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Summer's Crucible- Chapter One: Things a Spa Day Cannot Smooth Out

"What's the special occasion?" her hairdresser Nikki asked as she draped Summer in the salon's logo-bearing cape in one swift motion while Summer took a seat in the stylist's chair. It was midmonth, and in between Summer's usual highlight touch-ups, Summer was getting done up. Faux mink eyelash extensions, fresh spray tan, and of course an ultraviolet teeth whitening at the dentist were all already checked off her to-do list from the day before. Summer had even scheduled to meet with her shrew of a mother, Mimsy at another salon later since Mimsy lived out of town. Summer sizing herself up in the mirror replied, "My boyfriend, Landon is coming home from his trip to scout out rental properties to buy with his dad. I want to look nice when I pick him up from the airport tonight." Nikki smiled, "He is one lucky guy. None of my clients go all out as much as you do." Summer knew Nikki meant that as a compliment but it sounded insulting to her for a reason she just couldn't place. Feeling as if she had to defend herself, Summer continued, "I gotta keep on it. Men like Landon don't want to be seen next to a dumpy chick." Even though Summer had said it to ease the depressed tone of the moment, both Nikki and herself frowned at that thought before moving on. " said you had a picture to show me of the kind of hairstyle you wanted?" Nikki said as she tried to redirect the conversation back to business. Summer was glad for the change of topic so she jumped at that opportunity to say, "Oh yes, here it is," pointing to a saved image in her phone. "I wanted to try this loose mermaid's braid." Nikki studied the picture, "this will look good on you. What made you decide on this?" Summer shrugged, "It just came to me I guess."

The appointment ran over a bit, causing Summer to have to hurry on the long drive out of town to meet her mother. When she arrived, Mimsy was already putting a spa employee to task by having the woman wax her liver-spotted legs to the knee while she sat in the pedicure chair. Mimsy being in typical form began by critiquing Summer as soon as she entered the building. "You're very late and what no coffee too? You're slipping Summer." Summer instinctively knew that her mother was waiting to pounce on her for being twenty minutes late. She wanted to quell any chance of an argument that her mother had likely already planned in her head. However, some deeply rooted rebellious streak inside her that Mimsy hadn't pruned out responded, "Was I supposed to get some?" Summer had tried to sneak in that comment as a quip, sugar-coated in a smile, but it didn't land as such with the old nag. Mimsy used her chair's controller to lean upward as she retorted, "It's polite, after all, I am your guest for the day. This was your idea." Summer swallowed hard knowing that Mimsy was already racking up salon fees under her name and now was acting confrontationally toward her as a tool to guilt her adopted adult daughter into paying her bill. In truth, Mimsy was beyond any sane person's patience to endure, everywhere else had silently blacklisted her by being "booked up" when she requested any sort of appointment. Still, Mimsy was the very limited circle of family Summer had, thus she let that like so many other indignities slide in their relationship. Summer relented, "I'll go to the cafe next door. What's your order?" Mimsy looking appeased pulled out her phone and answered, "I'll text it to you now."

When Summer returned with the eighteen-dollar extra-large triple white chocolate sauce iced blonde toddy, with whipped cream and shaved java chips on top, Mimsy was finishing a paraffin wax before her manicure. Mimsy whined as Summer handed her the drink, "I've been here alone all this time. Are you even going to get anything done? Or are you going to stick with that granola look? Only that dirty hippy, Cecilia would think that's presentable." Mimsy was referring to a long-going grudge between herself and a love interest's former spouse. Summer took a seat in the chair next to Mimsy. The attendant handed her a services list printed on a glossy pamphlet. Summer's hair was starting to feel heavy, especially considering that to achieve her desired look Nikki used multiple packages of sew-in extensions. Summer chose the bejeweled pedicure and a subtly posh silk wrap manicure. She realized she would just barely be done in time to pick up Landon. She also realized it made a world of difference to him how she looked.

Landon liked to make others jealous. It wasn't that he cared how she looked, it was that he cared if it made others feel insecure about themselves. At his core, Landon thrived on ceremony and public image. Without those things, he couldn't see where he fit in the world. God forbid that either of those elements was ever a negative for him. Landon was a simple man in that respect; he needed to be the most envied spectacle possible, everything was of no consequence in his consideration. Summer had come to terms with that about Landon. If she thought about it too much more than that she realized that she had no future with a man who threw out his Cobra four iron for a tiny scratch. Needless to say, he would certainly show her the door when her first grey hair appeared.

Summer tried to mentally calculate all of her expenses plus Mimsy's in her head as she reviewed the pamphlet. It was getting close to eight hundred dollars and counting at this salon alone thanks to Mimsy. Rather than dwell on the mounting inconveniences she opted to envision a romanticized look of approval washing over Landon's face when they embraced at the airport. Mimsy who was obnoxiously slurping her beverage began small talk with Summer while they got their nails done next to one another. "So, how's work?" Summer could tell that Mimsy was trying to segway into asking about her current salary. Summer didn't want to give too much away. She effectively deflected with "I'm working on a promotion." Mimsy's over-dyed brows lifted, "really? I thought you were a consultant, not staff?" Summer trying to salvage her image replied, "I am, but I work off of commission and they are looking at putting me onto bigger accounts soon." This was a fib on Summer's part. The company she worked for rarely allowed third-party contracted employees to manage large accounts. Summer was stunted into personal and small business account management. It was tedious, low return, and generally avoided by anyone seeking a long-term career in the financial industry. Her client base fell between fixed-income seniors paying their mooching adult children's way through life and failed local businesses looking to beat a dead horse into their inevitable bankruptcy. For the second time that day Summer felt depressed answering small talk and wanted to retreat to play on her phone to avoid engaging any further.

Feigning a time crunch, Summer said, "Oh no, looks like I have to go right after this." The manicurist being a kind woman attempted to give the wavering Summer some praise by cutting off Mimsy before she could launch another verbal dig, "the design you chose is very elegant. Are you going to a wedding soon?" Summer's expression lightened up somewhat as she responded "Me? no, but in two weeks I'm going to my boyfriend's parent's thirtieth anniversary. It's going to be a gorgeous event with a fairytale theme." Mimsy forever one to add in another jab, "Maybe he'll finally propose to you there." Even the manicurist looked annoyed with Mimsy as she continued to belittle Summer, "I'm just saying it's been six years. What's he waiting for? You to grow antlers or something?" Summer having become exhausted from dodging Mimsy's snarky remarks, paid the bill before her mother could get something else done from the spa service list. Summer then, excused herself even though she was skipping her pedicure. She considered herself lucky that Mimsy wasn't able to increase the charges to a full grand. Mimsy ever playing the role of a pseudo-supportive parent, called to Summer as she made her way out yelling, "Don't forget to call me to let me know when you've made it home safe." Summer faked a smile, said goodbye, and didn't look back. As she was going to her car she decided to make a mental note to avoid spending time with Mimsy altogether.

On the road, Summer listened to a news radio station while she made an excellent time toward the airport. She missed all traffic which was backed up on the opposite side of the highway. Once she arrived, she pulled right into an open free parking spot just outside of the terminal where Landon was meeting her. He had last texted her in the morning to remind her of his flight details. Summer was excited to ask him about his trip, the properties he viewed, really anything. She had missed him during the week that he was gone, so much so that she almost went to an alumni dinner knowing it was a ruse to beg her for donations just for the conversation with another person her age. For every concern Summer had, Landon always had a quick response to give, even if it was a fickle one. It was a comfort to her to be in his life because at least then she wasn't alone.

Having arrived unexpectedly early at the airport, Summer had time to waste. She did this by double-checking the arrival display monitors and reading weather reports on her phone. As luck would have it, the entire country seemed to be having clear skies. As without issue, Landon's plane came in right when it was supposed to. Summer waited, standing as straight as she could in an attempt to see over the other people walking to the baggage claim area. No sign of Landon though. Summer tried to text him, but she was met with no response. She stood by the luggage claim carousel until all of the other passengers had gotten their things and left. Summer had to go move her car because the hour-long free parking had expired. When she finished, she called the airline customer support number to find out what was happening. The woman on the other end of the line explained that she could not give out specific passenger information to a person who was not an immediate family member, but that the flight and all connecting flights were on time for that day.

Summer ended the call suddenly feeling overwhelmingly worried for Landon, wondering if he was hurt or if some other disaster had befallen him. Summer frantically left a voicemail for Landon before walking toward airport security to inform them of her boyfriend's drop off of the planet, when Landon called her back. "Landon! Are you okay? I was so worried about you." Summer gushed over the man. Landon not in harm's way soothed Summer, "Oh no, I'm fine. My flight was delayed and it made me miss my connecting flight. I'll be back tomorrow. I have to run now, I'm going to try to get a room at the hotel next door so I don't have to take a cab in the morning. Sorry, my phone's dying, lost my charger. I'll call you when I get in. I love you. Bye, babe." Landon clicked off before Summer could say much of anything to him.

On the long trip back to their shared house, Summer thought to herself that Landon was lying but she didn't know why. She tried not to concentrate too deeply on it because she shuddered to think of being one of those girlfriends. The kind who sends fifty text messages a day out of being too co-dependent to function. Summer wanted to give Landon a chance to explain himself before she ran off into possibilities or assumptions. It was too tacky, too basic for Landon to be off with another woman or at least that was what Summer decided regarding the situation.

Mimsy for once followed through much to Summer's dismay by calling her daughter. Summer had already taken a sleeping pill hoping to forget her dashed hopes of the day by sleeping it off. Needing comfort from her worries Summer regretfully took the call. "Hello, my dear. How is that handsome, Landon of yours doing?" Mimsy started. Summer not in the mood to try to avoid the subject went right into it by telling Mimsy, "He stood me up at the airport and then lied that his flight was late when I know it wasn't." Like a ravenous snake excited to sink its fangs into a kill, Mimsy perked up, "Oh that's too bad, I had a feeling Landon would cheat again, dear. Once a cheater always a cheater." Summer knew that Mimsy was referring to the beginning of their relationship when Landon's ex was on an on-again-off-again basis with him. Mimsy never let her live it down, branding her a cheater for her role in the non-scandal. "There's probably some explanation, or maybe he's just independent and not reporting back to me like I were some kind of parole officer. Whatever it is I'm not going to freak out...still, it is weird." Mimsy scoffed, "Sweetie, it's not weird, it's a red flag and you are being stupid. Leave him, you know he's with another woman right now." Summer now remembered why Mimsy had never been very helpful in a crisis, she loved drama too much and stoked every opportunity in the name of it. Summer sought to exit the conversation before it got worse, "You can say that, but we don't know what's true right now. I'm going to give him a chance to tell me on his terms. Goodnight, Mother." Mimsy knowing Summer was about to hang up blurted out, "You can fool yourself, but you're not the girl you used to be, men have needs." Summer felt the most satisfaction of the day pushing the end button on that call.

She thought she had slept off any intrusive thoughts about Landon, only to find in the morning that her hair had come out of its satin wrap and was now more of a rat's nest than the mermaid's braid she had set out with from all of the tossing and turning she had done in her sleep. As she was trying to brush it out in front of her vanity mirror, Landon called her saying he was already waiting for her at the airport, giving her no time to get ready at home. Summer slapped a crocheted bucket hat on before rushing out the door knowing Landon would chide her for not already being on the road before he called, despite him giving her no heads up prior. Summer frantically did her makeup with what she had in her purse at every stop light, feeling as if Landon's displeasure with her was growing with every minor traffic setback.

Once at the airport again, Landon slid into her SUV in the pick-up lane. He made no explanations for the day before, only giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, the way that a friend would. They drove back with Landon filling the time by saying his parents were calling off their anniversary party. Summer was deflated upon hearing this because she had so wanted to meet all of his extended family. Until that point, she had only met his slightly older half-brother, Henry, who was the result of his father's long-ago affair. Summer didn't like Henry much because he always seemed to bring up that she was adopted as a way to separate her from the supposed normalcy that Landon and himself had. After all, they were "Irish twins," as he described. Summer superficially got along with Landon's father, Fausto, however, she felt like he was looking through her and never at her when they spoke as if he found something about her to be so displeasing that he chose to disengage altogether. As for Landon's mother, Eliza, she made it no secret that she disliked Summer and reminded her as much as she could. To Eliza, Landon needed to be with a younger, richer, prettier woman who likely didn't exist outside of Eliza's fantasy. Still, Summer thought that if she met enough of Landon's relatives one of them would like her, eventually.

At the house, as Landon unpacked his carry-on, he asked Summer to drop off his dry cleaning on her way to work on Monday. For whatever reason, Summer decided not to pry into Landon's weak story regarding his supposed missed flight the day before. Maybe it was to deny Mimsy's level of rationalization, maybe because she was more content in not knowing. Summer left it alone, and Landon seemed to appreciate that. "Hey, now that I'm back in town, how about we go to the club for dinner tonight?" Landon suggested, seeming to feel like the situation needed one final smidgen of smoothing over that morning. Summer accepted his offer, mostly because she was not a member of the club due to the high entry fee.

With their reservation set for late in the evening, and it still being early in the day, Summer took the opportunity to go back to the salon to see if the densely tangled extensions could be dealt with properly. Nikki who was busy had her apprentice, Emily aid Summer with the task. "Do you want the extensions out completely or just restyled?" Emily asked as she played with Summer's hair in an effort to try to figure out some different options. Summer told her to take them out and give her an offset French twist in its place. As Emily went to work, Nikki stopped by while she mixed up another batch of color for her other client. "How did it go yesterday?" The well-meaning Nikki inquired. Summer feeling manic regarding the topic dramatically spouted "he ghosted me at the airport and then the next day said his parent's anniversary dinner was canceled." Nikki's eyes widened as she muttered something to the effect of "Sorry I asked." Emily on the other hand fixed Summer's hair as she requested and spoke as little as possible throughout the rest of the appointment. Summer was embarrassed of herself. She felt frustrated that Mimsy had gotten her stressed out, but she also wasn't sure if she was right to feel like she did.

Feeling anxious, Summer went shopping by herself to think alone while she bought a nice dress to wear to dinner that night. She found a sophisticated black leather dress that was perfect for the occasion. It was classy, but chic too. Summer came in the door to her home light on her feet with much less worry as she walked in. Only the house was empty. She put on her dress and did her make-up not sure where Landon was. His car wasn't in the garage. Strangely all of the texts she was sending to Landon were marked "Read." By the time it was getting dark Summer was starting to become upset. Maybe it was Mimsy's suspicions that were motivating her, but Summer decided to call the club. "You have reached the Domaine Le Grand Luxe, how can I be of service to you this evening?" A staff member answered. Summer didn't want to directly ask if Landon was there in the case that he requested to not be disturbed, so she asked to confirm Mr. Oettinger's reservation for the evening. To which the staffer on the other end of the line said that she must be mistaken because Mr. Oettinger was already seated. Summer thrown off by her findings, she politely ended the call by apologizing for her mistake.

Summer hadn't waited for Landon or called him after she found out he had left her that night. She could have gone to the club and demanded an answer as to why Landon was being so rude to her. In truth, Summer didn't enjoy time with Landon, he was pompous, ignorant, and probably already drunk with Henry or off-hitting on some waitress who wouldn't be receptive to Landon's advances no matter how much money he was worth. Summer concluded that this was neither Landon's first time nor last time being a prick and that she was not going to give him the satisfaction of getting a reaction out of her. It had become undeniable to Summer that Landon didn't deserve her energy. Summer went to her room, took off her make-up, then put her dress away, and watched a movie before she went to bed as if today had been a day like any other. Landon was checking out of their relationship, and Summer received the message, yet chose not to further bother herself with an acknowledgement of it.


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