Chapter 8: Tolerance

A last minute medical emergency prevented Mel from leaving at her regularly scheduled time. She broke records in showering, changing and crossing town to meet Rick and the realtor. The security guard gave her a strange look as she gave him her name. For a moment, she wondered if there was another Daniker Heights condominium in Springfield. Then, he waved her through. As she rounded the curve and saw Rick's familiar SUV, she forgot about the guard's reaction.

Rick must have heard her . He appeared on the front step and waved. "You made it!" His arm curved around her waist and he lightly kissed her temple. "I got your message. How did it go?"

"I'm sorry I'm late. Everything is fine. The patient is hanging in there. He was stabilized and placed in ICU. After dinner, I want to stop by Cedars and check on him."

He smiled. "Okay."

They moved into the foyer. A fortyish blonde in a pretty gray business suit stood near the staircase. Her perfectly made lips curved into a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Hello. You must be Mel. I'm Jessica."

"Nice to meet you."

The women briefly shook hands. Mel looked around. From what she could see, the condo was everything the brochure promised. Shiny, hardwood covered the floor. The smell of fresh paint filled her senses. The walls were stark white and constrasted well with the floor. She couldn't wait to see the rest.

Rick squeezed her hand. "We weren't sure if you'd make it so I asked Jessica to show me the place. When I got your call, I asked her to wait. I want you to see everything. There's so much space. Upstairs and downstairs."

"Let's go!"

Tugging on Mel's hand, Rick headed for the staircase. Jessica blocked their path. A pained expression came over her face. Her index finger tapped the face of her Rolex. "I'm sorry, but I have an engagement. I have to leave now."

"You don't have to go every detail like you did with me," Rick said. "It can be a quick tour. I want Mel to see the upstairs."

She glanced at Mel and then quickly shook her head. "I know, but it's late."

"You said that you could be a little late for your next appointment."

The realtor's mouth tightened into a thin line. "I am late. I need to leave now."

"Mel rushed here from the hospital--"

"It's okay, Rick." Mel patted his arm. "She has someplace else to be."

Mel sensed a vibe from the realtor upon their introduction. Jessica Bates seemed to have a hard time making eye contact and her hand shake definitely left something to be desired. Mel's dad had warned her that the true essence of her person could be detected in how they shake hands. Judging by Jessica's limp grip, Mel had a feeling things were about to go downhill.

"You have the morning off," he said, looking at Mel. He then turned his attention to Jessica. "I like the condo and if Mel does, too, I want to make an offer. Could you show Mel the place in the morning?"

"I'll have to check my schedule."

Rick pulled out a business card and quickly jotted something on it. He handed the card to Jessica. "Here's Mel's number. You two can get together without me."

Jessica gave Rick a thin-lipped smile and put the card inside her pocket without looking at it. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must go."

Later, Mel and Rick shared a late supper at the Bauer home. Maureen was out with her friend, Holly, so the couple had the house to themselves. Rick prepared pasta and salad. The meal's delicious aroma of basil and sundried tomatoes filled the kitchen. Mel attempted to eat, but it was futile. The meeting with the realtor upset her and reminded her of her father's warnings. She hated that he was proven right so quickly.

Rick nudged Mel's knee. "A twenty for your thoughts."

She offered him a faint smile. "You're wasting money."

"Let me be the judge of that." He pushed their plates to the side. "You have my full attention. What's bothering you? You've been quiet for a lot longer than usual."

Mel couldn't help but laugh. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Rick grinned. "Nothing. I just wanted to hear your laugh. For a moment, I wasn't sure if I'd ever hear it again."

"Oh, come on. I haven't been that quiet. I'm just thinking about the condo and Jessica Bates."

"What did you think?" Rick asked. His brows knitted into a frown. "You didn't see much of it. I wanted you to like it."

"I know."

"When you see it in the morning--"

Mel shook her head. "It'll never happen."

"When Jessica calls, you can set it up."

She folded and unfolded her napkin. "She won't call me, Rick. Didn't you notice the way she was acting? She couldn't get rid of us fast enough. We're gonna have to find a realtor who's more tolerant."

"Tolerant?" Rick grabbed their plates and moved to the sink. As he scraped their leftovers into the garbage disposal, he said, "What does that mean?"

"Rick, you know what I'm talking about." She took their glasses into the kitchen. "You felt it. Didn't you? You saw it, too. The way she acted. The cold disdain and disapproval. I wouldn't live at Daniker Heights if she gave it to us."

"Maybe you're getting all worked up over nothing," he said quietly. He coughed and then leaned against the counter. "We'll see what happens in the morning." He took her hand. "Stay here tonight. I promise to take your mind off real estate."

"Dr. Bauer, are you propositioning me?"

He nodded. "Yes!"

Mel smiled. "Well, since you put it that way, I'll stay."

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