She noticed the grey clouds crowding out the hills behind the lot as she walked to her car. After fifteen years working for the company, Laura knew that what she was doing was the best for her, and for some of the others who wanted to advance. At least the weather had been nice when she went in. The rain would take her home.
And what was the day all about? Change! Innovation! Renewal! It was partly her fault that the company had all these plans. For several months, there were discussions about what “we” needed to do “in a demanding and changing world” (her management team wrote the copy; she took responsibility for the terrible language – corporatese, she heard it called). Still, it was hard to say who came up with the line that everyone else remembered, muttered and gossiped about when they thought that she could not hear them from her office and constant walks around the vast floors.
Ten Percent. “Give all you can to the company, but take ten percent home with you.” What did that even mean? Laura had the line crackling in her head. She put on her seatbelt in the near-empty lot and stared straight at the building she just walked out of for good. At first, Laura considered it as a piece of good advice: keep a part of yourself private so that you do not lose yourself in the corporate world. Then, after a particularly long day with some particularly demanding clients, she had a strange vision of a bowl of cereal. What is the percentage of milk to the amount of cereal included? Are there numbers on this? Statistics she could round up? Very silly, but…
She was hungry as the rain began as fat, infrequent drops on the windshield. Traffic was not too bad on the side roads, but she doubted she would have time or the nerve to stop in a café or restaurant when the weather got worse. There was plenty of food at home, and she would be hungry after an hour on the highway.
That announcement had not pleased everyone.
“You’re kidding! Seriously?”
George, one of her various underlings – a terrible word, but one that seemed right for a man who could not do the simplest tasks without her say – almost spilled his second cappuccino of the day over his well-worn blazer. They had met earlier in the day to talk about company policies and she told him what she was soon to tell the whole office. And he really did not need that second cup from The Second Cup.
“Now? Right now?”
Jeannette just stood there in another pencil skirt and jacket that could and did stop most of the male traffic in the company when she walked down the halls. She was not just annoyed; there was real anger that came out of her mouth. It is easy to share it with someone who is not just a colleague, but a close friend since college, thought Laura.
“You do what you have to do.”
I will, Curtis, she thought. I really will, even if it will no longer involve your wife asking why you work so many late nights with only one other staff member, and the gossip around the office suddenly dies out. He was a mistake that she had to drop. Two birds, one very large stone…
The wipers were trying to do their best.
She had thought of the next step.
Money had been saved, tickets bought for a trip that really was needed, and the right contacts made. The only other problem seemed to be this weather. From what she had heard on the news, there was to be a serious storm (“serious storm”? what made it so serious, she thought), but this looked like the end of days from her seat. The sky had become almost total blackness; the rain ripped across the chassis of her BMW with force, and the wipers were fighting what was clearly a useless war with the water and wind. There was a growing fear in her shoulders and neck, not just from the storm, but from something she now began to notice as she changed lanes.
The highway was empty.
Had this ever been true before? She checked her rear-view mirrors and saw that this was also true behind her and that she was all alone on a major highway during a serious weather event.
Was it too late to turn around?
No, she was set on this road. The resignation was in. The staff said their good-byes (even the ones who did not believe it and thought that she would return on the following Monday for another meeting). She had to go on.
Her high beams did help. With a quick guess on timing and mileage, she knew that she probably had at least another thirty to forty minutes on the road…alone.
Laura felt the heat in the car, but refused to let the automatic windows down. The most disturbing thing to her was to be alone like this. It was clear that she had missed some announcement about how dangerous it was to be out in the rain, if it was just rain and maybe the occasional burst of a lightning bolt and the dance of thunder in the air (both were strangely absent).
At least she had time to think about things.
Where was she going to with her life? Money was enough for several lifetimes, but then…what about the rest of her life? It was strange to Laura how little she cared about the money and freedom that came with it. Instead, in the dark and rain, she wondered about relationships that did not work, men who let her down, and friendships that barely existed.
It was getting much harder to concentrate on the rain.
She could completely understand what Curtis meant with his words. That bimbo of a wife who could not tell the difference between champagne and shit was perfect for him. Maybe perfect for them?
Why was she doing this to herself? She passed several familiar exits and landmarks and noted how the wind died down. Now it was just rain that thudded on the roof and made her feel trapped.
If something is over…
For the rest of the ride, she tried to keep her thoughts quiet. Laura looked out the sides and noted that there was still no traffic behind her. Fine for now. She had never seen that before, but she could accept it. It was what happened next that threw her.
Her neighbourhood was in complete darkness.
Even with the lousy weather, there should have been some noise and light in the apartments on the block. She knew that there were several families that would be enjoying the start of another weekend (no special plans or holidays came to mind). Why was it so damn quiet here?
She entered the garage and turned off the engine.
At least she had this space lit.
At least it was just for her.
And she still had time to think about what she had just done.
There was something about the weather that made her think about that line.
Ten percent…just for you.
She wondered where that time went when she was at work and how much of it she would be enjoying out of the rain.
The rain continued to invade the darkness.