Last Fall

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An Old Friend

“You’re firing me?” I stay surprisingly calm, which is making me question my sanity. Any sane person would be shouting in defiance and as much as I’d like to yell at Adrian for firing me, I can’t gather the words to do so. When I don’t say anything, Adrian takes it as a sign to comfort me by reaching over for my hands. I stand up abruptly, not wanting to have any contact with him. The audacity, I shake my head and step away from him. Focusing on the stairwell behind him, I point at the front door. Adrian opens his mouth but closes it right after. He nods and walks over to the door. I notice him glance my way before stepping out while I keep my gaze fixed on the stairs.

It isn’t until after locking the door that the effects of the situation physically overwhelm me. Tears begin forming in my eyes, blurring my vision. I feel my temperature rising as I realize all the words I should’ve said but didn’t have the courage to. God, I feel so weak. I didn’t even bother asking why I was let go. I’ve been loyal to Lancaster Enterprises for the past two years and to have this happen to me is utterly ridiculous. I will go over to the office first thing in the morning and demand an explanation.

I walk up to my bedroom and fall onto my bed. The time on my bedside clock reads 1:52 am. Who comes over to someone’s house in the dead of night to fire them? My phone chimes next to me and I am pulled out of my thoughts. I reach onto the nightstand to see Adrian’s name on the screen. He’s sent me a text message; at two in the morning. Splendid. I open the message and it says, “The decision is final. You have one week to clear out of the office.”

I sit upright in my bed. So that’s it. No explanation, just these two sentences. And here I was thinking that Adrian understood me, really understood me. I guess I was wrong. My eyes start to well at that thought. How has this man affected me to this extent? I’m thinking less about the fact that I have no job and more about him. I grab the nearest pillow and vent my frustration into it.

_____________

I awake to the sound of a truck backing up outside of my window. I forgot to close the window again. I haul myself out of bed to go take a look. Peeking from in between the curtains, I see a lime green garbage truck. I open the curtains further apart when I see Lance and Greg, Metclaff’s beloved sanitation engineers and the only people I get to see out here so far away from town. I enjoy my solitude, but it’s nice to have some human contact once in a while.

“Greg! Lance!” I shout. Lance, who is in the driver’s seat, leans out of the window and waves in my direction. Greg peeks his head from behind the truck as he unloads my garbage bin into the back.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” Lance shouts back. The memories of last night come flooding back and I force a smile. It’s not a lovely day for me; not at all.

“Don’t stay inside for the whole day, Hadley,” Greg says as the truck pulls away. The words hit me hard. That is exactly what I was planning on doing for the entire day and possibly for the rest of the week. I know I have a week to clear out of the office, but I’m not going to be stepping foot near that building anytime soon. I’ll just ask one of my coworkers to gather my belongings on my behalf.

I grab my phone and head downstairs for some breakfast. When I reach the refrigerator, I notice that there is only half of a bottle of mustard and some shrivelled spinach. Work has kept me so busy for the past few months that I’ve rarely eaten at home, which explains why I have no food. After much deliberation, and even considering eating wrinkled spinach with mustard, I finally make the decision to go into town for groceries. I quickly brush my teeth and wash my face. I’ll take a proper shower once I return. Throwing on a cardigan to look somewhat presentable, I take my car keys and head out.

Once in town, I decide to stop by Flo’s Dine-In to settle the emptiness in my stomach. A bell rings softly when I walk into the small diner. I breathe in, inhaling the sharp scents of cinnamon and coffee. It’s been months since I’ve stepped into this place. I almost forgot the feeling of coziness it brings to me. I wave to Flo, the owner of the diner, who smiles back and mouths, “One minute”. I nod and slide into an empty booth. Shortly after, Flo walks over to my table with a coffee pot in one hand and a notepad in another.

“Where have you been?” she says pouring coffee into one of the cups already on the table. I laugh nervously. She sets the coffee pot down and puts her free hand on her hip. It’s been months since I’ve come to see her. When I first moved here, Flo was the first person I met. She helped me settle in. She’s not only a supportive friend, but also like a mother to me. To not tell her my secrets would be a crime in her eyes, but I’m not ready to share anything about my previous life with anyone. Especially not Flo; the truth would shatter her.

“Work,” I reply nervously and take a sip of the scolding hot coffee. She watches me intently and lets outs a loud laugh.

“Oh, hun,” she says while she pats my shoulder. “That boy is making you work too hard.” She’s talking about Adrian. My body tenses at the thought of him. How do I tell her that that boy is the reason I don’t have a job anymore? She senses the tension and her hand drops to her side. She sits down across the table.

“What happened?” Flo asks, her pale blue eyes staring into my eyes. She looks older than I remember.

“Nothing,” I lie, but I can tell by her expression that she is not convinced. I take another sip of my coffee, which gives me an excuse to break our eye contact.

“It’s because of that boy, isn’t it?” the tone in her voice is accusing. “I’ll take that silence as a yes. Pumpkin, if he’s hurt you in some way, I have to know so I can go over to his house and smack some sense into him.” This makes me laugh a little.

“Flo,” I say in between laughs. “You don’t even know where he lives.”

“Sugar, I will find out,” she lightly taps her temple with her finger. Her dedication to get me to talk is impressive.

“I lost my job,” I almost whisper it out of pity for myself. Flo raises her eyebrows and shakes her head in disbelief.

“How?” she asks as she refills my coffee cup. I shrug while mouthing, “I don’t know”. No use lying about it; I wasn’t given a reason for being let go.

“And here I was thinking that boy liked you,” she says bitterly. You and I both, Flo. You and I both. She takes my hands in hers. “How are you doing,” she says, her eyes showing genuine concern.

“I’m alright,” I lie again. The truth is, I’m not alright in the slightest bit. I fight to my emotions to a minimum, something I’ve mastered over the years. Feelings of anger and sadness mixed with a smidge of guilt cloud my thoughts. I bury my face in my hands, elbows on the tabletop. I’m pathetic.

“Hadley DeWitt?” I look up at the mention of my name. Beside the booth stands a woman. She has short black hair that snakes perfectly around her jaw. She smiles down at me nervously with her hands in the pockets of her pale green scrubs. Nurse? Maybe doctor? The more I look at her, the more familiar she looks, but I can’t seem to put a name to that face. She takes my silence as an obvious sign of my forgetfulness and speaks up.

“Naya Parrish,” she says pointing at her chest. I blink a few times. “We were neighbors.” My eyes widen as this thought clicks. Of course, I remember now. We went to school together and were pretty much inseparable until I moved away to college. I wanted so badly to escape from home that I didn’t care about who I was leaving behind. I don’t blame myself, though. No regrets, I here his voice again, one of the only decent things that I remember coming out of that foul mouth of his.

“Oh, Naya, right,” I try to sound surprised when I say this. “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you with the new hair.” Good cover up.

“Yeah, I wanted a change,” she says. “Anyway, how are you?” I smile and look at Flo, who stares at me in awe. I don’t talk to many people, so seeing me interacting with someone is amazing her.

“You girls talk,” she says standing up. “I’ll return with some sandwiches for y’all.” Naya and I both thank her and Naya sits down in the seat across from me. We sit in silence for a few minutes. There is so much I’d like to ask her, but I’d rather not because the thoughts of my old life are a burden. Naya is a part of my old life and I want nothing to do with it.

“So, what brings you into town?” I ask breaking the silence.

“I’m caring for a patient. I don’t know if you know her. Edna Riley?” I nod at her response. Metclaff is a small town, and even though I’m pretty much the town hermit, I still know most of the people here.

We talk while Flo brings us sandwiches, catching up on the years after I left for college. I learn that Naya went to nursing school and that she now works at a hospital in the city. I tell her about my life as an architect, leaving out the details about my getting fired. I’ll admit, it feels nice to have someone my age to talk to. At work, everyone is so hellbent on impressing Adrian that they forget to breathe.

“Let’s go out tonight,” Naya says. I let out a laugh and give her a hesitant look. “I’m serious. You look like you could use some time out.” Well, she’s not wrong.

“Sure,” I reply, shocking myself. Even though I’d prefer staying indoors tonight, the thought suffocates me. If she were here right now, my sister would deliberately lock me out of the house so that I would “gather the courage to explore the world on my own”. I feel a smile creep onto my face at the thought of her. Her energy was enigmatic.

“Perfect,” Naya says as she stands up. “Sorry, my break is up, but I’ll see you tonight, alright? Meet me here and we can go together from here.” I nod and watch as she leaves the diner, the small bell on the door ringing as the door opens and closes. I exhale loudly. What just happened? I cannot even begin to fathom what tonight will bring, but whatever it is, I can guarantee that it will serve as a refresher after last night.

_____________

I take it back. This is way worse. When Naya invited me out, I was expecting maybe a dimly lit restaurant or a quiet bar, not a nightclub I the city. I’d rather go through the embarrassment of last night than be here.

Strobing pink and blue lights fill my vision while music throbs in my ears. People dance around me, their movements blending into the flashing lights, which makes them look like aliens. I feel someone grab my hand and pull me into the crowd. I spin around and see Naya grinning from ear to ear.

“Come on, have some fun,” she must scream because the music is so loud. Then, she starts moving her hips from side to side and starts dancing. Her movements are fluid, which make me wonder how often she does this. I try to match her movements but fail miserably. Maybe a drink will help me forget where I am.

“I’m going to get something to drink, do you want anything?” I shout to Naya, but she doesn’t seem to hear me and continues dancing.

Once at the bar, I order the classic gin and tonic and down it in one gulp. Bitterness fills my mouth and runs down my throat. I forgot how much I hate alcohol, but that doesn’t stop me from ordering another drink. The bartender stares at me, astounded. He probably sees broken people daily, but his expression tells me that I might just be the most broken person he has ever seen.

“Carpe fucking diem,” I say raising the glass and swallow the drink along with my broken past.

After my fourth drink, I start feeling dizzy. I reach into my wallet and pull out whatever cash I have in there – I’m to tipsy to remember the amount. I slap the bills onto the countertop and search for an exit. As I’m pushing through the crowd of dancing people, I spot something. I blink to ensure I saw it right. There it is, amid the crowd and moving to the sound of the music only a few feet from me; a green ribbon. That emerald green ribbon tied neatly around that curly blonde hair, the shade of green that I grew up admiring and now envy. Could it be? Could she really be here? But how?

I push through the crowd trying to reach the spot of green, which only gets further away. My breathing quickens and I feel my heart rate increase with each step. I see the blonde hair and green ribbon disappear out the exit, so I follow. Once outside, I search desperately for anything green. If that is indeed who I think it is, I cannot lose her. Not again.

After about five minutes, I conclude that I was only chasing a fantasy. I’m about to head back inside and let Naya know that I’m going home when I catch a glimpse of blonde hair in a taxi across the street. The bright city lights and rolled down window make it easy to spot the woman.

“Angela!” I shout running out onto the empty road. My stomach churns at the sound of her name. It has been three years since I last said her name out loud. The woman perks up and turns her head in my direction. I run toward the taxi as it speeds off, but those few seconds are enough for me to see her face. I swallow hard and my breathing quickens while my body cries for oxygen.

I saw her.

I was right.

She’s still alive.

Overwhelmed by my newfound knowledge, I turn to my right only to have bright white lights flood my vision. I am suddenly flying through the air. I lie motionless on the ground, pain pulsating through every inch of my body. It hurts. It hurts so much.

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