“Girl, get up, you’re late!” jolts me upright, startled to find . . . Vie? In a full-length black wool coat? She stands over me, a reddish-blond vampire.
“You and Mommy dear had a late night of drinking? . . . Come on, I know you’re going, aren’t you?” she asks. “So, hurry up,” she shouts, bouncing the edge of my bed. “Get up; get up. What’s your problem; Miss Dependable always goes.”
“What’s it to you?” I ask, falling back, yanking the covers with me over my head, my brain throbbing from the thrashing inflicted by a stressful, fit-filled sleep. “By-the-way, what’s Mom doing?” I ask, holding tight the quilt now under my chin, trying to keep Vie and the cold out, as she struggles to tug it loose. “Did she let you in?’ I ask, fingers clinching tighter, though fighting a giggle watching Lady Vamp’s efforts.
“No. I just came in the back,” she says, her words winded in her struggle. “I tried the phone, but no one answered. So since the back door is never locked, I walked on in. Good thing, huh? . . . Come on, Diamond. Quit playing. Let go. You’ll be late.”
So we leave the back door unlocked? . . . Oh yes, yes, we do, I remember. That’s got to stop, I realize, giving up the fight, letting her unveil me, the shocking cold causing me to shake, rationalizing; why concern myself with the door. Didn’t I say I was out of here today? . . . Or did I dream that?
No, I did; I said it, and prepared for it—my bags already packed in the corner. I hadn’t told anyone yet, though I wonder if Vie noticed.
“Look Vie. Why don’t you just go on ahead?” I suggest, not wanting her to guess my plans; wondering, if she sees them, how do I explain?
“Oh. . . And Vie. I’m going to New York this weekend to drop off those things for Nanette,” my head nodding towards the bags. “You know . . . I told you about her. I need a few extra minutes to look over what I’ve bought,” grateful I had the opportunity to slip in another outing to a few more boutiques, malls and thrift stores without Vie. But without my sewing machine adjustments had to wait until I got home. There, in New York, I’ll devote my full attention to the designs. That will be my needed therapy.
“Okay,” she agrees readily, quite cherry; makes me queasy.
“I’m in the kitchen. I’ve got to eat something,” she finishes spinning on her heel, the tail of her coat whipping around like a “bat-cape.”
As her footsteps tear downstairs, I sit up in bed looking around the transformed room suddenly sad. The renovations couldn’t camouflage the residual hurt, fright, and guilt resurfacing from my past suspicions that Mom wished me dead, resurrected from yesterdays’ revelation, which confirmed that thought. Drawing my knees to my chin, my feelings practically force me back deep into the box springs.
Funny how the weight of that revealing becomes this vast hollowness that I thought I’d conquered. A well swallowing all my mental energy necessary for this flight. If I don’t leave today I may transform back into a fragile shell, empty, of no use to no one.
Reaching pass Vie’s floral paper bag on the side table for tablet and pen, I quickly scribble out a note:
I seemed to have outstayed my welcome. And I’m sorry about that. So today, after work, I’m taking off. I’ll inform Mr. Riley later that I’m quitting, so if you’re still interested in the position let me know when I call; I’ll make arrangements for the switch.
I love you and I’ll call you when I reach New York.
Although flight may label me a coward, in New York I control my life and peace of mind. I know I’ll feel better about this when I get home.
Rereading the note I tear it up, tossing it in the waste paper basket, afraid that she may call the agency after reading it.
I can’t believe it; I don’t trust my ability to deny her, wanting a clean break. But I do call Mr. Riley’s answering machine, informing him of my need to leave early today to drive to the airport.
Oh boy, I forgot. How do I get to the airport without Mom’s car?
Maybe one of the guys will drive me and then return Mom’s car, I consider, now reaching for Vie’s gift. Removing the tissue paper, I glance down into bag. In it’s darkness I spot nothing. Reaching in I grab a flimsy bit of lace, thinking… definitely not for coverage. Lifting the thin strip I remembered Vie’s laughter.
Now I know why.
I smirk. What’s the point? They definitely look disposable.
Madame would be appalled since she had such strict rules for me. She’d say, “No wonder rape, Aids, and unwanted pregnancy are on the increase, with the way people dress today, young people especially. Diamond, you had better wait until you get married before you purchase anything like that. And maybe not even then. You should check with your husband first. Maybe he would not like that type of woman.”
Her ever-present shadow keeps me sober; though, I wasn’t totally in agreement with her in this regard.
Speaking of, I wonder what’s she doing now. . . Probably not thinking about me.
I suddenly fill the desire to do something that Madame wouldn’t approve of. Maybe Vie’s right. Maybe I should have some fun, especially now. Yeah. I’m headed home anyway. I’ll go out with a bang.
Rushing, I pull out the black pants and white top, then take a quick shower. After toweling off, I dress.
“Uh oh. Darn it, with the way I’ve been eating I knew I should’ve been exercising.” The full-length mirror confirms my fears. Bending and squatting to stretch the fabric, I recheck my reflection. I see a blouse tugging a bit at the button across my chest. I can deal with that, I rationalize—the white shirt sometimes was supposed to provide a peek, right? Though, the low-waist pants hug my hips a little too tight for my taste. However . . . I’ve seen worst.
But still I perch on the edge of the bed with my head dropping into my hands. I begin nibbling on my nails second-guessing my decision. Maybe I shouldn’t do this.
But everything else I brought is packed away; though they’ll probably fit snug too. Everything’s a straight cut. And Mom’s no help with her A-line suits, I remember.
Glancing around the room my eye caught again by the floral bag. I guess Vie was right. She knew that these were probably what these pants need.
With a nervous giggle, I strip down, then redress. I close my eyes before facing the mirror. After slowly opening them, I study the image. “So far not too bad.” But that’s only the front view, which actually hasn’t changed. So I turn around, looking at the rear view, thinking, okay, better. Though ordinarily it would still be a little too risqué for my taste. Too sexy. So I finish with my favorite pair of black leather granny boots again glancing at the clock.
Already 8:30. My flight leaves at 11:00 and I’m still not at my job. I’ve got to get out of here.
Looking again at myself in the mirror, I feel the need to undo my braid and run my hands through my hair; bending and flipping it forward I continue to play with it until it becomes full. Then, I hurry to finish applying a little eye make up, blush and lipstick, a quick sip and now I am ready to go.
Really anxious about the time, I grab my luggage and my three-quarter-length leather jacket—which I hope not to remove in the office; head downstairs; trying to be quiet so as not to wake Mom, but I hear Vie in the dining room.
I hurry the remaining stairs, saying, “Vie! Shush! Don’t wake up Mom,” caught by surprise at her dress.
What is this? . . . Aside from her hair, she reminds me of a nun—with her white cotton blouse and black knee-length pleated skirt under a black wool coat. Clothes I know she’d refuse to dog walk in, looking like “The Me” Mom insisted on. Actually, those things look like some of the things Mom bought for me to wear.
Bursting to verbally ask, “What’s up?” instead my eyes silently question Vie.
She smiles broadly and sticks out her tongue. She has even removed the earrings from everywhere, except her ears. No tongue ring or eyebrow ring today. Somethings definitely not right! I wonder if Mom knows anything about this.
Why I should wonder about Vie and Mom in the same situation, I can’t figure. Except that both seem to be acting strangely. My curiosity getting the best of me, I peek into Mom’s room, finding her still in bed—the room dark and cold. Even with the drapes drawn, you can still feel the breeze coming through the windows, which she has cracked causing the drapes to flutter. So I hurry Vie outside to find out what gives.
“What’s with your get-up, Vie?” I ask on the race to the car. “I didn’t even know you owned anything like these. Those didn’t happen to come out of my closet, did they?”
“Yes. I borrowed them. This is your day, Diamond,” she says with a grin. “The competition is between you and Jackie. I decided to dress like you,” she finishes, as I put the luggage in the small trunk.
“Vie, there is no competition. I actually didn’t have anything else to wear.”
“But you look gorgeous. I don’t know why you never let your hair down. And your outfit rocks. You look sexy.”
That statement coming from Vie makes me feel worst. Maybe, I really should turn around and change, I think, remembering, as I put my luggage in the trunk, that I couldn’t. In an effort to calm myself, I take a couple more swallows from my flask before closing it up in my luggage. Hurriedly, I pop in a mint; then get into the car.
Slowly pulling away from the curb, I wonder about Mom’s wardrobe, reconsidering: I’m sure she has something I could fit.
But remember Diamond; you’re not coming back, I remind myself, as we get further and further from home. And Vie even sits demurely. I’m in trouble; since I have no time or choice but to drive on.
The twenty-minute drive felt like five, as I turn into the side parking lot of the agency—Vie talking the whole ride. She barely waits for the car to stop before she immediately hops out. As she runs towards the door she shouts, “I want the full effect.”
“Oh. . . And don’t forget your luggage” she finishes. “You should never leave valuables in your trunk.”
That’s actually true, but I don’t want to walk in alone. “Hey Vie, why don’t you help me?”
But she hurries in like she didn’t hear. I unload the small lavender carryon and matching Pullman garment bag, while trying to suppress the mounting anxiety beginning to irritate my throat. Coughing to clear it, I’m amazed at the recent increase of attacks. Opening the door, I jump at the tinkling bell like I’ve never heard it before. Really, at this moment, I could have shot it, finding the thought mildly amusing.
Yeah. That would be great. How would I stop it from ricochet-ringing then?
An image of the guys trying to dodge a bouncing bullet implants itself into my mind, as I walk in grinning. Time to put on my game face.
Eyeballs. I feel them glued on me from every direction as one of the boys shouts, “Wow! Look at you; you let your hair down. Looks great.”
“Thanks.” I say smiling, thankful for a friendly soul.
With my desk firmly in sight, I head straight for it, when I hear Jackie’s, “Why don’t you hang up your coat?”
“I will,” I answer. Mind your own business I really want to shout; wondering, what’s with her? She never talks to me unless absolutely necessary.
“I just thought that since we have the coat tree why not use it.”
Wishing she would shut up and become the normally mute person she is, the agitated butterflies in my stomach amen: Something’s not right.
At my desk I sit down, then remove my coat, folding it over the back of my chair. Out of the corner of my eye I spot Vie at the water cooler, eyeing me, giving me a command to, “get up.”
I want to shout, “You shut up too,” but ignore her, wondering, why isn’t anyone teasing her about her dress? Convinced, whatever is brewing, Vie is a principle part of it.
I start sorting the mail and checking my priority list for the day, when, after about fifteen minutes my nerves still can’t settle. I feel trapped; caged in a lion’s den with Vie and Jackie the lionesses. I glance up and though Vie is talking with the guys she still manages to give me the look.
I think: I don’t understand how this is supposed to be fun; I’m not feeling it. So I continue to work as if it’s an ordinary day.
“Diamond.” That would again be Jackie.
“Looks as if you wearing a new outfit. Can we see it?”
What!? … Why not check out Vie?
“It’s nothing Jackie; just a shirt and pants. It is casual day, isn’t it?” I ask. Since when is she interested in my dress? I had my head down as I answered her, but I became interested in what she wore. Peeking over at her, I see that she’s also dressed in a skirt and blouse. So I look at the guys. They are dressed casually in polo shirts and docks. We weren’t expecting walk-ins today. Mr. Riley wanted us to straighten up the office. So seeing the guys dressed casually soothes my jittery nerves a bit.
I decide to check my appearance and the bathroom is right behind me. When I notice that everyone is occupied—Jackie’s in Cowen’s office and Vie with the guys—I get up to go. There, I give myself a comb-over from head to toe, standing on the upturned garbage can to get a fuller view in the mirror, front and back.
Almost falling I giggle; though wonder, what’s the matter with you? I ask my reflection. What happened to that confidant businesswoman you’d become? Why are you acting as if you’re a freshman in high school again? You put the outfit on so where it like you mean me!
But I know the real reason for my nerves. Mr. Riley.
Diamond! What the heck, he isn’t here! And if he was … you know that you won’t mind him seeing you this way, I shyly admit. Why not act as if he is here. With that game plan in mind, I take a quick tilt to the bottle of cough syrup in my bag before heading out.
Suddenly a slow fire starts to heat me from within. Now I am thankful that I had removed the jacket, because this heat would be too much.
I again look in the mirror, fluffing out my hair. Before I left home, I put on some small dangling earrings; they look sort of exotic. And like Jackie, I spray on a little more perfume, then smooth my pants before walking out. Now I feel sexy!
Since the coffee maker is right outside the door, I stand there fixing myself a cup. When I first opened the door the boy’s were talking. Now they stop.
“Wow!” one voice. Then the other, “Lord, don’t let her hurt me!”
But I act as if I didn’t hear, though I experience the power that Jackie and Vie obviously feel. This emboldens me to perform. Bending and stretching at the coffee maker, as I’ve seen Jackie do often enough, I wonder, how do you feel now, Jackie?
With my back angled towards the office—the same position I always felt was vulgar—I take my time adding cream and sugar, knowing somewhere Jackie seethes because I’m a younger, firmer version of female. I smile to myself, feeling like I’m in a school play carrying out my own little performance of ‘Wanton Woman’ and enjoying every bit of my lead role. I think, boys, you’d better enjoy this now, because it’s a one-time showing.
Accidentally, my stirrer slips from my fingers to the floor, but I capitalize on this opportunity to bend over even farther to retrieve it; tossing it into the garbage. I pick up my cup of hot coffee, a kindred heat flowing through me as I realize, this could be addictive.
Turning to take my coffee back to my desk, I also take the opportunity to peek at my audience, confessing, no wonder Jackie dresses—.
My coffee cup crashes to the floor, spilling the caramel-colored liquid into a growing mess at my feet, while I catch Jackie’s sneer in triumph. Vie races from my desk to help me with a slight tilt to her lips, but I wave her away. Totally humiliated, I don’t need anyone’s help as I take handfuls of napkins to wipe up the floor in avoidance of the surprise I saw on Mr. Riley’s face.
He stood at the front of the office, but I didn’t hear him come in. He probably arrived while I played with my appearance in the bathroom. That means he was here for the whole show; I had his undivided attention as well.
I dab at the seeming ocean of coffee surrounding his brown leather Bostonians right beside me; refusing to look up.
Stubbornly I say, “Thank-you Mr. Riley, but I have it,” avoiding his gaze though his strong face bends not too far from mine, thinking, what a fool I am.
I watch his long manicured fingers wipe at the liquid and feel his breath warm against my cheek as he says, “It’s okay. I want to help,” inadvertently making my humiliation even more complete, this incident already entitled: “My Most Embarrassing Moment: Numeral Two.”
Glancing up I think, okay Jackie and Vie, you won—in demeaning me in the eyes of Mr. Riley. I shouldn’t have been playing this game anyway. Madame and my own personal ethics usually won’t allow it.
But I also wonder; why is he being so helpful? My tears mingle with the remaining coffee, while Mr. Riley tells everyone to, “Carry on.” While still squatting, I glance at my watch praying that it’s time to make my exit when I hear Vie saying, “Diamond, they’ve towed your car.”
“What? … What? … Stop them? … Where are they?” I ask hopping up and racing for the door. But I am too late. The car is already out of vision.
I don’t believe it! I want to scream.
I stand dump-founded, as someone puts my leather jacket around my shoulders. I look up into Mr. Riley’s dark brown eyes, as he says, “I’m taking you to the airport.”
Now I want to cry. “No. No, Mr. Riley. It’s okay. I’ll call a cab. Really. I couldn’t.”
“You can and you will. I won’t take no for an answer,” he says. “Is that your luggage by the door?” I glance at it like it like it’s something foreign, but answer, “Yes.”
“Okay. You go get into the car and I’ll put your things in the trunk.”
Obviously, his words, “Hurry. You don’t have a lot of time,” mean I’m not moving fast enough; so I pick up the pace. Climbing into the front seat of his Lexus, I fall again into a nervous stupor, until I see Vie and Jackie expressions at the window. All their smug satisfaction was gone with this turn of events.