Bright Bank

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Strolling into Bright Bank, her hair only slightly less wet than when she left the apartment, Jess passed a line of customers waiting in the open lobby and headed towards the teller stations at the back of the room.

“Well look at you, five minutes early and fifteen minutes before you usually arrive,” Sam, a gangly senior teller, said in a deadpan voice. He was counting out bills into a neat pile on his counter and looked past the customer in front of him to follow Jess with his eyes.

“Whatever, you’re not my boss,” Jess retorted, looking around the room to see if Tony, her actual boss, heard the snarky comment.

Tony was in fact within earshot, sitting behind his desk across the room, but he was distracted by something else.

Busy jamming his sausage index finger onto his phone’s dial pad, Tony fumbled with the buttons, clearly becoming more and more frustrated, vexed, and annoyed. This was Tony’s first week on the job as the bank’s new manager and he seemed to be having a rough go of it. Only a couple of years older than Jess and a recent college grad with no actual managerial experience to speak of, Tony appeared to be overwhelmed by, well, everything- talking to the staff, talking to customers, and now, apparently, trying to figure out how to work his voicemail.

The pressure Tony was under was clearly evident by the sweat that bled through the pin-striped suits he stuffed himself into. And by his debilitating stutter. Sam swore that Tony only had a minor speech impediment during his job interview – which Sam was allowed to sit in on as the most senior staff member – and speculated that it was a condition amplified by stress.

Jess, though, didn’t think of Tony’s stutter as a “condition”. She thought of it more as a superpower that could be wielded against the enemy: irate customers with unreasonable expectations. Thus far, Tony was an undefeated champion in the complaint department. Despite only being on the job for a week, Jess already watched Tony deal with two angry customers. During both confrontations, the tension caused Tony’s stutter to reach an unbearable peak, but he refused to let that stop him from fully addressing the customers’ concerns. During his painfully slow and clunky responses, the customers’ eyes glazed over and confusion set in over how to appropriately handle the interaction. Ultimately, in both scenarios, the customer gave up in defeat- anything to stop Tony from talking again.

Jess lamented that she could not handle customers in the same way. Tony’s stutter was a remarkable strategic advantage in the customer service field.

“Hey, did you hear that they want us to sweep the parking lot now when we leave? That’s absurd, I’m not doing that,” Jess said in a hushed voice, leaning towards Sam.

“Why not?” Sam inquired, still looking at Jess but maintaining his mental count. Pushing back his thick, black-framed glasses to the top of his nose, Sam turned back to his customer and continued piling more twenty-dollar bills onto the stack in front of him.

“Because it’s not in my job description. It’s not what I was hired to do. I’m sure our overlords at Bright Bank can manage to pay cleaners to do that sort of thing.”

Jess turned on her computer screen and began to count the money in her cash drawer, inputting each bill amount into the primitive DOS operating system.

“I’m not above sweeping,” Sam responded simply.

The response caught Jess off guard and made her pause her counting. She knew there was a life lesson in his response, but she couldn’t quite work out the meaning, so she let the idea float away.

Pretty & Darn Slow

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Crazy Cat Running Club was the name of the local running group; a group that Jess already tried to join when she and Lexi first moved to the city six months ago. But the club wasn’t a good fit for Jess. And visa versa.

After doing some research on the internet, Lexi peer-pressured Jess to check out the popular local running group she found online. Reluctantly, Jess arrived at the meeting point Lexi gave her only to find an entirely too enthusiastic crowd of spandex-wearing men and women in skorts.  

Standing off to the side, Jess stretched while skeptically watching the crowd. Bandanas. Water packs. Coffee-gel shots. These people were strapped. Ready to run the Bataan Death March based on their supplies, let alone run a flat three miles around downtown.

As soon as the coordinator for the run, who was standing on top of an empty crate, blew his air horn, the buzzing mob began to move.

Jess quickly hopped into the middle of the crowd, pressed in side by side with the other runners like a mouth full of bad teeth.  

It was baffling how many people tried to start a conversation with Jess despite the headphones in her ears. Even more baffling was how everyone looked like they were running, but were actually moving at a walking pace. No long strides. No heavy breathing. Jess was pressed into a crowd that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, just bouncing up and down like they were an audience at a rock concert.

This was not how Jess enjoyed working out.

At the end of the run route, spouses and children perched along the sides of the road cheered the runners on as they were funneled under a large white banner inscribed with the inspirational message: Off the couch and onto the street, we run for fun, but also for treats! Jess didn’t like that either. She furiously pressed the volume button on her phone to turn up her music, hoping to drown out the applause, but the volume was already at full blast.

About to peel off from the group and head home to avoid praise from strangers for a mediocre achievement, something just beyond the corny banner caught Jess’ eye. As she moved closer, food stacked up on folding tables came into view. It was the most glorious breakfast spread that Jess had ever seen- nothing but mounds of donuts and beer.

These people were alright.

Jess made her way to an empty table that had been scavenged through already, but at least she wouldn’t have to fight off waiting family members who hovered over the more desirable items like a swarm of gnats. Under a stray napkin, Jess found a hidden gem. One unmolested powdery donut. The sugar called to Jess as she reached her hand towards it, only to see a second hand suddenly drift towards her prize.  

“Would you like to join our table?”

Jess locked eyes with a perky, middle-aged woman who had cropped blonde hair and a hint of crazy in her eyes. Not crazy, crazy, but relentlessly cheerful type of crazy. Through her peripherals, Jess saw that written on the front of the woman’s pink tank top, in big bold letters, was the word “PRETTY”. Jess resisted the urge to roll her eyes while still making direct eye contact with the stranger. The question dangled in the air between them. Jess, however, was too distracted by the woman’s hand continuing to move ever so slightly below her own.

Without breaking eye contact, Jess thrusted her hand down past the woman’s and snagged the donut for herself. The woman’s wide smile was drawn into a pinched expression.

While scurrying back to her car, holding the donut to her chest, Jess glanced back to see the words “DARN SLOW” written on the back of the woman’s shirt. Jess let out an audible laugh as she opened the dented driver’s side door of the Buick LeSabre she inherited from her grandparents, realizing that she misjudged the woman.

The woman wasn’t pretentious, she was idiosyncratic.

And who am I to judge the offbeat? The quirky? The delightfully weird? Jess thought as she looked over at the built-in phone protruding from the center console of her car. A relic Jess affectionately referred to as her “conversation piece.”

“Are you still going to the party this weekend?” Lexi asked.

“That I wouldn’t miss,” Jess replied, tossing her lipstick in her purse and heading out the door.

Tattooed Heart

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Rolling down the sleeves of her white collared shirt, Jess paused to admire the fresh shine of a scribbled black heart covered in splashes of plum, lilac, and baby blue watercolors on her left forearm- her latest and favorite tattoo.

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The Roommate Wars

CHAPTER 1.2: W…W…W…Why don’t you love me?

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Jess almost jumped out of her skin when she bumped into Lexi in the kitchen; despite being the one that looked like a crazy person. Ruddy cheeks. Sweat-infused hair. She looked like a homeless cat lady on Adderall.

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Dollies For Sale

CHAPTER 1: W…W…W…Will You Love Me?

THE TRAIL JESS JOGGED ON EVERY MORNING was either beautiful or terrifying, depending on how you looked at it.

The only time Jess found herself centered and at peace, however, was when she jogged on that winding dirt path in the woods, the one that followed along a muddy creek, buzzing with life.

It was easy to lose herself in the simplistic beauty of it all, despite the unwelcoming scowls from grumpy snapping turtles from time to time.

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