Chapter Twenty-Two

Illy clutched her job application to her chest, stretching her cardigan to shield the paper from the rain. She had deliberately taken the bus to the mall to avoid this windy water-logged situation, but since she didn’t take the bus very often, she wasn’t sure which stop was the closest to the mall entrance. She had stood up too early, then immediately realized she was still two blocks from the mall. Unfortunately, by that point, she had committed. She strode off the bus, smiling at the bus driver, which was one of her karmic commitments even when the bus driver was grumpy or didn’t look at her, and then skipped off the bottom step as though she was eager to get into all that invigorating rain. She bounced along the sidewalk until the bus pulled away, then frowned and pulled her cardigan across her chest. Her insecure weirdness drove her crazy.

By the time Illy got to the mall and found refuge in the food court bathrooms, she was already a failure. Her hair, which she’d spent twenty minutes fluffing and smoothing and arranging that morning, was plastered to her forehead like play dough noodles. The bottoms of her khaki pants were splattered with mud, and of course, against all common sense, she’d worn sandals that now exposed her wet, grimy toes. As she held the application under the hand dryer and avoided looking at herself in the mirror, she rehearsed witty greetings. Hi, nice to meet you. I’m wet. Nope. Hello, I was caught in the rain and would’ve called but didn’t have a phone. Know somewhere I could get one? Oh boy. This was bad. She stared at the yellow garbage can below the hand dryer and imagined herself throwing away the application, skipping the interview, and sitting in the food court with a Peanut Buster Parfait. Maybe she could try again on a sunnier day. After a pedicure.

But then she imagined calling June and Margaret and trying to explain how the state of her toenails had required ice cream and prevented her from applying for the job. She felt their veiled disappointment trickling out of the phone and sliding down into her gut and she knew she couldn’t do it. She owed it to them—and to herself—to at least give this job thing a valiant attempt.

Illy ducked her head under the hand dryer for a minute to dry out her bangs, then smoothed the now crispy application on the counter and took a deep breath. People applied for jobs every day. This was just a trial run with no real pressure. If things went dreadfully, she’d never have to see any of these people again. She pushed open the bathroom door with her elbow and continued the pep talk all the way down the wide hallway to the shiny blue kiosk.

“Simon?”

“Illy?”

The one scenario she’d never imagined was actually knowing one of the workers in the cell phone kiosk. “What are you doing here?”

Simon looked down at his name tag. “I work here. I’m the manager actually.”

“You’re the manager?” She was slipping into Repeat Mode.

“Yep. Not the most illustrious job, but it’s putting me through grad school. And I get to listen to Kenny G cover tunes all day while standing in a little blue box, so there are some perks.”

Illy smiled, then bit her lip. Maybe he really liked Kenny G. People’s senses of humour were so hard to decipher.

Simon wiped an invisible smudge off the counter, waiting for Illy to say something. She tried to look nonchalant while rubbing her toenails with the bottom of her sandal and racking her brain for a good segue into her application speech. “Well, could I join you?” She pasted on her most charming smile.

Simon looked around the kiosk and was probably reaching under the counter for the security button. “Um, excuse me?”

Illy slid her crumpled, crispy application across the glass. “Sorry, I”m just nervous. I came here to apply for a job. Are you hiring?” There. She’d said it all way too fast and could feel a soggy bang noodle falling in front of her eye, but at least she’d said it. The rest was up to fate.

Simon looked relieved that Illy wasn’t proposing an illicit affair in the janitor’s closet. “Really? You’re applying for a job? Do you know much about phones?”

“Well, no. Not much.” She wondered if she was morally obligated to reveal that she didn’t understand the most basic principals of phone signals. Or even how to turn on her Bluetooth for that matter. “But I’m friendly. And catch on to things pretty quickly. And I’m dying to discover how you get in and out of these boxes.”

Simon laughed. “You’re not the only one. There are always twelve year old boys lurking around with their Slurpies, trying to catch us in the act. You sure you don’t want to just join them instead?”

“Nothing against twelve year old boys or Slurpies, but I thought if I was loitering in the mall anyway and exposing myself to all that Kenny G, it might be nice to be getting paid.” Simon laughed again. Illy had made someone other than June—a guy nonetheless—laugh twice in one conversation. She took that as a good omen.

“Well, we are actually looking to hire someone part-time for afternoons and evenings, and truthfully most people who start here don’t have much experience.” Illy glanced at the other girl in the kiosk. She was talking to a customer and spinning her eyebrow ring with her fingers. She looked like she was fourteen. “But hey, if you’ve talked on a phone long enough, surely you deserve the title technician eventually.”

Now Illy laughed. “So do I need to do an official interview or anything? Maybe take a speed dialing test? Demonstrate my counter leaping abilities?”

“No, I think because I know you, I can skip the interview part. Just let me take a look over your application and pass it by the regional manager. I can call you with the verdict tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Simon, that would be great. Nice seeing you.” Illy turned from the counter and tried not to skip as she walked down the mall corridor. She had just had a relaxed and funny conversation without committing any major social indiscretions, and quite possibly had gotten a job. This definitely qualified as a Peanut Buster Parfait occasion.

Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty-Three