Baby Girl Ch. 02byNaomiRose©
Wanting to Run Away and Hide
For every year of her childhood, there had been some moment that seemed to shape her life, good or bad, leaving its impression upon her mind, molding her into who she was to become. Those sad times though, those always seemed to stand out more. They were the thoughts that were easily found when trekking back through time. Not to be misunderstood, her childhood was blessed. Everyday she thanked God for her family. She was a happy child, easy going, unspoiled, respecting adults, admiring her elders, eager to sit on the lap of her Nana to feast upon whatever pearls of wisdom she'd be willing to share.
Very few times would she have to be spanked, her mother the one to make her go out to fetch her own switch to perform the task. That short walk to the edge of woods behind their simple two story brick home, along with the anticipation, proving more painful than the spanking itself.
Her brother of course...or quite to the contrary, having been born two years and a few months earlier, had not acquired those protective brotherly traits until after hitting puberty. There was never hatred or jealousy between them, never did he purposely abuse or mistreat her, but being so close together in age and yet being older, made him loath an obligation to which he had never once agreed. To put it simply, he viewed Kerri as a brat.
Being told to let her tag along when he and his friends were out finding this buried treasure or invading that kingdom, having her sit in on the powwows of their secret hideaway even though she didn't know the password, and when the rules had explicitly stated 'No Girls Allowed' – so that she became the Indian when they were the Cowboys and the dragon when they were the knights. "You take your sister with you, Jeffery," they'd say after her whining and his objections had finally worn out strained nerves. "There aren't any little girls for her to play with 'round here. She's smaller than you, she can't do no harm."
But her views were different from that of her brother's, not seeing herself as a burden or thorn in his side, just as the little sister who got to be included in on the day to day activities of her hero. It was of course during these many reluctant adventures that he allowed her, that she came to know Sean. He stood up for her, doted upon her, paid her attention when Jeffrey, not for lack of love, shunned her.
Fragmented pieces of memories woven together grey and frayed around the edges, had at some point confused the two. So when she thought on it, it became hard to remember who was there when she fell off the barstool in her Great Grandmother's house and broke her arm, or which one had comforted her after the death of her dog – only knowing there was never a time when she had ever felt completely lost or alone. Those boys, being the only male figures in her life while growing up, cast a shadow of protection over her.
As she got older however, it was not out of the ordinary for her to remind Jeffrey about the terrible child he had once been. Speaking of one occasion quite often that happened at the ripe ol' age of nine. The sound of her older, but still very mischievous, somewhat devious brother's voice rang clear in her head. "All I did was throw it!" The excitable eleven year-old, slightly dirty from the days exploring and usual activities tried desperately to explain to his Nana. Her loving hand held a dish rag with a few pieces of cooling ice against the angry red knot that was now forming above his sister's right eye. "But she ran into it!" He was yelling his excuses, praying they could be heard by the little old lady over the screams and cries coming from the inconsolable child. Nana was fairly quiet, whispering soothing words to the girl with no avail. The boy too was almost on the verge of tears, knowing full well the fate that awaited him. He would stall as long as he could when sent back outside to fetch his switch.
"I think I still have a bump right there," she said even now while they sat on the steps of Nana's front porch. Subconsciously, she rubbed her forehead and then smacked him lightly on the arm for laughing at her.
"There's nothing there," he replied, his mouth twisting sideways in suspicion. "Besides, I'm pretty sure you did something to get me in trouble that day. I retaliated."
"Before or after you threw a walnut at my face?"
"Yeah, yeah," he teased, nudging her with his elbow.
There was a light breeze in the air, cool and crisp, a little chilly still from the remnants of winter. She grasped at the sleeves of her pale butter cardigan, pulling the bottoms over her hands, enclosing her arms around herself. Her legs moved closer together under the coverings of full cotton voile skirt, one shoeless foot awkwardly resting atop the other.
It was so calm, so peaceful, everything refreshingly clean on a sunny day right after a brisk spring shower. She had been sitting there for a little over half an hour, debating on whether or not to give in to the grumblings of her stomach, tempted by the familiar aromas of her Nana's famous Sunday dinner when her brother had joined her outside.
"I can't believe we didn't even get a chance to see him one last time." Her words were like a plea. Sean's death was hard, so hard for them both, but Kerri, for the first time in her life, was totally, utterly heartbroken.
"I don't think you would've wanted to see him, not like that."
"I guess," she mumbled in agreement. "I just can't believe he's gone, Jeff. Maybe I don't want to believe it. Any minute now I'm expecting him to pull into the yard and curse me out because I didn't tell him I was coming home."
A sad, wistful sigh escaped her lips. Placing her chin in the palm of her hand while her elbow rested on one knee, she fixed her eyes on the dirt road leading into her grandmother's graveled driveway. The feeble hopes that the next cloud of red dust traveling along Winetrap Lane would belong to a dark green Jeep Wrangler twinkled in her hazel irises. The thought was justifiably insane.
"Why didn't I call him when I had the chance?"
"He knew that you loved him." Jeffrey wrapped his arm around her shoulders in a comforting embrace, gently squeezing, speaking pointedly to ensure she understood. "That's all that really matters."
* * *
Yesterday seemed light years away, even though it was just yesterday that Sean was buried, and just yesterday she returned to Northern Virginia, yet the day wouldn't allow her a moment's reprieve. Even before she had gotten off Powhite Parkway on route to I-95 north, she was being told via voicemail and Blackberry that there was a flight booked for her out of Reagan National to Boston.
What was meant to be a day to reflect, allowing for one solitary moment to actually breathe without being plagued with the curious sensation of drowning, was instantly snatched away.
"Collin's being pulled in on the Dennison project, so you're needed for tomorrow's orals."
Kerri sat quietly in the chestnut leather chair, her back relaxed, head tilted to the side, arms and legs crossed, her foot bouncing in time with the 'tap, tap, tap' of the silver pen in his hand against the mahogany desk.
"I know this is last minute – that today was your day off..."
She'd been staring at that pen for the last few minutes, her foot moving up and down, up and down to the rhythm, fascinated by that annoying noise, almost in trance, so that when it stopped mid air, her movements suddenly ceased and her head jerked forward so she was looking directly into his weary blue eyes.
"Kerri, we're in a bind here," he continued, that rapt cadence resuming once he was convinced he had her attention. "But you worked on the RFP; I'm assuming the material should be second nature by now." Arnold Twitchum, old man Twitchum as he was affectionately called, was seated behind his desk, his posture slightly hunched from age and stress. The wrinkles surrounding his eyes and lips, the subtle sag of his cheeks, the liver spots on his pale hands, making him appear older than a man who had not yet reached his sixties.
"Mr. Twitchum, it has nothing to do with my familiarity of the account." Her brows knitted together involuntarily when she said this, his questioning of her knowledge of any project she's worked on striking a cord. "Michael asked for my help in the beginning because Kim quit. I'm not pre-sales," she stated simply.
Pursing his lips together briefly like that of a fish, as was his custom while deep in thought, he stilled the pen in his hand, grabbing it at both ends between thumb and forefinger, applying pressure as if to break it, to finally place the pen carefully on the desk in front of him. "I am quite aware of that Ms. Britton," he said, switching to the formalities of using last names. "You should also be aware of what moving to pre-sales would mean for you. A promotion of sorts, higher pay, more responsibility—"
'More stress' is what she wanted to say, the words resting right there on the tip of her tongue which was pressed tightly against her teeth to keep any rebellious phrases from escaping. She wished to scream to him 'Go to Hell!' would've loved more than anything to just say 'Shove it!' These thoughts simply being swallowed down instead. They were pointless, a waste of time, knowing full well she would never get up the nerve to actually do what she really felt. Such last minute demands never surprised her. The only annoying part being the fact that they were always presented in the form of a question suggesting she had a choice in the matter when there was really no choice at all.
But she loved her job, and repeating this affirmation under her breath at her desk while making preparations for tomorrow's presentation, 'I love my job, I love my job,' she hoped that at some point she'd believe it. And Boston was only an hour's flight away besides. Maybe this would provide some much needed distraction from the current state of her emotional affairs.
There had always been a slight apprehension when it came to flying, although it seemed to be her primary job function. Whether it was for an hour or eight, the thought of being 30,000 miles up, soaring over ground never settled right within her gut. And as the flight attendant did that usual spill about being able to stay afloat upon the seat cushion should the plane happen to take a nose dive into the middle of the Atlantic, she swallowed down that still and persistent fear, her mind focusing on - and at the same time ignoring - the words of the man seated beside her in first class.
The talking began and had not ceased since the pair bumped into each other during baggage screening. He had caught her unawares. Stripped down to a crepe and silk blouse, grey skirt and satin hosiery, her hand rested lightly on one of the bins that held her belongings while she waited in line at security. She had been staring, oblivious of her surroundings and the vague look of disgust that marred the delicate features of her face, at a couple a few feet in front of her who had just made it out on the other side.
It fascinated her, the lack of discretion that some people tended to exhibit in public places. Making absolute spectacles of themselves. They were obliviously in love or lust, fairly young she supposed and still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. The two had been snuggling, hugging and kissing, sickeningly so, since ticketing and were now making a show of their PDAs to anyone who was pathetic enough to participate as a voyeur.
The lady, small in stature, just a little over five feet tall with long, wavy blonde hair that grazed her tailbone, fit snuggly into her gentleman's side, his hand wrapping possessively around her tiny waist as he bent down, easily towering over her, to lay kisses along her jaw and neck. Her giggles floated past some of the female TSAs who rolled their eyes at the spectacle to Kerri's ears. He turned her then to his other arm; breaking contact long enough so the two could retrieve their property from the conveyor belt.
The scene captivated her, annoyed her, and she wondered at the prospect of ever being one to act 'that way' in front of a group of strangers. Slobbering each other down as if they were the last drink of precious water in the Sahara. Her nose turned upward slightly, feet planted in place, her ears blocking out noise of the outside world while her thoughts turned inward about love won and hopelessly lost.
As amber colored eyes began to mist over, almost blindly, her head dropped and she scolded herself. She would not cry, she would not cry. And it was this...need to cry that angered her, enraged her. She had never been this sentimental, this much of a baby as she had proven to be in the last few days. There was something that was broken or missing. Something had to be missing from within her.
But she would not think on it.
Blinking back tears and faking a sneeze once she walked through the metal detector to present the attendant with her boarding pass, she dabbed at her eyes with her hand, continuing to look down. There was a pause, a deliberate hesitation on his part while she waited impatiently for him to give her back her ticket. She could feel him staring at her.
Frustration showed on her face when she finally gazed up at him. Her irritation with this man totally unwarranted and unfair, but the smile on his lips seemed to strike a nerve.
"Here you go, beautiful sista," he said sweetly, suavely, flashing his pearly white teeth. She nearly snatched the ticket out of his hand.
It was as she was slipping her satiny clad foot into her three inch, d'Orsay pump, making a silent vow to swear off all men forever, for whatever irrational reason, that she heard him calling her name from a few yards away. Her hopes of not running into him until after they had arrived in Boston were immediately dashed.
"McAllister's been CEO for nearly 15 years. He and Twitchum go way back...both Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, both Navy vets, both spend their summers on neighboring property in the Hamptons. This one's ours to lose."
Michael Crofton was your everyday pushing 40-something, it's almost time to contact the 'Hair Club for Men,' blonde hair, blue eyed Sales Director from southern Maryland. He had been with the firm for seven years, currently setting his sights on that Communications Exec spot since Twichum's right hand man was expected to retire later in the year. And this was the perfect account to get him there. He was giving her a brief history on Richard McAllister, the mogul, the visionary, the man they'd have to convince of Broad & Heish's ability to increase profit margins by substantial amounts.
"He's innovative, fresh. A far cry from Twitchum, but just as methodical."
Having heard it all before, she silently thumbed through the latest edition of Northwest's 'WorldTraveler' magazine, her eyes merely roaming over the letters which had not yet begun to form words in her mind. It wasn't as if she was disinterested in what he had to say. She understood the importance of this project and the market the firm would be able to penetrate upon a successful win. But she wasn't a braggart or a suck up, nor did she speak simply for the sake of hearing herself talk, all of which could be used to describe Michael to a tee, who was seemingly unconcerned that he spent most of his career behaving like a bag-less upright just to impress the client.
She did her best to cope.
They were scheduled for the second slot of the day, number two in a line up of four separate firms gunning for that 4.5 million dollar contract. The goal was simple. Put forth a campaign that could and would change the image of the pharmaceuticals conglomerate. One that could win back favorable public opinion in a climate where 'Big Drug,' just like 'Big Tobacco,' was often deemed a society evil. It was a dirty job...
"The global market will more than double in value in the next 10 years. A market driven by the demand for medicines as the population grows, ages and becomes more obese and as chronic conditions and infectious diseases tied to global warming increase. But the current pharmaceutical business model is unsustainable and the industry must fundamentally change the way it operates if it is to capitalize on future growth opportunities." Kerri paced slowly in the front of the board room, her words deliberate, purposeful, looking each person in the eye before continuing. "It is our job, ladies and gentlemen, to redesign that model."
It was easy, mechanical almost, for her to turn off emotions for the sake of her trade. To lose herself in it. She had become a master at selling because she could project whatever she was feeling at that time into the art. She could make you believe it and believe in it, even if she didn't. A professional liar, akin to a lawyer. At times it made her cringe.
There was little down time for her after that, being short-listed for the contract proving to be more of a curse than the blessing that it was. Twitchum was ecstatic, murmuring of victory prematurely and smiling to himself more than usual as if he were privy to some information his subordinates were yet unaware.
Many late evenings found her at the firm. The war room becoming a home away from home as the team mulled over new strategies and marketing ideas just in case of a win. Take out Thai had become a staple in her diet, the mastery of chopsticks only icing on the cake. She was drowning herself in her work. Maybe purposefully. Yet it did not have any effect on her social life, which was pretty much nonexistent to begin with.
"You really should call him back, you know."
The reply was merely the agitated rise of neatly primed eyebrows which would have gone unnoticed had the protagonist not been looking directly at Kerri from across the conference table. Although, instigator, was more of the term that Kerri thought suited her at the moment. The words nosy and insistent flashed through her mind as she began to think of fitting synonyms. But she knew this pushiness was all out of love and chose to simply ignore the woman all together. For an instant, the writing of her pen stilled when she heard this sentence, the words coming from nowhere since they had been working in silence for the last 45 minutes. But this too now went on as if the statement had never been said after she realized who 'him' was.
The woman, the instigator, stared at her with short patience and decided it best to continue the conversation even if it was one-sided. "You do realize he's called here three times this week."
Kerri glanced up, just briefly, to ensure they were the only two occupying the war room. Over the last half hour, having been so engrossed in her work, she hadn't notice anyone come or go. Now thankfully, gratefully, no one else was there to hear this woman spew all the gory details regarding her personal life.
"Didn't you say he was attractive?"
There was the sound of a deep inhale of breath, followed by a low and terse, "Yes." But her head stayed low, the pen still moving at a whirling speed across the paper as if in agitation. For a few precious seconds, nothing else was said. Kerri assumed the subject had been dropped.
"So..." she ventured cautiously, sliding some folders to the side so that she could fold her arms comfortably on the table, "are you going to call him?"
"Mary Beth, please!" Her voice was hushed even though they were alone. The writing ceased. There was an amused look of triumph on her assistant's face and Kerri barely held in the need to roll her eyes. "Do we really have to talk about this now?" She asked, still whispering. "I know he's called. I got his messages."
"I know you got the messages. I gave them to you," Mary Beth stated plainly, a smile teasing the corners of her lips. Her chin now rested lazily in the palm of her left hand, her head tilted slightly to the side. "I just think it would be good for you. Good to focus on something other than this campaign."