Authors: Karen Moehr
Copyright © 2013 Blue Ribbon Books
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
For questions and comments about this book, please contact us at [email protected]
The chocolate cake looked perfect. Ali smiled at it as she lifted it up out of the oven.
“Yum,” she said to herself.
The warm cake’s inviting aroma swirled throughout the kitchen. She could smell the touch of cinnamon she had added. She wished she could cut a big hunk off of it and pour herself a glass of cold milk and sit down and just enjoy it. Her feet were killing her and her legs were tired. Her 28-year old body felt twice that after baking all afternoon.
She kicked off her shoes and sunk into a kitchen chair. Glancing at the clock she winced. She had only four more hours until the party and she still had a whole tray of tarts to make.
“Up you go, girl,” she muttered to herself as she put her feet back into her clogs and re-tied her apron. Swiping a tendril of golden brown hair back she took a deep breath and tried to focus. She shut her deep blue eyes and let herself just breathe. She’d been so busy all day she couldn’t think straight. What next?
“Make the pie crust,” she told herself and set off to measure the flour.
Ben didn’t see the memo. It either got thrown away or buried in the stack of papers on his desk. The same stack his not-so-patient boss eyed every time he passed his office.
“No, I don’t think I saw that,” he said.
Tess sighed and fished another one out of a stack of folders she was carrying. “You better read it and fast,” she said. “It’s about the merger.”
Ben looked at her and her alarmed eyes. Every time “the merger” came up it brought out cold, unbridled fear. Mergers tended to sort the wheat from the cream. Everyone in the office was walking on egg shells hoping they weren’t going to be sorted right out the door.
Ben took the piece of paper and read it. “OK, got it,” he said.
Tess gasped. “Did you read it? Did you see where it said…?”
“Yes, I got it,” he said. Ben wasn’t easily flustered. The news on the memo simply stated that there was to be a large staff meeting the next morning and all were mandated to attend.
“Do you think it’s about the merger?” asked Tess.
“Of course I do,” stated Ben. He took off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. He’d just come from court and anymore it left him worn out. The cases he used to get fired up about winning just didn’t make him happy any more. It was a circus and he felt like a trained show pony every time he entered a courtroom.
“Well, are you scared?” asked Tess. She was obviously amazed that Ben didn’t seem more flustered.
“Not really,” he answered reading through emails on his computer
“Why? Oh, forget it. Of course they’re not going to get rid of
. You’re their prized pony,” she said.
He looked straight at her. “Why did you say that?” He frowned.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” she said sinking against a wall. “I’m only an assistant and I’ve only been here eight months. I’m prime for plucking and tossing out, but you’ll be fine.
“You’ll be fine, too,” he said. “If I have anything to say about it.”
“Really? You’d really go to bat for me?”
“Sure, why not? You’re a good assistant and you deserve to work here.” He smiled at her briefly. “If you really want to.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He knew he shouldn’t be so cavalier about his job or even admit his feeling to his assistant, of all people, but he couldn’t help it. Lately, it was hard hiding his discontent and he was feeling reckless.
“You mean, you…” She searched for the words. “You don’t like your job?”
“Sometimes,” he said. “Some days it’s OK, but some days it isn’t. Just like any job, right?”
She searched his eyes. He was usually so happy and easy-going. She could see he was tired and a little unhappy. “I guess you’re right, she said. But I really need this job. I just got a new apartment and I don’t know what I’d do if I was out of work right now. With this economy?” She fell back against the wall and imagined the worst.
He sat up. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m OK, it was just a rough day in court,” he said. “You’ll be fine. Remember, if I stay, you stay.”
She brightened up and walked out of his office. He looked after her and wished he could feel a sense of security in his job. He wasn’t afraid of being let go. He was, after all, one of the top producing attorneys in the office. He was afraid
let it go and run away one day.
“So, how long did it take you to make all this?” asked Josie stuffing a whole goat cheese tart in her mouth.
Ali watched her chew and maneuver the pastry in her mouth. “Pretty much all day,” she said.
“You must be wiped out.” Josie looked around at the array of tarts, cakes and other delectable treat Ali had made.
“Yeah, I am,” answered Ali. Her last hour before the party had been taking a fast shower and primping and priming like she was on a beat-the-clock game show. She had just barely zipped up her dress when the first guests had arrived.
“Happy Birthday!” shouted a familiar voice. The bright red-haired woman was wiping equally bright lipstick off Ali’s face where she had kissed her.
“Baby, you look terrific,” she said. “And this food. My goodness, did you do all this?”
“Yup,” said Ali smiling feeling proud of herself. “I’m so glad you came, Toni.”
Her aunt Toni had made it. She was Ali’s favorite relative. Heck she was her only relative except her Dad who hadn’t been able to get to the party. He’d called at the last minute wishing her the best and telling her he just didn’t feel up to it. Ali was heartbroken about it. Her Dad and Toni were all she had and not having both of them at her party made her sad.
“And miss my favorite niece’s 28
birthday? Not on your life!” Toni gave Ali a squeeze. “Now, where’s the bar?”
Ali pointed her to a corner of the room. Her aunt Toni had been a fixture in her life since her mother had died. If not for her aunt Toni, Ali might have ended up down a wrong road and Ali shivered thinking about it. She’d been the only female influence in her life and as nutty as she was, she was a sweet and caring woman who’d helped raise Ali as if she were her own.
“So, open my gift right now,” said Toni loudly presenting a golden-colored box to Ali. It had a bow on it. She was bright and flamboyant and lit up a room immediately. A small crowd started to gather around Ali.
Ali carefully opened the gift tearing the paper carefully and removing the bow. She lifted the box lid and stared at the item. When she looked up, she had tears starting to form.
“You deserve baby girl. You know you’re like my own daughter, right?” Toni gave her another kiss and didn’t try to wipe the lipstick away.
Ali’s face had a big red lip mark on one cheek but she couldn’t care less. The gift was the best present she could have gotten.
“What is it, for goodness sake?” asked Josie. “Let me see.” She peered into the box. “What is it?”
“Good for one year’s training at the culinary institute of your choice.” read Josie from the ornate certificate that lay inside the box.
“Oh, my gosh, really?” She looked at Ali. “That’s your dream.”
Ali laughed and nodded and started to cry. It was her life-long dream to go to culinary school but she simply could not afford it. She’s scraped and saved and still couldn’t seem to figure out how to make it work.
“What’s money for if not to spend it on those you love?” asked Toni waving her arms in the air.
“But Toni, how…?”
“My settlement finally came through,” she said. “It was finalized last week and I got the check two days ago.”
“Wow, finally?” asked Ali.
“Yes,” said Toni. “Those rotten you-know-whats are finally paying through the nose. Oops, no pun intended,” she laughed.
Ali laughed quietly. She knew Toni’s surgery to correct a problem in her nasal cavity had been botched and caused her dear aunt to lose all sense of smell for over two years. After countless surgeries and court trials, she’d finally regained a fifty percent ability to smell
a large settlement.
“I couldn’t think of anything better to do with the money,” she said squeezing Ali’s shoulders. “I love you, baby,” she said.
“I love you, too,” said Ali. “I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you for this. I mean, a whole year at a culinary institute? It’s my dream.”
“I know it,” said Toni. “Now it’s just for the schooling honey. I can’t afford your living expenses, too. The settlement wasn’t that huge.”
“Oh, no, Toni, this is enough. Trust me. I’ve been saving and if I keep working steadily this year, I’ll have enough to take a year off and go to school.”
“That’s my girl,” said Toni. “Now, it’s time to celebrate! This is a party, isn’t it? Give me one of the amazing tarts…and that cake…is that my favorite Mexican chocolate cake?”
Ben picked up the glass and took a swig. It was his third beer, a fact that didn’t escape Dirk.
“Dude, that’s your third beer.”
“Well, I’ve never known you to drink more than two. Ever.”
“Well, tonight I guess it just tastes good.” Ben was enjoying the slight buzz and the ability to dismiss his problem for a little while in the bar with beer and other distractions.
Ben hung his head. “Nothing.”
“Dude, it’s me.”
Ben looked up at the ceiling and sighed. He was quiet for a long moment and finally confessed.
“I hate my job.”
“Ha! Is that all?” Dirk laughed and drank his own beer. “We all hate our jobs, dude.”
“No, I mean, I really am starting to hate my job.”
“So, what can you do? I mean, aren’t you like the top lawyer in that place? Don’t you bring in all the big fish?”