We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
With a sigh, Jamie rubbed his eyes, then his temples.
His hard work had finally paid off, he had gained visibility to the Senior Partners by his continuously excellent performance and started falling up the ladder from promotion to promotion. The most recent one was to head litigator, this time he moved offices to the executive floor, was assigned an assistant and cases with a lot more visibility.
This made him reconsider the state of his personal life, he and Maddie were still not even officially a couple even though they were most definitely romantically dating and everyone considered them steady and together. Jamie intended to change that, tonight, so he invited her to an upscale restaurant, one even celebrities occasionally frequented, and his luck would have it that one of those celebs happened to be there that night, making for a very distracted Maddie, who spent more time fangirling that actor, taking pictures of him, getting an autograph, than she did with Jamie.
That left him fuming, feeling rejected and not important enough, so much so that instead of the romantic night he had intended, immediately after dinner they ended up saying their goodbyes outside the restaurant and going to their respective homes, leaving Jamie to simmer sitting in his dark living room still upset about the evening’s progression – or lack thereof, trying to wash it down with a few beers.
The light intoxication mixed with his frustration made him grumpy, the constant hammering and other loud noises coming from the apartment next to his caused him to boil over.
He stormed over, banging on his neighbor’s door while loudly verbalizing his grievances.
“Hey buddy, would you mind being respectful and considerate to your neighbors and quit being so noisy?! Some of us have jobs to go to the next morning! What the hell are you doing in there anyway, you dumbass!?”
The door was being unlocked while some female voice reciprocated angrily
“Dumbass yourself! It’s not late at night, I am allowed to hammer around on the walls that I pay for until 11 PM – and it is only 9! How about you get a …”
The door swung open and both faced each other.
“Nicky?” Jamie could not have been more surprised to find his brand-new assistant here.
“Jamie?” by the look on her face and tone of her voice the feeling was mutual.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, letting her pull him inside and shutting the door after behind them other apartment doors been opened and nosy neighbors stuck their heads out, summoned by Jamie’s loud display of displeasure, that had echoed off the hallway walls.
“Apparently pissing you off by being a – allow me to quote “dumbass” unquote … nice going, by the way. Very Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.”
“Sorry, it’s been a rough day … had a few beers. I apologize, didn’t mean it. Are you moving in? Here?”
“No, I broke into this place, remodeled it, and now am banging nails into walls like a maniac – but shhh – don’t tell anyone, Sherlock. Yes, I live here. And what are you doing here at this hour in your state of emotional unravel?” Nicky asked.
“Evidently, I am your next-door neighbor.”
“What?! Why would one of our litigators live in this dump?!” she wondered.
“Well, probably the same reason as you. I was only just promoted, didn’t rake in any big money yet. Need help with anything?”
“No, I am mostly done.” she gestured around her.
Jamie looked around a very feminine apartment, that could easily be his sister Caitlin’s. The smell of paint and new carpet was strong.
“Nice. Last time I saw this place it looked nothing like this. Was a serious dump!”
“Tell me about it. I feel like Bob Vila and Martha Stewart had a baby and I am the baby. Purely out of necessity, not passion. I am glad this is over with!”
“Well, you did a great job, baby Martha-Bob Junior.” Jamie chuckled.
“This is really weird. I am not sure I like living in the same building with co-workers.”
“Well, technically I am your boss, not a co-worker. Does that make it better?”
“Makes it worse.”
“Well, I won’t tell if you won’t. Just give me fair warning when you have a housewarming so I know to hide.”
“Ha ha ha … no housewarming. My boss doesn’t pay me well enough and the renovation ate up all I had saved.”
“Your boss has nothing to do with your salary. That’s all HR. I don’t even have a first guess what you get paid and you were just assigned to me. Sorry.”
Jamie looked around a little and she noticed his gaze halted on her X-Box One console.
“Do you play?” she asked.
“Heck yeah. I beat anyone at any game known to mankind.”
“Not everyone. You are not gonna beat me at anything. In fact, you are going down, boss-man. I even let you pick the game – any of them you like.”
“Oh, just you wait. Biggest mistake of your life!”
They played the computer game, cursing, laughing, nudging each other to throw the other off the game.
It was so much fun hanging out with Nicky. He won, but she wasn’t a sore loser and just laughed about it.
Still chuckling about their laughter filled evening together as he was laying in bed later that night, his best friend Gavin’s comment from many months back came to Jamie’s mind “…you need another girl-that’s-just-a-friend like you need a hole in the head…” he had said, about Maddie at the time, but it still held true today.
He needed to do something drastic, but what? Right now he was too sore about Maddie, even though he already regretted the way the evening had gone.
When after yet another week of very late nights with too much work, Maddie cancelled on him last minute on the one day he managed to somehow get away from the law firm at a decent hour, it pissed Jamie off something fierce. By now they had not seen each other in almost two whole weeks and barely communicated beyond a few brief texts.
Then the law firms’s HR department sent him an email about finally taking his unused accumulated vacation or lose it for good, he requested time off immediately and booked the first thing that caught his attention. Some adventure vacation that was sure to keep him occupied enough and by the time he would get back, the cobwebs would have been blown from his brain and he would be focused again. And maybe Maddie would realize what it would be like when he was gone.
And there he was now, in the jungle. And what an experience it would be.
Once back home he felt rejuvenated and a surge of energy and confidence. Before he even unpacked, he immediately called Maddie to meet up, she agreed right away and told him she’d come to his place. He showered, put on nice clothes, made sure he was clean shaven and all was just perfect.
Then he got the wine out, two glasses, and waited for her. He had the clarity he had needed, after his trip. He had missed Maddie a lot, and tonight was going to be special for both of them. A night to remember. He was going to go for it and make them official. And after a suitable time as a couple, he was going to pop the question. Maybe just in time for New Year’s. It was late summer now. He was in his mid-twenties and it was high time to start getting serious about life. Most of his friends were engaged by now or even already married. He needed at least a real relationship to show for.
Filled with anticipation, he was giddy when he opened the door, but could tell by her behavior that something was up. She barely returned his kiss, instead she pulled away.
“Jamie, don’t … please … I have something to talk to you about.”
Something was off here. He said nothing, just stared at her. This part already didn’t go as planned.
“We need to talk, Jamie.” Maddie said, softly, but determined.
BAM! There was that sentence every man knew to dread. Whatever succeeded those words was rarely ever good. Instantly, alarm bells went off in Jamie’s head.
In his mind he quickly ran down a list of possible topics. There were a lot and few of them great. Pregnant? Terminal illness? Lost her job? Lost her home? Lost a family member?”
“Okay …” he mumbled, an uneasy feeling creeping through his body.
“Jamie, this is not easy for me to say, you and I had a good thing going …” she started, and instantly he interrupted her.
“Yes, had. Look, you are a great guy, smart, witty, attractive… but I think we are best where we started out at, as friends – and – there is someone else. I am sorry, Jamie, I didn’t mean for it to happen. I was confused by you, we got so close to leveling up so many times, yet, nothing ever happened. Then that night of your promotion you were such a douchebag to me out of nowhere. I mean, how often do you run into your favorite actor at dinner? Your jealousy and pouting really put me off and next thing I know – you are M.I.A. I got so worried I had to ask Gavin, who finally told me you went on a vacation. Without even a single word to me that you were leaving. That reminded me too much of Michael, my jealous ex-boyfriend from college, so I decided to pull the plug and opened myself up to other opportunities. One of them took flight really fast. I decided to jump in with both feet and have a real relationship again. My new boyfriend is a really decent guy, with a little girl to take care of, her mother – his wife, died in child birth. You would like him. But I am really sorry about us.”
“Sorry?! You are sorry?! This is so ridiculous! For once not everything was about you and going at your speed, and you run and find someone else in just a little over two/three weeks – with an instant family?! Besides, welcome to 2020, relationships are not a one-way-street anymore, you know, emancipation and all, so why did YOU not make it official if I was taking too long?! Huh?!” Jamie exploded loudly.
“Jamie, our relationship was spinning its tires regardless of who did what. You are still so unguided and without any clear path in life, you simply do not even know what you want. No wonder you never had a real relationship, only millions of dates! You cannot commit to anything or anyone long term. Just not mature enough …”
“GET OUT!” Jamie growled, angrily.
“Jamie, I am REALLY sorry. Maybe when you are done being mad at me, we can be friends again.” she said quietly, her tone reflecting sadness.
When she realized Jamie was done with the conversation – and with her – she quietly walked towards his door.
“I really am sorry Jamie.”
After she had left, Jamie spent a good few minutes just cursing.
What just happened?
Jamie shook his head, strummed angrily on his guitar, which didn’t even take the edge off, so he emptied the liquor cabinet onto his coffee table and decided he would turn all those half-full bottles – almost left over from the last few parties with his friends – into completely empty ones that very night.
The next morning a severe urge to use the bathroom woke him up, as soon as he blinked open his eyes they were met by painful brightness and instantly he cringed. A hangover from hell was shaking his aching brain into a pudding.
Trying to get up turned his insides upside down, making him regret everything instantly, when the first wave of pain and sickness subsided he waddled into his bathroom. As soon as he opened the door he winced, startled.
“Oh boy, this is awkward. Forgot to lock the door.” a blonde girl of a more rustic build mumbled, only in her underwear.
“Who are the hell are you?!” escaped Jamie’s lips, confused.
“I am Annie.”
“What Annie? I do not know any Annies!”
“Annie, from college? We were in the same study group. I gave you my number in the second or third semester, and last night you finally called me. Why are you being so weird right now?” she wondered, the sound of her voice and her mere existence was making Jamie cringe as much as her words.
“I sank to booty call level?! Literally an order-in one-night-stand – with YOU?!” Jamie didn’t even hide his displeasure and near disgust with the situation.
“What are you talking about, Jamie. You told me you had missed me and that I was beautiful.”
“Of course I did, I was probably drunk and horny. Had I told you that I thought you are some chunky monkey one in a million type you would hardly have put out!” Jamie growled very ungallantly, hurting from the hangover and losing Maddie, so his reflex was to verbally roundhouse kicked his way through this awkward situation, while Annie began to fight tears.
“Are you kidding me right now!?! You are an asshole, Jamie!” she hissed, then slammed the bathroom door in Jamie’s face and locked it.
“Hey wait! I need to pee! Bad!” he ran after, banging against the locked door.
“I do not care, you douche bag! Hold it out the window or whatever!” came from the other side of the door.
He grimaced, it was really urgent by now, plus he felt guilty for the horrible things he said to that girl.
“Hey Annie, for what it’s worth, I am sorry. You definitely deserved better than me right now. You are beautiful. And I AM and asshole.”
Jamie sighed, put on his gym clothes and went next door, his bladder about to detonate inside of him. This nature call was well beyond urgent.
When Nicky opened, looking surprised he pushed past her into the apartment.
“Terribly sorry, I really have to go pee or I’ll explode. I’ll explain later!” he rushed into her bathroom, past a very surprised Nicky.
“Heyyy!” she protested.
After he relieved himself and washed his hands he turned towards the door just a little too quickly, his stomach instantly revolted. He spend the next few minutes hugging the toilet bowl.
Once his stomach settled down, he ran cool water over his face, feeling as if he had been run over by a dump truck, also not looking forward to having to face Nicky now, knowing that there was no easy way to explain this away.
He was received by the seductive scent of strong coffee.
“You look like you needed one.” Nicky said as she placed the cup on the counter before him.
“Thank you. And sorry for pushing my way in like I did, thanks for the bathroom and sorry about my puking. I cleaned up after myself.”
Nicky just gave him that look that made him question his bad choices, before he knew it, he sat there telling her every detail …