I loosened my tie as I got off the bus, but that didn’t stop my breath from hitching. God, I was nervous.
It felt stupid to be sweating over an interview, but there was no denying that this one not only felt different than the others but actually was different. Entirely so. And the potential was right there, so close I could smell it. It smelled like cinnamon buns and coffee with creamer, I realized as I found the alley that Melissa Bailey had referred to. No, this wasn’t a job interview. It was much much more important than that.
I hadn’t attempted to tame my hair before leaving home, and I hadn’t bothered to paint a fresh layer of nail polish over the flaky scraps that were left from the last time I’d taken the time. I had different colors on every finger, of course, as if these small acts of defiance were the only things stopping the world from succumbing to something as outrageous as status quo. My white shirt was only slightly tucked into my pants, and my blazer was all but hanging from my left shoulder.
Although I know that it didn’t seem like I had taken much care in my appearance, not in the typical way at least; the way that camouflaged and hid, like a gazelle on the savannah, I had without a doubt taken care in my appearance. I was more like a speck of dust on a mirror now; obnoxiously visible, yet somehow nicked “outdated”, like spoiled milk. As if my suit pants hadn’t lasted decades. My grandfather had them custom sown in his twenties, and I had, regrettably and despite all odds, inherited his figure.
I checked the map on my phone and peeked around, allowing the scent of pastries and coffee to flood my senses. It was by no means a busy street, but at least a dozen bikes were lined up outside the address I had received from Melissa, the leaseholder.
My mother of all people had been looking for new places for me. Presumably after getting tired of me tearfully calling to vent about whatever had happened most recently with Tim. Me and Tim were different, to say the least. And that isn’t to say that he’s not a decent guy, because he can be. There was just a complete lack of understanding between us that made coexisting something of a nightmare. I couldn’t afford the recreational events he was constantly proposing (he didn’t know squat about budgeting despite his education in economics) and I hated the way he commented on my blazers, my boots, or my ties, claiming he was doing me a favor by attempting to strip me of my individuality. Those were apparently the only moments when his education in economics actually kicked in.
After my considerable amount of venting, which my mother had interpreted as complaining, she had seen the advert on God knows what website and sent the link with a gif attachment of Robin Williams giving me a thumbs up. I almost brushed it off, but ultimately pressed the link, finding that the gif was, for once, an appropriate reaction. I allowed myself to taste a lick of enthusiasm before forcing myself to calm down. If it sounded too good to be true, it likely was.
Melissa was a ballet dancer, and she and her brother owned a place downtown. He himself was an up and coming sculpturer and his best friend was, according to Melissa’s description, an unpublished poet working fulltime as – drumroll – an accountant. If that didn’t scream pseudonym, nothing did. I had already come up with seven different possibilities as to who he actually was. They lived with a painter, a professional debate moderator and a singer as well, but the singer was moving west after signing a record deal, and Melissa and her troupe of colorful cohabitants had a spare room. But the room wasn’t for anyone. They needed likeminded people to share their living space. Apparently, not anyone could brew tea from the same kettle as the Bailey siblings and their cadre.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Tim, it just wasn’t working. And to be fair I hadn’t even been looking for a new place. It was my mother who had gotten sick of my venting. Me on the other hand? I could have stuck it out with calling home to vent for at least another semester. But when opportunity knocks, and opportunity looks like a six room dorm inhabited by passionate members of the human race, you open the door, you go to the café under their apartment, and you meet the stranger while dressed in your very favorite shoes and tie.
I recognized her instantly, and not only from the picture in the advertisement. Who else would be wearing thick high-rise black leather boots and a statement skirt with chains dangling from her hip other than prima ballerina Melissa Bailey?
She ordered a chai latte, while I had my second black coffee of the day accompanied by a plump cinnamon bun coated in thick white icing.
“So, what do you do?” She asked after we shook hands. Her eyes were already piercing mine, while I could hardly keep my eyes off of her piercings.
I cleared my throat. “I’m an artist,” I said, steadying my hands by wrapping them around the coffee cup. Its warmth grounded me.
“Everyone is. I asked what you do?” she responded, no longer looking at me. She was fetching a leather notebook and – I kid you not – a quill out of her purse. She had an ink vial as well. And she opened it carefully, with slender fingers, before dipping the quill into the ink.
I eyed her carefully, as if it was a trick question. “I write musicals.”
“So, you’re a lyricist?”
“Composer and lyricist, and I have some rough sketches for the costume design,” I responded, my mind doing cartwheels as I realized she might very well ask to see some of the stuff I’ve done.
She whistled. “Artist indeed.”
I picked at the dried nail polish on my thumb. It had been murky green at some point. “But I’m studying political science, or law, or something like that,” I admitted.
Her eyebrows seemed to tighten at that. “You don’t care much for politics?”
“Call me Anakin,” I shrugged.
“Spoken like a true Sith,” she said, skeptically. “Now why did you end up with political science, or law, if your passion is creating musicals?”
“I was passionate about law. But then Roe V. Wade happened, and Greta Thunberg was arrested. Twice.”
“Say no more,” she said and dipped her quill in the ink again. Her notebook was angled away from me, and I couldn’t see what she was writing. It was like therapy all over again.
I felt compelled to say more. “I think artists are more proactive in changing society than politicians are.”
She squinted at me, taking a sip from her chai for the first time. I followed her hands with my eyes and found them covered with thick rings. She had a tattoo along the inside of her index finger, but I couldn’t tell what it was due to the angle.
“Do you prefer the Myers Briggs personality test or your Hogwarts house?” Melissa asked when she had finally put the delicate cup down again.
Tough one. “Myers Briggs,” I responded after only a moment’s hesitation.
“Celebrity crush?” She asked without skipping a beat.
“Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick Boom. No wait. Vanessa Hudgens in Tick, Tick Boom.”
Her quill scraped against paper, and she grinned as if she might have guessed my answer after knowing me for only a few minutes. “Should I even ask your favorite movie then?” she followed up.
“Lord of The Rings, either The Fellowship of the Ring or The Return of the King. I don’t particularly enjoy sequels,” I admitted, although she technically hadn’t asked.
Her eyes seemed to twinkle as she looked down at her faux leather notebook. “Ever thrift shop?”
“Where do you think I got this?” I asked with a proud smile, lifting my tie, only then realizing that it was hanging slack around my throat, like Peter in Narnia wore his, although I had always identified as Lucy.
“Are you a Swiftie?” Melissa asked, scribbling something down in her notebook.
“I… Yes, I am.”
She looked at me and turned the notebook around so I could see the beetle she had been sketching. I should have known it wasn’t a notebook, but a sketchbook.
I looked up again to find her smiling contently. I nonetheless jumped when she slammed her hand into the table, making the cups clatter against their saucers.
To my surprise, Melissa Bailey declared loudly, and with a remarkable amount of confidence, “fuck it, you’re in.”