continued from Monday…
Eve could tell by Stanley’s expression he’d already moved on in his head to time constraints and production and perhaps the bottle in his desk. She waited until he had fully retreated behind his closed door before reaching into her top drawer for a needle and thread. She tossed her coat on the chair back and headed for the ladies room. Inside, she locked the door and stripped off her skirt. Sitting on the vanity in her blouse and tights, she surveyed the damage to her garment by the fluorescent glow. After a moment she pulled the seam together and began to sew tiny, even stitches, working her lower lip with her teeth in concentration.
Through the door she heard the office bustle, keyboards clattering, snippets of several conversations at once, all pertaining to the upcoming Christmas party. She’d really blown it this year. She’d let herself be talked into buying a dress. Now Pattie expected her to abide by the dress rule. Once you had one, you were in. She didn’t want to be in. She’d only wanted the dress because it had looked fantastic on her, despite the cranberry color. Red during Christmas usually clashed with her attitude.
Two short raps sounded on the door.
“Occupado!” Eve called.
“No kidding,” Pattie spoke through the wood. “I saw you go in. What’s taking so long? Are you all right?”
Eve hopped off the vanity to let Pattie inside. “Why do people keep asking me that?” she said as Pattie scooted into the bathroom. Her friend made a face at the skirt in her hands. Eve shut the door and locked it again.
“What the heck are you doing?” Pattie demanded with a frown.
Eve climbed back up onto the vanity. She held up the skirt with a wry twist to her lips. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Something that could be accomplished in half the time if I brought that up to one of the line machines for you.”
“I got it,” Eve said.
Pattie shut the toilet lid and lowered herself onto it, sweeping back her red hair and crossing her legs in sleek gray trousers. “What happened?”
“You’re killing me.”
“Okay, I tried to perform a fancy maneuver to call the elevator, but the darned skirt wasn’t giving an inch.”
Pattie snorted. Lacing her fingers around her knee, she leaned forward, her study intent. Eve looked away, continuing to sew.
“Seriously,” said Pattie, “are you okay?”
“Fine,” Eve answered.
Eve glanced up at her. “Well, it’s almost Christmas again. You know how I am.”
“I know how you are. But you seem crankier than usual.”
“Crankier?” Eve bit off the knotted thread. “Is that a real word?”
Pattie smirked. “As far as I know. Google it, why don’t you? And I mean it. Did something happen?”
Eve waved the skirt like a flag. “You mean besides this?”
“Yes. I mean besides that.”
Dropping the skirt back to her lap, Eve released a long, slow breath through her nose. She hadn’t wanted to do this either. Keeping secrets from Pattie wasn’t her usual operating procedure. They had a relationship outside work. They were real friends, not just co-workers.
“Kevin and I broke up.”
Speaking the words aloud, Eve felt a little jolt, a sharp twinge like a paper cut’s bitter sting. Somehow, she’d expected more.
“What?” said Pattie in a disbelieving tone due, Eve suspected, to the fact this was the first she’d heard. Obviously, Eve and Kevin hadn’t broken up at lunch. Eve had been traipsing all over Manhattan throughout the afternoon. Pattie’s thoughts, and her hurt, were evidenced in the flat-toned, “When?”
Eve hesitated. Pattie’s eyes narrowed. Eve sighed. “Three weeks ago.”
“Three weeks?” Pattie stood up from the toilet. “Three weeks?”
Flinching, Eve jabbed the needle back into the spool of thread. “Yes. Yes. Three weeks ago. I really meant to say something sooner. I just… Well, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. I’ve been trying to decide how I actually feel about the whole thing and I guess I didn’t really want to talk about it before I made up my mind.”
Pattie stared at her for a long moment, a hand on her hip. Slowly, she let the hand drop. “Honey,” she said, “don’t apologize. I wish I’d known though. We could have gone out and done something.”
“Like what?” Eve countered. “Celebrated?”
Pattie’s shoulders jerked, a crooked smile on her bright lips. “Celebrated. Commiserated. Whatever you thought most appropriate.”
“I still don’t know. Maybe a little of both? I’m certainly not heartbroken, but I am a little, I don’t know, lost? And this way it’s before Christmas. No reason to make the trip now.”
“What’s with all the secrets? Were the two of you planning an escape to Bermuda?”
“I wish. Never been.” Eve examined the last few stitches, giving them a tug to make sure they’d hold. “But nope. Not Bermuda. Back home. For the holidays.”
Pattie cocked her head to the right and returned the hand to her hip. “Home?” she asked, as if she hadn’t heard correctly. Eve knew Pattie believed she hadn’t. That Eve was going home at Christmas was the last thing Pattie would have expected. “Your home?”
“Yeah,” said Eve, “my home.”
“Wow. How long has it been since you went home at Christmas? And with Kevin? Were things that serious?”
Eve hopped off the vanity. Bending, she stuck first one booted foot, then the other, back into the repaired skirt. “Apparently not.”
Pattie observed her with a wrinkled brow. “You’ll still go home, won’t you?”
Eve yanked up the zipper and smoothed the skirt over her hips without answering. She spun toward the mirror, fluffing her hair with her fingers as she met Pattie’s gaze in the glass. “Really? That’s your reaction after you were just so shocked?”
“Yep. I think you should go.”
“With all that hometown Christmas cheer? I don’t think so. I’ll stay right here.”
Pattie took another step closer, lowering her voice. “Eve, seriously, maybe you should go. It could be good for you.”
Eve dropped her gaze, taking the time to rewrap the loose thread end around the spool. She tucked it into the tiny notch and then moved the needle into the crisscrossed strand. “It could,” she said softly. “Or it could make me physically ill.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say. It can’t be that bad!”
Eve glanced up, meeting Pattie’s shocked gaze. Eve turned and reached for the door knob, giving it a quick turn.
“No? Probably not for you and the rest of the world. But for me? Picture ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on a saccharine high.”
Yes, Connor Falls, Pennsylvania was the stuff greeting cards were made of. Glitter-coated, larger than life, hopelessly outdated greeting cards. Greeting cards you pulled from the musty memories box and wondered why the hell you’d hung on to them for so long.
See you Friday for Excerpt 3. Thanks for stopping by!