Morgan Huston looked up from the letter she was typing as her intercom bleated for attention. Again. For the third time.
"Morgan... I can't seem to find my notepad. I had it this morning, when I spoke with Mr. Jamison. Can you please check my desk?"
She stifled a sigh, brushing her slightly too long bangs off her forehead. "Sure. Give me a second."
Finishing her letter, she made her way into her boss' cluttered office. He was a much better attorney than he gave himself credit for, but he was hopelessly unorganized. She found his notepad just where she knew it would be, halfway down his pile of Things To Get To Sometime Today. Which was sandwiched between Things To Get To Immediately, and Things That Can Wait A While.
"What would you do without me, Carl?" she muttered, trying to do a cursory cleanup of the piles. She glanced around again. "Probably get lost in here and never find your way out. They'd have to send in expeditions after you."
She rapped on the door of the tiny conference room before letting herself in. Smiling politely at Carl's client, Mr. Valish, she gritted her teeth to ignore his leer as his gaze roamed suggestively over her figure. She'd dressed conservatively precisely because she knew he'd be in the office today, but apparently it wasn't enough. Maybe a burlap sack would do it, she thought, irritated, resisting the urge to tug the hem of her skirt down.
"Here you go. Is there anything else?"
Carl distractedly looked up from the file he was leafing through. "What? Oh, no. Thanks."
"You sure?" she said, inwardly wincing at the annoyance she could hear in her tone.
His dark brows drew together in mild consternation, marring the youthful look of his features. "No... no, I think we're fine, Morgan. Thanks."
Morgan nodded and began to make her way back towards the door. A sudden sharp pain made her yelp and jump. She whirled around. "Hey!"
Oh my God, he just pinched my ass! she thought, feeling her eyes widen in shock.
Valish was openly grinning, and when she glared at him, he waggled his bushy eyebrows in a way that made her skin crawl. Speechless, she directed her furious gaze at Carl, who smiled apologetically at her, but he said nothing, and his eyes pleaded with her not to make a scene.
Without another word, she stormed out of the conference room and retreated to her desk, where she sat, seething. What a loser! I can't believe he just did that!
She didn't know why she was surprised. Valish wasn't the first of Carl's clients who'd manhandled her, but it still shocked her every time it happened. Not that it happened very often, but she'd been working for Carl for five years now, and even a handful of times was too many.
Morgan glanced down at herself. Lately, she'd begun eating regularly again -- and trying to eat right -- and gentle curves had begun to replace the stick thin form she'd had for the last several years. Her height gave her a figure her mother would have called statuesque. Her shapeliness, long brown hair, and light brown eyes combined to give her a look that was beginning to net her second glances from guys -- something that hadn't happened since high school. That was nice, but she could definitely do without the attention from Carl's sleazy clients.
Her anger and the unhappiness and discontent that had been building within her suddenly boiled over, and she started up her word processing program and began typing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Morgan kept her gaze trained on her desk as Carl shook hands and laughed with Valish. His laugh was brittle and way too loud, which told her he was definitely not happy with the client. She wished he would express his displeasure to the man, but that was obviously too much to ask. She mumbled a reply as Valish cheerily said goodbye and conveyed his wish to see her again soon. It took everything she had to remain quiet and not tell him exactly what she thought of him.
Holly came bustling in then, all blondeness and bouncy youth and vitality, and Morgan shuddered anew at the way Valish's appraising gaze traveled over the girl's body.
"She's sixteen, you pig!" she muttered, forcing herself to smile innocently when the three of them glanced over at her. Their puzzled expressions reassured her that her words hadn't been distinguishable.
Valish finally took his leave, and both Carl and Morgan sighed with relief.
"That guy's creepy," Holly said, her blue eyes wide and apprehensive as she unconsciously shifted away from the door.
"Why do you take on sleazeballs like that?" Morgan demanded of Carl.
"Hey, he's a client, Morgan. A sleazy client is better than none -- "
"You're a good attorney, Carl. You could do so much better than him! That was the reasoning you used five years ago before you built up a client base!"
He looked surprised at her vehemence, and she sighed. It was an argument they'd had at least twice a month for a year, and his mulish opinion never changed. She wasn't sure it ever would, and suddenly she was very tired of trying to change it. "Never mind. Carl, can I talk to you?"
"We're talking," he said warily. "Aren't we? You are, at least."
"In private," she answered, glancing at his office. Holly was peeking surreptitiously between them as she looked through the filing to be done, trying to pretend like she wasn't paying attention.
He suddenly looked a lot more concerned. "Sure," he said, gesturing her in before him. She took a deep breath, steeling herself as he closed the door and made his way to his desk.
Morgan remained standing as he sat, and he looked even more apprehensive, if that was possible.
She took another deep breath, which turned into a sigh, and then she handed him the letter she'd typed earlier. "Here, Carl. The letter is my notice of resignation, effective two weeks from today."
"What? You can't be serious!" Carl sat back in his chair, astounded, his baby blue eyes wide with disbelief.
"Look -- "
"Just because he pinched you? Come on, Morgan -- "
She gaped at him, astounded. "You make it sound like that wouldn't be a good reason! You didn't even say anything to him, and what he did was clearly inappropriate!"
"It's just one slimeball."
"And if it was some gross woman groping you against your will, one wouldn't be enough? Look, the fact is, it isn't just one slimeball. You know he isn't the only one who's done that -- and he isn't even the main reason I'm leaving. He was just the breaking point. You're a good man, Carl, and a great attorney -- I just wish you realized that. I've been here five years, and I've seen you get so much better at what you do, but you're still taking on the same scumbags you did right out of law school. You're squandering your potential, and I think you're squandering mine."
His eyes narrowed. "How am I squandering yours?"
"I'm getting paid receptionist's wages -- good receptionist's wages, but still receptionist's wages -- for doing the work of a legal secretary. Hell, Carl, sometimes I do paralegal work!"
"You're not trained for it -- you think you could go anywhere else and get more money? Is that what this is? You angling for a raise?"
She was genuinely hurt by his hostility; they had always had an excellent rapport, and she considered him closer than some of the people she classed as friends. "Carl, have I ever done anything like that?" When he just glared at her, she demanded, "Well? Have I?"
After a pause, he grudgingly shook his head. "No."
"You've always paid me well for what my job description entails, and you've been very fair with raises. It isn't about the money. You know it's not. You, of all people, know it's not the money. You've supported me through some -- some awful things, and you've helped me more than I can say. I'm just not happy here anymore, and if the last few years have taught me anything, it's that you have to be happy in your life. Or, at least, you have to try."
Carl scowled, and she said, "Yes, I know it sounds naïve and clichéd. That doesn't make it any less true."
"I'm sorry, Carl. It's been a pleasure to work with you, and I'm not just being polite. As I said, I will stay on for two weeks -- I don't want to leave you completely in the lurch -- "
"You think you're indispensable?"
"Why are you being so hostile? I'm not doing this to hurt you! If you'd like, we can get rid of the first names and go back to honorifics, Mr. Levitt!"
Carl blinked. He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I'm sorry, Morgan. It's just... well, I guess you are indispensable."
She smiled sadly, remembering what she'd thought earlier when she'd been searching for his notepad. "I'm not. You'll be fine, Carl. Just promise me you won't put it all on Holly. She's just a file clerk, and she's in high school! At least when I started, you had Marianna. Hire someone, okay?"
He nodded, and she set her letter of resignation on top of his Things To Get To Immediately pile. She held out her hand, and he shook it. "Thanks, Morgan. For everything. You've helped me more than I can say, and I'm sorry to see you go. Very, very sorry."
"I'm sorry, too, Carl. But it's time. Way past time."
Carl sighed again, moving her letter to the very corner of the desk, away from his piles, as if he were afraid it would infect them somehow. "I'll leave this here until tomorrow, okay? If you reconsider -- "
"I won't. I wouldn't have done this if I weren't absolutely sure," she told him, but she refrained from letting him know how often she'd been on the verge of quitting.
His eyes met hers, and after a long, tense silence, he nodded once more. She turned to leave, and he said, "Shut the door on your way out, okay?"
She did, returning to the outer office, where Holly was filing and trying to look as if she hadn't been attempting to eavesdrop -- it was rare for Morgan and Carl to have closed door arguments. Normally, when they had disagreements, it was in the outer office. Morgan crossed over to her, and Holly glanced at the closed door of Carl's office.
"What's up, Morgan?" Her voice was hushed.
"I'm leaving, Holly. I just gave Carl my two weeks' notice."
"What? But you've been here forever!"
Morgan laughed. "Forever? How old do you think I am, kid? I've been here five years, and it's time to go."
"You can't leave me here with all of his creepy clients!"
She felt a pang of unease, remembering the way Valish had looked at Holly. She fleetingly wondered if it was a bad idea for her to leave. But the truth was, she wasn't Holly's mother, and if it was anyone's job to look out for Holly, it was Carl's. After all, he was her employer. Morgan resolved to have a word with him about that before she left.
"Listen to me, Holly. Don't you let them lay a finger on you. You tell Carl, and if he doesn't do anything, then you... you file a civil suit on the bastard, okay? Hell, you're a minor -- press charges!"
Holly laughed. "I'm gonna miss you, Morgan."
"I'll miss you too, kid," Morgan said with a fond smile. "And I'm not kidding about pressing charges, okay?"
Holly rolled her eyes, but she nodded.
With one more glance at Carl's closed office door, she sat down at her desk to begin going through her computer files.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
What she'd done really didn't hit her until she climbed into her car that night. Right before she left the office complex's parking lot, she slammed on her brakes, ignoring the indignant honk from someone behind her. The other driver maneuvered around her to pull out into the street, cursing the whole way, but she barely even noticed.
"Oh my God. I just quit my job. With nothing lined up to take its place. What the hell did I do? What the hell am I doing?"
There was a brief moment of panic, and her fingers shook as she dialed her best friend's number on her cell phone.
"This is Cassidy Garcia. I'm unavailable to take your call right now..."
Morgan hit the end button and dropped the phone on the passenger seat, her breath suddenly shaky and hitching.
When she realized what she was doing -- hyperventilating and blocking traffic -- Morgan took deep breaths and tried to compose herself. She pulled out of the parking lot and over to the side of the street, and after a few minutes, her breathing started returning to normal. She eased out into traffic, and the drive home began on autopilot, as it usually did; the car seemed to go where she needed it to go while she was lost in thought.
It wasn't really all that shocking what she'd done, once she thought about it. Quitting was something she'd been thinking of doing for months. Her letter of resignation had come to her extremely easily, and she realized now that that was because she had been drafting it in her head for quite a while.
What she'd told Carl was true -- money was not the issue. She glanced around at her car, a light blue Saturn she'd had for a few years. It wasn't fancy or new, but it was functional, and well-kept, and it was paid off. The house she lived in -- what had once been her family's home -- was also paid off.
Her father had kept his affairs well in order, and she knew that that had saved her -- saved her well-being, and might have even saved her life -- after the sudden deaths of her parents and older brother three years previously. His investments and insurance had allowed her to pay off their house and her car, and they provided her with almost enough to live comfortably on.
Working for Carl had helped her pay the incidental bills, and it had been secure, and stable. But the suffocating fog of grief she'd been living in had slowly begun easing over the last few months, and her steady, predictable life was chafing.
"You forgot lonely," she muttered, startling herself.
She was surprised to find herself in her neighborhood. On her street, actually. Apparently, she'd been even more lost in thought than usual. She waved to the two little girls jumping rope in a driveway, and they giggled and waved back.
There weren't as many children in the neighborhood now as there had been when she was growing up.
"Guess they grew up too," she realized. There were still some kids, but it wasn't like the swarms of children who'd once played football and baseball in the street. And now grandchildren -- the children of her childhood playmates -- were appearing. A pang of some emotion she couldn't quite identify struck her, and she unconsciously rubbed her chest.
"And we're back to the lonely..."
She pulled into the garage and shut it behind her. The house was dark when she opened the door, and she rushed to turn on some lights. Morgan hated coming home to a dark house. It served as too much of a reminder that she was the only one living in the large, empty spaces.
"Not that Mom or Dad would have been home by now, anyway," she said, but she knew it was the principle of the matter. It was the idea that no matter how long she was gone, or how dark it got, no one else would ever be home to turn on a light. "And you've really got to work on the whole talking to yourself thing, Morgan."
The phone rang as she was pulling her dinner out of the oven. She juggled the phone and her hot dish, somehow managing to get almost all the way to the kitchen table without dropping the phone or her food, and without burning herself.
"Hello? Oh, jeez, wait -- Ow!"
"What the hell are you doing?" Cassidy sounded amused.
"Trying not to kill myself. You know my kitchen skills."
"Should I call back later?"
"No!" Morgan laid her napkin over her plate and sat back in her chair. "No, no. What's up?"
"Your number came up as a missed call, and you didn't leave a message. I was in a meeting. What's going on?'
Morgan cleared her throat, going for nonchalance. "Oh, not much. Gave my notice to Carl today." Cassidy didn't reply, and Morgan got worried. "Cass?"
"Good wow or bad wow?"
"Just... wow. That's... definitely sudden. Why? You have something else lined up?"
The unease Morgan had been feeling earlier returned full force. "Not really. I mean... no, I don't. I don't know what I'm gonna do yet, Cass, but I just got sick of being there. One of Carl's bags o' sleaze pinched me today. Again."
Cassidy made a sound of disgust. "Why does he take those clients? You can't tell me he doesn't know they're slime."
"He knows. I know he knows -- not that he ever says anything, but I know he knows. And I don't know why he takes them on, but I'm sick of trying to figure it out."
"You sure you know what you're doing, Morgan?"
Morgan sighed. "No. Not really. But I did it."
"Wish I could just up and change like that."
The wistful tone in her voice surprised Morgan. "You're not happy there? You're building spaceships, Cass! How cool is that?"
Cassidy laughed. "Yeah. I guess. They're a lot more of a pain in the ass than you'd think, these spaceships. Just had a bad day. Too many meetings, nothing accomplished, you know the drill."
Her friend sounded exhausted and depressed, and Morgan frowned. "I'm sorry."
"Not your doing, but thank you. So anyway, what's next?"
"I don't know yet. Guess we'll see what we can find, huh?"
"I'm sure you'll find something with no problem. Good luck, and you let me know what's going on, okay?"
"Definitely. Listen, dinner's getting cold and I don't think I can bring myself to go back into the kitchen. It's scary in there."
Cassidy laughed. "It sure is. I think Diego's at the door anyway -- I can hear the dogs barking. I'll talk to you soon, ‘kay, Mor?"
"Yep. You take care."
Morgan hung up and silence descended once again. She fidgeted while she ate her dinner, trying to ignore the quiet emptiness, but it gradually overwhelmed her. She jumped up and flipped on the TV, filling the house with noise and light. She had no idea what the screen was showing, but anything was better than the gloomy darkness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Morgan entered the office the following morning and stopped short. There was a girl in her chair. Well, a woman. A young woman. She was probably twenty. Maybe. She was wearing a skirt that was entirely too short for the office, and a suit jacket that she was nearly falling out of. Her hair was a vivid, unvarying red, and her eyes were a bright green that was startling and completely unrealistic.
"Hello. The visitor's chair is on the other side of the desk."
The girl smiled poisonously at her, tapping Morgan's favorite pen against Morgan's favorite coffee mug. She gave a little wave, her cherry red acrylic fingernails clicking loudly against one another. "I'm Laura. The agency sent me over. I guess I'll be replacing you."
Morgan bit back the retort that first came to her, snatching the pen from Laura and returning it to her pen cup. "Looks like you'll be trying to," she finally said through gritted teeth.
Carl came out of his office. "Ah, Morgan. You two've met, that's good." He saw Morgan's look of suspicion and distaste, and he beckoned her into his office.
"Where'd she come from?"
Carl shrugged uneasily. "Well... you told me you weren't going to change your mind, so I figured that I had to be prepared. I made some calls yesterday."
She was surprised at the hurt she felt. Despite the fact that she knew -- and she'd told Carl -- that she was not indispensable, the speed at which he'd found a potential replacement was a little startling. She stared at him for a moment, and then she blurted out, "Did they send you pictures to choose from instead of résumés, or what?"
Carl looked confused, and Morgan glanced back towards the main part of the office and raised an eyebrow. He blushed. "I guess I need to have a word with her regarding proper office attire."
Morgan's grin was wicked. "Just wait until Mr. Valish's next appointment -- she'll learn quick enough."
Carl gave a little, embarrassed laugh. "Listen, Morgan, you know I'm really sorry about that -- "
Now he says something... she thought in irritation.
"Your apology doesn't do me any good now, Carl. You need to tell your clients to keep their hands off the office staff." There was a tense pause. "What experience does she have?" Morgan asked, and Carl hesitated, a troubled look crossing his features. "Look, Carl, if she's going to take my place, I want to make sure she can handle it. Like I said yesterday, she's going to be doing more than just answering phones."
"Isn't it my call whether or not she can handle it, Morgan?"
Morgan tried to stifle her irritation. "Sure. Fine. I'll teach her as much as she can learn. You need to get her a chair." It was on his head if he hired a useless, bitchy chick with big breasts and no brain.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Wouldn't it be easier to do it this way?"
Morgan rubbed her forehead, letting her breath out in a deep sigh. Laura's sickly sweet voice felt like an ice pick in her brain. The girl -- woman, she reprimanded herself -- was challenging her on everything.
"It might be a little bit easier, yes, but that's not how Mr. Levitt wants it done, all right? You might think I don't know what I'm doing because I'm only a couple of years older than you -- "
"A couple years? Is that all? I never would have guessed!"
Gritting her teeth, Morgan forged on. "Yes, a couple years. But I've been pretty much running this office for several years now. I know what works best. If you're going to be taking over, then yes, you're gonna have to find your own ways of doing stuff, but can you at least let me tell you how I've done it without interrupting me every two minutes?"
Laura gave her an -- obviously false -- wounded look. "Well, jeez, you don't have to snap at me. I'm just trying to learn here!"
Morgan looked away to keep from rolling her eyes, and her gaze caught Holly's. The younger woman was staring at the temp with unadulterated loathing. Laura had snottily introduced herself to the file clerk and then had entirely ignored her.
The three women were alone in the office. Carl had left for an afternoon arbitration hearing, and Morgan was afraid there was going to be bloodshed soon. She was doubly afraid she'd be the perpetrator.
"I need a break," Laura said, sighing dramatically as she got up and flounced out of the office.
Holly turned pleading eyes on Morgan. "I'm sorry for everything even slightly rude or mean I've ever said! You can't leave, Morgan! You can't leave me with her!"
Morgan grimaced. "I'm so sorry, Holly. But if she thinks that attitude and an innocent act are going to work with Carl, she's sadly mistaken. I give her two days."
"He'd actually have to be here to notice how horrible she is," Holly argued, and Morgan opened her mouth to say something, but she promptly shut it when the main office door flew open. Laura sashayed back in, and Morgan and Holly shot one last commiserative look at each other and then returned to their tasks.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"This is Cassidy."
"Oh my God, Cass, day from hell!"
"What happened?" Cassidy sounded alarmed.
"You should see the temp Carl hired." Morgan rolled her eyes at the memory.
"Already? Damn! That was quick."
"That's what I said! She is so useless. She's like five, and she dresses like a secretary in a porno film!" Cassidy laughed, and Morgan couldn't help but smile. Just ranting to a sympathetic friend made her feel a little better. "So how was your day today? Better than yesterday, I hope."
"Yeah, it was. One of our proposals got accepted!"
"Cassidy, that's great!"
"Yeah, I'm really pleased..."
Morgan listened as Cassidy gave her the briefest -- unclassified -- details of the upcoming mission. It was pretty cool to have a rocket scientist for a best friend, Morgan thought, and it was a thought she'd often had before. Her attention was diverted by the landscape coming up on her right.
"Oh my God," she blurted, interrupting her friend. "Cass, I just got the greatest idea! I gotta go!"
"What?" The alarm was back in Cassidy's voice.
"I gotta go!"
"Morgan! Is everything okay?"
"Yes! More than okay! I'll call you later!"
She distractedly hung up, staring over the high hedges at the peak of the Matterhorn beyond. A smile bloomed over her face as the idea took shape. She swung into a turn lane towards a driveway marked Shipping and Receiving, and she pulled up to the guardhouse.
An older man, lean and wiry with craggy features, attired in a security guard's uniform, cautiously clambered out of the guardhouse. He motioned for her to stop. "You're not allowed to be here, ma'am."
Ma'am? I'm a ma'am? What happened to miss? "I know. Look, I know this sounds crazy, but I'd like to apply for a position here. Well, maybe not here. In the park, I mean." She shut her mouth, trying to stem the nervous babble she could feel bubbling up.
He stared at her without responding, and she said, "I'm serious!"
"Ooookay. Well, then, you'll need to go to the Casting Center. You're going to turn around here, make a right at the light and then two more rights at the next two lights, and it'll be on your right hand side. It's a big yellow building. Says ‘Casting Center' in huge letters on the side. You can't miss it."
She gave him a huge smile, trying to pretend she didn't realize he was talking to her as if she were a child. "Thanks so much!"
He nodded warily. "Good luck," he told her stoically. His expression said, You'll need it.
Morgan found the building with no problem and parked in one of the spaces marked Guest. She gave herself a cursory glance -- her clothes were neat and professional, if a little bit wrinkled from the day's wear, and her hair was still neatly up. The extra strong hold mousse she used worked wonders. Her bangs could use a trim, but that was nothing new. A quick swipe of lip gloss -- her only concession to makeup -- and she was ready to go.
She pushed open the double doors, noting how quiet the building was. Most of the lights were off, but the receptionist's desk was bathed in a soft, inviting glow.
The impeccably groomed young woman seated behind the desk was obviously clearing away her work for the night, and Morgan glanced at her watch. Five minutes to six -- quitting time. She wondered if she was too late, and just as she was about to turn around to exit, the woman looked up, her annoyed expression sliding smoothly away into a bright, patented Disney smile.
"May I help you?"
"Hi, yes, I'm interested in applying for a position in the park. I was told I should speak to someone here." She didn't think it necessary to mention who had told her or what the circumstances had been.
The woman smiled. Her nametag said Perla. It looked exactly like the nametags park employees wore. And now that Morgan thought about it, the guard she'd talked to had been wearing one as well. His name had been Henry.
"Yes, this is the right place!" Perla chirped. "Okay, there's several things you can do. There's a phone interview you can take, or you can fill out a paper application and a questionnaire." She peeked at the clock as she said the last part, and Morgan took pity on her.
"A phone interview sounds kind of interesting."
Perla smiled, a bit wryly. "It's definitely quicker. And it's very simple, one for yes, two for no, that sort of thing." She handed Morgan a card. "Just call this number and follow the instructions. After you finish the interview, there'll be further instructions for you to follow."
Morgan smiled at her. "Thanks very much."
"You're welcome. Good luck!" Perla said it a lot more warmly than Henry the security guard had.
Morgan kept the card clutched in her hand the whole way home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She groaned as she pulled into her driveway. Her neighbor, Adam -- the only one in the area that was remotely her age -- was watering his lawn. He waved, dropping the hose and ambling over. Adam was nice enough for short periods of time, but he could be extremely self-centered and annoyingly talkative. He was tall and gangly, with shaggy, light brown hair and a fair complexion, and he always put her in mind of a wobbly fawn.
"How're you doing, haven't seen you in forever!"
"Been around. Working a lot. You?" She was bubbling over with excitement, dying to tell someone her latest plan, but she didn't want Adam to be the first person she told.
She realized with a sudden sharp ache that she really wanted to tell her mom, and she bit down hard on her lip to stop the tears that sprang to her eyes. Adam was prattling on about something, and she did her best to tune in.
"...he should be here and all moved in by this weekend."
Morgan blinked. "What? Sorry, missed that."
He glanced at her for a moment, obviously wondering if she'd been listening to him at all. "My friend Dean is going to be staying with me for a while -- his company transferred him, and it was really sudden, and you know, the house payment is kind of a lot, and ever since Paul left, it's been a little bit tough. So Dean's gonna stay a while. It should be fun, even though we haven't really seen each other since high school. But we were really close back then, and it's a big house. I think it'll be okay. He's a really great guy, you'll love him."
"That sounds nice," Morgan said, trying to sound enthused. She wondered if he was trying to convince her or himself. Oh joy. Two Adams. Paul was bad enough! Maybe it's time to consider selling... But her eye caught the lines of the house behind her, and she knew she could never sell. The emptiness was hard to deal with, and the memories were painful sometimes, but they were all she had left.
Adam was babbling on again, something about Paul -- his ex-partner and favorite subject. Morgan had no idea how to extricate herself. She hit on an idea, and when Adam paused for breath, she broke in with, "I'd love to stay and chat with you, but I have groceries." She pointed at her trunk with a thumb. "Milk and... stuff. But it's been great talking to you, and I can't wait to meet your friend!"
He looked disappointed, but he nodded and wandered back to his own yard. She felt bad for lying to him, but if she didn't give him some excuse, she'd never get away from him, and she had an interview to do.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Morgan stifled her groan as she pressed the "one" button on her phone once more. She'd lost count of how many questions she'd answered.
Does anyone actually answer these questions truthfully if the answer reflects negatively on them? she wondered incredulously, but she was careful not to make a sound, just in case it changed the way the phone was registering her answers. But she couldn't believe these questions. Who would answer yes to whether it was okay to take five dollars out of the till with the intention of paying it back later?
This had to be how they weeded out the complete idiots -- there had to be much more to the interviewing process. Otherwise she was going to have to revise her opinion of Disney in a big way.
"Congratulations! You have completed the phone portion of the audition process."
Morgan rolled her eyes at the phrasing, but she sighed in relief.
"Please press one to schedule a group audition with one of our casting agents."
Morgan blinked in surprised gratitude, quickly pressing one. She went through the process, carefully staring at her phone to make sure she hit the right buttons to schedule a "group audition" for Thursday morning. Carl would just have to do without her for a few hours.
She smirked as she hung up the phone. Guess we'll see how Laura does handling the office for a few hours...
If she remembered Carl's schedule correctly -- and she pretty much always did -- Thursday was a light morning. While she was glad for Carl, she was a little disappointed that Laura wouldn't get a baptism by fire.
Finally done with the interview, she decided to check her email. After the never ending battle with spam, she'd whittled her inbox down to half a dozen new emails. She jumped with surprise when she saw who the latest email was from. The surprise was quickly followed by a strange sense of dread. She remembered when she'd received love notes -- or what passed for them -- from that address, when her heart had fluttered whenever she'd seen it.
"Oh, great," Morgan sighed. "What do you want, Rob?"
Out of habit, her gaze went to the space on the shelf by her desk where the picture of her and Rob Monroe had rested for several years. Their relationship had started in high school and progressed through college. It had been rocky before her family's deaths, but it had completely fallen apart during the grief that had swallowed her afterward. She'd needed someone to hold her and soothe away the night terrors, and Rob -- never an overly affectionate man -- had been completely unable to give her what she needed.
"Cold bastard," she muttered, remembering the way he'd sat uneasily next to her during the funeral. She'd been a sobbing wreck, and she didn't remember much about the day, but she did remember that Rob had had his hands in his lap, not even helping to shore her up the way Jeremy and Cassidy and her then boyfriend -- now husband -- Diego had.
They hadn't talked for over two years, and then she had received an email from him, completely out of the blue. It had shocked the hell out of her. Very short and very neutral -- clearly testing the waters. She had responded in kind, and they'd begun a very cautious email exchange. She wasn't sure why she was talking to him, and Cassidy, Jeremy, Holly, and nearly everyone who knew told her that it was a mistake, but she couldn't quite bring herself to ignore his emails.
Hope you're doing well. I'm settled into the new apartment, and things are going pretty good for me. It's a lot bigger than the last one, and very comfortable. Not that I'm home a lot -- long hours, as usual.
There aren't many people our age in the area, but again -- I'm never home anyway. I'm hoping to take a short vacation soon, time to decompress, at least for a few days. Then back to the grind.
How are you? Anything exciting going on? Still working for Levitt? Have you given any more thought to going back to school, Morgan?
Hope to hear from you soon.
"Wow," she muttered. "And I thought I was lonely. Least I have Cass and Jeremy and Zach and Mandy. And Adam, if it comes to that!"
In all of his emails, Rob had never mentioned friends. They were all about work, or his family, or what he'd acquired lately. There'd been one brief mention of a mutual acquaintance, but that had been all. It was actually a little bit sad, and she couldn't help but pity him.
Morgan did her best to harden her heart. "He chose his lifestyle," she reminded herself.
It was clear that while Rob was apparently doing very well financially, he wasn't happy with his life. She knew him well enough to know that by the tone of his email -- not that his emails were ever overly friendly, that wouldn't be him.
Rob had spent much of their relationship impressing upon her how important it was for one to do well for oneself, for one to be financially settled and well taken care of, and that a job's worth was based on the salary it offered and not the personal happiness it provided. One of their last arguments had begun when he'd tried to console her by saying, "At least your father had his affairs in order."
Now, she could see how important it had been, but at the time, all she'd been able to think about was that her mom and her dad and her brother were gone, and who cared that their affairs were in order.
Tiredly, Morgan rubbed her forehead and closed the email without answering. All of the doubts and uncertainty she'd once felt about her life's goals and her career choices -- even her decision making abilities -- came flooding back. What the hell was she doing quitting a steady, well paying job to work in an amusement park?
"What are you, sixteen, Mor? Come on, it's time to grow up." The words -- said with wry amusement and not a little condescension -- floated into her head, perfectly formed in Rob's cultured tones.
"Oh God," she groaned, scrubbing at her suddenly watery eyes. "This is why talking to him is a bad idea."
Morgan tried to ignore the doubts; after all, if she listened to them, she'd probably end up like Rob. Rich and miserable wasn't something she wanted, but at the same time, with all the memories assaulting her, it was incredibly difficult for her to break out of Rob's mindset.
The exhilaration she'd felt after finishing the interview had dwindled down to a confused glimmer of hope. She glanced at the clock. It was too late to call Cassidy, and Jeremy was either working the night shift or out, so it looked like another night with Ben & Jerry and Gus Grissom and the gang. Her big news would have to wait until tomorrow.
On to Chapter 2