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A Walk Away by Lacey Schmidt

Prologue

Breaking Up With Your Boots On

 

The late night air felt heavy with impending rain and smelled of leaves decaying along the bank of the nearby bayou. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Rand heard the bar’s door wheeze open and bang shut again behind her. The unmistakable sound of boot heels crunching over the gravel parking lot told her someone was approaching behind her.

 

“Rand, wait,” Maris called after her as she walked on. “You know I love you.”

 

Rand bit back a bitter smile and kept walking.

 

Quick steps sounded from behind her before Maris’s hand fluttered on her shoulder.

 

Rand stopped. The refrain of Johnny Lee’s song about looking for love in all the wrong places played on the jukebox in the back of Rand’s memory.

 

“And you know you need me to love,” Maris insisted, pulling Rand around to face her.

 

Rand thought about it as she watched Maris’s blue eyes pale to the color of water in a swimming pool. Maris’s blond curls fluttered in the breeze and the thunder rumbled closer.

 

Maris flashed a crooked smile and said, “You know, Rand, it can be a real pain in the ass to love someone who refuses to stroke any egos, even her own.”

 

“Maris, you don’t need any more ego stroking. You could already light a city off the pheromones from your damn fan club. What the hell do you need me for?” Rand challenged.

 

Maris sighed through her smile. “Cut me a break, will ya? I was flattered by the star-struck attention. I don’t need any of them for more than a moment. I need a home with you.”

 

Rand shook her head. Maris clasped her hands in front of her chest and looked up at Rand from beneath her eyelashes.

 

Maris, I’m not buying the cute kitten look again. You could twist a yogi into an emotional knot of uncertainty,” Rand hissed. She rubbed a hand over her tired eyes, and then pushed the stray copper fringes of her own windblown hair off her face.

 

“Yeah, I know I’m a pain too, but I have good intentions. Besides you know you love me and you need me to love,” Maris insisted.

 

“Not like this, I don’t,” stated Rand. “And even if I did, I don’t want to anymore.”

 

Rand turned away, walked on to her car, and drove home, leaving Maris to hip grind with any adoring fan at as many after-parties as she pleased.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

A Dork and Stormy Night

 

Rand looked out of her living room window and watched the rain lashing the empty streets of downtown Houston. She saw the runoff form shiny whiskers on the face of a darkened skyscraper across the street. The scotch she sipped burned her lips as it fired its way through her chest to warm her stomach. She studied her perfectly mirrored reflection in the darkening windowpane. Her freckles stood out on her pale face, and dark circles blossomed under her green eyes. Her thoughts scurried around her head until her pulse hammered at her temples.

 

“Too much time to think,” Rand mumbled against the edge of her glass. She tried to distract herself with something meaningful by focusing on her latest project challenges, but the sticky points all lined up too easily. She set down the empty glass and noticed the glass looked even emptier centered on the wide white windowsill. Her voice echoed off the windowpane and her reflection looked less certain. “I’m guilty.” Rand nodded and watched her reflection confirm it. “There is no way I can redeem myself, and I cannot walk away from the past.” 

 

Rand thought back on her last three months of single life, remembering the night she walked away from Maris Frivole…

 

Rand left a late-night working session to go see Maris play at a local club. Rand walked in the door to find Maris making out with the bar manager on the dance floor. Maris kept herself wrapped around the bar manager and waved Rand over to join them. Through the shock, Rand smiled back mutely for a few moments, before the gesture made a full impact. Her stomach churned and a freezing anger overwhelmed her, leaving her arms limp at her sides. She tried to voice a protest, but her vocal chords felt locked in place. Maris stuck her hand in the bar manager’s back pocket and gripped him closer as she favored Rand with a toothy smile. Clarity smacked Rand back to reality. She shook her head, waved goodbye toward Maris, and walked right back out. While Maris finished performing her rock star imitation, Rand placed Maris’s goods in the hallway outside the front door. Maris had after-hours networking with her adoring legions of beer-goggled collegians. Rand had an all-night locksmith change the lock.

 

Maris spent most of the following day banging on the front door, alternating curses and pleas. Rand never answered. Maris called three or four times a day for the first few weeks. Rand never answered. She set her smartphone to block Maris’s number, and then she quit answering calls from numbers she did not recognize.

 

“Being alone is my new prize.” Her reflection looked more satisfied. Without Maris there, she could dust whenever she wanted. Whenever she put her hairdryer up on the hook beside the bathroom mirror it stayed there so she could find it again. Three of the four closets in her loft apartment had space available for whatever stuff she wanted to store, instead of musicians’ equipment and stage clothes.

 

“I’m better off now. This is all I need.” Rand forced her lips toward a smile and the window of night stared back at her. Rand twisted an errant amber wave of hair away from her face.

 

Grief and longing only plague people with nothing better to do with their time, Rand heard the ghost of her father whisper. It was a quote her father had learned from his mother, Adelea Marshall. Rand didn’t know where her Grandma Addy learned the quote. She did, however, know that Grandma Addy grew up alone in the streets of London during World War II, after the rest of her family disappeared in a blitzkrieg. Grandma Addy said her father immigrated to London from Germany after the first Great War to avoid death and destruction. At an early age her grandmother learned irony. The irony of self-sufficiency.

 

Rand wished for some of her grandma’s fortitude. She mumbled another of Grandma Addy’s mantras to her reflection, “Work today, for the day comes when no man works.”

 

Rand tilted her head back and sighed. “You inherited Grandma Addy’s work ethic didn’t you, Daddy? You know Mom thinks that infection of work burst your tired heart.”

 

 Doubts scurried round and round the mazes of her mind. I killed my father. He would have stopped working if I hadn’t just been laid off work. I broke his heart. I went to work, hour after hour, when his only wish was for me to have more security from working less than he worked. I betrayed Mom’s hopes and expectations...my choices didn’t protect you or further your dreams...my successes serve no one else.

 

“Enough!” The force of Rand’s exhale left a puff of humidity fogging the windowpane.

 

She turned to the bookcase looming behind her against the wall and pulled out a book. She held it in her hand, noticing the weight and waffled texture of its cover. She contemplated a new line of order amongst the books. She decided to rearrange them all by subject, spine height, and color. Her hands busied themselves rearranging books. She watched the work as if detached from her own hands. Tall red physics texts sauntered over closer to thin yellow electrical briefs. Squat blue mechanical guides controlled the bookshelves edges, forming natural bookends. She thought of an old public service TV ad about cocaine addiction where a man in a suit paces in circles on a black backdrop chanting, I work so I can do more cocaine, so I can work more, so I can do more cocaine.

 

Rand remembered her father dragging through the door after weeks of working eighteen-hour shifts back-to-back at the refinery. Days’ and days’ worth of stubble accumulated on his face and matched the blue-black half-moons beneath his eyes. He drifted in and out of the house at odd hours in soot-stained blue work coveralls. He only came home to service the five critical S functions, as he politely summarized his break: shit, shower, shave, sleep, and slurp coffee. Before sunrise one morning, he told her, never put all your eggs in one basket, and don’t spend the rest of your life shaking your basket in the wind.

 

What did that mean anyway? Don’t get trapped in one trade or career or job or company? Be flexible? Work out several solutions to each problem? She never understood him when he was punch-drunk fatigued. When she asked what he meant, he said she should ask her ever so more articulate, English-teaching Mama to do the real ’splainin’. She loved the way he spun out the word real, casting about for a laugh from her. She loved the way he roughed his big hand over the top of her head and asked about her day. He dismissed all inquiries about his own day with the repeated jest, fine. I’m now starring in the ‘Death of a Foreman’.

 

Rand stared at her empty hands as she realized her bookshelf was effectively reorganized.

 

“I miss him. I miss knowing what to do next in life. I miss feeling like what I do next is important to someone else.”

 

The thought of other people, people outside her empty loft, gave her a craving to be outside herself. She grabbed her battered field jacket off the coatrack beside the front door, pushed open her loft door and walked down the hall of the old cotton exchange building. She felt as if the building sighed with her, and its breath was reminiscent of house slippers. The carpeted hall was stretched with deep paisley silence as she walked past rust-colored doors and taupe wallpaper. She stepped into the elevator and heavy brass doors slid shut on silent rails. One floor down the elevator doors opened to reveal her best friend, Josephine. Rand watched the pink ducks on Joey’s pajama pants line up to march as Joey settled in beside her for the ride to the lobby.

 

“Heya, Rand. Where are you going in this weather?”

 

“Ah, I just need to take a walk. You?” Rand asked.

 

“To check the mailbox. With the kids clamoring, I forgot to pick it up on the way in.” Joey gave a meek smile and shook her head.

 

Rand studied Joey’s face with all traces of makeup removed. Joey’s blue eyes were tired but bright, and Rand found less sadness lingering in them lately.

 

“You worrying about me?” Joey gave Rand a whole smile.

 

“Of course. You and your kids, for the rest of my life, just like I promised John before he left for Afghanistan.” Rand smiled and spread both hands out palms up and shrugged.

 

Joey swallowed and squeezed Rand’s forearm.

 

“I miss him too. I never imagined I would lose my soul mate. Serving was such a part of him. We had to let him go,” Joey said.

 

Rand thought about the last picture John emailed home to them. He squatted next to a gaggle of smiling toddlers playing in the sand. One of the kids clutched at John’s stethoscope and John’s head was tilted back a little from a good burst of belly laughter. A week later, Rand held Joey as John’s Casualty Notification Officer stood somberly in the doorway to Joey’s office.

 

“I’m glad you’re here to worry for us. We’re glad you’re here to love us and miss John with us, Rand. We couldn’t have made it through the last two years without you, but you can’t let worrying about us drag you down anymore.” Joey raised one eyebrow.

 

“I’m glad you guys are around to love me too, and worrying for you is a privilege.”

 

“So you’re going out walking in the rain? At night, alone? Because it’s the only way to have fun and not because you’re stressed out from obsessive worrying?”

 

Rand smiled.

 

“Should I worry about you?”

 

“Absolutely. Stark raving mad. A dork.”

 

Joey grinned wide. “A dork and a stormy night.”

 

Rand felt her laugh spread warmth to her cheeks.

 

“Are you on one of your incessant puttering binges?” Joey inquired.

 

“You know I enjoy picking stuff apart and cleaning up loose ends.” Rand felt her smile growing.

 

“Mmm. You take life too darn seriously, if no one prompts you out of your own head on a regular basis.”

 

“Maybe.” Rand couldn’t hide her full-out smile, but she lowered her eyes in deference to Joey’s playful chastising.

 

“When was the last time you took a vacation? All for yourself? Just for fun?” Joey tugged her earlobe as she waited for Rand to think about it.

 

“I don’t know. A while?” Rand shrugged as the elevator came to a stop.

 

“See you at work in the morning? I expect you to pick up the coffee and meet me in my office tomorrow morning, young lady. Just for fun.” Joey shook her index finger at Rand.

 

“Okay, Dr. Jordan, but you better put that offending digit away if don’t want me to give you a wet willy. Just because you’re older and have that fancy-pants doctorate doesn’t mean you get to boss me around. But I don’t mind bringing you coffee tomorrow.” Rand gave Joey a wink as they walked out of the elevator together.

 

They parted with a wave of the key cards at the door to the mailboxes.

 

Rand stepped outside the building and looked up at purple clouds rolling over the orange mercurial halo made by the streetlights. Fat beads of rain plummeted to earth and drummed against the waterproof fabric of Rand’s field coat. Rain and rhythm formed a premonition for her, an invitation to go discover what she needed to be content.

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