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That Summer Place
By Macomber, Debbie/Wiggs, Susan/Barnett, Jean
MIRACopyright © 2005 Macomber, Debbie/Wiggs, Susan/Barnett, Jean
All right reserved.
San Francisco, 1997
Catherine Wardwell Winslow spent a week last winter at a time management seminar where the experts stood up on a big stage and told her that Wednesday was the slowest day of the work week.
Catherine rested her chin in her hand and stared at her phone. It was a Wednesday, barely nine in the morning, and already four of the five phone lines were frantically blinking. She didn't know which one to answer first. So she didn't answer any of them.
Her life would be so much easier if she were one of those robots you see in the cartoons, the kind with slot machine eyes, a ball-bearing nose, and those spindly metal arms and slinky legs that jerk with every movement.
Like Rosie the Robot in The Jetsons.
But Catherine wasn't in a space-age home that looked like the Space Needle. She was in her San Francisco office on the third floor of a restored Victorian. The building was just one of many candy-colored, gabled houses on a steep and narrow street that now held offices for dentists, attorneys and other professionals.
The last line buzzed obnoxiously and began to blink like the others. She groaned and closed her eyes to escape. Her imagination took over. In her mind's eye she was Catherine the Robot rolling around her office on feet made of rollers that looked like brass sofa balls. She jammed report folders under her robot arms with the clawlike hands of a carnival toy machine, then she spun around her messy office, grabbing files and reports, adding up cost sheets and filing.
But the more paperwork she handled, the larger the piles on her desk grew. So the faster she rolled, here and there.
Hectic. Hectic. Hectic.
The desk phone suddenly morphed into an old fashioned black switchboard. The switchboard was filled with little glowing golden dots that blinked and buzzed and only stopped if she stuck one of a hundred black spiderlike plug cords into them. No matter how fast she plugged in the cords, the telephone lines kept flashing away like those warning lights at railroad crossings.
Warning overload! Warning! Warning!
She suddenly blew up in a cloud of springs, bolts and flying nuts.
"Are you all right?"
Catherine sat upright in her desk chair, startled. She blinked. Myrtle Martin, her secretary of fifteen years, was standing in the doorway, staring at her.
"I'm fine." Catherine quickly looked down, embarrassed. She busied herself by shuffling the papers all over her desk.
Myrtle gave Catherine's desk a pointed look, then shifted her gaze to the blinking lines. "You aren't answering the phone."
"I know." Catherine spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with an already neat stack of the papers. She felt as if she had just blown up, like her nuts and bolts were scattered from here to kingdom come.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for my nuts," Catherine muttered.
"You divorced your nuts eight years ago," Myrtle said without a beat, then closed the connecting door.
Catherine shook her head and bit back a smile. She picked up a handful of papers and tapped them on the desk until their corners were neatly aligned.
Myrtle was staring at her.
She glanced up trying to look calm and collected and in complete control, as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Her secretary just stood there with her rigid back pressed against the door jamb, a knowing look on her face.
It was impossible to ignore her. Impossible because Myrtle Martin had a new hair color. Orange. Blindingly bright orange.
Catherine never knew a hair color could actually hurt your eyes. For just one instant she had the sudden urge to whip out her sunglasses.
Back in January Myrtle had dyed her hair jet black, painted a mole on her cheek and drawn on thickly-arched, Night-ofthe-Iguana eyebrows, then wore animal prints and huge faux diamonds. At the time she was dating a Welshman named Richard.
Myrtle walked toward her with one of her "you -needme -to -tell -you -exactly -what -you -need -to -do" looks. She had been gone for two weeks and the office looked as if she'd been gone for a year.
Catherine braced herself for a lecture, but instead Myrtle just hitched her hip on the desk corner, picked up the phone, and began pressing buttons. "Ms. Winslow is unavailable today."
Poof! Line one was gone.
"Ms. Winslow is in a meeting and cannot be disturbed."
Line two gone.
"Ms. Winslow will get back to you as soon as possible."
Line three gone.
Line four got the same treatment.
She punched line five. "Yes? Uh-huh. That's right. Who? Oh, hi! Yes, I'm just fine. Uh-huh. Uh-huh I changed it last night." Myrtle smiled and patted her French twist. "Red Flam-beaux. Yes, it's very vibrant. I like color, too. Catherine? Yes, she's right here." Myrtle studied Catherine for a long moment. "She's wearing a suit of course. Black," she added as if she were describing cockroaches.
Catherine glanced down at her tailored black suit and frowned. She liked this outfit; it fit her mood.
"What's she doing?" Myrtle repeated, then gave Catherine a wicked smile. "Your daughter is looking for her nuts."
Catherine snatched the phone out of Myrtle's hand and glared at her.
Ignoring her, Myrtle just sank into a chair opposite the desk and began rifling through the papers on Catherine's desk.
"Hi, Mom. Myrtle was just being funny. No, I don't need any almonds. Yes, I'm sure."
Catherine paused, listening to her mom because she was her mom. There were some things you never outgrew.
Finally she took a long breath and said, "I know almond oil is good for the skin." She covered the mouthpiece and made shooting noises and gestures at Myrtle while her mother listed all the reasons nuts — almonds in particular — were good for her.
Five minutes later, when her eyes were glazed over and she now knew the complete history of the almond, she said, "Yes, I heard the whole thing. Every word, Mom." She took a deep breath and spoke rapidly to sneak a few words in, "I have to go now. Have a good trip, okay? No, I don't want any smoked almonds."
She winced and rubbed a hand over her pounding forehead. "I remember they were Dad's favorite. I love you, too. I promise I won't forget to tell the girls." She paused and added more softly, "Almonds make me cry, too, Mom."
She sighed. "You don't have anything to worry about.
They give out pretzels on planes nowadays." She paused and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't know why." She stared down at her desk blotter. "I know Dad hated pretzels.
"No!" She jerked upright in her chair. "Don't cancel your flight!" She looked up at Myrtle, panicking. She ran a hand through her hair in frustration, then said more calmly,
"Please, Mom. You need to go. This trip will be good for you."
There was a long, drawn out pause. Catherine sat still, holding her breath while she listened to the silence on the other end. Then her mother agreed.
Excerpted from That Summer Place by Macomber, Debbie/Wiggs, Susan/Barnett, Jean Copyright © 2005 by Macomber, Debbie/Wiggs, Susan/Barnett, Jean. Excerpted by permission.
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