Read Sunsets Online

Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

Sunsets (4 page)

Not that she thought God was always wrong and she was right, nor that she always expected to have her own way. But after all she had been through, she needed proof, evidence of his supreme power. Facts, not feelings. She had had enough feelings for one lifetime.

Whenever she tugged on God’s rope, she felt the tug back. Back and forth, back and forth, struggling with no peace.

She wasn’t about to let her side of the rope go slack. Because if she let go now, she was afraid she would lose God forever, the same way she had lost every other significant person in her life.

Chapter Three

A
lissa took a little extra time getting ready for work the next morning. She washed and curled her hair and put on some makeup. Today she needed to drop off the papers at Genevieve’s, and being around her the day before had made Alissa feel frumpy.

She also thought of Rosie’s sweet face and her red lipstick. Here Alissa had chided herself for living the life of a sixty-year-old, but Rosie’s life and her appearance showed that she was taking much better care of herself than Alissa was.

More than a year ago Alissa had diagnosed her lack of attention to her appearance. She had figured if she looked good, men were attracted to her. When men were in her life, she got hurt. Solution? Go plain. Gain weight. Avoid men.

Even though Alissa had perfected her male-repellent technique, it hadn’t brought the contentment she had longed for. So many hurts. So little healing.

As she applied her lipstick, she thought of Rosie’s slightly smeared red lips. Had they gotten that way after a big smooch from Chet? Or was it hard for her, at her age, to put on her lipstick evenly?

Alissa knew how difficult it could be for an older woman to manage her makeup. Her grandmother had asked Alissa to do her personal care tasks for her during the last eight months of her life when she had become too shaky to handle the tasks herself. Alissa had combed her grandma’s long, ivory hair each night and had smoothed lotion across her wrinkled cheeks. Every morning she had washed her grandmother’s face with a warm washcloth, rolled her hair on top of her head in a round twist, and told her to pucker up as Alissa applied the lipstick. Her grandmother always wanted the red lipstick. “Firecracker Red” the bottom of the tube had said.

Alissa wondered if Rosie wore firecracker red. It was obvious Rosie’s lips could still start a fire in Chet.

Perhaps those subliminal thoughts were what prompted Alissa to be nice to her own lips this morning. It wasn’t their fault she didn’t plan to use them on men anymore. They deserved a little pampering.

Alissa felt so good as she drove across town to work she didn’t even think about stopping at Starbucks. “Good morning, Cheri,” she said brightly as she walked in a few minutes early.

Cheri looked up and said, “I like your hair. It looks great that way.”

“Thanks.” Alissa considered complimenting Cheri, but she looked the same as always, which was perfect. She had a tidy, trim figure, and she wore coordinated, jewel-toned career apparel, which she mixed and matched. Cheri’s black hair was in a super short cut that allowed her to get out of the shower,
shake once, and take off. There didn’t seem to be anything new to compliment her on.

“Did I tell you about that older couple yesterday?” Alissa asked, adjusting herself in her chair and putting on the phone headset. “Chet and Rosie. They’re getting married a week from Saturday, and they must be in their seventies. They are so cute. I’m doing an Italian tour package for their honeymoon.”

Cheri smiled. “Warms your heart, doesn’t it. Did you find a new apartment?”

Before Alissa could answer, the phone rang, and she took it. “Yes, we can book group tours to the Holy Land. How many would be in your party?”

The morning sped by with nonstop calls and customers. It seemed everyone had suddenly realized it was June and time to plan a vacation. Not until Renée arrived at noon and told Alissa to take her lunch break did she realize she hadn’t seen Chet and Rosie.

“If an older couple comes in asking about their itinerary for Italy, it’s on top of my in-basket. But I’d like to be the one to go over it with them, if they don’t mind waiting.”

Renée, a large woman with red hair in a bouffant style, took her position as manager seriously. She worked part-time because she also ran a home business selling cosmetics. After managing this travel agency for seventeen years, she was looking for something more flexible. That’s what the home business seemed to provide, but not enough money was coming in yet for her to quit the agency.

“I’ll keep an eye out for them,” Renée said. “And please try to be back in an hour today. I understand about the apartment hunting yesterday, but we’ve been so busy we need all hands in the office.”

“I’ll be back at 1:00,” Alissa promised. She drove right to
Genevieve’s and dropped off the papers, which she had picked up that morning on her way to work and had filled out. She also had purchased a potted yellow mum as a gift for Genevieve.

Mallory answered the door with a shy, “Hello.”

Genevieve appeared at the top of the stairs, holding a pair of tennis shoes. In the entryway hung a brass chandelier with three tiers of lights covered by frosted glass domes. It made for a beautiful setting as Genevieve moved down the stairs to the polished hardwood floor where Alissa stood.

“Hi,” Alissa said, wondering if she had overdone it by bringing the flowers. “I wanted to bring a little contribution for your garden.”

“Thanks. It’s lovely. Please, come in,” Genevieve said. “Would you like something to drink?”

Alissa followed her to the spacious kitchen and pulled up a stool at the center island. Genevieve had decorated everything in flowers, not in bright or overwhelming colors, but in quiet pastels. The wallpaper was a subtle, neutral grass with a border of wildflowers midway up the wall. Cursive writing appeared on the flowered border, making it look like labeled packets of flower seeds or pages from a gardener’s journal. The string of flowers from this mock diary made for a soothing border. Dried flowers hung from the ceiling over the sink, and a swag of dried flowers arched over the french doors that led to the common garden.

“This is a beautiful kitchen,” Alissa said.

“Thank you. I like it here very much. Is iced tea okay?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Genevieve handed her the tall, blue-tinted glass of tea along with a long spoon and a china sugar bowl. “I’m glad Shelly caught you last night. I’ll get the credit check started right away. Is there anything unusual we should be aware of?”

“I don’t expect anything unusual on the credit report itself, but I had to leave one of the questions blank and that may slow the process.”

“Which one?” Genevieve asked, scanning the paper.

“Under references. They asked for a relative, but I don’t have any.”

“None?” Genevieve asked. Mallory had removed a boxed drink from the refrigerator and was holding it up for her mother to poke in the straw.

“None.” Then, because she knew it was so unusual, Alissa hesitatingly explained. “My dad died when I was sixteen. My mother died six years ago, and my grandmother passed away four years ago. As far as I know, I have no other living relatives.”

Something pinched the corner of Alissa’s heart as she said the words. In a way it was a lie. She did know of one other living blood relative. But that one didn’t count. Shawna wasn’t hers to claim.

“Mommy?” Came a voice from the couch in the adjacent family room. “May I have something to drink?”

“Sure, honey.” Genevieve reached for another boxed drink and walked over to the couch. “Poor little angel,” she said. “Her last week of school, and she came down with chicken pox. Have you had them? I should have asked before inviting you in.”

“Yes, I had them when I was six.”

As Alissa watched, a little face framed with mussed up blond hair appeared over the edge of the blue couch. She turned shyly to spy on Alissa. Red dots speckled her forehead and cheeks.

Without warning, tears from a deep fountain surfaced in Alissa’s eyes. The girl couldn’t be more than eight or nine, the same age as Shawna, the baby Alissa had given up for adoption.

Alissa had kissed her baby good-bye when she was less than a week old and had placed her in the eager, grateful hands of a couple who had longed and prayed for a child. She always knew she had done the right thing, especially since Shawna’s father had been killed in a surfing accident before he even knew Alissa was pregnant. It was all a long time ago. The fruit of her reckless, misguided, and painful teen years.

“This is Anna,” Genevieve said. “Honey, this is Alissa.”

The little patient took a lingering moment to meet Alissa’s blue eyes. Even Alissa’s glasses couldn’t hide her glistening tears from this observant patient.

“I’m hot, Mommy,” was all Anna said.

“I know, love. Try drinking this. I’ll get you a washcloth.” Genevieve’s words were so steady and calming, they even comforted Alissa. Her tears stopped right at the brim of her eyelids.

“You have your hands full. I should go,” Alissa said, taking a quick sip of the iced tea. “Oh, this is delicious tea.”

“I use fresh mint from the garden. Nice isn’t it?”

“When we lived in Germany, we had a neighbor who grew mint in a window box.”

“Really? You lived in Germany?”

“My father was in the air force. We lived lots of places.”

Genevieve retrieved a washcloth from a drawer in the kitchen and wet it with tap water. “I grew up in Zurich,” she said. “Have you ever been there?”

“Yes, several times. It’s a beautiful city. How long have you lived here?”

“Seventeen years. Ever since I married Steve.”

“And you have two daughters?”

“Three. Fina is at school. She’s fourteen.”

“I had a friend in school named Fina. From Josephina, right?”

Genevieve looked up from the couch where she had
placed the cool cloth on Anna’s forehead. “You’re the first American I’ve ever met who knew that. I certainly hope everything works out. It would be delightful having a neighbor who actually knows what I mean when I say ‘francs’ and doesn’t think I’m referring to some sort of hot dog!”

Alissa smiled. She had to agree. Genevieve and her girls would make wonderful neighbors. “Maybe I’ll see you Monday, when Shelly returns.”

“Good. I’ll look forward to it, Alissa.”

“I hope you feel better, Anna.”

A soft “thank you” drifted up from the couch.

Alissa hurried to her car, thinking of how peaceful Genevieve’s home felt. It wasn’t just the wallpaper or the magnificence of the house. It was Genevieve. She exuded a steadiness and charm that Alissa admired. And Genevieve’s girls seemed to have inherited it from her.

Driving through the nearest fast food place on her way back to work, Alissa ordered a hamburger, fries, and large Coke. But then she changed her mind. “Can you please make that a chicken salad, no dressing, and an iced tea?”

You think you’re starting some kind of pointless diet?
a voice inside her chided.

No, I’m tired of hamburgers, that’s all
.

But the truth was Alissa wanted to make a fresh start. She didn’t know exactly what had caused the shift in her attitude, but she did know she was on the road toward some changes. And her eating habits were just one of them.

She arrived at the office a few minutes before one o’clock and had time to consume half her salad in the back room before returning to her desk. The duplex was much closer to work than her condo. Her hopes were getting set on moving in, and she had no idea what she would do if it didn’t work out. The cave apartment with the dirty, rose-colored carpet
barely seemed feasible after picturing herself as Genevieve’s neighbor.

She and Cheri went out for a bite to eat after work on Thursday. After Alissa told Cheri all about the duplex and how much she hoped it would work out, Cheri cautioned her with a phrase that stuck with Alissa. “You know,” Cheri said, “you can’t depend on people or houses to make you content. You have to find contentment within yourself.”

Alissa knew she was right. Still, she wanted to argue by saying, “Yeah, but it makes it a lot easier to be content when the people and houses are there, too.”

The next afternoon Alissa thought about leaving work a little early to pick up some packing boxes. But Mr. Brannigan called requesting that Alissa fax him a detailed list of the types of services and entertainment options available on their Alaskan cruise ship. She was just about to run the list through the fax machine when the front door opened, and Chet and Rosie shuffled in.

“Hello!” Alissa greeted them. “How are you two? Please have a seat at my desk, and I’ll be right there.”

They looked a little weary but none the worse for all their busy wedding plans. Alissa ran the list through the fax machine and eagerly joined her clients.

“The first thing I need is your last name. I forgot to get it the other day.”

“Michaels,” Chet said. “That’s my name, of course. As of a week from tomorrow I’ll share it with my Rosie.”

Alissa felt the same warm feeling coming over her she had felt the last time they were in. She leaned forward and said, “You must tell me the rest of your story! You left with Rosie marrying Joe. Then what happened?”

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