UPDATE: For those who caught last night's installment already, I had a case of writers remorse about the breakfast scene and went back and made some changes.
Having slept through the worst of the her jet lag the day before, Kristy felt comparatively fresh when she sat down, dressed in business clothes and with a pad of paper and copy of her resume before her, to await her phone interview on Friday morning. She pulled up the website for Schneider & Sons and refreshed her memory about the company: Hardware store founded in 1873 by Gustav Schneider. Under Gustav’s sons, turned into a purveyor of tools known for quality. Original logo (a German eagle with two gothic S’s) modified in 1941. Now a maker of power tools known for exceptional quality (and price.) Located south of Chicago. Her phone rang and she answered.
“This is Kristy. Good morning, Brad. Good to talk to you.”
The interview seemed to go moderately well. Near the end, when Brad, the hiring manager, asked the usual “Do you have any questions for me?” Kristy responded with a brief summary of the strictly business aspects of her China trip.
“What I found particularly disturbing was the company’s willingness to put up with chaotic sourcing and mediocre quality in order to get out the gate fast. There was a lot more concern about being in time for seasonal sell-in and about product appearance than there was about brand integrity or good business practices. There may be a place for that, but I chose to quit rather than continue to be a part of it. So I just want to put my cards on the table and be clear about what kind of work business environment I’m not willing to work in. If you choose to move forward with me for this role, I don’t want either of us to be set up for an unpleasant surprise.”
The interview closed shortly thereafter.
Kristy took the time to make herself a hot breakfast, then gathered up her things and set out to make her final visit to Aspire Brands. She had considered a final conversation with Bryn, but as she approached the inverse fountain and the tangle of steel beams that stood above it, she realized she had neither the desire nor the patience to revisit any elements of her time there. She went down to the HR offices instead, dropped off her equipment and expense reports, and signed a few forms. Within half an hour she was back out on the street again, happily unemployed.
It was as she was riding the BART back south, away from The City, that she got the call from Lauren.
“They’d like to bring you our for in-person interviews next week. What’s your availability?”
“Next week? I’m completely free. Just have them send me an itinerary.”
“Well, that makes it easy.”
“Any feedback from the interview?”
“Brad said he was particularly impressed by your integrity. Don’t let your game slip. You still need to win over the rest of the interview panel, but I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets to say you’ve got a fan in Brad. I’ll get you a prep document later today on everyone you’ll be meeting with there, as soon as I’ve got the interview schedule firmed up. And you expect to hear from their travel department with an itinerary. Okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Lauren.”
She ended the call and sat back, the speed of this progress as dizzyingly fast as some of the dysfunction with which she had dealt as Aspire, but somehow with none of its unsettling aspects. By the time she pulled into her garage, there was an email waiting for her from Schneider & Sons’ travel department showing her flights and accommodations for the interview. Fly out Tuesday morning, return Wednesday evening. She would be there and back before she had been home from China for a week.
Katie was still not back from work, and the condo was silent. Her first instinct was to bustle around and do some sort of work, but there was none to do. The dishes were washed, the counter clean, the carpets vacuumed. Katie clearly had settled fully into the responsibilities of living on her own during the time Kristy had been away. And yet, this left Kristy with the feeling almost of living in someone else’s home, a feeling oddly similar to the daily alienation of hotel living to which she had seem so used of late.
She thought briefly of running, or of going out, but what, she realized, she most wanted was to interact with someone familiar. She scanned through the contact list on her phone, but, of course, it was the middle of the workday. She continued to flip idly through the names and at last found herself calling her parents.
“Hey, Mom, it’s Kristy,” she answered her mother’s ‘hello’.
“Kristy! How are you? Are you still in China?”
“No, I got back last Thursday. No, wait— Yesterday. God, yes. It was yesterday morning. Things have been happening fast around here. I’m going to be flying out your direction next week to interview for a job.”
“But honey, didn’t you just start your job?”
“Yeah, but I quit. This trip, Mom — By the way, I’m sorry I never had the chance to call you guys. It was really crazy over there. — This trip was terrible, and it made me realize I really didn’t want to work for Aspire. So I quit. But I have this interview out near you. So who knows, maybe I’ll be moving back out there.”
“That would be wonderful. We never see you! And Katie, will she be moving back too?”
“Well, keep in mind, Mom, this is just an interview. I haven’t talked with Katie about whether she’d move with me. I guess so. She seems happy living with me.”
“Is Katie doing all right?” her mother asked in a worried tone.
“So far as I know. Why?”
“She called us a few weeks ago to let tell us about you in China and I thought she seemed worried or unhappy about something.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
“Yes, of course, but she told me that everything was fine. Maybe she’s lonely out there. Does she have friends?”
“I think she knows some people at the Starbucks she works at.”
“But is she happy? I think something that makes Katie unhappy is that she’s not good at making friends but she really needs to know that people care about her. I think she’s lonely — but she would never talk to me about it.”
“I don’t know, Mom. She seems more organized. She’s keeping the condo really clean.”
“Kristy.” He mother’s voice was stern, almost scolding. “Don’t you girls talk?”
“Well, yeah. But just, you know, about stuff.”
“She’s your little sister, Kristy. Watch out for her a bit. There’s no one else to do it right now, I’m afraid.”
“Sure, Mom. Don’t worry about it. We’re fine.” She was on the point of ending the call, but a memory tugged at her. “Mom, do you remember a time when Katie got locked in a trunk at Grandma’s old house?”
“Oh goodness yes! The poor thing. She would woke up screaming at night for weeks and for a long time she was terrified of enclosed places.”
“Really? I’d forgotten all about it until she reminded me, and even then I only remembered the fuss at Grandma’s. I didn’t remember it having any effect on her.”
“You were fourteen. You were off in your own world.”
Kristy was chagrined to think that “off in her own world” was how she would have described their mother when they were young.
“Well, I’ll see if there’s anything on her mind. I might take her out to dinner tonight. It would be nice to talk after having been gone all this time.”
“Yes, do that. Will you have time to come see us when you’re out here?”
“I don’t think so, Mom. It’s going to be pretty busy. I’m only in for two days and one night.”
“Well, let us know how it goes.”
“Is Dad around? Can I say hi to him?”
“He went out to play the back nine before people got off work and the course filled up. He’ll be sorry to have missed your call.”
“Oh well. Give him my best. Goodbye, Mom.”
“Goodbye. And good luck. Your dad and I will keep your interview in our prayers.”
“I was talking to Mom today,” Kristy told Katie, later that afternoon. “She said she thought something was bothering you. Is everything okay?”
Katie looked momentarily apprehensive. “Kristy, you know Mom is nuts. Why do you even listen?”
“She sounded like she cared and was worried about you. Hell, she sounded like she pays more attention than I do.”
“I don’t want to talk about Mom,” Katie announced.
“Okay. Well here’s what I was thinking: How about if we go out to dinner? I’ve got a job interview next week and we might as well celebrate.”
As they drove up into The City to enjoy one of the better restaurants, Kristy found herself reflecting on the differences of perception. Her mother, whom both she and Katie were used to assuming, with reason, had missed a lot of their lives, had somehow noticed more than she. And if Kristy had missed so much even as it went on around her, how did others see her?
Tuesday came and Kristy got up early in order to make it to her flight with plenty of time. As she dressed she began to hear sounds from the direction of the kitchen and smell food cooking. When she left her room she found Katie standing before the stove.
"I didn't expect to see you before leaving this morning. Isn't it your day off?" Kristy asked.
Katie shrugged. “I thought you'd want a good breakfast before your flight.” The smell of fried onions, bacon and bell peppers rose overpoweringly from a plate where Katie had set them aside. She cracked eggs into a bowl and wisked them vigorously. “Besides, it's been awfully quiet here with you gone. It's nice to be kind of a family again.”
The eggs having cooked to their first firmness, Katie slid the bacon and vegetables on top, sprinkled cheese over all with a flourish, then let it all cook while she returned various ingredients to the fridge. Then turned back to the stove and carefully folded over the omelette. It was as Katie turned back to her cooking that Kristy found her attention taken, indeed assaulted, by Katie’s shorts. That Katie was wearing cropped pink sweat shorts with her signature pajama tank top Kristy had seen before. What had somehow failed to register until the moment when Katie turned back to the stove was that, emblazoned across the bottom in large, black, collegiate letters was the word, “ASS.”
“What,” demanded Kristy, “are you wearing?”
“Aren’t they awesome?” Katie asked. “I saw an ad for them on Facebook and I had to have them.”
“Awesome, no. Exploitive, demeaning, juvenile? Quite possibly.”
“Oh, come on. They’re ironic.”
“Once you’re wearing them, they’re literal.”
“No, wait, get this: They come in a set of three. The pink shorts say ‘ASS’. The white ones say ‘MY’ and the blue ones say ‘KISS’.”
“Wait: A set of three. Do you mean you own all three?”
“Of course! You can borrow them if you want to. They’re really comfy.”
“Katie, sometimes I wonder if I don’t treat you like enough of an adult. And other times..”
“What?” Katie asked, handing her a plate with half the omelette on it.
Kristy took her plate to the table, shaking her head. “Katie, I’m not your mother, but I’m saying this anyway, and I mean: Don’t let me ever see you wearing those outside the house.”
“Sheesh. It’s like having two moms.”
“At this rate, you need three moms: one for each pair of shorts.”
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