© 2019 by Robin Stratton
  • robinstratton23

11. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

Perry’s, Inc. was a small business support company that offered word processing services. Mandy’s responsibilities included answering the phone, greeting clients, 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. Mandy liked them, but as she told Jules, she wouldn’t want to live with them. A generation 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.


“Oh, it’s not that bad. 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? It made more sense just to put up with what she had.


“Type this up for me, would you, Doll?” Mr. Perry handed her a letter. Mandy, already accustomed to the scribbling that was by anyone else’s standards indecipherable, nodded. “And later I’m going to need some orders called in. Okay?”


“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: she’d seen how they typed the information into their computer, and then they’d “save” the document, both onto the computer and to a little square card called a “floppy disk.” If changes were needed, 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 Xerox of the letter, then file it. Her attempts 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. When Mandy asked why, Norma said, Because then you’ll leave.


“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?”


Mandy nodded, but she was annoyed. Why does he always put stuff on the floor? I have to keep bending over! Why doesn’t he just it on the desk, make it easier for me? “Okay.” She pretended to be too occupied with the letter to look up.


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


Mandy tried to smile. “Okay.”


He tapped his knuckles on her desk to conclude their conference, and returned to his office. Mandy waited until she heard him lower his bulk into his leather chair before letting out a sigh.


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


Mandy didn’t have a clever response. I hate when he calls me that too, but what can I do? He’s the boss.


“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. She stooped with as much dignity as possible, and picked up half the stack. “And some of them can be thrown away.”


“How will I know which ones to keep and which ones to throw away?”


“You can ask.” He laughed. “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 if they were as pretty as she was. He asked what her father did, figured out that her parents didn’t live together anymore, and divulged that one of the reasons 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, your company did some work for my company 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. I should have said something right away, but I didn’t, I let him get away with it, and now it’s too late. If I said something now, it would sound so stupid. And what if he fires me?


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 waitressing 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.


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.


“She looks great,” Lisbeth said.


“But…”


“I have to go, I’m in a hurry,” Mandy snapped.


“Hey, don’t be so grouchy.”


“Well don’t criticize me.”


“I didn’t criticize you! You should 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.


“How about screaming at each other in front of someone else’s door?” came Jules’ furious voice from the bedroom she now shared with Lisbeth. A night owl, she slept in until the very last possible second.


Lisbeth tugged Mandy and Allie down the hall into the kitchen. “Thank God it’s Friday,” she said. She even laughed. Nothing felt better to her than normal, day-to-day stuff like sisters bickering.


Mandy’s 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, dat poor widdle ting needs a vacaaaaaashun!” Encouraged by the laughter of the others, she went on, “Pweeze! She might bwake one of her widdlefingoonails!”


Burning with rage, Mandy went into the tiny kitchen and fixed herself a cup of coffee. What a bunch of bitches. I hate them! She took an angry sip, burned her tongue. This is stupid. I don’t have to put up with this. I am definitely going to quit.


“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.”


She was practically running. It was getting dark out, and the brisk New England autumn was turning into winter. A breeze tugged at her 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 said.


“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?”


“Great.” He was flattered by her affectionate greeting. “Just getting out of work?”


“Yes. And I had the worst day!”


“Oh no. Want to talk about it?”


They were standing in front of Russel-Berries, the neighborhood’s only upscale restaurant. “Let’s go inside. You look like you could use a… a cup of tea?”


“Okay.”


He held the door open for her and told the waitress 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 then occupied themselves with sugar and cream.


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


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


“Is she back in school?”


“No. She thought about going, but she’s missed so much. Plus she lost her hair. 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.”


“Excellent news! Jules and Allie… how are they?”


“Fine. Both fine. Jules said that Simon’s band is doing great. She keeps telling me to come to practice, but I haven’t yet. Once I get home from work, all I want to do is change into sweats and watch TV.”


“So what happened? You said it was the worst day?”


Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite as bad as she recounted it; 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.


But Tim’s expression was grim. “He can’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.”


“Shit. There should be a law against that.”


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


“So what are you going to do?”


“I don’t know. I should quit, but… I need the money.”


“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 when I get jealous I’m irrational and violent. Tell him I’ll kick his ass.”


She giggled. Flirting was the very last thing she expected to do tonight.


Tim couldn’t take his eyes off her. What a turn on, the glimpse of her legs revealed by the mischievous wind. Of course he’d seen her legs before; she’d worn shorts all summer. But somehow seeing her with her skirt blowing up was so much sexier. He pictured her boss pawing her, pulling off her blouse… then he, Tim, would show up and save her. She’d be wearing a lacy thing, whatever those things were called, and it would be black. With one strap falling down…. a hot blush ran through him and he cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “I heard Simon’s band last week. They’re getting really good.”


“Before you know it they’ll be…” Mandy curled the first two fingers of both hands to indicate quotes, “‘gigging.’” 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. Get dinner and stuff.”


He 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.” She was feeling… weird. Being with him was so calming. She’d hung out with him dozens of times, but this time it was different.


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


“What do you mean? You’re going to beat up my boss, right? I think we’ll need to coordinate a game plan.”

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


She grabbed a napkin too, and wrote on it. “Here’s mine. I’m home most evenings.”


“Me too.”


“Okay. Thanks!”


He watched her run down the street toward the bus stop. And only then did it occur to him that he should have offered to drive her home.



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