Chapter 12

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Cover 1

“You are coming to Spring Break this year,” Lena announced from the cushion beside me.

We had ordered pizza again only this time my roommate had blessedly decided to keep her clothes on. The same boy from the last episode had showed up, pie in hand and a grin on his youthful face. Unfortunately for him, his only tip this time had been a crisp five-dollar bill.

“What gave you that idea?”

“It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of fact,” she corrected. “Even if I have to tie you up and throw you in the trunk I’ll get you there.”

“As much as I would love to go somewhere exotic for a week, I really can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” she insisted.

“Some of us work.”

“You’re the boss.”

“What does that have to do with this?” If anything, being the boss made it harder to leave. The salon was my child; no good would come from leaving her unattended for an entire week.

“It means you can take a week off whenever you want.”

“Lena, you know appointments are scheduled over a month in advance.”

She sighed, exasperated by my constant attempts to ruin the plans she had meticulously created in the distorted corners of her mind. “I suppose it’s a good thing your staff is willing to cover for you.”

I twisted to face her, eyeing my best friend warily. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve done pre-conversation research.”

“What kind of research, Lena?”

“Nothing too in-depth,” she said unapologetically. “I just talked to your people. They practically begged me to take you away.”

“No doubt,” I muttered, feeling betrayed.

“In the end all of you will be showering me with gratitude.”

“No doubt,” I repeated.

“Come on. You haven’t taken a vacation since you opened the place two years ago. What good is success if you can’t enjoy it?”

“Where are you planning to go?” Her face brightened at my inquiry. “Not that I’m in any way considering the idea,” I added as a disclaimer.

“Florida.”

“Sensible. I’m impressed.” Last year she had gone to Costa Rica, the year before that Cabo San Lucas. Luckily, my fledgling business had provided the perfect excuses back then.

She shrugged. “It’s cheaper.”

“Doubly sensible.” I was doubly impressed. “Where in Florida?” If she said a place where retired people made up 98% of the population then I would be worried that aliens had stolen my friend’s brain.

“Daytona Beach.”

“Who is going?” My questions were getting her hopes up, but I was genuinely curious. Before she brought it up the thought of joining her hadn’t even crossed my mind. But now that the seed had been planted I couldn’t help but calculate the feasibility.

“A few girls and me—and you.”

“No guys?”

“Why bring our guys when we can find some down there—complete with killer tans and different area codes.”

“Why indeed?” What had I been thinking? Oh wait, I know. I had been thinking that Lena had really liked Alec. Silly me.

“No worries. You’re forgiven if you come.”

I grimaced. “There are conditions to your forgiveness?”

“Always,” she admitted unabashedly.

A commercial for Progressive Insurance came and went before I said anything more. “I still don’t know, Lena.” The thought alone of the inevitable migraine brought about by the required preparation was daunting. There were appointments to be re-scheduled, duties to be delegated, contingency plans to be drawn…

“When is it?”

“This coming week.”

“Lena, you can’t be serious! Couldn’t you have told me sooner?” Next week was impossible.

“If I had told you any sooner you’d have too much time to think of an excuse. I have to be strategic when it comes to you.”

“I don’t need an excuse. All I have to do is say no.”

“Pleaseee? You know this is my last spring break and it may be the last time we have the opportunity to go on vacation together. You should say yes for me.”

I groaned and held my aching head in my hands.

“Pretty please?”

Was there any other kind of please with Lena?

“Possibly,” I conceded. It would be a miracle if I could rearrange my schedule and finish everything else in time to go with her.

“Great! You owe me two-hundred bucks for the hotel whenever you get a chance.”

Was I that easy to predict? “You know I’m too old for spring break, right?”

“That’s not true, Mer! You’re the same age as me!” I raised my eyebrow in an effort to mentally communicate what I had been implying. “Are you saying I’m too old? I’m still in college so I deserve a spring break. Fortunately they don’t make age a qualifying factor for the event. I’m going to go on spring break till I’m at least forty.”

“That’s because you’re a teacher.” She would still be rocking a tiny pink bikini, making the eighteen-year-olds jealous of her killer body for years to come.

“So?”

“Spring break is built in to your eight-month work schedule.”

She grinned. “Yeah, I chose a great profession.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

***

Eight girls in 2 separate vehicles with two very different GPS units did not make for a smooth drive to Florida. No one thought to check the settings menus to see if the devices were set to shortest time or shortest distance until we hit Savannah. The two faceless voices fought about exits and routes for thirteen hours. Even a week later, if I heard that annoying electronic voice say “recalculating” one more time I was going to go postal.

As anticipated, I had been cast in the role of mother hen for the week. I had been responsible for collecting my chicks at the end of five messy nights and obtaining vital hotel details, phone numbers, and license plate numbers of the random men who picked up one of the weaker ones. Some of the girls had refused to listen to the statistics regarding STDs—which I had made more drastic as the week had progressed. Few of them had noticed or heeded my dire warnings.

Each night I had explained why video cameras at spring break didn’t make a person famous in a way she wanted to be remembered. Several of the girls had left Florida with some heavy regrets and in need of a heavier dose of penicillin.

Except for Lena, which had been a pleasant surprise. My best friend had spent most of her time worrying that I wasn’t having a good vacation as I voluntarily taxied a perpetually over-filled car back to our hotel.

But I couldn’t complain about everything. When morning rolled around we awoke to six cloudless days of eighty-degree weather. I devoured three phenomenal books and returned to Maryland with what I considered a fantastic tan—Lena had even admitted that I was “darker pale.” And our hotel had been ideal. It had boasted three pools and a miniature golf course surrounded by a lazy river—where I had spent most of my free time, drifting with the sluggish current.

We had been back for nearly a week and another Thursday was upon us. Lena had left to troll the bars for men and she hadn’t bothered to extend an invitation. My salon had barely survived without me—a result of little advanced warning and hasty planning. She owed me for enduring the sixteen-hour trip twice. The least I deserved was to be left in peace for a night.

“Hey, honey,” I greeted after the third ring. Over the break there had been very little free time to talk with Holden. He had either been busy at work preparing for an audit of his department or it had been too loud to hear my phone over the pulsing music and incessant giggles.

“Hey, Mer. Have you recovered from Spring Break?” He had been jealous when I had told him we were going to the beach for the week. He lived in Jacksonville but rarely had time to enjoy the close proximity to the ocean because of his hectic and unpredictable work schedule.

“Not really,” I whined. “I’m lucky the salon didn’t spontaneously combust in my absence.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“One of Chelsea’s loyal customers had Charlie cut and style her hair yesterday because Chelsea had the day off. When Chelsea stopped in she threw a fit. If you could have heard the shouting you would have thought world war three had been declared. Luckily, she waited until the woman left and took the issue to the break room in order to avoid a scene.

“She has since apologized for over-reacting, but I’m getting sick of her catty behavior and diva antics. I should have fired her months ago, but she’s too good to hand over to the competition. Besides Charlie, Chelsea is my most requested stylist. And then there’s the fact that I haaaaate firing people.”

“Wow, Mer. You’re in a rare mood today.”

I smiled, feeling better already. I had wanted to tell Lena but she had left before I had the chance to relate the story. “Sorry, I just needed to vent.”

“Don’t you usually do that with Lena or one of your other girlfriends?” Holden’s voice was distracted. Rowdy laughter bellowed through the receiver.

“Usually, but she’s out. It’s Thursday, remember?”

“So that means I get subjected to it?”

It was a rare occasion for me to whine to him about my life. Surely enduring a two-minute rant every once and a while was acceptable, even expected.

“Yeah, you do.” I hoped he heard the warning in my tone. I was still pretty fired up over work and needed sympathy, not more crap.

“I don’t know what you want me to do, Mer.”

“To do? You don’t need… I don’t expect you to do anything! I just wanted someone to listen.”

“Okay, I did that.”

“Sure,” I ground out, more annoyed.

“Are you finished with your venting or whatever?”

“Yeah, whatever.” Inside I was seething. If Lena had been around I would have needed a post-venting venting session.

“Great!” he said absentmindedly. “We’re getting ready to head out so I’ll talk to you later.”

I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye before I pressed END with enough force to turn off my phone.

___________________________________________________________________

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