Emma walked out of the train station and joined the bustle of the sunny morning commuters. She unwound her headphones from around her iPhone and plugged in the earbuds. She walked across the plaza onto Chestnut Street and headed north, happily people-watching as she made her way to the office. Emma's new pumps bumped into her side with each long stride she made, but she had learned the hard way that even the staunchest fashionistas wear walking shoes into the office and then change into their heels. Her first week at work had landed her feet with so many blisters that she hadn't been able to wear heels at all for the next several days. The only thing that had prevented her from walking back to the train station barefoot was the fact that the sidewalks were visibly dirty: there was no pretending otherwise.
This morning, the corner magazine stand was already open. Usually the vendor was just beginning to set up his station. She always wondered if the magazines were actually as dusty as they seemed to be, sitting behind his scratched and aged plastic curtain. For some reason, a few titles were only advertised with an old display copy, their pages wrinkled and torn from the long-time exposure to wind and rain, while the cover colors had faded to light shades of magenta, blue, and yellow under the beating sun. On this hot morning, the crisp, cold water bottles called out to passersby, tempting them to stop "just for a water," where they would be within the vendor's reach. Customers left with a magazine or two, and either a candy bar or energy bar, depending on the degree of their self-control.
Emma kept walking, gazing up at the buildings around her and trying to look like she was born and raised in the city. She thought she'd gotten a confident walk down, but of course she didn't want to linger too long on her reflection in the Starbucks windows. She didn't want to look like a narcissistic millennial. She caught a glimpse of her expression in the next window she passed, an exceptionally dark-tinted store front, and was horrified to see that she looked unfriendly and self-absorbed. She had imagined her facial expression would show her to be confident and approachable. On today, of all days, she needed her appearance to be confident and classy.
She decided to hop into the store for a few moments and see if they had a ladies' room she could borrow. This was not the morning to arrive at the office feeling even the smallest bit off balance. Emma ran into a stall, flipped her head upside down and tousled her hair, hoping to add a bit of the volume that had vanished over the course of the train ride and the first half of her walk. She splashed some cool water on her face, applied a fresh layer of lip gloss, and pulled out her sunglasses to get rid of the furrows in her forehead that her squinting had brought out. When Emma rejoined the bustling morning commuters, she felt refreshed and re-energized.
A few minutes later, she was welcomed into the building by a blast of cool air.
"Good morning," the doorman called to her as she made her way into the lobby. "Its a hot one out there! One-a those days I'm glad I'm not working on that new building down the way."
Construction was still underway for the new skyscraper downtown. It would be the tallest building in the city, and rumor had it, the project manager might add a statue of William Penn to the rooftop, in hopes of reversing "William Penn's Curse."
Emma nodded in agreement and joked, "What kind of day would make you want to do all that heavy work, Mike?"
"The kind of day when I want to avoid my wife," he said as he leaned in over the front desk.
"You know? Now I come home and say 'Baby I am tired!' and she says, 'Um hmm. Tired from making small talk and sitting on your rear all day?' Now, if I was coming home after that," he pointed down the street again. "Different story."
"Oh, come on Mike, you know you love your wife."
He nodded slowly. "That I do. God knows why that woman doesn't drive me crazy. You have a good day now, I'll see you at lunchtime."
"Thanks! You have a good morning too."
Emma continued through the lobby to the elevator. While she waited, she looked out the window into the office next door. She wasn't quite sure what exactly the company did, but they had an ever-changing display of items that had more recently received the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Today there were several small kitchen gadgets and a new standing mixer laid out in the model kitchen, which was always set up to look as if the owner had walked out of the room in the middle of baking or cooking, leaving all their ingredients and tools wherever they lay.
The elevator doors opened before her, and she stepped inside, ready for the day. Today was going to be different, she vowed. As the doors closed, she looked her reflection in the eye. She was going to confront Justin and she was going to stay confident doing so. Emma looked down. She wore all the confidence she needed in her tangerine pumps--statement makers for the day she'd make her stand.