Authors: Collette Yvonne
The Perils of Pauline
from the inbox of Collette Yvonne
“Dear Collette, I just finished your book and laughed myself silly … no, sillier. I loved the character of Pauline with all of her strange, neurotic but totally believable behaviors. I saw just a little of myself in her—okay quite a bit actually. It made me realize I’m not that weird. P.S. When’s that sequel coming out??? HURRY!”
“We met at Ladies Night in Millbrook and were comparing the ‘midlife crisis’ of your character vs. myself. Pauline wins! I picked up the book on Friday and finished Monday and LOVED it. I can’t wait to see what happens next to Pauline. Keep up the good work and I will be watching for each new publication.”
“Pauline … is hilarious! We have both finished experiencing her perils, laughed out loud, and loved the book. Well done! Nicholas still chuckles at the ‘pet outsmartant.’ I know I’ll have to read your novel again to catch more of the quips. I particularly appreciated the contrast between the frenetic pace of Pauline’s days/hours/minutes and the glowing atmosphere of peace when she finally makes her getaway a reality. Whew! Finally—the sigh of libidinous resolution. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us in Pauline.”
“I just finished your book—it was a scream—I laughed so hard—thank you! Wow, who knew you were so funny and could write so well! I think that you need to do a follow-up book with the same characters.”
“From the fabulous, striking cover, till the long overdue climax with Michael—thank God, what a release of tension, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Chick Lit is not my usual fare, though I did read the Bridget Jones books and enjoyed them thoroughly … Plus you are one funny lady. The book is absolutely hilarious.”
“I was just talking to my friend Chris who borrowed your book. She loved it so much that she insisted on keeping the car light on so that she could read it coming home from Guelph the other night!”
“I loved the book and I am not sure if I can wait for the sequel. (Please hurry.)”
“Your book is delightful. Valerie and I have been reading it together—or, rather, Valerie has been reading it to me, and we have both been laughing out loud. It’s hilarious and sharp.”
. Previously published under title
The Queen of Cups
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
THE PERILS OF PAULINE
Astor + Blue Editions
Copyright © 2015 by Collette Yvonne
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by:
Astor + Blue Editions
New York, NY 10036
Publisher’s Cataloging-In-Publication Data
YVONNE, COLLETTE. THE PERILS OF PAULINE.—1
ISBN: 978-1-941286-05-0 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-941286-07-4 (epdf)
ISBN: 978-1-941286-06-7 (epub)
1. Romance—Comedy—Fiction. 2. Married female veteran deals with work and family issues—Fiction 3. Women’s Literature—Fiction 4. Mid-life Romance in suburban Massachusetts—Fiction 5. Marriage and Family—Fiction 6. War & Military—Fiction 7. Boston Commonwealth and Canada I. Title
Jacket Cover Design: Danielle Fiorello
This digital document has been produced by
Burn Notice: An official statement by one intelligence agency to other agencies, domestic or foreign, that an individual or group is unreliable for any of a variety of reasons.—Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
Stupid Friday meetings: two down, one to go. I peek at my watch and resist the urge to drum my fingertips on the table. The Employee Engagement meeting went way over, as usual, and overlapped the Supervisors Sharing the Vision session, so I’ve missed lunch again. The managers here love pointless events, committees, and meetings.
The Associate Director of Something or Other drones on and on. His only job around here, I’m pretty sure, is to make all meetings run longer. The second he shuts up, I gather my briefcase, my laptop, and a teetering stack of file folders into my arms, and rush to the elevator. Rushing is difficult while wearing a pencil skirt and heels, but today’s Quarterly Update Meeting requires polish. Oh, and it began five minutes ago. I was up all night practicing for my presentation. This is going to be good. All my numbers are up this quarter. I even splurged from my own pocket to have the report professionally designed and bound.
I’m in luck: My assistant, Daria, is standing near the doors of the boardroom talking to a middle manager from human resources. I
hurry over to her. “Could you please run these files up to my office and FedEx the orders?”
“Sure.” Daria lifts the stack from my arms and turns away quickly.
“Wait up,” I say, as I hold up my report. “Thanks again for a terrific job. You’re the best.”
Daria ducks her head, all modest, and wheels off to the elevators.
Thank God for Daria. She’s a fast learner, and the best second-in-command I’ve ever had. I slide into my seat in the boardroom as the Director of HR jogs in, all blinged out for the weekend, wearing the Wifi-Robes solar-powered Global Positioning Vest and the matching Wi-Fiber hiking shorts from our high-end summer lineup. He clears his throat loudly into the mic to get our attention. “Wifi-Robes needs to reduce duplication through the timely repurposing of resources. A challenging decision has been made to reposition the human inputs in this unit outside the structure.”
We’re being dumped. Jaws drop across the room as the pink slips are passed around. The DHR’s assistant presses an envelope into my hands. Wait a minute. Rewind. This meeting was supposed to be a quarterly update. What about my presentation? I don’t understand.
Gordo, a grey-haired guy from sales, removes his glasses and rubs his eyes, his face white. Next to me, Jen, from accounting, begins to sob out loud. She’s pregnant. She and her husband just bought a house. What if they lose their home? How will they pay for the diapers? I lean over and give her a hug while glaring at the DHR. Someone passes around a box of tissues. I shove it along the table, and pause to straighten my neck, back and shoulders. This helps to force the lump in my throat to go back to where it came from: an old army trick Dad taught me a long time ago, two days after graduating from high school and just before I headed off for basic training. He said,
A good soldier displays tenacity and mental toughness during stressful situations.
When he died six months ago, he left me my final orders:
Eyes front, soldier. Close ranks, MARCH.
When a grizzled old Master Sergeant barks an order, you do it without question. I’ve been a civilian for ten years now, but I can still
muster up the right stuff when the going gets tough. Once a soldier, always a soldier.
Lump dispatched and shoulders squared, I open my envelope. There it is, a letter of termination, addressed to me. Lasered clearly in black ink is my name,
. The notice is dated and signed by the DHR himself. There has to be a mistake. I’m the company materials consultant. All my former army training went into the design of that head gerbil’s ridiculous hiking shorts. And the GPS vest—it actually repels mosquitoes electronically. Cutting edge stuff. Because of me, that rodent could go to battle in his swimming trunks if he wanted to.
The DHR outlines termination policy and procedures, but who can listen? Jen is texting away, probably to her husband. Gordo slumps, slack-jawed in his seat. I sit up straighter.
Eyes front, close ranks, MARCH.
At last we are free to stumble back to our offices with glossy, four-color guides to the employment agency that will help us find new jobs. But there’s nothing glossy about the skeletal severance package they handed us. We’ve been ordered to clear out our desks immediately. As I step from the elevator on my floor, I spy Daria coming out of my office.
She spots me and speed-walks away in the opposite direction, disappearing into the staff room at the far end of the hall. I clue in: Daria isn’t rushing off to mourn me in the ladies’ room. I’ll bet my last paycheck she’s running away from me because she gnawed off my job with Wifi-Robes’s blessings. She’ll be offered a tiny increase, and they’ll get the equivalent of me for way less money.
My desk is buried under a sliding mountain of fabric samples, catalogs, reports, and file folders. Where to start? Dropping into my chair, I stare at the blinking light on my phone. One of my favorite clients is calling. I stare at the digital display until the light stops blinking and then I stare at the wall, the window, the floor, and the computer. Is this real life? I’m not sure. My head feels woozy. I attempt to sign in. My password no longer works. I try to phone Donald but the call goes straight to his voicemail. “Call me,” I say.
I collect my personal stuff first: my
Team Player of the Year
plaque, a Pottery Barn coffee mug, and an outdated framed photo of Donald and the kids. Donald had more hair back then. He’s taken to shaving his head lately, a style which makes him look fierce and athletic, like a Mohawk brave; he can boast of a native twig or two way back in his family tree, but mostly he’s an English-Irish-Scottish Canadian, transplanted from the untamed wilds of Quebec to staid old Dingwall city, here in the well-trod Greater Boston area. I like that field and stream look, all rugged and dangerous with plenty of throw-down factor, (i.e., pick me up and throw me down on the bed). I would never tell him or his big head might billow, which would not be a useful bedroom look.
Inside the frame, the kids’ innocent little faces smile at me. They’re in for disappointment. The May long weekend is coming up, which means summer is right around the corner. Jack has been begging for a trampoline, and Olympia wants a bigger splash pool. No job, no new summer toys. No new anything.
As I open my desk drawer, a beefy security guard shuffles past my door. Wifi-Robes is making sure no one snakes off with the laptops, rolodexes, and other valuable consolation prizes.
I fill a stack of boxes with my personal files, binders and contacts, and haul them one by one out to the parking lot. Another security guard looks on from the shade of the building entrance, arms folded, as I stuff my bulging boxes into the Jeep. The late afternoon sun scorches the back of my neck. My blouse is drenched with sweat. Climbing in, I turn the key, roll down all the windows, and turn the fan on high. I try to take a deep breath, but my chest feels tight.
The dashboard clock reminds me that I’m running late. By now the kids are waiting for me at their After School Program, wondering where I am.
I better call to let the school know I will be later than usual. I’m in luck—I forgot to hand in my company phone, which is still lying amidst the crumbs at the bottom of my purse.
Of course the batteries are dead. I can hand it in and call the school from reception. I head back toward the entrance, arriving
in time to see the guard turn his back on Gordo, who struggles to open the door, arms clutching a stack of boxes. I hurry to help carry Gordo’s load to his car. I wish him well and head back to the building but my feet no longer obey me. I can’t bring myself to step across the threshold one more time. I don’t want to go back into the building. Ever. Again. I walk back to the car. In the glove compartment, I find the charger, plug in the phone and press the ON button; right away the phone emits a strangled whine and smoke begins to curl from the ports. I yank the plug out. Too late: the phone and the adaptor are fried leaving an acrid burnt-lead bad-for-the-lungs smell in the air.
Choking, I grab a file folder from one of my boxes, and try to fan the smoke out of the Jeep. The folder falls apart in my hands, and all its contents slip-slide onto the floor. I blink, hard.
A good soldier. Tenacity. Mental toughness
. I slam-shift through the gears and, as I accelerate through the parking lot, I tip the phone, still smoking, out the window beside the CEO row.
The highway is jammed with RVs and SUVs towing boats and trailers. The whole universe is going off to the beach or a cottage for the weekend to take advantage of this summery weather. I can’t wait to get home and tell Donald my awful news. Maybe he’ll make me one of his famous Triple Bloody Caesars in Olympia’s beach pail. We could set up the old Adirondack chairs in the kids’ sandbox and bury our toes together.
Dammit. The driveway is empty. Donald isn’t home yet. The kids dash out of the car and run into the house while I unload my boxes of files into the garage. I’ll stack them on the workbench for now, in front of Dad’s big old Cadillac. A few weeks after he died, Mom handed me the keys, and said, “Daddy wants you to have it. It’s way too big for me.”
I love the smell of the leather seats, the baby blue paint-job and the shiny chrome fenders. Donald insists that I keep it even though it costs a small fortune to insure it and run it. I guess now I’ll have to
cancel the insurance, and keep it parked, at least until I find a new job.
A new job.
The thought sends a ripple of barely suppressed rage up and down my spine. I slam the box of files onto the workbench so hard it teeters and falls over.
Steady there soldier,
Dad whispers into my ear.
The space under the bench is stuffed with cans of old paint, plus an ancient desktop computer and printer. A decade’s worth of defunct tools and electronics are heaped on shelves that rise high into the rafters. Why do we keep this trash? Maybe now that I’m jobless, I’ll have time to tunnel through this K2 of clutter. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Our garage will be the envy of the neighborhood. Maybe I should start a new business: I could call myself the Garage Whisperer. Might as well start right now.
I pull a box down from a shelf, and spy the hairy hind end of a fat grey spider scuttling into a crevice. Okay, maybe I’ll whisper into the cobwebs another day. I shove the box back but something gets in the way. It’s Donald’s bag of fencing equipment. He used to be pretty good with a sword. On one of our very first dates, he taught me how to feint and dash, parry and lunge. Those dates with Donald were always fun. Back when we met, he was into everything: lacrosse, debating club, rowing on a team at the university.
Donald’s lacrosse stick is abandoned in the corner of the garage along with his bike. Now all he does is obsess over work and, when he isn’t working, he reads books with titles like
Sustainable Corporate Governance
Equity Leverage A to Z
. I shove Donald’s stuff back into place to make more room for the box, and head into the house.
The kids are parked in front of the TV watching cartoons. Good. Let them. I feel way too scattered to take them to the park or help them find something better to do. I wander into the kitchen where I’m greeted by Donald’s voice on the answering machine: “Hi, it’s me. I tried to call you. My meeting’s going over. Sorry. I’ll try again later.”
“Later” means 10 p.m. given the way things are going recently at Doubles Group Financial, Doubles being the key word. Donald’s hours at the firm have doubled lately; he keeps saying things will
ease up after the new Double-Double campaign winds down. Yeah, right. I try to call him back but all I get is his voicemail. Where is he?
I’ll microwave a few hot dogs for the kids. I’m not that hungry. Standing in front of the cupboard, I grab a handful of Ritz crackers and gobble them down. Who would blame me if I fix the kids up with a movie and popcorn, and nip across the road to Bibienne’s house for a quick drink?
I step out my front door to find my next-door neighbor standing at the edge of his lawn, staring across at our yard, his lips compressed into a frown.
“Is everything okay, Lewis?”
“Your water sprinkler is too close to my property line.”
“How so? It’s on my lawn.”
“When you water your lawn, my driveway is getting sprinkled.”
I know better than to argue with Lewis. “Okay, no problem, I’ll position the sprinkler further away.”
I better not mention the sprinkler issue to Donald or he might freak out. Over the years, Lewis has complained about the height of our grass (too long), the color of our grass (yellow) and the condition of our grass (weedy). He also demands that we cut down our shady maple and repaint our porch.
The mature maples lining our street are the best feature of this old sprawling suburb with big front porches and quiet cul-de-sacs. Lewis chopped down all his trees last year, citing the aggravation of leaves choking his gutters.
Our grass is admittedly scruffy but that’s because last month Donald spot-sprayed it with a home-brew of salt and vinegar to kill the crabgrass and clover, and ended up pickling the grass instead. He dug out the worst scorched areas and laid pieces of new sod, so now the lawn has bright green patches interspersed with the weedy yellow parts and the dead brown bits. Now all the neighborhood kids like to come over to play The Floor is Lava on our front lawn. The green bits are safe. Step outside them, you die.
I hurry down the sidewalk to Bibienne’s where boring lawns go to die and reincarnate as boisterous perennial gardens full of day lilies, climbing honeysuckle, and chrysanthemums. Hummingbirds chase butterflies through pink and purple peonies as I go around the side to her garden doors only to find an abandoned wheelbarrow. Odd. Usually Bibienne is outside pruning her roses on a day like this.
One of the doors is ajar so I rap on the frame and step inside. I love Bibienne’s roomy kitchen: an inspired mix of antique cabinets fitted with granite countertops. A cook’s dream but nothing’s cooking here. Beyond the kitchen, in the family room, I spy Bibienne reclined on the couch watching TV, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles on the oversized ottoman in front of her. Without taking her eyes from the screen, she frowns at me while laying her palm on top of her head, as if to hold down her thick auburn hair, which is gathered away from her face in a hasty French twist. She raises a warning finger to her lips. Camilo Villegas and Adam Scott are playing so I know enough to remain silent until the next commercial break, when she turns her cool green eyes on me. I’ve interrupted men’s tennis so this better be good.