Just to offer up proof to my poor readers that I have actually gotten some writing done lately, here’s the first chapter of the third book in The Handbook Series, The Stressed-Out Girl’s Handbook.
My head fell into my hands after I ended the call, thinking for the dozenth time that day that I simply couldn’t add one single more thing to my plate without my head exploding.
The resident-side door opened to the office and Sara walked in. A visit from my favorite resident and friend usually put me in a better mood. The guilty expression on her face said this would be a rare exception.
“Hey, Aspen. I need a small favor,” she began, “if you can squeeze it in tomorrow. I know you’re getting ready for classes to start Monday, and I wouldn’t ask if I had any way of getting there myself.”
I cringed internally, but Sara was the only reason I’d passed calculus last semester and I knew I would do whatever she needed of me. “Of course. What is it?”
“Monroe and I are booked all afternoon tomorrow checking out reception venues,” she began.
Frowning, I couldn’t help interrupting. “I thought you picked a place months ago.”
Sara sighed. “We did. And then a pipe burst and it flooded. The damage was pretty bad and they said there’s a chance repairs won’t be done in time, so we’re scrambling to find a new place.”
The more Sara got into planning her and Monroe’s wedding, the more I wanted to stay far away from marriage for the foreseeable future. “I’m sorry, Sara. That really sucks.”
She shrugged and shook her head. “Something was bound to go wrong. At least we still have a few months before the invitations have to go out.”
For a moment, she seemed lost in her thoughts, probably mentally running through the checklist she reviewed constantly to make sure she wasn’t overlooking something.
“So, what did you need me to do?”
Startled out of her thoughts, she chuckled. “Sorry, yeah. The photographer we booked wants to take a look at the church we’re holding the ceremony in to take some pictures and plan everything out. The only day the caretaker is available while the photographer is in town is tomorrow afternoon, of course. He won’t let the photographer wander around unescorted, and he’s too busy to do it himself.”
“What time?” I asked, trying to keep the wariness from my voice.
“Two,” Sara said in a tone that was hopeful the time wouldn’t be a major inconvenience.
I held back a sigh. “That’s totally fine.”
It wasn’t, but I would figure out how to make it work.
Sara leaned over the dividing wall and hugged me. “You’re a lifesaver!”
“No problem,” I said.
Sara didn’t catch the drop in my tone. After hurriedly giving me the address and contact info for the photographer, she rushed off to meet Monroe for some other wedding planning task. As soon as she disappeared form view, I sank into my chair.
My last weekend before the fall semester started was supposed to be relaxing. I’d even turned down invites from friends and classmates to go out and let loose a little before having to bury myself in lectures and assignments again. Ten minutes after I’d so no to a weekend of drinking and dancing, the calls, favors, and unexpected tasks had begun pouring in. I wasn’t even sure where I was supposed have time to eat at this point.
Plopping my chin onto my hand, I stared at the clock. Half and hour to go until the end of my shift. At least I would have the rest of the afternoon to catch up on cleaning and grocery shopping. I hated starting a new semester already feeling like I was behind. Sadie would be gone all weekend, thankfully. As a roommate, she wasn’t the worst, but she was far from the best either. If I didn’t get the apartment settled this weekend, it would be Christmas break before I had time to de-Sadie the place. Tidiness was not her best attribute. Neither was being quiet while endlessly playing video games.
The office phone rang and I snatched it up. The well-practiced, polite and cheerful greeting I’d perfected over the last year, spilled out of my mouth.
“Aspen,” my boss Archie said, “Cameron called in sick. I need you to stay until six.”
I balked, an absolutely not parked on my lips. I’d already covered for him twice over the past two weeks, and I had no doubt his illness was called going out to party with his friends.
“Is that a problem?” Archie prodded.
“No,” I said, deflated. “I’ll stay.”
He ended the call too quickly to hear my sigh. Cameron had worked here two years longer than I had, and despite his spotty track record of showing up on weekends, holidays, or nights when he’d rather be doing something else, Archie never made a big deal about his absences. Part of that was because I had never failed to cover one of Cameron’s missed shifts, but I suspected it was also because he reminded Archie of his grandson.
The fact that I was stuck here for another five hours meant I had plenty of time to make the call knew I would need to make after Sara’s request. I stared at my phone. Texting would be easier, but pointless. She’d never see it. Even if by some miracle she did see a text from me, replying was out of the question, so I would never know whether or not it had been received.
Phone call it was.
I unlocked my phone and immediately felt like it was mocking me. My call history was still up, the number I needed to call at the top of the list, as well as the next in line, and the next, and the next. She wasn’t going to be happy. I’d already agreed to help Sara, though, and that was more time sensitive. Not that she would see it that way when I told her I would be delayed.
The number stared back at me for several more minutes as I choose my words. By the time I finally made the call, I had rehearsed both side of the upcoming conversation and dreaded it even more.
She picked up on the third ring.
“Aspen, is everything all right? You’re still coming, aren’t you?”
Weariness spread through me at her panicked tone. “I’m still coming, but I’ll be a little later than expected.”
“How late? I need you here.”
She didn’t. Not really.
“Half an hour, maybe an hour,” I said. “I’ll be there, though. I promise.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that,” she argued.
I did, but saying so wouldn’t make this conversation end any quicker.
“It will be fine.”
She gulped in a worried breath. “I’d really rather you came at noon.”
“I can’t. I don’t even get off work until one. I already told you that.”
Her fear and frustration were almost audible. “I don’t like changes. You know that.”
Boy did I ever.
“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done to check in on you, okay?”
Several seconds passed in silence. “Are you sure you can’t come earlier?”
She sighed so long and deeply that I couldn’t resist rolling my eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay.” Her voice was morose, her single-word response stretched out.
I offered a quick goodbye and ended the call.
Tossing the phone down did little to ease the mounting stress. It was settling behind my eyes, promising a headache that would linger. I was tempted to lay my head down on the desk, nap and hide from any additional problems.
The office phone rang. I groaned out loud and glare at it before snatching it up.
“Manager’s office. How can I help you?”
“Um…there’s water pouring out from beneath the kitchen sink.”