MR. GRUMPY PANTS
"His mouth is full of sweetness"?
"And he is wholly desirable."
(Song of Solomon 5:16)
"Dear God in heaven, you know how I need this job!" Yesterday, she thought she had a job. She had left home, had cleaned out her savings for the first and last month's rent plus cleaning deposit for a cute little rental house cheaper than any apartment listed, then found herself out of the job as quickly as she had been hired. The woman she was brought in to replace had made a miraculous recovery. The job had been too good to be true, just what her degree had been in, at a landscaping design firm. And, of course, it was a "hire and fire at will" contract. Oh well, yeah, fired on the first day.
This next position she'd applied for wasn't something she wanted, but it would do, would have to do as long as she was hired. She didn't exactly know what kind of company it was, but they needed secretarial help. Emmie liked the part that said, A.S.A.P. She could start today.
A woman who was about ten years older than she was met her, glanced over her resume and showed her where to sit. It was behind a desk. There was a computer and a phone with a file cabinet topped by a fax machine and copier near by. After the merest bit of instruction, Emmie was left alone to work while the woman went into another room and shut the door saying, "I've got to take care of some invoices right away."
It was surreal. She read over the company brochure, looked up the company site on the computer, and browsed through a sampling of a past history of emails just to get her feet under her. Evidentially, she worked for some sort of construction firm. The front door banged open and a man walked through stopping in front of her desk scowling.
"May I help you, sir?" She didn't know how on earth she could help anyone with as little information as she had to go on.
"What's your name?"
"Hmm." He walked off and slammed a door that led into another office.
I don't know who that was, but I think I'll just call him Mr. Grumpy Pants, Emmie thought. His scowl could scorch the socks right off your tootsies. She supposed he wasn't so bad looking, too good looking for his own grumpy pants good, young even, but his attitude was hard as nails, mean old manish. His picture wasn't on the brochure. She figured he must work for the boss as a right hand man though because he kept sending her so much work on her computer, that she wouldn't be done until she was ninety, and it wasn't even noon yet.
"How are you doing, honey?" The lady who had set her down as soon as she walked in only to abandon her, had come back out of her office finally. "Do you have any quick questions before I leave for lunch?" The woman just gazed off with such a sad countenance that it made Emmie want to cry. Her mind swirled with so many thing to ask that they were stuck like a log jam, and for the life of her, she couldn't get one out. She didn't even remember to ask the lady her name.
"I need you to continue to cover the phone, and then when I get back, you can go grab a quick lunch, but you'll have to do it in a hurry. We are SO behind." Then the woman left and was gone for two hours.
When she came back, the woman with no name tossed a fast food sack onto her desk saying, "It got so late that I knew you wouldn't have time to go grab something for yourself, so I just picked this up for you instead. There's a soda machine in the break room." Then the nameless woman of sadnes slipped quicky in and out of the man's office like a ghost evidently leaving a hamburger for Mr. Grumpy Pants. She wondered if he growled at her.
Emmie didn't even know there was a break room. She didn't even know where the bathroom was, but she needed to find out pretty quickly. No sooner had she gotten up to do just that when Mr. Grumpy Pants strode out of his little room and slapped some files onto her desk hard enough to make her bladder jump. "Take care of these. I need them done today." He left without so much as looking her way.
Once behind a locked door, Emmie prayed, "Lord, you know I begged you for this job, but I could use a little help here or maybe even a better job soon, pretty please. These people don't seem to be very nice, well one is, but just sad, but the other one..." In the break room, she dug through her purse for the right change, found it and was relieved when a can of diet coke rolled out of the machine. She could use some caffeine about now.
The phone rang, so she hurried back and answered with "Clay Construction, how may I help you?"
"Well, hello Sugar. It didn't take Clay long to find a replacement, now did it. I need to talk to him." Emmie didn't like the way the man laughed like she was some kind of dirty joke, but she said, "Who may I say is calling?"
"Just tell him it's R.J."
She put him on hold, then rang through to whoever that man was in the office. "A Mr. R.J. is on line one, sir. Shall I put him through?"
"What! Of all the nerve! Yeah, put him on so I can give him what for."
She did, but before she could hang up once the call was transferred, the woman came bolting out of her office, grabbed the receiver and was listening in. She motioned for Emmie to keep quiet. Tears started pouring, then the woman was holding her hand over her mouth before shoving the receiver back at Emmie to run back into her office sobbing slamming her door.
It took a minute before Emmie realized she had not hung up, but could hear the yelling through the receiver, or was that through the walls? Just as she did hang up, the man came storming out of his office. "What do you think you are doing listening in to private conversations? His eyes shot daggers. She should be dead. Maybe she should just roll over and go belly up now.
"Um, that lady was listening, and then went into her office crying." What else could she say than the truth?
She had just shut her jaw from where it had dropped open, when the man came back out with his arm around the woman who was hardly fit to walk. He said over his shoulder, "I'll be back, but I need to see her home first."
Emmie took the cold hamburger out of her paper sack, and began looking through the files while she ate. There were notes on how he wanted the files scanned and sent and to which accounts. It would take her till midnight to get it all done. It was enough to make her sigh or cry.
Once she got to her new house, she had boxes of stuff waiting to be unpacked. It wasn't a lot, but it
was all she had and enough to get by with as in camping out in a new house with a sleeping bag and pillow, a cast iron skillet, and spatula, some paper plates and cups and plastic silverware, paper towels, toilet paper, a quart of milk in a small ice chest and a box of cereal, not to mention her clothes. What more could a woman want? Oh yeah, she wanted an air mattress. It was just a small step down from dorm living, just no furniture included. Once her paychecks started coming in, Emmie could shop thrift stores picking up a little bit at a time. Her claim to beautification were the prints of her landscaping projects done for her college final. She couldn't wait to hang them. At least the house was surprisingly cheap, clean, and not too far from work. Ahh, but she had no time to day dream about that.
Surely, not all new jobs started this rough. Finally Emmie thought of writing down the multitude of questions on a legal pad she'd found. She even remembered to plug in her own phone to charge while she was working. She'd hoped to go online with her own laptop on her lunch break since it would be awhile before she could afford the internet at her new place. But she'd just have to catch up tomorrow. There wasn't going to be a lunch break it seemed.
Emmie was a quarter of the way through the files when the door banged open again. The man stood staring at her as if finally seeing her.
"Excuse me, did you tell me your name?"
"Emmie Smith, sir. And you?"
"Clay, just Clay."
He rubbed his neck. "Listen, I'm going to be on the phone for the rest of the day. So just try to get as much done as possible and be back here by eight tomorrow morning. Then it will all start again."
He gazed off like he was having such agonizing thoughts that she looked away, as if it were too personal to watch.
"Is the lady going to be alright, sir? She seemed quite distraught."
He looked at her again as if his eyes actually focused on her for the first time. "She probably didn't tell you anything, did she? After Emmie shook her head, he said, "Well, the short drift of it is that this was our father's business. She's my sister. Her husband was on the payroll as the office manager. Our father died three months ago, then suddenly her husband absconded with all the money that was in the business, took the cute little secretary and went to Mexico. I came home to help my sis sort it out and to try and save the business. I'm afraid she won't be a lot of use to you as she wasn't very involved in the business herself before now. My sister's name is Victoria, by the way. That R.J. you had on the phone was her husband, soon to be ex-husband, I hope.
He was almost in his office when he turned around and almost growled, "And don't call me 'sir.' Just Clay."
Emmie's mind was in such a whirl, that she could hardly concentrate. The phone rang a few times, and each time, she put the person through to Clay. It was six o'clock when she finally realized the time. She'd gotten three-fourths of the way through the stack of files. She stood and picked up her purse, unplugged her phone, and hesitated outside Clay's door. She knocked.
He stood looking out the window with his hands fisted on his hips wearing his perpetual scowl. Turning he pierced her with his glare.
"I was just letting you know that I'm leaving. So good night, sss, she almost said 'sir,' but caught herself. He was too lost in thought to notice."
The next morning, when she walked in, the door was ajar to his office. Victoria must be with him as she heard the woman's voice. "Oh, Clay, wouldn't that be wonderful! God is so good. Of course, R.J. couldn't pull anything over on Dad. Our father was too smart for that and R.J., too dumb."
"You said it. I didn't. The threw the company a blow, but it wasn't fatal. We'll survive. Well, I am going over to the bank to meet with someone at nine if you want to come, but don't feel like you have to. I just wanted to give you a little hope. Ah, I didn't mean to make you cry, Vickie,"
"These are happy tears, Clay. I felt almost more betrayed by R.J. stealing the money from the business as him running off with that young thing. Dad hinted that something might not be above board, but I'd dismissed it. Yet, it seems like Dad had a hunch all along about it, and that must be why he opened the other business savings out of R.J.'s reach."
This morning, Victoria smiled a brilliant smile even though the dark circles under her eyes made it obvious that she had not slept a wink.
"Emma," Mr. Grumpy Pants said in a voice of gravel.
"What? Oh, well, Emmie then, I'm sure we gave you plenty of work to keep you busy while we're gone. Just take detailed phone messages. We'll be back in a couple of hours." And they were gone.
Though he did not look at her, at least he did not bite her head off as he had yesterday. Maybe his grumpy pants weren't quite so twisted though they looked wrinkled enough as if he'd slept in them. Glimpsing a pillow and throw on the couch she spied through his open office door, she was pretty sure that was the case. But far be it from her to suggest he clean up a bit before heading to the bank. If he wanted to sport a five o'clock shadow and wear wrinkled clothes, that was his business. At least his sister looked neat as a pin."
The door flew open. Didn't any one take a care when entering a building? A woman with long legs, a too short skirt, and blouse only part way buttoned up, waltzed in with hair flouncing. "Where's Clay?' She asked accusingly as if Emmie had hidden Grumpy Pants under her desk or somewhere.
"He's out. Can I take a message?" She forced a smile.
"Well, where did he go?" she asked expectantly as if it was something Emmie could just divulge to a stranger.
"I really can't say, ma'am." Oo, that felt good to call this woman 'ma'am,' as if she were ancient compared to her.
With a huff, the woman threw her hair over her shoulder and said, "Just tell him that Debbie came by to welcome him home."
Emmie couldn't help but wonder if Grumpy Pants would scowl or smile at the Goddess of Debbie with air brushed makeup. Whoever she was made Emmie feel down right dumpy in comparison.
She sighed. Debbie could have the man of many scowls for all she cared as long as she got her paycheck. She'd been up half the night worrying that if the business went under, she'd never be paid, and if she wasn't paid, she'd lose her rental, and if she lost her rental, she'd be on the streets, well or back in the basement apartment at her sister's. So it was a great relief to overhear her bosses say that the business might be saved after all. Suddenly, it made her grateful to even have this job.
There was a long list of messages, over half of them young women probably from the same mold as the Goddess of Debbie. Mr. Grumpy Pants must be a charmer away from the office for he certainly had a following.
Just before noon, Emmie got the last file sent. She went to the break room to celebrate with a soda. But she didn't have the right change. She decided to check her desk drawers, something she'd not had time to do yet, to see if there was any change loose in there to add to what she had. She found three more quarters, but one rolled under her desk. She got down on her hands and knees to reach it and once it was in her sweaty palm, she backed up into a pair of legs, Mr. Grumpy Pants' legs. Evidently he'd gone somewhere and cleaned up.
He had a funny look on his face, as if he wanted to stare at her or just laugh at her, she wasn't sure. She thought she preferred the scowl. "You probably would like to go grab a bite to eat. I can hold down the fort. I sent Victoria home."
"Okay, sss." She'd have to quit hissing like a snake trying not to call him 'sir.' She climbed back up to her feet. "Here are your phone messages."
"What! You've got to be kidding. Don't bother taking this kind of message any more, from this pack of...from these female types. I'm not interested, got it?" He was shooting more daggers again so she'd be dead before lunch.
"And Debbie came by."
"Debbie who?" Then he groaned and hit himself in the forehead. "If she comes back, don't let her in to see me. Keep her out. Tell her I'm too busy, got that?"
"She seemed eager to see you, sss."
He looked at her funny. "Do you always whistle in your teeth when you talk?"
"Only when I start to call you 'sir," but manage to stop at 'sss.'"
He threw back his head and laughed. At her expense. Oh, well, it was nice to see Mr. Grumpy Pants not quite so grumpy today, unless the subject of his personal fan club came up, that is.
"Oh, and I need you to fax this rental agreement to an Emerald Smith. There's her number. She's renting my dad's old house. We took care of most of the paper work through a rental agency, but they forgot to have her sign this." He left and shut himself up in his office and missed seeing Emmie turn pale. She was Emerald Smith, Emmie for short.
His father's house? It couldn't be the house she was renting, could it? She double-checked the address. Yep, none other. "I suppose I can fax it to my laptop and send it back while I'm on it in the break room," she said under her breath. No wonder she'd gotten such a good deal on the little house. It had just come on the market for the first time, the agent had said. The owners were anxious to have someone in it A.S.A.P., the agent had said. They were willing to give a break on the price in exchange for a little painting, the agent had said. Her landlord was C. Randle, Clay, none other than her boss, Mr. Grumpy Pants himself.
She grabbed her purse and ran. Emmie drove to a nearby drive through then hurried back to the office to use the rest of her lunch break playing exchange of a rental agreement between her laptop and the office computer.
The door opened, "Yoo Whoo." It was the Goddess of Debbie. Emmie came out holding a taco that dripped grease down into her sleeve. "May I help you, ma'am?" Oo, it felt even better to get that little jab of womanly wiles in.
"Where are you hiding him? I saw his car out front."
"I'm under strict orders not to let anyone in to see him. He's going to be very busy..." But the woman had marched over and flung the door wide open.
"Oh, Clay, it's so good to see you!" she squealed.
Clay had jumped up and deftly steered the goddess back out into the main office shooting Emmie daggers. Okay, she was going to be dead before she could even eat her taco. "I told her you were busy, sss."
"Yes, it's good to see you too, Debbie, but my secretary's right. The business is in such a state of affairs that it is taking all my time to get on top of it. Sorry. Maybe, I can see you at another time."
"Lunch would be good."
"I already had lunch, thank you any way."
"Dinner tonight then, my treat at the Garden at seven. I won't take no for an answer."
"I'm sorry, but I promised to have supper with my sister. It can't be helped."
"That won't work either..." he looked around with wild eyes and latched onto the taco in Emmie's hand. "My secretary and I are having a working lunch then. I'll just have to call you when my schedule is clear." He had somehow managed to steer the goddess out the door as she left in a pout.
"A working lunch? Do I bring the P.B.& J. sandwiches?" Emmie asked with a straight face, or do you want me to pick up some tacos?
"No, I'll order in." He grimaced.
"Look, we can just say we did and won't, if it would help."
He looked at her fiercely and said, "I keep my word." Grumpy Pants went back into his office and slammed the door shut. Then he stuck his head out to say, "And this time I'm locking my door!"
Emmie threw the taco away and went in to wash the grease off that went all the way to her elbow.
She signed the rental agreement and put it in his inbox. Maybe he'd let the rental agency handle everything to do with her stay in his father's house, so he'd never know it was her. She planned to begin painting the rooms of her little house this weekend. By posting pictures and sending them to the rental agency, hopefully her landlord would not come by to check.
That afternoon, a man who was full of bounce and grins flashing through a bushy beard walked in asking to see Clay. "May I ask who to tell him is here?"
"Only if I can ask who you are?"
"Hi, I'm Emmie." She didn't know whether to offer her hand, or not, so she kept it glued to the intercom, but she offered him her best smile. It was nice to see a happy person finally.
"Well hello, Emmie, I'm Griff. I'm the Clay Construction foreman."
Emmie announced him on the intercom, and Clay came out with a smile and a handshake for the man, taking him into his office. She could hear manly laughter through the walls. When Mr. Bouncy left, Clay was slapping him on the shoulder saying, "Yeah, it's good to know you'll still have a job. We couldn't do this without you, but I was beginning to doubt we could stay afloat when I got here. This is a relief. I signed those new construction agreements this morning. Works lined up for a few months."
He wasn't the only one who was relieved. She had a job, one that kept her so busy and knee deep in drama that she hadn't taken the time to look for anything else. At least for now, she was happy to bring a smile on Miss Victoria's face and wiping away a little of that grief from her countenance. As for the woman's brother, Mr. Grumpy Pants, she didn't have that talent.
The next day the working lunch loomed over her like a dark Grumpy Pants shadow. Just the thought of eating in front of his scowls or daggers shot from his eyes turned her stomach. When his office door flung open at noon, she about fainted. He was putting on his coat.
"Are you ready?"
"I thought you were ordering something in."
"I changed my mind. I'd like to get out of here. Come on."
Emmie jumped up so fast that it sent her chair on wheels careening back to crash against the filing cabinet. He looked at her with his eyebrows raised with a beginning of that scowl.
"Sorry, sss, Clay." She chewed her lip for hissing again.
She went out and got into his pickup, buckled up and braced herself for this working lunch, this lunch of work, this shooting range at which she'd be the target. Would he deride her for knowing so little of what she was doing? Would he even remember her name? She took a deep breath to steady herself.
"Do you have any preferences of where to eat?" He asked without looking at her.
"I'm new to the city, so I don't know what's here."
"Is there anything you prefer not to eat? Do you like Mexican, Italian, seafood?"
"I like it all." Just then her stomach made itself known with a growl at the mention of food. She pushed against it hard to make it stop embarrassing her.
He had a grin actually, of course at her expense. "Okay, it sounds like you are voting for food A.S.A.P."
That seemed to be his mantra, the hiring A.S.A.P., the rental A.S.A.P., and now lunch A.S.A.P. It all worked for her.
He pulled into the parking lot of a swanky seafood place. At least she'd had the sense to dress up a little for this working lunch.
"Is this alright? Their halibut is great, always fresh. The salmon or lobster is too."
"Sounds good," she said swallowing her surprise at the fancy direction this working lunch was taking.
As they were waiting to be seated, several different people passed by and greeted Grumpy Pants warmly. He made introductions calling her Emma. Maybe an official name change would be easier than correcting her boss who couldn't seem to get it right. After the fourth group to be introduced to her, she said, "It's Emmie."
"What did you say?" He scowled at her.
"My name is Emmie."
"Isn't that what I said?" he asked with that gravel in his voice looking away.
"No, you introduced me as Emma."
"Oh, sorry. I'll try to remember."
"Thanks." There was an awkward pause. "You certainly know a lot of people here." All these people had looked at her with the curiosity of the newest exhibit at the zoo glancing back and forth from Mr. Grumpy Pants to her. He actually had cleaned up quite nicely since that first day, so much so that she felt like the little brown female bird next to the colorful male of the species.
"Yeah, I grew up here, graduated from high school, worked for my dad for a few years after college before I left to do my own construction business in Stoneyville up the coast."
The hostess was ready to seat them. When he put his hand on Emmie's back to follow, it burned. He had that kind of touch, the kind that the goddess of Debbie and her ilk sought after. Emmie ignored it, thinking of the cold ocean, sea gulls, and sea lions, and star fish and swordfish, and anything else like halibut cooked with a crispy sear, kind of like the hot hand that had touched her.
The table was looking out over the harbor. This was why she had wanted to move here, to be on the coast, here where plants grew lush and green or bright with blooms like azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas, a landscape artist's dreamland. It was a beautiful day with the sun glinting off the water in the distance. She watched a fishing boat glide into the harbor.
When she finally looked up he was studying her, but glanced away rather than meet her eyes. Fortunately, the waitress came to take their order. She wanted that seared halibut. They got the same thing.
He cleared his throat. Here it came, the lunch of work. She sat up straight. She could do this, and prepared herself for his onslaught.
"So, tell me a little more about yourself. I guess we hired you in a hurry. I don't think I even saw your resume. You said you weren't from around here?"
Emmie blinked. He was actually speaking to her as a person with almost a smile, at least not a grimace. She couldn't find her voice, so she took a drink of her soda and felt the burn of the bubbles.
"I graduated last month with a degree in landscape design. The job I had accepted here for Go Green Landscaping fell through, after I moved but before I started, when the worker I was to replace came back. So, when I saw your ad for A.S.A.P., I went for it rather than having to move back home." She took another swallow that burned all the way up into her nose which she pinched so as not to make a scene. This place had some good bubble till you burn carbonated drinks here.
"Where's back home then?" He was just making conversation probably before he let down the boom.
"Spencerville. My folks used to pastor there but have since moved on to take a church out of state. When you're a P.K. home is portable. My sister did the forget college and get married thing and stayed there, so I went to live with her after I graduated until I found a job. Which brings me here, grateful to have employment that can help me pay the rent. By the way, does Clay Construction pay weekly, twice a month, or once a month, just asking?" She trembled for just asking.
"Hmm, I don't know. I'll have to ask my sister. She's trying to take over the books. How much are we paying you?"
"I don't know." She coughed at her next swallow, almost choking.
"You don't know? Victoria didn't discuss any of this?"
"No, I think she was too stressed out. But as you might have guessed, I really don't know what I'm doing, so I understand if you aren't happy with my work..."
"What? You are doing fine, especially with little or no training. Sorry about how we have botched handling this. I only got here the day before you did and was buried trying to save the company. Thankfully, our father put in a last minute ditch effort before he died to avoid the schemes of my former brother-in-law, his office manager. I will have to go back and forth between here and my own construction company for awhile until I can find a good manager here to oversee the construction company for my sister, or sell it, which ever she decides. Thanks for not complaining about all the craziness."
"You mean like the appearance of the Goddess of Debbie?" Emmie slapped her mouth. "I'm sorry, I can't believe I said that."
He was staring at her with his face contorting until he startled her with such hard laughter that he had tears in his eyes. People were turned looking at them. She herself had turned all kinds of color from bloodless pale to rosy red with embarrassment.
Finally he got control of himself. Then he squinted hard at her and said, "I bet you have a secret pet name for me too, don't you, Emma-ie?"
She squirmed and sipped on her soda looking out the window.
He reached over and put his hot finger under her chin to make her look at him. "You do, don't you. Out with it." He had a wicked grin.
Emmie looked down at the crumpled napkin in her hand. "Promise not to fire me?"
"I promise. Come on, tell me."
She whispered, "Mr. Grumpy Pants."
He burst out with another loud guffaw banging his hand on the table as the silverware bounced. "Wait till I tell my sister. That'll bring a smile to her face. She used to call me that when..." and suddenly he looked out to gaze at the waves swelling with the laughter suddenly dissipating. "Well, never mind."
"That's not fair. I told you, so you should tell me when she used to call you that," Emmie chided, not sure if she was comfortable having caused him so much laughter.
He looked at her, really looked for the first time square straight in the eye as if assessing her trustworthiness before sighing. Then he looked down playing with the partially eaten sour dough roll on his bread plate. "I guess it doesn't matter anymore. She used to call me that after my fiancé broke off our engagement."
"Oh." Emmie sucked the last of her soda through her straw making a loud slurping sound accidently as if she was a kid.
"So as long as this is a confessional, how did you make it out of college without adding a Mrs. to your degree?" He asked, probably to change the subject off himself she figured. "Surely, you had more than one opportunity."
He was staring at her again making it hard to look away. She swallowed. "I guess I was just the naïve type who was ripe for heartbreak." Now it was her turn for the sour dough which she promptly lathered with butter and stuffed in her mouth so hopefully he wouldn't ask her any more questions.
Fortunately, the waitress brought out their plates with perfect timing.
"Do you mind if I pray?" He held his hand out.
"Please do." She bowed her head and fervently said her own prayer, something about "Help me to keep from putting my foot in my mouth anymore, O God. It doesn't taste very good."
She took a bite and closed her eyes. The sear was perfect as was the seasoning. It was fresh halibut to die for. She hadn't looked at the menu really, so she wasn't sure what this was costing her boss, but it couldn't be cheap, not in this kind of a restaurant on the waterfront.
"If this is a working lunch, bring me here to work any time you like,' she sighed, then coughed realizing how that sounded.
He was grinning. "So, you like? I'm glad. You need some kind of reward for putting up with Mr. Grumpy Pants..." and he chuckled. "I guess I owe you an apology. I don't think I'll win the Boss of the Year award."
"With this food, you might still be in the running," she smiled back at him. His eyes actually were twinkling, those baby blues framed with ridiculously luscious dark lashes. She quickly looked away. How could one glance take her breath away. Maybe she still was a candidate in the most naïve category.
Things started to look up until the morning Emmie woke up to an infestation of ants, big swarming mounds of them. She didn't know how they had come since she had not left anything with sugar out. Even her cereal was in a tightly sealed container. She called the rental company. They said they would call the owner to get permission for an exterminator to come out to her house. She left the door unlocked. She certainly didn't have anything of value to steal.
What she wasn't expecting was Mr. Grumpy Pants to be in rare form even for him. "I can't believe it! My stupid renter must be some kind of slob, and now I have to pay to have an exterminator come out there already. Call and have somebody go there as soon as possible. We should probably put the house on the market, but it was too soon for Victoria to make any more decisions with all these other troubles."
Emmie sat with her heart dropping so fast, it drained all the blood from her cheeks. Then she got so mad that he had called her a slob with no basis to it, that it took everything she had to keep from giving Mr. High and Mighty Grumpy Pants a tongue lashing. She could feel the heat on her face. She called the first exterminator she could find, Pesky Pests. It would be taken care of before she went home for the day at least.
Unfortunately, the next morning when she went to turn on the water, nothing came out. She tried the other side. Nothing. She went in the kitchen. Nothing. She went outside in her bathrobe even to try the hose. Nothing. Did Mr. Grumpy Pants forget to pay his water bill? With a sigh, she called the rental company. They said they'd let the owner know.
By the time she got to work without a shower, he was practically frothing at the mouth. "I can't believe it! That stupid renter has now messed up the pipes so that there's no water. I need you to call a plumber first thing. Try Jim's Plumbing. I went to school with him and trust him to do a good job. With that he stomped back into his office, and she could hear the click of his lock. If he didn't watch out, she might turn into Missy Grumpy Pants with a kick to it.
Later, when he came out for lunch she knew the plumber had called him back, so she asked him. "What did your plumber friend have to say? Did he tell you what your stupid renter did?"
Clay rubbed his neck. "It's going to be expensive, he said. They'll have to dig up the pipes in the yard and cut away the tree roots that choked off the water pipes. It'll take a few days."
She gasped, then asked, "But what about your renter, what is she supposed to do in the meanwhile without water?"
"I don't know. I guess I could prorate her rent for the days she's out of water. You can let her know for me."
"Should I apologize for you for calling her a stupid renter? And how can she have a bath or even flush the toilet in the meanwhile"
"What? How should I care. Okay, maybe give her a voucher for the Motel 6 or something for a couple of days instead. With a name like Emerald, she's probably some kind of hippie anyway something. Just take care of it. I don't want to have to think about it anymore." He turned and went back in his little room. The lock clicked.
If looks could kill, Mr. Grumpy Pants would be toast. "A hippie, indeed!" she said aloud. A few minutes later, Emmie couldn't help but gloat that the Motel 6 did not have any vacancies, so she tried the Holiday Inn Express and booked herself in, Miss Emerald Smith in room 217. She forgave her boss for calling her stupid and a hippie and grinned.
At the hotel that night, Emmie took out her Bible. She was trying a read-through-it-in-a-year plan. Some of the books she was sure she'd never read before, like Song of Solomon. Good gracious, my goodness, she kept shutting her Bible. She wasn't that kind of girl. It didn't seem like something a nice little Christian should be reading. But sighing, Emmie opened it back up. She wished, hoped and prayed that someday a man would cherish her, even desire her like that. She underlined, "His mouth is full of sweetness, and he is wholly desirable."(Chapter 5,verse 16)
The herd of disappointed goddesses hot on his trail, whether by phone or impromptu visits, was astounding. Good grief, he was good looking to be sure, but she'd never met someone who attracted so much attention from the opposite sex, like bees to the clover, a four-leaf clover. They came in their high heels clicking, in all of their skimpiness hoping to catch a glimpse of him. He kept his door locked. One day when Victoria was there, Emmie couldn't help but ask. "How come Clay has so many admirers?"
Victoria looked at her with her head cocked before answering, "He was in a band for several years, quite a popular local band, and he picked up quite a few groupies you might say, especially once he was a free man again."
"Really?" Her voice cracked. That broke her image of her boss. "What did he play?"
"He did the vocals," Victoria said. "I may be prejudiced as his sister, but he was quite good. Then when he moved away, the band had to break up without him. He was the heart and soul of it. In fact, they are having a reunion, of sorts, and will be playing this weekend. Want to come?"
Emmie looked up like a deer in the headlights.
"Come on. It will be fun. I wouldn't mind someone to be with. It will be my first time in public since my husband ran off." The woman had a pained look flash over her face.
"Sure, sure, of course I'll come," Emmie hurried to say.
"Good, just give me your address and I'll pick you up," Victoria smiled.
Emmie stumbled and bumbled in what to say, then gushed, "Why don't we meet for a quick dinner first. I can meet you at..."
"How about the Hungry Hipster's, six o'clock Friday, okay?"
"Sounds like a plan." She smiled with relief and a great deal of curiosity about this band.
Friday night came. Her date with a paint brush and roller had to be postponed until tomorrow. Emmie had forgotten to ask where the concert was, and hadn't seen Victoria since they'd made their plan. She wasn't about to ask Mr. Grumpy Pants about it. The name didn't quite fit as much as it used to, except when it came to his groupies. She just hoped the concert wasn't in a bar. She didn't do the bar scene.
So it was a great relief and surprise when Victoria pulled into a large parking lot behind a huge church sanctuary. Here? The cars were filling in so that they had to park near the back. But Victoria was able to find the seats at the front that Clay had saved for them. Once inside people crowded around the woman smothering her with their sympathy until Emmie recognized the desperate look and knew waterworks would soon follow.
"I have to get out of here, Emmie. I'm so sorry. Clay can give you a ride back to your car." With that Victoria fled.
Someone was at the front with the microphone. "And here's your favorite band back for a reunion concert, The Potter's Clay!" Someone had strung lights over the stage which made it seem more intimate.
The band was more than good. She found herself caught up in the music, clapping and on her feet when the crowd responded dancing along. Then he saw her alone in the front. Their gazes locked while he was in mid song. He smiled. She didn't think she could ever call him Mr. Grumpy Pants again. She was a card carrying, C.D. buying groupie, as starry eyed as any of them ever thought of being.
When the concert was half over, the band slipped behind the platform for a break and the guy grabbed the mic again telling people to go buy the C.D.'s in the back. She wanted one, yet didn't want to lose her seat, but it was more like she was frozen, overcome by her boss' transformation. His voice was amazing. The lyrics, God honoring. She thought about his losses, his fiancé, his father, his sister's husband and the theft from their company that almost made them lose everything, the fact that he had to leave his own company and go back and forth to help his sister, not to mention his stupid renter. She smiled. No wonder he'd been grumpy.
When he came back out, he looked for her and gave her a full fledge smile, as nice a one as she'd ever seen grace his face. Then the second half of the concert was a true worship experience. She was torn between watching his face as he led or closing her eyes in reverence with her hands raised. After the concert was over and the band left the platform she was suddenly nervous. What if she missed him. He didn't know she needed a ride, and she didn't know a soul in the crowd. As she looked around, she felt the heat from the hand on her back. Emmie turned around. She felt unexpected tears come to her eyes.
"It was so wonderful, Clay. I had no idea!"
He just grinned. It was fun being back together as a band. I do miss it sometimes.
"I don't think I'll ever think of you as Mr. Grumpy Pants again." Then Emmie cringed for saying something so stupid. At least it got a laugh out of him.
"Where's my sis? Did she leave?" He looked around.
"I think she was overwhelmed with all the sympathy. She had to leave."
"It's hard coming out in public after the total humiliation her ex-husband put her through."
"Do you think you could give me a ride back to the Hungry Hipster? I left my car there."
"Sure, I'm starving actually. That concert took a lot out of me. Will you eat with me? At least grab a piece of pie or something?"
He looked so eager that she couldn't turn him down. Suddenly his hand was more than at her back but was around her waist pulling her close. A group of glassy-eyed groupies showed up including the Goddess of Debbie and some she hadn't seen before.
"Hi, Clay," and they went gushing on. Only one stood back, gorgeously perfect but with a hard demeanor that she couldn't figure out. Emmie glanced up at Clay and saw he also had his jaw clenched.
"Excuse us, ladies, we have to go," and he walked her out with his arm around her. Once he opened the door to his truck, he went around and hid in the darkness of the cab. "Thanks for saving me back there."
"There was something wrong, wasn't there, I mean more than the usual band fans, right?"
"Yeah, it was my ex-fiancé. I hope you don't mind if I used you like my human shield."
Who wouldn't want to be a shield like that, a good looking man, the lead singer in a band, putting his arm around you to take you out. Was she crazy? Nope. She was happy.
"Any time you need me, I'm happy to comply," she grinned.
"Thanks. At least you didn't slap me down, for which I'm grateful."
"And feed you to the piranhas? Nah."
His hand was at her back again as he led her in and found a back booth. He ordered a steak sandwich while she had a vanilla milkshake. They made small talk until he was finished then kept talking. He told her how his father had died of a heart attack and his mother of cancer five years ago, how he started his new company building tiny houses, and how it had really taken off.
"Oh, I'd love to see some that you built. I look them up on the internet all the time. I like to see how they are landscaped too, with a lot of planters that can be moved if the house is moved," and she went on about it.
He was watching her. "You know you really light up talking about landscaping. I don't want to lose you in our office, but I hope you get to do what you love someday."
The restaurant was closing. He led her out to her car, her ancient car on its last legs. She got in and turned the key. It just clicked. Oh no. "Please, please, please start." Emmie tried again but glanced over to see if Clay had left yet. She was afraid of being stranded. But he was walking over to her.
"I'm afraid it won't start."
"Let me hear it when you turn your key."
"The alternator," they both said at the same time.
"I think it will be okay here tonight and then we can get it towed in the morning. I'll give you a ride home."
Emmie groaned and hugged herself while she was waiting for him to come around in his pickup. There was no way she could hide it any more. He was about to find out who his stupid renter was. She chewed her lip.
When he got in, he kept glancing over after she gave the briefest of directions to get headed in the right direction. "Are you worried about your car? I'm willing to front you the money to get it fixed if that's what's got you uptight."
"That's okay," she stared out the window until he said, "Which way now?"
"Go right at the light, and then an immediate left."
"You're kidding! I grew up in this neighborhood."
When they were on her street, he said, "I can't believe this. I lived just a block down here on the right."
He looked over at her. "How did you know."
"That's my address."
He pulled in the driveway and turned off the key staring at her. "You are Emerald Smith," he said with disbelief.
"Yes, I'm your stupid renter," she answered with her hands over her face.
He racked his hand down over his, and then he said, "I am so sorry!" His hand reached out for hers, "Truly. I feel really bad. It was uncalled for, all the terrible things I said."
"I should have told you, but I at first I didn't know it was you, and then I didn't know if you were going to keep me on those first few terrible days, and I didn't want my landlord to find out I'd lost my job, if you know what I mean. After that, it got complicated."
"Hey, can I make up for it? Can I come help you paint tomorrow or something? I can have the car towed with my Triple A card for free. Just tell me what to do."
He knew she was painting because she'd ask him his opinion on the best brand of paint earlier in the week.
She looked up at him searching his face for any sort of grimace or shooting daggers and couldn't even see a smidge of grumpiness. "Are you sure?" She was also very aware that he was still holding her hand.
"I'll even bring the coffee and doughnuts," he said with a smile and squeezed her hand before letting go.
Emmie got up early the next morning, thankful to have water to shower with, brushed her hair and putting it into a pony tail. The tarps were all over the hardwood floors. She wore old clothes that she didn't care if she got paint on and waited for Clay. She was taking down the blinds when she heard his pickup. She nervously wiped her hands on her shorts and let him in.
She took the bag of doughnuts and led him into the kitchen to put them on her table, a large cardboard box turned upside down.
"I see you are into Early American Primitive Style," he said looking around her bare house. Then he took a tour uninvited. He came back with a bit of a dark cloud hovering on his face. "You should have said something, Emmie. We have a whole storage unit crammed with my father's old furniture. We could have brought it over already."
"I didn't know," she said as she took a sip of coffee.
"I can't believe you've been sleeping on the floor."
"On an air mattress."
"One with no air left in it." He came over and stared into her eyes. "Do you know how this makes me feel? Like the biggest jerk in the universe. I wish you'd said something earlier." He brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
She wasn't breathing, not that she could tell anyway. She was lightheaded from the way he was standing so close. His coffee breath smelled good enough to taste. She closed her eyes unable to stand it having him so near. He kissed her. She sighed. His arms came around her, and he kissed her some more as her arms crept up over his shoulder. She wasn't sure if it was the kiss that lifted her off her feet or a hug.
He cleared his throat so that she opened her eyes as he backed away. "I guess we won't get much painting done at this rate. His breathing was just as affected as hers. Paint fumes? The cans hadn't been opened yet.
She immediately got busy prying the lid off the cans and stirring them with the wooden stick. He was quickly using the blue tape all over the living room to help keep clean lines. The coffee was forgotten as well as the doughnuts. They worked in silence for a while.
"Tell me how you got the name Emerald. That's an unusual name."
"My parents did a mission trip-slash honeymoon to Ireland. I guess I was conceived on the Emerald Island. So that's my story."
"It fits you know."
"You mean better than Emma?" She giggled teasing him about the trouble he had remembering her name.
He came over to where she was cutting in. He took her paint brush from her hand and put his hands around her waist while hers cuddled up against his chest. "Maybe I should say, you fit. I'll let you in on a little secret. You had me so tongue tied when I met you that I could have tripped over saying my own name. When I walked in and saw you there behind that desk, I was furious with my sister for hiring someone so stunningly beautiful. I did not want to think about you, someone so irresistible that I could not get you out of my head. So, being the mature Christian man that I am, I slammed around, being Mr. Grumpy Pants, because I could not stop thinking about you even when I locked my door. I could see your big brown eyes through my wall."
He was being serious. She couldn't believe it. "You had plenty of reasons for being grumpy, the business, your ex-brother in law who robbed you and devastated your sister, even having to come back here where you could run into your ex-g..."
"Don't say it. I don't want to think about the past. Only the future." And he kissed her. Right there in the bare walls of his childhood home. Finally he admitted, "I guess I'm not getting much painting done, am I."
He took the paintbrush from the pan where he'd set it, dipped it in the gray paint she'd chosen, and went to the large blank canvas of a wall and painted a huge heart with "G.P. + E." in the middle of it. He added the flourish of an arrow through it.
"What's G.P. for what I think it is?" she asked grinning.
"Grumpy Pants, what else? and of course, "E" for Emerald."
"Perfect. I don't think I want to paint over that wall now." And she didn't.