Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is February FIRST, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book’s FIRST chapter
Rebeca cut her publicity teeth as the first dedicated publicist for the fiction division of Thomas Nelson Publishers. In 2005, Rebeca resigned from WestBow and opened the doors of GRPR, the only publicity firm of its kind in the country dedicated solely to representing novelists writing from a Christian worldview.
Rebeca makes her home in Kentucky with her husband, Charles, and their son, Anderson.
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Tandy’s purple stiletto heel tapped in perfect rhythm to the pulse that threatened to leap out of her neck. She stared at the phone, willing it to ring and someone on the other end to declare this a joke. Her boss did not just call her into his office. Now.
The smooth tones from her CD player of Ole Blue Eyes crooning I Did it My Way mocked rather than soothed. She had to calm down, but Meg’s idea of music soothing the savage soul was not working. Fingers shaking, Tandy snatched up the receiver and dialed her sister. Calm, stoic Meg always knew what to do in a crisis. From falling off the swing set to supplying Oreos and caffeine the night before Tandy’s bar exam, Meg was a pro at handling crises and keeping her three sisters’ lives humming.
A busy signal sounded, and Tandy slammed the phone back down. Of course Meg would be on the phone right now. Why on earth couldn’t that woman understand the helpfulness of call-waiting? Tandy could hear Meg’s soft, persuasive response now: Why would I stop talking to one person before our conversation ended, T? It’s rude and I just won’t have it in my house.
Grabbing the receiver again, Tandy punched in Kendra’s numbers, jumping when yet another hawk flew into her window. Why did Orlando have to have a courthouse with the perfect nooks and crannies to build a nest? Ever since the completion of this new structure, hawks circled attorneys in the Bellsouth building across the on a daily basis.
Kendra’s melodic voice floated over the line, its harmonious tones the same as in childhood: “You have reached the voicemail of Kendra Sinclair”
Tandy slammed the receiver down again and glared at the circling hawks. Of course Mr. Beasley was angry. He had every right to be, really. That fat deposit in her checking account every other week meant the continuation of her dedication to keeping their clients out of jail. Certainly it meant she wouldn’t hand the prosecution the very evidence they needed to obtain a conviction. She fiddled with the purple and black silk scarf tied around her neck.
Would Joy be any help at all in this situation? Joy might be the baby sister, but her quiet strength could come in handy right now. Except that Joy loved to talk and Christopher Beasley was waiting. The thought of him in his office high above the hawks, tapping his long fingers on the glass top of a heavy mahogany desk, didn’t allow for long phone conversations.
Tandy’s office phone rang and she jumped. “Tandy Sinclair.”
“Tandy, it’s Anna.” Tandy smiled, thinking of the gentle lady seated a few floors above her. “Mr. Beasley’s on his third cup of coffee.”
Her smile vanished. “Oh, no, Anna. Couldn’t you have dawdled a bit? You know how he gets with caffeine overload.”
“And you know how he gets when I dawdle. You’ve got maybe three minutes before he asks me to get cup number four.”
“I’m on my way.” Tandy pushed back from her desk and stood up. “Thanks, Anna.”
“No problem, sweetie.”
Tandy dropped the phone in its cradle, her gaze darting around the room for something, anything that would prevent the next ten minutes.
If that idiot Harry Simons had been one iota less smarmy, this predicament could have been avoided. His outright ogling of her figure had been bad enough, but certainly not the first time Tandy had been forced to ignore a man’s unwanted attentions. They all seemed to believe her red, wavy hair was a sign she’d fulfill their wildest dreams. Heck, Mr. Beasley had probably even made that assumption at some point, as evidenced by his swift promotions landing her in a cushy corner office of Meyers, Briggs, and Stratton.
Tandy swigged caffeine and paced the office. It wasn’t even Harry’s condescension. His superiority, rooted in maleness, made no effort to hide the belief that a brain resting between the pierced ears of a thirty-year-old female graduate of Yale School of Law somehow negated its existence. That idiocy didn’t even raise her blood pressure. She fingered her pearl earrings and grimaced as a hawk glided to rest on the ledge outside.
No, she would have been fine, and Christopher Beasley would not at this very moment be preparing to fire her, except for one innocent little lunch with small-minded Harry. Why, oh why, had she agreed to go to lunch with the lizard? (Honestly, his head rivaled the shape of geckos that ran in and out of every flower bed in Central Florida.) Come to think of it, his eyes were shifty like a gecko, too. Was the single life getting to her so much that she’d date a lizard? She stopped and tapped the window ledge. Meg and Kendra were on her case to date more. But who had time to meet people after spending sixty-five hours a week at the office? She sighed. The sisters just didn’t understand life in the city.
“You guys have got it easy,” she said to the hawks. “Circle, eat, rest, repeat. With the occasional head bang into a window to keep us lawyers on our toes.” She shook her head.
Well, it didn’t matter now. Mr. Beasley awaited her presence and it would only get worse the longer she stood here. Her heels sank into the plush pearl-colored carpet as she crossed the office, ignoring the latest sacrifice to her black thumb a nearly dead African violet. She opened her office door and cast one last glance at what, in about ten minutes, probably would not be her office. Oh well. Maybe she could take the plant to Anna.
She picked up the violet. At least the charade of defending a slimeball, who made fun of an old homeless man to make himself seem big, would come to an end. And the day was still young; she could hit the beach before the lunch rush hit I-4.
Shoulders thrown back, chin up, Tandy made her way down the hallway and entered an elevator lined in the obligatory mahogany, brass, and mirrors, testimony to Christopher’s desire to never rock a boat even in the decoration of his law firm’s offices. She eyed her reflection and saw steel in the brown eyes staring back. Cutting Harry off at the knees in public wasn’t the best financial move to make. How would she buy food for Cooper? Pay his vet bills? Keeping an old basset hound with arthritic knees and hips in comfort was a pricey endeavor. Still, it had been worth it to see the shock on Harry’s face when she announced in her loud voice the impending completion of his career. From a 9×9 prison cell, that cardboard box would look like heaven.
She checked her chignon, tucking in a stray curl and smoothing the rest down. Picturing Harry’s smug, pudgy face behind bars did way more to calm her pulse rate than Sinatra’s croon. The elevator dinged, announcing her arrival to Christopher Beasley’s penthouse lair.
Tandy took a deep breath, tightened her grip on the sagging violet, sent up a prayer of thanks that she’d picked the Ann Taylor suit today must look sharp when being fired–and stepped across the threshold.
“He’s waiting for you.” Sympathy shimmered in Anna’s blue eyes. The Orlando sun shining through the window made Anna’s hair glow like a fresh pearl.
Tandy set the violet down on Anna’s desk. “Thanks, Anna. It’s been good knowing you. I wonder if you might coax this little guy back to life?”
Anna raised her eyebrows. “Tandy, how many times do I have to tell you? You’re a danger to plants.” She smiled and wagged her finger. “You taking them in isn’t an act of kindness. You leave the greenery to us old chicks.”
Tandy laughed. “Yes ma’am.” She took another breath. “I guess I should go in now.”
Anna sobered. “Guess so.”
“Still on cup number three?”
“I just took in cup four. I doubt he’s taken a sip yet, though. He’s slowing down.”
“Thanks for everything, Anna.”
“You’re welcome, honey. Take care of yourself. And you call me if you need anything, hear?”
Tandy nodded, only now realizing that losing her job also meant losing Anna’s kind wisdom. She blinked hard. Crying at work would not do. She stepped to Christopher’s door and knocked.
“Come.” His deep voice bellowed through the door and Tandy’s pulse kicked up again. This was it. For the first time ever, Tandy Sinclair was about to be fired from a job. When she’d moved to Orlando to take this job and declare war on the city that took her childhood, Tandy never would have guessed she’d become an actual beach bum.
“Tandy, sit down, sit down.” Christopher stood, gesturing to a chair and patting the telltale stripes of his Ben Silver tie. “Seems we have a little situation on our hands.” The hawks circled one story below his window, the tops of their feathered backs lit by the sun.
Tandy sat down and nodded.
Christopher’s padded leather chair creaked with his weight. He settled back, propped his elbows on the arms, and templed his fingers. “Harry tells me he’s headed for a prison cell.”
She nodded again.
“He also tells me that would be your fault.”
Another nod. This must be what bobbleheads felt like.
“And he says he’s ready to sue this firm for inadequate representation unless I do something about it.”
She quirked an eyebrow. Score one for Harry.
“I’ve assured Harry that there must be some misunderstanding since you’re one of the most capable attorneys this firm has seen in quite some time. So, please, Tandy, explain to me how one of our biggest clients, someone for whom you serve as lead counsel, suddenly finds himself facing jail.”
Tandy tilted her head. He was giving her an out, bless him. Leave it to Christopher Beasley, King of Calm and Proper Appearances, to smooth the choppy waters and restore her professional boat to proper order. An image of Harry’s sneer popped into her mind, though, and the thought of backtracking fled like money from her wallet during a trunk sale.
She smiled and adopted her lawyer voice. “Well, Mr. Beasley, I appreciate your belief in my professional abilities, but it seems Mr. Simons has some rather extreme positions regarding personal values that led me to determine he is, in fact, guilty of the crime for which he has been accused. When I asked him directly, he admitted as much to me.”
It was Christopher’s turn to raise a brow. “He told you he embezzled funds from Hope House?”
Tandy nodded. “Yes, sir. I advised him I could not put him on the stand, since I would be suborning perjury, but he refused to listen. It was either let him lie to the court or remove myself from his case. I chose the latter.”
Christopher swiveled his chair and stared out at the courthouse. What she wouldn’t give for a hawk to barrel into the glass. Anything to break the tension. Losing this job wouldn’t be the end of the world just of her bank account, for the time being. She really didn’t want to lose the paycheck, but Harry gave her no choice.
The man wouldn’t listen to reason if someone etched it in a brick and threw it at his head.
She thought about their lunch again, seeing the hump-backed old man picking through a dumpster across the street. His coat had been threadbare, but Tandy knew too well the value of a coat, threadbare or not, on the streets. The priceless nature of every layer between skin and street. How the three bites of cheeseburger he found wrapped in its foil was enough to fill his belly for an entire day.
Harry’s voice had faded into the background of restaurant chatter as Tandy’s mind flew back to the seven years she spent living in a box with her mother. Before she met Marian and Jack Sinclair. Hearing the trains rumble past where they camped. Begging people for money, searching for a dry place when it rained, for a piece of food that hadn’t already been discovered by bugs. Watching her mom bob and weave as she walked, that scary light in her eyes that was both mesmerizing and terrifying because it meant mom wouldn’t make sense.
Tandy knew now her childhood had been stolen the first day her mother lit a match beneath the bowl of a pipe.
“Stupid junkie. Probably lost his job because of some drug habit.” Harry’s voice joined a thousand other voices that still kept her awake on too many nights. “Bet he chooses to live like that. Easier than getting a job and working for his money like the rest of us.”
Tandy looked at Harry sitting there in his three-thousand-dollar pin-striped suit, black crocodile shoes, and platinum cuff links with the Brooks Brothers insignia. Thought about reminding him his money came from his father’s hard work and planning, but decided against it. Harry was, after all, a huge client.
“Oh, probably not, Harry. You’d be amazed what some of the people living on the streets have been through.” She sipped her water and willed her blood not to boil at the stupidity of the man before her.
He sneered and pointed a stubby finger at her. “Don’t be naïve, Tandy. That man could get a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s just as easy as sit out there with a cup in his hand, begging me to part with my cold hard cash that I worked very hard to get.”
Silence was about as possible as finding a pair of Ferragamo’s in a size ten. On sale. Never gonna happen.
“Harry, how would he get a job? I doubt he owns any clothing other than what’s on his back. What would he wear to a job interview? Where would he get enough sleep in one sitting to be awake for an entire shift? What address would he even put on his job application?”
“Why, Tandy, I didn’t know you cared so much about our fair city’s homeless degenerates.” His voice, so patronizing and smooth, grated. It fought with the pockmarks on his face to portray a polished image. “I’d think, with such convictions, you would have a hard time taking my case.”
“Why is that, Harry? You didn’t embezzle from Hope House. Which means you didn’t take money from the mouths of homeless people. Which means my awareness of the plight of the homeless works in your favor.” She took a sip of her water and tried to relax.
He wagged his finger at her. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, Tandy. There goes your naiveté again.”
It took her a second to catch on. “Excuse me?”
He grinned and, for the first time, Tandy knew what jowls meant. “I think we both know what I’m saying.”
“I certainly hope not. Because if you’re confessing to taking money from a homeless shelter, I can’t put you on the stand. I’d be suborning perjury.”
Christopher cleared his throat, snapping Tandy back into the present. He swiveled around to face her. “I’m in a predicament, Tandy. Harry Simons brings a lot of money to this firm, been with us for years. That must count for something. Yet I find myself struggling with the thought of firing you since I understand the ethical dilemma you faced.”
A tiny smidgen of hope blossomed in her heart.
Christopher placed his palms down on his glass-topped desk, an act of finality. “And yet, I see no course of action but to terminate your employment with Meyers, Briggs, and Stratton. Anything less would cause serious repercussions in our relationship with Harry Simons.”
She fought to breathe normally. Blinked to hold back tears. Her savings account was basically nonexistent, which meant she and Cooper better start looking for a big refrigerator box to call home. Or maybe finding Cooper another family to live with would be a better idea. One of the sisters could take him. Meg, or maybe Joy. Kendra would be a last resort. She was as good with pets as Tandy was with plants. Well, except for Kitty, but cats were self-sufficient.
A hawk slammed into the window, making Christopher jump and spill the coffee sitting on his desk. “Dadgum it! Anna!”
Anna came rushing in, saw the mess, and snagged a roll of paper towels from the cabinet by the door without a word.
“You’ve got to call somebody about these hawks, Anna. They’re ruining my concentration!”
“Yes, Mr. Beasley. I’ll make the call today.” Anna shot Tandy a sideways glance. Tandy grinned. Seeing the unflappable Christopher Beasley in a snit was worth getting fired–almost. Anna sopped up the mess and left the room.
“Now, where were we?” He pushed paper around the desk, checking to ensure all the coffee was gone.
Tandy cleared her throat. “I think you were firing me.”
Christopher stopped arranging paper and looked up at her. “Right, right. Well, I don’t think we have to be that drastic. How about a leave of absence?”
Thank heaven for hawks.
“A leave of absence, sir?” Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but, hey, it had to be asked.
“Yes. I think that will mollify our good friend Harry.” Christopher nodded and patted the desktop, warming to his idea. “I’ll let him know you’ve taken some time to think through your behavior and will come back to the firm when you’ve gotten some perspective. Say, two months?”
Two months? She calculated the amount in her checking account and began deducting bills. With no extracurricular spending at all, it might work. Two months to find something else or learn how to eat crow. Okay, maybe this was a good thing. There was no immediate need to take another boring job in a legal firm. Two months was a ton of time. Figuring out her professional passion should be a snap. She could almost see Meg’s eyes roll at that thought.
“Thank you for that, sir.”
Christopher smiled. “It’s the least we can do. You’ve been a good employee. I just wish this mess hadn’t occurred.”
Poor Christopher. Conflict between an employee and a major client. He must have been up all night figuring out ways to smooth ruffled feathers.
She shrugged. “These things happen for a reason, I think.” She stood up and held out her hand. Christopher took it with his own limp one and made a motion that might optimistically be called a handshake.
“Good luck, Tandy. We’ll see you back here in two months.”
“Thank you.” She turned on one Ferragamo heel and walked out of Christopher Beasley’s office. Eight weeks of nothingness spread out before her like a gift. There had to be a way to make money off of this.
She tapped her chin and watched the lights over the elevator. Maybe some tourist would want her apartment for a couple of weeks. Tourists would pay just about anything for somewhere to stay during season. A couple thousand bucks, easy.
But if someone were to stay in her apartment, where could she go? The whisper of her heart tickled Tandy’s brain. Stars Hill, Tennessee’s rolling countryside, Daddy’s smile, Momma’s painted roses, the sisters’ scrapbooks.
The ding of the elevator dispelled her mind’s image, but not the idea. Stars Hill. Well, it had been a while since she’d been back. Three years, if memory served. And, with Daddy and the sisters around, there wouldn’t be any need to spend money on restaurants. Though what she’d save might be spent on scrapbook stuff. It was one thing to scrap alone and quite another to sit around Momma’s old scrapping table with the girls.
Tandy exited the elevator and smiled. If she left right now, she’d be home in Stars Hill by morning.
She walked into her office, snagged her briefcase, and whipped out a tiny cell phone on the way back to the elevator.
“Hey, T, what’s up in the big city?”
Tandy laughed. “Well, not me. I’ve got eight weeks of a sudden vacation.”
“What? What happened?”
“I’ll tell you all about it when I get there.”
Meg’s squeal pierced Tandy’s ears and she jerked the phone away from her head. “You’re coming home? To Stars Hill? Yes!! When will you be here? Wait, what happened? Did you get fired? Did something happen at work?” Tandy could hear Meg’s three kids squealing now in the background. They must have caught on to their mom’s excitement.
“Seriously, I’ll tell you when I get there. Call Kendra and Joy. Breakfast at Joy’s, 9 a.m.”
“You’ve got it, sister. James, get down off that table!” Tandy could just picture Meg’s eldest. He must have grown a foot by now. “I’m telling you that child will climb on anything,” Meg said.
“Go keep your kids from tearing down the house. I’ve got to get home, get all my scrapping stuff packed, call the rental company to let some crazy tourist in my place for a couple of weeks, and get on the highway.”
“On the road again Meg’s voice blared through the phone.
“Sheesh, Sis, are you ever going to stop with the songs?”
“Not as long as there’s a breath in me.” Tandy heard scuffling. “James, put your sister down! I am not kidding with you, mister!”
Tandy chuckled. “See you in the morning.”
“Okay. Be careful and buckle up.”
“You’ve got it.”
Tandy snapped the phone closed and walked through the parking deck toward her new little silver BMW 323. Man was this car going to stand out in sleepy little Stars Hill.