Anywhere But Here, Chapters 51–53
This novel is an experiment in fiction + serial posting on Medium. I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2012.
Chapters 1–3 | Chapters 4–6 | Chapters 7–9 | Chapters 10–12 | Chapters 13–15| Chapters 16–18 | Chapters 19–21 | Chapters 22–24 | Chapters 25–27 | Chapters 28–30 | Chapters 31–33 | Chapters 34–36 | Chapters 37–39 | Chapters 40–42 | Chapters 43–45 | Chapters 46–48 | Chapters 49–50 | Chapters 51–53 | Chapters 54–57 | Chapters 58–60 | Chapters 61–63
Chapter 51: Sandra
When Emily walked into the kitchen the next morning, Sandra had been scouring postings for rental housing for a couple hours.
Her third cup of coffee was cold and bitter, she blanched as she automatically sipped from the cup. She started apartment hunting optimistically; the perfect place would appear, she thought, on an iconic hill in the city, full of natural light and picturesque views of the golden gate bridge. There would be a garage space for her car, and she’d never get a parking ticket again.
The problem, as she saw it, was two-fold. First, she had no idea what neighborhood to choose, even cross-referencing with her neighborhood-marked bus map, and second, the options for a two bedroom anything in San Francisco for $1500 a month was inconceivable. She’d started the hunt at Lower Pacific Heights, Parker’s neighborhood, starting with a price range of $1000 to $1200, and came back with zilch. She recalculated her monthly salary and eased the budget up to $1500.
Her search yielded two places, one said “in-law” — whatever that was, and the other looked so far to the south as to be in another city. She begrudgingly recalculated her budget, adding part of the child support money from Drew and eased the range up to $1800.
She searched for one bedroom, then studios, cringing at the thought of such little space for her and Emily.
They’d kill each other.
She now had fourteen listings to choose from, but she hadn’t calculated in the cat. That brought the count down to four places in her highest price range. They were all in different parts of the city, and she still had no clue what area would be best. She wished Parker were home to ask. She wished it was as easy as Folsom where there were a million cookie cutter apartment complexes with pools and laundry and a dozen bedrooms and five cats would be welcome.
But, no. Easy just wasn’t part of her dream cadence.
None of the places she found were close to Emily’s school, and should that even be a consideration, since Emily didn’t want that school anyway? Or should she choose somewhere one bus line away from work? All the places had a one year lease; she had trouble committing to one week, but remembered having no compunction signing a thirty year mortgage with Drew.
The tepid coffee now tasted abysmal, as she sipped again anyway, and wondered if she should make another pot. Cleaning the grounds out of the French press was torture, especially with no garbage disposal. What was wrong with a coffee pot with filters, that she could easily remove and put in the garbage. She wanted her favorite coffee cup, and her sunny, quiet kitchen that looked out onto her landscaped back yard. Mostly though, she wanted Drew to come into their old kitchen, rumpled from sleep, pour hot coffee and sit down to read the newspaper. She craved that comfortable, easy silence they once had. Before.
“Morning, Mom,” Emily said, yawning. Sandra wondered if Emily had noticed sharing the same room last night. She was asleep when Sanrdra came in and pulled out the trundle.
“What’re you doing?” Emily said, looking over her shoulder at the laptop display.
“Trying to find us somewhere to live,” Sandra replied.
“Maybe, first I need to figure out what an in-law is, as there seems to be not much else in our price range.”
“Are we going to stay around here?”
“Not likely, Emi, nothing I’ve seen yet is nearby, I think this is a pricey neighborhood.”
“Oh,” Emily said, looking down at the counter.
“But we’ll find something, I’m sure. At least with Parker’s new beau he’s gone so much we have this place to ourselves, right?”
“Okay,” Emily said, frowning at the counter.
“Maybe we need to take a neighborhood tour. I can write down the neighborhoods for half of these places so we can drive by, and we can drive by the high school you’re signed up for as well?” Sandra was careful not to call it her high school.
“Oh, school, right,” Emily said, dejected, “What happened with Livie’s school?”
“Nothing yet, I tried calling but never got through. I’ll try again on Monday. You may be stuck at this one for a bit since school starts in a week.”
“A week? Already? Oh, man…”
“I know. Anyway, let’s make the most of this Sunday, and since there’s not much for breakfast, let’s go out. Want to try a new part of town?”
“As long as they have food, I’m starving.”
Another parking ticket waved under the windshield wiper of her Subaru, a few days old, which Sandra wanted to crumple into a ball and throw down the street. She’d have to find some way to remember the street cleaning day for where she parked. Was a garage even possible? She had begrudgingly inched her price range up to $2000 which added one more place that allowed cats, in a part of town called the Bayview, wherever that was. She wondered if they could sneak Orbit inside and turn her into an indoor cat? Maybe if they kept music on all the time to cover the meowing?
“Let’s head towards the Mission, there are supposed to be a lot of restaurants over there and then we can drive by the school.” Sandra faked enthusiasm she didn’t feel. The volumes of coffee had made her jittery on top of exhaustion. She didn’t want to spend the day driving around the city, looking for a place to live. She didn’t want to drive at all.
“How about there?” Emily pointed out the window at a kitschy-looking place, with an ancient green drugstore façade. Sandra somehow found a parking space half a block down, and when she walked up to the meter to deposit the one quarter she’d found in the bottom of her wallet, read the meter display: FREE PARKING.
“There just might be a God,” Sandra mumbled under her breath.
Emily chuckled and followed her down to the restaurant on Valencia Street, where a freckled waitress with pigtails smiled pleasantly and pointed to a booth at the window.
“Coffee?” Scruffy dreadlocks offered, a silver pot shining in her hand. Sandra debated mentally, but wanted a warm cup in her hands.
“Sure.” At least it would be hot. At least she didn’t have to clean the press afterwards.
Emily ordered first and asked for cornmeal pancakes with blueberries. “Mom, can I get maple syrup? It’s a dollar extra.”
“Sure,” Sandra glanced back at the menu; she had wanted something healthy, a veggie scramble something with extra minerals, but the comfort of pancakes won. “Same for me, thanks.”
The restaurant was half full, and loud music blared. The pancakes came quickly, filling the space of conversation. Sandra edited the words she feared saying out loud, as they ate their final delicious bites.
“The thing about finding our own place in the city, is that I have to sign a year lease.”
“A year?” Emily’s eyes widened. She understood immediately.
Sandra continued, “As much as I want to move out of Parker’s, are we ready to commit to a year of living in San Francisco?”
“Um…” Emily paused, considering, “I guess?”
“I guess, too. A year seems like forever.”
The conversation felt awkward and forced, but Sandra added, “I don’t want to make this decision for us, Emi. I want to make it with you. If you’re not ready for a whole year, that’s fine, something will come up.”
“I don’t know what I want, Mom. Sometimes I think this place is great, and other times I want desperately to be back in Folsom.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Do we have to decide today?”
“No, we don’t have to decide until Parker kicks us out,” Sandra smiled at her daughter, “maybe we could send Benjamin flowers to thank him?”
Chapter 52: Emily
They drove five minutes from Valencia to 18th Street before finding the school that looked like a converted California Mission, with an arched whitewashed front and a red tile roof. It was massive, occupying the width of a city block.
The school was across from Mission Dolores park, a large expanse of grass sloping gently uphill. Tennis courts stood on the end closest to Emily and a modern kid’s playground invited fun in the middle.
Emily thought of the school in Folsom, that she’d toured last year, a wide sprawling campus with separate buildings for each department, almost like the city college campus she’d walked through once. Here, just like everywhere else in SF, the one school building was stuck to other buildings.
Emily wondered how many kids went to school here, and how many times she’d get lost looking for classes. Looking at this school now, Emily felt small, miniscule, and insignificant. She hadn’t felt that way in Folsom, even with the large campus, maybe because she had friends with her during the tour, chatting excitedly and looking at cute high school boys. I was just starting to like this city, Emily thought, but the prospect of showing up here, in a week, surrounded by a thousand kids she didn’t know, was monumental and overwhelming.
She imagined dark, threatening hallways, with tall, menacing teens who teased her for …what? Being plain and boring? Or whatever menacing teens could choose from the menu of bullying. And she would have to commit to a year just to get a room of her own?
Without decorum, colossal tears burst and streamed down her cheeks. Couldn’t something be easy?
Emily felt her Mom’s arms surround her, solid and comforting, not knowing how much her Mom fought not to join her in a messy, ugly cry on the middle of 18th Street between Church and Dolores.
“Let’s go home,” Emily said quietly, wiping tears away with her sleeve and wishing again that home wasn’t Parker’s.
The next day, Emily didn’t want to see anyone, especially Livie. The house was cold and empty, and her usual comforts — Orbit and a book, weren’t pacifying. She turned on the TV, then turned it back off. She walked into the kitchen and filled a bowl with cereal and milk, took two bites, and stared off as it got too soggy to eat. Her phone rang three or four times, until she turned it off altogether.
She jumped when the doorbell rang, the metallic buzz giving her a shock like resuscitating her heart. She didn’t want to answer it, hoped if she stayed silent the visitor would go away.
Then pounding began, “Emily, I know you’re home, answer the door,” Livie called.
Emily walked into the hallway, careful to step lightly and avoid telltale creaking floorboards. Her Folsom house didn’t have creaking floorboards. The pounding continued. “I’m not leaving, I’ll sit out on the front steps and knock again every ten minutes until you answer the door.
Emily sat down on the floor mid-point on the hall railway stretch, knees up, with her head resting on her knees, and arms hugging around them. She wondered how long Livie would continue before giving up.
“I want you to know, I brought a book, lunch, and I am prepared to stay all day, until you are ready for the best, and yet easiest adventure we’ve had yet.”
Emily looked up at the door, imagining Livie on the doorstep, with her crazy magenta pixie hair, and wondered what she was wearing. Did anyone walk by and think that Livie camping on the front steps was strange? She didn’t have any friends in Folsom that would sit on her doorstep and cajole her to come out, or take her on adventures, but then when did she need them to? Were there adventures in Folsom? She didn’t think so.
Even Starbucks was an adventure in the city.
Ten minutes later, true to her promise, Livie “shave and a haircut” knocked on the door again. “Like Roger Rabbit, Emily, you cannot resist the knock!” Livie enthused, and knocked again, bum, ba-da, bum, bum.
The corner of Emily’s mouth turned up, she wasn’t motivated yet, but ten minutes later when the knock came again, Emily wondered if she could hold out for another ten minutes before responding to Livie’s knock. It was hard to resist! She also wondered who Roger Rabbit was.
The hallway floor was hard, even if it had warmed under the heat of Emily’s bottom. She stretched her legs straight, feeling the prickling from them falling asleep. She waited, not knowing how many minutes had passed, wondering if Livie was still outside, wondering if she was going to do that silly knock again, and planning her response. Should Emily respond with the predictable knock, or fling open the door, mid knock, surprising her hard to shock friend? The knock began again, and Emily stealthily approached the front door, as the final bum, bum came, Emily flung open the door and called, “BUM! BUM!” Laughing despite herself, laughing until her gut ached, and tears rolled down her cheeks again.
“Well, aren’t you a vision in Hello Kitty pajamas!” Livie exclaimed. “I had just set up camp, now you get to help me bring it inside.”
Emily looked down at containers of food parading up and down the steps, a small cushion up against the wall to the left of the door. “The thing about Victorians,” Livie said, “was they don’t build their front steps so much for lingering and camping out. I wonder if perhaps that ‘pining away’ thing was done remotely instead of at one’s front door? I think they were a private type of people.”
Emily choked on a laugh-sob. “What?”
“Nevermind. You need my special anti-misery hummus and a non-violent veggie sandwich, I can tell. Let’s move this camp into the kitchen!”
Emily found an ornate silver serving tray in the dining room, and helped Livie load the containers. “See, I told you,” Livie said.
“Told me what?”
“Shave and a haircut, it’s impossible to resist.”
“I didn’t know that knock had a name,” Emily responded. “And who is Roger Rabbit?”
“What!? You’ve never seen ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ The iconic human and animated movie? I know what we’re doing the next rainy Saturday!”
“Um, okay. It’s that good?”
“It’s. That. Good!” Livie answered. “Anyway, are dining in the dining room or kitchening in the kitchen?”
“Kitchening? Is that even a word?”
“Sometimes I have to improvise. Why isn’t kitchen a verb, ever wonder? I mean, what do we do in the kitchen?”
“Okay, so why not call all that ‘kitchening’ as a catch-all things you do in the kitchen. Especially in this kitchen, because it has barstools. In my kitchen the activities are limited by its size to food prep and cooking.”
They spread out Livie’s food on the bar counter, as Orbit meowed and pawed at the back door.
“Are you the infamous Orbit?” Livie asked. She reached down to pet Orbit's back in long strokes. “It’s okay kitty, you have taken care of Emily all day, take a break, I’ve got her now.”
Emily smiled, “You can let her out the back door.”
The hummus was especially good, which Emily scooped up with soft and squishy pieces of flatbread. “What’s different about the hummus today? It’s really good.”
“Well, as my Mom would say, I used the same ingredients but put in extra love.”
“How do you put love in hummus?”
“Well, I don’t grab a container from the cabinet and measure it out in quarter cup increments,” Livie grinned, “because it’s not tahini. It’s hard to explain how you add love. It’s how you feel when you’re making it, and you just decide to.”
“You decide to put love in the hummus?”
“Does your Mom like to cook?”
“Yeah, she loves to cook, I think.”
“And sometimes does her food taste way better than usual, but it’s something she’s made a hundred times?”
“That’s because she put more love in it.”
“I don’t think she did that on purpose.”
“No, probably not, but if you told her she might agree.”
“This is the strangest conversation I’ve ever had,” Emily said, “No, wait, it’s not. The conversation where you told me to meditate on the bus was the strangest.” Emily giggled. “That makes this second.”
“But hey, it calmed you down, didn’t it? You were about to dive out the bus window onto the street to escape the upcoming bike ride!”
“The bike ride down the windiest street in San Francisco, without any tourists to save me either!”
“Well, did it distract you?”
“What do you mean, distract me?”
“That has been my plan, since I met you in the library. You were absorbed up to your eyeballs in misery at having to be in this God-awful place of San Francisco, that I came up with crazy adventures to convince you this was a great place and keep you from thinking about what you left.”
Emily sat quietly, as Livie’s words rolled in, gained meaning. “You did all that on purpose? You don’t normally do all those things?”
“Well, some of them, yes, but I told you that was the first time I’d rode a bike down Vermont.”
“Wow.” Emily didn’t know what to say.
“So! Are you up for another Emily-inspired-slash-Livie-designed adventure today?”
“Um, maybe?” Emily smiled. “No bikes down curvy roads?”
“No other life threatening things?”
“Nope,” Livie responded, “Enough guessing. Get your behind in the shower, find your trademark jeans and hoodie. We have a bus to catch to the highest peak in San Francisco!”
“Twin peaks?” Emily had wanted to go there.
“Oh please, do you really think that’s the highest peak in San Francisco?”
Chapter 53: Sandra
Sandra wished she had time to worry today, about Emily, who sat lifelessly in the car seat on the way home the day before. A one year lease would not work, Sandra decided, it was too much commitment when she didn’t know how long she’d have a job.
But Sandra had to cast aside the worry, and finish the final prep for the five new hires that started tomorrow. Why didn’t I say new hires should start on Wednesday, Sandra laughed to herself, I could have bought myself another day! But she was nearly done, the laptops were set up, the desks were assigned, account created, and phones were ready for those that needed phones. Sandra thought it was strange at first that the programmers weren’t given phones, but as she watched the cluster of them, shoulders rounded over keyboards typing furiously, she could see that wasn’t needed. Plus they all had mobile phones.
She’d arranged a schedule for the new hires, cloistering them in the large conference room for the day. Dana would start with a brief intro and welcome, followed by Cesco who promised ten minutes for a company overview. Marketing presentation followed Cesco, then Tad would walk them through the computer setup. He was reluctant, at first, but said if Sandra was right, and it saved him being bugged every five minutes the rest of the week, it would be worthwhile. He refused to give anyone an intro to the phone system, but did print out the phone guide. “It’s a phone,” Tad replied, “You pick up the receiver and dial.” Sandra shook her head minutely, thinking typical Tad, but at least he’d helped her out by identifying the top hosted helpdesk system, one that she’d report at their managers’ meeting today.
She wished she didn’t feel disapproval from Cesco; like she was always doing the wrong thing. He barely talked to her, and she interpreted every glance in her direction as criticism. Yes, creating a new hire process wasn’t in her job description, despite not having a job description, but it would help the new people get acclimated quickly, she was certain.
They hadn’t hired a part-time IT person yet either, and after wading through the volume of email submissions, Sandra was cross-eyed trying to keep them straight. She started a spreadsheet with candidate names and dates of submission, and so far it had 264 rows of candidates. Tomorrow, Sandra told herself, she’d get to that list tomorrow and at least cross of the definite misfits.
“Time for our meeting,” Dana paused at Sandra’s desk while walking to the conference room.
“I’m ready,” Sandra collected her laptop and followed Dana into the room. “Hey Dana, question for you.”
“I’m looking for a place for Emily and I to live, is there anywhere in the city I can find a lease less than 12 months?”
Dana looked up, thinking. “Probably not a lease, no.”
“Of course not. Just wish there was a decent option that didn’t require a big commitment.” Forget the part about whether she’d be fired.
“Well, how about a sublet?”
“What’s a sublet?”
“Often people in San Francisco travel a lot, or like you, they start with a year lease, but end up moving out. They’re still committed to their lease, so they find someone to rent the space from them.”
“Renting a place from the renter, who rents from the owner?”
“Yeah, something like that. Are you looking on Craigslist?”
“There’s a whole section on sublets, in housing wanted part. Take a look.”
“Thanks! Anything less than 12 months would be a blessing.” She’d look tonight when she got home.
The meeting went easier than usual, Sandra raced through her updates, reminding everyone involved about the new hires tomorrow.
“We know, Sandra, stop being such a Mom,” the VP of Engineering teased. “Oh hey, I almost forgot, I have another developer starting tomorrow, can we get him into your plan?”
Sandra tried to hide her surprise, and wondered how long he’d known about this. “He can join, but not sure his laptop will be ready until Wednesday. I’ll see how much time I have today.”
Cesco interjected, “How’s the search for the part time IT person coming?”
The VP of Engineering looked at Cesco, “I didn’t know we were hiring someone for IT. The guy that starts tomorrow may be able to help. He’s a developer, but was a Sys Admin in his last job. He said ideally he’d do a bit of both, and we’re not quite ready for him in Eng. What kind of work do we need the new IT guy to do?”
“All the IT stuff that Sandra has taken over from Tad — Sandra can fill you in after the meeting.”
The managers continued their updates around the table. After the last person finished, Cesco added, “Before everyone leaves, I want to acknowledge Sandra for all the work she’s done so that your new hires come up to speed quicker. It’s not in her role, but she saw the need and jumped in to help. Taking initiative is the kind of thing that makes a start-up like ours succeed. Good job, Sandra.”
Sandra blushed, unaccustomed to praise for anything, anywhere, ever. “Thanks, Cesco.”
To be continued …
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