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Can a rejected wife conquer self-doubt, trap a criminal, and win love? A patron saint might help...
Thirty-something Joan Nelson has more to contend with than a biological clock or an identity crisis. Despite her ardent belief in a conventional marriage, she finds herself deserted for a younger, slimmer woman. Lacking any skills or education, she's thrust unprepared into the nightmare challenge of making a living for the first time in her sheltered existence.
A job as a receptionist in a law firm is the first rung on the ladder to her independence. Yet the taste of success sours when Joan considers the emptiness of her personal life. How can she reconstruct her damaged life and heal her bruised ego? Ill-equipped for the singles scene, she embarks on a confusing, sometimes frightening, new lifestyle.
When Joan stumbles on a crime perpetuated by a charming cad, she must defy her boss, jeopardize her newly won stability, and reject her friends. Her namesake, Joan of Arc, provides a model of courage and insight. If she risks danger and uncertainty, will she discover that independence and adulthood can be both enjoyable and fulfilling? Does optimism beat pessimism? Who would have dreamed her final victory could solve a childhood puzzle while it brings her true love?
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A persistent chime from the doorbell finally breaks through my musings. Who would come over unannounced?
Tempted to ignore the summons, I sidle along the wall so the visitor can’t see me through the window, put an eye to a crack in the curtain. “Kevin!” I throw the door open. “What are you doing here?”
No slob he, Kevin wears an impeccable business suit, pale blue shirt and paisley tie. Even more impressive are his freshly combed hair and congenial greeting. At the end of a long, grueling work day, Kevin bears no signs of fatigue or defeat. Unlike paranoid and depressed me, whose rumpled, dingy sweatsuit, faded from grey into a streaked greige, matches my attitude.
“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by to discuss several informal offers on the house,” he says.
“In the neighborhood? Get serious. This is miles from your place. You’re a sweetheart to worry about me after I wailed on your shoulder the other day. Come in and have some coffee.”
Turning to go back to the kitchen, I catch just a glimpse of a flush that mounts Kevin’s face. As I move from cupboard to sink to counter, chattering about the computer incident and my fears, I also notice his unusual reticence.
“So you see I’m working off nervous energy as well as preparing to move,” I say with a gesture at the open cupboards and the cups teetering in stacks on the table where Kevin sits. “If I get fired, I couldn’t bear having to pound the pavement again. My ego was totally destroyed. I don’t know which type of rejection I preferred—the unanswering void of some potential employers who didn’t bother to respond to an application or the politely worded rebuffs.”
As if unfolding a letter, I pretend to quote. “We sincerely thank you for applying. Although you met the requirements for the position, we regret to inform you that other candidates were better qualified. Therefore we
are unable to offer you the position of ‘you-fill-in-the-blank’. We wish you good luck in your job search.”
Kevin shakes his head so emphatically he destroys his combing job. “You can’t let rejection discourage you. I get dozens of rejections every day. How could I ever close a sale if I allowed the no’s to slow me down?”
I return to my cupboard. “Easy for you to say. I was desperate for a job. James had walked out and I had no income when my mother alerted me to the opening at the law firm. I was grateful for her assistance. Pride prevented me from asking James or my family for financial help. I found pride was the last quality I needed after seven weeks of hopeless, fruitless inquiry. I couldn’t bear to go through the process again.”
Three shelves in the cupboards are clear. I look at the stack of miscellaneous mugs heaped on the top shelf and decide to discard them. An array of assorted colors and sizes, they proclaim cute sayings on their sides such as, “If you think today was bad, wait until tomorrow,” and, “Keep your paws off!” or “Mondays are God’s punishment for weekends.”
I shudder as I climb on a stool for a better look. James and I used to exchange the mugs regularly on birthdays, a kind of contest to see which one could find the ugliest or rudest. Until two years before the break-up, I suddenly realize. Another subtle sign of the disintegration of my marriage. I don’t need them as reminders.
Kevin’s voice breaks into my thoughts. “You won’t have to worry for long.”
I poke into another assortment that has been hidden at the very rear of the cupboard. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“About supporting yourself. Surely you have a very good friend waiting in the wings.”
Whirling around on the stool where I stand, I nearly fall over. I hook five or six mugs firmly over my fingers, clamber down, and advance on Kevin while brandishing the dishware. “Listen, mister, James is the charmer, the con man, the one with the sweetie-pie, not me. Was that way in school, remember? Every time I turned around, I had to pry him out of the hold of some adoring females, after a basketball game when he’d made a winning basket, hanging out in the park during the summers. Evidently, no difference after he finished college and started in business either. Don’t ask, don’t tell was my philosophy. I didn’t probe or spy. And I never was unfaithful to him, before or during marriage, and I resent your implication.”
Kevin recoils and leans back as far as possible in his chair. “Sorry. I’m the best one to know you weren’t. I don’t know why I said that.”
“What do you mean, you’re the best one to know?”
“Don’t you remember the pass I made at you just before you got married? The summer after high school?”
Thoroughly bewildered, I shake my head.
Kevin stands, puts his cup on the table, shoves his hands in his pockets, thereby disarranging his suited perfection. “Not an incident to be proud of, to put moves on a friend’s girl. The party when James had to leave because his dad was out of town and his mom called to say his little sister was sick? He left and I got you in a corner to nuzzle?”
I lower my arms to my sides, still holding the mugs. The action matches my dropping jaw. “That was a pass?”
Kevin is motionless, as if my comment is sinking into his consciousness, until he throws back his head and laughs.
“I don’t know whether to be offended you found me so inept or grateful you haven’t resented my action all these years.”
“I thought you were just practicing. Everyone necked constantly with anyone in reach. They were like puppies or kittens squirming around to learn about their bodies. I didn’t know you were serious.”
“And if you had known?” Kevin asks. A silence stretch between us. I don’t know where to look, so I stare at my toes. “Ah, well, now is not the time for what-ifs. We’re all grown up. Like a brother and sister, right?” He reaches for some of the mugs to help pack them.
“If you hold it, you keep it,” I warn. “These are discards.”
“One. Only one,” Kevin says, touching my hand lightly with all his fingertips. “So, there’s no one in your life?”
Now it’s my turn to flush. “Well, a guy in the offices at work is interesting. We haven’t gone out, though.”
Kevin’s fingers grasp one particularly grotesque mug which resembles a stony gargoyle. “This will do as a memento. Time for me to take off.”
“I thought you were going to tell me about some offers,” I protest.
“Until earnest money’s involved, an offer’s not serious. No, don’t bother,” he says when I make motions as if to walk him to the door. “I’ll find my way out.”