Jessie Dawson gripped the steering wheel, twisting her hands in opposite directions as she watched the headlights splash down the road before her. Her foot pressed down even more firmly on the gas pedal and she grimaced, remembering Dominick’s last words to her.
“Don’t worry about it, babe.”
Garbage words from a garbage person. Gibberish dripping from a mouth full of lies in the moonlight. Her ring finger found a loose thread on the steering wheel cover, and she shifted her hands enough to pick at it with her forefinger.
Lights shone bright in the distance, and she released the accelerator to coast into the convenience store’s parking lot. Safe between the lines, she turned the ignition off and rested her head on her hands on the steering wheel. Her heart felt like the Mongols had used it for target practice.
Dominick. Just his name sent a chill down her spine. She thought he was a dream come true, the perfect man, the one. A small chuff of laughter slipped from between her lips as she thought about the day they met in a shoe store downtown, the shoe store where she worked.
She was bringing a hand towel out front to clean up some syrupy mess one of the million and a half kids that ran around the store had made, and without paying attention to where she was going, she ran straight into Dominick. They both nearly fell down, but he caught himself, and then he caught her. She looked into his eyes and that was it right there. He was a necromancer casting a love spell on her.
She sprang away from him, an unspoken apology resting on her tongue, and her manager came around the corner.
“Jessie! You’re supposed to be cleaning up that mess by the front counter! I’m so sorry sir, what can I help you with?”
Jessie turned to Dominick helplessly, and she relaxed when she laid eyes on him again. He took charge immediately.
“I don’t believe you can help me with a thing, ma’am. Jessie has everything under control.” He raised an eyebrow at the manager, who turned without another word, and then wondered for the rest of the day why exactly had she done that.
“I’m Dominick. It’s nice to meet you.” His smile lit up the world. Jessie couldn’t help but smile back. She took a giddy step backward, and kicked a pair of cypress clogs beneath the towering shelves. Dominick reached out and took her hand, and she dropped the towel.
The two of them left the store, Jessie dropping her apron in the doorway on her way out.
She thought they were going to live happily ever after, but ever after only lasted seven months. Seven months of happiness, and now this. Jessie lifted her head from the steering wheel and looked around the parking lot. Two other cars, but no one in either.
She got out and went into the store and spent twenty minutes perusing the overpriced chips and beef jerky before selecting a single bottle of water and a pack of spearmint gum. Jessie took them back to her car, where she sat until the sun came up, reminiscing about the good old days with Dominick.
Greg looked out the window in disgust. There was nothing for him inside except the booze. He blindly reached to the table beside him, feeling around until his fingertips brushed the smooth glass of the bottle that he so desperately needed. He took a long swig and set it back down, the drops of liquor glistening in his mustache. He swiped the back of his hand across his mouth and dropped it back to his lap.
The only sound in the room was his heartbeat, echoing in his ears.
A thought struck him, and he stood up abruptly, swinging his arm around to grasp the neck of the bottle. He took it with him downstairs.
One of her high heels was abandoned in the stairwell. She used to be so fashionable, before she had the breakdown. He kicked the shoe through the railing and continued down until he hit the bottom, in more ways than one.
The cab he hadn’t thought to call was waiting outside the front door. Must have belonged to a neighbor, but Greg got in anyway. They could call another one.
“Fourteenth and Marks,” he said, and tipped the bottle up to his mouth again.
“No drinking in the cab, buddy,” the cabbie announced, watching in the rear view mirror.
Greg shrugged and finished off the bottle before opening the door just enough to toss the empty out to shatter on the sidewalk.
The cabbie shook his head, but drove off.
When they arrived at the junkyard, Greg threw twice the fare at the cab driver and got out without a word.
He wandered through the broken cars, the pieces of lives gone awry somewhere, somewhen. The tall grass that grew up within the longest abandoned machines whispered against rusted panels, waving softly in the wind.
Greg sat down on the hood of an old, once-blue Plymouth with the right rear fender smashed beyond recognizability and wished that he still had that bottle.
Marshall stumbled on his next words, searching for something, anything, that would change her mind. “I…but…yesterday…please,” he begged.
Sumatra stared back, expressionless. “It’s just not that simple, Marshall. I mean, yeah, I love you too, I guess, but that isn’t enough anymore. I need a man who’s going places.” She shrugged, and signaled the waiter.
The two of them were regular enough patrons that all the waitstaff knew to bring him a gin and tonic, and her a mint julep with an extra shot of bourbon. Sumatra made it clear with a lift of an eyebrow and a slow blink that she was the only one in need of a refresher, and the waiter nodded and spun to fetch her drink.
Marshall dropped his head into his hands and took a deep, shuddering breath, his shoulders heaving with this turn of his world upside down.
“Cool it, Marshall,” she snapped, twisting the mint sprig from her last drink between the first two fingers of her left hand. The scent reminded Marshall of happier days. “We’ve been together for six years, and you haven’t gotten a single promotion. I’ve gotten four. Four, Marshall, and I fought tooth and nail to get them. They weren’t handed to me on a silver platter like your miserable job.”
“I’ve never seen you like this, Sue. What happened? I thought we were happy. I thought we were perfect for each other. I thought we were going places together,” he trailed off, easily reading the bored look on her face.
The waiter returned with her drink, and she dropped the mint spring on the floor. Her long, pianist fingers toyed with the fresh one on her glass.
“You were wrong, Marshall,” she simply said, before knocking back her drink, delicately picking up her Tory Burch clutch and clicking out of the restaurant on her Manolo Blahniks.
Marshall could just make out the edge of the mint leaf she had dropped on the floor. It fluttered briefly in the breeze caused by a swiftly moving patron, then stilled. He raised his glass at the waiter.
“Make it a double this time, buddy.”
The jukebox played a final note and stilled. Carly got up to put in another quarter and punched the buttons angrily. Rocket was being a jerk again.
She returned to their table and stared at his collar. The left corner was flipped up in a way that betrayed his laundry method: leave them in the basket until wearing them again. Carly hated that about him. She didn’t know why they were still dating. It wasn’t like she hadn’t tried to break up with him sixteen times this month already. At least.
Rocket loudly chewed his cheese fries, oblivious to the daggers being glared at his shirt collar.
The waitress stopped at their table. “Anything else I can get for y’all? Kitchen’s closing in a few.”
Rocket was lost in his vacant thoughts, but Carly shook her head, meeting the waitress’s gaze.
“Alrighty, here’s your check then,” she said, tearing the top sheet off her pad.
Carly slid it from the edge of the table and flipped it over. She pulled her wallet out and dropped some bills on top.
“I’m done, Rocket. You’re locked from the inside, and I can’t open you up. You have to do it yourself.”
She stood up and left.
Rocket was down to the crumbs at the bottom of his basket. He watched the waitress retrieve the money from the corner of his eye and mumbled, “keep it.” She gave him a look that he never saw, and kept it.
The cook had to shoo him from the table, and once outside, Rocket jammed his hands in his coat pockets and started to whistle God Bless America. No one else was around to object.
Connie tapped the paperwork on her desk to square the edges. She stapled the corner and placed the bundle neatly into her out bin. Work done for the day, she leaned back in her chair to decompress for a minute.
A knock on her office door startled her upright.
“Come in,” Connie called.
Her assistant entered, timidly, carrying an envelope. She held it out to Connie.
“It’s from Ted.”
Connie spun her chair to face the wall, unwilling to let her assistant see her in tears.
“Just set it down. And go home, I’m all done for the day.”
She didn’t turn back around until she heard the door softly click shut.
Gnawing a hangnail on her thumb, Connie stared at the envelope until she couldn’t hold back any longer. She picked it up and ripped it open, but dropped it back onto her desk without removing the page inside.
“That guy’s a joke anyway, Ems. You go. Bring the sexy undies that I know you bought for this trip and just enjoy being with yourself. Trust me, you’ll have a better time than you would ever believe.”
Her sister Sarah’s words echoed in her head, and Emily smiled. Of course she was right. Sarah was always right. It was nice to just hang out and relax and feel good about herself with no pressure. The cabin was secluded enough that she could sunbathe nude, but not too far from the most important amenities.
She finished up her game of solitaire and grabbed her phone to order a pizza with lots of extra cheese.