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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Mystery · #2219174
Ruby's life could drastically change, if only she'd move forty miles away.
Author Note: This short story is written as a prequel to my paranormal mystery novel titled Move, Book One of the Tanger Falls Mystery.

“Come in!” Denise said, ushering Ruby in the apartment from the blowing rain.

“I came over as soon as I could put down my stuff and change, just like you asked,” Ruby said. “What’s up? It smells great in here.”

“That’s because it’s Final Friday Pizza Night!” Denise cheered, motioning to the salad, pizza and beer on the kitchen table in the nook area off the kitchen.

Ruby hugged her friend. “How thoughtful! Thank you. I guess you heard about the lunch kerfluffal at the office?”

“Who didn’t hear about Millie cancelling Final Friday lunch?”

“Didn’t you work from home today?”

“I did, but I had to run to the grocery store, and ran into Jake and Tatina at the grocery store deli. They told me Millie cancelled Final Friday lunch without telling anybody, and the entire staff had to go out to lunch.” She ushered Ruby to the table. “I worked in a pizza parlor while I was in college, so I thought I’d treat you to a homemade pizza.”

“Thank you! This really is a treat.” Ruby shook her head as she sat at the table and put a piece of pizza on her plate. “It’s bad enough that Millie overlooked a major request from a client, and terrorized the office over it all morning. She blamed all of us but me the most, of course, even though I gave her the specs three days ago and she approved them. Then she screws us out of our lunch tradition of eleven years, too. She said it’s a waste and a drain on our bottom line.”

Denise raised an eyebrow as she chewed on pizza. “Providing lunch to an in-office staff of ten people on the final Friday of the month is a drain on our resources? Are we losing money?”

Ruby took a swig of her beer. “No, she just doesn’t want to be bothered with it. Mr. Goodard was the one doing it, but since he’s so tied up with his mother being in a nursing home, he decided to pass it off to the management in the office. Millie is his executive secretary, so she had the final say.”

“I still can’t believe she didn’t give anybody notice that she wasn’t doing this.”

Ruby rolled her eyes. “She said it was presumptuous to assume that lunch would be provided today.”

“It’s presumptuous to assume that something that’s been done for eleven years will continue to happen when you haven’t been told anything has changed?” Denise asked. “How can you know to ask questions when you aren’t aware that you need to be asking them?”

Ruby pointed at Denise. “Good point. I’d have never done that. If I got that job, I’d have run an in-office survey to let people vote on where to order lunch on the final Friday of the month.” She looked down. “If only.”

Denise put her pizza crust down. “Getting passed up for that promotion still bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Of course it does. It was the perfect opportunity. I still don’t understand why Mr. Goodard hired somebody outside of the office, when I’ve been there since the beginning and proved I’m more than qualified for the position.”

Denise reached for another slice of pizza. “What’s done is done. I won’t argue that Millie wasn’t a good choice for that position, though. Morale in the office has really dropped since she came on board. Simone is the only person who likes her, but somehow those two playing politics keeps winning over the rest of us. It’s a shame. We all used to get along so well, like a family. Millie is tearing that place apart.”

Ruby reached for another slice of pizza. “Maybe she’ll leave.”

Denise shrugged. “Who knows? But do you think they’d hire you if she did? I mean, if they passed you over before, what’s to say they won’t do it again?”

“What do you mean?” Ruby asked.

“Did you ever find out why they hired Millie over you?”

“All they’ll say is that they can’t talk about it.”

Denise snorted. “She’s probably friends with somebody. Mr. Goodard, or Simone. It sounds like connections and playing politics to me. And if that’s the case, she won’t leave. The connection will become apparent eventually, but the truth is that she got in, and she’s set. I wouldn’t count on her leaving. Not anytime soon, at least.”

“Maybe a position will open in the Knoxville office.”

Denise pointed at Ruby. “Actually, I had a meeting there yesterday, and heard there are some people planning to retire this spring and summer. One is Mr. Goodard’s Executive Assistant in the office. That’s a higher position than an Executive Secretary. Maybe you should apply for it and leave these jokers behind.”

Ruby sighed. “Everybody keeps telling me I should look into transferring to Knoxville, but Tanger Falls is my home.”

“No, this area of Tennessee is your home, and you’d still be in it in Knoxville. It’s only 40 miles, Ruby. It’s not that far.”

“It’s 40 miles through the mountains, which is nearly an hours drive.”

“More like 45 minutes, if you don’t mind the commute.” Denise said. “But what do we do here when we want to go out? I mean, really go out, not piddle around the tourist attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? We drive into Knoxville! You’d probably love living there and not want to come back here.”

“Knoxville is too big for me,” Ruby said. “I’d be overwhelmed. I usually rush back here as soon as I can when we make those trips.”

“You’ve never given yourself a chance to get used to it,” Denise said. “Come on, Ruby. Your mother has passed and your father remarried and moved to Atlanta. What’s keeping you in this specific area?”

Ruby sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t like change.”

“Change is happening.” Denise said. “Do you think I went into graphic design to be a designer in a small tourist town in Tennessee? No, my vision was on bigger. I wanted to be in New York, or LA, doing the big stuff. But that wasn’t a realistic expectation, and when I opened myself up to other things, I found beauty and purpose here. “ She paused. “I see why you love it here. It’s beautiful, without the crowds or fast, chaotic pace of a big city. Knoxville is big, but it isn’t so huge that you’d be overwhelmed. Plus, you’d be near the University of Tennessee, and the company provides tuition assistance. You could finally go back to get your bachelor’s degree, like you planned before your mother got sick and died. And you’d have a better job than is available here. Think about it. You could be an Executive Assistant to the owner of the company, not piddling around in a branch office. That’s more than you ever expected.” She smiled. “Why not take charge of the change? Your best life could only be 40 miles away!”

“It’s been so long. I just don’t know,” Ruby said. “I’ll think about it. I know you’re right. Things aren’t the same as they were. I keep hoping that Millie will wise up and conform to our culture so we can go back to how it was.”

Denise took a deep drink of her beer. “I think you need to face the fact that things have changed for good, and there’s no going back. The question is, what path do you want to take forward? Do you want this, or do you want something better?”

“I want something better,” Ruby said, “I just don’t know how that happens.”

“That’s natural. You’ve had setbacks, but you can rise again. You just need some time to open your mind, heart, and soul to opportunity.” Denise stared at Ruby. “Can you do that, Ruby? There are opportunities coming open. Heck, the company spring picnic is next week. Why not consider that an opportunity to feel out some of the Knoxville staff for opportunities?”

Ruby thought. “Mr. Goodard has asked me about transfers a few times. Maybe this is an opportunity. And even if I don’t move, maybe somebody from this office will move, and I can move up right here.”

Denise sighed. “Whatever works.” She raised her beer glass. “To our final Final Friday!”

Ruby clinked her glass with Denise’s, her eyes shining. “To Final Friday!” She drank. “Oh yes, and whatever works!”

Denise sighed as she picked up her slice of pizza, despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. She feared things were about to get ugly, and this Friday was truly the last time before everything changed forever.

And all because Ruby wouldn’t go 40 miles to find her fate.

What happens next? Find out in Move, Book One of The Tanger Falls Mystery, available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BGTGET0
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