~~~
Day’s Verse:
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:20-21
~~~

The funeral ended as it had to, as nearly all funerals did: the son rose, spoke some touching words, followed closely by a hymn and a closing benedictory prayer and an exiting procession. Summer had recorded the whole thing on her pocket digital recorder as if the speeches were world-shattering, Pulitzer prize-winning interviews. As the bereaved heirs filed by, Summer started writing her copy, biding her time until the aisles emptied. She prayed that this funeral, at least, would please Fred enough to convince him of her journalistic abilities.

“Why Summer! Summer Robertson!” The rather shrill voice jerked her from describing the departed’s multifarious deeds. Summer looked up, pushing her brown hair from her eyes for the millionth time that day—surely a good haircut wasn’t beyond her means now?—wondering where she had heard those ear-piercingly strident tones before.

A vision of black lace and wool met her eyes, the pale face with its wide, baby-innocent blue eyes framed by impossibly black hair coiled and primped just so. The suit, which looked to have cost more than Summer’s monthly salary, fit the speaker’s trim form like a glove—Latex, not snow. Had Summer seen this suave, totally un-Seattle-esque woman before? As Summer opened her mouth to make a politely noncommittal response, the woman rode right over her.

“Jenice McCab, my dear, we met at last year’s company Christmas party. My husband pointed your dear Lance out as one of the rising stars of the firm. And of course I remembered your unusual name—so creative of your parents, dear! Or was it your own idea?—and of course I had to talk to you both, but then who remembers meeting people a year later? Goodness only knows I meet so many new people through the firm I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of them by the time we say good-bye.”

Continue reading.Summer more than half wished this Jenice had forgotten her, too, as she sat trapped in the pew. Jenice continued:

“But then you stood out, your lovely figure and your wonderful taste in clothes—what a fantastic dress you had on that year! It so matched your name, like a ray of golden sunlight in the winter—and being Mrs. Robertson, of course, we expect you to be joining us as a partner’s wife soon. I will have to introduce you to Dawn, that’s Jack Bain’s wife, of course, and we will take you to the best places for suitable clothes” (here she looked rather disapprovingly at Summer’s neutral gray slacks and pale pink sweater set) “and so forth. Why my dear…” At this point, Summer began to wonder if the woman had some other, non-throat-related way of breathing, since she’d hardly drawn a breath throughout her whole monologue. “…we must go out right now and get to know one another! There’s a very nice little bistro, Guiseppe’s, just the way. Rather exclusive, of course, but they always have room for me and my friends. Well? Come along.”

Clearly James P. Quinlan’s death hadn’t hit this formidable woman hard enough to curb her appetite. She put out her wool-clad arm in a way that suggested that if Summer failed to take the proffered limb, she would suffer the consequences. Still, taking her fate into her hands and, seizing the brief lull as Jenice did breathe for a moment, Summer said, “Thank you for the kind offer, Mrs. McCab—”

“Jenice, my dear, everybody calls me Jenice except the hired help.”

“—but Lance and I are, well, getting divorced and I won’t really be involved in the firm anymore.” Her part said, Summer stood up as firmly as she could, moving towards Jenice at the end of the pew in the hopes that the woman would take the hint and step aside. The church had emptied almost totally, leaving a scattering of caterers and cleaners to sweep up the programs, food crumbs, candle wax, and wadded abandoned Kleenex.

Jenice’s eyes opened even wider, if that was possible, and she gasped “Whaaaaat?”

Summer thought she’d dumbfounded Jenice for a moment and took advantage of the situation to add: “He’d been sleeping with Charmin, that secretary, for the last year or year and a half. In fact, they even snuck away at that party to…do it…. In a closet, I imagine.” Summer tried to sound casual, callous, as if her husband’s infidelity meant less than nothing, but her voice betrayed her in its high-pitched cracking at the end.

The darkly-garbed woman had, however, regained self-control by that point. Sympathy sounded real in her voice as she replied, “Why my dear, how awful for you! And that awful Charmin—well, she’s certainly slept with Jack Bain, Dawn told me herself; and I can only assume she’s been with my John, too. And half the firm’s non-gay males, I’d say.” She paused, as if assessing Summer’s fortitude. Summer thought she’d passed the test, because the older woman continued.

“But,” Jenice looked at Summer as if divorce happened every day, “that’s hardly something to get lose your head and get divorced over! My word, if I’d left John for infidelity, I would have been on the street long ago. Now come on, that bistro won’t wait all day—or I suppose it will!” She twittered gleefully at her own cleverness and Summer wanted to scream. Or cry.

“I really am sorry, but I have to get back to the office. Turn this copy in and everything.” Summer flourished the scribbled-on paper as if it would save her life.

“Oh, my, ye-es. You have to work, don’t you, you poor thing?” Jenice sounded genuinely sorry and surprised. “I’ll let you go then. But call me—” she dictated her number and added, “Jenice, spelled like ‘Janice’ but with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a.’ Call me and let’s do lunch some time. I don’t care if you’re leaving Lance, and I simply must have your advice on a dress I’m thinking of getting made for this year’s Christmas formal dance…” and she swept out, with Summer bobbing along in her wake.

As they emerged, the bustle of Seattle wrapped around them. Jenice, seeming impervious, strode to her gleaming black Jaguar convertible and sped away, turning illegally out of the parking lot. More than anything, Summer wanted to go back to working part-time, volunteering, keeping tidy that beautiful house that was no longer her home. Instead, she walked slowly up the street, making her way to a bus stop where she waited for half an hour. Eventually the bus arrived and Summer made her slow way to the office of The Seattle Herald.

The big atomic clock in the lobby read 2:37 by the time Summer arrived at her workplace. She shuddered at the thought of her boss’ reaction to the time, but hoped she’d be able to slip in before he realized she’d been absent almost three hours by then. Maybe she could look as if been there for hours already by the time Fred strolled around to her little cube. But even as Summer slipped down the hallways clutching her notebook as a talisman of authenticity, she heard the man’s big voice echoing down from her end of the building. Drawing nearer, Summer he saw him standing, his back towards her, directly in front of her cubicle talking to Megan.

Summer’s stomach sank. Not only would Fred clearly see her coming in, but she’d have to explain herself in front of the gossipiest woman on the second floor. Megan was 35, not far off Summer’s own age, but while Summer had worked to maintain muscle tone and ate as healthy as she could, Megan subscribed to eating fads. She hadn’t aged gracefully, in Summer’s
opinion; if they hadn’t recently celebrated Megan’s birthday, Summer would have pegged her at 40 or perhaps a little older. Megan’s dyed dark-brown hair, cut short and foofy, combined with her too-youthful dressing habits, suggested the desire to look young even as lines on her face and a perpetually knowing sneer aged her beyond her years.

As Summer approached, she felt particularly aware of her bedraggled appearance. The trip to the lawyer’s office, followed by James P. Quinlan’s funeral and that horrific discussion with Jenice had taken their toll. Her hair frazzed out of the morning’s styling, her slacks were wrinkled from hours of sitting, her makeup had smeared, and she seemed to have acquired a smudge of black on the front of her sweater somehow. Summer very briefly considered slipping into the bathroom to freshen up, but that would mean turning around—admitting defeat even as she felt Megan’s beady eyes lock onto her.

“Why Fred,” simpered Megan, “speak of the devil. Here she comes now, as if the hounds of hell were at her heels.” Megan peppered her conversation with idioms in an attempt, Summer guessed, at sounding educated.

Fred turned around, his thick arms brushing the flimsy cubicle walls on either side of the hallway. He didn’t look pleased, but then, Summer had never seen him look pleased. Just displeased or, at best, neutral. Pale wispy hair barely covered his broad forehead and his eyes glittered blackly. Thick, sensual lips contrasted with his rough, callused hands—a lumberjack’s hands. His lumberjack-sized body looked out of place in the khakis, button-down shirt, and sport jacket he perpetually wore. Even his voice, a deep and penetrating rumble that would have carried across a football field effortlessly, sounded too large for The Herald’s hallways. Summer felt a little afraid of Fred, and she more than a little disliked him.

“Taking a long lunch today, Summer?” Fred asked, malevolence vivid in his voice. “I’ve warned you about taking company time for personal activities.” He glanced at Megan, whose face bore the satisfied look of a cat with a bowl of cream.

“No, I was covering James Quinlan’s funeral, and Fred, I wanted to talk to you about that photographer—” But Fred had already cut her off.

“I assigned him to Megan’s story. She was covering a fire downtown.” His tone suggested that Megan, at least, had done some real work today even if Summer had spent the previous hours sitting on her hands. “And I don’t expect you to question my decisions again,” he added, almost for good measure. Megan’s look said that Summer had certainly been put in her place, and rightly so.

“But—” Hands clenched, Summer took another stab at the unfairness of the situation.

“What did I just say? Or can’t you remember that long ago?”

“You said not to question your decisions, but—”

“So she can remember,” with another glance towards Megan and, oh Lord, here came Shawna, who gave Megan a run for her gossiping money. “Then are you not intelligent enough to understand these big words? What I said was, in small words, do—not—cross—my—choices—or—you’re—fired.”

Summer felt the urge to scream or cry rising again. This clearly wasn’t her day. She even felt tears welling up in her eyes, unfaithful eyes that they gave her away so egregiously. Squeezing past her boss’s bulk into her cluttered cubicle, Summer tried to dash the wetness from her cheeks without him or the other women noticing. This incident would spread faster than the Plague through the company, and soon everybody would look at her with pity or dislike in their eyes. Wasn’t it enough that she had earned the hatred of not only her boss but every one of her coworkers? Had she not also lost the rest of her life, had she not begun working full-time again against her inclination to make ends meet? What had she done to deserve this persecution?

“Oh, and Summer,” Fred loomed over her as she sat, small and cowed, in her shabby, worn chair. “I don’t think we’ll have room for that piece on James Quinlan anywhere near the front page. Make sure you keep it to 250 words and maybe we’ll fit it on the usual obit page. Although,” he added with strangely vicious glee, “I imagine once our editors are done with it there won’t be enough left to fill a mouse’s mouth.”

“I’ll keep it short,” Summer agreed dejectedly. Megan and Shawna had seen her defeated once again, seen Fred’s total triumphant domination over her. Then, with a brief flash of defiance, she added under her breath, “as short as I can. Jerk.”

Fred turned away then, looking at his eager audience and telling them only half-facetiously, “OK, ladies, show’s over.” Summer huddled in her seat miserably, waiting for them to please just leave her before the tears began running down her face.

As Fred’s shadow withdrew, lightening Summer’s little cube, she looked at what was becoming her new life: A five foot by five foot cubicle of slate-gray, with a lighter but matching desk occupying half the surface area above her knees. A phone, a computer, shelves above and below the desk, a sleek modernish lamp she had decorated with cut-out paper flowers that glowed when she turned the lamp on, stacks of papers nearly tall enough to rival her lawyer’s. Grim; but she had covered one wall with photos of her parents, her old home—California—and the natural beauty of her new home. A spider plant proliferated in one corner, drooping tendrils with babies in all directions. She had even brought in crepe paper, wrapping it around and around in a festive riot of color. A small string of out-of-season Christmas lights draped around the top of the cube; Summer bent as she entered to plug them in. They lit, their colors glowing cheerfully, and Summer took a moment to ponder.

Things seemed pretty bad right now, true. But who knew—maybe somebody would finally file a sexual harassment claim against Fred and he’d be sacked! Maybe she would be promoted out of writing obituaries and gain some real responsibility. Maybe Lance would die in a horrific accident before the divorce was legalized and all his money would go to her. Maybe that LaSoure woman would get breast cancer—

No, Summer decided, she couldn’t wish that on anyone, not even the woman her husband had left her for. With a sigh, Summer flicked on her desk lamp and shook the mouse. As the screen woke, she pulled out the copy she had written. If Frank wanted 250 words, by God they would be the best 250 words Summer could write.

An hour later she emerged, standing and stretching the crinks out of her fingers and neck. Probably the head editor would chop it some, but generally Summer felt a little better—writing always did that, even writing obits. And it really wasn’t a bad 250 words; they did James P. Quinlan and his Cup of Seattle chains justice. And he had strongly promoted The Herald among his employees, ordering them to leave it about in his stores for customers to peruse over their hot beverage of choice. Despite Fred’s belligerence, Summer thought this could make a good, eye-catching story on the front of the Local News section. Summer could almost see her headline: CUP O’ SEATTLE FOUNDER, 83, REVOLUTIONIZED SEATTLE COFFEE SCENE. Or maybe something shorter. CUP O’ SEATTLE FOUNDER REMEMBERED. Not bad.

Seating herself again, Summer checked her phone messages and email inbox simultaneously. While writing, she refused to be distracted by anything short of a fire or an earthquake. She also muttered aloud to herself as she wrote; what tales that spider plant could have told, did it but have a tongue.

She had a hefty—if electrons weighed anything—pile of emails, all business related. Plowing through them, Summer came across one from Chastity Williams.

From: Chastit
y Williams
To: Summer Robertson
Date: September 5, 2006 3:06 PM
Subject: SEX!! Friday nite

Smiling, Summer opened the message.

Hey girl
Today sucks, my lameass boss has me sorting electronic files and im about to die of boredom. But tomorrow’s frydai!! Life needs excitement for yours truly, even your life needs excitement. im jumping tomorrow nite, you interested? AK wy viaduct baby.

anyway call me after work, well hang.

~Chastity~

Summer decided she would call Chastity back, but to decline the jumping invite. It had always sounded too darn risky to her; life was never so bad she wanted to risk it that way. But she felt much better after reading Chastity’s message. Settling back in her chair, Summer picked up the top page of her largest paper stack. Copy-editing obits had to be the world’s most boring job, but after this she’d be free—free to call Chastity, to walk out of this building and into the world. Something good was going to happen for sure this evening. Summer felt it. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.

3 thoughts on “Romance Novel: Day 2

  1. 3 comments:

    1. Is Chastity 12 years old, or what? What adult (other than Mark Foley) actually writes that way in emails?

    2. Make Megan mix metaphors. Not drastically, but the almost-correct-but-not-quite way.

    3. If you’re going to be mentioning many headlines, see if you can’t make them ambiguous. Have the writers not realize the problem.

    Keep it up!

  2. Regarding comment 1: Colleen, what do you think happens to all those teens and college students who write like this? Terrifying though it may be, the answer is that they go out into the working world and continue to write in that terrible style. It’s sad but true. I’ve read some of the worst emails of my life since graduating and joining the workforce.

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