Irish Billionaire's Sextuplet BabiesBy: Sophia Lynn
Thursday was a blur. Natalie Baker could easily remember how it had started. She had gotten up, gotten dressed in her favorite green dress and black cardigan, her shoes as low and sensible as always. She had taken the bus to work, greeted the security guard at the front, and found her cubicle just as comfortingly cramped as always. Then Jen had come to her with that strangely grim look on her face, and Natalie remembered being alarmed.
Maybe it's the Westerly accounts, maybe there was a mistake somewhere? That would be very strange, I checked them...
“Natalie, Mr. Browning wants to speak with you. Right away.”
The emphasis was more menacing than not, and that was when it all started to move in fast forward. Everything after that moment was a blur, from the walk to the manager's office, to the manager opening his mouth and telling her that after three years of exemplary service, she was being let go.
“This is no reflection on you, of course,” Mr. Browning had said. “We are just moving the department forward, phasing out your position. Of course, I'll be happy to give you a reference, and while we regret...”
His voice faded away to meaningless squawks, and Natalie found herself staring at his mouth as it opened and shut. It was oddly fascinating to her in this state. She felt as if he were some kind of puppet being controlled by strings she could not see. What did that mean?
She stayed in that strange, fugue-like state until the door opened behind her, and Raymond, the security guard she had greeted just a few hours ago, came in with a look of stolid indifference on his face.
“Raymond will escort you to your desk where you can gather your things, and then he'll show you off the property.”
Natalie stared at Mr. Browning, shaking her head slightly.
“Do you...do you think that I'm going to steal something?” she demanded. “Seriously?”
Mr. Browning flushed, but he remained unmoved. “I'm sorry, Ms. Baker, but it's company policy, I'm afraid.”
The blurs moved faster now. Natalie remembered packing up her things, the stares from her coworkers. They were probably wondering what she had done. Perhaps she had been caught stealing or slacking off. Who knew; what mattered was that their jobs were safe. They weren't the ones on the chopping block.
Her box of personal items was pathetically small. There were a few snapshots from old friends she didn't see anymore, a sketch of a horse she had found beautiful, a dried flower that crumbled to dust as soon as she touched it. Fitting, Natalie supposed, and then she was being escorted out the door.
“Sorry about this,” Raymond muttered, pulling it shut after her.
“Yeah, me too,” Natalie said, still stunned, and because she had nothing else to do, she made her way home.
Her little apartment was in one of the shabbier neighborhoods of Chicago, but it was a studio, and it belonged to her. When Natalie entered it, the thought struck her that without a job, it wouldn't be hers for very long.
An icy chill consumed her, even if it was late August and sweltering in the city. She set down her purse and box of office debris and simply shook. God, what would happen to her if she couldn't pay rent?
Her parents were long gone, taken by an accident when she was seventeen. She had an older sister who had never had much to do with her in Canada (Oh God, does she even still live in Canada? Did she even give me her most recent phone number?). Beyond that, there were friends from school, and even the odd boyfriend, but...she was alone. There was no one besides her.
“Oh God,” Natalie whispered, wrapping her arms around herself. She thought she would start to scream if she let it out. She paced from wall to wall just so she would have something to do, but her mind was spinning in circles. She knew she had to get her resume in order, start marshaling her efforts to stay on top of things and make sure she didn't actually fall into the abyss.
She must have paced for a few hours, at the very least. When a knock came at her door, her feet ached and her legs were unexpectedly sore. Peeking through the peephole told her that it was Mrs. Rhodes from across the hall and not an ax murderer, and she reminded herself that was a good thing. She opened the door, because at the very least, she could be polite.
“Hon, it looks like the super's going through and making sure we're using our storage lockers, so you should probably send him a note to say...”
Natalie thought she was doing a good job holding it together, but apparently she wasn't, because her elderly neighbor frowned at her.
“Hon, what's the matter with you? You look like someone drowned your hound dog.”
Mrs. Rhodes's words were so hilariously awful that Natalie had to choke back a horrified laugh.
“Oh God. No. No, nothing like that. It's just...”