Throughout my life, I've toyed with the idea of destiny. Do we have control over the direction we take? Not that I would label myself a fatalist, but I can see where the idea must come from. Even I will acknowledge that there have always been moments in my life that seemed too alive, almost as if they were scripted like something out of a drama on television. We all know the predictable storyline. We watch as the hero (or heroine) has gone through a trying ordeal, narrowly escaping intact, and as they recover their senses to face whatever there is to come next, there it is:
The Turning Point.
The inevitable choice that stares you down with the menacing glare of a territorial beast. There might be two paths, three paths, or a dozen, but it doesn't matter. The decision is there haunting you until you make it. The decision between good and evil, life and death, knowledge or ignorance, etc. Usually, it's not as simple as this. And usually, we get to see what we might be headed for. Like the final scene in Casablanca where Humphrey Bogart persuades Ingrid Bergman to get on the plane. There's that thrilling moment where it seems like fate has lighted the way to reunited past lovers, but in a dramatic twist, Bergman chooses the other path leaving the viewer to cry at the unjust and miserable close and wonder if they really could have both stayed in Casablanca.
My brush with fate wasn't nearly so dramatic. The consequences thereafter, however, are a different story.
The day my 'turning point' happened began just like any other; in the second bedroom of my grandmother's tiny condominium. My alarm clock with its all-too-cheerful ring tone woke me from a rather pleasant dream. I moaned pitifully and tried to block it out against the feel of drums pounding inside my skull as I vaguely recalled the previous night's events. There'd been a kegger at my old college buddy's, something of a get-together for all the old friends in our circle. The only thing I remember with any clarity was watching as an old burnout friend, who I don't even remember knowing in school, try to feel me up before promptly vomiting on my t-shirt. After that incident, I knocked back a few beers and the rest from there is pretty hazy up until the pounding in my brain started the following morning.
Bottom line is: don't try this at home. Hangovers suck and the cleanup is a bitch.
After fumbling around on my bedside table for a few moments managing to knock my jewelry box and a glass of water to the floor looking for the snooze button, my grandmother popped her head in the doorway and told me to hurry up or I'd be late. I groaned and rolled over dreading going into work that morning. It was a hot and sticky morning and the sheets clung to my legs as I slipped out of bed and cleaned up the broken glass and water. I shut my eyes and wishing I could start the morning over.
Breakfast was great as usual. My grandmother was an awesome cook and spared no expense when it came to food. Her french toast was to die for. I'd moved in with her after high school and had gone to the University of Windsor. It had been a great time even if I had lived off campus. I'd had a small circle of friends, which included the partyers and horny ex-frat boys, but most had been locals and had moved away afterwards. I wasn't one for keeping in touch. And now, I was saving up to get my own place somewhere in the city.
It was one of those rare days in Windsor with the promise of rain but the unbearable humidity made it difficult to suffer through. I got dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, stuffed my uniform into my backpack and headed out the door. On the way I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My normally sparkling blue eyes were horridly bloodshot with dark circles underneath that no amount of makeup would fix and my sleek red hair looked as though it hadn't seen a hairbrush in weeks. Turning away from the inglorious sight, I left the condo and took my beat up Volkswagen to work and managed to hit every red light possible. I drummed my fingers on the wheel while I was stopped. The idiot a few cars ahead apparently didn't know what the advanced green meant. My headache worsened.
I made it to work on time though with seconds to spare. I was greeted at the door by Adam, officially the hottest guy on earth. He was a valet at the Red Carpet Casino and Bar, where I worked. Adam had amazingly soft features accented by immaculate yet seemingly effortless wavy blonde hair, but his height and build were just as amazing too. He managed to make the parking valet uniforms look sexy. But of all things that made my insides flutter and squirm, it was his smile and demeanor of an innocent farmboy from the Midwest.
"Hi, Scarlet." He said with his cute accent, flashing me that adorable grin. I halted in my hurry for a moment to wallow in gleeful happiness and awe. He said my name! He knew I existed! I giggled stupidly and said hello back in the most strained voice to ever pass through my lips before taking an immediate left into the locker room, still riding the high of being acknowledged. I ran into my friend Jackie who was applying her makeup in the mirror. She had already suited up in her dorky little dealer's uniform- charcoal slacks, frilly white shirt with an ugly red sweater vest and tie. If I ever meet the designer of that atrocious getup, I swear I'll put a bullet in them. Wool and a tie in that heat was torture. She, of course, looked like it had been tailor-made for her, while it just made me look clown-like.
"Someone's late." She said not taking her eyes off the mirror and her mascara.
"No." I argued jumping to the bench and sliding my shoes off. "I have exactly-," glanced at my watch, "-2 minutes left." I took out my own white collared shirt and started to change.
"Red really isn't your colour, is it?" she said tearing herself away from her own image and starting to put up her chocolate-coloured hair. I glanced down at the vest in my hands before sliding it around my thin shoulders. It was decorated with a large martini stain and an ink spot from where I'd left a pen in my pocket.
"No, it's just discoloured because I haven't washed it in-"
"I wasn't talking about the vest. I meant your cheeks. And your eyes. And that dopey grin." Jackie said eyeing me contemplatively. She cocked her head to the side as she watched me buttoning up the vest and pulling the tie over my head as though trying to discern from my behavior what had me so happy.
"What? I can't smile now?"
"Did you get laid?"
"Are you quitting?"
"Then I'm guessing that Adam talked to you again?"
I felt the redness in my cheeks deepen considerably. Bashfully, I admitted it. "Yes."
She groaned at this, "For the sake of my sanity, would you please ask him out already!" she said with a bemused grin on her face, "Just think: if it goes well, Farm Boy might take you back to his ranch and give you a roll in the hay."
"Funny funny." I commented as I left the tie alone and tugged on my pants.
"Come on," she said glancing at the clock, "Eddie will be riding your ass today if you're late."
"You could always convince him not to." I suggested to her with a reprising look, "You know, in between making out in the storage closets, it'd be nice if you could slip in something like, 'Hey Eddie, you might want to stop being such as jackass to Scarlet or I'll never sleep with you again.'"
"Shh!" she said with a finger to her lips.
I grinned. Jackie had been carrying on an illicit relationship with our boss, Eddie. It had actually been how we met; I'd opened up one of the supply closets in the back in search of a new set of die and had found the two of them in there in a rather compromising position. After a stern lecture from Eddie about how if I ever breathed a word to anyone about this, he'd slit my throat and drop me off the Ambassador Bridge, Jackie had assured me that she'd castrate him if he so much as looked at me funny. I knew I made him nervous about losing his job if I went to the manager with this information, but his hatred for me went beyond that. I wasn't a local and Eddie was about as xenophobic as they come. I just didn't know what Jackie saw in him, but was guessing it wasn't his sparkling personality.
That day as I was dealing blackjack to an unfortunate little man who didn't seem to have any luck at all today. I took my break at 9 and was just leaving my table when Eddie came strolling up to me with a mistrustful smile on his thin, rat-like face. Of course, I knew if I ever told Jackie I thought her boyfriend looked like a rodent, she would have probably killed me. Then again, she openly referred to Adam as Farm Boy. Maybe it was fair.
"Scarlet," he said after pulling me aside. I remember clearly that he had this grin that made an attempt at sincerity, but didn't quite get there, "Remind me, how long have you been working here?"
"A year and a half, why?" I answered cautiously. I didn't like where this was going.
"Well, a position on the evening dealer shift has recently opened up and I think that you would be a perfect candidate for it." He said leaning against the wall the suspicious grin still not leaving his face. Something was up. He hated me and knew I had wanted to take a night shift forever. If you wanted to make any money in this business, you knew that the tips you got during the day paled in comparison to what anyone could pick up at night. It was simple mathematics: Night timers drank more and were more generous with their money equaling higher tips. But there were rules and regulations that went with that and they stated I had to have approval from my manager before I could be transferred. I'd requested three times to be put on night shift, but every time Eddie had denied it. The little weasel was up to something.
"I would, what's the catch?" I asked cautiously.
"What could you mean?" He asked with overplayed innocence, "Your job performance has been noted before and I feel this would be a great opportunity for you to excel. However, if you're not interested, I could certainly offer it to someone else…"
'Come on, Rat-face! There's always a catch with you. What is it?' I thought, but my own desire was winning out.
"I…It's definitely…" I hesitated. What was the worst he could do to me? Maybe someone above him had requested that I transfer. Maybe this was in order to keep me quiet. Maybe Jackie had actually held out on sex on my behalf, "…Yes." I spat out before I'd even made up my mind, "Yes… I'd like the job."
"Excellent." He said his mouth contorting into an awkward smile which never even came close to touching his eyes. Instantly, I felt like an animal the split second before they've put their paw into a trap. Eddie was doing something to mess with my mind or perhaps get me fired. My stomach felt queasy like I'd just signed away my soul, "I'll send you the contract and get you set up for Wednesday."
"Wednesday?" I repeated with a frown. That was the day after tomorrow, "Doesn't it usually take a week to-'
"Do you want this or not?" he demanded his eyes darkening dangerously. I simply nodded, too astounded to speak. I watched his retreating back disappear into the noisy chaos of the casino and my legs were suddenly weak. On one hand, I was ecstatic at the fact that I'd finally be working nights and could afford to pay off my student loan within a year or so, but on the other… Eddie had denied my request three times. Why now? Maybe I had done the right thing, but it was getting harder and harder to convince myself of that fact.
Later, when I had my break, I was slumped into a chair thinking everything over and over like I had for the past hour and a half. A few of my co-workers, came into the room and when I reported the news, they all congratulated me. I asked about the hurried nature of his offer, but they didn't seem to think anything of it. One girl, Sarah, seemed optimistic enough about it.
"Sometimes things work like that. A whole bunch of people quit, they need to replace them fast. It's nothing unusual."
"But why me?" I queried, "I've been at this job for almost 2 years and he's never even mentioned moving up until now."
"Maybe he thinks you're qualified." She shrugged.
"Maybe." I said agreeing tenuously. It still didn't make much sense.
"I just don't get it, Grandma." I told her later that night. It was sometime after dinner and we were watching the evening news on mute as I agonized over my supposedly auspicious promotion. She was knitting a quilt in her rocking chair and I was sprawled on the carpet flipping through a magazine, "Why me? Why not Jackie?"
"Did you talk to her about it?" She asked.
"No! What was I supposed to say? 'Your retard boyfriend is up to something by giving me the shift I've wanted since I started at The Red Carpet.'? She'll think I'm being paranoid."
"You'll have to tell her eventually you know." She pointed out the obvious, "She's going to notice when you don't show up."
"Fine," I said huffily after a moment agonizing about it, "I'll call her, but I don't think she'll know why either." I said getting up from where I was lying on the floor and stretching my muscles lazily. I reached for the phone and started to dial Jackie's number.
"I'm sure everything will be fine. It'll all work out." She soothed rocking back and forth in her chair.
I wasn't really paying attention and just nodded absent-mindedly as I heard Jackie answer the phone on the other end. She was overwhelmed when I told her the news and quashed my theory that she hadn't threatened to hold out on sex. She did however warn me that I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. And I didn't mean to, but I was suspicious of him. As I hung up, I felt that something wasn't right. I didn't know what it was then, but if I had, I would have never gone on that shift. As it was, I didn't and I was foolish enough to think it was simply a kind gesture.