Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Pulling into the parking lot of Starbucks, she checked her watch. Fifteen minutes until she was supposed to meet that cop at work. Good--if they were quick about it, she'd have time to grab her morning coffee and get there just in time.

Trying to imagine her morning without coffee was somewhat akin to trying to imagine breathing without air. Vanessa wasn't sure when the addiction to caffeine had begun. If she had to put her finger on it, she would guess college--all those late nights studying with an endless supply of diet coke keeping her going. She didn't recall a love of java until after grad school. Suddenly it became the thing to drink. Her friends would meet for coffee in the mornings instead of cocktails after work. It was easier to review meeting notes and prepare for presentations over a cup of joe than a beer. Vanessa always thought that was to her benefit, anyway--she'd learned a long time ago that her tendency to drink to excess was much more body friendly in the form of caffeine than alcohol.

Lena was working the counter this morning, and greeted her with a nod. "Usual?" she asked, and Vanessa nodded. She'd been coming to this location for the last two years, nearly every morning, and sometimes later in the day. Vanessa fiddled with her debit card as she watched Lena mix the espresso with the milk, add the ice and the syrup, and pour it into the cup. She knew Lena by name, knew she was an English ed major at the local university, knew she was in her junior year. Some mornings they shared a chat about languages and kids and proper grammar. Other mornings, such as this, one or both were quiet. Sometimes Lena was busy, mixing a variety of drinks for multiple customers. Some days, like today, Vanessa was caught in her own thoughts. As Lena handed her the coffee, she smiled and pushed the debit card forward; after a minute, Lena returned it to her. "Have a good day, Vanessa," the young woman smiled. Vanessa smiled back. "Thanks, Lena."

As she got into the car again, Vanessa reviewed the day's plans in her head. Cop this morning. Show him the ropes, get him on board. See what he intended to do as far as volunteering. Resource meeting with staff at noon. Paperwork until four, and then board meeting. Hate board meetings. More kissing ass. Her friends had long joked that as long as people just did what Vanessa wanted, then everything in the world would go least according to Vanessa. She wasn't exactly known for her flexibility. Her skill, however, was in convincing others that her ideas were really their ideas. And how brilliant they were to come up with them! This kind of manipulation bothered her at times, but she realized the importance of her work, and how the ego of your average executive could muck that up. So a girl does what she has to do. At least that's what she told herself.

She arrived at the center and balancing her coffee in one hand, her purse over her shoulder and her folders under her armpit, she entered the building keycode. "Good morning, Jimmy," she greeted the front desk staff. He glanced up from his paperwork and nodded. "Have it to you by noon, Ness," he responded. Vanessa always appreciated the timeliness of Jimmy's work. He wasn't the warmest person, but he did a good job of making sure everyone who came in and out of the building was recorded, and his sheer size was a formidable factor in this section of town. Jimmy was over six feet tall, and BIG. Most of her clients didn't relate to warm and fuzzy anyway, so Jimmy's demeanor wasn't exactly scaring anyone off. Vanessa appreciated his direct approach with not only clients, but her as well. She knew that whatever she asked Jimmy, she would get the honest to God truth out of him. It was that kind of honesty that had helped to build the program to the point it was at now.

"You got a guy in your office, too," Jimmy muttered, not looking up this time. "Cop, he said. "Had an appointment at--" he glanced up at the clock that now read five after nine--"nine o'clock." Jimmy picked his pen back up, focusing back on the report in front of him. "Guess you'll remember this the next time I miss the bus."

"Guess I will," she responded with just a hint of sarcasm. She saw a grin tug at the corner of his lips. In the two years he'd worked the front desk, Jimmy had been late a grand total of three times, all under ten minutes. Snarky, she thought, as she worked her way down the hallway, trying to balance the folder now precariously jiggling its way out from her armpit.

Taking a deep breath, she rounded the corner into her office, just in time to drop the folder onto her desk. Genius, she thought, what a great way to make a first impression. What was his name again? Ron? Rob? Jim-Bob? She glanced over at him and smiled. "Good morning." She put on her best, friendly, "help-us-because-we're-doing-something-important" look, then placed her coffee on the desk and reached to shake his hand. "I'm Vanessa Rayden."

He glanced up at her, as though he hadn't noticed her grand entrance into the office. "Robert Goren," he said, extending his hand into hers. "Nice to meet you." He stood to his full height--my God, he was tall--and cocked his head to one side. "Actually, I had the pleasure of hearing you speak last week. I'm not sure if you remember...I asked you a question..."

"About evaluation measures and justifying financial expenses," she finished, making the connection. God, he had looked a lot smaller from the audience. She remembered how he had taken notes throughout her presentation. Maybe he had actually been listening?

"You, uh, looked a lot taller when you were on stage," he said awkwardly, adjusting his jacket and shuffling some pamphlets in his hand. She glanced down and saw they were pamphlets of the center. He had one of each--he must have collected inventory from Jimmy before she had ever arrived. Goren seemed to notice her glance, and cleared his throat. "I, um, asked your front desk manager for any reading material he had about your program...I would like to learn more...accurate information is always helpful to gain more support, you know, ah, momentum..."

Momentum for what? she found herself thinking. Somehow, his awkwardness in the situation made her feel more at ease. She smiled again. "Well, Mr. Goren, you're welcome to any information we can give you. And yes, I am taller on stage...six to eight feet taller, depending on the stage."

Now he smiled, the kind that spread into his eyes and relieved a bit of awkwardness for both of them. "Well, that explains it," he grinned. "I knew something was different from last week. By the way, it's detective, but you can call me Bobby."

She nodded. "Okay, Bobby. Then I guess the question is, where do you want to start...information on the program or seeing the program in progress?"

He sat back down, still looking at her expectantly. "I have all day."

"Great," she lied, as the rush of staff meetings, paperwork, and board meetings ran through her brain next to excuses of how to get out of each one. "Let's get started."

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Vanessa tossed her keys on the table and shed her jacket on one of the kitchen chairs. Shoes were next, toed off right next to the chair, followed by a sigh. She dug through the silverware drawer, pulling out a spoon and a fork. One of the things she was most looking forward to was sipping the soup. Kin's had the best wonton soup in the area and she was more than ready to dig in.

Settling on the couch with her soup, Vanessa sorted through the mail. Bill, bill, catalog. Thrilling. She closed her eyes and focused on the flavor of the soup and the feeling of it warming her throat. It was a small pleasure; those were the kinds she found she mostly relied on at home. Her overstuffed couch; her new HDTV; Bruce the dog; warm wonton soup.

She'd always been a social person. She enjoyed the company of her coworkers and took great joy in the time she spent with the children and families at the center. And even though she abhorred the public speaking aspect of her job, she did enjoy casual conversation with many of the people who came to hear her speak. So being alone--or more specifically, living alone--did not suit her well. Often she found her mind wandering to a variety of different subjects, but usually it settled, on lonely nights, with John.

She met him her first year of graduate school. He was older; working on his doctorate in sociology while she was majoring in early childhood education. She had agreed to participate in a research study for credit in one of her classes, and he was the researcher. When she had arrived to complete the initial paperwork, he had barely looked up at her--just handed her the form with instructions to complete it and see him to set up a time for the rest of the study. She had sat down opposite him and filled in the questionnaire; all factual information that came easily to her and allowed her the opportunity to glance at him for a few moments before handing in the sheet.

He was working doggedly on his data. He had shaggy blonde-brown hair that desperately needed brushing and a five o-clock shadow. She found herself briefly wondering if perhaps she would one day look like him as she finished up her research and dissertation. When she gave the form back to him, he had looked up, smiled, and thanked her. The fact that she had run into him at the local campus bar a few days later was kismet. She brought up his research study, of which he eagerly divulged way too much information. She had listened, fascinated to hear him talk, to hear how his brain connected to his mouth, to hear his ideas about dynamics and attitudes between social classes. She ended up losing the credit for the study--she could no longer participate knowing what she knew about it--but gaining a boyfriend.

They had dated for five years. They were both passionate, but as it turned out, not for one another. He was fine with that. She wasn't. He wanted a comfortable partner; someone to eat pancakes with and discuss world issues and share passions about careers. She wanted someone who was passionate about her.

She almost settled. She almost agreed to wear the ring. When she had asked him "Why now?", he had replied, "Because it's time, don't you think?" No. She didn't think it was time. She wasn't on a timetable.

Breaking his heart was the hardest thing she had ever done. Looking into her best friend's face and telling him she couldn't proceed according to plan hurt like hell. She desperately wanted to do it, to tell him yes, to agree to do what it was time to do. But she knew in her soul that all the love she felt for him now was all she would ever feel, and it wouldn't be enough, in the end, for either of them.

So now she sat alone, sipping her soup, watching Bruce lie on the rug, and thinking about John. He found someone to replace her quickly. They married less than a year later. She had heard a few months ago, from a mutual friend, that he had a child with his wife. And when she heard, she felt a twinge of regret. That could have been her. Wife of a good man, mother of a new baby. Home and family and all she always fantasized about. She wondered if he loved his wife more than he had loved her. Then she wondered if she expected too much from other people. Then she wondered if she expected too much from herself.

Soup finished, she tossed the container in the trash and grabbed her laptop to complete leftover work from the day. Bruce hopped onto the couch--all seventy pounds of him--and settled next to her. Despite the laptop, he nudged the tip of his snout onto her thigh and glanced up at his mistress. Vanessa smiled and reached down to rub his head and scratch his ears. "Good boy," she told him, and his tail thumped on the couch before he closed his eyes slowly. She studied him for a moment, thinking about how he seemed to sense her moods and feelings far more accurately than John ever did. She closed the laptop quietly and set it aside. Rubbing Bruce's ears, she closed her own eyes, and finally let her mind rest.