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“MacMunn explores how losing everything can empower you…an inspiring novel that relates two women from different eras in a life goal of finding out how to be happy.”
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“… deeply satisfying chronicle of a woman opening her eyes, finding her power, and succeeding on her own terms.”
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Copyright © 2012 Sheryn MacMunn
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
“I can’t believe my friends were right,” was all Sheila Davenport could think as she stared at Joe. After seven years of defending him and being so sure their relationship was solid, it turned out her friends were, in fact, right.
“What do you mean you’re moving out?” Those last words weren’t registering in Sheila’s brain. She was exhausted from her trip to Boston as the Senior Account Manager of Goodliving.com.
Although the train ride home to New York should have been three and a half hours, freezing snow had delayed the train making the trip almost six hours long. Adding to the stress of travel was the fight she and Joe had on the phone yesterday when Joe accused her of not caring about his needs. But to discuss this on the sidewalk in front of their co-op building was too much.
“I’m leaving, Sheila. In time you’ll see this is the right thing.” He looked at her warily repeating the words he had read on the Internet about how to have a ‘great’ break-up. What Joe didn’t understand was that those break-up lines were created for people who had dated casually or maybe a few months. So he was a little surprised that Sheila was having a hard time understanding him.
“Joe, I know you’re upset. Let’s go upstairs and talk over dinner. We’ll order from -” Sheila began.
“No!” Joe practically yelled, then turned away as Rudy, the evening doorman, suddenly appeared.
“Hey, Sheila, can I take those bags for you?” He reached for the bags with his usual smile. Freeing herself of her heavy bag loaded with what had to be fifteen pounds of paper from every meeting she had during the week, her leather purse and suitcase, Sheila sighed with relief and started to smile. Until she caught the quick, pointed glare Rudy shot at Joe and a small pain started in the left side of her stomach.
Not knowing what to say, Sheila stared at the man she had loved for the past seven years as he gazed across the street at Gramercy Park. The chilling February air went right through her, but she honestly didn’t know if she was shivering because of that or because Joe wouldn’t even look at her.
“It’s freezing, Joe. I need to go inside. We can’t solve this on the street,” she said.
“There’s nothing to discuss. I moved out.” Joe stared at the ground with his hands in his coat pockets.
Moved? Did he just say moved? Sheila opened her mouth but quickly snapped it shut as the full reality of the situation hit her, almost draining her of breath. Joe had actually moved out while she was on her business trip. Past tense. He was not coming upstairs and, in fact, she was being dumped on the street.
“Joe, we’ve been together for seven years. You can’t break up with me on the street!” One of their neighbors hurried past with her head down, embarrassed to have overhead the comment.
“This is why I’m not coming up. I don’t want to be yelled at. I’m not happy and I moved out. My key is upstairs on the kitchen table.” He started rubbing the back of his head in that nervous way that always aggravated Sheila; now it infuriated her.
She wished she still had her computer bag so she could swing it at his head. “When exactly did you make this decision?” She stared at him, trying to have some dignity.
“And that’s it? This is all I get after seven years? A goodbye on the sidewalk? No real reasons or any chance to work it out?” She couldn’t figure out if crying would be a good or bad thing right now, so she kept it together until he answered.
“There’s nothing to work out. I found someone else.” He said it so quietly, she thought she misheard him.
“What?” All her energy slipped to her feet and left her body. She quickly stepped to a bench along the sidewalk and slumped onto it. Unable to even look at him, she leaned forward to stop her head from spinning. Who? When? She wanted to ask but the words couldn’t make it out of her lips.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve got to go.”
The pressure in her chest kept her from calling out to him. It was all she could do to drag the breath into her lungs. When Sheila finally looked up, all she saw was Joe getting smaller and smaller against the black iron fence of the park. He never even looked back. It was the end of the greatest love affair of her life and the beginning of incredible pains in her stomach.
The apartment looked like a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. Sheila walked into the apartment, large by New York standards, expecting to find a jumbled mess. But as she looked around the room, confusion replaced her fear. The furniture was still in place, the apartment was actually very neat, but as she sat on the sofa in their living room to take it all in, she noticed that Joe had taken various paintings and photos off the wall, leaving large spaces that disrupted the symmetry of the room.
She stared at the spots of butter colored paint, trying to remember what photos were missing, but for some reason, she couldn’t place them. Maybe it was the shock from Joe leaving, though that hadn’t really sunk in. Or maybe it was because the walls had been the same for years. When they painted the walls years ago, they put up the photos and some paintings and just left it. Now she had spots of paint staring at her in a color she had always disliked – she preferred a muted blue or something more modern but Joe had insisted.
“It’s classy. My boss’ living room is this color. It goes with everything. We’ll never have to go through this again.” he had said, referring to their fights as they renovated the apartment. And Sheila gave in, happy at the thought they would never again have to argue over carpet samples or faucets or paint colors. Now as she sat and stared, it was as if the color mocked her. Joe is gone, but I’m still here. She shook her head and turned away.
Their shelving unit also looked strange since he had removed college trophies and all photos of him, his friends and his family, but left all souvenirs from their trips and all photos of them. Sheila looked back to the wall again and sunk deeper into the sofa, the tears starting down her cheeks as she realized he had only taken mementos that didn’t represent their life together.
Why did he leave the furniture? She wondered, looking at the brown sofa that Joe had picked.
“It’s a great designer. It’s in all the magazines. Look.” He had held an issue of Architectural Digest in front of Sheila.
“But it’s so traditional. And ugly.” Sheila said.
“I can’t have nouveau furniture if I need to entertain my colleagues; I need to have what they have. We can’t look like kids experimenting with a crayon box,” Joe said.
And that had been that. They set up their house and went on with their lives.
Sheila wiped the tears from her face with her hands, not bothering to get a tissue as she looked at the club chair. Of course he didn’t take it. To move any of the furniture would require a moving van and a special permit from the doormen, plus he only really loved the antique bedroom furniture. Remembering Rudy’s look, Sheila sprung off the sofa stopping short at the bedroom door, unable to step inside.
She stared in shock at the empty space that had once been her bedroom. Joe had not only taken the bed frame, he had taken the dresser and armoire, leaving the mattress and box spring with her clothes neatly folded in piles on the floor against the wall. The wall that used to hold their fifty-two inch flat screen TV. This was one purchase they agreed on because Joe and Sheila loved curling up in bed to watch movies and their favorite TV shows. When Joe decided to pay with his corporate card, he was very nonchalant.
“We need the points for a nice trip. We’ll go someplace warm this winter.” he had told her as he handed his card to the cashier.
And Sheila dreamed of the trip they would take instead of the fact that they usually paid for all house expenses from their mutual account. Oh no. The bank account.
Sheila and Joe had a mutual bank account and deposited money every month for expenses and miscellaneous things like trips, entertainment and furniture. They contributed equal amounts each month, which had been a sore spot as Joe’s income surpassed Sheila’s at least threefold. But, he reasoned, Sheila owned the co-op, so on paper she had more than Joe. It was true; Sheila had bought the one bedroom co-op in 2000 before they had met. She had been young and rich, thanks to an Internet IPO. Being from a humble background, she originally looked at studio apartments and one-bedrooms in the up-and-coming areas of Brooklyn until her then boss got hold of her.
“Are you crazy? The commute to Brooklyn will kill your social life. And why are you looking at studios?” Her boss asked when he picked some listings off the printer. “Sheila, you need to set your sights much higher. You’re a millionaire now. You need to go big and stay big. I’m sending you to my broker.”
That broker took her financials and showed her the types of apartments she could now afford, which were in some of the best buildings in Manhattan. When Sheila found the gorgeous one bedroom in the neighborhood of her dreams, Gramercy Park, she rushed to sell her company stock for the fifty percent down payment. Then she sold more to furnish the place and began to live larger than large with her new wad of cash. Being young, Sheila never thought she’d earn any less and the remaining stock would keep climbing in value. By the time the market collapsed at the end of 2001, the company was sold to the biggest competitor, she was out of a job, and the rest of her stock options were worthless.
She quickly found another ad sales position for less money, but she was able to pay her mortgage and have some left over. Enough to do a summer share in the Hamptons, where she met Joe.
It had been an easy beginning to their relationship. Every weekend they were in the same place with the same group of friends getting to know each other. When the summer ended Joe had called and asked her on a proper date and the rest, as they liked to tell their friends, was history.
By the time he moved in a few years later, the economy had picked-up and they were both doing well in their careers again. So they renovated the co-op and refurnished it together. Well, Sheila actually took a HELOC on the property and then used some of the money for Joe to finish grad school full-time. She had looked at the HELOC as a solid investment in her future. The co-op would definitely increase in value and Joe’s MBA would provide more income. Much better than investing in another company that would go bankrupt. So over the past five years of living together, they had managed to amass almost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in their shared account.
She ran to her desk and quickly logged into the online banking system. Sheila froze and stared at the screen. There was less than twenty-five thousand dollars in the account.
As she slumped into her chair, she saw a letter with her name on it in Joe’s handwriting.
By now I’ve told you it’s over between us. To help you ease into the transition of living alone, I left the apartment virtually the same with the exception of some items I brought with me and some things I bought with my own money.
In lieu of disrupting your life by dividing our assets, I totaled their worth and deducted that amount from our mutual bank account. I thought the furnishings would bring you greater comfort than money.
If you need anything else, you can send an email and I’ll respond in a timely manner.
I’ll always think of you fondly and wish you the best.
The rest of the night was a blur. Sheila called her best friend, Jenn, who stayed on the phone with her for hours, dissecting the scene over and over while Sheila drank glass after glass of wine. Jenn knew Joe was a shit but not this much of a shit. Jenn ended the call promising to be at work early so they could talk more. Then she turned to her husband.
“Did you know about this?” she asked.
“He didn’t say anything to me, but let’s face it, they weren’t married. After seven years, you know it’s going to end at some point. I just didn’t think he’d have the balls to do it. I always thought it would be her,” he said.
That had been Jenn’s hope all along, but that didn’t help her friend.
After drinking more wine, Sheila called Morgan, a friend she had set up with Joe’s best friend, Dylan.
“No!” Morgan was sitting in bed with Dylan by her side. She smacked him on the leg as she listened to Sheila. “No, Dylan never said a word. You know I would have told you.” She was looking at Dylan. OMG, she mouthed. “Sheila, I’m so sorry. I’ll try to get any information but you know guys, they don’t talk, so Dylan probably doesn’t know anything.”
That call lasted for an hour, with Sheila drinking a second bottle of wine and promising she wouldn’t call Joe. But drunk, lonely, and sad, Sheila fell onto the mattress with the phone and dialed Joe’s number. He didn’t answer so she hit cancel and redial over and over again until she finally fell asleep.
Returning to work after the breakup was torture. Sheila woke at the usual time but when she looked at Joe’s pillow and found it empty, she was momentarily shocked until the memory of last night exploded into her brain. Unfortunately, a massive hangover struck at the same time so Sheila lay in bed staring at the ceiling, which was much farther away since her mattress and box spring were on the floor, and let the tears slide down each of her temples.
She should call in sick, Sheila decided, to give herself a chance to find out what other things Joe may have taken and try to talk to him. But when she picked up her cell phone to call her assistant, two calendar alarms showed two big sales calls. She groaned and covered her eyes with her arm. Maybe that would be best after all, she reasoned. Keeping busy might help her think more clearly, which would be helpful when she talked to Joe.
Jenn had come in early as promised and sat in Sheila’s office replaying Joe’s words over and over. They hadn’t even noticed that the office was filling up so they continued talking as they walked out to the support area, only to be overheard by Stacey, the most obnoxious of the support staff, thereby dashing any hope of Sheila finding solace at work.
“Oh! My! God! Did you really just say that Joe broke up with you?” Stacey stood in her cubicle positively giddy at the thought of a new office drama unfolding.
“Stacey, lower your voice.” Jenn had a problem with Stacey, as did most people, but unlike most people, she wasn’t afraid to put her in her place. “We’re in the middle of the office.”
“So it’s true? He really dumped you on the sidewalk?” Stacey practically screamed.
“Who got dumped on the sidewalk?” Susan Lynd, the willowy Southeast Rep, came out of her office.
“Sheila!” Stacey shook her head in shock.
Susan gasped. “I don’t think you want to tell that story to too many people.”
“Yeah,” chimed Melissa Hellman, Sheila’s Assistant, as she put her bags on her desk outside Sheila’s office. “Being dumped is humiliating enough, but on the street – that’s really bad.” She looked at Sheila with pity.
“He’s the jerk, not Sheila. It’s not her fault.” Jenn said defensively.
Susan and Melissa rolled their eyes at each other. It might not be her fault but why would anyone admit to being dumped on the street?
“All I know is I would die if that happened to me.” Melissa offered. The last time Melissa had been dumped was in college and when he broke it off, she ate nothing but ice cream for a week and gained ten pounds. Melissa shuddered to think about it.
“Ditto,” said Susan. “That’s one good thing about a pre-nup. If my fiancé did that to me, he’d be paying through the nose.”
Sheila winced a little at that. Susan had just met her fiancé six months ago and was already engaged with a huge rock and a pre-nup. He was loaded, divorced and hung onto Susan’s every word. As a result, Susan didn’t care much about work anymore. All she did was plan her wedding, which would be in September, and then she’d go off into the land of ladies who lunch.
“Has he changed his status on Facebook? Did you change yours?” Stacey asked.
“I’ve got more important things on my mind than Facebook.” Sheila realized that she should have called in sick.
“I don’t think so. EVERYONE’s going to go to his Facebook page and yours. One of my friends got dumped on Facebook by her boyfriend of three years!”
“See why you don’t want to tell that story?” Susan said. “You’re now on par with Stacey’s friends.”
“Screw you, Susan,” Stacey lobbed at the sales rep. “What’s his name again? Joe Allen?” She went to her computer and started typing.
Just then, Scott Majors entered the office. “What story?” Scott was a big teddy bear of a guy who everyone just loved.
“Sheila’s boyfriend broke up with her on the sidewalk yesterday,” Stacey shouted a little too enthusiastically, typing away. “And now, I’m trying to find him on Facebook to see if he changed his status.”
“Oh. Sorry.” He looked at Sheila with genuine concern and walked into his office. Even though he was a nice guy, he had no desire to get in the crossfire of what would surely turn into an “all men suck” conversation.
“What? Say it’s not true!” Mark stood behind the group with his jaw to the ground. The out and proud assistant to the group had just arrived to work. “I know exactly which self-help books you need. I’ll bring them tomorrow.”
“Nice of you to join us.” Jenn looked at her watch.
“Are you still wearing that? It makes you look fifty.” He shuddered and sat down.
“I hate to say it, but Stacey’s right,” said Melissa. Melissa and Stacey had a love/hate relationship that only fixed itself when they wanted to get out of the office early or screw someone over. In this case, they obviously wanted to avoid work and screw Sheila, so this was going to take some time. “If he changes his status first, everyone will see his post first and they’ll know he broke up with you. You could make everyone think you broke up with him if you change your status first.”
“Well, we just broke up, so I’m sure he hasn’t changed it,” Sheila said as calmly as possible. Since Joe was dating someone else, his status wouldn’t change anyway, but she didn’t want to explain that right now. She had given them all enough to gossip about for at least a week. “Don’t bother looking, Stacey. It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does. Jesus, there’s like, hundreds of Joe Allens and they’re all ugly. We’ll have to look at your profile. Come here and login.” Stacey typed away.
“Wait. I’m friends with Sheila, I’ll check.” Melissa chimed in.
“What? I sent you a friend request weeks ago,” Mark snipped. “What’s with the diss, girlfriend?”
Sheila was losing patience. “I don’t check Facebook that often,” she said as she walked into her office.
“Are you kidding? I’m on it all day!” Mark offered.
“Yes, we know.” Jenn glared at him. He shrugged and turned back to his computer.
Melissa suddenly gasped and the group rushed to her computer. There on the screen was Sheila’s Facebook Wall. Sheila didn’t see anything unusual, just a bunch of posting about the things her friends had done last night.
“What is it?” Sheila asked. “This is what I always see.”
“He’s not in your friends list anymore.” Melissa looked at Sheila sympathetically. “He defriended you.”
The group stood silently as Sheila took the mouse and scrolled through her friends list looking for Joe, but he wasn’t there. She looked at her wall which usually had a bunch of postings from Joe since he was the Mayor of Dunkin’ Donuts and went there at least three times a day. Those postings were gone too.
Everyone looked from her to the computer, waiting for a reaction. She leaned forward and typed his name, “Joe P. Allen”, in the search box. Her stomach turned when his profile appeared. Sheila couldn’t see anything on his page, not even his photo. Joe had not only defriended her, he made his profile private.
“I’m sure if I login as myself, I can connect with him. But in the meantime, since no one can see his page it doesn’t matter what he does with his status. Guys, it’s just a stupid website.” She stood straight and walked into her office without shutting the door to show she wasn’t upset.
But she was. She sat in agony as her computer booted up. As soon as her browser opened, she tried to go to Facebook, but her hands shook so badly she mistyped it three times. She finally found the page and logged in as herself. She still could not find Joe in her friends list and when she searched for his page, it was the same page she had seen. No photo, no information. Just a message that he was only sharing information with people he knows. It’s only a stupid website, she kept telling herself, trying not to cry. But the fact that Joe had shut her out on this very public website hurt almost as much as the break-up itself. After a few minutes, she quietly shut her door.
Like all office gossip, this flew around quickly. An hour later, Sheila was called into her boss’ office.
The space was quite large with windows on two walls which could have provided some wonderful sunlight except Alessandra Arrugio, SVP of Sales, kept the blinds shut all morning, making the office dark and cold. It gave Sheila a little chill every time she had to enter. It didn’t help that Alessandra’s desk sat less than six feet from the doorway, confronting everyone who entered. Actually, it sort of blocked the doorway, sitting back just far enough for Alessandra to place two uncomfortable chairs and still allow the door to shut.
The desk was another matter. It was a sleek, cold table with a massive LCD screen to the left, blocking Alessandra from view if she worked on her laptop. Most of the time, all a person could see from the doorway was the LCD screen and the edge of Alessandra’s massive chair, which enveloped her petite five-foot, two-inch frame. The rest of the desk was an empty surface which further blocked entry to the office by stretching approximately ten feet from the wall.
Other than the desk and a filing cabinet, there was a couch and club chair in the far corner with a small coffee table in front. Alessandra had tried to get rid of them when she first started at Goodliving.com but the maintenance department wouldn’t remove them.
“Sorry, Ms. Arrugio. The furniture has to stay as is. Its company issue for executives and this is an executive office,” Rick Smith, the Director of Maintenance who had been with the company for over twenty years, told her.
“Come on, Rick. I’ll deal with management this afternoon. I’m not having meetings in my office, so I don’t need the furniture,” Alessandra cajoled. “Plus it’s ugly. When did they buy this stuff? 1990?”
“Just about.” Rick said. “But I can’t take it. If you have any luck with management, you tell them to call me direct and I’ll take it.” And the furniture stayed in the corner unused.
“So, your boyfriend’s gone.” Alessandra said without bothering to look up from her computer.
“Yes, he is.” Sheila winced as she sat down.
“Did he really break up with you on the sidewalk in front of your building?” Alessandra continued typing on her keyboard intently, barely visible behind the LCD screen.
“Yes.” Sheila sighed. The morning had already been a disaster and having her boss ask personal questions while practically ignoring her was a little more than Sheila could stand.
“Did he find someone else?” Alessandra finally looked at Sheila with her deep blue eyes that were actually pretty when not terrifying the hell out of someone. “They usually do. My ex had been having affairs for years.”
“I don’t think so,” Sheila lied.
“Well, at least you didn’t marry him.” She looked back to her screen which usually meant the conversation was over, so Sheila got up to leave.
“Wait.” Alessandra took her time typing and then looked back at Sheila. “Are you going to be okay?”
Sheila was startled at the question. Alessandra was not a nurturing type of boss. In the three years they had worked together, Alessandra had never so much as said ‘Bless you’ after someone sneezed. In fact, Alessandra once infamously asked someone at her former company to come back to the office four days after having a baby to help with a presentation. Did Alessandra actually care?
“Well, I’m still kind of shocked -”
“No. I’m talking about work.” Alessandra looked evenly at Sheila. “Are you going to freak out? Start losing business? Become a Buddhist?” She rolled her eyes. “Do I need to start looking for a senior seller or are you going to stay focused and handle your job?”
“Of course I’ll be fine. It won’t be a problem,” Sheila shot back, worried by the accusation. “I knew it was coming,” she added. She had already lost her boyfriend; she couldn’t lose her job too.
“Good. That’s what I want to hear.” Alessandra smirked at the obvious lie. “The best way to beat a man is with your wallet, my dear. Is he fighting for any assets?” Sheila shook her head, not wanting to tell Alessandra about the hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars missing from her bank account.
“Good. Then out-earn the fucker. That’s the only way to get back at him.” She turned back to her computer again. “Show him your life didn’t fall apart. Be smart and buy more real estate.”
“Whose life is falling apart?” A man’s voice came from the doorway.
Sheila’s stomach dropped as she turned to see Baxter DeVry, President of Shearson Media’s Publishing Division, standing behind her. He never visited this floor, preferring to make everyone come to him.
“No one’s. Sheila and her boyfriend broke up so I’m dispensing a little life advice this morning as well as running your number one sales team.” She slid her chair from behind the LCD screen to face Baxter but didn’t get up.
“Well, Sheila, you are getting help from the best of them. Alessandra certainly knows how to live.” Baxter smiled tightly and continued looking at Alessandra. “However, I need to discuss actual business. Sheila, could you excuse us?”
“Yes, of course.” Sheila tried to gracefully maneuver her way out of the chair without bumping into Baxter, who was too busy staring at Alessandra to move. His six-foot frame loomed behind Sheila, making her feel very small and extremely uncomfortable as her boss and her boss’ boss stared at each other with an animosity they tried to keep hidden. It didn’t work.
Baxter’s father had once run Shearson Media and gave Baxter his first job at the company thirty years ago during the golden age of nepotism and good old boys clubs. It had been a great ride until the damn Internet came along in the nineties and the board decided they needed someone running the company with a pulse on “new media”. Things changed rapidly. The board went through a number of heated battles over the direction of the company. When a new CEO was needed, they unexpectedly voted to hire Ann Joyce, a high profile outsider, instead of promoting one of Baxter’s closest friends who had been with the company for more than twenty years.
It had torn Baxter to pieces as more of his friends were either pushed out or resigned. The company had been a place where people could stay their entire careers, creating deep bonds among the men and their families.
About five years later, Ann Joyce hired Alessandra without asking Baxter. Although Alessandra officially reported to Baxter, the Digital Division was the wave of the future so Alessandra had direct contact with Ann Joyce. Baxter hated her for it.
He knew Ann didn’t like him and had wanted him to leave. But with Baxter Sr. still on the board, no one would vote for that. So he stayed.
Sheila finally extricated herself from the chair and said her good byes. She was barely out the door as it closed behind her.
Thank goodness this day is over, thought Sheila, walking the thirty blocks home. The pain from her shoes kept her mind in the moment and off the fact that her house would be empty when she got there.
Standing at the corner of Park Avenue and Fiftieth, she surveyed the crowds of people rushing all around her. Some were running to Grand Central to catch a train. Why run? Sheila wondered. Another train will come. What’s the rush? Yet she wished she had a reason to rush home.
As Sheila walked through the underpass to Forty-fourth Street and turned left for Lexington Ave, the pain in her feet became too much and she hailed a cab.
“Gramercy Park South,” she told the driver and promptly fell back in her seat as he sped off like a madman.
“Hey! Slow down!” She glared at him in the rearview mirror. He returned the stare. When Sheila didn’t flinch, he slowed down and muttered to himself. Settling into the cab, Sheila turned off the requisite TV installed in every cab in the city. Peace and quiet, that’s what she needed. Why anyone needed to stare at a TV when they had all of New York City outside the window was beyond her.
As the cab turned onto her street, Sheila closed her eyes, envisioning Joe standing outside her building, waiting for her just as he had last night. Only this time, he had a bouquet of red roses and a smile. Of course, when the cab stopped Joe wasn’t there. She stared at the stone columns surrounding the black lacquered door to her building until Rudy came out to open her door.
“Hi, Sheila. How was your day?” Rudy asked while offering his hand to help her from the taxi.
“It was good. Thanks, Rudy.” Sheila walked up the stairs and across the pre-war lobby to her mailbox, hoping not to bump into too many people. Already bruised by the reaction from her co-workers and horrified that Baxter had learned about her personal problems, she could only imagine what her neighbors would do.
Sheila had not been entirely welcomed at Twenty-Four Gramercy Park South. With only twenty-eight units in the building, the co-op board had a strict qualification process to be sure they were getting someone who would respect the quiet tone of life in the building. As a young Internet millionaire — who was single — she didn’t fit with the old money crowd in the building and the co-op board almost rejected her. But some members of the board felt that the building needed new blood and a debate ensued for days about whether a single woman would be able to lead a decent life or traipse a parade of men through the building, putting them all at risk, like those girls from “Sex and the City.”
Before the final vote, Sheila had been invited to tea with Ruth Grey, the President of the Co-op Board, and a friendship had been born. Shortly after, Sheila moved into the apartment across the hall from Ruth. Ruth was now eighty-six years old and the oldest tenant in the building. She had bought her unit in 1962 with her husband and raised her son here. Joe had never really warmed to Ruth but Sheila found her delightful. Other residents in the building slowly came to accept Sheila, especially since Ruth liked her so much. But still, she wasn’t sure how they would feel about having a single woman in the building again.
Sheila glanced through her pile of mail as she continued through the lobby to the elevator. Joe had been the one to grab the mail each night and deal with the bills. It was obvious that he hadn’t done it for a few days because there were a lot of letters from her mortgage company. As the elevator doors opened, Ruth stepped into the lobby with her new cane.
“Hello, my dear.” Ruth’s smile caused her face to swallow her eyes as the skin crinkled at the corners. But the shocking blue color still shone through as she looked at her young friend brightly. “And how are you today?”
“I’m fine, Ruth. How are you? New cane?” Sheila stopped, not wanting to be rude, but today she really didn’t feel like chatting.
“Nuisance is more like it,” Ruth said, holding the cane in front of her. “Getting old is for the brave, my dear.”
“Well, have a great night.” Sheila smiled and stepped into the elevator.
“Oh, Sheila?” Ruth called after her.
“What are you doing on Sunday? I would love it if you would join me for dinner.” Ruth smiled again.
Sheila tried to think of an excuse, not ready to explain to another person that Joe had left, but Ruth beat her to the punch.
“Dear, I saw Joe moving out last week and I’m sure you’re very upset. Why don’t you come over for dinner? I always found Sunday nights to be the saddest of the week and I’d hate for you to be alone.”
Sheila’s shoulders slumped. Of course Ruth would know. “I’d love to join you, Ruth.” They settled on a time and Sheila rode the elevator to her floor.
As she entered her apartment, Sheila threw the pile of letters on the dining room table and fell onto the couch in tears, not only because she could finally relax after a horribly long day, but picking up the mail made her realize that she was truly on her own. She sat up and looked at the pile of bills on the table. She didn’t even know where to begin. She got up and put the letters in the bottom drawer of her desk. She couldn’t deal with it now. It just didn’t make sense. Maybe dinner with Ruth would be a good opportunity to get details about Joe’s departure. She needed more information to put the pieces together.
In the lobby, however, Ruth was shaking her head. Her young neighbor had no idea that her whole life was really in front of her, and thinking of the past was only valuable if it could teach you something.
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The week had passed in a blur with no more surprises and no word from Joe, even though Sheila had left a few messages. The only calls Sheila seemed to get were from a telemarketer, which she promptly sent to voicemail every time.
Normally, Sheila would have been thrilled that it was late Friday afternoon, but this was her first weekend alone. Thankfully, she already had dinner plans with Morgan for Saturday night and Ruth on Sunday, but a Friday night alone made her want to cry again.
Friday was the night that she and Joe spent together curled up on the couch eating take out and watching TV. Joe had to get his fill of flipping between CNN and ESPN, and then it was movie time. She thought of all those times they had fought about which movie to watch and how she usually gave in because Joe didn’t do chick flicks. Now she scanned her computer looking for a movie she could download onto her iPad to watch in bed, but nothing looked good.
“Sheila!” Alessandra’s screech rang through the office. “Come in here!”
Even after three years, Sheila wasn’t used to being screamed at and she jumped.
“Hey. How are you?” Sheila sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs.
“Hey?” Alessandra rolled her eyes in disgust. “Doesn’t anyone know how to be professional anymore?”
Sheila shrugged, knowing silence was best for this type of mood.
“We found a new sales person. She starts Monday morning and you are in charge of training her.” Alessandra didn’t once look at Sheila as she continued typing.
“Oh. Shouldn’t I have met her?” Sheila said.
Alessandra sighed heavily and looked at Sheila. “Shut the door,” she instructed.
Once Sheila had closed the door and sat down again, Alessandra said, “She is a family friend of Baxter’s. Her father and Baxter were fraternity brothers or some bullshit. So make sure you’re nice and everyone else is, too. She’s never been in sales before, so she’s going to need a lot of training. And you have to share Melissa with her.” Alessandra went back to her emails.
“She never sold before? How much work experience does she have?” Sheila asked.
“Practically none.” Alessandra continued typing. “It is up to you to make sure that she gets up to speed quickly and makes money. Do you understand?” Alessandra looked at Sheila evenly. “Baxter’s going to have his eye on this, so you better stay on top of her. Plan to have lunch with her on Monday. Someplace nice. It sounds like she’s used to the finer things. I suggest you spend the weekend putting together a list of accounts for her.”
Sheila walked back to her office and crashed into her chair. Well, at least she had something to keep her occupied this weekend.
“And what are you doing tonight, Miss Lonely Heart?” Mark breezed into Sheila’s office and draped himself across a chair.
“Why are you here?” Sheila hadn’t seen Mark in the office past five o’clock since he started a year ago.
“Answer my question and then I’ll tell you. If you’re worthy.” He stared at his nails which Sheila noticed were buffed.
“Did you get a manicure?”
“Sweetheart, I’m gay and it’s Friday night. Of course I got a manicure. You should have gotten one too, now that you’re single.”
Sheila turned back to her computer.
“Now, we both know why you’re here late on a Friday night, so I’m going to be your Prince Charming and rescue you.” Mark said.
Sheila started to laugh.
“No, really. This is just too sad for me.” He motioned to her, sitting at the desk. “Shut down the computer, we’re going out. I’m feeling a Pretty Woman moment for you.”
Sheila looked at him quizzically.
“I’m not going to pimp you out. Geez, you’re so uptight. I’m taking you out to have fun. No work. No talk of Asshole Joe. Just fun with young, hard bodied men who won’t break your heart. But first, we really need to get you some clothes.” Mark said.
“Gee, Mark. As fun as it sounds to get a makeover and hang out with you and your friends, I do have things to do—” Sheila said.
Mark came to look over her shoulder. “You’re looking at rom-coms on iTunes. Oh, honey.”
“I’m done.” Sheila shut her laptop quickly. As she packed her bag, Mark stood in front of her.
“Sheila. I don’t bite and you’re alone. My boyfriend of six months dumped me a few months ago so I know you’re hurt. Why can’t you just come out and have fun? Does everything have to have a purpose?” Mark said.
Sheila thought hard to find an excuse and couldn’t.
“Come on. We’ll get you dressed and get you a manicure. We’ll probably need a pedicure too, from the look of it. Chop, chop!” He clapped his hands and Sheila got her coat. Maybe this Friday night wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Oh, the pain. What the hell happened last night? Opening her eyes slightly, Sheila squinted at the ceiling. Ugh, the blinds were open and it was too bright. Reaching for her cell phone caused another groan which hurt her head even more. Right. She was alone. And she went out with Mark last night. Closing her eyes again, Sheila tried to remember the previous evening.
“We are celebrating!” Mark had yelled to all his friends at Cheeks, the hottest gay bar in New York. “My gorgeous friend, and boss, got DUMPED by her man.” Boos erupted from the crowd, making Sheila feel some camaraderie with the men. “On the SIDEWALK!” Sheila smiled bravely as the group gasped in horror.
“Oh, honey!” A gorgeous blond named Tom gave her a hug.
“That’s cold!” yelled someone else. “He sucks!”
Maybe hanging out with gay men will be an option to being single, Sheila thought, accepting all the hugs and condolences.
“So now it’s up to us, my dears, to make sure our friend regains her faith in men. Cheers!” Mark raised a shot in the air as one was placed in Sheila’s hand. “Let’s get drunk!” He downed the shot.
“Hey, sister. You need to drink all of it,” said another gorgeous man in the crowd. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.
“Oh, I haven’t done a shot in ages. I’ll just take my time.” Sheila smiled.
“Sipper alert! She’s not doing her shot!” He yelled.
“Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!” Suddenly Sheila was surrounded by a group of chanting men – all gorgeous, all young and none of them interested in her. Maybe they’re right; maybe I do need to lighten up. So she smiled and gulped the drink and promptly choked and coughed, causing a great round of laughter.
Mark came over, “I guess it’s been a while since you’ve had Patrón,” He handed her a napkin. “Sorry. But in about thirty seconds, you’ll feel fabulous.”
He was right. The warmth quickly spread through her body and suddenly everything was okay. She was happy.
Getting out of bed, however, was as far from happy as she could get. Trudging to the bathroom set off a pounding in her head. What had made her think drinking with twenty-somethings was a good idea?
Suddenly, Beyoncé’s Single Ladies was blasting through the co-op, almost causing Sheila to fall off the toilet. Was someone else here?
She went into the living room. Her clothes were all over the place, but where was the song coming from? She went through the clothes, getting more frustrated by the second. She finally found the sound coming from her boot, but it stopped. She shook the boot and her Blackberry fell into her hand. The sound started again, almost making her drop the phone.
Sheila answered it. “Hello?”
“You sound like hell!” It was Mark, laughing. “Did you have fun last night? My friends loved you!”
“Oh, yeah. I think so. I’m a little hung over. Why are you so happy this morning?”
“Morning? Honey, its eleven thirty. I’ve already been to the gym and now I’m meeting friends for lunch. You either need to start drinking heavily or never drink again. Either way, you’re still a blast. But I’m mostly calling to make sure you actually got your phone.”
“Thanks. Why was it in my boot?” Sheila asked.
“Oh my. You don’t remember?”
“Remember what?” Sheila’s stomach slid, waiting to hear while Mark laughed loudly.
“You called Joe! Like four times from the bathroom! And Sweetheart, the bathroom in Cheeks is not a place someone like you wants to be for any extended length of time. When I found out, I took away your phone, but you insisted that you needed to talk to him. Do you remember any of this?”
A weak shake of her head was all Sheila could manage.
“So we made a deal; you could contact him using my phone and when you did, I took a picture of me and my friends and texted it to him, telling him he’s a loser for dumping you! Isn’t that a riot? Then I kept your phone so you wouldn’t call him anymore and I hid it in your apartment. Oh, and I changed your ringtone to Single Ladies for certain callers. Hope you like it,” Mark said.
Sheila got off the phone and lay back in her bed, completely sick at the thought of Joe getting calls and pictures of a bunch of guys from her last night. But then she laughed, imagining Joe watching ESPN or CNN while she was at a bar having fun. She smiled, admitting to herself that last night had been fun. She and Joe hadn’t had much fun in the past. She stopped to think about the last time they did have fun and realized she couldn’t. The relationship had been steady and reliable. They had their routines and each had their duties. Joe handled the finances, maintenance on the co-op, and planned the vacations while Sheila dealt with the groceries, cleaning lady, and their social life. “Like married people,” they used to say and smile at each other.
And then she was asleep again, working off the hangover so she could be fine for dinner with Morgan, where hopefully she’d get some more details about Joe’s new life.
“Hi!” Morgan rose from the table to hug Sheila. “How are you?”
By this point, the hangover was gone, but Sheila was still exhausted. “Fine, fine. What about you?” She wasn’t going to start badgering Morgan about Joe just yet, but the waiting was torture.
“I ordered a bottle of wine for us.” Morgan started to pour a glass for Sheila.
“No, thanks. I drank enough last night to last a month.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Morgan looked anxiously at her menu.
“From who?” Sheila looked at her friend.
“Let’s just get this out of the way. Okay?” Morgan put down the bottle.
“Yes.” Sheila sighed with relief. “Tell me everything, please.”
“Okay. But first, here’s your wine.” Morgan spilled some of the Merlot as she passed the glass to Sheila.
“No, I can’t drink, really. I have the worst hangover—”
“Joe’s dating Taylor.”
“Taylor? His assistant?” Sheila digested this information. “He always said she was a mouse and kind of dim.” She fell back in her seat.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve already told Dylan I’m not going out with them. But we went out with a group from Dylan’s work last night and they were there,” Morgan said.
“What work event? He’s been gone four days. I would have known about it.” Sheila leaned forward again.
“It wasn’t a real work event. Their boss, Tom, had a dinner party at Recette. Joe brought Taylor. Apparently, Tom knew and wanted it in the open.” Morgan said.
“Stop. Wait.” Sheila shook her head. “Are you honestly telling me that Joe left me for his twenty-six year-old assistant and Tom knew?” Sheila prayed she wasn’t hearing this right.
“I’m sorry. I swear I didn’t know until last night. Dylan thinks Joe sucks too.” The two women sat in silence. “Do you want to leave? We can go for a walk?”
“No.” Sheila grabbed the glass and gulped the wine. There had to be a mistake. Sheila and Joe had been to Tom’s house more than once. She had even been to their baby’s christening ceremony last year. Now Tom was throwing Joe and Taylor a dinner party?
Morgan lifted her drink, too, which is when Sheila noticed the sparkle. “Oh my God! Morgan, is that an engagement ring?”
“Yes.” Morgan had no idea what to do with Sheila so devastated. She just stared at Sheila, waiting for a reaction.
“When?” Sheila said.
“Tuesday.” Morgan replied.
Tuesday. That was the day Joe left. Now it was Saturday and in the past four days Joe had moved on with his assistant and her best friend got engaged. Everyone’s life was moving forward and she was back at step one.
Sheila smiled brightly and held her wine glass to toast her friend. “That is wonderful!” She would not fall apart now. She would not ruin her friend’s good news. She refused to be one of those women. For the rest of the night, they talked wedding plans and honeymoons and Sheila kept the focus off of herself. After dinner, Morgan reached across the table and took Sheila’s hand.
“Sheila, there’s one more thing.” Morgan said.
“What?” Sheila couldn’t take any more surprises so she begged God to let this be good news.
“I want you as my maid of honor. And I’m really sorry the timing is so bad. Before you say ‘yes,’ you should know that Dylan asked Joe to be the best man before Tuesday and Joe said “Yes.” I told Dylan he needed to take back the offer, but he can’t. They’re best friends. Will you still say ‘yes’?”
“Of course I’ll be the maid of honor. I’m delighted you asked.” Sheila looked at her friend and smiled. And it’ll give me something to focus on, she thought to herself.
They parted ways and Sheila held it together in the cab, through the lobby, and even after she shut the door to her apartment. Then she cried just as she had cried every night since Tuesday but this was worse. How long had her life had been a lie waiting to end? While she was making plans and working on their life together, Joe had been plotting to leave with someone ten years younger. Someone he had always said he could barely stomach at work. Sheila sobbed, wondering how many other lies she had believed while she wasted the past seven years of her life.
“Come in! Oh, this will be lovely!” Ruth stepped back for Sheila to enter her apartment with a box of cupcakes. Sheila always liked coming to Ruth’s. It was the type of home she imagined her grandparents would have, if she had grandparents.
“Make yourself at home,” Ruth called as she shuffled through the living area, past the dining room table to the kitchen. Sheila sat on the red velvet couch against the far right wall and stared across the room at the Manhattan skyline.
Ruth’s apartment was a duplex, which had been created by combining a two-bedroom co-op on Sheila’s floor with the two-bedroom co-op above it. Being on the other side of the building from Sheila, Ruth had a fabulous skyline view of the Empire State Building to the north and the New York Life Building’s gold pyramid to the west. Directly below her windows sat Gramercy Park in all its glory. Sheila’s own views faced the buildings on the north and east sides, though she could see Gramercy Park from a certain angle.
The credenza to her left was crowded with photos and beautiful knick-knacks that Sheila had never seen. In fact, now that Sheila looked around the room, there seemed to be a few differences from her last visit.
“Redecorating?” Sheila asked when Ruth returned.
“Yes.” Ruth sighed. “Since my hip has stopped behaving, I’m moving my most important things downstairs, which is now my living space. The upstairs is now storage space.”
“Well, I’m glad you chose to stay on this floor.” Sheila smiled.
“And so am I. Now, let’s eat,” Ruth said.
As the two women sat at the dinner table, Sheila was dying to ask Ruth what she had seen when Joe moved out while Ruth, like all good mothers, wanted to be sure Sheila ate a good meal. The poor girl looks lost, Ruth thought, as Sheila pushed her food around her plate making small talk about current events.
“So, how are you?” Ruth finally asked.
“I’m okay. I’ve been busy at work and went out with friends the past two nights, which has been nice. My friend, Morgan, is engaged. She asked me to be maid of honor.” Sheila smiled lamely.
“But that doesn’t tell me how you are.” Ruth looked intently at Sheila. “That just tells me what you’ve done. Have you taken any time for yourself since Joe left? Or talked to anyone?”
Sheila sat in a swirl of emotion. It had occurred to her to take time off but sitting in the apartment would have driven her crazy. And no one at work really wanted to hear about the break up since the day it was announced. In fact, no one, except Jenn, really seemed to think about it at all.
“It’s been hard, especially since it was a surprise. I had no idea it was coming. You knew before I did, since you saw him move out.” Sheila sat looking at the plate of homemade food, losing her appetite.
“Well, that is sad,” Ruth said. “He didn’t say anything to you about being unhappy?”
“No.” Sheila looked despondent. “That’s why I’m so confused. And hurt. We were together for seven years and now I’m alone.” She fought back the tears.
“I am sorry he was so cruel to you,” Ruth said, truly concerned. “But you do know this isn’t your fault or because of anything that you did, don’t you?”
“I don’t know anything. He won’t even return my calls. And—” Sheila stopped, not wanting to give Ruth any more reason to think Joe was cruel.
“He’s with someone else.” Sheila couldn’t control the tears any longer. “His twenty-six year-old assistant!”
Sheila let it all out. She had stayed strong at work all week, been a good friend to Morgan, and exhausted herself in the process. Coming home alone every night with no one to talk to was hard. She was used to sharing her day with Joe and getting his advice. She didn’t know how to be single and she didn’t like it.
Ruth listened as Sheila poured her heart out. The poor girl was so upset. Ruth had never been a fan of Joe’s. He was polite enough but it was apparent, to her anyway, that he would never commit. He didn’t have to. Sheila gave him everything he wanted and never asked for anything in return.
“Well, of course you’re upset, Sheila. He wasn’t forthright with his intentions and was really quite low to end things the way he did. But you have to keep living. Move on,” Ruth said.
“How? I haven’t been single since I was twenty-nine. I don’t even know how to date anymore.”
“Dating will come. Right now, you need to do something to make yourself happy. Create the best life possible,” Ruth said.
“How? Half of my life is gone.” Sheila wiped her eyes. “Have you ever felt like everything was just upside down?” Sheila looked past Ruth to the photos on the credenza. “You were married. You grew up with a close family. Can you imagine coming home and no one is there? It’s like someone vanished.”
Ruth smiled knowingly. “My life had ups and downs, I assure you.”
Ruth turned to look at the credenza full of items from her life. How she missed her family. Bill, her husband of forty years, most of all. That emptiness was almost all she had now. But she shook her head to push the memories away. This was about Sheila. Ruth knew she was suffering, yet in so many ways, she was better off. But who could tell Sheila that right now?
After a few moments of silence, Sheila looked at Ruth then followed her gaze.
“You have so many nice things.” Sheila’s eyes fell on a blue vase on the coffee table. “That is gorgeous.”
“Thank you. My grandmother gave it to my mother as a wedding gift. It’s my favorite thing in the world. I’ve been putting things in boxes, but I can’t bear to shut that away. I think beautiful things should be seen and touched. Though sometimes thinking of the past too much is like looking into the sun. It can hurt.” Ruth saw the confusion in Sheila’s face. “There were many dark times in my life. Some things I don’t care to remember, especially during the war.”
“Did your brothers fight in Germany?” Sheila asked.
“No.” Ruth smiled. “We were in Germany.”
“You mean after the war?” Sheila said.
“No, during. We went to visit my grandparents and had to stay.” Ruth rested her eyes on a photo of her with her parents and younger siblings. “That photo was taken right before we left for Germany. There were rumors of Hitler, but we didn’t know how bad it was.”
“How could you not know? Everyone knew, didn’t they?” Sheila asked.
“My dear, your education has been neglected.” Ruth smiled lovingly at the girl. “It was 1938. The government didn’t want to publish stories. Remember, we weren’t far along from the First World War.”
“No one in your family wrote?” Sheila asked.
“The mail was searched. Nothing could get through. Father did hear something, but the government didn’t confirm it, so we went.” Ruth shrugged.
“This is like a movie. How long were you there?”
“Seven years.” Ruth answered.
“Seven years? Why didn’t you leave?”
“My father was a scientist who had information that the Nazis wanted. We were held there.” Ruth said.
“Held? No one came to get you?” Sheila’s jaw dropped.
Ruth chuckled. “Who could come? The Nazis weren’t exactly letting people travel through Europe easily. Plus, we were hiding.”
“Hiding? You mean like Anne Frank?”
“Did you see soldiers and bombings?”
“Yes, I saw soldiers and bombings and things no one should see.” Ruth spoke sadly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No need to apologize.” Ruth shook her head. “People are titillated by the horrors of war but it’s devastating. It’s not something to be taken lightly. I haven’t thought about the war in a long time.”
“I can’t believe you were in hiding. You never mentioned it in all the years I’ve known you.”
“What good would it do? Living in the past can sometimes make things seem worse than they were. And it’s not healthy. Everyone today wants to talk about their past as if it’s the most fascinating thing. It’s not. The war happened. We got on,” Ruth said.
Sheila looked back at the picture of Ruth’s parents surrounded by six children. “The baby was beautiful. Is that you?”
“No. That’s Annabelle. I’m the oldest, with the long hair. I was twelve.”
“You were adorable!” Sheila searched for a resemblance.
As Ruth looked at Sheila, she realized that Joe’s leaving had been the worst thing to happen in Sheila’s young life. She truly didn’t know any other hardship. Sheila may not know how to move on, Ruth considered. Although Ruth didn’t like to talk about the past, she wondered if her friend might learn something from it.
“I tell you what. If you bring the tea to the coffee table, we’ll sit on my old red couch and I’ll tell you a little of what happened while we eat those cupcakes.”
End of Extended Excerpt.
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