How Life Can Change in a Day

Daisy juggled Dylan on one hip and her wallet, phone, and keys in her free hand. The cashier scanned the items on the belt. Daisy frowned. “The crackers are on sale, aren’t they?”

The cashier shook her head, still scanning items. “Last week they were.”

Daisy felt her face flame as the line behind her shifted impatiently. “Can you remove them then?”

The cashier, a bored teenaged girl, paused her robotic motions. “What?”

“I don’t want the crackers.” Daisy heard the woman behind her mumbling.

“Why?” The girl frowned as she searched the bag for the box of crackers.

“I just don’t want them.” Not for full price, at least. Daisy hated this store but it was her only option without driving miles out of her way, wasting gas to save a few cents.

The cashier shrugged and removed the crackers, then put the box on the counter beside her. She eyed Daisy, and moved the box farther away. Daisy’s face burned with humiliation. Did she look that desperate that the girl thought she’d try to grab them?

Dylan fidgeted and Daisy struggled to keep him upright in her arms as she watched the totals of each item scanned with an eagle eye. “The bread is two for four dollars.”

The cashier sighed and picked up the phone beside her, keyed in a couple of numbers. “Bakery, call till three, bakery, till three.”

The cashier continued to scan items as the line behind Daisy got longer. No one called. Daisy needed bread, but didn’t have enough for the price scanned. Or maybe she did, because she wasn’t getting the crackers but if she’d known they weren’t two-for-four, she’d have bought just one loaf of the cheaper bread.

The cashier finished scanning and stared at Daisy.

“You might want to try them again? Or call someone?” Daisy pretended she couldn’t hear the grumblings of the people behind her, couldn’t hear the mutterings.

“Mama, go!” Dylan fidgeted even more and Daisy dropped her keys trying to hold him.

“In a minute, baby.” Daisy watched as the cashier picked up her phone again, turned her back to whisper into the receiver.

“Is this going to take long? I’ve got to get back to work.” The woman in line behind Daisy demanded. Daisy turned, wondering if she were talking to her or the cashier. “What’s the hold up?”

Daisy’s head pounded. Dylan grabbed a handful of hair and tugged, making it worse. “Stop it, please, baby.”

“Go! Go! Mama!” Dylan kept tugging her hair, bringing tears to Daisy’s eyes. She set her wallet and phone down on the counter, trying to extract her hair from her son’s clutches.

The cashier hung up and shrugged at Daisy. “One sec.”

“Can’t you ring me through while you wait?” The woman barked impatiently.

“No, ‘cuz the transaction isn’t done.” The cashier shrugged, studying her fingernails.

“There are four empty registers! Can’t you ring us through one of them while you wait?” The man behind the woman next in line argued.

Daisy was waging an internal battle – pay full price for the two loaves of bread, or have the cashier take them off and come back another time for the cheaper bread – when the manager came over. “The bread and the crackers were on sale last week. The sale ended two days ago, on Wednesday, but the signs should’ve been removed the night the sale ended. I apologize for the inconvenience. I’ll override the system, and put them through at the sale price.”

Daisy wiped her teary eyes, finally extracting Dylan’s pudgy hands from her hair. “Uh, thanks.”

Daisy opened her wallet and pulled out her cash as the manager finished up. “Sixty-one seventy-five.”

Daisy passed him the three twenties and the toonie from her change side. “Thanks.”

Daisy dropped her wallet and phone in the bag with the bread, looped her arm through the three plastic bag handles, and hurried out of the store, her face finally starting to cool. She got to the car and put the bags on the backseat, Dylan into his car seat. She was about to get in when she realized – her keys were still on the floor by the cashier.

Her car doors didn’t lock, so she’d have to unstrap Dylan and bring her groceries back inside to get them. The man who’d shouted gave her a nasty look as he got into his pick-up truck. Daisy wanted to sit down, right there, in the sweltering parking lot, and cry. Sob like she hadn’t in years.

“Mama, hot!” Dylan cried, arms and legs flailing.

Daisy bit her lip, scanning the lot. No one was around. Maybe she could hide her groceries so she only had to bring Dylan back in.

“Excuse me, miss?”

Daisy looked up and saw the manager heading her way. He held her keys up. “Oh, thank you! I was just debating hiding my groceries and getting my son out of his car seat.”

The manager reached her and put the keys in her hand. “I’m really sorry about –”

“It’s fine. The store was busy and a difficult customer certainly didn’t help things along.” Daisy felt her eyes fill with tears again and mentally cursed herself.

“That’s no excuse. Obviously my staff haven’t been doing their job. The signs are supposed to come down the night the sale ends, and the new ones go up. That’s when the staff even bother to show up.” The manager ran a hand through his dark hair.

Dylan started crying, temper tantrum mode engaged. Daisy huffed out a breath, feeling her humiliation and worry knot inside, then burst apart. She opened her mouth to say no problem, instead she spewed the shrapnel from the force of the explosion. “Maybe if you hired adults who cared instead of teenagers who only care about who’s party they’re going to tonight, or if they can redo their nails after work you wouldn’t have these problems. Maybe if you hired responsible people that showed up for work you wouldn’t have fifteen people trying to check-out at the only open register. If you didn’t price gouge, the single moms wouldn’t have to watch every item scanned and catch the errors.”

Daisy swiped angrily at the tears and hated herself for losing her cool, but the rage and humiliation kept spewing, just like Dylan’s. “I just spent the last of my money to buy those groceries, those bloody crackers were the only treat I could afford for my kids, and yet I’m supposed to feel gratitude that you honoured the posted prices? Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to have people complaining because you have to nickel and dime the store? Of course you don’t.”

“Mama, go! Hot!” Dylan screeched from the car. Daisy closed his door and opened hers.

“Okay, baby, okay. We’ll go now.” Daisy didn’t bother to look at the manager. She put her key in the ignition, turned it. The car started, shuddered, stalled. “No, no, no.”

The gas gauge showed a quarter of a tank, but Daisy had suspected it was broken. She mentally calculated when the last time she’d bought gas and groaned. That’s why she had an extra twenty bucks – she hadn’t bought gas.

The manager was still standing beside her car when she opened the door. Daisy didn’t look at him. How much more humiliation could she face today? “Come on, Dylan. Let’s go for a walk.”

Dylan slapped her hand when Daisy reached in to unstrap him. “No, go!”

Daisy’s phone rang, so she reached across her son and extracted it from the bottom of the bread bag. She stood up, glared at the manager before answering. “Hello?”

“The kids are driving me crazy. Where are you?” Daisy tensed when she heard her father’s cantankerous bellow.

“I’m coming, just uh –” Daisy locked eyes with the manager and turned her head to whisper. “Ran out of gas at the grocery store. We’ll be there soon.”

“The girl is crying, and the boys is bleeding. Fell off his bike.” Her father’s accusing tone made Daisy feel like she’d been the one to knock Jake off his bike.

“Why’s Taylor crying?”

“How should I know? She’s always crying, ain’t she?” Her father muttered his annoyance.

Daisy felt the cramping in her belly and the pounding in her head as she tried not to show her pain to the manager. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Daisy disconnected the call and turned around, forcing a smile to her face.

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” The manager asked, as Dylan began to scream again.

Desperate, Daisy nodded. “Please.”

“You unhook the car seat, I’ll go get my car. Give me five minutes.” The manager hurried towards the store and Daisy felt awful for shouting at him.

“We go now?” Dylan asked, sniffling.

“Soon. We’re going to go in a different car.” Daisy unhooked the car seat before unhooking Dylan. “We need to put your seat in the nice man’s car, then strap you back in, okay honey?”

Dylan wrapped his pudgy arms around Daisy’s neck and buried his face in her shoulder. She felt his tears dampen her shirt. The tantrum was short but had taken a toll. Dylan usually gave his all to a fit, burned himself out fast. He’d be asleep by the time they got home.

Daisy eyed the clean Honda as the manager parked beside her. “Do you know how to anchor the car seat?”

“Uh, no.” The manager scratched his head.

Daisy peered into Dylan’s face. “Can you go to the nice man so Mommy can move your seat?”

Dylan studied the manager before nodding sleepily.

Daisy couldn’t believe that Dylan went willingly, calmly, into the manager’s arms. He looked awkward jostling Dylan in his arms as she quickly transferred the car seat to the Honda. She grabbed her groceries and put them on the floor in front of Dylan’s car seat. She extricated Dylan from his arms and buckled him in the seat. “Thanks for doing this, uh –?”

“Robert. Robert Keller. What’s your name?” Robert opened the passenger door for Daisy.

“Daisy. Like the weed.” Daisy smiled wryly.

“Daisy’s aren’t weeds, they’re wildflowers.” Robert grinned as he closed the door.

Daisy felt a pang thinking of her mom. Her mother used to say that daisies were flowers that people didn’t know they wanted until they saw their happy little faces show up in their gardens. Her dad used to say they were wildflowers, just like Daisy was a wild child, and her mother would slap his arm, saying Daisy wasn’t wild, just free, like the flowers.

“Hot,” Dylan mumbled from the backseat.

Robert started the car and turned on the AC. “It’ll cool off quick, Champ.”

Dylan looked over at the heap parked next to them. “Bye bye, hunk o’ junk.”

“That’s what my dad calls the car,” Daisy explained with a grin. “Hope you don’t mind, but she’ll have to sit there until I can get some gas.”

“No rush.” Robert pulled out of his spot. “Where are we headed?”

“Concession 2. I’ll point out the house when we get there.” Daisy felt her face flame. “I can’t remember the number. Like 1, 305 or something.”

If Robert minded the long trip out of town he didn’t let on. “Were you really going to walk?”

Daisy nodded. “What other choice did I have? I’ve got an old umbrella stroller in the trunk, I would’ve strapped Dylan in there and put the groceries on the handles. Done it before, a couple of times.”

“H-hot,” Dylan hiccupped from the backseat.

“I agree, Champ.” Robert peered into the rearview mirror, nodding.

“Unfortunately Dylan’s getting too big for the stroller, his feet almost touch the ground, it’s so low.” Daisy put her hand on Robert’s arm. “You better go back, I’ll need it to come get my car.”

Robert didn’t slow. “Call the store when you’re ready, I’ll have someone come get you.”

Daisy thought of the various employees she’d intereacted with whenever she’d been in the store. “Uh, no thanks. No offense, but I can’t see any of them being thrilled with chauffeur duty.”

“We deliver, you know. I’ll just send the delivery guy.”

Daisy knew she’d never accept. “I’m sorry I lashed out at you, even if everything I said was true.”

Robert snorted. “Er, apology accepted, I guess.”

Daisy glanced back at Dylan, who was falling asleep. “You have to admit, your employees leave a lot to be desired.”

Robert nodded. “Believe it or not, it’s hard to find people to work in this town.”

Daisy let out a bitter laugh. “I’d never treat anyone the way I get treated.”

“Then why haven’t you applied?” Robert shot a look at Daisy as he drove outside town limits.

“I have. Several times. The old woman at the counter keeps saying you’re not hiring.” Daisy leaned her pounding head against the headrest. “Story of everywhere in town.”

“Are you new to the area?” Robert sped up as the speed limit increased.

“Kind of. My dad bought a house here about two years ago, when my mom died. He’s not real pleased with me and my kids moving in, but –” Daisy bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to divulge so much. “I’ve been staying with my dad a few months.”

“Your dad is Ray Wheeler?” Robert raised an eyebrow.

Crap. Daisy nodded. “Since you know my dad, you should know I’d greatly appreciate a lift to the concession before you dump me out of the car.”

“Ray’s not that –” Robert cleared his throat. “I see where you get your temper from. Not just normal red-headed temper.”

Daisy groaned. “You do know him.”

“That’s probably why you’ve never ordered groceries. Ray Wheeler is banned from the store.”

Daisy nodded. “I figured, when he complained about having to drive to the next town to get food. He never used to be like this, you know? He and my mom were normal people. He was a bit crankier than some, but not like he is now. He’s bitter because my mom died. Blames everyone, even me. Says if I’d been around more, I’d have seen the signs, but I was too wrapped up in –”

Robert darted a look at Daisy. “Wrapped up in the kids?”

Daisy bit her lip again. “My ex. The kid’s father.”

“You’re not married now?” Robert stopped at the traffic light at the highway.

Daisy blew out a heavy breath. “We were never married. I had Jake, then Taylor, when things were good early on. Then he got…nasty. Made my dad look and sound like a gentleman. I left him, got a place on my own with the kids. He came back, fooled me again by being there for me when my mom got sick, died. I wised up, but not before –”

Robert nodded his understanding as he started driving when the light turned green. “I get it.”

Daisy felt her emotions, usually so controlled, rise up again. This time, she let out a sob. “No, you don’t. You have no clue.”

Robert turned onto the second concession and pulled over at a dirt path. He turned in his seat, passing her a tissue from the glovebox.

“Thanks for the lift.” Daisy wiped her streaming eyes.

“We’re not there yet but I figure you need to get this out before you go home to your kids, and to Ray. That can’t be easy, dealing with –” Robert shook his head. “Sorry.”

“It’s not. He’s so miserable all the time. I hate leaving the kids with him but sometimes I have to. He’s actually good with them, just tells me how horrible they are.” Daisy wiped her cheeks again. “The kids love him.”

“Then that’s a bonus. Where’s your ex?”

Daisy shrugged. “Last I heard, jail. His mom sends me child support every couple of weeks. Not much, but it’s all she can afford. She lives in Newfoundland, feels responsible. Her other kids are all good, you know? Says to me that she doesn’t know where Steve gets it from, his bad side.”

Robert passed another tissue to Daisy. “I think everyone has the potential. Every day, we make choices, some of us choose wrong.”

Daisy nodded. “Like Steve. He didn’t want to work, said I was a fool slaving away at the coffee shop. Why would he want to work for minimum wage when he was worth more? But then he couldn’t find a job, or if he did, he didn’t keep it long because he was cocky. My cousin babysat for me while I worked at two jobs, he could never keep one. When I left him the first time, he was getting into shady stuff. When my mom got sick, it was too late to save her. I took a leave from one of the jobs so I could help my dad as much as I could with her. Steve came around, watched the kids so I didn’t have to pay my cousin to babysit anymore. That’s when I made the mistake of thinking that we could try again. Not because I loved him, but because it was easier to work one job, not have to pay a sitter.”

Robert frowned. “You had Champ even though you didn’t love Steve? I’m sorry – none of my business.”

“You opened this can of worms, you might as well get the full blast. Yeah, though I thought maybe my feelings were love. I was messed up, my mom had just died. I ignored the doubts, the worries, life was so hard, it was just easier to keep going with what I had. Then he got caught with stolen goods, drugs, a gun. The kids were with him.” Daisy bit her knuckle to stifle the sob. She glanced back at Dylan, made sure he was still asleep. “I had to work so hard to prove I wasn’t part of his lifestyle. His mother came out from Newfoundland, backed me up. I finally got the kids back about six months after Dylan was born. When my mat leave was up six months after that, my cousin said she couldn’t take all three kids, couldn’t handle a baby. I figured I’d come up here, stay with my dad until I could find a job. Only I can’t find a job. And I can’t afford my own place. My dad’s on a pension, he supports himself okay, but can’t afford to support all of us.”

Robert was quiet, and Daisy felt horrible for unloading on him. He was probably thinking of ways to get rid of her politely, all while banning her from the grocery store. “Where have you worked?”

Daisy, caught off guard, raised her eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“What kind of jobs have you had?”

“Oh, well, nothing exciting. Coffee shop, fast food, counter stuff. I waitressed when Jake was small, but had to stop because the bar was open so late, and I started at the coffee shop so early, with a couple of hours in between both jobs day and night. I was exhausted, and pregnant with Taylor.”

“Where was your favourite place to work?” Robert shook his head. “Let me rephrase that. If you could have any job in town, where would it be?”

Daisy shook her head. “Doesn’t matter, no one’s hiring.”

“I was born and raised in this town. I know everyone. Where would you work if you could work anywhere?”

Daisy shrugged. “Anywhere. A job is all I want.”

“And I know I can get you a job. I just want to know where you’d love to work.”

Daisy shrugged. “I liked waitressing for the tips, but not a lot of places that need day servers. Jake’s starting school in September, I’d like to see him at night. I used to think the bank would be good, but I don’t have the right clothes. Same thing for being a receptionist. So I guess we’re back to fast food stuff, which this town doesn’t have a lot of options for. Or the grocery store, but you’re never hiring.”

Robert was quiet for a couple of minutes, and Daisy felt the little balloon of hope that had swelled in her chest deflate. She was stuck in small town Ontario with no job, no prospects, a single mother living with her grief stricken father, and zero means of escape. She had a pittance coming in from her kids’ grandmother for support for them, which she spent on them only, except the twenty bucks she put in her tank to drive around looking for work once a week.

“I’ve got a couple of options. Will your dad watch the kids for an hour?” Robert sat up straight in the driver’s seat, glancing at Daisy as he shifted into drive.

“Uh, yeah, probably. Only thing that makes him happy, even if he complains about them after.” Daisy shrugged.

Daisy remembered her dad was banned from the grocery store, so she wasn’t surprised when Robert pulled into the long gravel driveway without directions from her. The Wheeler reputation preceded her.

Robert took Dylan while Daisy unbuckled the car seat and grabbed the groceries. Dylan never woke up as Robert adjusted him in his arms and took the grocery bags from Daisy.

“Mommy, mommy, we’re having chicken fingers for dinner.” Taylor raced to the door, her brother right behind her.

“Thought you said you’d be here soon –” Ray stopped in his tracks when he saw Daisy standing in the door next to Robert. “What’re you doin’ here?”

“I told you I ran out of gas. Can you take Dylan? He’ll sleep for awhile yet because he wouldn’t nap this afternoon.” Daisy took Dylan from Robert and passed him to her father, who took him down the hall to Daisy’s bedroom. “Taylor, Jake, you want to take the groceries to the kitchen? Put the milk in the fridge, I’ll deal with the rest when I get home.”

Daisy handed the bread bag to Taylor and the other two to Jake. “Wait, pass me my wallet and phone, first, Tay.”

Taylor dropped the bag and Daisy winced as she leaned on the bread to find Daisy’s things. “Where’re you going, Mommy?”

Daisy shrugged. “I don’t know. To get a job, I hope.”

Robert grinned. “When your mom gets home, she can tell you all about her new job.”

“No one’s hiring,” Ray came back without Dylan. “You check the ads in that crummy paper every week, nothing.”

“I know a couple of places might be,” Robert shrugged. “We’ll see.”

“Mommy, you should probably change. I can see your tear marks.” Taylor put the bread bag over her shoulder and raced off for the kitchen.

“Do I look that bad?” Daisy winced.

“Worse.” Ray shrugged. “Go wash your face, change your shirt. You got Dylan’s snot on your shoulder.”

Daisy set her keys, wallet, and phone on the small table before she tiptoed into her room and pulled out a clean t-shirt without waking Dylan. In the bathroom, she changed, washed her face, and brushed her hair. She found her black pants on the counter and changed, figuring they’d look better than faded jeans.

“Better?” Daisy asked as she returned to the men standing awkwardly in the doorway.

“Not hard to improve on cat-dragged-in slop.” Ray shook his head. “Go on, get out of here.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “Kids? Be good for Grandpa.”

“They don’t know how to be good,” Ray grumbled.

“We will, Mommy. Grandpa said we could paint some rocks after dinner.” Jake returned, holding the bag of milk. “Grandpa, can you put this away? I’m scared of jiggling the jello you made.”

Ray and Jake headed back to the kitchen, Ray muttering under his breath. “Never said not to jiggle it, I said not to poke it or it won’t set right. You just don’t wanna put the milk away.”

Daisy grinned at their retreating forms as she picked up her phone and wallet. “Where are we going? My resumes are in the car, can we stop to grab them?”

“No need.” Robert held the screen door for Daisy and they made their way to the car. “Your dad seems to enjoy the kids. Told me Jake’s learning to ride without training wheels.”

“Not easy to do on a dirt road,” Daisy sighed. “But yeah, he’s teaching him, says Taylor can use the training wheels on the bike he picked up at a garage sale last week.”

They set out towards town, Daisy wondering where they were headed but too nervous to ask. “Won’t you get in trouble leaving the store for so long?”

“That’s the beauty of running the store your parents own. You can get away with taking time off.” Robert winked at Daisy.

“Oh, God, you own the store. My little outburst is even more embarrassing somehow.” Daisy cringed as she stared at Robert’s profile. He was handsome, in a casual kind of way. Not like Steve, who’d been handsome with his swagger and self confidence, but unattractive once Daisy really saw him for who and what he was. Robert had dark hair, blue eyes, and a smile that soothed.

“My parents own the store. I’m not allowed to buy into it until I have a family. And don’t be embarrassed, you nailed everything I’ve been saying for years. Once I do own the store, I’ll be free to make a lot of changes. Until then, I try but no one takes me seriously unless my parents are in. But we do not price gouge, you were wrong about that. We’re a small town grocery store with no corporate parent. We can’t buy container ships of goods at cheap prices, we buy small orders as needed from the suppliers so our prices are high, therefore the store prices are high. Usually when we have a sale, we’re selling for our cost and making nothing.” Robert stopped at the traffic light on the highway.

“I know how it works, trust me. I’m sorry for lashing out at you. Consider it a mini breakdown or something. I’m usually very nice.”

“I know. I’ve seen you around a few times, in the store and in town.” Robert shot her a sheepish grin as he stepped on the gas when the light changed. “You usually buy one loaf of bread. I wondered why you’d grabbed two.”

“The sign –” Daisy laughed when she remembered her scene earlier. “I’d love to not watch every item scan through, to not have to worry about everything to the penny, but I had sixty-two dollars in my purse, and I took an hour to buy what I bought, because I had to keep putting things back, picking up others. Turns out, I had that much because I’d forgotten to put twenty in my gas tank.”

Robert slowed as they entered town limits. “Your dad can’t help you?”

Daisy sighed. “He is helping me, as much as he can. He sold the house he and my mom owned and bought the place where he is now. Went from small city convenience with no yard to big yard in small village. The place he’s in now cost more than he got for the other house, so he used his investments to avoid a mortgage. His pension covers property taxes, bills, and groceries for him. He’s been buying a lot of extra food since we’ve been here – chicken fingers aren’t in my budget.”

Robert pulled down a small driveway between the bank and the salon, headed for the rear parking. “Is he happy here?”

Daisy shrugged. “You’ve met him, does he seem happy to you?”

Robert snorted. “Not really.”

“He wanted away from the memories, but the problem is, they’re in his head and he can’t get away from them. He likes a bit of land, but it’s lonely. He’s not a social guy, so he’s not really met anyone in town. Mom was the churchgoer, so he doesn’t even have that outlet. I think he likes the area, but he wanted quiet, so he went outside town. If he had it to do over, I think he’d either have stayed put, or bought in town here.” Daisy opened the car door when Robert pulled the key out of the ignition. “Where are we going? I already told you the bank’s not hiring.”

They walked along the sidewalk to the street. “You’ll see.”

Daisy hesitated as Robert opened the door to the real estate office. “Are they hiring? Do they need a cleaner or something?”

Robert shook his head, stepping aside for Daisy. She froze when she saw the miserable woman from the grocery store. “Elaine, this is Daisy, Daisy, Elaine.”

Elaine’s smile turned froxy when she recognized Daisy. “Robert?”

“You know everything and everyone. Who’s hiring?” Robert sat down in one of the chairs in the waiting area across from Elaine’s desk. Daisy stayed near the door.

Elaine’s cool expression warmed as she looked Daisy up and down. “That depends. I know a few places might be looking.”

“Really?” Daisy gaped at the woman. “Anything, anywhere. In town preferably, but I can commute to one of the other towns if I have to.”

“Well, Sheila’s quitting the medical centre, so they’re looking for a new secretary there. Georgia’s going on mat leave, so they’re looking for a secretary for a year, but then Mildred’s retiring end of the year, so might be that you can take over for her permanently. That’s at the vet’s. The new restaurant will be looking for a waitress once they figure out how to let Linda go. Can you drive a school bus?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”

“You’d know if you had a bus license. Shame, they’re always looking for drivers. There’s a high turn over at the coffee place on the highway but there’s a reason no one sticks. Have you asked your aunt if she needs someone?”

Robert shook his head. “I will if you let me down but so far you’re winning. Who do you know at the medical centre that has a say in hiring? Or the vet’s?”

Elaine looked Daisy over again, her eyes narrowed. “Better the vet, I think. The medical centre is a bit harsh sometimes. Judge-y, you know.”

Considering the way Elaine had huffed and puffed behind Daisy, she thought the statement was a bit laughable. “I can get some better clothes and a haircut.”

“No, no, honey. I know who your dad is, he bought the Henderson’s old stead. Let’s just say your dad isn’t Dr. Greg’s favourite patient. I’m sure he’d forgive you, not hold your dad against you, but all the same. Let me make a quick call.” Elaine put a headset on and pressed a few buttons on the phone.

Daisy sat down beside Robert. “Is this for real?”

Robert’s blue eyes twinkled. “Elaine knows everything, and if she doesn’t, she makes it up until she knows it. Safe to say she didn’t cut you slack today because she’s heard the stories about your dad, but she’s the first to stand corrected when she’s wrong about someone. She’s on the phone, that’s her way of letting you know she’s been corrected. If she didn’t like you, she’d have simiply sent you to the coffee place on the highway. Which, like she hinted, is a nightmare.”

Daisy crossed her fingers as Elaine chatted away. “What if I suck? At being a secretary?”

“Can you read and write?” Robert paused while Daisy nodded. “You’re friendly, do you like animals?”

“Love animals. Dad and I were just saying it’s a shame we don’t have pets, but we’re barely feeding the kids right now.”

Elaine pulled her headset off. “Okay, I tried to wangle more, but starting salary is only thirty-seven. Benefits in three months, once your probation is up. Three weeks paid vacation a year, five paid sick days. Now, what else? Oh yeah, you have to be willing to work at least one Saturday morning a month. Rest of the time is either eight til four thirty, or nine to five thirty, half hour unpaid lunch.”

Daisy blinked. “Pardon?”

Elaine frowned. “I know thirty-seven K a year isn’t much to live on, especially since you’ve got a kid –”

“She’s got three,” Robert interrupted.

Elaine’s eyes filled with compassion. “That’s really not enough, but the bright side is that if you get through probation, you get a raise. Georgia said it’s close to forty, but didn’t know exactly. She gets more because she’s been there since high school but that’s what she was told to advertise. Plus, with Mildred retiring, might be a bigger jump faster.”

“Forty thousand?” Daisy swallowed hard. “I worked two jobs at one time and was lucky if I made thirty.”

“Between you, me, and stock boy, Georgia thinks you can get more if you play your cards right. Got me for a reference, got the grocery guy, need one more good reference.”

Daisy racked her brain. “I got on well with my boss at –”

“No, they won’t care about that. Let me call someone.” Elaine pulled her headset back on.

“Is she for real? That kind of money in this small town?”

Robert chuckled. “That is small town money.”

Daisy sat back in her seat, her jaw hanging slack.

“Okay, that’s settled. Got your aunt on board, she’s going to be the third reference.” Elaine winked at Robert. “You got a resume?”

“In my car at the grocery store.” Daisy shot Robert an I-told-you-so look. “Who’s your aunt?”

“She owns the flower shop.” Robert sat up in his chair.

“She’s also the mayor.” Elaine rolled her eyes at Daisy. “No matter. I’ll whip you up a new one, send it to Georgia in twenty minutes. You should hear tonight, at least by tomorrow.”

Daisy looked at her phone, saw it was already six. “They won’t get it today.”

“Georgia and Mildred work those hours. The evening students work until eight.” Elaine was already typing on her computer. “Now, where’ve you worked?”

Daisy answered all of Elaine’s questions while Robert sat there patiently. When they were done, Elaine printed off a copy of Daisy’s new resume.

“I’d hire me,” Daisy grinned, reading Elaine’s work. “Mine is dull compared to this.”

Elaine brushed imaginary lint off her shoulder. “Like I said, you should hear back tonight, or tomorrow. If you don’t, come see me. I don’t usually work Saturdays but I said I would tomorrow as a favour.”

Daisy walked out of the real estate office with Robert. “That really happened, right?”

Robert laughed. “She’s a steamroller. Even my aunt takes orders from Elaine, and she’s the mayor.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Robert shrugged. “Didn’t want to sound like I was bragging. She’s my mom’s sister. We’re only a small town, it’s not like she’s mayor of Toronto or anything.”

“Still, pretty impressive. I don’t know how I can thank you. I actually feel –” Daisy paused, considered her words. Hopeful? Optimistic? “There’s a lot of things. Like for once life is going my way, you know? I was turned down for each of the three post-secondary education choices I’d applied for, and since then just felt like I was getting by, getting through life.”

“You’ve done more than get by, look at your kids.”

“They’re great, but they’d be great no matter what. I can’t take credit for them, look at their father.”

“Sure you can – you’ve been their anchor.”

“They were in CAS.” Daisy felt the familiar shame rise up to choke her.

“Because of what their father did, but they’re back with you because of what you did.” Robert opened the car door for Daisy.

“Do you have kids?” Daisy asked, peering up at him. He shook his head. “Then how can you say that? They’re great despite anything I’ve done.”

Robert closed Daisy’s door and went around to the driver’s side. “You’re right. I don’t have kids, and I don’t really know you. But I’ve seen you with your kids at the store, walking on the street, and hearing your story today? Your kids show no signs of your struggles. That’s what parenting is all about.”

Daisy smiled to herself. “If things keep looking up, maybe one day I’ll be able to do the family thing properly. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to have a normal picket-fence life.”

Robert shifted the car into reverse and backed out of the parking spot. “You want more kids?”

Daisy nodded. “I’m only twenty-eight. I love being a mom, love my kids, but would love to try again with a true two-parent setting. I mean, I know a lot of guys would run when they hear three kids, but once Dylan’s older, might be easier to find someone who won’t be so scared off.”

Robert was quiet as he pulled out on the road. He pulled into the gas station and Daisy wondered if she’d said something wrong. She waited while he went inside without a word, replayed what she’d said. She couldn’t recall anything that would’ve upset him, unless her asking him if he had kids had been the cause.

Her phone rang. “Hello?”

“Could I speak to Daisy Wheeler?” A man’s voice, one Daisy didn’t recognize, set her pulse skittering.

“Speaking.” Daisy closed her eyes, crossed her fingers.

“Hi, Daisy. I’m Lee Davidson, the veterinarian in town. I’ve just seen your resume Elaine sent over. I’m sure Elaine filled you in. Georgia’s going on mat leave soon, and we’ll need someone to fill in for her.”

Daisy waited for the ‘unfortunately, you’re not what we’re looking for’ remark, but it didn’t come. “Yes, Elaine mentioned that.”

“Excellent. Then when can you start? I’d prefer Monday, but if you need more time –”

“I can start Monday.” Daisy bounced her feet on the floorboard, grinning to herself.

“Excellent. We’ll see you at nine on Monday.”

Daisy let the phone slide out of her sweaty palm. “Holy cow. Holy smokes. Holy Toledo. Oh boy. Oh wow. Oh, my God.”

Robert opened the car door and slid in. A little smile played on his lips. “Good news?”

Daisy burst into tears, sniffling. “What have I done?”

Robert’s eyes widened as he patted her arm. “What’s wrong?”

“I said I’d take the job. What have I done?” Daisy swiped at her eyes. “I haven’t cried so much since my mother died, you must think I’m such a flake.”

Robert turned the key in the ignition. “I don’t. Think you’re a flake, I mean. But what happened? You looked happy when I came out.”

“Lee Davidson just hired me. I start Monday morning. I’ve never been a secretary before. What have I done?”

Robert pulled out of the gas station. “You’ve got yourself a job, that’s what you’ve done. Don’t worry. Georgia’s worked there since high school, she’ll train you up. Mildred’s good, too, she’ll help however she can. You’re in a small town, people are different here. There’s room for error you know.”

Daisy pulled herself together. “You think so?”

“I took you to see Elaine, didn’t I? I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think you could do anything the town might need.”

Daisy was silent for a few minutes. She looked up, saw they were pulling into the grocery store. “Did you need to go finish up your work? I can walk home.”

Robert shook his head and pulled her car key out of his pocket. “I grabbed this on our way out.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “I have no gas, remember?”

“Why do you think I stopped at the gas station?”

Daisy followed Robert out of the car. “I didn’t see you buy gas.”

“You were on the phone. This should do you a couple of days, then you can go back and get more. I told Roger that you were good for the money, to let you fill up, that you’d pay up on your first pay day.”

Daisy looked at the huge red jerry can in Robert’s trunk. She threw her arms around him. “You’re like this knight or something. You keep saving my butt.”

Robert hugged her back, and Daisy was suddenly aware of him, his strength, his heartbeat beneath her cheek. She felt her face flame and pulled out of his embrace. “How can I thank you?”

Robert carried the can to her car and fitted the yellow nozzle into it. He poured the gas into her tank without speaking. Finally, when he’d drained all the gas from the can, he stepped back and looked at her. “There’s uh, one thing you could do.”

Daisy nodded eagerly. “Anything.”

“Ask me why I didn’t offer you a job.” Robert put the gas can in his trunk and turned back to face Daisy.

She blinked in confusion. “Okay. Why didn’t you offer me a job?”

“Because as understaffed as we are, I’d rather go out to dinner with you one night. I figured if you worked for us, it would be awkward to date the boss.”

Daisy couldn’t help herself. She threw her head back and laughed. “That would be awkward.”

“There’s one other thing you can do for me.” Robert’s twinkling blue eyes made Daisy’s heart skip a beat.

“What’s that?”

“Go out to dinner with me? My cousin owns this really cute family restaurant, and she’s always saying it’s a shame I can’t come in to eat because I’m a bachelor. I figure you’ve got the kids, so I can finally check it out properly.”

“It’s a date. When?”

“Tomorrow? I work until two, so I’ll pick you all up at about five? I guess your dad can even come, as long as he promises to behave.”

Daisy wrapped her arms around him again, kissed his cheek. “It’s a date.”