Grey rummaged through the clothes heaped on his couch. He needed socks. He had an interview with the advertising director of a classical concert series. She needed an assistant, “Someone to control the clutter and keep me organized,” she’d said. He paused his search, looked around his room, and shrugged. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He went back to the clothes. Crushed into the crevice behind the cushions, he found a clean pair.
He filled the kettle, put it on the hot plate, rinsed his travel mug and added honey and chai teabags.
The concert series was his first interview in weeks. He almost hadn’t sent his resume, then he’d read the contact information: “All inquiries to Xenobia Greene.”
It was possible that he didn’t know her, but could there be that many Xenobia Greenes? He’d resisted the urge to google her, let himself enjoy the mystery. Her voice when she’d called to set up the interview hadn’t given anything away. She’d been ten the last time he’d seen her, so there was no telling what her adult voice would sound like. If she’d sounded even a little like Cassandra, he’d have known for sure. Her voice was rich and deep, didn’t sound young at all, but he still believed it would be her … and wondered if she’d recognized his name.
He fussed his fingers through is locs, sorting them into a loose ponytail, filled his mug, and headed for the train.
She ran the series out of an office in a renovated warehouse on the waterfront. It was full of artist’s studios and performance spaces. Grey stood in the brightly-lit waiting area, trying not to think about how much he needed the job or how much he both wanted and didn’t want Miss Greene to turn out to be his Xenobia.
“Mr. Foster,” she said, walking toward him with her hand outstretched.
She was as tall as Cassandra and as striking a woman as she’d been in childhood — too-high cheekbones and large, wide-set eyes balanced by her wide, full mouth, her skin darker than his, darker than her sister’s had been. His chest constricted, and a dull ache expanded across his ribs. She didn’t look like Cassandra, but Cassandra was there.
He shook her hand. “Grey, please.”
“Let’s sit,” she said, leading him to her office.
He sat and she gave him a long, steady look. He figured he should leave right then but couldn’t move, couldn’t remember to breathe.
“It is you, isn’t it?”
“Me,” he said, surprised he could force out the air to speak, his lungs felt squeezed in a vise. “And you. You’re the reason I applied for this position.”
She nodded. “So you don’t really want the job?”
“Oh, I want it, but I decided to apply when I saw your name. I didn’t think you’d recognize me. Or remember me.”
She nodded again. “Because you figure I’ve met so many men named Grey who my sister was in love with, who treated me kindly and not like a child?” She glanced away and he saw her jaw tighten. “Who seemed like a member of my family,” she said, looking back at him, “but disappeared when my sister died, just when I might have needed him most? That’s why you thought I wouldn’t recognize or remember you?”
The tightness in his chest stretched wider.
“I shouldn’t hire you,” she said, picking up his resume from her desk. “You sound good on paper, but you’re a complete mess. I remember what your place looked like. How are you supposed to keep me organized?”
“I could have changed.”
“Eighteen years.” She shrugged. “Have you changed?”
He wanted to smile, but his muscles wouldn’t cooperate. “Not much,” he admitted.
“I shouldn’t hire you.”
“Not just because I’m disorganized.”
“Why did you come here?”
“I had to see you, see how you grew up. And here you are.” He blew out a long breath. “I’m sorry.”
She put his resume back on the stack of papers then sat, staring at his hands. “I thought I was included in all that love the two of you spread around, coming off you like cascades of honey and sunshine.”
“I wrote you. I called.” She shook her head, looked up, surprising Grey with her dry eyes shining confusion, not anger.
“My mother made me stop,” she said. “She said it was too hard for you. For you.”
It had been hard, Grey remembered. Every letter like blood on the page, her voicemails choked with tears. He hadn’t known what to do with her grief when he couldn’t do anything with his own. He still didn’t know.
She closed her eyes for a second, as if disappointed or pained. He wanted to tell her about the eighteen years since her sister’s death, tell her that he’d never married, never even come close. But that wasn’t because of losing Cassandra, or not only that. There were too many reasons for him living in a cramped studio with no job and no family. They didn’t all trace to Cassandra. Some did. Seeing Xenobia reminded him. But also soothed him. He hadn’t realized how much he’d needed to know that she’d come through okay.
And now he sat across from her disordered desk, barely holding himself back from begging her for a job.
He stood. “I’ll go.”
Her eyebrows arched. “You don’t want the job?”
“I kind of do,” he said, smiling as his lungs filled. “But you shouldn’t hire me.”
She stood. “So now you’ll leave, disappear again.”
“No, I’ll email you like I should have done in the first place.”
“Okay,” she said, and walked him out. “You won’t, but okay.”
He started to walk away, and she jogged after him. “Change your mind about the job,” she said. “We could find a way to make it work.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll think about it.” He knew he wouldn’t, but okay.
Two stories down, 27 to go! Today was definitely easier than yesterday. Hoping tomorrow is easier still.