Fool’s Gold

I originally wrote this work for based on the prompt “Write about someone who books a bargain vacation, only to be told when they arrive that they need to share a hotel suite with a stranger.” because I was dying to write the, “and there was only one bed cliche.” When I realized there was no reason for this character to be there, I tried to justify it and it took a dark turn. Discussions of psychologically abusive relationships.

This was it. The moment that my life had turned into a romantic cliché. This one being “and there was only one bed”.

 I had known it was too good to be true when my friend Lara had turned up after eight months of radio silence and offered me her ticket. A 10-day long vacation in Hawaii, and all I had to pay was my own airfare. She had assured me that the rest was covered, an all inclusive actually. It had been a Valentine’s gift pre-purchased for the woman who had turned down her Christmas proposal. She had considered going alone, but was too heartbroken to enjoy the vacation. I asked her about her fiancée to be, but Lara claimed it was too hard to talk about right now.

I turned Lara down initially. I wouldn’t even be able to get vacation of such short notice, we had been nose to the grindstone for months. Then three days later I got the news that they were shutting down the company for two weeks. The project we had just finished was the only one we had for the month. 

They assured us that we weren’t shutting down for good. There was work in March, too much work actually, but not one of the projects could be pulled up. They were laying off all of the staff.  Unless of course you chose to take your vacation instead, which was highly recommended. The lay off was effective immediately. We were to pack up and head home. I spent the next hour in line at the HR office with the rest of my colleagues to book vacation. I did after all have three and a half weeks built up that I was never able to use, and well, I didn’t want to lose it if things went even further south.

When I got home I opened my computer in a daze and checked my messages. One caught my eye, “Still time to reconsider…” When I popped it open, and realized it was a link for a discount flight to Hawaii leaving Friday, from Lara, it seemed like fate. It was Wednesday now, and without work I had plenty of time to get ready. Checking the flight schedule, I would leave a 3am on Friday, and get back at 11pm on the Monday, giving me a day to recover before I had to be back at work on Wednesday. It was to too good to be true, and that was the thought that rang through my head each step of the way.

When I stepped off the plane and found it a full 50 degrees warmer than when I stepped on, I finally let myself relax a bit. That was a mistake. Now here I was standing in a room with a stranger, and only one bed.

The stranger wasn’t actually a complete stranger. It turned out that that it was Lara’s ex, the one she was heartbroken over. Apparently when she cancelled her own plane ticket, Lara hadn’t cancelled Camille’s, and so the airline had contacted her about the flight. Upon discovering that Lara hadn’t been able to cancel the trip, Camille had decided to go alone.   She stood, smirking at me, as if this was all one huge joke.

“I, um, sorry, like not to judge, but you aren’t like upset about this?” I asked, gesturing to myself. 

“No, no, its classic Lara really.  She never follows through, not all the way.” Bold words for someone who turned down a marriage proposal. As if she read my mind, she continued.

“You are her oldest friend, and you didn’t find it odd in the slightest that she wanted to get married, and we hadn’t even met. Had she even mentioned me? Did you know my name even?” Camille demanded.

“Uh, well, no, but when she’s in a relationship, Lara, she.” I didn’t want to say ditched her friends, went dark, but the implication was there nonetheless.

“Exactly. I know about you though. Your name is joseph, you and Lara grew up together. You’re gay, or at least she thinks you are, and that you are hiding it from her. You gave yourself the nickname Joey because you thought his character was cool, and by the time you were old enough to realize he wasn’t, you were stuck with it. You work 60 hours a week, and don’t get paid overtime, and Lara thinks that makes you a doormat.

Because when it comes down to it Lara doesn’t understand passion. She doesn’t get t living for what you do, that the 20 hours a week extra in the office can be fulfilling. Lara doesn’t work like that. She works on control. When you are with her, you do what she wants to do, because when it comes down to it, its her way or the highway. You obviously are fine with that, but I wasn’t. 

I wasn’t okay with being her dirty little secret either. What Lara probably didn’t tell you was that while we were together for 8 months, we worked together for closer to 8 years. Did she ever tell you about her work?”

At my pause she nodded, as if it were confirmation and continued. “Ya, that’s what I thought. At work Lara is a force to be reckoned with. She takes no prisoners, and does whatever it takes to get the job done, and I do mean whatever it takes. I, I am ashamed to admit some of the things that I helped her do over the years. It was brutal.” She took a shuddering breath before continuing.  

“She flirted with me for months before I finally agreed to a date. I have to admit, the attention was flattering. After a while though, it turned a little more intense and well… She outranked me you know. 

So I agreed to a single date, and honestly it was great. When she asked for another I agreed, and from there it was a whirlwind. Amazing restaurants, beautiful gifts, surprise vacations, it was like winning the lottery. She told me everything about her life, her hopes, her, dreams, and her friends, like you. 

It took a while to realize, you know, that I hadn’t actually met any of these amazing people.  We had agreed to keep it quiet at work until we knew where it was going, but she swore she had told the people in her life. She would promise to let me meet you, her family, everyone, but something always came up. They couldn’t make it, there was a scheduling conflict, then you had a project that would last the entire month, maybe next month…” She stopped with a sigh. “And you knew nothing about any of this…. did you?”

I shook my head; Lara hadn’t even told me she was seeing someone. I guessed as much when I didn’t hear from her for a while, she always popped back up, eventually.

“Then I realized that she was doing it to me too. Every time I wanted to see my mom, my brother, my oldest friends something came up. A last-minute trip, a reservation that couldn’t be cancelled, or front row seats to a sold-out show. Eventually they stopped asking, they knew I was seeing someone, and they just assumed it was the “honeymoon phase”. 

The next thing I knew it was Christmas, and she had whisked me off to a private chalet and was asking me to marry her. I didn’t say yes, I mean I didn’t say no at first either. Then she started taking about the colors she wanted, and the dresses, and a destination wedding, just the two of us, and I realized that this was it. If I said yes, this would be the rest of my life just her and me doing whatever she wanted. And I couldn’t do it, so I told her I had to think about it. She left, and I don’t mean the room, or the chalet, I mean she went home.

She left me there with all our stuff, and no car, and no way home. I stayed the night waiting for her to come back. Finally I packed up, and had to call an uber to get to a car rental. When I showed up she was just sitting there, and her face softened when she saw me. I thought she was going to apologize, beg forgiveness for abandoning me two and a half hours away from home. The worst part is if she had, I probably would have forgiven her. If she had given me the time to think it over, I probably would have married her. But instead, instead she came up, reached out, caressed my cheek with her palm and told me she forgave me. She understood that it was a shock, and she was glad to see that I had come to my senses.  She couldn’t wait for me to be her wife.

And it was like a revelation, like all of a sudden I could see her for what she was, not what she was pretending to be. So I said no, and she flipped, and screamed and yelled, and then she just looked at me. And it was like she saw it wasn’t working, so she stopped.  She just went blank, and she calmly, and quietly told me I had three hours to pack my stuff and get out or she was calling the police.  She said she would wait for my keys in the gym, and then she left.

It was the first time I was truly afraid of her. When I heard the elevator door close I started to cry. I wasn’t just scared, I was terrified. I called my brother hysterical. He brought his truck, and well she gave me three hours, but I was out in two. I left things behind, but I couldn’t go back. I called my doctor and managed to wrangle a sick note for the next few days, and then I had to go in and face her.” She sat heavily on the bed, as if this was weighing her down physically as well.

“I lost my job, did she tell you that, when she told you I turned her down. I was no longer representing the best image of the firm.” She said, tears and bitterness clouding her voice. “The worst part is that I didn’t even see it coming. I mean I was the idiot who agreed to stop working for other partners. Then I was the idiot standing there, gaping as she stood beside an HR rep outlining my absences, the ones she said were approved for our trips, receipts for office décor and lunches and mileage that I expensed on her say so. I was told that for the “reputation of the firm” I would be let go with a few weeks’ severance and no reference. If I signed the package along with the confidentiality clause now, they wouldn’t pursue misconduct. Words like embezzlement and charges were thrown around, and in the end I walked out with a security escort carrying a box of personal items from my desk, and a signed copy of my termination.  

I went from a six-figure income to minimum wage. I am living in my parent’s basement because Lara lied to me when she said she settled things with my former landlord, who now won’t give me a reference or even the time of day. When I got the call asking me if I was cancelling my flight as well, it just, it seemed like I could have one more good thing, you know?” Her voice broke, and I didn’t know what to say.

A part of me wanted to deny it, say that she was making the whole thing up, but there was a ring of truth to the whole story. The way Lara wouldn’t talk about work. The way she wouldn’t let us talk to the people she was dating. The way she always dropped off when she was seeing someone new, and then never spoke about them again after they were gone. Camille was right, Lara had always been in control of our relationship, and those of the few other friends we shared.  The ones that didn’t like it were long gone, and looking at this woman having a breakdown in front of me, I now wondered how amicable their leaving really was. Were their lives ruined as well? 

The strange part was that I was relieved. I had always wondered what someone like Lara, beautiful, successful, always seemingly perfect had seen in a poor average shmuck like me. She always stood by me, helping me, giving me things, getting things for me, and a part of me knew that there was something wrong there. That like this vacation, it was too good to be true, and like this trip, so was she. The other shoe had finally dropped, and I no longer had to wait for it.

I walked over and sat down beside Camille, hesitantly putting a hand on her back in what I hoped was consoling gesture. She leaned into me and cried, deep sobs, and I wrapped my arm around her, thinking to myself that this was going to be a very odd week.

For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!


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