Charlotte sat bolt upright in bed and looked around her room. Where was she? What had woken her up? She reached to the nightstand for her phone. It wasn’t there.
Slowly everything came back to her again. Charlotte felt so alone. She thought this was going to be exciting and fun, that she would feel better. Charlotte burst into tears, sobbing bitterly into her white, unfamiliar pillow. She didn’t realize she had drifted back to sleep until she heard her hotel door open.
“Housekeeping,” someone called.
Charlotte sat up in bed and looked toward the door.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I can come back later.” The woman turned to leave.
“No, wait.” Charlotte called after her, climbing out of the bed. “I’m checking out. I’m leaving. I just need two minutes in the bathroom.”
“I will do another room and come back.” The housekeeping staff left and Charlotte watched in dismay as her door closed. She was all alone again. Charlotte didn’t bother to shower or even to brush her teeth. She used the bathroom, swiped the toiletries, packed up her few belongings, put her sunglasses on, and checked out.
Charlotte walked out into the bright sunshine. It was a beautiful day and she wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. She was homesick for Ryan and Melanie, for familiarity, for Pittsburgh even. She wanted to turn around and go home. Putting her things in the backseat and climbing into the car, Charlotte debated turning around and heading home.
“I’ve already driven three days.” Charlotte said out loud to herself. “If I turn around, I’ll have driven six days for nothing and wasted all that money.” She didn’t feel convinced. Finally, Charlotte pulled out of the hotel parking lot and headed west.
Ryan awoke to his alarm, his head pounding. He got up and headed groggily toward the kitchen for some coffee. He saw the dead flowers on the table and remembered everything that had happened yesterday. It wasn’t a dream. It was real. This was really happening to him.
Cursing, Ryan started the coffeemaker and headed back toward his room to take a shower. He spent a long time in there, thinking about and processing everything that had happened the day before. He thought about Monday and Charlotte not coming to get him. He thought about Randi and that entire apparent misunderstanding. He didn’t even know she thought something was going on. Why didn’t Charlotte ever talk to him about these things? If she wasn’t gone, he would be infuriated right now. Instead, he just wanted her home, here with him, where she belonged.
Ryan got out of the shower and dressed. Putting his coffee in a travel mug, he headed out the door for work. He needed to talk to his supervisor before everyone else got there.
Ryan got to his desk and quickly checked his emails. He didn’t want to miss his supervisor coming in. In his email were the agendas for his two meetings today. He had a number of emails from people regarding his presentation at the annual meeting.
“Good morning, Ryan!” a big booming voice make Ryan nearly jump out of his skin. “Oh, did I scare ya, boy? I sure didn’t mean to!”
Ryan turned to see his supervisor’s boss doubled over laughing. He was turning red and tears were starting to stream down his face he was laughing so hard. He tried to stand up but every time he looked at Ryan, he went into fits of laughter again.
Ryan smiled and even started laughing in spite of himself. He must have jumped a mile and yes, it was pretty funny.
Finally, Ryan’s visitor collected himself and wiped the tears off his face.
“Oh I’m sorry to laugh at you. It was just so unexpected to see you jump so hard!” He laughed his boomy, hearty laugh again and slapped Ryan on the back. “Come with me. I’d like to catch you before everyone else takes their turn with our famous boy.”
Ryan couldn’t believe how fast the morning flew by. All anyone could talk about was his presentation. The meetings were taken over with talk about it and Ryan’s handling of the technological difficulties. Before he knew it, lunchtime had rolled around. He was taken out to lunch by his supervisor’s boss along with thirteen of his coworkers. They had a grand time. Ryan couldn’t wait to tell Charlotte all about it.
“Hey, I’m sorry to eat and run but I’ve got the afternoon off and I just remembered that I need to take care of some important personal business.” Ryan said to his table. “Have a good weekend everyone and I’ll grace you all with my humor and presence on Monday.”
Ryan smiled and shook everyone’s hand before he left, receiving his final congratulations from coworkers.
Ryan walked back to the office, grabbed his keys, and headed down to his car. He drove over to Charlotte’s office building and then sat. He tried to gather his thoughts, figure out what he was going to say. Should he have brought flowers? Would that be overkill? Is he already a laughingstock among her coworkers?
Taking a deep breath, Ryan opened his car door and walked in. He took the stairs up to her floor. He walked down the row to her cubicle and stopped short. It was empty, cleaned out. He stood there, staring, unsure what to do next.
“Well hi Ryan!” a cheery voice came from behind him.
Ryan turned to see Charlotte’s coworker Stephanie.
“Hey Stephanie. Did Charlotte move to a different cube?”
Stephanie shushed him and motioned for him to follow her. Ryan figured this couldn’t be good.
“I’m going to run around the block for a latte. Anyone want anything?” Stephanie polled her coworkers and took a few orders and collected cash. One of her coworkers offered to help. “I’ve already recruited a helper,” Steph told her with a smile.
Finally, they were on their way out the building.
“So what’s going on?” Ryan broke the silence.
“Nobody really knows, actually. She was here Monday, did a presentation, went with our supervisor for a meeting and never came back.” Stephanie lowered her voice and spoke slowly, leaning toward Ryan to increase the dramatic effect. “When we came in Tuesday, her cube was cleaned out.”
“Really?” Ryan was surprised. That usually means she was fired. But for what? “And nobody knows anything?”
“Well,” Stephanie said quickly. “Officially nobody knows anything. But Sheneille overheard our supervisor on the phone about the project Charlotte’s been working on. She figures Charlotte blew the presentation and we lost the bid, so they let her go. Nobody was allowed to work late on Monday, either. We were told maintenance, but it was probably so Charlotte could clean out her cube without anyone knowing.”
“Huh.” Ryan grunted. Things were starting to make more sense to him. The coffee place was crowded so Ryan waited outside for Stephanie. He needed to think.
Charlotte lost her job. She didn’t want anyone knowing, so she left. Left where? Everything she’s ever known is here in Pittsburgh. She’s never really talked about moving anywhere. She gets crazy ideas sometimes, so she may have had one of those.
Stephanie came out with two trays of coffees and handed one to Ryan. She talked about more of the office gossip as they walked back, none of which was actually helpful to Ryan figuring out where she might have gone. He needed to go home and check the history on their computer. That might give him an idea of where she’d gone.
Ryan helped her get the coffees back up to her floor. He thanked Stephanie for her help and headed back down to his car. He needed to get home. Once he got home, Ryan flew up to his apartment and headed straight for the office computer. He fired up his web browser and opened the history.
Charlotte had cleared out the entire browsing history.
Ryan cursed. He set his face in his hands and tried to think. Charlotte and her movies! He thought movie characters were too dumb to do something like this! He certainly didn’t think Charlotte was this clever.
“Where do I go from here?” Ryan wondered out loud. “What do I do now?”