While there might be varying degrees of magnitude as to how much, Everly Dean firmly believed that birthdays sucked. This one, her thirtieth, more than most. Even more than her seventh when her parents decided the best time to announce their first separation was at the party right before they brought out the piñata. At least back then, there’d been a papier-mâché donkey to beat up, followed by an explosion of sugary treats.
She’d attacked that thing with such vehemence, they’d bought her one each year after for her parties until she got smart and hid the one from her twelfth birthday in the back of her closet. When her mom couldn’t find it, she’d suggested the kids try spin the bottle. Everly had quit parties right there. That didn’t break the cycle, though. At least today wasn’t quite as bad as her twenty-first, when she’d spent the night in the ER after getting tonsillitis while still dealing with bronchitis.
Today hovered somewhere between the two; maybe an eight or nine on the suckage scale. What made her think, with her history, showing up at her boyfriend’s house with coffee and bagels before work was a good idea? When he’d said he was going to bed early last night, she’d believed him. Ha. He probably did. Just not alone.
She gripped the steering wheel of her car, knowing she needed to get on with her day, which involved leaving the car. Baby steps. She got out, leaned against the door. The nearly 10:00 a.m. sunshine warmed some of the chill out of her bones. How did she always end up here? Her muscles tightened.
How? You pick immature men who you have very little in common with, hoping their extroverted qualities cancel out your introverted ones.
“Well said, Dr. Everly.” Her words ended on a sigh. Dating wasn’t easy. Understatement of the year. If she got ready to go out without breaking into hives, she called it a win. Low expectations resulted in less-than-stellar outcomes. She seemed intent on proving that ad nauseam.
As she walked across the parking lot, humiliation heated her skin more than the sun. Focus on something else. Something good.
If this was thirty, she needed some guidelines. Rules. Just because today sucked didn’t mean she wanted to turn into a bitter old woman, collecting cats or birds or newspaper clippings to ease the ache. Rule one: No animal hoarding. Though, maybe one would be fine. Hmm … maybe she should get a cat. Rule two: Find the positive. No, wait, that should be rule one. Rule one: Focus on the good. Rule two: No hoarding—animal or otherwise.
Once she was inside, lost in work, her mood would shift. Hopefully. There’s a positive. She loved her job as a radio show producer for a light listening station. Decent hours even if it wasn’t the coveted spot, good pay, she didn’t work with jerks, which was always a bonus. She and the deejay, Stacey, had become fast friends three years ago after they realized they both adored Veronica Mars and hated seafood pizza—the staff had ordered in lunch one day, and they’d both gagged on the smell—instant friendship. Plus, Stacey had more dating disaster stories than Everly, which was comforting even if it was because she dated more often. The fact that they had to work closely together on most of the programming only improved their bestie status.
An ache settled under her rib cage, winding its way over and under each bone, burrowing in for the long haul. She breathed around it, but it didn’t fade. The desire to turn around and go home and curl up in bed got stronger the closer she got to the door. Just breathe. You’re fine. Fingers curled, nails pressed into the softness of her palms, her breathing evened out. Everything would be okay. That’s what you thought this morning. Just get through today. She’d been saying that to herself for about twenty-three years.
She’d keep her head down, get to her producer booth, seek solitude inside the eight-by-eight isolation square. She’d send fake smiles through the glass and maybe keep the door locked. Plan made, she pulled open the back door of the old building that housed 96.2 SUN. Work and home were her happy places. At least here, she couldn’t crawl back into bed and rate her birthdays by level of disaster.
Everly straightened her shoulders and let the door close behind her but paused at the bottom of the ancient, carpeted stairwell.
Thirteen stairs, less than a hundred steps to her booth. She’d avoid idle chitchat—even her friend’s—like a Kate Spade blowout sale. Stacey insisted the deals on her favorite bags were worth the crowds, but in Everly’s mind, that was her own version of the nine circles of hell. One level below someone massaging her naked body and a couple above moving back in with her parents.
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