Alfred came back through the door, brandishing an enormous kitchen knife with its tip bent at a forty-five degree angle. He waved it under her nose.
"You don't pay me. You hound me to death. You use my best knife for a screwdriver. You try slicing a tomato with that."
He slammed the knife on the counter.
"No more notices. Call me when your cash flow improves."
And he was gone, without even giving her the satisfaction of the last word.
The front door slammed behind him, and his half-dead pickup ground and clattered its way up the drive to the highway. She listened, thinking of all the things she'd like to tell him, then turned her attention to Julie, who was putting out the place settings for breakfast.
Another set of problems to be managed.
"There you are. When did you get home last night?"
"We were a little late, Mom. I need to talk to you."
"And I need to talk to you. Have you written the Art Institute, yet?"
"Sorry, I'll do it today. Mom, at the party last night…"
"It's no good just giving up, you know."
"I saw some plans, Mom. This awful pipe thing, coming right across our beach."
Damn William Hogan.
"He promised not to tell you."
"Then you know?"
This was not the morning she had planned.
"Don't worry about this, honey. Concentrate on moving forward. Breaking free, that's the important thing. Breaking free."
Ann picked up a toddler seat and carried it to the storage closet.
"Have you redone your portfolio, at least?"
"I will. Did you look at the books?"
"No. And I don't want to hear the bad news this morning."
She opened the closet door.
"What a week. First you get rejected by the institute, then the loan falls through, then Alfred quits…"
Her eyes floated over the contents of the closet: stacks of paper goods, a broken down vacuum cleaner, jugs of various cleaning solutions, an aging mop bucket… Me…
Don't ask how, just follow the story.
She found an empty spot on a case of toilet paper for the toddler seat. She plunked it down, and closed the door.
"Believe me, Honey, I couldn't handle one more surprise."
She took two steps toward Julie before it hit her.
There was something about that closet. The image that had just flitted through her brain couldn't be right. Could it? She let it flit again. No. It couldn't. Possibly. Could it?
Julie was staring at her. She must have been standing there, catatonic, for long enough to alarm the poor child.
She spun around and yanked the door open.
Just as she thought. There was nothing in the closet but paper goods, cleaning supplies…
And a naked man.