© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The following Sunday afternoon, Mariah went back to the country club with Carter. They played tennis until 5:00 and then decided to stay for dinner after they showered and changed. Mariah got to the table first, and while she waited for Carter, she found herself accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation involving a few people at the bar several feet behind her. She had recognized two of the people as a man and wife she had met earlier, and the others she didn’t know. She hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation, but she started paying close attention when she heard Carter’s name.
“I gotta hand it to him,” one of the men said. “He’s one in a million. The man can have every model in three counties if he wants them – and the daughters of a couple of millionaires I could name – but he puts all of them on hold to go out and get his kicks with a grease monkey.”
Another male voice spoke up then. “What worries me is that maybe it’s more than getting his kicks. Maybe he’s serious about her. He’s been seen all over the place with her. And she’s definitely not going to fit in with our crowd, I can tell you that right now – all that religion!”
“Don’t let that throw you. I’ve seen Carter Sanford date three different women in the same afternoon, and make all of them think they’re his only one. No … he’s not serious. He told me he’s got this idea that running around for a while with a little grease monkey will shake him out of his boredom. He knows his family is expecting him to get married and settle down before too long, and he’s working on having all the flings he can before he has to bite the dust.”
Mariah was about to choke on the coffee she was drinking. She sat still as a stone, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely, she wasn’t hearing this right. Then one of the women spoke.
“You two need to keep your voice down. Everyone here knows him. And did he really tell you that, or are you just guessing at all this?”
“No … I’m telling you … he told me he’d found himself a cute little grease monkey – and those are his words – a cute little grease monkey – who could keep his car in souped-up shape, and he intended to grab her and run with her – and just see what would happen.”
At that point a new individual joined the group and broke up the conversation. Mariah was numb. She wanted to get out of there, but she felt as if her legs wouldn’t work. She forced herself to drink more of the coffee. It was hot and bracing, and that did help to get her mind kick-started again. And just in time. Carter came in, all smiles, and sat beside her at the table, taking her hand in his. She stiffened, and he looked at her curiously. “Hey, babe. Is something wrong?”
Mariah knew she couldn’t trust herself to answer intelligently, so she said, “No, not really. Just tired, I guess.”
“Well, I know exactly what you need.” He jumped up and walked over to the bar. When he came back, he had a glass of white wine for Mariah, and without thinking, she took several sips. Almost instantly, she realized how foolish that had been since her stomach was basically empty.
“I think I need food more, Carter. Can we just eat now?”
“Sure thing,” he said, and got up to lead the way to the dining area. Mariah thanked the Lord that the food came quickly and tasted good. She felt better after getting her head and stomach settled and had wisely not touched the wine glass again, opting for more coffee.
Carter, however, didn’t stop at one drink. He kept calling for one more throughout the meal, and by the time they were to dessert, he looked – and sounded – a little worse for the wear. Mariah had decided by then that she wasn’t riding home in his car with him in that condition, and she had pretty well decided that, even if she hadn’t overheard that conversation, this drinking situation was more than enough reason to put Carter Sanford out of her life for good.
So she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, but quietly slipped out to the door and asked the doorman to get her a taxi. To her relief, one taxi was letting out a passenger at the time, so she didn’t have to wait. Twenty minutes later, she was in her own apartment, thrown across her bed, pouring out tears of hurt, frustration, and anger – and wondering which one of those emotions would win out.
Almost an hour later, she finally pulled herself up from the bed, changed to an old worn-out robe and scuffs, and padded to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, she saw a tear-stained face, with eyes wreathed in runny mascara, and hair that looked like it had seen a buzz saw. Unexpectedly, she laughed out loud. The sound startled her, but then it became infectious, and she continued laughing for quite a while.
She finally washed her face and felt surprised at how much better she felt afterward. She looked at her reflection again. “Well, Mariah Jacoby, you’ve made a fool of yourself again, my girl. But since it’s not the first time, it probably won’t be the last either. Just suck it up and move on.”
She leaned in closer to the mirror. “So maybe you’re not a femme fatale who can bring men to their knees. But you’re a gentle, kind, loving, hard-working woman of God, and if anything in Proverbs 31 can be believed, that’s everything that matters!”
She turned away to leave the room, but then suddenly turned back to her reflection. “And dang it, girl! You’re also the best darn mechanic that this town has ever laid eyes on!” She grinned and gave herself two thumbs up: “Everything’s Jake!”
At work the following week, Mariah’s mood was subdued. She wasn’t depressed – just thoughtful. The pep talk she’d given herself Sunday afternoon still rang in her soul. In the midst of that experience, she had come to the realization that she didn’t have to be the woman other people thought she should be in order to be satisfied and successful. That afternoon, as she had looked at her messy face and hair in the mirror, that truth had finally taken possession of her.
She had laughed because she suddenly saw how ridiculous she looked as a result of pushing to be what the rest of the world said she should be – and to have what the world said constituted success as a woman. She’d realized from that moment that she valued herself for the person she really was in her heart. And for the first time in her life, she had identified completely with that person. As she had washed her face, the Lord had brought to her mind the verse from Proverbs that said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And she had been meditating on that truth ever since that moment.
Neil was subdued as well. In fact his mood was so reserved that Mariah worried about having done or said something that upset him, but she couldn’t remember anything that negative. She knew his reaction to her dating Carter had not been positive, but, in a way, that fact seemed sort of “positive” to her. It at least indicated that Neil recognized the fact that she appreciated being treated like an attractive woman.
But by Friday morning, she had decided she didn’t want even this kind of strain on their relationship, and she decided to make a move to remedy the situation by offering to work with him on the books that night. As soon as she got to the shop, she went to the office to talk to him.
“Good morning, Boss!” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about the bookwork.”
Neil’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Oh?” was his only reply.
“Well, we haven’t worked on anything for the past couple of weeks, and I just wanted to volunteer to work tonight if we have some things that need to be caught up.”
“What … no big date with your new flame?”
Mariah’s good intentions squirmed a little. Boy, this man was getting hard-hearted! Still, she had made the move, and she wasn’t giving up that easily. She smiled. “Nope. I don’t go out every night, you know. And I figured we surely had a good deal of work that needed to be brought up to date in the computer, and probably some monthly forms that needed to be filled out.”
Inwardly, Neil felt relief, because the truth was that he hadn’t been able to force himself to get that work done for the weeks Mariah had been unavailable. Partly, he had been pressed with other work, but partly he was feeling a little depressed at the thought of sitting there and working on the material by himself. It was still a little mystifying to him, but he had to admit that a job he’d done all alone for three years now seemed to be beyond him without Mariah at his side doing it. He also admitted that what he was feeling was more than just confidence and trust in an employee, but he wasn’t quite sure how to react to that knowledge.
“Well … if you’re sure you have the time, I could use the help.”
Mariah breathed a deep sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she really did want to work with Neil tonight. “Great! And this time, the pizza is on me.”
“You don’t need to do that. You’re helping the business, so we’ll let the business buy supper.”
Unaccountably, Mariah’s spirits deflated at those words. She guessed she’d thought of their time together as more personal than just business, and the idea of putting their meal together on the expense account just wasn’t what she was after. But she didn’t argue. She’d made a step forward, and she’d continue in that direction. “Then I’ll buy dessert.” she said. “I’ll run to the bakery and get us two slices of chocolate cheesecake.”
As soon as they’d locked the door after the last customer, they went to work. After the first five minutes, they had fallen right into their old pattern of working together, and Mariah felt relief. Awkwardness seemed to melt away, and they worked for an hour before stopping to eat. After taking fifteen minutes to concentrate on the pizza, they decided to let dessert wait and get the last hour’s worth of work finished first.
Neil seemed a little more preoccupied during that hour, but Mariah didn’t mention it. She worked diligently, wanting him to know that she still cared about this part of the business running smoothly. By 7:30, they were done. Neil had made coffee in the office pot, so they sat down in the waiting area with coffee and cheesecake.
After about five minutes, Neil cleared his throat. Mariah could see that he was still preoccupied with something important on his mind, but she wasn’t quite prepared for what he said.
He cleared his throat again. “Mariah … I’ve been sitting here thinking about whether or not I should mention something to you.” She looked at him, giving him her full attention.
“If it’s something important to you, then by all means, share it with me.”
He cleared his throat the third time. “Well … you may consider it none of my business, and in reality, it isn’t, except … well … except that I care about you. We’ve become more than just co-workers. I feel like we’re friends.” He looked at her intently.
“Oh, I agree, Neil. You can feel free to talk to me about anything you think is important.”
Neil got up and started pacing around the waiting area. He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and cleared his throat yet again. Finally, he stopped – about ten feet away from Mariah as she still sat in her chair. He took a deep breath and finally spoke:
“You need to watch your step with Carter, Mariah.” He had almost blurted out the words, due to the nervous pressure he was feeling. But once started, the words just kept rolling out with no restraint. “He’s nothing but a poor little rich kid who’s been spoiled rotten and given everything he wanted on a silver platter! He can have nearly any woman he wants in twelve counties with the snap of his finger – models, celebrities, daughters of the most powerful and wealthy men in this state!”
Mariah’s eyes pierced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Something deep inside told Neil he’d already overstepped the boundaries here, but he just couldn’t seem to shut himself off now. “It means that he’s probably playing around with you because you are something different. I seriously doubt he’s ever even thought about dating a mechanic before, and taking you out and showing you off to his friends is a big hoot for him. He probably doesn’t really care about you at all.”
He couldn’t have known that he was putting into words the whole nightmare she’d lived through the previous weekend. A cold chill went through Mariah, and even though she had already come to terms with this truth, the fact that Neil was putting it into words seemed like another level of insult. She stood to her feet. One part of her mind reminded her that she already knew this truth and had dealt with it, but there was another part of her that felt the bitter pain of it all over again. Her insides were churning, but her voice was still controlled.
“In other words, I’m not good enough for the Carter Sandfords of this world because I get dirty working on cars? Or did you mean that I’m too plain and unattractive to stir up any interest as a real woman?”
Neil snorted. “Don’t play word games, Mariah. I’m telling you he’s taking you out because you are a diversion from his ordinary fun. And I just don’t want you to get hurt; that’s all.”
By this time, Mariah’s eyes were filled with tears, but she had turned sideways so he couldn’t see that. She struggled now to control her breathing so her voice wouldn’t be nervous and high-pitched when she answered. Finally she turned back to look at Neil. “Well just maybe I’m out to have some fun myself. Maybe I want Carter’s attention regardless of why he’s interested. And why shouldn’t I? There’s sure no indication of any interest in me as a ‘real woman’ around here!”
“What the …! So now you’re mad because my guys don’t jump all over you while you’re here to work?”
Mariah gasped audibly at the insinuation. Her eyes were enormous and her mouth wide open. Neil felt the blow to his own conscience as well. He’d never dreamed he would say something like that to a respectable woman – least of all someone he cared as much about as he did Mariah.
Mariah finally recovered and looked him straight in the eye. Her voice was subdued and her words deliberately slow and measured. “That remark was totally uncalled for, Mr. Warner, and if you cannot keep a modest tongue in your mouth when I’m around, I think perhaps I need to start looking for another job.” On one level, she knew they were both letting feelings they hadn’t named lead them into saying things they didn’t really mean. But on the more conscious level, she just needed to fight back. So with that remark, she turned and walked briskly from the office, got into her car, closing the door without slamming it, and drove away.
Only two chapters left. Meet me here tomorrow for Chapter Eight.