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Love Letters

By Kathleen E. Kovach

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Prudie Burke hopped off the streetcar and felt the butterflies for the first time. Prescott Tower stood in proud importance at the top of the hill. She’d never interviewed for a job before, but after breezing through college, she felt confident. She reached into her handbag and pulled out the green and gold tassel—University of San Francisco, class of 1955. She smoothed it tenderly, like petting a cat’s tail. The tiny symbol represented a lifetime of dreams.

Her parents had needed convincing when she announced her plan to go to business college. But Prudie knew what she wanted, and it wasn’t to stay home and be a baby-maker like her three sisters.

As the streetcar pulled away, she tugged the bottom of her cinch-waist jacket and smoothed the wrinkles from her blue pencil skirt, feeling quite fashionable in the short just-below-the-knees style. She pulled on her white gloves, adjusted the tiny gray felt hat that hugged her red-brown waves, and tucked her handbag under her arm. No one could call her a tomboy now!

Her mother called her special. Any girl who could shinny up a tree since turning six must have unique talents.

As she approached the imposing building, her bravado faded. It looked much smaller from the street. She envisioned the revolving glass door welcoming people in, but just as easily tossing them out. Would her dream of a career be whipped out onto the street?

Take a deep breath.

She entered the building and found the elevator. “Third floor, please.”

The middle-aged operator in an impressive gray uniform touched the brim of his cap and pulled the controller handle. Prudie’s spirit soared as the tiny car lifted her, symbolically, to success.

Her nervousness babbled out of her as the operator listened patiently. When she disembarked, his face lit showing a toothy smile. “God’s blessings on your interview, Miss.”

God’s blessings?

She hoped God wouldn’t have anything to do with this job. Where had He been when her brother died in Korea?

Prudie swallowed her anger as always. One couldn’t function with such thoughts on the surface. I must concentrate on this interview.

The receptionist, a woman in her thirties, with short dark-brown hair permed in pretty waves, greeted her and announced her arrival over an intercom. The woman led her into an office where a balding man in a gray flannel suit waited behind a desk. He rose and motioned to a chair. “Please, take a seat, Miss Burke.”

“Thank you.” Placing her pocketbook on her lap, she fought the urge to clasp her hands together in a death grip.

“I’m Harold Sweeney. Welcome to the Prescott Brokerage Firm.” He sat, slipped on a pair of black reading glasses, and opened a folder with her name written on it. “So, you attended the University of San Francisco.”

She sat up straight, pride filling her chest. “Yes, sir, I did.”

“Majored in business, I see. And you’re applying for the position of Mr. Prescott’s secretary?” His brow knit together, and Prudie’s butterflies turned into bats—large African bats. “Have you had any experience in secretarial work?”

Her mouth went dry. “No sir, but as you can see, I graduated top of my class.”

Mr. Sweeney tapped the edge of the folder with his index finger, then closed it. He took off his glasses and looked pointedly at Prudie, who suddenly felt small.

“Miss Burke, the ad was very clear as to what was expected in the way of credentials.”

“I know, but I thought—”

“I’m sorry.” His eyes took on a kind quality. “I must fill the position with someone more experienced. However . . .” He replaced the glasses and opened her folder again. “You type eighty words per minute?”

“Yes sir.” Prudie scooted to the edge of her seat.

“And excellent shorthand, too, I see.” He removed the spectacles and placed them in his breast pocket. “Well, I’m impressed with your academics, but I’d like to see how you fare in the real world.” When Mr. Sweeney stood, he tossed her folder into a box labeled, To Be Filed. “Follow me.”

He led her to the elevator. The operator looked pleased to see the two together, and he gave her a fatherly wink.

Mr. Sweeney joined her in the elevator. “Basement, please.”

No, not the basement. She couldn’t rise to success while plummeting the wrong way. When the doors opened, her heart sank.

The steno pool.

* * *

Alex Prescott squeezed the receiver. His mother’s perky voice invaded his ear, but he’d stopped listening after, “Come to the party tonight. There’s someone your father and I want you to meet.”

He rubbed his temple with his free hand. A quick glance at the calendar reminded him he only had three months to find a wife.

Sounds of clanging pots and pans beyond the office wall reminded him further. His staff continued to prepare the day’s meals oblivious to the fact that Alex could lose the restaurant for which his grandfather had worked so hard.

“. . . her name is Christine. . .” Mother’s voice droned on.

He twirled his chair to look at the portrait of the two men behind him. One would think that someone who built a business from the ground up would look more austere. But the artist had captured the compassion in Granddad’s eyes.

Ho Woo stood next to him, the Chinese cook who’d shown Granddad that same compassion when he was down on his luck. He’d heard the story countless times. Ho, shedding centuries of Buddhist tradition, had recently converted to Christianity. He caught a young homeless and starved Edwin sneaking out of his restaurant without paying. Instead of calling the authorities, Ho took him in, taught him to cook, and together they formed a bond stronger than brothers.

“. . . comes from a good family . . .”

After opening a Chinese/American restaurant and developing their own fortune cookie recipe, Ho heard of a man in Los Angeles who slipped words of encouragement into little cakes. They decided to put scripture into the cookies. Thus, they came up with the name Woo With Sweet, a play on Ho’s name and to remind them that God woos with sweet words.

“. . . and don’t be late, because. . .”

Ho Woo died four years after Alex was born, so he barely knew the man. Edwin later wrote up a will. The oldest male would inherit the business as his predecessor retired. Edwin was Alex’s maternal grandfather, making Alex the next in line to inherit. When he turned twenty, he began working closely with his grandfather, loving every minute. To ensure that the restaurant would remain in the family throughout the generations, Granddad had added the stipulation that they must be married by age thirty with the intent to have children—or forfeit their place in line to the next male.

That would be Cousin Corky. Corky! Five years younger by age, but about fifteen by maturity. He hadn’t yet expressed a desire to take over the business, and Alex hoped he never would. He’d rather his family sell it than let Corky run it into the ground—or gamble it away in some drag race. Granddad couldn’t have predicted there would be a Corky in the family.

“Alex? Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, Mother. I’ll be there.” But if he didn’t sense something from God, he wouldn’t pick this woman, either. Pick, what an ugly word.

After hanging up, he headed for the kitchen, glaring at the calendar on his way out.

His efficient staff was pulling together the lunch menu when he walked in. Although he often helped prepare the main dishes and entrees, the cookie baking fell exclusively to him. Since his grandfather’s death five years prior, Alex was the only one who knew the secret recipe. And that, according to the food columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle, was what made Woo With Sweet unique.

Alex picked up two plates and asked where they needed to go. With both hands full, he backed through the swinging door and entered the dining room.

“Here you go, Mr. and Mrs. Leigh. Just the way you like it.” He opened Mrs. Leigh’s napkin and, with a flourish, laid it in her lap. She giggled like a teenager, even though she must have been pushing fifty.

“Thank you, Mr. Prescott,” Mr. Leigh said, digging his chopsticks into the chow mein.

“Young man,” another customer called to him.

Alex approached the elderly Chinese gentleman who’d been eating alone. “How can I help you, sir?”

“I like to speak to the manager, please.”

Alex adjusted his tie and said, “I’m the manager. Is anything wrong?”

A grin broke out on the octogenarian’s face, displaying a set of yellowed teeth. “Not at all.” With arthritic fingers, he picked up the slip of paper from his fortune cookie. “I just like to thank you for this message: ‘For by me, thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased. Proverbs 9:11.’ Means much to me.”

“Thank the Lord, sir. I simply write out verses and place them in a jar. He must have a special message for you.”

As Alex walked away, he prayed silently for the man. This was his ministry. He believed God brought people into his restaurant so he could intercede in prayer on their behalf.

And while he was communicating with the Lord, he decided to toss a prayer up for himself. Please, Lord. Bring a woman into my life that I will fall head over heels for. And please let her have more than an ounce of sense, unlike the women my parents have been parading in front of me.

At that moment, he turned and bumped into a customer, causing her to lose her balance. Before he knew it, they both landed on the floor, but he managed to break her fall with his own body. He felt her elbow pressing into his chest. As she tried to stand, her knees cocked at odd angles from a narrow blue skirt.

“My heel! I’ve lost my heel!” Her gaze darted around at the floor.

“Wait a minute—oof—here it is.” He pulled the spiked heel out from under his backside. When he stood, he held it out and asked, “Are you okay?”

She snatched the heel, adjusted her felt hat, and straightened her jacket. Then, she glared at him with the most gorgeous cobalt blue eyes he’d ever seen.

“Do watch where you’re going, sir.” Her cheeks flushed a deep red.

“I’m s-s-sorry.” Why was he stammering?

This is the one.

Excuse me, Lord?

He knew he’d heard the voice clearly. What was it he’d just prayed? To fall head over heels? It had to be his imagination. And yet. . . .

“Come on, Prudie.” One of her friends pulled her away. “We like to sit over here.”

She wobbled to the booth, looking like a peg-leg sailor with a short peg. Her brunette friend scooted across the bench, allowing the one called Prudie to sit next to her.

Alex followed them in an effort to fix the mess. “If you give me your shoe, I’ll glue the heel back on.”

“While I sit here in stocking feet? No, thank you.” Icicles hung from her words.

Had he misunderstood the Lord? Wouldn’t she have heard the same thing? “Then at least let me pay for a new pair.” He reached for his wallet, but she held up her hand.

“The best thing you can do for me is walk away.”

Alex felt his own anger rise. “I insist.”

“Do you work here?” Her blue gaze bore into him, causing him to take a step back.

“Y-yes.” He cleared his throat and tried again without stuttering. “I do.”

She pressed her fists into the table. “Then I’d like to see the manager.”

He pushed his shoulders back and looked down at Miss High and Mighty. “I am the manager.”
She didn’t seem at all intimidated. “There’s no one to report this incident to?”

“No, there is not.” His eyes held hers in a standoff. “Is there anything else I can do for you at this time?”

“No.”

Fine. “In any case, I’m very sorry. Please let me know if you change your mind.” He spun abruptly nearly spilling someone else to the floor.

He decided to remove himself from the dining room before he hurt somebody.

Before he could do so, a hotrod pulled up in front of his restaurant, its idle rumbling. Then it rattled the windows with a backfiring boom. He cringed as much at the noise it belched as at the scoundrel it spilled onto the street.

Corky.

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