“Believe me, Phillippa, this hurts me as much as you.”
Pippa heard Abigail’s voice through a fog of disbelief. She recognized her supervisor’s compassionate expression, but the words weren’t sinking in.
“I fought against it every step of the way,” Abigail continued. “You’re a good worker; we have no complaints at all. We’ll give you excellent references, call other hospitals in the chain if you wish to relocate, anything you ask. It’s just that we’re downsizing like everyone else in the business today, keeping our margins intact, and the administrative staff is the first to go. We can’t cut back on essential care.”
The words pounded against Pippa’s skull. Any time someone said it hurt them as much as it hurt her, she knew they lied. Nothing would ever hurt as much as the blows that always followed. She just couldn’t believe the blows came from this direction. She’d worked at the hospital for ten years. It had been her mainstay through her mother’s illness. Her friends were here. Her family. The support network she needed for survival. How could they strip away her life and call it something so inexplicable as “downsizing”?
Especially now. They knew how her life had fallen apart this past year. How could they take away the one certainty she possessed? She had awards hanging on her office wall. She had letters of appreciation. Even those grim vultures in the administrative offices smiled at her when they passed her in the halls. She felt accepted here, wanted, needed. Her job was all she had left.
Abigail fell silent and awaited Pippa’s response. What could she say? Quaking inside, Pippa stood up. To her horror, tears burned her eyes. She wouldn’t go out weeping and wailing. She wouldn’t. Her mother had taught her to keep a stiff upper lip. Chin up. Persevere. Don’t let anyone get you down.
She wanted to throw up.
Scraping the chair back, she avoided Abigail’s gaze as she nodded and mumbled something about finishing the Carlson case, then turned to make her escape.
“Pippa, I’m sorry.” Abigail sounded as shaken as Pippa felt. “I know you’ve just lost your mother. If there had been any other way…”
Pippa waved a careless hand, keeping her face averted. “I’ve needed to get away anyway. I’ll see you later.”
Practically running, she fled the room. Despite all her efforts to contain them, tears streamed down her face, and she hurried into the closest ladies’ room, the public one where the staff wouldn’t go. She didn’t want anyone seeing her like this, not Pollyanna Pippa. She’d always had an uplifting phrase, a word of encouragement when things looked blackest. She’d always managed a smile no matter how much the stress piled up. People relied on her when the going got tough.
She locked the stall door, yanked off a length of toilet paper, and rubbed at the tears, cursing the fact that her purse and Kleenex were back at her desk. Panic welled inside her; she wished she could think straight, but she could only wipe at her running nose. She had to get control, her mother would say. But her mother was dead.
That returned the tears in cascades. She hadn’t cried like this since the doctor first diagnosed her mother’s inoperable cancer.
She hadn’t cried like this at the funeral. After that initial burst of tears over the shock of the diagnosis, she’d cheerfully made her mother’s last years as peaceful as could be. She’d rejoiced that she’d worked at a hospital where she could learn the names of all the top physicians, knew the very best, most modern treatments. Her mother had lived comfortably for years, and Pippa had thrived on knowing she had helped.
Her brother, Mitchell, hadn’t been able to contribute much. He lived too far away and had a family to support. He’d flown in occasionally for a weekend, but he really didn’t have the resources to do that often, or to help financially. And her sister, Barbara, was the same. She’d called frequently, sent cards, and wished she could get away to help, but she had small children at home. They’d both married and moved away to big cities long ago, leaving Pippa, the youngest, at home. Pippa hadn’t complained. She’d only felt grateful that she hadn’t been otherwise attached when the doctor diagnosed the cancer. Mitchell and Barbara had been grateful to her. She’d felt needed, important, a part of everyone’s lives.
Then her mother had died.
Now, she had no one who needed her, nothing to go home for. Mitchell and Barbara had their spouses and children and in-laws. They didn’t need Pippa’s help. She had denied the emptiness, the pain of loss, for months, and now that Abigail had ripped her open, she couldn’t stop crying. She sobbed at the nothingness her life had become as much as for the loss of her mother.
She was thirty years old, with no job, no family, and no future. She was a useless piece of furniture ready for the garage sale. She didn’t understand it. She’d done everything right, done everything she was supposed to do. She’d been a dutiful daughter, a hardworking employee, a good, church-going, responsible citizen. What had gone wrong?
She couldn’t even think about the worst of it. She wouldn’t think of Billy. She didn’t need terror on top of tears. She needed to get control, march back to her desk, finish up the case she was working on, pack up her things, and go, without looking back. She couldn’t handle the farewells and the tears and the pity. She wouldn’t tell anyone. She would just leave. She could do that. She could lift her chin, straighten her backbone, and do what had to be done. Her mother had taught her that. She wouldn’t lose a lifetime of lessons over a stupid job.
Blowing her nose, Pippa unlocked the stall door.
She could find another job. She was good. She knew she was good. She didn’t have a family to support, so she could look around and be choosy. The house was paid for. The insurance was paid up. She’d never drawn unemployment, but she supposed she was entitled now. That should take care of the utilities and groceries. Her mother’s illness had drained every last drop of savings, so she couldn’t fall back on any nest egg, but she would survive. She had set aside part of her checks these last months since the funeral, hoping to buy a new car, but she could get along with the old one for a while longer.
She would just keep looking at the positive side of things. All clouds had silver linings.
Washing her face, she dried it with a rough paper towel and glared at the mirror. The red-rimmed eyes didn’t help. Chubby cherub cheeks had given everyone the impression that she was as cheerful as her nickname, and she’d always done her best to live up to everyone’s expectations. But she didn’t feel like Pollyanna right now. Her mouse-brown hair escaped the clamp she’d yanked it into this morning. She really should get it cut, but Billy liked it long. It was a damned nuisance. She resolved to make a hair appointment tomorrow.
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