Author's Note: Welcome to my very first multi-chapter fic! Thanks to EKSmith and miaokuancha for pre-reading. Stephenie Meyer owns all characters.
"Meeting adjourned. Thanks, everyone."
At those blessed words, I stand up and stretch. I have too much work to do to sit in meetings all day.
"Hey Bella, when do you think you'll have those numbers we talked about?" Bob Banner — my boss, and our CFO — asks as we file out of the conference room.
"I should have them to you by the end of the day," I reply. "By 4pm," I correct. "I have to leave a bit early today, remember."
"Oh of course, of course… well, get back to work. We've got to get the draft of the blue books to the printer by the end of the week."
I reach my office and sit heavily in my chair. It's 11am and I am already exhausted. Signing back in to my computer, I check my e-mail to find two dozen unread messages. Just accumulated during the one-hour meeting. Shaking my head, I resign myself to another scintillating lunch of a bag of chips and a Diet Pepsi at my desk.
Mid-afternoon, I stand in front of the mirror in the ladies room staring at my reflection as I wash my hands. The bags under my eyes are more pronounced than they've ever been. I need to start getting more sleep. My skin seems sallow, even more pale than usual. Even my long brown hair looks lifeless.
I pass the break room on the way back to my desk and grab another can of pop from the vending machine — I need the caffeine. My head has been throbbing for the last hour, so I down a couple Excedrin with my drink.
My eyes are crossing from comparing numbers across two spreadsheets — whoever invented dual monitors was a genius — when my phone rings, startling me.
"Hello… Yeah… yeah, I remember, I'll be out of here 4:15 at the latest… yes, I still need to order the cake and mail the invitations… hang on, let me grab a pen to write down the address…"
I quickly scribble the address for the printer's shop, then chew on the tip of my pen as I listen.
"Look, I gotta get these numbers out before I go… Love you, too. Bye."
I turn back to my spreadsheets… where the hell was I again?
After staring at the screens for another 15 minutes, I fix a few incorrect formulas and the numbers line up. Finally! I quickly dash off an e-mail to Bob explaining what I've attached. I check my Inbox again… 34 unread messages. Shit, it just never ends.
I spend a few minutes deleting the "item for sale" public messages and putting out any fires. By the time I shut down my laptop and slip into my coat, it's 4:20. Not too bad for me…
I head out to the parking garage and press the Unlock button on my key fob. I wearily slip into the driver's seat, buckle my seat belt and turn the key. God, I have such a headache.
I fiddle with the radio as I drive, finally settling on one of the satellite channels so I don't have to listen to those damn commercials that seem to come on every time I'm driving. After a few minutes, the '80s music channel starts playing "Drive" by the Cars. I don't remember the song from when it was a hit, but I do remember seeing the video for this song somewhere when I was a kid. It always haunted me.
As I reach my destination and pull into the parking lot about 10 minutes later, I am filled with this intense feeling of… dread. That's the only way to describe it. My mind is still stuck on the images in the music video of the sad girl in the mental institution — in a strait jacket. That will be me if I don't get off this merry-go-round — I know it.
I can't go on like this, running myself ragged, getting barely five hours of sleep a night. I'd give anything for a vacation… well, not like my last vacation, when I took my laptop along and ended up spending two hours a night on e-mail.
I can't do it anymore. I just… can't.
I quickly make a U-turn out of the lot and drive aimlessly down the street. I see a McDonald's up ahead — you can always count on those golden arches — and quickly signal then turn into their entrance. I pull into a parking space and shut off the ignition.
Leaning my head back onto the headrest, I close my eyes. God, it feels good to do that. How the hell did I get here? This isn't the life I envisioned for myself. I'm not cut out for this. Maybe it's better for everyone if I just… leave. Run away.
No. Don't run away — you are not a quitter. You can't do this, Bella. Think of—
I have to do this. I have to. For my own sanity.
I turn the key and shift out of Park, then slowly back out of my space and drive to the nearest exit. Once I am back on the main road, I drive a couple miles and turn off into my bank's parking lot.
Moving quickly now that I have a purpose, I walk into the bank and ask to speak with a manager. I explain to the tall, gray-haired man that I would like to close my account.
"I'll need two forms of identification, Ma'am," he says.
I pull my driver's license out of my purse and dig around on my keychain for the small silver key. "My birth certificate is in the safe deposit box," I reply, holding up the key.
Less than five minutes later, I show the manager my birth certificate and he produces some papers for me to sign.
"Could I take the balance in cash? I don't have any outstanding checks."
"Not all of it, I'm afraid. For your protection, we can only give you $5,000 now. Do you have a new account set up at another institution?"
"No, not yet," I respond.
"Well, when you find one, give us a call with the name and address of the bank, along with your new account number, and we'll wire you the money." He writes a number on my copies of the various papers. "This is your confirmation number; you'll need that when you call us back. Any questions?"
"No, I think that'll work," I smile.
"All right, let me get one of the tellers to get your cash."
I walk out of the bank feeling more free than I have in years. Almost giddy. I drive off, not sure of the best place to put part two of my plan into motion. And then I see a Best Buy sign up ahead in the distance — that could work. I pull into their parking lot and park at the far end of the row.
After shutting off the engine, I dig through my purse for a pen and something to write on. I scribble a note on an old ATM receipt, then leave it on the passenger seat along with my iPhone. I grab my purse and sunglasses, step out of the vehicle and lock the doors with the key fob.
Just across the street from Best Buy is a Ford dealership. I wait for the light and hurriedly cross the four lanes of traffic, wondering what time they close on Tuesdays. I sigh with relief when I make it to the door and see that this is one of the nights they're open late.
"Can I help you, Miss?" a particularly smarmy-looking salesman walks up to me and asks.
"Yes, I'd like to buy a car. Um, a used car," I stutter.
"Of course," he smiles. "And how much are you looking to spend?"
"Um, somewhere between $4,000 and $4,500, maybe?"
"Right this way."
Forty minutes later, I drive off the lot in a red 1998 Mustang with a sunroof. I've always wanted a sunroof…
When I spot the westbound entrance to the interstate, I take a deep breath and make the turn onto the ramp. This is it, Bella — no turning back now…
A/N: For those afraid of reading a WIP, please note that this fic is entirely pre-written. Regular postings will begin when I return from vacation on May 27.