I was filling out a job application in the Barnes & Noble. Because, you know, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are out of work. And broke. And about to be homeless, and everything is random and awful, and the only answers you can see to any of your problems are the dull ones, and no, you don’t have magical powers no matter what you might have once believed.
And you know the drill. They keep the applications behind the counter. You walk in and smile sweetly at the nearest counter clerk. You try not to act too eager or too envious of the clerks all happily drawing their regular paychecks and becoming BFFs with the other clerks, plus they’d attended community college and graduated in three years debt-free instead of picking an obscenely expensive private school and then—to top it off—deciding hell yes, why not a master’s, too? What could possibly go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong. Other than losing your nerve and dropping out and being single and alone and adrift and the terrifying pile of debt and the cranky creditors and soon, no place to live.
I carried the blank application to the end of the counter nearest the front door.
My phone buzzed.
I ignored it.
It buzzed again.
I filled out the standard bits at the top of the application.
Customers filed past, their plastic shopping bags rattling and bulging.
I pulled a piece of paper from my handbag. I began copying over my somewhat sketchy employment history.
There was a lull in the stream of customers at the counter, and the two clerks nearest to me started chatting. BFFs, clearly.
And at first, nothing they said really broke through the intense level of concentration it takes to copy your employment history from a piece of paper onto a job application neatly and legibly, when secretly you want to just scribble and be done.
But then I heard it.
The word “tower.”
• • • • •
It was the clerk with the long, straight hair and the cleavage winking sideways from the scooped neck of her tee. She’s the one who’d said it. And as this registered, my brain whirred through its short-term memory bank and retrieved the preceding remark by the other clerk—pink hair, nose ring—and I was ninety-nine percent sure what I’d just heard was something like, “Vicki still hasn’t found someone to take her apartment?”
Followed by: “Nope! Can you believe it? A place like that! With a tower?”
And that’s all it took.
All those years of trying to be normal? Rational?
And instead? I, Marion Flarey, was instantly ensconced in my marvelous Tower.
And it was everything you’re thinking. It was a gorgeous, exotic, hallowed place of divine seclusion. I’d been shut into it, of course. Against my will but not really. And I was waiting. Devoted to nothing but thinking and reading and waiting. And—you know what happens next—somewhere out there? My Prince, of course! Thundering over the mountain pass on his white steed. Searching, searching…
And okay, maybe this Prince wasn’t a literal Prince. Because that may be too much to ask, considering that I’d already had my shot at not one, not two, but three—yes, three!—flesh-and-blood potential partners who would have made perfectly wonderful modern-day Princes. And how’d that work out for me? News flash—horribly. So at this point maybe I should settle for a metaphorical Prince, say in the form of a wonderful new career.
So, edit my story to: come to me, my sweet, metaphorical Prince. Come to me. Thunder metaphorically over the mountain pass on your white steed, thunder through the forest, come closer and closer and closer and…
Now you know.
That’s all it took to forget myself.
The word “tower” is all it took for me to go from normal Marion to kooky Marion, and there I was, darting back down the counter, waving my partially-filled-out job application at the two clerks to get their attention.
“Did I hear you say Tower?” I squeaked. “Where is this Tower, exactly?”
The clerks stared, giving me a who’s-this-girl look.
Which—I suppose I should thank them—was exactly the face-slap I needed to bring me back to Reality, and I felt my cheeks go all hot because oh crap, now you’ve done it, Marion. You’ve fallen back into a story. The one thing you keep promising yourself you’ll never do again.
Be normal for once, Marion!
“I’m, um, I’m sorry to…” I licked my dry lips. “I overheard you talking just now. Did you say your friend is looking for someone to take her, uh, apartment?”
The clerks exchanged glances. But then they admitted that yeah, sure. Their friend, Vicki, was in a terrible spot. And—thank you, clerks—they started sharing, tag-teaming the story about how Vicki was all set to move cross-country later this month and she’d lined up someone to take the place but that person backed out, something about unforeseen circumstances that the two BFFs cluck-clucked about for a bit but I didn’t really follow. Because of how hard it was to keep my mind on apartment instead of Tower.
“Where did you say the building is?” I said, and they told me, and I knew the place. I knew, exactly, the place.
Because of course it was a neighborhood I knew and of course I’d notice a house with a Tower.
The neighborhood: enormous old houses built in the nineteen-teens or twenties with hardwood floors and high ceilings and huge, wooden-framed windows. Brimming with old boomers and students and people like me. Ex-students. And super walkable, lots of mature trees, and the residential parts are bordered by commercial streets that keep sprouting new brew pubs and vegan restaurants and coffee shops. Some of the houses are on the blah side, big sprawling boxy things, but others are stunners.
And the Tower?
Don’t picture a Rapunzel Tower. It’s not ten stories tall and built of stone blocks with a window at the top and no other way to get in. No. This Tower was integrated elegantly into the corner of a gorgeous Queen Anne, two stories plus attic, and sided like the rest of the house with scalloped shingles that were painted white.
And I should just calm down. This was nothing to be nervous about. It was a perfectly normal thing for a perfectly normal person to want an apartment with a Tower.
“So, uh, maybe I get Vicki’s contact info?” I asked.
The clerks exchanged glances again. ESP glances about whether it was okay to give a slightly strange-acting, hunting-for-a-job wandering supplicant the phone number of a friend.
“I am really really really interested,” I said, “and could move in, like, right away?”
I held my breath.
A mom with a kid in tow walked up to the counter.
Cleavage clerk stepped back to her register and began scanning the mom’s stack of kiddie picture books.
I focused my puppy dog eyes on the skeptical face of the nose ring clerk.
Her eyes slid again toward her friend. Her friend was too busy swiping books across her scanner to notice.
“Well,” nose ring clerk said, slowly, “Vicki actually works in the Wegmans floral department.”
She waved in the general direction of the Wegmans supermarket which happens to be a parking lot away from that exact B&N.
“She’s there now.”
I felt a sudden clutch in my middle that made me feel almost out of breath.
Because there is serendipity, and there’s Serendipity.
And this was an awful lot of Serendipity.
I hovered for a second, looking down at the application.
And then I gave in.
I snatched the application and folded it and shoved it into my bag and darted out the door, and a couple minutes later I’d crossed the Wegmans parking lot.
I stood a moment to catch my breath and tuck my bangs back into their barrette.
And are you kidding me—was that my phone?
I pulled it out of my bag and swiped at the spiderwebby cracked screen.
And my jaw dropped.
A text from Candace?
Who I hadn’t even spoken to in, like, seven years?
Like I needed a text from Candace at that particular moment!
Make that: any particular moment!
Go away and stay away, Candace!