After Gerald’s birthday, our lives got pretty hectic. He got accepted into one of Hidden Springs’ top publications (well, of course he did, my brother is amazing) and was working his butt off to be on the front page fast. So far, he only had a small column, on one of the regular newspaper’s many pages. We all thought that was already really impressive, since he snagged the job and the column straight out of high school. It was all due to his sports book that was published sometime before he graduated high school—it became a local bestseller with sports fans and of course, the newspaper wouldn’t have passed up on such a rising star.
As for me, I was still working hard at the office. If I needed to rise through the corporate ranks to get access to sensitive information, so be it! After all, nothing worthwhile ever came to people easily. And revealing Collier’s theft and lies was definitely very worthwhile.
Also, working like crazy at the office helped distract me from the fact that Micah and I were barely seeing each other these days. Since their keyboard replacement was not very familiar with their repertoire, the whole band was spending extra time at the studio to practice and fine tune their sound before their tour. As a result, either Micah was busy at the studio all the time, or when he was free, he’d just fall asleep, which wasn’t really surprising—they weren’t getting too many breaks at work. But as a result, he and I barely had time for one another.
“Are you trying to make that keyboard blow up with your brain?” Lana joked, with a hint of concern. She was right; I spent the last 3 hours filling out long forms and they were all looking like an endless sea of white to me by now. Ah, this was no use to me or anyone—at the moment I was just blankly staring at the screen.
“You’re right, I need a break. And food,” I realized as my stomach rumbled.
“Come on, Tia made an amazing risotto and there’s plenty for everyone. You need to eat something before you faint,” Lana practically led me to the office café room.
Even before we walked through the door, the delicious smell of fresh warm food hit my nose. I really wished I could cook that well, but so far my own cooking skills weren’t much to boast about.
“This is delicious,” I mouthed through the risotto.
“Thanks,” Tia smiled, walking in and grabbing a plate for herself. “I have to cook something full of carbs like this all the time or my son simply won’t eat it!”
“How old is he?” I asked. I knew Tia had a kid and that she often worked extra hours to make more money. It seemed the boy’s father wasn’t in the picture for a while now.
“He’s almost 10. Only a couple more years until I need to worry about his school and who he hangs out with. Now it’s all Spider-Man and video games. But at least he’s doing well in school,” Tia fondly explained.
“I remember being that age,” I remembered with nostalgia. “Mom had to bribe me with fishing trips to get me to do my homework.”
“Seriously?! No way!” Lana laughed. “I always pegged you for an overachiever in school.”
“Nope. I did barely enough to get by until about senior year and the internship here,” I remembered.
“I guess something finally gave you a chip on the shoulder. And look, you’re now working at one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the states. Must’ve been quite a chip,” she laughed.
“You could say that,” I said, regretting that I was letting the conversation get too close to home. “But what about you? What were you two like in high school?”
“I was the drama kid. I took part in every school play or performance. Thought I’d be an actress for a while, until I started dating my ex Liam, and you know how that went. By the time we broke up, I was already working here and I make enough money to be really comfortable, so the idea of leaving for Hollywood or some other film city and starting over seemed like an unneeded risk. And my Emet is here. Besides, I really love Hidden Springs—it’s my home.”
“And I was the science nerd, believe it or not. I even became president of chess and inventing clubs during my senior year. Then I got a full scholarship to SimState, which is where I met Clyde’s father. We were a couple since freshman year and I got pregnant in my junior year. Of course, Roman was right there with me in every way possible. Well, except for passing out in the delivery room. Then, after graduation, we both got hired by this science facility, since we had really good degrees. It was good for a few years,” she reflected sadly.
“What happened,” I asked, not sure if it was appropriate or not.
“Car accident– drunk driver. Roman’s car was hit really hard and he didn’t make it. I was still working at the facility and then it went under due to a lack of funding and several bad accidents involving newest research. The donors who gave grants decided it was more economically wise to shut the place down rather than continue funding us. Luckily, my degree and work experience was good enough to get me hired here, so I can still support my kid and myself.”
“That’s an unfortunate chain of events,” I shook my head.
“Yes. But needing to support Clyde was what kept me going back then. Otherwise, I would’ve buckled down after Roman’s death,” Tia admitted.
“You’re stronger than you know, hun,” Lana gave her a shoulder pat.
Tia smiled and got up to wash her plate, “Perhaps. It takes a bad situation to bring out the best in people. Or the worst, I guess.”
“Yeah. Like dear old Lionel Colier, right? I doubt there is any situation in the world that will bring out anything good in him,” Lana smirked.
“You guys don’t like him?” I asked, surprised.
“What is there to like? Sure, he’s attractive enough, but any illusion of his charm disappears after a small amount of socialization with him. And, have you seen how he treats his wife?” Lana asked indignantly.
“I actually haven’t really met him. I mean, I’ve been hired through the internship. He’s never been here while I worked.” That much was true.
“Lucky you. He’s a real piece of work, I’ll tell you. Every time he’s here, he makes people get mental breakdowns. Finds fault with everyone and everything, belittles the best employees. I think he just enjoys seeing people suffer. He’s just that kind of person,” Lana continued.
“Yeah, poor Selma. I don’t know how she puts up with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s on antidepressants,” Tia shook her head.
“It’s that bad?” I wondered. “I mean, why is she staying with him, then?”
“Pfft, please!” Lana laughed. “He treats her like half a human being. But really, what did she expect when she married the guy for his money? That’s life. If she wants out, she can leave—I doubt he cares enough to stop her. But while she has his big checks funding her spa retreats, she’ll stay.”
“I guess some people only care for the money,” Tia looked at the clock. “Looks our break is over.”
Back in the office, I was mulling over the information about the Colliers. I guess for all their monetary status, they didn’t have a good family life. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that my parents always truly cared for one another and for me and Gerald. Family love was truly priceless.
My phone rang with a text: “Sorry, sweets, working late again. Boss is driving us all nuts here in the studio! I guess we’ll have to reschedule date night again.” Micah wasn’t going to be able to meet me again, it seemed.
I let out an angry sigh.
“Micah’s working late again?” Lana understood.
“Yeah. You know, I could literally punch their manager in the guts for how he barely gives them any break now,” I complained. “He’s completely worn out from those practice sessions. How does he expect them to perform during the tour if they’re completely tired out before even leaving?”
She laughed “I understand your sentiment. I guess their manager is one of those “gotta push them to succeed” types. Why don’t you make it up to Micah when he’s finally free tonight?”
“Well, you know. Put on something really hot, grab a bottle of fine wine, and spend the evening with him? Maybe take a romantic bath together,” she winked.
Lana and her ideas! Although, this did sound like a sweet plan. We did both need some time together to relax. “Lana, I think you’re a genius.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiled and went back to typing away at her keyboard.
That evening, after work, I took a lavender-scented bath, put on that new dress that Katy talked me into buying, tone-fitting makeup, and with a bottle of fine red, headed over to the studio. Sure, Micah was probably too tired for a proper date night, but we could still spend some quality time together.
Before I left, I decided to make sure there was no needless worry about me. And that I was being more or less honest with my parents.
“Hey Mom?” My mother was cooking in the kitchen.
“Hi, hon? What’s up?” she took one look at my appearance and smiled “Date night?”
“Something like that, yeah. I just wanted to let you know… well, I probably won’t be home at night.”
I waited for a rebuke of sorts, but instead Mom laughed “Alright hon, just stay safe. Unless you want to end up with little ones of your own!”
“Wow, thanks! Love you!” I couldn’t believe how well my mother took it, but then she was always very understanding of things. Dad probably would be more bothered.
It was already dark when I arrived near his studio, but I knew they were still inside—I could hear sounds of music pouring out from one of the upstairs windows. They really did sound better than ever, I had to admit. Both Micah and his band mates had real talent, a thing that is rare to come by in this world.
I sat down on one of the benches not far from the entrance, and waited for them to finish. I wanted my presence here to be a surprise.
Eventually, the music stopped, and I could hear the voice of their manager saying they could go. This was it! I wondered what Micah’s face will look like when her finally noticed me.
“See you, Benny! Night, Jim!” I heard Micah part with his bandmates. I got up from my bench, ready to make myself seen when he was alone.
Then he himself came out of the studio.
Right behind him was a young woman, who I haven’t seen before. This must be their new keyboard player, I realized. I briefly wondered why he hasn’t mentioned their new musician was a woman. It didn’t really matter though.
Until she pulled him into a kiss. And he didn’t pull away.
Unable to move, I stood frozen near my bench, feeling like an idiot. The kissing couple was still oblivious to my presence. I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous this girl was, with silky black hair and smooth curves that I certainly didn’t have. He definitely wasn’t downgrading.
Finally they pulled apart and he looked like he was about to say something.
But then he saw me. I still couldn’t move.
“Irene…” he started out, most likely about to try and explain why I just caught him making out with another woman.
Slap! Before I realized I have moved my hand hit his face with a force I didn’t realize I had in me. The force of my hit nearly made him fall down on the sidewalk, where he ended up crouching. The woman next to him looked shocked.
I was boiling over on the inside. How could he do this? Did he not realize that I cared about him? He just threw our relationship away, like it was nothing. How could he?!
“Just let me…” he was trying to get up and she stooped down to help him up. I felt disgusted. With them for hurting me and with myself for allowing this to happen to me. People warned me about him so many times! And like a total fool, I stood by Micah’s side. Well, no more.
“Save it, asshole! I’m done with you,” I got out through gritted teeth and walked away, not really sure where I was going yet, but knowing that I wanted to, no I needed to be as far away from these two as my legs could carry me.