Janie is now available!
My back burned.
The late afternoon summer sun shone through the windows behind me as I clicked through photo after photo on my work computer. The heat prickled across my shoulders and upper back, both exposed in the dress I was wearing with thick straps but a scoop cut on the back and front.
The suntan lines would most definitely be problematic.
I pushed up out of my office chair. It squeaked softly, as if reminding me the workday wasn’t over and I still had three hours to go where my butt belonged upon its soft white leather. Turning my back on my desk, I paced to the window, where I struggled unnecessarily with the newly installed blinds in my office until I managed to lower them halfway and block the sun blasting in.
Before returning to my desk, I peered down to the street below.
Up here on the top floor of the Casanova Club office tower, I had a view of half of Manhattan spread out below. From my bird’s eye view, it looked like a Lego city with tiny Lego people milling around in sun dresses, shorts, sandals, and baseball caps. It had been a sweltering hot July, and even though I was grateful for the air conditioning in my new office, I wished I was out in the glorious summer weather sipping margaritas on a patio or lounging on one of the chairs on my apartment balcony with a good book.
Then again, it had been a while since I had my nose buried between the pages of a book. Probably since Piper moved to the ranch to live with her husband, Wyatt. She had herself a new man, a new life, a new home, and a shiny new future.
And here I was in the office I always thought I wanted, realizing all too late that maybe it wasn’t what I wanted after all.
What else could explain this feeling of loneliness that seemed to get deeper and darker with every passing week of work?
Down below, perched on the corner of an intersection, stood a man and woman. It was hard to tell from all the way up here but it looked to me like they had their arms linked and she had her head resting on his shoulder. She wore a blue dress and a matching ribbon in her hair, and even here, thirty stories over their heads and trapped behind glass, I could tell they were happy.
With a sigh, I pushed away from the window and took five paces back to my desk, where I slumped heavily back into my chair. It groaned in greeting, welcoming me back, and I swiveled it around to tuck my legs under the glass-top desk. I rested my elbows on the desk, tucked in close to my keyboard, and pressed my chin into my palms as I stared at the last image I’d clicked through before I got up to close the blinds.
The image was an edited black and white shot of Piper and Wyatt from their wedding. I was in the picture too. To the right of the frame, I could see myself laughing, my head thrown back, my eyes closed, Piper’s bouquet in one hand and the little clutch I’d worn with my lipstick, makeup wipes, emergency stain remover, safety pins, and other “in case the bride needs it” items. Even though the source of my laughter hadn’t been caught on camera, I knew exactly who was responsible for making me laugh like that—unabashed, worry free, uncaring of the camera snapping shots every two minutes.
As soon as his name rolled through my head, I clicked away from the picture to a new one of Piper’s parents on the dance floor. This picture was safer. It didn’t make me feel anything except a swell of happiness for them.
After all their struggles with the restaurant, things had finally settled for them. They were no longer drowning in debt, thanks to Wyatt and his steadfast commitment to getting them back on their feet and reminding them at every turn that they were family now and that was what family did for each other. It took a little while for Piper’s father to come around to the idea of letting a much younger man step in and save their family business but now he and Wyatt were thick as thieves. Six weeks after the wedding her parents had sold the old restaurant in New York. Two weeks after that they sold their house. And two weeks after that they hopped on a plane and moved to Texas. Piper told me all about how overwhelming the ranch house was while her family crashed with them until they could move into their new place in the city, eight blocks away from the new restaurant Wyatt had purchased for them. I still hadn’t been there yet and seen it with my own two eyes, but Piper had sent me pictures, and the place looked truly beautiful. I could only imagine how much lighter and joyful her parents were, especially now that they would be close by when their first grandbaby was born.
Everything was as it should be for my dear best friend.
But not for me.
I sighed heavily. I resented the self-pity and the gloomy clouds that had set up residence in my heart and mind this last year. After Piper and Wyatt got married, I knew things would change. There was no possible way my life could stay the same as it had been, and back then, as I watched Piper get married, I didn’t want it to be the same because that would mean Piper didn’t get her happily ever after.
But what about my happily ever after?
I scoffed and rolled my eyes at myself. There was more to worry about than just a happy ending. The promotion I’d always dreamed of had fallen into my lap at the Casanova Club when Jackson Lee put me up in my own private office and made me the Coordinator of Events and Bachelors. It turned out that was a loose title because I also operated as the office manager. It was a lot more responsibility than my previous post as Jackson’s assistant had been and the money reflected that. I was making more than I ever dreamed was possible.
And yet happiness eluded me.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” I told myself as I exited out of the photos I’d perused through over the last half hour and signed back into the office administration program. “You’re exactly where you’ve been trying to get to for the last five years.”
I needed to get a little perspective.
Yes, my best friend had moved to another state. And yes, I was much more alone here in New York City than I’d ever been. And yes, things were going to change even more once Piper and Wyatt had their baby.
But I could handle it.
My phone buzzed and skidded a couple of inches across my desk. I reached for it, turned it face-side up, and smiled at the picture that filled the screen as the call came in from Piper herself. It was a picture of me and her the day we moved into our apartment—the apartment I still lived in—surrounded by moving boxes and mismatched furniture we’d acquired at thrift stores or on sidewalks with cardboard signs on them declaring “Free Stuff.”
She and I had come a long way. For starters, we were just kids in that picture, hardly old enough to live on our own at nineteen years old and fresh out of high school, and I was still very much in my dark and sultry stage where I thought the only eye shadow worth wearing was a smoky eye and concealer-covered lips with gloss was a good look on my fair skin.
I answered the call and lifted the phone to my ear. “Hey there, baby mama. I was just thinking about you.”
“Oh, were you now?” Piper’s voice was as enthusiastic and cheerful as ever. Since she’d moved in with Wyatt, I’d yet to talk to her when she was having a bad day. “What were you thinking about?”
“Moving into the apartment together and how neither of us had a clue of what we were doing with our hair and makeup. Or our lives, for that matter.” I chuckled and leaned back in my chair. “And look at us now. A mother to be.”
“And a boss bitch in her own private office at the Casanova Club,” Piper mused. “Who’d have thought we’d both get exactly what we wanted before we even turned twenty-five?”
I sighed. Yeah. Who’d have thought?
“How’ve you been?” I asked before the silence became the kind of thing Piper would take note of and start to worry about me. “What’s new? How’re you feeling? Still suffering with any morning sickness?”
“I’ve been doing better,” Piper said. The first few weeks of her pregnancy had been rough on her. Wyatt doted on her hand and foot, of course, and she got out of a lot of chores on the ranch, but it turned out she didn’t like that very much. She wanted to be out in the fields or the barn with her man and their two goofy ranch hands, Boone and Dodge. “No more throwing up, no more headaches, and no more aversion to the smell of cooking meat. Praise the lords.”
“And how’s that handsome cowboy husband of yours?”
Piper giggled. “Wyatt has been letting things slip on the ranch a little bit because he’s spending so much time baby-proofing the whole place.”
“Poor bastard. He knows babies can’t do anything besides shit, sleep, and cry, right?”
“He’ll figure that out soon enough. He just wants to be as prepared as possible.”
I could understand that. “And how did your doctor’s appointment go yesterday?”
“I got a clean bill of health. Baby and I are doing great. We heard the heartbeat and everything.” She lowered her voice like she was afraid someone might overhear her. “Wyatt even teared up a little bit.”
What must it feel like to be with the person you were going to spend the rest of your life with while you held their hand and heard the telltale sound of your child’s heartbeat together?
Magical, I thought.
“He’s going to be a wonderful father,” I said.
“I don’t know how I got so lucky.”
I chuckled. “You didn’t get lucky, Pipes. You busted your ass and went through hell and high water to get where you are now. Don’t ever forget that. Wyatt, too. You fought for each other.”
Piper sighed dreamily into the line. “We did, didn’t we?”
“Yes, and not everyone can say the same thing, so don’t diminish what you guys went through by chalking it up to luck. Your baby is going to be so lucky to have parents like you guys. So lucky.”
“Thank you, Janie.” Piper was quiet for a minute. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too. So much it hurts.”
“Same. When are you coming to see me?”
“Soon,” I told her. “I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to step away from work again but as soon as I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Good,” Piper gushed, “because I can’t bring myself to go shopping for anything for the baby without you. I haven’t bought so much as a pair of socks.”
I smiled. Even though I was more than disenchanted by my job and my life at the moment, at least I had a healthy bank account and would be able to pitch in and spoil the little baby brewing in my best friend’s belly when I flew to Austin. “I can’t wait to go shopping with you.”
Piper and I chatted for another ten or so minutes about how her family was doing and pregnancy. She got off the phone when Wyatt interrupted with lunch, and her giggles filled the line until I ended the call and stared numbly at my phone.
I wanted that.
For a brief period of time after the wedding, I thought I had it, too. Max and I had hit it off. Sure, we’d had a bit of a rocky start seeing as how he was Piper’s ex and all, but we quickly put all that to rest and she gave us the stamp of approval to see each other.
And see each other we had.
Max courted me with lavish dates and quality time. He made me laugh harder than anyone I’d ever known, second only to maybe Piper herself, and he made me feel safe and cherished.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
His life was in Silicon Valley and mine was in New York. After my promotion, we saw less and less of each other until it became impossible to maintain any real kind of relationship because we were always bickering about not seeing each other enough and making sacrifices. In the end, it fizzled out. We fell apart like we’d never been anything that mattered, but in my heart, I knew Max meant more to me than that.
I couldn’t count how many times I’d called or texted him while I was drunk only to receive detached messages in response. He was doing his part in a clean break where I couldn’t. After four or so months passed, I finally stopped doing that but I didn’t feel any better, especially not in my empty apartment or this glamorous office that I thought would make me happy.
I was beginning to question who I was. How could I be so out of touch with what I thought I wanted? How could I dedicate so many years of my life to a career that, now that I was right where I always imagined I’d be, left me feeling empty and unfulfilled?
Where had I started making mistakes? Where had it all fallen to pieces?