How Many Licks Does It Take

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Chapter 4 Can't Catch a Break

“Have a wonderful day and thank you for coming to Imagination Station!”

“Okay, what happened? You have been ridiculously cheery and bouncy all day. It’s creeping me out.”

Elise turned around to look at her co worker Jenny. She had been in a surprisingly good mood since she and Alex had sat down and talked about everything a week ago. Looking back she had to admit that her issues from past relationships heavily influenced how she saw things but with patience and better communication she was getting past them. Slowly and with some backsliding certain days but so far things had been good.

“I’m just happy with where I am in my life right now.”

“Ugh. Why didn’t you just say you were getting laid? Geez.”

Smiling radiantly she turned back into the store to start cleaning up after the group that had just left. Jenny had the worst luck when it came to relationships, even worse than Elise. Then again after all her talks with Alex she was starting to realize that half of both her and Jenny’s problems were self-inflicted. Jenny had a habit of chasing and luring away guys who were already in relationships then acted surprised when they cheated and left her too.

Elise on the other hand was always on the look out for signs that her partner was cheating because that’s what they kept doing and it was what she had almost driven Alex to do too. Sure she still thought Alex shouldn’t be putting herself into situations where she looked guilty but they were working on that. At least, they were talking about it openly now.

“Not everything is about sex. Can you hand me those paints?”

“These brats always make such a big mess! Why the hell am I still here?”

“You ask yourself the same question every time you come in. It’s because you’re too lazy to go and find a new job.”

The Imagination Station taught classes to children and adults in painting and ceramics. As a fine arts major Elise loved her job there. She was good with children and even when the adults were annoying she didn’t have to deal with them once the classes were over so she managed to keep a lid on her temper until after the customers left. It amazed everyone including herself.

“Hmph. So if it isn’t sex that’s got you glowing what did it?”

“Alexandra’s started being more open with me and we’re communicating better is all.”

“That’s a good thing. I was starting to wonder if this one was going to pull a disappearing act like the last one, Janice wasn’t it?”

Elise stiffened and felt her smile turn brittle. She still had a hard time hearing about what her ex had done even though it had been over a year. Grabbing the scattered paintbrushes she tried to focus on her task and not on Jenny’s words. In the back of her mind she remembered going home to her old place. Turning her key and walking into an empty room. Every piece of furniture gone. A few picture frames still on the walls, miniatures from her collection lay scattered.

Remembering the stab of fear as she backed out of the doorway and frantically tried to call Janice to make sure she was okay. Then the slow realization that the door had been locked. A thief wouldn’t have been able to or would have bothered to lock the door on their way out. Hearing the automated voice telling her that the number she had dialed was no longer in service had felt like someone sinking a knife right into her chest.

“Alexandra isn’t anything like Janice.”

“I know, it’s just how she was going around meeting up with people without telling you. It just reminded me of how shady Janice was. Nadia was too remember? I swear, your ex’s are just horrible.”

“You’re one to talk with Bryce, Devon, Timothy, and Richard.”

With that she briskly gathered up the rest of the supplies and headed into the back room to clean them. Jenny huffed and grumbled through the next group and Elise continued to ignore her and focus her energy on being bright and helpful for the customers. That exaggerated cheerfulness always helped her focus on her job and put her personal life out of mind. Her chest ached though and she could feel her paranoia creeping up on her.

“I brought up bad memories didn’t I? You know I didn’t mean to do that.”

They were on their lunch break and walking the block to the mall. Glancing at the windows of the shops they passed she narrowed her eyes. Jenny wasn’t apologizing and Elise wanted that apology. Who cared what Jenny had meant? They both knew why she did it. Elise was happy and in a good relationship and Jenny wasn’t so she lashed out and popped the warm bubble Elise had been floating in.

“Why don’t you just admit that you’re jealous of what Alex and I have and apologize for being so spiteful? We both know you said that on purpose.”

She saw Jenny’s spine stiffen and could feel a sharp gaze on her. Did Jenny really think Elise was going to let her get away with talking to her like that? Hah! If she couldn’t be in her happy bubble she’d just wrap herself up in her bitch persona and Jenny could choke on it.

“Feeling the bitch today are we? Hmph. Alright, I’m sorry I brought up your horrible past relationships. Happy?”

“How are things with Josh? He still with the wife?”

“Low blow Elise. Fine, I’m sorry. Things are horrible by the way. Our trip up to the vineyard was cancelled because he has to go to his kid’s recital or something like that.”

That explained the increased antagonism. Not that Elise was going to let Jenny off the hook that easily. It bothered her to an unbelievable degree that Jenny still chased after guys who were taken. She kept trying to get Jenny to just leave the guys alone but her logic was she wasn’t the one in the relationship so she wasn’t doing anything wrong and if the guys wanted out of their situation what was wrong with that? An ache started to form behind her eyes as she restrained herself from strangling Jenny on behalf of all the wives and girlfriends the girl had stolen men from.

“Heaven forbid the man to put his FAMILY before his mistress.”

Thankfully they reached the mall and the noise of the crowd drowned out Jenny’s acidic response. If they weren’t co workers they wouldn’t have anything to do with each other but they made an attempt at civility to maintain as pleasant a work environment as they could. Stepping around a group of teenagers she headed for the escalator going to the upstairs food court. She was distracted by the sparkling rings in a jewelry store window when she had to quickly get out of the way of a tall brunette wearing a shirt saying “Ctrl Alt F4 ur brain n00b” complaining loudly about a narcoleptic mage. God, she couldn’t stand geeks!

“Are you okay miss?”

Turning around she realized she’d almost backed right into the jewelry store sales girl. Blushing she assured the girl that she was fine. Regaining her composure she looked around at the beautiful rings shining under the lights in the case. Diamond solitaires and colored gemstones lay glittering, all held by delicate hands of gold and silver spun together into elaborate pieces of art. Trailing her fingers along the glass edge she felt a bit of longing. Would she ever have someone propose to her with a beauty like these?

Turning to leave the store she caught the look Jenny was casting her way. Heading quickly to the escalator she hoped to avoid whatever Jenny was going to say. Yes, she wanted to get married. She wanted to fall in love with someone who loved her back. She ached with it but she wasn’t going to let that ache trick her into doing something stupid again like last time with Janice. What she had with Alex was good and they were working through their problems, damn it.

“Hey, Elise”

“I feel like Japanese food for lunch! I’m going over to Edo’s!”

There was no way she was going to let Jenny keep poking at her. Not right now. Walking briskly over to join the line waiting to place their orders she could hear Jenny huffing again. She tracked her co worker from the corner of her eye walking over to a deli counter. Why was her day turning out so badly? It had started out so good! No. No. No. She was not going to let her day be soured. She was in control here. Gathering up her order she found a table where she could look over the side and ignore Jenny and whatever nastiness she tried to start.

“So, you and Alex are doing that good now huh? I saw how you looked at those rings. Weren’t you complaining about how she was making googly eyes at that red head just last week?”

“We’re doing much better now. That was just a misunderstanding.”

Snapping her chopsticks apart she attacked her lunch and hoped that Jenny would take the hint. If not she would just have to “share” some of her lunch with the annoying busybody and shove food into Jenny’s mouth until she couldn’t talk. Glancing up she met Jenny’s eyes hoping to impress on her what a good idea it would be to change the subject when something down on the first floor caught Jenny’s attention. Thank goodness, she’d take anything as a reprieve.

“So...you guys are good? The whole cheating thing was just a misunderstanding?”

“Yes! Now drop it or I’ll start telling everyone how Marcus’s grandmother caught you and him in his bathroom when she stopped by with his fiancee!”

That brought out a look of unhappy surprise that was expected but the following look of malicious delight. That was unexpected and sent a wave of anxiety through her. Why the hell was she smiling like that?

“I’ll drop it and instead drop this bomb. Who’s that girl in front of the jewelry store with Alexandra?”

“The hell?”

She started to turn her head to look but stopped herself. She and Alex had talked about this numerous times. There had to be trust. Jenny was just being a spiteful bitch trying to wedge a block into their relationship because her own relationships were shit. She shouldn’t look.

“Stop it. You’re just jealous that someone loves me.”

“Oh yeah. I’m real jealous that your girlfriend is going behind your back and messing around with a girl right out in public.”

No she wasn’t going to look. In the back of her mind though she felt that apprehension she felt earlier remembering Janice. This wasn’t like that. She wasn’t going to turn around and find the life she thought she was building with someone was gone. She and Alex were working things out. They were stable.

“You really are just a spiteful bitch aren’t you?”

“I may be a bitch but at least I’m not afraid to look.”

That did it. She was going to look just so she could show Jenny how wrong she was and end this ridiculous conversation. When she got back she was going to call the manager and tell him not to schedule her with Jenny anymore. She didn’t need someone so poisonous around her. With a haughty look she turned her head and felt the world drop away.

It really was Alex. She was standing in front of the same jewelry store Elise had been in earlier holding a bag from Elise’s favorite lingerie store open showing a blond. Who the hell was that?! Then Alex was handing her what looked like a jewelry box and the blond was opening it and her face was lighting up like a fireworks display. The blond practically jumped into Alex’s arms.

The mall slowly slipped away from Elise and she was back in the past standing outside an empty apartment. Just as empty as she felt. Before she realized it she was at the escalator pushing people out of her way. Hot tears were flowing down her cheeks but the emptiness inside her was quickly filling up with anger. She was NOT going to let this happen to her again.

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