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I held up my left hand to the construction crew boss approaching my desk while I shouted into the phone. "Teddy? Can you hear me? Where are you?"
"I'm right here. Talk fast, I'm busy. Jan?"
"Don't pull that 'you're breaking up and I can't hear you' stuff, Teddy. You've had three calls from Mr. Dunbar about the permits for the work on his guest house. You have contracts waiting to be signed and two that have to be delivered. Where are you?"
"Yeah, Jan. Uh, can you deliver those two contracts and call Dunbar back? Tell him I'm in a meeting, and I'll call him first thing in the morning. Leave the other stuff with the mail on my desk. I'll pick it up on my way home."
"Look, I was hired as the bookkeeper, and I have the payroll to get ready. I'm not your secretary or your gofer."
In the background and before he could respond, I heard, "And they're off!"
"Oh, for ... You're at the track? I'm going nuts here running your business, and you're at the track? For the love of..."
"Relax, Jan. You're starting to sound like my wife. I'll come in later and sign whatever needs signing. Just leave it all on my desk. I gotta go."
The dial tone hummed. I slammed down the receiver and narrowed my eyes on the crew boss leaning over the counter. "What do you need?"
"I'm goin' home. Been feelin' lousy all day. I think it's the flu."
"Great. Who's running the crew on the Phillips job?"
"I left Mack in charge." He turned and sneezed loudly, then looked back at me through glazed eyes. "I probably won't be in for a few days. I'll have my wife come by to get my check on Friday."
He grabbed tissues from the box on my desk and left the office. Iglanced at the clock--two-thirty. I still hadn't had lunch, and I had a bank deposit to make. I found the signed contracts and looked at the addresses. One stop was on the way to the bank, the other across town. I got the deposit ready and set it aside with both contracts. I fielded two more complaint calls, tempted to forward them to Teddy's cell phone at the track.
I've worked for DeMarco Construction for the past ten years. Teodoro 'Teddy' DeMarco is my husband Anthony's cousin. With an associate degree in business, I agreed to work for Teddy three days a week as a bookkeeper. Somehow this grew into full-time and then some, as I became secretary, receptionist, file clerk, delivery person and barista. If I choose to use the bathroom, I'm also the cleaning lady. I'd like to say this day was unusual, but it's pretty much this way all the time.
I pulled up the contracts on my computer and filled in the blanks. The door opened and our delivery driver walked in. He stood over my desk, slack-jawed, his dull gray eyes fixed on my chest. If I weren't sadly flattered by this attention, I'd have been pissed.
"What can I do for you, Bobby?"
"I can't work tomorrow. Court date," he said matter-of-factly.
I remembered. He was arrested during a domestic dispute. A chill slithered down my back. "Did you tell Teddy so he can get a replacement?"
"I'm telling you so you can tell him." His nubby fingers toyed with the name plate on the counter that defined this space as belonging to me, Janet DeMarco. The monogrammed gold on dark wood had been a conciliatory gift from Teddy for one of the many things he'd done to piss me off. I made a mental note to disinfect it later. "I'll be back on Friday. Ain't no way they're gonna bust me. Just a slap on the fingers."
I fixed my gaze on the computer monitor. "Fine. I'll let Teddy know."
He continued to leer down at me.
I stood and pulled myself up to my full five foot six, staring him in the eye. "Is there something else I need to tell Teddy?"
"Nah. That's all." He winked at me before he turned and sauntered out of the office. My stomach twisted.
I looked back at the computer. I've had it. I'm sick of working with men. I'm tired of being taken advantage of; tired of running Teddy's company while he plays at the track and meets his girlfriend for nooners. I'm through with chasing him down to get his signature and deliver paperwork.
My mind disengaged as my hands took over. My fingers flew across the keyboard and I watched the words form on the monitor.
I resign. No, I quit. I've resigned myself to too much already. I quit keeping your business afloat while you play the horses and ... well, you know where you are most of the time. I'm done. This job has become much more than I ever wanted. I'll do this week's payroll, and then you'll need to find someone else.
P.S. I'm giving myself one month's severance.
The phone rang. Mack asked me to dispatch Bobby with a load of drywall. "I'll try to catch him, but I'm not making any promises."
I hung up, hit the print button on the computer, and then paged Bobby. After giving him the order, I grabbed the contracts and Teddy's mail, put them on his desk and shut down the computer. If I left right away, I could get to the bank and still drop off the signed contracts before five o'clock. I'm turning forty in a few months. I don't need this crap.
From the car, I called home and my daughter, Gabriella, answered. "Gabby, would you turn on the oven to three-fifty and when the light goes out, put the pan of lasagna inside? I'll be home by six."
"Sure, Mom. You remember that I need a ride to school for play practice at six-thirty, right?"
"Ask your brother if he can take you. And turn the oven to four hundred so you can eat before you leave."
"Michael isn't home. He said he wouldn't be here for dinner. So, you'll take me, right Mom?"
I heaved a loud sigh and slammed on the brakes to avoid the driver to my right who decided he wanted my lane too. "Uh, okay. Forget the lasagna. I'll pick up something on the way home. Bye, honey."
I delivered the contracts and deposited the receipts in the bank. I spied a Chinese restaurant and swung into the lot. With four meals in two bags, I raced through the back door and dropped my purse on a chair, pulled plates from the cupboard and yelled, "Dinner's ready."
Anthony wrinkled his nose when he entered the kitchen. "I thought we were having lasagna. What's that smell?"
"Change of menu. Tonight's Chinese; tomorrow's lasagna," I said, dumping rice into a bowl and unwrapping egg rolls.
Gabby bounded into the kitchen and filled her plate. "Mom, can we leave a few minutes early and pick Megan up on the way? I told her we'd give her a ride."
"I wish you wouldn't make promises like that without asking me first," I said more sharply than I intended.
Gabby frowned at me. "Gee, Mom. What's the big deal? It's practically on the way." She hurriedly wolfed down her dinner.
I pushed my plate away, intending to heat up something when I got back. I needed time to breathe.
As I stood, Anthony asked, "What's wrong?"
"I'll eat when I get back. I don't want to swallow dinner whole."
He narrowed his eyes at Gabby, pointing with his fork. "You shouldn't expect your mother to run you around everywhere when she's worked all day."
"It's okay, Anthony. It's play practice, and I promised I'd take her. I thought I'd be home earlier, but your cousin..." I stopped, not wanting to put my frustrations on my husband. It wasn't his fault. He never wanted me to go to work in the first place. "Gabby, I'm ready when you are."
"Just have to brush my teeth. I'll be right back," she said, running from the kitchen.
"You spoil the kids, Jan. You shouldn't be expected to haul them around everywhere. Where's Michael, anyway?" Anthony asked as he pushed rice onto his fork with an egg roll.
"He's out with friends." I bit my tongue to avoid asking why he didn't offer to take Gabby to her practice.
Gabby--her nickname was no accident--kept up a running monologue about her day at school and about the play while I drove the six blocks to pick up Megan and then back across town to the high school. Gabby's a good kid. She keeps up her grades and belongs to the drama club. This is a small sacrifice to support her efforts.
"What time will you be finished?" I asked as the girls jumped out of the car.
"Around nine. Should I call when we're done?"
"Yes, and don't go anywhere else. I'll pick you both up right here. If I don't hear from you by nine-fifteen, know that I'll come looking."
Gabby rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay. I'll call. Thanks, Mom."
I chose the long route home, taking advantage of the quiet. As I came through the back door, I heard Anthony laughing in the living room. I walked into the room in time to hear him say, "Oh, come on, Teddy. Of course it's a joke." He waved me over. "She just came in. Here, she'll tell you herself." He handed me the phone. "It's Teddy. He says you quit your job, and he read me the letter." He gasped for breath. "I gotta hand it to you, Jan. And you gave yourself severance pay? That was a great joke. Here, tell him yourself."
I held the phone limply, my mouth hanging open as I stared at my husband. Then I realized I must have printed out the letter and left it on Teddy's desk with the contracts.
I raised the receiver to my ear. "Teddy?"
He was laughing just as heartily as my husband. "Jan, you got me good, especially with the severance pay. For a minute there, I thought I'd have to learn to brew coffee and type."
"Excuse me?" Rage swelled within me. "Why do you think it's so funny?"
My husband's grin faded, and he picked up the newspaper, avoiding my eyes.
"Come on, Jan," Teddy said. "You can't be serious. Look, we'll talk about a raise tomorrow. How's that?"
I didn't respond at first. Heat crept up my neck and across my face. How dare they laugh at the idea that I would quit. How dare Teddy offer me more money and think that'll fix everything.
"We'll talk tomorrow, all right." I disconnected the call and plopped the phone back into the cradle.
Anthony lowered the newspaper. "You ... you were kidding, right?"
"What if I'm not? What if I do quit?"
"Hey, I never wanted you to work in the first place. It's fine by me. You've got enough to keep you busy around here." His gaze fixed back on the newspaper.
I hesitated, disbelieving what I'd just heard. "Are you suggesting I've neglected my duties around here?"
"No, of course not." He looked at me with a smile in his eyes, and I could see he was entertained by this whole thing.
"You don't take me seriously, do you?"