Friday, May 8, 2009

Katherine's Story, Part III

Katherine continued to live with her parents in Brooklyn for more than two years after she graduated and started work at Peabody Publishing. She continued to walk across the bridge every morning and catch the train uptown. Only now, as she rode the train she kept her eyes open for people reading books published by Peabody. She could recognize the books by the ornate capital letter “P” on the spine with ivy curling artfully around it. It gave her a little thrill to know that she worked for the company that made those books possible. She loved the idea that in some miniscule way she helped create those books.
Of course she knew in her heart that she didn’t really have any part in the creation of the stories people read on the train. But that thought was something she managed to avoid looking at too squarely for those first two years at Peabody.
Katherine had a goal. It made her keep her head down, her eyes focused, and her heart closed up tight to the world. She was pleasant enough to people on the train and in the office, but she didn’t make any friends or have any conversations that she found even remotely interesting. Her goal was to save enough money to get her own apartment in Manhattan. Friends would only get in the way of saving money. And, if Katherine were to be fully honest with herself, she might admit that she didn’t want anyone seeing where she lived.
As long as she was aloof at work, no one could get close enough to even want to be friends.

But then of course, all of this changed. It was just like in a story. One day Katherine was sitting at her desk, reading one of Peabody’s newest children’s books, when a man cleared his throat to get her attention. It was her lunch hour and Katherine was of two minds. She didn’t want to be rude, but she also did NOT want to tear her eyes away from the collection of fairy tales she was reading during HER free time. She kept reading and he kept standing there in front of her desk. As she read she noticed the smell of the man’s aftershave lotion. Normally, aftershave lotion made Katherine’s nose twitch. But in this case, it was a very pleasant smell filling her head.
She got to the end of a particularly engaging description of a particularly intelligent and handsome prince when she finally decided that whoever he was standing there at her desk, he wasn’t going to go away without speaking with her.
Katherine looked up and saw before her a man, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, with black hair, oiled and slicked back off his forehead. He had hazel eyes that reminded her of a marble she had gotten in her Christmas stocking one year. It had been her favorite gift and she had carried it in her pocket like a talisman for years. In fact, as he stood there, she remembered that the very same marble was in the top drawer of her desk at that very moment.
He smiled, and the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled in a way that made it clear he smiled a lot.
“Excuse me. I know it’s probably your lunch hour,” he began, “but I just wanted to let you know that I think I got paid too much this month.”
The uniqueness of his problem caught her attention right away—that, and the eyes that seemed to warm her soul just a smidge.
“Paid too MUCH?” Katherine said, somewhat astonished.
“That’s what I said.”
“Explain,” ordered Katherine.
“I am one of the Peabody writers and I think my royalty check is bigger than it ought to be.” Katherine liked the way he cut right to the heart of the matter without a lot of wasted words.
“Name?” she said, automatically adopting his way of communicating.
“MacArthur comma James.”
“Okay,” said Katherine, mentally scanning the alphabetical list of Peabody writers in her head. MacArthur comma James was in the children’s books division and he had four titles to his name. None of them sold particularly well, but all of them sold steadily. Katherine had even read two of his books—both variations on traditional Grimm Brothers stories—and found them to be solid works with not quite the right amount of magic.
She dug the master record book out of her desk and began flipping through to the page reserved for James MacArthur. As she ran her finger down the column showing his royalties she saw that he generally received between three and five dollars a week for his sales. However, the most recent check was for thirteen dollars. She let her eyes slide to the left and saw that there had indeed been a spike in the sales of his latest book, called “The Littlest Llama.”
“It seems, Mr. MacArthur, that you are riding the crest of a llama wave.” Katherine recalled reading in the paper and hearing on the radio that the llama in the zoo at Central Park had given birth to a particularly cute little fuzzball, inciting crowds of parents and children to flock to the zoo. Apparently some of those same families had then been migrating to bookstores to buy “The Littlest Llama.” And some of their dollars had been migrating to the paycheck of Mr. MacArthur.
Katherine explained to Mr. MacArthur, (who insisted she call him James), about his check and its fortuitous connection to the baby llama called Cuzco.
“Well. That explains that. I knew it had to be something. I was hoping maybe people were simply discovering how good my books are…” said James, the second part barely audible.
“Your books are good,” said Katherine, a little bit more vehemently than she had planned on putting it. She then shocked herself by blurting, “Listen, will you have lunch with me tomorrow?”
Now this was at a time when women really didn’t ask men out on dates—especially Katherine. In all her twenty three years of living, she had never even been on one date, let alone been so forward as to ask out a man she didn’t even know. James MacArthur was clearly a little surprised, too. But pleasantly so. The crinkles were back at the corners of his eyes and before he really knew what he was doing, he said, “Of course. And I will supply the vittles.”
“Good. Meet me here at twelve-thirty,” Katherine said, suddenly feeling like she was on the roller coaster at Coney Island right before it crested the highest hill and began its mad gravity-inspired dash down toward the ground. She was both giddy and nauseous, but tried to play it cool.

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