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And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. - T.S. Elliot
n a sunny Friday morning in an apartment on the eastside of Charlotte, North Carolina, at 6:35 a.m., an alarm didn’t go off. Three loud bangs came on the door of one of the bedrooms, “Dude! Wake up; you’re late for work! Jim, get the hell out of bed!” yelled the roommate. He woke furiously and snapped his neck toward the alarm clock to see it hadn’t gone off; he should have been up at six. He swore under his breath and jumped out of bed and into the closest clothes he could find. Unfortunately, what he found was a neon-green shirt and a blue tie. Not the greatest choice, by any means; however, there was no time to be stylish, he had to get to work fast. He ran out of the room with one shoe on and the other in his hand, his roommate, who was sitting on the couch watching morning cartoons and eating Fruity Pebbles cereal, was seeing this disaster in the making. “What in the actual hell are you wearing? You don’t match at all,” his roommate laughed. “Shut up man, I don’t have time to change.” “Well hang on one second, at least,” he sat his breakfast down and went over to his friend to fix his bedhead into something half-stylish. “There, now it’s professional bedhead.” “Thanks. Alright, I gotta run, I’ve already missed the bus!” “Go make that money man!” his friend slammed the door as he returned to watching cartoons and eating cereal. He didn’t have to go to work for several more hours, but had kept this routine since he was in college and was an immense creature of habit.
here are certain jobs that are truly monotonous to their core. Investment banking was one of those jobs if you weren’t a top dog. Jim had a cubical with pictures of friends, a tiny printer, and a calendar that was bleeding it had so many appointments. Only by the grace of God did it not have full walls and he could see other people and out the windows of the floor. He was not a top dog. He was, however, the assistant to a top dog. “From you’re favorite place on Elm Street,” Julie said as she came around the corner with two coffees, an assistant of another dog. “I hope you got my email last night?” 1
“Oh, I got that little present you left in my inbox, I’m surprised you didn’t light it on fire as well,” Jim took the coffee and sipped. “Oh this is good. Thanks for this.” “Yeah, I am really sorry, but Michael didn’t give his counteroffer until literally fifteen seconds before I sent it to you,” Julie said. “I guess the guy doesn’t believe 12:30 in the morning is too late to be sending stuff marked ‘important.’” “Dick,” they said together and laughed. “Yeah, I figured,” Jim said as he began printing something out. “I had already had three or seven beers so I decided that I was in no mental state to be working on something of this importance to the company.” “So you did it anyway?” “Oh, most definitely,” he handed her the report. “That’s why I’m late this morning. I forgot to set my alarm and I overslept.” “Jesus Christ, you wrote all of this up drunk?” she flipped through the thirty-eight page report. “Yeah, had to run it through spell-check here at the office one time just to make sure there was nothing too crazy, but it should be what they need, not that they will even read it.” “Well, I guess that explains the shirt-tie combo from hell you’re rocking today,” she laughed. “Yeah, with any luck I’ll just hang in my cube until lunch and then go home and change.” “How have you not been promoted?” She asked still puzzled by the report. “It would take me a full day to do something like this and that’s totally sober!” “Because this place is a hellhole,” he laughed. “Once you’re an assistant, there’s not really anywhere else to go. Robert knows I make his life easier but their ego prohibits them from giving anyone else a shot at the inner circle.” “Oh, you mean the Divorced Men’s Club?” they laughed. “Exactly,” his phone rang. “Hello? Oh, yes Robert. Yes she is. Yeah, we’ll be there,” he hung up. “What was that about?” “Conference room in fifteen minutes. We’re presenting this to the ‘Club.’” “Umm, what? We have to present something you wrote intoxicated to the execs?” she almost fell back. “Yeah, but don’t worry. Just go through it and make sure it includes at least four of Michael’s ten ‘must-haves’ and then make sure the other six are in line with the last meetings compromises and we’ll have ourselves a deal. Promise.” “Wait, are we really—” “Did you not hear fifteen minutes? We’re now working with only ten, now go, go, go!” She ran off to her desk and Jim went to the bathroom. He splashed 2
cold water on his face and once again straightened his hair. He tried to think positive thoughts but he kept only being able to imagine being laughed out of the conference room and subsequently laughed out of the building. Several minutes had passed by in a blink of an eye when the door opened. “Jesus, there you are,” Julie was sweating a bit with a stack of spiral-bound reports in her hands. “Just a few changes I had to make, we’re good to go. You ready?” “For sure,” he lied. The next twenty-five minutes went by quickly as they presented the reports to the executives of the company on behalf of Robert. Everyone present looked over their packets and agreed that this was the agreement that they would all sign. They all shook hands and said the usual round of “good job” to each other, even to the ones who just sat there half asleep. Jim and Julie met back up at his desk, “Congratulations Mr. Robinson, you seem to be on your way toward making a difference in the job you will always have.” Just as they raised their water bottles to the air, Robert came by and motioned for Jim to come to his office. He expected praise. “What the hell have you done?” Robert threw his bag onto the desk and fell back into his chair. “How could you think this deal was what I wanted?” “This is what we usually compromise with, it’s the same every time,” Jim couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Did you even read what I gave you? We’re in the middle of a goddamn recession and you’re making deals like we just have unlimited money! Like I’ve got unlimited money!” “I’m sorry, I guess I missed something. I honestly thought this was what you wanted,” by this time, those outside had heard the yelling and were discretely listening in. “We made these types of deals when we were 55% more profitable. Now, I’ve got to call another meeting and explain that we can’t afford a deal like this! And all thanks to my great assistant!” “I don’t know what to say.” “I can’t call a meeting until Monday, so you have until then to get me a proposal to go to them with that doesn’t cut us off at the knees!” “Yes sir, I’ll get on it right away,” he started heading toward the door. “And don’t even think about getting overtime because of this!” He couldn’t even think straight. It’s like everything was a dream that had gone from decent to nightmare in a snap. He walked wide-eyed back to his cube where Julie was waiting. She had heard the yelling and was worried. “What happened?” she asked as she saw him.
“We messed up,” he sat down feeling lifeless. “I messed up. I have to rework the report by Monday.” “We’ll work on it together, it won’t be hard,” she tried to be cheery. “No,” he was still in shock. “No, I need to handle this. I can’t have you involved if this thing goes south.”
he next night, Jim stared out the window with a drink in his hand after a day of reworking the proposal and realizing just how wrong he was. The day was full of self-deprecation, swearing and realizing how he’d been living on cruise control for the past four or five years. A knock at the door surprised him. His roommate was out with his girlfriend and wasn’t expected back until the morning. He opened it. “Dad?” he said surprised. “Hey, son. Can I come in?” “Yeah, of course,” he motioned for his Dad to enter. His father, Donald Robinson, had been retired and divorced for some time. This was the first time in Jim’s memory that he had ever dropped by without notice, “You alright, Dad?” “Oh yeah, I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about,” he said as he sat down on the couch and poured himself a drink. “Let me guess, Bill called you.” “He did. Said you were under a great deal of stress these days and was worried about you. Thought I might be able to help.” “Thanks but no thanks, Dad. I’m handling everything just fine.” “Are you? Because I think if you were handling everything ‘just fine’, you wouldn’t be working at the place you once called a ‘temp job’ and now call a ‘hellhole.’” “What are you saying Dad?” “Why are you still at this job, son? It’s not what you wanted to do in college and it’s not what you seem to want to do now. Plus, I’m not so sure it’s so good for your health.” “Oh, yeah, what would you know about it?” he went back to the window to look at the buzzing Saturday night city life. “If you’ll let me talk and stop being an ass about all this, you might learn I know a great deal,” Jim sighed and came over and sat in the adjacent chair. “Look Jim, do you know why I retired?” “Because Mom’s affair was stressful and you needed a break.” “No,” he said halting Jim’s sip of his drink. “To be honest with you, I think I knew at some level all along that she was cheating. I just didn’t want to accept it.” “Dad, don’t do that to yourself. You couldn’t have known.” 4
“Because I was working so much, I shouldn’t have known. That’s the point. I hated my job, every single day of it. But I had to keep doing it because it supported the family. I thought that justified the ever-increasing hours I had to put in to keep the money coming. It didn’t.” “That doesn’t justify what she did.” “Perhaps not, but that’s not the point. The point is that I missed out on an opportunity to know, or, better yet, prevent it. All for the sake of a job that I didn’t like. I had plenty of opportunities to leave and certainly had the reasons, but I didn’t.” “Like you said, you had a family to support.” “‘Have to’ is a state of mind, son. You don’t have to do anything, really. Sure, there could be sacrifices that come with your decisions, but you can make them nonetheless.” “So you’re telling me to quit.” “I’m telling you to find something that makes you happy and make something of your life. I may have lost your Mom, but I learned from it and made piece with the reasons. That’s why I retired. Because it wasn’t worth it anymore. There were too many things I wanted to do with my life and my job had cost me enough,” they sat in silence for a few minutes. “Did you ever tell Mom any of this?” “Oh good God no,” he laughed nervously. “Why not?” “After the divorce was final, we fell completely out of each others’ lives. I’m sure she’s with someone else these days.” Another long pause. “Thanks Dad.” “Yeah, you bet,” he got up and started heading toward the door. “Well, I’ve got to get on. Matlock reruns are on in an hour and it’s a good one.” Jim laughed and then hugged him, “Alright Dad, I love ya.” “I love you too, son.” He shut the door behind him and walked back into the room and surveyed it. Perhaps he was surveying what he had accomplished so far, perhaps he was figuring out what his sacrifices would be if he did quit. He put the cap on the bottle of Jack Daniels and went into his room. He fell down on his bed and, for the first time in 48 hours, fell right to sleep.
n the corner of Fifth and Elm Street, a parked car sat idle while awaiting the sun to reach above the horizon and onto the skyscrapers’ windows. Charlotte had yet to roll into gear, lights were off, sidewalks barely alive. 5
And although the streets would fill with cars and sidewalks with bustling workers, they certainly wouldn’t fully be alive until coffee or caffeine was found. It was Monday. The car’s door opens and out stepped a young woman of mid-twenties. She had brown hair and brown eyes, which sat behind black-rimmed glasses. Her flats allowed her to move quickly down the street with her hands full of papers, an apron and an old looking copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. She walked into a coffee shop called The Morning Brew and went to the backroom to place her belongings in a locker; another man was there. “You’re late… Again,” the man said before coughing; he smoked heavily. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Willis, I promise that I’ll try to do better,” she hurriedly tied her apron on and went to go wash the tables down while another girl prepared the machines; they wished he would die. “What do you do with yourself anyways that makes you late, hm?” the overweight Mr. Willis asked, barely making it through the breakroom door. “It can’t be makeup, you never seem to wear any. It can’t be the nightlife, you don’t talk of friends. Or perhaps you are leading a double life, eh?” “Oh leave her alone, she works hard, don’t she?” the other girl said in a high-pitched voice. “Harder than you anyways.” She laughed. “One of these days I’m gonna fire you for crap like that Violet!” he bellowed walking back into the kitchen. “Oh yeah? Who you replacin’ me with? Nobody wants to work for you and your below-minimum-wage bullsh--!” she yelled before being interrupted by the phone. Mr. Willis settled the argument with a half-cough, ah-phooey sound from the kitchen. “The Morning Brew, this is Violet, one moment please,” she put the phone away from her ear and looked at her coworker. “Don’t you worry about him Sarah, his opinion doesn’t matter to anybody.” What time do you open? The man on the phone asked. He had a deep voice. “Seven o’clock, and not a minute sooner!” Violet slammed the phone back on the wall.
t seven o’clock on the dot, the doors to The Morning Brew opened to a flood of customers. Cappuccino this, that latte, no whipped cream, only half-and-half, there was conceivably no end to the number of completely different ways people like their coffee. Some wanted breakfast sandwiches, others wanted muffins; but, somehow, between the dysfunctional three employees of The Brew, they served nearly 1,000 customers before noon; not one mistake. Or so they thought. 6
Not long after the rush had ended did a young man walk into the shop with a messenger bag and a nice looking suit. His brown hair was spiked on top and his blue eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep, which, unfortunately, his attitude suffered as a result. “I need a refund and a new drink please,” the man demanded. “I have to pick up my boss’s coffee every morning and this morning was special because he had an extremely important presentation. Now for 269 days, I’ve had the correct order, no big deal, no sweat. But the order today, on the other hand, was completely wrong and all hell broke loose!” Sarah was behind the desk and took the brunt of the man’s dissatisfaction. “I’m so sorry sir, how can I make it right?” she asked nicely. “By making it right!” he said. She apologized again and began making the correct drink of pepperminthazelnut latte with two caramel shots and whipped cream immediately. “269 days, that’s a lot of coffee,” she laughed awkwardly. “Yep,” he snapped before calming down a bit. “My boss is a real fan of routine and caffeine, not the easiest to work for. Hey, I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” “Yes sir, I’m new,” she said. “Today starts my third week. I spent the other two training and some behind-the-scenes stuff.” “Well hopefully this is a one time error then,” he said as she handed him the new, correct coffee. He then left quickly and she stared. How could anyone be in such a hurry, do they even look at life around them? She thought before asking this to Violet. “I don’t know, he looked important,” she said as she pulled out more cream from the cupboard. “Probably thought he was too.”
arah couldn’t worry about the rude customer too much because no matter how bad today was, it was payday and she was in desperate need of money for bills. She had gone to school to become an actress and had moved to Charlotte as an in-between location to build up her resume until she had enough money to move to her dream city: New York. It had become a bit more permanent. She had trouble finding acting jobs and was forced to take here-and-there jobs to make rent each month, her current one at The Brew. She had lost a lot of hope in the idea of making it to New York, but was determined to make it out of waitressing, at the very least. “Alright girls, I know you’ve been waiting,” Mr. Willis handed them their checks and went back into his office. 7
As they both tore open their checks, Violet saw what she expected, while Sarah saw a 200-dollar drop in hers. “Umm, Mr. Willis I think there’s a problem with my check,” she said going into his office. “It’s 200 short.” “That’s correct Ms. Young,” he said. “To replace the cappuccino-maker you broke last week.” She was shocked. “I didn’t break that machine, Mr. Willis, you did!” “I don’t know what your talking about and I think you should leave. I would hate to have to hire a decent waitress and replace… well… you.” “Well then, let me make this easy for you, I quit!” she yelled as she went to grab her coat and things from her locker. “I don’t understand where this is coming from,” he said smugly. “Go to Hell,” she responded, slamming the door shut behind her.
nother scotch on the rocks with a twist? Thanks,” Sarah had hid herself away to a bar in the middle of the city. A happening place on the weekends, however, on Monday evenings, it could be quite slow. “Make that two, Frank,” a familiar voice said. “So we meet again, Ms. New Barista Girl.” “Oh for Christ’s sake, not you again,” Sarah let her head fall to the bar. “Come to complain about the drinks here too?” “Actually, I was walking by and saw you. I… I wanted to apologize,” he sat beside her. “I feel really bad about how I acted today to you. I was under stress and I had been chewed out, so apparently I was under the delusion that yelling at you was the appropriate reaction.” “Thank you for apologizing, but you don’t have to worry about me messing up your coffee anymore, I was fired today.” “Oh…” his jaw dropped. “Not because of –” “—No, no. Because of the stupid, chain-smoking, fat ass owner. But it’s fine, I quit right after.” “You quit? But hadn’t you been fired already?” “Exactly,” she drank half of her drink in one gulp. “But…” he was going to make a joke, but thought better of it. “So what will you do now?” “Well I went to school for acting and that’s all I want to do. This was just to pay the bills… oh, the bills.” She had momentarily forgotten about responsibility, but she now remembered very well the pile of bills that were due. “Don’t worry, I’m sure things will turn around,” he motioned the bartender for two more. “I bet you’re a very good actress. It’s in your eyes.” 8
“Yeah, I don’t think so. Been trying to make it for almost two years now and nothing! That’s not exactly a great resume builder.” She sipped her new drink and her head, again, rested on the bar. “You’re too hard on yourself. Bad things happen to everyone, you just have to have faith something better will come along eventually.” He put his arm around her to comfort her. She had suddenly fallen asleep. He laughed and gave his credit card to the bartender and told him to charge all the drinks to him. “Do you know where she lives?” The man asked the bartender. “I suppose I should take her in a taxi to her home.” “No, but she can sleep it off here.” “Alright, thanks. Here,” he wrote on a napkin a note, “give her this when she wakes up, I think it may help her.” He walked toward the door. “Sure thing, Jim. Hey, that was some pretty good advice you gave this chick tonight. I guess you’re still loving your job at the bank, huh?” “Actually, Frank,” he paused before leaving, “I was fired today.” “No shit.”
im went home and stared at the TV just to keep his mind off the world that seemed to be moving forward without him. Bill Howard, his roommate, walked in and had to snap him out of his daze. “Hey!” he shouted. “Quit your sulking dammit!” It was unsuccessful. “Alright, I’m sorry. That was rude,” he sat in the other seat of the couch. “Look. This is kind of a blessing in disguise, dude. You can’t fool me into thinking you enjoyed that godforsaken hellhole of a bank job.” “It made good money,” Jim said lowly. “Yeah, yeah, it did. But life can’t always be about money. It’s about money when you start working, cause it’s for your survival. And then it’s about money at the end because it’s for your family. But right now, you have to focus on what’s good for you.” “What the hell can I do?” Jim got up and put his dishes in the sink to wash. “What can you do?” Bill laughed. “Every time you and my girl drink together you always talk about how you’d make such a good writer. And we tease you about it, sure, but you know what? You actually would.” Jim’s washing paused. “I know you’ve written drafts,” Bill continued, “and I know what you’re capable of. I’m just not sure you know yet.”
Jim finished washing the dishes and tried to change the subject, “What’d you two do tonight?” “Not much,” Bill answered about him and his girlfriend. “Just talked about her living arrangements. She’s gonna have to move out of her current apartment and find a new place.” “Wow, that sucks. You know she could stay here, I don’t mind. Plus, it’ll help us with rent until I can find a writing job.” “That’s my man! And yeah she’s moving in tomorrow night,” they laughed. They both went into their separate rooms and changed out of their work clothes. Bill called himself a Business Car Entrepreneur but was really an assistant manager at a Nissan dealership. He had worked there since out of high school and just never left. He and Jim met when Jim transferred to NYU. Jim’s experience there turned Bill off from the idea, but he had revisited it some after meeting his girlfriend. Jim graduated with an English major and a minor in Business. He was good with numbers and found working at a bank an easy “temp job.” It soon became more than that when he started making better money, but the responsibilities weighed on him heavily. Bill tried multiple times to get him to leave but the bad economy outweighed his personal health. “So where do you think I should apply?” Jim yelled as he came back out of his room. “You just don’t see ‘writers wanted’ signs around do you?” Bill walked back out as well, “No you don’t. But I think there’s a book you can buy about shopping manuscripts and stuff. While that might not be up your ally right now, there could be some good contacts in there.” “I doubt it, but hey, I got nothing better to do,” he laughed. “Alright man, I’ll see you tomorrow. Let me know if I can help you guys with moving stuff in.” “Thanks man, I will. Good luck tomorrow.”
here are few tastes fouler than that which occurs the morning after drinking heavily. The mouth is as dry as the Sahara Desert and despite your head reminding you that you consumed a lot of liquid last night, your body seems to have forgotten what water is. Sarah was lying, curled up, on one of the booth seats in the bar while the bartender from the previous night was sweeping. It was about 10 a.m. “Mornin’ sunshine,” Frank smiled. She groaned. “There’s water and eight ibuprofen for you at the bar, Hun. I’ll get you some juice after you finish that.”
She got up slow, head pounding and stomach in knots. She went and sipped the water, downing one pill at a time. “What happened last night?” “Well,” Frank laughed, “you had a lot of to drink and Jim kept you company until you passed out and then you crashed here.” “Jim?” “The guy who got mad at you at your shop yesterday.” “Oh…” “He’s a good guy, been coming here for years,” he said now on the other side of the bar pouring her a glass of pineapple juice. “He actually convinced me to try and become a minister. It’s a slow process because of work, but you gotta dream right? Say, you have a place to stay?” She was trying to piece together the events of last night, “Uh, yeah. For a few more days before I’m evicted. No rent this month unfortunately.” “I’m… I’m sorry,” he handed her the juice. “Well, you can crash on the booth as long as you need to get back on your feet, we close at 2 a.m. so be here before that.” “Wow, really? I don’t know what to say.” “Don’t talk, drink your juice,” they laughed. “Oh, by the way, Jim wanted me to give you this note.” First of all, my name is Jim. I hope you’re feeling better now. You need to call a friend of mine, John Fritz. He can help with work. His number’s below, he’ll expect you. Until next time, Good luck! -Jim She thought she might have been in some bad dream where none of the past twenty-four hours had really happened. She would just wake up soon and it all would be over. “Well, thanks for everything,” she said walking out. “Hopefully I will see you again on better terms.” She began walking home, trying to figure out what to do with her life. She hadn’t been in a position like this for a while with the coffee shop job somehow paying the bills. When she got back to her apartment, she realized how much she would miss the place that she’d called home for so long. The paint was chipping and the overall look of everything looked antique and that was not on purpose. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment with a central area and a small, compact kitchen. Kristina Burelli, her roommate, was there. Packing. 11
“Hey girl, you all right?” she said while placing a stereo and a coffee maker in a large box. “Yeah, just drank a little too much last night,” she sat her purse on the counter and sighed. “Yikes, girl. Well, I’m glad you’re back. Paul told us we had to be out by the end of the day.” “What? How can he do that?” Sarah asked as she walked into the apartment and surveyed the boxes. “Said something about the back-rent we haven’t paid,” Kristina taped up a box. “Well, I guess I can’t blame him. How has it come to this?” Sarah began helping with packing. “Don’t blame yourself. It’s happened to everyone. Besides, I found a place to stay. I’ve decided to move in with the boyfriend you’ve never been able to meet.” “Oh, great. And yeah, how is it you’ve been with this guy forever and I have never met him?” “It’s because up until recently, you’ve been a very overworked person.” “Yeah, now I’m the complete opposite of overworked,” Sarah said as she went into her room with a few boxes. “Do you have any idea what you’ll do for work now?” “No clue. Maybe try acting again?” “Really? That’s great!” “Yeah, I met this guy last night who gave me a contact of some guy who apparently can help me with a job. Or so he says.” “That’s great! So, who’s this guy? Cute?” “He’s alright, but his real asset is being a complete ass,” Sarah told Kristina about the incident at The Brew and then about what she remembered from the bar. “Well, he can’t be all that bad,” Kristina said as she carried boxes from her room to the main room. “After all, he did apologize, he did seem to be nice at the bar and he did give you a contact that could lead to a job.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I still don’t like him.” “Like him or not, if that job contact works out, he could be the one who gets you out of Struggle City.” “We’ll see…”
few months went by and winter was in full effect for Charlotte. Jim had finally found a company who wanted to produce one of his script ideas and make it into an original stage play for the city. His time now was 12
mainly being spent writing the final drafts of the play. Sarah called John Fritz and he asked her to audition to be an extra in his company’s play. She had found a boyfriend herself, who was also in show business, Hunter Shaw. Jim worked for the rival stage company of John Fritz. She still thought about Jim sometimes and he of her, but it wasn’t until another early Monday morning in December that they would meet again.
arah was sitting at one of the diners in the city drinking coffee when Jim walked through the doors and got in line to order. He still carried the messenger bag on his shoulder, but instead of a suit, was wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and a sports coat. He proceeded to order and then as he walked to a table, their eyes locked. “Well, hello stranger,” he said smiling. He walked over to her table. “How are you these days? I heard you called John.” “I’m good, thanks. And yeah I did. He has me in his current play,” she invited him to sit. “Oh that’s fantastic! What kind of role are you playing?” “Just a small role, but a start,” she didn’t want to tell him she was an extra. “Beats the hell out of being at The Brew, I bet!” they laughed. “Yeah, it does, no contest.” “So how come you aren’t eating?” “I’m waiting on someone,” she said looking down. “I’m seeing this guy.” “Oh?” he said, trying not to sound disappointed. “Well I guess I should—” “—No you can stay! He’s late, as usual.” “Ok,” he smiled. “So who is this guy?” “His name is Hunter Shaw and he is in the same play as me,” she began as Jim’s food arrived. “We’ve been together a few weeks. It’s a project at times but I really like him.” “You like late?” he quipped and regretted instantaneously. “Hey, don’t judge. He really cares about me, and I about him.” “Ok, ok, I’m sorry. Just ignore me.” “So you still working your super-stressful job?” she tried to change the subject. “Uh, no,” he laughed. “You see, you weren’t the only one that was fired that night at the bar.” “No way!” she almost spilled her cup of coffee. “How come you didn’t say anything?”
“Eh, I’m not one who really likes to put my own burdens on other people. Everybody deals with problems of their own, they don’t need my extra issues piled on top.” “Like me sobbing to you about my job, while being completely intoxicated?” He laughed, “Oh no, that’s different. I could have chosen not to walk into that bar after I saw you. You could have walked into a different bar altogether. I figured it was fate or something.” “You believe in fate?” “I believe in there being a universal balance of some kind.” “Like karma?” “Yeah, I suppose. We both got fired that day. Balance,” he laughed. “So what are you doing now?” she asked as a waitress poured them more coffee. “I’m actually a writer,” he said rather proudly. “I’m currently writing a play for John’s rival.” “That’s amazing! Congratulations. Is that what you wanted to be?” “Yeah, even from an early age, I knew I wanted to tell stories.” “I bet you were an odd boy.” “Still am,” they laughed. “So what stories are you going to tell?” “That, my dear, is a secret for now.” “Well, I’ll have to come and see it when it starts.” “Yes! Definitely. And I need to come see your show!” She hadn’t expected him to be so excited. She was nervous that he might think her show was awful or, worse, that she was a bad actress, “Oh no, you don’t have to do that. It’s not that big a part or even worth mentioning.” “No, really, I want to,” he straightened up, stopped eating and looked into her eyes. “Look, I don’t know why we keep running into each other, but I’m fairly confident I want us to be friends. Is that so bad?” She couldn’t say no when he put it like that. She would be turning down his friendship when really she just didn’t want him to see her show. It was too cruel. “No, it’s sweet,” she said smiling as she reached into her purse to get a piece of scrap paper and a pen. “Here, this is my cell number, give me a heads up when you plan on coming and we’ll do something special.” “Thanks, I’ll be sure to call.” She slid out of the booth and threw her purse over her shoulder, “Well, I’ve got to go, unfortunately. I’ve loved our talk and I hope to hear from you soon.”
They parted ways once more. She desperately hoped that he would find something that would make him too busy to remember her show. Too busy to remember her. She couldn’t.
he had to go back to her apartment before she went to rehearsals. It was very modern and fancy as though perfectly suited for a celebrity. She didn’t feel like one, but Hunter felt that appearance was everything and if she was to be a celebrity with him, she had to live in a place worthy of stardom. Unfortunately, Hunter was there. He’d been drinking. “What are you doing home?!” he growled from the couch where he had sat for the entire night. He bent forward to remedy his empty glass of whiskey. “I had to come by and get some things before I went to rehearsals,” she said timidly. “What happened? Have you been here all night?” He snarled again and got up from the couch, moving toward the window to look out, “What do you care? You’re the one whose going to be making the money now, you don’t need to care.” She was confused about what was going on. Hunter was rambling and still drinking and she couldn’t get through to him, “Just tell me what’s wrong, I’m sure it’s not a big deal—” “—Not a big deal?!!” he yelled. “You don’t know anything! You don’t have answers! You can’t tell me why I was fired from this season’s show and next season’s show in one day. You can’t tell me a goddamn thing!” “You got fired?” she struggled for words. “They, they can’t do that.” “Well they did.” “Well don’t worry babe, we’ll be ok living off my income until you—” “You don’t get it do you!?” he shouted suddenly as he threw his glass at the opposite wall. It shattered into tens of pieces and left a stain. “You… You don’t make the money… You aren’t the successful one… I am.” “Is that what you think of me?” “Do you really think that we found each other out of the blue? That it was fate?” he laughed patronizingly. “My agent told me that you were someone who had a pretty enough face to go somewhere, and stage actors who are married are three-times as likely to get on Broadway he says.” “I can’t believe it,” she now struggled for breath. “But I… I am the famous one,” he stumbled over to get in her face, crashing into the coffee table. His body numb from alcohol, he felt nothing, “I am the ‘household name drawing in the crowds from all over the globe.’ You… you’re just some wannabe actress off the streets who will never find success in anything but waitressing!” 15
He pushed her against the wall holding her by her wrists. She struggled but even in his drunken state, he was still stronger than her, “Let go of me!” “You will learn your place,” he struck her across the cheek with his right hand. It stung and caused a ringing in her ear but she kept the sense of mind, however, and kneed him in the groin as hard as she could. He cried out in pain and fell over backwards, hitting his head on the table. He laid cold and still. At first, she believed he might be dead so she leaned down to check for a pulse under his jaw. The pulse was faint, but there nonetheless. She realized she didn’t have much time so she ran to the bedroom, grabbed a duffle bag and threw as much of her things in it as possible. Only when she was close to finishing did she begin to feel the pain on her face left by Hunter’s hand. She made sure she had all of her important documents and left only things that she could replace easily. She planned to never return. Slamming the door behind her, she ran out into the cold winter morning. She threw her bag in the car, got in and turned the heat on full blast. She then just sat there. Not quite sure if what had transpired previously had actually happened or if it was just some sort of bad dream; however, the pain throbbing in her head reminded her it was quite real. She cupped her hands to her mouth and tried to warm them, as it was an exceptionally cold day for the Tar Heel State. She could see her breath and felt the chilling cold in every inch of her. She knew however, that despite the cold and despite her fear, she had to go. The longer she stayed, the higher the chances he would awake and realized what happened. She could only think of one place she could go. She scrambled through her purse to find a folded Sticky Note that her former roommate had given her. On it was her current address and phone number in case she needed anything. She hated to have to ask for something but knew that her choices were limited. She backed out of the driveway and dialed Kristina Burrelli’s new number, but it wasn’t her who answered. It was her boyfriend.
im came through the door of his apartment in a daze from fatigue. He had spent the last several hours yelling with his boss about the treatment he was currently writing and arguing whether or not to make the center relationship of the play into a love triangle—Jim’s most hated cliché. He threw his bag at the couch that Bill was sitting on having a late lunch. It almost hit him. “Hey! Watch it man, you almost knocked my sandwich out of my hand!” Bill spoke on deaf ears, as Jim’s stride didn’t even break. “Jim, you alright man? HELLO?!” He got up, with plate still in hand, and followed Jim into the kitchen where he basically just fell into a chair. He realized Bill was communicating with him, 16
“Oh, sorry man, super tough day. I just want to eat and sleep until the end of my days.” “Here man, have the rest of my sandwich,” he handed him the half-eaten concoction. “Salami and pastrami?” “With deli mustard, of course.” “Of course,” Jim laughed as he took a bite. “So why don’t you fill me in on this horrible day you had.” He told him everything about the day. How he now hated what he had to do to sell a story and how complicated it all was; How he wanted to finish this show’s current run and then switch; and how Gabe the intern had spilt coffee on him ruining his pants and his breakfast he had brought with him in a paper bag. While he and Gabe were able to switch pants due to their equal build, Gabe did not bring any food with him… “…So I had to go to that old diner we used to go to off Tryon,” Jim said as he finished the last bite the sandwich had to offer. “And I met the girl that I told you about a while back.” “The one from the bar?” “Yeah, that’s the one.” “So, did you still have feelings for her?” Jim wavered, “Well, you know it’s complic—” “—Bullshit,” Bill interrupted. “You’re always sure about how you feel about people. Almost from the first words out of there mouth and, sometimes, before you even cross paths at all. If there’s one thing you’ve always been physic about, is how you are going to feel about someone and you stick to it like gospel. Are you telling me that what you told me all those months ago after several neat Jack and Cokes isn’t true anymore?” “I know, I know,” Jim conceded. “But you have to realize that she’s not single. She’s with a guy and their apparently happy or some crap. There’s no way she would even consider being with me anyways!” “Oh for Christ’s sake, what concocted reason have you come with?” “It’s not concocted! Look, she’s a successful actress and I’m a failure of a playwright who sells out his ideas just so anyone will look at his work. I’m pessimistic, narcissistic and ever since my last relationship that was over uh, I don’t know, three years ago, I haven’t been able to trust anybody enough to not look like a clingy idiot. She’s beautiful, smart, funny and talented and I’m… I’m just me. Plain ol’ everyday less-than-ordinary Jim.” “Wow, you been thinking about this much have you?” Bill laughed. “What makes you think you’re so special?” “Excuse me?”
“Seriously bro, you are no different than any other guy short of Channing Tatum or Ryan Reynolds. Sure, you’ve got a little bit of extra crazy in ya, but hey, that’s not necessarily bad. You just gotta get over the fact that you are exactly as nervous as everyone else and yet, they find happiness somehow. It’s not even that you’re afraid of commitment, which is a normal freaking thing that a doctor diagnoses. You’re afraid of being vulnerable with someone. “And, dude, I get it, Jennifer broke your heart and that sucks, it really does. She screwed you. But you can’t hold onto that heartbreak forever, you need to get out there, find some testicles and realize that you have to sacrifice vulnerability in order to have a chance at happiness. Downside: yeah, you get screwed again and it hurts like hell and we all go out and drink our livers numb. But the upside, though: you get everything you’ve ever dreamed of since even before Jen. Small risk, big reward.” They both sat there motionless. Bill had just given Jim the life advice/chewing out that he would ever receive and it was like he had pushed all the air out of the room. “The point is,” he had one last piece to speak, “that you have to keep trying no matter your past or her past or anything else. If you stop loving, you stop living.” And there it was. Bill got up and put away the dish and cleaned up the mess he had made from making the sandwich. Jim sat there without life. His eyes wide, he thought about all his failed relationships from his first girlfriend in fifth grade that honestly didn’t even count. He thought about all the girls that could have turned out fine but he didn’t even have the courage to ask them for a drink or their number. He wondered if he had already missed the girl that was meant for him, or even if there was one person that was meant for someone. “Oh, by the way,” Bill said as he was about to leave. “We’re going to have a guest for awhile. Kristina’s ex-roommate ran into some trouble with her boyfriend and needs a place to crash. I figured you wouldn’t mind.” “No, of course not,” Jim finally spoke. “Cool, well I’m heading to get some stuff for dinner,” Bill grabbed the keys and put on his coat and scarf. “Promise you won’t do anything stupid while I’m gone?” “Yeah. Promise,” Jim half-laughed. He got up and went into his room, shutting the door behind him. He fell onto his bed and just wanted to sleep. He didn’t want to take off his suit, or even his sports jacket. He just wanted to sleep. He had been brought to the end of his wits and wasn’t the least bit sure where to go from here. Where does someone go once they’ve reached their end?
At two o’clock in the afternoon, Jim’s phone began to ring. He had fallen asleep and hadn’t moved an inch. He struggled to find the source of the obnoxious sound, but couldn’t find it. He checked his pockets of his pants and jacket but to no avail before finally looking right under the bedskirt and grabbing the phone quickly. The call had gone to voicemail and was one of eleven missed calls from his boss. He didn’t really care. He sat up and looked around, gathering himself a bit. He went and brushed his teeth but for whatever reason didn’t think to change from the same suit he wore the previous day and then to bed. He walked out of his room and into the kitchen. Still groggy, he wasn’t aware of his surroundings as he grabbed what he needed to make cereal. If he had, he wouldn’t have been surprised. “Jim!” said a voice behind him. It startled him so badly he dropped the carton of milk into the bowl causing it to spill over the entire floor. He turned around to find the face he least expected to see again. “Sarah!” his voice cracked. “What are you doing here? Wait, are you Kristina’s ex-roommate?” “Yeah,” she laughed getting up to help clean up the milk explosion that had happened. “I thought they said you knew I was staying.” “I did,” he tried to compose himself. “I-I just didn’t know it would be… well… you.” “Are you disappointed?” she sat back down with Jim at the table. “No, of course not,” Jim laughed but then remembered what Bill had told him about her reasons for crashing there. “But wait, what happened with your boyfriend?” She told him everything. She told him about how she had met him and how she found out his ulterior motives. She told him about how her acting career hadn’t really been going to plan and that she was thinking of leaving the business. She confessed that she felt absolutely used and dirty in a sense after being with Hunter. She explained that late last night she got a call that her neighbor had actually witnessed the fight and called the police on him after she left. He was now in custody. When he asked if she thought it would be hard to move on, she said no confidently. “But how can you move on after so much invested in a person?” he asked. “Even if they completely screw you, doesn’t it take time?” “You can’t help whom you love,” she said simply. “You just have to accept that and move on. I honestly thought I loved him. I now feel nothing for him.” Jim felt bad about asking such a blunt question, so he decided to come clean about his career problems as well. He even talked about Jennifer for the first time with anyone other than Bill or Kristina. He didn’t feel awkward or judged for his past or for his decision to talk about it. In fact, he found that 19
outside of Bill, Sarah was actually the easiest person to talk to in the world. He decided he had to take Bill’s advice. “Hey, so let me ask you a question.” “Anything.” “Would you like to get coffee sometime?” “Nope,” she said to his disappointment. “After serving it for so long, I really distain it. I’d rather go to dinner with you.” They laughed and then just looked at each other. A moment that was perfect for both of them. Bill and Kristina walked through the door and into the kitchen stopping the moment. “Hey, I see you guys have met,” Kristina said setting down several bags of groceries. “Yeah, we have,” Jim answered. “Wait, why are you getting more groceries, I thought you went last night.” “Yeah I did,” Bill said. “But I didn’t get stuff for the weekend and we both got off work early so we met at the store. Hey, babe, tell them about the event tonight.” “Oh, right. So at work I got four tickets for the Christmas music orchestral show uptown tonight, you guys down? We’ll have dinner first at Capital Grille. Have a big blowout evening.” Jim and Sarah exchanged looks of approval before nodding to the others. “It’s a date, then!” Bill said excitedly.
ater that day, Jim was getting ready to go to dinner in his room when a knock came at the door. It was Bill. “Hey, I got your text, what’s up?” he said, shutting the door behind
“Do you think this looks good?” Jim spun so he could look at every side of his new suit. “Yeah man, but you usually don’t put this much effort when we go out as a group, what’s so special this time?” “That’s the girl.” “What?” “Kristina’s old roommate is the girl from the coffee shop, from the bar and from the diner. She’s everything. She’s here.” “That’s insane! How did we not know all this time? Are you going to make a move?” “Yeah, I asked her out after we talked in the kitchen earlier, she said yes. I’m counting tonight’s festivities as well.”
“Boys! Get your asses out here! Let’s go, the car is warming!” Kristina yelled from the front door. “You ready?” Bill went over and straightened Jim’s tie. “Last night you seemed to be at the end of your senses.” “I was. I thought I was at the end of everything last night,” Jim said frankly. “But I learned where you go once you reach your end.” “Oh yeah? And where’s that?” he asked as they walked out of the room toward their ladies. “On.” Jim smiled, patted Bill on the back and went over to Sarah to walk her out, arm-in-arm, together. Where they’d remain for the rest of their lives.
Bill Howard and Kristina Burrelli were married six months later after Bill proposed during The Christmas Song that evening. Jim Robinson took his original play to John Fritz where he agreed to fund it as-is and cast Sarah in the lead, as it was written for her. It one four Tony Awards and Jim would never have a problem selling a script again. At eight pounds, nine ounces, Julian Howard was born the day after Jim’s play opened. Frank the Bartender did become a minister and married Sarah and Jim after the first run of the show was complete in the bar. She gave up the lead role and worked with teaching actors behind-the-scenes so that she could manage her pregnancy. They had twins, Rose Robinson and Donald Robinson Jr. Jim’s Dad, Donald Robinson, Sr., reconnected with Jim’s Mom and they became friends again. He swore it was never more than that, but Jim had his suspicions that it might be more when they moved in together.
Characters Sarah Roselyn Young James “Jim” Donald Robinson Donald Blake Robinson Frank the Bartender Mr. Willis Violet the Waitress 21
Bill Howard Kristina Burrelli Paul the Landlord Julie Harbough Hunter Shaw
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