Clara’s pointy toed shoes tapped a warning to her coworkers; she was in a bad mood, and her walk reflected that. Every cubicle she passed contained someone typing industriously, scanning a sheaf of printout, or making an important phone call.
The problem wasn’t her mood, it was her hyper-criticality on days like these. Anyone caught slacking knew they’d be in for a dressing-down like no other.
Clara’s office door slammed behind her, and the whispering began. Everyone was dying to know the cause. Was it her mother again? Had she and Brian finally broken up? Or was it as boring as the time she fired Stephen over the barista sweetening her coffee?
Clara sat behind her desk, staring into space. She knew the whole office was talking about her. She wasn’t an idiot, for chrissake. She knew she was harder on them when she was going through a tough time, but by god, all they had to do was be competent.
It was neither her mother nor her boyfriend, and her coffee remained as dark and bitter as her soul. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Clara herself had no idea what was wrong with her, only that she’d woken up this way.
She pushed herself away from the desk and spun to look out the window. She crossed her arms and stared up at the wisps of whiteness streaking the sky.
Even in her black mood, Clara was able to admit to herself that the current team was possibly the best she’d ever supervised. If she left her office and started firing people over dirty fingernails and insignificant typos, she might actually have to answer to the big boss for her actions this time. She blew out a sharp breath through her nostrils.
She put her coat on as she stood and grabbed her bag.
Pointy toed shoes echoed all the way to the elevator, and when the doors slid closed behind her, the team breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was pretty great to have a boss who knew when she was going to be too much of a hardass.
The thought chased its own tail through all the mazes of Andi’s mind, repeating itself relentlessly as it gnawed at her morale. Out loud, however, she simply chanted the numbers.
“One hundred!!” The triumph in her voice was palpable, and she eased herself to the ground, unable to do one more push-up if her life depended on it. She had every right to be proud; she’d gone from nine to one hundred push-ups in less than seven weeks.
The goal was arbitrary; she’d plucked it out of the air a few days after Thanksgiving when she realized that her favorite pair of jeans no longer buttoned. Andi hadn’t told a soul about what she was doing, but a couple of her closest friends and coworkers noticed that she was holding her head up a little higher these days.
The best part? Andi’s ex, who unfortunately worked in her building–thankfully on another floor–was on paternity leave after the birth of his first child with his new wife, for whom he’d dumped Andi less than a year ago. Daniel had no idea that Andi was undertaking this journey of self-discovery, and he certainly had no idea that she had finally found her way out of pining for him.
She chuckled, still face down on the carpet. He’s going to expect me to still be in love with him, but I’m finally in love with myself. It’s going to be a glorious new year!
Andi rolled over and spread her arms, stretching as far as she could reach. It felt good to achieve, and it felt great to achieve for herself. She chuckled again, thinking how proud her sister would be. Her sister, who always said that Daniel was all wrong for her. Well, she was right, after all.
She closed her eyes and reveled in her victory.
When she leaned down to retrieve her bag from the passenger floorboard she caught a glimpse of movement in the side mirror. She smiled crookedly as she opened the door, waiting for him to wrap his arms around her, holding her close in that special way that kept her warm in the cold northern nights.
He didn’t, and she turned around, a question on her face. He wasn’t there at all. The movement must have been more of the falling leaves that blanketed the ground as far as she could see, except for her pair of tire tracks weaving among the trees.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and slammed the car door. A tear tracked its way down her left cheek as she stepped carefully around to the back of the truck to gather the grocery bags. Some days, it felt like he’d been gone at least a hundred years, and some days like he had just stepped outside for a quick smoke.
Two bags swinging softly in each hand, she trekked through the yard and onto the front porch, where she spun once, scanning the acres between her steps and the long dirt road to nowhere.
Not a soul.
She sniffed, and rubbed the tear from her face with the back of her hand.
As she unpacked the groceries she realized that she’d bought his favorites once again: mac and cheese and those stupidly expensive all-beef bun-length hot dogs. She left everything where it was on the kitchen counter and walked, head down, to their–her–bedroom to throw herself down on the mattress and sob and sob and sob until she was red and puffy.
It was the next morning when she woke with swollen eyes and a throbbing headache. She opened her eyes and stared at the thin strip of sunlight tapering across the wallpaper next to the bathroom door.
His voice echoed in her head, “just where it gets in my eyes when I try to shave.”
She closed her own eyes again, squeezing them until all she saw was the brilliant kaleidoscope of pressure on her optic nerves. This time, when she opened her eyes, his presence was completely gone.
She kicked off her shoes and went downstairs to finish putting the food away, but had to stop and laugh at the wreck the neighbor’s dog had made of her kitchen. She knew it was old Rider; the devil was lying underneath her kitchen table, tongue hanging out on the floor, shreds of fancy hot dog wrapper scattered around his swollen gut.
“I didn’t give the front door that extra push, did I, boy?” She laughed again, louder. “I forgot how poorly you resist temptation.”
Rider startled awake at the sound of her voice, and began to scramble guiltily to his feet, but she knelt to scratch behind his ears.
“Good boy, Rider. Good boy.”
When she returned to her room from the bathroom, Claire left her door open just a hair, barely enough for her cat, Caroline, to nudge it the rest of the way open. Caroline moseyed in and made her way to Claire at her desk, where she rubbed her side against Claire’s leg until she reached down to pick her up and nuzzle her face into Caroline’s soft gray fur.
“You’re right, sweetie, it’s time for a break,” Claire said. She softly closed her laptop and scooted her chair back, hugging the cat closer as she stood. Once on the stairs, Caroline struggled for freedom, so Claire let her leap to the landing and continued down on her own.
Her sister Melissa was in the kitchen, mixing something foul in the blender. “Mom needs more sugar if you’re going to the store today,” she announced.
“I’ll go to the store if you stop with the stupid smoothie diet,” answered Claire.
Melissa shrugged. “I’ve lost three pounds this month AND my hair has never been healthier. Pick me up some bananas and kale?”
Claire shook her head and trudged to the fridge, where she perused for long enough to let her stomach growl Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. She finally selected the last slice of leftover pizza and decided against microwaving it. Caroline trotted in to see if Claire was eating anything good, but since she was not a fan of veggie pizza, she continued on to her food bowl.
Wiping the crumbs from her hands, Claire grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter and checked her front pocket for her phone. She slid into a pair of flip flops by the front door and snagged her keys from the hook and was out the door before she could talk herself into giving Melissa a piece of her mind.
“Kale, bananas, sugar,” she muttered to herself as she started her car. She wondered if she herself needed anything, but came up with nothing. Claire shrugged. At least the grocery store was only a few blocks away, and she could browse until she figured out what she was cooking for dinner. Tonight was her night to cook for the three of them.
Well, I guess it’s about time to get back into this. OLWG #68 You wanna know something even weirder? Today is exactly one year since I participated. Spooky.
Here’s The Way We Were, acrylic on 16×20 canvas.
Natalie peered around the corner, wondering how much longer she would have to wait before the bird’s murky song echoed through the halls and set her free.
The wizard colonel in charge of the palace was unaware of her existence, and that was the only thing saving her ass right now. Natalie crossed her fingers that he wouldn’t find out about her before it was too late.
The first notes trickled through the corridor, and Natalie blew her advantage by stepping out at just the right moment, right into the path of Wizard-Colonel Larkspur. Their eyes met, and as he raised an eyebrow, the fear in her expression made him realize that this was a person he needed to know more about.
“Seize her!” he commanded, and the first three guards behind him grabbed Natalie by her arms and waist before she could turn and run in a desperate bid for freedom. “Bring her to me.”
The guards somehow managed to march Natalie the four feet between them, and the wizard colonel reached out a finger and tipped her chip up so he could look deep into her eyes. The puzzlement cleared from his face in an instant, to be replaced by a loathing that even the guards behind him could feel. Natalie cringed at the hurtful gaze, fearing the worst was about to happen.
“Take her to the dungeon at once!” His voice trembled the slightest bit on the last word, and Natalie was the only one who caught it. Her heart lifted anew with fresh hope, and she cooperated with the guards tugging her along.
She looked back over her shoulder just once, and her timing was perfect enough to catch Larkspur mid-shudder.
Natalie began to smile as she stood a little straighter. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed after all.