“I’m just saying that if everyone does what Norton’s is doing,” Julia swallowed, “there won’t be anyone left to pay the utilities.”
It had been nine months since she had first joined the coop, and Julia was sitting in their quarterly coop meeting. Since the coop had started, they had gained three new businesses.They were bound to run into difficulties here and there, she knew; but when she’d received her last utility bill, she’d nearly fainted. Three businesses had followed Norton’s lead and declared that they could not meet their utility payments, leading to larger bills for everyone else.
Caesar O’Swiffy cleared his throat.
“We all know that Norton’s had unexpected legal expenses,”
“From the lawsuit you filed on account of running into a stack of boxes,” thought Julia.
“And the other three had lower profit margins than expected,” he declared. “I suggest you just calm down, Julia. You seem, hmm, rather unregulated in your comments today. It’s bordering on hateful. What do you have against these four businesses anyway?”
Everyone turned toward Julia, and she sank down in her chair.
“I didn’t realize the depth of your selfishness, Julia,” Mr. O’Swiffy countered.
Members of the coop began mumbling to each other, but Julia didn’t stay to find out what they were saying. She wanted some chocolate, wanted it now, and the candy dishes set out at the beginning of the meeting were empty.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Julia stared at the wall wondering how everything could have gone so wrong. After the meeting three months before, the one from which she had walked out, things had gone from bad to awful.
A series of events including unexpected expenses with the meal programs had led to her finding it necessary to lay off some of her employees. Julia, herself, had taken a cut in pay and could barely meet her mortgage while she juggled bills from the coop. As it was, she was eating breakfast and lunch at work to save on personal grocery expenses, and her cat refused to eat the generic cat food she was now buying and most days had taken to hiding under the couch.
Her alarm woke her gently, as always, but each morning she had begun to feel alarmed at the sound of it. Allmart employee morale had sunk to an all time low, and although Mr. O’Swiffy had tried to encourage and support Julia by increasing her allotment of Dove Chocolates, Allmart became a place where dissatisfaction was palpable.
There was a knock at the door, and Lexie stepped in quietly.
“Thank you for hiring me back,” she said as she sat some papers down on Julia’s desk.
Julia waved away her thanks.
“I shouldn’t have fired you in the first place. You were – are – one of my best workers. It’s just when Mr. O’Swiffy kept suggesting things about you, I lost my focus.”
Lexie nodded imperceptibly.
Julia looked at Lexie who looked steadily back at her. She opened the store account book and threw up her hands.
“Look at this! I don’t even know where to start. I feel like I don’t know anything about running a business anymore! And, and I’m losing my self-respect,” she finished softly.
Julia jumped up, bumping her knee on her drawer.
“This is where the trouble started,” Julia mumbled as she caught sight of a Dove caramel milk chocolate just inside the barely opened drawer. “Mr. O’Swiffy offered chocolate provided by the coop . . .”
“I miss your cookies,” interrupted Lexie.
Julia sat back down in her chair, the cushioned desk chair, the one where she belonged as owner of Allmart.
“Maybe I need to withdraw membership from the coop.”
Lexie looked hopeful.
“It was such a good idea, though. I hate the thought of losing those connections.”
“Must they be lost if you aren’t in the coop?” Lexie answered, raising her eyebrows.
As she picked it up, something new dawned on Julia; or maybe she had known it all along. She would always love chocolate with a love bordering on desperation. There would be days when chocolate would be just the thing to carry her through until she got home to the soft cuddles of her cat (although at this point it would take at least a month of coaxing to get it back to its former self). But as wonderful, alluring, and oh so amazing as chocolate was, there was something it wasn’t. Necessary. And on those days when Julia could almost believe it was, it was not necessary for someone else to give it to her. She would find a way or make one to get it herself.