What am I doing? Kyle wondered as he walked up the front steps to his new apartment. Everything I had, everyone I knew is back in Kansas City. How did I end up here?
His question had been asked by many of his friends and relatives, and Kyle wasn't sure he had ever been able to convince them of his reasoning.
"It's a fresh start," he had mentioned each time he was asked. "Life was getting stale. I hated going to work. Things just weren't looking "up" for me like they used to. I needed a change of pace.
Most people had simply nodded at that, but not his sister Jamie. Kyle grinned, remembering their conversation. His older sibling had never been one to mince words, and tact had also never been a strong suit.
"What a load of horse shit," had been her exact words. "Why are you running away from us?" she had asked.
"What do you mean?" Kyle had asked weakly, certain that Jamie could see right through his flimsy story, positive she had ascertained his true reason for leaving the only city he'd ever called home.
"Work was fine here," she spat out. "Your family and friends are here! What the hell were you thinking?" she asked, and Kyle found himself amazed at the venom her heard in her voice. He had always thought himself closer to his younger brother, who had taken his explanation at face value. Jamie, on the other hand, actually seemed upset to see him go.
"I just... it was a good opportunity," he answered weakly. "They offered me a chance to move up, and I took it." It sounded flimsy to his own ears, and judging by the look of disgust on her face, Jamie seemed to agree. He hadn't lied though, however evasive he was. He really had hated going to work. Things weren't looking "up" like they used to. He did need a change of pace.
But in reality, Kyle knew he was running away, and he was sure that his sister knew the real reason. It had been almost three years, but still the memory haunted him.
There was just too much in Missouri that reminded him of her. Too many places they'd been together, jokes they'd laughed over, too many memories. He felt trapped in the past, a past without a hope of a future.
So he had taken the opportunity to transfer to a different department, in a different city in a different state. It wasn't really a step up the corporate ladder, although he would now have more people working under him than before. He would have more responsibilities and as such a larger paycheck, but there really wasn't that much difference between being the regional vice president of marketing and the assistant to the national vice president of marketing. Technically he was now being groomed for bigger and better things, but Kyle couldn't see that his move mattered, not in any substantial sense at least.
But he had taken the job anyway. Anything to get away from a house haunted by his wife's presence. And so here he was, hauling his suitcase up a flight of stairs towards his new home, still sweaty from the two days he had spent driving from Missouri to Washington.
"Welcome to Seattle," said his new landlord - Matthew was his name, Kyle remembered - an elderly man Kyle thought had probably fought in the Second World War.
"Thanks," he answered somewhat distractedly.
"If you need anything just holler," Matthew said. "Just be sure to holler real loud," he grinned, pointing at the rather large hearing aid protruding from his left ear. Kyle started as the old man's laugh suddenly turning to a hacking cough that seemed almost to shake his frail body to the bone.
"You okay?" he asked in concern, wondering where the nearest hospital was on the chance the man suddenly dropped unconscious... or worse.
"Haven't felt this good in years," the man cackled, turning to leave. "See you around," he said.
Kyle shook his head in wonder as the man shuffled away, his veiny hand gripping the bannister for support as he descended the apartment building's rickety staircase.
Somebody shoot me before I get that old, he thought to himself before opening the door to his new home.
Kyle groaned as his eyes swept over his new living room. The movers had certainly been meticulous in their care, but the large, well-stacked pile of boxes they had left behind would easily be more than a day's work for him to deal with.
Might as well get to it, he thought, pulling open the first box, simply marked "Miscellaneous."
More quickly than he might have imagined, Kyle began working his way through his belongings. Upon opening the third box, Kyle let out a groan and collapsed back into the one chair not occupied with the detritus of the moving process.
"Oh shit," he mumbled quietly, looking at the framed picture he now held in his hand. "I thought I got rid of that months ago, about the time you left me." Johanna, why can't you let me live in peace? he wondered, fighting the urge to smash the picture against the far wall.
Never again, swore Kyle the next morning as he walked into work. That's the last time I drink that much on an empty stomach, especially the night before such an important day. Kyle looked at the large clock suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the entryway, sighing with relief to see he was still a few minutes early.
Just enough time to stop off in the restroom and splash a little cold water on my face, he thought. Anything to make myself more presentable.
After a quick stop, Kyle found himself in front of a plain oak door while a harried woman appeared ready to jump up and block his way.
"What is it, Mrs. Montgomery?" he asked, a bit more harshly than he'd wanted, a product of too little sleep coupled with too much alcohol.
"Mr. Saunders?" the woman asked cautiously from behind her prefabricated desk. "It appears there was some trouble with your paperwork."
"What sort of trouble?" Kyle asked the woman, who now seemed ready to curl up and hide beneath her desk.
"We all knew you were arriving today," she said slowly, "but it appears the notice didn't make it to the entire team, and your new office isn't quite ready."
"That's fine," Kyle shrugged, reaching for the doorknob which to his surprise came off in his hand.
"Sorry," the secretary yelped, a look of panic on her face.
"That wasn't supposed to happen, was it?" Kyle laughed, trying to fit the knob back into place.
Finally the knob seemed secure and Kyle once more attempted to open the door, eventually succeeding in gaining access to his new work home. Kyle took one step into the room before stopping short, his progress slowed both by the overpowering paint fumes and a total lack of any office furniture, much less carpeting.
"I'm sorry," his secretary said again. "There's a temporary office set up for you."
"Where?" Kyle sighed wearily, wondering how much worse the day could go.
"Downstairs," was his secretary's answer. Kyle groaned inwardly, remembering his quick tour of the corporate headquarters.
"By the phone room," she answered apologetically. "Sorry."
"It's okay," he shrugged. "I don't suppose it's your fault, is it?" he asked, trying to make light of the situation. Unfortunately his attempt at humor failed miserably.
"Absolutely not," his secretary almost huffed. "If it had been up to me, your office would have been finished last week, but no one asks me about these kind of things. And another thing," she continued, starting to build momentum, "were you aware that the contractors only showed up yesterday to start work? And they left early! I mean, if the assistant to the national..."
"I understand," Kyle laughed, surprised to realize he wasn't all that upset about his temporary location. If she talks this much all the time I won't be able to get any work done, he thought. Maybe this isn't that bad a thing after all.
"Are you sure?" she asked, seemingly near tears.
"Positive," he nodded. "Just point me in the right direction and I'll be out of your way. Fair enough?"
"Oh yes," she gushed. "Thank you!"
Soon, Kyle found himself trudging down a long hallway toward his new, temporary office. It was, as he had thought, far away from any of the other executives he was supposed to be working with, but at least it was cool in the basement, and instead of the constant chatter of voices and ringing of telephones, he was happy to hear only a dull roar of voices.
Mercifully, the key he had been given seemed to work in all the right doors and Kyle spent the next hour moving his desk and filing cabinets around the office. Eventually Kyle had the room to his liking and went off in search of something important.
"Excuse me," he asked an attractive woman, a brunette he estimated was only a few years younger than himself. "Where is the bathroom?"
"New guy, huh?" she asked.
"Yeah," he shrugged.
"That's cool. We all have to start somewhere."
"The bathrooms?" he repeated.
"Sorry! They're down that way," she answered, pointing with her left hand down the hallway. Not married, Kyle thought as he saw her fingers were devoid of any rings. Stop it, he shook his head slightly, but the years as a bachelor had produced habits too strong to break, even during the months when he had been a married man.
"Thanks," he answered out loud.
"No problem," the woman smiled, reaching out to shake his hand. "I'm Heather," she said brightly. Her fingers were cool to the touch and Kyle found himself growing slightly short of breath as her eyes locked into his own.
"Kyle," he answered. "Kyle Saunders."
.... There is more of this story ...