If you have a little time this weekend, here’s Chapter 4 of SNOWED IN. I hope you enjoy!
Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Calla
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
No matter how he tried to tell himself that Friday night’s Broadway play with his company’s CEO was nothing more than a thank you gift for being a decent person, Andrew found himself puttering around all week with nervous energy. On Wednesday, he texted Emma for the first time from his desk at work.
Andrew: Hi, Emma. It’s Andrew. Andrew Mooney?
Andrew started to sweat until the phone dinged again.
Emma: Kidding! Relax. I can feel you fidgeting from here.
Andrew: Do I fidget?
Emma: I think you do. Ready for our outing on Friday? I’ll send a car.
“Outing” was a nice way to think of it. Their upcoming trip to Broadway was nothing more than an “outing.” Like a field trip, of sorts.
Andrew: I don’t mind meeting you there.
Emma: Do you want to meet me at my office? We can take a cab to the theater.
Andrew: Will people gossip?
Emma: Would you talking to your boss be gossip-worthy?
She obviously didn’t know how gossip in the lower rankings of a corporation such as BI worked.
Andrew: It totally would be.
Emma: What if I let Cindy and Rhonda leave early? You can meet me here at six, after everyone’s gone.
Andrew could do that. By six on a Friday, the New Jersey office was a ghost town.
Andrew: Sure. I’ll text you when I get there, Boss Lady.
Emma: I need to come up with a nickname for you.
Andrew: Something like, “Star Lord,” maybe?
As soon as he sent it he regretted it, groaning out loud.
“You okay?” Stu asked, from the office next door.
“I’m good,” Andrew called through the thin wall.
Was he flirting now? Had it been so long that he had no idea how to interact with women outside of work. Oh wait. He wasn’t outside of work. Now he was confused. He cringed as her message came through, squinting as he opened it.
Emma: I was thinking more along the lines of “Andy” but Star Lord works too. 🙂
He chuckled. Yikes, this was not good.
For the rest of the week, he’d hardly been productive at work, and by Friday, he was downright distracted. He’d forgotten to pack the girls’ lunches and had to call his father to bring them off at school. Then, he failed to complete a review of one of the employees who worked under him, and completely blanked out about an online training he was supposed to virtually attend.
At lunchtime, he darted out of the building and across the street to Tony’s Barber Shop, hoping for a last-minute trim and to expend some nervous energy.
“Nice to see you, Andrew,” Tony said from his barber chair when Andrew pushed open the door. “Oh, yep. Time for a trim. How long has it been?”
“Since summer, I believe.” Andrew ran a hand through his hair. “What do you think?”
Tony stood and pulled Andrew’s blond hair from the roots, up to the tips. “I’d be happy to clean you up. As you can see,” he motioned to the empty shop, “I’m a little slow.”
Andrew scoffed. “Next week you’ll get slammed with people getting their holiday haircuts.”
“For sure.” He waved Andrew behind him. “Come sit. I’ll be right with you.”
Andrew made himself comfortable in Tony’s chair, placing his phone and wallet on the counter in front of him. Tony returned with a crisp, white cape. He was short, and Andrew was tall, so he also brought the foot stool he stood on to cut Andrew’s hair.
After he climbed up, he swung the cape around Andrew’s shoulders and snapped it behind his neck, looking at him in the mirror. “Hot date tonight?”
Andrew choked, apparently on his own spit.
“Whoa,” Tony sang, patting him on the back. “Settle down.”
“No,” Andrew sputtered. “Not a date. It’s an outing.”
“Ah, an outing.” Tony raised his eyebrows as he started to work on Andrew’s hair. “With a woman?”
Andrew gulped, clearing his throat. “Yes. I mean, outings can be with men or women, right?”
“But yours is with a woman?” Andrew nodded. “Just the two of you?”
Andrew nodded again.
Tony had been cutting Andrew’s hair for the past ten years that he’d worked at BI. He cut Andrew’s hair before his wedding, then before Hayley’s funeral. Andrew had been so happy and excited during the former, and incredibly distraught and broken during the latter.
“You know,” Tony continued, “after my divorce, I thought I’d never go on a da… an outing … again.”
“You were divorced?” Andrew would have never guess. Tony and his wife, Brenda, were a perfect match. He’d assumed that they had been together forever.
“I was. I loved my first wife since I was in middle school. I never thought I’d be graced with love like that again. But you know what happened?”
“What?” Andrew asked.
“Brenda rear-ended me on McCarter Highway, and my heart cracked open again.”
Andrew smiled, as Tony continued snipping his ends. “I’d have never guessed that you and Brenda were a second-marriage.”
“I wasn’t looking, believe me. You know what’s weird though?”
Andrew waited, knowing Tony would tell him.
“It’s completely different—how I loved my first wife, and how I love Brenda. I’m grateful that two beautiful women somehow gave a simple-minded, short, barber like me a chance.”
Andrew nodded. It wasn’t that he hadn’t gotten this “you can move on” lecture before. He certainly had. From his father, from Stu, even to some extent, from the twins. But he always thought his situation was different. He and Hayley were special—more special than any of the couples who’d come before and would come after them—which kept him from moving on.
The way Tony had put it though, that his “heart cracked open again,” gave Andrew pause. Had he closed off his heart? And if he had, was cracking it open something he’d want to do again?
“I’m happy that you and Brenda found each other. But tonight, there is no anticipation of romance. It’s sort of a business thing.”
“Good thing you’re getting your haircut then, huh?”
Andrew quirked an eyebrow but let Tony’s sarcasm slide. “Uh-huh.”
They made small talk as Tony finished with the scissors, shaved his neckline, and trimmed around his ears. Afterward, since the barber shop wasn’t busy, they went to the deli next door for sandwiches and ate lunch together.
When they said goodbye, Andrew shook his hand. “Thanks for the company. And the cut.”
“You look great. Have a nice time on your date tonight. Just be yourself. That’s all you have to be.”
Andrew nodded. “It’s not a date. Trust me. She’s not my type.”
“Okay then. Have a nice time on your outing.” Tony rolled his eyes and smacked Andrew on the back, before returning to the shop.
As Andrew headed across the street to his office, he shook his head and chuckled, thinking of Emma in his Star Trek T-shirt the morning after the storm. Her long, dark hair all messy from sleeping, her grey eyes smudged with makeup. Certainly not the CEO image that BI portrayed. Actually, as sexy as she’d looked in her dress at Russell’s party, he thought she looked even more enticing standing in the doorway of his bedroom in his clothes.
“Good thing she’s my boss,” he murmured to himself, as he swung open the door to BI and weaved his way through the cubicle farm back to his office. “Just an outing.”
“What?” Stu yelled from his office.
“Nothing. Go back to sleep, Stu.”
He shut the door and paced his tiny office, watching the clock tick and getting more nervous by the second. Emma was right—he was a fidgeter. After one experience together, she already knew things about him—his girls, his dad, his love of theater, his fidget problem. They were getting to know each other without even trying, like a force had taken over and put them on each other’s path.
He twisted his wedding ring around his finger, taking a deep breath, and studying the picture of him and a very-pregnant Hayley, just weeks before the girls’ birthdays. “It’s just an outing,” he repeated, this time more sternly.
Ten years earlier, Andrew graduated college, with Hayley at his side. A theater major, Andrew auditioned and took voice and acting lessons, and eventually found an agent. He and Hayley, a high school English teacher, struggled to make ends meet, while Andrew took on local roles, minor walk-ons and background work, and voice acting. But when they seriously talked about getting married, Andrew wanted to find something more stable. A steady income that could support his wife, and their dreams of owning a home and having a family. So he went back to trade school for computer science and interviewed at Ballard Industries.
The day he met Daniel Ballard, Emma’s father, he was a nervous wreck. He wasn’t used to formal, sit-down, corporate interviews, so he treated it like an audition. Mr. Ballard, though, wasn’t scary, and the two of them talked mostly about theater. The next day, he got the call to start in the Jersey branch’s IT department, at the employee help desk. That was ten years earlier. He hadn’t been back to the company’s New York headquarters since.
Friday evening, as he walked through the doors of BI to pick up Emma for their theater outing, the memories came flooding back. How mad Hayley had been that he’d taken the job. How happy his father had been. Hayley had wanted him to fulfill his dream of being an actor, but his father had always told him that wasn’t “practical.”
Sometimes he still missed the stage, but any void that giving up on acting had left in him was easily filled, ten-fold, by his love for Hayley and now, the girls. The best decision he ever made was to take the BI job, buy the duplex with his father, and provide his family with a comfortable life.
At the desk in the lobby, Andrew flashed his BI identification card. Security grunted at him, and he made his way to the elevators. He texted Emma while he waited.
Andrew: I’m in the lobby, Boss Lady. Okay to come up?
Her reply came immediately.
Emma: Sure. Everyone’s gone, so no rumors. 20th floor.
His palms sweat when the elevator doors opened and he stepped on. The twentieth floor was the top floor. He pressed the button and moved to the back wall to let other people crowd in.
As the elevator started to move, Andrew looked in the mirrored wall and made sure he was presentable. He hadn’t been to a Broadway show in ages, so he wasn’t sure how everyone dressed. A quick Google search advised that his best bet was to look neat and professional, so after work, he’d run home, got the girls and his dad settled, and changed into one of his nicer work outfits—grey pants, white button-down, and a sweater vest.
Looking in the mirror of the elevator, he kind of regretted the sweater vest, thinking he looked too nerdy, but it was too late to do anything about it anyway.
When the elevator emptied out, somewhere around the fifteenth floor, Andrew wiped his palms on the ridiculous sweater vest and stood tall, cracking his neck from side to side. There was no need to be nervous. It was only an outing. Someone to sit next to while he watched a show.
But then the doors opened to the twentieth floor, and his breath caught.
Beautiful wood paneling stretched across the wall before him, the words “Welcome to Ballard Industries” displayed across it. A giant vase of fresh flowers–he knew they were fresh because he smelled them the second he walked off the elevator–sat on a round table. He looked left and then right, remembering the time ten years ago when he’d last been there.
He wasn’t sure if he’d been more nervous then, or if he was more nervous now.
Emma’s office suite was to the right, so he walked to the glass doors and gently pulled them open. A very neat desk with Cindy’s nameplate stood in the center of the plush, forest green carpet between Rhonda and Emma’s offices.
He walked past the desk to the heavy-wooden door with Emma’s name on it and knocked gently.
One of the doors swung open, and there stood Emma. Her dark hair was down, laying in waves over her shoulders. Her brown eyes seemed to light up as a smile spread over her red-painted lips. He avoided looking lower to see what she’d worn because he didn’t want her to think that he was checking her out. Even though he really wanted to do just that.
Andrew’s pulse raced at the sight of her, and he felt his cheeks warm. “Hey, Boss Lady.”
“Hi yourself, Star Lord. Come in.”
She opened the door wider and he walked past her into the corner office of the twentieth floor, looking around the space. Dark wood and old-looking books didn’t seem to fit the Emma he’d met earlier in the week, but what did he know. “So this is what the top of the world looks like,” he joked.
She shrugged as she moved around her desk to the window. “It has a nice view, too.”
With a quick glance, he appreciated her form-fitting black dress, with some sort of pattern of white circles on it, and her black boots. “Yep, the view is great.”
She met his gaze. “You’re not even looking.”
He’d been looking at her, and she knew it, so he was honest. “Sorry. You look…very nice.” She looked perfect. Beautiful. But that wasn’t his place to say. This was only an outing…a field trip…a…
“You look nice too. Love the sweater vest.”
He squinted, not sure if she was being sarcastic. “For realsies? Because I debated… I almost whipped it off in the elevator.” He looked down at his chest, rubbing his hands down it. “I could still ditch it.”
“No, for realsies I like it. Looks soft.”
He took a deep breath. Were they flirting? God, he was out of practice. He shook his head to clear it, and joined her at the large window, looking down to the city streets. “I haven’t been to this office in ten years. I forgot it overlooked Rockefeller Center.”
“It’s busy this time of year. I love it.” Her sight was directed at the tree across the street from them, her face soft. “My parents used to take me to ice skate in front of the tree when I was little. I had no idea his office was right here, overlooking it.”
“Why’d they stop?” He knew he was prying but couldn’t help himself from asking.
Emma turned her gaze from the window to him, tilting her chin. “Stop?”
He cleared his throat. “You said they ‘used to take you.’”
“Oh.” She shrugged. “Well, my mom died, and I guess the tradition died along with her.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. He knew tidbits about her father and his death but didn’t know much about her mother at all, besides the fact that she’d been a clothing designer. “Remind me of your mom’s name?”
“Lucy. Lucille, actually.” Andrew watched Emma shake her head, and then when she looked back up at him, her face had transformed back from her memories to the Emma he knew. The Boss Lady. “What happened ten years ago to bring you here? Did you get in trouble or something and have to report to the big boss?”
“Ha,” he laughed. “I had my interview ten years ago. With your dad.”
She gasped and faced him. “You did? Would you tell me what you remember? I love hearing stories about him. I was traveling a lot and never got to see the business side of him. All I know is that he ran a good company, and was a way better boss than I apparently am.”
“That’s not true,” Andrew said, not sure if that was the case. It didn’t matter, really. “Your dad and I sat right…,” he looked around the room and pointed to an area of the large room that had a small couch and guest chairs, “…there, and we sang Sinatra songs and show tunes.”
“Stop! You did not!”
“We did.” He loved seeing the smile it put on her face, so he continued. “We sang New York, New York, and My Way, and almost the entire Chicago soundtrack, and then he offered me the job.”
“He loved that stuff. That’s amazing that he showed that side of himself to you.” Emma’s eyes glazed over, clearly her memories were flooding her mind.
“He seemed like a good man. I’m glad I got to meet him.” Andrew walked over to the part of the office where the interview had occurred and pointed to a shelf that now held a globe and some classic looking books. “He had a picture of you. Right there.”
“He did? How do you remember that?”
“Well, because it was distracting. A beautiful woman on a sailboat in the sun.” Andrew focused on the spot where the picture was, remembering how he’d blatantly stared at it until Mr. Ballard took it off the shelf and handed it to him. “Your father told me that it was you, that you were a model, and that your name was Emma Grace.”
She smiled, tilting her head and crossing her arms. “I remember that picture.”
“Me too,” he said, looking up at her. When their gazes met, he cleared his throat. “He seemed very proud of you.”
“He was the best dad.” With a sad grin, Emma turned her back and returned to her desk, pulling a sweater off the back of her chair. “What do you say? Ready to see Heatherby?”
He nodded, the worry that he’d been too personal suddenly overcome by his excitement about Broadway. “I still can’t believe it. I feel like a little kid going to Disneyland. Thank you again.”
“My pleasure. And thank you for asking me to come.”
“And thank you for saying yes, Boss Lady.”
“Again, my pleasure, Star Lord.”
He couldn’t stop the smile from spreading over his face, as Emma Grace Ballard closed the door to her office behind them and walked with him to the elevators.
Author Notes, Chapter 4:
- Aw aren’t first dates fun, in a nerve-wracking way? In this all-Andrew chapter, Andrew gets a nickname and a friend–his barber, Tony. I love this relationship because Tony’s not a “best” friend, and has a little distance from Andrew’s personal life, but he’s still someone Andrew trusts and talks to. I think we all have people like that, whether they be work acquaintances, or internet friends, or hairdressers. Sometimes it’s nice to confide in someone who is not around all the time and can give you a clear take on things.
- Anyway, along with the bacon from Chapter 2, sweater vests sort of became an accidental Andrew thing. Did I plan that? No. I’m the kind of writer called a “pantser,” which means I sort of go with the flow and let the characters figure out the story. The sweater vest thing sprung up, and then kept repeating throughout. I love the thought of Andrew in the elevator, second-guessing his wardrobe choice though. I feel like it’s appropriate first-date thoughts for his character. He’s nervous! This is his first date in a long time. And it’s with his boss. I think this is the chapter that I fall in love with Andrew.
- My editor, Erin, always says I use too many middle names. I don’t know what my deal is with middle names. I think sometimes they make a sentence flow nicer, or seem more personal. The Emma I named my character after in real life is also an “Emma Grace.”
- Even though Emma’s dad has passed, I wanted to show a father-daughter relationship, one that could help Emma understand Andrew’s relationship with his own daughters.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week for Chapters 5 and 6!