The morning after. I wake to the soft shimmering light of dawn and thankfully not the brighter glare of a sun that’s risen higher in the sky. This light is milky, lavender with little hints of grey and even a rose cast. Predictably, my head hurts but not as bad as I’d expected. The tequila had been limited to a few shots and we’d lingered over rich red wine, sipping berries and chocolate. The guy in the next room is my brother and not some random pickup. I feel warm.
Rolling over amidst the fluffiness of my white bedspread I glance around. Trotsky is curled up in a corner, having given up on the bed for some inexplicable and unusual reason. Usually, the dog is curled up next to me and snoring loudly. Initially, I’d tried to keep the beast on the floor but eventually gave up. Last night he’d clung to Ron, evidently liking my brother immediately and taking possession as dogs are prone to do when they think a new victim will fall for their charms and give them the endless attention they seemingly crave.
“Traitor,” I mutter and the dog just lifts his head and give me a passing glance before falling back to sleep. He looks so dark in the corner even as the lighting is still that fresh dim of a new day. I’m jealous of Trotsky as I roll over and pull the comforter closer. It’s 5:55 AM but years of waking up early make falling asleep again highly unlikely.
My head does hurt a little and I wonder at our escapes. How come so much of what gives us a short-term liberation ends up being so painfully confining so quickly thereafter? Yet at the time we make the decision to eat or drink or shop or whatever the long-term implications of our decision don’t seem to carry much weight. I’m stiff from skipping yesterday’s workout, as befit my trips to the hospital instead. Somehow I always hurt more the day after not exercising, the opposite of how my body responds to too much alcohol. Some sort of message in that reality, pain from not doing good, but right now I don’t much care.
Still warm and cozy, not ready to face my day, I mentally begin to assemble a rough schedule of what absolutely must be done today or everything else will fall apart. Visit my mom in the hospital (call first; great that no one called us overnight, right?), deal with finalizing my product line since I now have a shipping deadline, address the Brad issue and face Ron down until I do and get some breakfast to break the nausea of too much salt and tequila last night. Most importantly, make my way to the coffee machine and turn it on.
But I don’t move. Instead, I feel paralyzed and completely overwhelmed. How do I address both an existential crisis and a threat to my business when I’m not really an especially strong person? I’m fine at posing and presenting an image, like most people are, happy to smile in public and collapse in private. But such masks are like make-up and wash away with any hint of water.
The water is pouring again now and I feel the first tear hit my cheek but will away the rest. Lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself is one answer and perhaps if today was Saturday and my hospital-ridden mom didn’t need a visit from her children then I’d take that route. Trotsky doesn’t move her head though her eyes are following me as I haul myself out of bed and feel the cool dark wood floors on my feet. I make my way to the bathroom adjoining my bedroom and duly confirm that my eyes are indeed a little bloodshot. Ron and I went to bed at 10:30 but I didn’t fall asleep for a long time.
So I wash my face and try to feel some sort of absolution from the gesture, a washing away of weakness, fear and selfishness. I’ve already heard noise outside my bedroom and know that Ron is up. The waft of strong coffee is already making its way to me and I’m glad, as always, that my brother is so responsible. He’s taking care of me now just like he did when we were little neglected kids.
I get ready to face him, but quickly scan my emails first. No calls or texts from my wayward asshole soon to be ex-boyfriend. Brad is so sure of himself, but he’s about to lose control of one thing he thought was a sure bet – my company. I’ll need to hit the phones today to see if I can find an alternate source of capital to grow Muse, my life. Do I break up with him before or after securing the money? Well that’s a question for Ron.
So I step bravely into the hallway, my first question in hand. Many more will follow. As soon as the door opens Trotsky, the clunky traitor is up and darting to his new best friend, my brother. I see his little brown body run down the hallway and then my brother bends down to pet the beast. Ron is, of course, already on his cell phone and working. But he still makes time for the dog and flashes me a smile.
I grab a mug and pour some coffee, glad for the jolt of caffeine and the familiarity of everything around me. My home is comfort, so are my dog and my brother. I need them. As I sip I listen to Ron as he slowly lists some action items for whomever is on the call. Then he ends it and we move to my round oak table and sit, dog still trailing Ron.
“She’s okay,” he says as I sit. “I spoke to the doctor a few minutes ago.”
“Did he sleep there?” I ask, puzzled but also surprised. The man had already looked tired when I saw him earlier yesterday.`
“No idea. Not really any of my business. But he’d given me his cell so I called,” Ron said, sipping and looking not exactly tired but weary. It was an unusual mood for him as he usually just keeps going despite lack of sleep or too much stress. And Mom’s stroke is just more than a normal daily occurrence.
“He’s at the hospital now. Do you have time to meet with him this morning, when he has a little time?” I need to be on a conference call in 30 minutes and can’t miss it.” Ron smiles at me and I know I can’t refuse his request. He covered for me yesterday when I had a meeting and this is teamwork.
“Of course,” I reply, tucking my leg under me and knowing that I probably just lost another morning workout and if I keep this up my jeans really will be snug, not just perhaps imaginarily so. And Brad will of course tell me. Again. If he gets to see me once more. But for now I’m just dodging.
“I’ll take a shower in a minute and head out,” I say. “You set?”
Ron nods and I see him glance at his phone. The modern ailment. “What does the doctor want to discuss?” I ask but Ron just shrugs. “We’ll meet up later, for dinner?” At that I get a nod and stand. “You’ll make your own breakfast?” I ask him as I head to a cabinet and pull out a peanut butter Cliff bar. My breakfast.
“You’re going to deal with that asshole you’re not dating?” Ron asks, and his voice has an edge to it. He’s wearing a faded navy t-shirt and baggy classic Levis. How they stay on when they look so loose I have no idea. But his clothes aren’t my business just like my mom’s doctor’s sleep patterns aren’t either.
“Do I find other money before breaking up with him or not?” I ask, ripping my Cliff wrapper and joining him at the table again, after making my way around his brown shaggy groupee.
“It won’t matter,” Ron replies. “He won’t fund you without taking over the company one way or another. I know guys like that and you’ve let him get too close. You convinced yourself that you couldn’t do it alone but you can. So now prove it.”
Ron looks determined and sure of his words but I’m so not sure and I’m scared. As I’ve been my whole life. I need to juggle a lot of burdens and responsibilities running this company and sometimes I feel alone. Brad did offer some good advice along the way, and of course seemingly he only did it thinking one day the company would be his. He even advised me to turn down an offer to buy it last year for a ridiculous sum of money because he convinced me that it would be worth so much more within a year. And it is.
“I can loan you $100,000 but I want equity too. Standard terms,” Ron says with a smile and I smile back.
“It’s going to be okay, isn’t it?” I ask, pleading my big brother once again to help me be strong. I was so scared always as a little girl when we were left alone or with babysitters because mom had to work. Then, as now, I’d listen to Ron’s voice and know that I’d be okay, believing him as he told me so. From that experience I probably did learn to be too dependent on older and bigger men.
And Brad, my soon to be ex, is tall. At 6’1 he seems large, not wide but just broad enough not to be scrawny. He claims a proud athletic past but now only makes it to the gym a few days a week to lift weights and maybe ride an exercise bicycle a bit. His belly has gotten a little softer and his cheeks puffier since I first met him. In his mid-thirties, his brown hair is already showing a little grey and his round brown eyes have little wrinkles around them. He looks like a beginning to age preppy, which is what he is. Newport Beach raised, he grew up in a mansion with a boat. And he treats most people like servants.
Why did I stay with him for so long?
I was never with Brad for the money though when I first started dating him I loved going out to the expensive restaurants I’d only heard about before then. In college I’d dated a little but never men who could afford Spago, or Mastros, Katsuya or Toscana. These names weren’t new to me but I’d never been inside other than when a friend’s parents had taken me along with them for dinner.
And he took me to trendier restaurants and newly opened clubs. That, I have to admit, had been heady and just plain fun. Mostly, I’d been working since I could get a job and suddenly I felt like a princess.
He’d been mean even then but I didn’t really know how a man was supposed to treat me. My own father, by being absent for most of my childhood, left one more void in this area. What did I know about men, marriage, relationships or being respected? Nothing.
Brad was canny enough to exploit my lack of experience, naiveté and wide eyes. He gave me a new world and I embraced it. On my end, I fell for the act. Another mask and one I wanted to believe. I actually did love him for a while. He might be a selfish jerk but he brought out the best in me, creativity and daring, a willingness to risk and try to aim higher. And the illusions of our illusory relationship worked until like vapors the foundations of our relationship dissipated slowly away.
He’d likely found a new bright young thing to encourage when he wasn’t trying to steal my company. And me? I was digging in, staking my claim and calling it my own.
“Okay, I’ll call Brad now,” I tell Ron, still petting my dog and drinking my mug of dark bitter coffee. Ron’s phone is perched on the table, abandoned as he focuses on me, for which I’m grateful .
So I dial the number, quickly caressing my dog (my dog!) behind the ear as I do. And the phone just rings and rings and rings. Another man missing in action. First last night and now this morning.
I looked at Ron and then shrug.
Dialing Frankie next to let my assistant know that I’ll be heading to the hospital before work I wonder again at all I need to juggle before this morning is done. She picks up on the fourth ring and I hear that girlish voice of hers, a little spacey but enough focused to survive my workload.
“I need to head to the hospital before work this morning,” I say, picturing her with her mint tea and whatever else she does while I’m not around. Burn incense? I do that too.
“How’s your mom?” she asks and I hear someone in her background. Another thing that’s not my business. So I try to stay calm and just answer that horrible question.
“Ok. No, not so good.” Frankie sighs and when I hear the sympathy in that sound I know I need to get off the phone.
But before I do, I add an afterthought. “Don’t put through calls or forward them from Brad today.”
“He’s in meetings all morning,” she replies and we both stop. How does my assistant know that my boyfriend is in meetings all morning?
I hang up and glance at Ron. Then I tell him what I just heard. We’re in agreement that I need to watch this situation. As if I need another conflict this morning.
“Get the money and dump his ass. The order is your preference but I know what I’d do first,” he tells me with that crooked grin. And I laugh and smile back and go to my room to get dressed and ready for the hospital. My mom will want to be cheered up so I grab a glittery fuchsia eyeliner which I mix with grey and add darkened cheeks and a nude lip, matte, with pink undertone. And I’m ready to meet with mom, her adorable sleepless doctor and even Los Angeles traffic. And my brother and puppy will be here later to keep me sane.
I mute my phone and head out. By the end of the day I know I’ll be a totally different person.