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Raindrop Blues

Charlie Hudson

“The least you could do is be pissed off for me,” Jenna said in exasperation. “I’ve busted my ass for nearly five years, came up with and presented the web design and e-commerce support idea and Robertson hands it to this baby because he’s the cousin of one of his frat brothers.”

She eyed the empty beer bottle trying to decide if she was more upset with her boss, the irritating interloping thief who took a promotion that should have been hers or Joe, who could either not grasp why she was angry or simply didn’t give a shit that she’d been screwed.

She ground her teeth at his banal response and quickly accepted an excuse about not being able to have dinner together. She managed to not slam the telephone down, crashed the bottle into the recycle can, yanked open the refrigerator for one more beer and speed-dialed Gino’s.

With a calorie-laden pizza on the way, Jenna sprawled onto a lumpy cushion of a couch she’d been meaning to replace for a year. A new couch would mean a new chair and it’s not like the coffee table was in great shape either, but hell, they fit the air of the apartment that must have been new once upon a time. She’d taken it during a shortage of decent places in her budget range and not that her budget had increased as it should have, but there was a new complex nearby that she could afford. On the other hand, if she and Joe did ever actually make a long term commitment, she would move to his two bedroom place or they’d go somewhere else, so why move twice?

She clicked on the television, fatigued from job, apartment, boyfriend. Her thirty-first birthday dangling at the end of the month didn’t exactly help either. Shit, this was not where she was supposed to be at this point. She swigged her beer. Well, at least she could afford craft brews, her frizz-less strawberry blonde hair didn’t require color infusions yet, she still wore a size eight and her silver Mustang convertible was paid for. She channel surfed past a popular romantic comedy movie and settled on a dinosaur special. The graphics were high quality and flesh-ripping, carnivorous creatures doomed to extinction fit her mood.

Her resentment was manageable by the next morning when she whipped a brush through naturally curly hair, an enviable trait that allowed a short, sassy cut without needing a perm.

“Okay, let’s see some resolve in these blue babies,” she lectured her image. “You’re not going to let the assholes get you down. You’re only three courses away from a degree in Multimedia Design. You be a good little worker, don’t antagonize the college whiz-kid, keep building up contacts and then you’re out of there as fast as you can go.”

Her deceptively youngish face and pale brown freckles across a too-cute nose were part of why people tended to not take her seriously. Not to mention that at five foot three, she wasn’t what you’d call an intimidating presence. Phil Robertson Senior hadn’t cared about her quasi-adult appearance. He recognized her talent and treated her no differently than he did the older employees when she’d hired on as a graphics intern. She didn’t blame him for turning the business over to his oldest son, but the work climate was far different from when she began. Well, at least she wasn’t stuck in clock-punching factory work like during summers in high school. No one could call her lazy even if an associate degree from community college couldn’t match Phil Robertson Junior’s MBA.

“Oh, quit your bitching and get moving,” her image commanded.

She didn’t bother with eye makeup during the day and selected an outfit of forest green twill slacks, a green, navy and white striped wrinkle-resistant cotton blend long-sleeve shirt and cushiony navy flats. Crisply professional, yet comfortably casual.

Traffic was no worse than usual and Jenna took to side streets when the radio reported a multi-car fender bender up ahead. She stopped for a large latte and was still in the office early. As one of the first tenants of the three-story concrete and glass building, they had half the ground floor and despite her disgust about the promotion, Jenna liked her L-shaped cubicle. Phil Robertson Senior had seen to it that everyone had ample, if only semi-private, space in the large outer office. The graphics production area behind double doors was ergonomically laid out with late generation machines. A small conference room and two glassed fronted private offices lined the right wall. While the refrigerator, sink and microwave tucked into a back corner could hardly be called a break room, there was the coffee shop, a deli and an excellent Thai restaurant within the block.

Jenna logged on to her computer and grimaced when she saw a calendar entry that slipped her mind in her fury the day before. Edna Wilson, at 11 a.m., to discuss start-up web support for Premium Pet Care. It looked to be a small account, with probably no more than one or two employees. Mr. Hotshot should have been meeting with Ms. Wilson, but he obviously felt no need to deal with minor accounts. Jenna shrugged away thoughts of a woman surrounded by cats or yappy little dogs and focused instead on a poster design for an Irish pub scheduled to open before Saint Patrick’s Day.

Jenna was buzzed at 11:02 and she walked up front to meet Ms. Wilson.

“Jenna McCree, Ms. Wilson. I hope your trip in was okay.”

“It’s Edna if we’re going to be working together and I made good time.”

Her voice was lower-pitched than Jenna expected. Early fifties most likely with an open smile and outdoorsy look. Short black hair sprinkled evenly with gray, sun baked wrinkles around brown eyes fringed by thick, straight lashes, a wide mouth and a nose just large enough to be out of proportion to her face. No trace of makeup and she was wearing sensible black loafers with a pair of gray slacks, a pale blue turtle neck and an unbuttoned charcoal blazer. No jewelry except tiny turquoise ball earrings and a tan leather strapped watch. Her handshake was brisk and she obviously didn’t spend money on manicures. Jenna led her to the conference room after she declined the offer of a drink.

Edna dropped her purse and black soft-sided briefcase onto a chair and looked quizzically at Jenna who sat across the table, notepad ready.

“Do you have a pet?”

“Uh no, but my father had a pair of hunting dogs if that counts.”

Edna cocked her head. “Bet they weren’t allowed in the house.”

Jenna wasn’t sure where the conversation was going. “No, although they were well taken care of.”

Edna pointed to her briefcase. “Look, I don’t fool around with a lot of small talk. Here’s the deal. I was raised on a farm where cats roamed around to catch mice and the hunting dogs stayed in their pen. Got into the pet care business right out of high school and I’ve watched the industry change into something pretty amazing.”

“How’s that?”

“A steady increase into billions of consumer dollars. When I started out as a vet’s assistant, who the hell would have imagined a pet superstore, much less pet massages.”

“Pet massages? Is that what Premium Pet Care does?” Jesus, she was going to have a hard time keeping a straight face.

Edna shook her head with an amused grin. “No, I was using that as an example of what people are willing to spend money on. The way I figure it though, if Americans shell out thirty billion dollars a year on their pets, who am I to object?”

Jenna was startled. Was it really that much? “I am a little surprised at the amount and I gather you want to expand your business and set up a web site?” Was this going to be handcrafted doggie sweaters and cat play toys?

“I want to do more than that. For reasons that aren’t important, I gave up a grooming and boarding service last year and spent the past few months doing market research.” She tilted her head toward her briefcase and continued. “The old-fashioned kind in the library. Not being Internet-savvy is why I’m here. I want a web site and an entire web-based business with an extensive menu of pet services for busy owners; the kind with more money than time. My plan is to start right here in the city and see how it goes. I need to know how the hell this stuff works though. A friend of mine at the Art Museum recommended you.”

Jenna spent the next half hour describing their capabilities and procedures. Edna understood enough about e-commerce to ask pertinent questions.

The older woman glanced at her watch. “Look, I have another appointment, but I like what you’ve said so far. I made an extra copy of my business plan to leave with you. I’ll give you a call tomorrow afternoon and we’ll decide if we can be of mutual benefit to each other.”

Jenna walked her out. Small or not, another client was another client. When she turned, Phil Junior crooked a beckoning finger to his office. She stopped just inside the doorway and leaned against the jam, ignoring the chair he indicated across from his contemporary style executive desk.

His ash blonde hair and green eyes were more like his mother, but he had Phil Senior’s square jawed face. If his asshole personality was hereditary, it had to be a recessive gene though.

He cleared his throat and smiled unconvincingly. “Jenna, I know my decision probably came as a surprise yesterday and I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to talk to you before hand. I consider you a valued employee, but I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m more forward looking than my father was. Despite our growth in the past, I feel we can do better.”

Jenna kept her face as neutral as possible. “Oh, you mean like expanding into web design, support and e-commerce assistance for clients.”

He widened his grin and Jenna irreverently thought of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. “Exactly and I’m aware you did a lot of the legwork on that, which I appreciate and will certainly remember at bonus time. As a team player, I’m sure I can depend on you to give Randy all the support he needs.”

So that was it. She busts her ass to develop the concept and line up three solid clients which get snatched out from under her and Phil Junior wants her to pretend it doesn’t matter.

“Phil, I started here with your Dad and hold him in high regard. I hope you’re as committed to upward progression for employees as he was.”

Phil’s face tightened, although Jenna couldn’t tell if it was irritation or confusion with her phrasing. “Of course, of course and with the way we’re poised to go, I would expect everyone on the team to enjoy the company’s success. I’m sure you understand we have to pace ourselves with that.”

The telephone rang to Phil’s pathetically visible relief. “Well, I’m glad we had this talk. Don’t hesitate to step up with any new ideas you have. My door is always open,” he said as he reached for the receiver.

Jenna lifted a hand in a noncommittal acknowledgement and backed out, refusing to let anger show. What a crock of shit! Team this, team that! Come up with good ideas so he can give the credit to someone else! The next damn idea she brought to him would be her resignation.

She refrained from stalking to her cubicle, dropped Edna’s business plan on her desk and checked her voice mail in response to the blinking red light.

She nearly ripped the cord loose at Joe’s message. “Hey look, I know you’ve had the concert tickets for a while, but I have to go to Norfolk for two weeks and I leave tomorrow morning. We’ll go somewhere tonight. Call me when you get this.”

Well, damn. A week like she was having and now this! It was short notice even though she could probably find someone. Christ, she’d been looking forward to a night out, not the hassle of calling around seeking a companion. This was the third out-of-town job Joe had been on in as many months. What was the deal?

She sighed audibly enough to release some of her tension. Screw it. She’d take a full hour’s lunch break for a change. Maybe a plate of spicy Thai chicken curry would improve her outlook.

The walk to The Lemon Grass, friendly service and the extra hot version of the meal at least distracted her. She reached her best friend, Jillian, who shrieked with delight about the concert. They hadn’t seen each other much since Jillian’s wedding eight months prior but her husband was going to a stag party and she was ready for a girls’ night out. Marginally mollified, Jenna finished the Irish pub poster layout and decided on Ryan’s Grill for dinner. It was one of Joe’s favorites and it’s not like he was much on candlelit, romantic places.

When she drove into work the next day, she mentally replayed the evening’s events and realized that neither she nor Joe had displayed much emotion at the idea of another separation. Were her feelings for him disappearing like a dream interrupted by a morning alarm clock? Or was their never wildly passionate relationship stalling to a point she could no longer pretend otherwise? It wasn’t something Jenna wanted to think about and she settled at her desk to read Edna’s documents instead.

“Damn, this is great stuff,” she said softly. Edna’s research may have been done by spending hours in a library, yet her results looked solid. More than three hundred millions pets among sixty-two percent of U.S. households? Okay, Jenna was familiar with Christmas stockings stuffed with doggie treats, but my God, electric tooth brushes for dogs, feline spas with herbal catnip in tea bags and leather pet carriers with cell phone and water bottle holders? The concept of Premium Pet Care was to target busy professionals who nonetheless wanted the best for their pet. For a fee, Edna would arrange for in-home care, access to pet advice and a list of other services. She apparently had an extensive network of local providers she could tap into and Jenna quickly estimated compatible web site links. Even if Edna started as modestly as she was proposing, the business had incredible growth potential. Start-up capital details were merely noted as not an issue. Of course that could mean Edna didn’t have a clue on the financial end, but that was hardly the impression she’d given. No, there were definite possibilities to Premium Pet Care.

Jenna was making preliminary sketches when Edna called.

“Hi. I’m not trying to rush you, but I had to come into town for something else and thought I’d check to see if you read the business plan.”

“Sure did and if I remember your statement from yesterday, I think we can certainly be of mutual benefit to each other. When can you come by the office?”

There was a slight hesitation and the sound of paper being shuffled. “If you’d be willing to meet me for lunch at Galloway’s, we could talk it over. I’d buy and it would fit my schedule better.”

A working lunch with a client. That was a change for her. “Okay, I haven’t been there in ages. What time?”

The horse and hound décor in the old brick and wooden beamed restaurant hadn’t been replaced with a new theme and Edna was waiting at a corner table when Jenna arrived. The older woman smiled and motioned to the draft beer in front of her. “I trust you’re not a teetotaler.”

“No, but if I have one of those at noon, I might fall asleep at my desk.” Jenna ordered ice tea and a crab cake sandwich platter. The waitress had barely turned away when Jenna launched into her thoughts on how they could enhance Edna’s goals.

Edna nodded, amended some ideas and tabled others as they devoured perfectly seasoned, sautéed lump crab meat on a soft roll accompanied by spicy, skin-on curly fries. Jenna almost regretted turning down a beer.

“Okay, I think we’ve got a good plan to start. Let’s have coffee if you don’t mind and tell me a little about yourself.”

Jenna was startled. “Oh. Well, there’s not a lot to tell.”

Edna’s eyes were steady. “This is an important step for me and so far, I like your style. I’d like to know some more about you though.”

Jenna stayed on safe ground of her fascination with graphics, her appreciation of e-commerce, her flexibility in dealing with clients. Be assertive, not aggressive. Be confident, not arrogant. Emphasize skill. Make sure the potential client feels important to the company. Phil Senior’s oft-repeated instructions weren’t difficult to remember.

Edna didn’t probe into personal matters, although the absence of a wedding band on her own hand and no mention of children meant she was probably divorced or never married. Perhaps she picked up the same signals from Jenna.

“Thanks for meeting me,” she said as they refused a second cup of coffee. “If you’ll draw up a contract, I’ll come by Monday afternoon to sign and look at your initial designs. You go ahead and I’ll take care of the check.”

Jenna shook her head. “You’re a new client who’s going to be a real addition for us. Let me get lunch.”

Edna made a shooing motion with one hand. “Next time. This one’s on me.”

Jenna thanked her again and returned to the office in time to find a note from Phil Junior denying her request for financial reimbursement for her next college course. Disapproved. No immediate return to the company. PR, Jr. She ground her teeth and shoved the note in a bottom drawer. That son-of-a-bitch! He knew good and well his father took pride in helping employees with technical or college training. He always bragged about being one of the few small business owners who provided the benefit. Christ, how could a son be so different from a father? Alien pod-creatures or changeling theory might be reasonable explanations. Well, shit. At least she had a new account lined up and the concert on Friday.

On Monday, the weather reflected Jenna’s mood; gloomily overcast and intermittent showers. The fun with Jillian had segued into tequila shooters which pretty well wiped out Saturday with hangover recovery. That meant Sunday was consumed with domestic tasks and when she tried to reach Joe, all she got was his voice mail and no return call. Snarled traffic added to her utter lack of desire to face the office. A raindrop blues day as her grandmother used to say. If it wasn’t for her appointment with Edna, she would turn around and phone in sick.

Fortunately, the creative part of her brain kicked in somewhere after the first latte. She did a quick story board and roamed the web finding immediate, near-term and future linking possibilities to complement Edna’s local plans for Perfect Pet Care.

Edna called a little after noon to say she was running late and would it be terribly inconvenient for Jenna to bring everything to the airport Marriott at four o’clock? She had to make an unexpected trip and wanted to sign the contract before she left. She’d be in the lobby bar.

Oh why not? It was on Jenna’s way home and a good excuse to leave early.

As with the first restaurant meeting, Edna was already seated in back sipping a draft beer with the head still frothed. Jenna noticed the dark red leather chairs and small round tables were grouped to permit discreet discussions. The area was only a third full, but Jenna assumed it would pick up when the five o’clock crowd rolled in.

She leaned her portfolio case against the leg of the table and slid into the empty chair. The waiter appeared within seconds and Jenna nodded to Edna’s draft. “The local pale ale, please.” She’d seen the logo on the taps at the bar.

Edna smiled, a look on her face Jenna couldn’t quite identify. “My apologies for asking you to do this. There are some loose ends I have to tie up from my mother’s estate. Everything should have been settled a couple of months ago.” She took another sip and her voice softened. “My father died last year and my mother was diagnosed with cancer not long afterwards. I spent the last eight months living with her. That’s why I sold my first business.”

“Oh. I’m sorry for your loss.” Both parents within a year. That had to have been tough. The waiter set the frosted pint glass on a coaster.

“They were in their late seventies, but thank you for the sentiment. If you don’t mind, let’s just talk for a moment before we get to the paperwork.”

“Sure, but I would like to say it’s been a productive afternoon. As we discussed before, your business plan looks great for the twenty-mile radius you’ve mapped out and I found a robust number of pet product and service related sites that we’ll be able to link you into when you’re ready. Your clients will have access to everything from custom pet furniture to genealogy searches for the animal shelter kitten that actually has a royal lineage.”

“I admit that’s one I hadn’t thought of.”

Jenna tried to smother a smile and raised her hand in solemn oath. “Comes complete with fancy certificate suitable for framing. Some lady in Minnesota, although I’ve forgotten the exact name of her service. It will be an easy click away for clients who want that little extra or a great gift idea for someone who really does have everything.”

“Nothing like good old American entrepreneurship.” Edna cocked her head. “Listen, I don’t want to seem abrupt, but my impression is that you may not be particularly well utilized in your job.”

Jenna halted the movement of the glass to her mouth. Shit, what had she said?

“It’s not that you said anything about it.” Edna’s gaze was invitingly warm. “Please remember that I’ve spent a career around animals and they don’t talk much. You tend to sharpen observation skills to compensate and it spills over into your dealings with people. Each time I’ve spoken with you, you’ve been enthusiasm and you’re comfortable with technical questions. I’ve also sensed what appears to be some level of internal conflict about your company. I hope you don’t take my comments unkindly.”

Jenna fought against registering shock. Christ, what an unsettlingly accurate assessment. How in the hell was she supposed to respond?

Edna tapped her fingers together in a pyramid. “Look, I’m not trying to embarrass you. In fact, I’ve given it quite some thought over the weekend and I’d like to alter my proposal somewhat. It’s a good thing and if you say no, I’ll sign the contract anyway,” she said quickly, picked up her beer and waited.

Jenna was glad to hear her voice sounded normal. “Okay, I’m a little confused and yes, intrigued. To answer your question, I started in the company with the founder who was a truly wonderful man. He recently retired to Florida and his son is in charge now. Let’s just say we’re going through a period of transition.”

Edna’s eyes crinkled in unspoken amusement. “I understand. All right, here’s my situation. I actually approached three other companies before yours and was not the least bit impressed with their attitude. You, on the other hand, have reacted in a positive way from the beginning. On a more important note, the young lady who was going to be my primary assistant, the one who has the computer knowledge I lack, is a newly-wed and her husband was notified he’s being transferred to Colorado. While I’m happy for them, it does put me in a bind.”

Jenna felt her forehead pucker.

“I feel very strongly about this business and I’m fortunate enough to have adequate capital to manage well for a year or two, although I anticipate showing a healthy profit fairly quickly, especially if you’re correct with what you explained about advertising,” Edna continued calmly. “My parents sold most of their farm acreage years ago and the house I inherited is paid off. I converted one section into a home office and the young lady who will soon be leaving took care of computer connectivity. I don’t know what everything is for, but have been assured I am well wired for e-commerce. I also have a very nice studio apartment over the detached garage. It’s where I lived until my mother died.”

“Edna, are you offering me a job?”


“You don’t really know anything about me.” Jenna searched the woman’s face for a punch line; a gotcha grin. This was crazy.

Edna shrugged. “I’m not going to say I’ve never made a mistake about someone’s character – I have a nasty divorce in my youthful past to prove it. I’m not usually wrong, however, and I have a good feeling about you. I merely mentioned the apartment because I don’t know that I’ll be able to immediately match your current salary and having a free place to live can significantly reduce your income requirements. Part of the deal is that I’m talking a ten percent share of the company profits for the first eighteen months and then we’ll renegotiate. That’s no buy-in from you except your talent. You help me grow it and we both make money.”

“My immediate salary isn’t that great,” Jenna said before she could stop herself. She clutched the beer glass tighter than was necessary to keep her hand from shaking.

“Does that mean you’re interested?”

Jenna inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “When would you want an answer?”

“I can’t do much about looking for a new assistant until I return from my trip Thursday. I figure if you can’t make a decision by that time, you and I wouldn’t be able to work closely together anyway.” Her half smile wasn’t judgmental.

“That’s fair. Oh, I made a packet for you to take on the plane.” Jenna eased the rigid posture she’d snapped into and extracted the folder from her portfolio. It was a damn fine piece of work if she did say so herself.

The waiter approached again and Edna scrawled across her hand.

“That’s the kind of initiative I’m talking about,” she said and transferred the folder to her briefcase without looking at it. “I have an answering machine at home. Leave a message when you decide and don’t worry. Even if you prefer to stay where you are, you have the account.”

Jenna stood, gave a twenty to the waiter and shook hands with Edna as he made change. “Thanks for a very interesting discussion.”

“I know it will be a leap,” Edna said. “If I’m right though, you’re about due for a change.”

Jenna waited to exit until Edna was out of sight. She looked up to see a swath of blue battling gray clouds for air space. She concentrated on traffic during the drive to her apartment and didn’t let herself think about Edna’s offer until she changed into a loose pair of jeans and a baggy cotton sweater. She switched on a travel special about the Bahamas, turned the volume to low and sipped a Diet Sprite.

Of course she should turn Edna down. Having a pleasant lunch with someone was a hell of a lot different than working side-by-side every day. Plus if she walked out on Phil Junior, she wouldn’t be able to bring herself to crawl back if she was wrong about Edna’s chances for success. Her plan to quit was based on a longer timeline than the end of the month.

She focused on the television where a pair of scuba divers plunged into blue-green water. They were surrounded by colorful fish and the female diver moved her arm to point out a large sea turtle. When it gracefully departed, they approached a big spiny lobster waving long antennae at the intruders. A trip to the Caribbean, with or without going underwater, was high on her wish list once she finished her degree and had a better paying job with room to move up.

Wasn’t that what Edna was offering now, not later? A chance unfettered by office politics; an opportunity to genuinely flex her talent? Hadn’t her anger at Phil Junior been because he denied her the very kind of opportunity Edna was holding out? But where was the safety net? What if she was wrong in her predictions for the business? She smiled involuntarily when she remembered Phil Senior’s tales of his early beginnings with only him and his wife; his miniscule budget, cramped office and determination to be his own boss.

And Joe? She’d be within a forty-five minute drive, although that probably wouldn’t help a relationship that seemed to be steadily fraying. Damn, what had happened to them anyway? Her eyes were drawn to the silent telephone that held no greeting from him. Did she honestly think they had a future together? Maybe they hadn’t even when it was new, fun and definitely better sex.

The television scene shifted topside to a reddish-orange sun slowly tracking downward toward the water. Clouds transformed into purples and pinks. The shimmering ball sank from sight and the camera panned to a waterfront bar with tiny white lights outlining wooden rails of a beachside deck. Laughing couples clad in tropical attire sipped umbrella-festooned, fancy drinks.

She felt her shoulders relax as she watched the spectacle and grinned at their camaraderie. Oh, what the hell. She had three days before she owed Edna an answer.


“Is it in there?” Jenna wanted to grab the magazine Edna held tantalizingly out of reach.

“Center section, two pages complete with a very nice photo layout. I got top billing, but there’s a long section on you. Did you know we were a customer-focused, insightful company with a keen appreciation for needs of today’s multi-tasking pet owners?”

Jenna liked the phrasing. “I couldn’t have said it better my self. May I please read the whole thing?”

Edna pulled her other hand from behind her back and slid a printed sheet of paper inside the magazine before she relinquished it.

Jenna raised her eyebrows, eager to see the coveted text. Being named Number Seven on the Annual Top Ten New Businesses in the State was something to be excited about. “What’s that?”

“Your e-ticket and hotel reservations for a five-day stay at a terrific resort in the Bahamas.”

Jenna stared at her. “What?” Was she so giddy she was hallucinating?

Edna laughed. “You’ve just abut worked yourself into exhaustion for over a year with barely a day off, much less a vacation. You deserve it and we can afford it. The reservations are for next month, but you can change the dates and don’t bother to argue. Molly and I can hold things together for a few days.”

Jenna stroked the slick cover and fingered the protruding paper, almost afraid to pull it out. “This is unbelievable. I would tell you it’s too much on top of everything else, but to be honest, I’ve always wanted to go to the Caribbean.”

“I know, I’ve heard you talk about it. Look, I don’t care if it is only eleven o’clock, I’m headed to the store for a bottle of champagne. Don’t get smudges on the article; we’ll frame it later.”

Jenna waited until Edna was gone and allowed herself a noisy whoop of congratulations. With that out of her system, she flipped open the magazine and lingered for a moment on a swimsuit ad. She would need a new one for her trip.

The End