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I don't ask a lot. At least I don't think so. I ask for loyalty. I ask for consistency. I ask for a little hard work for fifteen minutes every morning. I don't think that's asking too much. In fact, I think you have it rather easy, don't you?"
Macey Steigel gestured dramatically at her CoffeePro, willing it, wishing it, demanding it to make coffee. But on this steamy summer morning it stared lifelessly back at her, refusing her simple request. Macey stood up from her bent position and sighed heavily. She turned and wondered if she could actually make it out the front door without any java in her system. Doubtful. She turned back around and slapped the thing on its side. The hard plastic stung her hand, and she winced in pain.
Bending back down to its level on the kitchen counter, she said, "I paid eighty bucks for you. For your reliability. For your satisfaction guaranteed. And you know what? Most people don't pay eighty bucks for coffee makers. No. In fact, most people don't pay for coffee makers at all. You know why? Because most people get them for wedding presents. I, however, as you know and witness every morning as I get up and roam this apartment by myself, am not married and cannot seem to carry a relationship for as long as it takes you to make me coffee. So I'm sure you can see how upsetting it is when you, of all things, refuse to stick by me and do the one thing that makes me happy in the morning. Make me coffee." She glared at it furiously. "MAKE ME COFFEE!"
But the fancy plastic box in front of her never made a sound. She flipped the switch on and off, unplugged and plugged it back in, shook it back and forth as hard as she could, only to watch it sit on the counter and do nothing. "I have no coffee and I'm talking to inanimate objects again. I probably shouldn't leave the house today," she mumbled as she scooted toward the shower.
She waited ten minutes for the water to warm up, an inconvenience the apartment manager failed to mention when she signed the lease a year ago. The ten minutes gave her plenty of time to mull over the message she'd come home to on her answering machine last night.
"Hi, Macey ... it's me, Rob ... Yeah, listen, I think it's better we don't see each other for a while ... okay? Who am I kidding ... we shouldn't see each other, period. You're a nice person, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart, I just don't think I can do this anymore. You know what I mean? I hope you know what I mean. You're probably thinking I'm a coward for doing this on the machine, but I didn't want you making a scene, and I felt like I needed to get this off my chest. So, that's it. I'm sorry to have to do this. It's just ... it's just time to say good-bye. Good-bye."
I just can't do this anymore, Macey recited inside her head. It was a line she was familiar with, as if all men were reading from the same script. Danny had said he couldn't do this. James couldn't do this. Lee couldn't do this. Bobby Watson had said he couldn't do that. She was pretty sure what this was. That wasn't quite as well defined. In her own definition, this meant act like an adult. Make mature decisions. Be responsible, loyal, reliable, and consistent. She wasn't asking too much, was she? WAS SHE? She must be. This was her third relationship in a year, not the kind of track record to go bragging about. At least he hadn't cost her eighty bucks.
The water finally hit a tolerable warmth, and she got in and steadied herself. Her head was already pounding without the coffee. If she wasn't careful, she might fall back asleep. The showerhead poured water from its spout, and she adjusted its strength. "Now, you are reliable," she said dully. "I need a guy like you. You're a little slow to warm up, but maybe the best ones are. Not once have you failed to give me water. Not once have you failed to do your job. Not once—AAAAHHHHH!"
The water went ice cold, though at first Macey thought someone had stabbed a hundred knives through her body. "What—?"
She jumped out of the shower and grabbed a towel, slipping and falling onto the tile floor with a thud. She pulled herself to her feet and growled as she yanked her bathrobe off the back of the bathroom door. She slung her wet, matted hair away from her face and walked into the hallway and then into the kitchen just in time to see a heavyset man emerge from underneath the sink.
"Who are you?" she shrieked, though it came out barely a whisper. The man hiked his jeans up to his waist and wiped some grease onto his shirt. He looked fairly harmless.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't know no one was here."
"Anyone was here." She likened bad grammar to fingernails on a chalkboard.
"I can see that now."
Macey rubbed her eyes. Was this some kind of mirage, the ill effects of no coffee? No, this man was real. "What are you doing here?"
"Fixin' your plumbin'. But I have to say, I didn't find nothin' wrong."
"I didn't report a plumbing problem."
"Ain't you 754?"
"Seven fifty-three!" Macey snapped.
"Well, good grief, excuse the daylights out of me. I'm as sorry as can be, ma'am."
Macey smiled tolerantly as the man stooped to gather his tools, revealing the predictable plumber's stigma. She covered her eyes until the man stood back up.
"I'm sorry fer the mistake, ma'am."
"Hey, aren't you the lady on the TV?"
"Yes, I am."
"I'll be outta your way now."
"Say, you don't happen to have any coffee goin', do ya? I'm dyin' for a cup."
"You and me both, pal," she said as she went to the door to open it for him. He shuffled along the floor, banging his toolbox into almost every piece of her fine furniture while creating black scuff marks on her recently waxed tile. "You wouldn't happen to be able to fix a coffee machine, would you?"
"Only if it's a CoffeePro Deluxe."
"What?" Macey nearly stumbled standing still. "That's what I have! A 432!"
"Then I can fix it for ya."
"Yeah, these CoffeePros have a little quirk in 'em that my wife and I found out about in the Deluxe 132 that we got for our wedding. I figured it was somethin' like a wire loose, and it was. This little wire here"—he held it up for her to look at—"just pops loose and disables the whole stinkin' machine. I can't believe they haven't fixed this problem by now." Donald put the bottom back on her coffee maker.
It wasn't long before Macey was enjoying a hot cup of coffee and talking to Donald as if they'd known each other for years. He had two kids, been married twelve years, and actually enjoyed being a plumber. He found it challenging.
"Ya see, it's like a jigsaw puzzle every time I go to a job. Something's not workin', and I gotta look at all the pieces and figure out what the problem is."
Macey couldn't quite identify how that was like a jigsaw puzzle, but it didn't matter because she was now drinking hot coffee, her mind in caffeinated bliss.
Macey poured coffee into a large Styrofoam cup for Donald, then added cream and sugar at his request. The plumber glanced at his watch. "Good grief, I better get goin'. The lady who made this call is prob'ly waitin' on me."
"Are you sure you can't stay a few more minutes?" Macey found it only mildly pathetic that she was so lonely the company of a plumber with bad grammar seemed reasonably delightful.
"No, ma'am, but thanks for the coffee. Have a good day." Donald shut the door behind him and Macey felt a twinge of sadness. But that soon left when she realized how late she was running. She slicked her hair back into a style somewhat professional looking and threw on her newly dry-cleaned suit. Finishing off her last drop of coffee, she thought to herself, There is a God.
Her Lexus sped past domestic and foreign cars alike, and she hardly noticed her eyes were on the clock more than the road. She practiced her breathing like her shrink had taught her and was proud of the fact that she hadn't yet cussed out a fellow driver. Cussing, her shrink had told her, only further exacerbated the anger. It was only two months ago that she'd done a special report on road rage, secretly humored by the irony of it all. Three tickets in the past four weeks kept her speed to ten miles above the limit.
Breathe and release. Breathe and release. Breathe and release. Deep breath. Repeat.
A red Ford Bronco cut in front of her. She slammed on her brakes and screamed he was a moron, all the while passing him on the right and covering her face with her hand so she wouldn't be recognized.
She was forty-five minutes late and quite sure she was experiencing at least five of the eight common signs of stroke. Mitchell was going to freak.
"Do you know how late you are? Do you know how freaked out Mitchell is right now?"
"Do you know that the CoffeePro Deluxe 432 model of coffee maker has an inherent glitch in it dating back to the first model ever made? It completely shuts off the whole machine."
Beth followed Macey around a corner, so close Macey could smell the mint in the gum she was smacking. Beth was mostly tolerable because she was an apple-polishing, fame-seeking intern who thought Macey hung the stars and the moon.
"It might make an interesting story, you know. Maybe Dateline would pick it up. I mean, the makers have to know about it, right? So they're deceiving the public. There's a good investigative story in that."
"Right, sure. But you're on in twenty minutes, and Mitchell is losing it!"
"It's good for him to squirm a little, don't you think?" Macey kept the facade of someone unruffled by a tense environment. It's what everyone expected of her. She was actually on in seventeen minutes. Beth was clueless as to how important every second was in this business. She just had to remember, when she got to her desk, to pop an aspirin to thin her blood. They walked into Macey's office.
Just then, Mitchell Teague, her beloved and enigmatic producer, entered like a storm blowing in. "Macey! Seventeen minutes! You're on! Do you know there was a shooting last night? Do you know there was a traffic accident? And a homicide?" The hair he had combed over his bald spot was standing straight up and doing a little wave. Macey waved back and laughed to herself.
She glanced in her mirror to make sure her face was powdered adequately. "Since when isn't there a shooting, accident, or homicide in Dallas, Mitchell? I can do the updates with my eyes closed. Besides, the meat isn't until the noon broadcast. I've got two hours."
"You know how I hate this! You of all people. You live and die by the clock."
The thing Macey appreciated about Mitchell was that he had always wanted to be a producer and was good at producing, so he never envied the anchoring job, a rare find in the industry. Many producers were producers only by default, presuming they could do the anchoring better themselves, and they probably could. But they either lacked the grace or looks or both, which put them behind the scenes, in a small room full of expensive equipment, to run the show with little to no credit. Often the result was cutthroat envy, so much so that even with all his eccentricities, Mitchell was a breath of fresh air.
"Mitchell, I'm sincerely sorry. There was a strange man in my apartment this morning, and it delayed me a little."
Mitchell frowned. "A stranger in your apartment? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. We had coffee and talked. But I can't predict when I'll have tie-ups like that, and you're just going to have to cut me some slack now and then. I don't do this all the time."
"Did you call the police?"
"No. I felt indebted to him for fixing my coffeepot."
"Mitchell, if you can't keep up, then don't ask, okay? Now, can I at least look at some notes or something?"
Mitchell remained flustered, nodding and mumbling as he left her office. Beth arrived again shortly with notes and script in hand.
"Thank you, Bethie. You're the queen. How do I look?"
"Marvelous as always."
"Good," Macey said, glancing over the notes. "Shooting on Harvey, go figure. Accident on Beltline, at least once a week. Homicide downtown. So, where's the fire?"
"It's happening right now at the Xerox plant. We'll probably lead with breaking news."
"No kidding?" Macey smiled. "All right, give me some time to look this over."
"You've got ten minutes."
Beth pointed to a small sticky on Macey's desk. "Did you see that?"
"What?" Macey started moving papers aside. "This?" She picked up the note and looked at Beth. "Are you serious?"
"Called this morning."
"Him? Thornton Winslow called here for me?"
Beth beamed. "Yep. I covered for you. Said you were out on assignment."
"This is the real thing, isn't it?"
"I think so. You're on your way to the top, baby!"
"Does Mitchell know?"
"He was standing there when I took the call. He couldn't be happier, you know, even though he's not going to let you see that."
"Am I supposed to call Mr. Winslow back?"
"No. He said to let you know that he called, that he's interested in talking with you, but that he'd have to call back in a couple of days because he was leaving for London. He said to make sure and tell you they have your demo tape and were very impressed."
"Seriously!" Macey jumped out of her seat. "Beth! This is huge!"
"You could be in New York! You could be doing really big stories! I mean, you could be in the same building with Jane Pauley! Stone Phillips and Matt Lauer! Do you think Katie Couric's a snob? I bet she is."
Macey fell back into her chair and stared at the ceiling. "This is unbelievable."
"Yeah, and now it's 9:55. You better get to the desk. I've got to go answer the phone."
Macey walked to the newsroom, hardly touching the floor she was walking on. As they did sound tests and mike checks and powdered her face and touched up her hair, Macey dreamed of New York and the network.
The floor director gave her the three-minute warning, and Macey ran over the script one more time. She hated the idea of cold reads. The five and ten o'clock anchor, Emma Patrick, a longtime Dallas anchorwoman and the mother hen to all the "youngsters," had been doing cold reads for fifteen years. But she'd been in the business for twenty-five years. At fifty and three plastic surgeries later, she still held the coveted five and ten spots. No one dared even to attempt sliding into her position. The woman would rather be dead than give it up. Eight years ago she did a week's worth of broadcasts with full-blown influenza just so another younger, hipper anchor wouldn't get exposure. It seemed Emma Patrick had invaluable connections, and Macey would be forever stuck as the "nooner." She glanced down at the note with Thornton Winslow's name on it and smiled. Or maybe not.
Suddenly Beth was by her side.
"Beth, what are you doing? We're on in less than three."
Beth looked a little pale and avoided Macey's eyes. "Um ... I have a message, but it can probably wait...."
"Really ... it can wait. You've got two minutes."
"Beth, for crying out loud! Who's the message from? Thornton?"
Beth hesitated, then finally answered, "Diana Wellers. She said you knew her as Diana Parr."
Macey shook her head with disbelief. "Diana Parr? I knew her in high school. I haven't seen her in almost twenty years. What in the world is she calling me for?"
Beth hesitated again and glanced at the director as he gave the thirty-second signal and waved at her to move out of the way.
"Beth, what is it?"
"Um, I don't think—"
Beth swallowed and said, "She called to ... to tell you that ... I guess your father has died."
Beth looked at her one second longer and then stepped away from the news desk. Macey felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach. Her mouth went dry. She watched Eddie give her the ten-second sign, his face bewildered as he eyed Macey.
Five ... four ... three ... two ... pull it together ... one ...
"Good morning, Dallas, this is Macey Steigel with a News Channel 7 update. This morning, fire officials are reporting a fire at the Xerox plant north of the city. No injuries have been reported, and officials aren't saying what started the fire...."
Macey read the teleprompter with professional accuracy, all the subtle nods and gestures in place as if she were talking to a person and not a camera. She raised her eyebrows to underscore an important fact and softened her expression before she pitched the weather. She made a lighthearted joke to Walter the meteorologist, smiling back at him as if they were the best of friends.
The tips of her fingers tingled in the strangest way. The news that her father was dead made her go numb inside, though she didn't really know why. In her mind he'd been dead for nearly seventeen years.
Troubled Waters by Rene Gutteridge
Copyright © 2003, Rene Gutteridge
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Posted November 18, 2003
What a wonderful, penetrating book! If you've ever had issues with your parents this book will give you incredible insight to help deal with whatever you're facing. I'll guarantee that you can't turn the pages fast enough to discover this surprise ending!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.