Mail-Order Millionaire

By: Carol Grace

“There are ways. You could have said, ‘What about a pair of boots for your wife or your small barefoot children?’ Or, ‘Will there be someone home, your wife maybe, to sign for the package?’“

Miranda shook her head in awe. “Honestly, sometimes I wonder how your mind works. I don’t have the time or energy to delve into the personal lives of the customers, especially not today. Donna and Mavis are out sick. Penny’s son has chicken pox and Lianne’s at the dentist. So I’ve had a lot of complaints today, all theirs and mine, too, but his was the worst, he was the most insistent.... And then he had the nerve to call me ma’am.” She bit into her sandwich and chewed vigorously.

“I wonder why he called you ma’am.”

“Probably because he’s from the South.”

Ariel cocked her head to one side. “What’s his name, anyway, or did you forget to ask?”

“Carter, Maxwell Randolph Carter.”

Ariel licked her spoon and gazed dreamily past Miranda. “From an old aristocratic family, I’ll bet, with a mansion just dripping with magnolias.”

“We’re from an old family. We go back to the revolutionary war.”

“Only we had icicles dripping from our house,” Ariel reminded her.

“I remember Grandma wouldn’t let us keep them in the freezer for the summer. She made us throw them out.”

“I don’t know how Grandma and Grandpa managed. And we weren’t even their own kids. We just got dumped on their doorstep.”

Miranda sighed. “I wish I’d had a chance to tell them I was coming back.”

Ariel squeezed her hand. “They knew you would.”

“Did they ever have a sapping season when there was no sap?”

Ariel shook her head. “Never. Just be patient. Conditions aren’t right yet. Temperatures have to drop below freezing at night and then warm up during the day.”

Miranda frowned. “I’m counting on the sap.”

Her sister leaned forward. “Miranda, don’t count on the sap. Find a man and count on him.”

“Like you did.”

“Yes, and then when things go wrong at work and someone yells at you or the sap doesn’t run, you’ve got somebody to lean on and a shoulder to cry on. That’s what husbands are for. And if anybody needs one, you do.”

Finished with their food, they laid their money in the little plastic tray provided on top of the check on their table and walked out the door. “That sounds like a song I heard on the radio this morning. Why don’t you quit your job in the retail outlet and write the words to country music?” Miranda asked teasingly.

Ariel shook her head, taking her sister’s words seriously. “No, I don’t think so. I need to get out of the house for a few hours every day. Besides, I like it in the store. People from New York come in and they think everything’s so quaint and rustic. Then when I go home to the kids and Rob I forget about it. Why don’t you ask to transfer? You need to get out of that cubbyhole and meet some people. Normal people, who have no complaints.”

Miranda tossed her scarf over her shoulder. “I’ve already met enough New Yorkers. That’s why I left the city, so I wouldn’t have to meet any more of them.”

Ariel slanted a long, sympathetic glance in her direction. “You can’t blame the whole population for what happened to you.”

“I don’t blame anyone but myself. I shouldn’t have ever gone to the city. You warned me. But I guess I had to find out for myself.” Miranda felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wind blowing up the street. No matter how unpleasant things got back in complaints, she’d never been mugged or harassed or burglarized in Northwood, and she probably never would.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” Ariel said, “but I’m glad you came home. For two years I had no one to eat lunch with, no one to leave the kids with...”

“No one to nag about getting out and getting married.”

Her sister grinned and they parted at the front door of Green Mountain Merchants. Ariel turned right, to the retail outlet, and Miranda went back to her desk to solve more problems. But in between calls she thought about the man without the boots. She filed his order under unsolved mysteries and shoved it to the back of the drawer, but the sound of his voice came back to her, the way he rounded off his consonants and hung onto his vowels. He had the accent all right, but he was no Southern gentleman. Maybe he’d been up north too long, long enough to lose any Southern charm he’d arrived with.

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