You can do this, little lass. Now, just take a deep breath and go out there. After all, when the cat's away, the mice will play.
For a moment, Aimee Cooper stopped evaluating herself in the restroom mirror and wondered why her inner voice always sounded like her one-hundred-percent Irish father. Because I've spent my lifetime longing for his approval, never satisfied with his unfocused encouragement. And I'll never be certain of his approval.
Forcing her attention front and center once more, Aimee took a deep breath and leaned toward the huge mirror on the wall. She looked flushed--not a complement to the pale skin of her small, pointy face, fittingly covered with at least a billion freckles.
She groaned. If ever there was a geek, I'm it! Backing off, she turned this way and that to see if at least she looked all right in the clothes she'd picked out so carefully this morning before coming to work. The shapeless Henley top was violet and drew out the amethyst-like shade of her eyes--or would, if not for the distracting black, geometric-shaped glasses she had to wear by necessity. The long, narrow skirt she wore with suede boots was her favorite one. And all I can say about my best outfit today is that it doesn't make me look fat. The exact opposite, in fact.
Aimee let out a frustrated sigh. Okay, who cares? So I've got a pumpkin afro, my mouth is too big with that darn space between the two front teeth, and I'm so skinny I could be mistaken for a broom? Keri--who's no more cat than I am mouse...or am I?--is no longer an obstacle on the path to Rob. She married the love of her life on Valentine's Day, and now, a month later--
What am I thinking?! Rob and Keri were dating, even living together for a little while. Once upon a time Keri loved him, and maybe he loved her. Now that Keri is married to someone else, I have the nerve to think that allows me to rush out onto the playing field?
Keri Woods had been Aimee's co-worker and remained one of her best friends. Their boss, Angela Lewis-Mackenzie, owned Kaleidoscope Office Building, a strip mall that contained the two businesses she owned, along with Two Brothers Accounting, which was one of Angela's many investments. Billy LaPointe and Rob Channing were accountants and tax preparers at Two Brothers, and Shayna Cavanay served as their secretary/receptionist. Veronica "Roni" Spencer and Dex Everett handled the graphic design done at Lewis Graphics by Design. At Kaleidoscope Office Services, Aimee and Keri made copies, typed, printed and performed basic desktop publishing.
Keri resigned last year in preparation for her wedding. Since Keri officially quit--and their boss hadn't yet hired her replacement--Angela had been supplementing Shayna's, and Aimee's, work more than ever. Shayna always needed extra hours, since her ex-husband didn't pay child support the way he was supposed to. Aimee had been taking on much more than the usual split of work, which included one majorly worthwhile bonus: Taking over Keri's previous task of making copies for Rob and Billy.
Though Aimee knew Rob was a lady's man and enjoyed being a bachelor almost too much, if the rumors were true, she'd noticed that even before Keri and Rob broke up, Rob had been bringing his copies to her. And not in a "Here; do this" manner. No, he always had time to chat, tease, flirt. He seemed to find almost as much pleasure in their multi-daily interactions as she did--although she did little more than grin, stumble and bumble with her blushing replies, giggle like a lunatic, and fall all over herself in her worse-than-usual clumsiness. And silly lass that I am, I think he's enchanted by me.
Blushing again, Aimee found herself unconsciously gathering the folded copies she'd made for Rob and walking out of the restroom on a blissful cloud, this time with the wonderful memory of when he crossed over into Kaleidoscope Office Services this morning:
"Mony Penny, do be a dear and have these copies ready for me when I'm done speaking with M."
His mock 007 spy accent is flawless. Flawless like his muscles, the jet-black hair that falls rebelliously over his forehead. Those incredible midnight blue eyes, unlike any I've ever seen.
"But of course, Rob...James, darling. But I do hope you're planning to bring me back something?"
His grin could make me swoon.
"Anything you want, my love. You only have to name it."
"A ring? A diamond ring?"
What am I saying? Oh, you fool! Is he going to read into it and think I'm serious? Ahh! Deadaí always says, A good run is better than a bad stand. Time to run!
The cherished memory somehow turned into a case of nerves at the reminder of her incompetence at flirting. She'd passed through Lewis Graphics by Design, getting a wave from Dex just before he disappeared into his office. From behind her, she heard the phone ring. Since Angela had gone to a doctor's appointment and wouldn't be in until this afternoon, no one was in Kaleidoscope Office Services, but Aimee didn't backtrack to answer it. The call would be diverted to Shayna's desk at Two Brothers Accounting.
Would Rob be busy and she'd have to drop the copies off with Shayna instead of seeing him? Despite her worry that their meetings might convince him she was an even bigger nerd than she'd always believed herself to be, she wanted to see him. She lived for their moments together. If they never amounted to anything else, so be it. A light heart lived longest. And being with Rob gave her heart wings. Unfortunately, everyone who knew her had guessed her feelings long ago and teased her relentlessly following Rob's "visits" for copies.
Because Rob's office door was closed, Aimee had no choice but to detour to Shayna's desk in the reception area. Her pretty young friend was on the phone but put her hand over the receiver to gesture and mouth to Aimee, "Go ahead."
Taking a deep breath, Aimee moved back through the hall, past the client waiting room, toward Rob's office. She lifted her shaky fist and forced herself to knock on the door. An unconscious prayer for something she didn't know how to define went up from the depths of her soul.
"Aimee," Shayna called.
Startled, Aimee turned to see the receptionist standing in the hall with the phone cord stretching behind her. "It's for you. It's the nursing home your father's in."
The concern in Shayna's eyes was warranted. The nursing home never called unless it was an emergency. Hearing Rob's office door open behind her, Aimee rushed back to the reception area. Her heart pounded madly as she took the phone.
Her father had suffered from Alzheimer's for years, but otherwise his health remained good. While it hadn't been an easy decision, last year she'd had no choice but to put him in a home that could provide the round-the-clock care and safety she couldn't give him even in her family home.
"Yes, this is Aimee Cooper," she said anxiously into the receiver. "Is my father all right?"
"I'm so sorry to tell you this, Miss Cooper," the voice of the male supervisor Aimee recognized said. "Your father has suffered a massive heart attack. It happened so quickly. He died before we could call you."
A fluttering shock stole through her heart and mind.