"Where the hell were you?" His voice boomed across the open space between us, him behind his massive desk, me standing before him like a child at the Principal's office. I hated how my confidence, my very personality, wilted away to nothing the thicker his disapproval clouded the air.
"I told you I wasn't attending." I did not waver. To show any sign of doubt in oneself was to open the door to renewed criticism and attack.
"And I told you to be there!" His face began to creep from red to purple, one of many clues that this would not end well for me. Then again, when did these little conversations ever end with me coming out on top?
I changed tack. "It was my birthday, Father. I had plans that could not be altered." For God's sake, you'd think just for one goddamn day he could think about what his daughter wanted.
He broke eye contact, letting the frustration out in the form of a long-suffering sigh from the depths of his barrel chest. "Sage. I don't invite you to these functions as a punishment. You say you're looking for a job. Well, come meet dozens of business associates who could offer you a job at any of these events. I don't see why you fight me on this." He fiddled with his tie and checked the screen of his phone as it buzzed in his hand.
From twenty-nine years of experience, I knew now was my moment to escape. "I'm sorry to have disappointed you. I'll say yet again how I want to find a job on my own. In fact, I need to make a phone call right now. Excuse me."
I swung around to exit through the double wood doors, my steps muted by the plush carpet, only to stop short when he barked at my retreating form.
"Sage! We are not done here." His hand slammed down on his desk, startling me.
That was a new one. Normally, he muttered under his breath and I went on my merry way, flying low on the radar for a few days to avoid another one of these come-to-Jesus meetings. Before turning around, I scrambled to assess what was going on with him and how best to counter. Unfortunately, he didn't give me enough time to formulate a new plan.
"Have a seat, young lady." His phone clattered to the desk, forgotten in his quest to rip into me further.
I spun around and tried to walk calmly to the chairs in front of his antique wood desk which was covered in legal documents, probably negotiating the terms of several multi-million dollar deals that would affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people. If he wanted help with his business dealings, I could fill in for any of his high level managers. I may dress in secondhand clothing and not have a current job, but it was by choice. My intellect, schooling, and instincts were top-notch.
Too bad I had no interest in my father's business.
I flopped down into the chair, kicked my feet out in front of me, and lounged back like I was there for a casual shoot-the-shit session. I knew it would piss him off, but more than that, it was damn comfortable. I was a twenty-nine year old woman. I didn't need to sit ramrod straight anymore for fear of detention.
Another sigh. "I didn't want it to come to this, but I feel I have to step in before you waste your life away with some crazy idea of what's best for you. You're almost thirty years old, Sage."
His face lost all traces of anger and without that energy to prop him up, he just looked old. And tired.
My heart dropped and my nose went tingly. That was my spidey-sense. If my nose went aquiver, it meant impending doom. It had never failed me. Not when I dated that loser in high school and I'd found a note he'd written his buddy in class about all the free shit he was getting out of dating the rich girl. Not when my father had set me up on a date with some work associate of his and I'd left through the restaurant's back door to escape the creepiness. Found out later the guy was known for getting women alone and forcing himself on them. Oh, and let's not forget the time a group of us in grad school went out for a late study dinner and I refused to eat the food because of my nose. Everybody got food poisoning that night, except for me.
So, as you can imagine, when my nose tingled, I listened.
"You're set to get your trust fund on your next birthday, but before I'll let that happen, I need you to show some initiative. Prove you can handle that financial responsibility. I never raised you to inherit a bunch of money and just piss it away. You have to spend that money wisely to make money."
He paused and I scrambled to keep up.
"Father, I don't spend money frivolously. I'm quite good at budgeting--"
"I know you don't spend a ton of money. Anyone with eyes to see you in those ratty clothes, knows that. But you've got to do better than that, Sage. I want you to use your fancy grad school education and the business contacts I've built my whole career to make money."
"I know, that's why I'm looking for a job!" I knew arguing with him wouldn't make him budge, but I was like a fish out of water here. He was completely off script. Where was the yelling, followed by ignoring? This tired, sad tactic was throwing me off my game. I was finding I didn't like to see my father sad. Irritated and disappointed, I knew how to handle. But sad?
Taking a deep breath, he rose out of his chair and came around to lean on the front of the desk, his legs brushing up against mine. I swiped at my nose, the tingling kicking up a notch. His eyes never left my face, even when his phone nearly buzzed across the desk with notifications.
"I want you to handle a deal for me. Start to finish. Fly to California, buy a property I've been looking at, bulldoze it, build a restaurant and make it thrive. You do that, the trust fund is yours and so is my company when I retire."
My jaw dropped. An ultimatum?
"As much as it pains me to do it, know that I'm serious, Sage. You don't make this work, you lose the trust fund. Everything. You'll be left to figure things out without my backing. Are we clear?" He stuck his hand out, wanting me to shake on it.
A formal handshake. With his own fucking daughter. We were finally back on familiar ground.
I fought to keep the tears from showing in my eyes over his callousness and his challenge. He'd never understood me growing up, and it appeared he never would.
Pulling my feet under me, I stood, brushing aside his outstretched hand. "I'll give some consideration to your terms and let you know within twenty-four hours."
Then I spun on my heel and stormed out, wishing for wood floors or non-piston regulated doors. Everything in this goddamn home office was as plush and silent as a fucking tomb. When you felt like smashing someone's face in, it really helped to be able to stomp around and slam doors. Silent dramatic exits didn't really cut it.
Fuming, I made it all the way to the kitchen, which was no small feat in this McMansion, before I let out a scream that bent me in half. I came back upright and shook out my whole body, trying to wrestle out the invisible beast that was every conversation with my father. A few deep breaths and the anger was fading away, leaving me discombobulated.
I had twenty-four hours to figure this dilemma out. Would I follow my father's wishes and bury all my hopes and dreams for the dangled carrot of riches? Or would I slam the door in his face and strike out on my own, leaving my family behind?
"Sage?" My mother's voice interrupted my conflicted thoughts. She must have heard my scream and come running. She clutched at her pearls and even her Botox-frozen face showed an expression of concern.
"Sorry, mother. I'm fine. Just letting off some steam after talking to father. Did he tell you?"
"Tell me what, honey?" Her face smoothed out and her hand dropped the pearls. It was a common thing around here for my father and I to clash. She would listen, nod her head in sympathy, and then do absolutely nothing to help me out. She'd never go against my father, even so much as to simply question him. The feminist movement hadn't quite made it to my mother yet.
"He wants me to go to California and oversee a job out there. If I don't do it, he'll take away my trust fund." Maybe, just maybe, this would be the one time she'd see how crazy my father was and stick up for me.
"Quit slouching, dear. Shoulders back."
I sighed. So much for that idea. "Okay, mother. Thanks for listening."
I left the kitchen, my shoulders back and my posture as dignified as I could stomach. When decisions had to be made, I needed to be outside to have any chance of making a good choice. Something about fresh air made my body come alive. In my bedroom, I changed out of my long skirt and threw on a pair of leggings and tennis shoes. I grabbed my cell phone and my Bluetooth headphones and made my way outside to my favorite running trail. It was still hot and muggy out late in the summer in upstate New York, but I was willing to risk the heat stroke.
I started out walking, taking deep, measured breaths in through my nose and out my mouth. With each step, the weight on my shoulders became lighter. When I felt loose and limber, I took off into a jog. There was nothing like a good jog to work up some sweat and get my creativity flowing.
By the time I made it back to the house, I'd come full circle in more ways than one. I'd have to suck it up and do what my father wanted. Then I could get my trust fund, refuse to take over the company, and set off to do what I wanted with money in my pocket. That was the only sensible thing to do. I couldn't just walk away from millions of dollars. Besides, there was a very small part of me that wanted to prove to my father that I was capable. To have his approval, just once.
Suck it up till I was thirty, then walk away and do what I wanted. One more year.
That was my plan.
My plane landed in Orange County and I followed the herd to baggage claim. I only had one suitcase for the entire year I planned to live in Huntington Beach. Never much into fancy clothes, I figured I'd see what everyone wore out on the west coast and purchase more clothes accordingly. When in Rome, and all that.
From there I took a taxi to a little car rental shop off the airport property. While I was low maintenance with clothes, I was definitely high maintenance with cars. I may be following my father's plan, but I was going to do it in typical Sage style. I'd secured a vintage green and white Volkswagen Bug for the entire year I'd be in HB. The owners had even humored me by placing a string of yellow daisies hanging from the rearview mirror. And this is why I wasn't giving up the chance to get my trust fund. Enough money could buy you exactly what you wanted.
I climbed in, started her up, and grinned from ear to ear as she rumbled. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and I was about to finally prove myself to my father once and for all.
My good mood lasted just long enough to make it to the 405 freeway. Traffic was bumper to bumper and not even my favorite old school rock could make this fun. While parked on the freeway, I pulled up the map on my phone and saw that if I took an exit up ahead, it would take me all the way down to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), which ran up and down the coast of California. Decision made, I waved, honked, and cursed my way over to the exit, happy to finally be going over five miles per hour.
My first view of the Pacific Ocean brought my smile right back. It was huge and blue and sparkling in the sunlight. A few surfers dotted the waves. People were laid out on towels, tents erected, and fire pits smoking. An airplane flew low, showing its banner advertisement to the beach goers. Everywhere I looked, I saw activity. I rolled down the windows and let the briny air flow into my lungs and curl the ends of my hair.
Now this I could get used to.
Have you ever been to a place that screams 'home' on a primal level? The sights and smells that just hit you in the gut and make you realize you were never home before and only just know now that you're meant to be there? That was how I felt entering Huntington Beach for the first time in my little VW bug, the sun shining bright, and the wind whipping my hair.
Further down PCH I saw a viewpoint turnout. It was a bit of a cliff overlooking the beach with an old lifeguard tower breaking up the wide expanse of sand. I absolutely had to get a picture of that to commemorate my first day. I swerved into the left lane so I wouldn't miss the turn lane for the viewpoint.
Unfortunately, I was so enamored with my surroundings, I failed to notice a big silver truck in the left lane. I swerved, he honked, I made it safely into the turn lane. The shot of adrenaline bubbled into a laugh and I raised my hand to him in the universal car language of 'sorry'. The driver stared me down as he zoomed by but didn't give me the finger so I figured we were all good. Who said Californians were rude?
I parked the car in the turnoff and hopped out. A tourist couple were there taking in the view so I asked them to take a photo of me. I leaned on the hood of my ride, the ocean my stunning backdrop. Breathing deep came easy here.
As they took the picture, freezing this moment in time, I also captured the feeling I had in my chest and locked it away. I wanted to always remember how I felt today. The freedom, the openness, the air of possibility. It was so damn refreshing, and I knew deep in my gut this was the feeling I should be striving for. Not to please my father, or to gain riches, but to live life well, on my own terms.
One glimpse at the beach and I was thinking of turning my life upside down. Question was: could I actually follow through?