much into that,” she said as she placed the vegetables on her plate.
“Okay,” Dorthea said then waited for more of an explanation.
Kim speared a piece of broccoli with her fork and lifted it to her mouth. She took her time chewing and swallowing before she relented and answered Dorthea’s unasked question. “I just think I want to slow down for a bit. Spend more time doing things like this and less time—”
“Can you do that? I mean, you’ve been on the dating merry-go-round since high school.”
“It hasn’t gotten me too far, has it?”
“You just haven’t met the right guy.”
“Maybe. But, right now, I want to stop looking and spend my time doing things I want.”
Dorthea grinned. “Like cooking?”
“Yes,” Kim said indignantly then smiled. “Okay, it’ll take some getting used to but I think I need a change.”
“Are you sure about this? Can you be happy without a guy in your life?”
Kim thought about the question. Can I? “I want to try.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Since high school— Well, even in high school, you didn’t date much...” The pained looked that flashed across her best friend’s face caused Kim to regret the comment almost as soon as it left her lips. “I’m sorry,” she said reaching across the table for Dorthea’s hand. “Please, I didn’t mean to…”
“No. It’s okay.” Dorthea smiled sadly. “After all, it’s true, I haven’t dated much. I guess I just wasn’t the kind of girl the boys wanted.”
“Do you regret that?”
Dorthea sighed and looked to where Kim’s hand covered her own as she considered her response. “I regret not having someone to share my life with,” she said as she slowly withdrew her hand and placed it in her lap. “I do wish I had a special someone,” she said softly.
Kim pulled her hand back, her skin still tingling from the contact. She looked across the table into Dorthea’s eyes. “I want that, too.”
“Don’t give up on love just yet.” The curious look Kim directed toward her caused a flush of heat to race up her neck and she abruptly pushed up from the table. “Now, let’s get this cleaned up so we can get to that cake,” she said picking up her dirty plate.
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