Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gone Too Far

"This is for you, Kayla!"

"What's this April?"

I reached for the slip of paper she handed out to me. Of all the things she could have gotten me for my birthday she hands me a frickin' lottery ticket. This girl and her gag gifts! It was funny and lame at the same time, but I knew how she was. My real gift would come in about a week. I knew her better than that, so I played along!

"This is hilarious! If I win, you get your standard ten percent!" I said, laughing.
"Girl, this jackpot is for $250 million. I'm going to up the ante to twenty!"
"Fine! Twenty percent it is! Hell, I'll even give you thirty! I don't need all of that money."

As we cleaned up for her and my two-year-old God-Son Austin to leave, Justin walked in the door.

"Hey, baby. How was your day?" I said as I greeted him at the door.

"Hey, Jus!" April said.

 We all stood around and talked for a minute before Justin headed upstairs. I walked April and Austin out to their car. She said she'll call to collect her thirty percent tomorrow. I loved her enthusiasm, but there was no way in hell I was going to win that lottery. I didn't even like playing and wasn't as impressed by the jackpot like most people. When she pulled off, I made Justin's dinner then got ready to take my shower. I had a long day ahead of me at the office. While I couldn't stand my job, neither Justin nor I were in the position to quit working. We just purchased this home three years ago and had a long way to go before it would have enough equity in it to sell.

As I was in the shower I heard Justin scream at the top of his lungs. Without thinking twice I jumped out to see what was going on?

"What's wrong, baby? Is everything okay?"

"Everything is better than okay!"

He picked my soaking wet body up and spun me around the room. Surely he wasn't this excited over the news. Then it hit me. They announce the lottery numbers just before the eleven o'clock broadcast. It didn't take long for me to piece together why he was so excited.

"Justin, did I win the lottery?" My eyes lit up with the prospect of winning millions of dollars.

I never got a direct response, but I did get the best sex of my life. I went along with the assumption that we had won and my excitement took over. I did things to Justin that I only dreamed about. Two long, intense, satisfying hours later we both drifted off to sleep. I woke up the next morning to a rose from our rose bush and a note from Justin.

          Thank you for everything!

Short, sweet, and to the point. Our lives were about to change dramatically. I could feel it in my bones. Before I could even get out of bed April called my phone.

"Where's my thirty percent, heifer?"

"Well, good morning to you, too! I guess I did win last night!"

She didn't comment on what I said. Instead, she began rambling all of the stores we needed to hit up, the cars we needed to buy, and what area we needed to purchase our side by side mansions in.

"You do realize I have to go to work in two hours, right?"

"Work? Kayla, you're a multi-millionaire now! Fuck a job!"

She was right. I was a multi-millionaire. It's funny how your life can change in a matter of seconds. It took no convincing at all. I reached over and grabbed the house phone, called my job, and quit on the spot. No explanation. No reasoning. No notice. I had all the money I needed; actually I had more than I needed. They would be fine without me.

I spent the rest of the day being gassed up by April and her off the chart ideas. She had me in dealerships signing my life away, at real estate brokers claiming deeds, and I don't even want to go into how many department store cards we opened. By the end of the day, I was knee deep in new cars, clothes, and had secured two new homes we could move into within two months. Things were moving way too fast, but like April kept telling me all day: "You only live once!" So with that mantra, I spared no expense, held back no desire, and deprived myself of nothing. I even splurged for Justin. He was definitely going to love me.

The rest of the week pretty much went the same. Minus the cars and homes, we tore up some other shopping centers and shut down a few jewelry stores. By Saturday night, I was tired of shopping. I still hadn't claimed any of the money, but she kept assuring me that I had 30 days to do so. I checked the ticket on the back and it said the same thing, so I guess I was good. I would definitely have to take care of that Monday morning. I was starting to feel uneasy about spending all of this money that I wasn't even sure was mine.

Sunday night, I helped Justin get ready for a business trip. He was due to go to Nevada for a week. I hated his extended trips, but he promised this would be the last one. Afterwards, he was planning on quitting his job to start his catering business. It was always a dream of his, but he never had the funds to get it up and running like he wanted to. Now that we were multi-millionaires he would be able to actualize his dream. I offered to help him pack, but for some reason he wanted to do it this time. I guess it was because it would be his last trip and he likes to end things his way. I can't say I always understood Justin's ways, but I always respected them. I went downstairs to give him space and let him pack the way he wanted to.

The next day I took Justin to the airport. He had more bags than I thought necessary which meant only one thing, there would probably be just as much play as there would be work. I didn't mind though. Justin never gave me a reason to doubt anything he did. Before saying goodbye, I gave him the black AmEx card we just got in the mail. Who'd ever though I'd get approved for a black card?! We said our goodbyes at the gate and I left to go home.

On my way I tried to call April and see if she wanted to meet up for dinner. She didn't answer her phone so I left her a message. Three hours later, I still hadn't heard from her. It was officially too late to go out so I made myself a sandwich, took a shower and called Justin before going to bed. He didn't answer, so I figured he started off with playing first. After leaving him a sweet message, I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to a banging sound at my door. When I opened the door, there were two men standing on the other side, along with two officers behind them.

"Can I help you?"

"Ma'am, we're looking for a Mrs. Kayla Johnson."

"I'm Kayla Johnson. Is there something wrong?"

Remember earlier when I said it's funny how your life can change within a matter of seconds. Well, this was another moment because my life changed again. I was asked to get in the officer's car. They wanted to take me downtown for questioning in a identity theft case.

That was the slowest twenty minute car ride ever. They had me waiting in the interrogation room for over an hour. It was cold, dark, and lonely. I couldn't call anyone, and no one had a clue I was there. While I wasn't under arrest, I still couldn't leave. I had no clue what was going on. Finally, one of the two detectives that came to my door came in and sat down at the table across from me.

"May I ask what is going on?"

"Mrs. Johnson, my name is Detective Harold Wilson. I need to address a situation with you. We've gotten several calls from stores claiming that you have been opening up fraudulent accounts. After some investigating, it seems like you have been posing as last week's $250 million dollar lottery winner."

"But I did win that lottery. I still have the ticket. I was supposed to claim the prize this morning, but instead I'm here with you two."

My irritation was starting to show. Me without my morning coffee is like a toddler without a nap. I attempted to regain my composure. The last thing I wanted to do was get arrested for non-compliance.

"Ma'am, the real winner claimed that prize three days ago. Do you not watch the news?"

"But...but...I have the ticket! It's in my purse at home!"

"Did you actually see the numbers?"

"No, but..."

"Then how do you know you won?"

I sat there speechless. I couldn't answer the question because I had no answer. My only proof was the fact that no one told me I didn't win. Justin acted as if I won. April even went so far as to take me out shopping. I had to have won. This must be some kind of mistake.

"Well, how do you know that person isn't trying to impersonate me? I have the winning ticket, I swear! No one stopped me from making any of those purchases. Why would they let me spend so much money if they didn't think I had it?"

"Mrs. Johnson, in no way am I here to insult your intelligence, but dealing with business they are not going to turn down money. You must either have stellar credit, or you didn't read the fine print well enough. Either way you look at it, the person that claimed the winnings three days ago has already been verified. Whatever it is you think you have is not real."

"Can I call my lawyer?"

"There's no need for that. You are free to go, but we will be in touch. While your lawyer isn't needed at this moment, I do suggest you give them a call."

The detective offered to take me home. I walked in the house and immediately called Justin. He didn't answer so I assumed he was with his client. When I tried to call April it went straight to voicemail. This was not the time for her to have one of her moments. I needed someone to explain to me what the hell just happened and how I could get out of it.

I contacted my attorney and scheduled a consultation with them. She wasn't available until the following week so I had some time to do some investigating myself. I grabbed the ticket and headed to the computer. In about five minutes flat my life changed yet again. Detective Wilson was right. I didn't win the lottery, and the real winner, Jamie Abbershaw, already claimed the jackpot.

I think every expletive word I could come up with escaped my lips. I was livid. This was one joke that April took too far. Now I didn't want answers; I already had them. Fuck a phone call. I got in my car and made a beeline to her house.

When I pulled up and banged on her door. She wouldn't answer. I looked in the windows and was floored. Her townhouse was empty. Bare walls, bare floor, nothing was visible. Her neighbor came outside and spoke to me. I knew him well, so it would be easy to get him to talk.

I pulled myself together and acted as if I wanted to know if she moved out yet. He sang like a canary. Turns out that late Sunday night she moved everything she had. She hired a moving company and they cleaned the place out within an hour. Only one question remained.

"She was supposed to give me her forwarding address before she left. Do you know where she went?"

"I'm not sure. She just swung by to say she was leaving. I asked her where she was going and she said Vegas. I didn't even know she was planning to move."

"She's sporadic like that. Thanks Dan. It was good seeing you again. Take care!"

"You too, Kayla. Don't be a stranger! Swing by anytime!"

His words drowned out. I know he did not say she went to Vegas. I grabbed my cell phone to call Justin again.

"The number you have dialed has been disconnected. If you feel you have reached this message in error..."

What the fuck is going on? First I have to deal with a falsified lottery ticket and identity theft case. I can't find Justin anywhere. April calls herself disappearing. This was a set-up.

"Damn it!"

For a week I was out of sorts. I couldn't believe I fell for this. I knew April had a thing for Justin, but I never suspected her to do this to me. I mean, she was my best friend for goodness sake. Everything that was mine was automatically hers. She took that gesture of kindness too far. I don't know Justin's role in this, but he better pray that he doesn't have one.

Sometimes, her gifts are funny. This time, she's gone too far!

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the end...

Sitting at my computer, I started to become overwhelmed with the to-do list that seems to get longer every day. I have three more days to get this mess in line before my next project is scheduled to begin. The senior vice president of OR-COR has become too dependent on me. Out of two assistants, three secretaries, and five interns, how in the world did I end up with 80% of the workload?

Take a deep breath, Sharice. You can handle this.

The things I do to keep my mind occupied. I don't like sitting idle. It gives me time to think. I guess that wouldn't be so bad if I weren't going through so much turmoil in my current life. At least it's not the typical relationship drama. In my case, it's more internal. Once again, I bit off more than I could chew; all for the sake of getting ahead. I took on a double major for my Master's degree. I purchased a home that I knew I   couldn't afford at the request of my ailing mother who's insistent on living with me. My bills were piling up. My hair was falling out. Sleep was non-existent these days. I was in need of more than a vacation. I needed a miracle.

What better way to escape the madness of my life than by burying myself in work? At least it would take my mind off of the misery that engulfed me when I leave the office. I couldn't find peace anywhere; not at home, not at school, and now, thanks to my incessant need to say "yes", not even at work. This was becoming too much to bear.

Okay, where do I start?

I had less than 72 hours to complete a list of 35 items. Not all of them were difficult. A few emails, some report submissions, and a couple of meetings to schedule; those would be easy. I decided to tackle those items first. Ring. Right after I take this phone call.

"Hi , Dear. Are you busy?"
"Yes, mom. I am."
"Oh okay. Well can you do me a quick favor?"
Here we go again.
"Sure, Mom. What is it?"
"Can you call Solstice Retirement Home and schedule a visit for me?"
"Why do you need to visit with them, Mom? I thought that's why you wanted me to buy this house, so you could live here with me?"
"I know dear, but you have so much going on. I don't want to be a burden to you."
She did it! She laid down the guilt trip.
"Mom, you're not a burden. I just have a lot on my plate right now, but it'll all be over in three days. Now get some rest. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Are you sure, Dear? They're covered by my insurance."
"I'm sure, Mom."
"Okay then, Sugar. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

I could feel the emergence of her crooked smile spreading across her lips. I loved my mother to death but sometimes she could be sneaky and deceitful. That bothered me, but I'm used to it. Sadly. Back to what I was doing. Ring. Are you serious?

"Hey, Baby. Are you busy?"
"Yeah. I'm trying to get through this list, but..."
"Well can you do me a quick favor?"

Two hours and one "quick favor" later, I'm still in the same position. It's late, I'm tired, and nothing has been crossed off this list. I buried my head in my hands in frustration. This insanity has got to stop! What good are distractions if they add to the afflictions already present? Ring. Without thinking, I picked up my cell phone and threw it across the room. No more distractions. I had to get through this list, now!

In less than an hour I had all of the easy stuff done. That took my list down from 35 to 26. Not bad for an hour's worth of work. It was two in the morning and my body began to protest against me. I decided to call it a night. The next two days would be all about completing this list.

 Two days later, I finally understood how work-a-holics felt. With barely 15 minutes to spare I got everything on the list completed. The proposals, reports, interviews, presentations, and that gosh forsaken fiscal-year budget; they were all finally done. It was 4:47 PM and someones happy hour was calling my name. I started to turn my phone back on, but knew I would be bombarded with voice mail messages from my mom, Danny, and whomever else. I wasn't ready for their neediness yet. I left the office early and headed to McShane's for their happy hour event with Clara, one of the interns.

Clara was a lot like me when I was ten years younger. She is actually one of the few people at the office that I can tolerate outside of work. We had a couple of drinks, laughed, and celebrated the end of the fiscal-year madness. She had a lot of potential, and surprisingly taught me a very valuable lesson.

"How did you do it, Sharice? That was a lot to accomplish in three days!"
"I turned my phone off and went to war!"
"And no one came looking for you?"
"Yeah, they did. Last night the police even showed up at my door. My mother thought I was in my home dead! I just told them I had a lot of deadlines to meet so I turned my phone off. They said I should have told people what was going on so they wouldn't worry. I started to combat that statement, but decided against it. There's no what any sane person would be able to understand the stuff I go through."
"So why do you go through it?"

Her question stung me because I had been asking myself the same thing for years. For some reason, I felt obligated to deal with taking care of my mother even though I had siblings, waiting on Danny hand and foot, jumping at the aide of my classmates, and just generally being on-call for everyone.

"You know what, Clara? I don't know. It's just that when people call on me I feel I have to answer."
"You may feel the need to answer, but that doesn't mean it has to be in their favor."
"What do you mean?"

Clara looked through the window behind me and saw her ride pull up. She gathered her things and began to say goodbye.

"I have to go." She gave me a hug. "Simply put Sharice, learn the power of saying 'no.' It doesn't require an explanation. It doesn't require an apology. When you're pushed to the limit, start saying 'no.' You can thank me later!"

My miracle arrived, in the form of a two letter word.

I waved to Clara through the window as she and her driver pulled off. She was right. There was so much power in the word no. I knew of that power, but the problem was that I've been saying it to the wrong person this entire time. I'm so quick to say yes to everyone else, but I'm even quicker to say no to myself. That was going to!

Later on that evening, I finally turned my phone on to check my voice mail. Before the alert light even came on my mother was calling. As I was talking to her, Danny patched through. Without a second thought I exercised the power of the word "no" immediately. It was Friday evening and I needed a mini-vacation. I saved the voice mails to respond to them on Monday. I alerted everyone of my pending absence, turned my phone back off, and got a hotel suite in the next city. I said "no" to everyone else, and finally said "yes" to myself.