I didn’t care what Sarah said. I could feel that something was wrong, and it didn’t have to do with Christmas or her family. It had to do with us, and I would not stop thinking about it until she told me otherwise.
I walked into the conference room, not feeling like giving a performance to these women about confidence. I considered it a performance because that’s what it would be. I would be acting like I was confident and in control. In actuality, I was far from it. My soul was still shattered from last night.
After I left Brad in the restaurant, I went home. Mandy was working, which I’d been happy about. I burst into tears on the couch and laid there for a good two hours in the dark, thinking about everything that had happened that day. I’d started the day out happy and carefree and ended it a shell of that woman. Brad had ruined me again. He ruined me because I allowed him to.
I was furious at myself. I should have known better than to meet him. Brad hadn’t changed. I was a fool to believe that he actually would change. I beat myself up all night long. What an idiot you are, I kept telling myself.
As if Brad’s behavior wasn’t enough to make me feel awful, I also felt guilty about Cayden. While Cayden and I weren’t official, we were still something. I wouldn’t have appreciated it if he went on a date with his ex-girlfriend, especially if he didn’t tell me beforehand. I still struggled with telling him or not. If I told him, he would possibly freak out. If I didn’t tell him, things would be okay, but I would still feel guilty. And what if he somehow found out later? Then I would be in real trouble.
I needed to talk to Mandy about it. I texted her when I got to the office this morning. She had come home from work after midnight, but I’d hoped that she could meet me for lunch today. I needed a sounding board. I needed someone to tell me that things would be okay, even if they wouldn’t be.
“Good morning, ladies.” I put on a fake smile as I started the day’s conversation. I felt that they could see right through me. I felt like they knew what had happened the night before, that they had heard the rude words that Brad had said about me, but they didn’t know any better. They all acted the same, looking at me eagerly, hoping to gain some wisdom about feeling better about themselves.
“What are we going to talk about today?” a co-worker asked. “Are we going to pick up on our conversation yesterday?”
I wanted to tell her that I’d no idea what we were going to talk about. I wanted to tell her that I was a fake. I was the least confident out of all the women in the room. Why did Tim think I would be good at this? I was a phony.
“What would you all like to talk about?” I asked. I found that when I asked questions to people, they would lead the conversations. I needed them to lead today. One woman suggested talking about body confidence at holiday parties.
“I want to wear a skirt and low-cut top to my husband’s Christmas party, but I’m not sure I can pull it off,” another woman said. The women in the room nodded. We all understood the stress that was involved in picking out the perfect outfit around the holidays. It was another reason that I was happy I would be staying home. I wouldn’t have to worry about what I looked like, or what my mother would say. She was notorious for making snide comments about my outfits, even if I felt great in them.
We discussed ways to feel better about ourselves, but I felt like I was just reading a script.
“You just need to rock it!” I told the woman. “You’ll look great and your husband will be happy to show you off.”
“Thanks, Tiffany,” she said. “If it weren’t for all of you in this class, I would probably just end up wearing a boring black dress.”
We chatted for a bit more, but the conversation began to die down early. I knew why. It was me. Although I tried to hide my disappointment from last night, I couldn’t. I ended the class early, telling the girls that I’d something important to wrap up before lunch.
“Are you okay, Tiffany?” Nikki asked after class. I shook my head.
“I’m not,” I admitted. “But I will be. Was it that apparent in there?” I felt a bit embarrassed. It was my first week leading this class. I didn’t want the women to think I was a fraud, even if I felt like one.
Nikki shook her head.
“It was obvious to me, but I don’t think anyone else could tell. Is something wrong with Cayden?”
I shook my head.
“No,” I said. “It’s just my family and Christmas bullshit. Like I said, I’ll be okay, I just need to get through the holidays.”
“I totally understand,” she said. But I knew she did not. She had parents who were still together, an older brother, and a younger sister. From what I could tell, her family was picture perfect. It was a far cry from my family.
The morning dragged on. I was glad that Cayden wasn’t at work today, although I felt bad for Austin. But I couldn’t face Cayden right now. I was afraid of what I would say to him. I still wasn’t sure if I should keep my meeting with Brad a secret or not.
Mandy texted me later in the morning and said that lunch would be great. I picked a sandwich shop near the office. I wasn’t very hungry, but I would have some soup. Maybe I would have a side salad with dressing on the side, like Brad suggested. Maybe he was right. Maybe I did need to lose weight.
I met Mandy at noon. As soon as I walked in, I’d to fight back tears. I’d held in my feelings all morning at work. I couldn’t hide them from my best friend. Mandy rose from the table with a shocked look on her face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, embracing me. I felt some hot tears hit my cheeks, but I quickly wiped them away. I willed myself to stop crying. I couldn’t ruin my makeup. I couldn’t go back to work and have people wonder what had happened to me.
“I met with Brad last night,” I admitted, sitting down at the table. She looked at me and her jaw dropped.
“What?” she asked. “Are you serious?”
I nodded. I knew she would not be happy about this, but I couldn’t hide it from her. Sure, maybe I could hide it from Cayden, but not Mandy.
“He called me yesterday afternoon,” I explained. “He told me that he broke up with Jessica and that he wanted to get back with me. He asked me to dinner. I went there, and it was awful from the beginning. I should have known better.”
“Well, what happened?” Mandy asked. She wasn’t one to beat around the bush. I knew that I would need to tell her the truth and in detail, no matter how much it pained me.
“He tried telling me how to eat,” I said. “He wanted me to get a salad with dressing on the side. He was having whatever he wanted, including beer, but I’d to have salad and a water.”
“Shut up,” Mandy said, covering her open mouth with her hand. I nodded.
“I actually stood up for myself, I told him no, and I ordered shrimp scampi and bread. He wasn’t happy with it. He told me that if he was going to own gyms in Miami that his girlfriend needed to be healthy. He didn’t want me gaining back any weight.”
“You’re not getting back with him, are you?” Mandy asked.
I shook my head.
“No,” I said firmly. “When his steak came, he basically berated the waiter. Then, he turned his fury on me. He called me a whale.”
Mandy’s face turned red with anger. She wasn’t stick-thin, either, so she understood how words like that hurt, especially coming from someone close.
“Fuck him,” Mandy said. “And not in the literal sense. I cannot believe that he would treat you like that.”
“It was my own fault,” I said. “I should have known better. I shouldn’t have even met with him. I’m an idiot.”
Mandy reached across the table and grabbed my hand.
“You’re not an idiot, Tiffany,” she said. “You just made a mistake. Luckily, you found out early on that nothing has changed. You are such a happier, stronger person without him in your life. I wish you would realize that. I wish you could see all of the progress that I have witnessed over the past year.”