Welcome to PAD's World.

I don't own anything, Stephenie Meyer, but I love borrowing her stuff.

This is for my dear friend, Bornonhalloween, for her birthday.

(To those of you rereading this, please make note of the changes and additions. I hope they are all for the better. Please let me know either way.)


Chapter One


I'm sixty-seven floors up in a corner office worth dying for and a skyline that won't quit.

It's too bad I never get to enjoy it.

If I'm not buried in meetings, I'm swamped with proposals.

Consulting is demanding.

There's just never enough time in the day, but if by chance there is, I scurry around my office like a fat rat seeking fine food in a French restaurant, one that's never happy and never sated.

Like the rat, I always want more, meaning more for my clients. This means I always demand more, more from me. In turn, I drive myself crazy trying to obtain perfection that is already perfect. Then I obsess over all of the things I can do better that I've already done.

Then I fix all that is perfect and everything done until I can't see straight and sulk over the shame of it on my ride home, dialing for take-out or zapping what's frozen once I get there. Then I seek the comfort of my cushy love seat and curved TV screen which, sadly, are the only things greeting me.

I don't even have a goldfish.

As I think on it, I really wish I had something more . . . something more who was really someone.

I keep telling myself it's why I'm doing this. I need the constant reminder, the warning that my addiction to my job isn't good. It's why I'm going there—to that place. It's why I need a kick in the pants here and now to solve my problem.

Then maybe that someone will want to put up with some of me and hopefully, eventually, all of me, so I can start a life—outside of work.

.

.

.

Today's not a good one to be worrying about this. I truly have no time to spare as I race around my office, ensuring things are in place for my return. Switching to a comfortable pair of heels from my painful designer ones proves almost deadly as I lose my balance and nearly crash into my custom-made credenza with its attached "hutch of fame".

"Attagirl" plaques and other knickknacks topple, falling on me while I cope with the searing burn from just jamming my toe.

I hope I didn't scrape the leather on my shoe.

Add a crunch to my knee from an unruly drawer handle while pulling away, and I scream.

"Son of a bitch!"

I don't have enough minutes or hands to rub my injuries, so I slip on the remaining heel, straighten my fallen accolades, and remember to grab my clutch before limping out of my suite.

Given my foul mood, I may have just accidently slammed shut my imported mahogany door, startling only a handful of knowing colleagues but scaring demons out of everyone else.

Hobbling to the elevators, I get stares but no comments."

They wouldn't dare.

.

As I await the elevator I contemplate my anticipated appointment, the one plaguing me since I awoke. It might prove too much, given the day I've already had coupled with my dinner meeting tonight. I consider calling and cancelling, but in the thirty-seven seconds it takes for the golden doors to ding open, I think I've woman-ed up, making my decision.

Weighing the pros and cons like a ref judging a title bout between two evenly matched heavyweights isn't easy, but throwing down the towel, accepting I need to concede, is even harder.

I hate concessions.

My head already has a major dent. My toe's going to be three times its size, and my knee hurts like the Devil.

The way I figure, things can't get much worse, and though I may not win the bout, I'll at least win this round.

My stockings didn't snag!

.

The ride to the lobby gives me time to think. It gives me time to reflect on how this all began . . . .

"I'm sorry, Ms. Swan, but there isn't much more I can offer you, regarding conventional treatments. I understand you're open to trying additional pharmaceuticals to lessen your symptoms, but unfortunately, there aren't many more I can prescribe that won't give you uncomfortable side effects."

Another defeat.

"What about unconventional options? Can you suggest anything there?" I force my optimism.

Please say you have something else for me in your medical bag of tricks.

"It's interesting you should ask. I just received news this morning of an upcoming study seeking participants. I'll be straight with you. The method being employed is extreme, but for your situation, maybe we need to step outside the box—though only if you're game . . ."

My doctor hands me a spit bucket, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

"The rest will be up to you."

.

I reason I'm still here, without offing myself or becoming institutionalized, so I guess I should be happy my doctor opted for giving me the bucket instead of throwing in the towel.

Back then, stepping outside of that proverbial box was more like stepping inside the ring—with both of those prizefighters! It was quite humbling, extremely embarrassing, and very humiliating. Thinking about that moment a few months ago when I agreed to this makes me wonder why I'm still at it.

Desperation to get well.

.

I proceed from the elevator with a slight limp and walk forty-nine steps over the extravagant marble and granite tiles, easing up only when my foot begins to throb. Tiny fleur-de-lis accents, reminding me of my granddad's time as a Boy Scout master, dot the floor.

I never noticed them before.

The shoes I'm wearing meekly tap the polished stone. Gone is the clack of commanding heels I hear most days—the ones showing others who's boss.

Diminished, I feel no sense of authority as I pass through the ornate revolving door and head toward my destination,

It's unsettling.

This ridiculous form of "therapy" has stripped me of that—my power—and has me coping with a wave of nausea, considering what will be happening once I get there.

.

Outside on the concrete sidewalk, I stand still and crane my neck, looking up at the façade of my ivory tower—the east side high rise I'm proud to have risen up through the ranks to be in. Thinking on this, I lower my head and question if this level of authority is honestly worth giving up a personal life.

Finally, I sigh, contemplating the fact that I'll probably still be working here when I'm chronologically old and hiding my gray, without children, grandchildren, or a man with whom I'd share my time.

I have my answer.

.

I hail a cab and immediately feel more queasiness—the burning, oozing, fizzing type of discomfort that not even a bottle of antacid or a box of baking soda will remedy. Short of stomach pumping, I think I'm stuck with it for the next few hours. I just hope it goes by quickly.

I didn't think to bring a vomit bag.

.

It would be easier for me to accept that a co-worker slipped drain cleaner into my coffee than to digest the true reason for the knot presently tying itself in my gut.

This isn't me; I no longer give in to what others want.

Every time I think about the uncomfortable situation in which I've placed myself—especially on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons—I realize I'm stuck facing it. Short of a medical emergency or some family catastrophe, I'm committed to seeing this through.

I wish there were an easier way.

.

My mustard-colored chariot is next in queue, and I hustle toward it, asserting myself while discouraging others. "One Professional Park Square, Cullen Solutions," I command while quickly stepping in, wasting no time arm-wrestling the creaking, squeaking, impossible door, fending off another cab seeker because I'm definitely not willing to share my space or make small talk with another person while being chauffeured there.

I sense judgment from my bearded, turban-wearing driver as he flashes his amber eyes while wrinkling his snubbed nose reflecting toward me in the rearview mirror.

I don't have any doubt he's displaying his disgust over the location I've chosen.

It's bad enough going to a place conducting clinical experiments, let alone having someone impose his criticism, thinking I'm just another mouse they are using.

Is that what I am?

Maybe I shouldn't be so quick in mentally condemning him.

.

I'm sure this guy has seen his share of alcoholics, junkies, and hookers there, at One Square, hanging out, seeking drug money as they sell the little use left of their brains for a quick fix. I guess scientists presume these are the best candidates to make sacrifices, contributing toward the betterment of mankind. Luckily, the side of the building I'm going has kept me away from most of them, those destitute, undesirable types. I only wish it would keep me away from the clinicians, too. I'm not sure I'd still be coming here if another off-putting condition were given me, making this ordeal even more uncomfortable. Considering this, I try calming myself by sitting back and resting my eyes. I can only hope the the ride is peaceful but thankful, nonetheless, the car is clean.

Having to carry a drop cloth in my handbag to place atop a filthy backseat does not make for a pleasant ride or good service.

.

I feel we're getting closer; I can tell by the noise. The traffic is lighter with fewer brakes squeaking, horns honking, or expletives flying. My slightly lowered window is letting in better air, too. I don't smell as much rubber from tires or diesel exhaust from trucks stopping and going, so I open my eyes and lower the glass a little more. As I turn my sight to the road ahead, my eyes are startled when finding the smile cast back in the driver's mirror. I place my fingers over my lips to verify it's truly mine. Unsure why I am seeing what I'm seeing, I surmise my grinning has something to do with how much more acutely aware my senses have become. They are in tune with everything I can't see and even some that I can. My conclusion is this must be a residual effect from the study.

I'm not sure how to process something positive, such as this.

.

I get more anxious as we get closer, so I meditate, practicing the exercises given me, hoping to ease some of the ills added to my list of somatic complaints. Tense and relax. Tense and relax. I say it, willing my stress to dissipate and float away as it exits my fingertips. Thinking about this technique has me digressing, wondering if watching Lamaze classes would actually help; I can just see myself on a cab ride doing "hoos and hees."

Even if never bearing children, I could at least say I had some of the experience.

.

Now centered, and a bit less tense, I'm actually enjoying my ride and becoming more absorbed with my surroundings.

While stopped at a traffic light, I smell the sweet, woody scent of shedding leaves, decaying, and find it oddly comforting. Other leaves shaken free by a brisk wind, swirl overhead, darting and swooping like a flock a birds before a gentle breeze takes over, slowly releasing them to the ground. At the next light, a little more confetti falls peacefully yielding, softly pitter-pattering, and gracefully drifting to the ground. I open my eyes wider, not wanting to miss the playful dots of impressionist color, the yellows, umbers, ochers, and crimsons I rarely see in the city as the trees gently hand over their control to winter, control that trades their warmth and color for the cold and gray.

I shudder, thinking about another lonely season devoid of everything.

.

If someone were to tell me I'd be doing this a few months ago, I would have laughed myself to happy tears, thinking of the absurdity. Yet, when I began processing this back then, I had tears of a different kind, the kind that told me not only how successful and insulated my professional career was, but also how pathetic and alienated my personal life had become. Although I no longer cry about it now, I'm still too ashamed to talk about this with anyone outside of the people setting up this experiment. And with them, it's only because I have to.

It stinks being incapable of revealing my on-goings to my few friends, but wonder, nonetheless, how they'd judge me if I did. And if keeping this from them seems challenging, it's been nearly impossible, not blurting it to the one person mattering most, my mother. A knife twists in me each time I lie, betraying her trust, but in the end, I realize I could never tell her what I've been doing. She's given me nothing but complete and absolute love, praise, and acceptance; it would shatter her if she knew I were doing something so reprehensible. Despite knowing this, my wicked curiosity still piques, wondering how that hypothetical tête-à-tête would go:

"Oh, Bella, it's so great to see you!"

"It's great to see you, too, Mom!"

"Tea is steeping in the kitchen. Hang up your things, kick off your shoes, and come join me."

"So, I see you haven't changed anything in here; no remodeling, new appliances, or even dishes."

"You know me, sweetie, I'm partial to keeping things just as they are. I don't need fancy and really hate change."

"That's what I've always admired about you. You're low maintenance and you know it!"

"Well, Ms. Nordstrom, at one time I could have said the same thing about you!"

"Ouch! I guess I had that coming!"

"Sugar is on the counter. Lemons are in the fridge. Cups are in the cupboard, and scones are on the cooktop. Remember, I'm your mother, not your maid, doorman, or administrative assistant. Grab what you need and drag your butt over to the sofa."

"Gee, I love you, too, Mom!"

"Here, set down your cup and plate on the coffee table, and put this towel over your thousand dollar skirt."

"How did you know how much it cost?"

"I didn't, but I know you and would like to think, at one time, knew you better."

"Yeah, I deserve that."

"So tell me, pretty, city girl, how are things with work?"

"Actually, they're fine. I got that promotion I was telling you about. I'm now head of consulting"

"That's wonderful! Good for you! You work hard. Too hard! But you still deserve it. You aren't too stressed about the added responsibilities, are you? I hope you're still taking care of yourself."

"No, things are good."

"Are you getting enough sleep and eating well?"

"Yes, of course."

"I'm glad to hear that. Are there any other things you'd like to share, like maybe a new man in your life; engagement rings and wedding bells, perhaps?"

"Way to pressure me, Ma. We have this discussion every time I see you."

"That should be telling you something! Need I remind you? I still have all this dormant grandma in me, waiting to erupt, spewing lava over all of her grandchildren."

"Well, I truly wasn't planning on telling you this, Mom . . . though it's really funny you should ask . . . so here's the thing. I've been going through a bit of a rough spot but think I'm actually doing much better since being part of this clinical study. You see, I'm getting fucked by the same strange man a few times each week, and golly gee, life couldn't be any peachier."

Yeah, I can definitely see that conversation going over swimmingly, considering my mother almost became a nun.


A/N:

What is the deal with this stranger?

Would you ever consider this type of study?

Please share your words, conveying your thoughts.


Thank you, Chayasara. My post-beta stubbornness is mine.


If I can find my groove, I'll try updating some of my other stories. If you are new to me, check me out there. Unhinged will be winding down. The squeaky wheel will get my grease. Tell me what you like, and I'll see what I can do.

Come find me on Facebook as Penni Anne Daben.


Thank you for reading and leaving me your love.

PAD