11.7.19 – InstaShortie – A New Ending

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up earlier. Before bed, I’ll set out my tennis shoes and sports bra. I’ll have the coffee accouterments set out on the counter. I won’t hit snooze. I won’t give in to the temptation of nine more minutes. I’ll dig deep down inside and find my willpower.

And tomorrow, I will listen to her.

Tonight, however, I fully intend on pouring a second glass of wine. Perhaps a third. I’ll hold the stainless steel spoon in my hand and wrap a paper towel around the pint of Half Baked so my skin won’t freeze to the side.

Tonight I’ll indulge in whatever rom-com Netflix recommends. I won’t ignore the tears as they tickle my eyes. I will let them do their thing. Slide down my cheek and roll across my nose. A sob or ten may escape, but the sound of the spoon hitting my teeth will drown it out.

Because tonight I will put it all behind me. Tomorrow, I’ll detox.

Settling into the worn corner of the couch—the spot I always sit in—I pull the weighted blanket over my lap. My wine glass sits on the end table to my right and the ice cream rests on my knee. Balance. I reach for the remote and click on the television. Netflix is the first app, making it easy and quick to access. The algorithm knows me well. Every suggestion is something light and humorous. Occasionally, it gets quirky and recommends a documentary. Not tonight, though. The Netflix bots appear to have a direct line of sight to my living room. They recognize the ice cream, wine and blotchy face as signs of desperation.

Tiff needs to remember that true love exists. Oh, let’s make her laugh too.

“Thank you, Netflix,” I say as I shove a spoonful of brownie and cookie dough into my mouth. I select the first option presenting. A nice, adorable movie about a girl that wins a dilapidated bed and breakfast. I’m certain I’ve seen this one before, or one just like it. Either way, I’m craving the predictability. I need it after today.

I force my eyes to remain open while I stare at the screen. I can’t blink. The back of my eyelids won’t let go of the replay of this evening’s disaster. It’s stuck on a loop of the most humiliating and devastating night of my life. Neither sleep nor blinking are options tonight.

The day started like the others. I woke up and kissed my fiance good morning. We went for a nice, casual walk around the neighborhood with our dog (technically, his dog, as he reminded later in the day). Carson made coffee while I scrambled eggs and threw bagels in the toaster. We went our separate ways. I headed downtown for work, while he headed to the suburbs to teach his newest charge of unruly kindergartners. 

The rest of the day was as boring and predictable as any other Friday. The detour didn’t hit until after lunch when the power went out at work. Along with it, the internet. The powers that be sent us all home to work. I packed up my laptop and hit the road. Carson wouldn’t home until later, so I didn’t see any reason to text him the change in plans. We’d still meet up at home before heading out for our Friday night dinner. Our standing reservation at our favorite Italian restaurant was the highlight of my week. Lasagna for Carson and eggplant parmesan for me. We’d share a bottle of pinot noir and, maybe, we’d indulge and split a tiramisu.

Carson and I craved routine, or so I thought. Our life had a rhythm and neither of us stepped outside of it. We knew the beat and it pushed us forward.

I should have detected the change in tempo the instant I pulled into the garage to find Carson’s car parked, but I didn’t. Perhaps I’d simply forgotten to write down an early dismissal day. Or, the sniffles he had the night before had morphed into a full-blown cold. He did work with small children, after all.

If the car didn’t tip me off, the low lights and candles should have. Had I missed those, the open bottle of Moscato definitely should have. But I missed it all. Or ignored it.

I climbed the stairs towards my tiny office—the room that would one day have become a nursery—and then plopped myself at my desk. It was then that I noticed something different. Voices. One in particular. Well, two. Carson’s, of course, and hers. They weren’t talking. Well, he was. She was giggling that high pitched prissy giggle that makes my ears cringe. It was unmistakable.

My heart raced as I left my office and walked towards or bedroom, and it leaped clear out of my chest when I opened the door.

The signs had been there for far longer than I care to admit. I knew she was more than a friend. I knew his buddies didn’t go fishing and hunting every other weekend. I followed them on Instagram, too. They posted plenty of shots of them on the boats. For the last few months, Carson hadn’t been in a single shot. They hadn’t tagged him either.

I’d been so focused on our routine and plans, I’d missed the moment he fell off course. His bags were packed long before I kicked him out. It’s not the betrayal that stung the most, but the ease with which he walked out. A simple shrug and a mumbled, “you’re right” was all he offered. Without a single ounce of regard for me or the three years we spent together, he wrapped his arm around her waist and they walked out of the house he and I used to share. Just like that, everything was gone.

For the first Friday in two years, I didn’t have eggplant parmesan for dinner. I did have my bottle of wine, though I stole the Moscato she left behind. The sweetness did little to soothe the bitter rage that had taken over my body, but I drank it anyway.

I tuck my feet under me and rest my head in my hand. My fingers twist through my blonde hair wrapping a chunk between my thumb and index finger. I snake my way up the hair until I reach the top of my head and then start over. The rhythm lulls me back to the moment. I allow my brown eyes a single blink. This time I do it slowly and let the images of the day play one final time. When I open my eyes, I draw in a deep breath and let it go slowly.

Today was a hiccup. A blip. A tiny, insignificant moment. Three years is a long time to waste on someone who turns out not to be who you thought they were. The silence of the room creeps in around me. I strain my ears to see if I can still hear Carson. The clomp of his boots on the stairs or the whine of the country music he insisted on playing day and night. But there is nothing but quiet.

A smile spreads across my face. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the sound of nothing. With Carson, there was always some noise whether it was his music or a University of Tennessee football game on the TV, he couldn’t stand silence. He also couldn’t sit still. He’d have hated watching me sit on the couch and watch a lame-ass chick flick.

I revel in the lack of man in the house. When he moved in, his things started taking over. Guns & Ammo magazines on the coffee table and his music on the iPod. Mud and dirty boots on my cream carpets. Throws and blankets replaced with dog hair and camo jackets. Though, I did miss Ruby’s dog hair and Ruby herself.

As I watched the young woman in the movie learn her dream of owning a quaint bed and breakfast would require years of work and renovation by the only (annoying and handsome) carpenter in town, I realized I didn’t actually miss Carson. I missed the idea of Carson. The imagined life for us I’d created is what I missed.

I sink further into my comfy spot on the couch. This time when my eyes close, my smile widens. 

9.25.19 – InstaShortie – Over-Expectated Chapter Two

Need to catch up? Check out Chapter One here.

CHAPTER TWO

Darkness met me when I opened my eyes. No light from outside, which meant it was still early. I stretched my arms over my head, arching my back and yawning. My bladder begged me to get out of bed, and I’d tried unsuccessfully to ignore it. The room, though fully equipped with the wonders of modern central heating, felt just a few degrees warmer than the air outside. Shivering, I slipped out from under the covers and braced myself for the cold, laminate floors. Not hardwood, of course, not in this cheap apartment.

I ran to the bathroom, not even bothering the flip on the light. As I sat on the toilet, I closed my eyes and replayed the events of last night. I opened then quickly. There was absolutely no need to relive any of that. Still single. Now unemployed. But, hey, I did win a two-week cruise with my best friend. After I flushed, I made my way back to the bed. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee wafted in my room, which was odd considering I hadn’t made it and I didn’t have one of those fancy coffee makers with a timer.

Mom. It had to be, unless the world’s nicest intruder was currently in my house brewing me coffee before sunrise on a Saturday. 

“Ugh,” I groaned and grabbed a pair of flannel pajama pants off the floor.

“I can hear you,” my mother called from the other side of the door.

“Good morning,” I said, forcing as much fake enthusiasm into my scowl as possible.

“I made coffee. You really should change the password on your computer. Took me all of two tries to guess it. Also—”

“Nope,” I said. I held my hands up in surrender. I wasn’t ready to talk about why that name was my password, or how she’d figured it out so quickly. Geri Yancey didn’t do boundaries. No locked door could keep her from breaking into her daughter’s apartment to make coffee and hack into her only child’s computer.

“Anyway, I took a look at your resume.”

“Can I have coffee before you dive into how pathetic my life really is?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to say the words, Mom. I can hear it in your tone and the fact that you hacked into my computer to fluff up my resume for Uncle Ted.”

“Carrie, I just don’t understand why—”

“Coffee first. Then you can shame your little heart out.” I padded into the kitchen and pulled open the cabinet. Grabbing the largest clean mug I could find, I pulled it out and filled it with coffee. No cream. No sugar. Just black. 

Mom was sitting on the couch with my laptop perched in her lap. I reluctantly made my way over to her and sat beside her. No matter how much I wanted to avoid whatever conversation we were about to have, I knew resistance was pointless.

“Well, the one bright spot is that you have agency experience. Though, I’m not sure we can put Jake down as a reference.”

I cringed. It was far too early to hear that name. As long as she didn’t dive into details, I might survive this conversation.

“Considering how badly you screwed that one up.” She clearly had no intention of avoiding painful memories.

“Mom, please,” I whined. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of experience in my field any more than I wanted to drudge up the ex-boyfriend that sent me crying back to minimum wage and stocking shelves. “Not today. Besides, I didn’t screw anything up.”

“Sure, dear.” My mother patted my knee and turned to face me. Her brown eyes studied mine for a moment. I got my eyes from her, as she liked to remind me. The mousey blonde hair came from my father’s side of the family. “Who was your boss at Tabor and Associates?”

“Jake,” I replied. His name spilled from my mouth like venom. “His boss was Robin.”

“Can we put her down?”

Considering Robin was the reason we broke up, probably not. I shook my head. “Can we just leave that one off? I was only there two years.”

“It’s your only relevant experience.”

“This is Uncle Ted we are talking about. Your brother won’t dive into his niece’s resume.”

“And if Uncle Ted doesn’t hire you?”

I laughed. “Mom, Uncle Ted once paid me two hundred dollars to tie his shoes because I needed a new tire on my car, I’m pretty sure he’ll hire me the second I ask.”

Mom smiled and said, “You’re probably right but can you take this seriously, just in case he doesn’t?”

“Sure,” I replied, “oh, by the way, I’m going on a cruise on Monday.”

“What?”

“With Aaron.” I held my breath as I waited for her response. The only thing she hated more than my lack of career growth was my friendship with Aaron. Ever since she found him standing naked in her kitchen digging through the refrigerator our sophomore year of high school, she hadn’t been able to say his name without gagging just a little. The visual of Aaron’s naked ass was forever etched in her mind.

“Excuse me?”

“Mom, I know you heard me. Aaron won, well, I won, a two-week cruise through the Mediterranean.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Not even a little.”

“Do you think now is a good time for you to be galivanting halfway across the world with … Aaron.” Her nose wrinkled and her lips curled in disgust.

“Aaron,” I said, repeating his name just to watch her squirm, “won the trip for us, so yeah, he has to go. And, I’m unemployed now, what better time to escape reality for a little while.”

“And if Uncle Ted hires you?”

“Then I start in two weeks like any other normal job.”

“This is a bad idea.”

“But what if I meet some hot Greek guy, fall in love, get married and squirt out a few grandbabies.” Mentioning Aaron was guaranteed to produce a reaction of disgust. Mentioning future grandbabies was sure to elicit my mother’s approval of anything.

She thought for a moment. Her eyes twinkled at the possibilities. She was probably naming her grandchildren as she sat there.

Smiling, she said, “I suppose you’re right. Two weeks is a normal lead time before starting a job. Do you have clothes? Formal dresses for dinner? Bathing suits? Maybe we should go over to Green Hills today.”

And just like that, I went from winning a cruise to winning a new wardrobe. “That sounds like an excellent idea, Mom.”

9.17.19 InstaShortie – Over-Expectated

“Men like you,” I said and raised my glass, “are the reason women like me have vibrators.”

The amber liquid hit my tongue in a shockwave and burned as it flowed down my throat. I dropped the glass on the bar and grabbed my purse from the hook underneath. Not bothering to give my date a second glance, I slid off the tall stool and tugged my shirt back into place.

“You owe me for that drink,” he replied. “Bitch.”

I paused and squared my shoulders, preparing my response. My jaw clenched in an effort to hold in the tirade begging to break free.

“It’s on the house, Carrie,” the bartender, Adam, called after me. 

I waved to say thank you, but didn’t turn around. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other and pulled out my phone to order an Uber. I should have done it an hour ago, the first time Grabby McGrabby Hands tried to touch my boob. Or five minutes ago when he called me a slut for winking at Adam. Or, perhaps, I should have kept my swiping finger to myself and ignored the impulse to get out of the house.

Literally nothing good comes from a right swipe at ten o’clock at night. Nothing. McGrabby was just another mistake in a long string of bad decisions I’d made sitting alone in my apartment. If only I’d gone to the grocery store and picked up more popcorn. Then, I could have used my fingers to shove salty goodness in my mouth and continue to ignore the fact that I am thirty-two, still working in retail, and single. I don’t even have a cat or a dog as my landlord is strictly anti-anything with fur, gills or wings. I don’t even think she likes humans, but that’s an entirely different story.

I stepped out into the darkness and wrapped my coat tighter. The bitter December air was yet another reminder of this disastrous evening. I could be at home, snuggled under my down comforter—that I got for 75% off retail—but instead, I am out in the cold. Alone and praying that McGrabby stays safely inside the bar and away from me or any other unsuspecting female.

According to the app, my ride was a few minutes away. I clicked out of that app and hovered my finger over the app that had caused me so much trouble.

“Tinder?” I mumbled to no one. “Goodbye.”

I pushed my finger against the screen and waited for the tiny red X to appear. When it did, I tapped it and confirmed my desire to delete the headache. No more swiping. No more winking or flirting or paying an algorithm to find my match. Apparently, I wasn’t the type that could find their type by answering lame questions about my inner desires.

This could be because I don’t know what I want. Or, who I want. I’m not sure I even know my most basic desires, much less my innermost ones. At thirty-two, I’m supposed to have this shit figured out. I have a degree. I followed the rules. I dated. I made friends. I pushed myself forward. I did everything I was supposed to, and yet, here I am. Nowhere near where I should be.

My phone lit up with an incoming call. I groaned, but answered.

“Hey,” I said, sighing. “What are you doing up this late, Mom?”

“Did you see the news?” she asked. Her voice filled with a strange mix of anxiety and excitement.

“No.”

“Oh, sweetie,” she cooed. Now she just sounded sad.

“Who died?”

“Carrie! No one.”

“Mom, it’s cold and my Uber should be here soon, could you just tell me?”

“Galaxy Apparel went under. Closing all stores immediately.” She drew in a deep breath. “Apparently, the CEO and CFO were using the chain as a front to launder money.”

“What?” I pressed the phone closer to my ear as if that would provide the clarity I needed. “I was just there today, Mom. I go into work at nine tomorrow. Everything was fine.” 

“Check your email.”

“Hold on, let me put you on speaker.” I yanked the phone down and opened my email. A two sentence message from my boss confirmed the news. Closed. Immediately. 

“You know what this means, right?” my mom asked with a renewed sense of purpose.

“That I’m unemployed and even more pathetic than I was two minutes ago?”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Carrie. This means you can finally put that degree your father and I paid for to use.”

“If I don’t end up homeless first.” I lifted the phone back to my ear. A white sedan pulled up. “My Uber is here, can I call you back?”

“No.” She sighed and continued, “I know you won’t actually call me back. I’ll stay on. You can just listen if you don’t want to talk.”

“Great,” I said, rolling my eyes. I pulled open the door and slid into the back seat. The driver repeated my address to me and I confirmed. I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. “Mom, I know you mean well, but I don’t have the patience for a lecture right now.”

“It’s not a lecture, dear. I just want you to call your Uncle Ted tomorrow. There is an opening at his agency. Entry-level, but without experience, it’s the best you can hope for. I’ve already told him you’ll be giving him a call. He’s expecting you.”

“Perfect.” I groaned. “I’ll call him.”

“Are you wallowing? I can hear it in your voice. Don’t wallow. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. This is a gift, Carrie. A rare gift. I’ll see you tomorrow. Since you won’t be at work. I’ll be by first thing in the morning. We can polish up that resume.”

“Sure, Mom,” I said, not bothering to argue. It was pointless. My mother had a new project and not even her subject would stand in her way. “See you then.”

I hung up before she could respond. Rereading the email, I couldn’t believe it. As much as I hated my job at Galaxy, I’d been there for four years now. It paid the bills and was easy. Plus, I got amazing deals on clothes, and I had plenty of downtime to read or pretend to work on that novel I was determined to write. A job with Uncle Ted would give me none of that. It would exile me to a life of “yes sir” and tiny cubicles. Office politics would take over my life, and I’d end up bringing work home on the weekends. I knew the drill. I’d watched every single one of my friends lose their souls to corporate America. As much as I hated being stuck in retail, at least I was stuck on my own terms.

“Miss?” the driver called back to me. “We’re here.”

“Thank you,” I said and held in a yawn. I thanked him for the peaceful ride and climbed out of the car and back into the cold air. The walk up the stairs to my one-bedroom apartment was dark. The light in the breezeway burned out a month ago and the landlord hadn’t yet replaced it despite countless messages from both myself and my neighbor. 

The key caught in the lock, as it always did, and I yanked it hard. It took a few tries, but it opened eventually. It always did. I felt along the wall and flipped on the lights. My shoe flipped across the room and landed just in front of the TV as I kicked it off. The second hit the ground just behind its mate. I slipped my bra off, sighing when it released its hold, and dropped it onto the kitchen counter. I could deal with it tomorrow. All of this could be dealt with tomorrow. Tonight, I planned to wallow my heart out.

Before I could turn off my phone, an incoming call illuminated the screen. Assuming it was my mother again, I went to ignore it. It wasn’t.

“Carrie!” my best friend Aaron shouted in my ear. “You’ll never guess what just happened?”

“If you’re calling about the Galaxy news, I already know.”

“The what? Why would I be calling about your stupid job at midnight?” he asked. “Remember that cruise contest we entered?”

“No.” I yawned. Aaron was always forwarding me random giveaways and contests. I was his designated bonus entry.

“The two week cruise. In Greece, Carrie,” he said. His voice filled with indignation at my inability to remember.

“Aaron, you enter a thousand sweepstakes a week. That’s all your social media is. Shares of giveaways.”

“Whatever.”

“Okay, two-week cruise. In Greece. I don’t remember, but I will pretend I do. I’m on the same page,” I lied and poured myself a generous glass of wine.

“I won! Well, technically, you won.”

“What? I didn’t get an email?”

“Of course not, I signed you up using the email address I created for you.”

“I won’t ask now, but we will be discussing boundaries.”

“Did you hear me? You won, Carrie! We’re going on a cruise!”

“Don’t I get to pick my plus one?”

“Nope,” he said. I heard the distinct sound of Cheetos being crunched. “Besides, who else would you want to go with?”

“Tiffany. Shannon. Lauren,” I said, listing off my other friends. All of whom I would much rather be trapped on a cruise ship with.

“Whatever.”

“When is this cruise?”

“We’d leave on Monday.”

“As in two days from today?”

“Carrie, you’re unemployed, single and cat-less.”

“Thank you for the reminder.”

“Pack your bags, Carrie! I can’t believe I finally won something!”

“I won, Aaron.” He muttered something about me being ungrateful and hung up the phone. I turned mine off before anyone else could call or text. My mind whirled with the news of the evening. Shit date. Unemployed. Won a cruise. It was like whiplash. Unlucky. Unlucky. Lucky. 

I flopped onto the couch and lifted the wine glass to my lips. Maybe Mom was right, this was just the push I needed.

Want more Carrie? Click here to read Chapter Two.

6.4.19 InstaShortie – Heart First

Late again. Always, always late. My mother is going to kill me!

I silently cursed myself. I knew I didn’t have time to curl my hair, but I did it anyway. It just fell so much softer when it was curled; my platinum blonde hair framing my face perfectly. I could have skipped the dramatic smokey eye, but the shimmery purple made my blue eyes glow. I could have simply thrown my hair into a messy bun, slipped on my favorite Vanderbilt hoodie and a pair of jeans. My makeup could have been more natural and less dramatic. Of course, I didn’t need a stop at Starbucks. Caffeine was necessary, but it was entirely possible for me to make my own rather than standing in a line to order a six buck latte.

Yes, I could have been on time. But if I had, I wouldn’t have met him. And that would have been a tragedy. I might have missed everything.

His blue eyes wouldn’t have pierced my soul when he turned around to excuse himself after bumping into my bag. That sweet smirk might never have been tossed my way. I might never have known how hot his skin would feel against mine.

“Lonnie,” he said, offering his hand. I took it and held on for just a bit longer than was necessary. I did not want to let go. “Lonnie Rhodes.”

“Quinn Smithson,” I replied and smiled. His hand still warm and tight around mine. I’d never been one to fall for the cliche of love at first sight, but as I studied  his face, I knew there was something about him. It called to me like a favorite song playing in the background. Subtle. Sweet. Transformative.

He dropped my hand. Disappointment rushed through me.

“Let me buy you a coffee.” He winked, and I couldn’t say no.

“Not necessary, but thank you.” I felt the flames rise in my cheeks. I willed myself to get it together. I ordered my Americano and followed him to the side of the counter.

I checked the time on my phone. It was almost nine. Mom was definitely going to kill me. Or, at least harass me for hours on end about my inability to follow a schedule or read the time.

“Late?” He asked. His eyes sparkled as he gazed at me. It was if he were drinking me in, memorizing my face. The feeling was intoxicating.

“Yeah,” I said and nodded. “It’s my dad’s fiftieth birthday.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. Everything about him was perfect. The way his chestnut brown hair fell in his eyes, the way it curled subtly at the ends. His sharp jawline and cheekbones. Those soft, kissable lips made me want to know what they might feel like pressed against mine. Electricity flowed through my veins at the thought.

“Where’s the party?” He asked.

“In Franklin,” I answered without thinking. “That’s where they live.”

“Fancy,” he said. “What’s a Franklin girl doing slumming in East Nasty?”

I laughed. It was a question my own mother often asked. “I like living away from the pomp and circumstance of old money.”

It was half true. I did like the calmness of the suburb my parents lived in. But the big houses and perfectly manicured lawns were suffocating. Mom’s house was practically covered in plastic. My brother and I were never allowed to touch anything. The house was always immaculate. Pristine. Much like the images of our family my mother plastered all over Facebook.

When I told her I was moving to East Nashville, she’d nearly vomited on her Tory Burch boots. Her nose turned up at the name as she spat it back at me. Though, that reaction was not nearly as bad as her response to my chosen profession. She couldn’t wrap her head around my desire to work and live in an area known for its crime and low incomes. Mom had never once stepped foot in my apartment, always insisting I come to them. I was fairly certain my mother had never been south of the airport, despite spending her entire life in Nashville.

“Hmm.” His lips vibrated. “‘Maybe I should have let you buy my latte.

“Next time,” I offered.

“It’s a date.” His smile spread across his face.

My Apple Watch buzzed on my wrist. Mom was calling for the hundredth time this morning. I help up a finger and mouthed an apology before turning my back to him and answering the phone.

“Hey, Mom,” I said casually as if I weren’t aware of the fact that I was supposed to be somewhere.

“Where are you?” She hissed. I could hear my dad in the background telling her to calm down.

Oh, Dad, you know better. I silently scolded him. My mother didn’t understand the meaning of calm down and bristled at the suggestion she do so.

“I’m at Starbucks right by the interstate. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

“You were supposed to be here an hour ago.” The annoyance in her voice crept through the phone. I pulled it away from my ear.

“Mom, I told you it be there at nine. It’s just now nine. I’ll see you soon. Love you. Bye!”

I hung up before she could argue and returned my attention to Lonnie. Suddenly, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and talk to him. Let his eyes hold me captive. I could get lost in them. For a moment, I did. I dove heart first into the ocean blueness and allowed myself to drown in the possibilities they held.

“Gotta go?” He asked and handed me my latte.

“Sadly,” I said and offered a shrug. “I am late for my Dad’s birthday party.”

We both stood there, my hand on his. He didn’t let go of the drink. I didn’t let go out his hand. I didn’t know if I could.

“I am going to hold you to that coffee date,” he said. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Quinn Smithson.”

“Likewise, Lonnie Rhodes.” His name rolled off my tongue smoothly. It made my lips tingle. Get it together, Quinn.

He offered one final smirk before heading to leave.

“Wait!” I called as I followed him out. “Don’t you need my phone number?” Even I could hear the desperation in my voice.

“You have mine,” he replied and nodded to the cup in my hand. I turned it and noticed he’d written his name and phone number on the sleeve.

I giggled and mouthed, “oh.”

Then, as quickly as he’d walked into my life, he was gone. I climbed into my Acura MDX, a graduation gift from Dad, and let my head rest on the back of the seat. I closed my eyes and images of his face appeared. I was fairly certain I’d be dreaming about him tonight.

5.29.19 InstaShortie – Run

Pink, purple and orange streaks burst across the sky. My hands gripped the steering wheel so tight I feared my fingers might pop off. I didn’t dare look in the rear view. What was behind me wasn’t anything worth looking back on. There was nothing fond about those memories. Nothing I wanted to take with me. Everything faded into a bleak darkness that I wished would swallow me whole.

Desperate for a distraction, I turned the radio on. Static from the preprogrammed station greeted me. The signal likely went out a few hundred miles ago. I wasn’t sure how far I’d driven, but I was certain it wasn’t far enough. I could drive all night and all day without stopping and it still wouldn’t be far enough.

I blinked. My eyes heavy from staring down an open road for hours. I didn’t want to stop, but I needed to. My eyes caught the glow of a small town on the next exit.

The neon lights sparked on and off, illuminating the vacancy sign. According to the last city limit sign I’d passed, I was just passed Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My mother had always insisted I not travel alone, but if I did, always pick a brightly lit exit with at least one franchised fast food restaurant with a name and a logo I recognized. According to her, McDonald’s and Burger King made an exit or town legitimate and less likely to attract serial killers or rapists.

This exit had neither of those. The motel I chose preferred cash and didn’t offer HBO. There wasn’t a fast food chain in sight. If she weren’t already disowning me, this moment would have solidified her decision.

“No daughter of mine,” she’d say, scolding and judging. Her mouth soured into a frown.

My only requirement was that the exit had a motel or hotel with an empty bed. This exit met that. I wasn’t staying long. Eight hours max. Six to sleep and a nice, long, hot shower.

The clerk handed me a key. An actual key; not a keycard. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been in a hotel with a metal key attached to a hard plastic key tag. Heavy and foreign in my hands, I slipped it into the keyhole and pushed the door open.

Stale cigarette smoke and old, lingering recirculated air caught my nose, I fought back the sneeze, not wanting to inhale anymore than I already had to. Flicking on the light revealed orange and mustard yellow decor dating back to well before my birth. The comforter on the bed looked as itchy as I was sure it felt. The burgundy and white floral pattern did nothing for the room.

As long as it’s free of bed bugs. I thought, adding another item to my list of requirements. It only had two and for now, that seemed like plenty.

I’d been on the road for eight hours now. Having stopped no less than four times to pee, eat or get gas. Every two hours. That’s it. I timed it as perfectly as I could with little planning.

My eyes blurred from exhaustion. The tears I’d shed hours ago had long since dried, but looking in the mirror the evidence remained. My brown eyes were highlighted by red veins and outlined with dark circles and streaked mascara.

I raked my fingers through my hair, pulling out tangles and loose strands. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen my natural hair color, but the familiar deep auburn shade I spent hundreds on every month dulled in the fluorescent lights. The lights did little to flatter the rest of me. My pale skin was nearly translucent under them.

In my haste, I hadn’t even packed a toothbrush, much less a hairbrush. I splashed cold water from the rusted tap on my face, attempting to wash away what makeup remained. Unwrapping the soap on the counter, I tried not to think about the feature story I’d seen on how hotels reuse soaps.

Peeling off my tank top, I tossed it into the room, careful to make sure it landed on the chair. The shower handle was just as rusted as the faucet in the sink. A burst of maroon water flowed out before turning clear. I waited another minute before pulled the  lever for the shower. My jeans landed next to my tank top, followed by my bra and underwear.

The water reached an acceptable temperature, but not nearly as hot as I’d have preferred. I threw a towel on the floor to have something soft to step on when I finished and then stepped into the lukewarm stream of water.

The hotel shampoo gave me less confidence about its freshness status, but at this point my standards had already been lowered. It lathered and rinsed, what more could I ask for? I squirted a generous amount of conditioner into my hands and worked it through my hair. At home, my conditioner was a deep treatment masque meant for less frequent use. Out of habit, I let the cheap excuse for a conditioner soak and sit on my hair while I scrubbed the rest of my body with the bar soap and Brillo pad of a washcloth.

Nothing in this motel would pass for soft or luxurious. I’m not spoiled, per say, but my job paid for four and five star hotels when I traveled.

Nope. Do not think about work. Do not dwell on the past, Vic, it’s not worth it. I scolded myself.

I rinsed my hair and pulled open the shower curtain. It wasn’t the long, refreshing shower I’d spent the last 400 miles dreaming about, but it would suffice. The white towel that I grabbed was at least very white and very clean, but it was rough and scratchy. I dried quickly and pulled the one pair of clean underwear I’d packed in my backpack and slipped them on. In addition to the underwear, I also grabbed a change of clothes and a t-shirt. I slipped on the t-shirt and laid out the clothes for tomorrow.

My hair would have to air dry, I decided. Without tools and product, it wasn’t worth attempting to use the motel’s hairdryer. Rubbing the towel over my head, I tried to tousle it dry. It would eventually settle into a mess of untamed curls.

I sat on the bed and pulled out my phone.

No missed calls or texts, but my emails and calendar notifications were too many to count. I deleted them all before going into my settings and disconnecting my work email. As tempting as it was to read the messages, I knew nothing good would come up it.

Up next was social media. I logged into my Facebook app and disabled my account without even checking the notifications. Then did the same on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Tomorrow, I’d find an AT&T store to trade in my phone and change my number. I assumed I had at least another twelve hours before anyone noticed my absence.

If they noticed.

Lying in the dark in an unfamiliar bed in a town I’d never been to brought a sense of peace. This was what I’d been working towards. A fresh start. A clean slate. No obligations. No chains. Nothing to remind me of the life I’d never wanted. Every mistake erased. A million secrets to keep.

Everything is alright. I whisper into the darkness of the car. I am safe.

I wasn’t running, I reassured myself. This wasn’t some lame attempt to grab his attention or make him miss me. This was for me. I needed this.

I’m not running away from the past. I’m chasing the future. My future.

5.21.19 InstaShortie – Baxter

Warm liquid ran down my calf. It worked its way from my ankle into my brand new Kate Spade pumps. Pooling under my foot, I felt the heat rise all the way to my cheeks. I lifted my head and stared up at the cloudless sky. The sun warmed my skin even more. Confusion followed the heat as it spread through me.

If the sky was clear and I wasn’t standing in the shower, where the hell was this water coming from? I looked down. The confusion was replaced with horror. This is not happening. Not today.

“I am so sorry!” a deep voice behind me shouted over the buzz of early morning commuters. “Baxter, no!”

The sound of a puppy whimpering mingled with the man’s disappointment. Did this dog just pee on me?!

I glanced around the lobby of Starbucks. There were two people ahead of me and about fifteen behind me in line. It was 7:30 am on a Monday morning. There was no way I was giving up my spot. I’d been in this line for fifteen minutes. My foot and shoe would have to wait.

“Baxter!” he called to his dog again but the chocolate brown puppy plopped down on the sidewalk next to me. His deep black eyes peered up at me, melting whatever anger I’d just felt. I reached down and patted his head. He tilted to the side, giving me access to his ear. I obliged his silent request and scratched behind his ear.

“What a cute boy you are Baxter,” I said. My voice ticking up an octave or two as I slipped into the voice reserved for my baby sister and, apparently, dogs. My sister, now twenty-five, hated it. But Baxter seemed to appreciate it. “You’re just cute enough for me to forgive your for peeing in my new favorite shoes.”

“Let me buy your coffee,” the man said. I didn’t bother looking up at him. Baxter had my full attention. His hand grazed mine, sending a jolt through me. I jerked my hand away. I may have forgiven Baxter, but this human should have known better than to bring his non-potty trained puppy to the busiest Starbucks in downtown Nashville on a Monday morning.

I shrugged, acknowledging the fact that he’d effectively used his dog’s potty break to cut ahead in line. The lady behind me groaned but I ignored her.. “Sure, that’d be great.” I stepped up to the counter and decided to treat myself. “I’ll take a venti iced skinny cinnamon dolce latte with an extra shot.”

He cleared his throat.

“And a whole grain bagel, toasted with cream cheese.”

“Anything else?” the young barista asked. I shook my head. “Name?”

“Maddie,” I replied.

“Tall Americano, please.” I detected the tiniest hint of annoyance in his voice. He brushed my shoulder as he stepped past me to pay.

“Thank you,” I said and turned away, leaving him to deal with the bill. I walked carefully towards the station with napkins and pulled out a handful. Sitting down at the closest table, I slipped my shoe off and soaked up the dog urine with the napkins and attempted to clean my foot.

“I’m Lucas,” he said. After offering to take the napkins and throw them away, he sat down in the seat across from me. Baxter settled at my feet, seeming to have given up on his human. I didn’t blame him. Lucas cleared his throat. He extended his hand and I shook it, ignoring the sweat that soaked his skin.

“Oh, I’m Maddie. You’ve got a sweet puppy, here.” I reached down to pat Baxter’s head again. “Just need to work on his social and bathroom skills. Preferably on knowing when and where it’s appropriate to relieve himself.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled. “We are working on it, huh big guy?” Baxter lifted his head and yawned. I did not believe the two were on the same page.

“Bagel for Maddie!” I excused myself from the lack of conversation to retrieve my bagel. I didn’t need or want it, but it was the least he could do. When I took my seat next to him again, my eyes drifted over his jeans and up his torso towards his face. The sharpness of his jaw and the depth of his blue eyes took me by surprise. His hand was grasping his chestnut brown hair, and a long frown settled on his lips. They looked soft. It was a stark contrast to the hardness the rest of his body carried. His soulful eyes were deeply imbedded in dark circles.

“Puppies are a lot like babies,” I said. My comment hung in the air for a moment before he allowed the tiniest smile to flirt with the corner of his lips.

“He doesn’t sleep much.”

“How old is he?”

“Six months, I think?” he said. “I rescued him a week or so ago. He was dumped on the side of the road by my parent’s house.”

“Awe, who could abandon a face like that?” I said, cooing.

“I know, right?” He yawned again.

The barista called my name and his. Before I could get up, he was on his feet and walking towards the counter to retrieve our respective drinks. I couldn’t help but stare at the way his jeans curved perfectly around his butt. My cheeks reddened and flames spread through me. If there was ever a time I was grateful to have been peed on, this was it. Some people imagine how quarters might bounce off an ass, but my mind was not at all on quarters as I studied the way he moved. I could think of a few things more enticing than quarters.

My body responded almost as quickly as my thoughts. It shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d been single for almost a year and a half now. I’d been on a few dates, but nothing promising. I insisted it was too soon when friends tried to set me up. I didn’t think I was ready. But watching Lucas, I was beginning to think the time had come. I was ready to dive back into the dating pool. Or just a random night of fun with a hot guy who’s dog had already stolen my heart.

“Your latte,” he said, handing me the cup. I was careful to not touch him this time. I didn’t trust my body to respond appropriately. He slipped his hand into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so jealous of a wallet. “Here.”

He handed me a white card. Lucas Moretti. I ran my finger over his name. Below his name was the name of a local real estate firm and a phone number.

“That’s my cell,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t try to sell you a house.” This time, a real smile crossed his face, wrinkling the tan skin around his eyes.

“Oh,” I replied. I pulled my own card out from my purse and handed it to him.

“Maddie Anderson,” he said, drawing my name out. Each syllable slithered off his tongue. I watched his lips move and tried not to imagine just how magical they would feel against mine. “Is Maddie short for Madison?”

“Amanda,” I said, shaking my head. “I hate the name Mandy, but there were seven Amandas in my school. So, I picked Maddie.”

Tugging at a strand of my blonde hair, I twisted it around my index finger and thumb. Over and over. Each time dropping it so the curl cascaded down my shoulder. I recognized this as my nervous tic. I glanced around the cafe, trying to decide whether or not to make eye contact. When my gaze finally landed on his face, he held his eyes on mine. Still smiling, neither one of us broke the stare. I couldn’t look away. Baxter laid his head down on my foot, resigning to his fate of being stuck in this cafe. Neither Lucas or I were willing to make the first move. I needed to get to work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I’d rather be doing with this man I’d just met.

“Let’s get dinner sometime, Maddie short for Amanda.” He smirked.

“You’ve got my number,” I said and stood. I decided to play it cool. He didn’t need to know I’d been holding my breath waiting for him to ask that very question. I knelt down to give Baxter one final ear scratch. “Bye, Baxter. Don’t go peeing on any other girls today, okay?” His head bobbed up and down as if he’d understood my request.

I offered Lucas a quick wave before ducking out of the cafe and back onto the busy street. My heart raced when I turned back and noticed him watching me walk away. I could only hope that my skirt was giving him the same thoughts his jeans had given me.

Taking a long, slow sip of my free and extra potent latte, I forced a smile and pulled open the door to the office building. I shouted a greeting to the security guard and walked through the large, ornate lobby. I scanned my badge at the elevator and closed my eyes. I took three deep breaths, letting each one in and out slowly and deliberately. Today was going to be a good day. Today was my day.

5.14.19 InstaShortie – Delivery

Sweat beaded at my hairline and trickled into my eyes. My fingers curled into tight fists. Gritting my teeth, I exhaled sharply. The hissing sound I made danced through the chaos barely audible. I heard it. I heard and felt everything. I tried in vain to concentrate on anything other than the pain. It tore through me in quick waves, syncopated but uneven. The room was dim, but the lights from the machines around me illuminated the faces I couldn’t focus on.

The woman standing beside me squeezed my hand. “It’s time,” she announced.

“Time?” I gasped. I wasn’t ready. It couldn’t be time yet. We’d been here nearly twelve hours, and I still wasn’t ready. Not that I ever would be. I’d read the books, watched the YouTube videos, scrolled the blogs and made the lists. But I knew I’d never be ready. After all, that’s what they all said. Nothing can truly prepare you for the moment or flood of emotions. Or the years of exhaustion and elation that followed.

“Dad,” she called across the room. “It’s time to push.”

My husband didn’t look up. He reached into his backpack, his back to me. We watched in complete silence as he shuffled through the contents. When he found whatever it was he was looking for, his back straightened. But he didn’t turn around. The nurse repeated herself as my body tensed for another contraction.

“Dan!” I hissed. “What the fuck are you doing? It is time to push!”

He turned around. His eyebrows furrowed and his mouth open. “Flossing.”

“What?” I asked not believing what I was hearing.

“Flossing,” he repeated without hesitation.

“It is time to push,” the nurse said again. Her tone far kinder than mine had been.

“Okay,” he said. The floss picker between his fingers, he opened his mouth wider and popped the blue plastic tool between his teeth.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. My teeth clenched so tightly I knew I was bound to chip a tooth. “You’re flossing right now. It couldn’t wait?” My body pitched forward, curling around my stomach.

“There was something stuck in my teeth.” He remained calm and unphased. His shoulders slouched forward and eyes on the floor.

“Yeah? YOU have something stuck? YOU?!” My hands flew in the air in the touchdown formation. I dramatically waved them down towards my swollen belly. “If you don’t put down that stupid flosser, you’re going to have something stuck somewhere even more painful.” The words flew out, growing increasingly louder until I was screaming.

His eyes grew wide for a moment as if he’d just remembered where we were and what was happening. But he didn’t drop the floss. He stood shell shocked and stared at me.

The nurse grabbed my leg and I felt the flames of her stare as she shot daggers across the room. “It’s time,” she snapped. The sharpness in her voice pulled him back. I glanced at her gratefully and she nodded. “You’d be surprised by the stupid shit Dad’s do in the delivery room.”

He sighed and dropped the floss in the trash. I could hear his feet shuffling across the floor during his walk of shame towards the bed. The heat from his breath and the lingering smell of the ice cream cone he’d eaten in my face an hour ago smacked me when he leaned in to kiss my cheek. I jerked away and glared at him. I was starving. The smell of old ice cream mixed with the Greek he’d had for dinner. The two smells danced in my nose and taunted my empty stomach. I growled under my breath.

Before I could utter the words I wanted to curse him with, my lower half tightened into a ball of fury and held my breath captive.

“Ready to push?” The nurse asked.

“Yes,” my husband said as if he’d been ready the entire time.

5.7.19 InstaShortie – Keys

I glanced at the clock. The seconds ticked by—one by one. Each one clicking on to the next as if the world did in fact keep turning. As if it hadn’t just shattered into a million minuscule shards of glass that became shrapnel. The pieces pierced my skin creating a river of emotion that drained from my body slowly. I tried to stop it; to hold the pieces of my world together. I stitched them in uneven, imperfect lines. A perfect representation of myself. Together and whole, but completely and utterly broken.

The door slammed and the entire house shook. The sound echoed through the air and hung with baited breath, waiting for me to react.

I should have yelled “STOP!” I should have demanded an audience and a stage. I had things I wanted to say—no, needed to say. Words built inside me and held me captivated. They would stay there and fester, eating away at my soul along with the could haves and should haves. The dreams and plans. They would all die slowly.

Blame rested solely on me. The walls built were erected by me. Each and every brick created with my own hands and cemented with lies. It was meant to provide protection; a shield. Instead the structure became a weapon. The very thing that was to keep me safe was the thing that eviscerated my world.

Cold. Unfeeling. Stone. All words he used to describe me. Those were not the words inside me. Protected. Safe. Guarded. Those were my words. He’d taken them and twisted them into a knife meant to slash my heart.

The door creaked open. A tentative hand pushing it slowly, carefully. Was he changing his mind? Or did he just forget something? Me? Did he forget me?

I waited, holding my breath. First an inch of light broke through. Then six. Then nothing. It paused. I could see his fingers wrapped around the door. He stood on the other side of the pristine white door for what felt like hours.

“Levi?” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. His knuckles went white as he gripped harder. Still, the door didn’t budge so much as an inch. He was hesitating. Something was keeping him from running completely. Me? Was it me that pulled him back?

The door flew open and he stepped through the threshold. Sunlight danced behind him igniting his golden hair. I forced a smile and hoped it seemed warm and inviting—anything but cold and rigid. Surely a person could become someone completely different in a matter of minutes.

When his eyes met mine, my smile faded.
It disappeared into oblivion along with what little hope is held onto. His anger seethed through his green eyes. Flames danced with daggers as he looked straight through me as if I weren’t even there.

I opened my mouth to speak. What exactly, I didn’t know. His hand flew up, fingers splayed, stopping my apology or groveling before it even started.

“I forgot my keys.”

Not I forgot I loved you. I missed you already. I’m staying. He forgot his keys.

When the door shut this time, a sense of resolution flushed through my veins. Brick-by-brick the wall started to rebuild itself. The thick layer of protection restored my sense of self. I blinked away whatever tears threatened and ignored the ones still welling inside.

He’d be back. I was certain of that. In his haste to ignore me, he’d grabbed my keys instead of his. This time I’d be prepared. No fake smiles, just words. I only needed three words. Three words could fix this. I could fix this. I had to.

The door flew open without hesitation this time. He breezed in, flushed with annoyance.

Ignoring the weight of the freshly built wall, I finally said the words I hadn’t been able to before, “I love you.”

The anchor pulled, forcing the bricks to buckle. Give and take. Wasn’t that what he’d asked me for?

He stopped. The keys fell to the floor and he turned. Our eyes met—blue to green—his anger fizzled as my gaze flooded his.

“What?” He whispered. “What did you say?”

“I love you, Levi.” This time the words flowed easier. They had a natural simplicity to them. “I’m sorry. Stay.”

The words freed me and pulled him back in. The wall could grow to fit two. It could encompass the both of us. I could be safe within the walls with him.

“Say it again.” His voice was light now. The anger vanished. Three words was all he needed.

I smiled. “I love you.”

4.24.19 InstaShortie – Anything for the ‘Gram

Worst case scenarios are always running through my mind. An untimely sneeze causes a fender bender. A simple paper cuts gets infected and I lose my entire arm. You name it and I’ll tack on the worst possible outcome.

More than half of my waking hours are often spent imagining these unlikely scenarios and plotting my escape.

The one I didn’t plan for? Having my pants split right down the ass in the middle of Barnes & Noble while trying to get the perfect Bookstagram Photo. The sound reverberated through the quiet store. The slow rip of the seam filled the air as it exposed what I’d hoped were at least cute undies. Did I wear the pink lacy ones or my laundry day granny panties?

Snickers echoed through the silent aisles. I didn’t dare turn around. My face was pinker than then underwear I hoped I was wearing. If I didn’t turn around, they’d never have a face to put with the ripping pants.

God, I hope they don’t follow me. I thought. If they follow me, they’ll recognize this photo when I post it know it was my ass that exploded through the ripped seam. I wasn’t even planning to buy the book. All I needed was a photo.

“Ma’am?” a timid voice behind me said. The hand belonging to the voice tapped me shoulder.

“Yes?” I replied and stood. I attempted to pivot so my mishap wouldn’t be on full display. Riiiiip.

I failed. As I stood, the rip deepend. A breeze hit my upper thigh. You know the spot just under your cheek? The one women’s magazines ask you to hold a pencil under to see what type of ass shape you have? The other butt cleavage, if you will. The stale, cold air tickled my bare skin. I reached behind me to pull the fabric tight and confirmed it was not the pink lacy underwear. Great.

“Your pants ripped,” she observed.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. “Yes, I believe the whole store heard that.” I looked down at the young employee, her cheeks as red as merlot.

“Are you buying that book?” Not only had my pants ripped, but I was being asked if I intended to shoplift.

I shook my head. “Just needed a photo.” And to expose my ass.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” Another voice joined the conversation. This one less timid. “We have decency standards.”

I started to argue that I did too, but considering I was exposing half of my unmentionables to his staff, I could see where he was coming from. So, I just nodded and turned to walk away. The draft reminded me of my… situation.

“Could I possible borrow a shopping bag? To cover my, um, you know.” I gestured behind me, fanning my cheeks.

Without cracking so much as the hint of a smile, he nodded and dismissed the girl to retrieve a plastic bag. He left before she returned. I kept my back facing the shelf, careful to not brush my skin against it. I was fairly certain they’d make me purchase any books my ass touched and my TBR was big enough already. Besides, what would I write in the caption? I picked this book because the author is an always buy, and my ass cheek skimmed it in the store so I had to.

Standing this still and tense should count as a lower body workout.

“Here,” she said and handed me a bag. “You look familiar.”

Please, no.

“Are you on Bookstagram?” When I nodded, she laughed and said, “Anything for the ‘Gram. Right?”

4.17.19 InstaShortie – Damn The Man

In hindsight, telling the CEO (and my boss) of a major Fortune 500 company that his mind was as small as his penis was ill advised. Following that statement up by throwing his cup of coffee in his face was also not the best career move. Nor was storming out of his office and announcing to the whole building that he was an impotent, incompetent tool. Looking back over the morning, I can easily see what led me to career-assassination, and while I should regret it, I find myself not caring as I pack ten years of work into a shoebox.

Hastily, I throw what I can into the box and ignore the whispers in the hallway outside my office. I can feel their eyes staring at me. A few paused at my door as if they are trying to decide whether or not to approach me to offer words of wisdom or sympathy – none of which I was particularly in the mood for. Occasionally, I’d glance up and glare at the unlucky soul who decided to linger a little too long. It wasn’t their fault, but in a way I blame all of them for not having the balls to do what I just did.

Grant Edmonson, CEO of Yearly Enterprises, had it coming. He’d grabbed my ass and eyed my chest a few too many times over the last ten years. Not to mention all the times he stole ideas from those around him and used them to earn himself a plush corner office and a half million-dollar paycheck. Every last one of us thought about saying those things to him, but unlike me apparently, they all wanted to retain their employment status and as a result, wisely kept their mouths shut. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way in a position where being unemployed is an option.

Maybe I shouldn’t have skipped my morning latte, or maybe I just finally snapped under the abuse and pressure. Whatever the reason, I was trying to remind myself that all things happen for a reason and I would be just fine. Sure the economy was in the toilet, but I’d saved a decent nest egg that should carry me into my next opportunity. Of course, I had no idea that Grant was currently in his office calling every firm in the state of Tennessee and blacklisting me. Again, in hindsight, I should have expected this.

With my shoebox full of a decade of office hording under one arm and my hand bag in the other, I nodded to no one in particular and lifted my head. If I was going to do the career walk of shame, I might as well do it with my head held high. As I made my way down the (what felt like) mile-long hallway to the elevator, I avoid eye contact. My pride may be intact, but my dignity was still a little bruised.

For most of my adult life, Yearly Enterprises has been my home. From the tiny cubicle my assistant now sits in to the almost-corner office I’d just left, this place was where I’d honed my skills and made a reputation for myself. I’d met my husband in the elevator after getting trapped in it with him on my first day. My group of girlfriends had all passed through these doors at one point or another and some of my closest friends still work here. Today, I could feel their eyes on me, but rather than make a joke or ask how the family was, I just made my way to the elevator.

I pressed the down button for the last time and patiently waited for the doors to open. When they did, I was greeted by the mirrored walls that had been my signal that my day was both beginning and ending. I fought back the tears I’d managed to avoid all morning and drew in a deep breath as I turned back to the office. I lifted me head and met the faces of my co-workers. They were gathered in a group just outside the elevators. I smiled and waved.

And then I shouted, “DAMN THE MAN!” and threw my fist in the air, dropping my shoebox. As the doors closed, I heard laughter and applause. At least they didn’t see the tear that finally escaped. Their last image of me would be of a strong, independent and defiant woman.