***This story is only an excerpt. Four Chapters will be released as a teaser and the rest can be read as a paperback and on Kindle including Kindle Unlimited.***
I remember one morning my father sat me down at the kitchen table of our New York apartment. Mom was cooking breakfast and the smell and sound of sizzling bacon ricocheted from the fry pan. My father looked me straight in the eyes and I cowered because I knew whatever he was going to say, it was serious. I was scared I was in trouble because maybe he had overheard my friends and me talking about boys. My parents thought I was too young for them at 15. I guess they were right.
My dad said to me, “Sweetheart. Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan, but if you work hard like your mom and I do,” he paused, “then you’ll go very far in life.” He told me that I should study my hardest so I could pick whatever career I wanted. He also reminded me that being happy with what I was doing was more important than any money I could make. My father had passed away a few years back and I missed him with every fiber of my being. I only wished he could see what I’d accomplished over the years. I had taken his advice to heart and studied my ass off for the career I’d always dreamed of.
“Hazel,” Roland, my colleague said, breaking my reverie.
I glanced up from the computer screen I had been glaring at for the past half hour and smiled through gritted teeth. Six months of working with him and figuring out what type of a guy he was had so far resulted in only one thing. His face annoyed the crap out of me.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Dick wants to see you in his office.” He smiled. “It’s about the promotion.”
Calm down, Hazel.
I worked at Seeman Enterprises. Yes, that was the company name, and for another laugh, the CEO’s name was Richard. Dick, for short. Dick Seeman. Got me every time.
I nodded and thanked Roland, hoping he would leave.
He only made himself comfortable by leaning against my door frame. “Do you think you’ll get it?”
I shrugged my shoulders, dismissively.
He and I weren’t close, so I didn’t know why he would ask me in the first place. When Roland started here six months ago, he thought the best thing to do on the first day was to ask me out. Of course, I refused, because I had already been seeing Dean for a year and a half back then. Plus, I had a rule not to date my co-workers. Dean. My gorgeous, yet asshole, ex-boyfriend who broke up with me a few weeks prior. He booked a fancy French restaurant, and I thought he was going to propose, only he called it quits instead. Classy guy.
“Good luck,” Roland said, finally taking the hint and leaving my office.
I scurried off to the bathroom and inspected my reflection in the mirror. After freshening up, I found myself at my boss’ door, knocking twice. Mr. Seeman announced for me to come in.
“Hello, sir.” I smiled.
“Please sit.” He gestured. His attention was soon focused on the paperwork in front of him. When I snuck a glance, I found my name printed right at the top of the page. It was my employee file.
I sat down on the swivel chair opposite his and waited till he finished scanning the papers. A half-eaten sandwich rested on the plate next to the paperwork with crumbs scattered across his keyboard.
Richard placed the document down and smiled. “Hazel,” he said. “You’ve been here for a good eight years, and you’re a hard worker. One of the best, in fact, and I am so incredibly thankful for your loyalty and dedication to Seeman Enterprises.”
Dick Seeman. Do not laugh.
I smiled at the compliment while noticing the trail of breadcrumbs on his face leftover from his uneaten lunch.
“So, when a promotion came up for a state-wide Advertising and Marketing Manager, naturally I thought of you.”
Oh, my God!
But? There’s a but?
“Lucas had convinced me that we needed a different approach,” he continued. “We need to grow with the times as they say.”
My jaw clenched. It took everything I had not to stand up and storm out of his office. I held on in case something could come out of this shit show.
Mr. Seeman paused for a moment, as though he hoped I would get the hint without him having to actually say it.
“I don’t understand.”
He let out a deep sigh. “I have given the promotion to Roland, who I believe would be more suited to the position considering he’s, you know. And you’re—” Richard stopped himself, but it was too late: He already sounded like a sexist asshole. “If anything comes up, then, of course, you would be my first-.”
Dick’s eyes widened, taken back by my small outburst, but I had only just started.
“You’re excused,” I spat. “Eight years I’ve been here, and you give the promotion I have worked my ass off for to some guy who came six months ago! Six damn months!”
It was clear the lack of penis between my legs had caused the promotion to slip out of my hands.
Dammit! I realized Roland probably knew already when he’d walked into my office only minutes before.
“I understand you’re upset, Hazel, but I promise you-.”
“You can shove your promise up your ass,” I sneered, then stood from his leather chair and tugged my skirt lower. “I quit!”
“Hazel, we can talk about this. Please,” he begged.
I shook my head vigorously.
For years, I allowed people to push through the boundaries I had placed to protect myself. Cracks had been appearing in those boundaries. Today, Mr. Seeman had hit the breaking point. The entire thing had shattered beneath my feet and left me exposed.
“I’m giving you immediate notice per my contract. You’ll have an official, signed document emailed to you by the end of the day.”
“You don’t have to do this, Hazel.”
“I really do,” I affirmed, then turned away from the CEO only to pause between his desk and the door. “I’m not sure if you remember, but there’s a specific clause somewhere in the binding agreement that if I choose to leave or get fired, I can take my clients with me. I’ll be notifying all of them today.”
Some of the companies that were under my belt had started with me and just grew. The others I obtained over the years were already established. I dealt with graphic designs, digital marketing, public relations, sales promotion, ad campaigns, and even event planning. When I first started working, I also enrolled in online courses in the evening which helped me develop my creative side. Learning programs that would help me with graphic design. I did it all.
Without giving Dick a chance to argue, I turned around and went back to my desk. I proceeded to copy my client files on the tiny flash drive which was shaped like a coke bottle. I sent emails advising them that I would work from home until I found another job. It took longer than I had hoped because it was eight years’ worth of advertisements and marketing campaigns. Late nights, sweat, and tears just to meet the deadlines, but I was committed. Clearly, that meant nothing to those assholes.
When “100%” flashed on my screen, I safely pulled out the drive. I found a box in the stationery room which I used to collect my valuable possessions. Which wasn’t much. A teddy my friend bought me for my 28th birthday and a photo of me and my dearest friends hanging out inside a treehouse. I held on to the delicate frame, remembering that day vividly. The sun was setting through the branches, and the warm rays highlighted a friendship spanned over twenty years. I carefully placed the sentimental photo in the box then picked it up along with my bag and keys before opening the door to my private office---which would no longer be mine.
As soon as I stepped out, I found Roland leaning against the wall, his arms folded tight against his chest. “Off somewhere?” He grinned.
Smug pompous ass!
I just glared at him, unable to breathe out a word because there was nothing I could say. The asshole won and took my damn promotion!
Oh, wait. At least I was taking my clients with me! Prick!
My lips suddenly curved into a smirk and I felt the rush of confidence I needed to tell him off.
“What’s that look for?” he asked, unfolding his arms.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Oh, nothing.” I grinned. “Just the million-dollar contracts I get to take with me. Looks like you’ll have to actually work with your free ride instead of piggybacking off my hard-earned years.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“My clients.” I smirked. “They’re exactly that. Mine.”
I walked straight past him and through the double doors. I could hear him call out to stop me. “Hey, wait! You can’t do that!”
Without turning around, I raised my hand and flipped him off. “I just did.”
Damn, that felt good.
The bar closest to my house was the regular establishment my friends and I would get drunk at. I wanted to get blind drunk and forget how my workplace had promoted someone else just because they had the right equipment hanging from their groin.
The drive would have been quiet if it weren’t for the blasting music I had on, singing on top of my lungs while tears almost flooded the car.
Arriving at my place, the first two things I did were lock my USB drive inside my home office and send in my resignation. Now I could take a stroll to the watering hole.
Music. It could ignite any emotion with a simple melody. It could sway or evoke a feeling by the switch of a tune. Each sound, uniquely designed to engage the listener. I loved music.
I sat at the Karaoke bar with my eyes on stage, squinting as the girl belted out the lyrics of Emotions by Mariah Carey. I found myself tapping my foot on the stool’s rest even though she was utter crap. The girl on stage. Not Mariah. I wasn’t sure how much more my ears could take, but I was convinced I could do better.
I chuckled at the absurdity of my thoughts as I downed my next shot. While I appreciated the talent of musicians out there, I realized I possessed none myself.
Working was my passion. I spent eight years in my dream marketing and advertising job, while almost four of those were spent on the promise of a promotion that never came true. Facepalm to me for believing it would. I enjoyed working but was also a people pleaser. At least I used to be. Letting everyone walk over me hindered any chance of growth or development. I was being held back and I never took any action to change things. My own fault really.
When I was interviewed for that job, the man introduced himself as Lucas. He promised that the corporation was very enthusiastic about rewarding their employees and supporting people’s willingness to learn new roles and grow within the company. Utter bullshit. The pay was good. I couldn’t complain about that. I just needed to change the way I connected to people and, of course, the only person who could make that happen was me.
The screech of the microphone pulled me from my thoughts. The other patrons at the bar flung their hands over their ears to avoid the high notes at the end of the song. I just laughed, until the woman’s shaking voice started singing Fix You by Coldplay, and it reminded me why I was at that bar to begin with.
I gestured to the bartender for another shot. He filled my glass while my eyes filled with tears, and they tasted as bitter as the drink I knocked back.
I always thought of myself as a nice person. Tried to do good in the world whenever I could. Did some free small marketing campaigns in my own time for a few smaller companies that had their businesses destroyed for whatever reason.
My family and friends meant everything to me. As the song progressed, I remembered something else my late father said to me before he passed away. He said, “Hazel. You are stronger than you think. Stay true to who you really are, and you will do incredible things in this world.”
But right then I felt like a failure. I had worked so hard only to have everything slapped back in my face. The wound was still raw and painful, and the slow song only amplified everything I felt.
I glanced down at my shot with trembling hands. The bartender checked if I was okay. I nodded and offered him a smile to satisfy his curiosity. It was a lie. I wasn’t doing fine, but I wasn’t about to admit it either. Feeling weak wasn’t something I was used to, and right then, that’s all I felt. Weak. Missing my father and his wisdom, and uncertain about the future I had been working towards since I was 18.
I licked my hand and shook some salty goodness over the wet area. My tongue slid over the rough spot, and I kicked the tequila back towards my throat and followed it with the lemon wedge. I slammed the crystal back down on the bar and repeated the action twice, each shot burning my esophagus just a little more.
It wasn’t the most gracious of places to be at. The stench of tobacco from outdoor smoking somehow lingered in the dimly lit bar, and the karaoke music in the background drowned out any sounds of chatter from the other patrons. I was grateful for the few shots I had, as they made me less irritated than I would have been if I heard that high-pitched singing sober.
“I think I’ll need another three shots,” I requested from the bartender. Another high-pitched scream over the microphone blared. “No, wait,” I said, holding up my hand. “Make that four.”
“Another four shots?” a voice questioned. “Add that to the few you had before, and you’ll be pissed enough for that Karaoke bar.”
“And after that, I’ll have some more,” I sneered. “What’s your fucking point?” Clearly, I wasn’t in the mood to have another man tell me what I could, couldn’t, or shouldn’t do.
“No reason.” The man sat down on the stool next to mine and caught the attention of the bartender. “Whiskey neat.” He turned to me then and smiled. “So, why are you here at this time, drowning yourself in tequila shots?”
I slammed another one back and gave him a sideways glance. “Well, since you asked, I told my boss to fuck off today.”
“Really?” He smirked. “And what did your boss do that was deserving of those dirty words?”
There was something about the way he said dirty that made me swallow hard. “He gave my promotion to someone else who was only there for six months when I’d been there for eight years.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, maybe that guy was better at the job than you were.”
“Ha!” I cackled. “Not a fucking chance.”
“You seem confident of yourself.”
“I’m a pretty damn confident woman.” Though I wasn’t really, I wanted to make sure I acted like it.
The guy cocked his brows. “Why don’t we put that through the test? You say you’re confident, then go on stage and sing.”
“No,” I refused. Only because my singing voice sounded like a kid going through puberty. “I know why I’m here drinking at this hour, but why are you?”
“Technically, I’m not drinking because I haven’t gotten mine yet.”
“Here you go.” The bartender slid over the whiskey glass to the stranger.
I smirked. “Well?”
He raised his chilled drink and brought it to his lips. As he swallowed the movements in his jaw were defined and deep, and for some reason, I couldn’t help but stare at him.
The guy placed the glass back down and replied, “I’m here with them.” He turned to a group of people at the opposite end of the bar who were slightly rowdy, and I hadn’t noticed them before. “My work colleagues. We landed a big project and we’re celebrating.”
“Great.” I smiled. “So maybe you should go back to celebrating with them and leave me the hell alone.”
“Now why would I go and do that?” he questioned. “You’re much more interesting than they are and the conversation between us has been pretty decent since I sat down.”
“Well, I’m a bitch—to be around right now. So please take offense to any shade I throw at you.”
This guy was seriously flirting with me. I’d only been single for a few weeks, but---damn. I’d be lying if I said he didn’t make me feel flustered beneath my clothes.
He raised his glass and smirked. “I’m sure I can handle anything you throw my way.”