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Fire Escape Thoughts

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Allie was exhausted. Not tired, not weary, and not fatigued. Pure exhaustion claimed every piece of her. It was slowly creeping up her legs until they were no sturdier than a plate of quivering cherry Jell-O. It was almost dawn, she realized, as she stretched as best she could while still maintaining her balance. Her small body was perched on the fire escape outside of her bedroom window, gazing at the drowsy city with an enormous cup of black coffee in her hand. Once again, she was waiting. Her day was a busy one, and she was sick and tired of this waiting. Was this all she was to be rewarded with, endless waiting for hours of work? After she worked her morning shift at the hospital, she spent her afternoons working at the library and then nights working at the café. When she finally stumbled into her apartment, she was usually so tired she couldn’t see straight. This, however, was all worth it, just to see Nick.
They had met in college. She was a frazzled girl who ran on the ambition of becoming a great doctor. He was bored, came from a wealthy family, and knew that he was going to run the family business one day. After one fateful day in the library, they knew that their relationship would probably last. And last it did. But three years later, Allie found herself still sitting in her miniscule apartment while he was out doing god-knows-what until dawn on a regular basis. When their relationship was still young, he would come over to visit almost every night. Lately, however, when he visited, he would always smell like sour alcohol and stale cigarettes. Allie despised it. She was working harder than ever before, but still she found herself in the same place of her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. Stuck. She could see it flash before her eyes: get married, have children, be at her husband’s beck and call, stay with the same “proper” people day after day. The thought made her cringe. She wanted to live, really live! How would she do that if she were always waiting? Suddenly, she heard a car door slam.
“Allie? You home? I brought you something!” She heard Nick’s voice slur up the stairs, his footsteps uneven and unsteady. Sighing, she pulled herself back into her small apartment and opened the door.
“Hi, Nick.” She greeted him, kissing him on the cheek. The scent of brandy permeated the air around him. She caught him staring at the cup of coffee. “I was up waiting again. Where were you?”
“Eric wanted to go out after work. You know, network and stuff. It’s complicated.” He replied, stumbling into the cramped room and removing his shoes.

“Fine. Well, go to bed or something. I need to go to work.” She replied impatiently as she grabbed her keys.

All throughout the day, Allie was wondering what to do. Truly, she loved him. He was fun, spontaneous, and really did care for her. Even after three years, she could still see it. The only problem was the fact that he would lead her into a life which she had been trying to avoid ever since the cradle. Allie had left home at age sixteen, finding herself more restricted in her “privileged” life than a bird in a small cage. When she left, she made a vow to herself to never come back. There was no love in the house, just a sense of duty. She was raised by eight different nannies, and rarely saw her parents. If she stayed with Nick, it would only lead her straight back into that life. She gazed at the stunning ring on her finger. Although she had agreed to Nick last Tuesday when he had proposed, she continued to question her choice day after day. Sighing, she opened the door to the library, and the moment she did, her cell phone rang.

“Hello?” She whispered.

“Allie? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ever do that to you, not coming home. I know you hate it more than you let on. I’m sorry I’ve been less than delightful lately, and I want to tell you that it will improve. As soon as we’re married, we will get the money we need to buy a house, at the very least. I talked with my father today; he says that it is set in stone. I will be a better fiancé, I really will.” Nick blurted out.

Allie stopped dead. There, sitting on her desk was Nick with a dozen fresh roses in his hand. Usually, this sight would make her swoon and fall in love all over again. Today, she was only rewarded with a headache. She walked over and gave him a quick kiss.

“Thanks.” She sighed.

“Is something wrong?” He looked confused. He had done this before, and her response had always been very positive.

“I don’t know. Headache. I didn’t sleep last night, you know.” She kept trying to look him in the eyes, but every time she would try, her eyes refused and instead bore into the flowers.

“Okay.” He knew her well enough to know that she needed her space now. “I’ll see you at the apartment. I should be home by six.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead and left. Sighing, Allie sat down at her desk and began her work.

By the time she finished, she felt oddly energized. Her persistent headache did not go away, however, and instead of taking a taxi per usual, she decided to walk back to the apartment. The cool twilight air helped to clear her mind, and the entire way home she could only think about one thing: Nick. He would make a fabulous husband, he really would. She could tell from the way his bright blue eyes lit up when he played with his three-year-old niece, from the love she saw on his face when he looked at her. She would have financial security with him. But still, something was wrong. Allie was still fairly young, and definitely no hag. She could live by herself for a couple more years and try to find that missing puzzle piece, although a significant part of her longed to settle down. After all, she had been alone since age sixteen, and she had finally found love. This silent battle raged on and on, and soon she found herself in the shopping district of the city. How she loved New York! Even though the people were not the friendliest, there was something about the way the city moved, like little ants going about their business, that made her feel like everything was in its proper place. There was a certain glamour about the area, and she was totally enamored with it. The balmy summer evening wrapped her up in a gentle hug as she strolled past the tourists with their winking cameras. On and on she walked, until her mind was empty and all she heard was the click of her feet on the faded sidewalks. Eventually, she found herself at her apartment. She wasn’t ready for this yet. Her feet did not stop, however, and instead she found her key inside the lock, her legs moving up the stairs, and soon she was in the apartment. She examined the faded, cracked walls, the empty fireplace, and the books piled everywhere, and after hesitating for a moment, walked over to her favorite worn chair and picked up her favorite book – Kerouac, as it happens. This act usually soothed her mind, allowed her escape into a fantasy world, but tonight her eyes would only glaze over the black words on the crackling, yellow pages, unable to make coherent sentences out of the peculiar shapes. Frustrated, she slammed the book down and trudged over to the window, then nimbly leapt out onto the fire escape. There it was: her favorite sight. The sun was setting gently on the city now, bathing everything in a warm, amber glow. There she sat, as still as marble, for several long minutes. Down below her, she heard a car door slam and saw Nick approach the apartment building. Her mind was in a deafening uproar, and her senses worked slower than ever, as if her body was struggling through caramel, but her mind corpulent with caffeine. After hearing his knock on the door and freezing for just a moment, Allie leapt into action. She flung the door open, wild-eyed, and he gazed back, confusion and worry written on his face when he saw the tempest in hers.

“Allie…” He started. She interrupted with a desperate kiss, trying to feel something, trying to figure out what this silent war was about. She had to make a decision, she knew. It would only be crueler to the both of them to continue the engagement. When she pulled away, she only saw shock in his deep blue eyes.

It was then that she knew. Everything was in front of her, her fairy tale ending, the ones about princes that keep little girls giggly and awake at night. She could have it all, the dresses, the house, the beautiful children, and she could truly be happy. Never before in her life would this be possible, and she would never have guessed that she would ever find someone like this.

“I’m so sorry, Nick.” She whispered, voice shaking and green eyes welling with fresh tears. “I’m so sorry. I can’t do this.” She silently tucked the ring into his hand, despair and shock alive on his handsome features. He slowly turned and walked out, face blank with confusion.

Allie took a deep breath. She had finally found her freedom.





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