Jane’s medication wasn’t working. Over-the-counter medication wasn’t made to help you overcome the amount of pain she was in, but Jane knew she couldn’t get any more pills. She’d have to manage without them, and since chores needed to be done, she’d just have to power through.
Jane moved into the kitchen and tackled the dishes first, then she carried a laundry basket into the den to begin folding. This was where David found her as he entered the home for lunch and to change into a dressier uniform. He put his car keys next to the door and looked up to see his wife sitting on the couch with a pained look on her face.
“You don’t have to do that,” David said, thinking her pained look was from doing chores post-surgery. David continued, “I can call Mom and have her stop by.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Jane said with an underlying fierceness that shot through David like a lightning bolt. Jane finished folding one of Kate’s shirts and looked up, “And if you think I didn’t notice what you did, you’re dead wrong.”
“I’m sorry. My hand just—“
“You know good and well you don’t take those pills for pain anymore, David!” Jane hissed. She looked up with a gaze that could stop the universe, “I know exactly why you take them, and I’m sick of it! You need help. Kate has surgery in a few weeks, and if you do to her what you’ve done to me, I will never forgive you! She’s never been in real pain before, but you let her go without what she’ll legitimately need. Take her pills. Steal her comfort. Do it, David. I dare you, because you will not like the woman I become when you do.”
“I would never do that to her,” David pleaded, but Jane ignored him. She picked up the next shirt, another one of Kate’s, and folded it without looking up. David continued to grovel but Jane wasn’t listening. She wanted him away from them before that surgery, but she couldn’t say that yet. They needed one more major fuck-up to send her over the edge, but Jane wasn’t there yet. She was mad and fed up, but she wasn’t to volcano stage yet, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to, especially in front of her kids.
Francine looked up from her menu as Catherine showed up, finally. Now that the two were adults not living together, they got along fine. When Catherine invited her sister out for dinner, Francine eagerly went along. Now that the day had come, Catherine was surprised to see her sister beat her to the restaurant.
“Wow, you must’ve had a rough week,” Catherine said, sitting down and picking up a menu, “So, what’s up at work? Is the new job still as dreamy as you hoped?”
“Yes and no,” Francine admitted. Catherine looked up with a raised eyebrow. Francine nodded, “Yeah, I was surprised too, but things aren’t turning out the way I expected.”
“How so?” Catherine questioned, expecting to hear her sister talk about how the work itself was more overwhelming than she expected. Francine’s response was not what she expected:
“I love the work so much. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. But my boss is always touching me or asking me to pick up things so he can watch me. I’m paranoid about using the bathroom at work. It’s unisex so anyone can go in there. What if he has a camera set up somewhere? I’ve gone out for an early lunch so many times just to pee in a public restroom. I trust strangers more than I trust my skeezy boss!”
“Whoa, wow, Frankie, I never—Wow,” Catherine stammered, shaking her head firmly. “That sounds terrible, but have you told HR? Maybe they can do something about it.”
“I’m scared to. I just started out there, and he does it to other women too. If they haven’t done anything about it, there must be a reason,” Francine said, her voice cracking with exasperation.
“Well, my psychology degree taught me plenty about things like this, and I’ve seen this situation before. It’s like the Bystander Effect but slightly different. Instead of everyone witnessing a murder, assault, rape, what have you, they’re all being sexually harassed and hoping someone else will speak up for them. You’re in the same position. You’re hoping someone else will speak up so you won’t have to.”
Francine nodded, “Of course I am. I don’t want to risk my career so early on over something this stupid.”
“It’s not stupid if you really feel that uncomfortable,” Catherine said. The young women stopped their conversation to place their orders with the waiter, then Catherine continued, “If you feel that badly about what’s going on, you won’t be able to do your work properly. That will be more detrimental to your career than anything else.”
Francine sipped her drink and nodded softly, “I never really thought of it like that, but I’m worried. What if I do go to HR and nothing happens? What if I speak up and I’m the one that gets taken down instead? I need this job.”
“I know you need this job, but think about the situation. If enough of you do come forward, they won’t be able to stop any of you. I think you need to invite coworkers individually to lunch or dinner and approach them on the issue. Besides, they might be able to tell you if they have gone to HR before or not, and if they did go, what results did they get? You won’t know until you approach them,” Catherine smiled.
Francine agreed with her sister, “You’re right, but I never thought I’d be in a situation like this.”
“No one ever thinks they’ll be in a position like this until it happens, then they have to decide. You either put up with it or you put your foot down. Both take different skills, and let me tell you, Frankie, I know you too well to watch you put up with this and not do anything. You’re too strong to just say ‘meh, whatever,’ to his behavior, and you know it,” Catherine said with a persuasive enthusiasm that convinced Francine she’d done the right thing by talking to her. She left the dinner with a plan of action, one that she hoped would work.
Fern didn’t expect the book to be finished this soon. Somehow the ending came to her, and she stayed up all night writing out the necessary pages. Now, far sooner than expected, the project she’d battled with for months was finally done. She looked it over just to make sure she hadn’t skipped a part or left something out. Her outline and the pages matched—her novel was finally done.
Fern made herself breakfast and thought about what this meant. Once she put it in manuscript format, she could start sending it off as soon as possible. After work that afternoon, she could get to work sending it out, though part of her wanted to wait. She’d just finished it overnight in a whirlwind of words she never thought she’d write. How could she send it off for judgement so soon in its young life?
As she finished eating, she knew she had to push forward. If she ever wanted success, she had to risk grave failure. She’d known that for years, and now she just needed to put that lesson to practice…after work.
After downing a mug of coffee, Fern went upstairs and changed into her uniform. She then came back downstairs after hearing her name. She entered the kitchen and found her mother looking over a stack of mail. She passed three letters to Fern. One was a credit card offer, but the other two were from publishers, people Fern had forgotten about.
“Well? What’s the verdict?” Doria asked with a light smile, walking with her daughter to the table in the breakfast nook. Fern used a butter knife handle to break the seal, then she pulled out the pages within each letter.
Doria was surprised when Fern passed her the rejection notices. How could people be so cold? How could people say such things to her daughter? Fern was unfazed. She was used to this now, and a couple more rejection letters meant nothing. She’d just put them upstairs with the rest. She’d been tempted to write “THE I TOLD YOU SO BOX” on the side because that’s what it was to her, but her mother didn’t understand.
“Is this the way they all are?” Doria asked. Fern nodded as she put the letters back together. Doria scoffed, “Well that’s just ridiculous. I can’t believe they treat you this way. I want to do something, Fern. What are our options?”
“I have a new project I’m going to start sending out soon. You can help me pay for the prints,” Fern suggested.
Doria shook her head, “No, I don’t think you should play this game. I meant something else.”
“Mom, that’s how it works. I don’t want to self-publish, so I have to do this. I’m fine, really. If you want to be a writer, you have to expect rejection. Not everyone is going to like everything you do,” Fern said firmly. Doria still didn’t understand, but Fern didn’t have time to argue. She took her letters upstairs and grabbed her things. She was out the door before her mother could say anything else, but the encounter did sit with her. What if she did have to self-publish? Could she really be successful?
Fern didn’t know, but she knew she needed money. She made her way to the Greasy Burger and started her shift.
Sue Ellen was getting coffee in the school’s cafeteria when she felt someone watching her. She turned to see Pierre, a classmate of hers that she often studied with. He waved her over to his table so she sat with him, stirring her coffee as she looked Pierre over. He was the picture of happiness, and Sue Ellen envied him. She barely remembered what happiness felt like. Life for her was a fake smile while clutching her books for dear life.
“I’ve wanted to ask you a question for a while now,” Pierre said, pulling out a newspaper and passing it towards her, “Is your family okay with hearing this on the news knowing that you’re here?”
“I’m beginning to think they don’t get any news over there,” Sue Ellen scoffed. Pierre seemed surprised, so Sue Ellen explained, “They want me to live this dream for them, but they seem to forget that this is my life. I’ve hoped for a while that they would call and demand I get out of her as quick and as safely as possible, but so far I’ve had no such luck.”
“So you’re living your parents’ dream?” Pierre questioned.
Sue Ellen corrected him, “No, my mother’s dream. My father wanted me to do whatever I wished, and I wanted to continue my schooling where I got my first degree from. Then Mom got all gushy, so I told her I’d come here. I’m beginning to think I’ve made the biggest mistake of my entire life, no offense to you or anyone else I’ve met here.”
“No, no, I understand. This isn’t your life, and I think you should take it back. You should do whatever you can to convince them to let you come home. If you don’t want to be here, you shouldn’t be here. Their actions have hurt your senses. You now can no longer see the beauties of France.”
“You’re right,” Sue Ellen nodded, “I can’t see how beautiful France is when I feel like I live in a virtual reality the size of a shoebox. I’ve…I’ve thought of telling them for a while, but maybe now is the time.”
Pierre smiled, “It is. I saw your score over your shoulder the other week. You should leave now while your, how does it go? While your head is above water,” Pierre grinned. Sue Ellen nodded. She just couldn’t help but agree.
Jenna swooned as she sat up. She’d been inside the bathroom for a while now without food, and the water she was getting wasn’t helping. She and her baby needed more than this, but she doubted Frank would listen. He hadn’t cared about her needs before, so why should he now?
As she came to her senses, she realized she could hear Frank’s truck. She listened for several minutes, then the sound changed, growing louder as he backed out of the driveway. Then he left, leaving the neighborhood behind.
Jenna knew this was her chance. She started picking at the window, and to her surprise, it practically fell out of place. The opening was barely wide enough for her and her pregnant belly, and Jenna was worried she’d be too lightheaded to go through safely. But soon her feet were on the ground and she was on her way up the street.
The woman she encountered was immediately concerned. She helped Jenna into her kitchen and quickly scraped together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Jenna thanked her, and after eating half, she begged the woman to help her get to the bus station and to Elwood City.
The woman eyed Jenna carefully, “Were you being held against your will?”
“Lately yes. He’s horrible, terrible. I’m afraid for my life and my baby’s life. We can’t live like this. I know that now, and I just wish I’d gotten away sooner.”
“Well, we can’t change the past,” the woman said as she snatched up her keys. She then handed them to Jenna, “I hope you can drive. I can’t see more than a few feet past my head without my glasses.”
“How will you get back home?” Jenna asked with great concern.
The woman smiled, “Don’t worry about me. Take the car to the bus station. There should be fifty dollars in the glove compartment. Just leave it there and I’ll have my daughter and her husband go get it later together. You get back home to people who love you, and hurry. Just take that sandwich with you.”
Jenna did exactly as she was told. She knew now that she had to get away from Frank, so she went on her journey. She found the money and used it to get one-way ticket home. The bus arrived and Jenna boarded it without opposition. She made it back to the city, and after a few unsuccessful tries, she was finally able to borrow a cellphone to call her family. Her mother was elated to hear from her and eagerly came to her rescue. Jenna smiled. She hoped that she would finally be free.
Muffy wandered the streets for a while before her stomach forced her into a local café. As she nibbled at the cheapest menu item, a child-sized sandwich with barely enough toppings to cover the bread the sandwich was made on, she wondered what was going to happen to her. She sipped at her ice water and thought of the few contacts she had in the area. Almost everyone she knew worked at the company, and the only one that had ever tried to help her was currently having raucous sex in the bed Muffy was once able to sleep in.
The thought of her life situation caused Muffy to push her food away. She shook her head firmly as she tried to force back tears. A few slipped, and Muffy cursed herself. A woman from another table noticed somehow and was instantly at her side, demanding to know what was wrong so she could help her. Muffy was evasive, but the woman was persuasive.
Then the woman stopped suddenly. A soft smile formed on her lips, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” she asked. Muffy slowly shook her head. The woman laughed, “It’s me, Maria. We went to school together back in Elwood City.”
“I thought you’d moved out to California,” Muffy said with surprise.
Maria laughed, “Oh that old rumor. Well at least you hadn’t heard the other one. People don’t take too kindly to that.”
“That you’re an escort?” Muffy questioned, causing Maria’s smile to fade. Muffy sighed, “Look, I don’t judge you. It’s money, and at least you have a freer life than I do.”
“Especially now that escort services are legal here in Metropolis,” Maria winked. “Look, I have an apartment that you can stay at if you need to. I don’t know what’s wrong because you won’t tell me, but I’d like to help you. You just have to understand my way of life is frowned upon by our former neighbors and classmates. In fact, I was surprised you didn’t really react.”
“I’ve just had a rough day. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but not right now. But I could use a place to go right now, so I think I will take you up on the offer. Maybe we can work something out. I don’t really make enough for my own place,” Muffy whispered.
Maria’s face reacted to that information, but she said nothing. The women finished their meals before taking a taxi to Maria’s apartment. It was in the same building that Muffy was already staying in, but Maria’s room seemed nicer by comparison. Muffy smiled. Her surprise encounter had paid off, and somehow the behavior Elwood City frowned upon afforded Maria more luxury than Muffy had ever expected.
Ladonna needed groceries. She had no choice but to take the file-mile journey into town to get the bare necessities, and the only way she could do it without fear was to go well after midnight when she knew her mother would be asleep.
Bread, eggs, milk—Ladonna tossed them all in, adding a jar of grape jelly, two boxes of tea bags, and a large 20-pound bag of sugar. She wanted some soda for herself and some chocolate chip cookies so she added those too. Then she went to the one cashier, who eyed her suspiciously as she rang up the items.
“Will this be all?” she asked in a flat voice.
Ladonna nodded and forked over sixty dollars for the items. She received her change and helped the woman finish her bagging. As Ladonna put the last bag into the cart, the cashier cleared her throat. Ladonna looked up and the cashier cracked a smile. Ladonna was instantly perplexed. What did she want?
“I know who you are. You’re one of those Compson kids. Why are you coming in here so late? I know no one is sick or you would’ve gotten some medicine too,” she said with a hint of concern.
Ladonna was defensive, “We’re fine. I just love getting out at night.”
In a huff, Ladonna made it out to the parking lot. She rushed home and got the groceries inside as carefully as she could. When she was done, she practically tore off her jeans and tucked herself into bed.
Then she heard it, the moans and cries that came from her mother’s night terrors. Ladonna sighed heavily. She was tired, exhausted—very eager for sleep to come. She had to see if her mother would break out of the terror on her own, but as the cries grew louder, Ladonna knew she had to go in there.
Sure enough, her mother had slipped to the floor, her right leg being caught up in the sheets. She flailed and begged for the monster to let her go, so Ladonna freed her mother and held her close. Soon the shaking and screaming stopped, and as if it never happened, she woke up and studied Ladonna closely.
“Ladonna, go back to bed. I’m fine,” she whispered. She picked herself up and put herself into bed as if she wasn’t sick, as if she was entirely with the world. Ladonna was stunned, but she was too tired to argue with her. She went back to bed and decided to put on pajamas in case it happened again. Then she sank into bed with a heavy sigh, her mind reluctant to wonder what tomorrow would bring.
Bitzi looked up from her desk as the layouts were delivered in the workroom. Bitzi went outside, her eyes landing on the hot delivery guy. She couldn’t help but look in his direction when his strong biceps rippled as he lifted heavy objects. She wanted a man like that. She needed a man like that. But she had work to do.
Bitzi looked over the layouts and noticed a few punctuation errors and some names that didn’t look right. She sent them away, causing the delivery boy to lift the plates. Bitzi turned away and went to her office. She had no choice if she wanted to keep herself focused while at work.
As she sank into her office chair, Bitzi let out a sigh. Her phone buzzed and she looked down to the notification. One of her dating apps had found a local match who messaged her to ask about a dinner date. Bitzi quickly eyed his profile and decided he was nothing worse than the others. She accepted the date and got the reservation. He wanted to eat at an Italian bistro downtown, and Bitzi was fine with that idea.
After work, she got dressed up and went down to the restaurant a few minutes early. To her surprise, the guy was already there. His name was Kevin and he shook her hand cordially as they went to the hostess station. They were led to a table next to the kitchen, and the two cracked jokes as they looked over the menu.
But after eating their salads, Bitzi felt the shift. His attitude changed as the salads were replaced with a shared ravioli dish. Suddenly he couldn’t continue the date and stood to leave.
“Could you explain this to me?” Bitzi begged.
“I’m sorry, no. I just have to go,” he said quickly, placing a hundred dollar bill on the table before darting away.
Bitzi groaned, “Well at least he’s going to cover the check. Another dinner alone,” she whispered, taking a huge bite of pasta. As she chewed, she felt eyes on her. Bitzi turned to see a guy who looked just like Kevin eying her closely. She turned fully and he stepped forward, “What are you doing?”
“Just trying to gauge the situation. I have some explaining to do,” he grinned. He sighed as he stifled a giggle, “I’m really Kevin. You just met my twin, Ken, who thinks it’s fun to use my dating profile to meet women. He’s not the same as me. He’s not successful, he doesn’t keep a job very long, and he’s not very brave. But I guess he did something right because you don’t seem as angry as the others.”
“I finally have something different to blog about,” Bitzi laughed, “Wow, twins playing games with me through a dating app. Well at least Ken/Kevin/Whoever decided to cover the check.”
“Yeah, that’s my money, but I don’t mind. I would like to join you if you’re up for it,” Kevin smiled. Bitzi shrugged, and Kevin instantly had a fork in his hand and a bite of ravioli in his mouth. Kevin shook his head, “I’m glad you’re handling this better than the others. I’ve had some interesting situations.”
“I’m sure. How many of them knew you were lying?” Bitzi asked, causing Kevin to cough and reach for his water.
“Lying? Why would I lie about something like that?”
“So you could impress someone, I guess. I’m not you so I don’t know how this works, but you’re Kevin. If there is a Ken, he’s not here. I watched you,” Bitzi said flatly, grabbing a bite of ravioli and putting it into her mouth. She used her fork to point to a silver, globe-like decoration high on the wall.
Kevin muttered a curse under his breath before smiling, “Well, you got me. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I don’t intend to tell anyone but my followers, not that I use names. I’ll give you credit, you gave me something different tonight, but there will not be a second date with you or whatever else you’ve got lurking in your family tree,” Bitzi said, laughing to herself, “At least you’ve done better than the others, but you could be hiding something else. Anyone willing to lie about a twin is probably willing to shine a cellphone camera up my skirt.”
The change in Kevin’s face told Bitzi she’d accidentally come across his other secret. Before she could snatch his phone away or anything else, Kevin darted out of the restaurant for good this time. Bitzi wasn’t going to let him get away. She called Detective Clark Simmons, a good friend of hers at the Elwood City Police Department. He met her outside the restaurant and took her statement at the coffee shop next door. He promised to catch the perp, but there wasn’t much he could do without a real last name.
Bitzi decided just to head home and relay the story to her blog. It was written anonymously with fake names all around, even this entry where Kevin became a criminal by the end of the date. She posted it around ten-thirty, and by eleven, she was already getting comments. Bitzi would read them later. She poured herself a glass of wine and ran herself a bubble bath. She sank into the water, letting the heat from the water massage away the filth of her day.
Belinda woke up as the front door closed. She checked her clock and saw it was nine-thirty. She put on her robe and walked into the living room, where she found her husband in the kitchen with some groceries.
“I thought you were at work,” Belinda said. Charles smiled as he turned around. He handed her an unsigned card for their anniversary. Belinda blushed, “I’m so sorry I forgot. It’s been such a tiring week.”
“I know it has, and I’ve been thinking about it. I talked to some friends, and they think you need to find another job. Even if you have to commute, there has to be something else you can get. I know you’re loyal to the hospital, but they treat you like a dog,” Charles said firmly.
“I know they do,” Belinda nodded, “and I think I’ve reached that point. If you want to help me find listings in your spare time, I’ll look into them. I’m just fed up with being treated like this. They took away my Sunday off this time, and I doubt I’ll get to go next week either. I’m so done. I mean, why am I forgetting our anniversary? I should be the one reminding you.”
“Well, Mei-Lin remembered and wanted to do something special, as did Binky. I told them your work situation, and they both said they understood, but I know better. Go on back to bed and I’ll leave you some leftovers. I have to get back to the office right now, but I thought I’d take care of you now so you could actually enjoy it. But I want it to be a surprise.”
Belinda smiled and went back to bed. She managed to go back to sleep despite the sounds from the kitchen, and when she was up again, it was because her alarm woke her. Belinda ate the dish her husband prepared and left him a romantic note. Then she showered and put on her scrubs. Within an hour of waking up, she was clocking in at the hospital, a blank expression on her face. As she predicted, the schedule for the following week was released. Her day off had been replaced by a swing shift—she could either show up for the morning shift or the evening shift.
Belinda shook her head. She had to find something else now because she couldn’t afford to walk off the job, not until she had another job to run to.
Anita was getting breakfast in town when she ran into a frazzled Mrs. Morgan. The two exchanged glances at the counter as they got their meals together, but neither said a word to each other as they went their separate ways. Anita just couldn’t handle anyone right now, and she moved to a far corner of the shop to eat by herself.
As she flipped through her phone, she realized she had a meeting later that morning with one of her friends and investors. She sighed and finished her food quickly so she could make the meeting on time. When she was done, she rushed over, somehow hitting each redlight with precision for less stops.
Once inside, Anita found her friend’s office and stepped inside. Doria stood and hugged her before returning to her seat. Anita sat across from her with a sigh.
“Oh, you had a long evening, didn’t you? Are things still rough at home?” Doria questioned. Anita merely looked up and Doria nodded, “That’s what I thought. Tell me everything.”
“James is just not what I expected, and Alan is still confounding both of us. I need to get my franchise started and he’s doing his own thing out in Chicago. I’m worried about him, but being home with his father and taking care of my business keeps me distracted. I just don’t know what to do, especially about his drinking,” Anita said in a low whisper.
“Gosh, he’s still doing that? Well, I guess it’s a good thing I found this online. So, one of my friends has a husband like that. If there’s a problem, minor or major, truth or fiction, he’s got booze on him. She got so fed up that she finally looked into rehab centers. If you can prove they’re a danger to themselves or others, some rehab centers can forcibly take them in,” Doria smirked. “Doesn’t James have that DUI on his record from last year?”
“Yes, and he keeps driving too,” Anita sighed, “but I don’t know if I want to ship him off. Do you think it’s the right thing to do?”
“I think you’d do better with a husband in rehab instead of a husband in jail for a vehicular homicide charge from a DUI wreck,” Doria said firmly.
Anita nodded. Doria Walters wouldn’t lie to her about that, as she had always looked out for her before. Anita accepted some paperwork about the person and tucked it into her purse.
“Well, I didn’t just call you in here to talk to you about your husband. Your business is worthy, and I want to continue my investments with the same cut. You’ve done well enough to keep making me some spending money, and I’m going to need it. I’ve got to help Fern get published.”
Anita nodded, “I’ll get the contract written up and you can sign it whenever I make it that far.”
The women agreed, then their busy schedules pulled them away. Anita made her way to the ice cream shop and started preparing the place for the day with her staff. The work kept her mind busy, but she was still concerned with her future, as well as her husband’s.
Molly looked up from her form as James walked into the kitchen. He was groggy from staying up too late, but he was eager to get his day started. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and pulled the milk from the refrigerator. He tested it first, taking a whiff of it. He immediately poured it down the sink.
“I was wondering about that. Do you remember when I got groceries last?” Molly asked. James shrugged as he sat across from her, reaching into his bowl and eating the dry cereal by hand. Molly sighed, “Let’s see if I can at least afford some milk today.”
“And toilet paper and toothpaste. I’m out,” James said as he chewed his cereal with his mouth open.
“Oh, I can get toothpaste for free at school, and maybe some toilet paper if you don’t mind having one of those giant rolls in the bathroom. That’s how I got paper towels that one time,” Molly smirked. James shrugged. He didn’t care either way as long as they had it. “Well, that’s where I’ll be heading after I turn in this form. I graduate soon, which means I don’t have to be the receptionist anymore.”
“You’ll finally be able to clean the teeth?” James asked.
“Yep,” Molly nodded, “I’ll finally move my way up. Dr. Mallory is really happy about it too. She hopes I’ll go on for my dental degree, but that will have to wait. So, what about you?”
“Just lectures today, but I have an essay due online Sunday night,” James sighed. “I’ll get it all done. So, are we going to visit Mom’s grave anytime soon? I dreamed about her last night, and I think I want to go visit her.”
Molly thought about it for a moment. It had been a long time since they went to visit, but they were both so busy with school. Now that she was about to graduate, she would have more time on her hands, but Molly was thinking of using it to get a second job instead. She would have to think about it, but she wanted more of an income so she wouldn’t have to worry about money. She thought of asking James to get a job, but she didn’t want to stress him out.
“Molly?” James asked.
“Yeah, sorry,” Molly laughed, “I’ll think about it, okay? I’ve got a lot to do today, and I probably won’t get home until late. I need to take an extra hour or so for a little more cash at work if we want food. Don’t worry about anything though. Let me do that.”
“What if I want to worry about that? Look, one of my friends has a job at a skate shop. I was thinking of asking if there were any openings so I could work there and make extra money, that way we can order out more and get better cable,” James smiled. He seemed so happy, but Molly had to protest. When James pushed her again, she conceded. She wanted her brother’s help whether she would openly admit it or not.
Once they were done with breakfast, the two left home and went about their day, but their morning stuck with Molly. Maybe they weren’t getting on as good as she thought. Maybe she needed a little more than extra money.
Prunella’s work always started early. She was the lifeblood of a local advertising firm, and it was up to her to run the office. She manned the phones, she responded to emails, she did inventory, she picked up deliveries and sent out packages—everything the company needed to get their jobs done easier. It was also up to her to keep clients happy, and as she entered the office five-til-five, she knew it was going to be one of those difficult days. Her first email’s subject was URGENT and it was from a very picky person from before.
As she expected, things had gone wrong in their eyes and it was up to Prunella to play detective and sort things out. She went back through archived emails and found their request, as well as the items they created to fulfill said request. She sent the items back to the client in a polite way, but it really begged to ask, “Your move.”
After handling that first crisis, one of the artists came in early to begin their day. Prunella helped them with the office’s main printer before sitting back down at her desk. As she settled into her chair and looked back to her email, her phone buzzed. It wasn’t a number she recognized, but she decided to answer it anyway because of Rubella’s situation. Sure enough, it was Dr. Mano:
“Hello, Prunella, I’m sorry to bother you at such an hour, but I have some questions about your sister’s health. I need to know if she’s done certain things before so we can decide if they’re warning signs or not,” he explained. Prunella asked him to continue, and he did, “Your sister seems to have delusions about things that we assume have not happened. Was she really stood up at the altar?”
Prunella stifled a heavy laugh before shaking her head, “No, Doctor. She’s never had a boyfriend beyond six months, and that one was because the guy wanted some bet money.”
“Alright, and did she ever release a pet fish into the ocean to free its soul?” Dr. Mano questioned.
“I’m afraid not, Doctor. Rubella’s only pet was a cat, Shish-Bob, and that was before my time. I think he was hit by a car, but I’m afraid I have no one to ask to reference that information,” Prunella responded.
“And one more thing. She said you knew her medical history and could attest to several illnesses not listed in her files that require medications. Is that true?”
“I know everything she’s pretended to have because she wouldn’t let me get away from it. Listen, Doctor, I’ve been taking my sister to and from appointments for a long time because I wanted to keep an eye on her. I’ve been waiting for this day to come, the day when a real mental health professional takes a look at you. Your calling with these questions only proves my point. There has to be something wrong with her, even if she’s a delusional liar. There is some part of her that is ill.”
Dr. Mano sighed, “I hate to prove you correct, but we’re still early in the evaluation. I just needed to double check those things to make sure. Have you ever said anything to her doctors before?”
Prunella allowed herself to laugh, “No because they already knew she was full of it. Rubella has proven herself to certain doctors to be a hypochondriac. What I want you to discover is what else she has along with that, or the mental defect that’s causing it all. If she’s just neurotic, so be it, but I know in my heart that something is probably wrong with her. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work,” Prunella said, ending the call before Dr. Mano could protest. Several more workers had arrived, and it was her job to make sure they were on task for the day.
And as she wanted, Prunella had the office running smoothly well before sunup. Because of her sister’s psych evaluation, she knew there wouldn’t be any surprise calls asking her to be anywhere or long, drawn-out emails asking about symptoms in relation to some disease. With Rubella locked away, Prunella was free, and she felt better than she had in a very long time.
Marina was walking past the board room near the headmaster’s office when she realized the board of trustees was meeting. Marina stalled at a bench nearby, stopping to fix her shoe and tidy her books. It was really an act so she could eavesdrop without being caught.
“I’m afraid the accounts are dry. Some of our biggest benefactors have decided not to donate this fiscal year because they too are facing losses, and I’m worried about how the school will continue next year unless we start charging tuition.”
“We cannot charge tuition to these students. This is the only place they have, but I have another solution, be it an unpopular one.”
The group murmured as Marina picked up a book a pretended to flip through it nearby. She was on the edge of her seat to hear what solution the member wanted to propose.
“I think we need to go public and begin accepting money from state agencies. This was unpopular in the past because the leadership that was brought in didn’t understand the needs of our students, but times have changed dramatically since then.”
“I don’t know if our parents will go for that. They took their kids out of public school for a reason. We’re a non-profit that doesn’t charge tuition. I see no reason why anything should change. We can apply for more grants and hold fundraisers for more benefactors.”
The group continued to argue the situation, but it was clear that this group was not up for any changes, even if it meant saving the school. Going public to accept state money was out of the picture, and Marina grew worried. She knew things were growing desperate, and she decided to return to her classroom to take her mind off the issue.
But she couldn’t escape. After she’d been in her room a moment, she heard someone enter. Anthony identified himself and put a form on her desk. The school had rejected his field trip application.
“I’m so sorry,” Marina apologized.
Anthony nodded as he sat on a desk, “I knew you would be. I’m worried about how next year is going to go, and well,” he paused, chuckling softly, “you know who just had to call me today. My father wants me for his private school. All those prep school kids with their privilege. None of them have seen hardship a day in their life up there, yet he wants me to teach them for three times what I make here.”
“That’s tempting at this point despite the type of kids you’ll be working with. I’m pretty worried myself,” Marina admitted.
“What will you do if they close this school? Have you ever worked anywhere else?” Anthony asked.
Marina shook her head, “I’ve only volunteered, but I could only do so much because of how people saw me. Finding another job would be really difficult, but I might have to try it. I’ve overheard some things, and I just hope we can find a way out of this, otherwise…yeah, we’re in trouble. Well, I am. You have a solution, and I guess the kids can try public school again. We’re the ones out of jobs and out of luck.”
“I could talk to my father if that happens. If he hears good things from me and likes your transcripts, he’ll agree to meet you. As for actually hiring you with your disability, I don’t know. I’ll have to really convince him, but I think I can do it. You’re a nice person and I’d love to help you. I’d love to help everyone, but he’s a last resort. This really is Rich Kid Land,” Anthony grinned.
Marina knew to let him work his magic if the day came, but she wasn’t looking forward to that kind of school either. If she had to go to one, she would, but it wasn’t her first choice, not that she had anything else to choose from.