The Wayward Petal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf an action is in alignment with your soul’s purpose, then that action will feel effortless and free. Your inner fire of passion will fuel your body as it completes that action, and the innate joy will occupy your mind and free you from any thoughts of struggle and competition.

However, any action that is not in alignment with the purpose of your soul will feel like a struggle. With no inner fire to keep you going, you’ll run out of energy quickly. Without that inner spark of happiness to occupy your mind, it will soon turn to thoughts of drudgery and toil.

It becomes imperative, then, to find your soul’s purpose and take actions that are in alignment with that purpose. By doing so, your life becomes a passion-filled, struggle-free existence that you will enjoy, rather than the grudge-filled, depressing existence that is tolerated by the masses.

***

Karen looked up from her computer screen, and was startled to see her boss standing over her.

“Yes, Mr. Thompson?”

“Karen, could you please step into my office? There are some things we need to discuss.”

On the way home, her things from her desk in a box beside her, Karen fumed.

Five years! Five long, stinking, cruddy years! Five years with that place, and now I’ve been downsized? Downsized? How is that even fucking possible? How the fuck is that even fucking possible? I’ve done my work. Every single motherfucking day, line by motherfucking line, page by motherfucking page. I’m never late, I never leave early, and my lunch break is never more than the company-sanctioned 30 minutes. How the FUCK is this even fucking possible? What am I going to do now? How the fuck am I going to pay my bills? How am I gonna feed Charlie, when I don’t even know how I’m going to feed myself? How the fuck is this fucking happening to me?

She drove past her apartment, and turned onto the highway. She rolled the window down, cranked up the radio, and edged the car faster and faster, allowing herself to love the feel of the wind in her hair.

Six hours later, she was watching the sun sink beneath the Gulf of Mexico. When she was a little girl, her grandmother used to tell her that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured by the ocean, and in times of trouble, she still returned there. Today it had been automatic: she hadn’t had any conscious intention of going to the beach, that’s just kinda where she ended up.

As the sun sank below the waves, she let herself cry out her tears of frustration and pain. As full night descended, she took a single, deep, ragged breath, and exhaled loudly.

Well, shit, Karen. Here you are 500 miles from home, without a job, no prospects, no family, no boyfriend…nothing but a stupid cat. Charlie. Shit. I’ve left him behind, and no food…

She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, and called her neighbor. Ms. Singleton had a spare key to her place, and had taken care of Charlie in the past when Karen had gone on vacation.

“Ms. Singleton? This is Karen next door. Hi! How are you? That’s good. Listen…I’ve done something really rash, and I was wondering if you’d go into my place and feed Charlie? Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. No, no…I’m fine. I just had a bad day at work, and went out for a drive. I guess my mind wandered for a bit, and now I won’t be back home until very late. Wait. You know what? I think I’ll spend the night here, and come back tomorrow. Can you feed him tomorrow, too? Great. Thank you so much!”

With that, she hung up, and tossed the cell phone back in the car. She pulled the keys out of the ignition, and locked it up. Following a sudden whim, she pulled her shoes and socks off, unlocked the car, and tossed them inside before locking the car again. Then she walked down to the beach, and stepped into the surf. She let the waves splash over her feet, and played in the surf for a few moments before turning and beginning to walk along the shore.

Lost in thought, she walked for hours, deep into the night. The gentle gulf waves lapped at her feet, and the sand sank beneath her toes. The cool night air was crisp, but not uncomfortable, but Karen barely noticed anyway, absorbed in her own thoughts. Again and again, the conversation with her boss earlier that day played through her head. Scenes from the day played like movies on an endless loop in her imagination. The careful, measured expression of her boss, the pitying glances from her coworkers as she returned to her desk and started cleaning it out. Her hair hanging over her face as she walked out, her head hung low in shame, wishing she could disappear behind her hair. The security guard, gently reminding her to turn in her badge as she exited the building. Fumbling for her keys in the parking lot, just wishing that she could get away as soon as possible…

Realization that she had walked far longer than she had intended stopped her in her tracks. She turned slowly, and looked at the seemingly endless stretch of beach behind her. “Shit. Now I’ve gone and lost the car, too.”

She started back, and on a last second whim, she broke out into a run. The first few steps were taken at a slow jog, and then she sped up. Soon, she was running as fast as she could, and the wind whipped through her hair as she kicked up sand with every step. She ran until a stitch in her side forced her to stop, and then she walked around in circles, and started giggling. Her giggles erupted into full laughter, and she stood there for a minute, laughing uncontrollably into the night.

A crazy idea crossed her mind, and she went with it. She turned, ran straight into the ocean, and then dove under the waves. Kicking her feet, she swam several yards out into the blackness, until the cold temperature of the water cleared her head, and she turned and swam back to shore. Climbing out of the surf, she suddenly felt very cold, and very alone.

“Use your head, or you’ll be dead,” her father had warned her repeatedly throughout her childhood. His voice echoed in her memory now, the reminder to be practical and stop being such an airhead. “Well, Dad…I certainly blew that one today. Lost my job, lost my mind, and now I’ve lost my car, too. I’ve certainly let you down today, haven’t I, Daddy?” With that, she fell to her knees, and let herself cry.

Sometime later, she got to her feet, and resumed her trip towards her car. Externally, she was chilled to her bones, shivering uncontrollably, and dripping from head to toe. Her feet and legs were covered in sand, and her clothes were ruined. Internally, she was numb.

Eventually, she found her car, still parked where she left it. With some struggle, she was at last able to free her car keys from her wet pocket, and she unlocked the door and got in, very thankful that she hadn’t lost the keys in her impromptu swim. She cranked the ignition, and turned the heater on full-blast. Within a few minutes, her shivering stopped, and her clothes and hair began to dry. When she felt ready, she put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the parking lot.

 

Rather than driving back, she decided to try and rent a motel room. She stopped off at a drug store, and bought some shampoo, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. She was very pleased to see that this was one of the ever-popular shops in Florida that contained a few touristy items no matter what their primary wares were, and so she picked up a couple of T-shirts and a pair of sweat pants. She paid for everything, and returned to her car. She took a quick look around, and saw that there was a hotel advertising vacancy just a block down the road, and so that’s where she headed.

She paid for the room, got the key, and took her new purchases, along with her cell phone and purse from her car, up the stairs and into the room. Once inside, she checked the closet, under the bed, and in the bathroom for lurkers, just as her parents had always taught her to do, then she locked the door and stripped off her wet and sandy clothes. She didn’t bother to check to see if they could be salvaged or not…she just threw them away. She walked into the bathroom, and turned the water on in the shower as hot as she thought she could stand it, and then nudged the handle up just a few degrees more.

She stepped into the shower, and let the water rush over her. The tears starting flowing again, and she just stood there and sobbed. It didn’t take long this time, though, and she got the familiar feeling that she might just be all cried out at the moment. So she went about the business of her shower, dried off, and then got dressed in one of the T-shirts and the sweats she had bought at the drug store. Suddenly realizing that she hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast, she felt ravenous. She went over to the phone, and ordered a pizza and some drinks. She sat down on the bed, plugged her phone into the charger, and then turned on the television. She flipped through the channels mindlessly until the pizza arrived, and then she ate half of it just as mindlessly.

Feeling bloated, she went to the bathroom, and threw up.

She brushed her teeth, and then she crawled under the covers. She set her alarm for 5 am, then reconsidered and set it again for 8am. She set  reminder to call Ms. Singleton in the morning, and then drifted off to sleep. It was, thankfully, a dreamless night for her.

The next morning, she got up, took another hot shower, and then got back into her sweats from the night before. She put on the fresh T-Shirt, and then decided that without a bra, it would probably be prudent to slip both T-shirts on, and so that’s what she did. She took one look at the pizza, and almost heaved, so she threw it away along with the rest of the soda. She grabbed her phone, her keys, and her purse, and then headed downstairs. She turned in the room key at the office, and walked out to her car.

She turned the ignition….and nothing. Not even a click. “Fuckity fuck fuck FUCK!” she screamed, slamming her hands on the steering wheel with each word. “This can’t be fucking happening to me! Why? Why? WHY?” She felt the hot tears flooding her eyes again, but held them back. She had already cried more in the past 24 hours than she had done in the past 24 months, and she was sick of it. She called Ms. Singleton, who assured her that Charlie was fine, and that he’d be well-taken care of until she could get back home. Karen thanked the woman, and hung up. She looked up nearby mechanics on her phone, found one that didn’t seem too shady, and gave them a call.

While she waited for the mechanic, her phone buzzed. A text from Brad, her on again/off again boyfriend, wondering why she wasn’t home. She ignored it, and switched her phone off. She was in no mood for him or his games at the moment. If it came up later, she could always just tell him that her battery had died. She felt a momentary pang of guilt at the deception, and then told herself for the 10 millionth time that she really should make a clean break of it once and for all. Clearly, they were no good for each other, and she felt like she was holding him back from something awesome with someone else. She didn’t love him, and sometimes she wondered if she really ever had. She knew he loved her, though, and she felt guilty about that, too, but told herself (as she always did) that his feelings weren’t her responsibility, and he was just as capable of walking away as she was if he wasn’t happy.

Deep down, she wondered if that was true.

The mechanic came to look at her car, and told her that she would need a new battery. He offered to go get one for her, and put it in, and she readily agreed. She had no idea of the quoted price of $200 was a rip off or not, but he seemed nice enough, and she figured that even if it was, then it probably wasn’t any worse than she would get anywhere else. Besides, he was an older man, and kinda reminded her of her grandpa, and she really wanted to believe the kindness in his eyes.

While she waited for him to return, she walked back across the street to the drugstore from the night before. She picked up some deodorant, a chocolate milk and some doughnuts, and headed back to the cash register. Along the way, she noticed a selection of sports bras that she had missed the night before. She found one that she thought would fit close enough, and took it to the register with her. She paid for everything, and then asked the cashier if there was a bathroom she might use. She took the bra with her, put it on, and then replaced her T-Shirt. She came back out, grabbed her other items from the counter, and walked back to her car. As she got there, the mechanic drove up, and stepped out of his truck.

She opened her door, and placed her stuff on the front seat. She popped her hood as per the mechanic’s request, and then watched him switch out the batteries. She really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, but he opened up to her, and she figured it couldn’t hurt to be pleasant in return.

“So, you on vacation?”

“Not really. It’s actually…I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“’s an odd place to come without a reason. On your way to somewhere else, then?”

“No…not really. I just had some thinking to do, and so I got in my car and drove. When I got tired of thinking, I stopped, and here I was.” It wasn’t the complete honest truth, but she figured it was good enough for conversation. “My grandma always said that the cure for anything was salt water, either tears or the ocean, and so I guess my autopilot just brought me here.”

“Your grandma sounds like a smart woman. And you seem like a smart woman, too, for listening to her. That’s the problem with the world today: too many kids not listening to their elders. I’m glad you got more sense than that!”

She thanked him, and blushed deeply. She certainly didn’t feel like she had any sense, and getting fired seemed to prove that fact. No need in burdening this nice man with that story, though, and so she pushed those thoughts away.

“Yup, I think that does it. Why don’t you go ahead and try it?”

She got in her car, and it cranked right up. She let out a quick laugh, and then got out of the car. Before even realizing that she was going to do it, she hugged the mechanic tightly. “Thank you so much!”

It was his turn to blush. “Oh, well, you’re welcome. I’m just happy it was something so simple.”

She pulled the cash out of her wallet and handed it to him. It was the last of her money, at least until she picked up her last paycheck. She had some savings for emergencies, and she would replace this with that money, and be no worse for the wear. He took it from her, and started to fold it away into his pocket, and then hesitated.

“Look. I don’t know what’s going on with you, and I reckon it’s none of my business. But you look like someone at the end of her rope, hangin on by a thread, and I sure hate to see pretty ladies lookin like that. So here.” He handed her back one of the $100 bills. “This will leave me enough to cover the cost of the battery, and will keep my boss from being too upset with me, and it’ll give you a little bit of breathing room.”

“Ohmigosh! Thank you so much!” She felt the tears well up again, and this time, she couldn’t hold them back. She hugged him again, and thanked him again. He stepped back, releasing her, and then tenderly brushed a strand of hair away from her face.

“There, there, miss. Everything will be ok. I don’t know what’s going on, but I do know that everything will be ok.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Well, cause mostly, that’s how things always work out. They’re almost always ok in the end, and if they’re not ok, then you can be sure that it’s not the end yet.”

She let that sink in as she climbed into her car and drove away.

Karen stuffed an entire doughnut into her mouth, and laughed around it as she tried to chew it and swallow it. Such a lady! she thought, and giggled again. She washed it down with some of the chocolate milk, and then ate another one just as quickly. This trip is gonna cost me more situps than dollars.

She almost turned to get back on the interstate to head back home, but then at the last minute, she decided to circle back and visit the beach one last time before heading home. After all, she reasoned, it’s not like she had to be at work in the morning, and it seemed like a waste of time to drive all the way down here and just visit the beach one time.

She found an access point, and pulled in. She parked her car, and then took the time to eat the rest of her doughnuts and drink the rest of her chocolate milk. Breakfast of Champions, she thought, and giggled again. She chastised herself for acting like a little schoolgirl, giggling like a child, and then chastised herself for chastising herself. Again, she took off her socks and shoes, and tossed them in the seat before locking the door. She tied her keys to the drawstring of her sweatpants, but promised herself she wouldn’t really have to worry about them because she had no intention of diving into the water today. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry, and so she tied an extra knot in the string just in case.

She pulled the sweatpants up to her mid-calves, and walked along the edge of the water, letting the waves run over the tops of her feet as they came in, and feeling the sand slip back towards the ocean under her feet as the waves ran back out again. The sand was bright, the sun was bright, and the water was bright. She wished she had thought to pick up a pair of sunglasses back in the drugstore, cause heaven knows squinting is a bad thing. Between all the squinting and crying, she was sure she had aged ten years in the past 24 hours.

As she walked, her mind turned to practical matters. During the past five years, she had made more money than she really knew what to do with, and she had lived far beneath her means. Not only did she have a very healthy savings account, but she also had a very healthy 401k. Although she was loathe to touch either one, she knew that if push came to shove, she could last at least a year, and maybe two before running out of money. Things would be tight, of course, but at least she wouldn’t go hungry or be homeless. Besides, she reminded herself, she had been downsized through no fault of her own. She needed to brush up her resume, but she felt confident that she’d be able to find a new position fairly quickly.

She was knocked out of her thoughts by a large Golden Retriever that suddenly appeared right in front of her, jumping up and down and barking excitedly. Although she wasn’t much of a dog person, preferring the silent companionship of her cat, she wasn’t anti-dog, and this one seemed friendly enough, so she kneeled down to scratch behind his ears. She laughed as he rolled over for a belly rub, and obliged him. He barked excitedly, and then jumped away from her, and then looked back at her and jumped towards her again, obviously eager for her to chase him.

“Oh no. I got my running done last night. Noooo thank you. I have no intention of running again…not anytime soon, and not unless I’m being chased. Maybe not even then.”

He barked, but then returned to her arms for more ear scratches and back rubs.

“Chaplin!” The male voice echoed to her from just beyond the dunes, and she turned to see a man climbing over the last mound and stumbling onto the beach. The dog (Chaplin, I presume?) bounded away from her and barked excitedly as he ran over to the man. When they met, the dog jumped up on the man briefly, barked once, and then ran back to Karen.

“Chaplin!!!” he called again, but the dog ignored him and continued to jump excitedly around Karen.

The man ran over to where they were playing, and began to apologize. “Oh geez. I’m so sorry. He’s usually much better behaved than this. Are you ok? I mean, he didn’t jump on you, did he? I’m so sorry…”

Karen laughed. “Oh, he’s fine. No worries. In fact, his playful antics seem to be just what the doctor ordered. I was getting lost in my mind, and he brought me back to reality.” She looked up, and suddenly felt very under-dressed,  very much under-made up, and very unsure of every aspect of her being in that moment. Ohmigosh! He’s gorgeous! His hair was all messed up, either from the wind or from sleeping in, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days, but he had the most beautiful, piercing green eyes Karen had ever seen. When he smiled, his teeth were the brightest thing on the beach that day.

She stood up, and saw that he was about half a head taller than she was (perfect), and broad-shouldered. Athletic, but not overly muscled (perfect), and there was a deep kindness she could sense behind his gorgeous (perfect) eyes. He held his hand out to her, and introduced himself. “I’m Mark, and this…”

“is Chaplin,” she finished. “Yes, I do believe we have already met, Chaplin and I.” She laughed, and he laughed with her.

“Again, I’m sorry if he jumped on you or scared you. He’s usually…”

“much better behaved. Yes, I got this the first time.” She smiled, and he smiled back. Realizing that she had neglected to introduce herself, she started again quickly “I’m Karen, and it’s very nice to meet you both.”

Chaplin leaped away, and came back with a stick. He dropped it at Karen’s feet.

“Uh oh…don’t pick it up. It’s a trap. If you pick it up, you’ll be here way past sunset, throwing it for him,” Mark said.

“I think you’re exaggerating just a bit,” Karen said, picking up the stick and throwing it as far as she could. She had played softball in high school and college, and was pleased to see that she hadn’t lost her throwing arm.

“Nice toss!” Mark said, and smiled at her appreciatively.

She laughed, and told him about the softball. Not wanting to dwell on it, she changed the subject quickly. “So…Chaplin. As in an army chaplain, or as in Charlie Chaplin?”

“As in Charlie. I grew up watching him in reruns late at night, and I’ve always liked him.”

“Me too!” In fact, you have a dog named Chaplin…and I have a cat named Charlie!”

“No way! Oh, we simply have to get these two together!”

“For sure!”

“So how about tonight? I mean…I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound so forward. That was just a clumsy attempt to ask you out on a date. I didn’t mean…”

Karen laughed. “Oh, it’s ok. I knew what you meant. And it really was probably the best opening you were going to get. Unfortunately, I’ll have to pass.”

“Really? Why? I know we’ve only just met, but I already feel a strong connection to you, and it’s only dinner. Ok, ok. Maybe dinner and dessert. Wait…let me guess. Boyfriend?”

“No…not at all,” She was amazed at how easily she dismissed Brad. “It’s just, well, I’m from out of town, and I came down here on a spur of the moment kind of thing, and I really need to be getting back home.”

“Spontaneous, eh? Well, I like that in a girl. Tell you what. We’ll nix dinner, but at least let me take you to lunch. It’s almost lunch time, and you can eat something great here, or something wrapped in plastic and cardboard on the road. I know a great place not far from here.”

“That sounds like a plan! Well, as long as it’s not seafood. I’m not a big fan of seafood.” That wasn’t entirely true, and she wondered why she had said it. She liked seafood…she just wasn’t in the mood for it right now. She wondered why she had chosen to lie instead of just saying that, but brushed the thought out of her head quickly.

“So I know this other great little place, not far from here…” he said, and they both laughed.

“Lead the way,” she said, and they both started walking towards the dunes. Chaplin ran circles around them as they walked, and they both laughed at his antics.

Mark had a jeep parked in the lot on the other side of the dunes, and Chaplin ran and jumped in the passenger’s side seat.

“You couldn’t afford the doors?” she asked, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Pssssshhhh. Doors are for wussies,” he said, “and roofs, too, for that matter.” Turning his attention to Chaplin, he yelled out “Hey! Where are your manners? Back in the back, you. You know the lady gets the front seat!”

“I could just take my car, if it’s too much trouble,” she began.

“Nonsense. He knows the rules.” Sure enough, Chaplin turned around, and jumped into the back seat.

“Wow…I’m impressed!” How many women did you have to take to lunch in order to get him trained like that?”

Mark smiled broadly. “So far, one.”

Conversation over lunch flowed easily, and Karen wondered how it was possible to feel so close to someone so quickly. It was more than attraction, it was chemistry. Before today, Karen had never believed that chemistry between two people was a real thing, but here she was, experiencing it. She still wasn’t ready to believe in love at first sight, but she definitely felt…something…with Mark. Something she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Slow down, girlie. Sloooooooooow way the fuck down, she told herself. Still, when he smiled at her, or laughed, it was hard to stop thinking thoughts about babies and picket fences. What the what, what what?!? What is that? Whoa…just whoa!

Two hours passed in the little booth on the deck of the hole-in-the-wall restaurant before either one of them thought to look at the time. The remains of appetizers, burgers, and even the milkshakes they enjoyed for desert cluttered the table between them, and Chaplin slept peacefully under the table. Karen looked at her watch, and

“Shit! I’ve really got to go!”

“Well, shit! Let’s go then!”

They both laughed, and stood up. Mark went to pay the bill, and Karen went to the restroom. They met back up at the table, woke Chaplin up from his nap, and walked out of the restaurant. They were both quiet on the ride back to the beach, each lost in thoughts of the other.

Too soon, they were back at her car, and the time had come. They stood together, facing each other, at her car door. He reached out and took both of her hands into his.

“Will I ever see you again?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Yes? I hope so, anyway. I really enjoyed today, and I really do hope I get to see you again.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. My life is…well, my life is a bit of a mess right now, I’m afraid. I can’t really go into it now, but I definitely need to straighten some things out back home. Maybe I could come back in a couple weeks?”

“That seems so long. Could I call you sometime? Would that be ok?”

“That would be wonderful! I would enjoy that very much.”

They exchanged numbers, and then Mark leaned in to kiss her. It was the best thing she had felt in a very long time.

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