Authors: Autumn Markus
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
The Art of Appreciation
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2013 by Autumn Markus
Previously published by Omnific Publishing
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by AmazonEncore, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonEncore are trademarks of
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Cover design by Barbara Hallworth
This title was previously published by Omnific Publishing; this version has been reproduced from Omnific Publishing archive files.
To my HLM, Sandy. You know why.
And to M. Always.
.” Abby tapped a pencil on her desk. “Yes, I can hold.” Cheesy elevator music assaulted her ear, and she winced. “C’mon, c’mon.” She slipped off her pump and rubbed the ball of her foot. Wedging the phone between her tilted head and shoulder, she dug around her cluttered desk with her other hand, searching for her little yellow heaven. Her eager intern rushed over to help, but she pointed toward the door, waving him away. After an unconvincing protest, he grabbed his satchel and hurried out.
Abby rooted around her top drawer, humming along with the music. She grinned when she finally spotted the tennis ball. A grant proposal spilled to the floor, but she disregarded it in favor of bouncing the ball once and then rolling it around with her cramping arch.
A soft moan of pleasure slipped from her lips, and she heard Sarah’s snort of laughter. “I can hang on until you’re finished, if you like. That sounds just sinful.”
“Yeah, yeah…funny.” Abby grabbed her bottle of hand cream and squeezed some into her hand. “Listen, I’m calling to cancel our dinner tonight. I decided to take a sabbatical after all, and I’m going to Maine for the summer. I leave tonight.”
“Whoa, there, Bessie. Back it up. Why the hell would you go there as opposed to somewhere interesting?”
Abby sighed. “Because I can’t afford anywhere interesting. It’s either my family’s cabin in Maine or my parents’ house.” She shuddered at the thought of a whole summer with her mother. “Or I could crawl into my bed and not leave the house until September. You’ll find me half-eaten by a German Shepherd next fall.”
reference. That’s never good.” Sarah considered for a minute. “Might you be acting a bit of the drama queen, bubala? Have you even talked to your boss yet?”
“I might be,” Abby acknowledged reluctantly. “And no.”
“Meet me at the restaurant for dinner, babes. Maine can wait until morning, right? What you need is a good daiquiri and a little time for reflection before you throw your summer away. I’m hanging up now, so you’d better be there.”
The line went dead as Abby lowered the handset.
“What I need is a new life.” She slipped her shoe back on before she stood. Checking that her hair was still caught up in a clip at the back of her neck, Abby painted on a smile and headed out of the office.
One night. Then she was out of Boston for the summer.
Four hours and a few drinks later, both shoes were off and Abby’s feet were propped on the seat next to Sarah. Thank God for dark booths and friendly restaurants. The waiter flashed a wink as he picked up her empty glass and deposited another whiskey sour.
Sarah examined the dark hair that tumbled over his forehead and slapped the bottoms of Abby’s feet. “See? Men find you attractive.”
Abby snorted and downed half her drink at a gulp. “Yeah, men who are angling for a big tip.” She focused on the waiter’s tight backside and broad shoulders as he walked away. “Which, who am I kidding, he’s gonna get just for being pretty.” The women snickered and finished their drinks. “Besides, he’s practically a baby.”
Craning her neck for a better view, Sarah whistled beneath her breath as he bent to retrieve a dropped spoon. “Doesn’t look much like a baby from where I’m sitting.” She pointed at Abby. “You’re only thirty-seven, and he has to be at least twenty-one to be serving drinks, which means—”
“Which means that I was playing tonsil hockey with my first boyfriend when Mr. Sexy Waiter Guy was in diapers. No. Thanks.” Abby flipped an ice cube into her mouth and crunched it as Sarah laughed. “I’m tragically old. And uninteresting. Ask Eric.”
Sarah rubbed her hands together. “Now we’re getting into it. What exactly did he say?”
Abby closed her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Bullshit. You want to tell Auntie Sarah everything, remember? There’s no way mousy little Eric told you that you’re tragically old. Christ, he’s pushing forty himself. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
Abby took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “Sare, the most boring man on the Eastern Seaboard said, ‘It’s not you; it’s me,’ to me.” She stared at her friend.
Sarah gasped and gestured for the cute waiter to bring more drinks. “It’s that bad.” She clasped Abby’s hand. “I’m sorry he broke your heart.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “Right. Like Eric would be capable of that.”
Sarah tried a shocked face and failed, giving up with a laugh. She dropped her friend’s hand and lounged in the booth. “I just thought since you’ve been seeing each other for a couple of years…”
“Please. Eric’s a nice guy, but…” Abby smiled at the waiter as he deposited their glasses. He grinned back before he walked away.
“‘Nice’? You spent two years on ‘nice’?” Sarah raised an eyebrow, and Abby shrugged. “I’m guessing in bed…?”
“Ouch. ‘Nice’ and ‘acceptable.’ How about ‘clean’?” Sarah snickered into her drink.
Abby moaned and covered her eyes. “Oh, fuck it. He was a date on major holidays and for the company picnic. Satisfied?” Sarah cackled. “My point is, I should have been the one to end it, right? I managed to bore the most boring man on earth. I never thought he was The One, but…where is that guy, and why haven’t I tracked him down and bagged him?”
“Ab, you know there’s only one perfect Man.” After years of parochial school training, their signs of the cross were automatic and simultaneous. “I don’t think He’s taking girlfriend requests. And besides, are we talking about a man or a wildebeest?”
“Is there a difference? They’re both rare and elusive.”
Sarah snorted laughter. “About the boring thing, though—”
“And—” Abby held up one finger to halt Sarah’s protest “—and Gretchen landed me with another of her earnest-and-eagers last week. I swear she’s trying to get me to quit. How can I babysit another intern? Clint is enough of a time-suck for three people.”
They both contemplated Abby’s office mate, an effete young man, prone to long lunches, effusive praise, and backstabbing dagger-wielding. “Have you told Gretchen this?”
Abby downed the rest of her drink. “Sure. And she hinted that I was just too old to appreciate my good fortune in having such an attentive intern—another pair of eyes ‘to be sure our displays are fresh!’” She deflated from her righteous indignation. “Hell, maybe she’s right. Maybe it’s all too much for me.” She laid her head on the table. “I suck. I’m old and boring and I suck. So now you see why I have to go to Maine.”
Sarah gestured for the waiter to bring them two more drinks. As soon as they were deposited, she tapped on Abby’s head until she raised it. “Aside from the tremendous implied insult to Maine-ish people, I don’t get the connection. Here’s my plan: Come to California with me instead.”
Abby blew a raspberry and mimed pulling out empty pockets. Sarah slapped a hand down on the table. “I’m totally serious. My Aunt Filiz lives in Santa Cruz, and I just happen to know she’s going to some artist commune thingy in Taos for the summer. I can use a break, too. David owes me some time off, so I’ll tell him I’m using it this summer. I don’t see why this can’t work out.”
Abby eyes filled with alco-tears. “You’d do that for me?” she squeaked, reaching for Sarah’s hand and smacking her glass in the process.
“Abso-freaking-lutely, sister. I only have one rule: no boring, sucky Abby allowed. We’re going to do new things and meet new people and do new people and eat different foods, and…where was I going with that? Oh yeah.
. Our mantra is change. Deal?”
Sarah stuck her hand out, and Abby tried to grab one of them, managing to grasp the tips of Sarah’s fingers. She shook them.
“Change. Yeah. Now get me to the bathroom before the cute waiter is disgusted.”
Abby raised her head from the couch cushion reluctantly, moving only because she had to or else the shrilling of her phone from across the room would make her head explode. The riot of color and texture in her small living room usually cheered her up; today, it just made her eyes hurt.
She stumbled across the room and grabbed her phone just as her foot slipped on the cool linoleum. She looked down in horror, catching from the corner of her eye the sinuous slide of a cat in trouble.
“Damn you, Salvador Dali,” she growled, pulling off her stockings and tossing them at the waste can. She forgot the phone in her hand until she heard a low chuckle amidst a rumble of office chatter.
“I can’t imagine a man that’s been dead for years is giving you that much grief, so am I safe in assuming your pet left you a little abstract art?”
Abby grabbed a handful of paper towels, smiling as she recognized David’s voice. “Dali was a surrealist, you Philistine. And, yes, the damned cat is still litter box challenged.” She wiped up the mess and bundled the whole thing into a plastic bag before tossing it to join her stockings. “I’ll bet I know why you’re calling this early.”
“I’ll bet you do.” The volume of the babble in the background diminished, and she knew he’d closed his office door. “So. I hear you’re kidnapping my employee for the summer.”
Abby nearly laughed at the studied casual tone of his question. After over a decade of friendship, she could read his anxiety just as well as if he’d been wringing his hands before her.
“Maybe.” She snagged a bottle of hand sanitizer off the counter, flopped on a stool, and coated her foot in the cold goo. “It was mostly bar chatter. I’m not even sure if I can get away right now. Gretchen—”
“Mrs. Dahl is a cave troll. I know this,” he said impatiently. “Sarah made it very clear that you both have to get away. From everything.”
Abby let his significant pause hang in the air as she decided how to proceed. She’d been doing this dance of don’t ask/don’t tell since nearly the first meeting she’d arranged between David Strain and Sarah Martin. David’s interest had been immediate…and there it rested, apparently unrequited.
Once again, when faced with either confronting his unspoken interest in her friend or letting it go, Abby backed down. “I’m sure she didn’t mean you, David. You’re the best boss, friend…whatever. Sarah should be thanking the gods your photographer didn’t show up at that gallery opening and that you’ve taken her along as you’ve moved up.”
He chuckled, and she could almost see the way his wild red curls, now closely cropped as befitted an editor at the
, had bobbed the first day she’d introduced her job-seeking friend to the young reporter. His eyes hadn’t left Sarah all day. “I wouldn’t say that, Ab. Sarah is an incredible wom—photographer. She’s made it on her own.”
The noise level behind him rose, and Abby heard his secretary. David was suddenly brisk and businesslike. “Right. So I can count on having Sarah back by the first of September. Excellent.” His voice lowered. “Be careful, and take care of each other. Call if you need anything.” He hung up.
Abby tossed the phone on the counter and slouched back to the couch. As soon as she lay down, Salvador Dali slithered onto her chest like the smoke his coat resembled. His eyes closed to slits, and he began to purr. She considered shoving him to the floor, but the confident way he snuggled down softened her ire.
“Stupid cat.” She began stroking the soft fur. “What the hell will I do in California if Gretchen doesn’t find a reason to make me skip my sabbatical again this year?” A vision of herself, gray, wrinkled, and chained to her desk rose in her mind’s eye. Still puttering with other people’s art. Still ignoring the pictures that floated in her own mind. Still alone, if you didn’t count Salvador Dali IV. Even life with Eric sounded good right about then. She winced at her unfairness to a nice man, and then gasped as the cat dug his claw into her chest in protest at being disturbed.
“Behave!” Her resolve strengthened. If that was to be her fate, she deserved one last summer of irresponsibility, damn it. But how best to approach the Dragon Lady? Carefully, and with all of her ducks in a row. Particularly the two ducks that were in her especial care; Clint would revel in the chance to prove he could do her job, and New Boy, whose name she had yet to learn, would be okay…