It's incredibly hot. It's still more humid. Even indoors, I can't get cool. I, however, am not indoors. I'm outside in the thick of this summer's horrendous weather. Apparently, “rookie” reporters must weather the weather whatever the weather. I wouldn't mind on any other day, but this week has reeked disappointments enough already.
“You,” my boss called from behind me as I walked into the conference room.
Deep breath, I coached myself mentally. Three years. How can she still not remember my name after three years?
When I turn around, my eye latched on the outfit my boss was sporting that day. Everyday she wore a certain color. Like on Mondays she only wore clothes in a red color scheme and Fridays she persistently donned exclusively blue hues. Since it was Wednesday, I knew she must have been decked out in orange. The interesting part was she never wore the same outfit twice.
“Yes, ma'am,” I answered in a forcefully cheerful voice. I almost matched the bright tangerine jumpsuit glaring back at me.
“You are covering Chrissy Teigen's pregnancy. Robert, you're on …” she doled out our assignments without looking up from her notes.
Every week I was assigned frivolous stories. Whether I covered the latest fashions or wildfire prevention techniques, I never reported on the big important stories. They were the reason I pursued this career. Garret always tried to cheer me up, saying “You'll get there.” Finally, I had gotten there. The week before this I'd been assigned to investigate the money withheld from the US Postal Services and it's impact on the 2020 election. The story was my big break. Now, though, she wanted to rip it away from me, and all I could think about was how her lipstick perfectly matched her outfit.
“Any questions?” she asked, ending our debrief.
I rose my hand. Every head turned my way as I answered the rhetorical question. Every meeting ended the same way. It was her way of dismissing us. That day, though, I wasn't ready to be dismissed.
“Yes, um –“ she looked at me with her flawless yet cold mask.
“Angelica,” I filled in sharply.
I'd caught her off guard.
Good, I thought. I had finally captured her attention.
“Last week, I was assigned the Boy's and Girl's Club story with next week as a deadline,” I informed her without a phony smile for once.
For several moments, my boss stared hard at me. My hopes soared. All of my hard-work was about to payoff. I could see my dreams finally taking root. Then, my bubble popped.
“Garret will be completing the Post-Office story. Please, give him your notes and debrief him on what you know so far before beginning work on your new assignment, Angelica,” she ordered, focusing her piercing eyes on me. Challenging me.
I duck my head to hide the rage and humiliation flaring across my cheeks. Then, I conceded with a weak, “Yes, ma'am.”
Everyone filed out of the conference room. I did, too. After all, I had a story to write. I wanted desperately to be left alone, but, then, I felt Garret's hand at the small of my back. Picking up the pace, I tried to escape him. His skin looked gorgeous and freshly tanned from his strip to Australia. Another great story that I had been skipped for. Once we'd walked to a more private location, Garret caught me by the waist and spun me around to face him. I didn't, though. I couldn't look into those sparking brown eyes without feeling hurt and betrayed. Garret hadn't asked to take over my story. I knew my feelings were unreasonable, but I still felt them.
With his hands on my hips, Garret tried to sooth me like he'd done so many times before. “... besides Ellis doesn't know a thing about good writing,” he repeated the same words he said every time I was overlooked. The only thought running through my mind, though, was how much I didn't want him touching me at that moment.
“Garret,” I began as I pulled his hands off my hips. “Thank-you, but I need to – use the bathroom.”
“Okay, babe, but I'm here if you need me. Love you,” he reassured me with a kiss on the beauty mark to the right of my left eye.
“Yeah, you too, hon,” I whispered back.
I watched him limp away. When he looked back at me, I smiled at him. This wasn't his dream. From the day I met Garret, he'd wanted to play football professionally. Five years ago, it looked like his dream would come true, too. Being the University of Texas' starting quarterback, Garret had made it. Then, one night I watched as he couldn't stand up after a brutal tackle. Fears festered as the EMTs rushed my boyfriend off the field. As fast as I sprinted down the bleachers, the what-ifs circled faster around my head. I knew limping around a newsroom wasn't how Garret had seen his future unfolding. When the doctors said Garret could never walk again, his scholarship disappeared, but he didn't give up. Now, he's overcome the odds and became a successful reporter, but he's living my dream.
Once I arrived at the bathroom, I walked over to the mirror. Click-clack went my heels against the cold tile. Although Garret preferred my hair down, I kept my long, sleek hair up in a bun to appear more professional. Looking in the waxy mirror, I hated my muddy brown eyes and nondescript circular face that made me look chunky no matter how much weight I lost. Despite the innumerable times Garret told me I was beautiful and kissed me tenderly, I couldn't see myself as pretty. Slowly, I turned sideways to measure my stomach in the mirror. I'd gone down two sizes in the past three months. From an eight to a six, my one-hundred pound, five foot two body still looked fat to me.
Disgusting, I heard. Pathetic. Worthless.
Then, the bathroom door opened to admit another lady. Quickly, I left the bathroom feeling worse than when I'd entered.
“Chrissy, how long have you been expecting?” “Was the pregnancy planned?” “John, is your new single, “Wild,” dedicated to your new baby?”
A chorus of questions ensued when the the couple stepped out of the couple's multimillion dollar home. For every ten unnecessary, intrusive questions asked, only one was answered. Standing drenched in sweat, I wondered again how I would find a story in these celebrities' announcement. Once they left, the swath of reporters surrounding me dispersed. With a glance down at my scanty notes, I turned and walked straight into another woman.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I apologized.
The woman looked as excited as me to be here. Her bobbed, blonde hair whipped about everywhere, and her nose shone bright red. “No problem,” she murmured as she hurried out of the freezing wind.
Once I found my rental car, I drove away from the grand house and perfect people that reminded me of what I didn't have and never would have. I caught sight of my reflection in the rear-view mirror, and the thoughts started again.
Ugly. Unlovable. Worthless.
The gas light blinked up at me. My hands shook as the voice in my head screamed louder. Useless! Stupid! Worthless! My breath came out in small spurts. Tears threatened to fall, but I couldn't let them.
Deep breath. I commanded myself. Again. Again. Again. With my sanity still intact, I pulled into a gas station with a small Denny's attached to the convenience store. Then, I stepped out of the car and filled the tank. When I smelt the food, my stomach rumpled, and I couldn't deny it any longer.
Standing in the line at the counter, I saw the lady I'd bumped into earlier. I couldn't decide whether or not to approach her when she came up to me.
“Hey, I'm Krisha. Sorry about earlier,” she started with a genuine smile. “I was starving. All manners depart when mama's hungry.”
I smiled politely. Then, she asked if we could eat together.
Completely caught off guard, I had no idea how to answer.
“Aw, come on. Indulge me. I am pregnant after all,” she pressured me.
We found a booth. As we waited for our food, we watched the rain fall.
“I wish they'd hurry up. I'm starving,” Krisha complained lightheartedly.
“I know,” I answered, trying to keep up the conversation. “I haven't eaten at all today.”
“It's already six! You must be starving.”
I smiled and in attempt to cover up the real reason, I joked, “I don't have to eat for two.”
She smiled back at me and we talked until finally our food came. While Krisha dug in, I only played with my food. The smell was enticing, but I couldn't bring the food to my mouth. The thought of eating made my stomach turn. Of course, Krisha noticed, and I forced myself to take a bite. It stuck to the top of my mouth like glue. Instead of swallowing the food, I discreetly spat it back out into my napkin. I ate a small biscuit and washed it down with a glass of water. Finally, Krisha finished, and I could escape.
As I walked out the restaurant onto the wet pavement, I hated myself stronger than ever.
Worthless! Worthless! Worthless. My mind chanted on a loop.
With each step, I thought of another way I had failed and didn't measure up. I couldn't keep going. I had no strength left. Then, I fell down onto the asphalt. Before my eyes fluttered closed, I couldn't help thinking how similar Krisha looked to Chrissy Teigen.