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No Tomorrow
Author:Carian Cole

No Tomorrow by Carian Cole





Chapter One





1998





A menu sails across my desk and knocks over my paperclip holder.

“Earth to Piper Karel,” my co-worker Melissa says, ignoring the destruction she just caused. “How interesting can reception work really be? I’ve said your name like three times! I’m calling in a lunch order soon and going to pick it up. Do you want anything?”

It’s 10:30 a.m. and I’m still nursing the tea I made earlier this morning. I’ve been too buried sorting out my inbox to even touch my granola bar, let alone to think about what I want for lunch. I wonder what’s going on in Melissa’s inbox that lunch is her priority.

I hand the checkered menu back to her and return my paperclips back to their little rectangular magnetic house. “No, thank you. I’m good.”

“Maybe if you ate lunch once in a while you wouldn’t be such a stick, Piper.”

“I do eat lunch, Melissa. I just like to eat at the park and get some fresh air instead of being in this office for nine hours straight every day.”

“You miss all the fun leaving the office for lunch every day. All the good stuff happens in the lunch room in this place.”

Ah, yes. The office gossip. Just last week I missed some drama. If I’m ever up for a promotion, I can guarantee I wouldn’t congratulate my competitor by dumping my salad into her lap.

“I just like some quiet time to myself sometimes,” I reply.

“Right. Enjoy your quiet lunch then. All by yourself. As usual.” She tosses her hair and flounces away with the menu tucked under her arm.

At twenty-one, I’m the youngest person in the office. I work for a small fashion design firm. Our activewear line is really popular nationwide and two seasons ago we partnered with a celebrity designer on a pair of yoga pants that put the company on the map. I started working here as a receptionist and general office assistant part-time my senior year of high school and was brought on full-time after I graduated. Answering phone calls and typing letters isn’t exactly my idea of a career, but it pays the bills. The company is growing steadily and there are always openings for new positions. I’m just waiting for the right one to pique my interest, hopefully in marketing or product development. For now, I’m happy learning as much about the products and the company as I can.

When I took this job, I hoped it would be a new start for me across the board. I was looking forward to being around people who didn’t know how awkward I had always been, and I thought I’d make new friends.

I was the girl who puked on the first day of first grade and who tripped wearing black pumps and a mini skirt on the first day of high school. I fell like a baby deer, legs sprawled, and flashed my panties with little kittens on them to half the school. They never forgot I was the puker, and they sure as hell didn’t forget I was the one with the kitten panties. The boys purred and meowed at me for months, and the girls nicknamed me Pussypuker.

Fun times.

I had such high hopes for joining the working world—a real professional atmosphere. I didn’t expect to be surrounded by married men who flirted with all the women. Or stressed-out coffee addicts who screamed about their spreadsheets. Or women who gossiped and stirred drama like they were paid to.

Welcome to adulthood.

And I certainly wasn’t expecting Melissa, who graduated from high school the year before me, to start working here a few months ago. She was one of the elite popular girls in school. She had the nicest clothes, the nicest car, friends who hung on her every word, and all the most attractive guys panting after her. My awkwardness and random mishaps were a great source of amusement for her back then. She’s much more subtle about mocking me now, but she’s still just as annoying.



Just before noon, I take two steps into the courtyard of the office building when something smashes into the side of my head. Hard, soft, and…flapping? I reach up and touch a small sore spot above my temple. A small blue bird flutters haphazardly on the ground next to my feet before it flies off into a nearby tree.

What the heck? I scrunch my eyes against a dull pain in my temple, wondering what it says about me that a bird flew into my head.

Laughter erupts from my right. Melissa and a woman from accounting are smoking and shaking their heads at me. I’m pretty sure I heard the word birdbrain thrown in my direction.

Shaking off my embarrassment, I retrieve a compact mirror from my purse. The quiet park is just a few blocks away, but I want to make sure I don’t have a gash on my head, which would only renew my humiliation. What I assume was the point of beak impact hurts, but after inspection, I see no blood—only faint redness… and a tiny blue feather stuck to my forehead.

“Crazy ass bird…” I mutter as I wipe the evidence away.

A horn blares and I jump, dropping my mirror, which shatters at my feet.

Shit.

“Pay attention, you idiot!” the driver yells. My heart jumps when I realize I’ve unknowingly walked into the busy crosswalk. The woman swerves her maroon sedan around me and the pieces of my broken mirror as I rush to the other side of the street, mouthing an apology.

Freakin’ Mondays. If a black cat crosses my path, I’m calling it quits and going home to hide under the safety of my fluffy comforter.

As I near the park bench I’ve inhabited during my lunch hour for the past three months, there’s something different in the breezy air that I can’t quite put my finger on. The usual sounds of children laughing and leaves rustling seem muted, as if they’ve faded into the background. I am intrigued by something I haven’t heard before—soft acoustic music.

The inviting melody grows louder with each step. The source is not far from what I consider my bench. I’m surprised to see it’s not a radio playing, as I first thought, but a guy who appears to be in his early to mid-twenties, sitting on the ground with a guitar. He’s leaning against a short decorative brick partition. A small, floppy-eared brown dog wearing a black bandana sits next to him.

As I walk past him to get to my bench, I notice that almost every visible inch of his body, with the exception of his face, is covered with tattoos. Black tribal designs peek from holes in his worn jeans. Faces, flowers, and clouds cover his arms, and the designs scatter over the tops of his hands and along his talented fingers. Yikes. I have one tattoo on my wrist—a tiny ladybug perched on a leaf—and it hurt like hell. Getting jabbed with a needle in the knees and elbows had to sting like crazy.

Maybe he’s one of those people who enjoy pain.

I eye the musician with as much discreet curiosity as I can muster and busy myself with taking my chicken salad sandwich out of an insulated lunch bag. I fumble with the cling wrap, which is now stuck to itself and holding on as desperately as a crazy ex.

The guitarist gazes downward, long brown hair hanging across his face and past his shoulders. He’s deeply immersed in the song. It’s a dreamy, hypnotizing melody that almost sounds like several guitars, rather than just the one. I don’t know the first thing about playing a musical instrument, but I can tell he’s incredibly talented.

I chew my sandwich as a small crowd forms around him. He plays on, not looking up. The only indication he’s aware of his audience comes when he gives a subtle nod to someone throwing money into the Mason jar set in front of him. I guess he doesn’t have to thank them because his dog is waving its onyx-padded paw at each donor.