"All fall down."
The irony was going to kill me.
Sighing, I awkwardly got up, wincing slightly in pain as I put weight on my left ankle. Smoothening my skirt with one hand, and retrieving my briefcase with the other, I calmly turned around and headed out with a new purpose—to find a bar.
Life had never been particularly peachy, and for that, I blamed my mother. The world was out to get me, and it was all because of her. Karma felt the need to focus its indomitable wrath upon the child of the woman who had sought to outwit it. In her attempt to show the world just who was in charge, she named her only daughter Zaida—good fortune. Life, however, has its ways of defeating such attempts, and it's fair to say that regardless of my name, karma rarely shone its happy lights on me.
Such was the case today. After three long, tedious years in university, I was ready to head out into the real world. Luckily, I was jaded enough to know that it wouldn't be all sunshine, bunnies and happiness.
I don't think my poor heart could've handled it if it were.
Instead, I moved out of my mother's hen clucking domain, and found myself a small, but cozy—read tiny and slightly dingy—apartment in the heart of the city and set about the arduous task of finding a means to support myself.
Well, a legal, non-immoral means.
One of my apartment neighbours was a stripper with blue and purple streaked hair who lived with her girlfriend hooker. Yep, they may get paid a lot more than I could hope to make, but it was definitely not worth it. I'd rather scrub pots and pans than sell my body—and soul.
So, like many other poor, fresh faced ex-students, I set out armed with bundles of résumés, business cards and shiny black shoes. After a mere six weeks of agony, I finally got a phone call for an interview. It sounded promising too—assistant advertising executive in a large, prosperous firm.
Rejoicing in my good luck—for once—I had set out that afternoon in my favourite pinstripe suit, with my leather briefcase and portfolio, and my mp3 player blasting my favourite music.
I was as wise as Athena, beautiful as Aphrodite, and as happy as the goat god Pan. But, I was as lucky as the Norse god Tyr. If you didn't know, poor Tyr lost his hand to the giant wolf Fenrir in an attempt to save the world. Yep, that was me. For all the good intentions, karma liked to have things bite me in the ass.
It was just the way of the world.
I knew the day was destined to turn out badly once I turned the corner and slush began to fall from the sky. When people say "when it rains, it pours," they clearly have never been slushed on.
The cosmic balance had been momentarily out of order—Zaida was actually happy for once. Of course this needed to be fixed immediately or something disastrous would happen! Should we rain on her parade? Make it snow? "Ah, no!" said the gods, "we have something much worse in store for her—slush!"
So I sloshed my way down the street, ran into a convenience store and bought an umbrella. With my problems thus solved, I proceeded to somewhat jauntily make my way to the office. My cockiness at outwitting the world was short-lived, and I realized just why the entities that ran the world were gifted with doing so—they were devious miscreants, able to think on the spot and solve almost any dilemma.
Not ten measly feet away from my utopia, my blissful haven, the front door of the shiny glass building where I'd dreamed of working, the cosmic order once again shifted, and I found myself dripping of slush and swearing at the driver of the flashy red sports car who had just driven past.
Was my humiliation at an end? Of course not. I had taken one step when the heel of my brand new Dolce and Gabbana shoes—they were a graduation gift from my mother, no way could I afford $300 shoes, that was enough cash to feed me for months—snapped, sending both my possessions, and my suit-clad bum flying towards the slush-covered ground.
I could have simply sat in a puddle of slush and cried. I could have vented my anger by breaking something. I could have been even more masochistic and gouged my eyes out with my newly sharpened shoe heel.
I could do none of those things.
For one, the slush puddle was cold. Two, if I broke something, I probably wouldn't be able to afford a replacement. And third, my bum really hurt. I couldn't imagine adding even more pain to the mix—that would confuse the powers that be way too much and probably cause another cosmic imbalance leading to the raining of rainbow trout, or maybe African tree toads.
Heaven forbid it rain skittles.
I hate skittles.
My first instinct, other than to swear at the powers that be—who were no doubt cackling with glee—was to go get gloriously and outrageously drunk. With my clothing and shoes ruined, my hair in disarray, and my brain muddled, I was in no shape for a job interview. The best I could do was to drown my sorrows in a large rum and coke—or maybe just the rum today. After all, it was a momentous occasion. It was not often that the stars aligned so perfectly as to ruin every aspect of my life—they usually just focused on one or two.
As I trudged into the bar, I could practically feel everyone staring at me. I must have looked like a drowned rat, and the hushed whispers and amused looks did not help my ego any. Not that I particularly cared of course. My life was far too miserable at the moment to care what other people thought of me.
"Oh my god, Zai?"
At that moment, something inside me died just a little more. I knew that voice, and more importantly, I loathed that voice.
Inhaling deeply, and prepping myself for more pain, I pasted a smile on my face and turned around to meet the perpetually perky, preppy, pretty, peroxide and practically perfect princess of Pinewood high school. Well, I lie. Her hair was blonde, but a lovely shade of pale blonde that couldn't possibly have come out of a bottle. She was sweet, friendly, nominally intelligent, popular and she drove me nuts. Perhaps the only thing less than perfect about her, was her name—Stella. Her mother was a little too fond of A Streetcar Named Desire, or was it just Marlon Brando?
"Zaida Appleton, what happened to you? Oh, never mind that, come to the back room with me, you can't stay in those clothes, you'll catch your death!"
Sounding much like a harried fish wife, Stella hustled me into the employee only section of the bar and proceeded to treat me like a five year old. Well, once again, I lie. Stella was only too sweet, offering me not only towels, but spare clothing and a hairbrush as well—while insisting she hear my sob story.
Slightly stunned by the sheer forcefulness of Stella's mothering nature, I did as I was bidden over a large, steaming mug of apple cider.
"So he just sped by you, soaked you with slush and left you?" she shrieked.
"Uhm, yeah, pretty much."
"Oh, Zai, I'm so sorry—you would have been an excellent advertising exec. I still remember what a hit your promotions were for the school plays and our grad."
I smiled wanly. I already knew that. Now that my attempt at fortune, glory and honour had been effectively suppressed, it was time to simply wallow in my misery.
As we made our way to a small table in the corner of the bar, I paused. "Thanks, Stella." Something about the situation puzzled me though. Surely she deserved more than this, not my thanks, but Stella, the Stella was working in a bar. "Stella? Why are you here? I mean, why do you work here? I thought you had a scholarship to some college out east."
"Your boyfriend in high school? The football guy?"
Stella smiled sadly. "That's the one. I found out I was pregnant the summer after graduation. Jesse and I got married and moved out here to work, but he left before I gave birth."
I did my best to hold in a gasp, but failed to keep my eyes from widening. "Stel, that's terrible—"
"No, no," she protested, "I'm happy Zai. Happier than I ever was—I have a steady income, a place of my own and an amazing son. I couldn't ask for anything more. Anyway Zai, I better get to working again, I'll bring you a menu in a couple minutes.
With that, Stella sauntered off leaving me speechless.
Once again, like the last time we competed over a boy, Stella Kowalski—or was it Jamison now—had left me stunned and eating her dust. If a guy had done that to me, I would have hunted him down and used his testicles as golf balls. Stella, seemed content.
Hell, she seemed happy.
Needless to say, I was unimpressed. Her poise was far too superior to my own. But then again, a little voice whispered, how was this healthy? No human should let life walk all over them and not fight back. This was an outrage! An insult to humanity and the people that fought and died so that we could live!
"…and now that the Zaida person didn't show up for the interview, we're pretty fucked. She seemed like the best candidate for the exec job. Hell, I would've hired her on the spot if she showed an iota of talent and started her at forty grand."
I closed my eyes as the pure idiocy of it all hit me. First, the hypocrisy of my previous rant hit me with full force—I was at a bloody bar with the intention to get hammered off my face. Screw this fighting back bullshit. Second, the man who was supposed to interview me was a table away, and not only did he have a remarkably sexy voice, I was practically guaranteed my dream job at a wage far, far beyond my expectations. Life simply wasn't fair. At least it couldn't get any worse. Well, I guess it could, that car could have hit me for one, I could be blind, have warts or some terrible disease like genital herpes—or gonorrhea. Or even the rickets, I had heard those were pretty painful too.
"…Zai, Zai, ZAIDA APPLETON I've been calling your name for the past 5 minutes!"
Stella was glaring at me expectantly, and I was tempted to start beating my head against the oak table, or maybe just crawl in a hole and die a slow torturous death. Anything would have been better than this. The sexy voice had ceased its speaking, and I was now officially afraid to turn around. Well, that and I felt to need to strangle the blonde twit in front of me. All of the happy, sunshiny feelings I had toward Stella were gone like Homer Simpson's pint of beer.
A throat cleared ominously, and I knew without looking up exactly who it was. The first eight notes of Beethoven's Symphony #5 were playing over and over in my head. I felt like a little kid who got caught masturbating by their parents.
Hell, I just felt like crap.
Breathing in deeply, I forced myself to look up—I had decided that curling up and rocking myself to sleep in the fetal position wasn't going to cut it—and beheld the confused Stella and the somewhat un-amused man who had covered me with slush.
Our eyes simultaneously widened in recognition.
"YOU!" we said together.
I almost groaned aloud. Any more of this thinking alike and I would be convinced that we were supposed to be soul mates or something. Go, go karma, one more way you ruined Zai's life—and all in one fell swoop. It was like getting a strike in bowling, and then doing it again, and again, and again.
To my surprise, and utter annoyance, the man burst into laughter. I looked at him and raised an eyebrow, challenging him to explain himself. I did my best to withhold a scowl, but gave up once he stopped laughing and continued grinning like the Cheshire cat.
"Well Zaida Appleton, I'm Alex Caleb from Remington, Caleb and Jones, and now I know why you didn't show to the interview. If it makes you feel any better, I'm sorry for covering you with crap, I was in a hurry to," the sides of his mouth twitched "to make the interview in time."
"Uh huh." I was still unimpressed with his apology. My mommy always told me that an apology wasn't sincere if the person giving it was smiling—it meant that they still found your hardship amusing.
Alexander Caleb grinned again and paused before announcing in his uber-sexy voice, "Zaida Appleton, today is your lucky day."