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 Penelope Ward

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Northwestern was known for its Communications program and I knew that I wanted to major in something where I would be able to use my innate ability to write and speak publicly. Mostly, I was good at mouthing off and could have taught an AP class in Bullshitting 101.
It was there in Chicago, nearly twelve years ago, during my senior year that my life fell apart. Even with what happened, though, somehow I managed to finish up and graduate.
Three years after the nightmare senior year, while working in Chicago, I began an affair with an older woman named Lana Ford, who happened to be a broadcasting agent. I had taken a position as her intern and even though Lana was fifteen years older, she taught me everything she knew—in the boardroom and the bedroom. I would follow Lana around during the day while she met with clients and then we’d head back to her loft at night. I was closed out emotionally after what happened to me back at Northwestern anyway, so the fact that she was using me for sex and I was using her to get ahead suited me just fine. I didn’t want to feel my heart break ever again. I didn’t want to feel anything at all, for that matter.
One day, Lana found out I took one of the other young female interns back to her loft, so she cut me loose. She had to know it wasn’t going anywhere romantically, but she was…understandably, very bitter. I thought she might try to sabotage me, but I immediately got another better internship, safely working under a male this time.
I eventually used the (non-sexual) experience I gained from watching Lana, to snag an actual junior agent job in the Chicago office of D.N. Westock. I worked my way up the ladder and began representing some major names in the Chicago area before being transferred to the Boston office. I requested the transfer to Boston four years ago after my father died suddenly of a heart attack.
I wish I could say the day my father died felt like was the worst day of my life, but I had already experienced that day eight years earlier.
After I moved back to Boston, I was more determined than ever to forget everything that happened in Chicago. That is, until now. Four years after arriving back home, I now have to face my past again. I just couldn’t believe out of everywhere in the country, she was so geographically close to me. I have to see her again, if nothing else, just to stare at her beautiful face.
For now, I’d have to see Karyn.
“Hi hon. What took you so long?” Karyn asked sitting with her high heels crossed over my desk, clutching her usual venti non-fat two-pump vanilla latte. She handed me a now cold tall coffee.
I lied. “I had a meeting with a potential client outside of the city.”
“Anyone good?” She batted her eyelashes and twisted her straight blonde hair into a bun.
God, yes, someone good, I thought.
“Yes, this one might have a lot of potential.” I immediately pictured Allison and lost all attention to what Karyn said in response. Allison was simply gorgeous and my girlfriend’s looks paled in comparison.
I thought about Allison’s features: small nose, full lips and straight long beautiful dark hair that landed in the middle of her back. She could easily pass for a model, except for her shorter height. And I mentioned her eyes…her eyes. They were unusually huge…a light green with speckles of gold. There was something about those same eyes though that made me sad, sensing something in them that told me her life hasn’t been easy as of late. I couldn’t take my eyes of them, though. I did just long enough to glance down at that tight uniform that had her name stitched on the front of her perky breasts.
Karyn interrupted me from my stupor. “Where do you want to go eat tonight…Sonsie?” She winked sarcastically. She knew I hated going to those fancy places on Newbury Street. I was much more a takeout and Netflix kind of guy. Plus, I spent most afternoons wining and dining clients at frou-frou restaurants.
“Actually, I am thinking we should stay in tonight, I had a long day,” I said.
I was emotionally exhausted from the experience at the diner and wished I could just be alone tonight.
“Ok, whatever,” Karyn hissed, walking over to me to sit on my lap. Running her fingers through my hair, she asked, “Any word from WANY in New York? Didn’t you send my demo reel there last week?”
“Karyn, do you know how many agents are trying to get their clients that anchor gig? Believe me, if they are interested, we’ll hear from them. Personally, I think it’s a long shot for you. You have no desk experience, just street reporting. I think they are looking for more of a bubbly type; it’s a morning show gig and babe…bubbly you are not.”
Karyn frowned, “Well, I want you to push for me anyway.”
Karyn was the I-team reporter for one of the Boston stations. While she was pretty, her tone on-air was serious and it pained her to smile. Not my usual type, she can be brass and cold, but deep down, I like to believe she is a good person. She came from a wealthy family in Darien, Connecticut and got her start based on the fact that her mother was a big broadcasting exec in New York. Her father was a brain surgeon and Karyn wanted for nothing growing up, having gone to private schools and private resorts her whole life…nothing like my childhood.
Dating Karyn was convenient, though. She understood the industry and the demands of my job and she was available and attractive. She never seemed jealous when I worked closely with young attractive wannabe TV stars, coaching them. Best of all, she didn’t push me to open up emotionally, something I haven’t done in years with a woman. Karyn didn’t seem to expect much, except keeping up appearances and sex. I was happy to oblige on the latter, but after a while with Karyn, the sex had become ordinary, without the chemistry that existed in the first months of dating. It was still good, just vanilla (like her predictable latte).
That night, Karyn and I got Thai food from the place on the corner of my street and later, she left to sleep at her apartment on the other side of Boston. She had to wake up early to work the morning show and introduce her exclusive investigative report on the rise in Chinatown massage parlors being used as fronts for prostitution. Just as well. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts tonight.
It was bad enough that the entire time Karyn was going down on me, Allison was the only thing I could think about. How pathetic that I imagined it was her instead of Karyn and that it was the only way I could finish.
As I lay in bed, the moonlight was exquisite. Beacon Street was quieter than usual and that helped, because I had a lot on my mind tonight, namely deciding whether I would venture back to that diner ever again once I calmed down and whether I would open the can of worms that would emerge from that. I had to come up with a story if I were ever going to show my face again there. I reached for my iPod and immediately searched for my smooth jazz play list, putting on some Diana Krall. I looked up at the ceiling, thinking about the woman who mesmerized me at the diner today, wishing I could have met her under different circumstances and knowing that the truth would turn her world upside down.
The train ride back to my apartment in Malden seemed to go by in a flash tonight. Maybe it was all the fantasizing about Blue Eyes and his fifty-dollar bill. And of course, the number fifty leads to thoughts of the book I just read…which leads to thoughts of bondage and billionaires. That guy certainly could pass for a real-life Christian Grey. Heck, he was better looking than the man I imagined when reading that delicious smut.
I blame my roommate Sonia for introducing me to my favorite pastime and escape: erotic romance novels. She knows I need a distraction from the year I have had. Even a scandalous book could not keep my interest right now, though.
My mind was all over the place as the train went underground and the darkness of the tunnel matched my depressive state.
Thinking about him almost made me miss my stop. What is wrong with me? So, a good-looking guy comes into the diner, leaves a big tip and walks out. Why can’t I stop thinking about him? Maybe Sonia can analyze this for me.
My roommate was nothing like me. She was from England, short with red hair, huge boobs and a fabulous personality. I, on the other hand, was thin, with long nearly black hair, average br**sts and tended to be melancholy most of the time…at least lately. Sonia was a good balance for me.
I arrived back to my apartment eager to tell her what happened.
“Hey, Sonia,” I said as I walked in the door and threw my keys on the table.
“Sup, bitch,” Sonia said.
She had the coolest British accent and ‘bitch’ was her term of endearment for me.
“Ugh…where do I even begin?” I sighed.
“Why…what happened?” Sonia opened a bottle of, ironically, Bitch brand wine and took out two stemless glasses from the cupboard. Our kitchen was retro, with big black and white checkered laminate flooring and yellow painted cabinets. The apartment was dated, but the retro style could almost pass for hip. Between the bright sunny kitchen and old-fashioned dark wood moldings and built-in shelving, I loved our apartment.
“You are never going to believe what happened to me today,” I said as I sat down and grabbed one of the glasses she poured. “Okay, so I am in the diner and the most beautiful man I have literally ever seen walks in—”
“Damn…why wasn’t I on shift? What did he look like?” Sonia asked as her eyes widened. She also worked at the diner part-time.
“Just…I don’t know…beautiful….tall, blue eyes, sexy hair…the whole nine…let me finish.”
Sonia nodded gulping down half her glass of red.
“This guy was staring at me for some reason. When I pretended to be busy, I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was still following me. When I gave him his order, he barely said anything, just smiled and continued to look at me with these intense eyes.”
“Okay,” Sonia said as she poured more wine.
“The staring continued for a while and then I went into the kitchen and when I came out, he was abruptly booking it out of there. He didn’t even finish his bagel.” I took a sip of wine, hoping for a quick buzz to calm my nerves.
“Hmn.” She poured me some more wine, even though I had barely had any yet. It’s clear that this is becoming a “you had to be there” kind of story, since Sonia clearly wasn’t seeing the significance.
“There’s more. When I went to clean up his table and collect the money, there was a fifty-dollar bill. His check was only like five-bucks and he left me a fifty!”
“Wow.” Sonia’s eyes lit up.
“Yeah. I don’t know. I guess this kind of thing happens, but never to me. I don’t know why I can’t stop thinking about him. If he wasn’t so damn good looking, I might have just stopped by now, but he was…so…ugh…” I sighed.
Sonia finished her wine and moved into the living room lying down on the couch. “Why is it so inconceivable that a handsome guy would walk into the diner, take one look at you and want to leave you a nice tip? You’re gorgeous, luv. You know these encounters happen all of the time in the books we read.”
Sonia adjusted her bra and took another sip of wine. God, her boobs were huge. The poor thing could barely stand up without tipping over. She was under five feet, which made the whole situation that much worse. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell if she was tipsy from the wine or if her chest was defying gravity. I certainly didn’t have that problem.
“It’s not about the tip, Sonia…that only added to the mystery. What I can’t get over is the way I reacted when he was around, like a silly schoolgirl. My body was so aware of him. My uniform practically melted off of me.” I said.
Sonia smiled, “Hmn…I think you just need to get some. Well, maybe he’ll come into the diner again and you can find out more about him.”
“I don’t think so. He didn’t strike me as someone who would frequent Stardust. Trust me, if he comes in again, I will just about die.”
Sonia paused and looked down at the floor, then abruptly changed the subject. “I wasn’t sure whether to tell you this, but I saw Nate today.”
“What? Where?” I asked, freaking out.
“He was coming off the Red Line when I was getting on at Alewife.” She stared at me looking for my reaction.
Nate and I dated for almost a year and broke up three months ago. I met him on the train back when I was commuting to Simmons College. At first, I thought he was the most handsome, sensitive, artistic guy I had ever met. You could tell Nate anything and he genuinely listened. Being with Nate was so easy…during the early days. I hadn’t been used to guys that had feelings and who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to offer on the inside. We had a great first few months and in many ways, he really introduced me to Boston, even though I had grown up here, showing me all of the museums and taking me to concerts. Nate taught guitar at Berkeley College of Music. We had bonded over the fact that we were both adopted. Eventually, we moved in together in an apartment near Fenway Park. It was during that time, I discovered Nate was an alcoholic. The sensitive guy I met slowly shown himself as someone I felt I didn’t know anymore. He was very good at hiding it from me in the beginning, but eventually wasn’t able to.
“What did he say to you?” I asked.
Sonia never knew Nate when we were dating, since I met her after we broke up, but she encountered him the couple of times he came to the apartment looking for me when I wasn’t home. He had somehow gotten my new address here.
“He just said to tell you to call him.” Sonia handed me a card Nate had given her. It was a new cell number on a Berkeley College of Music business card.
I stared at the card. “Hmn. Did he seem ok?”
“Yeah, I mean, he looked fine, just a little sad, maybe. He also said to tell you he was sorry about how everything turned out.” Sonia frowned.