Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 20

Dressed in a business casual outfit, Stacy trotted towards the front door. Barbara and Frank were eating cereal in the living room, and Frank inquired, “Where are you off to so early?”

“Another interview,” Stacy replied. “This one is at a record store, so I’m really hoping I do well on this one!”

Just then, the phone rang, but they all ignored it. Barbara chimed, “Good luck!”

Before Stacy could reply back, Hadeon’s voice rang out on the answering machine, “Stacy, pick up! We need to talk!” Stacy strolled over to the phone, picked up the receiver, and immediately hung up. She deleted the message and complained, “I’m getting tired of getting his calls!”

“You should tell him that he’s not allowed to contact you, just your lawyer,” Barbara suggested.

“I did, and he won’t stop!” Stacy exasperated.

“We’ll take care of it later,” Frank assured her. “Don’t let him make you late for your interview!”

“You’re right! Bye!” Stacy waved good-bye and left.

After the interview, Stacy dejectedly walked by the downtown park. She saw the bench with Charlie’s memorial on it, and all of the memories of Nick came rushing back. She sat down and caressed the placard. She whispered, “You knew him better than anyone, will he ever forgive me?” She stared at it as if it would give an answer, but she only heard silence. She tried hard to move on, but she missed him immensely! Suddenly, a rock band began to play, and it took her back to the day they met. Tears began to roll down her cheeks, and she ran away from that spot.

When she got home, she still felt pretty melancholy. Both of her parents had left for work, which didn’t bother her because she didn’t want them to know she was still hurting. As she picked up the mail off the floor, she considered having a drink to raise her spirits a bit. She sifted through the mail as she walked towards the table with the answering machine on it. She saw a blinking light indicating that they had a new message, and she sincerely hoped it wasn’t her ex-husband. When she pushed play, to her great dismay, Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, listen, I’m in-!” She pushed delete and returned her attention to the mail.

She came across a letter that practically made her heart stop- it came from the recording studio in Nashville that she remembered from when she worked with her husband’s firm! She wished that when she opened it that she would see an invitation for an interview, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up. To her delight, the man who ran the company told her that he enjoyed collaborating with her a lot but Hadeon, not so much. She read that he was thrilled to have an excuse to dump him and intended to hire her as the their new marketing executive! She didn’t even need an interview, he already liked her! It took a long time for it to sink in; not only did she get a job, but she got her dream job! When it finally did hit her, she screamed from excitement!

She had to reread it to make sure she got the facts absolutely right, and after she confirmed it to herself, she noticed there was more said after the offer. He had a request, and she frowned trying to figure out how she would do it. As she mulled it over, she noticed the calendar, and once she saw what day it was, she knew exactly what to do. She put the envelope and letter in her purse and ran out of the house.

Stacy somewhat nervously opened the door, and when she didn’t see anyone backstage. She heard some kids talking on stage, so she knew he must have been around there somewhere. She had no idea where, but she saw his truck outside, so she knew for sure he was there somewhere. As she navigated her way around props and equipment, she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder. She thought it had to be him and turned around eagerly. When she saw who it really was, her face went pale as if she had seen a ghost! “Hadeon!”

Hadeon tightened his grip on her shoulder. “No escaping me now! We have to talk!”

Stacy freed herself from his grip and growled, “We have nothing to talk about! I told you, it’s over!”

“We’ll get to that in a minute,” Hadeon responded coldly. “You stole my client!”

“Oh!” It never occurred to her that Hadeon would talk to her about business, but nevertheless, she didn’t let him intimidate her. “He wasn’t happy with you! Besides, I haven’t even told him I accepted the job! Obviously, he meant to dump you whether I took the position or not!”

“You had no right to take my client!” Hadeon shrieked. Some kids that came backstage all stopped what they were doing and stared. “Let’s do this outside.”

“No!” Stacy refused. “I’m not going anywhere with you! You’re not even supposed to be talking to me! If you have something to say, call my lawyer!”

“I didn’t come all this way to talk to a lawyer!” Hadeon grabbed her arm and began to drag her out.

“Stop it!” Stacy shouted while trying to free herself. “You’re hurting me!”

Hadeon ignored her, but well before he could reach the door, someone punched him! When he hit the floor, Stacy saw it was Nick! She felt a spark of joy at his presence, but she saw the hardened look on his face, and as Hadeon stirred and tried to get up, she could tell Nick was ready to attack him again. She put herself in front of Nick’s path and told him, “Don’t! He’s not worth it!”

Anger still bubbled beneath the surface, but Nick acquiesced. At that moment, Frank and another police officer burst into the room. Frank gazed at Hadeon crumpled on the floor and Nick’s infuriated expression, and he declared, “Obviously, this was self defense.” Hadeon groaned knowing that arguing would pointless. Frank and the other police officer picked him up, and while the femal officer cuffed him, Frank confronted Hadeon in an almost euphoric manner, “When we got the BOLO, I was hoping I’d get to be the one to catch you! Hadeon Bancroft, you’re under arrest!”

“For what?” Hadeon sneered. “For hitting her? That’s fine, I can afford the bail!”

The police woman informed him, “Actually, you’re wanted under federal charges.”

“Why?” Hadeon sharply reacted.

“Tax fraud,” Janet revealed. Stacy ogled at her incredulously, and she shrugged. “It was just a hunch.” She turned to Hadeon and educated him, “You’ll be in prison for quite a while, buddy! And since you’re still married, your wife will take custody of all of your assets, including your apartment and your business!”

Hadeon’s face fell completely, and Stacy smirked very pronouncedly. Hadeon pleaded, “No! Not my business! Please, anything but my business!”

Stacy stepped towards him, handed her arms, and gave him an icy look. “Sign the divorce papers with contest, and then I’ll sign over all my rights to your business.”

“Done!” Hadeon promised. Frank read him his Miranda rights as he and the other officer carried him out. He tried to look back but he couldn’t. Stacy watched him leave, and it slowly dawned on her that it was over, Hadeon was out of her life forever!

Stacy turned to Janet and gave her a hug. “Thank you so much! I can’t believe you were willing to help me after…”

Janet didn’t need to hear the end of her sentence to know what she meant. “It was the right thing to do.”

Stacy felt elated at her luck! Her abusive husband would finally give her the divorce she longed for, and she had the job of her dreams now! The only thing that made her heart sing was… She turned to Nick, who watched them sheepishly. She longed for him to come with her, but she figured that was a long shot. Still, she had to talk to him before she called her new boss to accept the job. She requested to Janet, “Look, I know you’re here to see Nick, and I wish you all the happiness in the world, but can you let me say good-bye?”

Janet agreed by nodding, and Stacy gingerly went up to Nick. She forgot how beautiful his eyes were, and he looked so handsome in the outfit he chose for the performance! All Stacy wanted to was leap into his arms, and that really made this process so much more difficult! “I got a job at a record company in Nashville. In my cover letter, I talked about a success I had in developing a talented musician in Makawee. He said he’s interested in auditioning you.” She reached into her purse and pulled out her new work’s business card. Stacy started tearing up, but she went on, “I really do think you’re a talent musician, and now you have a chance to become famous! At the very least, it’s a little money in your pocket. I hope that makes up for what I did! I also hope you can forgive me enough to give it a chance!”

Stacy couldn’t bear to look at him anymore and hung her head. She was about to leave when he gently picked up her chin so that they made eye contact again. He seemed at a loss for words, but she could tell he had a lot of gratitude for her. He finally murmured, “Thank you!”

Stacy smiled knowing he didn’t harbor ill feelings for her anymore, but she saw Janet waiting, and it broke her heart. “Well, have a good life!”

Before she could get far, Janet called out, “Wait!” Stacy wondered what else she could possibly want to tell her, but she guessed it probably was some kind of thank-you for getting him work. To her surprise, she turned to Nick and announced, “I’m breaking up with you!”

“What?” Nick and Stacy said in unison.

“Why?” Nick asked her.

Janet answered, “Because we’ve been together for over seven years, and you’ve never once looked at me like that!”

“Janet, are you sure?” Nick apparently needed verification of her sentiment.

She confirmed, “I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life knowing your heart belongs to someone else! Besides, I want someone to look at me like that! You have the chance to live the exciting life of a rock star, and I have the chance to find someone who wants a boring life in Makawee! You don’t want that, trust me, it’s okay!”

Nick hugged her gratefully. “I’ll have all of my rock star friends do their taxes with you!”

“You better!” Janet somberly laughed. “Bye, Nick!”

Nick and Stacy watched her leave, and suddenly, they knew they were alone together. They looked at each other knowing all of the ties that held them back from being together were now gone, and it took a while for that to absorb. Stacy saw a look of longing on his face, and her heart beat wildly. All of a sudden, he ran to her, and she willingly fell into into his arms! His face met hers, and Stacy could hardly believe he wanted this moment as much as she did! They kissed each other passionately, and it just felt so natural and peaceful that they could hardly believe they waited this long to do this! They took a breath, and, without words, they told one another that they loved each other!

Barbara peeked backstage and hissed, “Psst! Nick! You’re on!”

“Come on!” Nick took her hand and ran to the stage. She started to object because she hardly had any musical talent, but she relented because she trusted him so much. He took her on stage and greeted the crowd more enthusiastically than anyone she had ever seen! She swayed to the music as he played, and the lyrics were simple enough that she could sing along with the chorus. As their faces pressed together while they looked out to an adoring audience, she thought that she could get used to this! After all, this was only the beginning!

The End

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 19

Stacy stared blankly out her bedroom window at the blue skies and sunshine, and it almost seemed to mock her. She hadn’t gotten out of her pajamas, she just didn’t have the strength, and life seemed to carry on without her. The weather didn’t seem to care about her somber mood, and she thought that, if it did, gray thunder clouds would wreak havoc on Makawee. She would have at least found a little satisfaction knowing she wasn’t the only one stuck at home. Unfortunately for her, she knew that lots of people were outside enjoying the warmth of the season, and it just tortured her to think she had no reason to go out and participate in anything like that. She knew she had a lot of work to do to find a job and pay for her divorce, but she couldn’t muster the willpower to do that lately, and she wondered if she ever word.

Barbara walked in unannounced and sat at the foot of the bed. Stacy knew she intended to make another attempt to draw out what she was feeling, and she didn’t want to indulge her. She knew she messed up and didn’t want to hear what she should or should not have done. She also didn’t want to receive any coddling or sappy attempts to buoy her spirits. She knew that at some point she would have to get up and try to fix her life again, but she felt almost ill right now and wanted to wait until she healed a little more. She didn’t say anything to her mother, and for a few moments, Barbara didn’t say anything either. To Stacy’s surprise, Barbara broke the silence by saying, “Look at that cloud! It looks like a cat stretching after it took a nap!”

Stacy curiously peered out the window and studied the cloud in question. She could sort of see what her mom meant, but she found it difficult to get the same joy from it as her mother did. “yeah, sure, I guess.”

“You know, your father and I went cloud watching in the beginning of our relationship,” Barbara brought up. Stacy didn’t respond, but she still carried on, “June fifth, Nineteen-fifty-nine, your father walked me home after church. We passed through the park, and I pretended that I needed to catch my breath under a shade tree, but really, I just wanted more time alone with him. Our conversation wasn’t too deep, we just had so much fun being with each other! We ended up laying down on the grass and just laughed about the shapes we thought the clouds were. It was a wonderful day that I’ll never forget, and to this day, when I feel stressed, I look at the clouds and it makes me feel better.”

“That’s not gonna make me feel better,” Stacy stated baldly. “And I’ve heard this story a million times! Sorry, Mom, I’m just not in the mood to hear how happy you and Dad were on dates.”

“Actually, it wasn’t an official date,” Barbara informed her. “I didn’t tell you the end of that story where our conversation came to a swift halt when Frank’s girlfriend came barging in!”

Stacy bolted up so fast that she almost fell out of bed. “What? Dad had a girlfriend when you met?”

Barbara smiled spritefully as she revealed, “We don’t like to talk about it ’cause it isn’t really proper, but yes, he was engaged actually when I met him.” Stacy’s mouth hung open, and Barbara clarified, “We didn’t sleep together, for goodness sake! We didn’t kiss or even hold hands until he broke up with Ingrid. Ingrid was another teacher at the school I worked at. She brought him in for career day, and as soon as I saw him, I fell in love! I know, love at first sight is so cliché, but something about his aura and the look in his eyes told me he was special! After that, I made a point of hanging out with Ingrid and her social circle just to get close to him. Eventually, Ingrid found out how close we had gotten, called him a cheater, threw her ring at him, and walked right out of his life.”

“You told me you met him at a malt shop!” Stacy found it astonishing that her parents had not me in the wholesome way that they had said before, and it felt eerie to think how much her story mirrored the way she met Nick!

Barbara explained, “I know, it’s the eighties and no one cares about that sort of scandal anymore, but back in the day, we decided to keep the way we met a secret. Sometimes good stories don’t start so cleanly in the beginning. They’re messy and complicated, but then everything works out in the end.”

“Not everything!” Stacy murmured sadly.

“If something hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end,” Barbara sagely doled out. “This man of yours was pretty special too, wasn’t he?”

“How did you know?” Stacy replied incredulously.

Barbara told her, “Sweetie, music may have changed since I was your age, but love hasn’t! You mentioned a married friend, and just based on your behavior, we knew what happened. I don’t think you would befriend a man you weren’t in love with after what you went through. The fact that you trust him means a lot! You got over Hadeon pretty quickly, and I heard that the best way to get over a man is to get under a new one!”

“Mom!” Stacy felt stunned to hear her mother talk about this topic so casually. “I’ve never heard you talk about sex without showing me charts and graphs!” Barbara shrugged. “And we didn’t sleep together! We didn’t hold hands or kiss either! We weren’t like a couple or anything. So, why do I feel like a terrible person?”

“You’re not a terrible person!” Barbara assured her. “I mean, if you constantly went after someone else’s man, then we would be having a different conversation. I never thought I would’ve gone after someone else’s man either. That wasn’t even part of my plan originally. I wanted to get to him more to get this crush out of my system, but the more I learned about him, the stronger I felt. It made me feel a little guilty, but it’s not like either of us could help it! You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with!”

Stacy got some comfort from knowing that she wasn’t alone in this sort of predicament, but it didn’t take away the glumness that still lurked at the pit of her stomach. “So, now what?”

Barbara advised, “You’re not gonna get any answer pining away in your bedroom. You may not feel like it, but you gotta force yourself to get up and take one step at a time. Even baby steps will still move you forward! Now, come on! Get dressed! Today is Pop-Pop’s birthday and we’re visiting him at the home. And I won’t take no for answer!” Stacy knew she meant it, and even though it pained her to get out of bed, she got up and went to her closet.

In a small living room, an octogenarian man sat in a wheelchair while Frank and Barbara brought a cake up to him and joyfully called out, “Happy birthday, Dad!”

Stacy, who sat morosely on a chair next to the sofa, faked enthusiasm as she chimed in, “Happy birthday, Pop-Pop!”

“Thank you, guys!” Pop-Pop reacted pleasantly. Frank sat on the couch while Barbara went to the small kitchen behind them to cut the cake, and Pop-Pop conversed, “So, how are you all doing?”

Frank replied, “Good! Can’t complain!”

“Yes, I can imagine how carefree a cop’s life can be!” :Pop-Pop joked, and Frank laughed. He observed Stacy and asked her, “What about you, Dear? You’re not usually so quiet. Something wrong?”

Stacy didn’t want to explain her sordid love life, so she came up with something that she hoped would suffice, “”I’m having trouble finding work.”

Pop-Pop related to her, “I understand how that feels! When the Great Depression hit, the factory I worked for over a decade shut down, and I had a hard time finding work. Luckily, we kept food on the table when your grandmother got a job at a school.”

“Yes, I remember hearing about that,” Stacy responded. “She became a teacher because no matter how bad the economy got, they always needed teachers.”

“Actually, that was just a perk of going into that field,” Pop-Pop corrected her. Barbara and Frank began eating cake, but Pop-Pop and Stacy ignored theirs as they talked. “Your mother watched me struggle and vowed she would never go through it, so she became a teacher because of that benefit.”

Barbara added, “I started because of that benefit, but I stayed because I found that I love working with kids!”

“Of course, my dear!” Pop-Pop acknowledged.

Stacy inquired, “Why did Gam-Gam become a teacher?”

“She didn’t become a teacher,” Pop-Pop replied. “She taught music. She loved music, believed that it illustrated the heart and soul of humanity, and she thought it was important to spread people’s gifts far and wide.”

“Really?” Stacy had the same instincts as her grandmother, but she didn’t realize it until now!

“Take a look at that photo album.” Pop-Pop pointed to a bookshelf next to Stacy, and she grabbed it from the bottom. She flipped it open, and one of the first pages, she saw a young woman who looked a lot like her holding an expression of pure glee as she conducted a school band. Pop-Pop noted, “You remind me of her so much!” Stacy had previously thought her love of music was wrong because of its association with her fallout with Nick, but now she realized that it ran deeper than that, it was in her blood! Suddenly, everything became so much clearer to her. She did have a purpose, and just because one way she pursued it didn’t work didn’t mean she should stop trying! Her spirits lifted a little, and she knew that she couldn’t give up on something so important!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 18

As soon as Nick met up with Stacy outside of the factory, she excitedly announced, “I found a gig for you!”

“Really?” Nick seemed stunned to hear this.

“Yes!” Stacy confirmed. “My mom is putting on an end of the year show at her school, and they’re looking for an entertainer to finish off the last ten minutes or so. Are you interested?”

When they got to the office that they usually practiced in, Nick sat down to mull it over. “Hmm… I don’t know if any of my songs are really child friendly…”

“Didn’t you use to perform at a school?” Stacy reminded him.

“For my high school, yeah,” Nick remembered. “It’s been so long since I performed any of those songs!”

“But you still could, you know you could!” Stacy urged him.

“It would mean taking a day off work…” Nick contemplated. “I can always call in sick if I need to. It would be fun to perform before a live audience again, something to add to my musical resume… Okay, I’ll do it!”

“Great!” Stacy beamed. “I promised my mom I’d let her know as soon as I found out. Can I use this phone?”

“Sure.” Nick stepped aside so she could make the call.

She feverishly dialed to their home phone and waited for her mother to answer. “Oh, hi Mom! Yes, he’ll do it. Okay, I’ll let you talk to him.”

Nick went over to the phone and picked up the receiver. “Hi, Missus Alyson. Okay, I can be there then. The school is paying me for this gig? Wow! No, it’s totally enough! It’s my first paid music job, so I’m excited! Okay, sounds good. Do you wanna talk to her again? Alright, thank you so much! Thanks!”

Nick hung up and sat there in a sort of daze. Stacy told him, “Congratulations! You’re officially a paid musician!”

“This is amazing! I couldn’t have done it without you!” Nick thanked her.

“It’s only the beginning!” Stacy claimed. “The gigs will get bigger and bigger!”

Nick was at a loss for words. “I… you… it’s…” He showed his appreciation by giving her a hug, and she savored the moment as she hugged him back.

Suddenly, a chill went down their spines as they heard glass fall to the floor! They turned their heads to the door only to see Janet standing there with a stunned look on her face! She had apparently brought some dinner and had dropped it on the floor out of shock. Nick immediately stepped towards her and said firmly, “Babe, it’s not what you think!”

“You lied to me!” Janet shrieked. “Again! This whole time I thought you were working, but you were spending time with her!”

“I was spending time with my music!” Nick argued. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think you would approve.”

Janet didn’t seem to buy his story. “Oh, you’re working on your music? Is she a musician too?”

“She’s helping me get gigs,” Nick informed her. “I have my first paid gig coming up on…” Janet scoffed, which incensed him. “See, this is why I didn’t tell you! You never understood why this is so important to me!”

“I never said you couldn’t have a hobby! I just said it shouldn’t get in the way of making actual money!” Janet corrected him.

Nick challenged, “So, you wouldn’t love me if I was a broke musician?”

Janet replied, “I want a future! I wanna buy a house and pay for a wedding! We’re in our thirties for god’s sake! We’re too old to go chasing far off dreams! You don’t wanna grow up, do you? If you did, you wouldn’t keep lying to me!”

“You keep talking about what you want, what about me?” Nick yelled. “You don’t care about me, do you? You want a husband, you don’t want me!”

Before Janet could respond, the security guard walked in! He saw the food on the floor and the three of them standing there and sadly shook his head. He picked up his walkie-talkie and spoke into it, “Sir, we have a problem here!”

“What? No! Please!” Nick beseeched.

The security guard coldly replied, “You know the rules. I’m gonna have to ask you all to leave. Please don’t come back!”

The security guard walked them out of the building and slammed the door behind him. Nick turned to Janet and assured her, “I’ll get another job right away…!” Janet ignored him and stormed off to her car. Nick stood in silence, perfectly still as he tried to absorb all that just happened. Stacy completely emphasized with him. In a matter of minutes, he lost his job and his girlfriend, and, just like that, the life he knew for several years had slipped through his fingers. She went through that herself not that long ago! She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, and to her astonishment, he immediately chucked it off! “Don’t give me your pity! This is all your fault!”

His harshness really stung Stacy. “My fault? How is it my fault?”

“I told you I didn’t wanna get back into the music business again!” Nick bellowed. “You sold me on pursuing it, and look what happened!”

“If I didn’t encourage your music, it still would have come out just like it did when you snuck away from her grandparents to see that recording studio in Canada!” Stacy defended herself. “Besides, it was your idea to keep practicing in the factory! And to keep it secret from Janet! I never told you to do that!”

Nick fumed, “I had a decent life until you came along! I’m homeless and jobless ’cause of you! Why couldn’t you have left me alone? Why didn’t you just let my music go?”

“It made you happy!” Stacy spat. “I’m the only one who seemed to care about your happiness!”

“Oh yeah, I’m real happy now!” Nick scornfully shouted. “My family always said dreams don’t pay the bills. They were right all along!”

Stacy disliked his attitude towards her right now, but she realized that he had the right to get upset. She didn’t remember much from after she walked out on Hadeon, but she could imagine she probably wasn’t too friendly. She tried to encourage him, “If you want a regular nine to five job, you have plenty of experience from working at Gilmar’s, so it shouldn’t take you long to get hired somewhere else! And Janet’s mad, but she hasn’t broke up with you yet. There’s still time to make things okay again!”

“I’m not taking your advice anymore!” Nick barked. “I listened to you before, got my hopes up, and look where it got me!”

“I’m sorry!” Stacy wailed. “Really, I just wanted to help! I’m still here for anything you need! How can I help you make this right?”

Nick didn’t say anything for a moment. He looked as though he were stiffling back his tears. Stacy really hoped his emotions would simmer down so they could maintain their friendship, but instead he sighed, “Just leave me alone!” He marched over to his truck without looking back at her.

“Nick, wait! Please!” Stacy implored him, but it was to no avail. He closed the doors, and she watched helplessly as he pulled out of the parking lot and sped away.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she stood alone on the lawn. She found such comfort in spending time with Nick, and encouraging his music made her feel like she had a purpose here, but now it looked as though she lost that. As she walked to the bus stop, she realized that she now had no job and no other projects to work on. The only activity she had to do out here was looking for jobs, but now she had no idea what kind of work to search for. Nick had made her feel like she belonged in the music world, but this fallout made her reconsider. This felt like a sign of how things would go if she dared to try. She didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s life! As the bus arrived, she speculated that if she wasn’t meant for that world, then she had no idea where she belonged! She didn’t notice how the bus driver reacted to her crying, and she didn’t care. She sat down and gazed forlornly at the town as the bus rolled by. She didn’t last in Nashville, and she couldn’t make it in Makawee, so she wondered where to go from here…

When she got home, she saw that her parents had gone out. She figured they must have went to get food, which she had no interest in right now. She felt grateful that she didn’t have to explain herself at the moment. She picked up the mail from the ground and tossed it on the table next to the phone. She noticed that they had a new message, and she pushed play on the answering machine. Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, it’s your husband! I-!” She deleted it before he could finish talking. She didn’t know what he could possibly want from her right now, but she didn’t care. Dealing with him was the last thing she needed right now! She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. It calmed her nerves a bit, but she still felt empty inside. She kept sipping on it as she considered what she was going to do now…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 17

Quick, hide behind the door!” Nick whispered. Stacy didn’t understand why, but she knew he must have had a good reason for having her do it, so she complied. “Take this too!” He handed her his guitar as he picked up his notebook and pretended to study notes.

Seconds later, an old security guard came in and surveyed the scene. “What are you doing?”

“Who? Me?” Nick feigned confusion. “I’m just studying feedback that I got from my team.”

“Who else is here?” the security guard questioned.

“No one,” Nick fibbed. “Oh, you probably hard me on the phone with one of my colleagues. I don’t wanna give away too much about her personal issues, but she’s going through a lot right now.”

Thankfully, the security guard seemed to have bought that explanation. “Well, don’t work too hard now!”

“I won’t!” Nick waved as the security guard left the room. Nick acting like he had to go over his paperwork until the security guard roamed out of earshot. When it seemed as though the coast was clear, Nick got up and double checked down hallway both ways before he motioned for Stacy to follow him. “Come on!”

They quickly and quietly tiptoed down the hallway, and as soon as they exited the building, they exhaled in relief. Stacy’s heart had raced from worry of getting caught, but now that they were safe, her curiosity demanded to understand the situation that had just passed. “What just happened?”

Nick explained, “The boss has random security checks throughout the month to make sure no one misuses the facility. Don’t worry, he rarely comes around, so we’ll be fine.”

“Maybe we should figure out another place to practice, just in case,” Stacy suggested.

“Yeah, we should figure it out soon,” Nick agreed. “He usually only comes around once or twice a month, so we have some time. Maybe by the time he comes around again, I’ll be out booking some gigs!”

“I’ll start looking for a venue for you to perform at too,” Stacy assured him. As they walked to the truck, Stacy told him, “Sorry I didn’t get to tell you much about my story.”

“Actually, your reaction said a lot.” Nick smiled sympathetically, and Stacy returned one back.

On Wednesday, Stacy had the day off from work, so she went back to the library and borrowed the Nashville phone book. She sat down at a table and took her notebook and pen out of her purse just as she did last time, but this time, she opened up the phone book to the record label section. She felt pleased to have found a number of places that she could apply to. She came across one that she recognized as a client of Hadeon’s, and the memory it brought up repulsed her, so, at first, she skipped that one. After a moment, she remembered how nice the man who owned the recording studio had been to her and all of the exciting stories he had about working there, so she decided to include it on her list. She wasn’t sure if she would actually apply there or not, but she felt too guilty not to at least consider it.

When she came home, she saw that her parents were doing the dishes, so she offered, “Can I help?”

“Sure, I could use a break!” Frank handed her a towel and zipped out of the room.

Barbara rolled her eyes and shook her head but didn’t say anything to him. As she handed Stacy a dish to dry, Stacy conversed, “How was your day?”

“It was going fine until the principal put me in charge of the end of the school year show!” Barbara grumped. “It’s so hard coordinating the different grades! And they wanna find an entertainer for the older students. I don’t know what they like!”

“I know a singer who could use a gig…” Stacy brought up.

“Really?” Barbara chirped. “Let me know as soon as possible if he can do it!”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I know!” Stacy promised.

Before she left for her next shift, Stacy stuffed a dozen envelopes with her resume. She went through the list she made the other day and addressed each envelope except for the one. She hesitated on the recording studio that Hadeon had as a client. She figured with her ex-husband taking care of their marketing needs that they wouldn’t have any interest in hiring her in that capacity. She qualified for a secretary or administrative position, but then she worried that she might run into Hadeon on occasion, which would create such an awkward atmosphere! Not to mention potentially danger if he decided to pick a fight with her again! She wondered if there would even have been a favorable opinion of her anymore, especially if her ex-husband revealed his slant on the incident to them. She decided to skip it and only stamped sealed the envelopes of the other leads she found.

At work, Stacy passed by the cash register and saw Gloria talking to a woman with her preteen daughter. After a second glance, she realized she recognized the woman at the register. “Lola?”

“Stacy?” Lola acted incredulously. They shouted excitedly and gave each other a hug.

Gloria inquired, “You guys know each other?”

Lola told her, “Yeah, Mom, we went to high school together!”

“What a small world!” Gloria remarked.

Lola addressed Stacy, “What are you doing here? Last I heard you were married to a successful business man and living fabulously in Nashville!”

“Oh, I left him,” Stacy confessed. “He was a jerk and I’d rather be alone and broke than stay married to him!”

Stacy expected Lola to react sympathetically, but she actually had a look of longing in her eyes. She made sure her daughter didn’t hear her when she said, “You’re so lucky! I wish I could leave!” As she spoke, Stacy noticed a gnarly scratch on Lola’s arm. “It’s hard when a kid is involved. I gotta do what’s best for her. I couldn’t risk her living on the street.” As Lola spoke, Stacy discovered a number of other nicks and bruises throughout her body, and her heart sunk as she realized what that probably meant. “Even if I got a job at a store or something, I wouldn’t make enough to support her. And since my father’s gone now, we took Mom in too. Where would she go?”

Gloria exclaimed, “I told you, don’t worry about me! We’ll figure something out…”

The two of them suddenly grew silent and painted smiles on their faces. Stacy found that odd until she saw a man in a nice suit walk in their direction. She saw an Emporia badge and figured out that he must have been an executive of some sort. He stood in front of her and pompously introduced himself, “Drake Tanith, regional manager. You must be new.”

“Yes,” she responded while trying to hide her nervousness. “I’m Stacy, a recovery agent.”

“Welcome, Stacy!” He turned towards Lola, who greeted him with a kiss. “Darling, I don’t see any clothes. You said Elaine needed clothes!”

“Sorry!” Lola practically trembled as she apologized. “I got caught up talking and-!”

He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her close to him. “Go wait in the car!” He pushed her away rather forcibly. Lola scrambled to get her purse and dashed out of the store. Gloria returned to helping a customer as if none of this bothered her as Drake met up with Pat and began talking about numbers.

Stacy stood in shock of what she just witnessed. She and Lola had such similar lives in high school, but she felt Lola had always been a little ahead of her and she actually envied her. Lola outranked her on the student council and got better grades too. She always attracted the cuter boyfriends and even got into a better college. It was heartbreaking to see how much Lola had been defeated by this man! She wondered how her life had taken such a drastic turn, and she realized that domestic violence could happen to anybody! Suddenly, it occurred to her that this abusive man was now her boss! Once again, she found herself working in the same environment she had just escaped from, and it was simply unacceptable! She marched up to Pat and Drake, threw her badge on the ground, cried out, “I quit!” and stormed out without saying another word!

She had felt so much fury throughout her way home, but that soon turned into panic. She now had no way to pay for her divorce, which she feared could hand her an expensive bill at any moment. She became wrapt with worry, and she knew she knew she had to find another job immediately! When she got inside her house, she saw her list of music industry places to apply to in Nashville and remembered that she hadn’t applied to that last one. She still had a burning rage for violent men, and she felt so furious that she got an ardent motivation to attempt to steal Hadeon’s client and addressed her last envelope to that company!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 16

Stacy came home from work and immediately took her shoes off. After she released a breath of relief, she called out, “Mom?”

“In here, Sweetie!” Barbara responded from her bedroom.

Stacy walked over to her parents’ bedroom and saw her mother working on the computer. She inquired, “Whatcha doing?”

“Making a quiz for my kids,” Barbara replied.”Sentence diagrams. You wanna try it?”

Stacy peered over her mother’s shoulders and tried to do the test, but she came up blank. “Wow, I don’t remember doing this at all! Did I learn this?”

“Of course you did!” Barbara laughed. “I made sure you aced this subject too! It wouldn’t give me a lot of credibility as a teacher if you failed anything!” Stacy also laughed, and then Barbara conversed, “So, how was work?”

Stacy sat at the foot of her parents’ bed and told her, “They moved me to women’s formal, and girls are already beginning to shop for prom. They try on hundreds of dresses on and don’t hang any of the rejects up, but if I spend too much time in the dressing room, I get yelled at. Then, when I put them back, I couldn’t find the exact spot where the go-backs went, and they got mad because I took too long. I just started finding racks with similar colors to the item I had and just put them there. Close enough! That was my first time in that section; they could get speed or accuracy, not both!”

Barbara remarked “That’s probably why the girls’ dresses were so messy on your first day there.”

“True,” Stacy agreed. “But if someone went back and fixed what I mixed up, I wouldn’t get mad. So, why did I get yelled at?”

“Don’t overthink it,” Barbara advised. “Some people’s actions just aren’t rational and you’ll hurt yourself trying to make them sound reasonable!”

Stacy tittered, and then she yawned. “I’m gonna go take a nap.” As soon as she got up, she saw the mail come through the slot on the door. “Correction, I’m gonna get the mail, and if nothing is for me, then I’m gonna take a nap!”

Stacy stooped down and collected the letters on the floor. She didn’t expect to get anything, but she saw something from the IRS with her name on it. “Oh, I guess my mail forwarding went through. I forgot about my tax return!” She handed her mother the rest of the mail as she opened hers up. When she saw the check, she reacted pleasantly, “Nice!”

“you should treat yourself,” Barbara suggested. “What is something you want but couldn’t get before?”

The next day, Frank escorted Stacy into a divorce lawyer’s office. The waiting room was fairly small, but it had a very nice set of furniture. Stacy and Frank sat on the opposite side of the room from a couple that didn’t talk or make eye contact with each other. The only sound came from the secretary, who had been typing up something on a computer. Stacy softly said to her father, “Thanks for coming with me!”

“No problem!” Frank told her genially. “Thanks for getting me away from my honey-do list!”

“No problem!” Stacy chuckled.

“Miss Alyson?” the secretary summoned. “Mister Dorsey will see you now.” Frank and Stacy got up and went through the door next to the secretary’s window.

Mister Dorsey had a cozy but posh office, and the man himself had a nice suit but a very relaxed demeanor. He looked about her father’s age, Stacy thought, as he read over her file. When he finished, he stated, “I don’t understand.”

“What do you mean?” Stacy inquired.

Mister Dorsey elaborated, “You signed a prenup and could collect a decent settlement from him. You could even argue for alimony, but you want nothing from him?”

Stacy explained, “I want my independence! I don’t want anything in my life that he could take credit for! Anything he gives me would give him a reason to claim ownership over me! I want a clean slate, totally free of any ties to him! I just wanna break free and move on with nothing to remind me of him except for a few bad memories!”

Mister Dorsey seemed a little surprised still, but he accepted her explanation. “Well, this should make the process pretty simple.”

“You would think so!” Stacy muttered. “But my husband doesn’t want me to go. There’s no love for him left in me, but despite that, he still doesn’t want to let go!”

“He’s still in love?” Mister Dorsey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Stacy answered. “Not for me anyways. He’s in love with himself and his ego. He doesn’t want the stigma of a divorce, especially one where he was in the wrong and his wife left him ’cause he messed up!”

Mister Dorsey probed, “If you don’t mind me asking, what did he do that was so horrible?”

Stacy admitted, “He hit me.”

“Wow!” Mister Dorsey reacted. “Then for sure it’s over!” Stacy smiled gratefully knowing that he understood. “Good for you for having the courage to leave after that! I can’t tell you how many women choose to stay and take the abuse!”

“Really?” Stacy replied. “It can’t be that many!”

“Oh, there’s hundreds!” Mister Dorsey informed her. “Across the country, there’s thousands! You’re lucky you got out when you did! So many women who go through it don’t recover.”

“That’s true!” Frank agreed.

Stacy found that incredibly sad. It felt so horrible to think that so many women put up with it to the point of no return! She mulled over different ways that she could help victims of domestic violence, but Mister Dorsey interrupted her train of thought, “Okay, I’m going to send someone to serve him your petition for divorce. He’ll have his lawyers go over it, and they may file objections to it. If that’s the case, we’ll have to go to court. The whole process should take a few months.”

“That’s fine.” Stacy had already figured it would take a while, and she kind of counted on it so she could have more time to save up to pay the funds.

Mister Dorsey slid his card across his desk. “Give me a call if you have any questions. Until then, we’ll keep you informed of any updates.”

“Thank you so much!” Stacy stood up and shook his hand. Frank did the same before they left.

The next day, Stacy met up with Nick at his work again. He brought his guitar and played her the song ‘Motor Run’ again. It had a classic stadium rock type of beat, so she could see it becoming a chart topping hit for sure after hearing it. She tried not to get too turned on by his singing and the possible motivation behind his music, but it became very hard to keep that thought hidden! When he finished playing, she complimented him, “Whew! That’s hot!”

“You really think so?” Nick seemed pleased that she thought highly of his work.

Stacy gave him a half-scolding look. “Have I lied to you yet?”

Nick smiled. “I hope not!”

Stacy smiled back, but then she said seriously, “I was thinking… Maybe your next song could help raise awareness of people in abusive relationships.”

Nick contemplated this notion. “Not a bad idea. Would you mind if I wrote about your experience?”

“That’s fine,” Stacy complied. “I was talking to a divorce lawyer, and he told me how there’s so many women out there who go through the same thing I did. I thought I had gotten myself in into a rare situation, but apparently not! It’s sickeningly common, but if I felt alone in my experience, lots of other women must feel like that too. I wanna do something to help!”

“No one should feel alone, especially on a thing like that! Hmm… something about not being alone…” Nick thought out loud. “It could help people who haven’t gone through it reach out to people who have.”

“Exactly!” Stacy relished how they got on the same wave length about her idea.

Nick pulled out his notepad and readied himself to start writing. “Okay, tell me the story of everything you went through with Hadeon.”

Stacy took a deep breath and thought back to the beginning. She suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion, and tears began to well up. She didn’t understand why, she thought she had gotten past that point and could talk about it. “Hey, it’s alright!” Nick assured her. He stood up and gave her a hug. She found him intensely comforting as she began sobbing onto his shoulders, and, for a moment, everything seemed right in the world…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 15

Stacy went up to the door and rang the bell. She felt a little nervous to meet his father, especially since Nick described him as grouchy. She also felt pretty sore from working the last two days, and she took note that under normal circumstances, two days of work would have been an easy week! The time at Emporia seemed to last longer, and she was grateful she had a couple of days to recover from it. Except, she had volunteered herself to do more hard work somewhere else! It certainly would have been easier to go to the library and jot down the name of every record company in Nashville, but she motivated herself to push through the pain because she was dying to see what Nick said about her in his new song!

Nick answered the door and gave her a dashing smile. Stacy tried not to swoon after seeing him in his jeans and a tight tee shirt! He looked good in his work uniform too, but this definitely suited him more. Evidently, he had been checking out her outfit too because he questioned, “Are you okay with getting these clothes dirty?”

“Oh, my ex gave me these,” Stacy told him. “I’m not sure why I brought them to Makawee at all! I’d love an excuse to throw them away and replace them!”

Nick chuckled and invited her inside. Stacy saw an older man whom she could only assume was Nick’s father watching television. She remembered that Nick had mentioned that he was legally blind, so she figured he listened to the television like a radio show instead of actually watching it, but his head still craned in that direction as if he were watching like normal. Nick introduced her, “Dad, this is Stacy.”

“How are you, sir?” She took his hand so he could shake it.

“Sir?” he echoed. “It’s been a long time since anyone called me sir!”

“I could call you Mister Rolland if you prefer,” Stacy offered.

Mister Rolland laughed heartily. “I like this one! What happened to Janet? Did she run off with some millionaire?”

Nick had a pronounced frown at that comment. “She’s at home. She’s fine.”

Even though Stacy secretly enjoyed the fact that his dad didn’t seem to like Janet, but she didn’t like the tension between Nick and his dad, so she cleared her throat and asked, “So, what are we working on today?”

“We’re going to work in the backyard first. Come on.” Nick motioned for her to follow him outside.

Stacy addressed Mister Rolland, “It was nice to meet you, sir!” before she followed him out.

The backyard mostly had overgrown grass in it, but she also saw dandelions sprinkled around the area as well as an old riding lawn mower parked under a shade tree. Nick explained, “Before we mow the lawn, we gotta fix the mower.”

“Okay,” Stacy complied. “What’s wrong with it?”

Nick replied, “It just needs a tune up.” He went to a cabinet by the door and pulled out a toolbox. He then went to the riding lawn mower and popped open the hood. He handed her a flashlight and requested, “Can you shine this where I work?”

“Sounds easy enough,” Stacy responded.

Nick grinned. “Don’t think your whole day will be a cake walk like this!” Stacy laughed, and then Nick began to work. As he began repairing the mower, he brought up, “You know, this reminds me of the song I wrote.”

Stacy felt thrilled that he decided to divulge this information, but she was confused as to what any of this had to do with a song about a girl. “Why is that?”

“It’s called Motor Run,” Nick reported. “Do you wanna hear it?”

“Of course!” Stacy eagerly anticipated this, though she didn’t totally understand how ‘Motor Run’ could describe anything romantic.

When Nick started singing, it all became very clear! The song described a car that thought it worked fine until a woman came along and juiced it up so it ran like a racing machine. She could easily see the symbolism of a man who thought he had a good life until someone came along to add excitement and ignited his passions. She had expected to hear something with that kind of a theme, but she got a jolt of surprise at the sexual innuendos interlaced throughout the lyrics! Combining that with his sheer talent for music created quite the spell on her!

When he finished, he turned to her and inquired, “So, what do you think?”

Stacy couldn’t speak because of how much the song had seduced her! Just looking into his eyes, she got the sense she hadn’t imagined an attraction between them after all! The temptation to wrap her arms around him overwhelmed her, and she was nearly shaking just trying to hold herself back. Just inches from him, she momentarily forgot why she hesitated at all, but suddenly, Janet’s face flashed in front of her and she couldn’t do it. She pulled herself away and sighed happily, “Wow!”

“You liked it?” Nick sought confirmation from her.

Stacy couldn’t possibly say how she actually felt about his song! She felt ninety percent sure he wanted her romantically as well as physically, but until he said it out loud, she didn’t want to voice her own feelings and embarrass herself. Plus, he still had a commitment to Janet, and she couldn’t live with herself if she became the other woman. She began to doubt her theory a little more since he always went home to her. If he had deep feelings for her, Stacy thought, she wondered why he didn’t break up with Janet. In her opinion, she was a much better match for him than her, but it didn’t seem like he had any intent on leaving Janet. That sobered her up enough to give him a more elaborate account on his song, “You have another hit on your hands! It’s catchy, another chart topper for sure! Though, I don’t think you could pair it with Charlie’s song!”

Nick joked, “So, it’s good I didn’t sing it the other day in front of his memorial?”

“Uh, yes!” Stacy agreed. “I love it though! When you play in front of an audience, people will really eat it up!”

“Where do you think I should play this time?” Nick pondered.

“I’ll have to think.” Stacy didn’t want to admit that his song made it hard for her to think in a wonderful way!

Nick closed the hood on the riding lawn mower. “Do you wanna take the reins?”

“I’ve never used one of these! Maybe you can teach me when there isn’t a bunch more chores to do. I can get started on something else while you mow the lawn,” Stacy suggested.

“Okay, could you get started in the bathroom then?” Nick requested.

“Sure! I bet I’ll get it done before you finish the lawn!” Stacy dared him.

“Challenge accepted!” Nick competitively hopped onto the riding lawn mower while she ran in the house.

Stacy found the bathroom, which already appeared fairly clean to her. She stared at it for a while as if it would somehow tell her how to begin, but she didn’t have any clue what to do until she noticed a puff of cat fur. She asked Mister Rolland, “Excuse me, where do you keep your broom?”

“It’s in the kitchen closet,” he answered. “Wait, are you gonna sweep the bathroom?”

“Well, yeah…” She had found the broom and felt pretty confident about her plan until he said that.

“You gotta clean the tub, toilet, and sink before you sweep and mop,” Mister Rolland advised her, “Unless you wanna end up doing it twice!”

“Oh, sorry!” Stacy apologized. “For the last five years, my ex-husband had a maid come in once a month to do all this. I didn’t realize just how long it’s been since I cleaned anything for myself! I guess I kind of forgot how!”

“Let me help.” He got off the couch, and she scampered over to the bathroom. He directed, “Reach into the cabinet under the sink and look for the powdered cleanser.” Mister Rolland continued to give her instructions throughout the process. Stacy didn’t mind because she needed the help. Mister Rolland seemed to enjoy himself too. While she was scrubbing the toilet, Nick came inside and peered at them curiously. Mister Rolland addressed him, “We got this under control. Why don’t you get lunch ready?”

“Sure!” Nick seemed a little surprised at his father’s demeanor but he didn’t question it.

Stacy commented, “Thanks for this cleaning tutorial!”

Mister Rolland responded, “No, thank you for the help! Besides, it’s nice to feel useful.”

“I know how that feels!” Stacy related. She understood why he may have been grumpy previously. It’s not easy to ask for help after living independently for so long! She struggled with that herself, actually. She didn’t want to get too personal with someone she hardly knew though, so she changed the subject, “So, did you grow up in Makawee?”

As Mister Rolland talked about where he grew up, she kept cleaning as she listened. She could tell his mood had totally gotten elevated by this, and when she glanced over to Nick, she saw him smiling appreciatively. She knew at that point that while she didn’t get a chance to look for a new job or earn money to pay for her divorce, she had found something meaningful that made her feel really good about herself, a feeling she hadn’t had in a very long time!

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!

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 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!”