Here’s an excerpt from The Wedding Plan stories.

I invite feedback. Joy

Photo: essence.com

Beauty

Copyright 2012

 

Celia looked at Rob and thought for a moment. Then she said, “Why would you say that to me? You know what I’ve been dealing with at the job. I’m not a slacker, but these folks play games, and if you go in charging, you have to be prepared for all or nothing. I’m trying to hang in there and figure out how to handle Victoria. She’s got it in for me. I need an exit strategy first.”

“Nobody respects a fucking writer anyway. I told you to get a real profession, go to law school, figure out something that will help give us enough money to start a family.”

Celia could have cringed at Rob’s hurtful words, but three years of marriage had made her numb to his abrasive style of speaking. Insults fell off his tongue like “hello.”

“Well, Rob, I thought Howard was putting out feelers for me at the Post.”

“Been waiting on you to get the portfolio together. Again, slacking.”

Celia started to speak, but stopped. She didn’t have the energy to defend herself. With all the cutbacks, her job description had gone from one page to three. And with Victoria on her butt all day, it was almost impossible to do anything of a personal nature. Celia vowed to take the zip drive in and work on the portfolio that week. If she had to stay up all night, she needed to invest in herself.

Rob stood up, all 6’3” of him. Celia sighed. He was so gorgeous. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe that he had married her. Robert Harris Cummings was almond-colored and possessed hazel-brown eyes that could look like small slits when he smiled hard. He had a square jaw and beautifully perfect white teeth. His lips were a perfect match, big enough to be soft, but nowhere near “soup coolers.” Celia had that covered, at least she thought so, sometimes still lamenting them. Her best asset was her behind, and she had a perky set of C-cups. Celia’s body was really something. The lanky teenager had grown into a thin woman with curves in all the right places. It was true, she had taken on most of her father’s prominent facial features, including ample lips. This was one of the reasons Celia put up with Rob. At times, she felt downright grateful.

Celia went into the kitchen to check on the lasagna. It was almost ready. Rob came in and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll make the salad.” “OK, babe. Hand me the garlic bread, please.”

They finished cooking dinner and decided to watch a movie. Their townhouse was a split level with a sunken living room off the kitchen that they used as a den. Celia set out TV trays and brought the food and a Corona for Rob. She poured a glass of red wine for herself, and they watched their latest Netflix download, “Lake Terrace.” Moments like this were what made Celia happiest. She and Robert always had great conversation, and they shared their theories on who did it and how the movie was going to end. When the movie was over, they headed upstairs.

 

“I love you, Celia,” Robert looked into her eyes, and Celia said, “I love you, too, Robert.”

They made love and cuddled after. The candles were lit, and Celia lay against Rob, running her hand over her own stomach. She wondered how it would feel to be pregnant. Robert ran his hands through her hair. “I know you are ready. I just need you to secure that promotion. Find someone else to work for there, or we can get you into my firm. Maybe I can talk to one of our clients, see what they have in IT.”

“It’s not that simple, hon.”

“Well, if you want a baby, figure something out. I’m handling mine. You know how much it costs to raise a child. Should I get the spreadsheet out again? We’ve barely been in the house two years, and things will be really tight.”

Celia sat up and climbed over Rob. She closed the bathroom door. A few tears ran down her cheeks. She thought about a rebuttal, but she didn’t want to argue, didn’t want to ruin a great night. Instead, she splashed cold water on her face, then patted dry with her facecloth. Her hair was a big puff of wool by then. Celia patted at it, and moved her hands over it in a smoothing motion. Tonight, she was in love with her husband, they were working toward building a family. Maybe he was right. Although she wondered if there would ever be a perfect time, for now she would trust that Robert was being honest.

“You going to sleep in there, Cil?”

She emerged and put on her happy face.

“What time is the cookout tomorrow?”

“Eric said 4 or 5 is good.”

“OK.” Celia smiled. “I guess we don’t have to rush to sleep then. I think I’ll get some more wine. You want beer?”

“No, I’ll take wine,” Robert said, then got up. “You relax. I’ll grab the bottle and bring the glasses.”

 

At work Monday, Celia was under the gun. The report Victoria needed was due soon. She hadn’t told Celia when the client meeting was, but she came by her desk at least once an hour. If she wasn’t at her desk, she was emailing her for the solution to some problem that was presented by one of the vendors, problems that Victoria would have known about if she’d been at the meeting herself instead of sending Celia to take notes. Alan, Celia’s counterpart on the development team, swung by at 1:00.

“Hey, there.” Celia looked up and smiled from behind her rectangular glasses. “Hey.”

“I was thinking we could grab a bite,” he said questioningly. “We can discuss the redesign at the same time.”

“I don’t know. She’s expecting the report soon.”

“Look, you’ve gotta eat, and I have an idea. You’ll have something to her by the end of the day.”

Celia looked at the stacks of paper on her desk. She finished one last email and then grabbed her purse, cell phone and a folder with site redesign plans. “I’ll meet you at the elevator.”

Celia popped by Victoria’s office. “Hi, just about finished with the presentation. Dev wants to go over some of the redesign specs with me. So, I was gonna do that over lunch, and I’ll have the report to you by 5.”

Victoria looked up from her Blackberry. “OK.”

Celia didn’t give her time to think of anything else. She headed to the elevator.

Alan held the door for her, and they rode down from the fifth floor. They were in building two of the seven-building complex. When they got to the garage, he said he would drive. Before coming to Navicom, Celia had worked downtown for a boutique firm. It had taken her a few months to get used to the culture there. Alan had been a great help. They worked on her first project together. Contrary to Robert’s accusations, Celia did much more than write copy. She had caught on quickly to code, and with a little help from Alan, she had gotten pretty good. She was able to tweak code and make client products work when the developers weren’t available. Because of this, her products were always launched on time. The clients loved it, and this came in handy during negotiations.

Alan and Celia worked so well as a team that the crew there called Alan her “work husband.” She never considered it anything more, and was pretty sure he didn’t either.

Alan was average, 6’1”, light brown hair, green eyes, thin build, with a bit of a beer gut. Khakis or jeans and polo’s were his general work attire. He had a cute smile and a calm, laid-back demeanor.

When they got to Pot Belly, they grabbed a booth. “What do you want?” he asked her.

“I’ll have tuna on wheat, with some chips. I think I want a milkshake too.” Alan put his thumb up. “Yeah, now you’re talkin’. I think I’ll get one. Vanilla or chocolate?”

“Let’s go for swirl.”

“OK. Sit tight. I’ll be back.”

Celia sat back and looked out the window. She felt light for the first time that day. She looked at her phone and saw a text from Sydney, her best friend. She smiled at the comment.

Nurse Ratched is at it again.

LOL. Ask her how she gets those tight creases in her coolots.

They always joked about Sydney’s co-worker’s decade-old wardrobe. It had the effect of a man with a mullet.

Celia looked at her phone again. She could remember when Rob would text little jokes and send nasty messages, or sometimes just a “hey, babe” to let her know he was thinking of her. They rarely interacted during the day now.

“Here you go,” said Alan. He placed the tray on the table, and Celia started removing the food, placing his things in front of him and vice versa.

They ate for a bit. The silence was easy between them. Celia tried to alternate who paid for lunch, but most of the time Alan refused to let her.

“So, what’s the plan? Cruella de Ville is gonna want something before the day is out, and I’m still stressed. I haven’t finished with the report for the 8am yet,” said Celia.

“I have the product rollout under control, but she’s killing me with these spreadsheets. I swear, no matter how much I do, it’s never enough.”

“Really, I was thinking, you know, finish this project and then let’s focus on the idea you had. I talked to Paul, and he wants us to meet with him and is even willing to put some money behind a prototype. The project would fall strictly under our department, but it would give you some exposure.”

He paused. “Victoria is clueless. Let her have her spreadsheets. Just hang in there.”

Celia wanted to jump up and hug Alan. Instead, she looked ahead and fully absorbed what he’d said. “All right. Cool. Just let me know when you want to get started. After tomorrow, I will have some time.”

They walked by their co-worker, Brad on the way out. “Hey, man.”

“Hey, dude,” Alan replied. Celia nodded hello.

As they walked toward the car, Alan said, “He’s a loser.”

“Why’d you say that?” Celia wanted to know. “Cause he is.” They both fell out laughing. Brad did have an Archie-the-comic-book-character thing going on. But he was nice, at least Celia thought so.

Alan opened the car door, and Celia got in the black Honda Accord. She reached for the seat belt as he closed it gently after her.

 

At 5:00, Celia got the text message from Victoria. It was time for their weekly meeting. Instantly, there was pain in her stomach. Celia got up and grabbed the spreadsheets off the printer. Victoria stood at the end of Celia’s row, and they headed down the hall in “cubicle land.” It was dimly lit until they came to the open atrium lined with glass walled meeting rooms. “Let’s try this one.” Victoria opened the door, and they went inside. “You can close it.” Celia could hear the countdown in her mind. How many seconds until the berating started? The first time Victoria had used the raised, authoritative voice, talking down to Celia like she was a fifth grader, Celia had addressed it. She’d told Victoria that she didn’t take well to yelling and that they were peers. (They had worked for the same team years prior.) Celia explained that mutual respect was warranted. “I am the boss!” came out of Victoria’s mouth more than three times. Celia couldn’t believe it. She had been through three other managers in a year and a half. She had adjusted to their styles, performed above expectation, and received glowing reviews. There was no getting around it; Victoria was there to get her out. So, Celia had adopted a “yes/no” approach, and saved her unedited responses for happy hour and phone conversations during her drive home.

Victoria looked over the progress report. “I never received the updated timeline.” She drew a circle around the item. “I emailed it to you at 2:30.” “I wanted that yesterday, to review before the meeting tomorrow.” “I thought that was why we were meeting now, dummy,” Celia thought. “Last week, you said the afternoon before was good.”

“Nope! I will look at it tonight. I will email you with changes. Just make sure you fix it before the morning meeting.”

Celia then pulled out the mock page for the product widget. “We are ahead of schedule, slated to launch next week. Bruce was thrilled to hear about the progress. He says he wants to purchase more space, and I’ve handed him over to sales.”

“Cool. What about the spreadsheet for the mapping?”

“It’s on the shared drive.”

“I want that in hard copy on my desk.”

“OK. Well, which do you want left on the shared drive? I think I may have heard you wrong.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cil. I told you plainly I wanted a hard copy of the mapping and the timeline to go on the shared drive before the meeting.” Celia tuned Victoria out to keep from slapping her. Hearing Victoria call her Cil was cause enough, but this back and forth about something so stupid was so extra.

By the time they headed down the hallway, Celia was near tears. She wanted to tell Victoria to kiss her ass and roll out with nothing but her purse in hand. Still, up until the last few months, Celia loved her job, stress and all. She still loved what she did, but if she didn’t come up with another offer and quit, Celia would be looking at a pink slip soon. Silence was the best defense she could tolerate. Kissing Victoria’s ass was out of the question.

At 7:00 Celia headed home. She was starving and hadn’t given dinner a thought. There was leftover lasagna and some frozen dinners were in the fridge. She dialed Robert. He didn’t answer, so she figured he was working late, too. “Good, I will leave him the lasagna and have some salad,” she decided.

She had fallen asleep on the sofa when he came in at 10. Shortly after, Celia got up and checked her email. Sure enough, there were “edits” for the timeline. Celia finally went to sleep at 12:30. She would be up and out by 7.

On Friday, Celia was spared. Victoria left early. Celia worked through lunch and headed out at 4. Just as she reached the parking garage, Robert called. “Hey, babe. Let’s meet for happy hour.”

“Hey,” she smiled. “What time?”

“Whenever you get there. I’m heading over at 5. I’m dealing with some ridiculousness today.”

They usually met at Don Pablo’s, but Celia didn’t care where. She was just happy to be able to enjoy the sunshine and the company of friends.

“OK. Don Pablos?”

“No, we’re gonna meet at AJ Slim’s,” he said.

“I’ll see you there,” she replied.

Celia stopped by the house to freshen up. She put on some skinny jeans and a pair of heels. Thanks to her Wednesday hair dresser appointment, the puff of wool had been transformed into smooth tresses that fell just below her collar bone and at mid back. Celia felt good. She threw on a beige shrug over her tank top. She wasn’t quite club, but no longer looked like a soccer mom. She headed out, jumped into her Toyota Rav and buzzed down the highway.

She reminisced about pre-marriage days when happy hour was a regular event, and when she and Robert would have a great time laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That was before she found out how much of a control freak he was, before Excel spreadsheets became a part of her personal life. One more promotion or a pay increase of $10,000, and they would be able to begin working on some babies. At 36, she thought that was a bit absurd. As a couple, they earned well over $100,000 per year, and the townhouse had enough space for three children, comfortably. Sometimes Celia wondered if Robert really wanted kids or if, perhaps, he didn’t want them with her. Maybe he worried about their looks. It didn’t matter. The way things were going at work, she was lucky to have a job, let alone kids to worry about. Celia parked and headed inside Slim’s.

Robert already had his tie undone, and he was holding onto a beer, talking to Eric. There were several empty shot glasses on the round table. Robert gave Celia a quick peck on the cheek and a pat on the rear. He waved the waitress over. “What are you drinking, babe?” he asked her. There were seven of them in total, and Robert yelled out “This is my round!” The waitress did a quick inventory of who had what, then she looked at Celia. “I’ll have a margarita, frozen with salt,” she said.

Dierdra and Celeste waved her over to the adjacent table, where they were seated on stools. Celia pulled out the free stool and made herself comfortable. She thought about bitching about work, but decided to leave work right there. The girls lost themselves in conversation about purses and shoes and the latest sales they’d caught. Then Celia overheard Robert. She was almost certain he had said something about resigning. Her ears perked up. Robert threw back another shot, and said, “I should have banged ‘ole girl. She is just hating. I waited until the meeting was over, and I pulled her to the side. When everyone was gone, I told her she never was to put me on the spot like that again. She started asking me a million questions during the meeting, questions she knew the answer to. No one else in there knew or gave a crap,” Robert complained. “I had to backtrack, and now Harry is looking at me like I’m a liar.” Celia tried to make eye contact with Robert. “So, what happened?” Jeff wanted to know.

“She went to HR the next day and told them I touched her inappropriately and that I had threatened her.”

Celia continued to look at Robert.

“What? Look, it’s some bullshit. She set me up. I’m not that worried about that. I just, you know, I’m going to follow up with my boy and try to get in at Citi.”

Everyone was quiet. They finished the last round, and waited for the bill. When it came, $230 worth, Robert motioned for Celia and she put it on her credit card. She tried to hide her annoyance, but as they headed out, Robert said, “It’s my money anyway.” The problem was that it wasn’t HIS money or his bill. She would be forced to take that out of her paycheck the following month, and he certainly was not going to offer to pay her back.

Everyone had left, and Celia walked with Robert to his car because she couldn’t convince him not to drive. She figured she would sit with him until he sobered up. Celia was glad he hadn’t resisted sitting in the car, and she sat back in the passenger seat waiting to hear the whole story. She didn’t have a clue that Robert had “work issues.” “I don’t want to talk about it, Cil. Let’s just listen to music and chill like we used to.” She wasn’t in the mood, but she said, “OK, sweetheart.”

He kissed her softly on the lips and leaned back in his seat again. Unfortunately, they were in the parking lot, and it was nearly dark, so there wasn’t much to look at. A few minutes later, Robert began to stroke her hand and indicated that he was in the mood. “Maybe we should just go home. I can drive, and we’ll come back for my car tomorrow,” she offered. “I’m not ready to go home,” Robert countered. He took her hand and guided it to his privates. “Robert, let’s go.” Celia tried to sound authoritative and suggestive at the same time. “You’re drunk, and I’m tired.” Celia pulled away and began gathering her purse that was propped on the floor next to her leg. When she raised up, Robert had unbuttoned his pants and was fully exposed. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. Next, he pulled her to him and began forcing her head down. “You used to like it. I’m your husband, you’re supposed to take care of me.” Celia felt her nerves begin to unravel. She took a deep breath and acquiesced. When he was finished, Robert caressed her face and handed her a tissue. He grabbed a water bottle and took a swig, then he offered it to her. She drank. “I’m OK to drive now,” he said. He kissed her hard on the mouth. “I’ll see you at the house. I have to drop off some paperwork. I forgot to give it to Jeff.”

Celia got out of the car, picked her purse up and slammed the door shut. She looked around then. She had forgotten that she was parked on the street. The lot had been full when she arrived. Celia pulled herself together and stood a little straighter as Robert drove away. Then, she headed the three blocks to where her car was parked.

To Be Continued – Purchase Here

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