Time zone: GMT –7
Summary: What happens to those potentials who missed being called?
Disclaimer: Karen is all mine. Laramie belongs to the state of Wyoming, Wal-Mart to Sams Corp., and Slayers and other guests from the Buffyverse to Joss & ME. So glad I get to play.
Dedicated to my kick-ass beta, Sadbhyl, for giving me the inspiration and motivation to do this story.
Karen Ellis stood in line at the Laramie Wal-Mart checkout lane thirteen, waiting her turn to pay. If it weren’t for the low prices, she would shop at the grocer near her small apartment to avoid the crowds. She had never cared to be around large groups of people, but one had to make do.
At forty-three years of age, Karen had come to terms that she would never achieve anything great in her life. She had grown to love her solitude and simple way of life. She had job with decent pay and benefits—working as a stylist at the Farnsworth Funeral Home. It gave Karen enough money to pay for a comfortable apartment and feed her addiction for movies and mystery/suspense novels. They gave her all the excitement she needed for her otherwise uneventful existence.
It was an uneventful existence that left her feeling and looking old before her time. By her twenty-fifth birthday, her once chocolate-colored hair had turned completely grey. And her face, while wrinkles were still few, had a sort of lost, defeated look that down-played her sharp but attractive features. Her five-foot-ten-inch frame lent her a somewhat imposing presence that was undercut by her reserved attitude.
Karen realized life wasn’t over after thirty-five; she had years ahead of her. But she had no more to look forward to now than she did when she passed up a fellowship with the British Museum Department of Antiquities, specifically ancient weaponry. At twenty-three with her dissertation well underway and a promising start to a career, she had woke up one morning about a week before she was to leave and realized she didn’t care. Karen had always been an ambitious and driven person, but then it was gone. One day she was ready to go to any lengths and the next, getting up and getting dressed was all she really cared about.
To say that Doctor Reichfeld, her mentor and close friend for most of her collegiate existence, was disappointed would be an understatement. Second thoughts were to be expected when faced with such a large step, but to give up on it altogether . . . Was there anything he could do? Did something happen? No, she just didn’t want it anymore.
Her mother had shown less concern and more tough love when her only daughter showed up at her beauty salon in Woods Landing asking for a job. No college educated daughter of hers was going to waste her life catering to a bunch of ungrateful, gossipy women. Yes, the women had loved her work in the summers Karen had spent there, saving up for college expenses. She made the most complex styles look as easy as breathing. But why in the hell would she want to give up a doctoral degree and what amounted to a free-ride to living in London to instead work in a worn-out old town doing the hair of a bunch of worn-out old women. Well, if she was going to do that, that Naomi Ellis had no daughter. Karen, unable to argue, had left without another word and gone back to find something in Laramie.
While she wasn’t a certified cosmetologist, she had enough experience for Oscar Farnsworth to hire her on the spot. No degree meant he could pay her a bit less than other applicants. Qualified and affordable. Karen only cared that she made enough to pay the bills.
Doctor Reichfeld had tried for the next two years to convince her to reconsider. She had too much potential to throw it all away for whatever her reasons were. Not even Karen really knew why she gave up on a life-long dream so suddenly. Ancient weaponry just didn’t appeal to her anymore and the thought of working day-in-day-out with them was depressing. Realizing she wouldn’t be swayed, her mentor and friend had finally given up. After twenty-years they still exchanged Christmas cards, but that was it.
Karen came back to herself as she realized she was next in line. She hadn’t thought about that in years. A part of her always had regretted the decision; she might have been someone great. But for the most part she was content. Not happy, but content. She had made her choice twenty years ago and it hadn’t bothered her much until . . . well, now. Frowning, she pushed the thought away. Karen glanced at her watch, 12:11pm. If she got through the line relatively quickly, she would be able to get back to the funeral home with enough time to add a few last minute touches for the viewing at 1:00.
The cashier was in the process of totaling up Karen’s purchases when it happened. One minute she was fine, and the next she was doubled over trying to catch her breath. It felt like a truck had slammed into her chest. Oh God, this was it! Forty-three years old and she was going to die in line at a Wal-Mart. Karen Ellis who could have been—The pressure exploded, sending an intense fire radiating from her center outward. The feeling was intense, but not quite painful. And then, as quickly as it had hit, it was over.
Karen blinked in confusion at the young boy who looked at her with concern.
“Oh, I’m okay,” she said a bit dazed. “How much will that be?”
“Should I get you some help? Are you—”
“I’m okay,” she repeated, this time meaning it, because she really did feel okay, better than okay. One didn’t feel better than okay if they just had a heart attack, did they?
After a prolonged debate, she finally convinced the youth she would be all right, paid for her purchases, and made her way out to the parking lot. Deep down she knew that she should go to the hospital to get checked out, but she felt really good; better than she had in years. Besides, she had her yearly check-up tomorrow. It could wait until then.