Joyland

The Midwest |

Everyone Gets It

by Sara Schaff

Cici in Social Media has returned from vacation with a new personal belief system. "In the end," she informs me, "everyone gets what they want."

It's 9:05am, eleven days before the election, and I haven't heard her voice for almost a week, so I'm barely invested in the emails in my inbox, let alone Cici's latest revelation. Her hair looks almost soaking wet, but she tells me that's just this new hair spray she scored at duty free.

"What do you mean, everyone gets what they want?"

"Just what it sounds like! People get their deepest wishes, whether they realize it or not."

"You mean like that thing on Oprah—what was it—The Secret?"

Cici's ideas about work and life are often derivative of something that's already been done in popular culture, but she'll never admit it.

"I don't think I've heard of that one," she says.

Her blouse is peach silk and sheer under the fluorescent lights. I can see the embroidery on her camisole: tiny, thorny roses. Her travel mug is from the Starbucks at the Charles deGaulle airport, and as she leans over my cubicle wall, she makes sure the Eiffel Tower is facing toward me.

Even so, I don't ask about her trip to Paris.

It doesn't matter. She launches into one of her stories. The kind that begin with her home in bed on a Friday night after fucking a guy and really enjoying it physically but emotionally still feeling like something is missing.

In the middle of the night, the disappointing guy in question snoring in her bed, she bought a ticket to Paris for the following day. Not because she'd always dreamed of going, but because a friend on Instagram posted a picture of herself in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and Cici has always loved that painting because it reminds her that she doesn't have to smile to be respected.

"So you went to Paris because you don't want to have to smile?"

"The point I'm trying to make is..."

She finally just cashed in her stored up vacation days, flew economy class but drank herself to sleep on the plane so she didn't even mind not having leg room, landed in Paris, and asked the cab driver to take her straight to the Eiffel Tower. Once she was at the top and buffeted by tender winds and gazing out at this spectacular view of the most romantic city on earth, she realized she had finally done exactly what she wanted: struck out on her own without a plan, and discovered she was happy alone.

Since she's been talking, my inbox has begun filling up. I see my digital calendar is now pink with meetings the project managers have inserted into my day. A deep sadness behind my eyes catches me by surprise; I try to tease out its origin, minutes ago I was happy—happy enough—and I look straight into Cici's eyes—heavily mascaraed with what I know from prior exchanges is a brand for which she is willing to drive five hours to a department store in Chicago.

"Did you get to the Louvre?"

She smiles. "I met someone."

"I thought—"

"At the top of the Eiffel Tower! Romantic, right?"

"Weren't you alone there, discovering yourself?"

My sudden sadness has merged with extreme irritation and become this lumpen thing in my chest. I click off my desk lamp and gather my things for the 9:30 conference call with the brand managers from Gorgeous Hair. Chip, their head, is a real ass; I have to brace myself because he likes to tear down all my ideas for taglines right before telling me what to say, which is always what I just said with an additional word. (It takes everything I've got not to ask what a bald guy knows about volumizing shampoo.)

Cici walks with me solemnly, as if to a court appointment, and puts her hand on my shoulder just outside the green room—so called because it once had a green carpet that our best graphic designer, Anh, tore out in anger last year while working on a project for Audi through the weekend. Those guys were the biggest assholes. Anh is funny and amazing and hates the same people I do. The green room is now a deep purple that gives me a headache.

Just as I open the door, I hear someone inside say, "I'd rather vote for Trump than have to listen to Chip this morning. "

Cici whispers, "You'll get what you want, too, Emma."



9:30 to noon: Chip spends the Gorgeous meeting complaining on a bad phone line about how bad the phone line is, and then he complains about "the look" of our most recent campaign, which he says wasn't innovative enough; the Creative Team follows this meeting up with another meeting complaining about Chip's complaints. And then comes lunchtime in the break room, which is unbearable. The twenty-four-year-old engineers play foosball and drink Gatorade and shout-talk about bands coming through town, bands whose names make me feel very old. (Better Sex, Weed Killers, Plague Upon Your Ass.)

A table of account managers eat their small salads and sip their giant iced lattes. They wave me over. They're all very nice individually, but I get anxious when they're in a group. They used to publicly discuss my future here, which they said looked bright. "You're a natural storyteller," Fiona with the smooth-hair used to say. Now she just tries to put me on all her accounts, because she knows I'll do the work quickly, without complaining.

"Emma, you never eat with us!" she says now.

I point to the fridge and shrug. I'm just there to microwave my leftovers.

But I'm in such a rush to get away that my leftovers are still cold when I get back to my cubicle, and I eat them while scrolling through the mommy blog of a girl I went to school with, the first girl I kissed. We both loved reading the Babysitters Club Books and would pass them around as if they were contraband. In high school she started trying to turn me on to Jesus, and I went to Sunday school with her once, just so I could squeeze next to her in the hard pew and smell her almond-shampoo. But it felt like the walls were literally closing in on me when the pastor told me the Lord loved me and was happy to see a fresh face in church. Then my friend went on to a teensy Christian college on full scholarship, I went to an elite private one that I went into debt for. From her blog I've learned she lives in our slightly rundown hometown in a mansion with her snowmobile-dealer husband.

I rarely go back to my hometown anymore. It's too exhausting. But where isn't exhausting? The town I've ended up alone in is a little glossy for my taste. It feels like an advertisement for the kind of place you'd like to live in. If the kind of place you liked to live in were filled primarily with opportunities to buy locally made cheese and "art" made of rusted metal.

My ex turned out to be that kind of person. She filled one wall of our living room with decorative oak leaves cast in copper. I left her, but for some reason haven't been able to leave the town.



1pm – 4:30: pointless meeting, ten minutes of writing copy for an app that will buy your groceries for you, fifteen minutes of listening to Cici tell Anh about her plans for the weekend (live her life to the fullest or something).

At 4:45, Anh's beautiful head peers over her cubicle at me, a look of desperation in her eyes. I can see she needs an intervention because at this rate, she will die before we get to elect the first woman President.

But then comes 4:50pm and Jeff, our "creative director," appears between me and Anh. He hovers a foot from my cubicle, wearing his usual gray hoodie. This one says Source Code, a band I'm pretty sure he only pretends to love so the hipster engineers will let him talk to them.

He always looks relieved to have a half-wall between us. He's got his Diet Coke in one hand, his phone in the other, a guy who always needs a prop.

"So, Emma…" he begins, and I know right away he's about to give me a last-minute project, which means an account executive probably gave him some work to do four hours ago, but he's been playing video games with Ronnie, a project manager who irons his khakis (I know because I overheard Cici tell Anh. Cici used to date Ronnie, and so obviously I know a lot about Ronnie.)

"I was hoping to get home in time to watch Dr. Phil," I say.

"You like Dr. Phil?" Jeff says, smiling a little. "I luuuv—"

"Of course I don't like Dr. Phil, Jeffrey. He manipulates people's emotional traumas for ratings."

"Oh, okay. Sure. Guilty pleasure, I guess—"

"What do you want me to do at this very late hour, Jeffrey?"

Embarrassed, flustered, and relieved, he explains: he needs me to edit an important deck, a power point presentation for the President. Big meeting tomorrow between heads of Creative and Account and Management. There's a potential new client, an important client. His small gray eyes are glittery with nerves. We all know the agency's on thin ice right now since we lost a couple of big accounts in the spring.

"Everything's in the deck already," he says. "I just want to make sure there aren't any typos."

"Send me the creative brief with the file."

He goes away quickly, raising his Diet Coke in a gesture of thanks.

As soon as he emails me the power point, I groan so loudly that Cici and Anh come over and look at the file open on my monitor.

"Jesus," Anh says. "What a dick."

Half the slides are empty except for a few bullet points. "Guess I'm gonna miss Dr. Phil."

"I'll stay and help," Anh says.

"I'd stay, too," Cici says, "but I have a FaceTime date with my French lover." She giggles while putting on her camel-colored coat, which she also bought in Paris.

"Serenity!" she says, on her way out the door. "I have good feeling about this account, ladies."

Serenity is a line of very expensive yoga pants. Everyone knows Cici loves Serenity because she always posts selfies of her doing yoga in them.



While Cici daydreams about free yoga pants, Anh and I get some work done. I browse Serenity's website for their basic look and feel (graceful serif fonts, neutral colors that wouldn't offend anyone) as well as their key messaging—breathe beautifully. Anh puts together three designs to use in various parts of the presentation. They're artful, simple images—silhouettes of women doing yoga on backgrounds that could be anywhere—the beach, the desert—and even though I don't do yoga, I suddenly want to slip into something more comfortable.

"I'm pretty sure Jeff knew this would happen," Anh says. "That we'd be working on this together."

"If he'd only asked us four hours ago, we could have been home by now."

But I'm not really complaining. It's not bad in the office when it's quiet. The lights on the creative side have dimmed. Only our two desk lights are on.

I'm sure Anh can tell I'm a little in love with her. It doesn't matter. She has a boyfriend who is dreamy in an annoying way and brings her flowers on random days, just because.

Anh is chuckling to herself, and then I see an incoming email from her, and I open it: she has photoshopped Jeff's head under the foot of a woman in Warrior One.

I laugh so hard I start to cry. Anh laughs, too, and the bright sound fills the entire office.

Once we stop laughing, we finish polishing up the presentation, I email it to Jeff, and Anh and I turn off our computers.

In the parking lot, there is a new chill in the air. Our breaths come out in little clouds.

"Thanks, Anh, you're the best."

She smiles. "Someone needs to be around here."

She gets in her little blue Honda, I get in my shitty diesel VW that I'll be reimbursed for eventually, but who the hell knows when.



In spite of what I know to be true, I hear Cici's words from the morning on a loop on my drive home. I find myself asking: do people really get what they want? As if this is actually a puzzle to work out.

Did Jeff get what he wanted? He wore a fucking hoodie to his interview here four months ago. And even though the two women the President brought in before him were dressed in classy suits on top of being poised and qualified and in possession of some humor, they were deemed less "leaderly" by the hiring committee.

The hiring committee apparently went crazy for Jeff's personal tagline: Born digital. It's on all his business cards.

The truth is he grew up with the same kind of phone I did, the one with a rotary dial, and played the Oregon Trail on a floppy disk in computer classes in elementary school. 

He's forty, just a few years older than me and one year younger than Anh, who should really have his job but hates management and didn't even bother applying for it, even though the whole creative team begged her to because everyone loves Anh.

My secret from Anh and the creative team is that I threw my hat in the ring, too. Why not? People like me enough because I don't gossip—not because I don't judge everyone but because I prefer to judge silently, without the interference of human conversation.

The important thing though is that our clients generally like my ideas. Even if they don't know the ideas are mine.

I am keeping my secret though because I didn't even get an interview. It was weird watching the tiny parade of women they brought in, and weirder still to be disappointed when they didn't get the job I wanted.

Did I really want the job though? Given Cici's logic, one would have to say no. But given my bank account, one would think I might be interested in someday paying off my college loans.



In the morning, there is a mouse in the trap on the kitchen counter. My ex would have taken care of it, but now I have to. I turn on NPR. The news is gloomy. New Clinton emails, supposedly. It'll be nothing, it always is, but I still hear the headline like a weight in my stomach. I put on dishwashing gloves and squint my eyes so the dead mouse body is just a gray blur, and then I lift up the trap, throw it in the trash, and have a good cry.



Friday morning I'm late, so by the time I arrive at work there's only one space left in the lot, the one that's right next to the lamppost I often crash my door into. On the other side is a beige Bronco I don't recognize, and it's over the line, which makes me even more irritated. I peek inside and in the back seat, just sort of innocently lying there is a red ball cap, and my chest tightens, but the little white letters just spell L-O-V-E.

Things don't improve when Cici comes by my desk first thing, begging me to write some copy for a quiz Gorgeous Hair is running on their Facebook page. "You always have the best headlines," she says.

"Not today, Cici."

"Did you hear the latest about the Clinton emails?" she says, voice trembling.

I nod but keep walking to the break room.

The last thing I want to do is talk politics before more coffee. During the midterm elections in 2010, I made the mistake of telling Cici, who grew up here, that I hadn't voted, and it was the only time she ever spoke sternly to me. "Where's your sense of civic responsibility?" she scolded, before launching into a lecture about how her first time voting was a midterm election, and her guy won his election for local county legislator. "It felt so good it was practically orgasmic!" Cici said. "Of course, just a year into his term he was embroiled in a corruption scandal and then punched a reporter in the face. He had to resign. But oh, what a thrill it was to win!"



At noon Jeff calls us into the green room for an important brainstorming session. He's so smiley he looks like a baby version of Jeff—a little dimply and mischievous—and this almost makes him sympathetic. But then he claims that it was his beautiful deck that persuaded management to give our team the go ahead to start brainstorming a pitch for Serenity. I'm used to Jeff taking credit for work that isn't his own, but right now it's hard not to walk out.

The next thing that comes out of Jeff's mouth is familiar, too: he's looking for "big ideas."

What's new? I scribble on a notepad and shove in front of Anh.

She scribbles back, New hoodie. I look at Jeff again and see that, indeed, his scarlet hoodie is a new one in the rotation. His usual hue is gray. I can't help it, the sudden color shift makes me suspicious, and I scribble back, Think he's a—

But before I can finish, Jeff clears his throat. He's looking at me in that scared-mad way new teachers look at their difficult students.

"Thoughts, Emma?" He points a soft, thick finger to the question he's just written on the board: What do women want (from yoga pants)?

Ronnie raises his hand. There's a coffee stain the shape of a carnation blooming around the button above his belt. "I might have a good one," he says, then looks around the table, landing on Cici, then Anh, then me, the only actual women in the room, and joke-winces. "Don't want to get shot down though…"

Jeff says, "It's always good to get an outsider's perspective." He gives me a don't-make-this-hard look. "Go ahead, Ronnie."

"I want to say that women want to look beautiful—that they do yoga to look beautiful for their husbands."

"Excellent start, Ronnie. Excellent." He writes that down.

"What if a woman doesn't have, or even want a husband?" Anh says.

"Sure, sure," Jeff says, "but, and this is a good reminder for all of us: no idea is wrong." He beams. "And of course some women do want to look beautiful for their husbands and boyfriends."

Anh rolls her eyes behind Jeff's back, then slips the paper from under my fingertips and scribbles something else. When are we running away together to Toronto?

For a second, I see us crossing the border hand in hand, and although I've always found Canada kind of boring, I am filled with sudden enthusiasm.

But then Pete, another copywriter who's decent at his job and usually keeps his inane remarks to himself, says something about how yoga pants are stretchy—"Good for breakup binge-eating," he says.

Jeff grins and writes that down, pressing the tip of the dry erase marker hard on the board.

Pete at least has the good sense to blush when I glare at him.

I feel Cici taking in a breath, the way she does before she's about to deliver one of her monologues.

"What I'm wondering," she says, "is if we shouldn't be opening up the question a little more."

Jeff frowns at the whiteboard. Cici can't see him.

"Why aren't we asking," she continues, "what people want?"

The room is silent for a full three seconds.

Then Cici talks for the rest of the meeting. At first it's mostly drivel and some of it is about a potential launch on Facebook involving photos women and men and children—there is a kids' line, Child's Pose—would take wearing their Serenity pants, in their favorite places, doing their favorite yoga positions. (Ronnie laughs at the word "positions.")

In truth, Cici probably spends fifteen full minutes reminiscing about Autumn Moonbeam, a yoga teacher who inspired Cici to get her life together.

Autumn Moonbeam (not her original name) had spent time in state prison for cocaine possession and distribution her first year of college. In jail, surrounded by despair, she started to exercise. She started to practice the yoga her society-loving Manhattan mother had practiced her whole life. Soon, she found other women joining her in her morning sun salutations. The despair started to lift for Autumn. She was out on parole in less then a year, because her counselor saw her growth. She went on to be a world-renowned yoga teacher and now has a whole line of successful meditation videos.

Cici pauses.

Jeff says, "I don't really think prison is the message Serenity wants to send out?"

Cici smiles patiently. "Listen to the story, Jeff: Yoga sets you free."

"Yoga sets white girls free, maybe?" I say.

Instead of looking at me, everyone's eyes dart nervously to Anh and away, which happens every time anyone brings up race.

Anh rolls her eyes. Cici gazes at Jeff, her expression triumphant. She whisper-shouts: "Yoga sets everybody free."



After the meeting, Jeff comes to my desk and asks me to walk with him to his office. He spends ten minutes talking about his grievances against the latest iPhone, while he scrolls through photos of his family's recent vacation in Cancún. He stops complaining long enough to say how much his kids loved ordering virgin piña coladas at the resort's swim-up bar.

I've started to zone out when I hear him say my name. "Emma? Are you with me?"

"Sorry?"

"We can't let Cici take over this account." His voice has gone hoarse and a little ugly, but he has my attention now.

"Actually, I thought her Facebook idea was okay."

"Cici doesn't get to choose the direction here."

"Okay—"

"This means I need to see some leadership from you on Serenity. This is a big account. We need to win it."

"Of course, Boss," I say. "I'll lead my yoga-toned ass off."

"That's just what we need: someone with real no-nonsense yoga experience."

"Do I look like I actually do yoga, Jeffrey?"

"Um—" He looks down for a second, than back at me. "Okay! Good! Pitch meeting's on Monday afternoon in Cincinnati. That means we need a campaign direction end of day today."

His grin starts out nervous but gradually snakes up his face until it hits his eyes. "You don't have any plans to watch Dr. Phil tonight, do ya?" He laughs, a hard little bark.

"No, but I did have plans to lie in bed dreaming of stabbing you through your iPhone-holding hand."

Of course I don't say that.

I do leave the room smiling, with a corner of hatred for Jeff in my heart.



Anh, Ronnie, Pete and I are asked to stay late to nail down a creative direction on Serenity. We're in the blue room this time—blue for walls the color of ink, not much better than the green room to be honest, but the table's bigger here and we can spread out all our papers, our laptops, our notepads and sketches of yoga pants doing tree pose without a body in them.

All around us are cans of Diet Coke and wrappers from subs we had delivered, but Ronnie's still hungry at 8pm when we're stalled on a real direction for a potential campaign.

I know it's going to be a long night when Ronnie starts arguing outside the Blue Room with the pizza delivery guy over whether Hillary Clinton should be put in Federal or state prison. Ronnie says state; he doesn't want her to get any of the cushy benefits of his federal tax dollars. Pizza guy says let her have her sheets with the nice thread count, the better to hang herself with, and even when Ronnie hands over the tip they continue imagining a nice jail house cell for HRC.

I've been writing terrible yoga-related taglines all evening, and now I make another one on my notepad and show it to Anh and Pete:



Yoga for All

White Women Do Yoga

Serenity Now

I'm Losing It, People

 

Pete shrugs and shares his own taglines:



Do these Yoga Pants Make My Ass Look Hot?

Putting the Hot in Hot Yoga

Not Your Mother's Yoga Pants

 

Pete says, "They're shit. Sorry."

But now I have an idea. "They're exactly what Jeff wants."

This is how we end up, by 1am, building an entire, imaginary ad campaign around hot chicks with their hot mothers doing yoga together in their Serenity pants, which they receive at a discount when they submit an Instagram photo of them doing handstands in their favorite, picturesque place.

Sure, that last idea is pretty much Cici's, but Jeff won't even notice with all the other shit we've put around it, and in the end he'll like the idea so much he'll be sure it was his.



Between Friday night and Saturday morning, a thunderstorm kicks up outside, and I come down with the worst case of the flu I've had since every Christmas of my childhood. I mean, throwing up until there's no more left to throw up. I can't leave the bathroom.

I get a text from Anh: You okay? I think I got food poisoning.

I text back: The fucking pizza.

Anh writes up a complaint on Yelp and emails the link to me. After throwing up once more for good measure, I add in my two cents, which include a suggestion that the delivery guy keep both his e-coli and misogyny to himself next time.



Monday morning, I haul myself out of bed, drive to work, and on the way see tree limbs scattered about the damp road. Our office is in a mini-industrial park at the edge of town, on what used to be swampland. It still floods here sometimes, so I'm not surprised to see the pools of water in the parking lot. I'm on the early side today, so the lot is empty, but when I go inside, the quiet and dark are unnerving.

Our secretary, Debra, says there's been a power outage and none of our computers are working. I've never seen her look happier.

I'm sitting at my desk in front of my dark computer, when I hear a little whisper, "Kind of spooky in here, isn't it?"

I jump a little. It's Cici, giant latte in hand, still wearing her coat.

"Jesus, you look terrible," she says. "You should go home and stay in bed. President says the power won't be back on till end of day."

"What about the pitch meeting?"

Cici narrows her eyes. "For Serenity? You guys went ahead on that without me?"

"We—"

"You don't have to explain, Emma." She keeps walking. "I know who to blame."



While lying on the couch at home with my laptop on my stomach, I get an email from Jeff about how much he loves our work: You nailed it, kiddo. Now I know why you were almost considered for my job. Guess I better watch my back, huh? J

I throw up again, luckily not on my laptop keyboard, but I still make a mess on the floor.

Pitch meeting with Serenity gets moved to Monday of the following week. I call in sick until then. At first it's not the best decision. I just end up lying on the couch all of Tuesday, listening to nonstop election coverage.

Anh texts me: You okay?

Me: No

Anh: Turn off the radio. Get off the internet.

So I do.

For about fifteen minutes.

I fall asleep while reading the latest New York Times poll, which still puts Hillary ahead by twenty percentage points. It doesn't make me feel any better. My dreams are newsreels of recent headlines, narrated by the voice of my ex, who was born in London. Her accent was the primary reason I loved her at first; she could convince me of anything.

I only wake when I hear knocking at the door. I rise slowly. By the time I get to the door there's no one there, but someone has left a paper bag from one of the many places in town where you can buy local cheese—and all other sorts of expensive things in fancy packaging. Inside the bag is an artisanal ginger beer and some stone-ground wheat crackers made at a nice bakery in town. There's a card too, and as I open it my heart flutters a little, thinking of Anh dropping off this rescue meal for me.

But it's not from Anh. The card says:

Feel better soon. The office needs you.

Cici



I finally feel human by Monday. I drive to the office early, so that we can carpool to Cincinnati together for the pitch, but when I arrive, Anh's at her desk, not smiling.

"Jeff decided at the last minute they didn't need us. He wanted to take the lead on the pitch."

I picture Jeff doing his best Don Draper impression with our misguided campaign strategy. I'm pretty sure Serenity's going to hate the work. A small space opens up in my chest, but the joy doesn't rush in like I thought it would. "And the President went for it?"

Anh laughs without mirth. "Our fearless leader? That guy's judgment is the whole reason we're in the hole in the first place. Audi? American Coffee? We lost those accounts because he puts the most incompetent people on the biggest campaigns."

"So the agency is doomed, pretty much."

"We're all doomed, Emma."



On Tuesday morning I vote anyway. And find myself crying from a momentary hope and pride in my little voting booth in the church up the street from my house.

On Instagram I see a selfie of Cici in a pantsuit and an "I Voted" sticker with the caption Fierce Feminist. And although selfies are not generally in my wheel house, I take one outside in the parking lot and give it a caption: Just voted for the first woman President. After posting it, a shiver runs through my whole body.

In the office, people are smiling and wearing their own stickers and drinking their locally roasted coffees.

Then 1pm rolls around and there's a subtle shift in the atmosphere. I swear I hear a scream from the back of the office.

The news starts trickling in:

Serenity is going with Invention, a bigger agency in Chicago.

Serenity hated our pitch. Mostly though, they hated Jeff; he wore a hoodie to the meeting and the Serenity CEO, a woman in her late twenties, was not impressed.

By the end of the day, there is more news:

Jeff has been fired.

Someone reports seeing him just sitting at his desk, grasping his can of Diet Coke.

I'm starting to feel a little better, but then Cici comes by my desk, pulls up a chair, and tells me Anh has resigned and accepted an offer from Invention.

I start pushing my chair back. I have to find Anh and tell her not to go, that she needs to stay and steer this sinking ship.

But Cici puts her hand on my arm. She's still talking in a loud whisper, this time about Jeff: the two of them had been sleeping together for months until she flew to Paris, effectively breaking it off forever. Ever since he's been sending her angry texts and emails, which she forwarded to the President last night.

She leans in and says, very close to my ear, "I think you'll be getting an offer soon."

She grins, but before I can respond, she has left the building.



The next day, a pall has descended on the office. No one speaks. In the break room Fiona is sobbing into a young engineer's arms. Cici calls in sick. Ronnie emails me a few assignments and signs all of his messages #MAGA, Make Advertising Great Again.

I wait all day for an email from the President, or a call into his office with an offer of a new title. Nothing comes.



The next morning it's dark in the office, and I'm at my desk eating breakfast and reading my old pal's blog. You'd never know there'd just been a Presidential election. Her latest post is about the snowmobile market. With the decline in snowfall in our hometown and all around the north of the state, snowmobile sales have been down in the last two years, and it's becoming a real financial concern. There's no mention of climate change—my old friend doesn't believe in it—but I almost feel a little sorry that her family can't go to Disney in the New Year.

I hear someone saying my name behind me. It's Anh beckoning from her cubicle, and my body stiffens, knowing she'll be gone soon.

But when she smiles I feel light again. Her hair shimmers, and her arms are so taut from rock climbing; even on a cool fall day she's wearing a sleeveless top to show them off. I walk right to her, leaving my sad little yogurt cup beside my keyboard.

"Let's get out of here," she says, and I don't ask where to. We just go.