I’ve Got Plans

Hours at my job vary depending on a multitude of circumstances. Some days I can (allegedly) trek home after 9 hours, which is the standard length of a shift for a salaried executive at my workplace. Though, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve worked a 9 hour shift since I started, and the other day I pulled a 6AM to 9:30PM, then Sheetz forgot to put tater tots in my made-to-order burrito I bought on my way home, which really capped off a wonderful day, but I digress…

Last Friday, I went to work at 6AM and aimed to leave by 5:30 at the latest because I had plans. I’d mentioned it in passing to my coworker, who also had plans, so we both vowed to leave “on time.” The day wore on, hitting the same type of beats they always do, maybe a couple of snags, until the sun went down and reinforcements arrived, allowing us to wrap up and prepare to head off into a nice weekend off.

As we were preparing to leave, my coworker asked me, “So, what movie are you going to see?”

I was about to answer, but paused. When I’d mentioned having plans, it had been only a brief thought – I’d not divulged any details. So I furrowed my brow and asked, “How did you know I was going to see a movie?”

She laughed, and said something to the effect of, “Well, no offense, but what else would you be doing?”

I took no offense at all – because she was 100% right, and I was meeting my parents for an opening-night screening of 1917. My actions may be predictable, but it’s a comfortable sort of predictability, one that I can happily accept as a part of my identity. Movie-going, and film-watching, is my thing. In my circle, it’s what I have come to be known for, and I like that. When I say, “I’ve got plans,” those who know me can say with about 90% certainty (sometimes I just go to dinner) what exactly that means.

This Child

So, I know I do this a lot, but I just stumbled upon an old poetry assignment from high school… based upon the first Walt Whitman poem I ever read. I thought it was lost, but it was on an old flash-drive I recently dug up. Considering the huge effect that Walt Whitman’s poems have had on me since then, it feels like a gift to have rediscovered it.

My classmates and I were told to write our own poems based on Walt Whitman’s poem, “There was a child went forth everyday,” but to shape it around our own lives, and it had to end with Whitman’s own words, which I will italicize. I was 15/16 when I wrote it… might take a crack and writing a new one sometime, to reflect new experiences.

For Olde Poetry Monday, enjoy!

This Child

Doctors and white walls were a part of this child,
Needles in arms and IV’s in foreheads,
A bit of blood turned into life-saving power,
For one tiny, incubated figure,
Too frail to even utter a cry,
And as the years went on, the scar grew smaller,
Serving only to gently remind
Of painful days and cold linoleum.

Summerville was a part of this child,
The town where the sun never died,
Shoes weren’t needed, and southern drawls summoned,
From across the street,
This child’s head was filled,
With impossible dreams of otters,
And pretending that the backyard was some far-off land,
Though the boat she made out of cardboard
Never floated anywhere,
She was happy.

Books and rain-streaked windows were a part of this child,
This child, who sat in her closet for hours,
Wishing that she could find Narnia.
She thought that simply howling at the moon would make her a wolf,
And even though it was only a game,
She really thought was the World’s Greatest Pokemon Trainer.
And that she and her blonde-haired best friend,
Really could fly when they sat on the swingset,
And flung their shoes out over the mulch to see whose went the furthest.

Soccer fields were a part of this child,
A checkered ball hammered into the left corner,
And cleats smudged by mud and dew-kissed grass,
The freedom to run from white line to white line,
Avoiding elbows and knees, ignoring harsh words,
Enduring practice in sweltering heat,
Striving to become worthy of that pale green jersey,
And the number ‘3,’ emblazoned in white,
In the end, the cleats proved too big.
And she traded the jersey in for a pen and paper.

Terrified screams were a part of this child,
Being chased by the Licorice at Hershey Park,
Pursuing a hug that she did not want to relinquish,
To some creep in red and white, with a never-fading smile.
But screams turned into peals of laughter,
During remembered hours of hide-and-seek,
Out on the lake, fishing with Dad in the grey of the morning,
Setting the bass free that was meant to be breakfast.
And at sleepovers, when staying up until 11:00 was an incredible feat,
And we waited for the first girl to fall victim to sleep,
So her face could be decorated,
With the vibrant colors of a marker box.

Awkward silences were a part of this child,
A struggle to fit in, once moving vans carried a cherished friend away,
And the halls grew longer, the crowds heavier,
But friends were made at last, and kept,
The ‘See you soon’s’ written in the yearbooks became sincere,
And the taunts became distant echoes,
No longer heard in her ears.
Instead, laughter rang out in summer nights,
As fireworks crackled in the driveway,
Car rides down Friendship Avenue became adventures,
And text messages almost always exceeded 160 words.

Accidents were a part of this child,
Taking a horseshoe to the head,
Running headlong into a telephone pole,
That day, the race wasn’t much,
The competition poor,
But she ran her hardest, regardless of a sure-thing,
The steps were miscalculated,
But the baton left her palm,
Her feet left the red rubber,
The race won, but something else lost,
The only standing ovation she ever received,
Rang in her ears, even in the Emergency Room.

Boston was a part of this child,
Golden ducks at Boston Commons,
And free chocolate bars from the cute guy at Starbucks,
A house shared between 12 teens and 3 adults,
Attempting to share 3 bathrooms.
Something was found on the grey-paved streets,
Floating on the cold, salty Atlantic,
And in the embers of a towering campfire,
Perhaps it wasn’t what she intended to find there,
But it was real,
And those sharing the memories may be scattered,
But she can look at a simple cone of ice cream,
And remember,
That seven day journey to understanding.

Comic books were a part of this child,
All of her dreams packed into one word balloon,
Accentuated with sound effects in all the right places,
Inspired by vigilantes and men in masks.
Microsoft Word files exceeding 540 pages,
And a burning desire to see her name in print.
Will drive this child to pursue a new life,
If only this child can stave off procrastination,
To reach her distant dreams.

These became a part of that child who went forth every day,
And who now goes,
And will always go forth every day.

Fly

Another addition for Olde Poetry Monday, this one circa 2009. Please enjoy.

 

I don’t get why people tell me, “never change.”

If I stayed the same, my biggest dream
would still be to sprout wings and fly away.

It’s cute when you’re five,
but I don’t think they have a major for that in college.

Experience is the heart of change,
and change is the center of growth.
So why do people remain locked up in their homes,
afraid to see what else is out there,
and see who they could become,
if they spread their wings?

I don’t get why people say, “you’ve changed,”
like they’re disgusted by it.
I find out all too often,
that those very people,
appalled by the thought of change,
are the ones who close their eyes,
cross their arms,
and never see beyond the ends of their noses.

Just because I changed,
does not mean I will forget.
Sometimes, I look up at the sky,
reach one hand toward it,
and remember exactly how it was,
when my biggest dream was to fly.

 

 

Me Too

I know that many people look at the world today and see it as a volatile place. I’m more or less the definition of a standard-issue, Starbucks-loving, nonreligious, straight white girl, so obviously, my life hasn’t been riddled with the kinds of difficulties faced by those who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, skin color, religion, gender identity, what have you. I am very fortunate, in that regard – and I am fully aware of that.

But in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, I realized that there are some experiences in my past that have affected me and have influenced my behaviors around members of the opposite sex. You can say you’re tired of hearing about these “Me Too” stories, but it’s always going to be relevant, and if people have a story to tell, then they should tell it. I only recently told this story to my parents, and they were shocked that I hadn’t told them about it before, so I thought it might be therapeutic to get it off my chest. However, if personal stories aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to pass on reading this post.

I played on a coed soccer team when I was around seven or eight years old. We had three coaches – my dad (the best one, and no, that’s not bias speaking), one of the other dads, and a bald guy with a beard who I will call “Frank,” for the purposes of this story. Basically, it was a bunch of kids in green shirts running around occasionally kicking a ball in the right direction. One kid never took off his parka. We were terrible. I later had a briefly successful venture into more competitive soccer, but this was my first year playing, and nearly my last.

There was a kid on the team named “Sean,” also a fake name for the purposes of this story. Sean played defense, I played offense. When we had scrimmages during practice, and I found myself opposite of Sean, he would waggle his eyebrows at me and pull his shorts up to show me his underwear. My reaction to this was to basically make a “WTF” face, because why on earth would I want to look at his Scooby-Doo undies. He did this fairly often. I didn’t engage with him. I gave no indication that I wanted him to do that. I said nothing to him. I was there to play soccer, and that was it. That sort of unwanted attention was uncomfortable for me. I’m certain my father never noticed him doing this, or he would have for sure taken that boy to task.

As mentioned before, we were not good. We were, to put it bluntly, dreadful. We lost most of our games, but really, when you’re that young, the purpose is to have fun and to learn, not to wreck the competition. Two of our coaches understood that we were spindly-limbed novices still learning how to play the game – Frank did not. Frank treated U-8 soccer like it was the world cup.

One day, after a particularly rough loss on our home field, I was walking to the bathrooms (a generous term, as they were really a pair of port-a-johns) when I overheard Frank talking to some of the parents. He said, with malice in his voice, “Allie flirts with all the boys!”

I stopped walking, because I couldn’t believe it – and I didn’t understand. First of all, I didn’t know what flirting meant. Frank sort of clarified it, as he went on to claim that I distract all the boys so they can’t focus on the game. He accused me of being the reason we lose games, the reason for the poor performance of the boys on the team. I assume this mainly meant Sean, the underwear showing weirdo, but he said, “all.” I thought boys still had cooties at that age, so I didn’t understand where that accusation came from. I wanted to score goals – I wanted to be a good player. I went to practice to play. I wasn’t doing anything intentional to “distract” the boys – if I spoke to them, it was usually about cartoons or Pokemon cards, and only at breaks. But Frank’s words hurt; they made me feel terrible and I went into the foul-smelling port-a-john to have a nice cry.

I look back on that now, and I see it as a middle-aged man blaming an eight-year-old girl in pigtails for the poor performance of a U-8 soccer team. I was a child who did nothing wrong, and yet, my existence was a reason for his ire. Even though I was being paid unwanted attention by a male player, it was my fault that our team was terrible. I was made to feel guilty, to feel responsible, to feel… ashamed. And for what?

I know it looks tame compared to many of the other stories – and thankfully, it is. There have been a couple of other instances in my personal history, but those are not stories I care to tell at the moment. But this event from two decades ago had a profound impact on the way I interacted with boys for years. I didn’t want to be blamed for any male’s shortcomings, and I also developed a steep distrust for male authority figures that I have only recently begun to get over. I generally avoided the attention of boys/men for the next, oh… fifteen years. And it’s something I still grapple with, twenty years after I was sent crying into a portable bathroom by the overheard accusations of an incensed soccer coach. I know that it wasn’t my fault, but I also won’t deny that there was long-lasting damage done to my psyche that day, which I have only been able to unpack and process over the last couple of years.

I hope that this movement – the “Me Too” movement as it has been called – will help other girls, boys, men, women, and anyone else who has been affected in a similar way, cope with what they’ve gone through, regardless of the severity. I know that hearing others speak up about their experiences has made me more comfortable with sharing mine, and I can only hope to do that for someone else out there.

 

 

Sentimental

Sentimentality – it’s both a blessing, and a curse, when you attach memories to objects. It becomes so difficult to let them go. Or, in some cases, far too easy.

I had something mentally and emotionally taxing happen to me in the January of my last year of college. When it happened, I was wearing (tastefully) ripped jeans and a red-and-grey striped hooded tunic sweater. In the aftermath, I got rid of them both – even though both were relatively new and would have lasted a long while. The sweater was actually a big favorite of mine and I loved wearing it. However, I could no longer wear them because whenever I looked at them afterward, they reminded me of that event, and how bad my last semester of college was because of it. So, they went into the donation pile.

After my grandmother passed away, I had trouble letting go of gifts she gave to me over the years, even if clothes no longer fit, or items were no longer of use. It would make me feel guilty to even consider it. My grandmother was one of the best people in my life and had a profound influence on me. Of course, I know that the true treasure is my memories of her – of the good times we shared, and the things she gave me that were intangible. I have held onto a few key items; a stuffed corgi, and a music box that I had once given her as a gift. But I have gradually let some of the other things go, and even though I have a sentimental attachment to all of those things, I know I am not betraying her by doing so.

Books are a big one for me. Since getting an e-reader several years ago, I have thinned out my physical book collection. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to let a title go. I’ll remember reading it for the first time and hesitate to put it in the donation pile, but little by little, I have done so. It helps to realize that by letting them go, I am sharing those beloved titles with new readers, and that first-time reading experience with others. Sure, my shelves get a little emptier, but it does make my heart lighter in the end.

I form attachments to things that others might consider trivial. Movie ticket stubs and movie posters. Toys, collectible and otherwise. Snowglobes. Old video games that no longer play. Gradually, I will let these things go too, but I don’t think there’s any harm in holding on a bit longer than others.

Ultimately, I think the positives of sentimentality outweigh the negatives by a significant margin, but it is vital to remember that items do not always equate in importance to memories. Memories remain in your heart, good and bad. Certain items may bolster that, and getting rid of them doesn’t destroy those memories.

Acceptance

A new entry for Old Poetry Friday, brought to you by Angsty Allie from 10th grade! No idea why I wrote this or if it was for an assignment or whatever, but enjoy!

 

“I don’t think that way…
You MUST be wrong.”
Must I?
I don’t know for sure.
But neither do you.
Stop acting like you do.
You don’t.

“I was wrong…
BUT still…I’m kinda right.”
Please.
Admit it.
It’s a dark, lonely world
for a closed mind.
Convinced they’ve figured it out.
And they’re the one who’s always right.
But fail to see how wrong they are.
How will you handle
being so alone?

“I’M going to do this…!”
“That’s awesome! I’m going to…”
“Yeah, well I’M gonna…!”
Is it a competition?
No.
If it is, you’re the only player.
The winner, like you always want.
But there can only be one winner.
Do you want to be that alone?
“I’m AMAZING…”
“I’m GREAT…”
“I’m AWESOME…”
I know.
“I’m AMAZING…”
“I’m GREAT…”
“I’m AWESOME…”
I still know.

“Jealous?” No.
“Ignorant?” Sometimes.
“Pitiable?” Never.

Don’t you dare  pity me
Because you think you’re superior
I don’t need pity from anyone
Not even you.
Feel free to assume
what my emotions are.
I doubt you’ll ever get it right.
Speculation from you
will always be just that.
Guesswork.
You’ll never ask.
So you’ll never know the answer.

Just shut up.
I don’t care about how much you ‘ROCK.’
I heard it the first seventy five million times you told me.
Enough is enough.
Because if you’re seeking validation from me,
Don’t.
Look in a mirror.
Accept that.

“You don’t look AT ALL like your sister.”
What’s with the disgusted face?
Is that some kind of indirect insult?
We’re different.
But it’s not skin-deep.
I guess you’ll never get to know the depth
of how wrong you are
since your waters are too shallow
for me to stand.

“I KNOW why you don’t want to have kids;
you don’t want them to wind up looking like you.”
No, actually.
You don’t know.
But good guess.
You were close.

“You can’t see it.”
“You’re just BLIND.”
Really? Am I?
Again, I don’t know.
I might never know.
But I would never call you that.
You’re not blind.
We just see different things.
But you can’t see that.

You tread the thin line
between certainty and thought.
Get on the better side.
Before your side gets the better of you.

I’m okay with that.
I’m a blind, ugly girl who doesn’t want to hear
your brilliant, numerous accomplishments.
Who would rather be herself than some carbon copy,
of another.
Okay.
Because I can look in a mirror right now
and see a face that isn’t mine.
Because I can already see the person,
reflected in the glass
who I hope I will become.
Do you disagree?
Too bad.
I’m willing to change.
I already am.
Can you?

Graduation

Graduation season is upon us once again. Caps flying through the air, tassels waving to and fro, and young minds full of dreams ready to take on the world.

I faced both graduations – high school and college – with a measured mix of trepidation and excitement. Eagerness for the next chapter, and fear for what lies in store… yet somewhere in the midst of it, hope to find the courage to endure it all.

Yesterday, I had a different sort of mini graduation – but it carried the same emotional weight as a graduation from a big university.

I completed an eight month run of behavior-focused therapy. That’s not to say that I’m done with it forever, but I have put forth my most life-complicating issues, and was aided by a professional in finding the skills and tools needed to handle those issues effectively and productively.

I was advised to take the route by my doctor, who was hesitant to give me a particular prescription without me showing a willingness to put forth the effort to make improvements on my own. Kudos to him, really. Because prescriptions may help, but not if people use them as a solution instead of an aid. But anyway…

It’s hard to admit that you need help. It can feel like failure, at times. But I am happy that I did so.

What I’ve gleaned from these sessions is that sometimes, it seems impossible to tackle roadblocks on your own, but with outside perspective and some useful skills, they can be toppled. And learning to cope makes it easier to move forward.

I’m not going to give a laundry list of the issues I needed to address, but one of them was that I had developed some obsessive checking behaviors (triple checking things were unplugged before leaving the house, triple checking that I had put down the garage door, etc.) which were occasionally causing blows to my punctuality, and being able to discuss that with my behaviorist has been an incredible help.

We dove into the “why” part of the issue, figured out what those behaviors stem from, and she asked me to come up with a plan for limiting, if not eradicating those behaviors. And now, after a few months, I only check everything once and can leave the house confidently.

Of course, that’s only one thing we worked on. I was fearful going into it, and it was hard to admit to needing help, but I appreciated having someone take a look at my damaging behaviors and not only not judge me for them, but encourage me to find the root of the issue and assist in planning out a course of action. I now feel equipped to handle new issues as they arise, and not let fear inhibit me from chasing success.

I had my last session yesterday, and left the office feeling like I had graduated. No cap, no gown. I’m not “fixed” or “cured” but I feel better. Lighter. More confident. I needed help, and I got it, but also was encouraged to find ways to help myself. And if I need help again, I no longer dread seeking it.

Rose of Autumn

(I wrote this poem a few years back for an unfinished fantasy story that will likely never see the light of day. It’s about a woman who eventually became a queen,widely revered for her beauty and feared for her skill with an ax and her prickly attitude. I actually like how it came out, so I hope you enjoy!)

 

Amid fields and forests kissed with leaves of red and gold,
a flower grew, of whom so many stories have been told.
A Rose quite fair, with sunset hair and eyes of vivid green,
her heart so bold it seemed that she was destined to be queen.

She was taught to dance and sing, as any proper lady should,
her beauty flourished as she blossomed into womanhood.
But she was no dainty maid kept locked away up in a tower,
for she could wield an axe with grace to rival any flower.

Many journeyed ‘cross the land to gaze upon her face,
yet none who dared to seek her felt the warmth of her embrace.
But all the stories failed to tell the reason for their scorns,
for she was called the Rose not for her petals, but her thorns.

The first lord asked, and then the next, but all were turned aside,
no man could tame her wild heart and claim her for a bride.
Thus many souls fell victim to her brambles and her glares,
until the Rose of Autumn crossed the gallant Lord of Bears.

 

(This poem was intended to have a companion piece, entitled “Lord of Bears,” but I never actually wrote it – if you like this one, maybe I’ll give it a shot!)

Unexpected

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I participated in a program at a place called Exchange City. Basically, we were to apply for jobs, learn how to interview, and, once our positions were secured, we went on a field trip to a makeshift “city” set up where we were told to run our businesses and do our jobs and try to make a profit. I suppose this was to prepare us for the “real world,” and it was a very cool and valuable experience overall. I only wish we could have done a more advanced version later on, maybe during senior year of high school.

When we were deciding what jobs to interview for, I narrowed it down to three – the total number we were permitted to interview for – and though I don’t remember the third, the two main ones I wanted were Postal Worker and Environmental Control Agent. I desperately wanted the latter, and was eager to interview for it. I could imagine myself strolling along the carpet streets of the Exchange City facility, ensuring that everything was going well. To be honest, I don’t really remember what the job entailed, all I know is that I REALLY wanted it. I pinned all my hopes on that job.

The 6th grade teachers got teachers from other grades and parent volunteers and other school staff to act as interviewers. I don’t recall interviewing for whatever the third job was, but the Postal Worker interview was with the mother of a boy in my class, held in the instrumental practice room. I had dressed up for the day, and even wore a skirt despite the fact that my usual wardrobe at that point in my life was full-on workout gear, complete with sweatband.

I answered her questions honestly, treated it like a normal conversation, explained why I was the best for the position, and wasn’t overcome by nerves. I walked out of the room content that I had done a fair job and represented myself well, but since that wasn’t the job I dreamed of, I didn’t think too much about it afterward.

Then, it was time to interview for the Environmental Control Agent position. I was wracked with nerves, and I don’t even remember who it was with, it passed in a blur. I was so anxious to impress, I stumbled over questions and my knees shook the whole time. I left the room rattled, but still held faith that I had done enough to earn the job. I stuttered, but got my point across.

After some days of deliberation, our class received our jobs – the ones we would maintain for the duration of our time at Exchange City. I waited for my slip, fully expecting to see “Environmental Control Agent” at the top. That is, until a girl in my class proudly exclaimed from across the room that she had gotten it instead.

I was crushed. I couldn’t fathom doing the assignment as anything else. In retrospect, it was a school assignment and not a real job, so there was no reason to be upset. But I was twelve, so, everything was a big deal those days. Obviously, I hadn’t impressed during my interview, and someone else had deserved the job instead. I’d let myself down.

Eventually, I got my slip. I took a minute to open it, trying not to be upset over losing out on my dream position. And at the top of my assignment was the position: Postmaster. Not Postal Worker, which was the position I applied for. Postmaster. I had not only knocked my Postal Worker interview out of the park, I’d done so well they gave me an even better job!

Just like that, losing out on the other job didn’t seem to matter any more. I still succeeded, but in a way that was a little… unexpected. And I made the best of it, selling candy-grams and other letters when it came time to perform my duty, making sure the Postal Worker delivered them all on time. I did have to buy us out of debt at the end of the day at Exchange City, but still, I had a great time and I loved the job I was given, even though it wasn’t the one that I originally wanted.

To this day, I have no idea what an Environmental Control Agent does. But I do still look for the positives, and my successes, in places and situations that might not be expected.

 

Rena

(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.

Grayson shrugged.

“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.”

“Grayson?”

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?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

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.

“Grayson?”

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.

“…Rena?”

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.

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REMEMBER: As long as you’re happy, she’s happy.