Betty handed Joanna a cup of coffee, then poured a cup for herself. “Time for a break. We have earned it.” She strolled over to one of the conversation areas and eased down in a chair. “What a marvelous first day for Crow’s Nest! We have already exceeded our expectations.”
Joanna settled on the sofa. “Did anyone do a head count?”
“My friend Nina did. “The last time I checked with her the count was 110.”
“Do you think it was Alex’s column and your publicity campaign that brought the people in?”
“We can’t overlook Polly’s efforts to get people here. Word of mouth can be as effective as the written word. There was a time not so long ago that an opening in the business district wouldn’t have interested Fairview’s residents, but since the downtown revitalization project began, people are flocking to downtown.”
“I have never understood why the town council chose to bring in strip malls instead of improving the busines district. It seems to me a combination of old and new is much better city planning. What about sales?”
“We mentally prepared for lookers instead of buyers, so I would have to say that we have been pleasantly surprised with the number of sales and the dollar amount of sales.”
“The positive for me was the opportunity to visit with friends and acquaintances I rarely get to see.”
“Ed and I have been so busy settling Dad’s estate matters that socializing has taken a back seat. Today has given us that opportunity. Speaking of friends, Logan and Beth Cox were in. Did you have a chance to speak to them?”
“I did. They bought one of Judy’s books for Danny, the boy I told you about. They wanted me to personalize the book for him.”
“How is he doing now that he is back in Gladstone?”
“Logan and Beth have stayed in touch. According to all reports, Danny is doing great.”
Joanna glanced at the door and turned deathly pale. She grabbed a photography magazine from a side table and used it to cover her face. “Betty, an avowed drama queen just walked through the door. If she sees me, she will stir up trouble.”
Betty remained calm. “The redhead?”
“Yes. Her name is Rhonda West.”
“Keep the magazine over your face until I can distract her. I will give her a personal tour, starting with the computer lab. Stay in my office until I come get you.”
“Forty minutes later Betty entered her office and plopped down in a chair. “Rhonda has a high opinion of herself, doesn’t she?”
Joanna chuckled. “In high school she was called Your Highness behind her back.”
“And she is still stirring the pot because . . . ”
“I can only guess. In the past, she became irrational when things didn’t go her way. My guess is that she is having issues and needs someone to blame.”
“Can you be more specific? Future issues are less likely to develop if we can nip them in the bud.”
“I suspect that Rhonda is bi-polar, but I have no proof. Working with youngsters has taught me that the roots of bad behavior begin early. Rhonda was a classmate, not a friend, so I was not privy to information about her birth family. If there was some kind of family tragedy, that might help explain her occasional irrational behavior. She fawned over some of our classmates and ignored others. For some reason, I was the person she chose to aggressively harass.
“In the third grade, she referred to me as a bratty infant because I was the smallest person in our class. She and her friends were the class leaders, and class bullies. They liked to lord it over the rest of the class, and especially me. I chose not to fight back. I have always avoided confrontations if possible.
“Why she has chosen to barge back into my life is a mystery, but I can tell you this. She refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. My guess is that she is either having issues with her husband or a friend. I haven’t seen her in years, so I hesitate to speculate.”
“Did her behavior carry over into high school?”
“The situation improved after I moved in with Aunt Polly. She arranged outside activities so that I could interact with children away from school. The summer before high school I had a growth spurt, so physically I was no longer a misfit. I also learned some really cool magic tricks. With the help of a friend, I wowed my classmates. To be fair, Rhonda became uneasy when objects disappeared, then reappeared. She did not trust magic or the people who performed magic tricks. She started a rumor that I was a witch.
“I was older and wiser, but less forgiving than I had been as an elementary school student. I might have tolerated being called a witch if she had not labeled my friends black cats.”
“So, what did you do?”
“In the eighth grade, Rhonda proclaimed that she had created an enemies list. The day before Christmas vacation of our freshman year, I found the list on the floor of our homeroom class. Instead of returning the list to her, I posted it in the gym. She had included some of her so-called friends on the list, and the vile things she wrote about those girls really surprised me. One of her friends saw the list before Rhonda took it down. Her friend Gail distanced herself from Rhonda. It never occurred to Rhonda that she had done anything wrong.”
“I take it you were on the list?”
“I was number one on the list. My punishment for being alive was particularly heinous; she wanted to douse me with gasoline and throw a match on me.”
“Where was your principal? Rhonda should have been reprimanded if not suspended.”
“My guess is that she was reprimanded. She transferred to Marshall High her sophomore year. I was relieved because I no longer had to deal with her. End of story, or so I thought.”
“Any thoughts about her for the past twelve years have been fleeting. Then, ten days ago she approached me at the Silver Diner. I had agreed to meet Alex there to talk about an idea of his. She marched up to our table and accused me of being the bane to her existence.” Joanna shrugged. “We don’t live in the same neighborhood, have the same friends or cross paths, so I am not sure how anything I say or do can possibly affect her.”
“Don’t waste your time worrying about her, Joanna. There are a lot of Rhonda’s in the world. Several years ago, I hired a young women as an assistant who suffered from a personality disorder. I was not aware of her illness when I hired her. She was a terrific photographer, but she had highs and lows that eventually affected my business. I had to let her go. She did not take it well.
“Rhonda isn’t your responsibility. If she stirs up trouble here in the shop, we will deal with her. The downside of retail is that you have to deal with an occasional bitchy customer.”
“Thanks for being understanding, Betty. I did not want your opening day to be marred by someone like Rhonda West. On a positive note, I went on the shop’s web site and answered most of the incoming inquiries. I put a list of questions you or Ed need to address on your desk. About five minutes before you walked into the office, another person signed up for your photography seminar How to Tell a Story with Photography.”
“I had reservations about doing a seminar until the shop established a customer base, but Ed encouraged me not to wait. I make the decisions about design and photography, but I delegate the business and timing decisions to him.”
“I would like to perfect your knack for making teamwork look easy. My teacher assistant is creative, but on most matters, she defers to me. Even with Judy’s book, which could only be published by a team effort, I felt as though I was flying solo too often. Judy does not understand color reproduction and doesn’t care to learn. When she completes a story, she is perfectly happy to let others handle the rest of the process.
“Her current book has more characters than her previous one. I refused to illustrate the book unless she agreed to do a character study with me. I can’t make a characters come to life unless I can see that character as the author sees him or her.”
“I am rambling to make a point; it has been a great experience to be part of well-coordinated teamwork.”