© 2018 by Becky Monson

 

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CHAPTER 1

 

I hate today.

Which doesn’t bode well, since it’s only eight thirty in the morning.

This is par for the course with my life right now, since the past three weeks haven’t particularly been my favorite either. Before that—which feels like ages ago—I was feeling like I was on the right path. Like everything I had planned for myself was happening. And I actually remember thinking, “Life can’t get any better.” Clearly, I jinxed myself.

Because my life is not on track. Not even close.

Lately, every morning I wake up with hopes that this will be the day when things will look up for me. The day my life will take a turn for the better and I’ll get myself back on track. Apparently, today is not that day.

Right now, I’m sitting in an air-conditioned office, holding a piece of paper in my hands, staring at the words in front of me and trying to make sense of it all. The top of the paper, in bold lettering, says, “CT Anderson Bank,” and underneath it, “Holly Murphy—Supervisor Assessment.”

Under that are a whole bunch of words I can’t believe I’m reading. Words like “too controlling” and “micromanaging” and “not a team player.” It’s all there, in Times New Roman, eleven-point type. Coincidentally, these are some of the words Nathan—my ex-fiancé—used when he called off our wedding nearly three weeks ago. He even used the words “not a team player”—whatever that’s supposed to mean. And this was all only a little over two months before we were to marry.

Way to kick me when I’m down, Life.

“Holly?” My boss, Marie, asks, and I look up to find concerned eyes peering at me across a modern, pale-colored wooden desk. Marie’s A-line blond bob barely moves as she tilts her head in my direction. She clears her throat. “I know it’s difficult,” she says, her eyes moving down to the piece of paper I’m grasping.

My eyes follow suit. “Right,” I say in response. I could think of some other words to describe the situation besides difficult. Some very colorful words.

“I know this is not what you need to hear right now after . . . uh . . . everything,” she says. “The timing sucks.”

She’s got her pity eyes on again. I’ve gotten this look a lot lately—the past three weeks, to be precise. Not just from Marie, but from everyone. My friends, my dad, my coworkers, my cake designer, my venue manager, my photographer. The pity from the last two only went so far, though. Not far enough to give me my deposit back, those jerkfaces.

I let out a big breath, blowing the air out so hard that my lips make an involuntary raspberry noise, like a horse.

“Listen,” says Marie as she picks up her copy of the report. “The assessment did say you were . . . um,” she looks down, scanning it, “. . . organized. So that’s good, right?” She looks up from the paper with a bright smile, as if this is supposed to lift my spirits.

“Sure,” I say blankly. I believe Nathan said the same thing when he broke up with me.

I’m an evil overlord with a side of organized. Go, me.

The truth is, I’m blindsided by this. I don’t see these things about myself. Not the controlling, micromanaging, not-a-team-player part, at least. I never thought I was a perfect manager, but I thought I was doing pretty well. Sure, I sometimes have to nudge my small team of five, like when I have to get on Sara and Sarah (or “the Sarahs” as I call them) for taking too many breaks. But how is that micromanaging or controlling? That’s just doing my job.

I never thought I was the perfect girlfriend either, but I was blindsided with Nathan, too. I thought we had a good thing going there. Very symbiotic.

Marie clears her throat and sets the paper down and then plants her elbows on the desk, resting her chin on intertwining fingers. She sighs, a huge audible sigh. “Holly, I’m not saying the manager position won’t be yours.”

My shoulders drop. There’s another kick in the gut. This is what I’ve been working toward, what I’ve wanted all along since starting at CT Anderson Bank. A chance to be on the executive team—to run the entire call center instead of the small group I currently manage, the team that apparently hates me.

Mike, the current manager of the call center, told Marie he’s planning on leaving sometime this summer. Marie shared this bit of info with me right before Nathan called off the wedding. Back when my life was on track. The good old days.

“I’m confident the executive team will want you in there once Mike officially leaves,” Marie continues, probably after seeing my look of despair.

“But,” I hold up the supervisor assessment by the corner, because it’s the super-huge but in the room.

“But,” she repeats with a nod to the paper, “I think you can do better.”

I close my eyes. The feeling of tears pooling behind them makes my nose tingle.

That’s the real problem here. I don’t even know what I’m doing wrong.

Blinking back the tears and opening my eyes, I place the stupid paper in my lap. Reaching up, I wrap a tendril of my thick red hair around my index finger and tug lightly, a habit of mine ever since I can remember.

“I understand,” I say after a few beats of silence.

“Do you?” she asks.

“No, not really.”

She laughs in an ironic way. “Holly, I think you need to relax. You need to let go of the reins a little. Give your team some wiggle room. It’s like what I have to do with my teenagers. I can’t keep hovering over them, like one of those helicopter parents. I have to let them get out there and figure things out for themselves.”

“I don’t hover,” I say, sounding appalled, abandoning the hair tugging. Marie’s eyes move from mine to the paper in my hands, which claims that I do, in fact, hover.

We sit there for a moment, silence surrounding us except for the soft hum of the air conditioner and Marie tapping her fingers on her desk. The drumming noise bounces around in my head. Drum, drum, drum. Holly’s a control freak. Drum, drum, drum. Everyone hates me.

Marie’s eyes roam over my face. “When’s the last time you took a vacation?”

“Huh?” I ask, caught off guard by the question.

“A vacation,” she says. “When was the last one?”

“Um . . .” I trail off, trying to think of the last time I went out of town. “I think Nathan and I went to Miami for a weekend a couple months ago.”

I’m just throwing this out there. I can’t remember the last time we went down there together. When we first started dating, we took little weekend getaways to Miami often since flights from Orlando to Miami are cheap and Nathan’s folks live there. But then life got busier, and then there was a wedding to plan . . . and we kept finding reasons not to go.

“I don’t mean a weekend thing—I mean actual time off from work,” she says.

“I did have that stomach bug last year,” I offer.

“That doesn’t count. I mean actual vacation time,” she says, accentuating the last three words.

“Well, I was going to be taking a big vacation, but . . .” I let out a high-pitched, uncomfortable laugh.

“Right . . .” she trails off, obviously at a loss for words here. My canceled wedding and subsequent canceled honeymoon are an awkward topic for pretty much everyone. She pushes her laptop to the side. “Why don’t you take a vacation during that time anyway? Give yourself a chance to unwind. Take a break from everything. You already have the time off.”

The thing is, this is the same advice I’ve been given by nearly everyone already. Including Nathan. He told me I could have the plane tickets for our honeymoon to London and Paris—like that was some consolation prize or something. Like his ticket with the name Nathan Jones on it would be of any use to me now. Didn’t he realize you can’t change the name? I thought about telling him and letting him have the ticket so he could at least cash it in. But I didn’t. I do feel mildly guilty about that.

“I don’t know, Marie. I think it would be better for me to stay here. I’m not sure I should be alone during that time. I need . . . I need things to be normal.” I fidget with the cuff of my button-down shirt.

“I understand. I do,” she says, with a few quick nods of her head. I love this about Marie. She’s always been a bit mama-bird toward me since she became my boss. I latch onto it, because I didn’t have much of a mom for most of my life.

She leans back in her seat, propping her chin on her steepled fingers. “I read an article the other day,” she says. “It was in the Harvard Business Journal and it was about how Americans don’t take enough vacations.”

“Okay,” I say, drawing out the word.

“Yes.” She dips her chin once. “Did you know that working all the time and never taking any vacation can affect your work life? It’s actually been proven it can hinder productivity.”

“I did not know that,” I say, wondering where she’s going with this.

“I’ll forward you the article and I want you to read it. And I want you to take some time off. Doctor’s orders,” she says, even though she’s not remotely a doctor.

“But, Marie,” I say, my voice taking on a somewhat defensive tone, “shouldn’t I worry about fixing this first?” I motion toward the paper now in my lap.

She shakes her head. “It’s not just about that. It’s about you taking care of yourself. Plus, I think if you take some time for you and step away from it,” she points at the assessment, “you’ll be able to figure things out—maybe see things with a clearer vision.”

“I don’t think—”

“Holly,” she holds up a hand to stop my protest. “You never took any time off after . . . um . . . everything,” she says, gingerly referring to my canceled wedding. “And as your boss, and someone who is genuinely concerned about you, I think you need this. You need a vacation. You need to live a little.”

I sigh deeply. “Well, I suppose I could take a few days off and get things sorted around my condo.”

Not that I have anything to sort there. I did all that already. I thought it would be therapeutic to get rid of everything that was Nathan’s—purging him from my life. I kept the couch we bought for the condo we were going to live in after the wedding. I kept the condo too. Mostly because neither of those fit into the box I brought to Nathan, and also, despite the memories both will invoke, I want them. Even if the mortgage on the condo—a high-rise in downtown Orlando within walking distance from work—is going to pinch a little.

“No,” Marie says, her voice stern. “You need to take a vacation—a real one. Go somewhere fun. Why don’t you get a group of friends together and do one of those last minute deals? You could go next week, even.” I look up to see Marie’s eyes twinkling at me with all the possibilities.

I feel the blood drain out my face. Next week? “I don’t think I could get something planned that fast.”

“Then don’t make plans,” she says. “Find a location and get a plane ticket. And probably a hotel. The rest will fall into place.”

I just realized this woman, as supportive as she’s been to me, doesn’t know me at all. I don’t fly by the seat of my pants. I like plans. I like making them in advance and following them. I couldn’t just hop on a plane and go somewhere. I’m not impulsive. I’m not a ride-or-die kind of girl. I don’t want to ride or die.

“I’m not sure I could swing it,” I say.

“Well, make it happen,” she says with a quick nod. “I want a vacation request on my desk. I’ll give you a week.”

“A week?” I echo, incredulity in my tone.

“Yes. I’m telling you this as your boss and your friend.”

“But my team—"

“I have full confidence you’ll figure it all out,” she cuts me off, a determined look on her face.

I want to say something, anything that will get her off this path, but I know that look. Once Marie is set on something, she can’t be talked down. It’s best if I just let it lie for now.

Marie dismisses me, and I give her a meager smile—it’s all I can muster under the circumstances—and then say goodbye as I do the walk of shame back to my office. It’s not really an official walk of shame, per se, because no one besides Marie knows what just happened. My team took the assessment separately and were asked not to talk about it. They don’t even know about the meeting this morning. But it feels like a walk of shame to me.

I enter my office and shut the door behind me. I look around the space, the one I worked so hard to earn after being in a cubicle for so long. I like the simplicity of it all—not a lot of color, just clean and pristine, how I like it. I plop down in my gray ergonomic chair and roll myself up to my desk. Then I move my pen holder slightly to the left of my phone because it looked off. Then I move it back again, and that looks off too. Then I consider throwing the thing across the room because everything in my life feels askew right now.

I sit back and close my eyes. Through the thin walls of my office, I can hear faint sounds of chatter and the clicking of fingers typing on keyboards. I hear this every day, but today it feels … different.

This is not how this day was supposed to go. Instead of coming in this morning and finding out everything is going well with my team and I’m on track for the manager position, I find out my team hates me, the manager position is up in the air, and my boss is now hellbent on me taking a vacation so I can “clear my head” and “figure things out.”

This will not do. What needs to be fixed here is my team. I can’t exactly fix how they think of me when I’m off at some resort, sitting on the beach and drinking a margarita, can I? No, I need to be here showing them I do know how to manage them, and I’m not all the things they think about me. And anyway, I don’t even like margaritas.

I need to buy some time. Some time to get my team situation fixed, and then … then after that I can go on a vacation or whatever. But how do I fix this?

When I was younger, my dad would always say, “You can’t climb the mountain just by sitting and staring at the base.” Of course, he also used to say, “People will disappoint you, but pizza is forever.”

I sit up straight in my seat. I may have been able to scrub Nathan out of my life, but I can’t exactly do that with my team—not if I want this promotion. I’m not going to sit back. I’m going to climb that mountain.

And maybe get some pizza.

 

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