by Deb Thompson

(The universe has an order of its own, though it sometimes seems random.
Chaos and pressure shape our human lives as well.)

If intense heat and pressure transformed carbon into diamonds, Jolene graded her crushed ego at about half a carat that Tuesday evening. She got the pink slip at four in the afternoon, and an hour later she had boxed her few personal things and told Shane and Liz she would be in touch later. Her boss had promised her a letter of reference, but she feared that anything Maryanne had to say about her now would be artfully treacherous at best. Two weeks ago, Jolene had accepted a dinner date with Maryanne's boss, not knowing that Maryanne had wanted the man for herself. Kyle was friendly and easy-going, and Jolene knew he enjoyed jazz as much as she did. She was uncomfortable going to the music clubs alone, and had told him that one afternoon. The very next week he had invited her to have dinner and to listen to one of the local jazz groups at the Band Wagon. She had accepted, and though he had not called since that night, the intelligence operatives that masqueraded as co-workers had debriefed Boss Maryanne in record time. After that, Maryanne sent Jolene curt emails whenever she wanted something of her, and any morning greeting from the woman was edged with frost.
And then there was the ailing cat. After Jolene had Tipper spayed, the poor feline developed an infection, an occurence the vet had assured her was a relatively rare one. He had forgotten to mention that rare would also mean costly. The notice for a second, hefty installment was in Tuesday's mail.
The answering machine had taken a call from her brother in Oregon, who had found a new house that was now in escrow. His townhouse had a buyer, but the timing would be tricky. Could she help him out by storing all his very expensive musical equipment if he drove it down to her next weekend? A second message was from her neighbor who had taken a package for her and then had to go out for the evening. If Jolene's light was still on when the neighbor got home, she would stop by with the box. The third caller had hung up on the machine. But the fourth call was from Kyle.
"Jo, it's Kyle. I wanted to see if you were all right." He had paused. "You must not be home yet." He was quiet another moment. "Or you're not answering. I wouldn't blame you." She heard him sigh. "I knew about the layoffs last week, but I couldn't tell you. I guess that pretty much puts me at the top of your creep-of-the-month list, huh?" There was another long beat of silence, and Jolene was surprised the machine had not hung up on him. "I guess this does mean one good thing, though," he had finally said. "If we want to go out again, it won't be just another office romance."
Jolene smiled for the first time in several hours.
"I'll check back with you later," his voice continued. "Oh. Myron Hall is playing this weekend at Band Wagon. Maybe we can give a listen. If you can make it." She heard him clear his throat. "I think I remember you saying you were a night owl. I'll take a chance and call back about ten tonight." The click of the machine marked the end of his call, but Jolene listened to the message one more time before she deleted it.
Late that evening she stepped onto the front porch and sat on the top step and scanned the sky. Though rain clouds jostled for position overhead, a few select stars still held court over the little community. Jolene tried to recall details of that article she had read which claimed that scientists had found meteorites containing bits of leftover stardust that were actually tiny diamonds. These particles formed when stars either exploded or collided with other heavenly bodies.
Maybe all I need to be is just a diamond in the rough, Jolene thought. If stars could undergo pressure and still act as beacons in the night, maybe she could find a way to face things here on earth. She did not want to be some hapless victim. And being a hero was beyond the scope of her present reality. She would become like a grain of star propelled through space, raw and spent after the terrible journey, leaving a final, fiery trail that might glow long enough to light the way for someone else in the darkness.
The cordless phone she had brought outside rang softly.
It was Kyle. He was calling from his cell phone and had taken a chance and turned onto her street. Could he come by?
Jolene stood as the first quench of rain touched her face. When Kyle's car turned into her driveway she watched with yielding recognition as raindrops danced past the vehicle's headlights and hastened into a cascade of glitter that swept over her in the night like stardust.

Copyright© 2001 Deb Thompson
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