Out in the open, p.1
Out in the Open,
J B Glazer
Copyright © 2014 by J B Glazer
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014901781
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
“Morning, Chicago Loop” by Doug Siefken,
License at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.
For Madison and Dylan. Never be afraid to follow your dreams. And to Josh, my dream come true.
Prologue: New York
Chapter 1: Chicago
I wheel in my suitcase, and I’m about to set it down in the hallway when I notice them—a pair of leopard-print kitten heels. I saw them on display in a store window recently and knew I had to have them, but they didn’t come in my size. Silently I take off my own shoes and creep across the wooden floors, terrified that the pounding in my chest will give me away. I grip the handle of my bedroom door and pause, knowing I don’t want to witness what I’m about to see, but my body ignores my screaming protests. I throw open the door and find Ben, my fiancé, in our bed with one of my coworkers, Claire. He looks at me, wide-eyed, while she attempts to appear demure.
“Lexi, I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Clearly. I came home early to surprise you, but I guess the surprise is on me.” I hastily make my way from the room. I’m numb with shock, but my adrenaline is on overdrive, helping me put one foot in front of the other. I can’t believe this is happening. The reality of his betrayal sinks in and the pain envelops me like a dense, dark fog. It’s hard to think clearly, but I know I need to get the hell out of here.
“Let me explain,” Ben pleads, following me as he attempts to put some clothes on.
“Oh, I don’t think there’s anything to explain. It’s pretty clear what’s been going on.”
He places a hand on my arm. “Wait—let’s talk about this.”
“Don’t touch me,” I say, with such contempt that my voice is almost unrecognizable. “I don’t want to see you—not now, not ever. It’s over.”
He runs a hand through his hair and looks at me miserably. “Please…wait,” he says softly.
I look into his familiar hazel eyes, and I’m tempted, but I can’t. I don’t want to hear any explanation. All I know is that the man I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with broke my trust—and my heart. I look at him one last time then walk out of the apartment. It’s weird how one defining moment can alter the course of your life so drastically. Just a few minutes ago, my life was perfect, and now I have no idea what my future holds or where to go from here. Once I’m outside I let the sobs escape and call my friend Jamie. Thank God she answers.
When she hears my voice, she says, “Lexi, what’s wrong?”
“It’s a long story. Can I come stay with you for a bit?”
“Of course. You can stay as long as you need.”
I hail a cab and slam the door just as Ben runs down the front steps. He approaches my window, and I turn away as he presses his forehand against the glass, willing me to look at him.
“Ma’am?” the cabdriver says.
“You can go,” I tell him as I meet Ben’s gaze. Through my haze of tears, I see him mouth, “I’m sorry” as we pull away. I look back and watch his retreating figure until he fades from sight, and I wonder when we started to move in such different directions.
When I arrive at Jamie’s, she’s waiting in the lobby. “Lexi, what happened?” It’s hard to get the words out, but I manage to tell her the gist. “I can’t believe it. Ben, of all people!”
I can’t believe it either. Everyone thought we were the perfect couple.
Ben and I met at a party my junior year of college at the University of Michigan. It was a Casino Royale-themed social mixer with his fraternity and my sorority. As an icebreaker, everyone received a playing card, and we had to mingle and find our match. I had the queen of hearts. I looked around the room and locked eyes with Ben. I remember thinking he was so good-looking, with his shaggy dark hair and hazel eyes. He came right up to me and asked me what card I had. I showed him and asked if we were a match.
“Yes,” he replied. “I believe we are.”
“You didn’t show me your card,” I pointed out.
He held it up and revealed the king of hearts. “It’s close enough. Besides, you’re destined to be my queen.”
I laughed at his cheesy line, but thought he was cute, so I went along with it. “I don’t think that’s playing by the rules,” I teased.
“Well, I’m in charge of this party, and I’m willing to bend the rules.”
“Oh, you’re in charge? I thought the social chair planned all the parties.”
“You’re looking at him.”
“I thought Mark Bentley was the social chair.”
“He was…last semester. Are you done with your interrogation?”
“Yes, I believe I am.”
“Let me guess…You plan to go to law school.”
“Nope, guess again.”
“I like a challenge.” Ben took my hand and led me to a table across the room. “Do you know how to play poker?”
“Yes, and I’m actually quite good.”
“Let’s play a hand and make a bet. If you win, you can find your real partner, but if I win, you have to go on a date with me.”
“OK, deal.” Inevitably I lost, though not intentionally because I always play to win. We were together ever since.
After graduation we moved to my hometown of Chicago. We spent a few years there, but then Ben was accepted to the Mount Sinai Medical Center residency program. It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, so I agreed to go to New York with him. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I was uprooting my life and leaving a job I loved, not to mention all my friends and family. But I saw a future with Ben and didn’t want to attempt a long-distance relationship.
The day before we moved to New York, he proposed. Even though I knew he was committed, it made me feel that much more confident about my decision. We had been packing, and Ben suggested we take a break and go out for dinner.
“I’m in a zone,” I said. “Can’t we just finish up then eat?”
“I’m starving. Come on. We can finish later.”
He took me to my favorite neighborhood restaurant. I remember being annoyed because he was texting constantly throughout the meal and seemed distracted. When we got home, he fumbled around in his pockets and said, “Shoot, I forgot my keys.”
“I have mine.” I rummaged through my purse then unlocked the door. I went to hit the light switch, but to my surprise, the room was bathed in a warm glow of candlelight. Scattered rose petals lined the foyer, creating a path to a beautiful vase filled with a dozen red roses, each with a slip of paper attached. A card with my name on it was propped up on the table. I turned around to look at Ben, but he was gone. With shaking hands, I opened the envelope and pulled out the card, which read, “Twelve Reasons I Love Lexi Winters.” I lifted the rose labe
Number one: the way your smile lights up a room
I smiled in spite of myself and took out each rose in order.
Number two: your compassionate nature
Number three: the fact that you listen to cassette tapes when you work out
Number four: the way you leave water bottles in each room so you’ll never be thirsty
Number five: your drive and determination
Number six: how you always manage to see the silver lining
Number seven: your obsession with the Wolverines
Number eight: how you leave me love notes when you pack my lunch
Number nine: your willingness to watch hockey with me so we can spend time together
Number ten: your addiction to Smart Pop and chocolate-covered pretzels
Number eleven: the way you believe in me
I realized there were only eleven roses in the vase. I turned around, and Ben was kneeling behind me, holding the last one. I looked into his shining eyes as he recited, “Number twelve: I love everything about you, but most of all, I love how you bring out the best in me. I knew there was something special about you from the moment I laid eyes on you at the mixer. Once I saw your card, I tossed the other queen of hearts from the deck because I knew then that I didn’t want to share you. And I still don’t. Lexi Paige Winters, will you do me the honor of marrying me?”
I stared into his earnest face and said, “Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you.” He lifted me and spun me around the half-empty room, his lips covering mine in a passionate embrace.
“Let’s celebrate!” he said, going to the fridge then popping open a bottle of champagne that I didn’t remember seeing earlier.
We’d packed all our glasses, so he handed me the bottle. I took a swig and savored the feeling as the sweet, bubbly taste warmed my insides. Then I handed it to him.
“I’ve got to call my family,” I told him.
“Tomorrow. Let’s savor this moment. Right now it’s just about the two of us.”
“OK,” I agreed.
We finished almost the whole bottle, not a wise idea when we still had packing left to do. I started to gather up more things, but Ben lifted me into his arms. “It can wait until the morning. Besides, I have something better in mind,” he said, leading me to the bedroom.
Between my excitement and the champagne, I couldn’t sleep that night. I wandered into the living room, which was devoid of furniture. We’d sold most of it on Craigslist and donated the rest. I smiled when I saw the vase of roses on the counter. Because I hate clutter, I’m not usually one for keeping things, but I definitely wanted a memento from the evening. I found an empty box and scooped the flower petals into it. I wanted to dry out the roses, but there wasn’t time before we left, so I carefully placed each one among the petals and labeled the box “Engagement.” I added it to the pile of boxes and surveyed the room. The apartment seemed so empty without all our belongings, but my future felt full of promise.
“So what are you going to do?” Jamie asks, breaking my reverie.
“I don’t know. I’ll probably move back home.”
“But what about The Studio? You can’t leave your dream job.”
The Studio is one of New York’s premier advertising agencies. I work on the Aura account, a premium beauty manufacturer that prides itself on its eco-friendly image. I love what I do, and I’m in line for a promotion, but work is the furthest thing from my mind right now.
“I can’t even think about going back there and facing everyone. They probably know by now considering Claire is the office gossip. Of course he had to choose her.”
“Who is she? I’ve never heard you talk about her.”
“She’s the one who looks just like Megan Fox. God, I feel like such a cliché. Girl gets cheated on by fiancé with the younger, hotter coworker.”
“Lexi, stop it. You don’t have to make any decisions right now.” Then she hugs me and says, “Don’t worry. Things will turn out fine.”
I manage a smile, even though I know things never will be fine again.
The next day I come back to our apartment when I know Ben will be at work. I pack up all my stuff and place my set of keys on the counter. I debate about leaving a note, but what would I say? I take a final look around and realize I forgot to do one thing. Slowly I take off my engagement ring and leave it on his pillow, where I know he’ll find it. It’s the first time since our engagement I’ve taken it off. I loved that ring, not because it was beautiful but because of what it represented: a promise and a commitment. I stare at my bare hand and feel like something is missing; I wish it were just the jewelry. My friends will say I should have kept the ring, but I don’t want any part of him as a reminder. The scars on my heart are enough. I close the door without looking back, vowing never to let any man get the best of me again.
It’s been one month since I moved back to Chicago. I’m living with my best friend from high school, Liv. Luckily, Liv has a two-bedroom condo and was willing to rent me the extra room until I find my own place. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the neighborhood. Her condo is on the Gold Coast, and I used to live in Lincoln Park, which has much more of a neighborhood feel. Turns out, though, that I like being close to downtown, and hopefully when I get a job, I’ll be able to walk to work. I’ve interviewed with two agencies so far and have my third one today with Hartman & Taylor. From what I’ve read, it’s the hot agency right now, so I applied. I also like that it’s a family-run business. Two cousins, Bill Hartman and Stephen Taylor, started it. Bill is the president/CEO and Stephen is the CFO, though from what I understand, he’s semiretired and more of a figurehead. Bill really runs the show. The position is an account director for a prestige European beauty brand that’s looking to expand distribution into the States through department stores and specialty beauty outlets. I’ve worked on high-end cosmetics brands in the past, so this is right in line with my experience and interests. I considered applying to L&C, where I worked before I moved to New York, but I want to make a fresh start. And frankly people know I left to be with Ben, and I don’t want them asking details about why I’m back.
“Good luck,” Liv yells as I walk out the door. “You look great,” she adds.
I’m wearing a charcoal-gray three-quarter-sleeve shift dress with a skinny belt, black patterned tights, and ankle boots. I accessorized with a mixed-chain layered necklace, simple drop earrings, and my silver Tiffany heart bracelet. It’s kind of like my good luck charm. I bought it for myself when I got my first job and wear it to important occasions. I’ve styled my hair down, but I’ve loosely pinned back my bangs, which are growing out. I wanted to go for a sophisticated look with a slight edge, and I think I’ve pulled it off. That’s one thing I love about this industry: You can wear clothes that express who you are. At my last agency, the creatives came to work wearing ratty, old T-shirts and ripped jeans. Not me—I always like to look put together. It’s not a vanity thing. To be honest, I consider my looks average or maybe a bit above. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, so I’ve perfected doing my hair and makeup, and I’ve acquired a great wardrobe. It’s how you pull the whole package together that creates appeal.
I’m a bit nervous for the interview but feel a little better because I’ve done my homework. I Googled each of the people I’m meeting and checked their LinkedIn profiles. I head out, and make the fifteen-minute commute to Hartman & Taylor. Liv couldn’t believe I was walking in heels. After living in New York, I’ve become accustomed to it. I practically live in heels. At five three, I’ll take any extra height I can get. I arrive ten minutes early and give the receptionist my name. She tells me to take a seat and offers me something to drink. I accept a bottle of water and study the reception area. It’s got a modern, Zen-like vibe. The floors are white, and the walls are made of rich wood paneling. The reception desk is white with frosted glass, and a lone purple orchid sits in the middle of it. The Hartman & Taylor logo is etched int
A door opens, and a middle-aged woman walks over to greet me. She introduces herself as Judy Schaefer from HR. I remember my dad once telling me you can tell someone’s character by the quality of his or her handshake, so I shake her hand firmly and smile, hoping to exude confidence. I follow Judy to her office, where she provides an overview of the position, benefits, and salary. She asks me a number of standard questions then runs through my interview schedule. I’m meeting with Morgan Hayes, executive director of account management, at nine; Simon Turner, group creative director, at ten; Michelle Adams, account executive, at eleven; and Jake Hartman, VP of business development, at eleven thirty. All were on my interview list but Jake Hartman. Although I didn’t research him specifically, his name came up a bunch of times. I believe he’s the nephew of Bill Hartman.
Judy leads me to Morgan’s spacious corner office. Morgan stands to greet me and I immediately feel intimidated. She dresses impeccably, wears her dark hair in a sleek bob, and offers me a perfectly manicured hand. It makes me glad I thought to get my nails done yesterday. Her face softens as she offers me a warm smile, which puts me at ease. She explains that the agency was just awarded the Lumineux account. They’re relatively unknown in the States, but it’s our job to make that change. The first assignment is to create a new campaign for their anti-aging skin-care line. She goes on to say that because this is a new piece of business, Hartman & Taylor isn’t fully staffed yet on the account. They’ve pulled various talent from within the agency, but they need a dedicated account lead with prestige experience, preferably someone from the outside who can offer a new perspective. Then she fires questions at me. I can tell she’s fair but tough. She asks about my background, my client relationships—including which level of clients I worked with—and how many direct reports I had. Then she lays out various scenarios and asks me how I would handle each. I think I do a good job answering her questions. I’m well prepared, and I anticipated most of them, so I’m able to weave in the examples I’d thought of beforehand.
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