Read an Excerpt
"Mom! Have you seen my history book?"
Liz Strauss let out a deep breath. She swore her son's baritone could be heard in the town house next door. "Where did you last use it?"
"If I knew that I wouldn't be asking."
Sure he would. Asking was so much easier than say, actually looking for the book. "Try next to the computer!" One of these days they would have to start communicating like normal people rather than hollering back and forth through rooms.
Today would not be that day. "Found it!" he called a moment later. "It was on the kitchen counter."
Near the food. Naturally. Crisis averted, for now, she returned to rehearsing her speech.
"Well, Mr. Bishop, as you know, my workload has increased since you arrived
Too whiny. She wanted to at least sound smart and sophisticated, since looking that way appeared out of the question. Staring at her reflection, she smoothed some imaginary wrinkles from the front of her turtle-neck. Her chin length bob clung to her head like a limp brown helmet. In trying to stave off static electricity, she'd overdosed on conditioner again. She looked like a drab, helmet-wearing dud.
Taking a deep breath, she resumed rehearsing. "Seeing as how my responsibilities have increased, I was hoping No, I believe " Believe was a much better word. "I believe I deserve "
Why was this so hard? She'd been practicing since the shower, and still had no idea what she was going to say.
If Ron Bishop were still president, she'd simply say "Hey, Ron, Andrew has a chance to attend Trenton Academy, I need a raise to cover tuition."
Unfortunately she no longer worked for Ron, God rest his soul. No, she worked for his son, a man she'd never knew existed until three months ago. What did he care about private school tuition or opportunities of a lifetime? He was too busy decimating everything his father stood for.
On the other hand, she really did deserve a raise. Since arriving, Bishop had run her ragged. Then there was the steady stream of complaints caused by his new policies. Not a day went by that an angry manager didn't stop her to vent their frustrations. If you asked her, she deserved hazard pay for playing gatekeeper alone.
Maybe that should be her argument, she thought with a wry smile.
A small television sat on the corner of her bureau. On screen, a perky weatherwoman chirped about potential snowfall. Her bob, Liz noticed with annoyance, shimmered and swung under the studio lights as she waved her perfectly manicured hand in front of the map. "Depending on the storm's timing, we could be looking at a very messy evening commute," she said, sounding practically giddy.
When weren't they looking at a messy commute these days? Liz switched off the woman and her an-noyingly bouncy hair. It was getting late. Rehearsal would have to wait.
As she padded down the stairs to the main floor, Liz caught sight of the old juice stain marring the bottom step and did her best to quell her frustration. She had hoped to finally replace the old Berber carpeting this spring, but those plans would have to wait. She couldn't afford both home improvements and private school tuition. Heck, she could barely afford private school tuition alone unless she got this raise.
In the kitchen, her son, Andrew, was attempting to simultaneously stuff books in his backpack and half a bagel into his mouth. His six-foot-three frame and flailing arms took up most of the space, and she nearly had to duck to avoid being struck by a stray limb. He got his gangly height from her. Surprising their combined twelve feet could actually fit in the small space.
"One of these mornings you're going to choke," she remarked, grabbing a coffee mug from the open cupboard.
"Least then I wouldn't have to take my calculus exam," he shot back.
"Right, because death is always preferable to taking a test."
"This test, yes."
Calculus had been the bane of her son's existence all year long. "Why? You studied, didn't you?"
Although partially hidden by floppy brown bangs, Liz caught his eye roll. "Like that matters. Mr. Rueben hates our entire class. He wants us to fail so he can have an excuse to yell at us."
Drama. Native language of the American teenager. Liz suppressed an eye roll of her own. "I'm sure he doesn't hate you. If you studied, you'll do fine."
Andrew took the coffee cup from her hand and washed down his bagel. "You always say that."
"And you always say you're going to fail. Score one for consistency." She snatched her coffee back. "Do you want me to pour you your own cup?"
"Don't have time. Vic's picking me up early so we can cram before school."
"Cram, huh?" A familiar lump dropped in the pit of her stomach. Victoria was a smart, sweet girl, she reminded herself. A nice girl.
A nice girl who had her own car and with whom her seventeen-year-old son was head over heels in love. Memories of backseats and misplaced teenage passion flashed before her eyes.
He's not you, Liz. So desperate to feel wanted, he'd toss the future away at the first sweet words of affection. From the moment she delivered him, she'd made sure Andrew never went a day feeling less than one hundred perfectly loved and wanted.
A car horn sounded outside.
"That's Vic," Andrew announced unnecessarily as he grabbed his bag. "See you after practice."
"Tell Victoria to drive carefully. The roads could get slippery later today."
"Yes, ma'am." Another eye roll. Wonder if he knew when he was doing it, or if the gesture was automatic, like breathing.
"Hey, sue me for not wanting my only child hurt in a car accident," she told him.
"If it would get me out of this exam."
"Don't even joke about it, mister." She silenced him with a wag of her index finger. "Good luck on your test. And be"
He was out the door before she could finish the sentence.
Mug gripped between her hands, Liz fought the urge to watch and make sure they pulled out of her driveway safely. Andrew wasn't a little boy anymore. He didn't need his mother hovering like a helicopter, watching his every move. Knowing so, however, didn't make cutting the cord any easier.
Time moved way too fast. Seemed like only yesterday he was a seven-year-old clamoring to stay up past eight o'clock. Now here he was on the cusp of adulthood with a chance, if the Trenton hockey coach was to be believed, to earn a scholarship to a major university. Barring any stupid mistakes, her job was almost finished. She'd done good, she decided. Better than her parents. Then again, they hadn't set the bar all that high, had they?
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught her reflection in the microwave. How was it possible that her hair got flatter from the time she left the bedroom until now? Tipping her head upside down, she tried fluffing the strands with her fingers like they did at the hair salon. All that did was make her hair look like a static-laden mushroom.
Good thing she was banking on her efficiency and not her looks to charm her boss. As if the man could be charmed by anything but a spreadsheet anyway. Most of the employees were convinced he was some kind of walking computer.
Maybe that's what she should do. Lay out her arguments in a spreadsheet and shove the paper under his nose. Then she wouldn't have to worry about her hair or anything else.
Chuckling to herself, Liz sipped her coffee. If she thought the idea would actually work, she would. In the meantime, she'd better figure out what she was going to say to convince her boss to give her a raise. Andrew was going to Trenton Academy next year come hell or high water. He'd gone without enough in his short life. Her baby boy would have all the opportunities she never had, no matter what. Even if she had to beg, borrow or steal to do so. Today she planned on begging.
Hopefully Charles Bishop felt like giving.
Liz had planned on arriving at the office extra early to allow herself time to compose before making her request. Unfortunately she got stuck behind the middle-school bus and had to endure stopping every five minutes through downtown Gilmore and extra early didn't happen. In fact, plain old regular early barely happened. As she slipped out of her wool coat and fired up her computer, Liz wondered if she would even have time to catch her breath. She hoped to make her request first thing, before Bishop got engrossed in those spreadsheets he loved so much.
Maybe she'd luck out and he'd get stuck in traffic, too. Although then he might be in a bad mood, and she didn't want that, either.
"Good morning, Elizabeth."
Drat. He'd arrived on time. Figures.
Flashing her best professional smile, she reached behind her and retrieved a sheet of paper from the printer. "Good morning. I was about to put today's itinerary on your desk."
As usual, the new CEO of Bishop Paper looked like a million dollars. Or multimillion, if Liz was to be accurate. Cashmere overcoat, designer wool suit, custom-cut shirt. He looked as natural standing in the no-nonsense offices as a marble sculpture at a flea market. His features, chiseled by anyone's standards, were dark and somber as he slipped the itinerary from her hand.
"Did Accounting deliver the revenue projections yet?" he asked, eyes scanning the schedule.
More spreadsheets. The man was definitely obsessed. "Not yet," she replied.
He raised his eyes to focus on her. Though she hated herself for it, Liz's breath caught. Framed by black lashes so lush it wasn't fair, her boss's cobalt eyes glistened like a pair of bright blue marbles. It wasn't fair that a man so cold and irritating in every other aspect had eyes like that. Why couldn't he have plain old boring eyes like normal people?
"Tell them I'd like the numbers emailed to me by ten o'clock," he told her. "I want to review them before our meeting this afternoon."
"Sure thing." She'd wait until he went into his office before delivering the bad news. Leanne, the VP's secretary, was going to have a fit, and her rants could get loud. Another reason she deserved a pay raise. To compensate for the potential hearing loss.
"I'm also expecting an overnight package from Xinhua Paper," he continued. "Bring it in as soon as it arrives."
With his business complete, her boss moved toward his office door. Liz's palms began to sweat. It was now or never. "I was wondering." She began.
Hand already on his office door, he paused. His eyes turned in her direction again, causing another skip in her breath. "Yes?"
"Could I have a few moments of your time? I have something I'd like to discuss with you."
He frowned. "Something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong." Well, nothing but her salary. "I just wanted to ask you something. Job-related," she felt compelled to add.
"All right." Liz would have felt better if his response hadn't sounded put upon. "Let's go into my office."
His office. Three months and it still sounded strange to hear him refer to his father's domain that way. Yet every time Liz crossed the threshold, she got a hard reminder that Ron Bishop wasn't coming back. While alive, the former CEO filled his office shelves with photos from company events and fundraisers. Shots of him golfing in Bermuda with vendors. A picture of him grilling burgers at the company barbecue. Another of him cheering with staff members at a Boston baseball game.
There hadn't been a single picture of his son, however.