On the day Annabeth was to sign the papers and surrender the keys to her business (including all inventory and furnishings, such as they were), she looked around the tired old boozer one last time.
For six months, she’d worked an insane number of hours and constantly wracked her brain trying, if not to turn the bar’s fortunes around, to at least make it contribute toward her restaurant nest egg. It never did.
In the middle of a thought about what it would have taken to effectively run a place like this, a long burnt-out fluorescent tube inside the beer-bottle cooler suddenly turned itself on. So you’re that happy to be rid of me, she silently said to the otherwise unoccupied room.
The room, she fantasized, might have known she’d wanted to destroy it in its current form. After she realized the bar couldn’t contribute to her restaurant fund, she hoped to run it at a tolerable loss until she could install her dream restaurant in the building. That didn’t work either.
Eventually, she’d realized that to make this establishment work, she would have to become a completely different person, the sort of person who enjoyed being here. She would have to enjoy the company of Bud-sipping old men and Jaeger-swilling young men. She would have to enjoy the sounds of hair metal juke-box selections and bombastic TV sports announcers. She would need to become good at stopping arguments before they became fights.
But she’d known for a long time she could never become somebody else. Not that people didn’t try to change her.
Her ex husband was neither the first nor the last person to attempt, repeatedly, to break her strong yet calm demeanor. Heaven only knows knows how the girls in high school, and to a lesser extent in college, kept letting up situations designed to lead her “out of character.” They seemed to believe she merely pretended to be polite and respectful and proper, as if trying (too hard) to present herself to authority figures as the perfect little princess.
But no matter how much booze they tried to pour down her throat, how many “jokes” they played on her, how many different ways they tried to anger, embarrass, tickle, intoxicate, or arouse her, she remained who and what she had always been.
Not long after the last of those incidents, her then-husband set upon an ongoing campaign to mold her into his ideal wife.
At first, her demeanor attracted him. He liked the way she presented herself in public made him (and, by extension, his oft-shady business ventures) seem a little more classy.
But at home, he had other intentions.
Sometimes, he wanted her to play out scenes he’d seen in pornos. (Such bizarre concepts! Such awkward positions! So little tenderness or compassion!)
Other times, he wanted to remake her into “one of the guys.” He wanted her to come to enjoy, or at least tolerate with a smile, the meetings with shady financiers in shadier settings. The loud, meaningless chit-chat about sports and “action” movies. The ingestion of cheap liquor and who knows what other substances. The men she had to pretend to be “friends” with, with their greasy hair and their huge hands that would try to paw her whenever the husband wasn’t in view.
But through all of these occasions, Annabeth remained who and what she had always been. Her head remained book-on-the-scalp level; her spine remained good-little-girl straight. Her voice remained lilting yet assertive. She spoke in clear, coherent, complete sentences. No matter how often she had to explain herself, she never once betrayed a hint of sarcasm or impatience.
The husband then expressed another vision for what he wanted her to become. He asked her to help bankroll his entrepreneurial projects. He first suggested it in an off-hand remark at the dinner table. She proclaimed that they had agreed at the time of their engagement to keep their respective finances separate; and she did not care to risk the money she was saving to start her restaurant on speculative projects whose full details he had still not revealed to her. He insisted, then and at several subsequent occasions, that she would get her money back and much more; that this was a sure thing; that if she really loved him she would trust him.
He said that on three different days. The second time he said it, she realized she did not trust him. The third time he said it, she realized she did not love him.
From that point it was a matter of waiting for something to happen. It happened when she came home one evening and picked up the the smartphone she’d inadvertently left on the dresser that morning. His big, greasy fingerprints were on it. The email app contained a message from her bank. The message said that someone had repeatedly tried to access her account, and reminded her to regularly change her passwords.
From THAT point it was a matter of letting the attorneys sort it out.
He’d taken on major debts and had few liquid assets. By the time everything was sorted out, the bank got the house and she got one of his more legitimate investments—a controlling interest in a dying beer hall in a dying strip mall.
And now that was going away.
The building’s isolated location had made it a lousy site for a bar. But the same attribute made it a great site for a legal marijuana store. No schools or parks or churches, and very few residences, were anywhere near it.
The check Annabeth would receive this afternoon would pay back most of her operating losses, leaving her no closer to her dream restaurant than than when she’d been married.
She had no more house, no more marriage, and no more business.
But, she thought at she closed the sticky front door for the last time, she still had herself, and always would. Whether she liked it or not.