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It was one of those days. Jason Manning scrubbed his hands in the stainless-steel sink, then applied ointment to several scratches. He'd just finished examining and prescribing antibiotics for a feisty Persian cat with a bladder infection. The usually ill-mannered feline had never been his most cooperative patient, but today she'd taken a particular dislike to Jason.
He left the examining room and was greeted by Stella, his receptionist, who steered him toward his office. She wore a suspiciously silly grin, as if to say "this should be interesting."
"There's a young lady who'd like a few minutes with you," was all the information she'd give him. Her cryptic message didn't please him any more than the Persian's blatant distaste for him had.
Curious, Jason moved into his book-lined office. "Hello," he said in the friendliest voice he could muster.
"Hi." A teenage girl who seemed vaguely familiar stood as he entered the room. She glanced nervously in his direction as if he should recognize her. When it was obvious he didn't, she introduced herself. "I'm Carrie Weston." She paused, waiting expectantly.
"Hello, Carrie," Jason said. He'd seen her around, but for the life of him, couldn't recall where. "How can I help you?"
"You don't remember me, do you?"
"Ah no." He couldn't see any point in pretending. If a cat could outsmart him, he was fair game for a teenager.
"We're neighbors. My mom and I live in the same apartment complex as you."
He did his best to smile and nod as though he'd immediately placed her, but he hadn't. He racked his brain trying to recall which apartment was hers. Although he owned and managed the building, Jason didn't interact much with his tenants. He was careful to choose renters who cared about their privacy as much as he cared about his. He rarely saw any of them other than to collect the rent, and even then most just slipped their checks under his door around the first of the month.
Carrie sat back down, her hands clenched tightly in her lap. "II'm sorry to bother you, but I've been trying to talk to you for some time, and and this seemed to be the only way I could do it without my mother finding out."
"Charlotte Weston. We live in 1-A."
Jason nodded. The Westons had been in the apartment for more than a year. Other than when they'd signed the rental agreement, Jason couldn't recall speaking to either the mother or her daughter.
"Is there a problem?"
"Not a problem exactly." Carrie stood once again and opened her purse, taking out a thin wad of bills, which she leafed through and counted slowly. When she'd finished, she looked up at him. "It's my mother," she announced.
"Yes?" Jason prompted. He didn't have a clue where this conversation was leading or how long it would take the girl to get there. Stella knew he had a terrier waiting, yet she'd purposely routed him into his office.
"She needs a man," Carrie said, squaring her shoulders.
"I beg your pardon?" The girl had his attention now.
"My mother needs a man. I'm here to offer you one hundred dollars if you'll take her out on a date. You are single, aren't you?"
"Yes but " Jason was so surprised, he answered without thinking. Frankly, he didn't know whether to ask which of his brothers had put her up to this, or simply to laugh outright. He couldn't very well claim he'd never been propositioned before, but this was by far the most original instance he'd encountered in thirty-odd years.
"She's not ugly or anything."
"Ah I'm not sure what to tell you." The girl was staring at him so candidly, so forthrightly, Jason realized within seconds it was no joke.
"I don't think my mother's happy."
Jason leaned against the side of his oak desk and crossed his arms. "Why would you assume my taking her out will make a difference?"
"I don't know. I'm just hoping. You see, my mom and dad got divorced when I was little. I don't remember my dad, and apparently he doesn't remember me, either, because I've never heard from him. Mom doesn't say much about what went wrong, but it must've been bad because she never dates. I didn't care about that before, only now "
"Only now what?" Jason asked when she hesitated.