A Woman Fight to Reclaim Her Life

Her dreams and goals were simple and few. As a former army brat, Morgan Albright spent her childhood moving across countries and continents. Her roots, directed by her father’s work, grew short and shallow to allow for quick transplanting. From base to base, from house to house, state to state, country to country for her first fourteen years, before her parents divorced.

She’d never had a choice. For the three years following the divorce, her mother had pulled her from place to place. A small town here, a big city there, looking for … Morgan had never been sure.

At seventeen, closing in on eighteen, she’d dug those roots up herself to plant at college. And there she’d explored those goals and dreams and choices. She studied hard, focused in on a double major. Business and hospitality—choices that led directly to her dream. Planting herself. Her own home, her own business. Her own.

She studied maps, neighborhoods, climate, while narrowing her choices on just where to plant those roots once she’d earned those degrees. She wanted a neighborhood, maybe old and established, close to shops, restaurants, bars—people. And one day she’d not only own her own home, but her own bar.

Simple goals. With those degrees hot in her hand, she settled on a neighborhood outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Old houses with yards, and, as yet to be gentrified, so affordable. She’d worked her way through college, waiting tables, then tending bar when she’d hit twenty-one. And she’d saved. Her father—the Colonel—didn’t make her graduation.

And though she’d graduated with honors, he sent no acknowledgment of her accomplishments. It hadn’t surprised her, as she knew she’d simply ceased to exist for him even before his signature on the divorce papers dried. Her mother and her maternal grandparents attended. She hadn’t known it would be the last time she’d see her grandfather.

A robust seventy, an active man, a healthy man, he died the winter after her graduation. He’d slipped off a ladder. One slip. Here, then gone. Even in her grief, it was a lesson Morgan took to heart.

He left her twenty thousand dollars and memories, as precious, of hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont on summer visits. With the money, Morgan moved out of her tiny apartment and into a small house. Her house. One that needed work, but had a yard—that needed work. The three small bedrooms, two tiny baths meant she could take in a housemate to offset the mortgage, help pay for that work.

And she worked two jobs. She tended bar five or six nights a week at a neighborhood bar, a happy place called the Next Round. Considering homeownership, she took a second job as office manager at a family-owned construction firm. She met her housemate at the local garden center as she puzzled over foundation plants.

Nina Ramos worked in the greenhouses and knew her stuff. Handy with a yard that needed help, Nina turned puzzlement into joy, and, in that first blooming spring in a house of her own, Nina moved in.

They enjoyed each other’s company, and knew when to give the other quiet and space. At twenty-five, Morgan had achieved her first dream, and by her calculations would reach goal number two before her thirtieth birthday. Her one splurge sat in her narrow driveway. The Prius would take her a few years to pay off, but it would get her to work and back dependably and economically.

In good weather, she rode her bike to her day job, but when she needed a car, she had one. Nina called the car Morgan’s subgoal. The little house on Newberry Street boasted a pretty yard, fresh white paint, and a new front door she’d painted a soft, happy blue. Her boss at Greenwald’s Builders helped her refinish the old hardwood floors, sold her paint at cost, and guided her along the path of repairs and maintenance.

She’d planted those roots, and felt herself blooming. It made her smile to see daffodils playing their bright trumpets along her newly paved walkway. Late March brought changeable weather, but all those lovely signs of spring. She and Nina had planted a dogwood in the front yard the previous fall, and she could see the buds wanted to burst.

Soon, she thought as she walked her bike to its rack and locked it. A good neighborhood, but she didn’t see the point in tempting anyone. She unlocked the door, and, since Nina’s not-very-dependable car sat at the curb, called out. “It’s me, running late.”

She crossed the living room and, as always, thought about how much more open it would be when she took out the wall that blocked off the kitchen. She had the money for that project earmarked, so maybe in the fall. Maybe before Christmas. Maybe. “I’m not running late,” Nina called back. “And I’ve got a date!” Nina always had a date.

But then again, Morgan thought, she was gorgeous and vivacious and only worked one job. She paused at the open bedroom door. Several outfits—obviously rejects—littered the bed while Nina modeled another in front of a full-length mirror. Her raven-black hair spilled down the back of a red dress that hugged every curve on her tiny body.

Dark eyes sparkled as they met Morgan’s in the glass. “What do you think?” “I often think I hate you. Okay, where are you going and who are you going with?” “Sam’s taking me to Fresco’s for dinner.” “Fancy! Yeah, the red’s a killer.” Which she envied a little.

The only genuine disappointment between the housemates came from the fact that with Morgan’s long, coltish frame and Nina’s petite, curvy one, they couldn’t trade clothes. “Go for it. Isn’t this nearly three solid weeks of dates exclusively with the hunkified Sam?”

“Almost four.” Nina did a twirl. “So…” “I’ll be very quiet when I get home.” “I really like him, Morgan.” “So do I.” “No, I mean really.” “Oh.” Angling her head, Morgan studied her friend. “I already know he’s in serious like and more when it comes to you. It’s all over him. If you’re heading there, I’m giving you the full friend approval.” After flipping that gorgeous hair, Nina let out one of her dreamy sighs.

\“Pretty sure I’m already headed there.” “Full approval. I’ve got to change for work.”

“From work for work. I’ve got to put all this away and clean up this room. I don’t want Sam to think I’m a slob.” “You’re not a slob.” Chaotic, Morgan thought, but Nina kept her chaos contained to her own space. Unlike Nina’s cheerful chaos, lavender walls, a vanity top littered with makeup, hair products, and God knew, Morgan’s space was just contained.

She used the third bedroom—closet-size—as an office, so this was sanctuary. Quiet blue walls, some art she’d bought from street artists in Baltimore, the white duvet and pillows, a small but cozy reading chair. She took off office manager—gray pants, white shirt, navy blue blazer—put on bartender—black pants, black shirt.

In the bathroom, she opened the drawer where she kept her makeup organized for easy choices. And changed day to night. The short, angled cut of her blond hair worked fine for both jobs, but the bartender went for more drama on the eyes, deeper on the lips. With years of practice, she finished the transition inside twenty minutes.

Since she wouldn’t be eating fancy at Fresco’s, she dashed to the kitchen, grabbed a yogurt out of the fridge. She ate standing up, imagining the wall gone, new cabinet doors and hardware, some open shelves, some— “Amiga mia, you need to eat food.” “Yogurt’s food.” Nina, now in a robe, put her hands on her hips.

“Something that requires a knife and fork, and chewing. You’ve got that long, slim build naturally—bitch—but if you don’t eat, it’ll turn to skinny and gaunt. Seriously, one of us has to learn to cook.” She shot up a coral-tipped finger, then pointed it at Morgan. “I nominate you.” “Yeah, I’ll take that up in my spare time. Besides, you’re the one with a mother who cooks like a goddess.”

“You’ll come with me for Sunday dinner. Don’t say you’ve got work—your spreadsheets, or whatever.

You know Mama and Papa love you. And my brother, Rick, will be there.” With the yogurt in one, the spoon in the other, Morgan waved her hands as if erasing a board. “I am not dating your brother, no matter how cute he is. That way lies madness. I’m not losing you as a roommate because your brother and I date, have sex, break up.”

Nina held up a gold hoop at one ear, a dangle of three circles at the other. “Which?” Morgan pointed at the dangles. “Fancier.” “Good. And maybe you’ll date Rick, have sex, and fall in love.” “I don’t have time. Give me two years, maybe three, then I’ll have time.” “I like schedules, too, but not for love. Now you’ve distracted me. You have to eat.”

“I’ll get something at the bar.” “Dinner Sunday,” Nina insisted when Morgan tossed the container, rinsed the spoon. “I’m telling Mama you’re coming, and once I tell Mama, it’s done.” “I’d love to go, honestly.

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