The women’s bathroom on the fourteenth floor was the perfect place for a good cry. The cinderblock walls made for good soundproofing, and the door locked, which meant I had total privacy while I clung to the edge of the sink and sobbed my heart out.
The sink was clean-ish—the best a girl could ask for when she worked at a popular lifestyle magazine with two hundred and something other women on payroll—but the mirror was covered in backsplash. An “Out of Order” sign had been taped to the paper-towel dispenser three months ago. A water-soaked roll sat on the soaked counters. I’d been tearing off strips to dab at my nose, which now burned red and raw.
Sucking in a huge, shaky, lip-trembling breath, I lifted my puffy gaze and stared at my own reflection.
Tears left muddy mascara stains down my cheeks. Snot messed up the foundation on my upper lip and the perfectly applied highlighter on my cupid’s bow. My pink lipstick had worn off during lunch and I lacked the energy to apply a fresh layer.
Why had I even bothered putting makeup on this morning? I’d been crying like this for days.
And there was no end in sight.
On Friday night, I’d sat down at a table for two at Carnelli’s, my favorite Italian restaurant in Sterling Heights. They had this delicious little cannoli starter that came jam-packed with ricotta cheese, spinach, onions, and goat cheese. Every bite melted on your tongue and tasted like heaven—if Heaven were an appetizer. My boyfriend, James, had watched me eat one after another with an arched eyebrow while he unfolded his napkin, refolded it, set it beside his plate, and unfolded it all over again.
That was when I noticed something was up. He was nervous. Antsy. Fidgety. Altogether unlike himself.
With a mouthful of cheese, I’d begun to wonder if the man of my dreams was about to propose to me. He had taken me out to my favorite restaurant, and it was the anniversary of our first date. The stars seemed to be aligned. We’d been talking about our next steps and moving in together. He was well on his way to home ownership, and I was well on my way to finally landing a promotion and moving from a desk in the bullpen of the magazine to one with dividers and more privacy closer to the windows. Things were right on track.
But my sweet, handsome, wonderful James had not pulled a ring out of his pocket and gotten down on one knee. He’d waited until after the main course, graciously letting me fill up on a half order of lasagna and a side salad, before reaching across the table, taking my hand, and telling me we needed to talk.
I’d practically choked on a poorly cut lasagna noodle.
I guzzled my water like a Labrador left out in the sun too long before dabbing at my lips. “Talk?”
James nodded once. “They offered me the job.”
I almost choked again. “The London job?”
He nodded again, just as shortly as the first time.
My heart plunged into my stomach like an anchor dropping to the bottom of the ocean, but I made sure my smile never wavered. “James, this is amazing! You’ve worked so hard for this. You have to accept it!”
He stared at me, and I stared back.
My heart burned in my stomach acid. “Oh,” I breathed, straightening out my used cutlery to give my nervous hands something to do. “You already accepted it, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter, Andy,” he said. “What matters is that I took it, and I leave for London in a week.”
“A week? That’s all? How are we supposed to get everything done in a week? Are you going to put all your stuff in storage? You could always go and I could meet up with you at the end of the month. It will take me some time to get my ducks in a row with the magazine, but I’m sure they’ll make room for me to work remotely.”
James looked down at his plate. “Andy, I, uh, I’m going to go to London alone.”
The acid in my stomach effectively ate up the rest of my heart.
“You don’t want me to move with you?” I whispered.
“We’re just in different places, Andy. I have this chance to do something great and I want to start on the right foot. I want to build a new life in London. You and I weren’t really in the picture. When we started dating you knew I planned on leaving.”
“You told me you loved me. You told me you wanted me to move in with you. That was six weeks ago, James. And now that you have your dream job, I’m what, dead weight?”
He sighed, shook his head, and let go of my hand. “I knew this wouldn’t go well.”
“No shit,” I hissed across the table. “You’re blindsiding me! I thought—I thought—” I clamped my mouth closed before my tongue had the nerve to expose my broken heart. James was not an impulsive man. He was ending things because it was what he wanted. There was no place for me in London.
There was no place for me in his life at all.
“Stop crying,” I whispered to my pathetic reflection.
But you thought you were going to marry him.
“You dodged a bullet,” I assured myself. “He never loved you the way you loved him.”
But you both talked about having children together and buying a home with a big front lawn so they could run though sprinklers in the summer.
“He’s on a plane to London this very minute. It’s over.”
The sobbing began anew. I stood there, clinging to the edge of the bathroom sink for support, while my misery and grief threatened to swallow me whole.
I didn’t believe there was anyone else out there for me than James. He was it. He was my book’s final page. And they lived happily ever after.
Suddenly, someone knocked on the door. “You’re not supposed to lock this door! Hello? Is someone in there?”
Frantic, I tore a strip of paper towel off the roll and used it to wipe away the tears and snot. I splashed cold water on my face and dabbed that dry, too. When I was clean and dry—but still an obvious wreck—I hurried to the door, let my hair fall in front of my face, unlocked it, and pulled it open.
A well put together woman in a gray pantsuit brushed past me. “For Heaven’s sake, girl. You don’t own this bathroom, you know.” She disappeared into one of the three stalls, locked the handle, and dropped her pants. “I suggest you clear out while you can. My assistant forgot to get my latte dairy free and bad things happen when I consume cow by-products.”
I scrambled to escape what had been my safe space seconds before. On the other side of the door, I gazed out at a sea of familiar faces. Writers, all of them. We wrote columns about celebrity gossip and fashion. We wrote about new restaurants, shit restaurants, trendy home design ideas, and easy DIYs, makeup hacks, the best underwire bras, spring-cleaning tips, and so much more. Our magazine, The Everyday Woman, published a monthly issue, and my job was to write the filler articles.
Acutely aware of how rough I looked, I kept my head down as I walked over to my desk. My ass hadn’t even touched my chair when my boss poked her head out of her office and barked my name. “Andy Sommers? Andy? Hello?” She squinted through the lenses of her glasses until I stood and smoothed out my skirt. “There you are,” she said with a wave. “Come here, please. Don’t bring your notebook. It won’t be necessary.”
I left my notebook and pen on my desk, crossed the office with a hundred pairs of eyes staring after me, and slipped into Marva Coates’s office. She’d already taken a seat on the other side of her desk and had her back to me as she poured herself a drink.
She spun back to me and removed her glasses. “Sit.”
I sat at the chair on the other side of her desk, crossed one leg over the other, and smiled. “If this is about how much time I’ve been spending in the bathroom, I’m really sorry, Marva. I’m just having a really bad week dealing with some personal stuff. It won’t impact my deadlines, I promise.”
“What? No, this isn’t about that.” She waved a manicured hand in front of my face. “I’m afraid the magazine hasn’t been as profitable this year as usual. It’s forcing our hand to make some changes.”
I nodded. “Changes can be good. Are you thinking about adding new columns? You know, I’ve been really keen on starting up a travel section. Think of it. We could do a two-page spread of a different destination each month and I could write up a great article with ideas of things to do for the everyday woman. Honestly, it’s something we probably should have done ages ago because women are traveling a lot for work now more than ever and our magazine is a one-stop shop for a lot of resources. Why not travel and adventure, too?”
Marva’s pale expression and thin red lips never so much as twitched while I spoke. “I think you are doing a very poor job of reading the situation, Andy.”
Marva and I didn’t have much rapport. She more or less barked orders and I always smiled and nodded. Yes Marva, of course, whatever you need, I’m on it. It was a wonder she knew my name. There was a rumor around the office that she had a spreadsheet with everyone’s photo and name on it so she could keep all of us straight. Apparently, she’d add notes to certain photos to remind herself that someone had a recently deceased relative. Once, an old desk-mate of mine had to leave work early because she had to put her dog down—bless the poor, senile, blind, foul-smelling pup—and Marva had asked her the next day about her dead uncle, thinking the dog was not in fact a canine but rather a full-grown man being taken off life support.
People had a field day writing jokes at Marva’s expense in the bathroom stalls for weeks. The whole thing scarred my desk-mate so badly she had quit a few weeks later.
Sitting across from my severe unreadable boss made me begin to wonder if, like the poor pup, I too was about to be put out of my misery.
Marva cleared her throat and leaned forward. “I’m sorry to have to say this to you, doll, but we’re making cuts. I have to let you go. You have until the end of the day to clean out your desk. If you need help bringing anything down to your car, I can call one of the security guards from the lobby to come give you a hand. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind helping a pretty girl like you.”
In one fell swoop, Marva had managed to carve out my insides with a spoon. “I’ve worked here for five years.”
“A nice solid number. I appreciate your loyalty, Andy. I really do. But this is the way things go sometimes. If things change, I’ll let you know, but right now I need you to get out of my office because I still have a lot to get done today, and to be honest, you look like you’re carrying something infectious. You should go see your doctor.”
“I’m not sick. I’ve just been crying all day.”
“Ah, well, yes, all the same, I am quite busy, so…” She trailed off and her gaze flicked to her door.
I pushed to my feet and swayed on the spot as the remaining pillars of my life crumbled around me. “I’m going.”