Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 14

No way!” Stacy exclaimed as they made their way towards Charlie’s memorial. They were heading towards the bench she sat on to listen to the live music that comforted her when she needed it, and it seemed like an incredible coincidence to find Charlie’s memorial plaque on it! She ran up to it, and saw that the golden letters read: “In memory of Private First Class Charles D. Morgan.” Stacy told Nick, “I’ve sat here so often, and I had no idea that…”

Stacy had trailed off, but Nick seemed to understand where she was going with that thought. This bench made it possible for Stacy to have heard Nick perform that day, and so, in a way, Charlie had brought the two of them together! Of course, Stacy had no idea where their relationship was heading, but she thought that this memorial bore a good sign of things yet to come. Nick smiled bashfully, and then he suggested, “We should get started.”

Nick took his guitar out of the case, and Stacy used it to prop up the sign she made. Nick stood on the bench as if it were a stage, and people began to take notice. As Nick began to play, people stopped in their tracks. The longer it went, the bigger that this crowd grew. Stacy felt pleased that they all seemed to enjoy as deeply as she did. A couple of people were even brought to tears! When he finished, his audience clapped and even whistled. Many people put money into his guitar case, and a few even came to voice their appreciation for his music. Nick looked elated, and Stacy beamed with pride.

When Nick hopped off the bench, the two of them celebrated their victory. Nick cried out, “That was incredible!”

“You did great!” Stacy complimented. “I think they would’ve stuck around for another song if you had one!”

“Actually, I have been working on another song,” Nick revealed.

“Really?” Stacy reacted incredulously.

“Yeah,” Nick confirmed. “It’s been over a decade since I’ve felt compelled to write one, so when the old instincts kicked in, I had to do it!”

“What’s the song about?” Stacy inquired with immense curiosity.

Nick hesitated, and his face twisted as if he were debating how to phrase his answer. He came up with, “It’s totally different than Charlie’s song. This one is more fun. It talks about how a guy feels about this woman he met.”

Stacy tried not to blush upon hearing that. She supposed he could have wrote something about Janet, but she hadn’t inspired him to write anything in seven years. Stacy came along and encouraged him to purse his passion, so it seemed logical that she stirred up his creative side and became the focus of her song! He didn’t say it had any kind of romantic tone to it, but based on how he said it, she inferred that it had an amorous theme to it. If he wrote something negative about anyone, she felt certain he would have told her that more plainly. She knew though she could only speculate so far and would have to hear the song to know for sure. “When can I hear it?”

“How about Friday?” Nick inquired.

“Ugh, no,” Stacy replied dismally. “I have to work the next two days. Are you free at all this weekend?”

Nick regretfully informed her, “I gotta do all of the odds and ends around the house that his nurse won’t do doing the week, like taking care of the yard or doing repairs around the house, stuff that usually takes all day. I guess we’ll have to wait ’til Monday.”

Stacy piped up, “Do you want some help this weekend?”

Nick looked stunned that she would even consider that notion. “It’s a lot of hard work, and Dad is usually pretty grumpy. Janet won’t even come over to help anymore.”

“I gotta deal with grumpy customers at Emporia all day,” Stacy assured him. “I can handle one more. Maybe if you had some help, you can actually finish quicker and have some free time this weekend!”

“Wow, that would be great!” Nick looked touched at her offer. “Yeah, that’d be great! Thanks!”

“No problem! I’m happy to help!” She grinned at him, and he very gratefully gave her a hug. Stacy relished this moment as she had the last time he embraced her, but neither of them lingered for very long. When they broke apart, they headed back towards his truck. “It might not be such a chore. Sometimes these things are fun if you work with someone who makes it more entertaining.”

“That’s true!” Nick acknowledged. He and Stacy happily chatted as they got into his truck. At some point, Stacy noted that she had planned to search for jobs that had more of a future than Emporia that weekend, and now she may not have time. She remembered the last time she had doubts about her time with Nick and quickly vanquished that thought. Besides, she absolutely had to hear his new song!

The next day, right after Stacy clocked in, she ran into Gloria in the break room. Stacy greeted her, “Heading home?”

As she clocked out, Gloria responded, “Yeah, I gotta babysit my granddaughter. So, in other words, I’m leaving work to do more work.”

Stacy commented, “Wow, you’re a grandmother? No way!”

“I get that a lot!” Gloria chuckled. “I had my kids young and so did my daughter.”

At that moment, Ava popped her head in and growled, “What are you doing? If you clocked in, you can’t hang out in the break room!”

“She was going over the proper clock in procedure,” Stacy fibbed. “Apparently, I did it wrong the other day, and I thought it was important information to learn.”

Ava glared at her as if she knew Stacy had made that story up, but she couldn’t prove it, so she dashed out of the room without saying another word. Stacy and Gloria walked out too, and Gloria asked her, “You’re closing tonight?” Stacy nodded. “Good luck!” Gloria parted ways with her at that point, which left Stacy with so many questions. From her tone, she knew it couldn’t be an indication of anything good, so she sighed and headed towards the sales floor.

Later, at the end of the evening, Stacy folded a stack of tee shirts in a zombie-like trance. Ava came by and sharply probed, “Weren’t you working on that display two hours ago?”

“Nope,” Stacy replied sarcastically. “We were so busy today that I’ve only had time to work on this table once!” Ava eyed her suspiciously, but before she could say anything else, Stacy’s watch beeped. “Ah, saved by the bell. See you tomorrow!”

Stacy began to head to the break room, but Ava stopped her. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Uh, home…” Stacy didn’t understand Ava’s motive for asking her that, but she knew it couldn’t have been good.

Ava corrected her, “When you close, you don’t get to leave until you’re dismissed. Every department has to be clean before you can clock out.”

Stacy felt shocked at this new policy. They certainly didn’t implement this rule when she worked here before, but maybe it had something to do with her being a minor at the time. Her parents certainly wouldn’t have let her work too late when she was in high school! She became indignant that a workplace could keep their employees past their scheduled time, but she couldn’t argue because she needed this job to pay for her divorce. She did think of one issue though, which she voiced to Ava, “It won’t take too long, will it? I only ask because I take the bus, and the last bus of the day leaves at nine-thirty…”

“It’ll take as long as it’s gonna take!” Ava spat. “If you wanna catch your bus, you better clean up fast! Go to the shoe department, they need help.”

Stacy anguished from losing the feeling of getting to go home, and the pain got worse when she stepped off the escalator and saw the state of the shoe department- it was in total disarray! Shoes and boxes littered the floor, and many items looked like they were mismatched or missing. Stacy groaned. She had done a lot of standing around since there weren’t many customers that day, so her legs were very sore. Plus, once again, she didn’t have time to finish her lunch. Her stomach panged for food, and while she began putting shoes in boxes, she inwardly griped about how small of a lunch break she got. Suddenly, that gave her an idea…

Shortly before nine-thirty, Stacy made sure to pass Ava on her way out. Ava raged, “Hey, you can’t leave! I haven’t dismissed anyone yet!”

Stacy pointed out, “I didn’t have a lunch, so I have to leave before I hit the six and a half hour mark or else you guys will get penalized, right?”

Ava grew positively livid, but instead of yelling, she talked in a very menancing tone, “Okay, you can go, but next time you close, you better take a lunch!” Stacy swiftly turned away from her without promising her anything. She thought of the sheer audacity of her getting angry over Stacy breaking a rule she knew nothing about, but she didn’t stay on that thought too long because she was fighting the clock to catch her bus. All she could think about was getting out of there as fast as she could!

She raced outside, but before she could get close to the bus stop, she saw it take off without her! She felt very defeated, and she sadly dragged herself over to a pay phone so she could call her parents. She put in a dime, but when she tried to dial, nothing happened. She had the machine return her coin and tried again. When the same thing happened, she couldn’t understand why it was acting like that and after such a long day, the last thing she needed was a broken pay phone and no money to catch a cab. She took a deep breath to calm down, which made her finally notice the sticker that indicated that it costed a quarter to make a call now, and she cried out in frustration.

After she found a quarter and made the call, she got a hold of her mother. “Hey, Mom! They made me work late, so I missed my bus. Can you pick me up?…Thanks! See you soon!” Stacy sat down on a nearby bench to wait for her parents and tried to decompress. She heard some music blasting from a nearby restaurant, and its catchy tune made her cheer up a little. She then thought that maybe Nick was right, maybe it she should go for a career in music!

Advertisements

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 13

Oh hi, Janet!” Stacy chirped. Outwardly, she did everything she could to convey friendliness, but inwardly, she was writhing. Despite Nick’s claim of her nice personality, she couldn’t help but dislike her. She felt as though she controlled him and kept him from pursuing his dream of music, something he had a deep passion for. Plus, she obviously had romantic feelings for Nick and envied the fact that Janet had him. Suddenly, it occurred to her what section they were in, and she worried about why Janet would need to shop for baby…”What are you doing here?”

Janet explained, “Oh, we’re having a baby shower at work, so I’m using my lunch break to shop for it.”

“Oh, won’t you be hungry?” Stacy hardly noticed what she had said to Janet; in her head, she had taken a huge sigh of relief.

Janet shrugged. “I’ll just eat my desk. Oh, just so you know, I think you did a great job on those dresses! Usually, the racks are a total mess and you can’t find anything. I don’t know why she’s complaining.”

“Maybe because she would have to start putting things back in the right spot instead of wherever she feels like,” Stacy half-joked.

Janet laughed, “Probably! People hate it when the new guy comes in and makes them look bad.” She paused and told her seriously, “Don’t let people like that push you around too much. If you’re following the rules and still get yelled at, there’s something wrong with them, not you. Don’t let them take advantage of you.”

“That’s, uh… thanks! That’s good advice.” Stacy secretly hated to admit that. She didn’t want to see evidence of Janet being a good person, but she had been very thoughtful and kind to her. She actually seemed like the kind of person she could become friends with, but she didn’t want to do that, not while she was Nick.

Janet picked up a blue onesie from the pile Stacy had worked on. “This’ll work. Would a rattle be in the toy section or the baby stuff?”

“No idea!” Stacy replied. “Apparently, they don’t tell you anything around here.”

“Not until you’ve already messed up! Well, I’m sure I’ll find it before my lunch break is over. Good luck!” Janet waved as she headed towards the infant section.

“Thanks!” Stacy watched her disappear among the racks. Janet did seem very empathetic, and she seemed to have a flair for making people feel good about themselves, so she felt puzzled as to why she would hold Nick back from his musical ambitions…

Her thought train got interrupted by a tall and very slender young man with an Emporia badge. “Hey! I’m Claude. I’m supposed to train you.” He saw her progress on refolding the onesie table and got confused. “Are you new?”

“Oh, I worked here back in sixty-nine,” Stacy clarified.

Claude remarked, “Oh, wow! I was two years old in sixty-nine!”

“Wonderful!” Stacy suddenly felt old, and it just really cemented how much time had passed between now and then. And yet, she still ended up in the same spot!

“Well, I’m gonna start folding at the other end,” he informed her. “Just find me when you’re ready to go on your fifteen.”

“Fifteen?” Stacy questioned. “I thought we got thirty minutes for lunch.”

“Nope,” Claude listlessly replied. “You have to work six and a half hours to get a lunch break.” He shuffled over to the other end of the children’s section, and Stacy groaned at the long day she faced.

Barbara and Frank watched television on the couch when Stacy burst into the house. She immediately removed her dress flats and moaned from relief. “I don’t know how I did it in high school! I wore the same kind of shoe back then, and I don’t remember it hurting so much back then!”

“Maybe next time you can wear sneakers,” Barbara suggested.

As Stacy went into the kitchen, she grumped, “We’re not allowed to wear sneakers! We have to dress business casual to maintain the store image. Like, who cares if we’re on our feet walking around the store all day!” She held her bowl of stew and circled around the kitchen before she remembered that her parents didn’t have it. “My first check, I’m buying you a microwave!”

Frank replied, “Don’t waste your money! A microwave only saves you a few minutes!”

“A significant amount of minutes!” Stacy differed as she sat down at the table to eat. “Like reheating this would take a couple of minutes versus like ten on the stove! Did you know, in a microwave, it only takes a few minutes to make a baked potato?”

“Five minutes?” Barbara reacted incredulously. “Oh, Frank, five minutes! It takes me an hour and a half sometimes!”

“That sounds so unnatural! It probably tastes way better cooked naturally in the oven!”

“Ovens are man-made,” Barbara playfully teased him. “How old fashioned do you wanna get? Do you wanna go back to cooking everything over a wood fire?”

“I would be totally comfortable with that!” Frank opinionated. “If it were up to me, we’d retire in a cabin on a distant mountain top! So quiet and peaceful!” Barbara shook her head as if he proposed a ridiculous idea. Frank chuckled and then changed the subject, “So, Stacy, once you’re done eating…” He glanced over and saw her slurping the last bit of what remained in her bowl. “Wow, that was fast!”

Stacy finished her meal and explained, “We only get fifteen minute breaks if we’re scheduled less than six and a half hours. I didn’t get to finish the lunch I brought!”

“Oh, hmm…” Frank didn’t seem to know how to react to that. “Well, I got off work early today and I wanna show you what I did.” He and Barbara led her to her old bedroom, and she saw that some of the gym equipment got pushed to one side of the room. She felt pleasantly surprised to see her old childhood bed stood in there once again! “We kept the parts in the attic, so I thought since you’ll probably be with use for a while, you should have a room to sleep in. On the weekend, I’ll move the rest of the equipment out.”

Stacy had gotten so used to sleeping on the couch that she hadn’t thought about sleeping in an actual bedroom in a long while. She felt touched by her father’s thoughtfulness, but it also made her feel a little dispirited by it. Couch surfing made her feel like she would only stay at her parents’ house temporarily, but, to her dismay, she now felt like a permanent resident. She despised working for Emporia for a pittance, and seeing this sign of it being long term thoroughly depressed her. Living with her parents, working at her old job, and sleeping in her old bed made her feel like a child. She knew that leaving Hadeon would mean she would be starting over, but she had no idea she would have to go back that far! She wondered if it would take another fifteen years to get another shot of independence!

Barbara almost seemed as though she could read Stacy’s mind because she tried to cheer her up by saying, “Don’t put too many decorations up! Soon, you’ll get a fancy new job, and when you leave, we’re turning it into a guest bedroom.”

Frank kidded, “At least this time you don’t have to hide your rock and roll records! We’ll even let you bring booze in here now!”

Stacy laughed, “Thanks! And thanks for the room it’s very nice.” Frank and Barbara gave her a smile and left the room. Stacy sat on her bed and just contemplated it all.

The next day, when Nick came out of work, he walked out and saw Stacy holding up a poster board. “You trying to start a protest against this place? I won’t stop you!”

“You wish!” Stacy retorted. Nick agreed, and they both giggled. Stacy turned the sign around, and it read, “Pay Attention by Nick Rolland, a tribute to a fallen war hero.” Stacy told him, “Just a visual way to get you noticed.”

“Is that glitter?” Nick asked, and Stacy nodded. As they walked to his truck, he remarked, “I didn’t think you’d have the time since you had to work yesterday.” They got into his truck and buckled up. “Janet told me she ran into you.”

Nick began driving, and Stacy had been so focused on all of the other drama from work that she forgot about that encounter. Now that he had brought it up, she grew curious about what Janet may have said about her. “Yeah, she was real nice to me, I was surprised!”

“Why?” Nick inquired. “Do you think I would date someone who wasn’t nice?”

Stacy’s heart lurched when she got reminded of the fact that Nick had a girlfriend that wasn’t her, but she didn’t let it show. She had to think of a valid reason of why she found Janet’s friendliness surprising. “Customers weren’t very nice to me there. They kept asking where stuff was, and they got irritated when I said I didn’t know. Then, at one point, I guess the lines where long, so they expected me to come open up another register to save them time, but I’m not trained on the registers, so I couldn’t. They did not like to hear that! ‘Course, they weren’t nearly as mean as the people I work with, whew!”

Nick chuckled, but then he told her seriously, “Thanks for not ratting me out! I know you said I should tell her about my music, but I appreciate you not telling on me when you saw her!”

The thought of telling Janet about Nick’s secret practice never even occurred to Stacy until he mentioned it just now. She assured him, “I would never do that you!”

“Thank you! It means a lot!” Nick stopped the truck as they arrived downtown. He stared at her appreciatively, and when Stacy met his gaze, the world stood still for a moment. Stacy couldn’t help but admire just how beautiful his deep, blue eyes looked! She had a strong desire to kiss him, but she broke eye contact in order to make sure that didn’t happen. She actually had no idea if Nick had that intention, but she decided to act responsibly just in case she hadn’t imagined it. She thought it was wishful thinking on her part, but she actually thought he sounded a little disappointed when he spoke, “Charlie’s memorial is a little small…”

“Maybe we can change that!” Stacy exclaimed as they got out of the truck and headed to the spot where he’d sing.

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 12

After Nick finished the song, Stacy stared at him in awe. He met her gaze, and for that moment, the whole world stood still. Nick somewhat shyly glanced down, and then he asked her, “So, did you like it?”

“That was amazing!” Stacy answered enthusiastically. He smiled in relief, but he didn’t look like he totally believed how highly she thought of his song. “No, really! That would make the top ten, easily!”

“Thanks!” Nick grinned bashfully.

Stacy stated, “I thought it would take weeks before we developed an angle, but we’ve already struck gold! You should play this in public!”

“How?” Nick responded. “I work all day, and I’m busy all weekend.”

“I don’t mean a full concert,” Stacy explained. “Not yet anyways. You could just play in public, create some buzz. It’s close to Memorial Day, so a tribute to a fallen hero would be perfect! After work, instead of practicing here, we could find a statue or something for you to play in front of.”

Nick told her, “Actually, there is a small plaque for Charlie downtown. How about we go to it on Wednesday?”

“Oh, perfect!” Stacy reacted. “I don’t work ’til Thursday.” Stacy grimaced at the thought of going there.

From her expression, Nick inferred, “Sounds like the claws of Makawee have claimed another victim!”

Stacy chuckled, “I took a job at Emporia. It’s the same job I had in high school, I hated it. I’m already fantasizing about how I’ll quit!”

“Oh man!” Nick laughed. “So, on your days off, you’ll still be flipping through that phone book, huh?”

“Yeah,” Stacy said wistfully. “I’ve already applied to a few places, but I never did narrow it down.”

As Nick played random chords on his guitar, he mused, “Have you thought about going into music?”

Stacy smiled gratefully. “I wish I could, but I have no musical talent whatsoever.”

“I mean something behind the scenes,” Nick clarified. “You obviously love it. I’m surprised you haven’t thought about it before!”

“I always figured you had to have some musical talent to be a part of that world,” Stacy reasoned. “Hmm…I have marketing experience, and some of our clients did hire us ’cause they needed help in that area… maybe there is room for me there!”

“There you go!” Nick agreed.

Stacy offered, “If I make it in the industry first, I’ll help you out if you do the same for me if you make it first.”

“Deal!” Nick said just as the phone rang. He picked it up. “Hello, Janet… No one else calls the factory this time of night… I’ll grab some on the way back. I gotta give the new guy a ride home… Okay, me too. Bye!”

As they both stood up to go, Stacy advised him, “You should consider telling her the truth. She’s gonna figure it out eventually.”

“Maybe… It’s just been nice to be able to do something for myself for once,” Nick responded as they walked down the hallway. “At work, I can’t do anything without permission. Then there’s Janet at night and my dad on the weekend… I don’t get to make any decisions on my own. It’s just been nice to finally do something that I chose to do without being watched.”

As they got into the truck, Stacy pointed out, “I watch you though.”

“You observe,” Nick differed while he drove. “They judge. Maybe it’s for my own good sometimes, but I kind of like that they don’t know about something. It feels like I have options, so keeping it secret feels like I have a little freedom.”

“But with Janet being a C.P.A., won’t she count the amount of overtime you’ve been wracking up lately and wonder why your check is short?” Stacy wondered.

Nick disclosed, “Actually, I used to meet with the team on my own time a lot. She doesn’t care for it ’cause the company kind of cheats me on pay. She makes sure I don’t do too much work for free though, so she’ll call and ask me to pick up some missing ingredient from dinner. It’s good she looks out for me like that.”

Stacy didn’t like to hear him say anything nice about Janet, but she tried to hide her jealousy by playfully questioning, “So, you won’t tell them about your music ’til you’re famous and they see you on T.V.?”

“Or hear me on the radio.” Nick grinned. Stacy still thought he should share his ambitions with his family, but she respected his choice and laughed it off.

When they pulled up in front of Stacy’s house, they were both having so much fun with their conversation that Stacy didn’t want to get out of the truck. She gazed at her house, and when she thought of the banality that awaited her, she sighed. Nick shared her sentiment and also sighed. Stacy told him, “Thanks again for the ride.”

“No problem!” Nick replied.

For a moment, they stared at each other, and Stacy wasn’t sure if she had imagined it, but she felt a spark between them. If they were both single, she would have leaned forward so he could make a move if he wanted to, but she couldn’t let that happen under the current circumstances. She hopped out of the truck, and when she turned back, she smiled warmly and said, “See you Wednesday!”

Nick echoed, “See you Wednesday!”

As she walked up to the front porch, she could sense his eyes following her, which made her blush. She admitted to herself that she had a crush on him, and perhaps her vulnerability from all of her stress had played tricks on her, but she felt as though the attraction may have been mutual. As much as she wanted him, she couldn’t let him cheat on Janet. She supposed that since she had left Hadeon she could start dating if she wanted to, but no one would condone the idea of her dating just weeks after her split with her husband. As she turned to wave goodbye to Nick, she noticed that with both their music and their relationship, it didn’t have to make sense to everyone, it felt right to her.

When she got in the house, she had planned to watch him drive away from the peephole on her front door again, but she saw her parents at the dinner table and abandoned that idea. She greeted them, “Hey!”

Frank replied, “Hey, Stacy! There’s a plate for you on the counter.”

Barbara added, “And there’s a message for you on the machine.”

Stacy pushed play on the answering machine, and she frowned when she heard Pat’s voice ring out, “Hi, Stacy! It’s Pat from Emporia. We were wondering if you could come in tomorrow night. Give us a call back if you can!” Stacy grimaced. She most certainly did not want to work tomorrow, but in actuality, she never wanted to work there at all! She couldn’t think of an excuse not to do it, so she gave in and picked up the phone…

The next day, Stacy went up to the cashier in the kid’s department, a kind-faced, middle-aged woman, and informed her, “Hi, I’m Stacy! I’m here for my first day.”

“You are?” she responded confusedly. “Are you a cashier?”

“No,” Stacy told her, “I’m a recovery agent. They told me to report here.”

The cashier shook her head. “They don’t tell us anything! I’m the only one on the floor, so there’s no recovery agent here to train you, so…”

“Maybe they aren’t going to train me. I did have this job in high school. I worked in the juniors’ department back then, but it’s the same concept. Maybe I should just get started,” Stacy suggested to herself.

“Good idea! Don’t let Ava catch you standing around! Oh, I’m Gloria, by the way.” She reached out for a handshake.

As she shook her hand, Stacy commented, “Nice to meet you.” She headed to the fitting room and thought that if more workers were as nice as Gloria, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad there!

The fitting room was empty, so she walked around the area to familiarize herself with it. In high school, she rarely went to this section, so this felt new to her. She finished her self-guided tour at girls’ formal wear and noticed that it seemed pretty mixed up. She could see patterns and styles that were obviously once grouped together had gotten strewn around onto various racks, so she figured that this would be a good place to start working. In the middle of her project, she nearly dropped the dressed she held when she heard Ava bark, “What are you doing?”

“I was just reorganizing these racks.” Stacy felt as though it was obvious, but she wanted to stay civil.

“That’s not your job!” Ava snapped. “if the fitting rooms are clear, you fold tables and make sure your area’s clean. Ugh, just go fold that table over there. Your trainer will get here soon.” She walked away in a huff.

Stacy didn’t understand her rancor because she was sure organizing the racks was a part of her job. She certainly had done that in the past! She looked to the table that Ava had indicated and saw it was a display of very nicely folded onesies. Stacy exhaled frustratedly and picked up a pile to refold. At that moment, a familiar female’s voice remarked, “Wow, she’s pleasant!”

“Yeah!” Stacy agreed. She didn’t think she would actually run into anyone she knew here, and when she craned her head up to confirm her identity, her eyes widened…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 11

You don’t have to accept the job,” Barbara pointed out. “Not if it’s giving you this much stress already.”

“Yes, I do,” Stacy contradicted her. “The longer it takes to get this divorce, the more I stay in his clutches! I don’t have a choice.”

Barbara tried to buoy her spirits, “Well, it doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever! You can apply for other jobs on your time off.”

Stacy glumly remarked, “I thought getting a job would mean I’m done with applications and interviews. I guess I gotta say goodbye to all my free time!”

Frank entered through the front door with a box of pizza and greeted them with, “Who’s hungry?” He saw Stacy’s morose face and inquired, “What’s wrong?”

Stacy couldn’t say it out loud, so Barbara told him, “She got a job offer from Emporia.”

Frank furrowed his brow. “I thought job offers were good things!”

“I guess I’m being a little ungrateful,” Stacy commented despondently. “I don’t know, maybe I was just hoping to find something long term so I can have more peace of mind. I mean, after I left Hadeon, I kept asking myself ‘Where is my life going from here?’ And now, I’m working at the same job I had in high school. He said I couldn’t make it on my own, and I still can’t afford my own place on this part time, minimum wage salary. I’m glad I can start putting money away for the divorce, but this job almost feels like a step backward! How am I supposed to move on if I can’t move forward?”

Frank and Barbara turned to each other to wordlessly ask each other how to respond, and Barbara came up with, “It won’t last forever if you don’t let it. Don’t give up!”

“You’re right,” Stacy acknowledged. “Hopefully I won’t have to work at Emporia for very long!”

“You won’t!” Frank assured her. “You have too much potential to waste it at a place like that!” Stacy hadn’t made any parallels between herself and Nick until right then. She enjoyed the similarity, but it also kind of made her sad since she knew she couldn’t have him. Eventually, she realized she must have made a face at that thought because her dad asked, “Something else wrong?”

Stacy fibbed, “I’m just hungry. Let’s eat!” Frank and Barbara seemed mollified by her response, and as they sat down to eat, Stacy tried to convince herself that all was not lost.

The next day, Stacy went into Emporia and knocked on the manager’s door. She waited for an answer, and when she got none, she knocked again. A woman, who looked at least a decade younger than her, approached Stacy and eyed her suspiciously. “Can I help you with something?”

Stacy felt taken aback by her harsh tone, and when she turned to answer her, she saw that she had a badge that read, “Ava- Supervisor.” She wanted to grimace at the rocky start to her time here, but she kept her composure and addressed her, “Oh, I’m Stacy. I just came in to do my new hire paperwork.”

“Did you make an appointment?” Ava probed.

Stacy replied, “Uh, no. The letter I got just said to come in as soon as possible, it didn’t specify a time or say anything about an appointment.”

“So, you just assumed that Pat would be available all day?” Ava criticized her. Stacy didn’t understand why Ava had taken such severe attitude towards her, and she was half tempted to forget it all and go home, but Ava rolled her eyes and relented, “I’ll see if he’s available.” She picked up a walkie-talkie and paged, “Pat, you have a new hire at your office. Are you available to do paperwork?” She waited for his response, and she relayed it to Stacy, “He’s on his way. Just wait right there.”

“Thanks!” Stacy said cordially. Ava gave her a reproachful glance as if Stacy were a misbehaving child prone to wandering off, and then she walked away in a huff. Stacy didn’t understand her mindset at all, but she decided to let it go.

A minute later, the man who interviewed her came over, and in a mock cheerful tone, he regarded her, “Welcome to the Emporia family! Come on in!” Stacy followed him inside his office, which looked just as chaotic as she remembered it. He began searching around his various stacks of files. “Let’s see… Where did I put it? Ah!” He handed her a packet of paperwork. “Did you bring two copies of your I.D.?”

“Yes.” Stacy took them out of her purse and handed it to him.

He took them and explained, “Go ahead and fill these out. I’m going to run upstairs to make a copy of these. I’ll be back shortly, but if you have any questions about the paperwork, feel free to ask Ava.” As Pat left, Stacy hoped that the paperwork didn’t stump her because she absolutely did not want to engage with Ava if she could help it!

Long after she finished filling everything out, she found herself waiting for him for quite a while. She felt tempted to leave her papers on his desk and head home, but Pat still had her driver’s license and social security card. Plus, she figured he would want to go over her schedule, so she continued to wait. She rested her head in her hand and tried not to fall asleep. Finally, Pat came in, and she quickly picked herself up and hoped that he didn’t notice. He handed her I.D.’s back and then directed, “Follow me.”

Stacy found it odd that he gave no explanation about his absence or where they were going, but she trailed behind him anyhow. They went up the escalator and past the lingerie department to what Stacy remembered was the employee break room. It had the exact same tables and chairs as it did when she worked here before. He walked her over to a projector and set up a video. “We have a few things for you to watch, and when we’re finished, I’ll go over your schedule.”

He pushed play and left the room. Stacy found it tedious to have basic rules over-explained like that, and the actors were incredibly cheesy! When the first video finished, she waited for Pat to return and pop the next one in, but she grew impatient after some time. She would never forget how to use a project thanks to Hadeon, so she went ahead and did it herself. She repeated the process two more times. After she put in the last video, she hadn’t realized she fell asleep until Pat came in and commented, “You changed the video?”

Stacy jerked up and hastily answered, “I used to do it at my old job.”

“Oh, okay. I see you’re on the last one. I’ll be back after you’re done.” He left again, and Stacy begrudgingly stayed awake for the rest of the video.

When the last one finally finished, Stacy turned off the projector and turned on the lights. Her stomach growled, and she was glad that this was almost over. She found a newspaper that had been left behind and thumbed through it as she waited for Pat again. She felt relieved when he showed up with a binder that had the word “Schedule” etched on it. He sat across from her and told her, “Can you come in Monday, Thursday, and Friday?”

“I can’t do Monday.” She felt a little guilty saying that. Truthfully, she could have rescheduled with Nick, but her gut told her she needed to get as much practice with him as possible. Pat didn’t look pleased, and a part of her thought she had just blown it with this job, but he crossed off her name from Monday and informed her, “That’s okay, you can just work Thursday and Friday. Thursday is three to nine and Friday is noon to six. That’s all I have for you today. We’re excited to have you on the team, and we hope you’re excited too! See you Thursday!”

“Okay, see you then!” She didn’t want to feign any excitement, but she maintained a level of aloofness until she left the break room. When she was sure he was out of sight, she dashed out of the store to find the nearest place that sold food.

On Monday, as she waited for Nick, she felt a little anxious. She had sacrificed a whole day of pay to come there, which meant it would take a day longer to get her divorce. This project had already costed her money, and a part of her felt saddened to think that maybe she had made a mistake. She decided that she would judge how much time she needed to spend with Nick based on the productivity that happened today.

When everyone had left, Nick emerged from the factory, and her heart fluttered as he flashed her a smile. He walked towards his truck and told her excitedly, “I have a surprise for you!”

“Oh really?” Thoroughly intrigued, she followed him to the back of his truck. When he pulled out an acoustic guitar, she gasped, “You brought it!”

“Yup!” He looked pleased at her reaction. “I figured if I’m gonna sing Charlie’s song I should do it right!” Stacy eagerly followed him to the office they used last time. Stacy sat on a folding chair as Nick sat on the desk and tuned his guitar. She knew that hearing this song would help her make up her mind on whether or not she had done the right thing. She really hoped for the best as he prepared to play.

As soon as he struck the first chord, she got chills! When he sang, he glowed, and his light shined straight inside her and struck her soul. She got just as mesmerized by this song as she did the first time she heard him sing. A beauty emanated from him, and she felt like the luckiest girl in the world just to be able to witness it! As she watched him play with sparkling eyes, any doubt she harbored before had been erased! He had a gift that simply must get shared with the whole world! As he looked into her eyes during a particularly emotional lyric, she suddenly realized this was more than just a shared dream, they had a real connection. All together, there was too much potential to give any of this up!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 10

Just when Nick was about to sing, the phone rang. Stacy felt deflated when he answered it. “Hello? Oh, hi honey.” Stacy’s heart sunk when she heard that Janet had called. She had made a real connection with him, and and he had been on the brink of showing her something deeply personal before she butt in. She had no idea what kind of song writer he was, but she had a feeling it would be really amazing. Nick actually sounded pretty disappointed too, “Yeah, I can pick some up on the way home. I’ll wrap up soon… ‘Kay, bye!” He turned to Stacy with a glum face. “I gotta go.”

“It’s okay!” Stacy replied supportively. She secretly wished he blew Janet off and stayed with her, but she realistically couldn’t ask him to do something so drastic.”I understand.”

“I’ll see it for you next time,” Nick promised. “Can you meet me at the same time on Monday?”

“Yeah, absolutely!” Stacy agreed immediately. She felt a lot better since she not would get to see him again but he sounded a lot more enthusiastic about the project now. She liked to think he harbored some excitement at the idea of spending time with her as a person, but she knew that was wishful thinking.

“Great!” He beamed at her, and she tried to keep her composure while she inwardly was melting. As they got up, he told her, “Hey, thanks for making me do this!”

“Happy to help!” she obliged. She nearly fainted when he reached out to give her a hug! She very willingly hugged him back, relishing in the heat generated from his body and the hold of his strong arms. A part of her wanted to stay like that longer, but her practical side pulled herself away at the right moment.

She followed him out, and when they gout outside, he had expected her to go right to where the parking lot stood, but she began to move forward to go across the lawn. He looked at her curiously, so she explained, “I don’t have a car right now, so I gotta take the bus.” They both saw the bus zoom past them, and Stacy frowned at how long it’d take to get home.

“Do you want a ride?” Nick offered.

“Sure!” Stacy accepted. She couldn’t believe her luck! Besides the fact she got to skip a tedious bus ride, but she would get another ten minutes or so with him!

The only vehicle left in the lot was an old truck with faded light blue paint, so Stacy didn’t have to ask which one belonged to him. Nick apologized, “Sorry it’s not pretty!”

“I like it!” Stacy complimented. Nick stared at her skeptically, so she iterated, “No, really! It looks cozy! It reminds me of high school.”

As he opened the passenger door for her, he commented, “Yeah, that’s when my dad got it. He took real good care of it. Came in handy, my old car was a piece of junk!”

As they both buckled up, Stacy inquired, “Did you buy it from him?”

Nick replied, “No, he’s legally blind now. So, where to?”

“oh, I live off of Davis and Portland,” she informed him, and then she conversed, “So, what high school did you go to?”

“Harrison,” he answered while concentrating on driving. “You?”

“Makawee High. I wish I went to Harrison!”

“Why? It wasn’t that special.”

“I heard they had this cool band in the late sixties!”

“Oh!” Nick chuckled. “Were you into that kind of music back then? That’s kind of surprising!”

“Why do you say that?” she questioned.

He remarked, “You just seem like you were one of the popular girls- smart, by the book, prim and proper… I figured maybe you were into The Four Seasons or Neil Diamond. You probably sang it out loud before your student council meetings!” Stacy laughed. “Am I right? You were class president, huh?”

“Treasurer,” she answered. Nick also laughed, but she corrected him, “Don’t get too cocky! You were right on the fact I was the classic overachiever. But, secretly, I was always attracted to the rebels! I loved the Beatles, Three Dog Night…The Rolling Stones…”

“Really?” Nick reacted amusedly. “You were a secret bad girl?”

“I was!” Stacy remembered fondly. “I did all the straight laced stuff to get into college, but honestly, all I wanted to do was be a groupie! There’s just something magical about truly talented musicians, and I wanted to get lost in their world! I went to college in Nashville hoping to make that happen, but I got too wrapped up in my studies to ever get serious about that idea. I saw most of my friends forgetting their careers and just marrying men with money, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I wanted to make my own money ’cause if I became too dependent on a man and something happened to him, I’d get screwed…” She trailed off realizing she had landed herself in the very situation she worked so hard to avoid.

Nick could sense what ran through her head at that moment, so he said, “You know, I can understand how that music fits your personality now. You’re a real gutsy person!”

“I am?” Stacy had expected him to say something sympathetic, but she didn’t expect to hear anything with a tone of admiration!

“Yeah,” Nick stated firmly. “Most girls wouldn’t have had the courage to walk away like that, but you were willing to start over with nothing! That’s brave!”

“Thanks!” Stacy felt herself blushing furiously. She always felt foolish for landing herself in this situation, so she hadn’t really thought about it like that before. They arrived at the small intersection by her house, so she directed, “Oh, turn left here and then make the first right. I live there on McIntosh.”

“You got it!” Nick turned on his turn signal as he waited for the red light. “Seems like a nice neighborhood.”

“Eh, it’s nothing but houses. It’s pretty boring!” Disappointment rang through her as they turned and she got closer to home. She loved talking to Nick, and it seemed too soon for their conversation to end. Nick looked as though he shared her sentiment as she told him, “My house is that one with the police car on the right.”

After Nick pulled over to the space in front of her house, he dismally commented, “Back to reality, huh?”

“Yeah..” Stacy had to remind herself that it wasn’t a date, and she concluded she had better get out quickly before she tempted herself too much. As she hopped out, she said graciously, “Thanks for the ride!”

“No problem! See you Monday!” Nick smiled warmly though the rest of his body didn’t convey happy feelings. Stacy flashed him a grin and quickly peeled herself from the truck. It wasn’t easy to walk away since he hadn’t drove off yet. She figured he was the type to watch and make sure a woman got to her house safely, a thoughtful value that made her ache for him more. When she got to her front porch, she turned around and waved goodbye to him. He waved back and pulled away as soon as she entered the front door. She watched him drive off through her peephole and when he was out of sight, she sighed.

She realized how obvious she was making herself, and she turned around to offer an explanation, but to her relief, no one had been in the room when she did that. She went into the kitchen to see what her parents had left for dinner, and her mom came out from the hallway with a basket of laundry. Barbara greeted her, “Oh, hi Sweetie! You’re home early!”

“I got a ride home,” Stacy joined her mother in the living room as Barbara sat down on the couch to fold the laundry.

Barbara probed, “From you friend? You didn’t hitch, did you?”

“Of course I didn’t hitch!” Stacy sat down on the chair next to the phone. “Where’s Dad?”

Barbara replied, “He went to go get pizza for dinner. Did you and your friend eat anything while you were out?”

“No, I think his wife was making them dinner.” The thought of that made her sad, so she looked around for something to distract herself. She glanced over to the table next to her and saw some letters addressed to her. “Oh, I have mail!” She opened the first one and thought out loud, “Let’s see, the travel agency said…no. Aw, that could’ve been fun!”

“Maybe.” Barbara shrugged. “People can get so picky with their travel arrangements. You would have to put up with a lot of guff just to get a few discounted vacations.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Stacy opened up the second letter. “Oh, not a job offer or denial. Someone’s trying to sell me car insurance!”

Barbara laughed, “They need to fire whoever is in charge of getting their leads!”

Stacy chuckled, but she saw a letter that sobered her up instantly. “Ugh, Emporia! I really didn’t need a rejection letter after that horrible interview! ‘Course it wasn’t as awful as Stereo Hut!”

“Why? What happened at Stereo Hut?” Barbara inquired. Stacy’s face turned pale when she saw what Emporia had sent her. “What’s wrong, Stacy?”

She couldn’t believe what she just read! It made no sense to her, and it almost sickened her to say it to her mom, “I got the job!”

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 9

Nick’s good looks may have made her nervous, but when it came to marketing, she felt significantly more confident. Hadeon may have been a terrible husband, but he had a genius for his craft. The one good thing about him getting overly obsessed with his job was that he dragged her along for everything, so she learned a lot. She took out a notebook and pen from her purse and already wrote down some notes. ‘You said you had a band in high school. What kind of songs did you do?”

Nick recalled, “We wanted to be the next Rolling Stones, but our songs were a little more age appropriate. We wrote one called ‘Homework Rebellion,’ for example.” Nick laughed at his memories. “Teachers hated us, but the other students thought we were bad asses!” Nick grinned at the nostalgia that came to him right then.

Stacy grinned too, and then she observed, “So, you guys wrote your own music! How much of that did you personally contribute?”

Nick told her, “It was a group effort, but our best stuff came from me and Charlie. He was our drummer and my best friend. We worked on our music a lot more than our schoolwork!” He smiled fondly as he reminisced, but he soon started to frown. “I wish we paid more attention in school! Maybe if we had, we could’ve gotten accepted into college and Charlie would have avoided the draft…” He could tell Stacy wanted to follow up about that, so he elaborated, “After high school, Charlie and I both wanted to move to the city where we could get discovered, but we were both broke. We both took up jobs here at Gilmar’s, and we got through the awful work days by dreaming about what our lives would be like once we made it big. We kept the band going for a while, but eventually, with all of our different work schedules, the band drifted apart, so it was just me and him still working on our music. Charlie and I always thought we would form a band and get famous before we got considered for the draft, but, obviously, that didn’t happen. Charlie got drafted and sent to ‘Nam. I begged them to draft me too, I wanted out of this town so bad! In our letters, we still dreamt about making it big when he got back. But then, one day, Charlie’s mom called me and told me… Charlie wasn’t coming back!” He got choked up at this point, but after a moment, he lamented, “I wish we hadn’t focused on silly dreams so much! If we had a back up plan, maybe Charlie wouldn’t have…”

“It’s not your fault!” Stacy reached across and pat his shoulders comfortingly. “The draft went on ’til seventy-three, so Charlie could have gotten drafted after graduation.”

“That’s true,” Nick acknowledged.

“My mom always said everything happens for a reason,” Stacy narrated. “My ex-husband ran to Canada after high school. He claims he was a conscientious objector, but truthfully, he was just being a coward. But if he didn’t chicken out, he wouldn’t have blown away his trust fund, which forced him to move into his uncle’s garage in Nashville. He started his business there, and ten years later, it’s one of the most successful businesses around! Maybe Charlie had to go to Vietnam ’cause they needed a hero.”

“He was a hero!” Nick remarked. “I still wish he didn’t go! I miss him!” He paused and added, “Do you love him?”

“Charlie?” Stacy puzzled.

“NO,” Nick clarified, “I mean, do you still love your ex-husband?”

“Oh! No.” Stacy searched inwardly to verify her initial reaction. “After what he did, there’s no going back.” She could tell he wanted to ask what he did, so she revealed, “He hit me!”

“No!” It took a while for Nick to absorb this, and when he did, his fists tensed up. “That bastard!” His expression softened when he turned back to Stacy. “How often did he do that?”

“That was the first time. Honestly, in more than five years, he’s never done that!” she told him. “I left ’cause if he did it once, he’ll do it again and I’m not gonna walk on eggshells for the rest of my life just to make sure I don’t make him do it again!”

You don’t make him do it again?” Nick cried out. “You aren’t responsible for his actions! Even if you pissed him off, that’s not an excuse! Unless a woman holds a gun to his f’ing head, there’s no excuse to hit a woman! Ever!”

This visibly moved Stacy. She had her hand on her heart, and she was near tears. His logic flowed with her initial view on the matter, but that manager as well as her own doubts on the situation made her question this. She often wondered if it had been her fault or if she had been wrong in same way on the matter, but Nick was completely right, nothing she had done deserved his abuse! She felt heartened that she had an ally who backed her up on this. “I had an interview at Stereo Hut the other day, and the manager made it seem like it was all my fault!”

Nick immediately commented, “Well, we’re never shopping there again!” Stacy gave him an appreciative smile, and Nick emphasized, “I mean it! I’m not gonna go into a business that thinks that you had a perfectly happy marriage and, for no reason, you decided to destroy it and run away from paradise!”

“It’s true! That was exactly how he acted!” Stacy laughed in the ridiculousness of the topic. “Our marriage wasn’t paradise, thing were getting bad for a while. I thought eventually we’d work through our issues, but I don’t think he thought anything was wrong. I felt miserable for a long time, so eventually, if he hadn’t hit me, I would’ve had enough. At some point, you gotta consider your own needs ’cause your happiness matters!”

“Yeah…” Nick hesitantly agreed.

“Your happiness matters too,” Stacy reminded him.

Nick sighed, “This is different! This is a huge risk!”

“No, it’s not!” Stacy respectfully disagreed. “You’re playing music. If you make it big, you’ll be really happy. If you don’t, you’ll still enjoy the process. It’s not like you’re enrolling in the police academy like my dad did. He risks his life every time he goes on patrol, but he does it ’cause it’s what he loves. If he picked safety, he would be completely depressed his whole life! Imagine him going from graduation to retirement like that! His work is dangerous, but he’s lived his life without regret. The only thing you need to worry about is living your life with regret!”

“Okay, so I’m nos happy working in the factory,” Nick confessed. “But I do have a family to worry about. This isn’t fun for me, but they’re taken care of. What if this music thing ends up hurting them?”

Stacy almost pointed out that it seemed unlikely that this could hurt his family, but then she realized, “Wait a second, this is about Charlie, isn’t it? Last time you set out on this path, you lost someone important to you. You’re pursuing this ‘normal’ life ’cause you’re worried if you take a chance again, you’ll lose someone else!”

Nick mulled it over and came to the conclusion, “Yeah, I guess it’s true. I mean, that’s part of the reason anyways. I spent most of my adult life trying to squash the urge to sing and play to an audience, but I can’t help myself, it always resurfaces. Like earlier in the month, we went to visit her grandparents and I snuck away ’cause I saw a recording studio nearby. I had a great time, but it was selfish. Janet had to take time off work right near tax day ’cause her grandfather’s dying and it was his birthday. I should’ve been there for her more! I mean, her grandfather did throw me out, but still…”

“He threw you out?” Stacy responded. “What do you think you were supposed to do? Just wait outside for hours?”

“She ended up not staying that long,” he remarked. “She went looking for me and couldn’t find me. She talked her grandfather into letting me come back, but when I disappeared, that blew it. I shouldn’t have ran off, but I didn’t think he’d invite me back, the guy hates my guts! I went for a walk to blow off some steam, and I saw the recording studio there, and it was just calling me! I thought that after spending all my time helping other people, I deserved to see it! I work all day, spend all night with her, and help my dad on the weekends, I never get to do anything for myself! So I thought, here’s my chance! It felt great! Well, until she found me and we fought.”

“That’s the argument I had with my husband before we split!” Stacy related. “I was late for something I had to do for this big party, and I was wrong for doing so, but if I got to do what I wanted to do more often, that wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t regret what I did, and I guess he felt like I should live only to please him. I was tired of living like that.”

“You have a point,” Nick admitted. “I may have went about it the wrong way, but it wouldn’t have happened if I just made a little more time for what I love. Music isn’t gonna leave me no matter how hard I try! My family may not understand it, but if I don’t do it and keep spending my life trying to make everyone else happy except for me, I’m gonna lose it! I gotta do this! I keep worrying about something happening to them, but what if I don’t and something happens to me? I hope nothing happens to them, of course, but I’m committed to this!”

“Good!” Stacy nodded in approval.

Nick took a deep breath and released. “Wow, this conversation got real deep!”

“That’s ’cause we’re talking about music, and, for you, that’s your heart and soul!” Stacy affirmed. “I mean, I’m no shrink, but I hope you’re comfortable opening up to me. It’s gonna help me help you develop really meaningful lyrics and melodies. It’s not gonna make your pain go away, but it’ll help it become something beautiful. Like, losing your best friend, that’s a great topic for a song!”

“I did make a song about it,” Nick disclosed. “I took a song we wrote in high school, ‘Pay Attention,’ and I slowed down the tempo, changed it into a ballad, and made it about Charlie. Instead of making fun of teachers, I talked about how we get so distracted in our own lives that we don’t savor the time we have with people who matter most to us. If you don’t pay attention, you could miss out and you may not ever get another chance! Back then, I didn’t know how else to react to his death other than music. I was still in the habit from when he was alive.”

“That song sounds amazing!” Stacy exclaimed, and then she requested, “Can I hear it?”

“That was so long ago!” Nick reacted. “What makes you think I even remember it?”

Stacy gave him a playfully reproachful look. “You heard the song ‘Run to You’ once, and not only did you remember every word but you taught the music to that band! You have an amazing memory! So, let’s hear it!”

Nick relented, “Okay, okay, I’ll do it!” Stacy waited with mounting anticipation as he mentally prepared himself to sing…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 8

Nick Rolland?” Stacy repeated. “I have no idea!”

“Well, he left a message on the machine for you. I saved it. I need to go to the bathroom!” Frank zipped out of the room.

Stacy wasn’t sure if he could hear her or not, but she thought out loud anyways, “None of the managers I spoke to gave me their name…Nick Roland… Sounds like a famous actor or maybe a rock star…” Suddenly, it clicked, and she knew who had called her!

With great anticipation, she rushed to the answering machine and pushed play. A familiar voice rang out, “Hi! This is Nick Rolland calling for Stacy Alyson. You can call me back at five-five-five-three-one-seven-two. Thanks, bye!”

His message had been brief enough that she didn’t get a chance to write down his number the first time. She replayed it and wrote it down on the notepad by the phone. She could hear her father go into his room, and since she knew he routinely would change out of his police uniform, she guessed that his curiosity about the phone call had ebbed. She sat on the chair next to the table where the phone stood and feverishly dialed Nick’s number. Her heart beat wildly as the phone rang. For a moment, she thought he wouldn’t pick up. She nearly jumped when he finally answered, “Hello?”

Stacy couldn’t believe she actually had the chance to talk to him alone! She almost felt too nervous to speak, but she remembered his warmth and friendliness from their conversation in the library and realized she had nothing to worry about. “Hi! This is Stacy.”

“Oh hi, Stacy!” For a moment, he didn’t say anything. Stacy got the impression that he was searching for the right words to say. “I just wanted to say thank you for the note you gave me a few days ago. No one’s ever done that before!”

“Most people probably tell you in person,” Stacy guessed.

“Well, they used to,” Nick told her. “I used to get a lot of it in high school after my band played, but once we graduated, we all got jobs and none of us had time to play anymore. I play the guitar on my days off if Janet is busy, but I haven’t performed in front of an audience in years.”

“What about your family?” Stacy inquired. “They must give you loads of encouragement.”

“Not really,” Nick replied sadly. “They think I’m good but they kinda think I’m wasting my time. They never viewed my interest in music as practical. They said the odds of making a living in that field are slim to none. They were right. I mean, lots of people wanna become rock stars and never do, so it just becomes a hobby.”

“But you have the talent to make it!” Stacy exclaimed. “My ex-husband’s marketing firm represented a few record companies, so I’ve seen the talent they signed and I know a future star when I see one! And I can tell from the tone of your voice that you still dream about it! You should go for it!”

Nick despondently argued, “You make it sound so easy! It’s not like record companies put ads in the paper to recruit people. I can’t just walk into a studio and audition. It’s not one of those things you can just wake up one day and decide to do!”

Stacy countered with, “If it was impossible, we wouldn’t have any rock stars! All you need is the right exposure. You gotta build up your image…” Stacy cringed realizing she had learned all this from Hadeon and that it actually helped her, so if he became famous, he would claim credit for her success. She pressed on anyways, “Make people believe that you’re already famous, create some buzz. Then put yourself out there! There’s lots of ways- concerts, commercial jingles, corporate events… Eventually the gigs would get bigger and bigger and record companies will come to you! It’s not impossible, you just gotta put the work in!”

Nick fell silent for a moment as he absorbed what she expressed. “That makes sense, but I don’t really have the time between work and family.”

“You don’t have an hour here and there?” Stacy challenged. “Any time spent on your craft is still progress forward. You can write songs, look for gigs, hand out your card… It all adds up!”

“I suppose…” Nick considered this notion.

“I can help you,” Stacy offered. “You have too much potential to just give up on your dreams!”

Nick pondered, “Don’t you think it’s too late? I mean, I’m thirty-four years old and-.”

“You never know unless you try!” Stacy stated firmly. “A small chance is better than no chance! Do you wanna spend your whole life with regret, wondering what could have been?”

Stacy stayed quiet while he mulled it over. Finally, he gave in, “I guess it couldn’t hurt to try!”

“Great!” Stacy rejoiced. “When can you meet?”

“How about Thursday after work?” Nick suggested.

“That’s totally fine! When do you get off work?” Stacy asked.

“At five,” Nick answered. “Meet me at the entrance of Gilmar’s Brake Factory.”

“I’ll be there!” Stacy confirmed.

Nick told her, “I gotta go or Janet will start to worry. See you Thursday!”

“Bye, Nick!”

“Bye, Stacy!”

Stacy took a moment to relish in the joy of having a conversation with him before she really analyzed all that happened. He mentioned needing to leave so Janet wouldn’t worry, which, most likely, meant he had called from somewhere besides the place he shared with her. She vaguely wondered where he had called from and whose number she now possessed, but she figured she could ask him about it on Thursday. This led her to remember that she had the chance to spend time with him alone, and she inwardly celebrated. She felt so excited about it that it took a long time to realize that her father had been standing behind her in the kitchen! She quickly exclaimed, “He’s a friend!”

Frank didn’t look like he believed her, but he responded with, “Hey, as long as you’re not breaking any laws, it’s none of my business!” Stacy laughed while feeling grateful that he didn’t press for more information.

On Thursday, Stacy dressed up as pretty as she could while still maintaining a claim of casualness. This wasn’t a date, and she knew that she couldn’t have him, but she still wanted to impress him. She got to the factory a little early, but she kind of had to because the next bus would have made her late. She found a rock to sit on and waited in view of the entrance. The factory had light gray walls with patches of brown stains sprinkled on it sporadically. It didn’t have any personal touches or decorations to give it any kind of welcoming appearance, and if she didn’t plan to meet Nick, she would have turned around and never looked back! With its cold, sterile aura, she couldn’t imagine an artist like him enjoying working there!

She finally saw people begin to trickle out, and she leapt up to make sure he saw her when he came out. More and more people came streaming out, and she knew at any second Nick would come into view. Her fervor began to dial down though when the crowd size had started to ebb. She wondered if he changed his mind about collaborating with her. She hoped that if he had that he would have called her to cancel so she wouldn’t waste her time coming there, and she feared that he might have called while she rode the bus to get there. When the flow came down to a few people, she sort of felt foolish for standing there with high expectations and considered turning around to go home.

Just when she was about to give up, he suddenly popped out to see if she was there! He wore a blue work shirt and slacks, but in her mind, he still looked very attractive! She noticed that he didn’t have smudges on his arms or face like the others did, so she realized that he had cleaned up for her. Stacy thought that maybe it was just her imagination, but he seemed to find her appearance alluring! He non-chalantly greeted her, “Hello!”

“Hi!” she chirped.

She had expected for him to come out and lead her somewhere where they could converse, but instead, he invited, “Come on in!” Stacy felt a little taken aback by this move, but she couldn’t help but trust him and willingly followed him inside. She thought she would encounter rows of machinary, but instead, she found herself in a dimly lit hallway lined with offices. He told her, “We have to use an office ’cause I told Janet I’m working late, so if she calls to look for me, she won’t get suspicious.”

“That makes sense,” Stacy said congenially, but secretly, she felt it was a shame that he felt like he needed to hide something he’s so passionate about doing. She understood that his family had a pessimistic viewpoint about the music industry, and she probably wouldn’t want to get judged either. Actually, she hadn’t told her family about the project either for the same reason! It felt a little odd that they were hiding things while not doing anything wrong, but that wasn’t about to stop her!

He took her to a small room at the end of the hall. Most of the doors were marked with someone’s name on the glass, but this one did not have anything on it. When he opened the door and flicked on the light, she saw a bunch of boxes and file cabinets had taken over most of the room. It had a small desk with a ratty, old chair behind it as well. He pulled up a metal folding chair for her and remorsefully remarked, “I know it’s not very nice in here…”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere!” She attempted to buoy his spirits.

He smiled in appreciation as he pulled up another folding chair for himself. “I’m a team leader, so sometimes we have meetings in here. I like to think of it as my office, but I’m not that important.”

“Not yet anyways!” Stacy stated encouragingly.

Nick looked like he wanted to buy that argument but couldn’t get himself to do it. “I keep telling my family I’ll be manager someday, but, honestly, I can’t see myself ever getting there. Isn’t that horrible?”

“No,” Stacy replied. “Your heart isn’t in it. I think you’re meant for something more, which is why I’m here.”

This seemed to have touched him a bit. He grabbed a clipboard and a pen, and he asked her, “Alright, where do we begin?”