“Thanks again for seeing me on such short notice.” Miss Morriseau turned at the elevator and shook Dakota’s hand.
“Thanks for coming in. I’ll be contacting you one way or another to let you know my decision.”
Just then the elevator doors opened and Shanis stepped in. she had enough time to smile, and the doors closed. On the way back to the office, Dakota took a side trip into the dining room and picked up two bottles of water and two salads. Teresa was stretching as Dakota left the corridor.
“Feel like a working lunch?”
“Be right there.” Teresa gathered her notes, the file folder and a notebook and joined her boss in the inner office.
Once everything had been laid out, and the two of them
had gotten comfortable, Dakota asked, “So, did you
manage to find anything new for me this morning?”
“Which is exactly where most people are going to start. Good.”
“Okay, Insulation falls into four categories: loose-fill, blankets, rigid foam and liquid foam. Each of these has traditionally been used in different areas of a building. The pink batts that we all think of as typical insulation is made from fibreglass, which, as you know is dangerous to handle and hazardous when inhaled. There have been numerous cases of reduced and hampered lung capacity caused by fibrous tissue build up. But there have been advances in manufacturing.” Teresa paused to flip a sheet over and take a sip from her water bottle. “All three of the major fibreglass makers wrap their batts now, which results in providing a vapour barrier as well as making the product safer to handle. It isn’t safe enough though. Fiberglass is held together by a formaldehyde-based binding agent, which outgases vapours that can, and have caused, eye and skin irritants, and have been linked to cancer as well! Major companies like Owens-Corning have developed formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation, but it’s still pricey. Some have also made higher density batts common in your average hardware store. I had to do some research to understand and compare R-values. If I understand it correctly, the less air circulation space between the fibers of the insulation material, the better the resistance to heat flow and loss. The higher the R value, the better the efficiency.”
“Right, so we’ve traditionally had this pink stuff that most people can’t install and makes us and the installer sick! What’s the alternative?” Dakota speared a forkful of salad.
“Well, cellulose insulation is environmentally friendly, inexpensive and has a pretty high R value. We seem to be creating a never-ending supply because it can be made from recycled paper and cardboard. It is more resistant to mold, rot and insects and thanks to new developments, now adheres better, reducing settling and improving R-value. In fact, it actually provides more insulation per inch than low-density fiberglass and can be twenty-five percent less in cost than the pink stuff. Assuming of course, that it hasn’t been dry-blown and the installer knows what they’re doing.”
“But what if I’m Average Joe who wants to do what’s best for the both the environment, and his family? I need to know all my options.” Dakota said as she stabbed a tomato.
“Okay, something else that’s making waves is your denim manufacturing waste. It’s softer, has an R-3.4 rating and doesn’t carry safety concerns to either the installer or the occupant.”
“Downside?” asked Dakota.
“Teresa chewed before answering. “Cost. It can be as high as 15 to 20 % higher than fiberglass.”
“I’ve seen a type of foam board up on the outside of homes under construction, were you able to learn anything about that?”
Teresa nodded and pushed her glasses farther up on her nose. “It’s called expanded polystyrene, or beadboard. It went through a period of disfavour for a while, because a lot of people saw it as a pollutant, but it’s actually the least environment-damaging product of all rigid board insulation. It’s made of the same material that coffee cups are, liquid styrene beads mixed with pentane or steam. It has an R-value of about 3.8 to 4.4 per inch. There are other types of foam board as well. Extruded polystyrene has a higher R-value, R-5 I believe. It’s made with hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which are somewhat safer than the CFC’s that we’ve now banned, but it still releases chlorine atoms when exposed to sunlight.”
“But chlorine atoms still destroy ozone.” Dakota pointed out.
“Where one CFC molecule will destroy 100,000 ozone atoms, an HFC atom will only destroy 20,000 ozone atoms.” Teresa shook her head slightly.
“Not good enough.” Dakota stood and stretched.
“I figured you might say as much, so I kept looking.” Teresa paused to eat a little more of her lunch and find a specific page in her notes. “Natural builders have been using straw bales as insulation in both attic and walls. To provide fire protection, the bales are coated with clay. An 18-inch thick straw bale wall has an R-value of 42. Sheep’s wool has also been used for insulation. Once boric acid as a flame retardant is added, it finds increased acceptance in the market. I wasn’t able to find any R-value estimates for it though.”
“What if there were a product made of cotton, straw and sheep’s wool, mixed with an environmentally safe binder that was also fire resistant?” Dakota mused as she looked out the window.
“There have been some others who thought along those lines too…” Teresa began looking through her notes. “I thought I had…it must be .... Let me just go look on my desk.” Teresa said as she left the inner office.
A minute later, she came back with the missing notes and a large, brown manila envelope. “Dakota, someone left this for you,” she said as she crossed the room.
Expecting schematics, Dakota shook the contents out of the envelope and a photo fell face up on her desk. It was an enlarged black and white of a woman holding a little girl of about six, seemingly taken in the 70’s. “What a cute little girl! Do you know who it is?” Teresa turned to ask.
Dakota didn’t answer at first.
Teresa was shocked to see her boss staring at the photo with tears streaming down her face.
“I want to know who brought this into the building; I’ll need that information by end of business. That will be all for the rest of the day. Hold all my calls until then. Thank you.” Dakota nearly whispered.
Teresa nodded and silently scooped up the remnants of her lunch and her notes, and left the silent office. After closing the door, she went straight to her phone and called Len. “Hi Len, it’s Miss Anari’s assistant. I have a question. Do you know who brought in a large manila envelope for her?”
“Yes, we know someone in security would have brought it upstairs, but we need to know who brought it into the building. I know you have all visitors sign in, what name did they use? Do we have a video image? It’s very important to Miss Anari. She’d like the information as soon as possible, please. Thanks, Len.”
Inside the inner office, Dakota was staring out the window at a calm blue sky with tears still coursing down her face. All the years came rushing back to her as if they had been only days. Now a simple photo had broken down all her carefully constructed walls and laid waste to her emotions as if it had all been only last week, and not twenty-something years. She tossed the photo on her desk and sat on the sofa, but only stayed there a minute.
“Who could have sent this? There are only a few who know…,” she whispered.
After a minute, Dakota felt an overwhelming need to get up and move. She lifted off the sofa so suddenly that her fish bolted to the side of their aquarium. When Dakota began to pace the office, the fish ignored her. Even in her teenage years, she paced when agitated or deep in thought. This time she was a hurricane of emotions.
With nothing else to occupy her time, and her boss shutting herself off, Teresa decided to get back to the alternative insulations project. The more she looked, the more information she found on straw-bale building. She learned that any unused plant fibres that could be baled could be used as a building material, and that those fibers could be mixed. Hemp could be used with wheat straw, or even oat straw. Over and over again, she found studies that attested to an R-value of anywhere from 28 to 50 for eighteen inch straw bale walls. There were studies done on the best type of coating material and on support frames, and information on building codes for homes built from straw. Teresa’s thoughts began to pick up where Dakota’s had left off earlier.
Dakota stood there looking wild and rumpled. “Teresa, I thought I read somewhere that this building had a gym.”
“We do, a full gym and a swimming pool too.” Teresa paused only briefly before continuing. “Are you okay? You look like hell.”
Dakota nodded. “I will be once I work this out of my system. I assume I need security to escort me?”
“No, I can show you where it is.” Teresa came around the desk.
“We have a pool on the fourteenth floor?”
“You’d be surprised what secrets this building holds.” Teresa walked beside her boss in silence for only a short way before saying, “I know we haven’t worked together very long, but if you ever need to get a load off…”
“Thank you, Teresa, but I’m not in a sharing space just yet. I need to work this out of my system so I can get back to work. I’ll be fine after that, really. You might as well go home to your family tonight and we’ll pick up tomorrow where we left off today.”
“I’m in the middle of something right now, but…”
“Good. It’s settled then.”
“Here we are.” Teresa stopped in front of two wide glass doors. “You’ll need your card to swipe the security lock to get in and out. Do you think…”
“I’ll be fine, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow, Teresa.” Dakota pulled open a door and was gone.
Dakota changed into her swimsuit without truly seeing her surroundings or the other people there. She dove into the deep end of the pool and settled into her laps focusing only on her breathing. When she had done the third lap, she leaned her forehead against the side of the pool to catch her breath.
‘I can’t let this affect my work, I can’t. There’s too much to do. Let it go, Anari, get rid of the anger, dump the pain, swim, just swim.’
Dakota pushed off the side and cut through the water.
Teresa had been sitting at her desk making notes and diagrams when her phone rang. “Good afternoon, Development & Sustainability, Teresa speaking.”
“Hi, sweetie, what’s up?”
“It’s five and I was just wondering if there was something I was supposed to be cooking, ‘cause I don’t see anything out.”
“Oh damn…no, I forgot to get the roast out this morning. You don’t have football this evening, do you?”
“Meet me at the door in forty-five minutes and we’ll go out for dinner. Your pick, anywhere other than the golden arches.” She added hastily.
“See you soon.” Teresa smiled and replaced the receiver. She neatened her desk, and headed down the hall to the gym. Just inside the door to the pool, she stopped and watched her boss. The woman swam straight and determined, barely pausing to flip underwater when she reached the wall at the end of the pool. Just as she completed the second lap that Teresa had witnessed, one of the other assistants hesitated on her way out.
“She’s something, your boss. I’ve lost track of how many laps she’s done. She’s a swimming demon, that one. Hot too.” The other woman winked conspiratorially at Teresa and left.
Teresa grinned, shook her head and went home.
When the phone jolted Teresa from sleep, she was a little grumpy. “What?” she rasped into the receiver.
“This is Hanna.”
“Hanna? Dakota’s … house?” Teresa sat up and switched on the small light beside her bed so she could get her glasses. “It’s…four in the morning…how are you calling me? Where is Dakota?”
“That is precisely why I am calling. Dakota has not returned.”
“Not returned? From the office?” Teresa was groggy and finding it hard to think.
“She is not here.”
“Okay, I’ll see if I can find her. Thank you for calling me.”
“You are welcome.”
The line went dead and Teresa flipped back the covers. She found her clothes and dressed in record time, left a note for her son on the bathroom mirror explaining where she’d gone and when she’d be back, and plucked her keys from the bowl in the hallway.
At a red light, it occurred to her to call security at the office, on the off chance that Dakota might not even be there. She hit the hands-free button.
“Call. Wells Corp. security.
“Wells Corp, security desk.”
“Hi there, this is Teresa Cummings from Development & Sustainability, could you tell me if Miss Anari logged out earlier this evening?”
There was a rattle of keystrokes as the pubescent-sounding guard brought up the log files on the computer. “No, M’am. She hasn’t logged out yet.”
“And no one thought this odd?” Teresa spat out. “Never mind, I’m on my way in. Meet me at the front door. I’ll be going upstairs.” She didn’t wait for an answer before ending the connection.
Her car shot even faster down the darkened city streets.
She braked even before the car had drawn abreast of the front door. The guard saw her come running and he scrambled to unlock and open the door. Wisely, he didn’t ask where they were going.
“Why did no one notice she hadn’t logged out?” Teresa asked him.
The young man shrugged. “We don’t ask questions of anyone on that level.”
“What if she’s been hurt? When I left, she was swimming, which anyone in security would have seen if they had checked. What if she’s been hurt, or worse?”
The security guard said nothing. As soon the elevator began to slow, Teresa spoke again. “She received an unexpected package this afternoon, so I want you to come with me just in case she had an unexpected visitor.”
“Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that, M’am.”
Teresa spun toward him. “When I get a call from Miss Anari’s house at 4 am, I worry, and if you want to keep your job, you will too.” The elevator doors opened and she ran toward the gym with dread in her heart. She fumbled with her security clearance card and yanked the doors open with such force that the security guard had to jerk back or be hit by the door.
“Oh thank the Goddess…” Teresa whispered.
The water was empty and still.
Teresa spun, narrowly missing the guard and took off at a run toward the office. She bolted through the outer door and stopped short before bursting through the second one.
“Please don’t let her be dead.” She whispered.
She was not dead. She did look it, however. Dakota was lying on the sofa, on her back, with her hands folded on her chest. Teresa moved to her side and shook her shoulder gently.
“Dakota? It’s Teresa. Wake up.”
Dakota’s eyes opened slowly, focusing gradually on her assistant’s features. “Teresa? I thought I told you to go home?”
“Which I did, hours ago. You, however have not. Hanna called me a little while ago. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. You say Hanna called you?”
Teresa turned to address the young security guard. “You can return to your duties now, but our conversation is not over.”
“Yes, M’am.” He left the office quickly.
Teresa had to clear away snack food wrappers, water bottles and files before she sat on the coffee table. “Hanna noticed you didn’t return home and called me at 4 am. I think your house worries about you, boss.” She rested her elbows on her knees and asked, “Do you feel any better after swimming all night?”
Dakota sat up and scrubbed at her face with her hands. “I feel exhausted; even with the nap.”
“You should go home. Get some good sleep, reassure Hanna and come back when you’re ready.”
Dakota studied her for a minute. “Wait, Hanna called you and you just raced over here?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” Teresa nodded. “I know you said you weren’t usually manic, but I thought… actually, I didn’t think, I just…reacted.”
Dakota smiled slightly. “It’s good to know that someone worries about me; even if it is just my house and my assistant. Thank you for making sure I was okay. Now go home.”
“Only if you do the same.” Teresa smiled as she crossed her arms.
Later that morning, both the Director and her assistant arrived at the same time.
“I heard we had a bit of excitement here earlier this morning.” Len said in the elevator.
“Yes, and I was wondering if it’s procedure for day watch to inform night watch who is still in the building?” Teresa replied.
“No, M’am, it’s not.”
“I think that should change.”
“That would be Mr. Wells’ call to make, M’am.”
“My thoughts, exactly.”
Len looked quizzically at Dakota, who only shrugged.
At the outer office, Dakota hesitated only slightly before turning the knob and entering her own office. Thankfully, everything was as it should have been. As she fed her fish, Dakota nudged her mouse and her monitor came out of sleep mode. There was a myriad of email that needed her attention; all of them marked “urgent”. One of them caught her eye though, one from Miss Morriseau’s former supervisor.
Shanis is a great person to work with. She’s organized, outgoing and very committed to her work. She’s also driven and focused, which can be interesting if she disagrees with you. However, she doesn’t hold a grudge when a project goes in an unexpected direction. You asked about her shortcomings… at one time I might have said that her family was her shortcoming, but at some point that ceased to be a problem. To my knowledge, she drinks very little, does not smoke and is deeply spiritual, however she is very private about this. It took me months to find out even a little of her beliefs. If my firm weren’t so pigheaded, and we could drop contracts and hire outright, I would hire Shanis back in a nanosecond.
Hope this answers your questions,
A knock at her door startled Dakota from her email.
“Ready for those cookies now?”
Teresa entered bearing a tray and set it on the coffee table. “I’m glad we’ve been able to meet like this. It’s a good jumping off point for the day.”
“Even if this day is getting started later than normal.” Dakota added as she kicked off her shoes. “I want to thank you again for making sure I hadn’t drowned. I’m not used to being cared about.”
Teresa turned pink and offered Dakota a small plate of cookies. “You know, the research I’ve been doing on Miss Morriseau has gotten me thinking about one of my bosses I had not too long ago. She used to take us all out for working lunches once a week. We used the opportunity to clear the air on the tougher projects we had. We’d brainstorm, debate and make notes and by the end of a two-hour lunch, we’d all leave feeling as if we’d accomplished so much more than at the office. We’d laugh a lot too, sometimes we’d all cackle like hyenas. Her only restriction was that we all swore to never tell a word if we heard anything personal about our co-workers at that table. Well, that and no alcohol.”
“What was she like?” Teresa tucked her legs under her and sipped from her mug.
“She was dedicated, unorganized, funny, helpful, interested in the unknown, passionate and a heavy smoker.” Dakota paused for a moment. “In a lot of ways, she shaped who I am today. I miss her.”
Teresa waited; she had a feeling that Dakota wanted to say more.
“She died of lung cancer two years after I became her assistant. We were all heart-broken. I was angry for a long time because she never said a word about the cancer to us. She was off work sick frequently, but none of us ever suspected. Her husband called me late one Saturday night to tell me that she’d died in her sleep. Work was never the same after that.” Dakota took a big swallow of coffee before continuing. “I should be used to loss, but it’s different each time. That photo yesterday…I was that little girl. That was my mother. Not long after that photo was taken, I went off to school one day, I was in grade one then, and no one came to pick me up. My teacher took me to the office to wait for my mother, but when it became obvious that no one was coming, child services were called. They took me somewhere, tried to occupy me and called the police to track down my parents. They told me that my parents had died, but I never really believed them until I got to be a teenager. Once I was old enough to start asking the right questions of the right people.”
“My parents had been killed in a home invasion. My father had come home unexpectedly in the afternoon, presumably for an afternoon of adult time from what the police told me. Both had been shot. My father was shielding my mother’s body, but in the end, it didn’t matter. From the day I had been dropped off at school by my mother, I never went home again. I was not allowed. There were no relatives left to make sure I got my belongings, an officer packed my room…” Dakota’s voice trailed off.
Both women were silent as they absorbed the emotion of the moment, but after a few minutes, Teresa remembered something.
“Oh! I almost forgot! Jake asked me to give you something!”
“Jake? Your son?”
Teresa smiled and handed Dakota an envelope. “You don’t need to worry about unpleasant surprises in this one.”
‘Dear Miss Anari,
I wonder if you could help me with a school project. I have to write an interview of someone I find interesting in the business world, and Mom has spoken so highly of you that she makes you sound like a Titan or something. Anyway, I was wondering if you would be able to join us for dinner and an interview tonight, at our house.
Dakota grinned. “A Titan, hmm?”
“I had nothing to do with this note, other than to be asked permission before he wrote it.” Teresa smiled as she took another cookie.
“I’d be delighted. What time should I be there?”
“How does six-thirty sound?”
“Perfect! Now, what did you get accomplished while I was swimming like a fish yesterday?”
“I was hoping you’d ask.” Teresa’s eye lit up as she reached for the file that sat on the tray. “I did a bit more research and carried on with an idea you mused over. You talked about combining straw, sheep’s wool and cotton. So I came up with something…” Teresa handed Dakota a page of sketches and notes.
It didn’t take long for Dakota to understand what she was looking at, and gradually, a wide smile spread on her face.
“This is amazing…I didn’t expect you to take it to this level…wow…estimated R values, suggested dimensions…even an interlock system for stability and safety.” Dakota studied her assistant carefully. “How long did you stay up with this?”
“Not as long as you were.” Teresa smiled at her boss over the rim of her mug.
Dakota blushed and returned to the notes in her hand. “So, you’re proposing an interlocking system of blocks made of straw, sheep’s wool, and cotton manufacturing waste, coated in Portland cement?”
“Imagine a cement truck full of the organic matter, all tumbling in the drum with the cement. We know that each of the organic elements has a high R value, made higher by high rates of compression.” Teresa explained. “The blocks would be 98% organic, 2% cement binder. The binder not only adds cohesiveness, but also provides a pest barrier, as well as added fire retardant. Obviously tests would have to be done to see how long it took to smoke, as well as strength tests…”
Dakota laughed and held up a hand. “Whoa, Teresa… okay…I get it. We’ll move on this today.”
“Yes, we will.” Dakota laughed again and then drained her mug. “I think we’d better get to work though. I have to meet with Shanis again, and I’ll need a memo, text message and email out to all the brainiacs. Starting today, we’re having working lunches once a week, every Friday, on the company’s tab. Attendance mandatory, no alcohol.”
Teresa reached for her notebook and began taking notes. “Also, from now on, every meeting I attend for work, I’ll expect you there as not only my pen, but also my eyes and ears. I was going to mention this yesterday, but…things got in the way.”
“I’m going to set up a face to face with the brainiacs for later in the day. Do you think you could explain your idea to them?”
“If I can get my hands on a few Lego pieces, I could.”
“You go ahead and get those, and when you’re done with them, send them down to the nursery.” Dakota reached over and picked up the phone that sat on the coffee table. “Len? Dakota Anari here. Could you come up and see me for a minute? Thanks.” She turned back to Teresa and rested her elbows on her knees. “I want to thank you for the invitation. It means a lot to me…really.”
Teresa reached out and briefly put her hand on Dakota’s arm. “It’s about time you allowed yourself to have a friend, Dakota.” Then she stood up and left the office, leaving Dakota to think.
Just as the door opened, Teresa finished text-messaging Jake to let him know that Dakota was coming for dinner.
“Miss Anari asked to see me?” Len stood fidgeting with his hat.
“Before you go in, I have an idea I’d like to swing past you, Len.” Teresa invited him to sit down while she leaned against her desk. “I’m sure you know that Dakota gave me quite a scare yesterday. I’m surprised that the day shift does not inform the night shift who remains in the building at the close of business day. I assume that only Mr. Wells himself has the authority to make that policy change?”
“All right. I’m going to do what I can to see that happen. Also, I was wondering if you had any luck on tracking down the person who delivered that brown envelope to Dakota yesterday?”
Len nodded. “Yes, M’am, I’m going to give her that information now. Off the record, M’am?”
It was Teresa’s turn to nod.
“I’m glad you want to make that policy change. I’d hate if anything happened to her. I kinda like her.” Len surprised Teresa with one of his rare, warm smiles. She smiled in return and went to inform her boss that the head of security was waiting to see her.
“Thanks for coming to see me, Len.” Dakota reached out and shook Len’s hand. “Were you able to ascertain who delivered the envelope yesterday?”
“Yes, M’am. This is a picture of the woman who dropped it off.” Len offered a black and white photo.
“I assume this is a still from the security tapes?”
“I know it’s not the greatest quality…”
“That’s okay, I know your systems aren’t perfect. Do you have the name she signed in with?”
“I’m not familiar with her, either by name or by sight. Curious.”
“Indeed. If she comes by again…”
“I’d like to speak with her. Tell her whatever you have to, just delay her long enough for me to get down to the front desk.”
“You’ve got it. Anything else?”
“Not right now, thanks, Len.”
Dakota parked her car across the street from the address that Teresa had given her, and studied the house for just a minute. It was an adobe ranch-style house with a wrap-around porch and swing, the path to the front door lit by small lanterns. There was no front yard; all the grass that might have once been there was now a flower garden. Dakota smiled slightly when she realized how much the house suited her assistant. Not wanting to keep Jake waiting, she gathered up her packages and checked for traffic before stepping out into the street. As she waited for her knock to be answered, Dakota watched the flag flutter lazily in the breeze. The door opened swiftly, and Jake beamed up at her.
“Of course, how could I refuse an invitation from an admirer like you?” Dakota laughed.
“Let her in, Jake, before Miss Anari will think I didn’t teach you any manners.” admonished Teresa from within the house.
Jake flushed slightly but opened the door wide. “Sorry, Miss Anari. Please come in.”
“Thank you.” Dakota waited until Jake had hung her coat for her, then followed him into the living room. Teresa came from the kitchen wiping her hands on a towel, and full of smiles. “I’m glad you could come.”
“So am I, which is why I brought gifts.”
“You didn’t have to …”
“You should know by now that when I have a mind to do something, Teresa, I do it. And besides, the way I was brought up, when you visited someone’s home for the first time, you came bearing gifts.” Dakota winked at Jake, who smiled in return.
“For such a charming young man I brought this.” Dakota handed Jake a paper-wrapped package.
He thanked her politely and ripped into the brown paper, then made a small sound of delight. “Mom! It’s a model…a Honda Valkyrie Rune in Illusion Blue! This is so…wow…thank you, Miss Anari!”
Dakota laughed. “You’re welcome, Jake. I’m glad you like it. Now you have one your Mom doesn’t. For her I brought something else.” Dakota handed a similarly wrapped package to her assistant. Inside was no model though.
“Mom? You have a funny look on your face, what did you get?”
Teresa chuckled as she turned the box so Jake could read it.
“A Triops tank? What’s a Triop?”
“Triops are crustaceans that look like miniature horseshoe crabs when they’re fully grown. You see, your mother is an extremely smart woman, Jake, and an ant farm just wouldn’t have been the right thing. It had to be as unique as her.”
Teresa laughed and nodded. “Only you would have thought of such a thing, Dakota. Thank you.” Just then, a timer buzzed from the kitchen. “Go and wash, Jake, and then we’ll eat.”
After a dinner of lasagne and salad, Dakota turned to Jake and asked, “So, you have an interview to do for school?”
“Yeah” Jake made a face. “My teacher thinks we need to learn about business leaders, and Mom talks about this stuff you’re trying to make, and I thought maybe I could ask you…”
“Of course. I’m always happy to help make school a little easier. What classes are you interested in?”
“Well, science and math, I guess, but this business stuff is boring. But I like art and gym.” Jake grinned mischievously.
“Of course you like those; they’re your easiest classes.” Teresa added. “Why don’t you go and get your interview sheets while I pour Dakota coffee?”
Jake was back even before the desert was served and quickly got settled with his brownies and milk, pen in hand.
“First question?” Dakota asked.
“What business are you in?” Jake asked with a serious expression on his face.
“I am the Director of Development & Sustainability. I head the team of scientists and developers that make new products for Wells Corporation.” Dakota took a bite of her brownie while Jake wrote her answer down. “Gee, Teresa, could you have gotten any more chocolate sauce on here? Wow. I have to get your recipe, this is sinful.”
Teresa grinned in reply.
“Okay, next question. Did your school experiences prepare you for your career?”
“Good question. I always wanted to be a scientist. I was very good at it while I was in school, and I was always fiddling with stuff outside of school. My first science fair, I tried to make a radio that would play underwater. My goal was to play music to tropical fish.” She took a drink of coffee and glanced up to see Jake looking at her in bafflement. “It’s true. I thought they would be happier if they could listen to music.”
“Did it work?” Teresa asked as she sat down with her own coffee and dessert.
“It did, only long enough to get a first place ribbon, then the pressure was too much and it began to leak.” Dakota chuckled.
“Cool. Did you have a mentor while starting your career?”
“I did indeed. Everyone should have a mentor. It can be a very rewarding experience for both people.”
Jake nodded and wrote as fast as he could. Teresa watched with pride as he attempted to get every word down on paper.
“Do you ever have days where you don’t want to go to work?”
“Oh sure, I’m sure everyone does. But I get to create, to dream up new stuff, make something out of my imagination. How many people get to do that?”
“What if you can’t think of anything? What do you do then?” Jake was leaning his head in his hand, studying Dakota.
“Even before I worked with your Mom, I always swam when I was stumped for an answer. It clears my head and helps me think.”
“What kind of courses did you take in high school?”
“I went as far as I could in science and math, I took art so I could draw my ideas, and in college, I took all the engineering courses I could. I also took business and marketing courses,” Dakota grinned as Jake groaned. “Without those classes, I wouldn’t have learned about market trends and merchandising. You can’t play the game unless you know the rules. If you want your company to be a household name, you have to learn how to recognize trends and flops, and try and get a jump on what people want.”
Jake only shook his head as he wrote down what Dakota had told him.
“What’s your favourite invention?”
“My underwater radio.” Dakota grinned as Teresa rolled her eyes.
“What do you wish you had invented?”
“Wicked.” Jake scribbled madly. “Thanks, Miss Anari.”
“Now, wait a minute young man.”
Jake looked up like a deer caught in headlights.
“My friends call me Dakota, and I’d be pleased if you would, too.”
Jake smiled broadly. “Okay, Dakota. Thanks for your help. I’m done, Mom. Can I be excused?”
“You bet. Make sure you feed Turbo, then brush your teeth.
As he left the room, Dakota said to Teresa, “Do I dare ask what Turbo is?”
Teresa laughed and suggested they enjoy their coffee in the living room. It was a warm and cozy room. The hardwood floor was a rich honey colour, the two sofas were a chocolate brown and a small fire crackled in the fireplace.
“I’m going to make sure Jake has brushed his teeth, make yourself comfortable, Dakota.”
Dakota set her mug down on the coffee table that resembled a seaman’s chest made of wood and peered carefully at a series of black and white photographs on the wall. All six were landscapes filled with light and shadow. Two crammed bookshelves held a vast amount of cd’s, and Dakota was amazed by the variety. Diana Krall sat six away from Great Big Sea, who rested beside Leonard Cohen, who leaned against Shania Twain. Four discs away rested Long John Baldry next to Jim Kuddy. Dakota shook her head as she murmured, “Garnet Rogers, Buffy St. Marie, Joni Mitchell, Rita MacNeil, Gordon Lightfoot, Tamarack, Kashtin, The Fables, Anne Murray, Martha Wainwright…”
“You like it?”
Dakota replied without turning, “It’s a who’s who of Canadian music. This must have taken you years to collect!”
“Jake started it actually. One year at Christmas time, I was moaning about a lack of Canadian music on our stereo, so he bought me a handful of cd’s, all by Canadian artists he knew I liked. The collection grew from there.”
“Wow. I’m impressed. Who do you play the most?”
“It depends on the mood I’m in. When I’m cleaning house, I like to play The Fables. When I’m working on things for work, I play Kashtin.”
Dakota nodded as she sat on the sofa. “Your home has a peaceful feeling. It’s very cozy.”
“Thank you. It’s my refuge.” Teresa took a sip of her coffee before adding, “I’m glad you like it.”
Both women were silent for a minute, content in their silence. Teresa rose and chose a cd from the cabinet, and as she was cueing the stereo she asked, “What’s it like living in a ‘smart house’?”
“It’s interesting, I’ll give it that. At first, it’s a little discombobulating hearing a voice speak from the ceiling, but at least it gives me someone to talk to at four in the morning when I can’t sleep.”
“Does that happen often?”
“More frequently than I care to admit. Your house seems to enjoy my company.”
Teresa returned to her seat on the sofa. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Was it hard, growing up?”
“It was difficult to ignore the pitying looks. Sometimes, even months later, I felt as though the whole world was afraid I would shatter. I had a hard time at first, before I could understand how to rise above it. I fought out, I behaved irrationally at school, and I was a nightmare to my first three foster families.”
“Three?” Teresa gasped.
“But the fourth family they sent me to, their home was huge, rooms and rooms that were never used. Generations lived together there.” Dakota tucked her knees up under her chin. “There was a great aunt; her name was Plum. I stumbled into her room by accident one day. She was sitting by her window, sewing. She invited me to watch the rain with her. The room felt so inviting and warm, that I stayed with her for hours. By the time that my foster mother came to get me for bedtime, Plum and I had become fast friends. The next day was sunny and Plum decided we were going to picnic, just she and I. She fascinated me so much; I had forgotten to be suspicious of her. She was full of stories. She told me about life when she was a child, she talked about the Great Depression and learning to go without comfort. But she also told me about her first love, and about going to college as a young woman in those times. We walked along a creek and she taught me how to skip stones. After we had lunch under a twisted apple tree, she sewed while I watched the clouds. I asked her how sewing could make her so happy, and she told me that it was what connected the women in her family. Her grandmother had taught her how to sew blocks together, and how to make it all a quilt that would keep her warm for years. I remember lying on my stomach watching her needle flash in the sun, and wanting roots like that so hard it nearly made my head pound. When I asked her to teach me, she cried a little, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I understood; but I’ve never forgotten.”
“Did you learn how to sew?” a voice asked from the hall.
“I did. Plum and I went on to make many quilts together. She was my first mentor, Jake. My mother was killed while I was still very young, and I barely remember her. Plum taught me everything that gets me through the tough stuff in life. I learned how to survive, and how to excel at anything I put my mind to, because of what Plum taught me. She taught me how to cook a duck, how to sew and how to think for myself.” Dakota beckoned for Jake to come and sit beside her. “You see, Jake, no matter when we live, we all have challenges. Yours are different then mine, or even your Mom’s. Smoking, drugs, getting into trouble you know you’re supposed to avoid. Adults have different challenges, different choices to make. But it all comes down to following our hearts.”
“How do adults know what to do?” he asked, and Dakota suspected they were no longer talking about cooking.
“We weigh what’s right against what’s wrong. When I had those choices to make, I asked myself what Plum would do, would she be proud of me, or disappointed? People I thought were my friends teased me, but Plum’s approval meant more than they did, so I got over the embarrassment. When I graduated from high school, Plum threw a party for me. The quilt she gifted me with spoke volumes about how she felt for me. I knew she had sewed every stitch with love, even with her failing eyesight and shaking hands. It was that love that had kept me on the straight and narrow, that had kept me studying long after I wanted to quit, and it is that love that keeps me going even now.”
Jake nodded. “So you didn’t do anything wrong?”
“Oh sure I did. But I don’t think gluing the toilet seats down in the teacher’s washrooms seemed too bad compared to doing drugs and smoking.” Dakota grinned wickedly.
Teresa nearly snorted her coffee through her nose. “Okay, Jake, say goodnight to Dakota and off to bed before she gives you any more ideas.”
Dakota laughed out loud.