Steel Rose (Chapter Six)

Scent Notes: An enormous bouquet of mixed roses in a copper vase on a city street mingling with the metallic air, with whiffs of smoke, patchouli, dragonsblood, and incense from the hippie shop down the street.

Sarah woke up with a start from a series of strange dreams. She’d been several different princesses, queens, and other fairy tale folk over the course of what was only a night, but had seemed like centuries. It really felt like she had been there; as if the worlds in her dreams were alive and bright, right before her very eyes.

But that was impossible. Right?

Dragging herself out of bed, avoiding looking into the mirror, Sarah headed to the kitchen to make her magical morning potion: coffee. Oh, coffee, you maker of merry, you necessity of #adulting, how Sarah desperately needed you this morning. She just couldn’t seem to focus; couldn’t seem to shake her head out of her dreams and into reality. Yes, reality: you have to shower. You have to get dressed. You have to get to work, and you have that second date tonight. Focus. You can do this. Snap out of it!

Nearly crawling into the bathroom, she forced herself into the shower. Perk yourself up, bitch; get moving! It’s Friday! It’s payday! The hot water relaxed her, then focused her brain a little bit more. She used her favorite rose-scented body wash, and scrubbed her self-doubts away. I can do this!, she thought. It’s just a Friday.

Hopping out of the shower, grabbing a cup of coffee, she starts getting officially ready for the day. Normally, there would be a semi-elaborate makeup routine: primer, foundation, concealer, a light contour, blush, highlight, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara…. Today, though, as she stood and looked in the bathroom mirror, she stopped. Sarah looked at her reflection, really, honestly took a good look in the mirror. She heard a voice in her head saying, “Yes, you are the fairest of them all.” That’s a bit far-fetched, she thought, but I’m really not bad looking. Huh. Maybe I don’t need to do all this….

For the first morning that she could remember, she decided to pare down the makeup: a smidge of undereye concealer, a quick brush of mascara, and a dab of blush on the apples of her cheeks. How did this small amount of makeup make her look better than a whole spackle job? Maybe this was a good life lesson: don’t hide your features; embrace the face you have, and make small adjustments if you feel like it (or have a date later). Huh. Staring into this mirror felt so familiar, she could nearly do it all day….

Shit, no, work! Gotta go fast! She ran out the door and walked her typical route to the office. She could smell the city: that familiar metallic note that clings to the inside of the nostrils. She loved that smell. She’d grown up in a small town in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and dreamed of tall buildings made of metal and glass, even if big buildings made of glass don’t make a ton of sense. It was one of her favorite parts about living in a metropolitan area.

Sarah made it to work at exactly 9:00am for the first time in weeks. Patting herself on the back, she walked confidently to her cubicle. People were staring at her new appearance, but she didn’t care. She felt powerful, like she could burn this whole place to the ground and start her own business if she wanted to. Why did that feel familiar? She’d never burned anything to the ground, and yet, the notion wasn’t completely foreign. Best to not throw down a match at 9:02am, though.

She spent the morning checking her email, making small talk with coworkers, attempting to look busier than she actually was: typical office life stuff. Someone had brought in donuts to the break room and she resisted the overwhelming urge to eat three of them. You have a date tonight, she thought. Control your appetite, it’s unattractive. Instead, she took the time to increase the amount she put into her 401(k) each month, and downloaded a new app to her phone to help track her expenses and save money. Because the best plans in life have a 5% return on investment, she thought, which didn’t really make a ton of sense in this context but hey, taking steps towards being fiscally responsible is never a bad thing.

At lunch, she walked to a nearby cafe to have lunch with her best friend, Megan. They tried to get together once or twice a week, because they realized their friendship was just as important as any relationship, and wanted to keep it strong. Over salads and iced tea, they rehashed their most recent dating fails, griped about work and money and all the usual things people get together and talk about over food. Sarah told Megan about her new money-tracking/saving app, and Megan downloaded it too. Best to keep everyone you know financially afloat and spread the good news, right? And Megan loved Sarah’s new look. “It’s more of who you really are,” Megan told her. “It looks like the real you is shining through, you know? You’re so pretty!”

Sarah floated back to the office, feeling better than she had in a long time. That is, until she saw Darren. Ugh. Darren started on the same day Sarah did (with less credentials) and managed to advance higher than Sarah had in the past four years. He never failed to rub it in her face when she saw him, because they both knew (even if it was subconscious for Darren) that Sarah deserved the promotions he’d managed to get.

“Hey, Darren,” she said as casually as she could muster.

“Hey Sarah! I was just wondering, um, do you have time to look at a presentation I’ve been working on for corporate?”

“Um, potentially? I’m kind of working-”

“Awesome, thanks! I already emailed it to you, and I’m due to give it in less than two hours, so, the sooner the better, thanks again! I totally owe you a drink at some point.” He bounded away, not giving her a second look.

Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes. Today had been going so well! Why, why, why did Darren have to be a massive tool and also be somewhat her superior AND terrible at his job? She opened up the PowerPoint file; it was riddled with spelling and factual errors, and made her cringe not even two slides in. Should she really do all the work for this jerk and not take the credit? Should she just not do anything and let himself look bad in front of corporate, the clients, and most of the company? He’d just get pissed and somehow blame her. What should she do?

She sat there, staring at the screen, trying to tap into some higher intelligence, some kind of sign about how she should proceed. Suddenly, it occurred to her: he won’t look at this before he opens the presentation. If he does, he’ll only look at the first slide or two. And she went to work. She’d wanted to set fire to something; why not have that be Darren’s career?

Two hours later, she sat in the audience, waiting for Darren to stand up and give his speech. She’d shown him the first three slides twenty minutes ago, which he approved, and promptly went to make sure his hair was in perfect place before giving the presentation. Now, as he stood up and began his speech, his back to the slides he was projecting and with all the confidence of a TED speaker, she watched as his career slowly died while he wasn’t even paying attention.

She’d left the terrible slides in, along with her notes and comments in giant, bold red font. Darren wasn’t even looking at the slides; he was just so arrogant that she had done his job for him. And, you know, she HAD, she’d also just left in all his mistakes to show people what an absolutely incompetent jackass he actually was.

Around the room, people began to giggle and point and look at Sarah. Some of the women discreetly high-fived her. At the end of the presentation, she’d crossed off his name and put her own, along with her title and email. It was then, finally, that Darren looked and saw what she’d done. He was furious, and started yelling about how this was all a prank, there was no way he was that stupid, she had tried to sabotage him!

The lights came on, and two of the senior managers escorted Darren out of the room. Most of the employees were laughing hysterically; it was an open secret that Darren was terrible at his job, and the whole room was thrilled that he was likely being fired. Then the senior managers called Sarah out of the room. Everyone clapped for her as she took a quick bow, and walked out.

They led her into a conference room, and asked her what, exactly, had happened. Sarah told them calmly, and said she would happily show them all the emails and work she had done on his behalf over the years, especially since he was promoted. That was enough for them. Darren was fired, and Sarah was promoted starting immediately, and with a hefty bonus (which was likely also a keep-your-mouth-shut payment, but whatever, money!).

Sarah was on cloud nine as she headed to her date that evening; she texted Megan to tell her that she had incredible news to tell her when she got home in a few hours. Megan said she hoped that there was even more juicy news to tell her AFTER the date, and wished her luck.

This was her second date with Steven, and she was fairly excited about it. Their first date was at a hip sushi restaurant that was a good meeting midpoint for the two of them, which was a good sign to her. She had been too excited to eat much; he was a very attractive man, and it intimidated her slightly. But overall, that evening had gone well; she probably had not talked as much, but again, nerves, and that seems normal for a first date with a very attractive human.

But today, today she was on fire! She was high on her own gorgeous face; on the way she took charge of her life in so many ways; how she had just gotten a gigantic promotion and bonus. This was the perfect day. Nothing could go wrong.

She met Steven out front of the steakhouse just a few blocks from her office. She was giddy and ready for a steak and a martini, maybe not in that order. She came up and gave him a quick hug, announcing that she was in the best mood ever and had a fantastic story to tell him. He smiled. “My, you are exuberant tonight!” he said, which struck her as a little odd, but she brushed it off.

They went inside and got seated in a gorgeous plush red booth, her favorite type of seating. The perfect day! The waiter came and took their drink orders: a stiff, dry martini for Sarah; a glass of chardonnay for Steven.

“So, what’s this wonderful news you have?”

And she launched into her story. How she’d finally fallen in love with her face; how she’d stood up to Darren at work; how she’d purposely sabotaged him. The waiter interrupted her to bring their drinks; she grabbed hers and took a big gulp before explaining how they had instantly promoted her and fired him and now she was going to eat and drink and celebrate victory and life and her excitement!

It was probably the most she had spoken all at once to Steven, who looked more repulsed as she continued. He did not look excited for her at all. When she finished her story, he was silent. Then, the waiter popped in again to ask what they want to eat.

“I’d like the filet mignon, medium rare, with steak frites and a side of the bacon brussels sprouts as well,” Sarah said.

“Excellent choice. And for you, sir?” the waiter said.

“Oh, uh, I’d like the steamed salmon with brown rice and a Caesar salad, no cheese, dressing on the side,” Steven said, and took a sip of his wine.

The waiter merely nodded, and walked away.

“Steamed salmon? Really? At a steakhouse?” Sarah asked him.

“Yeah; I try to eat healthy no matter what,” he replied. “One glass of wine, no red meat, no white flour, very little sugar, as many greens as possible.”

“Even on a date? Or, you know, as a celebration?” she asked.

“Well, I’m not sure what we’re celebrating. You clearly humiliated a coworker who needed help, instead of helping him when he needed it. And you’re talking an awful lot about how attractive you think you are, which is a very unattractive quality. Have you thought about seeing a therapist, perhaps? Maybe work through some of these issues you’re clearly experiencing?” Steven took a long sip of his wine.

Sarah sat there, flabbergasted. The old her would call the waiter over, cancel her steak and get a salad, and run to the bathroom and cry. But that was old Sarah. This is new Sarah; take-no-shit Sarah; I-am-beautiful-go-fuck-yourself-shitty-chardonnay-man Sarah.

Instead of crying, she chugged the rest of her martini. “Excuse me, I must go to the ladies’ room,” she said calmly.

“Be my guest; I’ll enjoy the quiet,” Steven answered.

On her way to the bathroom, she found their waiter.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but, my date has turned quite sour. Could I get my dinner to go? And throw in a lobster tail, some mashed potatoes, and a slice of strawberry cheesecake?”

The waiter smiled. “Absolutely. Should I send someone to the bathroom to let you know when it’s ready?”

Sarah smiled. “You are very kind, thank you.”

She went into the bathroom, and immediately dialed Megan’s number.

“Well, that was fast,” she said when she picked up. “Are you on your way to his place or-?”

“Oh my god Megan he is the ACTUAL WORST,” she yelled, running into a stall. “He apparently only likes women who don’t eat, don’t talk, and don’t have opinions. He told me that I didn’t help a coworker in need and that it’s basically my fault Darren was fired.”

“What in the actual Hell is wrong with this guy?” Megan yelled. “You are so beautiful and amazing and wonderful. Are you okay? Do you want me to kill him? I know people.”

“No, no, I’ll be alright. I’m getting my food to go, plus a few extra things. The waiter is super nice and actually kind of cute. He’s sending in a waitress when my food is ready so I can grab it and leave.”

“Oh wow, yeah, that guy is awesome,” Megan said. “Please tell me you got expensive food.”

“Filet mignon, bacon brussels sprouts, frites, mashed potatoes, lobster tail, strawberry cheesecake,” Sarah said, exiting the stall to wait for the waitress.

“You are the greatest person I have ever met and I love you,” Megan said.

The waitress walked in. “Ma’am? Are you the one with the asshole date? Your food is ready.”

“Oh, thank you so much! Megan, I’ll call you when I’m home,” she said into her phone and hung up.

Sarah walked out, and grabbed her to-go boxes from the waiter. He winked at her. “Have a good night. I’ll go tell your date you weren’t feeling well and left and then give him the bill. And you might have gotten a few extra goodies in here, including my number.”

Sarah smiled. “Well, this is fantastic. Thank you so much. You might just be hearing from me later.”

She walked home, smelling her food wafting from the containers, mixing with the metallic city smell and her own rose-scented body. It was still a great day. And now she could end it the best way: in her bed, eating delicious food, on the phone with her best friend, and binge-watching bad reality TV. Damn, it’s good to be a queen.

Scent Notes: An enormous bouquet of mixed roses in a copper vase on a city street mingling with the metallic air, with whiffs of smoke, patchouli, dragonsblood, and incense from the hippie shop down the street.