Closing the gap: 2,100 words tonight for a total of 41,545 out of 50,000.
Also, this might be a good time to confess that my outline is broken into nine chapters, of which this makes the beginnings of the 6th, so while I'm pretty confident I can hit 50,000 words by Friday night, so long as I stay on task, I'm thinking I may not be able to actually complete the story for another week or two afterwards. But if that admission doesn't lose me my last few readers right there, I can at least assure you that there is an outline which includes an end and everything.
- Chapter 6 -
The following week passed in a blur of tasks and plans. Kristy’s vague intention of hosting a farewell gathering did not crystalize into any concrete action, and the sum and total of her send-off was, in the end, the sisters going out for sushi — a cuisine she was sure one could find much better examples of in the South Bay than one could in central Illinois. The next morning they both rose early, and Katie drove her to the airport, so that she could bring the car back home to await its own relocation trip.
That evening she found herself settled in the aggressively innocuous setting of her furnished apartment: white carpet, neutral furniture, abstract art prints on the walls. The possessions she had brought with here seemed to provide only the thinnest veneer of personality to the rooms, and the silence was so oppressive that she had to turn on the TV to fill it. She contemplated the few food items with which the relocation company had seeded the cupboards and fridge (salt, pepper, package of microwave popcorn, turkey and mashed potatoes frozen dinner, orange juice, peanut butter, crackers, Snickers bar, pint of mint’n’chip ice cream). A menu far too redolent of dorm room desperation for her comfort. She consulted the phone book and discovered she could order in Mad Jack’s World Famous Wings, pizza, or Mamma Ming’s Chinese Food. For a moment she contemplated getting back in the car, driving back to Chicago, and abandoning small town life and her new job. Then she sobered herself, put the frozen dinner in the microwave, and opened the Snickers bar.
The feeling of emptiness had, if anything, increased the next morning. Kristy briefly contemplated the cupboards and fridge again, then avoided the issue by changing into her running clothes and heading out. After getting in three miles along corn-lined roads, she finished along the old main street, where a middle-aged woman who called her “hon” provided her with a large iced coffee and a plate of fried eggs at the Corner Cafe.
The apartment was still a yawning void, but she showered quickly and then made a pilgrimage to the supermarket, determined to cook a real dinner that evening. The shopping trip was reassuring: However down-home the take out options of Johnson were, the supermarket was eminently cosmopolitan. She drove back with the trunk overflowing with food, a firm intention to keep up to Katie’s culinary standards, and a DVD of Wrath of the Titans in honor of her absent sister. With half gods battling inanity on television, she opened a bottle of wine and set about making curry.
Making dinner had been a welcome diversion, which took up an hour and a half of the evening, but eating it alone took only ten minutes, and the antics of Perseus and his CGI nemises had become too much even as a diversion. At last, she fell back on selecting her first day wardrobe, determined to forcefully express “breath of fresh air from West Coast comes to 140-year-old Mid Western company.”
Settling at last on a grew wool pencil skirt and blazer, silk top, and a pair of heels that brought her to a commanding 5’10”, she laid these aside like a talisman against the morning and went to bed early, telling herself that everything would feel less alien once her job had started.
The next morning Kristy was just heading out the door, feeling tall and resplendent in her chosen outfit, when her cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number.
“Hi there, Kristy?” asked a vaguely familiar voice.
“This is she.”
“This is Andrea Gomez. We had lunch when you were out interviewing.”
“Yes! Hi, Andrea. I was just heading out the door.”
“Good, I’m glad I caught you. Getting the kids off to school, I almost forgot to call. Did anyone tell you about the orientation this morning?”
“Uh, no,” Kristy replied, fighting down panic.
“Figures. I don’t know if it’s the gals or the guys who find it funny, but somehow everyone forgets to provide the clue the new girl in. There’s an in depth factory tour as part of the orientation. Do not wear a skirt and do not wear heels. You’ll be up and down ladders and there are a bunch of those anti-fatigue rubber mats. Heels get stuck in them something awful.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks for the warning.”
“Aw, poor thing, you probably had something real cute picked out. Well, have a good orientation. I’ll try to drop by your office this afternoon and say ‘hi’.”
“Thanks, Andrea. See you then.”
Kristy swore as she ran back to her room, shedding clothes as quickly as she could. Orientation started in twenty minutes minutes, which, even though the Schneider & Sons campus was only five minutes away, was suddenly far to little time.
Somehow, within ten minutes, she was walking out of the apartment again, this time in pants, a fitted oxford with pale pink and gray pinstripes, and flats, but with her sense of composure somewhat rumpled.
With only a moment to spare she presented herself to the front desk receptionist and was directed to join a half dozen other new hires milling about the lobby. For all her worry about the time, however, it was not until almost ten minutes after that a harried man from HR, looking barely old enough to be out of college, rushed in, apologized for his lateness, and announced they would start by getting their pictures taken for their security badges.
The first day orientation was necessarily less flattering than the interview process had been. While then she had been the center of attention, and known to be interviewing for a fairly senior role, now she was just one of the unfamiliar faces being shown where the cafeteria was and advised on the workings of paid time off. A friendly, 50-ish looking man named Shin, whose newly made badge marked him as belonging to Engineering, sidled up to her and asked, “Is this your first role?”
Kristy blanked at the incongruous question. “Uh, here at Schneider & Sons? Yes.”
“No, no. First or second role out of college?”
“Uh, no,” Kristy allowed, unsure whether to take this as insult or compliment, except that it was so clearly unintentional that any reaction seemed out of place.
“Sorry. Sorry. You looked so young. Don’t feel bad! Get to be my age, it’s not so bad to look young.”
The orientation and tour left the new hires off at the cafeteria at noon. The lines were long, though most people seemed to be taking their food back to their desks. Those who were sitting at tables in groups of two or three talking were mostly not eating: meetings unable to secure a conference room.
Kristy ordered as salad which in keeping with the company’s sustainable convictions — so the tour guide had explained — was served in an opaque compost-able container that would not have been out of place back in California. She seated herself at a table to eat and watch the ebb and flow of people move through. As she was finishing Andrea appeared and waved to her.
“Did you have a good Orientation?”
“Yeah. Thanks for the tip about clothes.”
“Did they take you through the workshops too?”
Kristy nodded. “I got to use an industrial bolt tightener.”
“You laugh now, but pretty soon you’ll want one of your own,” Andrea deadpanned.
“I’ll make sure I find a house with a big garage.”
“See? You’re going to get along here fine. Now, I just ran into Brad on my way down here. He got pulled into a pre-read for the IBP meeting this afternoon, so he asked if I could catch up with you and get you to your desk. He’ll meet you at 1:30. Let me just grab a salad.”
Andrea returned a moment later. “All right. Walk with me and since I’ve got you in my clutches I’m going to tell you how I think the world works while we go. So you’ve got the Schneider line. You know why you were the one picked?”
“If it’s going to be a reason besides the obvious, please have it be a flattering one. It is still my first day.”
“No first day privileges, sister,” Andrea warned, but then flashed her a smile. “What you need to understand is that the Schneider line ought to be a big seller. Too many of the consumer brands have spent the last twenty years engineering quality out of their products so that you can by a drill driver for thirty dollars at Home Depot. Which is great if you want to use it a couple weekends a year and throw it away after four years when the battery won’t hold a charge any more. But it’s frustrating for home improvement enthusiasts who want a tool they can actually love, not just put up with. See, we have that credibility and quality, but what we don’t have is enough of a sense of urgency in the company about what is seen as a stepchild product line to actually make it work. That’s why I advocated so strongly for you (and Brad has this religion too, so don’t worry), because you are a pro, but you’ve an outside player who doesn’t have this institutional sense that the Schneider line is a backwater that people are sent to for bad behavior. All of which I tell you — Have they told you I talk a lot yet? I do, but I make people listen. — because one of your challenges is going to be overcoming that institutional inertia and indifference about the line. Forewarned?”
“Okay. And remember, don’t let it bother you. I’m going to get you sent off to the LeadFirst training. Have you heard of this one?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“No, I guess you wouldn’t have. It’s not a very Bay Area kind of thing. You’ll enjoy it, though!”
Exhausted by her first day, Kristy promptly abandoned her standards on the way home and picked up dinner at Mamma Ming’s: deep fried and syrupy Chinese takeout of the most guilty sort.
Katie arrived on Saturday evening, and Kristy was so glad to see her that, in a reversal of recent roles, she made dinner for her younger sister. So glad, in fact, that she did not feel frustration boiling up when Katie used the time while her sister was cooking to install the X-Box and begin playing Mass Effect.
Sunday saw Katie rooted to the console for much of the day, until she got up and made a enchiladas and a large pitcher of margaritas for dinner. The pitcher empty, Katie slept in late Monday morning and Kristy wished, to any God who might be listening, that she could as well. This pattern continued, with variations, for two more days, until Kristy threw a real estate catalog and Katie and commanded her to go out house hunting.
“The problem with this shit,” Katie announced Thursday night, indicating the apartment in general, “Is that it’s all white walls and newness and has no character.”
“Do you say this because you’ve been looking at places with character, or places without character, or simply because you’re cultivating a new aesthetic sense and need to practice your discernment?” Kristy asked.
“I say this because it’s soulless,” Katie explained. “Why is it that we have beautiful old houses just five minutes walk from here, and those massive apartments above the old storefronts on Main Street, and yet what they’re building is while soulless boxes with green lawns in front of them? What’s wrong with our world?”
“I think the old places are sometimes a lot of work,” Kristy offered.
“Don’t you think that would be more real, though?” Katie pressed. “To really work on your house? Fix things. Do things. I dunno… Paint things?”
“Katie, have you ever done any home repair work?”
“No. But you work for a tool company now. It would be good practice for you. And we’d be rooted and stuff.”
“Whence all this? Did you find a realtor who specialized in old houses or something?”
“Well… No. But I did walk around a lot with my iPhone and pull up listings on Realtor.com. And some of the old houses around here are really, really cool. Not old like Mom and Dad’s place — hundred years old or more. Seriously, after dinner let me show you some of these listings.”