(Here’s a short story I wrote a few years ago and have always been fond of. Hope you enjoy!)
Grayson Hightower did not understand what it meant to be happy.
He was not a superfluous man. He was a businessman. Forty-five, living in a posh penthouse overlooking the harbor—and he had yet to spot a grey hair. But after a slew of unsuccessful relationships, he couldn’t help feeling that millions of dollars and a huge building in the center of the city branded with his name were not the right ingredients for happiness.
She was a serious investment, but Grayson thought that Rena was worth it.
She fit all of Grayson’s requirements. Honey blonde hair, porcelain skin, wide, curious blue eyes. Her figure melted perfectly into every dress he bought for her. She laughed at all of his jokes, even if she didn’t understand them. Her features were so delicate she looked like she would break, but her smile was enough to enchant the darkest hearts.
He debuted her at a gala that was thrown in his honor—a celebration for his 25 years of service as CEO of Hightower Enterprises. His coworkers seethed with envy when they saw the gorgeous young blonde on his arm. “How’d you manage to wrangle a girl like that, Grayson?” Felix Fortescue—one of the older board members, and a friend of Grayson’s late father—asked with a wag of his bushy white brows.
Grayson smiled, looking over at Rena. She was sitting at their table, eagerly watching the couples on the dance floor, politely declining any offer to dance from other men.
“Just lucky, I suppose.”
He excused himself from the conversation and approached his date.
“Would you like to dance, Rena?” He offered his hand to her.
She grinned, and slipped her hand into his. “You’ll have to teach me. I’ve never danced before!”
Rena was a natural dancer. She moved mechanically, as though programmed to complement every move of Grayson’s. But after a few turns around the floor, Grayson’s knees grew tired and he allowed Rena to continue dancing with some of his colleagues while he stepped out on the balcony for some air. It was summer, but the night was cool, and the breeze felt nice on his flushed skin.
“You look happy, Grayson.”
He turned. Miriam Hayworth—head of the Product Development Department, and his former fiancé—had followed him onto the balcony. The ruby-red wine glass in her hand matched the fire of her hair and the bright color of her lips. He had not seen her since she broke off their engagement four years prior, though every work-related email she had sent since then had been very brusque.
“Miriam. It’s good to see you.”
The woman moved to stand beside him. As she came closer, Grayson could see that the makeup she wore had shaved a few years off of her face. From far away she could pass for thirty. “I see you’ve found yourself a new plaything,” she commented, taking a sip from her glass. “A bit young, isn’t she?”
“Jealous?” Grayson asked lightly.
Miriam snorted. “Hardly.”
Grayson peered inside. Through the glass balcony doors he could see Rena waltzing with an obviously tipsy and very ecstatic Felix. Rena was practically steering him around the floor, a vision of beauty in her dark blue gown.
“She’s the talk of the evening. You’ve impressed everyone.” Miriam remarked. Grayson noticed that she was sporting an impressive ring on her left ring finger. He had heard rumors that she had taken up with Mason Malbrook, head of Advertising. He must have been willing to give Miriam what Grayson hadn’t.
“Rena’s an impressive girl.”
“It’s a pretty drastic change, isn’t it?”
Startled, Grayson glanced over at her. She was avoiding his gaze – looking inside at the crowded ballroom, playing aloof. Miriam had always been overly-perceptive, something he had both admired and loathed about her. He cleared his throat.
“Maybe that’s what I needed. A drastic change.”
Rena certainly was a drastic change.
“Are you truly happy, Grayson?” Miriam asked quietly. Her green eyes observed him over the rim of her glass, as if searching for some cue in his eyes or on his face that would indicate that he was lying. Grayson sighed.
“Yes, I am. Very happy.”
Rena had crept out onto the balcony. Her eyes flitted between Miriam and Grayson, as though trying to process the situation. Miriam chuckled dryly. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said, patting Grayson on the arm and heading for the door. She re-entered the party, her fire-red hair soon lost in the crowd. Rena walked up to Grayson, a broad smile on her face.
“I came out for some ‘fresh air’ too!” Rena informed him, looking up at the night sky. “It’s so beautiful—there are so many stars.”
Grayson looked up as well. Thousands of stars twinkling like jewels in the sky—and not a cloud in sight. He had no reason to doubt her, but he felt compelled to ask.
“Rena, are you happy?”
Her eyes, almost perfectly round, were full of stars as she looked at him.
“If you are happy, I am happy.”
That was all he needed to hear.
♦ ♦ ♦
It took Grayson a while to get used to Rena’s warm smile welcoming him home every day.
He didn’t have to rely on take-out from the city’s finest restaurants or dinners from the company cafeteria anymore. He could smell her delicious home-cooked meals, the scent growing stronger as he rode the elevator to the 24th floor, guiding him.
“Welcome home, Grayson!”
Every evening she met him at the door with her illustrious smile and a kiss on the cheek. And every day he could see his own smiling face reflected in the depths of her bright blue eyes.
“I made your favorite today. I hope you like it!”
They sat together at the dining room table and she eagerly watched him eat. “It’s wonderful, Rena,” He praised her, after several savory bites. “You really are a wonderful cook.”
Rena beamed. His compliment had practically made her glow.
“I guess watching all of those cooking shows during the day paid off.”
Grayson sometimes wondered what Rena did while he was at work – he supposed she watched television, tidied up the apartment, or just sat and waited for him to return. Several of his past relationships had met their end due to the issue of his ‘spending too much time at the office.’ To Grayson, there was no such thing. The CEO had to dedicate himself entirely to his work.
Rena never once complained about being left alone all day while he was working. She fit her role seamlessly. That was all Grayson had ever really asked for.
♦ ♦ ♦
Three months into their relationship, familiar storm clouds formed.
Rena enjoyed going for walks. She didn’t get tired of walking. Some nights she would ask Grayson to take her clear across the city, every step of her feet as lively as the last. Grayson complied with her requests, despite a few aching joints. Rena could chatter on and on about everything she saw. A bluebird in a tree. A neon-accented billboard. Even a pile of month-old garbage held wonder for her.
One night, during a walk, Rena stopped suddenly. She was staring at a playground. Dusk was fast approaching, but children were still playing under the watchful gazes of nearby parents. Their peals of laughter rang out in the late-summer evening.
“Are you alright, Rena?” Grayson asked.
Her eyes were transfixed on the children.
“They’re so… small.”
Grayson had never been fond of children. They were loud and fussy and not worth the trouble. Miriam had loved children.
Grayson sighed. “They won’t always be that small. They grow up. Everyone does.”
Rena’s hold on his arm tightened.
“Was I ever that small?”
Grayson glanced down at her. In the dim light, he couldn’t read her expression.
“I don’t know, Rena.”
She stared at the children with clouded blue eyes until Grayson gently steered her away. He wondered what Rena was thinking. She wasn’t meant to wonder these things—wasn’t meant to question quite so much. He had thought Rena would be different from the others.
They walked home in silence. Something cold and familiar began to form in Grayson’s heart. It made him feel like he was on a bicycle traveling too fast downhill.
He wondered if Rena felt it too. She had to. If he did, then she did.
♦ ♦ ♦
Grayson started staying late at the office as the summer came to a close. Hightower Enterprises was entering its busiest time, and it was necessary to put in long hours, ensuring that every aspect of his business was moving smoothly.
Some nights he wouldn’t even return home. He usually informed Rena when these nights were—either by calling or telling her before he left in the morning. He assumed she would be fine since she never complained about his absence. So the one night he forgot to call, he thought everything would be fine.
He wearily entered his penthouse after midnight, and was surprised to see the light on in the dining room. Rena was there, sitting at the table in her floral-print apron. At Grayson’s place there was a plate of food that had long since grown cold.
Rena offered him a weak smile.
“Welcome home, Grayson. I made your favorite today. I hope you like it.”
Grayson didn’t understand. Had she waited all that time, watching the hours pass by, for him to come home? His hands clenched into fists at his side, and he quickly turned from the scene. Without a word to her, he stormed into his room, dressed for bed, and crawled under the sheets.
He had begun drifting off when he heard his door open. Hesitant footsteps entered the room.
Her voice sounded different. Tired, almost—which Grayson dismissed as a trick of his over-exerted brain. He did not open his eyes to look at her. He didn’t want to see her—still in her apron, looking at him with that childlike innocence.
“It’s late, Rena.”
He heard her move, and was startled when she reached for his hand. Her skin was ice cold. He struggled to keep his eyes shut.
“Are you happy, Grayson?”
She whispered it, as if it were a secret for only them to share.
It took Grayson a moment to respond—to untangle his conflicted emotions, and settle on an answer. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, but the effort produced no warmth from her glacial skin.
“…Of course, Rena. Are you happy?”
Rena sighed and withdrew her hand.
“If you are happy, I am happy.”
He heard her leave the room, closing the door behind her with a faint ‘click.’ His hand—the one she had held —felt so cold, Grayson had to tuck it under his pillow to warm it up.
♦ ♦ ♦
Grayson was not on good terms with any of his exes, so his options for consulting advice were limited. On his lunch hour one afternoon, he picked up the office phone and dialed down to the Product Development Department.
She answered the call with a dry chuckle.
“Well, this is certainly a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Hightower?”
He got straight to the point. “Miriam…why did we break up?”
There was a pause on the other end.
“…Let me guess. Problems with your new toy?”
Grayson rolled his eyes. “Just tell me, Miriam. Why did you end it?”
She sighed into the receiver. He could picture her expression—it was most likely one of exasperation. That face had made many appearances toward the end of their relationship, when the age had begun to show in Miriam’s eyes, and on her face, and in her voice.
“Simple, Grayson. You ask for too much and you don’t give enough.”
Her tone was sharp. Grayson felt it pierce his chest like an arrow.
“You’ve always sought the same thing from relationships, but they always end the same way. You’ve been chasing after something that doesn’t exist.”
Grayson gripped the phone tightly. He wanted to reply, but the words were jumbled in his throat.
“You remember at the gala a few months ago? You said you thought you needed a drastic change. I agree, Grayson. But I don’t think you’re willing to change what actually needs to be changed.”
Grayson didn’t want to hear anymore. Miriam didn’t understand how it was supposed to work—didn’t understand the recipe for happiness he had invested so much time and effort and money into. He slammed the receiver down and returned to his paperwork.
♦ ♦ ♦
The weather report hadn’t called for rain.
Grayson stood at the window, watching the droplets race one another, sometimes joining as they streaked down the glass pane. The harbor looked dismal, boats bobbing woefully in the gloom. He had promised to take Rena out on his boat before the weather got too cold to do so.
Rena had said that she wanted to experience the sea, and feel the motion of the waves beneath her feet. He could give her that, at least—he wanted to give her that. But nature disagreed.
“We can go out on the boat some other time, Rena.”
His comment was met with an unusual silence.
He turned from the window. Rena was slumped over at the kitchen table, her hair covering her face. Her white arms dangled at her sides, fingers slightly curled – reaching for something that was not there.
He walked to her, and gently brushed the limp blonde tendrils away from her face. The blue eyes were wide and empty, drained of all the former wonder. Her skin was cold, the cherry-red lips parted slightly, a thousand questions frozen perpetually on her tongue.
Grayson tried to close her blank eyes, but they wouldn’t budge. He swept her hair back over her face to hide them. He didn’t want her to stare at him like that.
He wondered if she had suffered. If she had known that things had changed.
She probably had. If he did, she did.
After a moment, Grayson walked into his bedroom. He opened the drawer of his nightstand, rifling through it until he found what he was looking for. He had discarded it months ago, not thinking it had any importance.
He opened the thick booklet to page one.
Hello, and congratulations!
LikeReal Industries is proud to present you
with the latest in emotion-sensitive
REMEMBER: As long as you’re happy, she’s happy.