There are 32 emails waiting for my reply. I don’t answer a single one of them. Instead, I turn my attention to the blinking red light on my work phone. I have no doubt I have enough voicemails to occupy my entire morning. Once again, I curse Helen for leaving me to fend for myself.
Blue Stone Ranch used to be a 1000-acre cattle ranch. In the late 1960s, during a bad drought, my grandfather sold off most of the cattle and started a restaurant, Blue Stone Farm. With its farm-to-table fare and world-class barbecue, it was an overnight success. My father expanded that endeavor with a winery, and since then, the company has grown tenfold. Now, families travel from all across the south to experience everything Blue Stone Ranch has to offer. We have a small luxury bed & breakfast, a vineyard, a restaurant, and a wedding venue. Some might call it being diversified; others might say it’s a good way to get stretched too thin.
It’s been ten years since I took the helm, and even with managers running each arm of the business, I still feel like I’m in over my head most days.
I start scrolling through voicemails, listening to a few seconds of each before I skip to the next one. When I get to one Helen left late last night, I try not to get my hopes up. Please say France sucks and you’re coming back to work.
“Hey Jack, call me when you get this. It’s urgent.”
I call her back immediately and she answers after the second ring.
“Missed me too much? Understandable. So when’s your flight home?” I ask in lieu of a greeting.
She sighs, annoyed. “Stop that. I’m not coming home.”
“Aren’t you sick of traveling yet?”
“We’ve only been here a week.”
“Paris can’t be that entertaining.”
“Brent and I are really enjoying it.”
“Seen the Mona Lisa yet? Starry Night? Stuff’s all on Google, hi-res and everything.”
“Right, well, did you hear that Mary left two days after you did? Yeah, moved back to Houston to be closer to her daughter. I’ve lost my assistant and my housekeeper in one fell swoop, so I don’t really have time to chat about how much you’re enjoying your vacation. I have enough on my plate as is.”
“Well, that’s why I’m calling—I have a solution for that. I found you a temp.”
“I told you I don’t need one.”
“And I think you do.” She trudges on before I can argue. “My sister will be there later today and she’s going to fill in for me while I’m gone.”
“Sister? I didn’t know you had a sister.”
I lean back in my chair, suddenly interested. I imagine Helen 2.0: an older, no-nonsense brunette with a tight bun. Picture your favorite elementary school teacher, the hard-ass who managed to wrangle a group of disobedient nine-year-olds and teach them long division—that’s Helen.
“Yeah, well, I don’t talk to her much, which is probably why you didn’t know she existed. She’s ten years younger and we didn’t grow up together. In fact, I hardly know her. Still, she says she needs a job, and it’s perfect timing since you sound like you’re pulling your hair out without me running the show.”
I can hardly believe my luck. I didn’t think I’d survive three months without Helen, and here she is, fixing my problems from across the pond.
“Perfect. Send her my way. If she’s anything like you, she’ll save my ass.”
Helen laughs. “Bad news: she and I couldn’t be more different if we tried.”
“Well if she has even half your work ethic, she’ll still be a pretty damn good employee.”
There’s a pregnant silence that gives birth to a 10lb-4oz baby silence. Helen should be singing her sister’s praises, but she isn’t, and I’m suspicious.
“Helen, what aren’t you telling me?”
“I don’t want to taint your image of her before she even arrives.”
“If you want me to hire her, you’d better start talking.”
“Well…I guess I just don’t want you to expect her to be like me. Meredith is…” She sighs. “Meredith is one of those lucky people who life comes a little easier for. She was spoiled rotten growing up. We have different moms, and she looks just like hers: petite, beautiful, you know the type. Our father and—hell, half the world always gave her more attention.”
“Is this leading somewhere?”
I can practically hear her roll her eyes.
“Anyway, she moved to California for college, married some rich movie producer right after graduation who dotes on her nonstop. All I’m saying is she’s used to a certain kind of life. Don’t expect too much…grit.”
“Now I’m confused. Why the hell does she need a job working for me?”
“Apparently she’s up and left her husband.”
“The doting, rich movie producer? Makes sense.”
“Exactly. There’s no way she would have left him willingly. If you ask me, I bet Meredith got herself into some kind of trouble. Maybe she has a spending problem or a boxed wine habit and he threatened to cut her off. Rich people always find some way to fill up their time with vices. I wouldn’t be surprised. Like I said, she was spoiled when we were younger. This is what happens when you’ve never wanted for anything.”
As she drones on, I swear another ten emails pile up in my inbox. I have too much to do to be sitting on the phone listening to a story about some woman I have no plan to employ.
I sit up and sandwich the phone between my shoulder and ear so I can start replying to the first email. “Well, you’ve given quite the glowing recommendation for this suspected overspending alcoholic. Good thing she’s someone else’s problem.”
“Jack, I already promised her I’d get her a position with you.”
“Why the hell would you do that?”
“She’s family. If I were there, I’d help her.”
“Let’s compromise: you get on a flight home, and I’ll consider it. Deal?”
She sounds exasperated, but then so am I.
“I gotta go. My assistant left me high and dry and I have emails to answer.”
“She’s my sister.”
“And I’m calling in a favor. I’ve worked for you for six years and have never once called in a favor.”
“You’re telling me you’re going to waste that on some spoiled brat who’s bound to go crawling back to California when she gets her first splinter?”
“Isn’t that what you want? The sooner she leaves, the sooner you get your peace and quiet back.”
She makes a good point.
“You owe me.”
“I’ll log in to your email remotely and answer those emails you have stacked up. How’s that?”
“Let’s see if the princess shows up first. Something tells me she’ll take one look at the place and suddenly decide her valley girl life doesn’t look quite so bad anymore.”
“I can’t go on,” the taxi driver says, pulling over to the side of the road and putting his car in park.
“Boy, do I know what you mean,” I agree ruefully.
“No, I mean, you gotta get out.”
“Oh, actually, I don’t think we’re there yet. We still have a while.”
I lean forward and point through the front windshield as if to prove my point. There’s nothing but trees and dirt road until the sky meets the horizon.
“Lady, this is it. Odometer says I’m officially losing money on you. I run a business, not a church shuttle.”
I officially regret my bold, symbolic gesture with the diamond ring.
“How about you give me your address and I’ll send more money after my first paycheck—”
“Yeah right, I’ve heard that one about a million times.”
I’m going to have to get creative.
“If only there was something I could do for you…” I say, making my eyebrows dance suggestively. “Non-sexually, of course. I could clip those hard-to-reach toenails, or—or, how about plucking back some of that unibrow you’ve got going on—”