East or West

This long long story was my final for my fiction class.

Nicholas McAvoy sat at his desk in his corner office, looking out the window at the bustling city below. People flooded the sidewalks as taxis, buses, and carpools made their way through the streets. He enjoyed his job as the chief executive officer for New York Financial, but wondered what life would have been like if he had not taken a job here right out of college and become the CEO after four years due to a lucky coincidence. Nicholas still had a hard time grasping the fact that he had made enough money to retire and he was only twenty-five. Even though his job was amazing, he sometimes wished he could just pack up his life here and leave all his responsibilities, but he had grown so accustomed to having his life revolve around his career that he didn’t know what he’d do without it. The sound of his secretary’s voice on the intercom brought him out of his contemplative state.
“Mr. McAvoy, the four new financial executives are here to meet with you,” Brenda said in an uninterested tone.
He sighed loudly and then said, “Thank you Brenda please send them in after three minutes.”
“Yes Mr. McAvoy,” Brenda responded.
He swiveled his leather chair to face his desk and looked at his very neat planner to see that this meeting was on today’s schedule. He straightened the few papers on his desk, pulled out a small mirror, and quickly glanced to make sure every dark brown hair was in place. He dusted a little bit of fuzz off his dark grey suit and placed his folded hands on the desk. The four men came into the office and Nicholas stood to greet them with a warm smile and a firm handshake. They were all much older than he was and they looked at Nicholas and his spacious office with wide eyes. Nicholas was used to this reaction, no one expected to see a twenty-five-year-old running a company.
“I invited you all to my office this morning to welcome you to New York Financial. The jobs you have just accepted will not be easy and will be exceedingly overwhelming at first,” Nicholas said, sitting back down in his chair with perfect posture, “However, I am sure you will feel at home here in time. If you work diligently and carefully, the company will reward you and you’ll be moving up the ladder rather quickly, as I did in the past four years.”
The four men sat in complete silence as he addressed them and left after another firm handshake. Nicholas sat back down at his desk and looked back at his planner. He noted that today was Thursday, June 20. He unexpectedly recalled that this was his anniversary with his old girlfriend that he’d dated through senior year of high school and college, Sophia Langdon.  It was two in the afternoon and he was done with all of his appointments so his mind was free to recall the memory of their breakup. He had just accepted a job at New York Financial and was out to dinner with Sophia to celebrate, one week after they had graduated from college. She was wearing the short black dress she always wore for special occasions and her hair was draped over her shoulders delicately.
“Nick, I’m so proud of you,” She had said smiling, taking his hands in hers across the table.
 “Thanks. I really think this is where I’m supposed to be and I can’t believe it’s happening so quickly!” Nicholas replied, beaming.
“I know, it really was fast,” Sophia said, her smile fading, “So you’ll be moving to New York in a few weeks?”
“Yeah, that’s the worst part of this job. What we have is so great and I really don’t want things to end,” He said squeezing her hands softly.
“Why do things have to end?” Sophia asked with surprise, dropping his hands and crossing her arms across her chest.
“Um, you know, we don’t really have to discuss this just now,” Nicholas said, trying to brush things off.
“No, if things are going to end, I think we need to discuss them now. What makes you think we have to stop dating?” Sophia asked with furrowed eyebrows.
“Well you’ll be staying here in California for graduate school, so I just didn’t think it was possible for us to have a relationship when we’re living across the country from each other.”
“You don’t even want to see if it could work? I thought you just said you don’t want things to end?” Sophia’s voice was high-pitched, as it always was when she was furious.
“I just really think I need to put all my effort toward my career right now,” Nicholas explained with a swallow.
Sophia paused for what felt like the longest minute in Nicholas’ life and said, “Fine. That’s just fine,”
She stood up, grabbed her purse and said, “Have a great life Nick.”
“Sophia wait,” Nicholas asked, but she was already on her way out of the restaurant.
He had called her several times that night, leaving long messages on her voicemail but he knew he had deeply hurt her. Looking back several years later, Nicholas wished he could take it all back. He should have gone after her and apologized and he regretted not taking the needed action. Nicholas had not seen her in four years and it was the first time he’d thought of her in a long time. He turned to look out at the people walking on the street and wondered where all the time had gone.
“Mr. McAvoy, your brother is on line one,” Brenda said into the intercom.
“Thank you Brenda,” Nicholas said and turned back to his desk, “Hey Ben, how are you?”
“Nick, I’m good. How have you been? It’s been a few months since we’ve talked.”
“Yeah I know I’ve just been so busy at work. So what’s going on with you? Are you still dating that girl, uh…Kristin?”
“Things are going well at work, nothing too exciting. Yeah I’m still dating Kristin. Actually, I called to tell you that I asked her to marry me last night.”
“Are you serious? That seemed so quick!”
“Nick, when you met her at Christmas we’d already been dating for over a year,” Ben explained.
“Wow, I can’t believe it. I guess you have been dating for a long time. So she said yes, right?”
Ben laughed and said, “Yes she did. We decided we just want to have a small wedding here in town in a week. Is there any way you could make it out here?”
“I’ve been buried in work lately and I haven’t had a work-free weekend in a long, long, time.” Nicholas said, looking at his planner.
“I understand, it’s just I’d really like it if you were here to be my best man.”
Nicholas paused and thought about how long it had been since he’d relaxed, and how quickly his life was passing him by. Weddings were important and Nicholas suddenly realized he felt a need to be there with his family.
“You know what Ben, I’ll be there. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you all and I could use a vacation.”
“Alright great! The wedding is not this Saturday but the week after. I know you’re busy so any day you can fly out is fine.”
“Alright I’ll book a flight for Friday. No, I’ll come out this weekend so we can actually hang out before the big day.” Nicholas decided with the most spontaneity he’d had in years.
“Well good, I’m really looking forward to seeing you. I should probably get going though, I need to invite the rest of the guests, but I’ll tell Mom and Dad that you’re coming so they’ll come pick you up at the airport.”
“Thanks Ben, see you soon.” Nicholas said and hung up the phone.
He couldn’t believe he had made a decision so quickly like that, and it felt good. Every day was precisely scheduled in his planner and it was nice to ignore it all.
“Brenda my brother is getting married so I need to book a flight to California for this weekend and I’ll return the following Sunday. Would you do that for me and re-arrange my appointments?” Nicholas asked through the intercom.
“Of course Mr. McAvoy, I’ll bring in the flight information as soon as I can.” Brenda responded.
Nicholas leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head, thinking about how nice it would be to take a vacation. His looked over at his laptop and noticed that he had acquired twenty-three emails during the short conversation with his brother and his reminiscing of the past. He sat back up in his chair and began to respond hurriedly to all the messages. When Brenda came in with the flight information ten minutes later, he had nearly forgotten about the wedding.
Saturday morning arrived quickly and Nicholas made his way through the crowded airport to find his gate. He was there an hour early and since he hadn’t bothered to pack anything to do, he took out his phone and began reading and responding to the constant emails that made it vibrate loudly. When his seating section was called Nicholas got in line to board the plane. He had chosen a seat in coach, the silence of first class made him too anxious, and he quickly found his seat by the window. As the seats around him filled up with other passengers, Nicholas devoted his attention to his phone. A sudden tapping on his shoulder brought him back to reality.
“I’m sorry sir; you’re going to need to turn off all electronic devices, we’re about ready for takeoff.” A flight attendant in a dark blue suit and a perfect white smile informed him.
“Oh, right. Sorry about that.” Nicholas said and turned his phone off with some displeasure.
He was surprised to see that the plane was now full and sighed as he realized he’d been spending his so-called vacation time, working. He made a resolution not to think about work for the rest of the flight and instead watched the two movies the flight provided, and even took a nap. When the plane landed Nicholas felt the most relaxed he’d been in a very long time.
“There he is! Nicky, over here!” Nicholas’ mom exclaimed through her open window when she pulled up along the curb at the airport.
“Hey Mom!” Nicholas said and allowed her to hug him tightly.
“We’re so excited to see you!” She said against his chest.
“It’s great to have you home.” Nicholas’ dad said, grabbing his luggage and putting it in the trunk.
“Thanks guys. I’m glad to be back.” Nicholas said as his mom detached herself and they all climbed into the old Mercedes.
On their way back to the grey house in San Clemente that Nicholas had grown up in, they caught up with each other. Much of the weekend was spent in this same manner, with various family members sitting around the kitchen table or laying out on the beach telling stories and giving updates. Nicholas was having a hard time ignoring the constant emails sent to his cell phone, but by Tuesday he was able to put it in his suitcase and forget about it. He was with Ben for the majority of the week, helping him with all the wedding preparations and enjoying his time away from the stresses of work. There were only fifty people coming to the wedding but Nicholas was excited to see his extended family and some of his old friends. Nicholas was only a year older than Ben so they’d had many friends in common back in high school. Friday afternoon Nicholas was running some last minute errands for Ben when he happened to see Sophia at the florist shop. She was wearing a white dress and her black curls were pulled back in a loose ponytail.
“Sophia Langdon?”
“Nick McAvoy! What are you doing in town?” Sophia asked, giving him a warm hug.
“I’m here for my brother’s wedding, what about you?”
“I just got back from teaching English abroad so I’m living with my parents until I find my own place.”
“That’s great, where were you teaching?”
“In Madrid, actually.”
“Oh wow, I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Sophia said as she self-consciously played with a strand of her hair.
“You really look beautiful Sophia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you and I’ve really missed you.”
“Thank you Nick, it really has been a while.” Sophia said, blushing slightly.
There was a long and awkward pause as Nicholas thought of what he could say and his hands were starting to clam up.
“Well I need to drop these flowers off at home but would you maybe like to get coffee with me tonight?”
“Um, yeah I guess that’d be okay,” Sophia answered.
“Alright well I’ll pick you up at eight then.” Nicholas said and nervously hugged her again before grabbing the flowers and leaving.
He walked in the front door of the house still thinking about Sophia and smiling as he recalled memories of her. He put the flowers in the fridge then went over to the kitchen table where Ben and Kristin were sitting, planning the seating chart for the wedding dinner.
“Thanks for helping out with everything.” Kristin said.
“No problem.” Nicholas said with a smile.
“You’re certainly in a good mood.” Ben noticed.
“I just ran into Sophia at the florists’ and we’re going out for coffee tonight.”
“Sophia Langdon?” Ben asked.
Nicholas nodded.
“Oh that’s right, she’s back in town,” Kristin remembered, “You should invite her to the wedding tomorrow. We were just trying to figure out who you should sit next to.”
“That’s a great idea.” Nicholas said and then sat down to help them finish the rest of the seating chart.
A little before eight Nicholas made his way to Sophia’s house to pick her up. When she answered the door she was still wearing the white dress she was wearing earlier, but her hair was down and her soft curls bounced around her shoulders. There was a bit of tension overriding their conversation in the car and as they sat in the overstuffed couches at the coffeehouse Nicholas wondered if it had to do with their breakup.
He put his coffee cup down and leaned forward to say, “Listen, I know I hurt you before and I want you to know that I regret so much from that last day we were together.”
“It was four years ago Nick, and I’ve moved on, but I don’t think you realize how much your words hurt,” Sophia said, looking down at her coffee, “I was in love with you and had dreams of marrying you.”
“I realize now that I made a huge mistake that night. I should have asked you to come to New York with me.”
“What? You think the mistake you made was not inviting me to New York? Nick, we’d been dating for five years and then you left me the second you got a job. I thought you would have considered our relationship before accepting a job on the other side of the country.”
“It was an amazing job offer and I was scared that I’d never get my career going if I didn’t accept it.” Nicholas admitted.
“Nick being scared is part of life, but you’re not supposed to leave the girl you love because of it. Are you still working for that same company?”
“Yeah, I’m the CEO of the company now.”
“I can’t believe you’ve devoted so much of your life to that job. I bet you’re not even happy there.”
“It’s interesting that you say that because I’ve never really considered whether or not I’m happy with my life until this past week. I have stayed at this same job for four years because I’m successful at it and I’d always assumed that career success would come hand in hand with personal success.” Nicholas said between sips of coffee, “I’ve come to realize that is isn’t necessarily true and I know I don’t want to be the guy who lives at his desk anymore.”
Sophia looked at Nicholas and saw the pained expression on his face and the sincerity in his deep blue eyes.
“My little brother is getting married tomorrow, and it bothers me to think that you and I would have been married already if I hadn’t gone off to New York.,” Nicholas said sadly, “I’d already purchased a ring for you before I found out about the job.”
Sophia turned her head away from Nicholas but he saw a tear run down her cheek.
“You know, I’m not sure if I was ever supposed to go to New York in the first place. More importantly, I’m not sure if I should be there anymore,” Nicholas said, wiping the tear from her cheek, “I’ll understand if you say no, but will you come with me tomorrow to my brother’s wedding?”
“Nick, Nick, Nick. You sure know how to mess with my head and my heart, even after all these years,” Sophia paused, “but I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Nicholas smiled then took her hand. She flinched at first but then decided to allow it. A lot of time had passed since he’d last held her hand, but holding it now made it seem like just yesterday.
The next day was Ben’s wedding and the small wedding party celebrated happily for the new couple. Nicholas and Sophia talked the entire night and even danced together, learning about each other again. At the end of the night Nicholas took Sophia home and said goodbye to her with a warm hug and a promise that it would not be four years before they talked again. Saying goodbye to his family was just as hard but he made plans to stay in better contact with them and to come visit in the summer. Nicholas was glad he had come out to California and wanted to stay longer but knew he had a lot of business to take care of in New York. The first of which was meeting with the CEO of New York Financial’s sister company, which happened to be based in California.

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