In some seasons, it’s not just the setting that changes.
Life runs in seasons. Moving to a new place, completing schooling, or switching jobs, create visual cues that our lives are progressing Regardless of the outward signs, however, we never stop growing and changing as people; our personalities develop, our preferences solidify, and our thinking and understanding evolve. The texture of life from our experiences builds calluses and richness to our character brought only by time.
Most striking to me, as we go through different seasons the landscape of relationships around us fluctuates. I have noticed that as time moves on, one group of friends morphs into a completely different collection of people. Some of these friends stay on and remain constant, but only so far as their life or personality remains compatible with our own. We change, and when friends do not change with us, or are determined to view us in a way that fits their paradigm but is inaccurate to who we are, it creates stress that threatens to fracture the relationship.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to living with people is accepting them for who they are, and remaining true to yourself, even when they cannot continue on the journey with you.
~S. C. Durbois
P.S. If you know someone who might enjoy a free short story, please pass it along.
Virginia didn’t have any defined plans after college. Her degree was shiny and new, extremely expensive, with no clear career directive. When Cherry invited her to move with her to the city, she said yes, figuring she’d make her way in this world just like every other philosophy major who has belatedly realized her mistake. Cherry had a job offer on Wall Street (and wealthy parents besides), and had assured her they’d be covered for housing until Virginia got on her feet. Virginia was grateful to Cherry; that girl really was a lifesaver.
“It’s old,” Cherry wrinkled her nose at the brick walls. The factory had produced textiles in the ’80s and was now part of a housing project to reappropriate unused buildings.
“It’s a gem,” Virginia said. The apartment door was heavy and led into a long, cramped hallway painted ochre. This kitchen had new marble countertops, an island, and stainless-steel appliances. The scuffed floorboards lead into the Living Room, framed by the other side of the ochre hallway, and the offending bricks. It had south-facing windows and so would be well lit in the afternoon.
Cherry followed the agent to the back to see the bedrooms and bath, her grass green purse banging at her side. Virginia stayed, her attention captured. In the open space between the kitchen and living room, an iron construction of railings climbed from the floor to the tall ceiling. It supported a wide square loft too low to walk beneath, but high enough to be its own room. She climbed the steps to the platform, imagining the use of such a space by past occupants. It could be a reading nook, a studio, an office. The agent’s and Cherry’s voice filtered out to her as they returned to the main room, and the agent left to give them time to confer.
“The rent price is the best we’ve seen yet, but one of the bedrooms is a closet. I can’t sleep in that and I wouldn’t ask you to,” Cherry told her.
Virginia walked down the hallway. The first bedroom was more than spacious. Virginia didn’t think her friend would necessarily be able to use every inch of it, but they’d already agreed to separate rooms. Cherry wasn’t exaggerating about the second ‘bedroom.’ There was a window, room for a bed, and space to get dressed in the morning, but that was it.
“Of course, if you did decide to take this room, the rent would reflect it. You would pay a lot less,” Cherry said, leaning against the door frame. “It could work,” she said after a long moment. “Since you don’t have a job yet.”
Virginia had enough from a small college job to get her through the first month or two, but without parents ready to carry the slack, she couldn’t wait around to find employment. Even so, the lower she could bargain now, the less she’d have to carry later. Thus, though her mind was already made up, she took her time walking through the space, leaning on a loose floorboard when it squeaked. She noted every detail, the stain on the ceiling, the chips on the window frame, with the same attention as a historian visiting the Taj mahal.
Cherry did the calculations in her head and threw out some numbers, dropping a hundred when Virginia put her hand on the gouges of the brick wall shared with the living room, deliberating.
“A closet without a closet,” Virginia joked, and then paused. “I may be able to make it work, except I have too much stuff to fit into this space.”
“Well, you could use other areas in the apartment, the kitchen for example. Or what about that loft area. You could use that,” she said when Virginia didn’t speak. “It’s not private, so we won’t increase your rent fees, but it would give you a place to put your stuff and spread out.” Cherry kept her tone encouraging, loose as though she cared not either way. Slowly, Virginia nodded and looked at her friend.
“I think, for the money, this is a good option.”
Cherry beamed. “Alright then. Until you get a job and can pay more, you can keep an eye on dishes and meals, you know cleaning and stuff. Right! I’ll go tell them we’re in.”
She left to tell the agent they’d take it. Virginia watched her go, mouth popped open. She closed her eyes, reminding herself to breathe. It was classic Cherry: suggesting she was responsible for her roommate’s housekeeping. She sighed; she supposed she could pick up some extra slack, since Cherry was going to work right away, and she was jobless.
She took another deep breath. Be kind, she chanted to herself. Be grateful.
They submitted their application, signed a contract, and Cherry paid a security deposit of three months’ rent, which Virginia would split once she could afford it. They moved in the next day. Over the next couple days, they unpacked cars stuffed from college move out. They didn’t have furniture yet but no doubt that would come with time. Cherry bought a new queen mattress and Virginia bought a cheap twin on credit.
On Cherry’s first day at work, Virginia shuffled to the kitchen in PJ pants, blinking sleepily. Cherry had killed the first pot of coffee by herself, so Virginia rinsed it out, while Cherry collected her things, talking in a rush.
“I noticed some café’s looking for baristas, so I emailed you the information,” Cherry said, slinging her business jacket on before grabbing her briefcase and the keys. “And I signed you up for some head-hunting websites. Okay—I’m off. You’re welcome! Happy searching!” she called, spinning out the door.
Virginia’s head jerked up, her hands frozen on the coffee filter. She looked at the door, eyebrow raised, but it thumped shut. Her chest tightened, but she forced herself to take a deep breath. Her heart’s in the right place. She’s trying to be helpful.
She started the new pot of coffee and went to set up a table in the loft. Her loft. She smiled, and once a hot mug was in her hands, her mood improved. She unpacked all her old philosophy textbooks and stacked them around the perimeter, against the iron railings. Though they were useless to her now, they were comforting, like old friends, cheering her on. She opened her laptop and began the process of job hunting.
Virginia forced herself to stop the imaginary conversation she was having with Cherry. The conversation where she kindly but frankly pointed out that she could get a job on Wall Street too if she wanted to. Plenty of liberal arts degrees graced their financial halls. She’d briefly considered applying, but she knew for her own mental health, and the peace of their relationship, it would be best if their lives weren’t parallel. It required enough energy from her on a daily basis to resist being pulled into the slipstream of Cherry’s life.
She began the hunt in a search engine: “Jobs for Philosophy majors.” There was quite a lot (as she knew there would be from a seminar she’d attended in college). It turned out she could go into business, public policy, marketing, health care, and so on. She was trained to think on the highest level, and for that enviable ability, she could become a lawyer, a professor, a journalist, or a financial service professional. Ha—take that Wall Street!
Yet nothing jumped out at her. Cherry’s career was all well and good, but the thought of spending time with paper and numbers, information that fell through her fingers more insubstantial than dust—she couldn’t do it anymore. She might have been interested in one of these years before: she loved thinking abstractly. But after four years of rigorous academics, she was tired of staring at screens. She could have gone after her graduate degree, begun the path to a professorship, but she wanted to see new things: people, places, not the inside of an office.
She had this vague sense of emptiness: as though her brain was now overused, burned out, while her body ached for movement, to create something she could touch and look at and be proud of when she was done. The only things she had to connect her to the philosophers who were her teachers, to whom she had devoted hundreds of hours of thought, lined the perimeter of her loft. Comforting, but not cash-flow positive.
The thought of dealing with intangibles again, with nothing to show for all her work except a word doc file saved on her laptop, was more than she could stomach.
Virginia clicked over to the job boards and (cringing) even scrolled through Cherry’s emails. Four hours later, feeling more drained than any essay on Kant ever left her, she decided some fresh air and a change of scenery was in order. Leave it to post-college job hunting to cause an existential crisis. Reality: she needed to ground herself in reality. It was what she did whenever she’d hit a wall with one of her papers. She put her laptop in a bag and descended the stairs with plans to explore their neighborhood.
The waves in her honey-colored hair frizzed in the drizzle. She tucked it beneath the hood. In the thrum of traffic, she felt her pulse begin to still: money was being made, there was a good job for her out there. She just had to find it.
She passed a shop with a mess of objects in the windows: old chairs, pictures with chipped frames, lamps, and pocket watches. A large stained-glass window hung from the display ceiling. At the front there was a row of potted plants. She slowed, reading the sign. Greenhouse Antiques. She opened the door and passed the threshold to the tune of a tiny bell.
Inside, the light from the grey sky reflected off the wet street and poured in through the stained-glass window. Colors radiated, marked by swooping designs of plants and insects, with lakes and mountains in the far back. The hues spilled out into the rest of the shop, filled with a pell-mell of objects. Artifacts of human lives piled up on top of each other like stored memories.
There was an ornately carved bureau with a large mirror in a gilt frame that did not match the chest. Teapots and records lined the walls along the windows. Old wooden marionettes hung by their strings from the beams, along with wind chimes and delicate glass hummingbirds dangling from fishing line. Brass plates and porcelain painted teacups ordained the surfaces, next to lamp and glass cabinets full of tarnished jewelry. Knick knacks filled the shelves, like tin cans with old tools that no one had used for their intended purpose for several decades. The place smelled of old potpourri and dried oil, of lives lived and forgotten generations later.
Along the walls, overflowing to leaning stacks on the floors, were piles and piles of framed canvases. Virginia walked over to these and began looking through, her fingers feeling the dust on the wood. Some of the frames were themselves a work of art, carved in rococo swoops and curls, or the soldierly rhythmic patterns enjoyed in the late 20th century. Some of these were cracked, or the paint was chipped.
She picked up one painting. It was small, maybe eight by twelve, with an unremarkable frame. The portrait was a three-quarter profile of a man. He looked renaissance, with the hooked narrow nose, shoulder-length brown hair, and simple tunic. There was something almost ironic about it.
“Can I help you?” a man asked. Despite the full black beard and stout middle, he looked young, maybe late twenties.
“How much for this painting?” Virginia asked. She really should not be spending money; she didn’t even have a job yet. Why was she thinking about decorating when she needed money for groceries? The man looked her in the eye a second longer than he should have.
Virginia raised her eyebrows, quirking one as if to say who does this shop think it is? She gave the painting a cursory glance.
“I’ll give you eighteen for it.”
After a long pause, he said, “Forty.”
She shook her head. “Twenty.”
They shared a long standoff. She could almost see him digging his heels in. She sighed and put the painting back, about to turn and look around the rest of the shop.
“Thirty-five,” he said. She looked back at him.
“Throw in these two paintings and I’ll give you fifty,” she said, pulling out a landscape about the length of her arm painted with lighter tones. The other painting was the same height but half the length, and depicted a window from inside. There was a smattering of small seashells on the window seat of this one, painted with simple strokes but extreme sensitivity to color. These were the two she actually wanted.
The man stared at the group of three, which she’d piled together like so much detritus, an afterthought, the vindictiveness of a customer that simply wanted to walk away with more. What were three paintings against the hundreds they had? Really, she was helping him.
His plump lips pursed and twitched as he did the math.
She gave him a scoff-laugh and crossed her arms, trying to keep the smile off her face. No need to let him know she was enjoying this. She felt her blood rushing and the world was coming into crystal focus. She thought she saw a gleam in his eyes.
They haggled, and eventually she swiped her card for one hundred even.
“Can I have these wrapped, in paper or something?” she asked, all polite now. He grinned and picked up the canvases with a nod.
She continued exploring the shop while he wrapped the canvases in brown packing paper. There were more gems in the back, but much of it was dusty or buried. She didn’t feel like pushing her luck with the attendant any further, however. Best to not show just how much she liked the stuff in the shop.
After passing a massive wrought-iron birdcage taller than she was, she noticed the air change, a breeze against her skin. Instead of dim shop lighting, interspersed through many crannies, the white of natural pigments brightened the atmosphere. She heard the clink of a spoon on china. She looked up and saw the brick back wall of the building open up. It connected to a tall room made entirely of glass and filled to overflowing with plants.
She stepped out into the greenhouse. A series of iron tables and chairs were padded with plump cushions. Two older women sat at one table over a pot of tea, stirring their cups, spoons knocking the sides every once in a while. A man, thirties or forties, sat in a chair by himself, reading a book. All in all, it felt like a garden party, in the city. Virginia grinned.
She took a seat on one of the low couches. The room filled with plants of all sizes; in pots, on the ground, ivy hanging from the latticework above. Water tumbled in, and looking around, she spotted several fountains hidden between the green. The floor was stone tile, tightly secured by dirt in the crevasse.
An older woman with curled white hair approached her. She wore an apron tied around her thin frame, but the strong way she walked indicated a sturdy build, probably from daily yoga. Her sleeveless shirt confirmed this, showing off sinewy carved arms. Her hazelnut skin looked to be in a permanent love affair with the sun, loudly declared by the fading floral tattoos.
Virginia ordered a latte, resisting the sponge cake and pie by reminding herself ‘groceries…’ The woman glanced at her thoughtfully as she took down her order, and then left.
Buoyed by her recent successful purchase and calmed by the greenery, Virginia opened her laptop and returned to headhunter websites.
“How did you hear about us?” the woman asked when she returned with the latte.
“I just moved here. Down the street in fact. Needed a break from job hunting,” Virginia said. Technically this woman was her neighbor. The woman gave her a long look with a slow nod. Virginia started to feel a tad uncomfortable and looked away.
“What about working here? Selling antiques in the front,” the woman asked.
Virginia’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. “Well, I, um—”
“I saw you negotiate the pants off Lucas back there. I could use you on my team.”
“But you don’t know me.”
“Are you a psycho killer?”
“Do you have another job you’d like to work right this minute?”
“Think of it this way, come work for me until you find the job you want. You never know,” she crossed her arms with a charming glimmer in her eye. “You might like it and want to stay.”
Virginia glanced around, looking at the shop differently now. What did she have to lose?
“Cordelia,” the woman stuck her hand out. Ink roses graced over her wrist in sweeping tattooed strokes, a few thorny vines twining over her fingers. Virginia spied a small dragonfly perched on one of these. She gave her a firm shake and her name, and filled out the paperwork right there, laptop closed.
“Hey! I found some job postings for you at the University. It’s a long commute, but right up your alley,” Cherry said a few days later, pouring herself a glass of wine. She took a seat on one of the new bar stools she’d bought. She’s had them delivered (for a small fortune). Cherry’s internship in college had left her with an ample nest egg, and a silver credit card.
“Actually, I found a job,” Virginia said as she broke up the ground beef in the pan with a wooden spoon. Cherry swallowed her wine.
“Wow, that was fast. Where at?”
“That dingy junk shop down the street?” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know how they make any money. How can they pay you enough to make rent?”
Virginia wondered if she forgot their agreement, or if she should address the strange payment situation Cherry tacked on at the end. She decided to let it go, for now.
“It’s a lot cooler inside. They even have a café at the back, inside a greenhouse.”
“Wait, like, plants?” Cherry asked, frowning.
Virginia smiled at her over the steam of the pan. She didn’t need to sell it; Cherry could just get over herself. She had been like this in college too, like when Virginia told her major.
‘Philosophy? I’ve always wondered how people turn that into a career.”
Virginia had blinked at her, startled. ‘Well, I suppose people will always need to think, so they can’t toss us out just yet,’ she had joked. She hadn’t heard a word about it since, until this whole job thing.
Cherry put down the knife she was using to cut the bread. It was from a new set she’d ordered online. She swirled her wine glass.
“Well, I suppose it’s a start, a steppingstone.”
Virginia focused on the pasta as she worked to stop clenching her jaw.
“Actually, it’s pretty similar to what you do on Wall Street.”
Cherry sipped her wine and gave Virginia a gracious smile.
“You’ll find your place in this city.”
Virginia raised her eyebrows. The meat in the pan sizzled.
“Yes,” she agreed. She opened the jar of tomato sauce with a pop and poured it in. The pan hissed and spattered before grumbling away to a low bubbling. “You and me both. We certainly will.”
Cordelia got the background check on her clean, proving she was indeed not a psycho killer, and Virginia started at Greenhouse Antiques the next day. Lucas turned out to be a decent sort. Virginia went through the shop with a duster, a cloth, and a bottle of polishing solution. When no one told her to stop, she began rearranging: displaying certain paintings more prominently, stacking the others more neatly. She took the odd bits of cogs and put them together in a bowl on a low table, displaying a few of the more interesting contraptions on the doily around it. She found several pieces of furniture that truly were junk, and with Cordelia’s permission, she and Lucas hauled them out. There was one trash piece, a side table, that she thought she could refurbish. She offered Cordelia something for it, but the woman waved her off and let her take it.
As she went along, she picked up a few pieces: a lamp here, a bowl there, a smattering of new paintings. For these, she bargained with Cordelia, not wanting the woman to feel like she was swindling the shop by bargaining with Lucas, Marge, or Rita.
Of the four storefront employees, Virginia was discovering she was the most ruthless bargainer. It had everything to do with being willing to walk away. Know what you want, how much you’re willing to spend, and then try to spend half that.
A few weeks later, the shop was quiet. They decided to take lunch together. Even Martin, who typically stayed in the back making the food and drinks, came out with sample cups of a new latte he was trying out.
Cordelia approached from the back room where she often disappeared to work on the numbers. Martin offered her a sample.
“Is that mint?” she asked. He nodded, one of his rare smiles brushing the side of his cheek. “That kitchen garden was a good call,” she complimented, nodding to the small bed of herbs Martin cultivated in the back. She finished it off.
“Alright everyone, you know the drill with the Market this weekend. I’d like you here early so we can get there early. The best stuff always goes fast. Virginia, I’d like you to come too.”
Virginia looked up. This was the first she’d heard of it, but Cordelia had walked away. At the surprised looks on the faces of the others, she asked,
“New record I think,” Marge said.
“C’mon, you knew she was going to do it,” Rita said.
“What, I don’t get it.”
“The Market,” Lucas explained, “It’s one of the places Cordelia picks up her really good stuff. It was a solid year before Cordelia took me anywhere near there.”
“She thinks it’s bad luck,” Marge said.
“You know that’s not it. She doesn’t want to be embarrassed by us,” Rita said. “They’re like sharks. They can smell blood. If you’re weak, you’ll never make more than a dime. Cordelia won’t bring anyone she can’t trust to keep a poker face and a shut mouth.”
“She doesn’t want us to bargain?” Virginia asked.
“The first time she brought me, before she hired these whelps,” Lucas said. “She told me I was there for muscle: to carry things and to let her know if I saw anything good. Turned out she was training me to find the good stuff and bargain the crap out of it.”
“One month,” Marge said to herself.
“New record,” Rita agreed with an impressed look. Martin tipped the last sample into Virginia’s cup to piss-off Lucas, who was reaching for it.
“Do you come with, then?” Virginia asked Martin.
“Somebody has to bring the coffee,” he said.
“Yeah right, Cordelia wants you there so you can carry things,” Rita said. He shrugged.
“Oh, my goodness, that was wild!” Rita crowed as they carried the carpet down the street.
“I still can’t believe what I saw,” Marge said. It was dark out, but far from being tired, the five of them were wired. The Market, needless to say, had been a roaring success.
Virginia ducked under the carpet to unlock the door to her apartment building, letting her friends in. She turned to see a beaming Lucas. Something about the energy of their group had put him in rare form: he had been unstoppable. Cordelia had privately given him a huge bonus before they left. Virginia knew this because she had been standing next to him, right before she received her own huge bonus.
“Thank you, madam!” he said, walking through and starting up the steps.
“Did you see the look on that lady’s face when you said you wanted the lamp too?” Marge said to Rita in front of her. Martin brought up the rear. Virginia let the door close behind them.
“Third floor!” she called up. It was a testament to their success that no one groaned.
Her newly cut hair brushed her jaw like a bird’s wing as she followed them down the hall. During a break at the Market, Rita had noticed a hairstylist giving cuts on the street. She’d grabbed Virginia’s arm and hauled her over. Now her hair was shorter in the back and longer in the front, ending just above her shoulders. She enjoyed the fresh weightless feel of it.
Once they reached her apartment, they carried the carpet down the long ochre hallway, only having to bend it a little to get it through. They walked through and put it down where Virginia directed. Lucas stood up and whistled.
“Nice digs Jean!” he flopped onto one of the nice black couches Cherry had purchased.
“Are you surprised? The way she’s been grazing at work?” Rita asked.
The apartment was utterly transformed from the renovated warehouse Virginia had signed a lease for, weeks ago. The rough industrial edge was still there, but instead of trying to smooth down the corners, subdue it, Virginia had refurbished the space. She filled it with items equally rough, pieces which, to her, carried the unique element of character brought only by something old set in a new context. She found it took on a new meaning, a uniqueness that drew the eye. No longer junk, they fit.
Paintings had accumulated along the walls, pieces which of themselves did not seem to work together until they were all mounted, well-framed, on that yellow ochre wall. A lamp, shabby and ugly when lost in the dusty corner of the store, gleamed; a statement piece. It was on the side junky side table she’d pulled from the rubbish heap. She had, of course, sanded it and repainted it before allowing her roommate to see it.
Knowing she’d get some remark about ‘dusty old furniture’ if she told Cherry about it, or asked her opinion, Virginia just put the pieces in and waited. If Cherry didn’t like it, Virginia would hear about it. As things accumulated, cherry occasionally frowned, processing the changes, but made no comments. Virginia interpreted the general silence as mute approval.
Her friends helped her move the furniture, unroll the carpet, and put everything back. All in all, the place had a warm rustic vibe to it.
“Let’s go out, celebrate a successful day at the Market,” Lucas said, from his seat on the couch. Marge and Rita were collapsed next to him, whipped from the early morning, lifting antiques all day long, and then carrying a carpet up three flights of stairs. Martin had been wandering around the kitchen, but his eyes landed on the loft and he started walking up the stairs.
A key scraped in the lock. Cherry pushed through, looking around with a controlled expression. She must have heard her friends in the hall. They were being rather loud.
“Who’s this?” Lucas asked. He was already up, excited at the prospect of food.
“Hey, Cherry,” Virginia called, identifying my presence so she would know we weren’t being robbed. “Guys, this is my roommate Cherry, we went to college together. Cherry, these are my coworkers at the antique shop.” Virginia went through their names. Lucas boldly walked over and offered his hand while Rita and Marge tried to crawl their way out of the couch.
Cherry pasted a smile on for the strangers, shaking their hands, but there were deep lines under her eyes. Her black business jacket looked worn, as did the creased white shirt under it. Cherry hadn’t shared much about her new job, but Virginia thought it might not have been as glamorous as she thought a Wall Street job would be.
“What do you say, Jean? Up for dinner?” Lucas asked.
“Jean?” Cherry asked. She hadn’t moved from the open door. She looked like she could tell there was something different about the apartment, but couldn’t quite place it.
It started at the Market. Rita had found a lamp and rubbed it ironically, looking for a magic genie to grant her wishes. When Virginia set her sights on the ornate rug hanging in the same stall, and then miraculous bargained the man down to 40% of his asking price, Rita had crowed,
“Alright, Jeannie!” She then frowned at Virginian, “No, you’re not a Jeannie, you’re more of a Jean.” Virginia had rolled her eyes, but the name stuck.
“Check out the carpet she got,” Marge added, scuffing it with her foot. Cherry’s eyes locked on the carpet.
“We just got it today, if you don’t like it, I can get rid of it,” Virginia said, feeling for her roommate. This was a lot to come home to. There was a pause as Cherry walked forward to look at the carpet and Virginia’s friends all looked at her. The friends who were standing there when she dueled the vendor for this carpet and knew just how much she wanted it. The friends who carried it one block and three stories for her. An awkward moment passed as they glanced at each other, Martin looking down at her from the loft. Cherry didn’t notice, examining the carpet.
It really was a gorgeous piece of tapestry, but Cherry’s tastes ran a little more…modern.
“This looks expensive,” she said, looking up at Virginia. It was. Until Jean haggled for it.
“Got a deal on it,” Virginia said with a shrug. Cherry was quiet.
“Okay, well!” Rita said, clapping her hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “I’m starving, we’ll meet you there, Jean!” She called, knowing when two roommates needed to have a heart to heart.
Her friends filed out as Cherry disappeared into her bedroom. Virginia looked down, crumpling the rug’s plastic wrapping into a ball. She tried to suppress a sigh, tired from the day. She looked up, startled to see Martin. He’d walked over quietly.
“Cherry?” he asked, one brow quirked. Virginia smiled.
He nodded once, looking where Cherry disappeared, and then back at her. “You good?”
She forced a smile. “I’ll see you guys there. Text me the address.”
He left, letting the door shut behind him. Cherry came back out, bag and blazer gone, white shirt exchanged for a green sweater. They looked at each other. For a moment, Virginia felt like she was the object on display, the object being bargained for. Cherry watched her almost in surprise, like when she noticed the new lamp on the side table.
“Good day?” Virginia asked.
Cherry nodded, though she didn’t look like she heard the question.
“They seem fun,” she nodded to the closed door.
“From your part-time gig?”
“Full time now,” Virginia said. It had been for a few weeks. She had the feeling Cordelia was grooming her to handle the books. Now didn’t feel like the right time to mention it.
“Your hair,” Cherry said, looking at the chopped locks. She didn’t say anything else but stared at Virginia as though she would explain it. The back of her neck felt cold, as though the exposed skin were evidence of a betrayal, as the crumbs of a forbidden cookie.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, resisting the urge to say anything else. She didn’t need to apologize or explain. She’d gotten a haircut: deal with it.
“Would you like to come out with us?” she invited, angled herself to the door. There was something in her roommate’s face, possessive, like she wanted to consume her.
“No, I’m really too tired for that tonight,” Cherry sighed.
Another long moment passed, a moment where Virginia knew Cherry wanted her to bail, to stay, make dinner. But silence is a tool that slices both ways.
“Well, I’m headed out, hope you feel better.”
Jean stuffed the plastic in the trash can and walked out the door.
Rule number one with bargaining: always be willing to walk away.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this story, please pass it along so I can share these free illustrated short stories with more people. In the meantime, keep in touch with me on Instagram (@scdurbois).