Monday, January 27, 2014

A Dozen Apologies Chapter Six

Mara begins a new week, er, month today. If you're just joining us, we're publishing the first thirteen chapters of A Dozen Apologies, through February 5. On that day, we are going to let readers choose Mara's hero. Readers may vote Feb 5-8, then the winning hero will be revealed in the published Kindle book releasing on Valentine's Day. So get your scorecard out, and take notes on each of the heroes. One hero is featured each day as Mara makes her apologies.

Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.
Read Chapter Three.
Read Chapter Four.
Read Chapter Five.

Chapter Six - June
Chip Linton

Mara dumped the box of brochures and samples into the trunk of her car. A pile of wicker baskets were already in it. After three weeks of doing this, her back felt like it was breaking in half.
“You forgot your lunch, honey.” Her mother came out the front door, bag of sandwiches and bottle of water in hand.
“Thanks, Mom.” She reached over and gave her a quick hug before taking the food and drinks. “I may be a little late tonight, so don’t worry.”
“Call me if you need anything. I worry about you lugging all that heavy stuff around.”
Mara allowed a smile to lift the corners of her mouth. “It’s good exercise and building displays of dog food is far better than messing with the impossible owners of these cute little fluff-balls, like the wicked stepchild I dealt with a few months back. Plus it gets me out and about.”


The air was already warm and pearls of perspiration dotted her brow as she pulled into the parking lot of the local mall. “Doggy Delicious,” she muttered to herself as she took a bag of brochures and samples out of the box and shrugged on the Doggy Delicious smock she had to wear while assembling displays. The green color gave her face a ghostly tinge, and she thought back to her designer days. I took it all for granted. The branded shoes and clothing. The admiration. The fabulous lunches and large pay checks.
“What’re you promoting?” A woman with a face like a pug snarled as Mara signed in at the grocery store.
“I’m a merchandiser, not a promoter,” Mara replied quietly, trying to stuff away the feelings of anger that rose so quickly. “There should be some boxes of Doggy Delicious in the stock area, and I’ll need those to set up a display in the pet food aisle.”
“Bart!” The pugnacious woman yelled. “Take ...” she glanced at Mara’s lanyard. “Take Mara into the back and help her find the dog food she’s looking for.”
The middle-aged man with sweat streaks down his shirt and a bad case of body odor slouched off with Mara following. Ten minutes later, she lifted two crates of Doggy Delicious off the trolley and set to work building a pyramid. The planogram showed the beef flavor cans were the bottom layer, followed by liver, chicken, and then gourmet. Puppy food and vitamin-boosted delights made up the top two layers. Once that was all in place, she positioned a wicker basket in front of the pyramid and arranged thirty free samples in it.
“All done?” the obnoxious woman at the front desk snapped as Mara signed out.


By midday, Mara was exhausted, back muscles throbbing and thighs aching from all the squatting and kneeling. She drove to the park and sat on a bench overlooking a stretch of navy water. Ducks frolicked, their heads gleaming green and purple in the sun. Chicken salad sandwich in one hand and schedule in the other, she munched while running her eyes over her itinerary for the next few days. She’d be in Greenville. Jenny told her Chip had set up a dental practice there. Maybe she could look him up.
She washed the hot limp sandwich down with some lukewarm water before pulling out her cell phone. The list Jenny wrote out for her was in her purse, and she dug around to find it. The call she placed was answered after three rings and a husky feminine voice said, “Christopher Linton Dental Practice, how may I help you?”
Mara cleared her throat, voice thick with nerves. “I’d like to speak to Chip, uh Christopher. My name’s Mara, and I’m an old friend from college.”
“He’s with a patient right now. I can take a message for him to call you later.”
“That would be great. Thank you.” Mara gave her name and phone number and ended the call.


Two days later, her call had not been returned, and after hours of indecision, she dialed the number again.
“Christopher Linton Dental Practice, how may I help you?” the same husky voice answered.
“Uh, I called on Wednesday. I’m an old friend. I left my number ...”
“What is your name, ma’am?”
“Mara. Mara Adkins.” She listened to the click of a keyboard and the rustle of paper before the voice came back to her.
“I’m not sure why he hasn’t returned your call, Ms. Adkins. I’ll ask him between patients and get back to you.”
Mara pocketed her phone and tried not to think about it while she nibbled at her pastrami sandwich. Oh, for the days of fine steaks and gourmet salads for lunch.
An hour later, her mobile chimed. Recognizing the Greenville area code, she swallowed hard before answering. “Mara speaking.”
“I’m real sorry, Ms Adkins, but Dr. Linton says he has nothing to say to you. He said you would know why.” The husky voice was tinged with curiosity and a hint of compassion this time.
Mara had half-expected such a response, but it was still a stinging blow. “I do know why,” she choked out, “and that’s why I wanted to speak to him.”
There was a brief silence before the woman spoke again. “You may have more success if you come in to see him ... or maybe you could book yourself in for a checkup?”
“Would he have to see me then?”
“I’d say so.”
“How much would that cost me?” She stopped a gasp before it escaped her lips.
In the past it would hardly have dented her paycheck, but now it would cut deep into it. She argued silently with herself before responding. “May I make an appointment for next week, please?”


Mara dumped the Doggy Delicious paraphernalia in the trunk of her car and ducked into a nearby restroom to brush her teeth. She might as well have them checked out with what this was costing her. Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into a parking bay outside a neat white building. Bright rows of peony blazed color across the frontage, and she forced a smile on her face as she ascended the steps. In the distance, green hills waved across the horizon.
“Good afternoon.” Husky voice turned out to be a slim African-American woman with perfect white teeth and beaded extensions.
Poodle, Mara thought, looking at the jet black ropes of hair. “Hi, I’m Mara Adkins. I have an appointment with Dr. Linton at 4:00 p.m.”
The young woman smiled. “He’s expecting you. Take a seat, and I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Mara perched on the edge of a plastic chair, allowing the medicinal odors to fill her lungs. This was it. Time to face up to another of the men she had hurt so deeply. She had no idea what Chip would say but doubted it would be pretty.
“Follow me.” The receptionist led the way down an ivory-colored passageway to where a white door stood slightly ajar. “In there, dear.” She nodded her head toward the opening, a hint of sympathy in her eyes.
Mara stepped into the room and locked eyes with the man standing by the dentist chair. Was this really Chip? She remembered him as a nerdy young guy with long raven hair and goggles for glasses. This man was well built. Black hair waved softly across his brow, and he stood confidently, broad shoulders bulging against his white shirt. A dental nurse was hunched over a table in the corner.
“It’s been a long time, Mara,” Chip said.
“Chip ...” Words failed her, and she stared at him for a moment. “You look so different, so ...”
“You haven’t changed much,” he replied, taking her in with his eyes. “You always were a stunner.” He waved at the chair. “Take a seat and I’ll check your teeth.”
Mara obeyed, wondering how she was going to hold a meaningful conversation with him digging in her mouth. “How long is my appointment?”
“Fifteen minutes.”
She opened her mouth, and he angled the light into it. As if by remote control, the nurse scurried over with a tray of instruments, and soon he was digging, scraping, and probing. “Sandy,” he addressed his assistant who reminded Mara of a timid Chihuahua, “will you go and sort out the X-rays from this morning and catch up on ordering supplies. I’ll be fine on my own for now.”
Mara sensed rather than saw Sandy leave the room, and the door closed with a soft click.
“So what’s the real reason for the visit?” Chip asked, leaning back. “Your teeth are fine by the way.”
“I’ve come to apologize.” Mara tried to steady her voice, but it came out wobbly. “What I did to you was terrible and inexcusable, and although I can’t change it, I can tell you that I’m sorry. Sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
Chip pushed a button so the chair lifted upright and sat himself on a wheeled stool. “That’s very nice, but do you have any idea how badly you hurt me?”
“I’ve tried to imagine it, but no, I can’t.”
He glanced at his watch. “We’ve got six minutes so listen carefully.”
Mara nodded, shame creeping over her at the anger that simmered in his eyes.
“When you first came after me, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was a bit of a nerd back then, and dentistry isn’t the sexiest profession. I thought about you every waking moment, how great it was that you were interested in me. I even went out and bought new clothes and some cologne to impress you.”
Mara nodded, pain squeezing her heart like a fist.
“It lasted three weeks and a day if I’m not mistaken,” he continued. “Then you invited me out for drinks on a Saturday night. Do you remember that?”
“I do. We went to a karaoke bar with a group of friends from college.”
“Your friends and mine. That made it even more painful.”
Mara swung her legs over the end of the chair and sat upright. “It was a terrible, terrible thing to do, but I’m not the same person I was then.”
Chip held up his hand. “Let’s finish our trip down memory lane first. We sat as a group, and you encouraged me to go up and sing a song to you. Can you remember what I chose?”
“‘You Light Up My Life,’” Mara answered.
“Do you remember the words?”
“Tell me what they were.”
“I don’t know if that’s ...”
Chip leaned forward on the stool, and she caught a whiff of his aftershave. In spite of the circumstances, she felt drawn to him, attracted to the man he’d become. “Tell me, Mara.”
She hung her head, feeling her cheeks flush. “Something about giving you hope to carry on and lighting up your life.”
“Exactly. Now I’d like you to tell me what your response was.”
“I—I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” Mara swallowed. This was hard. So hard.
“Well, let me refresh your memory.” He inhaled then released it. “Chip Linton is in love with me. He’s bombarded me with bunches of flowers that looked more like weeds. He’s written me notes that declare his undying love and adoration. Don’t you find it amazing that such a pitiful specimen of manhood would ever think he could have a woman like me?”
His words brought back the memory of how she’d strutted back and forth across the stage laughing. Chip had sat cowering in the audience, his face whitewashed with shock.
“I would like to announce that it’s all over!” she had said as a final insult, and he repeated those words now.
Chip glanced at the expensive-looking watch on his arm. “And your time’s just about up. I’ll leave you with one thought, Mara. Beauty is not about skin and hair and makeup. Not even about straight white teeth. It’s about what’s inside of you, and what I saw back then was pretty ugly.”
Mara looked him in the eye. “I deserved all that and more, Chip. My behavior was appalling, and I truly am sorry. I’ve given my life to God, and He’s changing me every day. I don’t blame you for being angry, but please try and find it in yourself to forgive me.”
Chip stood, spinning the stool away and strode over to her. “I didn’t return your call for a reason. I wanted to see how keen you were to see me, why you were looking me up after all these years.” He held Mara’s gaze, his presence overwhelming, and the scent of his cologne stirring emotion. “I’m glad you came,” he said finally, touching her on the arm, a sudden softness in his expression. “And I go by Christopher these days. I believe it means ‘he who holds Christ in his heart.’”


Mara woke up tired the following week. The Monday blues washed over her as she made her sandwiches and filled her water bottle.
“You sleep well, honey?” her mother asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“Yeah, not too bad. I’ve got a big day ahead though. Displays to set up in several parts of Greenville, and Bertha, my supervisor, is coming to check up on me.”
“Drive safe. Text me once you get there.”
Mara rolled her eyes but secretly enjoyed the concern. “I’ll do that, Mom.”
The first couple of stores were easy, as she was just checking the promotions and restocking the samples of Doggy Delicious. The third one was a different story. Much bigger than any of the previous sites she’d visited, and the planogram for the display was also bigger. She shrugged on the hideous green smock and pushed the trolley load of cans to the front of the store.
“Make sure you don’t get in the way of our customers,” a snooty woman with a nose like a German Shepherd warned her.
“I’ll be careful.”
A half hour later, Mara stood back and admired the pyramid of Doggy Delicious with the wicker basket of samples positioned in front of it. It was at that moment that Bertha strode into the store, head wagging this way and that, shoulders set like a bull mastiff.
“You haven’t gotten all the Doggy Delicious logos facing out in the same direction,” she growled, reaching out to reposition a can in the center of the pyramid. “You need ...” Before she could say another word, the display sagged and slowly gave way, cans rolling in every direction. Mara imagined her head rolling with them as Bertha turned on her. “You’re fired!” she barked, veins popping in her neck, face red.
Mara tossed her hair back across her shoulder and locked eyes with her. “Actually, I quit,” she said. “I’ll clean up the mess, and then I’m out of here”
Bertha stared as she picked up the cans and started rebuilding the pyramid. Ten minutes later, Mara pulled off the green smock and dropped it on top of the muddled pile of Doggy Delicious. “I think the job was beginning to get to me, anyway. I’d reached the place where I was likening everyone to a dog breed. Thank you for the experience though.”

Voting opens at Noon (EST) on Feb 5.

Because we want YOU to choose the best hero for Mara, we're going to try to keep the author/creator of each chapter a secret until after the voting is over. If you know one of the authors, and pick out her chapter, please help us keep the secret. We want the hero chosen based on his personality and his chemistry with Mara, and not make it a contest between authors.

We're depending on you to help us spread the word! 

Our authors are also offering some inside glimpses into the writing process, some interviews with authors, heroes, and even the publisher. And that Marji - she somehow got hold of Mara's journal, so you'll be able to read some of her thoughts as she goes through this experience. Fay snagged interviews with all the heroes too. Check out all the links below to stay on top of the latest.

Thanks for joining us in Mara's adventure - we hope you have a great time!

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