“I have a job interview tomorrow,” Keeley said conversationally as she set the cup of strawberry pomegranate herbal tea in front of her closest friend. She frowned at the teapot, and then set it back down and poured herself a third cup of coffee instead. She’d start limiting her daily intake to two cups tomorrow.
Kira had paused in the process of selecting an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, her already large brown eyes widening. “You didn’t tell me that you had started looking for a job,” she said slowly. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Yeah, I think I am. It’s time for me to get back to the real world.”
“Where is it?”
“Ashton? But that’s so far away!”
“It’s less than an hour from here. Forty five minutes without traffic.”
“That’s a long commute every day. Or, are you thinking of moving up there?”
“If I get the job, I’ll look for an apartment there. I have to be out of here in a few weeks anyway, so either way I’ll have to find a new place. It makes sense that it should be close to wherever I end up working. ”
“But we won’t be able to have tea, or get together on the spur of the moment like we do now. I’ll miss being able to spend time with you without having to make a plan in advance.”
“We’d still see each other all the time. You could come up there and I would come in to the city often. It just seems like it might be easier to be in a different town, you know? Somewhere where I know I won’t run into Mark or Chelsea and the baby. Anyway, I haven’t even gone on the interview yet. I might not get the job.”
“You’ll get it,” Kira said loyally. “It’s so not fair that you’re the one who has to find a new job. That lying, cheating bastard and his bimbo should be the ones to have to leave town and find new jobs. It’s still not too late to make the two of them disappear, if you want.”
Keeley smiled at her friends outburst. “I wouldn’t want to work at Madison’s now anyway, with everybody there knowing what happened. Mark and Chelsea can deal with all the gossip. I want to make a new start somewhere.”
“What’s the new job?”
“Receptionist at a car dealership.”
“Well, that’s definitely a new start!”
Over the plate of cookies the friends discussed the possible move, and what it would entail. Because she was such a good friend, Kira tried really hard to hope that Keeley was offered the new job, if that’s what she really wanted.
The next morning, Keeley got in her grey Acura, and started the scenic drive north to Ashton. Traffic was light, and it was a beautiful, sunny day. She had her iPod plugged in and was listening to her mix of classic rock, singing along at full volume. She hadn’t sung in the car or the shower in a long time, she realized. She actually felt really good today, better than she had for a long time. Cautiously optimistic, even. It had been a pretty crappy year, make that closer to two years, she corrected herself. First her mothers long illness and lingering death, then her husbands confession of infidelity, the divorce, and selling the townhouse where she'd lived most of her married life. The good news was that she had finally managed to lose those ten stubborn pounds. Living in yoga pants the past few months, she hadn’t noticed them melting away, but the formerly snug suit she’d put on this morning for the interview was now downright loose! Of course, if you keep on scarfing cookies like you did yesterday, the pounds will return and probably bring a few friends, she chided herself silently. But no errant thoughts could lessen her buoyant mood, and she continued to sing and feel hopeful.
Luckily she’d left early to give herself plenty of time, so the road construction that delayed her for almost twenty minutes was only a minor annoyance. She sipped coffee from a to go cup, her third of the day, but maybe tomorrow she’d be more motivated to cut it off at two. She arrived at the surprisingly large car dealership with ten minutes to spare. When she walked in the door, a young, smiling salesman scurried over to greet her.
“Good morning. What can I show you today?” he asked.
“I’m looking for John Banks. I have an appointment with him at eleven.”
Realizing there was no chance of a sale, the smile disappeared, and the salesman lost all interest in her. He motioned in the direction of a wall of offices at the far side of the showroom, and walked away.
Her previous employer had been adamant that exemplary customer service be provided by all employees in any situation. Apparently, that was not the custom here. Keeley shrugged and walked over to the waiting area the salesman had indicated. A tall blond man in a business suit was coming out of one of the offices, and he paused, sweeping his glance over Keeley with interest. He looked to be in his thirties, not bad looking, but the smile he favored her with was a little too friendly, and he moved to stand a little too close for her comfort. He apparently considered himself irresistible to women. She took a step back and repeated what she’d told the salesman, hoping this man wasn’t who she was looking for. Thankfully, he wasn’t. He introduced himself as Dennis Olson, sales manager for the dealership. He peered in the window of the corner office, and a scowl marred his face momentarily, but when he turned back to Keeley, the intimate smile was turned back on. “John’s with his daughter right now, but he should be free shortly. Have a seat. Do you want a coffee while you wait?” he offered courteously.
“No thanks, I’m fine,” Keeley said, feeling quite virtuous at having turned the coffee down. She really could have used a jolt of caffeine before the interview to help calm her nerves.
“I hope you get the job. If you do, I’ll take you out for lunch, and give you the inside scoop.” Dennis winked at her as he moved away to respond to a summons from another employee. That’s what you think, she retorted silently to his retreating back.
Keeley sat down in one of the chairs in the waiting area. The magazines were all automobile related, except for a Newsweek, which she didn’t find any more appealing than Car and Driver. From where she sat, Keeley could see into the corner office where a middle aged man was sitting at a large desk. He was frowning, and talking to a blond woman sitting in the chair facing him. The woman shrugged her shoulders, and then threw out her hands in a gesture of frustration. He continued to talk, looking more and more annoyed, then finally wrote something, and handed it to her. She tucked it in her bag, then rose languidly, walked around the desk and gave him a quick hug, which he did not return. He got up and followed her out the door, still frowning. Keeley quickly looked away, embarrassed at having been watching them, but neither of them appeared to notice her.
“I meant what I said, Ashley,” the man said, a note of warning in his voice.
“Yes, Dad,” she responded airily, without turning around, but giving a little backward wave with her manicured hand. The man watched with narrowed eyes until she left the showroom, and then turned back to his office. He finally noticed Keeley sitting there. “Ah, you must be Keeley Kavanagh. Come on in.” He did not apologize for keeping her waiting.
They shook hands, and Keeley followed him into the office. He indicated the chair recently occupied by his daughter, and Keeley sat down. The only resemblance Keeley could see between father and daughter was that they both had the same haughty expression, and both had blond hair, although Keeley was pretty sure Ashley’s came out of a bottle. Although it was possible that John’s color had a little assistance as well. He looked to be in his early to mid fifties, and not a hint of grey showed, although the hair was starting to thin just slightly on both temples.
John began by telling Keeley about the dealership, of which he was obviously very proud, mentioning several times how successful it was, and how many sales awards they had received. Keeley found herself having to concentrate in order not to let her attention drift off. He then went on to talk about the receptionist position, detailing his expectations of the successful candidate. They were many and varied. “So why should we consider hiring you for the position?” he asked finally .
Keeley looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then surprised them both by rising to her feet. “You shouldn’t,” she said, a slight smile on her face. “I wouldn’t be a good fit for this job. Thank you for your time, and good luck finding a suitable candidate.” She picked up her bag, and walked out the door, leaving John staring at her with a mixture of shock and annoyance on his face.
Dennis was coming in the door of the showroom, and held the door open for her. “Finished already? Did you get the job?”
“Nope,” she replied cheerfully, and kept on walking. She got into her car, closed the door, and laid her head back on the headrest, closing her eyes. Then she started to giggle. She couldn’t quite believe she had walked out in the middle of a job interview, but felt pleased and a little proud of herself for having done so. She’d bet that had never happened to John Banks before either. Instinctively she knew it would not have been a place where she would have enjoyed working, and dammit, from now on she was only doing things that she enjoyed. Life was too short and too uncertain to spend your time being miserable. She didn’t need to get a job right away, she had a nice nest egg from the divorce settlement, plus her share of the inheritance from her mother. She could wait until she found a job that inspired her. She would need to find a place to live, however, but she didn’t have to do it today. Today she was going to celebrate the new Keeley, the Keeley who put her own wants and needs first for a change. To being totally self-centered, she said out loud as she drained the last of the now cold coffee from the cup. And if I want four cups of coffee a day, I’ll damn well have four cups of coffee, she added, but then prudence reasserted inself. Well, maybe not, because then I won’t be able to sleep at night. I really need to get a handle on my coffee addiction, she thought guiltily.
It had been a few years since Keeley had been to the charming little town of Ashton. She hadn’t really been anywhere for far too long, she reflected. She drove to the main square, where she was lucky enough to find a parking spot. She looked around for a meter and was charmed to realize that parking was free, although a sign stated there was a two hour limit. Wow, she thought, a place where you can still park for free. How cool is that?
She looked around, delighted by the open green space in the center of the square. It held a small gazebo in the middle, surrounded by gravel paths and plenty of park benches. Many of them were occupied by people taking a break in the late morning sunshine. Surrounding the square were quite a number of interesting shops. She decided she might as well explore a few of them while she was in the neighborhood.
Grabbing her bag, she started down the street. She passed a boutique with a beautiful window display of the latest fashions, a hobby store, a bakery where her feet hesitated, but then resolutely walked past the temptation. A man was coming out of a coffee house with a box of what was probably his lunch, and that had the most delicious smells emanating from it. Maybe she’d stop for a bite to eat after she explored the neighborhood a little. There was a realtors office where a women wearing a red power suit stood staring out into the street. Her abundance of teased blond hair was a throwback to the look of the eighties. Keeley started toward a new age gift shop called It’s Magic. Kira’s birthday was approaching and she loved anything new age. Before she reached the door, her attention was caught by a beautiful Victorian style house in the adjacent block. Keeley loved character houses, especially the Victorian style. This one reminded her of the house she had wanted to buy when she and Mark had first been looking for a home. Mark had insisted the townhouse would be a much better investment. The fact that he had been right, and the townhouse had recently sold for significantly more than the price they’d paid, even while benefitting Keeley in the settlement, still rankled when she remembered how disappointed she had originally been. The townhouse had never really appealed to her, and she had let it go without a qualm.
This house was small by Victorian standards, and in obvious need of some TLC, but was still beautiful. There was a For Sale sign on a post outside a dilapidated wooden gate. The yard inside was neglected, and overrun with weeds, but still bore some traces of the landscaping that had probably once been stunning. The house had the stillness and look of a vacant property. The picket fence was sagging and missing a few boards. There were steps leading to a wraparound porch, with screening coming away from where it had been attached to the wooden pillars. There was a whimsical turret with it’s conical roof and curved glass windows that needed a good cleaning. A small chimney rose above the intersecting gabled slate roof. The paint on the house was a lovely, faded wedgwood blue with white trim that was peeling in places.
As Keeley stood looking dreamily at the faded beauty, a woman came walking quickly along the sidewalk in high heels. It was the woman from the realtors office. “Hello,” she chirped, smiling brightly. “I’m Donna Woods.” She looked at Keeley expectantly.
“Hi. I’m Keeley Scott.” She’d actually gone back to her maiden name of Kavanagh, but hadn’t yet successfully broken the habit of using her married name.
“This is my listing” Donna said, indicating the listing sign, which did indeed have her name is large letters, and a picture, which seemed to have been taken quite a few years earlier. It showed the same big hair, and the overly generous application of black eyeliner and mascara, but the face on the sign showed a woman who appeared to be about a decade younger than the woman now standing in front of Keeley. “I just happened to be looking out the window of my office, when I saw you looking at this beauty. Wasn’t that lucky?”
Kelley smiled apologetically. “Oh, I love Victorian houses, but I’m not in the market to buy one. I’m just visiting Ashton for the day. I was going into the gift shop when I saw this place, and wanted to have a look. I’m sorry for inconveniencing you.”
Donna looked disappointed for a moment, but then the megawatt smile reappeared, and she dug a set of keys out of her oversized bag. “Well, since I”m here, I might as well check on the place. Why don’t you come with me, and have a look at the inside. It’s even more gorgeous than the exterior.”
Keeley hesitated for a moment, but she did want to see the house, so she followed as Donna opened the door. Unsurprisingly, Donna began her sales pitch as they walked through. She pointed out all of the lovely features of the house, blithely ignoring everything that needed attention. If I’d really been looking at the house with the possible intention of buying, I wouldn’t put too much faith in her information, Keeley thought. She could see that the house did need quite a bit of work, but it definitely had good bones, and with some work, would be a gorgeous home for someone. Donna had produced a listing information sheet from out of her voluminous bag, and when Keeley looked at the listing price, she was surprised that it was so low. The place must need a lot more work than she had thought. Donna was continuing with her litany of the house’s attributes. Keeley asked her why the price was that low, if the place was in such good shape. Donna frowned and hesitated, and then said in a confiding tone “Well, the current owners are very motivated, and to facilitate a quick sale, they’ve put it on the market at below assessed value. It’s actually a steal at this price.”
Donna appeared to recognize that Keeley was skeptical and she became even more effusive in her praise of the house's features. Keeley more or less tuned her out, since she wouldn’t be buying it, although it would be wonderful to have a house like this one. By now they had gone through the house, and were standing on the slanting front porch. It was becoming harder and harder for the real estate agent to keep the wide smile on her face, and her tone had cooled somewhat, but she still hadn’t entirely lost hope.
Suddenly her face brightened. “There’s Danny Freemont. He’s a building contractor, one of the best. He can tell you if there’s anything seriously wrong” she told Keeley as she hurried down the steps, waving at the driver of the red pickup truck that was about to drive past, before Keeley could tell her not to bother. Keeley didn’t think he was going to stop, but Donna moved surprisingly quickly for someone wearing such high heels, and with a slight squeal of the brakes, the truck stopped in the street. Donna held a short conversation with the driver that Keeley couldn’t overhear, and after a couple of minutes, he pulled over, parked, opened the door and got out. Together they walked toward the house, Donna still talking. She was holding onto the man’s arm, and smiling much more sincerely now. She introduced him to Keeley, and when the man took off his baseball cap, and held out his hand to shake Keeley’s, she saw standing in front of her a very good looking man. His dark blond hair was thick, and slightly curly, his eyes a vivid shade of blue, framed with thick dark lashes that women everywhere would envy. His teeth flashed white in a tanned face as he smiled a greeting, although it was obvious he wasn’t all that pleased to have been hijacked by Donna. He listened politely as Donna explained that Keeley had some concerns about the house. An impatient look flashed across his face, and he glanced at his watch in obvious annoyance when Keeley quickly informed his that she wasn’t actually in the market to buy a house, but had just accompanied Donna out of curiosity. He said that he was familiar with the house, and that it was structurally sound. If she changed her mind about wanting to purchase it, he would be happy to go into more detail, and handing her his business card, he got back in his truck and left. Keeley was annoyed at Donna for making it look like she was the one who had wasted his time, but then she thought, oh, what difference does it make? I’ll never see either one of them again, anyway.