The drive to Saugus on US 1 took Maureen only about half an hour on a good day and she usually enjoyed the ride. This was not a good day, weather-wise or otherwise. She turned on the radio. More rain and cooler temperatures were forecast. She switched to the easy-listening station. Cher's "Believe" was a much better choice.
Maureen had sent a few resumés around recently, but so far nothing had materialized. She hadn't looked inside the envelope Bill had handed her but was pretty sure there'd be enough there to tide her over for a month or so. Then what? She could head out to California and visit the parents for a little while. But then what? She'd have to find someplace she could afford and it had to be someplace that accepted dogs. Sort of big dogs. She smiled, thinking of Finn.
"Poor Finn. He's out of work too." She'd acquired the beautiful, lovable golden retriever for way less than he was worth from a guide dog instructor she'd met at yoga class. "He's too friendly. Too easily distracted," the woman had told her. "Nice pet, but a dismal failure as a guide dog."
Cher crooned something about being sad about leaving. That fit. Maureen was sad to be leaving Bartlett's. No doubt about it. She slowed the Subaru to a stop at a red light and Cher almost whispered that it was time to move on. Nodding agreement with the lyric, she turned onto Lincoln Avenue, passed Kane's Donuts, where a grinning jack-o'-lantern proclaimed the fast-approaching October holiday. Maureen stuck her tongue out at the pumpkin. This isn't a good time to be out of work in Massachusetts with winter coming on, she told herself. High taxes, high rents, and high heating bills.
She turned into the alley behind the two-story house where a cozy second-floor apartment had been her home for a decade. It was a good thing she hadn't signed the new lease Mrs. Hennessey had stuck under her door. The current lease would expire at the end of the month and now there was no way she'd be able to afford even the modest rent on this place. She'd be able to collect unemployment insurance for a while, she had a 401(k), and there was a small savings account. No need to panic.
She drove into her usual parking space, stepped out onto rain-soaked ground, opened the hatch, picked up the box, and hurried to the back door. Wiping her feet several times on the rough fiber mat, she went inside, opened the metal mailbox with her name on it, pulled out a few envelopes and a couple of catalogs, and stuffed them into the cardboard box. Starting up the stairway, she heard Finn's welcoming "woof."
"I'm coming, boy." She spoke softly, sliding the box along the wooden bannister, hoping the landlady wouldn't poke her head out of her kitchen door and invite Maureen in for "a cup of coffee and a little chat." Mrs. Hennessey loved chatting and knew that the old store was closing—everybody knew that. However, they'd never spoken about the possibility of Maureen moving. This didn't seem to be the right moment for that conversation.
Maureen unlocked the apartment, slipped inside, and pulled the door closed. She put the box on the kitchen table and knelt to accept Finn's joyous welcoming tail-wagging, doggy kisses, and happy "woofs." "Looks like we're both out of work now, boy," she whispered. "But don't you worry. We'll be okay, you and me—I think. I guess. Somehow." The golden nudged her leg. "Dinnertime?"
She poured his favorite kibble into his bowl and while he happily ate, she began removing the remaining items from the box, spreading them on the table. "If I was going to stay here I'd make a nice wall arrangement with the plaques and my diploma," she told Finn, "but why mess up the wall with nail holes when I'm going to be moving anyway?" She put the photo of her parents on top of a bookcase, and put the jade plant into the sink for a good soaking.
Last of all she pulled out the envelopes and the colorful catalogs, then pushed them aside. "I can't afford anything from Bas Bleu or J. Peterman," she told the dog, "and I'm sure the rest are just bills." She gave the pile a casual once-over. "See? Utilities, Spectrum, T-Mobile, Discover card— whoops. What's this?"
The cream-colored envelope bore a Florida postmark and a distinctive script return address. Jackson, Nathan and Peters, Attorneys at Law. A letter from a law firm. Not good. "The way things are going for us lately, Finn," she said, "it's bound to be bad news." She laid the letter facedown on the table. "Now I'm almost afraid to look at the one Bill Bartlett gave us."
She opened a box of Lean Cuisine and popped it into the microwave, glancing every few seconds at the two envelopes. When she'd finished her dinner, she put a decaf pod into the Keurig machine. "Well, Finn, shall we open the mail and see what our future holds? Financially and legally?"
Finn gave an affirmative-sounding "woof." He put his head in her lap. "Which one should we open first?" The dog looked up at her with soft brown eyes.