Stepping Away From Yesterday
by C.W. Bigelow
The brittle air energizes me with a slap as I climb from the Uber. Roy, the driver, has been pleasant and quiet after exchanging initial greetings, which is exactly what I needed. The blanket of stars blink against the deep night sky over the mountains and the silence is welcome after the altercation earlier in the evening. I stand straight with my backpack balancing on my right shoulder as Roy does a U-turn and heads back to Denver. I gaze up at the mountain silhouettes against the star spangled sky and take my first step away from everything that was yesterday, not sure how I’m going to survive, but sure it is the only choice I have.
Raised in Englewood, Colorado, the daughter of a strip mine baron, I was a debutante. Interesting how I use that word to describe me first off. Daddy made sure my coming out ball was the grandest. My mother had been gone for years – a cancer victim before I was old enough to develop a relationship with her. With her missing and he having no idea how to pull off such an event, hired Grand Relations, a high powered PR firm, to make sure everything was done perfectly and was covered just as perfectly by the top media outlets. Daddy – he has always been Daddy – was protecting, loving, overbearing in the same breath, and headstrong, conservative, Republican and a true believer in whatever gave his public image and pocketbook a boost amongst his friends and business associates.
If he had ever viewed me as the successor of his business I would have been groomed as an athlete ready to compete at the all-girls school I attended, ready to lead the team to victory, educated to attend some Ivy League college, but though an only child, I was raised in a different manner. Being his daughter, I was to be sacrosanct, beautiful, nothing but a magnet for the man he would choose to run his company, to sire his grandson, who would then take the reins of his company and lead it on its continued success. He put me in that category, and if I didn’t want to upset him I had better accept that fact. I was there to please and do as instructed because it shielded me from his anger.
I was coddled and given anything I wanted as long as I did as I was told.
“The pressure to succeed is all I can bear,” he claimed. “Without your mother to control you, I need to put that on you. If I get short with you…” In his mind any indiscretion was my fault.
On a chaise lounge by the pool under an umbrella to protect me from the sun, a day had been spent with my best friend, Bobbi. The pool sparkled in the sunrays, smooth until Bobbi piped up.
“We can head to the mountains. Now that school’s over we can escape these trappings,” she argued.
It had been her rant since we were in second grade when her parents moved into the house next to ours. She was the sister from another mother – always in my face giving me advice to reject all of Daddy’s commandments. It was hard to listen to Daddy when she was around.
The calm was upended when I was handed my marching orders on that July day.
“Lanie, you aren’t getting too much sun, are you?”
I doubted he heard my response before I heard his splash. Odd that it was Wednesday and midday. I raised up on my elbows to watch him swim two laps before grabbing a towel as he emerged.
“Your mother’s cancer began as melanoma before eating her alive.” He sat in the chair next to me.
I was silent.
“And I need you healthy and beautiful…”
I heard it over and over.
“I have a dinner guest coming tonight.”
It was his code for suitor. The fact this man was coming to dinner meant he had passed the most important tests – having the potential of succeeding him as leader of the company.
It had always been my mindset to support him, but I had a habit of ignoring the fact that if and when I married his man, I would become – what do they call them – a good suburban, white Republican? It was my upbringing, but things could change.
If my mother hadn’t died when I was nine I wonder if I’d be under Daddy’s control – or wonder if she was that way, and if she was, I guess I’d still be the same.
Happiness is accepting what you know. I mean, I knew no different and most of my girlfriends weren’t any different, except Daddy was the top of the food chain in Englewood, which contributed to all kinds of self-doubts. Was I attractive to folks for myself or because of his status? The whole love me for me or my money thing?
When Daddy disappeared back into the house I turned to Bobbi on the chaise lounge next to mine. Freckled and tan, her bikini was white polka dots on navy blue. Her blue eyes were lasers of truth and I knew what was coming because she was that one friend. The friend Daddy put up with. Notice how he didn’t even address her.
“And we are living in India right now,” she seethed. “Love has no place in his world, does it?”
She knew Daddy was out for himself and not for me. We were apples hanging from the same limb but on extreme ends. A tomboy excelling in all sports until she blew her Achilles playing soccer, she tried again to convince me to evolve out of the girly-girl stage and become a respectable female.
“Look at me. Beautiful, right?”
I never argued.
“Certainly not helpless and never about to be fixed up by some old man, all due respect to your old man.”
Daddy on one shoulder and Bobbi on the other, they were stereophonic speakers that never turned off and never played the same tune.
“We’ll give it a shot,” I sighed as I stood. The sun beat down angrily as if it was on Bobbi’s side. “If it doesn’t feel right…”
“It’s not gonna feel right cause you ain’t your Daddy.”
“You know I have to try.”
“So nice to meet you, Lanie” were George Garner’s first words to me, recited in our dining room where I had been relegated to the first chair rather than my normal opposite head of the table seat from Daddy. His handshake was firm, an important trait, and his blue eyes made direct contact with my own blues, which was also important. Being seated allowed me the upward perspective so I could see he had a strong chin and white teeth through strong lips – all which came as no surprise since Daddy would never pick an average to ugly man since his progeny had to be attractive and smart.
As this man took his seat I had the feeling it was the last time I would sit in that seat, my seat since I was nine years old. Did that mean I was falling in love at first sight? No. It only meant I was fully aware that Daddy was in love with this candidate, and as far as Daddy was concerned that should be enough.
“Lanie, my love, this is the man I spoke about, George Garner. George is my new Vice President of Supply Chain at the firm.”
George was pulling his chair in and grabbing his napkin to spread across his lap. Notice how I noticed the important things. Oh how I was my Daddy’s progeny.
“George has been with the firm for three months and has made a fine impression on the group.”
Three months. That was a bit concerning. Daddy was either smitten at first sight or he felt I was inching past “you are a catch” age. Since I was his only chance, he might be becoming a bit panicked.
Wanda began bringing in our food so Daddy paused. I noticed George remained calm, even confident, as if he expected this whole thing to be a done deal. I was the negotiation pawn. And what was the negotiation? His ultimate success, and for that to happen I had to be his wife. How hungry was I at that point? As the real reason for my existence became clear to me, I leaned back in my chair – the posture going to hell. I really didn’t even need to be in attendance. Instead of me meeting George as a prospective suitor, he was being introduced to his future wife and the long history of conservative cross-breeding through arranged marriage continued.
Did I have a choice? For the first time in my life something gurgled in my gut and the rose colored glasses fractured a bit. They didn’t shatter at that point, mind you, but my vision was altered by a small crack. Bobbi seemed to whisper softly in my left ear, her regular refrain of “I told you so.”
The filets were served and Wanda disappeared.
“And Lanie, George is going to escort you to the Jamieson’s party this coming Saturday. It will be your coming out party as a couple.”
At this point out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of George’s hand reaching across the table. There was no tenderness in that grip around my bicep. With one yank my arm was pulled toward him and instead of looking at him, I glanced at Daddy to get his reaction to this trespass. He wore an impressed grin. My interpretation was immediate. George was now my keeper. Daddy could wash his hands of me.
“George will pick you up at four. Attire will be cocktail. I have Grand Relations handling the coverage again.”
During his statement George’s tight grip grew tighter as if I was going to run away and didn’t loosen until I said, “Of course, Daddy.”
How sad, though I didn’t realize it at that point, because this whole, short to the point negotiation was nothing new. It was my life until that point and what I had expected my life to be until George’s bruise baring grip had started the splintering of that expectation.
Yet I did as I was told. Bobbi and I shopped and found a knee length black dress with a pink purple splash of flowers with poly lace trim. I most liked the long lace sleeves with a flared cuff. My ankle strapped heels were a matching pink to some of the flowers in the dress.
“Okay. Now you got that get up,” Bobbi growled as she placed a stack of stuff on the counter. “I suggest you get this stuff.” I didn’t even bother to look at them because the easiest way to calm Bobbi was to agree. I was in a constant motion of being yanked to one side or the other. I told the clerk to put Bobbi’s pile on the bill.
George was prompt since Daddy was there and knew he would be following us to the party.
Dressed in a dark suit and crisp white shirt, his white polka dotted red tie knot was eye level and that was the first time I realized his height. Perfect if you think about it, to save any crick in my neck from constantly staring way up, and perfect so I could still wear heels of a decent height. There was a peck on the cheek and that overbearing grip on my right arm. The bruise from dinner was on my left and camouflaged by the lace sleeves. “So lovely,” was his greeting before leading me to his silver Lexus RX 350. He did open the door for me and I was a bit relieved by the red bucket leather seats because closeness wasn’t going to happen during the ride.
Upon exiting the long driveway his phone rang. “Yes sir. I did speak to him earlier and verified they are arriving on time. Should be here Monday.” He clicked off and said, “Your father.”
His tone told me he expected me to be impressed. Why? I checked the rear view mirror on my side and saw Daddy’s limo following behind.
Champagne was served as we entered the Jamieson’s.
Mrs. Jamieson, a close friend of Daddy’s and used to be a close friend of my mother’s, pulled me to the side as soon as I had the drink. “So happy for you dear. This will make your father very happy.”
The fracture in my rose colored glasses widened as I watched the party attendees gather around George. This was our first date for God’s sake and I was already a wallflower. I quickly downed my glass and grabbed another one off a passing tray.
Daddy had made his entrance and rejected champagne on his way to the bar. “Gimme a Maker’s!” His request echoed across the room and acted as pollen to the hovering bees leaving the women to wander aimlessly as the crowd of men gathered for whiskey.
The testosterone tea party was so blatant that it smashed my rose colored glasses, advancing the cracks like a sheet of ice on a frozen lake causing me to finish my champagne and grab another. The champagne was fine with me; No whiskey, thank you. I’d keep to my estrogen group, thanks.
Mrs. Jamieson joined Daddy’s group, which made me think my mother would have been over there too. Yup, and she grabbed a whiskey. Course I was never privy to what Daddy did with his time, but I was beginning to get an idea.
The party drug on, and soon pictures were over. Most of the guests had left. Daddy had disappeared with Mrs. Jamieson and George and I were on our own. He seemed somewhat sober. I leered at him through a champagne haze. I still couldn’t get a good read on him. Pretty in a stupid kind of way, his only reason for being here was to please Daddy. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.
We hadn’t spoken to each other the whole night as he soaked in the adulation from Daddy’s crowd while I wandered the pool area. I called Bobbi a number of times.
“Daddy’s boy, right?” She was always right.
“Certainly doesn’t seem too interested in me.”
“I don’t seem to care.” I didn’t. As I wandered the pool area I caught the mountains in the distance. Foreboding yet enticing, I climbed on a chaise lounge and stared at them, following the fluffy clouds float over the peaks until they wandered over me.
George grabbed my thigh as he started the engine and his hand went back on my thigh after he pulled onto the road. Still in a champagne fog, I just stared at it as though it was a bird that landed on my leg. I wasn’t startled and I wasn’t excited as I waited to see what he would do next. Then I remembered his lack of attention, lack of focus all evening and felt cheaper and more insignificant by the mile. He began squeezing. I laughed because he gripped me in such a way that it tickled. I didn’t bother to look at him as I pushed his hand away and I heard him grunt as though I was doing something that had never been done to him. The amount of words that had been exchanged was about a handful, and Daddy in his court or not, I wasn’t about to go further. Daddy could marry the bastard.
His hand returned, this time higher on the thigh.
“What didn’t you understand?”
He then grabbed and floored his fancy car as though I was gonna pay more attention to the speed than the groping hand.
“Dude. Does my father think you listen well?”
I pulled his hand off and threw it back at him. His foot lifted off the gas. We continued at the speed limit in silence. When he pulled up in front of my house I just got out of the car. No kiss. No words.
As I entered the house he pulled off and the squeal of his tires cut me from my past, set me free as I realized for the first time in my life I was no longer going to be a role player to help everyone achieve their own goal. It was time for me. It didn’t matter what, but I knew whatever it was, it was going to be for me.
I entered my bedroom and spotted the bag of clothes from the store earlier. I reached in and pulled out a pair of jeans, a heavy wool sweater and hiking boots. How had I not noticed these when Bobbi had put them on the sales counter? As soon as I got dressed in my new clothes I called Uber.
The chill invigorated me as I stuck out my thumb. And as a car pulled over to the side of the road ahead, I heard Daddy say, “Sometimes a solution has to be extreme. You have to take a risk to get what you want.”
C.W. Bigelow lives in the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have appeared in Compass Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Crack the Spine, Sick Lit Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Midway Journal, Poydras Review, and Blue Mountain Review, among others, and has a poem upcoming in Glassworks and a story in Drunk Monkeys.