Home > Sunrise on Half Moon Bay(15)

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay(15)
Author: Robyn Carr

“I’m not a counselor, just a receptionist,” she said. “Go ahead and fill out this intake form and someone will help you.”

A couple of counselors came in. She met Felicity who looked like she sounded, a slight, very young, freckled redhead. “Yay! Secretarial help!” she said as she greeted Adele.

Ross, an African American woman of about fifty, was not so chipper, which was somehow more appealing. “I’m Ross,” she said. “I guess you drew the short straw. You getting along all right?”

“I hope so. It’s so new,” Adele said.

“Just ask for help if you need it.”

At one point Fran stuck her head out of her office door and said, “Check your email. I set it up for you.”

She looked. There was a message for her that said, “Will you please print this out for me? Fran.” So she did, taking it to her. Then the printer displayed a low ink error message. Only slightly terrified of breaking something, Adele opened cupboards and pulled out drawers until she found a box of cartridges, and changed the depleted one. She printed a sample page and actually put a hand to her chest in ecstasy. She’d done it! When she was evaluated later to assess her job skills, she’d make sure to mention this.

It’s a receptionist job, she reminded herself. I was halfway to my master’s! I may not be too handy with office work, but I’m way overeducated.

A beautiful woman came into the office. She was dressed to the nines, too. She introduced herself as Carmon Fautz, an engineer. She was looking for work. Her husband, a doctor, had wanted her to stay home to raise their children, and now he was leaving her and she needed a job.

“But you’re an engineer!” Adele said, forgetting herself.

“Have you ever heard of the half-life of engineers?” she asked. “The advances are rapid-fire, and a few years out of engineering put me way behind. I’m hoping for some new ideas. And I hope this is the place to find them.”

“I hope so, too,” Adele said. “Just fill out this intake form...”

From that point on, Adele greeted the most interesting people. A former minister, cook, factory worker, gym teacher, many office workers and many women who had not worked since high school. There was only one caregiver in the group—she had cared for her mother for three years. There were a couple of women who admitted to being homeless.

The one thing most of them had in common was having been abandoned by men, either when they died or divorced them. Adele had not thought it so common. But it took her thirty seconds to connect the dots—they were married to the breadwinner and when he died or left, their income was gone.

A couple of female military veterans came in, not together but separately. It was the same for them—they’d been married to the army and couldn’t find civilian work. Both told Adele they were thinking of reenlisting for that reason, though they couldn’t bear the thought of going back to a war zone.

In the little time between clients, Adele organized the desk drawers and cleaned up the cupboards in the waiting room. She drank three cups of coffee and did the dishes in the small employee kitchen. When she went for her first cup of coffee, she ran into Ross.

“I hope you locked your purse in the drawer,” Ross said while stirring cream into her coffee.

“I didn’t know it could be locked.”

“The keys are in the center drawer. Lock up your purse and put the keys in your pocket. These people are desperate. I make no judgment, but why tempt fate?”

“Thank you! I’ll do that.”

It was Ross who stopped by her desk later and said, “I’m going down to the supermarket deli for a salad. Can I get you anything?”

Adele had barely noticed that the whole morning had passed. It had been a rush and there were still people waiting. Felicity, Ross and Fran had all been seeing clients continually. Adele had stolen a look at the online appointment calendar to note that the names of the women they saw had filtered into other categories—various workshops, referrals, counseling sessions and the like.

She grabbed her purse and pulled out a ten. “Any kind of salad will do, no dressing. I’m on a diet.”

“Will do,” Ross said.

When Ross was back with their lunch, she offered to sit at Adele’s desk for a while. “Go have your lunch in one of the empty conference rooms or the break room. I’ll spell you for a while.”

“What about your lunch?”

“I’ll get mine when you’re finished. Go now. I’m sure you crave a few minutes alone.”

By midafternoon, Adele felt as though she’d managed that office for years. She was comfortable talking to the clients, responding to her email, doing whatever was requested. And she liked the people. A few more counselors and volunteers came in that afternoon—Jasmine, Carol, Marie, Susan and Paulette.

The office became even busier as people gathered for a couple of workshops. They were doing interview role-playing, critiquing résumés, looking through lists of employment opportunities. A couple of times it crossed Adele’s mind that she had no idea what was coming for her. They might thank her kindly for helping out and tell her that their regular receptionist would be back in the morning. Should that be the case, she would ask if she could avail herself of the services offered in their program. Maybe they could help her get a receptionist or secretary position at Banyon Community College. After all, even though it had been a long time, she knew her way around a campus.

The women who had attended the workshops seemed so optimistic, so happy and animated. She could see that a little encouragement went a long way.

She did some typing for Felicity and Ross; she printed out a new workshop schedule that had been scrawled on a yellow pad by Jasmine. Glancing at the schedule online for the next day, she noticed several appointments, counseling sessions, new workshops and a counseling group session for women overcoming abusive relationships. There were also a couple of groups meeting in the evenings on Tuesday and Thursday, and if she was reading the schedule right, they closed for Friday afternoons.

She found herself wishing to sit in on these different workshops and group sessions. Maybe if they let her come back as a client, she would. Any option they offered her, she would take it.

It was nearing four in the afternoon when the office began to thin out. And then Fran was standing in her office doorway again.

“Adele, would you please step into my office?”

“Of course,” she said. She followed Fran inside and saw that Ross and Felicity were there, as well.

“Have a seat,” Fran said. “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. I assumed you were the temp I called. About an hour ago I had a phone call from the agency apologizing for the fact that our temp hadn’t shown up. Apparently she had a sick child and car trouble and a host of problems and didn’t contact the agency to say that she wouldn’t make it that day until after noon.”

Adele was stunned. Of all the explanations she’d considered, that one had never come up. All she could say was “Oh.”

“You didn’t say anything,” Fran said.

She looked at their faces. Ross looked a little angry, but then Ross seemed to look a little mad even when she was happy. Felicity looked confused. “I didn’t know you were mistaken. I thought you were throwing me into a job to see what I could handle. I came here to get advice. On getting a job.”

“You’re a client?” Fran asked. “You were looking for a reentry program?”

She nodded.

“What’s your story? Why have you been out of the workforce?”

She told them her story and why she had shown up there that morning.

“What about school?” Ross asked.

“I have a degree but no teaching certificate. I might be able to get a job in a private school. I haven’t really looked. And I’m not sure my goals are the same... I’d like to say I’m going to change my course of study but the truth is, I’m almost out of money and...and I need to work.”

“Would you like to come back tomorrow morning as a client? Fill out the intake form and sit with one of our counselors?”

“That would be very nice of you,” she said.

“Well then—”

“Or I could come back and work as your secretary. Until your regular secretary comes back,” she said boldly. “I would love to do that.”

“Why?” Ross asked with a slight frown.

“It’s a great job,” Adele said. “I loved meeting the women. I didn’t try to counsel them but I did talk with them. This is a very good place. I liked what I did today.”

“But—” Fran began.

“It’s the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” Adele said. “I felt needed. I know it was a mistake, but it’s the best mistake I’ve made in years. And if you need someone...”

“We usually do a background check, interview, check references...” Fran said.

“I’m not wanted or anything,” Adele said. “I always pay my bills on time and haven’t worked for anyone but my parents for eight years. My sister has always said I couldn’t tell a lie if my life depended on it. Won’t you think about it? I know it was an accident, but I think I did it well.”

Fran seemed to be thinking this over. “Can you go back to your desk and give us a little time to discuss this?”

“Sure,” she said. “I think I could do even better tomorrow. Really.”

Adele sat impatiently at her desk, wishing she could be part of the discussion happening in Fran’s office. She had assumed Ross and Felicity were part of the management of this office; now she was sure.

She looked at her watch. Four ten. She got her phone out of her purse and turned it on to check her messages. There was only one text. I hope you’re having a great day! Jake. It was four fifty before that door opened again. By now the office waiting area was empty, though there was one group session in progress in the back.

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