Fixing A Hole


Cranberry Commons Mall was packed. It was Saturday, and the mall was packed. There were people doing their shopping, people wishing they could do their shopping, and teens hanging out. In the middle of the crowd, a slender blonde woman made her way carefully through the mall. She was dressed casually, in jeans, a t-shirt and a jacket. She was loaded down with shopping bags, and was followed by two younger blonde girls. Every once in a while, she stopped to make sure that her entourage was still with her.

She paused, and set down the bags. Pulling two pieces of paper from her pocket, she glanced at it, and frowned.

“I can’t believe you guys need this much school stuff,” said Marianne peevishly.

The older girl nodded. “I didn’t make up the list, Mom.”

“Neither did I,” pointed out the younger.

“I know, I know.” She smiled. “You know me, girls. Always complaining.”

There was general consensus.

Marianne frowned in mock indignation. “Hey.”

The older one smiled. “You know I love to give you a hard time.”

“Katie, that’s not very nice.”

The younger one nodded. “Exactly.”

“Thank you, Tasha,” said Marianne.

Katie shot Tasha a glance. “Brown nose.”

“Hey. Language.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

Marianne smiled, and glanced at the paper again. “You know, we didn’t need this much stuff when I went to school.”

“Times change, Mom.”

“True.” Marianne glanced around. “But I don’t see why we couldn’t get this stuff at PayDay.”

Katie shot her a look. “I told you, we need to get the right sort of stuff. This kind of thing is important for teens, you know.”

“So, even your school supplies have to be designer these days?”


Marianne looked at Tasha. “That true?” She nodded. Marianne sighed. “We didn’t have this sort of thing when I went to junior high.”

“Mom, you went to junior high in the eighties.” Katie grimaced. “I’ve seen VH1. I know what it was like back then.”

“Don’t remind me,” muttered Marianne.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said Tasha sympathetically. “I liked that picture of you with big hair.”

“And the shoulder pads,” added Katie with a smirk. The two girls smiled at each other.

Marianne grimaced. “All sorts of bad memories are coming back now. Thank you, girls.”

“You’re welcome.”

Marianne glanced at the list again. “Come on, Snappy Stationery should be right down here.”

On their way, they passed Pianist Envy. Marianne stopped outside it, and looked inside.

“I still don’t get what the name means,” said Tasha.

“Hopefully you never will,” muttered Marianne. She was looking at their pianos. In particular, a Bosendorfer they had at the front of the store. It was a used one, but it was nice. Very nice.

“Tempted?” said Tasha.

Marianne sighed softly, “Not at that price, sweetie. But I can dream.”

“Mind of I try it out?” said Katie to the sales assistant. She nodded, and Katie began to play. Marianne didn’t recognize the tune at first, but then it dawned on her.

“A sixty-thousand dollar antique piano, and you’re using it to play Boys R Guys music?”

Katie smiled, and hopped off the stool. “Just a reminder. You said you’d buy that CD for me today. And it‘s Boys 2 Guys, okay?”

“Oh. I did, didn’t I?” Marianne sighed. “I suppose so. And I thought I’d given you kids such a great love of music. What’s the difference, anyway?”

“Mom,” said Katie, in a vexed tone. “They’re two completely different bands, okay?”

“They all sound the same anyway.”

“Oh, what do you know?”

“I really must remember to stop making those promises,” said Marianne, smiling. “Gets me in all sorts of trouble.”

Tasha smiled. “But you can’t resist us, can you?”

“I suppose not.” Marianne shrugged. “Come on. Got to get you guys prepared for school. You know, I’m having a nice time, today.”

“Well,” said Tasha. “This is the first Saturday you’ve had off in...ages.”

“I’m surprised your boss let you,” said Katie. “I thought she was really hard-working.”

Marianne smiled. “I put my foot down. You girls are more important, okay?” They set off for the stationery store. After a few minutes, Katie cleared her throat.

“You know, this will be my last year in junior high.”

“Yes, I know.” Marianne kept walking forward.

“Well, I’m a teenager now...”

Tasha sighed. “Not this again.”

“Ssshhh!” Katie turned back to Marianne. “I’ll be in high school next year...”

“Yes, I know that too.” Marianne turned to her. “And the answer is still no.”


“I just think you’re too young to be dating, Katie. I’m sorry.”


“Sorry,” said Marianne. “You’re not ready.”

“I’m almost in high school,” protested Katie.

“And when you are in high school, we’ll talk about this again, okay?”

Katie pouted. “Christy’s mom lets her date.”

“Well, you’re not Christy, are you?” Marianne sighed. “I’m sorry, Katie, but my mind’s made up. Besides, I’m not ready.”

“Well, when are you going to be ready?”

Marianne thought about it, and grinned. “To be honest, when you’re about...thirty.”

“Mom!” Katie looked ashen.

Tasha giggled. Katie glared at her.

“You’re not helping.”

Tasha shrugged. “I don’t want to date, so I don’t care. All the boys in my class are stupid.”

“That’s the spirit. Katie, you should listen to your sister.”

Katie glared. “She’s a freak. She used to have a crush on that guy from Pete & Pete.”

“I didn’t! Besides, that was years ago!”

Marianne grinned. “Come on, girls, play nice, or I’m picking lunch again. And I don’t think either of you would like that.”

The girls fell silent. After a few seconds, Katie piped up again. “I don’t suppose you’re going to change your mind about the dating thing?”

“Wouldn’t count on it.”

“I bet your Mom let you date when you were my age.”

Marianne sighed. “Well, that’s another matter.”

There was an awkward silence. Noting that they had arrived at Snappy Stationery, Marianne quickly changed the subject. “Here we are!”

She handed the girls both sheets of paper. “Here’s the list of supplies. Pick out what you need. I’m going to take a seat on this bench outside. Tasha, stick by your older sister, okay?” Tasha nodded. “Okay. Here you are.”

She handed her wallet to Katie. “This is a trust exercise, okay? I give you the cash, and you show me you can be responsible with it.”

“Trust me,” said Katie. “I’m only going to buy what we absolutely need.”

“Okay.” Marianne smiled. “Go for it.”

The two girls walked into the store, and Marianne sat down on the bench outside. She set her bags down, and began to rub her feet through her shoes. They were aching a little. Marianne smiled. She was having such a good time with the girls today. It wasn’t often that they all managed to go shopping together, and she was making the most of the opportunity. Vacation time was almost over. It had gone so quickly. It always did. Marianne sighed. Where did all the time go?

She was a little surprised that she’d managed to snag a weekend off. Normally at this time on a Saturday, she was ensconced in the office, frantically typing up some report or presentation for Helen. However, she’d been trying to be bolder with Helen, and she’d told her she absolutely had to have this Saturday off, and to her surprise, Helen hadn’t fought her on it. She’d even said that she was taking that day off as well.

That had surprised Marianne. Normally Helen was in the office twenty-four seven. Lately though, she’d seemed kind of distracted, and she hadn’t been working as much. Marianne suspected that something was going on at home, but she hadn’t wanted to pry.

After a few minutes, the girls came out of the store brandishing several bags. Marianne got up to greet them. She took the receipt and whistled.

“Wow, stationery sure is expensive these days.”

“I only got what we needed, Mom,” said Katie.

“I know, sweetie.” Marianne smiled. “You know, you two really are quite responsible.”

“You’re not going to get all mushy, are you?” asked Tasha nervously.

Marianne patted her on the shoulder. “No. I only do that when we’re at home.”

“Or at the mall,” said Katie.

“Or company picnics,” added Tasha.

“Or pretty much anywhere else,” finished Katie.

Marianne shrugged. “Well, that’s because you two are so...adorable!” She suddenly grabbed them both in a big hug.

Katie grimaced. “Mom!” She wriggled free. “What if one of my friends saw us?”

Marianne smirked. “That was the idea.”


Marianne straightened back up. “Well, I’ve tried to embarrass you quite enough for today. Come on, girls.”

As she was picking up her bags, Tasha tapped her on the arms. Marianne looked down. “What is it, sweetie?”

Tasha pointed over to one of the stores on the other side of the mall. “Isn’t that that mean lady you work for?”

Marianne glanced over to where she was pointing. It was indeed Helen Morgendorffer. She was standing outside a bath and body store with one of her daughters. The younger one - Quinn. “Tasha, it’s not nice to call her a mean lady.”

“That’s what you said. Actually, you said worse on the phone one time when you thought I was in bed.”

Marianne frowned. “Well, that’s what you get for listening in on other people’s phone calls.” She paused. “And she’s not a mean lady. I only said that because I was in a bad mood. She is...a very dedicated woman. With issues. Who just takes things out on the wrong person sometimes.”

“Do you want us to hide in the store like we did last time?”

“No...” Marianne thought about it. If she was going to be bolder, she couldn’t just go running every time she saw her in the street. “No, let’s not do that.”

Across the mall, she saw Helen turn and spot her. She waved a hello, and Helen waved back. She took a deep breath, and turned to the girls. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” asked Katie.

“Going over to say hi. Now, be nice, okay?”

The girls nodded. Marianne smiled, and walked over to Helen and Quinn. Helen smiled awkwardly in greeting. “Marianne! How nice to see you!”

“Hello, Helen.”

Helen indicated Quinn. “You’ve met my daughter, Quinn, haven’t you?”

Marianne nodded. “Hi, Quinn.” Quinn waved in greeting.

Helen glanced at the girls. “So...are you babysitting today?”

The girls looked at each other. Marianne‘s eyes widened in shock. “No, Helen. These are my two daughters. You remember, you met them at the company picnic a few years back.”

“Oh God,” said Helen, in a embarrassed tone. “I’m sorry.” She looked totally mortified.

Tasha and Katie waved hello. Marianne put her hands on their shoulders. “This is Tasha, and this is Katie.”

“Hell, girls,” said Helen, trying not the sound too uncomfortable. Quinn said hello as well, looking at her mother out of the side of her eyes, sensing the tenseness of the situation. There was an awkward silence. Eventually, Helen cleared her throat.

“So, Marianne, have you got that report typed up for the Clark case. Because it’s quite important...”

Marianne nodded. “I’ll have it ready for Monday. Don’t worry.”

“Okay. Because it really is an important case, you know...”

“Helen - trust me. I’ll have it done. And I didn’t really want to talk about work on my day off.”

Quinn leaned over to her mother. “Mom, it is Saturday.”

“I know,” said Helen. “Sorry.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Marianne was worried that she had been a little too harsh in that last part. She hadn’t meant to be, but it seemed to have come out a little bit harder than she had intended. She hoped that she hadn’t upset her or anything.

Another awkward silence followed. While she was searching for something to fill the gap, she looked over the next couple of stores. She saw a familiar face, and her face lit up.

“Trent!” she cried. It was indeed Trent, standing over by the guitar store. He looked up and smiled when he saw who it was. She walked quickly over to him, followed by the girls. She walked up to him, set her bags down, and gave him a hug. “How have you been?”

Trent smiled. “Pretty good. You know, whatever. How about you?”

“The same. Haven’t heard from you in weeks!”

“I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Lot of practice?”

“Something like that.”

Marianne smiled. She turned to her girls. “Girls, this is Trent. My friend. You remember I told you about him?”

Trent waved. “Hey.”

“This is Katie, and this is Tasha.” The girls said their hellos.

Trent scratched his chin. He winked at Marianne. “Hey, you two look kind of similar. You’re twins, right?”

Tasha smirked. Katie frowned. “Not hardly.” She glared at Marianne, who was trying to stifle a grin. “Always have to embarrass me, huh?”

Marianne shrugged.

Katie looked at Trent again. “Well, you were right. He is as seriously cute as you said.”

“Katie!” Marianne flushed bright red.

Trent grinned. “You guys are pretty cool.”

Marianne smiled. “Thank you. So what are you doing in the mall today?”

“Meeting the band by the House of Nuts. Just looking to pass the time.” He glanced at a nearby clock. “Though I think I’m late. Hey, I have to split. Nice meeting you guys.”

“You too,” said Tasha shyly.

“Bye,” said Katie.

Marianne kissed him on the cheek. “Stay in touch, okay?”

Trent smiled, and walked off. As he passed Helen and Quinn, he waved. “Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Hi, Daria’s sister.”

“I have a name, you know,” muttered Quinn.

Marianne‘s stomach dropped, and she knew her face had just gone white as a sheet. He knew Helen and the Morgendorffers? She didn’t know that. Trent was full of surprises, though. It was just part of his nature. For one horrible, brief moment she wondered if Trent had ever said anything about their first meeting to Helen, but she dismissed it. He was far too trustworthy for that. She hoped. If he had said anything....

No. If he’d said anything, Helen would have confronted her about it. Trent wouldn’t put her in a position like that. Hopefully. She waited until her heart stopped racing, and for her face to get some of its color back.

She picked back up her bags, and looked back over at Helen. She was looking at Marianne with a thoughtful expression. Marianne wondered what she was thinking. She walked back over.

Helen looked at her for a moment. “Um, Marianne? You’re not too busy, are you?”

Marianne cocked her head to the side, wondering what this was about. She hoped Helen wasn’t going to ask her to come in to work today. She didn’t think so, though. It wasn’t the right tone of voice for that. Maybe, she thought in shock, Helen wanted to talk to her about what Trent had said. That thought caused her heart to skip a beat.

“Not too busy,” she said cautiously.

“Well, you know, I’m kind of hungry. Maybe we could...” She tailed off.

Could what? thought Marianne. Was Helen asking her to go to lunch with her or something? She had never done that, not in the three years they had known each other. Marianne looked at her in surprise. This was odd.

Helen waved her hand. “Never mind,” she said. “I’m sure you’re busy.” She moved to leave.

“I’d love to,” said Marianne suddenly.

Helen turned around, a little surprised. “What?”

“I’d love to get some lunch with you.” Marianne didn’t know why she had said that. It was just a whim. She could almost feel the girls wondering what their Mom was doing. Truth be told, she wondered too. “I mean, if that’s what you meant.”

“Um, sure,” said Helen. “So, er, let’s go to the food court. If that’s okay with you, I mean.”

“Sure!” Marianne felt she was overdoing the enthusiasm a little. She decided to tone it down a bit. “Um, after you.”

Helen walked off with Quinn towards the food court. Marianne followed a little behind. As they were walking, Katie tapped her on the shoulder. “Mom, what are you doing?”

“Beats me.” Marianne shrugged. “I’ve never seen her act like this. I’m just going with it.”

“As long as you don’t start talking about law,” said Tasha. “That stuff is boring.”

“Girls, you have my promise that this isn’t going to end up being a work thing, okay? I promise. And what don’t I do?”

“Break your promises,” said the girls in a sort of unison.


After a few minutes of walking, they reached the food court. After a bit of dithering over which place to get food from, they settled on Lotsa Pasta. Helen seemed to be a bit of a fan of Italian food. They sat down.

“Quinn,” said Helen. “I’m sure you must be bored. Why don’t you take this time to have a look around the mall for yourself?”

Quinn shrugged in agreement. Marianne felt like this was some sort of hint, and asked the girls if they wanted to go with her. They were a little reluctant at first, but after seeing the expression on Marianne’s face, they agreed.

As they were walking away, Quinn looked at the girls. “We’re going to have fun. Plus, we could spruce up your images a little.”

“What’s wrong with my image?” asked Katie.

“Nothing. But everyone can use a little touching up.”

Katie and Tasha looked at each other, shrugged, and walked off with Quinn.

Marianne smiled, and turned back to Helen. “They’ll be okay with her, won’t they?”

Helen nodded. “Don’t worry. She’s a lot more responsible than she used to be.”

“Okay.” Marianne and Helen regarded each other for a few moments.

“I didn’t know you knew Trent,” said Helen, breaking the silence.

Marianne smiled. “Oh, yes.”

“You’re not...” Helen tailed off.

Marianne shook her head. “Oh my, no. He’s a little too young for me, isn’t he? We’re just friends. He’s a really sweet guy. I didn’t know that you knew him, actually.” The last part came out as slightly nervous. Marianne still didn’t know what Trent had told Helen. Nothing, hopefully.

“His sister is Daria’s best friend.”


Helen leaned forward. “She’d never admit it, but I think she used to have a little crush on him.”

Marianne smiled. “I could see why. She could do a lot worse, you know.”

“I know. But she has another boyfriend now. Well, had.” Helen fell silent again. “How did you meet him? You and him seemed kind of close. He‘s never mentioned you...”

Marianne breathed a silent sigh of relief. Trent hadn’t said anything. She should have known he wouldn’t. Marianne smiled. “It’s a long story. He’s a good friend, though.”

“Oh.” Helen fell silent again.

Marianne decided to be bold. “Helen, if I can ask...why did you ask me to lunch today? I mean, we’ve never really done it before...”

Helen shrugged. “I saw you talking with Trent, and meeting your kids, and I just realized that I knew almost nothing about you. I mean, we’ve know each other about...what?”

“Three years.”

“And we don’t really know anything about each other.”

“Well, I know quite a bit about you...”

“I do rant a little in the office, don’t I?” said Helen sheepishly. “Well, all right. I mean, I don’t know anything about you.”

“Well,” said Marianne cautiously. “It’s not like we have a friendship.”

“I know, but...” Helen looked up. “I’m sorry about the babysitting thing.”

“It’s okay,” said Marianne. “Really.”

“You know, your girls are really cute.”

Marianne smiled in pride. “Thank you. They’re my little girls. They’re my life.”

“Their father...?” said Helen hesitantly.

“Gone. A long time ago.”

“Oh.” Helen paused. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t be,” said Marianne waving her hands. “I never even think of him these days. I haven’t even seen him in over ten years.”

“He just left?”

Marianne nodded.

Helen smiled. “Well, they obviously adore you.”

“We’re close. I just wish I had more time, but with work, and everything, you know.”

Helen nodded. “I know we put in a lot of hours at the office. Must be hard for you.”

“It’s always hard raising kids as a single mom.”

“Don’t I know it,” muttered Helen.

“Don’t you have Mr. Morgendorffer?” asked Marianne.

Helen sighed. “Marianne, you’ve talked to my husband, haven’t you?”

“Quite a bit.”

“Oh.” Helen glanced down. “Yes, of course. Well, he isn’t the most responsible man about.”

“I...I don’t mean to be rude, but I kind of figured that.”

“Hmm.” Helen sighed again.

Marianne decided to change the subject. “Quinn seems to have changed a lot. I mean, from the last time I talked to her.”

“Quinn?” Helen smiled. “Yes...she’s been doing her fair share of growing up this year. I think she’s turning out just fine.”

“And your other daughter?” Marianne searched for the name. “Daria?”

“She’s off to college in a few weeks.” Helen’s face fell. “In Boston.”

“It’s not that far away,” said Marianne, trying to sound comforting.

“I know.” Helen smiled sadly. “It’s funny. We’ve been getting closer and closer over the last while, and now that we’re probably at our closest, she’s moving away.”

“How does it feel?” Helen looked at her. “I mean, her moving away. I’m going to be going through that in a few years.”

“How old is your oldest?”


“Ouch.” Helen smiled. “Hormones.”

“Tell me about it. She’s already starting to get boy fever.”

“She seems like a smart girl. She won’t do anything silly.”

“I know. But you still worry, don’t you?”

“I know. I even worried about Daria, and she’s about the most sensible teen that I’ve met.”

Marianne smiled. “It’s good, isn’t it?”


“Being close to your kids.”

Helen smiled. “I’m just glad I’m getting there. Now, if only Jake would make more of an effort...”

“Why doesn’t he?” Marianne waved her hand. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me if it’s too personal.”

“No, no.” Helen sighed, and began fiddling with her buttons. “I don’t know. Sometimes he seems so with it, and other times he seems so clueless...and there was that stuff he said at the retreat.”

“You told me that.” Marianne remembered what Helen had said. It had been rather cruel, if somewhat accurate.

Helen sighed. “Most of it was true. I mean, Marianne, we haven’t always had a harmonious working relationship.”

Marianne didn’t say anything.

Helen held up a hand. “See?”

“It’s not that,” said Marianne cautiously. “It’s just that work can be...trying sometimes.”

“Oh, Marianne, I’m sorry.”

“But I knew that you had home, and at work. I knew there were mitigating circumstances for a lot of it. Your life isn’t an easy one.”

“Your life can’t have been easy, either.”

Marianne sighed. “No...I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of my kids. I hated that. I was frustrated at work. It was kind of hard.” She paused. “But I had to make a stand. I just decided what was important to me. My kids. So, I took a stand at work.”

“I did notice that.” Helen smiled. “You know, I kind of reduced my workload a bit at that time, too.”

“I noticed. I was shocked to see you out of the office on a Saturday.” She stopped herself. “Sorry.”

Helen smiled. “That’s okay. No, I kind of took a stand too. It was a little after the retreat. What Jake had said was kind of still rolling around my head, and then Eric came in and congratulated me for neglecting my family.”

Marianne shook her head. “I wanted to kill him after that.”

“That disturbed me.” Helen frowned. “A lot. At first, I tried to put it out of my head, and tell myself that I was doing a great job, and I’d get that partnership, and this was the best thing for my family.” She sighed. “But after a while, I kind of realized that it was doing the opposite.”

“I’m sorry,” said Marianne sympathetically.

“And it’s not like I was getting a lot of support from Jake. He barely ever has an income. That puts additional stress on me.”

“It’s tough being the only income, isn’t it?” said Marianne sympathetically.

“Tell me about it.” Helen sighed. “For a long time there, I wasn’t juggling my home life with my work life very well. My family’s important to me, but so is my job. I don’t want to abandon either of them I just had to find a better way of balancing them.”

“How’s it going?”

Helen smiled. “Pretty well so far. It’s tricky, finding the right balance, but I’m feeling it out. This is the first time Quinn and I have been shopping in almost two years, you know?”

“You two seem to be close.”

“Getting closer. Not fully there, yet, but we’re getting there.” Helen paused, and coughed a little self-consciously. “Another thing...when I saw you today, and saw your kids, and saw you talking to Trent, I realized that maybe you were one of those things that I had not been handling well. So, I figured I should try to fix that, and...”

“You asked me to lunch.”

“Or at least tried to. I kind of chickened out near the end. I wasn’t going to say anything, but...”

“I kind of stepped in.”

“Yes.” Helen smiled. “You know, you’re quite a different person from the one I see at the office every day. Quite a bit more assertive.”

Marianne smiled. “It‘s the lack of an office environment. Plus, so are you.”

“I can only imagine what I must have seemed like to you,” said Helen sadly.

“What about me?” said Marianne.

“Things change, though, right?”

Marianne smiled. “I think this lunch is proof of that.”

Helen smiled. “Can I ask you a question?” Marianne nodded. “Eric told me once that you volunteered to be my assistant?”

“I did. I thought it would be better under a woman than under the rest of the partners. You know I used to work for Eric, right?”

Helen nodded. “That must have been fun.”

Marianne smiled wryly. “Working with Eric was one of the worst experiences of my life.”

Helen raised an eyebrow. “You know, I can believe that about Eric.”

Marianne frowned. “You know, I shouldn’t really say anything bad about him. He’s still our boss.”

Helen smiled wryly. “Trust me, Marianne. Whatever you’ve thought about him, I guarantee I’ve thought it too.”

Marianne looked at her. “He’s sleazy.”

Helen grinned. “He hates women.”

“He abuses drugs.”

“He blows his own trumpet.”

“He’s a shitty lawyer.”

Helen laughed. “It seems like we’re on the same track. What a guy.”

Marianne looked at her. “You know, they’re never going to make you a partner.”

Helen nodded. “I’ve thought that at times. But you know what? I’m going to. I’m going to break the glass ceiling there, and show that stupid old boy network. Or, I’m going to wait until I get a lucrative offer from another firm, and then leave them in the dust. Either way is good for me.”

“You know you’re the best lawyer they’ve got.” Marianne smiled. “You know, I really have enjoyed working with you, Helen, even with the long hours and the stress. I’ve learned a lot from you.”

Helen smiled. “Thank you.” She thought about it. “You know, sometimes I think Eric keeps me so close because he wants me.”

“I’ve thought that.”

“Well, he knows that if he ever tries anything, I’ll slap him with a suit so fast he’ll be unemployed in a week. Let’s see how he does without that cushy six-figure salary, and without that mistress he thinks no-one knows about.”

Marianne smiled. “I’d pay to see that.”

Helen glanced at her. “You know, I wouldn’t be such a good lawyer if I didn’t have such a good assistant. Have I ever told you that?”

“No.” Marianne flushed a little. “Thank you.”

“If I ever did leave the company...I’d never find an assistant like you.”

“I’m flexible,” said Marianne, smiling.

“Aren’t you almost ready to take the CLA exams?”

Marianne nodded. “Finding the time to study’s always a chore.”

Helen smiled ruefully. “Don’t remind me. I remember taking the bar exam...” She looked at Marianne. “I wouldn’t be able to hire such an experienced assistant even if I did leave.”

Marianne smiled. “Maybe I’d be looking for a change, too.”

Helen leaned back in her chair. “You know, it’s remarkable what you learn about people when you take the time to know them.”

“For the first two years I knew you, I was too terrified to speak to you.”

“I know.” Helen’s face fell. “I guess in the last few months, I’ve decided that there are certain things about myself I need to change. Important things.”

“Me too.”

“I guess we’re not really that different after all.”

“No.” Marianne sat back. “So where do you see yourself in five years?”

“That old question,” said Helen. She thought about it. “I don’t know. Definitely a partner of a law firm. If not this one, another one. The girls will be grown and gone by then, but hopefully, they’ll still keep in regular contact. And Jake...” She tailed off, and turned away.

“Don’t know where that’s going to go?” asked Marianne gently.

“No.” Helen shook her head. “It...scares me a little. I’m not sure...I mean, after the kids have gone...if...” She tailed off again. “I just don’t know.”

“Have you talked to him about it?”

“I tried. He’s not the most responsive of people. You know that.”

Marianne flashed back to every time she had talked to him on the phone or in person. Every single time, without fail, he had fallen into an incoherent rant about his late father. Every single time. If he did that at home with as much regularity, Marianne wondered how Helen ever stood it.

Helen frowned. “It’s like I’ve put so much of an effort into trying to reorganize my life to include my family more, and get to know the girls better, and he hasn’t done anything.”

Marianne frowned. This sounded familiar.

“You know how some people just shouldn’t have gotten married? How some people aren’t ready? Sometimes...I feel like he still isn’t ready, and he’s almost fifty years old. He acts like such an overgrown child sometimes, you know.”

“Oh yes,” said Marianne, with a hint of bitterness.

Helen looked up. “Your husband...?”

“Left almost twelve years ago, and never looked back. Probably the best thing for the kids he could have done. Not ideal father material.”

“Have you ever tried...?”

“To find someone else?” Marianne sighed. “Yeah, but available guys aren’t easy to come by these days. Especially ones that want to deal with two children.”

“Oh. Jake...I know he loves the girls...but...” She tailed off. “I really just don’t know where it’s going to go after the girls leave. Probably to somewhere I don’t want it to go.”

“I know,” said Marianne sympathetically. “Believe me, I know.”

Helen smiled. “Listen to me. I’m whining.”

“You’re not whining. You’re venting. Venting’s constructive.” Marianne grinned. “I do enough of it myself to know.”

“This seems more constructive than the really loud venting I usually do in the office.”

Marianne smiled. “That was always kind of scattered, anyway. I could never figure out what you were talking about half the time.”

Helen laughed. “And other times, I’d mix it in with the dictating.”

“I’d be reading it back, and you’d ask me why I kept putting in ’Damn it, Jake’ after every sentence.”

“Hmm,” said Helen, smiling a little.

Marianne smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”

Helen smiled back. “You know, this has been a really interesting lunch.”

“Yes, it has.” Marianne said. She glanced at her watch. “Girls should be back soon. Hope they had a nice time.”

“Quinn’s good with younger children. They might talk about fashion for a week afterwards, but they’ll have enjoyed themselves.”

Marianne smiled ruefully. “Anything to get Katie’s mind off boys, and I’m happy.”

Helen smiled. “I can certainly sympathize. For years there, Quinn had a different guy for every night of the week.”

“Didn’t you worry?”

“Sort of. But even then, Quinn was too sensible to do anything really risky.”

“Ah.” Marianne smiled. “She seems like a nice kid.”

“So do yours.”

Marianne nodded. She looked up and smiled at Helen. “You know, I’ve really enjoyed today.”

“Me too,” said Helen thoughtfully. “You know, I never get the chance to just talk about things. There’s not a lot of people I can do that with.”

“Me neither.”

“I don’t...” began Helen slowly. “I don’t really have a lot of female friends here in Lawndale, you know. And sometimes...I wish I did.”

“I know what you mean,” said Marianne. “I don’t either.”

“Maybe we could...”

“Do this again?”

Helen smiled. “Yes.”

Marianne smiled back. “I’d like that.”

There was a brief silence as the two women looked at each other. Quinn’s unmistakable tones came around the corner, and a few seconds later, the three girls came back.

“You see, the thing is,” said Quinn. “That if you’re missing one part of your wardrobe, the whole effect is lost. And you don’t want that.”

“Even if it’s just the shoes?” asked Tasha.

Especially the shoes.”

Katie sighed. “You know, this is a lot more complicated than I thought.”

Quinn smiled. “After a while, it’ll become second nature. Trust me.”

Marianne smiled. “Did you have a nice time?”

The girls nodded.

“Thank you,” said Marianne to Quinn.

“No problem.” Quinn shrugged. “You know, they have a really keen fashion sense. Especially for that age.”

The girls smiled.

Helen stood up. “Well, we’d better be going, Quinn.” Se turned to Marianne. “I’ll see you at the office on Monday?”

Marianne smiled and nodded. “I’ll see you then.”

Helen turned to the girls. “It was nice meeting you.”

The girls waved goodbye, and Helen and Quinn left. Marianne watched them go, and smiled to herself. That had been an interesting encounter. She’d seen sides to Helen that she never had before. It seemed they were more alike than they had previously thought. She hoped that it was going to lead to a new understanding between them. She had a feeling it would.

“Excuse me?” said Katie. “You’re spacing again.”

Marianne shook her head. “Sorry. Just thinking about stuff. So, did you have a nice time with Quinn?”

Tasha nodded. “She’s really nice.”

Katie did the same. “She really knows her stuff about boys.”

Marianne sighed. “Don’t get any ideas, okay? But I’m glad you three had a nice time.”

Katie scowled. Then she cocked her head to the side. “And how did your lunch go?”

“It was interesting.” Marianne smiled. “You know, sometimes a person can surprise you.”

“Really?” said Tasha. “Did she?”

Marianne nodded. “Oh yes. She certainly did. What have I always taught you girls?”

“Brush your teeth before we go out?” said Tasha.

“Apart from that.”

“Keep an open mind,” said Katie.

Marianne nodded. “Sometimes people can surprise you if you give them a chance.” She smiled to herself. “I’m glad I did.”

There was a brief silence. Marianne looked at the two girls, and smiled at them.

“Come on.” Marianne grabbed her bags, and began walking out of the food court. She turned to the girls, who were following. “You girls want ice cream?”

Tasha and Katie nodded.

Marianne smiled. “Come on.”

She and her family walked out of the food court, and vanished into the mall.


The End.


End Notes:

Thanks to my wife.

Thanks to my beta-readers, Roger Moore, Robert Nowall, Thea-Zara, and Deref.

For some of the background mentioned in this story, you may want to read ‘Assistant Living’ and “A Loss Of Perspective’, also by me.