Sometimes, life can change in an instant. Life-altering events can happen all at once and with a mighty bang, or it can happen slowly, with a series of smaller events that start with nothing more than whispers.
That was how it happened for me. Slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I didn’t see any of it coming until it was too late.
When I first heard those whispers that kickstarted everything, there was no way of knowing that my life was about to be thrown into a completely different lane—a lane I never would’ve expected, but one that I’d realized I was supposed to have ended up in all along.
One cold morning early in December, my sister, Kari, looked up when I stumbled into the kitchen. One of my kitten heels was halfway on my foot and I was jumping around trying to get the other on without stopping my forward momentum.
Her light blue eyes shone with amusement as she watched me struggle. She lifted her spoon out of her cereal bowl and pointed it at me, the light above her head flickering where it hung on a wire that had long since come loose from the ceiling.
“You know there’s a much easier way of doing that, right? It’s called sitting down and putting your shoes on properly before you leave your room.”
“Nobody likes a comedian this early in the morning,” I retorted, finally slipping the heel all the way on. Able to balance a little better now, I slid the other foot in before grabbing a mug and filling it with steaming coffee she’d left in the pot for me. “On the other hand, maybe you could earn some extra money with your comedy skills. We’ll need it if the rumors around my office are true.”
“Are people still saying the company’s being sold?” She took another bite of the sugary children’s cereal she insisted on having for breakfast every morning, her tone gentle and devoid of any humor now as her gaze swept over me again. “Are you okay?”
“Nope. I’m anxious as balls that I’m going to lose my job if it’s true.” Unable to stay still while discussing the possible termination of my employment, I turned to the fridge to attempt to rustle up something quick and healthy for breakfast. “What am I going to do if I get fired? I’m still drowning in student loans.”
“First, I don’t think balls ever get anxious,” she said, but her attempt to lighten my mood fell flat. Heaving out a sigh, she picked up the cereal box and started rummaging around in it. “Second, if you lose your job, you’ll just get a new one.”
Pulling out the toy from the box as she finished her sentence, she pursed her lips in disappointment before lifting her gaze back to mine. “Darn. I already have this one, but anyway, you can always get at least a part-time job to help cover your loans.”
“Sure, but the cost of living keeps going up, wages are stagnant, and we’re already sharing this crummy apartment to try saving money. A part-time job won’t cover all my expenses.” I wasn’t trying to be a downer. It was all true.
It was also just like this between the two of us. I was the realist while Kari preferred looking on the bright side.
There was nothing wrong with her approach. I envied it, even. As often as I could, I tried to follow it myself, but looking for silver linings wasn’t going to pay my debts if the whispers were true. And the mere thought of defaulting had my stomach in knots and my sense of humor cowering in a corner somewhere.
My sister shrugged, tossing the toy down on the counter and digging back into her breakfast, speaking between bites. “Well, at least think about picking up something part-time. I know of a place that’s hiring and they pay decent money if you’re interested.”
“Let’s see what happens at work today, but I’ll think about it.” That was the best I could do. Even if the rumors turned out to be false, taking on a part-time job might not be the worst idea Kari had ever had.
It wouldn’t be easy, considering that I usually worked about sixty hours a week as it was. Since I was on salary, I didn’t get paid overtime and wouldn’t be left with a ton of hours to earn something extra. But maybe I could make it work.
One thing at a time, Tori. You might not have a choice.
My eyes closed for a second as I tried to calm my racing mind. Whatever was going to happen, I’d know more by the end of the day. I just had to keep my chin up, my eyes on the prize, and hurry my ass to work while I still had a job.
With that thought in mind, I twisted the lid on my travel mug to seal my coffee safely inside, wrapped up my breakfast, and waved goodbye to my sister.
“Let me know if you need me,” she called just before the front door slammed shut behind me. The elevator in our building was broken, so I veered left for the stairwell and got in half my daily exercise by booking it down four flights before reaching the lobby.
The car I shared with my sister was in a parking lot a couple of blocks away, but I didn’t head in that direction. The car was almost as old as I was and barely running. We only used her in emergencies and, even then, only if we couldn’t use alternative transport.
Luckily, the bus stop was nearby—hence I could wear kitten heels from home and didn’t have to worry about packing flats. Stilettos would’ve been pushing it, but I wasn’t a masochist, so I hardly ever wore anything that could be classified as a skyscraper anyway.
The weather outside matched my mood—gray, dreary, and icy cold—but it was December in Connecticut. It wasn’t the weather acting strangely. It was me. I wasn’t always this miserable. The same couldn’t be said about the weather this time of year.
Then again, at least the weather isn’t trying to distract itself from possible impending bankruptcy by musing about me.
A cloud of heat and exhaust fumes enveloped me when the bus pulled up, and I greeted the driver with a friendly wave on my way to find a seat. As difficult as it was, I had to pull myself out of the bundle of nerves and self-pity I was dissolving into before I got to the office.
Gossip around there was rife enough. I didn’t have to add fuel to the fire by arriving looking like I was in mourning already. If I did, people would assume I knew something that they didn’t. As the executive assistant to the COO, I was sometimes privy to information that wasn’t made public company wide. This, however, wasn’t one of those occasions and I refused to let anyone speculate that it was.
Instead of wallowing in misery about something that might not even happen, I forced myself to think more like Kari. One thing I knew for sure was that if my sister knew about this part-time job, it meant there would be something quirky about it. She never found out about normal opportunities, nor was she interested in trying to find them.
She was a waitress at an upscale restaurant at the moment and did well at it. It didn’t involve roller-skates or hula hoops like I imagined this other opportunity would—since most of the jobs she’d ever had involved a costume of some sort—but it paid her bills and she was actually enjoying it. I suspected the quirky part of her current job had to do with seeing how the other half lived, and if she loved anything more than a good costume, it was people-watching.
If I got fired, maybe doing something that involved a costume for a while would be a good way to shed the corporate skin I’d been wearing for the last few years. I loved my job and I would definitely want to get back into something similar eventually, but I wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting too long before starting somewhere else. Doing something more lighthearted that didn’t require pencil skirts and button-up shirts while I searched could be a nice break.
Feeling marginally better by the time I walked into my office building, I was ready to face the day with my chin up and standing tall. My better mood lasted three whole steps into my office and then flew right out the window at the complete chaos I walked into.
Absolutely nobody was at their desks or working. People were standing around in small clusters, whispering furiously and gesturing with their hands. Phones were ringing off the hook, but no moves were made to answer them. All the printers seemed to be working overtime, spitting out job listings and application forms. My coworkers weren’t even making any attempts to hide what they were printing on the company dime.
My stomach was already sinking to China when Adele, my counterpart in the office of the CFO, grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the scrum of people she was talking to. Her features were drawn and her skin was pale when she turned to me.
“It seems the rumors are true. The company has been sold, Tori. We’re all screwed.” Her voice was so serious that I knew it wasn’t just a bad joke.
A lump formed in my throat, and I had to swallow past it before I could speak. “How do you know?”
“All the senior staff have been called into an early-morning meeting. It’s starting in five, but the email title was about updates moving forward.”
My blood turned to ice and my thoughts scattered. I felt a full-on freak out of epic proportions coming on. As his executive assistant, my boss required me to be in before any meeting to pull together any information he might need. Since he was the chief organizational officer, this meeting definitely would’ve fallen under our purview.
Desperately trying to fill my lungs with air, I yanked open my purse and pulled out my phone. A dozen curse words flew into my mind when I saw there was a voicemail that had come in while I’d still been asleep. I’d shut my ringer off last night because of a certain spam number that kept calling me, never even considering the fact that my boss might try to get in touch with me. I hadn’t thought to check my phone while I’d been swimming around in nerves earlier, and now I was screwed.
My boss was going to be angry for sure. More than angry.
Pissed beyond measure.
Maybe I should start looking for another job anyway—just in case I get canned from this one, either for disappointing the COO or because of the acquisition.
My current prospects in this role weren’t looking too peachy. This might only be one transgression, but it was one my boss would hold against me in whatever was coming our way. I’d always been a hard worker, but I also suffered from a little affliction called “being opinionated.” I spoke my mind openly, often only realizing once it was too late that I’d put my foot in it.
Since dear Bruce Lane, my boss, didn’t appreciate my tendency to run my mouth—as he called it—I wasn’t going to hold my breath for a glowing recommendation.
Adele frowned at me when she noticed my short, shallow breathing, reaching out to touch her hand to my forearm.
“Just relax,” she said. “We’ll be in the meeting soon enough. There’s no point in having a panic attack before we’ve even heard what’s going on.”
“Yeah. Sure.” My voice was breathy, but I managed to shoot her a tight smile before I excused myself from the huddle and took off toward the break room. I’d finished my coffee on the bus, but this wasn’t a job for coffee anyway. It was a job for tea.
As I rinsed out my mug and filled it with hot water, I overheard another group of coworkers who were talking around the water cooler. “Did you hear about the layoffs? I’ve looked into this company who is buying us. The CEO is brutal. Apparently, he usually gets rid of almost everyone.”
Why, thank you, Bryan. Lovely to hear that. It’s not as if I wasn’t anxious enough already.
Deliberately tuning them out, I spun around and left with my mug only half-filled. Strong tea, it is.
On my way to my desk, I passed at least four or five more people who tried to pull me into their conversations, but I declined all the offers. I didn’t need to hear any more speculation. I just needed to know what the rest of the day would bring.