From the desk behind the sales counter in the rear of the showroom, Joan Sanderson scanned the empty store. Fluorescent ceiling lights cast a harsh glow that reflected off the polished wooden surfaces of the furniture artfully arranged for display. Where was . . . oh yes. Rosa would be a couple of hours late this morning, after her daughter’s doctor appointment. She reached for the phone and punched the button for the first line. “Good morning, Abernathy Sales and Rental.”
“I’m going to kill her.”
Joan closed her eyes. Patience. I need patience. “Hi, Mom. What has Gram done?”
“She alphabetized my underwear drawer.”
“She what?” A snort of unladylike laughter blasted through Joan’s nose.
“It’s not funny, Joan. My bras are all in the first row, color-coded alphabetically from left to right, and then a row of panties, all folded in little squares, and then slips. And socks along the back row. Everything’s so neat it makes me want to throw up.”
Joan picked up a pile of invoices on the edge of the desk and shuffled them into a tidy stack. “C’mon, Mom, your underwear drawer is a disaster. What’s wrong with a little order?”
“That is not the point, and you know it. She went into my room! She touched my underwear. She invaded my privacy! I’ve been sitting here for the past twenty minutes afraid to look in the closet. What if she got in there too?”
A hint of panic colored the anger in Mom’s voice. Gram was harmless, but she did have an obsessive-compulsive tendency to alphabetize everything she touched. Lately everything she did grated on her only daughter’s nerves like a snowplow on icy roads. Joan feared one day Gram would do something to push Mom over the edge. The front page of tomorrow’s Advocate-Messenger flashed into her mind:
CRAZED WOMAN SLAUGHTERS
ALPHABETICALLY CORRECT MOTHER
“I’m sure your closet is fine.” Through the glass doors Joan watched a red pickup zoom into a parking space near the store. “She was only trying to be helpful, you know.”
Mom huffed. “She can organize the cans in the pantry and the jars in the spice rack all she wants. But three women living under one roof have got to have boundaries. Bedrooms should be off-limits.”
“So tell her that. Gram understands the need for boundaries.” A couple emerged from the truck and made their way toward the store. The door alarm bleeped a stuttering double tone as the pair stepped from the clammy Kentucky heat into the air-conditioned store. They were college freshmen if Joan was any judge, much too young to be shopping for furniture.
“Be with you folks in a minute,” she called, then spoke in a lower voice into the phone. “I’ve got customers. I need to go.”
Mom ignored her. “Do you think I haven’t told her that a dozen times? She pays no attention to me and does as she pleases. I don’t think I can take this much longer.”
Joan clutched the receiver, a cold lump settling in the pit of her stomach. “What do you mean?”
After a pause, Mom sighed. “I don’t know. I wish I did. But really, we’ve got to do something before --- ”
Joan’s mouth went dry. Something in her mother’s tone hinted that she was about to launch into a subject that left Joan sick with dread. She couldn’t get into this right now, not on the phone, and not when she was the only one in the store. She turned her back toward the watching couple and spoke quietly into the receiver. “I’ve got to go, Mom. We’ll talk about this later. Goodbye.”
The phone clicked down into its cradle harder than she intended as she sucked in a slow, deep breath. Time to calm down. She could think about Mom and Gram later. A professional smile plastered on her face, she weaved her way through the furniture displays. Her young customers stood just inside the door as though they had happened across a patch of superglue. The guy looked a little shellshocked as his gaze slid around the store, taking in the clusters of living room furniture to the right, the bedroom suites to the left, the appliances lining the rear wall, and finally settling on the dinette sets in the center. The girl, on the other hand, watched Joan like a cat in front of a fishbowl.
Oh, puh-lease. Joan stifled a chuckle. I’m twenty-five years old! Your college boy is safe with me.
Excerpted from STUCK IN THE MIDDLE © Copyright 2011 by Virginia Smith. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.