Illy picked up the cell phone sales application that she’d been using as a coaster on her coffee table. She’d already cleaned the floors of her apartment and done twenty minutes of a Pilates video, so was feeling unusually productive. Maybe getting a part time job wasn’t such a bad idea. The savings from her library job were disappearing at an alarming rate and it didn’t appear that book royalties would be flooding in any time soon. Plus sitting at home all day wasn’t really providing her with enough creative fodder for her novel. She hadn’t written a word since her Writers Club poem and was feeling even more like a fraud than ever. Maybe a bit of structure and some exposure to the real world would kickstart her creativity. A cell phone kiosk in the middle of a shopping mall didn’t seem like a hotbed of inspiration, but she didn’t want to waste time scouring the city for jobs. Plus the mall was within walking distance, which would be a perfect way to exercise while mulling over her writing ideas.
She filled out the application, lamenting the fact that her jobs as a librarian’s assistant and research assistant for a linguistics professor, although seeming professional and literary at the time, didn’t really make for a spectacular resume. If only there was another word she could use for assistant. Research entrepreneur? Library administrator? Illy groaned. For an aspiring writer, she didn’t have a very impressive vocabulary. She tried to smooth out the wrinkles in the paper while dialing June’s number.
“Cell phones? Really?”
Illy licked her finger and tried to rub a coffee ring off the application. “I realize it doesn’t sound like a very noble calling, but it’s only temporary. To provide a little extra income while I keep writing. Do you really think it’s a bad idea?”
“I now call this meeting of The Help Illy Find a Life Committee to order.” June opened up a box of donut holes and set it solemnly in the middle of the kitchen table. “First order of business, wine. Illy?”
“Yep, got it. Hang on.” Illy jumped up to grab the bottle of cheap red wine she’d bought for the occasion. This was the first time June and Margaret had spent any time together and Illy felt like a nervous matchmaker. She wanted so badly for them to like each other, but seeing them sitting there in her kitchen she realized how different they were. Margaret seemed uncomfortable away from her desk and was tugging on her metallic blue eyelashes. June was mostly concerned with the donut holes, but seemed to be shifting into PseudoSnob Mode, which she’d been famous for in high school. It wasn’t that she really was snobbish, it was just that occasionally her insecurities manifested themselves in a pursed-lipped silence which, combined with her gorgeous hair, always had an unfortunate snobby effect. It was one of the traits she lamented often, along with the ditzy giggling and her hairy arms, but so far it stuck with her.
Illy set out three small mason jars for wine glasses, wishing everyone would just relax. The meeting had been her idea. She had been so excited to introduce her friends and she really did need some drastic life coaching, so it seemed like the perfect plan. At this rate, though, it could be a long evening. She was glad she’d bought two boxes of donut holes.
“Thank you both for coming. I need help.” Illy sat down at the table and poured wine while she talked. “As you both know, I’m pathetic. My life is spiraling to new lows of awkwardness and despair. I don’t have a job. I’m in love with a man whom I’ve never talked to. I don’t even have one chapter of my novel completed, and my house plants are dying.” She paused. “This morning I even filled out an application to work in one of those little blue boxes in the mall selling cell phones. Please intervene.”
She saw June and Margaret look at each other and smile. They may be total strangers and wary of each others’ fashion sense, but they both understood Illy’s flair for melodrama and loved giving advice. Illy relaxed her shoulders and reached for the donut holes. Maybe this would work out after all.
“Okay. Let’s start with a list.” June shifted into business mode. Illy was relieved to see her lips were no longer pursed and she was making eye contact. Margaret had let go of her eyelashes and was reaching into her bag for a notepad and pen. “We’ll go from smallest to biggest. First, the house plants. Then…which is most important to you—love, novel, or job?”
Illy rolled a donut hole on the table. “Well, the novel is the thing I care most about, even though I realize that most sane people would insist it’s the least important.”
“We’re not concerned about the sane people. We’re concerned about you.” Margaret said, looking up from her list with a grin.
“Okay, then the novel is most important to me and the job is the least important, since technically I should be able to survive on my savings for another month or so. But I should probably at least start figuring out what my job options are. Love is somewhere in the middle, though that depends when you ask and how many soap operas I’ve been watching lately.”
“Alright, so in order of ascending importance we’ve got Plants, Job, Love, Novel.” June looked solemnly around the table. “Let Operation Illy’s Life begin.”
“I think we should start with the houseplants,” Margaret was drawing an elaborate chart, “since that’s an easy one. Isn’t your mom a plant guru?”
“I guess so.” Illy constantly fluctuated between being proud and annoyed at her mother, even when she wasn’t around. Why couldn’t she just appreciate all her mother’s talents?
“So…couldn’t you just ask her to come over and help you?” Margaret said each word separately like she was trying to teach Illy English.
“Well, yeah, but you know how she is, she just takes over and spritzes a lot and-” June and Margaret were both looking at her with unsympathetic sternness.
“Okay, okay. You’re right. I’ll ask my mom. She’ll solve the plant problem and Fern will get off my case. “
Margaret looked confused.
“Fern’s the one in the yellow pot by the window,” June explained. “She and Illy have a complicated relationship.”
Margaret smiled, then picked up her pen. “Perfect. Plant problem solved. Next, job. Do you really want to sell cell phones?”
“Aren’t you worried about all that radiation?” June looked genuinely concerned. “Steve’s uncle in Victoria has blisters in his palm shaped like his phone because he talks on it so much. “ June had a severe technology paranoia. She didn’t stand within three feet of a blender and had thrown away her microwave years ago. The worst part was having to wait in outdoor coffee shops while June asked the servers to drag a table away from the wi-fi router.
“Maybe he just has eczema. And I’ll be selling them, not talking on them all day.” Illy didn’t know why she was defending the cell phone job. She agreed that it sounded terrible. “And it would be easy, right? And pay well?” She didn’t actually know how well it paid but the people in the kiosk always looked happy and wore lots of jewelery so she figured the pay couldn’t be too bad. “And it’s got to be better than my job at McDonald’s.”
Margaret looked up from her chart. “You worked at McDonald’s? Aren’t you a vegetarian and devoted PETA member or something?”
June interrupted. “No, please, let me tell this story. It’s my favourite.” She leaned towards Margaret like she was telling a ghost story at a campfire. Illy put her forehead on the table. June told this story at every possible opportunity.
“Illy was a McDonald’s prodigy. She climbed the ranks from Fry Girl to Drive Thru Master like a pro. But the pressure got to her.” June paused. Margaret was spellbound. Illy rolled her eyes at the table. “One particularly busy day she was taking orders in the drive thru, her manager was shouting at her to hurry up, the timers were dinging, the lady on the headset was complaining, and Illy just broke down.”
“Don’t forget the Happy Meal toys,” Illy interjected, still face down. “They kept yelling that I was forgetting to give the Happy Meal toys.”
June was trying not to laugh by this point. “The cooks noticed that someone was punching a thousand dollar order into the drive thru register and got suspicious. The manager found Illy sitting on the floor, trying to close the register drawer, her headset lying beside her.”
“And the worst part,” Illy had lifted up her head by now, “was that he didn’t even say anything or ask what was wrong. He just grabbed the headset and started taking orders. I sat there a while, then wandered out the door and never went back. I still have the uniform in my closet, a reminder of the evils of fast food chains.” She sipped her wine. “I became a member of PETA the next day.”
By now, June was laughing so hard she choked on her donut, spraying icing sugar across the table. Margaret was trying not to laugh, but was snorting into her napkin. “Sorry, Illy, that sounds awful.” Another snort.
“It’s okay. You can laugh. It was pretty funny. Maybe not as funny as June finds it-” June had tears pooling up in her eyes. “But funny. And definitely one of the lows of my work experience. I think that’s why I’m still so scared to find a new job.”
June caught her breath and wiped the icing sugar off her chin. “Well, you could always apply at the phone place and see what happens. Like you said, there’s no pressure at this point, so that’s as good a time as any to be rejected.” Illy dropped her forehead back down on on table. “Not that you would necessarily be rejected. I’m just saying there’s no pressure.”
Illy looked up. “Okay. I’ll apply. But even if I get the job, I’m not necessarily taking it. And if the manager has peeling hands, I’ll run for the door.” She was relieved to have a plan. “Do they even have doors in those little boxes?”
Margaret shrugged. “Next item of business: Love. Give us all the details.”
“Well, you both know most of the details. Ever since Jay showed up at the apartment door with those mochas, I haven’t been the same. I’m sure that if we spent any time together, we’d really connect. The problem is-” Illy paused. Even though these were her favourite people in the world, this whole Jay situation was a little embarrassing, especially when she described it out loud. “-the problem is that we haven’t spent any time together and he doesn’t appear to be aware of my existence. My only plan of action was the Oreo Truffles, and since they didn’t win his heart forever, I don’t know what to do next.”
“Maybe a man who doesn’t fall for Oreo Truffles isn’t your kind of man?” Margaret was tugging on her eyelashes again. Illy wondered if she was trying to achieve some sort of lengthening effect or if she was just scared to offend Illy.
“It’s true, Illy. Are you sure this is the guy you want to devote all your energy and emotional trauma into? Remember the Street Fighter?”
Illy sighed. She knew she should take her friends’ hesitation as a gentle clue from the universe that Jay wasn’t the one for her, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something to him. That if she let him slip through her life she might be missing something big. And he was just so romantic. Couldn’t she expect a little romance every few years? “I admit the Street Fighter was a bad decision and that everyone around me saw it way before I did. But that doesn’t mean I’m destined to fall for the wrong person forever, does it?
June looked doubtful. She stared at Illy like she was about to break the news that in fact she was destined to make terrible relationship decisions forever and her friends had registered her at the community convent. Illy was already offended.
Margaret broke the silence. “Well, why don’t we approach Mocha Jay like the cell phones? Fully acknowledging that it might not be the greatest idea, why don’t you give it one good effort without any pressure? That way at least you’ll have tried and won’t feel like you’ve forever missed your destiny.”
Illy and June spoke at the same time.
“Now we just need to establish a strategic plan.” Margaret flipped to a new page in her notebook. Illy’s fingertips began to tingle. Maybe this was going to work after all.
Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty-One