Kiki didn’t know why she felt so nervous about a stupid email. She got up and went to the kitchen to take a bottle of chardonnay out of the fridge and pour herself a glass. She loved the stemware she’d gotten on sale at Nordstrom. She’d splurged, but not as much as she could have using the sweet thirty percent off card she’d received in the mail - one of the perks of being a regular customer there. She didn’t drink wine that often, but when she did, she liked to do it in style.
She took her glass back to the table, intending to surf the Internet, but she already had two new messages waiting in her inbox. She sat down, her heartbeat picking up a little.
“This is stupid,” she said at her computer. “What am I getting so worked up about?” She didn’t know why Aimee’s and Elizabeth’s answers were so important to her, but they were. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a friendship with someone not in the business of selling sex or the idea of it.
She clicked on Elizabeth’s first.
YOU ARE LIKE AN ANGEL OF MERCY. WHEN?
Kiki smiled, clicking open Aimee’s next.
YOU TOTALLY READ MY MIND. WHAT TIME?
Kiki’s heart warmed at the idea of drinks with her two buds. She thought about emailing Betty, but decided against it. It would probably end up being past her bedtime anyway, if things went well.
She sent a group email response.
SEVEN O’CLOCK. WEAR HEELS.
She smiled and clicked off the computer, snapping the top down and picking up her wine glass to take a sip. Her thoughts jumped to what she was going to wear, so she got up and walked to the stairs, taking them up to her bedroom.
She’d opted for the two-bedroom townhouse plan instead of the three bedroom, so she could have a bigger closet. And even though it was the size of a small room itself, it was still packed to the gills. She set her wineglass down on the dresser just outside the entrance and went in.
Her eyes scanned the selection available. Sexy or conservative ... hmmm ... She opted for something in-between, knowing that Elizabeth would no doubt be coming from work and Aimee from home. She reached over and pulled out one of her many black dresses. This one ended a few inches above the knee but fit pretty snugly – not too much, though – just enough to let the world know she had something to brag about underneath without actually showing off every detail. Perfect she thought to herself, as she reached over to the cubby that held a pair of black heels with a two-inch wide band across the instep. She loved the layered wood look of the heel and the casual elegance of the easy, summer slip-on style. The soft Italian leather made them one of the more comfortable pairs she owned.
She put the dress still on its hanger on a hook on the back of her closet door, dropping the heels on the floor nearby. She needed to take a shower and rinse off the suntan oil, and she needed to do her hair and makeup. She had at least ninety minutes of primping ahead of her and she needed to get going if she was going to make it to O’Malleys by seven.
ELIZABETH COULDN’T KEEP THE SMILE off her face. She’d just read Kiki’s email confirming they were all meeting at seven. She wiggled her toes in her heels, glad she’d made the decision to wear these shoes today. Normally she went with conservative flats, but this morning, she’d been in a mood. Maybe she’d been picking up on Kiki’s vibe.
But Elizabeth knew it was more than that. She’d been thinking a lot about the conversation she’d had at the book club meeting with the other girls. She was flat-out jealous of Kiki having quit her job like she had. Making that kind of decision took serious guts, and Elizabeth had been admonishing herself all week over being such a wimp. She wished she had that kind of bravery in her heart.
A knock at her office door interrupted her train of thought. The senior partner was standing there, holding up a file. “Got a minute?” he asked.
“Sure, Bill, come on in.” She eyed the file in his hand warily, afraid she knew whose name was on it.
He walked over and stood next to her desk, choosing to tower over her rather than sit in the chair across from her like everyone else did. He had a habit of doing that, which really pissed Elizabeth off. She was pretty sure he knew it, too.
She made a split second decision and stood up. The heels she was wearing gave her a two-inch advantage over him, destroying whatever power play he’d been trying to use on her. For about two seconds.
“I need you to stay late tonight and work on this file.” He threw it down on her desk.
She recognized it immediately as the client who didn’t believe in paying taxes, preferring that the government just print some more hundred-dollar bills to cover his tab. “I have plans. I can’t.”
“Cancel them,” he said as he turned to go. “Make him happy. He wants you and only you.”
Elizabeth was angry and frustrated, too tired to keep the emotion out of her voice. “He’s your client, Bill, not mine.”
Bill stopped in his tracks and turned, raising an eyebrow at her. “Excuse me? I’m sorry ... ” He put his finger up to his ear. “Did I just hear you tell me Mr. Bridgestone isn’t your concern?”
Elizabeth squared her shoulders. “No. What you heard me say was that he’s your client, not mine. If he needs to be taken care of, it should be you doing it, not me.” She flipped open the file jacket and studied the first page for two seconds, before saying, “There’s an entire weekend of work to be done on this.”
She’d never stood up to Bill this way. Ever. She always just took whatever file he didn’t want to deal with and completed the work without complaint or comment. She’d lost count of how many hours of Bill’s work she’d done. She wasn’t the only one in the firm who had and wouldn’t be the last. Bill called himself the rainmaker, and he was very fond of saying that the rainmaker makes rain; he doesn’t crunch numbers.
Bill dropped his hands to his sides, clenching his fists once before letting them go loose again. “Do the work, Elizabeth,” he said in a very controlled and almost arrogant voice. “And next time, think harder before you respond to me. I’d hate for you to say something that you’d regret.”
Elizabeth said nothing. She just clenched her teeth and steamed internally, watching Bill’s back as he exited her office. No doubt he was heading out to go have a few cocktails at his very exclusive country club.
Maybe if I spent every afternoon drinking martinis with the good old boys, I could be the rainmaker and you could crunch numbers for a change. That’s what she wished she could say, but she just thought it instead. No need to get fired over Mr. Bridgestone. The guy was an ass, but he did have a big account at the firm.
The front door of the office slammed shut behind Bill, and she could hear Sandy, the receptionist, gathering her things. The front waiting area lights went off, and then Sandy yelled, “Goodnight, Elizabeth! Have a good weekend!”
“Yeah, right,” said Elizabeth softly. This file was going to take the full two days to get straightened out. “You too!” shouted Elizabeth, not wanting to be rude. It wasn’t Sandy’s fault that Elizabeth’s job sucked and that Bill was a pompous, chauvinist prick.
She sat down at her desk, and began working on the file, all the while looking up from time to time to stare at the email from Kiki. Another one popped up around six o’clock, this one from Aimee. Elizabeth clicked on it sadly.
I’M SO EXCITED! AND I EVEN HAVE HEELS. SEE YOU GIRLS SOOOON!!!
Elizabeth smiled at Aimee’s obvious enthusiasm. Then she looked at the stupid folder sitting on her desk, knowing she’d be there until midnight with it, while Kiki and Aimee were having wine and hanging out. She was pissed.
Elizabeth took one more look at Aimee’s email and felt a spark light up in her heart. She made a command decision, only a very small piece of her hoping she wouldn’t live to regret it. She stood up, grabbed the file, and marched out of her office, heading to the one located three doors down – the one on the corner of the building with the gorgeous views of downtown Orlando. Bill’s office.
; She walked in and slapped the folder down on his desk, grabbing a post-it note and a pen from the carefully arranged and nearly bare surface. She wrote out a note and stuck it to the folder, placing the whole thing in the center of his desk blotter so he’d be sure to see it when he came in on Monday. Of course, that would be sometime around ten o’clock and long past the time Mr. Bridgestone would have expected this little problem he’d created to be resolved. Bill had the privilege in his position to hold old-school banker’s hours. She, on the other hand, came in at seven every morning, seven days a week. She left after ten most weeknights and after four on weekends. But not tonight. And not ever again. She’d had it up to her eyeballs and was tired of drowning in Bill’s work and covering for his ass.
She went back to her office and took her favorite Mont Blanc pen out of the drawer and the picture of her sister she had in a frame on her desk and stacked them neatly together. She looked around the room and saw nothing else urgently personal to worry about. She’d get the rest later, when she worked her last two or three weeks as part of her take-this-job-and-shove-it offer. She quickly sat down and typed out a letter of resignation before she could second-guess her crazy, impetuous decision. Her heart was racing, but she felt free. For the first time in years and years, she thought maybe she could be the captain of her own destiny, instead of following the path laid out for her by others.
She printed out the letter, signed it with a flourish using her favorite pen – a graduation gift from her mother who had passed away several years earlier – and delivered it to Bill’s desk. She put it next to the file with the post-it that said “Not My Client” on it. Bill was going to have an absolute fit when he saw it, but she didn’t care.
She went to her office and bent down, reaching into the bottom drawer of her file cabinet. She took out a small box of chocolates she had recently purchased for a client and put the box on Sandy’s desk instead. She used one of Sandy’s While You Were Out message notes and wrote, “Sorry for all the trouble that’s coming”, placing it under the ribbon that was on the box and putting the whole package on Sandy’s computer keyboard. Elizabeth knew exactly who was going to suffer when she left. First it would be Sandy, and then it would be any number of the other accountants on this floor. But she refused to feel sorry for them. If she could get out, so could they. Maybe if Bill had to deal with a mass exodus, he’d stop being such an ass all the time. But it wasn’t her problem any more. I’m finally free!
She went back to her office and took the few things she couldn’t live without, locked her drawer and cabinet, and headed out the door. She had the perfect amount of time left to drive the speed limit to the bar and not worry about catching red lights all the way. Her heels clicked along the marble floor as she headed to the elevator.
AIMEE WAS JUST PUTTING THE finishing touches on her makeup when she heard the front door open. Her heart leapt into her throat when she realized who it had to be. The panicked part of her looked at the bathroom window, wondering if it would be worth it to climb out, jump from the second floor balcony somehow, and run around the house to the car. But then she realized her purse was downstairs with the keys in it, so even if she were capable of said ninja moves, she wouldn’t make it very far. She had to go down and face the devil who surely awaited her.
“Aimee?! Where are you?” came Jack’s angry voice from the foot of the stairs.
“Coming down.” She left the bathroom reluctantly, picking up the heels she’d left on the floor and carrying them down by the straps looped over her finger. As soon as she saw his eyes light on her, she knew there was going to be trouble.
“Why are you dressed like a whore?”
Aimee felt herself getting angry, even though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t lose her temper. “Don’t use that word in my presence. It’s nasty and it doesn’t apply to me.”
Jack tried to grab her as she went past, but she slipped out of his grasp and moved down the hallway from him.
“Leave me alone, Jack. I’m leaving soon. Get what you came for and go.”
“You’re going out? What ... ? On a date? No. No, you’re not going anywhere.” He shook his head, his nostrils flaring and his lower jaw jutting out.
“No, it’s not a date. I’m going out with some girlfriends, not that it’s any of your business.” She was proud to be able to say that she had friends now. Jack had taken nearly everything from her, but he wasn’t going to take this.
“Bullshit. You’re meeting some guy.”
“So what if I am?!” she yelled. “You’re engaged to your pregnant girlfriend, Jack! You’ve moved on! So have I!”
Jack grabbed her purse off the table by the stairs and started rifling through it, getting frustrated and finally dumping out its contents onto the floor.
“What are you doing?!” shrieked Aimee, afraid to go and rescue her stuff. “Get out of my purse!” She didn’t want to get too close to him so she stayed where she was, wishing she hadn’t left her purse there for him to get to.
“Ha!” yelled Jack, picking up her car keys. “See you later, Aimee. Have fun sitting on the couch all night.” He turned and left the house, obviously very pleased with himself.
Aimee wanted to run after him and jump on his back, tearing his hair out and taking her keys back; but she knew that would only get her back in the E.R. and effectively give him that much more power over her, letting him know that he’d made her that upset.
She turned to go into the kitchen, tears welling up in her eyes as she heard his car zoom out of the driveway. The heels she’d been carrying dropped to the floor as she sat in front of her laptop on the kitchen counter. She slowly started typing out her email message to Kiki and Elizabeth as the tears flowed down her face, smearing her newly applied mascara.
HI GIRLS. SORRY. CAN’T COME. LOST THE KEYS TO MY CAR. HOPE YOU HAVE FUN. XOXO AIMEE.
She got off the chair and shuffled over to the pantry. Might as well bake something. It always calmed her to make something beautiful. She kicked her shoes to the side, because she hated wearing them when she cooked, and pulled out the flour and sugar. As she moved around the kitchen absently grabbing the necessary things, she tried to figure out who this batch of cookies would go to. She rarely ate more than a taste of what she made herself, but she had so few friends, there was a definite oversupply problem. Before she could decide whether to give them to the postman or her retired neighbors, a beep from her computer broke through her daze of unhappiness and alerted her to the fact that she had a new message in her inbox.
She shuffled over to read it, almost sure it would be an offer for another penis enlargement drug. She got at least ten of them a day. Or maybe this time it would be another multi-million dollar lottery that she’d won, or an inheritance from someone in Nigeria or the People’s Republic of Congo.
Her eyes lit up when she saw that it was a message from Kiki.
WHAT’S YOUR ADDRESS? I’M COMING OVER TO GET YOU. NO EXCUSES.
Aimee smiled. It was like Kiki could read her mind and see past the stories she made up to keep from being too embarrassed. She half wanted to lie and say something about being sick, but instead, typed out her address. Worse than facing her friends and having them know what a horrible person her ex was, would be giving her ex the satisfaction of ruining her night.
She walked over and put away the flour and sugar, lining them up carefully in the pantry, and put her baking pans back in the cupboard. The rest of her life might be a complete mess, but this little part of it, the part that took place in the kitchen, was perfectly organized and ran like clockwork. She liked having that tiny bit of control, especially since the rest of her life seemed so chaotic.
Aimee walked slowly upstairs to the bathroom to try and repair the damage done by her tears. After taking one look in the mirror, she decided that starting all over was her best bet, and began washing her face. She needed the cool water to calm down her red eyes. After she’d dried herself off and was i
n the middle of putting on moisturizer, the doorbell rang.
She panicked, worried that Jack had come back. But then she realized he wouldn’t have the courtesy to ring the bell, so she hurried downstairs as she rubbed in her face cream, throwing open the door as soon as she reached it.
Kiki stood on the doorstep, looking as gorgeous as ever, towering over Aimee in heels that made her six feet tall. Slung over her shoulder was a super cool black bag that Aimee remembered seeing in the window of a store in the mall she was afraid to go into because the things in it were so expensive.
“Nice place,” said Kiki, stepping forward to come in. Her heels thunked soundly on the wood floor.
Aimee moved back, giving her room to enter, and then shut the door. She watched as Kiki’s eyes roamed around the foyer, taking in the re-packed boxes that Jack had ripped open the day before and the contents of Aimee’s purse thrown out on the floor. Kiki’s gaze stopped at Aimee’s face.
“Something tells me there’s more than just lost keys going on here.”
Aimee smiled at her tremulously and then lost it. She started crying and turned to grab some tissues off the nearby table. She was embarrassed that Kiki was seeing her like this. She hated crying in front of people.
“Tell me what happened, Aimee. Who do I need to go beat up? Is it the ex?”
Aimee smiled, imagining her Amazonian friend going after her short, uptight husband. That was a match she’d like to see.
“It was Jack. He came over when I was getting ready, and when he saw that I was going out, he took my keys. I don’t have a spare set.”
“Okay, I can do easy math ... Jack equals asshole. So. First order of business is fixing your face. Show me to your makeup area.”