It was decision time. They’d beaten around the bush for a while and tonight away from prying eyes and ears, they would either jump in the deep end together or forget it. Connie had risked the most by reaching out to Meredith first and so far Meredith hadn’t betrayed her. It was Meredith’s desperation that made her vulnerable.
Connie opened the front door when the bell rang.
“Hi. Come in.” Glancing up and down the dark street still wet from an afternoon rain, she took Meredith’s arm and guided her in hastily before closing and locking the door.
Meredith hung her own rain jacket on one of the wooden pegs by the front door. Moving into the living room, she sat down in a rigid straight back chair close to the fire.
Connie walked around to the sofa opposite her and sitting directly in its center, clasping her hands together tightly on her lap, looked directly at Meredith and said, “I didn’t think we should drink wine, well anything alcoholic tonight, but I made some decaf coffee. I’ll get us each a cup.”
When Connie handed her the cup, Meredith said, “If we get caught, my kids won’t have a mother and they already don’t have a father.”
“I know that.” Connie backed toward the sofa, sat down again and said, “But we won’t get caught.”
“Oh, we might.”
“Yes, we might.” Connie took a sip and grimaced slightly. “But the plan is pretty good and besides, no one will even look. They don’t care.”
“They’d care if they knew.”
Connie shot back, “Then, they’re too busy being self-important to even pay attention.”
Meredith gazed into the fire. “Will you do it anyway? Without me I mean?”
“I don’t see how I could.”
“Right.” Meredith was looking down. “It’s just that I really am an honest person.”
Connie leaned forward on the sofa. Holding Meredith’s gaze she said, “Well, who’s more honest than you? You know how hard you work for them. They don’t pay you for all that extra time you put in. Hell, you are always there, even on weekends.”
“True, I missed Josh’s baseball game again last week because of the emergency de jour. I keep hoping that if I work harder, they’ll see how much they need me; how much I’m worth.” Meredith’s voice faltered, her eyed filled, her chin quivered. She shook herself and went into the kitchen to get a second cup of coffee. Returning, she said, “But it still doesn’t belong to us.” She moved the chair closer to the fire and sat down.
“Well, it does sort of. You have to take care of yourself these days. It’s for sure no one else will,” Connie said; her back straightening. “Hey, I don’t have kids, but I still have trouble making ends meet these days so I don’t know how you do it. No raise for three years? Who are they kidding?”
With a deep breath Meredith looked at the fire. “Well anyway.” Taking a sip, she said quietly, “How do we decide who…?”
“It’s got to be different ones each time, but no more than a couple a month.” Connie’s eyes brightened.
“And they won’t know?”
“Why would they? We take their money sure, but they’ll get their stuff. You’ll see to that. The customers won’t be out anything; they won’t be harmed, Meredith.”
“So, then the money…”
“The money goes into the bank account we set up. We’ll put some business name on it so it all looks legitimate. In the books, it will just look like payments for supplies.”
The grandfather’s clock in the hall struck the hour and Meredith sighed and said. “OK, I’ll do it. We’ll go ahead. But not for me personally or anything; this is just because of my kids, you know? After all, my kids deserve to go to a good college too, don’t they.”