“Ellie, you shoved your pie right in his face!”
“I did not shove my pie in his face.”
“I saw the video. You really did.”
“I don’t want to talk about this, Katie,” I said.
“Can you believe your video already has forty-three million views on YouTube?”
I dropped my forehead down onto my desk. “It’s not my video,” I ground out. “And I don’t want to know how many people have seen it.”
“I think we can officially say it’s gone viral.”
I sighed. There was no use. Katie would do what Katie wanted. We’d become friends since I’d started working this crappy job, but she existed in a bubble of her own creation. She didn’t seem to pick-up on social cues. This was the third time I’d told her I had no desire to relive the humiliating video of myself.
As much as she was annoying me, I didn’t have it in me to tell her what I was thinking. Katie was a bigger girl with thick glasses. I got the sense I was one of her only friends. Which at the moment was debatable. Instead I glanced up from my computer and said, “I have to get these reports done before Jeff comes back and has a shit fit.”
“Enough said.” She grimaced, tucked a stray piece of her mousy brown hair behind her ear, and headed to the back of the building.
If there was one thing we did share an opinion on, it was our jerk of a boss. Actually, jerk might be too mild a word for him.
Pompous ass had a better ring to it.
I’d been working at his real estate office for nine months. I’d left Miami, where I went to college, to move to Virginia Beach with my mother and her latest and greatest husband, Ralph. Apparently a degree in Comparative Media Studies didn’t scream “must hire” to potential employers. I couldn’t afford to live on my own anymore.
These days I worked at Jeff’s brokerage, pushing papers, answering phones, and being his gofer the rest of the time. I was still searching for that elusive job that would lead to a career. One that would allow me to pay my own rent, buy groceries, and pay off my student loans. If I was lucky after that I’d have enough to buy myself the odd Starbucks and night out with my friends.
The roar of a car engine brought my attention to the parking lot. Speak of the devil… Jeff raced his silver Mercedes SL65 into a parking spot and slammed to a stop. He got out of the car quickly, his face flushed. Whether from the early summer heat or agitation I couldn’t tell. As he approached the doors separating the outside world from my reception desk, I saw his creased forehead and pursed lips. Definitely agitation.
As much as I would have loved to avoid being an outlet for his anger, I was one step up from a Walmart greeter. Saying hello to everyone who came through the doors of Beachside Realty was my job. If I failed my duties I might as well paint a target on the back of my blouse. Maybe if I said hello and looked busy he’d charge on past and find another victim.
Jeff almost ripped the door off the hinges and stalked inside. Show time. I began typing gibberish and concentrated really hard on the computer screen.
“Good afternoon, Jeff,” I said brightly.
He stopped in his tracks and spun on his heels to face me. “Ellie.”
“I just got a call from the housekeeper who takes care of the Oceanfront Avenue property. The idiot locked the house before putting the key back in the lockbox and now she can’t get back in. The client who rented the place is due to arrive in the next couple of hours.”
“Is there any way I can help?” I didn’t mean it, but it sounded like the kind of thing someone who really valued their job would say.
“I have a client meeting me here in twenty minutes.” He wiped sweat off his brow. “Have Katie get you the spare key from the safe. Open up the house, find the other key, and replace it in the lockbox.”
“I’d be happy to,” I said with mock enthusiasm. I’d never get through those files by the end of the day now. That beach house was a good twenty-five minute drive on a day with no traffic, never mind on a Friday afternoon in the summer.
“Go before the client gets there. This guy is a big deal.”
“Don’t screw this up. I’ve had about all I can take of incompetent employees today.” He glared at me for a moment like the whole situation was somehow my fault, then stalked down the hall to his office.
I forwarded the lines to the answering service and rushed back to Katie’s office. She acted as the brokerage’s deal secretary but apparently, no transactions needed her attention today. She sat at her desk with her back to the door checking her Facebook account. I’d been avoiding my own page since some loser from my old high school had tagged me in the infamous YouTube video. Ever since my profile page had been loaded with comments from friends and strangers alike giving their unwanted opinion on the whole ordeal.
“Hey.” She almost jumped off her seat. It must have been a good day on her news feed if I’d startled her. She swiveled in her chair to face me. “I heard Jeff’s voice. You survive?”
I closed the door for privacy. “Oh, I wasn’t the main target—just collateral damage. I need the key for the Oceanfront Avenue property. The housekeeper locked the key inside and another client is due to arrive.”
“I wish I could get out of this office and go see a million dollar beach house.”
“You’re welcome to take my place,” I deadpanned.
Busy, right. With Facebook.
I drove my shit-box car as hard as I could but it seemed the harder I pressed the gas, the slower it went. I didn’t want to risk it overheating and end up on the side of the expressway. Traffic wasn’t too bad until I got closer to the ocean. The air conditioning didn’t work, of course. It was the hottest it’d been all damn year so the windows were down. With traffic barely moving I knew it was going to get even more unbearable. I grabbed one of the elastics I left in the console for such occasions and quickly arranged my hair into a ponytail.
My phone rang. I kept my eyes on the road and reached over to hit the speaker phone button.
“Hi, sweetie, it’s Mom.”
This was so not what I need right now. It’d been an aggravating afternoon and a conversation with my mother would only add to it. “What’s up, Mom?”
“Honey, sorry. I know you’re busy.”
“It’s okay, but I only have a few minutes.” By the sound of her voice this was going to be another talk-Mom-off-the-ledge conversation.
“Okay, I’ll be quick. When I got up this morning Ralph was already gone. I’ve called his cell phone and he’s not answering.”
“And this is a big deal because…?” My mother had a knack for creating drama where there was none.
“We have a morning routine. We get up, make love while we shower, and afterward I make him breakfast. There’s got to be something wrong if he left without saying a word. He’s never done that.” She also had a knack for sharing too much information.
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Mom. He probably had an early tee-off time and didn’t want to wake you.”
“But why not? Do you think he’s cheating on me?”
“No. Maybe there’s a problem at the dealership and he had to leave in a hurry. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. He probably forgot to charge his phone.”
My mother’s latest husband owned a few car dealerships throughout the state. He pretty much let his sons run the day-to-day operations and only got called in when his opinion or his check book was needed.
“I do always have to remind him to charge his phone…”
“See, I’m sure that’s all it is. Now don’t worry. You’ll probably hear from him soon.”
“You’re right. I’m worrying over nothing.”
“There you go.”
“Why are you out of the office right now? I called there first and it went to the service.”
I sighed. “I need to drop a key off at one of the rental houses.”
“Why do you insist on working at that place? You should take Ralph up on his offer to work at one of his dealerships.”
“I can do this on my own. I don’t need any hand-outs from your husband.” I didn’t add the fact that I wasn’t like her; I wasn’t going to rely on a man to make things happen for me. Still, I couldn’t wait to get a better job so I could move back out on my own. How had I ended up as a boomerang kid?
“Fine, suit yourself.” She paused for a moment and I knew we were venturing into territory I didn’t want to discuss. “You know, I was on YouTube this morning reading some comments on that video—“
“I don’t want to talk about the damn video.”
“Oh, honey. My cell is ringing. Maybe it’s him.”
She hung up before I could say anything. More than fine with me. I’d done my daughterly duty for the day. I’d certainly had enough practice over the years. During my freshman year at college I’d taken a week off school to nurse her back to sanity when her fourth marriage fell apart. Yep, fourth.
The turn-off leading to the beach house came into view. A drunk must have run over the street sign. The metal pole lay almost perpendicular to the ground. Thank God it wasn’t far now. Sweat began to drip down the middle of my back, making my blouse stick to my spine. Was it possible for this day to get any more annoying?
I pulled into the driveway of the beach house and got out of the car. The sun’s rays glistened off the predominantly glass structure. I held my arm across my brow as I approached, then took the steps leading up to the wraparound deck at a frantic pace—keenly aware of the clock ticking down to the client’s arrival. I reached the top and bent at the waist, trying to suck in some oxygen. Because of my quick metabolism I didn’t pack any extra weight. That didn’t mean shit when you couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling like you’d run a marathon.
After a minute or two the light-headedness subsided enough that I stood upright. I followed the deck around the house to find the main door. Indeed, the lockbox hung open on the handle, empty. I reached into my purse for the key and put it into the lock. It wouldn’t budge. I tried and tried but the metal just dug into my finger. Desperate, I snatched the key out, thrust it back in, and gave it another go.
Katie must have given me the wrong key, or maybe it wasn’t cut properly. Who knew if they’d ever used this one before? If I didn’t get this door opened before the client showed up the situation would become my fault. Not the housekeeper’s, mine. I’d worked for Jeff long enough to see his temper lead to impromptu firings. That would only set me further back. Not an option. I was getting in this house somehow.
I followed the deck around to the back where the house faced the ocean. The Atlantic looked fairly peaceful. No whitecaps, just the sound of waves gently lapping at the shore where water met white sand. A couple of patio sets and chaise lounges sat before the pool and spa overlooking the beach. Apparently the rich didn’t like getting sand on their feet and preferred to sit in a sterile pool with a beach view. There were several sets of French doors along the back of the house. I tried them all. Locked.
That left only one choice. There was a small window on the side of the house. I dragged a chair across the deck and placed it below the small rectangular window, praying that since it was high no one had thought to lock it. Setting my purse down, I removed my heels and stood on top of the chair. Of course I’d chosen to wear a pencil skirt today. How perfect. I hiked the beige fabric up my thighs and stretched up to the window. At first it didn’t move but when I put more force into it, it finally gave.
“Yes, thank God.” I removed the screen and grimaced. Now the fun part. I wasn’t a big girl but it’d be a tight squeeze. Still, I was confident I’d make it. I didn’t have any other choice.
It took several tries before I managed to get my arms onto the window ledge. I was sweating profusely and cursing the fact that I never found the time to work out. My biceps shook with fatigue but my waist was resting on the window lip. Halfway there.
The window was barely wide enough for me to fit through; maneuvering around enough to get in the house feet first wasn’t going to happen. The ceramic tile floor was directly below me and the toilet was to the left.
I’d have to go head first, hoping to break the fall with my hands and not my neck.
Breathing was difficult with the window sill jammed into my midsection, but I gulped one breath down and used my hands to push off. Nothing happened. I didn’t have enough upper body strength to propel my bottom half up. The second time I used my feet on the outside wall to get some leverage.
It worked a little too well. I fell forward. My skirt caught on something, and I heard the audible rip as I hurled to the floor below. I bashed my head off the toilet and lay sprawled on the bathroom floor.
All I could think of was how pissed Jeff was going to be if I didn’t get that key in the lockbox and scram before the client arrived. I remained on the floor for a minute. My wrist was sore, and my head was pounding but I was inside.
I lifted my forehead off the cold ceramic tile and my vision blurred. I blinked a few times to clear the curious image before me. Eventually my vision focused. A pair of men’s sandals were still in front of me.