(This story contains adult language and mention of school lockdown)
Five am and the alarm is going off.
“Alexa, turn off the alarm.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.” The alarm keeps getting louder.
“Alexa. Turn. Off. The. Alarm.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. You can say ‘Alexa tell me the weather-”
“ALEXA. TURN. OFF. THE. ALARM.”
The alarm turns off. Charlie kicks her feet out of the blankets and plants them in a pile of warm, slimy dog vomit. Chunks and bile ooze between her toes.
Zeus, her 80lb boxer groans and sits looking lovingly at her with large, sad chocolate colored eyes. “I can’t be mad at you, Zeus.” She is whispering so as not to wake her wife, Rae.
“Shhhh… Why do you have to be so damn loud?” Rae snaps with a voice thick with sleep and pulls a pillow over her head.
Charlie is trying hard to not be a bitter bitch. Rae worked late on a divorce mediation- a high dollar client with a high stakes custody arrangement in the balance. She came in so late, Charlie had slept through her arrival home. She needed her rest.
Charlie hops gingerly to the bathroom and grabs a towel to wipe the slimy dog barf from her foot and between her toes. She barely makes it to the bathroom and hits a puddle of water. Rae must have taken a shower when she came home and Charlie slept through it. Her one foot caught in the puddle and Charlie crashed to the floor with a loud thud, landing on her backside. Pain shot through her tailbone and reverberated up her spine. “God dammit!” She cried out.
“For fuck’s sake, Charlie!” Rae calls out from the bed.
“Sorry! I slipped. Zeus puked and -”
“Just try to be quiet! I need to sleep! I barely just fell asleep and I still need to go back to the courthouse today.” The frustration had overtaken the thickness of sleep in her voice.
Charlie sighs and Zeus licks her face. She looks at the Alexa on the dresser in the other room. It’s only 5:04am. She has the whole day and she can she can salvage it still. She is determined to make this a great day.
She grabs a towel and wipes the puke from her foot, and grabs toilet paper to clean the barf pile, making a mental note to get the carpet cleaner later after Rae wakes up to finish cleaning.
Charlie takes in a deep breath and exhales. She will make today a good day.
Opening the cabinet where the coffee mugs are, she grabs her favorite mug. While the Keurig is heating up and brewing, she lets Zeus out into the backyard and goes back to retrieve her coffee. She can smell the rich aroma of her favorite dark roast, and the day already has so much more promise.
As she made her way back to the counter, she can see her mug had cracked in half and the coffee had poured itself onto a dark black pool on the floor.
Charlie was resisting the urge to cry. It was her alumni mug from college. It had been her favorite mug since she graduated from college 15 years ago. She had noticed a fine hairline crack, but had assumed it was in the glaze.
Zeus was scratching at the glass of the patio door. He let out a loud bark. She grabbed the broken pieces of the mug and threw them in the trash and rushed to let him in before he woke Rae up again.
She mopped up the coffee from the floor and went to put another pod in the Keurig only to find out there were no more pods. “I will just go to Starbucks. I’m fine. It will still be a good day. It can still be a good day.”
Charlie gets in the shower in the guest room so as not to wake Rae. Hot water and strong water pressure assure her that today will get better.
There’s potential in today, yet. She gets dressed in the quiet darkness of her and Rae’s bedroom. Zeus had let himself up in the bed and snuggled in with Rae. Spotting Rae’s short spiky hair peaking over the blankets, her arm thrown lazily over the mass of the sleeping dog. What she wouldn’t give to be in the dog’s place right now.
She quietly leaves the room and takes herself to her car. See? Today is already getting better. She got out of the house with no further incidents! Just a rough start! Nothing out of the ordinary to see here. Charlie presses the ignition button and is quickly reminded of her last time behind the wheel.
She was supposed to stop for gas that day, but the weather was awful. A rainstorm had come through and it was cold and dark. She had told herself she would get gas the next time.
She all but held her breath as she made her way to the gas station. If the day were going to be bad, she would have ran out of gas before making it here. Right? Right.
After fueling and making it through the Starbucks line and getting to her parking spot at work right on time, Charlie got out of her car, coffee in hand, she turned to make her way to her classroom. Five steps away from her car she hears it. Screeching tires, followed by metal on metal, a loud crunching sound and glass breaking. Slow motion as ice pours through her veins she turns and sees that the car parked across the row from hers had backed at high speed into hers. The driver looking back at her, a parent volunteer (what’s her name? Joanne? Joan? Jean?) she somewhat knows looking at her sheepish. Tears streaming down her face. She rolls her window down. “I can’t open my door. It’s stuck. I was in a rush. I got a call that my mom is in ICU. I wasn’t paying attention. Charlie, I’m so sorry.”
Charlie looks at her car and looks at JoanneJoanJean, tamping her anger back down. She can’t be mad at this woman. She just can’t. It’s not fair. She’s going through something right now. How would she feel if the tables were turned. She just takes her cell phone out of her pocket and calls the police and AAA and then administration. She would be late. It could be worse. She could have been driving. She could be the one whose mother is dying in the ICU.
She gets into her classroom after only missing two periods. Grateful to see her kids as they pile in for third period. Her favorite period.
Five minutes into getting her class settled and into their first task, a voice crackles over the speaker system, “Hey Camino Real Wild Horses, this is a lock down. This is not a drill. This is a lock down. Teachers, and students, this a lock down. This is not a drill. Please follow appropriate procedures.”
She and her students lock the door and stack desks up in front of it to barricade it. She cuts the lights and the students line up out of sight of the windows in the dark. Many of them are texting their parents. One of the girls begins to cry. Her friends hold her and console her. Charlie knows this girl has already survived gun violence once before. Her mother was shot in front of her in a domestic violence incident.
Charlie sends Rae a text that she’s in a lockdown but is okay. No response.
Lunch comes and goes and they are still in lockdown. Huddled in the darkness, the kids are restless. Hungry. So is she. Still no text back from Rae. Finally, after fifth period is supposed to begin they are released from the lockdown. She sends another text to Rae. Lockdown over. I’m fine. No response. Charlie bites her thumbnail. She’s on edge.
The kids are being called out of class and being picked up by grateful parents. Every few minutes her classroom phone rings for another parent to pick up their student.
The final bell for the day rings. She puts her head down on her desk and just takes deep yoga breaths to calm herself. Her yoga instructor preaches constantly, when things are tough return to your breath. She would have to get an Uber home. Rae still hasn’t responded.
She just wanted to get home. Needed to get home. She needed to hug her dog.
Charlie ordered her Uber and started to close down her room.
She stood in the employee lot next to the gate and waited. She got the alert that the driver canceled her ride. No explanation.
She called Rae. No answer.
She resisted the urge to throw her phone into the wall behind her.
She ordered another Uber.
She got in the back of the car once it arrived and checked Rae’s location. Rae was an hour away. Coastal. She tried to call her again. No answer. She sent another text. Unanswered.
Once home, she fell to her knees and hugged Zeus. She uncorked a bottle of red and poured it into a glass as she fed Zeus his dinner. The wine was good. See? This day can still be salvaged. A good red wine can fix almost anything.
Charlie curled up on the couch and ordered tacos from DoorDash. She sipped her wine and scrolled through social media. She saw Rae’s partner had posted several pictures of herself with Rae and her fellow legal team. They were out celebrating. They must have settled that big divorce. Whatever. She tried to be happy for Rae, but just felt depleted.
Her phone alerted her that her dinner arrived. She got up and grabbed the bag from the porch, as she opened the container with her well anticipated dinner, she saw that the tacos were soggy and cold.
She tossed them in Zeus’s dish and made a bowl of ice cream. She tried to call Rae again. Still no answer. It was dark now.
She poured some Bailey’s over the chocolate ice cream in her bowl and made her way to the bedroom. “Alexa, play instrumental cello music.” She set the bowl on the dresser where she went to open the drawer to pull out pajamas when she saw the papers partially out of their manilla envelope. “Petition for Divorce” on the top.
Charlie was fairly sure that her heart stopped. She couldn’t bring herself to touch the envelope.
She grabbed her bowl of ice cream and backed up to the bed and sat in silence as the ice cream melted.
She heard the garage door open and shortly after Rae coming inside. She could hear Rae’s voice calling her. “Charlie?”
Charlie couldn’t bring herself to answer. She could hear Rae’s footsteps on the tile floor as she came down the hallway and entered the bedroom, making eye contact with Charlie. “Babe… I’ve had the worst fucking day of my life. You aren’t going to believe-”
“Petition for divorce?” Charlie whispered.
Rae started to laugh.
Charlie began to cry.
“No, baby, I don’t want to divorce you. Not at all. Not ever. You are stuck with me for better or worse. That’s part of my worst day ever. That’s my papers and notes for the mediation. I was so tired I forgot them all this morning on my way to work. Then my phone did this thing where it just froze and won’t work. I mean, we pulled it together, barely… But whatever. How was your day?”
“Alexa wouldn’t turn off I stepped in barf I fell on my ass my cup broke we are out of coffee I got into a car accident - well my car got into an accident- there was a lockdown at work my Uber canceled on me I couldn’t reach you my tacos were soggy and I thought you wanted to divorce me.” Charlie lost it and was full blown ugly crying forcing the summary of her day out without pause for breath.
Rae fell to her knees in front of Charlie, taking both of her hands, kissing them. “You win. And I love you, I love you, I love you. I’m not divorcing you. You had the worst day ever, and tomorrow will be better.”
In Rae’s arms, the worst day ever dissolved. Charlie knew without a doubt, tonight was already better, and tomorrow would be great.