• robinstratton23

28. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Feb 5


WHEN MANDY MENTIONED that the owners of Russel-Berries were looking for a part-time bookkeeper, Tim promptly suggested that she apply.


“Bookkeeping?” She made a face. “I don’t know how to—”


“It’s not hard. You’re smart—you could learn it fast.”


“So not be a waitress anymore?”


“No, for now, you should keep the waitressing job. But you don’t want to be a waitress forever…I mean, no one wants to be a waitress. Right?”


“Well…” What he said was true, but it sounded vaguely insulting. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“You’d be learning a new skill, but you’d also be earning more money. We want to be able to buy a nice place. Right?”


She was startled then delighted. “Yes.”

“So ask them about it. Remember, you didn’t have waitressing experience either and they hired you. You could even tell them you’ll work the first week for free, in return for being trained. They like you, and I’m sure they’d rather hire you than have to interview a bunch of applicants.”


“Okay.”

It went exactly as Tim predicted: Mandy was offered the position without having to answer a single question about her bookkeeping abilities. “Come in at 9:00 tomorrow and we’ll get you started,” Russel said.


Pleased, she thanked them, and as she walked out of their office she almost bumped into Pauline, who observed, “You look happy. Get a raise?”


“A promotion.”


Pauline frowned. “The bookkeeping job?”


“Oh no, did you want it? I’m so sorry, I should have checked with you before I applied.”


“I didn’t know you knew how to do books and stuff.”


“I don’t.”


“I been here a lot longer than you. I should be doing that stupid job.”

“Pauline, I’m so sorry.”


“It’s fine, honey, really. I wouldn’t have applied anyway. Too lazy and stupid.”


“Stop, you are not. I don’t have any experience and they didn’t seem to care at all. I can tell them I don’t want it. Your friendship is more important to me than a job.”


“Really?” Pauline’s face softened. “Thanks. I like you too. Except when I hate you.”


“Hate me? Why?”


“Are you kidding? Mandy, you’re one of those girls who has everything. You’re thin, gorgeous, smart, and you have the nicest boyfriend in the whole friggin’ world.”


Mandy couldn’t help smiling as she recalled Tim’s comment about them buying a house together. “I’m really lucky,” she agreed.


“So that’s why I hate you.”


Mandy knew she was only half joking. “You know, Pauline, I don’t know much about you, and we see each other five days a week…I don’t know if you’re married, or…”


“Divorced.”


Mandy spotted new customers by the door, and instinctively smoothed out her uniform. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be nosey.”


“You’re not nosey, honey. It’s sweet, you asking. I don’t talk about…well, go take care of those people, and we’ll talk later.”


“And she just seemed so sad,” Mandy told Tim that night. “Lonely. I was wondering if Stan— ”


Tim held up his hand. “Do not try to fix her up with my roommate unless you hate her. He’s a disgusting human being.”


“Okay. Well, maybe if you know anyone at school?”


“Um…one of my colleagues, you mean?”


“Yes. There must be some nice single teachers there.”


They were parked in his car on a dark, secluded street; not making out, but it was understood that they would soon. He had his arm around her but pulled away to look at her. “You want me to fix up one of my colleagues with a waitress?”


Mandy pulled away too. “What’s wrong with that? She’s great. She’s sexy and funny. The customers love her.”


“Yeah, but…my colleague are like…they have their M.A. in education…and Pauline is just a waitress.”


She glared. “Newsflash—you’re dating a waitress.”


“Mandy, stop. That’s different.”


“How is it different?”


“Because you’re not always going to be a waitress.”


“Oh, I’m glad you’re able to see into my future!”


“Come on. You’re taking this all the wrong way. I have nothing against waitresses.”


“Sure sounds like you do.” She retreated to her side of the car, pouting. “You sound so insensitive right now. I bet Pauline is a lot nicer than most of the people you work with. Oh, I beg your pardon, your colleagues.


“Why are you acting like this?”


“Because when you insult Pauline for being just a waitress you’re insulting me, too!”


“Jesus, Mandy, I am not! Pauline is…she’s a career waitress. It’s all she going to be. You have your whole life to do something better.”


“Like bookkeeping?”


“Well…yeah. Like bookkeeping. That’s a great job. Better than waitressing, you have to admit. I mean, anyone can walk around taking orders and then bringing plates of food.”


“Oh my god. Are you serious?”


“Well, um…yeah.”


“For your information, we have to memorize all the prices, all the day’s specials, we have to make suggestions for customers who don’t know what they want, and we have to know how to deal with customers who are nasty.”


“No, I know. I never said it was easy…”


“Yes you did—you said that anyone could do it.”


He sat back and stared. “I can’t believe we’re arguing about this. I could understand if your dream growing up was to become a waitress…but you just, I mean, you just took the job because you didn’t know what else you wanted to do.”


When she looked away, he remembered what a sore spot this was; so many times she’d told him her sisters were creative and fascinating and knew when they were kids what they wanted to be. He added in a gentle voice, “It’s just that I see so much more in you than you do.”


He could tell she was fighting back tears. “You think I’m smart and interesting, but I’m not. I’m so dull. All I’ve ever wanted was to get married and have kids. I’m like someone from the 1950s. That’s what Jules always says.”


“Jules shouldn’t tell you that, that’s mean. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have kids. That’s the problem with our generation—this bullshit about women not wanting to work outside the home are old fashioned. Our moms didn’t work, but no one questioned it.”


But he spoke with a conviction he didn’t feel. Until this moment, it had never occurred to him that his girlfriend might actually really not want to have a career. Everyone he knew went to college; even Simon, who was the least academic kid he’d ever met. What a hypocrite I am…sitting here lying to her. He realized he wouldn’t be content with a wife who did nothing but work at home and not have a job. But what could he do about it? He loved her. “Okay, I’ll ask around. See if I can find a boyfriend for Pauline.”

“A crack in the perfect love affair,” Pauline said. “What’s this, an early birthday present for me?”


“Glad you’re happy about it,” Mandy snapped.


“Come on. It’s your first fight. It’s no big deal.”


“It is a big deal! He was judging me. He disapproves of me.”


“But honey, he’s a man, and that’s what men do: they find the perfect girl, and then they find something about her they don’t like, and they tell her and she feels bad and goes bat shit crazy trying to change so she can win back his approval. That’s the system.”


“That sucks.”

“Yup. Hey, you ever want to go out, have a drink? That way we can chat without being interrupted by customers.”


Mandy hesitated. She usually worked nights, and on the nights she didn’t, she went out with Tim, or Tim came to the house and they all hung out. If she went out with Pauline, it would mean giving up an evening with Tim. Which she didn’t want to. She loved being with him, and it didn’t even matter what they were doing.


“Can you do it?” Pauline asked, as if reading Mandy’s mind. “Go one evening without seeing him?”


It was a challenge. Feeling trapped, Mandy nodded. “Of course.”

“Wait,” said Tim. “What?”


“Just for a drink. Coffee, probably. She’s lonely and I—”


“Mandy…she hates men, and she’s going to fill your head with—”


“She doesn’t hate men! She loves men! It’s just that she never seems to find the right—”


“Mandy, listen to me. There’s a reason why women don’t find ‘the right guy.’ It’s because they have issues.”


“Like what?”


“Like…low self-esteem…or they’re so sensitive you can’t say anything to them without them going insane. Drama queens. They’re so hungry for attention that they—”


“Do men have issues? Or is it always the woman?”


“Come on, that’s not where I’m going with this, and you know it. We’re just talking about Pauline.”


“No, you said women can’t find the right guy because they have issues. You said ‘women’ as in all women who can’t find the right guy.”


Tim was glad she couldn’t see his face over the phone. It felt like already Pauline was having an effect on his sweet-tempered girlfriend. “Do what you want,” he said.


“I suppose I could just tell her that my boyfriend doesn’t want me to be friends with her.”


“Mandy, geeze, come on. Let’s not fight. Okay?”


She answered, “Okay,” but he knew she meant NOT okay.


Simon booked a gig, and then had to figure out how to achieve cooperation from the other members of Chicken Slax. He started with Lisbeth, popping into Tools, Etc where she’d taken a summer job stocking shelves.


“No. Not if Kevin is going to be there.”


“But…”


“No.”


“Lissie, I’m not suggesting you guys start dating again. Just show up and play. You don’t even have to talk to each other.”


“No.”


He’d had a feeling she’d say that, which was why he asked her first: a guitarist and a keyboardist was a better act than a guitarist and a drummer.


“Okay,” he said. “Just us. I won’t ask Kevin.”


“Promise?”


“Yeah. We’ll keep it simple. Folksy. You can set up a drum track and the bass lines, right? Then your usual greatness on keyboards? Or we can just do stuff that doesn’t have keyboards. We can do lots of classics that feature guitar and rhythm.”


“Where is it?”


“Some of Grandfather’s rich friends are having a party at their house. We’ll basically be background music. Money is good, though. Especially only split two ways.”


“This isn’t a ploy, right? You’re not going to tell me you’re just asking me, and tell Kevin you’re just asking him, and then have us both show up? Because if you are—”


“No. He’s out.”


Lisbeth mechanically hung package after package of screws: wood screws, sheet metal screws, machine screws. After a moment she asked, “Do you talk to him much?”


“Um, no, not really.”


“Wonder what he’s up to these days. Still working at the music store, right?”


“Yeah. Full-time now.”


“That’s good. I knew he’s saving up to buy a new car.”


Simon prayed she wouldn’t ask if Kevin was seeing anyone, because he didn’t want to lie: Kevin seemed to be with a new girl every week. Not a girlfriend, just someone to fuck. How anyone could have so much sex with so many girls and not get herpes, Simon didn’t know. But the guy was smooth. Still telling chicks he was in a band.


“Simon, you promise he’s not going to show up. Right?”


“I promise.”


“Okay. It’ll be good to be out playing again.”


A man wearing a Red Sox cap and a Celtics t-shirt appeared. “Excuse me, Miss, do you know where lightbulbs are?”


“Aisle six,” Lisbeth answered. He nodded his thanks and headed off. She sighed. “I hate this job.”

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© 2019 by Robin Stratton