It was dark by the time Tom Graham turned onto Barberry Drive. His house was almost all the way to the end of the dead-end cul-de-sac. He and Kathy selected it a few years before because the location was safer for the children.
Mounds of snow still lined the streets. The March sun whittled them down day by day, creating hope for the people who lived there. The sun teased, making them believe that spring was about to bloom. They allowed themselves the luxury of basking in the soothing rays that imposed themselves through the picture windows in their living rooms. As the folks began to believe, the cruel sun hid behind a late winter storm. Then the piles of snow that had begun to disappear seemed bigger than before. Of course, the snow became gray and dirty from all the reworking and turning over by the plows as they made way for people who had places to go.
Tom left his car in the driveway; Kathy's was in the garage. He told himself (again) that one day soon they would move to a bigger house with a two-car garage. He was too tired to worry about it right then as he pulled out his brief case and locked the car door. He dragged himself up the sidewalk and through the front door of his split level. He was alone in the living room.
"Dinner's in the oven, Tom," Kathy called to him from upstairs. "I'm in the bathroom giving Little Hal his bath."
Tom set his briefcase and overcoat on a living room chair and took two steps toward the kitchen and his waiting dinner. His conscience stopped him; he reversed his steps and headed for the stairs.
"Jennifer's in her room," Kathy called out again, on cue as he was about to ask.
"How are our little Tax Deductions tonight?" he bellowed as he ascended the stairs.
He poked his head into the bathroom where an infant splashed in a plastic infant tub.
"Hello, Little Hal. How's my big boy tonight?"
The baby, looked up at him, gave a shriek and kicked its feet in the water sending a small cascade onto the bathroom floor. The infant looked at Tom with a grin to show him how proud he was to be able to kick water onto the floor.
"Dr. Adams said that the amoxicillin cleared up his ear infection," Kathy said without looking up.
The baby splashed again.
"He looks pretty chipper to me." Tom raised his voice a bit to be heard in a bedroom not far away. "What about Jennifer—was she good today?"
"Pretty good," Kathy replied, matching her husband's volume. "She's got her teeth brushed and she's tucked in bed."
"Do you think she'd like an s-t-o-r-y before going to sleep?"
"Maybe," Kathy answered, keeping up the charade, "if she's in bed where she's supposed to be."
He heard a shuffling scamper of five-year-old feet. Tom went into his daughter's room. She sat in her bed, peering out at him from the frame of jet black hair cut in a page-boy style. As he stood over her bed she started giggling.
"What's so funny, Miss?" Tom asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"I know how to spell 'story', Daddy," she informed him.
"You're getting too smart for your old Dad, Jenny."
"Daddy, why do you call Little Hal and me your 'Tex Bedukshuns'?"
Tom chuckled. "You mean Tax Deductions. That's just a little joke that comes from my work, Jennifer."
"What is your work, Daddy?"
"I'm a Bean Counter, Jennifer," the father answered, giving in a little to fatigue.
The little girl scrunched her nose. "You count beans for work?"
"That's just another joke from my work. Sometimes, when I'm tired, I tell confusing jokes. If your friends ask, tell them that I'm a CPA1."
"What does a CPA do?"
"I'll explain it some other time, Jennifer. What story would you like? Will it be "Cinderella" again?"
The girl nodded her head with great vigor and Tom knew what the answer would be before he asked. He wasn't quite sure what it was about the "Cinderella" story that made it Jennifer's favorite, but it was and "Cinderella" it would be. He picked the book off the shelf. It was mostly for show; after so many repeats he could go through it nearly by heart, and Jennifer liked the pictures, too.
1 CPA: Certified Public Accountant, roughly equivalent to a Chartered Accountant
Tom finished the story before Kathy finished with Little Hal. At three months old, the baby could sleep through the night with a feeding after his bath. When he was born Tom thought to name him Tom, Jr., but in the end he was named after Kathy's father who had passed away two years before.
Tom changed out of his pinstriped CPA uniform and put on some jeans. He decided to wait for Kathy to come downstairs before eating. He went through the mail instead. He shook his head as he paged through the bills. Diaper bills, doctor bills, grocery bills, utility bills; they all added up to slightly more than his salary. In summertime, the utility bills would be smaller and they would be able to catch up.
"It's not Kathy's fault. She scrimps as much as she can."
He already knew that the fault lay in the condition of his employment. At times, it occurred to Tom that the pursuit of the career brass ring was an act of self-indulgence—but he and Kathy had agreed years ago. The top of the CPA pyramid—where the partners resided—offered its denizens the true financial rewards of the profession. In the lower tiers the meager salaries helped thin the ranks of the hopeful. Many were called—few chosen.
Tom kept his eye on that target, ever since starting at Bentley, Morrison & Howe as he came out of MBA School, and he was almost there. He supervised many of the firm's audits, reporting to the partners in charge of the various clients. His jobs were the most difficult of the audits the firm performed. Partners sought him out to manage their jobs. He could teach young apprentices the right way to do things and he always brought the jobs in under budget. Most considered him the best accountant in the firm, not excepting the partners.
"If Kathy didn't have to stay home with the kids, and still had her job it would be a cinch."
The evil thought shamed him; the image of Jennifer listening intently to his reading of "Cinderella" peeked over his shoulder with him at the pile of bills. He forgave himself, reminded that it was past eight-thirty and he had yet to eat dinner after skipping lunch. He pushed the pile of bills away; he'd deal with them on the weekend.
Kathy spooned up a plate of reheated casserole and placed it in front of him, then sat down to be with him while he ate.
"I see that you found the mail. There were a lot of bills."
She cast her eyes down, looking ashamed. Tom hated it when she did that.
"They weren't too bad," he replied. "I'll deal with them on Saturday morning."
"You were late tonight," she said.
"I had to go downtown from the client's office after the day was over. Mr. Bentley wanted me to go over the progress on the McAllister Manufacturing audit. The inventory reserves are always a problem. He wants to be ready in case he has to confront the client this year."
"Oh, I was thinking that it might have been something else."
Tom could see that she was disappointed. He knew why.
"Kathy, they won't announce the new partner until after Mr. Howe's retirement party next month. I haven't heard anything. Mr. Bentley was very careful not to bring it up tonight."
"I know—I know! You told me already. I just can't help worrying about it. We've waited so long."
"Just a little bit longer."
"Why won't they tell you? They know that you must be waiting."
"They may not have decided. It could be me or Keith Masters."
"You deserve it more than Keith."
"He's two years older and has more tax experience than me. He had four years at Price-Waterhouse. There's a lot of prestige that goes with that. I've only ever been with BM&H."
"It's not fair."
"Maybe they'll go with just Bentley and Morrison for a while and not add a partner," Tom warned.
"They could do that?"
"Sure. It would be a two-way split of the profits instead of three. And, don't forget—they'll have some paying out for Mr. Howe, too."
"I just can't stand the waiting"
"It's coming—I can feel it. I've paid my dues in that firm for thirteen years. I can't believe they'd let me down. Then, we'll be able to afford a nicer place, and other things, too."
"It's not just that, Tom. You've been aiming at nothing but this ever since you passed the CPA test. You've never said much about it, but I've known all this time."
"I admit it. It's my dream. It's all going to work out—you'll see."