Genre: Chick Lit
Author: Arnine Weiss
Publisher: Academy Chicago Press
Purchase at AMAZON
Just when counter clerk Teddy Warner is about to be evicted from her Scranton apartment, she bumps into beautiful, brilliant, blond Rachel – her estranged childhood friend whose mother forbid their friendship thinking Teddy was beneath them.
Teddy and Rachel reconnect over hot chocolate and under New Year’s Eve fireworks. Their discussion leads to an invitation. Soon, Teddy’s on her way to Philadelphia, where Rachel is a student, to share an apartment and begin an exciting new life in the City.
Teddy views Rachel as perfect. Rachel can’t bring herself to shatter the image by letting on that she is having an affair with a married man. Just when Teddy is starting to feel at home, Rachel insists on some privacy. Acting out her anger at being asked to stay away, Teddy indulges in a one-night stand.
When Teddy returns to their apartment the next morning, Rachel is being carried out on a stretcher – the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. This unforeseen tragedy leaves Teddy alone in a strange city, with no money, no friends, and no connections.
As Teddy struggles to find her way, she meets a mentor at the same university Rachel previously attended who takes an interest in her, but with strings attached. She also develops a unique bond with the firefighter who rescued Rachel. And yet, Teddy remains committed to helping Rachel get back on her feet, at a time when no one else who supposedly loves her can accept her in this diminished way. Along the way, Teddy discovers her own strength in the roles of caretaker, lover, and friend.
Teddy’s boots hit the pavement with an odd pecking sound as she hurried down the sidewalk. The rubber tip on the bottom of one heel had completely worn down, so as plastic hit the pavement, it sounded like the rat-at-tat of a machine gun. Lost in her own thoughts, she was oblivious to the noise. If I sell some of my furniture, she thought, maybe I could scrape together a few dollars. Who was she kidding? Everything she had was a cast off from someone else. She took things nobody else wanted: a one armed futon, a television that got only three channels, and a kitchen table with four unmatched chairs. The only thing she had ever bought new for herself was a queen-sized mattress and box spring on a metal frame. She drew the line at sleeping in a used bed.
I could sell my blood, she thought, but then she realized that with the sum she needed, she’d have to let them drain her whole body and replace it with what? Formaldehyde? The thought made her cringe. “Think!” she yelled into the cold night air as she continued walking. How much do I need? First month, last month, security. $500. $500. $500. $1,500. It might as well be a million! Where was she going to come up with that kind of money? Think!
Damn that landlord! He had sold the building to a high-priced developer, and all of the tenants had to be out January 5th. Five days from now. Lots of warning, right? Goodbye, you have to leave. Merry Christmas! In all fairness, there were announcements and official notices of the upcoming sale since September, but she just kept hoping it wouldn’t happen. Even with four month’s notice, she couldn’t raise enough money to move.
She worked. She paid her bills on time. She didn’t owe money to anyone. But living paycheck to paycheck didn’t leave room for extras. Extras? This was a roof over her head! What do they call it, “gainfully employed?” She had been gainfully employed since she was 15, and what did she have to show for it? A one-armed futon?
She wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck, and hiked up her over size bag. A bunch of teenage boys yelled something obscene out their car window. “In your dreams, buddy!” she yelled back. The courthouse square was brightly lit with festive holiday lights. A crowd was gathering for the midnight fireworks. They called it the “First Night” celebration; Teddy couldn’t help thinking, yeah, right, this is the first night of the rest of my life. Hah! Maybe an apartment will drop out of the sky.
She opened her phone to check the time, but saw only a black screen and remembered the service had been canceled. Worthless hunk of metal she thought, as she tossed it back into her bag. Just then the clock tower bonged once, 11:30 p.m. She was freezing and there was a half an hour before the fireworks. Her short, form-fitting jacket that had looked so good in the store provided little warmth and no protection against the wind.
She looked up and down the brightly lit street. There were vendors selling blow-up plastic toys, balloons, glittery glasses molded to look likes the year “2010,” and soft pretzels, but nothing hot to drink. The Coffee Bean was open across the street and, although she had the feeling of being a traitor since she worked for their competitor, self-preservation and the desire for warmth won out. She went in.
There was a line, not surprising since it was freezing and this was the only business that remained open for the celebration. She took her place and watched a young mother balance two steaming cups of hot chocolate as she pushed her stroller. Couples, hand-in-hand, palmed their warm cups as they made their way to the small marble tables. When it was her turn, she ordered a small regular and took it to a tall stool in the window. She heard the click-click-click as her boots hit the floor. When she put her coffee cup down, she examined the bottom of her now rubber-less heel. She squatted down onto the floor, pretending to get something out of her bag, and tried to remove the black rubber bottom of a neighboring stool.
She looked up startled and embarrassed.
The two young women stared at each other for a long second of awkward silence while a hundred conflicting thoughts careened through Teddy’s head. What do I say? How long has it been? Leave me alone? You look great? I hate you? Run!! But her natural inclinations kicked in and she jumped up and leaned forward to give Rachel a hug. They held each other at arm’s length for a moment. Finally Rachel said, “Hey, how are you?”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Teddy answered overly enthusiastically, “Great! You?”
“Fine. Wow. I haven’t seen you in ages. I didn’t think I’d see anyone I know here. It’s nice to see a familiar face.”
Teddy was tempted to say, you grew up here! Of course you would see familiar faces at a New Year’s celebration. But she answered, “It’s nice to see you, too. Wow! What brings you back to Scranton? I heard you moved to Philly, or something?”
“Just for graduate school. My parents still have the house here, so I came home for the holidays. You still live here?”
“Yup. Somebody’s got to stay here, right? Graduate School? Big time. What are you studying?”
“Biology,” answered Rachel, looking past Teddy through the window. Teddy assumed she was in search of more familiar faces. Feeling uncomfortable, she moved back toward the stool to finish her coffee. People don’t change, she thought.
“Hey, do you mind if I join you?”
“Join me?” Teddy repeated. Used to working late and going out by herself, Teddy was completely unself-conscious about being out on New Year’s Eve alone. But girls like Rachel traveled in packs.
“Yeah, I’ll just get a cup of coffee.” But instead of moving, she blurted out as if reading Teddy’s thoughts, “I have a boyfriend.”
Taken aback by this blunt admission, Teddy just nodded and looking around added, “Great, is he here?”
“No, uh, uh, he’s with his family.”
“Oh. Have you met them?”
“Uh, no, Not yet. I’ve seen pictures.”
“Nice,” said Teddy, while thinking we haven’t seen each other in five years and she has to make sure she tells me about her phantom boyfriend. If he’s so great, where is he? “Must be pretty new.”
“We’ve been together since September. Well, actually we met in September, but we’ve been a couple since October. He’s great. But, wait, tell me about you. The last time I saw you was, when? High school graduation?”
Was this girl on crack? Did she not remember anything? I didn’t go to graduation. I didn’t graduate! Do I tell her I got a G.E.D? “I went to some of the after parties. But I don’t think we went to the same ones.” Yeah, you were with the preppy high school girls and I was with who; girls most likely to sell donuts for the rest of their lives?”
“Well, anyway, it’s been ages. What have you been doing?” But, before Teddy could answer, Rachel walked toward the counter. “Wait! Hold that thought. Let me just grab some coffee. You want something?”
Teddy held up her full cup in response and thought for the second time that night, people don’t change. She asks me a question and doesn’t wait for the answer. The last time we saw each other was in English class junior year. She didn’t wait for any answers back then, either. Who knows what she thought, but she never asked me what was going on. She just assumed. They all just assumed. Ah, what’s the point? It’s over now. It’s been over for a long time.
They had been childhood friends, best friends, and then Rachel moved away. Not far, just to a better part of town, but far enough away that they went to different schools. They re-met in high school, got close again for a short time, and then it was over. Just like everyone else, Rachel had made assumptions. It was easier that way than finding out the truth and Teddy never bothered to straighten them out. Any of them. She had heard the rumors, too. Let them think what they want. The hell with them. And at that time she thought, the hell with Rachel, too.
“OK, sorry. I’m freezing. I needed this,” Rachel said holding her coffee cup with two hands. “Tell me everything. What do you do? Where do you live?”
“Not much to tell. I have a small apartment on Prescott and I work at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s pretty much it.”
“You’re still there?” asked Rachel holding the paper cup against her cheek.
“It’s not bad. Benefits, sick days,” and with a shrug, “I’ve got seniority. It’s a job.”
Rachel smiled then took a sip of her coffee and wrinkled her nose. “I forget how provincial this town is. For most of the people who work at Dunkin’ Donuts in Philadelphia or any big city, English is not their first language.”
Teddy didn’t know what provincial meant, but she felt insulted anyway and thought Rachel may be smart, but not smart enough to be nice.
Seeing the wounded look on Teddy’s face, Rachel added quickly, “I love DD. There’s a shop right near school. I start almost every day with their coffee.”
Not wanting to give Rachel the opportunity to further offend her, Teddy changed the subject. “So, tell me about your boyfriend. What’s his name?”
“Huh…his name? Ah, his name is John. John.”
Rachel blushed. “No. John… Lawrence. He’s with his family.”
“Right, so you said. You must miss him. It’s New Year’s Eve.”
Rachel picked at the corrugated sleeve on her cup. “He’s very devoted to his family. I understand. What about you? Anyone special in your life?”
“Nah. No good guys left in this town.” There was a commotion on the other side of the restaurant as the kid in the stroller spilled his hot chocolate all over the floor and himself. He screamed as hot liquid soaked his clothes. His mother tried to pull him free from the stroller, but she forgot that he was still strapped in. She lifted the boy and the stroller, knocking everything over in its wake. The father yelled, “For God’s sake!” and roughly took the child and the stroller out of her hands. He slammed the stroller back onto the floor which made the child scream louder, but unbuckled him deftly and hoisted the boy up further spreading the offending brown liquid.
“It’s almost time,” Teddy said. “You want to go outside?” They readjusted coats, hats, and scarves and Teddy pushed her stool in. They both grabbed their coffee cups. “That’s a pretty scarf,” Rachel said fingering the multi-colored wool that fell to Teddy’s knees.
“Thanks. My Mother made it.”
“Your Mother? I didn’t know she could knit.”
“Yup. She made it.”
Normally, the streets of this small downtown section were dead once the clock tower struck six. There was something exciting and almost enchanting standing with a crowd around the well-lit courthouse square. Rachel and Teddy stood next to a tall war monument and looked up as it started to snow lightly. Someone cued up music and the fireworks began.
They were beautiful. Teddy had to admit that as much as she would have enjoyed them by herself, there was something nice about watching them with someone. She could have ooohed and ahhed all she wanted, but it was more fun to do it in unison. She felt a let down when the grand finale was over.
“That was great!” Rachel offered first. “I was just going to watch the ball drop at home. I’m glad I came out tonight.”
Not wanting to sound pathetic and needy, Teddy agreed. “Yeah, it was great. Well, Happy New Year!”
“Where’d you park?”
“Park? I walked down. Locked up at work and came straight here.”
Pulling her car keys out of her pocket, Rachel said, “But that must be more than a mile! And it’s more than a mile to your apartment. How were you planning on getting home?”
Wrapping her scarf tighter around her neck, Teddy said, “I’m fine. I walk. I’ll be fine. I do it all the time.”
“Well isn’t it a good thing that I came along? Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
The two young women walked the few blocks to the car, and when they got there Rachel opened the passenger side first and began moving posters and papers to make room for Teddy. “Sorry this is my Dad’s car for work.”
“No problem. It’s got four wheels and a motor. That works for me. How is your Dad? Still working at the printing company?”
“Yeah. He says they’re going to take him out of there feet first. He’s been there over thirty years,” Rachel added getting behind the wheel.
“I always liked your Dad,” Teddy said looking ahead, thinking she would keep her thoughts about Rachel’s mother to herself.
When they got to Teddy’s apartment, she felt awkward. This is like a bad first date, she thought. Do I invite her in? Lean over and give her a hug and jump out? We hardly even caught up. Do I want to catch up with her? “Do you want to come in?”
Rachel threw the car into park and said, “Sure. My parents were asleep before I left. I’d just be going back to a quiet house.”
Teddy put the key into the door and flicked on the light, an overhead fixture that cast weird shadows. She had been living here for two years and always thought it was kind of cozy. But, in that instant she saw the apartment as Rachel was seeing it. There was a tiny sink with a drain board filled with dishes and a toaster oven whose cord was wrapped with duct tape. The kitchen table was adorned with a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Santa’s boots and a napkin holder and was surrounded by four unmatched chairs. There was one small carpet on the linoleum floor in front of the futon and perched on pilfered milk crates, courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts, was a television that required pliers to change the channel. It looked pathetic. Cold and un-homey-like. The early Salvation Army décor screamed, “I’m not doing well here, am I?” Even her sad attempt at decorating, the colorful valances that crowned the Venetian blinds, looked cheap.
“Nice place. I like these,” Rachel said as she picked up the Santa boots and did Rockette-like high kicks with them. “How long have you been here?”
Teddy had walked the few steps to the fridge and held up two green bottles. “You want a beer?” When she had seated herself across from Rachel and handed her a bottle, she said, “I’ve been here for two years.”
“Did you move here from the house on Mineral Street?”
Teddy shook her head as if trying to shake off a thought. “I haven’t thought about that place in a long time. No, I’ve lived in a few apartments before this. Always with other people. This was my first apartment by myself. I was excited to find it.”
Rachel opened her beer and took a sip. “I know what you mean. I lived in the dorm all four years of college. My mother made me crazy about the “dangers of living off campus,” so I was a little nervous about getting my first apartment. I thought I might be lonely. But, it’s nice.”
Teddy took a long pull on her beer and said, “It’ll be nice for five more days.”
“Why? What’s happening in five days?”
“I’m being evicted.”
“Why? Didn’t you pay your rent?”
Why do people always assume it’s my fault? That I did something wrong. “No, I pay my rent on time,” Teddy said with more force than she intended. “Actually I pay early. My landlord is selling the building. All of the tenants have to move in five days.”
Rachel looked around. “In five days. You haven’t even started packing.”
“That’s because I have nowhere to go.”
“In this economy, I’m sure there are apartments for rent all over the place.”
Not wanting to admit that she couldn’t come up with the necessary three month’s rent to move, she said, “I’ll work it out. I always do.”
“Where’s your computer? There’re probably lots of listings for apartments. Everything’s online now,” Rachel said, getting up and looking around.
Teddy got up, too, and put her empty bottle on the table. “Don’t worry about it,” she told Rachel who was standing across the table. “I’ll be fine.”
“Do you have any friends you can live with temporarily? We can go to Price Chopper and get boxes. They’re open all night. I can help you pack.”
Teddy wanted to scream, WHAT IS WITH THIS SHOW OF CONCERN? Where have you been all these years? I’ve been doing fine by myself and now you want to man up for a marathon packing session. I bet you just want to go through my things. See if I’ve got anything left over from my Mother. “PLEASE don’t worry about it. I’ll work something out.”
“I know you. You wouldn’t have said anything if you weren’t worried,” Rachel said as she walked toward the drain board to stack the clean dishes.
Teddy whirled around. “YOU KNOW ME! You know me? You don’t know anything about me. Not anymore. You don’t get to waltz back here and offer help that I don’t want and announce that you know me.”
Rachel put down a cup and said self-righteously, “I was just trying to help.”
“ Why is it always that when people want to help you, they offer what they think you need, or what they want to give you. Not what you really need,” Teddy said before she could stop the words from coming out of her mouth. She thought Rachel would turn and walk out the door and was surprised when she said quietly, “So, what do you need?”
Teddy raked her fingers through her hair and blew her bangs out her eyes. “I need a place to live. You don’t think I’ve done all the searches; on-line, the newspapers, bulletin boards. I just need a place to live.” And as if suddenly very tired, she sat down with a thump.
Rachel walked over and stood in front of Teddy. Her voice sounded high and strident. “What are you suggesting? That you move in with me?”
Teddy looked up and saw that Rachel had her hands on her hips. She actually was standing there in the flesh with her hands on her hips! What am I? Five? Until this moment, she had not even remotely considered moving to Philadelphia to live with Rachel. She had never been out of the city limits of Scranton, PA. She felt a lot like the early explorers, that if she ventured out past the county line, she’d fall off the face of the earth. But, what did she have here? This sad little apartment. A job with little or no future. No family.
She didn’t know why she had said it. Maybe it was more of a dare. Maybe it was to see if she would come up with the goods. Maybe she just wanted to see how far she could push her. “Sure. Why not? I don’t have much going on here. Although, there is talk of making me a manager. But, why not make a clean break. A new start. Sure, I’d love to come to Philadelphia. How do I get there?”
Rachel’s hands dropped quickly from her sides and she began wringing them. “But, but…that’s not what I meant. I only thought that’s what you were suggesting. I couldn’t possibly…It’s only a one bedroom. I HAVE A BOYFRIEND!”
“Right, so you said. I don’t mind. I can lay low when he comes over. God knows I’ve got a lot of experience doing that.” Teddy seemed to be enjoying herself now.
“But we hardly know each other any more.”
“You just told me ‘you know me’.”
“That was rhetoric. I just don’t know if this would work. You wouldn’t know anyone. Once school starts, I’m in the lab 24/7. You couldn’t depend on me.”
Tiring of this game, Teddy thought, when was the last time I ‘depended’ on anyone? I’ve always taken care of myself. “You’re right. This probably wouldn’t work.”
Rachel seemed to be staring off into space. “Well. Maybe for a little while. Just until you get on your feet. It might be fun. You and me, again.”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah,” Rachel said swallowing hard. “I could probably help you find a job on campus. Maybe even in the lab.” Looking Teddy straight in the eyes, now, “But, it’ll just be for a little while.”
Teddy jumped up and put her hand out. “Deal!” she said, and they shook on it.