Almost Like Being in Love (3 page)

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
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Caron stood in her office doorway. Did she want to wait, take the time to explain to Jackie? To say goodbye to everyone? Make the rounds of the other offices? Hug the receptionists?

No.

She needed to leave with her dignity intact. No wobbling chin, no blinking back tears.

She could always send e-mails or make phone calls later. Maybe bake brownies and drop them by in a few weeks—or better yet, have something delivered.

As she entered the building after depositing one box in her car, people had begun to return to their offices as the celebration
broke up. She needed to be done. Gone, before anyone tried to engage her in conversation. She wasn't a coward, but one confrontation was enough for this Tuesday.

•  •  •

She was no better than a thirteen-year-old, running home to her mother, expecting her to dispense just the right amount of love, listening, and momma-wisdom to make everything better.

She'd left her father's office with no real idea of where she was going. She'd driven over the Mid-Bay Bridge, ending up at the Donut Hole, in a booth with a glass of sweet iced tea that the waitress kept refilled and a salad that ended up in a to-go box. And despite several hours at the restaurant, going over listings, trying to create a semblance of order to her life—the life she'd wrecked of her own free will—she was still lost. Now she was driving back across the bridge to her parents' house, just wanting to be with her mom.

Not that Caron expected her mother to fix anything. She couldn't. And most of all, she didn't want her mother caught between her father's red-letter day and her unemployment announcement.

But Caron still wanted to tell her mother herself what had happened—what she'd done—before her father did. She needed to be an adult. First she'd tell her mother. Then she'd tell Alex that his girlfriend was now unemployed. And then, after conquering those two hurdles, she'd start sifting through the shambles of her life tomorrow.

Caron swallowed back the sour taste that filled her mouth, pressing the palm of her hand against her stomach. Right behind the looming question “What had she done?” lurked the question “What was she going to do?” Work for another realty company? Go independent? Or maybe she'd surprise everyone
and do something else. Go sell Hawaiian shaved ices in one of those little trucks along the beach in Destin.

Caron shut the front door of her parents' house, kicking off her high heels and heading for the kitchen, the plush carpeting soft on the soles of her feet. “Mom? It's me.”

Where would she find her mother? Caron never stopped to consider what her mom did during the day. The house was always immaculate and her mother refused to let her father get a maid service. She nurtured the mini-jungle of plants growing in the sunroom, belonged to a book club, attended a women's prayer group. She planned dinners for her husband's business colleagues—the consummate hostess, Dad always said.

The kitchen smelled of chocolate and vanilla and peanut butter, and a quick glance at the red KitchenAid mixer on the counter—with remnants of cookie dough in the silver bowl and a black wire rack with cookies cooling alongside it—proved that her mother had decided to bake. She couldn't be that far away.

Sure enough, Caron found her mother sitting on the family room couch, her laptop balanced on her knees, a pair of bright fuchsia readers, embellished with gold filigree, perched on her nose.

“Hi, Mom.” Caron offered her a small wave from where she stood in the archway separating the two rooms.

“Caron!” Her mother started and then smiled. “I didn't hear you come in, honey.”

“Sorry. I didn't mean to surprise you. What are you doing?”

“Nothing important.” Her mother moved the laptop aside, shoving her readers on top of her head. “I'm surprised to see you in the middle of the day right after a holiday weekend. The office is usually so busy—”

“I know. Usually.”

“Do you have time for some lunch?” Her mother transitioned into the kitchen, offering Caron a quick hug that was like a soft kiss on her bruised emotions. “I have leftovers from Sunday, or I can whip up some tuna salad. It won't take long.”

“I'm not that hungry, but some iced tea would be nice.”

“Coming right up. I've got it sweetened, just the way you like it.”

Unexpected tears stung Caron's eyes, but she blinked them away. That was her mother—always taking care of her and everyone else, too.

“Listen, Mom, something happened at work today and I wanted to tell you myself . . .” Her voice wobbled like a kid's bike with only one training wheel.

“Oh?”

Caron scooped the side of the mixing bowl with the plastic spatula, savoring the leftover cookie dough. “Did you know Dad was going to partner with Nancy Miller?”

Her mother stilled for just a moment, then resumed removing two tall glasses from a cabinet. “Yes. He's talked about it for months.”

“Mom . . . you know he's always said Hollister Realty is a family-owned business. His company. Why would he suddenly partner with Nancy Miller?”

“Caron, I don't tell your father how to run his business. Yes, he discusses things with me, but in the end, he makes the decisions.” Her mother stopped talking for a moment as she filled the glasses with ice. “I do wish he'd told you before today, but he prefers to keep family and business separate as much as possible. And I respect that.”

“Well, there won't be any problem with that now.”

Her mother carried a plastic pitcher of tea to the kitchen counter. “What do you mean?”

“I quit.”

The pitcher hit the counter with a dull thud. “Caron! Why would you do that?”

“How can you even ask that question, Mom?” Caron abandoned the mixing bowl and held the glasses steady as her mom filled them with tea. “You know my dream has always been to be more than another one of Dad's employees. I wanted to inherit the business one day. By partnering with that woman, he's made it very clear I don't fit in his plans.”

“I know that's been your dream. And I know your father's decision is a shock.” Her mother paused, seeming to debate her words. “But Caron, have you ever asked yourself if being with Hollister Realty is the right dream for you?”

“Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved going with Dad when he viewed houses, prepped them for showings. I worked in his office during the summer. All I've ever wanted was to be a Realtor—”

“I know that—”

“I kept waiting for him to see that even though Logan didn't want to follow in his footsteps, I did.
I could.
” Caron closed her eyes, resisting the urge to stomp her foot on the tile floor. “And what good did it do me? He joins forces with Nancy Miller. And now I don't have a job.”

“Caron, if you really want to be a Realtor, I'm sure your father will understand you were upset. Go back and talk with him—”

“Haven't you been watching me for the last four years, Mom? Or listening to anything I said? I
am
a Realtor.” Now Caron did stomp her foot. “And I'm not asking for my job back. Dad may think Hollister Realty Group is the future of the company, but I don't want to be a part of it. I was working for my future—what I hoped would be my future. I made the wrong assumption. I'll figure out something else.”

“Well then, I won't try to talk you out of your decision.” Her mother slid her readers off her head, setting them on the counter. “You're an intelligent woman, Caron. Your decision to quit may have been sudden, but that doesn't mean God isn't in it. I once heard someone say an unexpected bend in the road can lead right to God's next blessing for us.”

God.
Right. He was probably standing back and watching her tear her life apart, wondering why she hadn't asked for his help, his direction, when she was upset. Caron sipped her tea, but the sweetness didn't alter her attitude in any tangible way. She didn't have the right to throw a temper tantrum and blame anything on God. Her earthly father had hurt her, not her heavenly one. But right now her emotions were as shattered as if she'd dropped her glass of iced tea on the kitchen floor.

She wanted to blame somebody for the mess her life was. Her father for not making the decisions she wanted. Nancy Miller for being an interloper.

“So, what can I make you for lunch?”

“Mom, I didn't come here for you to fix everything. Or to fix me lunch. I just wanted you to hear about my decision from me, not from Dad.”

“Making you something to eat doesn't mean I'm fixing anything—”

“I know. I'm sorry. I'm just not very good company right now.”

“Tell you what.” Her mother wrapped her in a loose hug and the faint scent of vanilla. “How about you go swim a few laps? That used to work when you were in high school and you were stressed out about exams or a basketball tournament.”

“Leave my troubles in the deep end of the pool, right?”

“Something like that. I'll make lunch while I finish up these cookies. No more talking. As a matter of fact—” She consulted
her slender gold watch. “—I have somewhere to be in an hour. Lunch and fresh-baked cookies will be waiting for you after your swim. So what's it going to be?”

“I learned a long time ago to never argue with the wisdom of my mom.” Caron returned her mother's embrace. “A few laps sound perfect. Who knows? Maybe I'll have an appetite when I'm done.”

“Swim as long as you want. I'll have a sandwich waiting for you in the fridge and cookies in the usual container.”

Her mother was right. She'd drag her heated emotions through the pool, eventually tempering them in the repetitive motions of kicking and arm strokes, of breathe and hold, breathe and hold. Most days after high school basketball practice she'd come home and cool down with a swim. And when the team lost? She'd endure her father's replay of the game—what she'd done right and everything she'd done wrong—and then muffle the sound of his criticism by swimming lap after lap in the pool. Caron only stopped when her mother stood at the edge, towel in hand, and demanded she get out, dry off, shower, and come get something to eat.

Some teenage habits were worth reviving.

TWO

H
ollisters don't quit.

Her father's voice had chased Caron from her parents' house, following her all the way home. He'd drilled those three words into her from an early age until they seemed an inseparable part of her DNA.

And yet, if she wiped away the steam clouding her bathroom mirror, she'd be staring at the reflection of an unemployed woman.

A quitter.

She scrubbed away at the mirror with her towel, staring into her eyes.

“You made a decision, Caron Hollister. You live with your decision.”

And now she was quoting her father to herself? Out loud?

She needed to call Alex and tell him about her ill-fated day. He would provide some much-needed consolation.

Caron towel-dried her hair, any hint of chlorine washed away, thanks to her favorite shampoo. The scent of coconut and shea
butter always reminded her of lazy summer afternoons lying out on the white sands of the Destin beach when she was a teenager.

The coolness of the bathroom tile floor changed to the softness of bedroom carpeting. Her rescued-from-a-flea-market wrought-iron bed dominated the area, the off-white comforter shot through with multicolored threads of muted reds, blues, oranges, greens, and yellows—all echoed in the myriad pillows piled at the top of the bed.

She settled herself in the center of the mattress, legs crisscrossed beneath her short cotton robe. Just as she reached for her phone, it came to life with the upbeat tones of “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.

Okay, then. She was talking to her best friend before she talked to her boyfriend.

Caron flopped back among the accent pillows. “Hey.”

Margo ignored her greeting, her voice shrill. “You quit your job?”

Caron jerked her phone away from her ear. “Stop shrieking at me.”

Margo inhaled a gulp of air. “You quit your job?”

“We've texted about this all day. Five I-quit-my-job texts from me to your five WHAT? reply texts.” Caron tossed the damp towel onto the floor beside her bed. “Yes. I quit my job.”

“Why?”

“It was time.”

“It was time?” A piercing note tinged Margo's voice yet again. “Come on, Caron, this is me. Your high school best friend. Your college roommate. I know all your secrets. So unless you want me to start posting them on Facebook in the next thirty seconds, start talking.”

“Coercion? And you call yourself my best friend?”

“Whatever it takes. Stop stalling.”

“I can't work for my father anymore.
Not after what he did.”

“And what exactly did he do?”

“He brought Nancy Miller on as a partner.” Caron sat up, shoving her wet hair out of her face.

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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