Robert was already spitting venom just moments before when they got off the cab on a rainy afternoon. After waiting twenty minutes in silence to get a table at the Gin&Jacket, Natalie hoped the conversation in the cab would be nothing but a faded memory, like a half-forgotten dream.
It didn't happen. He was still seething.
Natalie didn't appreciate his tone at all, but still she sat there calmly waiting for him to lash out some more. Maybe he just needed to let it out. She brushed her hair back with her fingers, untangling them as she rested her elbow on the table. She needed to do something, and her long, straight hair was just about the only thing in her life she could control.
“She said she wanted you to have it all, but really, she just wanted to punish you; make you work for it and see if you would survive the whole thing. You can’t even begin to know the damage you've caused from your own complacency, ” Robert didn't even bother to stop to breathe in between his sentences.
"My mother? Punish me? Complacency?" She echoed. "I am not..." In contrast to Robert, Natalie had lost her ability to even finish a single sentence.
It was always her fault. Now her heart pounded loudly, and she wanted to throw her vodka tonic to his face and smash the glass on his head. Instead she bit her lip.
|Girl, don't you dare throw that expensive drink on him! He's not worth it!|
Breathe, she told herself.
She didn't say a word at all. She sat there listlessly and took out a crisp, hundred-dollar bill, which was enough to cover both of their drinks, plus a generous tip to the cocktail waitress.
She looked at him straight in the eye and still without saying a word, she told him to go to hell.
Then she put her coat on and walked out the door. She never looked back. She was making a deliberate choice to take a chance.
She may be young but she’s not stupid. She knew when someone was baiting her. It was obvious he was just waiting for her to react a certain way so that she could lose it. In public. She almost did, but she didn’t want to play that game with him anymore.
Especially not him. Robert was a master manipulator, skilled in puppeteering humans for a living. A handsome, scruffy food and beverage critic and consultant, Robert schmoozed his way to the top with fine dining patrons and restaurateurs in New York City. He was used to getting the finer things in life handed to him on a silver platter. Literally.
|Fancy Dining Handed To Him on a Silver Platter (Casa Monica St. Augustine)|
She couldn’t allow herself to take in anything from him now. She needed to get away from him. Years of verbal abuse made her numb and that was to her advantage. She didn’t look back because she didn't feel anything. She was going to go ahead and do it anyway.
It was her call, not his. Nobody could make her change her mind; not even him. He no longer had power over her. She no longer allowed her feelings for him to take control.
Finally, Natalie was now the cold, distant bitch that he had always called her when he was in his tirade of insults.
She rememebered her happier times when she would tell him, “You could make a living doing that kind of thing.”
“I suppose I could,” he responded, sheepishly. “But I never thought about it, until now.”
She realized now that he knew all along what he wanted to do for a living, but he, as a master manipulator, he wanted her to think that she was the one who came up with the idea in the first place.
He really was a snake, and she should have listened to everyone else who saw this coming. She felt so stupid, but she couldn’t regret her choices now. She just needed to keep walking. In the cold busy streets, it was loud. Street vendors calling her attention, cabs honking, pedestrians whistling, everyone hustling, she was slowly fading. Everyone’s pace got faster each step she took. She couldn’t catch up with the rest of them.
After walking several blocks, she finally decided to hail a cab back to the loft.
“35th and 5th, please,” she called out to the driver.
She leaned against the window but felt something peculiar in her seat. She dug under and realized that she had found a diamond bracelet in the back of the car.
“Excuse me, sir,” she called out to the driver. But he kept driving. The foreign radio was loud and he stared straight ahead.
She examined the jewelry a little bit closer. Maybe it’s CZ. Nobody would miss this. She hoped it was the real thing, though. It could be just her ticket out of this mess. She needed to pay them back soon as the deadline is fast approaching. She didn’t want to mess with the loan sharks. She needed the money. They came to a stop light.
|"Is this for real? Lost and found in a NYC taxicab!" Napoleon Diamond Necklace|
She hurriedly threw a few bucks at the driver and said, “This is my stop after all. Keep the change.”
She walked into a shady pawn shop and immediately asked how much she could get for it. The store owner quietly inspected it, looked at her, and then brought in an expert.
“I’ll buy it for two grand.”
“No way,” she said instinctively. “This thing is worth 7k at least. I’ll sell it for 4.”
She was a skilled negotiator. She watched her mother make deals and haggle with merchants when she was very young. It really helped her later on in her life, so she walked out of the shop without the cash that she desperately needed. She held out for more and held on to the diamond necklace. It will come in handy.
On the following Friday, she packed her bags and planned her escape. With some of the liquid cash she stole from their joint bank account, she could disappear and lay low for a couple of weeks before anybody noticed. She packed as little as possible and made her way to Grand Central Station.
She planned to buy a one-way bus ticket to as far away as possible. She needed to get away from there, and she didn’t care where she went. She had to leave. It didn’t matter where. She would just figure it out from there.
She got on the bus and placed her bag in the overhead bin. She couldn’t erase the memory of the stain on the wall. It was too much to forget, yet she knew that in order to move forward, she needed to face her demons. She didn’t mean to hurt anyone. She had enough of being a pushover. She was so tired of always having to be pleasant and happy towards others as was expected of her. They didn’t know that she was dying inside. She wasn’t happy.
She was miserable and needed to find a way out of it. She considered killing herself but that lasted about a minute. She knew she simply wanted another life. Another way out. Nobody else could help her but herself.
She had to do something drastic, but she didn’t know she had it in her to assault a man twice her size. She took the money, grabbed the bracelet, and ran out of the pawn shop. She wasn’t going to die that way. No way.
She settled herself in a window seat in one of the back rows. As soon as she sat down, she put on her headphones. Closing her eyes and drowning out the mundane chatter around her, she slipped back in time remembering her happier moments.
It was a cool, fall morning. Traveling overseas for the first time with her mother, she was nearly six years old. During their month-long trip from California to New York, they went to a park overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge to take a few pictures. She marveled at the rows of trees and stopped in awe of autumn leaves. They were an amazing blend of red, orange, yellow, and brown.
Having lived in the Pacific in her childhood, it was the first time she discovered that leaves could actually change colors. In her country, where the season stayed the same, the leaves always stayed green. Her heart always felt a little lighter whenever she went back to that momentarily delight as a little girl. It made such a lasting impression on her.
There was something so pure with the simplicity of jumping on a pile of crunchy leaves for the very first time with a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge. She would never forget that.
A couple of years ago, when she cleaned out her mom’s house shortly after she passed away, she found pictures of that sweet moment. Hidden behind some of those pictures were beautifully pressed leaves, leaving a faded blend of the brown and red. She saved them for her, after all those years because there really was something magical about them.
“Eva? Eva Ling?” She was startled at the voice that woke her up. It had been so long since anybody called her that name. Her real name. She had been used to Natalie, her American alter-ego ever since her first day at work in the art gallery a few years ago.
“Irene?” The lights had already dimmed in the bus, but she noticed her signature blonde streaks that highlighted her hair.
Irene didn’t bother to ask if the seat next to her was taken. She just took it, which was an old habit Evelyn got used to when they were roommates at NYU.
“Where are you going?” She asked.
“I’m not sure yet. Probably the last stop.”
“Forget about the last stop. Come with me.”
“Where are you going?”
“Doesn’t matter where. It’s what I’m going to do.”
“What is it?”
Squealing with youthful delight, she said, “I’m going to seduce the world!”
“I thought you already seduced the entire rugby team!”
Irene laughed and took it as a compliment. “Eva Ling, your insults always crack me up, but no, honey, it’s more ambitious than the rugby team this time."