Prologue: Part 1On 1 January 2019 by Erynies
“But… we leave today. You bought tickets, supplies.” A breath is slowly drawn in, then let out slowly. “The flight leaves in just a couple of hours.”
“I know.” The short, dark-haired woman shrugs her shoulders. “Mark told me I shouldn’t go.” She crosses her arms over her chest, taking a step back. “He said it would be more financially responsible to refund the tickets, return everything, and then put the money toward something else.”
“Give me a minute, Anna.”
“Hang on.” Aly turns away from Anna, striding several steps away to stare out of the window of the office copy room. Aly sees herself palely reflected in the glass. Medium height, with medium blonde hair, the dark purple gradient business toward the ends still as vibrant as the day she’d had it done. She can see the anger, hurt, frustration, and outrage mottling her features. So much for the personable smile people usually got to see. She snorts, shaking her head.
“Aly, please try to understand. Mark is just looking out for…” Anna’s voice trails off as Aly turns around.
“I have been trying to understand for months, Anna. I am trying to understand. I wonder, sometimes, if you understand.” Aly shakes her head. All of her previous emotions have dissipated, leaving only sadness – and pity.
“Of course I understand.” Anna’s shoulders hunch up, her arms pulling tighter against her body.
“Do you? I’m not sure. Maybe what I’ve said to you just isn’t something you are ready to hear.” Aly sighs again. She moves forward, resting a hand on Anna’s arm. “This weekend, while you are home alone, think about what you’ve said to me just now. Think about what those words really mean. And if that’s what you want out of your life. I will tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that, but I don’t know if you really believe me.”
“I get it. I am fine.” Anna shrugs again, moving away from Aly. “I am fine staying home alone.”
“While Mark goes to Vegas with his friends.”
“He deserves it. He’s worked really hard the past six months.” Anna skates a look to Aly, then averts her gaze away quickly.
“You’ve worked very hard yourself, Anna. I would say you also deserve some time to have some fun. But, I can only offer you that. If you don’t feel comfortable going, I will accept that.”
“Thanks. I… yeah. Thanks.” Anna glances at Aly once more, then darts out the door. She gasps as she impacts against a man coming into the copy room. “Sorry, Mike. Sorry. Sorry.” She edges around him and disappears.
“What the hell was that?” Mike stands in the door, looking after Anna for a long moment. He switches his focus to Aly, who is crossing the space. “What.”
“She came to tell me she is not coming on our trip.”
“Figures.” Mike mutters something beneath his breath, then shrugs. “What are you going to do?”
“I can’t do anything.”
“Who are you going to punch?”
“Ha. Very funny.” Aly smirks, however. “Nice deadpan delivery. How’d you manage it?”
“It was very, very difficult.” He chuckles, a grin making an appearance.
“I bet.” She hip checks him as she walks past him.
“Hey! I’ll report you to HR!”
“Sure. If you want. Want me to walk you down?” Aly gestures down the left hallway.
“Naw. Too much paperwork.” Mike makes a face. “You know how I feel about paperwork.” He rattles the manilla folder of papers in his hand at her. “It haunts me. HAUNTS ME!”
“It would haunt me, too, if I let it pile up like you do.”
“Hey. I like crunch time.”
“No. No, you really do not.” Aly snorts.
“No. No, I really do not.” Mike groans.
“How much this time? We’re on a schedule.”
“Dammit. I’ve got…”
“Two hours. Better work faster.”
“Shit!” He sprints toward the copy machine, leaving her standing alone. “I got this! I GOT THIS!”
“I certainly hope so!” She calls after him, then strolls back toward her desk. All of her items were actually complete. But, since Mike was driving, she had to wait until he finished. Settling back at her desk, she checks her email. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Thank god. But, it is to be expected. Most of the office already on break for the long weekend. She leans back in her chair, twisting the ends of her ponytail around a finger.
“Where are you going this time?” A male voice pierces through Aly’s thoughts.
“Eh?” Twisting in her chair, she looks up, finding a gray-haired, older man with a bit of a beer belly starting standing behind her. She smiles. “Hey, Bob.”
“Somewhere with actual beds this time and not a tent, eh?”
“Actually, yes. There is a small bed and breakfast in this town. It’s charming and I booked a room as the event space does not allow for residence.”
“Saints be praised! Aly isn’t sleeping outside!” He puts a hand over his heart. “I may not survive the shock.”
“Ha ha. Very funny, Bob. I don’t always sleep outside.”
“When you do these things, you do.”
“Well.” She pauses. “That’s true. Mostly, we do. It’s just easier. Plus, most of the places just don’t have a lot of accommodations nearby. I’m lucky that this one did.”
“Where is it?”
“Small place in Ireland.”
“You are going all the way to Ireland? The long weekend isn’t that long!” Bob laughs. “You’ll barely be there before you have to come back.”
“Taking some accumulated vacation time. About ten days. It’s going to be fantastic.” Eyes sparkling, she turns her chair and shakes the mouse to wake up her computer. Pulling up her browser, she opens the website of the bed and breakfast. “See? Look how amazing it is. And the town is just gorgeous.”
“What event is happening there?”
“That’s harder to explain.” She shakes her head, laughing. “Let’s just call it an outdoor theater experience.”
“Huh. Are you watching or acting?”
“Both, actually, depending on the day.”
“I’m almost done. I’m almost done. I’m almost done!” Mike’s voice booms in the office.
“What in the – ” Bob jumps. He looks around, finding Mike speeding toward his desk at the far end of the mostly empty room. He snickers. “Left things until the last minute again, eh?”
“Oh, you know him so well.” Aly absently clicks on the new email notification, even as she turns her body toward Bob. “What are you doing this weekend?”
“Going to take my red-haired bride out for a little water-side dinner.”
“How long have you been married now? 30 years?”
“34.” His face softens, his hands shoving into his pockets.
“One day, if I am lucky enough, someone will still call me a bride after 34 years of being together.” Aly smiles at him. He always practically beamed when he talked about his wife, the red-haired bride, Melissa. “I hope you two have a wonderful time.” She turns back to her email. Her eyes widen. She gestures Bob back with a hand.
“MIKE! WE GOT TO GO!” Bob jumps, then steps back from her as she stands up from her chair, turning her body toward Mike.
“No! I got time! I got time!”
“Flight’s been moved up. We got to go. If it ain’t done, you better hope it can wait.”
“Fine. Fine. It can wait. Jesus.” Clattering sounds accompany this. “Maybe.”
“Have a great weekend, Bob.”
“Have a great two weeks. See you when you get back.” Bob waves at her, then wanders back toward his desk. Aly sits down, beginning procedures to close out for two weeks. She turns on her out of office notifications, sends a quick note to her boss as a reminder of her vacation, then sends a similar email to her team about the same thing. She turns off everything, then grabs her bag from the floor.
“Eh?” She looks up, then leans back. “Anna?” She tips her head to the side, raising one eyebrow. “Everything okay?”
“Don’t stop inviting me.” Anna, wearing a zip-up hooded sweatshirt, has pulled it tightly closed around her body, her crossed arms held tightly against her belly.
“Anna, why would I do that?”
“Because I never go.” Anna stares at the toes of her shoes, her voice very quiet.
“Anna.” Aly leans forward again, resting a hand on the other woman’s arm. “You are my friend. I wouldn’t leave you out just because you couldn’t come to the last thing.”
“I’m not those people. And those people should know you better.”
“I… I guess.” Anna slowly raises her head to meet Aly’s eyes. She nods after a few moments, exhaling slowly. “Have a good time.” She tries a smile, manages a small one. She turns and walks away, leaving Aly staring after her.
“I’m ready! Let’s go!” Mike’s voice at her ear brings a stifled scream.
“Mike!” Aly jerks around, looking up at him.
“Aren’t you ready? It’s time. Let’s go!” He grins widely, his bag slung over a shoulder. “You okay?”
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. I’m good.” She picks her bag up again, then gets to her feet. “Let’s ride.”
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