• robinstratton23

11. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jan 19

PERRY'S INC. WAS A SMALL automotive supplies company where Mandy’s responsibilities included answering the phone, making coffee, typing, and filing. Her boss, Mr. Perry, was about 40 years old, newly divorced, and had two kids who lived with his ex-wife. After the breakup of his marriage he’d joined the millions of other men eager to resume the bachelor life: fast cars, fast women. Mostly fast cars. Mandy’s co-workers were three middle-aged women named Florence, Estelle, and Norma. A generation and a half older, they didn’t understand Mandy’s big hair and thrice-pierced ears, and they liked to tease her about her eternal search for a boyfriend.


“If only I hadn’t been so honest with them,” Mandy fumed. “They said ‘Are you married?’ and I said, like an idiot, ‘Not yet but soon, I hope’, and they said ‘Tell us about your fiancé,’ and I said ‘I haven’t met him yet,’ and ever since then…” she shook her head.


“Why don’t you quit?” Jules asked.


“It’s right on the bus line, the work is easy, and the money is decent. Besides, no one really likes their job.” Mandy didn’t tell Jules the real reason: she was hoping to meet someone soon, get married, and start a family. Why bother to get the perfect job if she was just going to quit?


“Type this up for me, wouldja, Doll?” Mr. Perry handed her a letter in his scribbling, which was by anyone else’s standards indecipherable. “And later I’m going to need some orders called in.”


“Okay.” As she slipped a piece of paper into the typewriter, she knew that the other women, tapping away at top speed on word processors, would have handled the assignment much more efficiently: after a letter or invoice was done, they “saved” it, both onto the computer and to a square plastic thing called a floppy disk. If changes were needed, they didn’t have to retype it, all they had to do was find the file in the computer’s hard drive and redo it. Mandy, on the other hand, would probably make at least one mistake (more if she was working with carbon copies) and she’d either have to correct it with an ink eraser or Wite-Out. Then she’d have to re-insert the paper and attempt to line it up, and no matter how hard she tried, the change always wound up a little higher or a little lower than the rest of the characters. After that she’d have to make a copy of the letter, then file it. Her requests to be trained on the computer had been discouraged with Mr. Perry telling her that she was doing just fine. “He doesn’t want you to learn any new skills,” Norma explained, and when Mandy asked, “Why not?” she smirked harshly: “Because then you’ll leave. You’re too pretty to work here.”


“Bring that in as soon as you’re done,” he said.


“Okay.”


“Thanks, Hon.”


Her first mistake was almost immediate—she misspelled the client’s name—so she decided to start over.


“Oh, and Hon?” He started her by reappearing at her desk. “There’s a stack of memos on the floor in my office that needs to be filed. Will you have time this afternoon to do it?”


“Okay.” Mandy wondered why he put stuff on the floor. If he put it on the desk, she wouldn’t have to bend over.


“You have any questions, my door is always open for you.” His tone was flirty.


“Okay.”

He tapped his knuckles on her desk to conclude their conference and returned to his office. Mandy heard him lower his bulk into his leather chair.


“Oh, and Hon?” Florence mocked. She and Norma and Estelle snickered.


Mandy grimaced. She hated it too, but what could she do about it? He was the boss. If she complained, he could fire her.


“Some of these will need new folders,” Mr. Perry told her. He didn’t appear to have anything in particular to do except watch her. “And some of them can be thrown away.”


She crouched with as much decorum as possible in a short, tight skirt, and picked up half the stack. “How will I know which ones to keep and which ones to throw away?”


“You can ask.” He grinned. “I’m not going anywhere.”


The afternoon seemed endless; a barrage of personal questions, and her careful replies. When he asked if she had any siblings, she told him she had three sisters, and he asked, “Are they hot like you?” He asked what her father did, then interrupted her explanation to divulge that the reason his own marriage broke up was because his ex-didn’t like sex.


“Probably shouldn’t be telling you this,” he grinned, “but I was, well, let’s just say I was too much of a man for her.”


Mandy tried not to picture it.


“Tell you the truth,” he went on, “she wasn’t even that pretty. Great rack, but not much of a looker. Body tanked after she had our kids.”


“Should I start a file for old receipts, or can I throw them out?”


“I’m amazed that you don’t have a boyfriend.”


Mandy dropped the old receipts into the trash.


“If you don’t mind my saying so, you have a killer bod.” Mr. Perry shifted in his leather chair and rested his hands across his belly, “After my ex had our second kid, her boobs were down to her—”


“I’m throwing out this letter.”


“Who’s it from?”


She started to hand it to him, but he said, “No, read it to me.”


Dear Mr. Perry, you sold us some parts about three years ago which I found very satisfactory, and I was wondering if you are still in business, and if so, if you offer a discount to return clients.” She paused and her eyes darted down to the bottom of the page where someone had scribbled Called and told him NO!!! “This letter is old, and you already responded to him. I’m throwing it out.” She crumpled it up and dropped it into the basket. “I really should call in those orders now. I can finish filing tomorrow.”


“Okee doke. That’ll give me something to look forward to, huh?”


On the bus ride home, Mandy stared listlessly out the window, thinking about her interview at Perry’s, Inc. She’d listened to him brag about his company, and then she’d been shocked when he offered her the job…he hadn’t even asked her to take a typing test. He sang a line from “Mandy” by Barry Manilow, and she sat and listened and smiled and pretended that he was the first person who’d ever done that. Then he changed the lyrics to something less wholesome—instead of Well you came and you stopped me from shaking he sang, Well you came and my god, you were shaking.


The bus pulled over at her stop. She tightened her coat, slung her purse over her shoulder, and got off. It would be nice to ask Mom what to do, but she was working tonight. Jules would just say, Tell him to knock it off, or you’re gone. And there was no point in telling Lisbeth and Allie, they’d just worry. Besides—she’d let him get away with it all this time. It was too late to speak up. And he didn’t mean any harm.


THE NEXT MORNING, she dressed very conservatively: loose, charcoal gray turtleneck, wool plaid skirt that reached the middle of her calves, black tights, and black flats. She knew she’d be bending over a lot today and didn’t want anything to show but fabric.


“That’s what you’re wearing?” Allie asked as they passed each other in the hallway.


“Yes.”


“That skirt is wicked long.”


“I have to go, I’m in a hurry.”


“Mandy, why are you being so bitchy to me?”


“Because I don’t appreciate you criticizing me.”


“I didn’t criticize you! But I think you should at least tuck the sweater in and wear that wide red belt, it shows off your waist…”


“This is what I’m wearing and how I’m wearing it!” Mandy felt like crying.


Her arrival was noted with disinterest from her co-workers, but Mr. Perry called out “Good morning, Beautiful!” and watched her take her coat off as he sipped from a mug that said Virginity is 100% curable.


“Morning,” she responded glumly.


“Ready to finish the ol’ filing?”


“Uh, I have a few things to take care of first. Then I’ll be in.”


“Such a hard little worker,” he said, and went into his office.


Florence and Estelle sputtered sarcastically, and Norma whined in a baby voice, “Oh Mr. Pewwy, I hope I don’t bwake one of my widdle fingoonails!”


Burning with rage, Mandy went into the tiny kitchen and fixed herself a cup of coffee. She was so mad and she felt so helpless that her hands were shaking.


“I think this can be thrown out.” She held up a girlie calendar from 1979.


“Wait a minute, lemme see.”


She held it out without looking at him, intent on shrinking the pile. “Brayburn isn’t a client anymore, so I’m going to throw—”

“Look! See?” Mr. Perry pointed at a brunette whose tiny wet bikini showed nipples. “She looks just like you.”


Mandy looked at her watch. “Mr. Perry, it’s almost 5:00 and I still have some other stuff to do. Can we finish this on Monday?”


“What?” He looked up from the calendar. “Oh. Okay. Close the door when you leave. Unless…” he ran his tongue across his lips. “Unless you want to stay.”


The brisk New England autumn was turning quickly into winter. A breeze tugged at Mandy’s long skirt, then lifted it so high above her knees that a lucky passerby caught sight of very slender, shapely legs. Entranced, he didn’t move out of her path, and when she looked down to tame her skirt, she bumped right into him.


“Oh, I’m sorry!” she cried.


“No, I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was…Mandy?”


In the growing darkness she took a second look and recognized Simon’s tutor. “Tim! I’m so glad to see you!”


“You are?”


“I mean…it’s nice to see you. How are you?”


“Fine. You just getting out of work?”


“Yes. And I had the crappiest day.”


“Oh no.” They were standing in front of Russel-Berries, the neighborhood’s only upscale restaurant, and he gestured toward it impulsively. “Want to go inside and talk about it? You look like you could use a cup of tea?”


"Well…” she looked at her watch and decided she could take the time. “Okay.”


He held the door open for her and told the hostess they’d like a table. Then he helped her off with her coat and pulled her chair out for her. A waitress arrived to take their order.


“Tea okay or want something stronger?” he asked.


“Tea is fine.”


“Tea for two,” Tim told the waitress, who nodded and disappeared. He hung his scarf—dark orange and varying shades of yellow with brown tassels—over the chair. “It’s so cold out, I just wanted to stay home. But I needed a book for a class I’m teaching.”


“Freezing,” Mandy agreed. The waitress returned with their tea, and they occupied themselves with sugar and cream.


“Simon told me that Lisbeth is done with her chemo.”


“She’s still weak but the doctor said she’s doing really well.”


“Is she back in school?”


“She was going to go back, but she’s missed too much to catch up. Plus, she lost her hair and she’s self-conscious about that. So she asked if she could just skip the rest of the year, and Mom said yes. But she gets up when we do and gets dressed. She makes our lunches, even. And supper, sometimes.”


“That’s excellent, Mandy. Jules and Allie…how are they?”


“Fine. Both fine.”


“Your mom?”


“Fine, too.”


Tim sipped. “So what happened today?”


For some reason, it didn’t seem quite as bad as Mandy recounted the events of the day, and Mr. Perry’s behavior in general. She even laughed a little when she told him about the time Mr. Perry offered to guess what her measurements were. “He held up his hands like this…” she demonstrated: palms out and fingers slightly curled.


But Tim’s expression was grim. “He shouldn’t talk to you like that.”


“I know, but he does.”


“And he made you look at a picture of a girl in a wet bikini?”


“Very wet.”


“So sexist. There should be a law against that.”


Pleased by his outrage, she sipped her tea. It was delicious—herbal, decaf, and with a hint of orange.


“What are you going to do?”


“I don’t know. I should quit. But the money helps pay for groceries and stuff.”


“I have an idea…tell him I’m your boyfriend and I’m jealous. Is he a big guy?”


“Big and fat. But he’s old. You could knock him down with your pinkie.”


“Tell him I’m at the gym three times a week. Tell him when I get jealous, I’m irrational and violent. Tell him I’ll kick his ass.”


Mandy giggled. Flirting! For the first time, she realized she didn’t know much about Tim, and she wondered if he was seeing someone. “I’ll tell him,” she said.


“Good. Hey, I heard Simon’s band last week. I stopped by without calling first, and they were rehearsing. Scared the crap out of Simon.”


“He still hasn’t told his grandfather about the band?”


“No.”


“He must know he’s going to get caught sooner or later.”


“That’s what I say. Better to tell him than have him find out if he comes home early. I think he’ll be more pissed about the lie than the band. Simon has convinced him he’s in a study group that meets once a week, and always has to figure out a way to sneak out the door with his guitar when Eddie and his mom come to pick him up.”


“Poor Simon,” Mandy said, but she couldn’t help laughing. Then she looked at her watch and said, “Oh no, I have to go right now or I’ll miss my bus.” She finished her tea and stood. “Mom’s working tonight so I have to be home for the girls.”


Tim stood too, helped her on with her coat. Then he opened his wallet and put some money on the table. “I’ll walk you out.”


“Okay.” Weird: being with him was so calming. She’d hung out with him and Simon and her sisters a bunch of times, but this felt different.


“Maybe we could do this again,” he said, “if you need to talk, or whatever…”


“What do you mean? If you’re going to beat up my boss, we need a game plan.”


“Right.” He picked up a napkin and took a pen from his pocket. “Here’s my number.”


“Okay.” She picked up another napkin and borrowed his pen. “Here’s mine.” Together they walked to the door. “Thanks for the tea,” she said. As she hurried toward the bus stop she could feel him watching her.



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