‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 9

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER NINE

The following day was Mariah’s Saturday off, so Neil had time to mull over the things he and his dad had talked about before he saw her again. The work load was fairly light, and even while he worked, he replayed in his mind the conversation with Mariah and the one with his dad. There was no escaping his guilt and remorse concerning the first conversation, and there was no denying that his dad’s words in the second one made complete sense – now that Neil was in slightly less emotional turmoil. But what to do about it was the question of the day – or maybe – more realistically – the big question of his life.

By mid-afternoon, he had decided that he owed it to Mariah to apologize for his insinuations and his generally unChristian attitude over the past few weeks. But he knew in his heart that if he faced her with those feelings, he would also need to be ready to tell her the truth about the rest of what he felt. He couldn’t keep living with this merry-go-round of emotions, and now that he had blurted out the truth – a truth his own heart had kept hidden until last night – he should tell her the truth as well: he was in love with Mariah Jacoby, and he wanted her in his life from now on.

He got his last customer off for the day, and went to the phone. He realized that he had left the decision a little late. She was probably preparing to go out with Sanford. But if he just surmised that scenario and didn’t bother to find out for sure, he’d just prolong his own agony. She answered on the second ring.

“Mariah, it’s Neil.”

He heard her sigh. “Neil, I’d rather not talk right now.”

He hastened to butt in before she could hang up. “I know, Mariah, and you have every right to feel that way. I owe you a huge apology, and … well … the real reason I called was to see if you were going to be home a while this evening, and if you’d let me come and apologize in person.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. Neil held his breath. Finally, Mariah sighed again and answered. “Neil, I accept your apology. You don’t have to come over here in person.”

She didn’t even want to see his face! This really was bad. He probably had lost her forever, but his dad’s words still rang in his ears: “Go ahead, Son. Stick our neck out. You know she’s worth it.”

He cleared his throat and tried again. “Well, the truth is that I’d like to do more than just apologize. I’d also like to tell you something about what’s going on in my own heart. If you’ll just hear me out; then if you don’t want to talk to me anymore I’ll respect that.”

He could hear hardness in her voice when she answered. “Is it more about Carter Sanford?”

“No!” He wanted to make that crystal clear. “No, Mariah, I don’t have anything else to say to you about Carter. I was way out of line yesterday, and I won’t ever bring up that subject again.” He paused for quite a while, but Mariah stayed quiet, and – more importantly – stayed on the line.

“I want to talk to you about you, Mariah – and about how much you mean to me.”

He heard her utter a small gasp of surprise. “I … I’m not sure I understand.”

Neil was getting frustrated. “Mariah, all of it is hard to explain over the phone. Will you please let me come and see you for a while this evening – that is – if you aren’t already going out?”

She took another moment to answer. “No … I’m not going any place important tonight – just the grocery store, but it can wait. Come over if you feel you really need to.”

The truth was that Mariah was feeling so defeated by all of the emotional upheaval of the past week that she felt resigned to whatever happened now. “When do you want to come?”

“Give me an hour to get home and shower and get over there.”

“Fine,” she said, and waited another moment. “I’ll see you then.”

“Thank you, Mariah. I’ll be with you shortly.”

After hanging up the phone, Mariah took a look at what she was wearing. An old pair of jeans and a tee shirt that said, “I’ve got a good arm, a ball, and an attitude. Don’t mess with me.” She had to laugh at the thought of wearing it when facing Neil tonight. She knew she looked a little sloppy, though, and one part of her wanted to change into something pretty. But the other part – the part that was tired of trying to be the “right” woman for the “right” man to love – just felt too exhausted to care.

She opted for leaving on the outfit and using the time she had to straighten up the apartment a little. She’d never been the most organized housekeeper. Her home was never dirty, but it definitely wasn’t the neat, well-organized home her mother kept.

She then decided she could force herself to be hospitable enough to put on a pot of coffee and open a package of cookies. Holding a coffee cup would at least give her something to do with her hands while they talked, and drinking the warm liquid might help her stay calm.

Her clock said fifty-five minutes since the phone call when her doorbell rang. Neil stood there in a dark blue polo shirt and jeans, his hair still damp around the edges. It made her smile to think he really had been in a hurry to get over here. “Come in,” she said and motioned him toward the living room. “Sit down anywhere. I made coffee. Would you like some.”

“That would be great,” he said, as he walked to a chair arranged beside the sofa and sat down.

“I’ll be right back with it,” she said, already turning toward the kitchen. Five minutes later, she returned with a tray bearing two steaming mugs, cream and sugar, and the plate of cookies. Sitting it down on the table next to the chair, she took a seat on the close end of the sofa.

“Mmmm, the coffee smells good,” Neil said and reached for a cup. Mariah took hers as well and curled her feet up onto the cushion. She sipped the hot liquid and looked at Neil. He cleared his throat.

“I like the apartment,” he said, smiling. “The colors of cheerful.”

“Thank you. I agree. I like a lot of color in a home.” She knew she should probably say something that would break the ice and help him get started with what he needed to say, but she just didn’t seem to be able to do it.

Finally, he cleared his throat again and sat his cup back onto the tray. He looked right at her. “Mariah, first of all I sincerely want to apologize for what I said to you last night. I was completely out of line, and I’ve been out of line ever since you started dating Carter Sanford.”

“When did you decide all of this?”

“Well … to be totally honest, I knew when the words were coming out of my mouth last night that I didn’t have any right to say them – and actually I knew that I didn’t really mean them the way I said them.”

She just looked at him a moment and then asked. “Then … why did you say them?”

Neil cleared his throat again. He’d never felt a need to work at keeping his throat clear and his voice strong before, but this whole experience was a first for him, so ….

He finally answered. “Well, the answer to that question is actually the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. And I’m going to ask that you hear me out, and then when I’m done, if you don’t want to talk to me anymore – or even work for me anymore – I’ll understand. But, I’m hoping, of course, that you won’t feel that way.”

Mariah’s curiosity was aroused enough by this time that she did help him. “Say anything you feel you need to say, Neil, and I promise not to interrupt. I’ll let you finish.”

He nodded his head in acknowledgment and scooted forward in his chair to be closer to her. “Mariah, I said all of those things because I was jealous.” He searched her eyes to see if she was shocked, but he couldn’t tell. He knew she was surprised he’d said it, but that was all. “I knew I had antagonistic feelings toward Sanford, but I wouldn’t consciously admit it to myself – or the reason for it. I tried to convince myself that my feelings were because we had become great friends, and I was just looking out for your welfare, but that isn’t the truth.” At that, her eyes did get wide, and her eyebrows went up.

He unconsciously reached out a hand and laid it on hers as it rested on the arm of the sofa. “Oh, I was trying to look out for you, but not just because we were friends. I realized last night – after it was too late – that what I really feel for you goes much deeper than friendship.” He squeezed her hand. His eyes were so intense that Mariah couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to, but, of course, she didn’t want to. Neil continued.

“Mariah, I … I’m in love with you, and … and I’ve never said that to another woman in my life.”

Mariah’s gasp was audible, and a light flickered to life in her own eyes. Neil took hope from that tiny light and continued. “I don’t know for sure what you feel for me, but I’d like to ask you to give me a chance to show you how much I love you and how valuable you are to me – not as an employee – but as a woman – as the woman I want in my life from now on.”

As he spoke the words, Neil slipped from the chair to his knees in front of Mariah, who sat there with her mouth open and the light in her eyes even brighter. He gently took the cup from her other hand, sat it down, and then took both hands in his. She didn’t resist, but finally spoke, “Neil … I … I don’t understand. You’ve never said anything before.”

“I know. I’ve been too dense to realize myself what I was feeling – that is until last night. But I also realize that you may have strong feelings for someone else, and I don’t have any right to make you feel pressured by what I’m saying. I’m trying not to pressure you. I hope you know that. But I just had to at least tell you the truth.”

“Oh, Neil!” was all she said, but she lifted her hands and placed them gently on either side of his face.

“You’re not angry that I’ve said all this?”

She smiled widely. “My darling Neil, since when does a woman become angry because a man declares his love for her – especially when he does it so beautifully?”

Neil let out the breath he’d been holding and smiled for the first time since he’d started his explanation. He reached both hands up and laid them over hers. He then took each one and pressed the palm to his lips. “I love you, Mariah. I think I’ve loved you almost from the first day. You’ve been like my second self from the first week we worked together.

“I’ve never felt so comfortable with any other woman that I can remember, yet I’ve never felt to challenged to be the best man I could be. It made my day complete every time you were pleased with what I said and what I did, or how I ran my business or lived my life. I came to work every day with a new kind of expectation of vitality and beauty somehow – all because you were there. Oh, I couldn’t have put it into those words a week ago. But I finally recognize it for what it is.”

He paused and kissed the palms of her hands again. “Oh, Neil,” was still all she could say.

“And if you already have deep feelings for Carter Sanford, then I will accept that fact and not bring up my own feelings again. But I had to at least tell you the whole truth – at least once. You deserve that.”

Mariah chuckled softly and shook her head. He squeezed her hands in his. “I don’t even care if you laugh at me, Honey. I feel so much better knowing I’ve told you what’s in my heart.”

At those words, Mariah slipped from the sofa to her knees as well, facing Neil, and without thinking, she put her arms around his neck. “No, Darling. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself – and maybe at the idea that I could have deep feelings for Carter Sanford.”

“What?” Neil’s confusion was obvious. “Do you mean you don’t ….” His voice trailed off because it was just too much to hope for.

Mariah inched closer to him and shook her head. “No … I do not have deep feelings for Carter. I don’t really want to talk about him right now, but you can rest assured that what I do feel for him is not positive enough to cause you any jealously.”

“But you said last night that you wanted his attention — ”

Mariah slipped one hand over his lips to stop his words. “What I said last night was born out of the same thing that brought forth most of your words. I was reacting to feelings that I hadn’t recognized or learned to deal with yet. I had been hurt by Carter, and then I was being hurt by you. But the hurt caused by you was so much more painful and damaging —”

“Oh, Sweetheart!” Neil interrupted her and wrapped his arms around her completely, holding her against him. “I’m so sorry! … so sorry!”

Mariah pulled back enough to look at his face. “No … it’s all right now. What I was going to say is that what you did hurt me more than what Carter did because I don’t love Carter, but I do love you.”

He lifted his hand to caress one side of her face, “You … you do love me?” Mariah nodded her head. “You’re sure?” She nodded again.

Very sure!” she said.

“And all this time … we’ve wasted …. when we could have been ….” He just couldn’t seem to find the words, so he finally gave up and pulled her even closer, taking possession of her lips in a kiss that conveyed the message much more clearly than any words could have done anyway. And Mariah’s response was equally as satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that it was several moments before either of them took a breath or thought reasonably about anything at all.

As their lips finally parted, Neil wrapped her even tighter to him, and she buried her head against his neck, but several seconds later, Neil spoke. “Mariah, I think we’d be more comfortable if we got up from the floor, don’t you?”

Mariah laughed out loud. For the first time she realized that her own knees hurt from being on the floor in that embrace for so long. “Of course, Honey. Come on,” she said and began to get up. Neil did the same, but as they stood facing each other, he couldn’t resist kissing her again. Mariah was very willing, and, once more, it was quite a while before they had breath to speak. When they did, Mariah settled her arms more comfortably around Neil’s neck and grinned at him. “So, Boss, would you say that everything’s Jake again?”

Neil tightened his hold on her and looked at her solemnly, shaking his head in the negative. “No, Sweetheart. You have that backwards.”

Her eyes clouded. “What?”

“You asked me if everything’s Jake again. But you have it backwards … because from now on … in my world … everything isn’t Jake.  In my world, Jake is everything!”

 



Thank you so much for reading. I’ll leave the story on this site for one more week, in case a few people haven’t had time to get to the end yet. But after next Saturday, I’ll remove it. You can find the book, as well as most of my other inspirational fiction, on Amazon at this link.
Or visit my Amazon Author’s page for more information.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 8

EVERYTHING’S JAKE
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER EIGHT

Neil grabbed up the pizza box. Letting out a long groan, he wadded it up with his bare hands and slammed it into the waste can. That action wasn’t enough to release his feelings, so he slammed his hand on the counter so hard the pain caused him to groan again. There … maybe that would at least be some self-punishment for having been so stupid – and so unkind to the one person he’d come to care more about than any other human being in his life.

“Stupid idiot! You stupid idiot!” He ranted at himself as he ran his hands furiously through his hair, and finally, feeling spent from the pain of his estrangement from Mariah – and from his own remorse – he collapsed into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands.

He was still sitting in the chair, staring with unseeing eyes at his computer, when the office door opened, and his dad walked in. “Hi, son. I saw the light, and I thought maybe I’d catch you and Mariah here and invite you both to dinner at the house tomorrow night.” He stopped talking and looked around. He didn’t see Mariah, and something told him that the place was totally empty except for Neil, who, now that he looked at him more closely, was looking a little worse for wear.

“Something’s wrong?”

Neil didn’t answer for a moment. He just sat there and stared at his computer screen. Finally he heaved a sigh and said in a monotone voice. “You could say that.”

Adam leaned on the counter, praying for the Lord to give him the right words. He didn’t want to interfere in his grown son’s life, but he knew enough from his own experience to realize that sometimes being grown up in age didn’t mean a man didn’t feel hurt as painfully as a little boy. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Neil ran his hands through his hair again.

Adam watched and waited. He realized for the first time that there was quite a bit of gray showing in Neil’s dark brown hair. And for the first time, he actually noticed that his waistline was bulging more than it used to. Adam didn’t feel old enough to have two sons about to reach middle age themselves. But the clock didn’t quit ticking, and sure enough, they were just about there.

Nathan, his elder son, had a great wife, though, and a baby to love. Neil had nothing but this business. He should have Mariah. Adam and Elizabeth both knew Mariah was the right one for Neil. And they were pretty sure he knew it too. But Neil had always been super cautious about decisions – considering them from every single angle – over and over again – until he worked them over so many times he was worn out before he came to the point. Elizabeth had said something the other night about Mariah not waiting forever.

Adam cleared his throat. He wasn’t much of a counselor in the area of romance, but he could at least share his heart if Neil wanted him to. “Is it Mariah – or am I out of line?”

At those words, Neil looked up at Adam. “How did you know?”

Adam chuckled. “Well,” he said, as he walked around the counter and pulled a second chair up close to Neil’s desk. “I guess you could say I’ve been through some situations in the romance department that caused me to look about like you do right now.”

“I’m losing her, Dad.”

“Losing her how?”

Neil shrugged his shoulders. “I thought we were becoming the best of friends. I could open up to her in a way I’ve never done with anyone else. And she did the same with me. We feel the same about our spiritual lives and about the purpose and meaning of life. We want the same kinds of things. And we can sit and talk for five and six hours at a time and never run out of anything to say to each other.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like you’re losing her to me.”

Neil waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “No … that’s not what makes me think that. It’s … It’s because she’s started dating Carter Sanford, and now she doesn’t seem to want to sit and talk with me and share things like she used to.” Neil looked at his father now. “And I worry about her with him. Oh, I don’t mean he’d hurt her physically. But I know enough about him to know he’s just playing around with Jake because she’s a mechanic.”

“How’s that?”

“Oh … you know … he’s a playboy, and because she’s so different from most of the women he associates with, he finds it fun to date her for a while. But he won’t stick with her. If she’s feeling something serious for him, he’ll break her heart, and I just couldn’t bear that.”

“And why do you think that is?”

“Well … she’s become such a great friend, and friends look out for each other. And … tonight … I tried to warn her about him —”

“Oh, I see,” Adam interrupted him.

“What do you mean, you see?”

Adam sighed. “I’m guessing you told her how he didn’t really care for her and how she was being foolish to let herself get taken in by him.”

“Yes.”

Adam let out another sigh. So did Neil.

“Well, I realized about halfway into the conversation that I was making a mistake, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. And … well … the conversation deteriorated so much that she threatened to quit.”

“Whew!”

“Yeah.” Neil leaned back in his chair and just shook his head sadly.

“Well … have you thought that maybe Mariah can tell that Carter really does care about her?”

“But he doesn’t!”

“How can you be so sure?”

“What? Are you on his side now?”

“Whoa, Son.” Adam held up his hands to ward off any more accusation. “I’m just trying to help you think this thing through here.”

“Oh, I know, Dad. I’m sorry.” He got up from his chair and started pacing the floor. “But I know I’m right. I feel it in every part of me. Carter Sanford will never – could never – love Mariah the way I —” He stopped mid-sentence, shocked by the words that he heard coming from his mouth. Suddenly he turned and looked at Adam, the surprise all over his face.

Adam nodded his head. “I heard. I think you have part of your answer right there, Son. You are in love with Mariah, but if you didn’t even recognize it, then you’ve obviously never told her. Maybe that’s what she needs to hear from you rather than how she’s making a fool of herself with Carter.”

“Well, I can’t tell her that now! Not while she’s dating another man!”

“What? You’d let her go out of your life just because she’s going out to dinner once in a while with some other man? She might drop him like a hot branding iron if she knew how much you cared, Neil.”

Heaving another sigh, Neil looked Adam in the eye. “Let’s face it dad, in spite of having my name on this business, in reality I’m still just a struggling mechanic. I can’t drive her around in expensive cars or send her bouquets of roses every week the way he does – or even the way a lot of other men can.”

Adam chuckled. “You know, Neil, before your mom and I were married I gave her flowers only one time. I just didn’t have a lot of money back then, and I tried to save what I did have so that we could go out every week. But one time, shortly before the wedding, I asked her if she ever felt cheated because I hadn’t given her more flowers and valuable gifts, and I’ll never – as long as I live – I’ll never forget her answer.

She said, ‘My darling Adam, if I were to receive a thousand roses at a time, they could never give me the joy and the thrill that I get from the look in your eyes every time you take me into your arms and tell me how much you love me.’” Adam leaned forward to emphasize his next words. “Neil, it’s communication that rules the day – before the wedding – and it’s still communication that makes the difference afterward – for the rest of your life.”

“But if she’s serious about Carter, I could also end up looking like a fool myself.”

“And does that really matter? Didn’t you feel a little foolish tonight after your argument?

“Well ….”

“Neil, you’ve always tried to live your life based on what God’s Word says. But, up to now, you’ve never had to deal with loving a woman and functioning in that capacity according to God’s Word. But think about it. Love comes from God. He is love, and He’s the creator of the love that develops between a man and a woman. Furthermore, He tells us that love always leads us to prefer the other person as more important than ourselves. Love is patient, kind; love serves; it isn’t jealous or easily provoked … am I right?”

“Sure, you know you are.”

“So … if you love this woman, then you have to begin to deal with her according to the demands of love the way God defines it – not according to the world’s definition. The world will tell you to consider how foolish you might end up looking, or how someone could take advantage of you if you let your guard down by letting them know you love them. But those philosophies are not from the Lord.”

He leaned forward and laid his hand on Neil’s shoulder. “No, I think it’s time you were honest with yourself and with Mariah and started speaking and acting toward her the way the Word of God tells you to. Stop talking to her about Carter Sanford, and start talking to her about her – and how valuable and precious she is to you.”

He gave Neil’s shoulder an encouraging pat and stood to his feet. “And just remember: roses always die, and a fancy car made out of cold steel can’t keep a woman warm at night.”

Neil snorted – although it was almost a chuckle. “If it were Mariah’s car, she’d tear it down and work on the heating system until it did keep her warm.”

Adam laughed out loud and gently slapped his son on the back. “Good! You’ve got your sense of humor back. I think you’ll survive this.” With those words he headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned back. “And unless I miss my guess, that little girl already feels the same way about you.”

A flicker of hope flashed through Neil’s eyes, and Adam smiled. “Go ahead, Son. Stick your neck out. You know she’s worth it.”

Adam closed the door and headed for his car with a jaunty step. He tossed his keys into the air and caught them, grinning. “Adam, old boy, you’re not too bad at counseling the lovelorn after all. Elizabeth will be downright proud of you.”


Final chapter tomorrow.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — chapter 7

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER SEVEN

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.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE — CHAPTER 2


EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER TWO

The next Monday, while on her way to apply for a position she had heard about at church the previous day, she began having trouble with her car. It kept dying at every stop sign, and then began jerking and trying to die in the middle of traffic. She remembered passing an auto repair center several times on that end of town, so she made her way there now, gritting her teeth and praying that she could make it there without getting stranded in the middle of the road somewhere.

As she pulled in, she realized that there were several cars ahead of her, but she hoped that since she had a sort of emergency situation, that might weigh heavily with the manager. If she’d had tools and parts, of course, she could have fixed it herself, but that was like wishing for the moon, since she didn’t even have a screwdriver with her this trip. And boy was that stupid, she told herself. At least she could have come better prepared to cope with car problems. But she had been pretty depressed by the time she’d set out for Abby’s, so that probably accounted for her lack of thought on the subject

She quickly called the employer she had the appointment with to explain the situation and then got out and walked toward the open work bays. Even though the day was warm, she could feel the change in temperature as she entered the cool interior and adjusted her eyes to the darker atmosphere. She sniffed the air, recognizing the smells of a normal auto shop — smells she was comfortable with — and she smiled slightly. She could hear the sounds of someone working and finally managed to see a man half submerged beneath the hood of a luxury car leaning over the engine, totally absorbed. She needed to go into the office area. Turning half circle, she saw the office door and headed inside.

Even cooler air from the office air conditioner hit her as she stepped through the door. There was one man inside, leaning slightly on a high counter, writing something out by hand. He looked back at his computer screen, which was sitting on a desk behind the counter, then turned back and wrote some more. He looked a little taller than her, and slightly heavy set. It was obvious that he weighed in a little over normal. Probably most of it was muscle, but she doubted that all of it was. He had dark brown hair, liberally striped with gray. His face had a few lines that she could see around his mouth and eyes, but it was rather nice looking — at least what she could see of it with his head down a little. He looked back at his computer again, and spoke something in an exasperated voice, scratched his head, and turned back to the counter.

But before Mariah could get his attention, the front door to the office opened, and a man came in with a set of keys in his hand. “Here’s my keys, Neil. I’ll be back around closing time to pick it up.”

The man behind the counter slapped his palm against his forehead. “Oh, for crying out loud, Paul. I forgot all about you coming in today, or I’d have called you.”

“Somethin’ wrong?”

“Boy is that an understatement! Kurt’s off sick with the flu, and Bobby fell off a ladder at home yesterday and broke his arm — pretty bad break too.”

“Wow, that’s tough. Is he going to be all right?’

“Well, they seem to think so, but they’re saying at least six to eight weeks until he can come back to work.”

The customer let out a slow whistle. “So I guess that mean’s you’re too short-handed to service mine today, huh?”

Neil nodded from behind the counter and Paul continued. “No problem. It’s not really giving me any trouble. It was just past time, and I thought this week would work schedule-wise. I’ll give you a call next week and see if you’ve managed to get a temporary replacement.”

Neil shook his head in obvious exasperation. “I appreciate it, Paul. I can’t tell you how sorry I am … for Kurt and Bobby … for all my customers … for Bill out there who’s all by himself except for me … and not least of all for me personally.” He finished that statement with a sheepish grin that made him look like a self-conscious teenager instead of a man old enough to have gray hair. Mariah felt a pang of sympathy for him.

“Well, I’ll get on my way and let you take care of your other customer,” Paul said, looking toward Mariah and nodding briefly. For the first time, the man behind the counter looked over to the side where she still stood close to the door. His eyes widened in surprise.

“Oh … sorry miss. I didn’t realize you were here.” He glanced back at Paul. “Thanks again, Paul. I’ll get to you as soon as possible; I promise.” His customer lifted his hand in a brief salute and headed out the door. Neil turned back to Mariah. “Can I help you?”

Mariah had been entertaining the wildest idea ever since she had heard the conversation between the two men. Rather than ask this man who was obviously the garage manager to help her, why not offer to help him? Her eyes twinkled as she stepped closer to the counter, and he looked at her more intently, a slight question in his eyes. Mariah had butterflies in her stomach, but she just knew in her heart that somehow this was right. She spoke with all the confidence and authority she could, so as to drown out her own doubts.

“Well, actually, I think it’s more a question of whether I can help you,” she said, smiling directly into his eyes. He got an even more harassed look in his eyes, brushed his hand through his already disheveled hair and answered her. “Look, ma’m, if you’re selling something, this isn’t the time to talk to me. I’m not going to try to make any decisions about buying anything at all this week!”

“Oh, but I’m – ”

He held up his hand as he interrupted her. “Absolutely nothing at all!”

“But I’m not selling anything. Except … maybe … myself.”

His eyes grew even wider and his face flushed just a little as he looked her up and down, trying to consider what a basically decent woman was doing standing in his office offering to sell him sexual favors. He hadn’t figured out how to answer her without insulting her when it dawned on Mariah that what she had said could have been seriously misinterpreted. Then it was her turn to blush, but she did so with no half-way measures. She turned red and felt as hot as if she’d been standing in front of a 500 degree oven.

“Oh, I … I didn’t mean … I mean … I don’t mean what you think I mean!” She put her hands to her cheeks and felt the heat. She closed her eyes in misery at her foolish words.

“And … uh … just what is it that you think I think you mean?”

“Well … it’s obvious … at least from the look on your face … that you think I mean I’m hear to offer you … uh … well ….” It just kept getting worse with every word, so she stuttered to a stop.

By this time, Neil was starting to feel relieved to know that evidently he’d been mistaken about her words and breathed a sigh of relief. Now he was able to take a little pity on her and he chuckled. “Would you like to start again?”

“Please,” she said, finally beginning to return to normal color.

“But, miss, I have an unbelievably busy day, so could you make it kind of quick?”

“Well, that’s just it,” she said, coming all the way up to the counter now and standing just across from him — only the width of the counter separating them. “You see, I did come to have my car checked out, but when I heard you tell the other man that you were so short-handed, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. But … well, I’m a mechanic myself, and I can fix my own car if I have the tools and a way to order parts.” His jaw dropped open, but she hurried on. “But even more important for you … I can help you with your work here,” she finished, beaming her happiest smile at him.

Once again Neil’s eyes widened, but somehow he did manage to close his mouth. Was there no end of the surprises to come from this perky girl? At the same time he was considering this question, another part of his mind was taking in the fact that, although he wouldn’t have called her beautiful, she had a certain something that drew a man’s attention. She had the kind of face that made you feel good when you looked at her, especially her eyes. They were inviting somehow. Good grief, he needed to get his mind back on his work!

His eyes connected with hers again. “Your … uh … a mechanic, you say?” He didn’t have to say he didn’t believe her. It was too obvious.

“Yes,” she answered eagerly. “Well, not a professional one, you understand.” Neil didn’t think he was understanding much of anything that had happened since he’d looked up and spotted her, but he didn’t have a chance to say so before she added. “But I’ve taken a number of auto mechanics courses in college, and I used to help my brother all the time. I’ve done most of the things that your customers would need done.”

He ran his hand through his hair again. He couldn’t seem to get hold of a sensible response. She still stood there beaming at him. Finally he tried to say something. “Look … miss … I can’t hire just anyone off the street – ”

“Oh, I understand,” she interrupted. “You may even feel you have to have someone with a degree. But couldn’t you take me on as an apprentice for right now, and at least you’d have two more hands to get your customer’s cars serviced and repaired.”

Her eyes sparkled at him, holding him entranced for a few seconds. Just enough time to make him waver in his reply again, and Mariah took advantage of his hesitation. “Tell you what. I have some time right now, so how about if I go to work on my own car, and you can watch me and see if I’m not telling you the truth about how good I am.”

By this time, she was leaning over the counter, close enough for him to see the tiniest sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, almost completely hidden by her modest make-up. He looked into her warm, sherry-colored eyes and was momentarily lost. “Well … uh … I … I don’t know …”

Her eyes grew more intense, and she pulled back from the counter and stamped her foot. “Well, what have you got to lose?”

He didn’t like being put on a spot like this and made to feel stupid. His voice was a little harsh as he replied out of his frustration: “Just my business!

Mariah opened her mouth to answer him, but then closed it again. She had to admit that some strange girl coming into an auto repair shop asking to use the man’s tools and dig through his parts to fix her own car and then expecting to be hired on the spot did seem pretty unorthodox. And she had to admit to herself that most of the mechanics she’d known who owned their own shop had struggled like crazy and invested every last thing they had in it to try to make a go of it. Asking one of them to let some stranger go to work there out of the clear blue would put any of them in a tough spot.

Finally, she nodded her head with a resigned look on her face. “Of course,” she said, her voice considerably subdued now. “I understand. It’s asking a lot of you to take a chance like that with a business you’ve no doubt invested every single resource in. I’m sorry,” she added with a sigh. “I guess since you don’t have time to take on any more work, I’ll get out of your way now.” She turned toward the door, and Neil’s heart turned over. He scratched his head again. He was probably going to regret this, but he just couldn’t stand to see her so disappointed. She had seemed so excited at the prospect of working here for a while. He supposed he ought to at least give her a chance. She seemed so sure of herself. But — a woman mechanic was something he didn’t have any experience with at all.

“Wait!” he heard himself saying before he had sorted through all those thoughts. She turned back to look at him, and he continued. “Uh … I’ll tell you what. Pull your car into the last bay down there, and I’ll show you where everything is and get you started.”

“Really?” Her eyes were brilliant again, and the smile on her face was worth the butterflies in his stomach as he asked himself silently whether his insurance would cover this if something went wrong. He took a deep breath.

“Yeah … really.” He said.

She stepped back to the counter and held her hand out toward him across the top. “You won’t be sorry. I promise you,” she said, as he took her hand in his. It was warm and strong, but just soft enough that it sent a little tingle along his arm. He had to remind himself to let go, but finally he turned to walk around the counter and lead her back into the work bays.

“By the way, I’m Mariah … Mariah Jacoby,” she said as they entered the work area. 

“Glad to meet you, Miss Jacoby. I’m Neil Warner.”

“Oh, please, call me Mariah. I’d like that much better.”

Neil nodded. “I’m Neil to everyone who works here — and most of the customers too.” With those words, he opened the bay door and Mariah went to pull her car in. 

She got out and raised the hood. Then she looked around to size up what she had to work with. She spotted a blue coverall hanging on a hook along the side wall and went over to get it. “Do you mind?” she asked Neil. “I was dressed to go to an interview,” she added, looking down at her light colored skirt and short-sleeved knit top.

“Sure. Go ahead,” he answered, and she slipped into the uniform, rolling large cuffs on the sleeves and legs. She thought about her hair, but one look at the only greasy cap hanging there convinced her she was better off taking her chances without it. That done, she began looking around at the array of tools and collecting what she thought she’d need. She had a pretty good idea what was at the root of the problem, knowing there were only a couple of possibilities likely to cause just that set of symptoms, and she also knew the job could take quite a while.

She told Neil what had been happening with the car as she began to check some things out, and then she began to tell him exactly what she was looking for, figuring that should give him a good idea of whether she knew her stuff or not. Neil nodded and grunted his agreement, silently coming to the conclusion that maybe she really did know something about engines. She worked without talking for the majority of the time, and Neil excused himself after a while, saying he had to get back to his bookkeeping for a few minutes.

As he passed the young man who was still leaning under the hood of the other car, he stopped momentarily. “How’s it going with this one, Bill?”

The blond-haired younger man raised up and wiped his hands on a cloth. “I think I’ve got this one licked. I’m about ready to give it a test drive.”

“Great,” Neil answered about the time Bill glanced over and saw Mariah. He raised a questioning brow at his boss.

Neil cleared his throat and motioned with his head for Bill to follow him into the office. Bill did so with a big grin on his face. He’d never seen his boss flustered any time in the last three years, but something was up with this woman. He couldn’t resist teasing Neil a little. “You hire a new mechanic?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Maybe,” Neil answered and looked Bill in the eye.

The grin dried up immediately, and Bill’s mouth just sort of hung open. “Huh?”

“Well, it’s like this,” began Neil, and then proceeded to tell him how all of the last half hour had transpired.

Bill just shook his head and chuckled. “Well …” he said, looking back out through the window in the door, watching Mariah for a moment. “Well, she sure acts like she knows what she’s doing, doesn’t she?”

Neil sighed. “We’ll see,” he answered and then looked back at his computer. “I’ve got to get this finished and then go out there and watch her at work some more before I know for sure. Go ahead and take yours out for the test, and get back as soon as you can.”

“Sure thing,” Bill said and hurried back into the work area. When he brought the Continental back, he parked it outside, satisfied that it was fully repaired, and then he drove a gray and white truck into the bay he’d left empty. As he got out, he heard Mariah talking to Neil about how the repair to her own car was coming. Bill couldn’t resist walking over to where the other two were working, Neil mostly handing Mariah tools and making a suggestion here and there.

“So, how’s it goin’?” Bill asked.

“Great,” Mariah answered before Neil could decide what to say. “I should have this baby running right in another half hour or so.”

“So what was it, anyway?” Bill asked her, walking around to the other side of the car to be closer to her.

She told him and then began to talk about how the repair was going in a little more detail, Bill agreeing with her on all points that she made. Neil was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, and he just slipped away and walked over to the truck. He remembered what the owner had told him about the problem with this particular truck, so there was no need to go back into the office to get the work order. He just started to gather his tools and get to work. He knew he should direct Bill to get to another vehicle in the third bay, but, surprisingly, the quiet conversation between Bill and Mariah in the bay beside him was soothing to him as he worked, and for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, he was actually beginning to relax.

By the time Neil had the truck running smoothly, Mariah was ready to take her car for a test spin. As she pulled it out of the bay, Bill walked over to Neil, who was just putting down the truck hood. “Boy, I think that little lady really does know her business, Boss? You gonna let her stay on and help us?”

Neil was wiping his hands on a rag. “Maybe,” he said, looking a little preoccupied.

Bill nodded. “Hard decision, huh?”

Neil grinned a little. “Toughest one I’ve made since deciding to go into business.” Bill nodded his understanding and Neil spoke again. “Take this one out for a test, will ya?”

“Sure thing,” he said, hopping into the cab and backing the truck out of the building.

Mariah was back in a few minutes, beaming. “It’s right as rain,” she announced. “Do you want to test it out yourself just to be sure I really did fix it?” she asked, looking at him so earnestly that his heart turned over again. For some reason this little gal really wanted to work at this garage. He made his final decision in a second.

“Nope,” he said, grinning back. “You’re hired.”

Come back tomorrow for Chapter Three.


‘EVERYTHING’S JAKE’ — read it free

I promised another free novel in serial form this month. So here it is. EVERYTHING’S JAKE  is a light inspirational romance, but it’s a whole lot more than a love story. It’s about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It’s about family – and friends who are just like family. It’s about letting God’s way of loving take control of your heart.

I think some readers might enjoy this short novel as they get ready for the Christmas holidays. The story is easy reading, the kind of thing you need when you’re mind is full of lots of other stuff and stretched a little too far in too many directions. I’ll try to give you just one chapter a day so you don’t get carried away and forget to decorate the house or buy the gifts you want to give.

Hope you enjoy it. Be sure and let me know.

EVERYTHING’S JAKE

© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner

CHAPTER ONE

Mariah Jacoby paced the tiny office, taking the confined distance from wall to wall in four agitated strides as she waited for her boss to join her. She was fairly certain what the outcome of this meeting would be. She’d be looking for another job. She shook her head now in frustration. If only she could convince her boss that she could probably sell more from this boutique in the long run if she were honest with her customers!

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Convincing Patricia there was something to be gained by telling a woman she looked fat in one of her dresses was about as likely as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel without getting hurt — seriously hurt! Hadn’t somebody tried that once? She thought she’d remembered reading something about it, but — right now her mind was too muddled with the mess she’d made of her third job in two years. Of course, it’s not like this latest one was something in her field. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism, selling in a boutique was a little wide of the mark on both counts.

But her one year working at the Excel Learning Center had been enough to convince her that teaching school was definitely not her forte. Her second job, the one with The Beacon, had been more in her line, but evidently news reporting was not what she really felt called to do either. Well, Mariah did feel a genuine interest in writing for a newspaper. It was actually her editor who had felt that she wasn’t right for the part. “You’ve got to quit editorializing, Mariah!” he’d said, through his gritted teeth. How many times had he said that? She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to average about once a week, until finally, he had given her the bad news: She’d have to go. And he’d warned her one last time that if she thought she’d ever really want to get serious about a career in journalism, she’d better start working harder on her ability to remain objective when she covered the news.

She sighed now and finally dropped into one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk, just settling into the seat when her boss opened the door and came in with a purposeful stride. Patricia wasn’t a time-waster; that was for sure. She marched around her desk and leaned over it toward Mariah. “I guess you know what this means?” Mariah opened her mouth to protest — or defend herself — or something — but nothing came out. She dipped her head and then nodded.

“I know,” she said on a resigned sigh. “I really do try to do what you want though, Patricia.”

Her boss shook her head as she sat down behind the desk. “Not hard enough, Mariah. I’ve told you repeatedly that we do not tell any of our customers that they don’t look terrific in whatever they choose.”

Mariah’s head came up, and she looked directly at her boss. “But that’s lying! I can’t believe that’s the best way to do business!”

“The point is that this is my business, Mariah. And the only one who needs to be satisfied with the way we do business here is me. Besides, I don’t really consider it lying. When our customers have chosen something that they like on themselves, it makes them feel good about themselves, and that does make them look good. Happy people always look better than those who are unhappy. And more importantly, happy customers keep coming back!”

“But Mrs. Jamison wasn’t unhappy when I told her that I thought she’d look better in something else.”

“No? Well, just what would you call that frown on her face, that furrowed brow, and her flustered attitude?”

“She was just trying to think about what I’d said while I was showing her the other possibilities.”

“All possibilities that she did not like herself! That’s just my point. She’s been a customer here for five years, and she had already disqualified the style of dress you kept trying to push off on her!” She leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mariah, but I did warn you that you may not be cut out for this kind of work. I know you’ve tried, but you’re not going to be able to treat my customers differently. This is the fourth time I’ve had to deal with the situation and try to soothe the people you’ve upset. I’ll give you the rest of this week doing jobs that won’t require you to work with customers, and I’ll give you the one week’s severance pay that your contract specifies, but I’ll definitely have to replace you with someone who’s comfortable with my rules here.”

It didn’t take long for the end of the week to arrive, and Mariah found that she wasn’t all that emotional about having to say goodbye to Patricia and the two other women who worked at the boutique. She was very emotional, however, about not having a job. She had managed to save a little money while she’d worked on her masters because she’d decided to attend the university at home and stay at the house with her parents. They had been eager to have her there again, even for that period of time, and they just refused to let her pay for much of anything at all. She’d tried to make up for it by treating them to special dinners out and a weekend away a couple of times, but she had put most of her money from the job on campus into a savings account. Good thing! She’d already gone through half of it, and it looked like the second half would soon be in hot pursuit of the first.

She made her way back to her one-bedroom apartment in a very unfashionable, but comfortable part of town, dropped her purse and jacket on the table just inside the door, kicked off her shoes, and headed for the tiny kitchen to make tea. Her granny had always sworn by tea as the fix-it potion for any problem. Of course, Granny had always held faithful to all the little details that constituted a traditional English tea – the boiled water, the warmed teapot, the unrushed brewing time. Mariah filled the teapot and stuck it in the microwave. What Granny didn’t know wouldn’t cause her any unhappiness.

While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail that lay on her kitchen counter. She hadn’t had time to go through it carefully for the last two days, and now she was surprised to see a card from a friend of hers in another state. Abigail Harland, who had gone through the first four years of college with Mariah, was now a happily married wife and the mother of two rambunctious little boys. She took to that lifestyle like a duck to water, Mariah thought, smiling now as she remembered the last time she’d visited Abby and Seth.

She scanned the lines eagerly, moving over to the microwave as it dinged to let her know the water was ready. A few minutes later, as she sipped the fragrant tea and began to relax, she came to the end of the note, which included another invitation to visit as soon as possible. “Come for a whole weekend if you can,” Abby had written. “Better yet, I wish you’d look for a job here so we could be close like we used to be.”

Mariah laid the note on the counter, deep in thought. Well, why not? Why not at least try? She certainly had nothing holding her here. Of course she was only an hour from her parents living here, but Abby’s home wasn’t more than three hours from them. She shrugged her shoulders. She was going to have to start somewhere, and she might as well try to find something close to her best friends. She’d made a couple of local friends since moving here to work, and of course, she was comfortable with most all of the people she’d met at church. But there wasn’t anyone she felt she could bare her soul to the way she could Abby and Seth. Maybe this was a good time to move on.

She got up and added more tea to her cup, then moved into the living room and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach — almost a fear. Only she refused to let herself be afraid. It was just that — well — she had never figured herself for a failure. She had always done well in school. And she’d taken a variety of electives just to expand her mind and her horizons. Hadn’t she even taken those two auto-shop courses?

She grinned now as she remembered how surprised a couple of the guys in the class had been when they’d discovered how much she already knew. That was thanks to her big brother Mitch, of course. From the time she’d been a preteen, she had helped him work on his cars. And he’d had several over the years that he virtually rebuilt. Of course, it was just a hobby with him. He’d opted for a career in marketing, but he’d really had a gift for working on cars! And he’d told her she was a natural too, but of course, no other girls she knew were interested in becoming auto mechanics, so she dismissed that idea as less than good if she were going to have to compete with them for the guys out there that were worth having.

She snorted now as she thought about the fact that even though she was never in overalls or smudged with grease and oil these days, the guys weren’t exactly beating a path to her door. She thought about what she had to offer a man. Well — there was her open, friendly nature — her quick mind — her Christian lifestyle. She sighed. Those things didn’t sound like attention grabbers to her.

She took mental stock of her physical assets: She had a clear complexion. Her hair was a rich brown, and the pixie cut she currently wore framed her face perfectly and drew attention to her eyes. And they were probably her most positive feature, weren’t they? She had always considered them plain old brown until one of the men she’d dated in college had told her they were the warm color of a glass of sherry. Her relationship with that man had taken a definite upswing from that moment, although they’d never gotten serious, and he’d graduated the following year. Still, he remained one of her favorite dating memories just because he’d given her a whole new confidence about her looks.

She sat her empty cup on the table beside the sofa and stretched out, thinking. What kind of job should she look for? She laughed lightly. She’d lain on the sofa in her home as a child and daydreamed just this way, asking herself, what she wanted to be when she grew up? But this wasn’t like those times. This was no daydream; this was reality. She was grown-up. She was twenty-five, and it was time she made a career for herself.

The following Friday evening, she arrived at Seth and Abby’s door with a large suitcase, having told them of her plans to look for a job close to them. They had insisted she stay with them while she searched, but she had been adamant about not staying more than a week. If she hadn’t found something by then, she would either move into a motel or start looking in a different town.

But by the end of the week, she was no closer to having employment. She had checked with the area schools about possible openings for the next school year, which was fast approaching. She knew she wasn’t licensed to teach in the state, but she also knew there were ways to deal with that as long as she was working toward meeting the requirements within a certain time period. But there wasn’t anything in her field.

Then she’d checked with a couple local newspapers, but still nothing permanent. They had told her they’d consider some free-lance articles from her if she wanted to turn something in, and she had, in fact written one article and had it published. But she knew that she had managed that feat mainly because it was the kind of thing she didn’t have to be objective about.

After that, she’d checked with a couple department stores, but their waiting lists were long, and besides, she could tell by the manner of the women who’d talked to her that she would be right back in the same boat as she had been in with Patricia. So she’d signed up with an employment agency, and had even gone to one interview that they’d set up, but to no avail. They’d been pleased with her credentials, but they were equally pleased with those of some of the other applicants, and two of those people had lived in the town all their lives. The company just considered them a better risk, all other things considered.

On the Friday evening a week after she’d arrived, Abby tried to convince her that she should stay at least another week. “You know we love having you here, Ry,” she said. “And you’ve been so much help with the boys. They really love you.”

Seth had reached over and patted Mariah’s hand. “We both want you to stay, Ry. Give it at least one more week.” He glanced over at his wife, a light in his eyes that made no secret of the fact that he was in love with her. “Besides,” he said, a teasing note in his voice, “my sweety would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure you move here permanently.”

Mariah had laughed with them, but she felt sad too. Something was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find a job? And a job that she liked? What did she really enjoy doing, anyway? She thought long and hard on that subject after she retired for the night. Lying there in bed, she tried to remember every time she’d ever felt happy at work, and she realized with a good deal of surprise that she had actually felt pretty good about all of her jobs. The problem was that her happiness had really been coming from her interaction with people, which she always enjoyed, and not from the work itself. In fact, the last time she remembered feeling really happy about the work she was doing was when she had been in the auto mechanics class, helping her project partner put an engine back together.

The following morning at breakfast, Abby’s four-year old climbed up on Mariah’s lap and put his arms around her neck. “You stay wif us,” he said. Then he reached up to pat her cheek. “Me don’t want you to weave. You stay wif us, Ry.” She squeezed him tightly and kissed his cheek.

Abby sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “See,” she said, grinning. “You can’t break his little heart by leaving yet.”

“Oh, all right. You’re all ganging up on me. I’ll take one more week, but … Abby … you know if I don’t find something by then, I need to try to get something in a larger city. There’s bound to be some kind of newspaper and teaching jobs both in a large enough city.”

“Well, just try one more week here then. I can’t bear to think you’ve come so close to living in the same town as us again and then not have it work out.”

Mariah chuckled and reached over and gripped her friends hand briefly. “Me too, Ab. I’ll really try this week, and I’ll spend more time praying about it too. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard on my own and not looking to the Lord for guidance as I should have been.”

So after breakfast was cleaned up, Mariah went out to the back yard to sit on the patio in the shade and read her Bible and pray. She’d been a Christian most of her adult life, and she thought she had lived according to God’s will, but sometimes she had to admit that she didn’t spend nearly as much time listening to what the Lord might have to say to her as she did talking to Him. So for the next week, that listening was her primary goal, and she hoped it would lead to the perfect job.


Find Chapter Two here tomorrow.