Excerpt from Like Flickering Candles
Settling himself at his desk, he pulled the antique brass candlestick closer and lit the new fat candle. White—they were always white. Only when the flame flared farther did he allow himself to pull out the worn green notebook and his favorite pen.
It was nearly time for another story and he could barely contain his excitement.
He loved the stories.
He could almost feel this one now. He would begin writing it tonight, but he couldn’t finish it. Not yet. Not until he watched the flame flicker and burn out.
He loved the flickering.
This would be a good story. The best one yet.
But he thought that way about all his stories.
Luckily, he didn’t need to worry about the remorse until afterward and it never lasted long before the candles called to him again.
He trembled with his excitement.
* * *
I clicked off my desktop computer with a huge sigh. I was the only one still at work, except for my boss, and I was exhausted. I could hardly wait for my vacation. A long-overdue Thanksgiving visit with my mother.
“Patricia!” Roger Hampton, my boss, called out to me. “Wait up.”
He caught up with me. “I am so glad you’re still here. It is so wonderful to have someone I can count on.”
“Roger, I’ve got to leave to go home and pack for my trip.”
“About your trip,” he said and frowned. “We have an emergency on our hands. I really need your help.”
“No. Absolutely not.” I wasn’t about to let my boss get away with this trick again. I had already stayed so late clearing my desk that the windows were stained dark with the night. “I have worked my tail off all month for you—all year—and you have no right to demand this, Roger.”
My sneaky, manipulative, louse of a boss leaned against the edge of my desk, crossed his arms and smiled, as if I were one of the many bimbos he could affect with it. How dare he use his bimbo smile on me? He might be six-foot-two with eyes of blue, but I knew him too well to fall for any of that. He may have dated every other woman in this office, but that was one mistake I hadn’t made. I never mixed business with pleasure. But dating Roger would not be pleasurable.
“Come on, Patricia. I really need your help.” Roger gave her the puppy-dog look. “Please.”
“No. You can’t smile your way out of this one. No. No. No.” I turned away, replaced the file in the drawer and slammed it shut. I raised my voice, too, because Roger didn’t comprehend subtle. “Find someone else to cover your emergency. Give it to Freeburg. He loves overtime. I am so outta here.” And to prove it, I grabbed my purse and slung the handle over my shoulder.
“Wait, listen, babe, you’re my right-hand lady.” He tried to soothe me, his voice caressing with its smarmy silkiness. “How could I ask Freeburg to do this? He’d blow it. You know it and I know it. Either you handle this or we might as well wave goodbye to one of my most lucrative accounts. Come on, Pat, just for me.”
“It’s Patricia,” I reminded him for the umpteenth time, with no hope that he’d remember or respect this particular request after so many others had gone ignored. I hated to be called Pat. That wasn’t the worst of it. Roger never hesitated to manipulate me with guilt, and usually it worked. But not this time. “I’ve had this vacation planned for an entire month. I’m flying cross country to visit my mother whom I have not seen since last summer. I haven’t taken Thanksgiving off in forever and I am taking it this year. I checked with you and you okayed it four weeks ago. Does any of this sound familiar? Doesn’t your word mean anything?”
Roger uncrossed his arms and the smile faded. “I said okay then, but everything’s changed now. Crossley just called and he’s tired of waiting. If we don’t go with it now, we’ll lose the account. And we can’t afford that.”
“You can’t afford that. I’m simply an employee. I don’t care what account you’re afraid you’ll lose. I can get picked up by any advertising agency in town. I could open my own agency.” And one of these days, when the economy wasn’t so scary, I would, too.
“I know this is coming at a bad time. Listen.” Roger reached out and touched my arm lightly. “I know how badly you’ve been wanting to work on the TransDental account.”
The Holy Grail of accounts did a gazillion dollars in business every year and the commissions worth drooling over.
“TransDental?” I asked hesitantly.
He nodded. He looked and sounded sincere, but I knew better. The fact that he really needed my help may or may not be true, and this certainly wasn’t the first time I’d changed my after-hours plans to bail him out.
“My mother is counting on me.”
“You can go next month. I’ll make it up to you. Please, Patricia. I need your help. The TransDental account is in the balance.”
“Are you offering me TransDental?”
“You never give up, do you?” I sighed. He had just thrown out the only carrot that could possibly make me hesitate. I’d been coveting—and begging for—the TransDental account for six months. “But my mother’s already bought the tickets. She’s expecting me tomorrow.” We could both hear the capitulation in my voice.
To Roger’s credit, he didn’t gloat. “Your mother’s loaded. She could buy an entire airline if she wanted.”
“I’ll tell her that. I’m sure it will go over well when I mention you’re ruining her plans.” She frowned at him. “You get to pay for the tickets.”
He ignored that and said, “Tell her you have a jerk for a boss.”
“I do have a jerk for a boss.”
“Well, then, it shouldn’t take long to convince her. You won’t let me down, will you? I’ll cover the cost of your new plane tickets. I’ll even pay to have Thanksgiving dinner catered for your family when you get there.”
I sighed. “I ought to make you call my mother.”
I didn’t want Freeburg to get this account. Roger was right; he would screw it up. My desire to succeed at my career had just cost me this family trip. “Why do I let you do this to me every time? What is wrong with me? I want a bonus. A big one.”
“You got one.” Roger, his smile on full wattage—not his bimbo smile this time—and squeezed my forearm again. “You’re wonderful. I knew I could count on you. It’ll be two weeks, tops. Then you can go. I promise.”
I put my hands on my hips. “No promises. You never keep your promises. If I ever want a man to make promises to me he doesn’t intend to keep, I’ll get myself another husband.”
“Speaking of husbands, maybe I’ll go with you. It’s about time your mother remarried.” Roger looked at me seriously. “Don’t worry, Pat. I’d be a good stepdad to you.”
“I’ll bet. You can’t even remember my name, Dad.” I picked up my briefcase. “There are only a few minor problems you’d have to overcome.”
“Nothing I couldn’t solve. I could woo your mother. No one can resist my smile.”
“Wanna bet? Besides, you’re too young, Roger. You’re ten years younger than she is. And you are most definitely not her type.”
He chuckled. “I can be any woman’s type if I put my mind to it.”
I walked toward the main door. “And she hasn’t dated since Daddy died.”
Roger caught up with me easily, his long legs ambling along. “Then she’s ready for a change. And I bet after ten years she’d positively kill for some good sex.”
“Then that would count you out, from what I’ve heard,” I snapped. The problem with Roger is I can’t always tell when he’s serious because some of his most serious schemes have been just about this stupid. He started to open his mouth, but I held up my hand and shook my head. “Don’t push it, Roger.”
He saluted, slipped his arms into his heavy jacket and opened the door for me, doing a wonderful imitation of a gentleman.
“You’re letting me out?” I asked, lightly mocking. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll use my tickets and fly out tomorrow anyway?”
He flipped off the lights, followed me out the main Hampton Advertising Agency door and locked it behind him. The November day had turned bitter cold, and I wished I’d brought my coat instead of my light suit jacket. The Chicago wind blew straight through me, chilling my bones. I walked toward the parking lot.
Roger strode along beside me, holding his head down against the wind. “I know you won’t fly the coop, babe. You love your job too much to take off on your own. You could open your own agency, but you’d never have the challenges I give you. And you know it.”
I did know it, and I also knew what the odds were against new businesses, which is why I put up with Roger’s crap. I stopped and he nearly ran into me. “And you could never get anyone with my genius to replace me.”
To my surprise, he nodded and grinned. “You’re right.”
Which, I suppose, is why he puts up with my mouth.
“Good evening, Pat. See you back here bright and early in the morning.”
“I know. Isn’t it great how we both are workaholics?”
He laughed and the sound shocked me as it always did with its infectiousness. I had to smile.
“Hey, you’ve been divorced for five years. Maybe you’d kill for some good sex, too. Wanna come home with me tonight?”
I shook my head again. “See you tomorrow, but I won’t be in until after ten. I’ve got to call my mother and tell her the bad news, and she’s not home tonight. She’s with some new therapist or something.”
“Nine,” he pushed.
Past irritated, I snapped, “Ten.”
“You win.” He laughed. “Ten o’clock. Not one minute later.”
“Jerk,” I muttered under my breath.
“I heard that. At least be creative with your insults, Pat.” Roger leaned in close and spoke in a husky whisper. “Try something with a nice ring to it, like illegitimate spawn of jackal ancestry.”
I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear what I called him next just before he laughed and shut my car door.