This Way or No Way



Scene Title This Way or No Way
Synopsis With advanced warning of what's to come, Nicole Nichols sees only one way out.
Date September 23, 2011

Solstice Condominiums: Nicole's Home

"Slow down," Nicole begs tersely into her phone, brows furrowing as she tries to make heads or tails of what the person on the other end of the line is telling her. "I don't know what you mean. I'm in compliance with the Linderman Act."

The weight of what she's told next sends her shoulders slowly sagging, as though they could be made of lead. The next moment, she's popping up from her pristine white sofa, on her feet now and pacing. "That's insane. They can't do that. The public would—"

It won't be enough. There's enough of the public that wants this very thing. All of this happened before, in a different place and time. Now, it's happening here.

Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Nicole feels numb, and her throat feels paralyzed. After a long pause, the voice on the other end of the line asks if she's still there, listening. "Yes, I'm still here." She plasters a smile on her face, because people can hear a smile. "Look, I'm sure it's going to be fine. Nobody in compliance has anything to worry about. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But I appreciate the call. We'll do lunch soon, yes? Great. Bye!"

Without waiting for more information or affirmations, Nicole pulls the phone away from her ear and firmly presses the red button on the keypad. Once she's sure the call is disconnected, she shouts into the quiet of the room: "Shit!"

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below

To say that she never expected something like this would be a lie. She just didn't imagine it all looking quite this bad. She thought she'd be in a position to fight in the arena where she holds the most power. She was wrong. The BlackBerry slowly slips from her fingers and lands on the couch, the soft sound of it breaking her reverie. Stalking down the hallway, Nicole retrieves her oversized bag in tasteful navy leather and a pair of sensible shoes from the closet. She sits down on the bed to slip her feet in and tie the laces, replaying the words from the earlier conversation over and over in her head. There's an irony here that isn't lost on her, but she can find no humor in any of it.

Ain't that just like me

With the bag over her shoulder, she returns to the open living area. From a drawer in the kitchen she retrieves a writing pad and a pen. Ink flows from the ballpoint, committing her neat scrawl to the paper. The final period is dotted perhaps with a tad more force than is strictly necessary before the pen is abandoned on the counter with a clatter.

From the couch, the phone buzzes again. Nicole slips the bag off her shoulder and leaves it sit next to the kitchen island, returning to her mid-century davenport to bring the screen back to life and stare at the message. What she sees causes her heart to sink and she swallows hard. She sends back a single word reply (understood) and deletes the entire string.

That settles it, then.

From the closet by the front door, Nicole drags hangers along the crossbar until she reaches what's tucked away at the back: an expensive white coat she bought for herself for a ski trip once, years ago. A lifetime ago. It was perfect for standing in the bitter cold and the mountain winds and drinking from her flask while the men proved their prowess on the slopes. It still looks good on her. Good.

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass

Bag's strap now pulled across her body to let the small luggage hang at her hip, Nicole takes one long look around her condo, trying to commit it to memory in some way. You can't take it with you. When she completes her half circle, she stops and walks over toward her window overlooking the city. Drawing the curtains aside, she takes in the view with a sense of longing and bitterness. Finality. All that time spent trying to help another man rule. All that time spent trying to reclaim something that was never hers to begin with. Searching and searching, fruitlessly. For what? The early afternoon sun makes it look like parts of the city are bathed in gold. But it's the places that golden light can't seem to touch that means she won't miss this.

One more time, she lifts her phone, dials a number from memory, and holds it to her ear. The line goes straight to voicemail, then the tone.

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

"I love you. I have always loved you."

The call, and this chapter of life, are ended in one neat press of a button.

Nicole Nichols isn't seen in the city again. The last signal is sent from her BlackBerry at midday on September 23rd. It is later found in a little black purse – with her identification, credit cards, and a man's wedding ring on a broken chain – washed up on the banks of the Hudson river. A search of her apartment turns up no signs of anything amiss, save for a note on the island:

I've gone.
This was my choice. There was no other way. This will never get better.
Some battles have to be fought and lost alone.
I hope you'll forgive me one day.


Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me

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