It didn’t used to be like this. My life used to be better.
Every time I read a horoscope I wonder why I even bother. As if the stars could tell me what my day is going to be like or what is in store for me. Then I lump myself in with all those weirdos who depend on the horoscopes every day even though a little part deep, deep down secretly craves the guidance from the stars.
I quickly closed the magazine I was reading as a beeping sounded in my ears. A groan, my chair squeaked with the sudden movement as I straightened and pushed the button on the phone.
“Pure Travel Reservations, my name is Olivia, where can I book you today?” My voice was a lot more chipper than I felt, my lightness masking the oppressive weight I felt every time I answered the phone.
“I’m not sure yet.” It was a smart-ass. Great. He sounded rich. His wealth so stifling I almost could not speak.
“How can I help you, sir?” I said, choosing to ignore his little quip.
“Well, I have some vacation time coming up and I would like to use one of my time share weeks.”
“Very good.” I kicked the computer to life with a click of the mouse. It buzzed and woke up, glaring at me with its bright screen as if saying Screw you, I’m sleeping. Apologetically, I tap lightly on the keys as I pull up the window where I was to enter the customer information.
“What is your name, sir?”
He gave me all his information and I typed away like a good little girl. His impatience was building; I could feel it.
“All right, Mr. Truman, where can I send you?” I knew where I really wanted to send him and it was not a nice place. It was warm though.
“Here is my dilemma. My wife wants to go to Hawaii, and I would like to go somewhere different like Key West.”
Such a dilemma. I rolled my eyes and bit back the words that came to mind.
“All right, well, I see you have been to Hawaii ten times, so it is understandable that you would want to try somewhere new.”
“But I love Hawaii.”
“Okay. What island would you like to go to?”
“Kauai. Less people there. Have you ever been to Key West?”
“No, sir. I hear it is fantastic though.”
“So I should go there.”
“I’m really confused, sir. Do you want Key West or Kauai?”
“That’s why I called you.”
“This is Reservations, Mr. Truman. I book the time share for you. I can’t make the decision for you.”
Lyle Truman harrumphed at that, exasperated. My patience was wearing thin.
“I can, however, tell you some features of either place. Maybe that will help you figure out which one you would prefer.”
“That would be helpful.”
It was helpful. That is me. Reserve the grand escapes to paradises I will never see for people who lose sleep wondering if they should choose Hawaii or Key West. The next day it might be Alaska or New Mexico. Lyle Truman, a prime example, ended up going to Hawaii for the eleventh time, but he chose a different resort. Such a nice little compromise he made with his wife. I’m impressed.
When the call was over, I rested my head on my desk and closed my eyes. This is what my life has come to. I have to take deep breaths, knowing full well that, in a matter of minutes, my headset will beep again and another yuppie will call with another life-altering dilemma. Paris or Rome? Gee. Why not both?
I removed the headset and rested heavily in my chair, rolling my head back. When my head returned to normal position I see a perfectly coifed redhead, impeccable makeup, and a bright grin peering at me over the wall of my cubicle. Tanya, my only confidante in this gopher trap and menial life, is so put together it makes me ill sometimes. Probably because I’m so not put together.
“Breathing exercises already, Liv?”
“It is a little early for them, right?” I looked at the clock. Five more hours left of my shift.
“No stress, hon. Anything you need to do not to bite off people’s heads.”
“I do consider it a successful day when no one ends up headless because of me.” I stretched my arms above my head.
“A success in anyone’s book, my dear,” she said with a wink.
“Oh! Phone call. Shit.” I sat up, my chair groaned with the movement, fumbled as I put on the headset. Tanya disappeared behind the cubicle wall again and I clicked the red button of doom.
“Pure Travel Reservations, my name is Olivia, where can I book you today?”
“Is that really how you answer the phone? Did you get your coffee fix today, Liv?”
I recognized the voice. “Nikki, why are you calling me on my work line?”
“Because, you silly duck, I knew you wouldn’t answer your cell phone.”
Nikki Lovelace, my best friend from high school, was also my roommate in college and now she was my roommate again. At her mom’s loft apartment here in Boston. I had planned on moving to New York City when I was done with college. I got my degree and it was time to follow my dream of being on Broadway. Turned out that there was no way I could afford to move to New York right away. It also turned out that Nikki’s mom, Paige Minnix, lived in Boston and she had a connection to Broadway that she was constantly trying to line me up with.
“There’s a reason why, Nik. It’s called my boss would fire me if he knew I was taking private calls.”
“This is important, Olivia. I will make it quick.”
I looked at my watch. “Thirty seconds to sell me whatever it is you’ve got.”
“Gee, and I thought we were besties. Two things: my mom got in touch with Mr. Burke today, and he has agreed to meet you today at five-thirty. He will be in town for a couple of hours so you have to haul your fat ass fast outside the Orpheum Theater downtown. Do you think you can handle that?”
I forgot all about Nikki’s thirty second time limit. Mr. Henry Burke was Paige’s connection to Broadway. The last two times I have tried to meet him something random and tragic has happened. It was a miracle he even agreed to meet me again.
“I can handle that, Nikki. What was the other thing?” I did not want to ask but I had to change the subject or else I would be on the phone for hours with her. Then I would for sure be in trouble.
Nikki paused and I heard her suck her breath in through her teeth. I wasn’t sure if I actually heard it or if I just knew her well enough to know that was what she was doing.
“My mom also has a guy she wants you to go on a date with.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is it her personal mission to play Cupid for me, or does your mom like to see me squirm?”
Nikki laughed. “Maybe a little bit of both. Trust me, babe, if I didn’t have James, she’d be doing the same thing to me.”
James was Nikki’s boyfriend. They had been together since our freshman year in college. He had followed Nikki and me here to Boston from University of Missouri. Over the years I had become accustomed to being the third wheel or the one on an awkward first date with some random guy James or Nikki knew. I was always Nikki’s little shadow. She with her magnetic personality, her perfect blonde hair, hourglass figure always outshone me with my thick black hair, dull brown eyes, impossibly pale skin, and hopelessly thin build.
“Please tell me this one actually knows what hygiene is.” My last blind date, courtesy of Paige Minnix, was a disaster. The guy smelled a little too heavily of sweat, his shirt was all rumpled and wrinkly, and, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw him pick his nose.
“No guarantees, babe. You know my mom. If it’s a guy that is around our age and single, she thinks he’s the right one.”
“Probably why she and your dad didn’t work out,” I said without thinking.
Thankfully, Nikki laughed. “You catch on quick.”
I actually knew Nikki’s dad, Vince Lovelace. He lived in St. Louis where Nikki and I grew up. He was my dad’s bowling partner and one of the nicest guys I knew. And I know I was not the only girl that was Nikki’s friend that had a crush on him.
“When is this horrid matchup happening?”
“You’re kidding me.” I looked around sheepishly after I realized that I had said it really loud. “Aren’t my thirty seconds up?”
“No way are you getting out of this so easily.” I gritted my teeth.
“James is going to pick us up at eight and then we will go get your date, then go out for dinner and drinks, and then go from there. Sound good?”
“The drinks sound good,” I muttered. “What’s this one’s name?”
Nikki sounded like she was reading something when she answered. “Harper?”
My brows furrowed. “Sounds like a name from a soap opera.”
“Never know. Maybe he’s your soul mate.”
“Hanging up now.”
“See you later, chica.”
“Uh-huh.” I pushed the button quickly and groaned. “This is just great.”
I didn’t want to go on a date tonight. A blind date, no less. I wondered how Paige Minnix, a sixty-something divorcee who was also a shopaholic, managed to meet all these eligible, young bachelors. Men were never my forte, but I had hoped that would change when I moved to a new city. My move to Boston had not gone as planned from the beginning. That should have been my first clue.
I was supposed to have a job as a curator at the National Heritage Museum. One of my professors at University of Missouri had a connection there and, as a history major, it is best to jump right on those little connections. It was perfect, too, because Nikki was moving to Boston to be closer to her mom and because she had gotten a great job as a paralegal at some high and mighty law firm. And then Paige had told me she had a connection with Broadway, and that sealed the deal.
Then the curator job fell through. I had packed all my things, uprooted my whole life, thinking that I would have this great job, but when I arrived for some orientation, they told me that the position had been closed.
So now here I am. I work at a miserable job where I talk to snobs all day in a nice little box. What I really want to do with my life is not answer phones and watch other people make plans for amazing trips to exotic places. And I really don’t want to be a curator at a museum although that would be a far cry above Pure Travel.
Lunch time came and I realized I did not have a lunch with me. With a sigh I made my way to the commons area where there were some vending machines. I was in dire need of a chocolate fix. My hunger was a burning knot at the back of my throat.
I pushed the buttons for a king-sized Snickers. Don’t judge me; I love my chocolate.
To my despair it got stuck, hanging on for dear life by the edge of the little spinning wire that keeps the candy in order. A harsh growl escaped from my mouth.
I kicked at the machine. I’m weak. I know that much. Slapping at the glass was no use either. Groaning, I rested my forehead against the clear cover of the vending machine, the only thing holding me back from my lunch. I closed my eyes and, just as I was about to resign myself to use some more money to try again when I heard a voice behind me.
“Mind if I try?” I lifted my head from the vending machine, looked up at the owner of the voice. Stark blue eyes, dark stubble on a nice firm jaw, a quick smile, and sandy blond hair, he was taller than me but not by much. He was wearing a light blue shirt that accentuated his eyes and his tanned skin.
With a sound akin to a hiccupping squirrel jangling from my mouth, I stepped back, allowing the stranger ample room to try his hand at freeing my precarious Snickers bar. He took the flat of his hand and smacked the plexiglass with a practiced ease and a loud thwapping noise. The Snickers fell with a victorious little crash to the bottom of the vending machine.
He retrieved the candy bar for me and turned to me with a gleaming white-toothed grin. “Good choice. Definitely worth the trouble.”
“Thank you,” I took the candy bar from him with a sheepish smile.
“Enjoy your Snickers,” he said, flashing me a quick smile lined with nice white teeth.
I looked down at the stupid Snickers which was, in fact, snickering at me right at that moment. Such an apt name for a dumb candy bar. I tucked some hair behind my ear, wanting to take back the last, say, twenty minutes. Start over at the moment I decided I wanted a candy bar for lunch.
The Snickers, however, was enough fuel for the remainder of the drag-along day. I took the headset off for the final time which is the sweetest part of my day when I can leave work. After I said my goodbyes to Tanya and my select few acquaintances there I headed for the elevator with my purse slung over my shoulder and my black coat tied at the waist. I pushed the button for the elevator and stood there alone as I watched it make its descent.
My reflection in the silver doors was mottled but I could see the wide brown eyes and the thick black hair tied back in a quick bun. The picture before me made me look gaunt and ghostly and I tried to tell myself it was just the fact that I was looking at myself in a steel mirror, but that did nothing to comfort me.
The doors opened, splitting the image of me in two and part of me was relieved that I didn’t have to look at that any longer. I stepped inside, noticing that I was not alone. I sighed as the doors closed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the couple standing next to me. There was a tall man near my age with sandy blond hair and a quick smile. His arm was slung around the shoulder of the woman next to him. She had fake red hair, dark red lips, and a model thin figure.
I rolled my eyes and looked away, hoping the next ten floors would go by quickly.
The redhead made a whimpering sound. Yes, she whimpered. Oh, please, just let me get out of this elevator and catch the next one.
“I can’t believe you can’t come over tonight,” she said.
“I have plans, babe, but maybe I can come over right after.”
I snorted. It was an involuntary reflex that I didn’t realize I had done out loud until I saw that the dyed red Barbie was glaring at me sideways. I looked away and bit at my thumb nail nonchalantly. When I sneaked another glance at them I could see that the man was looking at me, an odd look in his sharp blue eyes. I recognized him from my nearly tragic loss at lunch. Thankfully, the elevator stopped and the doors opened just then. I rushed out of there as fast as I could without running. The Snickers Man was also Awkward Elevator Guy. Figured that the smooth rescue of my Snickers bar was just that. Smooth. Womanizing.
I shuddered. It was not my style to judge people, but I knew this guy’s type all too well.
Once I was outside, I squinted in the late afternoon sunlight that painted everything a soft golden color. Every time I left work I felt like a mole coming out of the dark, deep hole in which I had been hiding, my eyes blinded momentarily by the beautiful sun. Spring was coming in Boston and the prickling cold of winter was on its way out, leaving welcome warmth and new life in its wake.
The Orpheum Theater. Those three words sprang up in my mind, twinned with an image of its solid but archaic and classy architecture, and I felt my heart lurch in my chest. I sprang into a run, waving my hand like a crazy person as I hailed a taxi. No luck. There was not a single taxi in sight. I kept my pace, walking in the direction of the theater. It was just about four blocks from where I worked, but I did not want to approach Henry Burke panting and sweating like an eager, lost puppy. I’m sure he would just love that and ask me to be on Broadway right away.
It was better than nothing. I set off at a quick walk, pretty certain I looked like I had to pee something fierce. My quick walk became a jagged jog as I thought of my dreams of being on Broadway slipping right through my fingers.
Olivia Jordan, drama queen extraordinaire that I am, actually started believing that this was my only shot at Broadway. Tears sprang to my eyes as I jogged with my purse bouncing against my hip. The random tragedies that were the last two attempts of trying to meet Mr. Henry Burke still hung over my head. The first time I had spilled coffee on myself and had to run back to change my shirt. Those two minutes it took to change had been the difference between Mr. Burke leaving and me arriving.
The second time was not my fault. I was on time, and I was waiting for him. Then Paige called me and said that Henry had been stopped in traffic for the last hour and would miss his flight if he made a stop to meet me.
Random. Tragic. I did not want anything like that to happen again.
Two blocks later I finally got a cab. It would give me time to gather my composure. I told the cabbie to take me to Orpheum Theater. This was it. My break. I pulled my hair out of the bun and let it fall around my shoulders. By the time we reached the theater I had my breathing under control and felt more put together. Once the taxi came to a stop, I handed the driver a crumpled bill and told him to keep the change, then I rushed out onto the street.
Paige had described Henry Burke to me. She said he was tall, British, and had an impeccable shock of white hair that he wore wild and curly. I figured he was pretty hard to miss. I searched frantically for him. I was not late.
Then I saw him from behind. His hair was blowing lightly in the wind and it was definitely noticeable. I ran toward him and saw that he was getting into a cab.
“Mr. Burke!” I cried out, desperate. I reached him, touched his shoulder just before he was getting into the taxi. “Mr. Burke, I’m Olivia, Paige Minnix’s friend.” I stopped as he turned around. It wasn’t him. It was a woman with nice, white hair, and an incredibly tall, thin frame.
“Excuse me?” she looked at me as if I had spit in her soup.
“Sorry,” I murmured. “I thought you were someone else.” I pulled away as the woman shook her head and got in the cab.
I sighed and looked around, searching for the elusive Mr. Burke again. There was a slight chilly wind in the air and the sky was a steel grey color. My hair blew into my face and my lips and I spat it out. A sweet smell of rain was in the air and I knew it wasn’t long before a downpour. The weather could turn on you so fast in Boston, and now I understood why everyone carried an umbrella with them through all the spring months.
Biting my lip, I felt a coldness settle in my chest. What if I missed him? I looked at my watch. I was right on time. I looked at the front doors of the Orpheum Theater. People were milling about, and I could hear their chatter vaguely. Suddenly, I was nervous and my mouth went dry.
Just as I turned my eyes skyward to check for the impending rain, I saw another flash of white. I fought the urge to squeal in delight. Mr. Burke was just coming out of the building. Don’t judge, but my heels might have clicked together right before I set off in a little jog toward him.
As I was approaching, a big man with a neck the size of my waist blocked my path. He was wearing a dark suit and his eyes were small and narrowed. My breath caught in my throat.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
I opened my mouth to speak and saw Mr. Burke continue to walk, completely oblivious to me and this mountain of a man who was most likely one of his bodyguards.
“I need to speak to Mr. Burke right there. He’s expecting me.”
“Who are you?”
“Olivia Jordan. We have a mutual friend who arranged us to meet today about five minutes ago. It will just take a few minutes.”
“We were not notified about a meeting today. You will have to make an official appointment if you want to see Mr. Burke.”
No way. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I tried to move past the beefy blockage, but he stepped in my way. Damn, he could move fast for someone so big. I waved my arms frantically, watching Mr. Burke and his entourage walk away with my dreams.
“Mr. Burke!” I cried out, still waving my arms like a lunatic. At any other point in my life I probably would have felt pretty pathetic.
I tried to run toward him again, seeing that big mop of white hair disappear into a sleek, black limousine. His guard dog stopped me again as if I were a terrorist. I weigh 120 lbs soaking wet and I’m the threat. That makes tons of sense to me too.
The doors to the limousine closed and I whirled on the bodyguard who destroyed my chances.
“Are you happy now? You just ruined everything!” Tears welled up in my eyes, and I left, turning my back on the mountainous monster and the limo that was driving away with my dreams.
Okay, so maybe I’m slightly on the dramatic side. Hello, I’m dying to be on Broadway. What else would you expect? But, I must say, these were real tears I was crying. My only real shot now was to somehow get myself to New York City, be a poor waitress, and get on the endless roller coaster to stardom. I had learned that was not the route I wanted to go. I would not waste my life on this. Even though, to me, it was worth it.
“I don’t know how to flirt,” I was saying to Nikki on the phone approximately twelve minutes after my Meeting that Never Was. After she had sympathized graciously for the way things turned out, she changed the subject to another one that I did not want to talk about: the blind date.
“That’s just silly, Liv. You totally know how to flirt.” I could picture my best friend painstakingly straightening her pale blonde hair, her head crooked to the side so she could hold her phone between her cheek and her shoulder.
I sighed. “I’m just too serious.”
“I’m the serious one, remember?” Nikki said jokingly, and I could hear her chewing bubblegum.
I groaned at that. “I can’t go on this blind date.”
“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because today has already sucked enough as it is.”
“Ya never know.” I heard some rustling while Nikki was quiet. “This guy could be Brad Pitt’s doppelganger.”
My lip curled involuntarily. “I never understood this fascination you have with Brad Pitt.”
“Nobody does, babe. Now get your ever-lovin’ ass home so we can get you all prettied up.”
I groaned. “You act like I can’t dress myself.”
“From one fashionista to another, sometimes your style sets people off.”
I stopped mid-stride and looked down at my cute red heels, my black pencil skirt with white pinstripes, and the white blouse with black polka dots and ruffles on the sleeves and collar. Definitely not practical for my over-the-phone job, but I always tried to look professional and stylish. Granted, my style tended to lean toward the vintage look, and I modeled a lot of my style after Liza Minelli, but I thought I looked good.
“What does that mean?”
“I love you, sweetheart. That’s what it means,” Nikki said a little too quickly. She knew me well enough to know when she was heading into the danger zone. “Enough talking. Get moving. I’ll see you when you get here.”
I sighed and hung up, stared at my phone for a minute, and wondered if that conversation actually just happened.
Just as I dropped my phone back into my purse, I heard a whoop of delight coming from behind me. I turned around to see what was going on. A young man, near my age, was running toward me with a big smile on his face and a black fedora on his head. I immediately thought of Newsies by the way he was dressed in a vest and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He looked like he shot out straight from the 1930s. There was a spryness in the way he moved, it almost seemed unreal.
Then I realized he was being chased. A bigger man with a dark scowl on his face was running after him, but the man in the fedora seemed thrilled by the chase. He was older and had a thick neck and even thicker arms. If I had a man that looked like the big guy running after me, I would be scared for my life. They were both heading right for me because I was in the way.
I tried to dodge the younger man running toward me by sidestepping but I was too late. He turned to look at, big surprise, the other man who was chasing him.
“Come back here!” the pursuant called while I tried to maneuver myself out of the line of fire. Every time I moved, the guy in the fedora went the same way. The pencil skirt was not much help in easing my movements. It all happened so fast, but it seemed like everything was going in slow motion as the guy in the hat rammed right into me, knocking me to the ground unceremoniously. I let out a yelp, caught myself with my hands, and tried to maintain my dignity.
“So very sorry!” I saw a hand in front of my face and I went to slap it away before I realized that it belonged to the guy who had knocked me down. I looked up at him, his ridiculous smile beaming under his fedora. Cool grey eyes twinkled merrily at me.
I took his hand and he helped me to my feet. My purse had tumbled to the ground and spilled just about everything out of it. With a curse under my breath, I dusted off my skirt.
“Gotta go!” my assailant said quickly as he patted me on the shoulder and took off running again.
“I’m sure you do, asshole,” I muttered. I looked at the palms of my hands that were now riddled with scrapes and little pebbles from the sidewalk. Now I was going to go on my blind date with bandaged hands. Real great first impression.
“Did he hurt you?”
I turned and saw the big man who had been giving chase to the man in the fedora. He had kind eyes despite his rough-looking exterior.
“Just knocked me down. I’ll be just fine. Go get him, sailor.”
He gave me a confused look and nodded. “Don’t let him near you. He’s trouble.” Without waiting for a response from me, he took off running, but I could no longer see the guy he was chasing.
(This is copyrighted by ME. Don't steal from me, please. I will hunt you down and make you pay. Ok? Hope you enjoyed the first chapter!)