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A LOSING PROPOSITION
Caryn reached for the folded notepaper that had her name neatly printed on the outside.
Deanna snorted. "We don't have to hear yours to know your resolution."
"It's fairly obvious, sweetie." Jenna's approving smile warmed Caryn. "You resolved to lose weight, right?"
Spring shook her head. "More likely, she vowed to have a complete makeover."
"Remember that time, our freshman year, when y'all gave me a makeover?"
"I was thinking about that a few weeks ago," Deanna said. "You seemed shocked at how pretty you were."
" I thought you were disappointed with the results," Caryn said, then shrugged. "But I'd warned y'all that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
"We weren't working with a sow's ear," Jenna said.
Spring cringed. "I always worried that we hurt your feelings, as if we were sending you the message that we didn't accept you as you were."
"Are you kidding? I was so touched that y'all wanted to help me. You three were so pretty and popular. I faded in the background, plain and chubby."
"You always had self-esteem issues," Spring said. "I hope you know now that you're a worthy and beautiful person."
Caryn grinned. "Actually, I do."
"I can't get over the change in you, Caryn. You look good, yes, but it's more than your clothes, your makeup, or even your weight loss." Jenna pushed aside her empty salad plate. "It's attitude."
Nodding agreement, Deanna lowered her voice. "Is it a man?"
Caryn laughed. "Hey, it's my turn. Let me tell you the story of my year, all right?"
"First," Spring said, "read your resolution."
Caryn unfolded the paper, then cleared her throat. "Tolose forty pounds and to get laid."
The three friends hooted and hollered. Caryn couldn't help but giggle at their reaction.
"Succinct, specific, and achievable," Spring said.
"About time you got a sex life," Jenna added.
"Yes!" Deanna punctured the air with her fork. "Tell, tell!"
They had no idea what secrets she'd soon reveal, a painful past she'd shared with no one, ever. Not even her three best friends.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Ignoring the fumes from the propanethiol S-oxide, Caryn Cook sniffled and blinked away tears. Focused on her task, she sliced sideways into the yellow onion, careful not to cut through to her hand. A few quick passes with the chef's knife and she'd diced the onion into a pile of perfect cubes.
"You do that so fast. Aren't you afraid you'll cut off a finger?"
"I'm a pro. You'll be doing this in no time." Caryn smiled at her young student, a freckle-faced woman with huge blue eyes, and handed her the knife and the other half of the onion. "Here. You dice the rest."
Normally, Caryn would've welcomed an eager student who lingered after her culinary class. But tonight was Caryn's first weight management class, step one toward meeting a commitment she'd made to herself, and she wouldn't be late.
No more excuses. She'd vowed to shed her excess weight by year's end. At thirty-two, she was way past due for a makeover. No better place to start than at the private university, where, as a faculty member, she could attend classes free.
"Take your time," she told the student, struggling to remember her name. Oh, well, it was just the first week of the semester. She'd learn all her students soon. As she watched the poor girl mutilate the onion, Caryn suppressed the urge to tap her toe impatiently.
"I think I'll need to work some more on this at home."
Good idea. "Be sure to use a quality knife."
The student finally gathered her backpack and left. Caryn slipped out of her apron, grabbed her purse and briefcase, then headed down the hall to the designated classroom to grab a front row seat. Today was the first day of the rest of her life.
Zach Roman settled into the desk and surveyed the empty classroom. He was almost an hour early, but he couldn't contain his eagerness. Last week, on New Year's Day, he'd resolved to regain control of his life. He'd let his health and appearance slide until he was just a pitiful, pudgy imitation of the man he'd been before the divorce.
He'd finally put Sheila and her defection behind him, finally healed from the painful breakup. He recalled the precise moment he'd awakened from his personal decline, ready to move on with his life. Last September, when he'd met the new faculty member. When he'd met her.
Of course, she hardly returned his interest. How could she? He was a thirty-five-year-old fat slob. But not for long. He'd already begun a walking program, in spite of the cold January weather. No more excuses. He'd given himself a reasonable deadline: one year.
The catalyst for his new resolve, Caryn Cook, rushed into the room, face flushed and tousled blond hair escaping her long braid. She resembled the actress Sharon Stone, but with enough flesh to soften the look. For a brief moment, he closed his eyes and imagined Caryn naked beneath him. God, what an image! He needed to avoid that particular fantasy while in public or he'd embarrass himself.
"Are you all right, Zachary?" Her soft voice pulled him back to reality. She stood beside his desk, her brow creased in a concerned frown.
"Yes. Fine." He cleared the unbidden croak from his throat. "Are you teaching this class?"
"Teaching? Hardly." She laughed, but without a hint of humor. "I'm enrolled."
"Me, too." He gestured to the desk next to his, praying she'd sit beside him. "Have a seat."
"Well, you don't want to stand for two hours, do you?"
She smiled and the room filled with bright sunshine, even though it was nearly dark outside. "I mean, why are you enrolled in weight management class?"
"I could ask you the same."
She blinked, clearly startled. Averting her sapphire blue-eyed gaze, she slid into the seat next to his. "How kind of you to say that."
Kind? Her genuine lack of awareness of her own beauty charmed him. How unlike Sheila. Not wanting to feed Caryn's self-consciousness, he changed the subject. "I've heard that you're quite a chef."
She shrugged. "After college, I spent time editing cookbooks for the CIA..."
Her radiant smile returned and something funny squeezed his gut. Something else tightened his groin, although he fought to suppress it. "Culinary Institute of America."
"I see." He held her gaze, hoping she couldn't read the raw longing that surely filled his eyes. "So you aren't a spy."
"You never know. Recipes can be closely guarded secrets."
A sense of humor, too. He'd heard the gossip about Caryn Cook, that she was a cool customer, keeping her distance from all men. But not this Caryn. She appeared comfortable chatting with him, alone in the classroom. Not flirty, but definitely friendly. And intelligent. He'd punch out the first person who dared tell a blonde joke about her or in her presence.
"I sure could use some cooking lessons. Since my divorce, I've become a regular patron of the culinary school's café." Not to mention that Sheila had taken all of their kitchen utensils, reducing him pretty much to frozen dinners.
"Nothing wrong with our restaurant except it's all gourmet food. You know, real butter, rich cream sauces, all the yummy stuff."
"All the yummy stuff that's brought me here tonight. I have to reform."
"Well, I know how to cook light and healthy. Mom is a dietician in Bowling Green." She held up one hand, warning him not to jump to conclusions. "I know. You probably wonder why I'm not slim and trim."
"You mean skinny? Come on, Caryn, we could all stand to lose a few, but you're hardly fat." She ducked her head, but not before a becoming blush tinged her face. "Anyway, do you think you could teach an old fat guy some easy but healthy recipes?"
Again, she smiled, looking even more like a movie star. "I sure could. And if any old fat guys show up tonight, I'll offer."
He burst out laughing. "You're a nice person, Caryn Cook."
"I've always heard we're our own worst critics. I look in the mirror and see a flabby, chubby woman."
"I've stopped looking in the mirror. Last time I did, I was naked. A scary sight."
At the word "naked," she averted her eyes, as if scared by the idea, too. Hell, he could hardly fault her. Zach steered the conversation to safer topics, like the aftermath of the holidays, traffic, and weather. They chatted for twenty minutes before anyone else showed up for the class. In all, only nine adults, most from the faculty, sat in the large classroom.
The instructor, a psychologist from Louisville's University Hospital, introduced himself as Dr. Summit as he passed out thick workbooks. The slender man probably never worried over a calorie in his life and played racquetball twice a week, judging from his physique. Zach tamped down his envy and opened the workbook to the first page.
After the students introduced themselves, Dr. Summit said, "Before we go over the syllabus, I want you to turn to the first page of your workbook and write your personal reason for wanting to lose weight. Write the first reason that pops into your mind. No one will see this, so it's important to be honest."
Zach wrote To regain my self respect, then surreptitiously glanced at Caryn's large cursive script. She'd written To make myself attractive enough to interest a man. He quickly looked away, shocked at her humbleness. To make herself attractive? What had happened to this lovely woman to destroy her self esteem?
If interesting a man was her goal, she'd already met her objective. Zach was interested. Very interested. He'd make sure she knew it, too, starting tonight.
Deanna looked at the delectable salmon gracing her plate. "Hey, not fair, I'll have to talk with my mouth full. My mother would be appalled."
"We promise not to tell on you," Spring said. Friends through thick and thin, they'd always kept each other's secrets.
"Well, my resolution didn't bring about quite such an obvious change." Looking at Caryn, Deanna smiled to herself. Her change had been on the inside. "But do I get a drum roll?"
Jenna pattered her fingers on the table. "Go for it."
Deanna unfolded the little slip of paper. "To skydive." Her heart raced. That one simple resolution had encompassed so much more than she'd ever realized when she wrote it.
Someone gasped. Spring. "You've got to be kidding."
"Yeah, I know. I never thought I was the risk-taking type, at least not where my very life was concerned."
"You've certainly taken me by surprise with that one." Caryn grinned. Deanna was sure she'd never seen her friend this happy. She sparkled like the beautiful diamond on her finger.
Jenna sat forward on the edge of her seat. "Well, come on, tell us. Did you do it?"
Deanna allowed herself another secret smile. She'd done so much more than simply jump out of a plane.
"Deanna, you've got it all wrong."
She didn't mind being told she was wrong. She just minded being told so by a total idiot who had his head where the sun didn't shine. Even if he was her boss.
Deanna took one more deep breath, exhaled, and really, truly, seriously considered what was going to come out of her mouth. After all, this was her boss and placating him was her main job description. It would be so much easier if he wasn't such a miserable bastard with the IQ of a gnat. And the ego of a politician.
"George, I'd like to direct your attention to the fourth paragraph on page two." Her head pounded, her eyeballs ached, and her throat was scratchy from the number of times she'd directed him to that very same paragraph in the last three hours. This had gone beyond her usual boredom and become total insanity. "With that wording, the agent gets paid fifteen thousand a quarter with or without producing any revenue."
George Dillman adjusted his bifocals and shifted the contract in front of him. Dillman, oh she could make a nice play on words with that one, something involving dill and hole. If she didn't have a mortgage payment to make, she'd have said it to his face. On her way out the door.
"Why don't we read it aloud," she urged, as if talking to a five-year-old.
"I understand your concern, Deanna..."
She didn't hear the rest. She knew the refrain by heart. Was a house worth this agony?
"Why don't we take a little bio break here, George, and you can think about it." While your head is in the toilet. "If you still feel that the wording is correct, then we'll just agree ... to disagree. How does that sound?"
Because if she didn't get out of this room, she'd commit murder. It wasn't her money on the line, nor her job at stake. She wasn't the one who had to sign the contract.
He wrinkled his nose in disgust that she could have mentioned bio-anything. She needed water. She needed Triple Strength Excedrin. God, she needed a new job. Amend that, she needed a new life.
"I'll be right back," she said, opening the door and waggling her fingers at him.
Three hours. Three hours. She had customers to call, shipments to check on, and still more contracts to review. This is not my life. But whose life was it anymore? A nice secure job at Spruce Electronix, a large manufacturing firm in Silicon Valley, had seemed like the way to go ten years ago when she'd graduated from college. And close to home since she was from the Bay Area. But ten years was a helluva long time, and now? She was close to saying she'd made a big mistake, very close.
Deanna slammed open the bathroom door. Wetting a paper towel, she dabbed her face, uncaring of the damage it might do to her makeup. Droplets splashed her frilly silk blouse. She stepped back, patting at her blouse with a dry towel. God, who was that woman in the mirror? She'd never worn pink in college, at least not unless it was fluorescent and glowed in the dark. But here she was, dressed in a conservative below-the-knee, A-line skirt, a damn bow at her throat, and her long hair pulled back in a skintight bun at the nape of her neck. Oh my God, I've become my mother.
And if she hadn't had last minute jitters a month ago, just before New Year's, she'd have married the "very nice man" her mother picked for her.
After taking care of the necessary biological functions, Deanna quenched her raging thirst at the water cooler. Then she girded her loins for the next Dillho ... Dillman confrontation.
Outside his office, George leaned over Jill's shoulder, pudgy finger pointing to something on the desk in front of her. His AA leaned far to the left in her chair to avoid physical contact.
Deanna picked up his words as she closed in on the desk. "You've made several typos here that could have cost the company over fifteen thousand dollars a quarter if I hadn't caught them."
The nerve of the man. He was actually blaming Jill for his own mistake. Deanna didn't feel the thrill of victory in winning the battle.
But Jill was no airhead, despite her naturally blonde hair. She pulled out a file folder, opening it flat on the desk.
"That's exactly what you wrote," she said, as Deanna stopped in front of them. "And remember I asked you if that's what you really wanted to say?"
You go, girl. Deanna silently applauded.
George looked up at her over the rim of his bifocals. Busted, George, busted, busted, busted.
"Deanna, I need those month-to-date figures for my sales meeting in five minutes. You've wasted enough time on this issue already."
"Yes, George. I'll send you the file right away, George." Dillhole. She'd sent the file to him that morning. But she sometimes doubted he even knew how to access his own email account.
Back in her office, she sat down in front of her computer, then zipped off another email to him. That done, she leaned back in her chair, just to start breathing again.
She'd given up her dreams for this? She'd chosen the business route in college instead of an Arts degree in Photography. And look where it had gotten her. She hadn't touched her camera in more years than she could remember--did it even work any more?--and she was bored out of her mind working for an imbecile. God, she needed something new, something different. Something wild.
Something like her New Year's resolution. She'd made it on a whim, because she couldn't think of anything noble that she could even hope to achieve. Solving world hunger had seemed too daunting.
Something wild. Yes. She hadn't really thought she'd accomplish the resolution, but suddenly the idea had such appeal that she leaned forward and tapped her keyboard, entering the internet. Another quick series of taps, and she'd typed in Skydiving. What could be more wild than to jump out of a plane with nothing but a bit of fabric between her and certain death? Free fall. No net beneath her. No security blanket. Just endless sky and endless ground.
Adrenaline pumped through her veins as her search results popped up. Oh my God, 387,000 hits. All right, so she'd have to narrow it down. This time she added the word Hollister because she'd heard somewhere, God knows where, that there were lots of companies that offered ballooning, skydiving, and site-seeing flyovers out of the small town just an hour or so south of San Francisco. This time she got 468 hits. Hey, not a problem wasting a couple of hours of Spruce Electronix's time going through them all.
Bad attitude, that. She didn't believe in wasting the company's time or money. She gave them a good bang for their buck. But right now ... right now, if she returned any calls, she'd probably end up taking her frustration out on an unsuspecting customer. Better to waste a few minutes and reestablish her equilibrium.
She clicked on the first site that looked promising. Not much to look at, no graphics, no pictures, just a price list, a rundown of the school's qualifications, and a simple series of questions and answers about skydiving. She scanned them. She didn't want to know a lot about what she was going to do. If she thought too much, she'd chicken out. She did, of course, study the prices.
Two hundred dollars for a tandem jump. Though she had no clue what that was, two hundred bucks was within her budget. Boy, she'd thought it was going to be much more expensive. Of course, the Static-line thing and the AFF were considerably higher, but she didn't want Static-line. Just the word itself turned her off. Her life was already too static.
So, tandem it was. Whatever that might be.
Her stomach flipping over with a mixture of nerves and anticipation, Deanna picked up the phone and dialed the number for Johnson's Skydiving School.
FOR SALE BY OWNER
Jenna looked down at the photo again, brushing away the tears that blurred the image. Deanna had caught seven beautiful horses in a full-out gallop, their heads held high, their tails flowing out behind them, water droplets flying up from their hooves, dotting the picture in little flashes of silver. A moment of freedom. The picture was perfect for her. Even her new, settled self still felt a thrill when she looked at it.
"It's beautiful, Deanna."
Putting the picture aside, Jenna took the slip of paper that had her name on it from the box. She stared at her own handwriting, reading the words. "My resolution was to buy a house."
Jenna paused as the waiter placed their desserts before them. Chocolate mousse inside a chocolate cup shaped like a wicker basket called to her but she would have to wait to eat it after her story.
"I thought you once said you'd never own anything bigger than a car?" Spring voiced what everyone at the table probably thought.
"I did say that." She took a sip of her chardonnay. "But I thought then that I didn't want children, so my gypsy lifestyle was the way I wanted to live my life. You all know how much the constant moving made my childhood so lonely. When I decided that I wanted to have a baby someday, I had to rethink all that." Jenna looked around the table at her three best friends. "Last New Year's, I promised myself that I would either settle down or not have children."
"Wow, Jenna. I never thought you'd give up your freedom," Deanna said.
"Neither did I. I wasn't even sure I could. I bought the house to see if staying in one place would make me miserable."
"And did it?" Caryn's beautiful face showed her concern.
"You can judge for yourself." Jenna grinned wickedly, not wanting to spoil her story. "I put it off as long as possible, of course." She paused for effect, making sure everyone was listening. "And then one day I was showing a house to a client and I realized it was already October..."
Jenna walked into kitchen and mentally gagged herself. "Mrs. Fultz, I think this is just the kitchen for you," she said, hating this part of her job. But she hadn't lied, not really. It was the kitchen for Mrs. David Fultz.
"I really like the sub-zero refrigerator." Mrs. Fultz turned a circle, her leopard-print stretch pants tight across a flawless, top-dollar derrière any 40-year-old could buy, if she had the money.
Jenna thought the appliances were hideous, stainless steel monstrosities in gigantic proportions. The sight of them chilled her. I'm getting sarcastic and bitchy about this career. She made herself take a deep breath. She would not quit this job. She'd kept it for three years, when she'd wanted to quit after three months. Her gypsy spirit begged her to move on, to pack up her small amount of items and roam. She ruthlessly squashed the feelings. Being a gypsy was okay when it was only her, but she wanted children some day, and she had promised herself growing up that she wouldn't put her kids through constant new towns, new schools, new places.
"So what do you think about this house? It's got all the items you had on your list."
Mrs. Fultz made a humming sound. "There's something about it I don't like."
"What's bothering you? I want to make sure I screen for your dislikes before we see the next round." There was nothing wrong with this house. Mrs. Fultz was bored out of her gourd and needed Jenna to amuse her. Oh, Jenna had no doubt she'd eventually buy a house. But she'd drag out the process as long as she could.
Speaking of buying a house. It's already October and I haven't bought one of my own yet. I've got to act fast if I'm going to close by New Year's. As usual, she'd waited until the last minute. She wanted her own house more than anything, but it would come at a big cost--her freedom.
"I think I've changed my mind and want the master suite to be on the first floor instead."
"Great! That will help me find the perfect house for you," Jenna said enthusiastically. When this woman finally bought, Jenna would be taking three percent of a million-five. Minus the forty percent she'd owe her company, she'd take home twenty-seven grand. She could put up with a ton of bullshit for that kind of money.
"You are such a dear," Mrs. Fultz said, fluffing her hair with one carefully manicured hand. "I'm having a little party at my house in two weeks and I had Anne send you an invitation."
Jenna smiled and thanked her. She would meet people there, people who wanted to buy big houses. People who would keep her at the top of the realtor sales list. She would go, eat canapés, give out her card to anyone with a heartbeat, and hate every single minute of it.
Jenna parked her car and sat looking at the 1920's bungalow before her. After glancing back at the sheet of paper holding the listings in her price range, she leaned down and banged her head on the steering wheel twice.
Since she only sold houses at the top of the real-estate market, she hadn't been prepared for her own price range. Goodbye sub-zeros and granite counter tops ... hello plastic laminate and tract housing.
She forced herself to study the house. It had character, she'd give it that. One and a half stories, with a wide, covered porch running across the front. And if she squinted, she could see past the peeling paint and sagging front steps to a house that could be a home.
Jenna dropped her head onto the steering wheel again. Maybe she should just take out a loan, instead of buying a house from her savings. For a moment, she considered it.
She couldn't do it. She would only give up so much of her freedom. Being in debt to the bank would mean she would have to work, have to stay here, would be stuck forever and ever.
"The neighborhood is great, the house has potential. Stop making excuses and get out there." She forced herself to open the car door and step into the yard.
The 'For Sale by Owner' sign stood beside her on a decided tilt. She rolled her eyes. If she liked the house, dealing with the owner would be a nightmare. She never trusted people who sold their own houses. They were too cheap or too stupid to let a professional do the job.
She carefully walked up the steps, checking each before she put all her weight on her foot. They seemed to hold her with no problem. Maybe they only needed some reinforcing. When she got up onto the porch, she had to admit the white-painted swing hanging at the left end charmed her.
She turned with a smile to the front door.
"You must be kidding," she said, when she saw the note tacked by the handle. It read: Look around. I'm in the studio out back if you are interested in the house.
Who let people wander through their house without being present? Stupidity at its best. She could steal the owner blind and be out of here before he knew what happened.
Jenna imagined an old man working in his garage out back. It had to be a man. No woman would be this dumb. She felt a flash of guilt. The poor thing probably lost his wife and could barely get by without her. If he was anything like her father, he would be helplessly pathetic without a woman's guidance.
She opened the door, half expecting it to be locked, and walked into the front hall. The set-up was the classic dining room to the right, formal living room to the left.
But Holy Mack Moley! "Look at the clutter," she whispered.
Walking in a trance into what had been some woman's front parlor, Jenna time-warped back to yesteryear. Chintz curtains covered in dust hung from the windows. Two 1920's occasional chairs flanked a flowered Camelback sofa. A round, marble-topped drum table sat in a corner next to a concert-sized piano. Everything was covered in knickknacks--little china birds, leather-bound books, pottery ashtrays, and dust. Lots and lots of dust. She didn't need to touch it to know how deep it lay on all the surfaces.
Jenna walked though the house in a dream state. More amazing furniture, more dust. This house hadn't been lived in for a very long time. It was deceptively big--probably somewhere close to 3,000 feet, if she included the unfinished basement that ran the length of the house. She'd pulled the listing only because it had been in her price range. The owner hadn't put any details beyond the street address and his phone number.
She was convinced it was a man now. No woman would let dust build like this. Even she, as undomesticated as she was, had to resist the urge to start wiping things down. God, the movers would have to wear masks to breathe through the dust storm moving would cause.
It would need some huge work, but beautiful hardwoods lay beneath the moldering carpets, and she could slowly remodel as she got the money. It wasn't as if she had that many people over to her place, anyway. Only Carla, and her three best friends, Caryn, Spring, and Deanna, when they were in town. Oh, and Jeff. But he didn't count, since she only called him when she thought she'd die if she didn't feel a man's hands on her. And Jeff wasn't bad--as long as he didn't open his mouth.
Jenna sighed. Okay, her life was pathetic. She would throw herself into renovating the house and it would compensate for the burning ache she had to move to another place, another town, another life.
She looked out the kitchen window at the wild, overgrown yard and knew, with a certainty, that she had to have this house. It was hers, she could feel it. It called to her and begged to be restored and updated and loved. It was the only thing she'd seen this week that would be worth giving up her freedom to have.
With a conviction she hadn't felt since she loaded up her car in Phoenix three years ago and drove east, she marched out of the house to face the old man in the wood shop.
THAT SCOTTISH SPRING
Dee S. Knight
As the waiter removed their dessert dishes, Spring asked him to bring a pot of coffee, and to hold off on the champagne for a few minutes. Looking toward the wait station, she caught William's eye. "Thank you," she mouthed. He smiled in return.
The waiter brought a pot of coffee and cups. He poured for each woman; then left them to their conversation.
Spring reached into the box to draw out the final slip of paper. Opening it, knowing what was on it, she still read it to herself, then looked at each of her friends. "Plan something spontaneous." There was silence, then bursts of laughter. Spring smiled at first, then joined in.
"Leave it to you to plan something spontaneous. You didn't really write that, did you? Let me see." Spring handed the paper to Deanna. "My God, she really did."
"Spring, if it were anyone but you, we couldn't tease about this, you know," Caryn said, giving her coffee a quick stir.
"Well, did you plan something spontaneous?" asked Jenna.
"I thought I did. Turns out, things didn't turn out as I had planned." Even Spring smiled at that.
"Tell! Tell!" Deanna poured herself more coffee and offered some to Jenna before leaning back in her chair.
"First, just let me say that spontaneity isn't all it's cracked up to be. Planning takes some of the fun out of life..." Her voice trailed off. "But at least you know what to expect and how to curtail the negatives."
"Spring..." Caryn's voice held a note of concern.
"Oh, nothing too bad. You'll see. But, I don't think I met the bar of my resolution. You all can be the judge." She took a breath, then a sip of coffee, and began.
Thursday afternoon before vacation. If she could just get through the rest of the day and Friday, she'd have it made. Saturday evening she and her friend Nancy would be flying out of Dulles for London, and joining a tour group in Edinburgh for two weeks in Scotland. Spring couldn't wait. Scotland had been on her wish list of places to see since reading tales as a child of Highlanders fighting for Bonny Prince Charlie and later Macbeth walking the misty halls of Cawdor Castle. True, this tour was hitting just a few high spots, but it was a start. She forced herself to concentrate on the budget plans before her.
Minutes later, Nancy dashed into her office and closed the door. With a wail, she sank into the chair. "Spring! What am I going to do?"
"Nancy, what's wrong? You look like something dreadful's happened." Despite the urgency in Nancy's voice, Spring made sure her pen was put back in the proper holder on her desk, with other pens of the same size and color ink. She straightened the papers, aligning them squarely in the middle of the spotless desk blotter before she faced her friend, brows wrinkled in concern.
"It's my dad. He's sick. He has to have surgery." Nancy's eyes brimmed with tears. "Next Monday."
"Oh no!" Spring walked around the desk and took her friend's hands. "How awful! Is it life threatening? How bad is he?"
Nancy sniffled. "No, it's not life threatening, but it's something the doctor says shouldn't wait, and my dad just went ahead and made the appointments. He's had all the preliminary work and everything, and just now called and told me." Nancy looked up at Spring, sitting on the edge of her desk, her eyes dark with concern. "He called to ask me when I could get there." This last she said in a low voice.
"Get there?" The impact of Nancy's statement hit Spring, and she dropped Nancy's hands, her eyes widening and her mouth forming a perfect "O" in shock. "Oh dear, I'd forgotten for a minute that your mom wasn't... that she wouldn't be... Oh, Nance, I'm so sorry. What are you going to do?"
Nancy sighed resignedly. "There's nothing I can do. Since mom's death, it's up to me to take care of dad. Fifty miles didn't seem that far when he said he wanted to stay at home and not move down here, but even if he lived here in town I couldn't go off and leave him when he's having surgery. I'm going to have to cancel out on the trip, Spring. I'm so very sorry." At the look on Spring's face, she rushed on, "But there's no need for you to cancel. I'll just find out if they have a waiting list. You can share your room with someone else. That would be fun, right? Meeting someone new? Or maybe they can upgrade you to a single room. I'll check." She flopped against the back of the chair. "Damn! I wanted to go on this trip."
"Oh, Nance, I don't know. I'd planned to go with you. I'm not sure I'm up for meeting someone new. Not to share a room with for two weeks. And I don't want a single room. Being alone in my room every night doesn't sound like fun. I just think it would be better to see if I can cancel, too. We'll get on another tour some other time. I can use these two weeks for other things. Stuff around the house."
Nancy snorted. "Like putting down new shelf paper? Reordering your shoes by style instead of color? Spring, I love you dearly, but there isn't a thing out of place in your house, and you know it. It's a good thing you don't mind that I'm a slob, or I'd never feel comfortable visiting you."
"I never mind when it's a friend," Spring murmured. "Maybe I can help you with your dad. I do love that man. I can-"
"No! Let me call and see what I can find out about the tour. I'm already missing the trip, I don't want to be responsible for your missing it, too. I know what Scotland means to you." Nancy pushed herself out of the chair and opened the door. "I'll let you know as soon as I find anything out. I'm sorry, Spring."
"Don't worry about it. I just hope your dad is okay."
The rest of the day was lost. Spring couldn't get her mind around funding for new employee benefits or cutting costs on the fleet of corporate vehicles. To cancel, or not to cancel? The problem of what to do kept her mind occupied all afternoon.
Just before Spring left for the day, Nancy emailed.
The tour company will refund almost all my money if I send them a doctor's certificate on dad, so that's a relief. Also, they were able to fill my slot. You'll have to share a room for the four days in Edinburgh, but then they think they can arrange a room of your own, if you want it. Your roommate is someone named Morgan Mackay. Isn't Morgan an interesting name? The only Morgan I know is that beautiful actress. You know, the blonde, Morgan Fairchild. I hope your Morgan is interesting and NEAT! Please don't make me feel worse than I already do, by canceling the trip. Besides, you don't have a good excuse to get your money back. Nance
Well, not getting her money back was a good reason not to cancel. Besides, this was Scotland. Spring sighed. She'd go, but she had a bad feeling about the trip now.