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Authors: Jo Richardson

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BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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Boring.

But staying . . . staying will be fun.

I abandon the idea of leaving and head over to produce.  I step up behind Iris as she stares blankly at a bin full of vegetables. Her hair is still up but it looks frayed. The result of a long day at the office, no doubt. For the briefest of moments, I’m tempted to push aside the strands of hair that have fallen out of her makeshift bun, brush my lips across the back of her neck, and squeeze the tension of her shoulders. On some other plane of existence, I would, except I’m angry with her. On the other hand, I can’t just stand here all day, staring at her neck.

“Hey Iris.”

“Oh hell!” She fumbles and drops the potatoes in her hands. They fall into the bin from where they came, causing a landslide of potatoes. As Iris tries to stop them all from toppling to the floor, she sees me standing there, looking down at her with a huge grin on my face.

“Carter. Um.” She struggles to gain control over the pile of vegetables and when they finally come to a halt, she stands up straight with her arms spread wide, just in case they have second thoughts.

Once she’s convinced they’re staying put, she nods, then looks up at me. She’s paralyzed all of a sudden. She’s uncomfortable. Good. She didn’t expect to see me and that gives me the upper hand here. And although I could confront her right now and get it over with, tell her what I think of her sneaky ways, that would be too easy. My fun would be over.

“Whatcha doin’?”

She reaches beside her, blindly, and picks something up to show me.

“Just fingering these potatoes,” she says.

It takes me a sec to understand what she just said. When it clicks, I belt out a laugh.

“What?” I know what she said but I just want to make sure she
knows what she said. Plus, I’d kinda like to hear it again.

“I mean . . . I’m . . . picking out some fingerling potatoes.”

Damn.
I was kind of hoping she’d repeat it. On purpose.

“For potato salad.” She laughs like she’s nervous. “I’m making potato salad.”

“I see.”

“Why would I be fingering potatoes? That’s…”

“Dirty?”

The word slips out before I can reel it back in and I expect a gasp or I don’t know, some sort of look of shock to spread across Iris’s face. Instead, she simply stares up at me with an interested expression. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Curiouser and curiouser.

A slight clearing of her throat is followed by cautious words this time.  “That’s one way of putting it I suppose,” she says, ignoring my innuendo.

Or so it seems. Then she turns around and begins picking a few out. The conversation feels over but I’m not ready for over just yet. So I push her a little more.

“What’s another way?”

She makes her way further down the aisle, away from me. “Hmmm?”

And I follow. “Another way of putting it?”

She won’t look at me. “Well I haven’t really thought it through, I guess.”

“Well by all means Iris, think it through.”
For me.
I make my way around her and step in her path. We lock eyes for the longest ten seconds I’ve ever encountered and before she can say anything in retaliation, her cell phone rings. She answers it; her hands fumbling with the phone but her eyes stay on me.

“Hi, I left you a note,” she says and it sounds friendly enough but there’s an undertone. Something along the lines of impatience maybe. The next string of attempted phrases have little emotion tied to them as she tries to finish each sentence. And with each one, her attention is taken from me, to the caller.

“No, I’m --”

“Well it wasn’t like I --”

“I didn’t mean to --”

“Okay.”

She lowers the phone away from her ear and slides it into her purse. Her head stays down for a moment as she takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly.

She checks her watch and closes her eyes and the next thing I know, she’s doing math. Out loud.

“Fifteen minutes back to the office, an hour to fix this, ten to make copies . . .” She stops talking but her lips are still moving and when she’s finished, she whispers, “Okay.”

“You alright there, Iris?” I ask her and when she looks up into my eyes this time, her entire demeanor has changed. For the worse.

“I have another way of putting it for you.”

I’m confused for a minute. “What?”

“Demeaning, degrading, insulting, belittling.” She narrows her eyes. “How about humiliating? Any of those words good enough ways of putting it?”

“I don’t understand.” How did we go from an entertaining, damn near flirtatious-type dialogue to this?

“It’s been great seeing you Carter,” she says, cutting me off. “But I really have to go.”

She forgets all about the fingerlings and our discussion, grabs a tub of pre-made potato salad as she passes the deli section, and heads for the check out.

“Iris,” I call out after her but either she doesn’t hear me, or she ignores me.

Either way, I don’t even know why I do it. I originally approached her so I could confront her about keeping the meeting from me. That plan was ruined by whoever it is that causes Iris to speak in broken sentences and beginners algebra. There’s always the meeting. I can always try this again then
,
but for now, I’m definitely no longer in the mood for grocery shopping, so I leave to find the closest Chinese take-out place.

 

* * *

 

Meg isn’t home when I go over to ask her where this meeting is, Beatrice has advised me that, “she doesn’t give two hoots where they meet” and Paul the naked neighbor said they stopped telling him where they were holding them.  It takes a few more tries but I finally get the address of where the neighborhood committees are held.

After I finish off my pork fried rice and spring roll, I still have about twenty minutes to kill so I hop in the truck and drive over to sit and wait in the parking lot.

After about ten minutes, Iris hurries in. She’s carrying the tub of potato salad she purchased earlier. Once the doors close behind her, I turn the engine off and head inside. Even at the law offices of Blackwood and Blackwood, I enjoyed standing in the back of the room, watching everyone else as opposed to garnishing the spotlight right off the bat. I do the same here and stand quietly by a couple other guys who, I have to say, resemble handymen.

I nod at one of them. “How’s it goin’?”

He nods back but doesn’t make any effort at chit chat. I ignore his rudeness and lean up against the wall. I make myself comfortable and the meeting gets going.

“We’re calling this month’s meeting to order early, as you know,” a woman who looks to be in charge room calls out to the crowd. “Iris Alden, our carnival co-chair, has some issues with the extra help we’d like to hire for the event.”

There’s a few hems and haws. A little bit of laughter and then I hear a, “Surprise, surprise,” from somewhere nearby. I can’t figure out who said it though. Not that it matters.

“Okay, okay,” the woman says. “Settle down.”

Iris sits few seats down from her. She looks confident, yet distant. Like she’s somewhere else right now. Maybe wherever that phone call came from, earlier. Who was is anyway? And what was it all about? Whoever it was, I don’t like them much. They take her pizzazz away.

“We have a three bids to listen to, from what I understand,” the woman tells us.

“Two.” Iris raises her hand as she corrects her.

And this is where I find a smile. Because she’s about to realize her planned has been foiled. The woman in charge checks her paperwork.

“No, Iris, I’ve got three listed here. Tom Branton, from AKA metals, John Deems from over at Home Depot and a Carter Blackwood, self sustained.”

Iris’s expression is priceless. Her mouth falls open in that adorable shock and awe kind of way that only she can make look sexy and then she scans the crowd, trying to remain unconcerned, until finally she sees me. I smile and give a salute.

Yep, it’s me, Iris
.

Her body turns to face the woman in charge but her stare lingers a little longer with mine before she can give her full attention back to the committee.

“I don’t have his bid, though,” she insists. I’m sure she’s hoping her declaration will exclude me from the offers.

This is when I raise my papers up in the air and push myself off of the wall. I stride toward the front of the room, until I’m right smack dab in front of Iris’s seat, staring down at her with a friendly grin.

“Brought it just for you, Iris.” My voice is even. Steeled.

I set the bid on the table and slide it toward her. I don’t give her time to react before I turn around and head back to my spot against the wall. I don’t know what’s she’s thinking right now, but I have a lot of fun imagining what’s running through that beautiful brunette head of hers. The not-so-chatty handy man who refused to be polite earlier eyes me nervously when I return. I give him a wink for good measure.

“Well this is out of our budget,” Iris says.

I don’t respond this time. My role in this meeting is over, now it’s up to the votes.

“We can work it out,” someone else says. It’s Meg and when Iris realizes it’s her friend speaking, she looks confused. Like she’s not sure how to take being disagreed with by someone so close.

“I checked his references today,” Meg tells Iris. “He’s the real deal and really, it’s not much more than the other two.”

“Which brings me back to my point to this whole mess in the first place,” Iris counters with a wave of her hand toward me, specifically. “Do we really need a handyman on site? Why can’t we just use one of the high school kids who need volunteer hours?”

“That was a nightmare last year, if you recall correctly.” A man who’s all suited up for the occasion pipes in.

“That’s was a one off situation, Hank, and you know it,” she reminds him.

Iris squirms as everyone begins to gang up on her. They look like a swarm of piranha getting ready to tear her apart if she doesn’t retreat pretty quickly. But that’s not her style. I admit, at first I may have wanted this to be fun but as I listen to her arguments about money budgeting and the desperate need for a down payment on a playground for neighborhood kids later in the year, I feel like a dick; mostly because the needs of the kids far outweigh the needs of my income to increase. And even though there’s another kid out there in the universe that demands my help, the ones Iris are fighting for seem a tad more important. For now anyway.

Sorry again, Spence.

“Actually she’s got a point,” I announce without raising my hand or waiting for anyone to acknowledge me.

The room goes quiet and Iris? She looks as though I’m speaking in tongues.

Chapter 7. Iris

 

“I just don’t get it.”

“What’s that?” my boss asks from somewhere deep inside the realm of his office.

“I double, no . . . I
triple
checked this presentation before I left, Mark. I even opened up the attachment from my sent file after I emailed it to you. It doesn’t make a lick of sense how it could have reverted back to an older version.”

When I don’t hear anything back from him, I sense, something’s up. He’s silent. He’s never silent. Always talking. Always saying a bunch of nothing really, but still, talking. I push away from my cubicle and lean back to try and see what he’s up to in his office.  I can only see the back of him as he stands, looking out this window at who knows what.

“Mark?”

He doesn’t answer again, so I abandon the power point presentation he called me in here to fix, and I step into his office.

“Mark.” I say his name louder this time and he turns around, wearing stress in his expression. He sighs dramatically, slumps his shoulders and takes a seat. When he motions for me to do the same, across from him, I comply.  I also hope he doesn’t see me check the time as I do.

“What’s the matter?” I’m only half interested. My mind is too busy thinking about the meeting I’m supposed to be at in roughly one hour, to give him my full attention.

Mark peers over at me, solemnly, before letting his eyes fall to his desk. Typically he’s full of himself. So full in fact that there’s no room for anyone else to be around him for long but now, he just looks like a lost little boy to me.

“Kathy left me,” he says.

“I’m—”
This is so weird. “
So sorry, Mark.” I lack any other words of encouragement for the moment but truth be told, I’m not really sorry. He’s an ass. I’m surprised his wife stayed with him this long.

I push my chair away and excuse myself so I can go finish my task but then, he starts crying. And I’m not with my boss all of a sudden; I’m with a pathetic man whose heart is broken and alone.

I reach across the desk, uncomfortably and pet his head. I don’t know what else to do and I already regret doing it because his sobs are louder now. So I stand and work my way around to where he’s sitting and I pat his back, awkwardly. Since I started working here, he and I have never once had a bonding experience as employer and employee. Male chauvinistic pig and lowly worker bee maybe, but not human a la human. Ever. I’m not sure what to say to the man, but I give it my best try.

“It’s tough now, Mark, I know, but it’s going to be okay.”

I don’t believe a word I’m saying. I’m simply repeating things people said to me when James left. It’s all bullshit though. Things are still tough and they are definitely not okay yet. I’m beginning to think they never will be.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do!” He stands and wails as he covers his face.

“Oh . . . you’ll . . . figure something out.” I give him with a soft punch to the upper arm. “You always do.” I lean closer and peek around him to see if he’s listening, then I add, “Really, I know you will.”

I rub his back a little more and Mark’s sniffles slow to a controllable pace finally. He’s quiet for a moment with his hands still covering most of his face. He slides them down and away as he stares out the window momentarily, before turning to me. I smile. Yay me, I’ve done it. I’ve bonded with the boss and made him feel better. Then Mark gives me this look. I’ve seen this look before; on James, after fights we’ve had, it’s when he wants to make up and . . .

Oh no.

“Mark,” I whisper. “I don’t think --”

He grabs a hold of my arms, pulls me toward him and kisses me. And not only does he kiss me, but his hands are everywhere.
Ew ew ew ew ew.

“Mark,” I squirm and plead through his open mouthed kisses against my lips. I push his hands down and away from me only to be assaulted again. He presses forward until I’m trapped between him and the filing cabinet.

“Listen,” I tell him, but now, my hair has somehow gotten caught in the drawer and I’m more concerned about the fact that I can’t pull my head away without ripping the follicles painfully out.
Ow.

“Iris,” he moans as he finally pulls his mouth away from mine and onto my neck. Gross.

“Mark!”

“Oh, Iris.”

“MARK.”

“Mmmph.”

I can’t take it anymore. He’s lost in some sick fantasy consisting of office sex and me. I refuse to be star of that
B
rated porn movie. I haven’t had sex in, well, too many months to count but even I’m not desperate enough to get turned on by this freak show. So I knee him as hard as I can in the groin area and hope for the best.

“Fffffffuck! Mother. Shit!”

He shouts out a few more obscenities while he rubs where I’ve injured him but at least he backs away so I can wrestle with my hair to try and free it from the filing system. I definitely lose a clump in the process.

“What the hell
,
Iris?” Mark pampers his balls and I wipe the slobber from my face.

I mentioned
ew,
right?

“What the hell
Iris
? I should be asking you that, Mark. In fact, I think I will.  What. The hell
?

He’s angry at first. His face turns beet red and his brow pulls together so deep I think his forehead is going to crack in half. And it’s like this is my fault, somehow. After a split second of thought, he calms himself down and right there, on the floor, he starts to cry. Again. My head falls back and I roll my eyes all the way up to the ceiling.

“Oh for the love of God, I don’t have time for this. Get yourself together and go home!”

I leave him to go pack my things up from my cubicle.

“But what about the presentation?”

“Do it your damn self,” I tell him. Then I swing my purse over my shoulder, out of patience for the day and leave.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

I don’t know how many times I repeat those words as I pull out of the parking lot of the Maximum Copy building.  And I don’t know if I’m referring to my boss, or me when I make that accusation. Was he wrong? Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt in my mind.

Am I going to press charges? No. I don’t think so. Probably not, that is.

I’m brand spanking new to the working world again. I have zero experience needed to get a decent paying job and therefore, for now anyway, I need this one. All of which is an afterthought of course, to the fact that:

Yes, Mark is a complete ass, most of the time
.

Yes, he completely overstepped his boundaries today.

And yes, he deserves to be reported.

I can’t help but think, this is his first offense  and being that his wife just left him (and I can at the very least, empathize with how someone leaving you can affect both your mental and physical being)
and
I was very frank with him about the situation, plus, I think I scared him enough just now to keep him from doing anything like that again, that maybe, I should cut him a break.

A very small, short break. One he’ll take advantage of if he knows what’s best for him.

I’m half way home, feeling slightly resolved about my decision, when I notice the blue and red lights flashing from behind me. At first I think, there’s no way he’s following me. I check my speed; I’m not over the posted limit, and I’m not driving erratically, despite my recent office mayhem. But as he closes in on me, it can’t be anyone else. I’m one of maybe fifteen or twenty cars on the road right now. None of which he’s trying to get around me to go after. So I safely pull over as soon as I can, turn the car off and I wait. He sure takes his sweet time getting out of his cruiser and I check the time every five seconds or so obsessing over how ridiculously late I’m going to be if my evening continues on like this.

Finally, when I hear the tap, tap, tap on my window, I roll it down and look up at him with the best smile I can come up with.

“Hi.”

“Afternoon, ma’am.”

He stands there for a moment, opening up his ticket book.
No no no no no.

“Did I um, do anything wrong, officer?”

“License and registration please?”

I huff, but I do as he says. The last thing I need is for him to think I’m being uncooperative and arrest me – and then I’m on the ten o’clock news with all of Spangler looking on.
Ugh.
I find the tiny scrap of paper that is knows as a registration and pull my license out of my wallet. I hand them to the nice police officer with a smile, which is not returned and then I’m back to waiting. A few . . . maybe ten minutes later, he’s back.  He looks down at me over his sunglasses. An intimidation tactic, no doubt. I keep smiling, which hurts.

“Did you know your tags are expired, ma’am?” he asks politely.

And now, I’m confused. First of all, could he stop calling me ma’am? I mean I’m only thirty . . . something. And secondly . . .

“Are you sure?  I know my husband
just
paid that.”

I cringe when I catch myself calling James my husband. I promised myself I’d stop doing it but it turns out it’s a hard habit to break.

“I’m afraid not, ma’am,” he informs me.
Ugh!

“You see even if they’d been paid,” he explains as he flips a piece of paper over the top of his pad. “When I call it in, the system would show they were up to date. Yours aren’t.” His pen meets paper and he begins to write something down, ignoring me all together, now.

Dammit. I know James paid this
. It’ll be fine,
I tell myself in an attempt to calm down. I’ll call him later and we’ll find proof of payment, then I’ll go over to the DMV sometime this week to straighten it out. For now, I just need to get home and get to that committee meeting I called. I look up at the man, currently writing me a ticket, and go for a Hail Mary of sincerity.

“I’m truly so sorry, officer. I swear I thought it was paid. I’ll take care of it as soon as I get home.”

He holds the pad out for me to take.

“This is a ticket for expired tags,” he says.

“No, wait --”

“You have the right to protest the ticket in court, however, I
am
gonna need you to sign right here.”

He points to where he wants my signature and hands me a pen with his other hand. I have half a mind to protest it right here and now, on the cusp of what happened with Mark, but I’m behind as it is and so not in the mood to get tackled to the ground for my behavior so I sign. He rips off a page from his pad and hands it to me.

“You have thirty days to pay or protest. Have a nice night ma’am.”

“I’m thirty . . . something, you know,” I finally tell him as he walks away. “Not eighty.”
For Christ’s sake.

He points to my bumper as he passes it. “Get your tags up to date.”

It’s only now, when he’s gone, that I look at the price tag on this event. “A hundred and twenty-nine dollars?” And that’s on top of what it’s going to cost me to pay for my tag renewal.

As the officer pulls away, I wave and smile, and when he’s far enough away that I know he won’t turn around and ticket me again, I flip him the bird. What traffic there is, flies by while I sit there in an attempt to let the anxiousness from my run in with the law dissipate. After a few minutes, I fold the ticket up, put it in my purse, start the car up again and head home, glad that Ally had tutoring after school today and wasn’t present for that debacle.

As I pull into the driveway at home, I call James. I want to get this straightened out as soon as possible. Preferably before my thirty days are up.

“Hey,” he says, just like he has since the first day I met him.

“Hey, I thought you paid the registration on the cars, James.” I blurt it out, there’s no other way to make this a nice conversation. I grab my things and struggle to get out of the car with it all. The phone is pressed between my ear and shoulder.

He laughs. “That’s not a very nice way to greet your ex, Iris.”

“Come on James, I just got a ticket.”

“Oh-ho-ho!” he booms from the other end of cyberspace. “Nice, Iris, livin’ large!”

I roll my eyes. “James.”

“I did pay it Iris,” he assures me. He’s more serious now. “But that was last
year. I told
you to write it on the calendar.”

I manage to unlock the front door and let everything but the phone drop. I think back. Then I walk over to the Spangler High calendar that hangs on the kitchen wall. A year ago is a long time. If he had told me to put it on the calendar, you bet I would have put it on the . . .

“Dammit.”

“It’s there, isn’t it?”

I am not dignifying his attitude with an answer.

“Iris, if something’s wrong . . .” He lets it hang out there like an overripe tomato, waiting for me to cry on his shoulder.

Well I’m not falling for it. “I’m late for a meeting, James, I have to go.”

BOOK: Cookie Cutter
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