Almost Like Being in Love (2 page)

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
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“All the air conditioners on the Panhandle managed to stay functioning for a day, huh?”

Caron muffled her laugh with her hand, turning it into a cough as her father took his place at the head of the long table. It was their Monday-morning staff meeting—only on Tuesday morning, thanks to the holiday weekend. Time to focus, to be professional.

Caron used the logo-branded pen to surround the list of topics on the paper in front of her with various-sized arrows as her father worked his way through the list.

• Scheduling for Continuing Education Courses

• Agents' New Listings

• Open House Weekly Caravan

• Office Total Production for Month/Quarter/Year

• Agents' Production for Month/Quarter/Year

“I wanted to single out one agent in particular this morning—Caron Hollister.”

At the mention of her name, Caron dropped her pen so that it rolled across the table with a clatter of plastic against glass, her attention pulled away from her doodling.

“Congratulations on surpassing the proposed quota in sales not only for the month, but for the quarter.” A brief smile creased her father's face. “If you keep this up, you're likely to be in the top ten percent of sales in the country by the end of the year.”

A flush heated her neck, rising to her face—the round of applause from her colleagues mere background noise to her father's public praise. Yes, the sales meant she'd satisfied her clients, but she'd also made her father proud, which made all the early mornings and late nights worth it.

“And now that we've discussed the usual business agenda—” Her father smoothed his royal-blue tie against his starched white dress shirt. “—I have an important announcement that affects the future of this company.”

As he spoke, a petite woman, who appeared no more than ten years older than Caron, entered the room and came to stand beside him. She was all polish and poise. Immaculate deep red dress that almost shouted designer-made. Mile-high heels. Airbrushed makeup. Blond hair cut into a classic bob. Bleached-white smile.

Wait . . . who was she? Caron scrolled through her brain, trying to put a name to the vaguely familiar too-perfect face.

Nothing.

A hush settled over the room as if everyone took a collective breath and held it. No exhale.

Wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

“I'd like to introduce Nancy Miller. I'm sure you're all familiar with her reputation along the Emerald Coast as a
well-respected Realtor. After some lengthy negotiations, I'm very pleased to inform you that Nancy is joining Hollister Realty . . . as my partner.”

The room remained quiet, as if people weren't sure if a round of applause was in order. Caron gripped the fabric edge of her chair to keep from bolting to her feet.
His partner?
Her father didn't share his business with anyone. Caron stared down through the clear glass table. Maybe if she let go of the edge of the chair, she'd fall through the glass like some modern-day Alice. Fall, fall, fall into some other world where things made sense.

Her father's voice chained her to the how-can-this-be-true reality.

“As I'm sure you're all aware, Nancy has a thriving real estate firm in Navarre. I've watched her for years and I respect her business prowess and all she's accomplished in the past decade. We both realized that together we'd be a realty force to be reckoned with.”

Her father was standing there . . . praising Nancy Miller . . . announcing she would be his new partner . . . only minutes after he'd finally acknowledged Caron was successful—on her way to possibly earning national acclaim.

“This is going to mean great things for our companies. A name change, for one. We'll become Hollister Realty Group. We're already working on our ad campaign to announce our merger and our new name.” Her father beamed like a man announcing the birth of his firstborn. “At this time, no one needs to worry about any adjustments to our staffs.”

Around the room, the employees relaxed in their chairs, a collective exhale whispering through the air.

“As a matter of fact, we may need to hire additional employees. But that's all to be determined. This morning, I just wanted to share that today's a new beginning for our company.”

Applause splattered around the room.

“To celebrate, I requested champagne and cake. I'm not sure what the delay is.” Her father motioned Nancy forward. “I also wanted Nancy to say a few words and to give her the chance to tell you her vision for our future. While she does that, I'll slip out and see what's the holdup on the bubbly.”

As a wave of laughter flowed among the employees, Nancy worked the room like a pro, starting off with a joke about her early years as a Realtor. Caron slipped from her chair and caught up with her father in the hallway.

“What was that?” Her words were a timid verbal tap on his shoulder.

Her father didn't slow his stride. “What was what?”

“That.” Caron motioned back toward the conference room. “That announcement.”

“Just like I said—it's the future of this company.”

“I was at the house two days ago for lunch and you never said a word.”

“That was a family gathering. You found out today, with the rest of the employees, Caron.”

“But I'm your daughter.”

“Exactly. At home, you're my daughter. Here, you're my employee like everyone else.” He stopped outside the kitchen, where two of the receptionists arranged clear plastic champagne glasses and plastic plates with slices of cake on two rolling carts. “And I decided it was best you found out today.”

“How long have you been planning this?”

“Six months, maybe a little longer than that.”

Six months? For a moment, the scene in front of her blurred—the receptionists pouring streams of champagne into tiny cups seemed to fade in and out. “You didn't think I would want to know? Didn't realize how this would affect me?”

“My decision affects you the same way it affects any other Realtor who works for me. It's a wise move for the business.”

Caron's fingers worried the collar of her linen dress. “Dad, you made Nancy Miller your
partner
. You've always said that this company was yours—a family-owned business—”

“And it still is. I've retained majority ownership in the business.”

“But Nancy Miller isn't family—”

“No, she's not. She's my partner. And I chose to expand my business by making the best decision for this company.”

Nancy Miller. Her father's partner.

And where did that leave her?

Caron swallowed past the sharp ache slicing the back of her throat. This was not the time to give in to emotion. Her father had taught her the importance of remaining calm when negotiating. “But . . . you knew my dream was to . . . to one day . . .”

Her father stepped away from the other women, blocking them as he turned to face her. Lowered his voice, his gray eyes glacial. “Dreams don't get handed to you. Having the Hollister name doesn't guarantee you anything. I make
business
decisions based on what's best now as well as in the future. Granted, you've surprised me by settling in here and proving to be a good Realtor. But Nancy Miller has years of experience that you don't have. She's rocketed past anyone's expectations for her success. A good employee doesn't question her boss's decisions—in public or private. Given time, you'll realize this was a wise decision.”

With that, her father addressed the receptionists, his voice smooth. Caron braced a hand against the wall. With her father's unexpected decision to form a partnership, she'd lost her way. His “surprise” at her success erased any indication she'd made real progress. It was as if he'd removed all the signs, all the mile markers, from the road map of her life.

Her father took a few steps past her, back toward the conference room. Stopped. “Are you coming?”

Was she coming . . . where? Back to the conference room to watch everyone fawn over the woman who'd stolen her dream?

No, that wasn't true. Nancy Miller hadn't stolen her dream. Her father had handed Caron's dream to her, with no thought of how it would destroy his daughter's professional goals.

By aligning himself with Nancy Miller, her father had betrayed her. Was she going to betray herself?

Caron forced herself to stand straight, fisting her hands at her sides. How . . . why had her father done this to her? She'd poured hours into being the best Realtor she could, all the while hoping that one day she'd be her dad's partner. How was she supposed to work under Nancy Miller?

“Dad, you've worked hard for what you've accomplished. Made the decisions you thought best.” Her body flushed hot, then cold. “It's . . . only right I do the same.”

A nod of agreement. “Now you're talking.”

“I don't understand your latest decision . . . how I fit in . . .” Caron searched for the next words. The necessary words. The words that would stamp
FINAL
on today. “—so . . . so I think it's best that I'm not a part of Hollister Realty Group.”

“Excuse me?”

She hesitated for only a moment, waiting until she could say what needed to be said without her voice quavering. “I quit. I'll draw up the standard two weeks' resignation today—”

“Don't be rash, Caron. You're not in high school anymore.”

High school.

With those two words, her father reduced her to a seventeen-year-old with streaks of vivid pink in her hair.

“I'm not being rash.” Caron maintained eye contact. “I'm making a wise business decision. For me.”

Now was the time for her father to tell her that she was too valuable an employee to lose. Maybe even put his arm around her shoulder in an all-too-rare display of affection. Insist they both calm down and talk this out, Hollister to Hollister.

But instead, her father nodded again, his face devoid of any emotion. “You do recall you signed a contract stating that when you leave here, any and all deals in process revert back. That your commission drops down to fifty-fifty, even if you are making a larger commission at the time. I will not make an exception for you, daughter or not.”

Of course he wouldn't.

“Understood.”

“Fine. You've got until the end of the month under my name. Your MLS access shuts off in two weeks.” Her father's words were automatic, as if he was checking off a list. “I'll waive the two-week resignation period. And Caron, don't be foolish enough to think there'll be a job waiting for you here when you realize your mistake.”

“I won't.”

“You can clean out your desk immediately.”

And that meant she'd skip the champagne and cake, too.

•  •  •

What had she done?

Caron sat at her desk, the stillness seeming to crawl up her skin. Everyone else was in the main conference room. Celebrating. Toasting her father's brilliant business venture.

And she . . . she had just thrown away the only job she'd ever wanted. And her father hadn't stopped her. Hadn't done one thing to keep her as an employee, despite praising her less than an hour ago.

Why?

Caron closed her eyes, covering her face with her hands, fighting the increasing desire to burst into tears.

Not here. Not now.

Why didn't her father insist she stay? Was she nothing more than a quarterly statistic that benefited his company? Why didn't he at least try to discuss things with her? Why didn't he . . . understand?

With hands that shook, she moved one of the empty computer-paper boxes from the floor to the top of her desk. Slid open the middle file drawer, the scrape of metal against metal severing the suffocating silence. Within minutes, she'd transferred her transactions in process and future-leads files to the box. Farther in the back she found the folder of thank-you notes from clients, depositing those into the box, too. Sliding the drawer closed, she opened the bottom drawer, where she kept her stationery, a backup makeup kit, a small hairbrush, and a bottle of her favorite hair spray, along with a bag of cashews and another of golden raisins.

Next—the top desk drawer.

Paper clips. Neon Post-it notes. Pens with the company logo, which her father would be changing. A pack of breath mints.

She slammed the drawer shut. She didn't want, didn't need, any of it.

The pen engraved with her name that her parents had given her when she'd passed her real estate license exam lay on top of the desk. Caron balanced it in the palm of her hand, tempted to leave it among the other pens in her desk drawer.

No. She was still a Realtor, albeit an unemployed one. And she didn't have the energy to be petty. Her father likely wouldn't even notice she'd left the pen behind.

Her desk lamp. The chargers for her iPod and iPhone and the speakers she'd brought in so she could listen to music while
working. The photo calendar on the wall Vanessa had made her for Christmas, filling it with family photos and pictures from Logan and Vanessa's wedding and photos of Caron and Alex. Of course she'd take that, and the framed photo of Alex and her, taken on her last birthday.

The two watercolors of Destin—one of pale-green-and-gold sea oats, one of a purple-and-orange-tinged sunset—wouldn't fit in the boxes. She'd just carry them out to her car, then come back for the boxes.

On her return, she dumped her business cards in the box, so that they tumbled, helter-skelter, like oversize confetti. Tossed in her datebook. The small glass jar of bright red Hot Tamales she kept on the edge of her desk. Only a few pieces of candy remained inside. She'd meant to bring in a bag to refill it this week.

And that was that.

All that was left of her time here.

She'd have to call her clients, let them know she was no longer working for Hollister Realty.
Correction.
No longer working for Hollister Realty Group. She would try to find out who would be handling their closings. But she'd make those calls from home.

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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