• April 15, 2010
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Literarily Speaking Book Club Selection: Small Change by Sheila Roberts – Day 2

Every month, we pick wonderful books we’ve read to spotlight at Literarily Speaking. Today we’re happy to be reading Sheila Roberts’ new women’s fiction novel, Small Change. Yesterday, Sheila stopped by with an excerpt from chapter one which you can read here.  Today and tomorrow, she will be with us and will be giving away a copy at the end of her stay on Friday.

To become eligible to win, all you have to do is ask a question or leave a comment on all three days. One lucky reader who comments with their email address is put in a pot to win the book. However, they must sign up for our email updates prior to the author’s appearance.

To recap:

  • ask a question or leave a comment on all three days
  • leave your email address
  • sign up for our email updates to the right ——->

That’s all there is to it!

Day Two: Literarily Speaking Book Club Selection: Small Change by Sheila Roberts

Small ChangeRachel, Jessica, and Tiffany all share a difficult secret: they’re all struggling with major financial problems. A sudden divorce has turned Rachel from a stay-at-home mom to a strapped-for-cash divorcee about to enter the workforce for the first time. Tiffany’s spending has been out of control for years, and her mounting credit card bills have put a major strain on her marriage. And Jessica just had the rug pulled out from under her. After struggling her entire life to make ends meet, she’s just gotten engaged to a man with a big bank account…and now he’s asked her to sign a pre-nup.

When the women share their problems at their weekly crafting group, they decide to band together to take control of their finances. As they struggle to bring balance back to their checkbooks and their lives, they learn that some things in life, like good friends, are truly priceless.

Read the excerpt from Chapter 3:

The next morning, Jess decided to make a list of possible jobs. She poured herself a cup of coffee, then grabbed a piece of scratch paper from the kitchen junk drawer and a pen and leaned over the counter, ready to write furiously. The blank page stared at her.She frowned back at it. “There has to be something you can do,” she told herself.

Maybe she should start by writing down her strengths. What was she good at? She still played a mean keyboard. Like that did any good. Even if she lost twenty pounds in two weeks and got Botox, where would she find a band that would have her? As a band chick she was over the hill and out of the loop. The band thing was hardly steady work anyway.

What else? Crafts. She had a closet full of things she could sell. Except she’d missed Slugfest and there would be no more craft bazaar opportunities until the Fourth of July. Selling crafts was too iffy, anyway – great for making some fun money, but by the time you factored in the cost of the material and renting a booth, hardly profitable enough to earn that necessary extra twenty percent every month.

So, what did that leave? Personality. She was friendly, fun, approachable. Maybe she could get a job as a clerk or a receptionist. She remembered the Help Wanted sign she’d seen hanging in the window of Emma’s Quilt Corner, the little shop that Heart Lake residents had saved from extinction the previous Christmas. Jess hadn’t gotten around to trying quilting yet, but she could learn. She certainly knew how to cut fabric, and it couldn’t be that hard to ring up sales. From what she heard, everyone loved Emma, which meant she’d be great to work for. It could be the perfect part-time job.

Jess checked the clock. Ten a.m. Emma would be open for business. She called the shop and was greeted by a cheery voice on the other end of the line. “Hi,” Jess said, making her own voice equally cheery. “I’m calling about the Help Wanted sign in your window.”

“I’m sorry,” said the voice, changing from cheery to sympathetic. “I just filled that position yesterday.”

“Oh.” A good job was like a good man, hard to find. But she’d found Michael. She’d find a job. “Well, thanks anyway.” Jess hung up with a sigh and returned to the piece of paper on the kitchen counter. What else could she do?

A temp agency, she decided. That would be perfect. She could earn income but she wouldn’t be locked into anything full time. She got on the computer and looked up temp agencies in Seattle. She could handle part-time office work, and if she worked in the city, she and Michael could commute together.

The first company she found was A-Plus Office Services. That’s me, A-Plus, she thought, reaching for the phone.

As it turned out, Ms. A-Plus could fit her in for an interview at one. Could she come in?

Why not? Jess wasn’t exactly excited as she hurried to her closet, but she was determined, which was nearly as good. Velvet Revolver’s version of the song “Money” began to play in her head. She was going to come through for Michael, even if it meant chaining herself to a desk somewhere in the city. She could do it. Millions of women did it every day. Maybe she’d even get a job assignment for the next week. You never knew. It would be good news to share when Rachel and Tiffany came over for their monthly craft night.

She encountered a challenge in her closet. Denim jackets, hot pink tops and various articles of clothing dotted with sequins greeted her. When was the last time she’d worn a dress? There had to be something here. She flipped hangers along the rack. No, no, no. Noooo. Hmm. Here was a black knit dress, not too low cut. How about that and her red denim jacket? Red denim was not very dress for success. And black wasn’t exactly summery. That decided it. She’d leave for the city right now and detour by Nordstrom’s before going on her interview.

At Nordstrom’s she managed to find a cream-colored linen suit jacket and pants that fit well but bored her to tears. The price made her want to cry, too. She couldn’t believe how much she was paying for boring. She dressed it up with a sleeveless top sporting a great pattern in black and Amalfi blue, perfect colors for a winter (Jess had had her colors done back in college. With her dark hair – still completely dark, thank you Wella Color Charm – she was a winter.) The top was no bargain either, but it was worth every penny. This she would wear ‘til it turned to rags.

Small consolation. She had just spent a fortune to audition for a job as a temp. Well, you had to spend money to make money. Unbidden, the lyrics to Abba’s “Money, Money, Money” came to mind.

A-Plus Office Services was in one of the many tall Seattle buildings that looked down on the city’s waterfront and its more humble architectural beginnings like the Smith Tower.

Jess had grown up in this city. She’d attended the University of Washington, and met Michael at the Blue Moon Tavern. He’d looked like Andy Gibb and, although he couldn’t sing a note, he danced like John Travolta. Within a year, they’d managed to fall in love, elope, get pregnant, and celebrate Michael’s graduation. Michael had gone on to become a lawyer and she’d worked on turning herself into mother of the year – a far more noble occupation than band chick.

Although they’d left the city for the burbs, they still drove in on a regular basis to visit his mom and take her to dinner at the Waterfront Seafood Grill on Pier 70 or to enjoy Indian food thali style up at Poppy’s on Capitol Hill. Visiting the city was great, but Jess wasn’t sure how she felt about working there. Seattle had grown far beyond the little big town it had been when she was a girl. And, at an hour each way by freeway, it wasn’t exactly a short commute.

She rode the elevator to the twentieth floor and found the A-Plus office in a far corner of the skyscraper office maze. The reception area was small with a loveseat and matching chair upholstered in retro ugly, a fish tank, a blocky coffee table littered with business magazines and, on one side of the wall, a bank of computers. On the other side, at the reception window, sat a twenty-something babe wearing an outfit that looked even more expensive than Jess’s, talking on the phone.

“I’ll have Mrs. Withers call you as soon as she can,” said the girl. She hung up and looked Jess over. “May I help you?”

Jess stepped up to the window. “I have an appointment with Caroline Withers.”

The girl nodded. “Have a seat.”

Feeling a little like a patient waiting to see the dentist, Jess perched on the couch. It was hard.

She looked over at the computers and felt her pulse rate start to rise. You have a computer, she told herself. You can type. E-mail counts. In spite of her positive self-talk, her pulse scooted up another notch. She should get out of here. Was she too old to sell her body on the street?

“Jessica?”

Jess tore her gaze away from the computers and looked up to see a thin woman with shoulder length gray hair, expensively cut, and stylish glasses looking down at her. The woman was dressed entirely in black. Maybe an escapee from New York? Jess thought of all the money she’d spent to avoid wearing black and sighed inwardly.

The woman was studying her, too, her smile polite, professional. “I’m Caroline Withers. Why don’t you come into my office and we’ll talk.”

Talking was good. Jess followed Caroline through a small conference room and into her office. Here the furniture had been upgraded to fake leather. Caroline settled behind a massive desk. “I’m happy you thought of us first,” she said, pulling together a pile of forms. “Did you bring a resume?”

Jess’s palms were suddenly damp. “Actually, no.”

“Well, you can e-mail it to me later,” Caroline said amiably. “What kind of work are you hoping for?”

“What kind?” The kind that pays?

“Secretarial, accounting . . .”

“Receptionist,” Jess said firmly. “I have great phone skills.”

Caroline nodded. “All right. Let’s have you fill out some forms.”

“Fine,” said Jess, forcing the corners of her lips to stay up. Oh, God, she was going to flunk form-filling.

Caroline clipped the papers on a clipboard and handed them to Jess, then she stood and ushered Jess back to the little conference room. “You can fill this out and then we’ll get you started on the computer.”

The top form was terrifying. A- Plus wanted to know everything about her: educational background, work background, last employer. Jess was pretty sure Bennie at Bennie’s Tavern, where her band had played, wouldn’t be the right kind of business reference. She should have gotten a job long before this. What had she been thinking?

Twenty minutes later Caroline found her still at the table, hunched over a form with a lot of white space. “Is there a problem?” Caroline asked.

“One small one,” said Jess. “I’m afraid I can’t give you the kind of references you want.” Playing in a band and selling wine cork trivets and beaded jewelry boxes hardly equated to office skills, although Jess was sure she had enough of those to fill in at a front desk somewhere.

“I see,” said Caroline slowly.

“But I can type,” Jess said quickly. “And I can certainly file and take messages.”
“All right, let’s put you on a computer and test you,” said Caroline.

Test? Jess had never tested well.

The computer hated her. She knew it five minutes after she sat down. Excel was a mystery, and the typing was a nightmare. It was the sweaty palm thing. Her fingers kept slipping to the wrong key. Soon she had both sweaty palms and the beginnings of a headache. She did well on the spelling and grammar test though. That should count for something.

“Well,” said Caroline when they met again in her office after the computer torture session, “you can type a little.”

Types a little. There was a glowing recommendation. “I think I’d be great with phones,” said Jess. Types a little and great with phones.

“I think you would, too,” Caroline agreed. “How many days a week are you available?”

“Seven.”

Caroline smiled at that. “Well, we’d only need you for five.”

“Do you think you could use me?” asked Jess.

“It think you could do nicely as a receptionist. Let’s have you fill out this card and I’ll put together a folder for you.”

“A folder?” She was going to get a folder? That had to be good.

“With a booklet that will tell you about our policies and procedures, and a time card, which you’ll fill out and submit to us at the end of every work week.”

That sounded official. “Great. Thanks.”

“It can be hard to re-enter the work force. This is a good way to ease back in. Often companies wind up hiring our temps full time.”

“Full time. Really?” echoed Jess, trying to convince both Caroline and herself that she was interested. Good-bye to staying up late watching TV and sleeping in the next morning. Good-bye to driving north for lunch with Erica. Good-bye to Friday morning tennis with the girls at the Grandview Park tennis courts. Good-bye to volunteering at the food bank.

It beats saying, “Good-bye Heart Lake,” she reminded herself sternly. And really, it was about time she got a job. The kids were grown and she was no longer needed as a chauffer, in-house paraeducator, Girl Scout leader, chief cook (she was a rotten cook, anyway), or soccer mom. It was time to do something new with her life.

For a moment her mind wandered to the past and paused at the road not taken, the one she’d been about to go down before love came in the door and her dreams scrammed out the window. How she had wanted to be a star!

She could see herself up there on the stage, adoring fans roaring as she sang and rocked out. Now she was playing a riff on the keyboard. Look at the crowd going wild – women jumping up and down and screaming, men throwing their underwear. Ick.

Her eyes popped open. All right, that was a little too far down the road not taken.

But what about the road she stood at now? Working in an office, answering phones, draining her creative juices to help someone else build his dream or some big corporate monster keep its heart beating – was this really her?

It is now, baby. Welcome to the work force.

She took her folder and left A-Plus Office Services ready to face a brave, new world.

Questions:

  1. So, Jess is about to enter the workforce. Have you faced re-entering the workforce, and if so, what were your feelings?
  2. Was there a road not taken in your life?
  3. If you were advising Jess, what would you tell her?

Answer either of the questions below in the comment box to become eligible to win a free copy of Small Change on Friday!

Stay tuned tomorrow for Day 3 of Literarily Speaking’s Book Club Selection: Small Change by Sheila Roberts!

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