The woman stepped out of her top floor corner office, and outside, onto the spacious, park-like terrace, with its green space and padded park benches. Each corner of the square, five-story building had this benefit. The Sky Park, it was affectionately known as, though seventy feet off the ground didn’t quite qualify as lofty. Top executives and corporate lawyer types needed space to blow off steam or step away from the computer screen and think from time to time. She was one of eight lucky employees to have this perk, as two corner offices could access each terrace.
She pulled a half-empty pack of Marlboros from the front pocket of her navy slacks and lit her fourth and final cigarette of the day. She took a deep drag and exhaled forcefully. Try as she might, she couldn’t blow her problems away on a cloud of smoke. The stress of life had her sneaking smokes from her mom’s stash beginning during her freshman year of high school and she hadn’t been able to stop. It was the only vice that had woven itself into the fabric of her life, other than Pinterest. She rarely drank and had only experimented with recreational drugs twice in her entire life. She ate healthy and made it a point to run at least two miles a day and lift weights at least 3 days a week. So why was it so damn hard to quit? She knew why. The guilt and the hurt.
She walked over to the edge of the terrace and took in the familiar view. The wind picked up and blew wavy brown hair into her eyes. White, pillow-like clouds drifted lazily overhead and blotted out the sun from time to time. For five minutes, she stood there, thinking and smoking and pushing hair out of her face. The past would soon be in the present and she wasn’t sure how that would affect the future.
“It’s a little early for the fourth cigarette,” said the man, as he stepped out of his office. “You gonna make it to 6:00 without having another one?”
“I didn’t know you were keeping a running tally,” she said, without turning to look at him.
Technically, he was her boss, everyone’s boss, but it was complicated.
“You should be happy,” he said. His voice was hoarse, she noted, an early sign of his body’s betrayal.
“Yeah, why’s that?”
“You can begin to mitigate some of the guilt you’ve felt since, what, 10th grade. He won’t hate you; he’s always loved you, even though he has tried hard to forget about you. I’m the one that will feel the brunt of his anger.” He winced and rubbed at his neck
“No denying that. Look how long it’s taken you to forgive me,” he said, remorse in his voice.
Some things cannot be forgiven, she didn’t say; instead she focused her attention on two brown pelicans as they circled the water and searched for their next meal. They would begin their dive any minute toward the brackish water, because that’s what pelicans did. They took the plunge, just like she would.
“Is the neck getting worse?”
“About a seven on a one to ten scale.”
“You should take a pain pill.”
“We’ll see,” he grumbled, frustrated about his circumstances.
“I want to be the one to tell him,” she said as she finally turned to the man. “It will sound better coming from me. Well, as good as something like this can sound,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“The sooner, the better. It’s time to come clean, admit that I made a deal with the devil, no offense, and ask for forgiveness.” So many devils, she thought.
“I had so much to lose back then,” he said. “I didn’t know any other way.”
“Yeah, it was always about you, wasn’t it,” she said, trying to keep her anger in check. Calm down. He’s dying.
She exhaled a final lungful of smoke, dropped the cigarette, and stubbed it out with the toe of her black Louboutin pumps, before walking back inside without saying another word.
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