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The water under the carrots had reduced itself to a mere skin on the bottom of the pan, but nothing had started to burn yet. Jane speared a carrot slice to see if it was done, and it practically dissolved under the assault. Damn it, she'd have to start over. This stuff would turn to carrot paste if she tried to stir it. Good thing she'd got plenty of carrots.
This time she stood by the stove and turned the kitchen timer on for good measure. She spread the morning paper out and browsed through, but found nothing of earthshaking interest. Least of all ads for sales on tangerine juice. She paced, wishing the carrots would hurry up. She still had to find the last ingredient and put the salad together before Shelley got home and discovered her lapse. Finally, the timer went off. She jerked the pot off the burner, dumped the carrots into a bowl, and set it in the refrigerator. Time to find the health food store.
Yet another cook was arriving next door and, thinking it would be surly to ignore herthey'd had words once when Mike and her Eddie were in third grade about the room-mother assignments, and Jane was still feeling the need to mend fencesshe stopped and said, "Hi, Laura."
Laura Stapler nearly threw her dish in the air. "Oh, Jane! I didn't see you. You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!"
"Sorry. Shelley's not home, but you can go on in."
"I know. She called and told me she'd be out. Doesn't she lock up the house when she leaves?"
This question from Laura wasn't surprising. She was a timid, mousy woman who always looked like she had inside information that the world was about to end and was under orders not to tell anyone. Her husband had a franchised "safetystore" in the nearest shopping mall. He had a tendency to bring his work home. Their house, which Jane had visited once, was locked up like an Egyptian tomb. They had dead bolts, alarm wires, and even a padlock on the side gate. "I'll bet she wears a chastity belt that's hooked up to the alarm system," Joyce had once said. To which Shelley replied with a malicious grin, ''I'~/e met her husbandI don't imagine the alarm goes off very often!"
"There's someone there, Laura. The cleaning lady Jane reassured her, thinking Laura would be afraid to even set foot in a house that wasn't properly secure.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" Laura said.
Jane found the health food store with difficulty. It was located, as she felt only proper, around the side of a line of shops, almost entirely out of sight. The clerk, a man of enormous proportions, tugged at his skimpy beard and said, "Tangerine juice? Naw. We got peach nectar and unstrained apple juice and apricot nectar and unsweetened grapefruit juice and pressed carrot essence and some heart of celery cocktailno liquor, of course. I think we've maybe got some plum nectar. You wouldn't like that would you?"
Even though she needed to hurry, Jane couldn't resist looking around a bit. Everything, she discovered quickly, was brown. Light brown and dark brown, pinkish brown or greenish brown. She glanced back at the clerk, now trying to squeeze his way along behind the counter, and wondered how in the world he had got that shape eating only the kind of stuff sold in the store. Maybe brown was a fattening color. That, she mused, might make a best selling diet book. The NonBrown Way to Beauty.
Musing about food colors, Jane returned to the car. Could you eat only red food? Rare steak, candied apples, new potatoes in their pink skins, cranberry juice, straw berry pieshe'd have to fix all that sometime and see how it looked. What about green? Okay for the vegetables, and some sort of mint dessert, but she couldn't think of a green meat, except some she had accidentally turned that shade in the refrigerator from time to time.
She was passing a grocery story she'd never been in and decided it couldn't hurt to try. If she didn't find the tangerine juice there, she'd have to give up and use orange juice and just face Shelley's wrath. She turned back at the next corner, parked, and went in. With a panicked glance at her watch, she headed straight for the Office booth next to the check-out stands. After waiting impatiently for a moment, she asked the young woman operating an adding machine if they carried tangerine ice.
Without looking up, she replied, "We're out, ma'am, but we have an order coming in Monday."
"I beg your pardon? You mean you actually carry it?"
"Oh, sure. There might be a can that got mixed up with something else, if you want to look. Frozen concentrates.
Fortunately, this guess turned out to be right. Clutching the frigid can as if it were solid gold, Jane paid and hurried out to the car. Time was running short if she was going to have the salad waiting at Shelley's when she got home from lunching with her mother at the airport. It was 2:l5 when she got home, and 2:45 by the time she'd finished the business of slicing the onions paper-thin as ordered while fending off several annoying phone calls from people who wanted to sell her roofing and siding and thermal windows.
Finally, triumphantly bearing the bowl of carrot salad, she hurried across the two driveways and into Shelley's kitchen. She was home free; if Shelley came in now, she'd claim the salad had been there for hours and she'd just come in to check that the rest of the dishes had arrived. For the sake of backing up this story, if necessary, Jane looked around. The refrigerator's middle shelf contained three other bowls of salad, and the platter of sliced brisket she'd seen Joyce bring. Apparently nothing had interfered with Robbie Jones's driving schedule, because there was also a bowl of vegetable dip and a Tupperware container on the counter full of the butter-soaked, baked wheat-bread fingers that she always brought to this sort of thing. Next to this was the sheet cake.
Jane was tempted to just nibble one of the wheat bread goodies, but was afraid either Shelley or the cleaning lady would catch her at it. Besides, Robbie probably knew exactly how many she'd brought and would take roll call of them later. Jane went home instead, and cleaned up the mess she'd made fixing the carrot salad. A few minutes later she heard Shelley's minivan, and five minutes after that the phone rang again.
"Shelley? Is that you?"
"Jane, come over!"
"In a few minutes, Shelley. I just dropped a peanut butter jar and there's glass all over"
"Jane, shut up! Come over. The cleaning lady s dead Do you hear me, Jane? She's dead! In my guest bedroom!
Copyright ) 1996 by Janice Young Brooks