Chapter Twenty

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Michelle dumped her purse by her shoes and fell onto the couch with a loud sigh of frustration and emotional exhaustion.

Her phone, still in her purse, buzzed against the parquet. She didn't bother to check it, even when it buzzed again.

Her tablet, buried in the pile of papers on the desk, pinged in sequence with the phone's buzz, but all that did was remind her of that Skype call with Uncle Fucking Gary. Presumably he was on the lam, continuing to orchestrate his stupid fraud schemes from afar. She rolled on to her back, staring up at the living room ceiling, curious if Gary thought of himself as a big-timer-held-down like Bryan talked or if he was happy being who he was, a low-level scam artist.

Not for the first time, she wondered where she fit in with that paradigm: was she a serious, uptight Haley like her dad or a goofy, laid-back Haley like Grandma and Gary, and possibly Bryan?

But then there was her mother. Dedicated to the house as strongly as her father was to his career; cautiously ambitious; not grand-scheming, but focused on long-term. Maybe Michelle's own future lay in that direction? Not in house-keeping or throwing dinner parties or whatever-her mother's lifestyle would make Michelle eat her own head-but in something small, that was hers. Something that would absorb her attention and focus.

Her phone buzzed again. With another sigh she hauled herself upright, dangling over the armrest of the couch to grab at her purse with stretched and straining fingertips.

Several missed emails to Creampuff's Gmail account, all from newbies wanting to know what was going on, if the gym was closed indefinitely.

Texts from Ally. She said she and Lucy were itching to get back on their feet. For them, Creampuffs hadn't been a place to workout, it had been a way to get out of their insular routine and socialize in a way that they were comfortable with. And they missed it.

Michelle turned her phone off, and dropped it back in her purse, her vision blurring. Wiping her face, she noticed the dirty dishes from last night's dinner on the counter.

She groaned, but it was something to take her mind off the larger, looming problems, and she had been neglecting her own chores in all the commotion. It beat sitting on the couch feeling sorry for herself, anyway, or getting sucked into a Netflix marathon and going to bed feeling more guilty than when she'd started.

After the dishes, she scrubbed down the counters, then spontaneously reorganized the cupboards. From there she cleaned the bathroom, and mopped the kitchen and living room.

Normally she rejoiced that her apartment was so small that it didn't take long to clean. But currently it was a failing: she needed more to do. She debated taking down the curtains to clean them but she was running out steam at last, and once more fell onto the couch like she'd been dropped there, with an oof of escaping air. She picked up her phone out of habit and was immediately assaulted by the unread notifications, the DMs on twitter, the emails.

Michelle put the phone down again as if scalded.

Staring around her apartment for an escape, her eyes fell on her desk, the last place she hadn't cleaned.

Sitting at her desk with a fresh cup of steaming tea, she stared at the piles of papers, dumped and gathered like flotsam in the bend of a river. Ever since she'd been laid off Pixelimited it had been neglected, becoming a horizontal storage site for miscellaneous papers and mail. So low priority that sedimentary layers had accumulated.

With her free hand, sipping her tea, she idly coaxed the papers into a singular pile. One set caught underneath the keyboard, refusing to be so idly dragged. She put down the mug and pulled it out: notes from the long day of brainstorming and planning with Bryan. The notes were incomplete-she hadn't at the time known what she was signing up for-but her mind filled in gaps in the data as she skimmed the page. She'd allowed herself to be swept along by her brother's enthusiasm while still managing to create a rough outline for a business plan.

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