Wings to Fly

September 16, 2008
Tall, brunette, and 27, Brittany Windsor lived in an apartment in the Upper East Side of New York City, with views of Central Park on one end and high-rise buildings on another. Every morning at eight o'clock, she bought a cappucino at the Starbucks across the street, and then proceeded on to her job as the vice president of Grayson Designs, Inc., a successful design company that had recently been featured on Time magazine. She was married to Robert Windsor, the CEO of Windsor Advertising and one of the Top 100 Wealthiest People in the World. People stared as she crossed the street in her pumps from Saks Fifth Avenue. Her colleagues scurried around Grayson Designs, jealousy alight in their eyes for whatever pantsuit she had bought fron Neiman Marcus the day before. Everyone thought they knew Brittany Windsor.

The store security camera followed the path of the tall, trembling woman as she made her way through the swaths of flowers in the shop. She wrung the hem of her skirt in her hands, her eyes cast down at the floor. One could tell from her stance and the set of her face that, even in the empty store, she desperately wanted to disappear.

The cashier peered around the corner. "May I help you, ma'am?" he asked, though his tone was far more exasperated than helpful.

She looked up, startled, and then pasted on a weak smile. "Yes. Actually. I was you have any fresh roses in stock?"

"Yeah, we do. How many?" He picked at his fingernails, bored.

"A dozen, please. Thank you."

The cashier rang up the sale, laying the bouquet carelessly upon the table. "That'll be eleven ninety-five. Cash, credit, or debit?"

She pulled out a twenty and took the roses reverently, as if they might save her from whatever fate she was about to face. Once again, she attempted to smile, but at seeing the cashier's hard face, she exited the florist's shop with her head down.

Brittany Windsor walked down the street with her heels clicking on the sidewalk, trying to make sense of what had happened that afternoon. She had given up crying in the seventh grade, but now she felt tears pricking at her eyes again. Angrily, she swiped a hand across her face. What had her mother said, more than a decade ago? "Big girls don't cry." She had never hated a piece of advice more in her life.

She remembered, dimly, how happy she had been just after lunch. Her assistant had called to say that she had booked a table at Le Select, the prestigious French restaurant at which it took months to successfully make a reservation. Brittany had been ecstatic. She had been longing, for months, to talk to her husband Robert about starting a family. But Windsor Advertising had been so busy lately that it had been hard to bring anything up at the dinner table.

Giddy, Brittany took a taxi over to Windsor Advertising and rode the elevator up. She smiled at everyone around her: the receptionist, people by her in the elevator, even the janitor. Though Robert hardly ever took her to work withhim and almost no one recognized her, she took a small pride at being Mrs. Windsor, the trophy wife of their CEO. It wasn't a title the average New York woman achieved overnight. It was a position that she had worked up to, a long odyssey of dinner dates and quiet flirtation, and she, like any other woman, wanted now to flaunt her well-deserved prestige. However, she had been disappointed; no one glanced twice at her. It seemed like Robert had never mentioned her to anyone at Windsor Advertising.

Shrugging it off, Brittany arrived on the twentieth floor and made her way to the only office there. Robert's doors were polished mahogany, specially imported from somewhere across the globe. She couldn't remember when he had told her that.

She was about to knock when she heard sounds inside. She frowned in annoyance, knowing how irritated Robert became when he was interrupted during one of his business calls. Should she wait until it was over? What was it, anyway?

Carefully, Brittany pressed her ear to the door. This was most definitely not a business call, even in the loosest definition. Animal sounds came from inside, occasional words and mutterings. Her face paled and she scolded herself for entertaining such ridiculous notions. It couldn't be what she was hearing...

The door wasn't locked. She eased it open. No one was in the sitting room, but she knew Robert's actual office was located deeper in. That door was closed.

As she tried to tiptoe across the hardwood floors, she accidentally knocked against a glass vase. It wobbled, unsteady, and she gasped, trying to hold it with her fingertips. Try as she might, though, she couldn't stop it from slipping out of her hands and shattering on the floor with a deafening crash. She froze in horror.

Three seconds later, the door to Robert's office flew open and out skidded his blonde secretary, one of her stilettos on backwards and the buttons on her blouse mismatched. She stared at Brittany as if the brunette had three heads. Brittany stared back, waves of dread and terror threatening to overwhelm her. She tried to tell herself that she wasn't seeing what she was seeing, but the sphere of protection she lived in had smashed as easily as the ridiculous glass vase. Cheater.

Robert came out a moment later, smooth and calm as he always was. At that moment, Brittany hated him for the supercilious look on his face, the one he always wore with that skeptical eyebrow arched high, that allowed him to win any argument and dismiss any suspicion. "Well, what have we here?" he asked, as if he were discussing a business venture over tea. He glanced over at Brittany. "Oh, I didn't know you were coming over, honey. You should have called first; you know that."

Suddenly Brittany knew that she would never win. Even though all the evidence was against him, Robert always managed to turn the situation around and seem as if he were accusing her. "What do I know?" she whispered, tears choking her.

Robert's face wasn't even flushed. Instead of answering, he glanced at the glass on the floor. "Oh, my," he said mildly. "If only you had told me that you were so clumsy. I had just gotten off with a contact in Brazil. He has a shipment of the most wonderful antique vases. Cecilia, please go get me a coffee. I'm thirsty."

The secretary nodded, a bare movement of her head, and scooted out the door as fast as she could, not wanting to be caught in the husband-wife crossfire. Brittany didn't blame her. Right then, all she could see was Robert, with that calm expression she hated, even though he knew he had hurt her as badly as any husband could hurt his wife. "How could you? How could you do this to me? To us?" she tried again. Tried to squeeze some feeling out of those gray eyes. She wasn't even looking for as much as remorse. Just to know that somewhere, in the farthest corner of his heart, he felt something for her, cared for how she did.

"What have I done? As far as I know, you were the one who barged into my office, broke my vase, and interrupted my business call," Robert said coldly, not giving up an inch.

Brittany turned away. Somewhere, somehow, some part of her tucked-away conscience had always know it would end up like this. Her unconscious knew Robert better than she had allowed it to tell her, and now she was paying the price. "Just go," she said softly. Her voice no longer carried with it the steel and pride that Mrs. Windsor was supposed to have. Right now, she was just Brittany.

"Go?" Robert laughed as if he couldn't believe she had stated something so ludicrous. "Go? Do you remember where you are, woman? You're in my office. This is my office. Windsor Advertising."

Brittany flinched at hearing herself addressed as "woman". All of a sudden it seemed as if they were strangers, enemies, not husband and wife of three years. She realized, abruptly, that she didn't know the man before her at all. "Leave," she attempted one last time. All she wanted was some privacy, some time to sweep up what was left of her dignity and what she could salvage of the pieces around her. "Please." Tears flooded her cheeks, though she turned her face so he wouldn't see. "P-please. Just - just leave me alone."

She thought Robert had actually listened to her for once until he spoke, and this time his voice was hard with derision. "Leave you? Who do you think you are, ordering me around?" he roared. He was angry now, she observed through the protective curtain of her hair, and he lashed out with his arm, knocking down a table. "Well, I'll tell you. You're nothing but Mrs. Windsor. And without me, you're nothing at all! You don't know how lucky you were to be taken in by me, and you stand here, daring to yell at me like we have problems like other couples! You know what? You go. Out! I don't want to see your face around here ever again!"

Brittany stumbled back as if she'd been slapped. She thought the force of his words had made her explode into individual molecules, with her real consciousness floating to the ceiling. She saw, dimly, her body backing away until it staggered out the door and into the hallway and then on until her back hit the elevator. She felt the warm film of tears in her eyes, obscuring her vision, but then again she wasn't part of her body anymore. She had distanced herself from the turmoil, some sort of instinctual defense mechanism. And all she knew was that she didn't ever want to return.

The screech of tires and the irate scream of a New York bus driver jolted Brittany back to reality. She realized that she'd been sobbing again. She must look a mess - mascara smeared, clothes rumpled, eyes puffy. She had lost one of her contact lenses, but she could see that she had, at least, arrived at her apartment building. Exhaling, she clutched the roses to her chest and recited what she would say. If Robert was inside already, she would take the first move, allow him to keep his pride intact. She would apologize first. Then they would work things out. She would say that she didn't know what had come over her, or that here hormones had overwhelmed her. Robert would accept her wrong, as he always did, and everything would be back as it used to be.

Sam, the doorman, inhaled quickly when he saw here. "Mrs. Windsor!" he exclaimed, and she felt a tiny tear in her heart when he said her last name. "What in the world happened to you?" He pulled her inside, gently, and she was relieved to melt into his strong touch. Tears welled in her eyes again for some reason, coming on stronger than ever.

Brittany tried to smile, but she was sure it came out cracked. "Sam," she said with genuine happiness. Her voice warbled on his name. "Have you seen - was my h-husband here, by any chance? Have you seen him?"

Pressing his lips together, he eyed her in her desolate state, and a concerned light came into his green eyes. "You know, Miss Brittany," he said, careful to keep his voice quiet and confidential, "whatever happens, you can always talk to me. I will always be here for you, whether you know it or not-"

"Brittany! There you are!"

Her heart pounding - half with terror, half with anticipation - Brittany turned to see Robert striding through the lobby. For the sake of the employees and building residents, he had glued on a quite convincing smile to his face. He bounced on the balls of his feet as he came closer. All in all, it was a cleverly constructed facade that repelled any suspicion. Brittany knew he had outsmarted her once again. If she chose to make a scene, she would be the one looked down upon, not him.

"Robert," she echoed, her voice heavy. Her sweaty hands strangled the bouquet of roses. She glanced back at Sam, a precautionary look, and saw the truth slowly dawning in his eyes. He looked almost as if he wanted to hold her back.

Robert stopped in front of them, his head cocked to the side, a confused expression on his face. "Brittany, darling," he purred, "you should have called! I was so worried about you when you left the office alone." His eyes alone sent out a menacing warning: "Don't you dare make a scene here."

Brittany searched for her words of repentance, a second ago so close to the surface, but she found that with Sam so close, she couldn't find them. She didn't want to see that defeated look in his eyes when she caved once more to Robert, as she always did. To buy time, she stared down at her roses. Why were they here, anyway? Traditionally, the ardent red color was supposed to symbolize love, but here they were a peace offering, an "I'll-be-good-if-you-let-this-slide" kind of plea. But what did Robert need to let slide? She hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, it was he who had committed the crime. Then why was it always like this? Why was it always she who had to apologize, she who had to back down, she who was the imperfect one, she who had forced their marriage onto the rocks...

Brittany gasped as if she had just surfaced from an eternity underwater. Her eyes blazing, she gripped the bouquet harder and met Robert's iron gaze. She was aware of Sam right behind here, Sam who seemed to be beaming her strength even though she couldn't see him. "Ro-Robert," she stammered. Tears were forming again, but she pushed on through the boulder in her throat. "Robert." This time it was a command, not a plea. She had finally found something within her that was strong enough to face her fears without.

"Brittany," he growled, but she plowed on.

"I-I can't do this anymore. I'm not going to. You know as well as I do that this isn't how it should be. That's why...that's why, Robert, that's why I'm leaving. I want out."

Taking a deep breath, she dropped the bouquet and it fell with a small thump at his feet. Maybe the Manhattan had experienced its first earthquake in centuries, or the Earth had veered sharply on its course around the sun, or maybe something as trivial as a woman finding her voice had happened. Whichever it was, Brittany turned away from Robert to look at Sam's shining gaze. The entire world must have been shaken up, because she was both sobbing and smiling as she hurled herself into the doorman's arms.

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