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Practice Makes Perfect
By Charlene Groome
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Charlene Groome
All rights reserved.
"I'm sorry! Sorry!" Meghan fingers a long strand of hair away from her face. "I couldn't find parking." She hopes to get away with it considering she's never parked at the old stadium before. It's home to the Vancouver junior hockey team, but today, the ice was taken out, leaving just a concrete floor where a Warriors fund-raiser is taking place. "And there's a line around the building."
"I noticed the crowd when I drove by on my way to work," Keri, the events director, tells her. "You have a parking pass."
First day as the public relations coordinator and already Meghan's got a strike against her. She blows out a breath. "It was full."
"Full? Really? The players must be arriving. Hurry, we still have stuff to do." Keri waves her hands around. She's wearing a gray skirt and blazer, reminding Meghan of a stewardess. Her hair shapes her round face, resting at her collarbone, and her makeup is minimal, except for her bright red lips desperately in need of another coat. "Tables need to be set with name cards. They each need a Sharpie pen and water cups, and the stanchions have to be placed properly. Do you have your checklist?"
Meghan reaches into her briefcase and pulls out a paper protected by a plastic cover.
"What happened to your shirt?"
Meghan flicks her hand at her chest as though it will magically come off. "Coffee. I'm having one of those mornings." Well, that's strike two. Maybe she should be carrying extra clothes in her car.
"How many cookbooks did you order? I don't think we have enough."
"Five thousand." Meghan's heart starts to race. "Just like we talked about."
"It looks like we may only have half the order. I can't tell."
"What? Only half?"
"You need to find the rest of the order."
"I double-checked the delivery."
"Unless you know where else they could be." Keri seems to get sidetracked by an employee carrying a water cooler. "Over here!" She scurries over to lead them where she wants the station set up.
Meghan skims her checklist. Her feet are killing her. She wiggles her toes in her new shoes. She should have worn ones that were broken in.
Meghan sees a girl race toward her. "Where do you want these potted mums?"
"One between every table. There needs to be room for fans getting autographs. We don't want clutter. We also need these name cards at every seat." She hands over a stack of printed cards from the clear bin in front of her and walks with a soft step, trying not to put pressure on her foot. She shouldn't have bought the plain black heels because they were half price. Cheap shoes. Her baby toe is throbbing.
"Meghan," another voice calls out. "What should I do with these doughnuts?"
"Doughnuts? Who are they for?"
"The players, I guess."
"I don't think the players will eat them. You can put them at the beverage table."
Meghan shuffles her foot as she walks to the perimeter of the arena, where there is a stack of boxes. She takes count of how many there are and clearly a few thousand cookbooks are missing. She stands, staring at the boxes. What went wrong? Did she mess up the order? It was a lot of work getting each player to submit his favorite family recipe in time to have the books designed and printed.
Meghan kicks off her heels and runs to where she left her briefcase. She takes out her phone and scrolls for the confirmation e-mail. As she looks through her messages, there are men trailing through the arena. Casually dressed men wearing jeans and T-shirts and some in button-down shirts. Meghan's stomach flutters. The team is here, and she doesn't have enough books. She can't call off the event. There's a line of people outside of the arena who have been waiting for hours to come in, and if she doesn't have an adequate number of cookbooks to give away, she will most likely be demoted. How could this happen?
"When do we open the doors?" a blond-haired girl with hot pink tips, asks.
"Fifteen, twenty minutes. I have to figure something out, Deanna."
"Dana, sorry. Can you please make sure the players are in the right seats and tell me if there are any players missing?" Meghan catches two girls standing around talking and turns to them.
"Can I get both of you to offer each player a beverage? There are doughnuts, too, if they want any."
The girls snicker.
One of them asks, "Where are your shoes?"
"I ... um ... have to put them on. My feet were sore." Meghan excuses herself and rereads her e-mail. Yep, five thousand cookbooks were delivered. Then where is the order?
Meghan takes a quick look at the players taking seats. Her stomach tightens. It will be a nightmare if the missing books don't show up in the next few minutes. She has to track down the rest of the order. Meghan makes a quick call to the office. Nobody is answering, so she goes back to recount the boxes to make sure there wasn't a mistake. She slips on her heels and hurries through the building to find the rest of the order.
"Meghan," a voice calls out across the room, pinning her attention. She is stunned at hearing her name paged again, when her boss, Keri, is standing within arm's reach.
Meghan's heart beats faster and she sweeps her bangs away from her eyes. "Yes?"
"You asked me to check off which players are present and it looks like Alex Price and Jared Landry are still missing." Dana holds up the guest list to her face. "Everyone else is here, sitting down and ready to go."
"I'm sure they're on their way."
"Alex will be here. Jared may or may not show." Keri digs through her clear bin. "Where did my pack of Sharpies go?"
"He has to show!" Meghan says.
"It's the chance we take. Have you seen the pack of Sharpies?"
"They're already on each place setting like you asked," Meghan says.
"Awesome! Thanks." Keri closes the lid. "We have to get these players something to drink. They can't just sit down with nothing!"
"Done!" Meghan turns to Dana. "Do you want to put these cookbooks at the entrance with the rest of them? How does the line look to get in?"
"It's wrapped around the building. Some people have been here since early morning."
"I heard. Just to buy a cookbook." Meghan shakes her head. "Insane." At least some people will appreciate the effort she's put into this.
"Yeah, but they get to meet the players. Well worth it. I hope Alex Price shows up. Is he on your list?"
"I think so."
Dana exhausts a sigh and throws her head back. "Ah, what I would give to have him for a boyfriend."
Meghan chuckles. "One that doesn't last."
Dana arches an eyebrow.
"It's true! I've heard the rumors." Meghan gives a sideways grin. "I'm sure you have too."
"A girl can dream, right?" Dana sprints across the room to the line of tables with seated Warriors.
Meghan's phone vibrates on her hip. She looks at the number. A text from Stu: I have to cancel tonight. Sorry.
She blows out a breath. Right. Probably playing Xbox with his cousin again. She needs to break up with him. Tonight. The relationship is going nowhere and it's boring. Stu's boring. All he wants to do is go for motorbike rides or to the movies. There's nothing new. It's the same as their first date five months ago. Does he even care about her? She's wondered about this for weeks now. It only came to light when her friend Brie asked if she and Stu wanted to join her and her boyfriend, Mike, on a day trip to Mayne Island. Stu was the only one who said he didn't feel like walking over on a ferry. Meghan loves the outdoors and exploring nature. She was bummed she couldn't get Stu to budge. At first she thought maybe he wasn't feeling well, then Meghan found out he was driving his dad to the airport. Like he couldn't have gotten his sister to do it. She still lives at home.
"They're opening the doors," someone yells.
"The books." Meghan turns to Keri. "I don't know where the rest of the order is. I checked the order and five thousand are supposed to be here."
"How many are here?"
"They have to be here. Did you check the loading zone? Maybe they were left there."
"Good idea. I'll check."
"No, get someone else to look. We have to make sure the players have what they need."
"Dana made sure they have everything."
"The crowd will be coming through any moment. Alex is here, but I guess Jared isn't showing up." She walks toward the tables one last time.
"I gotta get those books to the front of the line." Meghan gets two employees' attention and has them open the rest of the boxes.
Meghan escapes down the hallway to see if she can find the rest of the order. She makes another call, this time to Eddie, one of the coordinators who's at the office, working on another assignment.
"Eddie, it's Meghan. Listen, we seem to be missing a couple thousand cookbooks. Have you noticed a stack of boxes in the boardroom? Storage room? Someone's office?"
"I haven't noticed, but I can look around for you."
"Would you do that? Thanks." Meghan talks with her head down, walking fast to the nearest room, except she doesn't know exactly what she's expecting. There aren't offices, more like a hallway and the referee's changing room. She stops and lowers her cell phone to her side. Where else can she look? Are there any other rooms? It's such an old arena and she doesn't know her way around. The change rooms! Of course! They have to be empty, so why not store the boxes there? It is like an aha moment. She attaches her phone to her side and leans into the bright blue door with an unlocked latch. She opens it a crack and peers in to get a better view. She doesn't see anybody, so she opens it wider until she's sure the room is empty. It smells of sweat and wet rubber, except the floor is dry. She looks around at the empty room and nothing catches her eye, so she leaves to make it down the hall to the next door. It's a locked room.
"You won't find anything in there," a security man tells her. "It's the janitor's closet." He chuckles to himself. "Can I help you find something?" He glances at her lanyard hanging from her neck.
"I'm missing some boxes that were delivered here. They haven't arrived for the signing yet, and I'm wondering if they're stored in the wrong place."
"Haven't seen any." He walks away.
Some help he is.
Meghan walks across the hall to the next door. The word HOME is painted across the wall in yellow paint. The door is unlocked, which leads her to believe she won't find anything that belongs to her in there, but there are only so many places to store boxes. Meghan leans her shoulder into the door, takes a peek, and begins to step inside.
"I wouldn't go in there if I were you," a male chuckles.
As she turns around, a guy's walking past her. He is wearing jeans and a polo shirt. Meghan doesn't recognize him. His deep-set blue eyes and the curl of his upper lip stun her like she's seeing something breathtaking for the first time.
"I'm looking f-for something." She rests her weight on the door.
He stops, makes eye contact with her, which makes her breathe just a little bit harder and stare just a little bit longer. She gulps.
"I haven't heard of a dressing room being used for anything else. I wouldn't go in unless you have to." He pauses, butts his lips together as though he's thinking about something, and takes a step closer. "I've heard about people like you."
"Like me?" Her voice rises with concern.
"Yeah. Sneaking into the dressing room to get a selfie and post it on social media."
"Oh yeah. I saw one posted once. There was a girl in Brampton, where I'm from, and she snuck into a dressing room. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to get a shot of herself in a player's cubby."
"Never heard of it."
"So if you want a picture," he says, turning around. His feathery blond hair falls softly to his neck, the typical hockey cut as it's called. "Go ahead. I won't tell. Do it quick."
She raises an eyebrow. Who does he think he is?
"Does it look like I'm about to take a selfie?" She holds up her lanyard with a swipe in the air and puts it down. Is he trying to be funny?
"I guess not ... I didn't notice ... Sorry."
"I'm just checking whether something was left here." She opens the door all the way to take a look. Nothing. She closes her eyes, bites her bottom lip, and turns on her sore foot to leave. These shoes are going into the garbage can when this event is over, even if she has to drive home barefoot.
He chuckles. "You might want to check upstairs for the lost and found."
She shakes her head as he saunters down the hall toward the arena.
Who is this guy?
Automatically Meghan steps to the side to let a man pulling a flatbed dolly with stacks of boxes on it through.
"Wait!" she shouts. "Are those cookbooks?"
The man slows. "I heard they were books." He shrugs.
"Okay, great! Do you know where you're going?" Meghan tries to walk with him but is falling behind. The dolly takes up most of the hallway.
They get to the arena where thousands of people are waiting in line for their chance to have a cookbook signed or have something autographed by their favorite player. People have come dressed in Warriors attire. She scans the tables. Every player is there. She notes that Jared Landry's place is occupied. From where she's standing, she can't tell who is who.
"Where do you want them?" the deliveryman asks.
"Follow me." She walks away from the crowd to a place near the front of the line. Security is letting people through. People only get a few seconds with each player, but it looks like the event is running smoothly and Meghan can breathe easily now that there are more cookbooks to give away.
The man unstacks the boxes and puts them with the rest. Meghan calls some employees over to help open the boxes and get them ready for the public. She's happy she made the decision to keep the limit to one item signed per player, whether it's the cookbook, a hockey card, or a jersey. She couldn't expect the players to sign everything. That would be asking for too much, and she wants to be on everyone's good side, especially when there will be many more team events. Meghan helps out at the front of the line and then strolls the arena to make sure the event is running the way it was planned. So far, so good. People are smiling, laughing, and having a great time meeting their icons, and the players seem to be enjoying themselves. Meghan walks around the facility, making sure everyone is doing their job and the players have what they need.
By the afternoon, the crowd thins and Meghan instructs security to lock the entrance and to warn people the event is coming to a close.
There are still around a hundred people trying to get through to have something signed.
"Good job today," Keri says. "I'm heading back to the office to finish up on a few things. See you tomorrow."
"Yes, see you tomorrow." After Keri leaves, she kicks off her heels and hides them under a table with her briefcase. Instant relief. She sighs and throws her head back as she wiggles her toes.
"Exhausted?" Dana makes a pile of the crushed boxes.
"I'm okay. It's my feet. They're killing me."
"You look like you could use a nap."
"It will be an early night for me, that's for sure." Meghan takes out her cell phone to check the time. "It's three already!" Meghan touches her stomach. She missed lunch. Early dinner, early bedtime. "We can start cleaning up. The event is over. You can tell the players to wrap it up. I'm going to start clearing off the tables."
"Did you need me to sign any extra books?" a guy asks.
"They're for charity, right?"
This guy really is stuck on himself.
"I think we're okay. Thanks." She continues to collect the Sharpies.
"Do you need a hand?"
"No, I'm fine, thanks." She ignores him as he clears off his place setting and hands her his name card. Jared Landry. It had to be him. She takes the card.
"I thought this went until four."
"I sent out the updated notice. It ended at three." Meghan throws his card in the tote and places it with the others on a nearby table, where Dana adds the other name cards to it.
"That was you? You sent the e-mail?" Jared picks up a potted mum.
She stares at him. Is he for real?
"You're Meghan." He extends his hand while holding the plant at his side. "Jared Landry."
"Meghan O'Riley." She places her hand in his with a firm shake and releases it, going back to clearing the table of garbage and used Solo cups.
"Are you taking that?" Dana points to the plant.
Jared flinches and hands it over. "No."
"I can take it." Dana leaves with it.
"Sorry if I offended you back there. I didn't know who you were."
"And that makes a difference?"
"It does. We kinda work together. Don't want to damage our relationship."
Meghan snickers. "Damage our relationship?" What relationship? This guy is too much.
"Let me help you." He reaches for another plant.
"No, I'm okay. Really. Thanks. I'm fine." She tries hard to grin, even though she wants him to leave and not bother her again. She starts clearing the tables.
"The least I can do is give you a hand." He puts the plant down as Dana comes for it and takes it away.
She raises an eyebrow. "Don't worry about it. Thanks. I've got it. I'm sure you have things to do."
Excerpted from Practice Makes Perfect by Charlene Groome. Copyright © 2015 Charlene Groome. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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