STRANGER IN THE MIRROR

STRANGER IN THE MIRROR

"Oh, I'm sorry," Madelyn Hawke said, after bumping into a passerby on the street. She struggled to keep the books and files in her hands from falling as she balanced them.

"It was my fault," the man replied, taking a few books out of her hand so she could manage the others first.

"Thanks," she said smiling apologetically, "I'm going crazy," she said with a laugh.

"I know the feeling," he said, handing her back the books once she was ready, "Take care of yourself."

She smiled gratefully at the handsome stranger and continued on her way, trying to handle the cumbersome load while hurrying to catch the subway to work.

"Mads, where've you been?" Julia Del Vecchio said, running to her as soon as she got off the elevator, "Do you have the report?"

"Yeah," Julia said, "Got it," she set down the load on her desk and handed a bunch of files to Julia.

"Great," she said, flipping through them, "Just in time too, Davidson just got back."

"Aren't you going to check it first?"

"I'm sure it's great Mads," Julia said, "Once again, thanks for saving my butt. There's no way I could have gotten this done without you."

Madelyn smiled, "It's no problem. I know how busy you've been since you got that promotion."

"Yeah," she sighed, "I'm really-"

"Hey, don't worry about it," Madelyn cut her off, knowing what she was going to say, "You got the promotion, I didn't. Simple as that. No biggie, right?"

Julia smiled, "Right. God, you're an angel Mads, what would I do without you?"

Your own work, for one, Madelyn thought bitterly.

"Don't even think about it, Jules, I'm here for you," she said as her friend gave her a hug.

"Miss Del Vecchio!"

"Yes sir," Julia said alertly, rising out of her chair. She shot a look of panic to Madelyn who just shrugged in confusion, unsure of what their boss was going to say.

"The Hudson report," he said, expressionless, "Good work. Not only did you get it done in a short amount of time but it's flawless. I'm impressed. I can see that I made the right decision in choosing you for this position."

Madelyn's heart fell as she pretended to concentrate on her work.

"Thank you sir," Julia said with a wide smile, "I'm just doing my best."

"I know," he said, handing her a large file, "So I hope you don't mind working your magic on the Cooperman project."

Julia took the file, trying to look enthusiastic, "No problem."

Davidson passed by Madelyn's desk, nodding towards her, "Mrs. Ewing."

Madelyn smiled back, "Good morning, Mr. Davidson."

Angela Ewing was the woman who previously occupied her desk, she had left the company two years ago. Apparently Roland Davidson hadn't taken notice to the fact that she wasn't a 45-year old black woman.

"He doesn't even know who I am!" Madelyn shouted, throwing up her hands, "I've been working at the company since I got out of college! And he still doesn't even know me!"

"You should find ways to make him know you," Jordan Gregory mumbled, turning onto his back.

"Like what, spend all day writing a brilliant report that I get no credit for," she said, flopping down on his bed, "I hate this."

"Mads, come on," Jordan said, sitting up in bed, "You're an intelligent young woman and probably the best thing to happen to that company. If Davidson doesn't know that, that's his loss. He made a big mistake picking Julia over you, you were way more qualified. If you're not happy at your job, maybe you should quit."

"You think so?" she asked, turning to him.

"Yeah, with your background and that hot body of yours, you could go places," he joked.

"Thanks for taking me seriously," she said angrily.

He sighed and crawled out of bed, sitting next to her, "Listen, I can't tell you what to do with your life, but whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy," he said caressing her face, "As long as it does, I'm behind you a hundred percent."

She smiled, "How is it that you always know the right thing to say?"

He shrugged, "Practice I guess," he said, planting a kiss on her nose, "I love you."

"Love you too," she said, leaning in to kiss him, "Wait, why aren't you at work? And still in bed?"

"Oh, uh...I went but wasn't feeling well so I came home," he explained, kissing her neck.

"Are you okay?" she asked, pulling away.

"Yeah, I think it might have been the weather earlier this morning," he said, as his lips moved up her chin to her lips, "Screwing with my system."

She smiled as he tended her to lips, his hands busy, pulling her tucked blouse out of her skirt.

"Unn...hey there," she said, as his hands slipped under her blouse, "I can't."

"But I'm sick," he said, unbuttoning her blouse, "Don't you want to make me better?"

She stopped him, "Not on my break," she said, buttoning her blouse again, "Especially seeing how it's over soon," she looked at her watch, "I have to go," she kissed his quickly, "I'll come by later."

"Okay but call first, I might head back to the office," he said as she walked out of the bedroom.

Madelyn got off the subway, tired and depressed. Despite her pep talk from her boyfriend, she still couldn't feel good about her job-and her life in general. She felt the heavy weight of Julia's work on her shoulders-the work that she would never get credited for. Why did she always let people take advantage of her? She sighed and adjusted her bag before heading for the stairs. Her footsteps were in sync with the sound of water dripping on the track in the empty subway station. She looked at her clock, it was already close to ten. She knew she shouldn't have stayed at the office so late. She would work herself ragged. And for what?

"Spare some change?" the homeless man said, holding out his hand.

"Sorry," she answered, walking past him.

She mulled over her thoughts, buttoning her wool coat before entering the cold January weather. As she started walking again, she could hear an echo from her footsteps. Walking a little faster, she realized that the echo was another pair of footsteps behind her. She tried to keep calm, a must for any single woman living in the city, and headed for the exit as quickly as possible without looking like she was running away. Madelyn climbed the stairs quickly until a hand grabbed her, pulling her down. She struggled against it, holding on to the stair railing for support. Her bag slipped off her shoulder, falling down the stairs, the papers spilling out. Her screams for help mingled with the howling winds of the bitter chill outside and were unanswered in the empty subway station. The hands soon took full possession of her, covering her mouth and pulling her close.

"Don't fight it," the raspy voice whispered in her ear, "Just let it go."

She closed her eyes in terror, whimpering softly under the gloved hand of her attacker. Then suddenly, she was pushed to the floor as he let go of her. Without wasting any time, she ran out of station, blindly into the streets, without looking back. She ran as fast as her legs could take her, the beating of her heart so fast and loud she thought it would explode. It was at that point that she remembered she had left everything at the subway station. She stopped, a split second before she would have slammed into another person.

"Whoa," a man said, holding her steady, "Where's the fire?"

She moved away from him defensively, "I-I lost it," she stammered, tears running down her face.

"What?" he peered at her face, "Hey, don't I know you?"

She looked around the street, wondering what she should do.

"What's wrong?" he asked worried, "Can I help?"

She shook her head, crying, "I was in the subway...I didn't even see who it was," she covered her face, "God, I was terrified!"

"It's okay," he said comfortingly.

"I left everything there!" she cried, "My keys, my wallet, my work! He's going to take it and then he'll know-"

She broke down crying in the stranger's arms.

"Is there anything I can do?" he asked.

After she regained herself, she realized what she was doing and moved away from him, "No," she said curtly, "I don't need your help, thanks."

She stepped aside and walked away from him.

"Well, hey," he said, "I can't just leave you like this. Do you want me to call the police for you or something?"

"No," she said, not stopping, "I'll be fine...I just need to get to a phone," she wiped the tears from her eyes.

"Okay," he said, "How about this," he stopped her, "I hail you a cab and you can go home. It's like 20 below out here, you can't walk around like this for long, plus it late. It's not safe."

"Yeah I know that," she said softly, wrapping her arms around herself. She looked away, "I don't have any money," she said, "I left-"

"It's okay," he said, hailing a cab, "I'll take care of it."

"Who are you?" she asked, "Why are you doing this?"

"Good Samaritan I guess," he said smiling, "There's still some of us left in this city."

She looked at the cab as it pulled over to the curb.

"Get in," he said, "It'll take you home."

"You're that guy I met earlier today," she said finally, "The one I bumped into."

"Yeah, I thought you looked familiar," he said, opening the cab door.

She got inside reluctantly, "Can you tell me your name so I can repay you?"

"Don't worry about it," he said, paying the cab driver in advance, "Take her wherever she needs to go," he said to the driver.

Madelyn watched him step back from the curb as the car pulled into the street.

"Be careful," he said, "I mean it."

"Where to, Miss?" the cabbie asked.

Madelyn knocked on the door for the third time. She reached for her purse, but remembered that she didn't have it.

"Jordan!" she shouted, knocking on the door, "Are you there?! It's me! I don't have my keys!" she stopped knocking, "I don't want to go home," she said, leaning against the door, "Are you home?"

She sighed and leaned her back against the door, sliding down to the floor. She brought her legs to her chest and rested her head on her knees, crying softly in the hallway of the apartment building.

It was cold. The bitter frosty wind stung her skin, whipping through her dark brown hair, sprinkled with snowflakes. Despite her decreasing body temperature, her skin was relatively warm and the snow melted once it touched her body. Her bare feet crunched the snow underneath, numbing her toes. She opened her eyes slowly, waiting for them to adjust to the darkness of the sky and the harsh light of the city at night. Suddenly, her whole body was gripped in panic as she found herself on the ledge of a building rooftop, alone and naked.