It has been a long week of paperwork and deadlines, but it’s finally Thursday. I am ready for my weekend with Dominic, he has planned a surprise date and refuses to tell me what we are doing. I have never had a more romantic boyfriend and every time I think about him, a smile spreads across my face. My phone buzzes on my desk and I check and see that Dominic sent me a text. He has the best timing. We seem to always be thinking about each other at the same. I am filled with pure glee when I read his text:
I know we just saw each other last night, but I miss you! I love you!
I love and miss you, too! Looking forward to this weekend.
I’m wondering if you’d be willing to skip happy hour with Cora tomorrow and come with me to visit my sister and finally meet Jack? They will love you and I know you will love them.
I pause and debate whether or not I should bail on Cora and happy hour. It would be the first time I skipped our little happy hour date since that one time I had the flu. I remember when I called out that morning and Cora laughed at me and said she didn’t believe me. She said I was definitely playing hooky. To this day, she still claims that. I wasn’t. I felt like I was on my deathbed, but I let her believe whatever she wants because it doesn’t hurt anything. This is a dilemma for me. On one hand, I want nothing more than to finally meet his sister and Jack. He talks about Jack often and he loves him more than life. Then, I consider Cora. Earlier this week she confided in me that Kingsley had hurt her and our happy hour dates are one of the few things he allows her to do without him. She made me promise to never tell another soul, but I’m torn up inside. I wonder if I can talk to Dominic about this and get his advice, after all, he does make a living off teaching women how to protect themselves from predators.
After debating with myself, I decide I can’t miss this opportunity. It’s too important to me and Dominic. Our relationship is soaring and I don’t want to lose momentum. Part of me secretly hopes he will propose this weekend. It has only been about two months, but when you know, you know. I write back:
5:00 p.m. rolls around and I rush to the restroom to change into my jeans and volunteer tee shirt. I have been looking forward to talking to Ellie and clearing the air about why she didn’t show me the gift if she solely entered my apartment for that purpose. I dash to the animal shelter and run to the sign in sheet. When I read through the sheet my heart slows down, Ellie hasn’t signed in yet. Shoot! Seems like wasted energy at this point, I need to slow down and get working and wait for her. Each week, volunteers rotate assignments and this week happens to be my turn to clean the kennel. It’s a shitty job, but someone has to do it. I am reluctant at first, but I drag myself to the empty kennels with the hose and start the process. The quicker I clean, the sooner I am done.
I absentmindedly clean and think about this week. It dawns on me that I probably should have told Cora that I need to skip our happy hour. I will send her a text when I’m done. Whenever I work at the shelter, I leave my phone in my car. I don’t see the point of bringing it in, not since the time I dropped it while cleaning the kennels. That was a gross nightmare. I sense someone near me and I turn, thinking it is Ellie, but I am alone. I try to shake off the feeling and tell myself it’s all in my head. After an hour of hosing down the empty cages, I retire back to the front desk to sign out. At this point, all I can worry about is getting home and taking a shower. I sign myself out on the sheet and notice that Ellie had signed herself in, but signed out after thirty minutes of being here. This strikes me as strange. Ellie is normally here before me and leaves after me. We also never work our shift together without partnering up.
When I started my car, I wait for the bluetooth to connect to my phone and I give her a call. After five rings, she finally picks up.
“Hi, Lucy,” her voice sounds off.
“Are you okay? I didn’t see you at the shelter and it worried me. I noticed that you signed in and left after thirty minutes, what’s going on?” I try to manage the obvious concern in my voice.
“Oh, you were there tonight? I didn’t see you or else I would have come over to chat.”
“I’m here every Thursday, why would today be any different?”
“You’re right, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m just super tired, that’s all.”
“If you say so, I can understand that. Ellie, I really wanted to talk to you tonight so I was bummed when I didn’t see you.”
“Oh, hmm, okay well you have me now. I’m all ears,” she says passively.
Am I picking up on disinterest? Part of me feels like she doesn’t want to talk to me right now, but I go for it any ways, “You sound tired, I’ll make this speedy, remember the day you snuck into my apartment to leave me a gift? I’m just wondering what it was?”
“What? Uh, oh yeah, the gift? Well,… it was a house plant, but I accidentally dropped it when I knocked over the plant on your entry way table. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to give you a broken pot with dirt spilling out and a plant that broke in half.”
“A plant! I would have loved it anyway, Ellie! Thank you for trying, that was so sweet of you!”
“Yep, no problem, but Lucy?”
“Yes?” I sense something in her tone of voice that makes me wait on pins and needles.
“Why did you ask me about the gift? That’s not like you to care about those kind of things,” she sounds a bit accusatory.
I’m feeling a bit defensive now, “I love gifts and it’s natural to be curious.” I’m hoping we can end the conversation here and call it a night, but there is silence on the other side of the phone. Ellie then says something that I was not prepared for.
“I don’t buy it. I think you were talking to Cora and she made you ask because she does not like the idea of us being friends again. You need to get space between you two, like, now. She has never been nice to me and she was extremely rude to me at the bar that night. I don’t see how you can maintain a friendship with a person like her, and don’t get me started on Dominic!” Ellie’s voice has risen a few octaves at this point. I start to feel protective of Cora and try to take a deep breath before I say something I know I will regret. I don’t know what has gotten into Ellie and I don’t know what Dominic has to do with anything.
“You need to stop it, right now! Cora is my friend. That night, she spoke out of turn, yes, but she was only trying to stand up for me. She has been nothing but supportive of me and lately, she has been my biggest cheerleader. You though, you turned your back on me that night when you walked out. And you’re right, it’s not like me to ask about something like the gift, but it’s also not like you to sneak into my apartment. And never speak an ill word of the man I love!” I hang up the phone without giving Ellie a chance to respond. My heart is racing and my stomach feels nauseous. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I grip the steering wheel. I turn up the radio to drown out the sound of my heart thumping out of my chest and I feel the first tear roll down my cheek. With my hands still gripping the steering wheel, I rest my forehead on them and close my eyes. Emotion floods over me and I let out a long, sorrowful cry.