Charlotte – part 11

Ryan walked up to the apartment door and pulled out his key. It was after 8 pm and he was exhausted from his trip. He couldn’t wait to see Charlotte. When he opened the door, he was stunned. On the table were the flowers he had gotten, wilted and dead. The ring box was on the table with three pieces of paper next to it. He stepped into the apartment and looked around. There was something very strange. Strangely quiet. As he set his bags down, he noticed something on the floor by the door. A key. A key to what? He picked it up and walked over to the table. His heart sank. There were two notes and a check for the amount of her share of rent for the next two months.

Randi, room 1608.

Have a happy life with your stupid whore! I’m leaving!

Charlotte’s key to the apartment, he realized. He set it down on the table, unsure what to do.

Ryan walked over to the couch and sat down. He set his elbows on his knees and rubbed his forehead. This was not the surprise he was expecting. She left.

She left.

Where would she go? Where would Charlotte go?

Of course, to Melanie’s. THAT’S what Melanie knew. Melanie knew she was leaving, but she hadn’t heard from Charlotte either? Was she playing him? What in the world was going on?

Ryan got up and walked around the apartment trying to find any clues he could about where she went. He walked into the bedroom and saw all of her clothes and shoes were gone. She didn’t take anything else, though. None of the decor. Their jar of loose change was even still there. Ryan then went to the office and stopped short. Her phone was sitting on his desk, his desk drawer left wide open. He strode over and picked up the phone.

 

Ryan took Charlotte’s phone and went to his travel bags. Locating his charger, he plugged in her phone in the kitchen. He knew he needed to give it a few seconds, so he went to the bathroom while he waited. When he came back he turned the phone on. Ugh, now he needed to wait for it to boot up. Ryan got himself a glass of water and slammed it. Wiping his mouth, he set the glass in the sink and went back to her phone. Logging in, he found that she had five missed calls, eight voicemails, and 17 text messages.

Ryan started with the text messages. Several were from him, but most were from Melanie. What did she have to say?

Monday, 6:15 pm: Come on over whenever. We’re ready for you.

Monday, 9:42 pm: Are you coming over? Or are you going to wait until tomorrow? That’s fine too, I know Ryan’s gone until Thursday.

Tuesday, 10:17 am: Hey, Ryan’s calling and texting me, what do you want me to do about that? You know, if you ever decide to pull your head out of your ass and talk to me.

Wednesday, 8:13 am: Look, whatever. If you don’t want to stay here, that’s fine. Stop being an ass and get back to me.

Wednesday, 3:14 pm: Hey, sorry. I’m getting worried about you. You’re not getting back to anyone. I don’t mind lying to Ryan but I need to know what the lie is, okay? Please call me back.

Wednesday 8:30 pm: Char? I’ve tried calling you too. What is going on? Do I need to call the police for a missing persons? I don’t even know if you’re missing. Please call me. Or text me. I just want to know you’re alive.

Thursday, 7:02 am: I’ve been thinking. If I don’t hear from you by the time I get home from work, I’m filing a missing persons. Stop being an ass and get back to me.

Thursday, 6:23 pm: I’m serious. I’m stopping by the police station tomorrow and filing a missing persons. Call me back.

Ryan grabbed his phone and sat back down on the couch. He called Melanie. She didn’t answer. He cursed.

Ryan got up and grabbed Charlotte’s phone and called her back.

“It’s about time you called me back! I’ve been worried SICK about you!” Melanie yelled into the phone.

“Melanie, it’s Ryan. Please don’t hang up.” He sounded tired. Very tired.

“What the hell do you want?” Melanie snapped.

“Charlotte is gone. She left her phone on my desk. I know she isn’t with you by all your texts to her. Where else would she go if she didn’t go to your place?”

Melanie was silent. Ryan was trying to figure out if she was working on their lie or if she truly was stunned. Finally she spoke.

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

“Well,” Ryan began. “She left a note saying she’s leaving, she wrote me a check for rent for two months, and I found her key that she must have slid under the door after she locked up.”

“Okay, that sounds pretty definitive. Have you tried her mom?”

“Come on, Melanie. You and I both know that the last place she would ever go is to her mom’s. I very much doubt she is there.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Melanie admitted. Charlotte’s relationship with her mom was rocky at best. “Look, she just told me that she was leaving you. She didn’t have a plan so she was going to come here. You obviously know that she didn’t. She didn’t stay there and she doesn’t have a phone. You know her just as well as I do – she could be anywhere.”

“Well, she’s probably still in the city because of her job, so that narrows it down a bit.” Ryan said. He continued slowly, forming the thought as he went. “I will stop by her desk tomorrow and see what’s going on. I have some meetings in the morning, but I can do it in the afternoon. I have it off anyway since I was at the annual meeting most of this week.”

“You probably shouldn’t go,” Melanie said. “I mean, you’re the reason she left.”

“It’s a misunderstanding. I will clear that up.” Ryan asserted.

“Dude, she caught you cheating with what’s-her-face. She. Caught. You. Your cheatbag face is the last one she wants to see on the planet.”

“She caught me cheating? She saw me cheat on her with someone else without my knowledge?” Ryan was starting to get angry. Did Melanie seriously know everything Charlotte ever thought? Why didn’t Charlotte talk to him about these things? He could have cleared this up a long time ago.

“She saw you two come out of your apartment together. Did you really think you could sleep with someone in your own apartment and not get caught? You’re a real piece of work.”

Ryan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There was no use in getting into a fight with Melanie over the phone about something she clearly had wrong information about.

“I am?” Ryan finally said. “You know, why don’t you enlighten me about myself. I’d love to hear your take.”

“You’re such an ass. Go ahead. Find Charlotte at work. Confront her there. Make a big scene. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do. She was right to leave a lying, cheating, scumbag like you. You make me sick just talking to you.”

Melanie hung up on Ryan. He had such a headache from everything that had happened since he got home. He wished he could try to maintain a civil conversation with Melanie but she was so impossible and dramatic. Everything turned into major drama with her, always to the extreme. It didn’t matter, though. Ryan got the information he needed – Melanie knew no more about where Charlotte was than he did. If she had, she would have given something away. She always does.

Ryan knew he couldn’t do anything else tonight. He needed to gather his thoughts, take some time, and then act. He got into the shower and stood there for 20 minutes before finally getting out and crawling into his empty bed. Ryan reached for Charlotte’s pillow. It smelled like her. A tear tumbled out of his eye and his heart ached knowing that Charlotte thought he would ever be unfaithful. He drifted off to sleep faster than he expected and dreamt about Charlotte all night.

***

 

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Charlotte – part 10

Ryan was actually feeling a little nervous. He and Randi had met up early this morning before breakfast to go over their presentation one last time.

Ryan knew the information, he knew the results. They were even positive results. He was sharing good news with the entire company! He had just never made a presentation like this in front of so many people before. He felt incredibly lucky to have been the one assigned to this project. It had been so much work, so many hours, but now it all seemed worth it.

“Are you ready?” Randi asked as she looked over at him. She was professionally and modestly dressed but with her usual much-too-heavy make up. She could have looked really good, but she was trying to be sexy. Women! he thought to himself.

“As ready as I’ll ever be. You know what you’re supposed to do?” He licked his lips nervously.

“Don’t you worry yourself, darlin,” Randi drawled in a fake Southern accent. “You just do your part and I’ll be doin’ mine.”

Ryan smirked. She was trying to lighten the mood as always, but he was too nervous. He looked back down at his notecards, bouncing along at the same pace as his legs. Finally, he heard their introduction. Both of them stood up and walked to the stage.

Ryan stepped up to the microphone and introduced himself and Randi again. He glanced up at the screen and saw that it was blue. Not their presentation. He looked at Randi whose eyes were enormous and she looked horrified. He looked back out at the technicians in the back of the room and saw them furiously working to restore presentation.

For a split second, Ryan panicked. Then he had a better idea.

“Well ladies and germs,” he began. “Surprise! You thought we were going to bore you with details about our social enhancement programs, but really, you’re in for a terrible stand up comic act!” Ryan told two jokes that successfully got laughs from the crowd. He was surprised himself!

As the laughter died down from the second joke, the presentation popped onto the screen, which caused an eruption of applause from the group.

“Oh, too bad,” Ryan joked. “Those were just the warm up jokes! I guess we’re headed back to our regularly scheduled programming. But seriously folks, we have some very interesting facts and conclusions for you, so sit back and enjoy the ride.”

The presentation went even more smoothly than Ryan could have imagined. Each of them nailed their part of the presentation. They even had extra time for questions and were able to intelligently answer most of the questions from their coworkers. Ryan was soaring. He could not wait to celebrate tonight!

That evening at happy hour, Ryan met more of his coworkers than he would have thought possible in such a short time. The CEO even stopped by to congratulate him on his successful handling of the technological problem and keeping the audience engaged in an appropriate manner. He couldn’t believe it. This was turning into the best day ever. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Charlotte all about it!

***

 

Before she knew it, Charlotte was passing Des Moines and it was after noon. She still had some food from her hotel raid this morning and plenty of gas, so she kept driving. Soon, she had reached Omaha and needed to fill up on gas. She hit the gas station and got right back on the road. Not wanting to think any more, Charlotte searched for a radio station and cranked up the music.

Six hours and another tank of gas later, Charlotte was approaching Cheyenne, Wyoming. She’d never been to Wyoming before. It was nearly 10 pm and Charlotte was feeling very tired. She pulled off when she got to the city and found a hotel to crash in for the night.

Charlotte woke up just after seven the following morning. She felt so tired from the past two days of driving, but she was anxious to get to her destination. She took a quick shower to wake herself up and grabbed some continental breakfast on her way out. She tossed yesterday’s clothes in the backseat. She found a gas station where she filled up on gas and got herself some water.

Sitting in her car at the gas station, Charlotte started thinking again about calling her mom and Melanie to let them know what she had done. She was supposed to go over to Melanie’s two nights ago and never let her know she wasn’t coming. Melanie had to be worried about her. Ryan would have expected some form of communication from her, too. She leaned forward and rested her head on the steering wheel trying to decide what she should do.

Charlotte jumped as two loud knocks came at her window. She looked to see a huge man with a bushy beard leaned over her window. Her eyes widened and she thought about locking the doors. He smiled at her and smiling, looked friendly enough for her to open her window a crack.

“Won’t your car start?” He asked her.

Confused at his question, Charlotte looked blankly at him.

“You’ve been sitting her a while and with your head laid down, thought maybe your car wouldn’t start.”

“Oh!” Charlotte finally put the pieces together. “No, I was just thinking. I’ve been on the road for two days and I’m tired.”

“Two days!” the man exclaimed. “Where ya from?”

“Pittsburgh.” Charlotte replied. “I lost my job and so I’m heading to Portland.”

“Portland, eh? That’s another good 16 hours or so from here. My daughter lives there.” The man stood up and stepped away from her car. “I suppose I better let you get going. Glad everything’s alright with your car. Good luck in Portland.”

Stay! Charlotte wanted scream at him. It felt so nice to talk to someone. She hadn’t talked to anyone but the hotel check in staff for two days. The last time she talked to someone, it was the security guards escorting her off her old company’s premises and that wasn’t exactly a conversation to remember.

Charlotte sighed and pulled back onto the freeway. It was only then that she remembered she was going to get out and look for her phone. She needed to remember to bring the bags into her hotel tonight so she could look for it. Or maybe she’d just wait until she got to Portland. Then she could unpack in her hotel and gather her thoughts and plans then. Besides, she would have to charge her phone anyway.

Charlotte switched her brain into movie mode. She spent the next hours imagining her life as movie – how it would play out, who would play her, who would play Melanie and Ryan. She picked out the soundtrack and the camera angles. This make believe helped the hours to pass more quickly. She felt that it hadn’t been that long since she last stopped for food or gas to use the bathroom. Maybe Charlotte should try to be a director! She had no idea how to go about doing that, but she figured there had to be a way and she could do it.

It was 54 miles to Boise and nearly 9 pm. Charlotte decided she would stop there for the night, especially since the last two hours had dragged by. It felt like she was never going to get anywhere! Charlotte had seriously questioned what she was doing. For the first time this entire trip, she felt like she was making a HUGE mistake. She felt like she had made this decision foolishly. She should have called Melanie to talk about it. She should have confronted Ryan and not just left a note. She should have called her mom. She should have fought harder for her job. She should have done a lot of things. Now, here she was, a few hours from Portland. She was almost there. Three full days of driving and who knows how many more hours tomorrow. If she had planned better, maybe she would have flown in. Of course, plane tickets are super expensive and she wanted to leave now. She wanted to start over, to start fresh.

As Charlotte thought about her desire to start over, she began to feel confident about her decision again. This was her chance to break out and show everyone that she can be responsible and that she doesn’t need someone to watch out for her or take care of her or make plans for her. She was an adult and she would prove it.

Finally, Charlotte reached Boise. She was absolutely spent. By the time she got to her room, it was 10:30. She walked over to the bed, crawled under the covers, and slept.

***

 

Charlotte – part 9

As Charlotte passed Cleveland heading toward Toledo, she thought she should probably pull out her phone and finally check those messages. She reached for her purse and began to search. Suddenly all the cars were slowing down. Charlotte stopped looking and tried to see what was up ahead. Traffic creeped along for more than 30 minutes before getting back to freeway speed. There was no accident, no explanation for the sudden slow down. Charlotte shook her head and, having forgotten to find her phone, cranked up the radio and sang along.

When Charlotte reached Toledo, she realized she was hungry and really had to use the bathroom. She had already been on the road for over four hours! Four hours into her new life, her fresh start. She started to feel guilty since she didn’t tell her mom. Or Melanie. Ryan would find out when he got home.

Charlotte pulled into a Taco Bell just off the freeway. She was going to call her mom and Melanie when she got to the restaurant, but as she walked in the doors, she decided against it. She was enjoying herself. For the moment, she was the only person in the world who knew what she had done. It was strangely liberating to be alone on this grand adventure. She would call to let them know eventually. For now, all she wanted were some tacos to fill her empty belly and a toilet to empty her full bladder.

After eating, Charlotte went for a short walk to wriggle out some of the traveling tension in her body. When she got back to her car, she hopped in and headed back to the freeway toward Chicago. She’d never been this far west. She couldn’t wait to get to Chicago! She had always wanted to visit! She checked the clock – 1:00. She thought she was making good time. She would drive to Chicago and find some supper there before driving a few more hours to stop for the night.

Charlotte reached South Bend just before 3:30. Traffic was starting to pick up a little, but she wasn’t worried. She was from Pittsburgh. She knew rush hour wouldn’t be fun, but it would probably be fine. However, she probably should have planned better to not hit Chicago during rush hour. Charlotte laughed out loud at herself, shaking her head.

“Oh well. It’s all part of the adventure!” She imagined the scene in her mind, hearing the movie music swell as the camera panned out. She imagined Carrie Bradshaw narrating the scene. This was just like a movie! Charlotte was absolutely giddy.

An hour later, traffic had slowed to a crawl at Michigan City. Charlotte wondered how far it was to Chicago from here. She dug into her purse to find her phone and search on maps. She couldn’t find it. Traffic was now at a stand still. She used the opportunity to dump the entire contents of her purse onto the front seat. She didn’t have time to mess around. She had to pay attention to the cars around her.

Rummaging through everything, Charlotte still couldn’t find her phone. She cursed. Did she pack it in a different bag? Maybe she tossed it into the bag with all her toiletries. That’s where her charger was. She shook her head at herself. Sometimes she could be real dumb.

“Whatever.” Charlotte said out loud to herself. “I’ll find it later. Just stay on I-80 and I-84 and that will take me to Portland.” So once again, Charlotte searched out a radio station and cranked the tunes. Finally just before 8, traffic started really moving again. She saw the exit for Joliet. She couldn’t believe it. Three hours to get through Chicago! She was exhausted and starving.

Searching, Charlotte soon found a hotel right off the freeway. She took the exit and headed to it. Checking in, Charlotte was too tired to lug any of her bags inside. She opened the bag with her clothes and pulled out an outfit for tomorrow and tossed it in her purse. She would just use the hotel’s toiletries. All she wanted was food and sleep. She ordered room service and trudged back down to the lobby to request a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Back in her room, Charlotte turned on the TV to find something to watch while she waited. Her food came faster than she expected and she was grateful, tipping generously. She inhaled her food and stretched out on the bed. She was asleep in less than ten minutes.

Charlotte awoke just after 9. She sat up and looked around, trying to remember where she was.

“On the road to Portland,” she declared out loud to herself. She looked on the nightstand for her phone and remembered she couldn’t find it yesterday, that it must be in one of her other bags. It was surely dead by now, so it would take her some time to find. Charlotte crawled off the bed and got into the shower. She stood there for ages letting the hot water run over her body, taking all of her stress and worries down the drain with it. Finally, hunger dictated that she get out and find some food.

Charlotte packed up her few belongings, swiped the hotel toiletries, and heading down. She thought there was a continental breakfast, but couldn’t remember. If not, she would head out and grab some food on the road. She trailed into the breakfast area just as a hotel staff was cleaning up.

“Is breakfast over?” Charlotte asked.

“Oh, go ahead and get something. The less I have to clean up, then.” The staff smiled and scurried out of Charlotte’s way and busied herself with wiping down tables. Charlotte helped herself to the remaining 3 bagels and 2 english muffins, some cream cheese and jelly. She also grabbed some cold cereal packs and yogurt cups and dropped them in her purse. She helped herself to some plastic flatware, thanked the staff, checked out of the hotel, and after filling up with gas and beverages, got back on the road.

Charlotte munched on some of her spoils and thought about what she was doing. Suddenly, she wasn’t convinced she was doing the right thing, but she’d come too far to turn around now. Besides, the last thing she wanted to do was spend three more hours getting by Chicago. She figured it would be slow but not that slow. She shook her head just thinking about it.

As thoughts rolled through her mind, Charlotte started planning what she would do when she got to Portland. She would probably have to live in a hotel for a week or so while she found a place to live and a job.

***

 

Charlotte – part 8

Ryan awoke the next morning to his alarm. He got up and showered. The first event was a breakfast at 7:30. Before heading down, Ryan tried calling Charlotte again. His call went straight to voicemail. He was very confused now – her phone was off? Charlotte never turned her phone off.

He sent a quick text to Melanie. Have you heard from Charlotte? I called her but her phone went straight to voicemail. Am I in the doghouse for something?

Ryan knew that Charlotte could have some pretty weird moods and suddenly stop talking to him for no reason. He knew to just ride them out and she would come around. It was just very unusual for her not to acknowledge any phone call or text for a whole day. He was sure she was fine and he did something wrong. Melanie probably knew something.

Ryan headed down to breakfast. He was surprised to find a seating chart at the entrance to the ballroom, color coded to cities represented. Pittsburgh was blue. Relief washed over him when he found his name, the only blue at his particular table. He glanced at the surrounding tables and didn’t see Randi’s name. At least he could eat without her around.

When Ryan arrived at his table, he found several colleagues already there. Ryan introduced himself.

“Did we mistakenly come to a wedding?” Ryan joked with the table, which induced a hearty laugh from the other men. As the morning continued, Ryan didn’t give another thought to home and even missed Melanie returning his phone call. As draining as it was being stuck in the same room and same chair all day, he thoroughly enjoyed his tablemates and the time passed surprisingly quickly.

After the final session, Ryan changed and met his tablemates for drinks at the hotel bar. They swapped stories about work and picked out which of their female colleagues they were going to try to befriend before the evening was up. Ryan suddenly realized that he hadn’t checked his phone all day. He pulled it out of his pocket and saw a missed call from Melanie five hours ago, a voicemail and several text messages.

10:11 am: Ryan, I haven’t heard from Charlotte all day. I tried calling her too and I think her phone is off. I will go over to the apartment after work to check on her. Will let you know about your doghouse status.

12:43 pm: I left Char a message.

6:02 pm: I went to the apartment and there was no answer. I tried calling her again, too. Call me when you can.

6:43 pm: For being so worried, you aren’t getting back to me. You can be such an ass.

Ryan excused himself and rushed up to his room, cursing at himself. He called Melanie back. It was just after 7.

“It’s about time, dingleberry!” Melanie didn’t sound amused in the least.

“Sorry. I’m in New Orleans at our annual company meeting. It’s been a busy day. So nothing from Charlotte to you all day either? This is pretty unusual for her.” Ryan opted not to get into it with Melanie right now. The important thing was getting a hold of Charlotte to make sure she was okay.

“Nothing. She was supposed to come over to my place last night and didn’t show. I called her, but she didn’t answer.” Melanie actually sounded cooperative. Ryan was feeling better.

“I know she had a big presentation yesterday. Maybe she’s been swamped with follow up work for that. She’s been working so hard on it and I’m sure she killed it. Probably extra meetings and celebrations?”

“That could be. It’s still weird that she wouldn’t tell at least one of us how it went. Not to even check in? She can be a little dramatic, though.”

“And secretive.” Ryan added. “She has a knack for keeping things to herself and then blindsiding with surprises. This could be one of those things.”

“Yeah, it sure could be.” There was something strange about Melanie’s inflection that alarmed Ryan. Did she know something he didn’t?

“Did she mention anything to you? Anything at all that might even seem unrelated?” Ryan was sure Melanie knew he was prying, but those two could be so exasperating sometimes. Keeping secrets from him and Tony. Tony didn’t seem to mind, but Ryan was sure Tony was just sticking around until something better came along.

“Look, Ryan, I don’t know anything.” Melanie sounded very defensive. “If you can’t keep track of your girlfriend, it’s not my problem!”

“Whoa,” Ryan was taken aback. Melanie definitely knew something. “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Melanie?” Ryan looked at his phone. The call had been ended. Melanie had hung up on him.

Okay, so Melanie knew something. But what? What could those two be hiding? Ryan tried to think of any special days that might be coming up or recently passed. Was Charlotte planning some kind of surprise party? Did she want to celebrate the success of both of their big projects?

Ryan thought a little more and decided there must be some kind of surprise party happening when he got back. Charlotte got extra weird when she was planning something like this. Ryan loved these surprise parties, though. A chance to get together and mingle with friends and coworkers. He always had a good time and felt completely energized for a week afterward.

Confident that he figured out what was going on, Ryan got ready for bed and spent some time preparing for his presentation tomorrow. He didn’t give another thought to Charlotte and her strange disappearing act for the rest of his trip.

***

 

Charlotte – part 7

Charlotte unlocked the door to the apartment while she pulled her phone out of her purse to check her messages. Upon entering, she saw a huge bouquet of flowers on the table. She stopped short. She looked around and saw the apartment had been straightened up. She slowly closed and locked the door behind her. Approaching the flowers, she found no card, no explanation, nothing to indicate what they were for. It wasn’t their anniversary or any special day between them. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. What could they be for?

Charlotte dropped her purse on the table next to the flowers and walked into their shared office. On Ryan’s desk was a slip of paper – Randi, room 1608.

“A business trip?!” Charlotte shouted. “You son of a -”

Charlotte screamed in frustration and stamped her feet, slamming her phone down on his desk. She looked and found the ring box empty. Grabbing the box and his note, she went to the table with the flowers. She dumped out the water and jammed the flowers back into the vase. She wanted him to see a vase of dead flowers when he got back. Putting the ring box and the note next to the vase, Charlotte found a scrap piece of paper and wrote a note to Ryan. Have a happy life with your stupid whore! I’m leaving!

The luggage was in the closet in the office. Charlotte grabbed the four pieces Ryan hadn’t taken and began packing. She grabbed clothes, shoes, and make up – things that were only hers that they hadn’t shared. She didn’t want a single reminder of him or the life they had together. When she got to Portland, she would start over. She would find her own place on her own – she didn’t need Melanie’s help!

Charlotte popped online to her bank account. She had saved up over four thousand dollars for their wedding. She would leave first thing in the morning – hit the bank, clean out her account and use cash so they couldn’t follow her using her credit card. She spent the rest of the evening packing and planning her route. She decided she would follow I-80 and I-84 all the way to Oregon – straight across the country. She should avoid all the mountains that way, too.

Charlotte’s phone chirped that it was running out of battery, but she ignored the sounds. She would plug it in before she went to bed so it would be fully charged in the morning. Finally Charlotte collapsed from exhaustion onto her bed and slept. She slept heavily and dreamlessly.

Charlotte started awake, not sure what had woken her. She turned to look at her clock – 7:13 am. Slowly the memory of yesterday’s events returned to her. More determined than ever to leave, Charlotte changed into her traveling clothes, not even bothering to shower. She threw yesterday’s clothes into the top of the largest bag. She had even thought to write Ryan a check last night for her share of rent for the next two months, until the end of their lease. Even if he was a cheating, lying, scumbag, her name was on the lease too and she wanted herself covered.

Charlotte loaded herself up with the bags, grabbed her purse, popped her sunglasses on, and left the apartment. She locked the door, unhooked her apartment key, and slid it under the door. She’d had enough! Charlotte loaded up her car, stopped at the bank and cleaned out her savings account, filled up on gas, coffee, and snacks and headed toward the freeway.

“Oregon, here I come!” Charlotte shouted as she blew west out of Pittsburgh on I-80.

***

 

Charlotte – part 6

After what seemed like hours, Charlotte finally got herself pulled back together. She was sure her eyes were puffy, her make up was entirely ruined, and her face was splotchy. She looked at Gwendolyn who had returned again and sat in the office chair, waiting.

“There are some forms that you need to complete and sign. There are some confidentiality forms, client separation, and a survey. Take your time completing them. I will be back in a while to check on you. Do you need to use the restroom?”

Charlotte slowly shook her head, tears still hanging in her eyes.

“Well then, I will be back in a while to check on you. If you need to use the restroom then, I will be able to take you. Do you have any questions?”

Charlotte shook her head again and sniffled. This was turning into the worst day of her life.

Gwendolyn left again, closing the door behind her. Charlotte once again burst into tears. She had never felt so abandoned in her life. She finally dragged herself over to the desk to complete the forms. It took less than half an hour for her to finish all of the paperwork. She still had to wait until 5:30 to go back to her desk.

After an hour, Gwendolyn returned.

“Have you finished your paperwork?”

“Yes, I have.” Charlotte replied quietly. She handed the forms to Gwendolyn who took them and quickly leafed through to make sure Charlotte had completed everything.

“Do you need to use the restroom?” Gwendolyn asked without looking at Charlotte.

“Um, yes I do.” Charlotte lied. She just wanted to get out of this room for a little bit.

“Follow me, please.” Gwendolyn walked briskly to the restroom and actually waited outside the door while Charlotte was inside. Charlotte took her time washing her hands and freshening up her face. She felt a little better afterward. Coming out, Charlotte asked if she would be able to have a piece of paper and pen to make a list of what she needed to do once she got back to her desk to minimize her time after work. Gwendolyn looked wary, but obliged Charlotte’s request. She walked Charlotte back to the room.

“Your supervisor should be in shortly for your exit interview. You will then be escorted back to your desk to pack up. We will provide you with a box.”

Without waiting for a reply, Gwendolyn left once again.

After a short time, Charlotte’s supervisor came in and administered the exit interview, which really was just a form she needed to fill out. He didn’t even talk to her about her answers or anything. Charlotte could sense that he felt extremely awkward. She tried to make small talk, but his one-word answers told her that he was in no mood to make nice.

He then left. Charlotte realized that she had no idea what time it was or how much longer she had to wait. She busied herself making plans for leaving that evening. She made a short list of what she needed to do at her desk and then planned her move to Portland, Oregon. Charlotte had never been there and didn’t know anything about it, but it would be far away from here. She could start over and make something of herself.

Finally there was a knock on the door and a large security guard appeared in the doorway with a box.

“We will walk you down to your desk. Pack up quickly and don’t take any company property.” Charlotte took the box he offered and wordlessly followed to her desk.

It was silent in the usually busy office. It seemed that everyone had left on time – no late workers today. Charlotte packed up her personal effects in the eerie silence. She saw her phone and suddenly remembered that she was supposed to take Ryan to the airport. She saw six missed calls and three messages plus a handful of text messages.

Going into her missed calls, Charlotte saw five calls from Ryan and one from Melanie. The last call from Ryan was just seven minutes ago. He must have called just before boarding. Charlotte actually felt bad for not letting him know that she couldn’t make it. His flight left at 6:05.

“Miss, please continue packing up.” An unfamiliar voice broke into Charlotte’s thoughts. She glowered at the security guards without turning, cursing under her breath. Was she a criminal now that needed security escorting from the premises? She dropped her phone into her purse and finished packing. She packed up all the paperwork from the project she had worked on and then went onto her computer to clean out all her files. She trashed everything she had ever saved, cleared out her email inbox, and set up an auto-reply message to contact her supervisor since she would be out of the office. She then logged into the online timesheet system and filled out her last timesheet. Finally, Charlotte was ready to go. It was 6:15.

Being escorted from the building by the security guards infuriated Charlotte. She had worked very hard for this company and had a lot of pride in her job. She enjoyed her coworkers and felt like she was finally contributing something significant. Charlotte knew that the files on her computer could be recovered, but she had pages of handwritten notes with information the company would need to pursue what she had worked on any further. Charlotte wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t ever be able to lay their hands on it. If they wanted this bid, they’d have to find someone else to do the research and make the presentation.

Charlotte climbed into her car and drove home, knowing exactly what her next move would be. She was sure that no one, not even Melanie, would see this coming. She didn’t need someone to plan her life for her, she would do it on her own. Finally, Charlotte was going to break free.

***

 

Ryan found himself increasingly distracted on the flight. He couldn’t help but wonder why Charlotte wasn’t answering her phone. Was she mad at him? Did he mess up somehow and didn’t know it? He’d received the silent treatment before, but usually there was a blow out fight preceding it so he knew to expect it. He hadn’t heard back from Melanie either. Perhaps she was busy at work and he would have a message when he landed in New Orleans. He wasn’t scheduled to land until after 10 pm.

Ryan glanced over at his seat partner. She was leaned back with her eyes closed, headphones on. He pulled the ring box out of his pocket and opened it, looking at the ring inside. He imagined what it would look like on Charlotte’s hand. He went through the scene in his mind – how he wanted to propose, what he would say, how she would respond. Things hadn’t gone his way today.

No matter, Ryan thought to himself. We’ve been together for six years. What’s a few more days to wait to ask her? He put the ring back into his pocket, popped Charlotte’s earbuds into his ears, and leaned back looking out the window at the clouds below. Just three more days.

***

 

Charlotte – part 5

It was 2:15. Where was Charlotte? She should have been home by now. Ryan looked nervously at the clock. He called her again. She wasn’t answering her phone, either. What could be going on? He called her desk phone.

“Hey, Char, babe. It’s me. Uh, again. Is everything okay? I thought you were coming to get me. Maybe you’re just driving. I can’t wait to see you before I go.”  His messages were getting more desperate sounding.

He dialed Melanie. She didn’t answer her phone either. “Hey, Mel, it’s Ryan. I can’t get a hold of Charlotte. She was supposed to drive me to the airport. I just wanted to see if you knew anything or if you’d heard from her. I’m getting worried but I can’t do anything about it. I’m already about to miss my flight. I have to call a cab. Can you check to make sure everything is okay? Uh, anyway, I have to go. Thanks, Mel.”

Ryan wanted so badly to drive to her office and make sure she was okay, but he needed to get to the airport. He was running out of time and if he didn’t get there soon, he would miss his flight. He conceded to calling a cab. He hoped he would get to the airport in time. He hoped everything was alright with Charlotte. She was flighty but she rarely forgot her obligations.

Ryan grabbed his bag and his laptop case and hurried down to the street. He waited impatiently for the cab to show up. He kept wondering why Charlotte wouldn’t answer her phone. Did her presentation run long? Were they taking her out to celebrate a great job? Did she have a follow-up project? Finally the cab arrived and he hastily climbed in.

“The airport, please. Delta gate.”

“You got it, man. Where ya headed?” The cabbie peered at Ryan through the rearview mirror.

“New Orleans. Big presentation at our company’s annual meeting.” Ryan absently responded.

“Oh yeah? Sounds pretty big time. What’s the presentation about?” Ryan glanced at the cabbie, at first irritated, but he seemed genuinely interested. It occurred to Ryan that the life of a cabbie must be boring and hearing about other people’s lives must be what keeps him going. Ryan pitied him.

They chatted all the way to the airport. Ryan sort of get a test run of his presentation while talking to the cabbie and it felt good. He was able to answer all of the cabbie’s questions and it seemed like he even understood what Ryan was talking about. It was nice to get his mind back into the game. Just three days and then he would be back with Charlotte and then he would ask her to marry him. But for now, he had to think business. He thanked the cabbie for the ride and even pitched him an extra few dollars so he wouldn’t have to mess with change.

As he rolled into the airport, he reached into his pocket to feel the velvety ring box. He’d left the outer box back in his desk drawer. When Charlotte didn’t come, he knew he wanted to take the ring to keep him focused on his task and on her. He dreaded spending the next three days with Randi, but was sure that everything would be fine. She found Ryan boring anyway.

He checked in and got to his gate minutes before boarding, which he used to try to call Charlotte one last time before leaving. At least Randi had flown in two days ago so he wouldn’t have to fly with her, too. As he settled into his seat, he pulled out his phone and tried calling Charlotte one more time. Still no answer.

Determined to not be distracted, he found his spiral-bound presentation and began reviewing the information. He felt good after sounding it off the cabbie, but he wasn’t presenting to a room of cabbies. He was presenting to fellow co-workers who weren’t sure about the effectiveness of the social enhancement policies. He was going to convince them that not only were they good, but they could do even more without much more cost. It was good for business, good for employees, and good for those these policies helped in their community.

***