FRANK HAD MADE THE CHOICE EASY FOR ELLE. Her work was done; it seemed like he and Mom had already gotten off to a great start. Elle smiled so much in her last weeks at home that Ericka started to get suspicious. “Are they, like, offering you a job or something?” she asked when Elle walked through the kitchen, beaming, to get a snack.
And that was another thing. Elle was able to eat. Of course, she’d had good spells like this before, when her stomach wasn’t clenched and the Afterthoughts faded into the background. There had been times in Elle’s last few months when she’d almost forgotten about the Afterthoughts completely. But it had been a while since she’d had a reprieve, and she had Frank to thank for that, too – well, Frank and Grumbly Muffin Studios.
Dad was so happy when she told him. Elle hesitated at first, since she still saw in Dad all the ways he wasn’t there for them, all the ways he was failing Ericka. But he had used whatever influence he had with Rosie to get Elle this internship, and he understood how much it meant to her. That meant he deserved at least a phone call.
“I knew you’d do it!” Dad roared delightedly into the phone. “It’s going to change your life, Elle! Every kid should travel before they get settled down at some desk forever! And Chicago’s beautiful.”
“Boston,” she corrected him, but she wasn’t even annoyed he’d forgotten the city.
The next step was to tell the school she wasn’t coming that semester, so she’d need to cancel her classes and dorm and sign up for the internship instead. This did not upset her roommate at all. Elle got along with the roommate just fine, but over break, the roommate had found someone she’d much rather live with than Elle, and she hadn’t known how to say this, so this worked out so well for everyone, and she hoped Elle had a great time in Boston and kept in touch! The phone call ended before Elle could get half a word in, but she felt it had gone well.
“You’re sure this won’t screw up my graduation date?” she asked her advisor, over and over again.
“No!” he shouted over his bad connection. “No, your graduation date is still way ahead of where it should be! You did too much in high school!”
“Great!” she said, and ended the call before he could tell her to stop calling while he was on vacation.
She bought a plane ticket with the money she had saved from high school summer jobs and a paid gig she’d gotten filing documents for the school library. It felt strange to buy a one-way plane ticket. Elle had traveled before (usually with her family or a group of friends), but she’d never traveled for more than a week or so. She’d buy a ticket back to Sorsbury when she was done with the internship.
It was slowly starting to sink in that she was going to leave home and live in an entirely new state for four months. At times, Elle felt immense panic when she thought about Boston. What if the Afterthoughts came back and she didn’t have Ericka to snap her out of it? What if she got lost in the city? What if she got in the wrong taxi and got murdered because she didn’t trust herself with pepper spray?
What if everyone hated her?
She would know. She would be Reading them once a week.
“It’s not going to be a lot of close contact with anyone besides the actual interns,” Rosie had explained. “At least, as much as we can manage, we’re going to keep our distance. But once a week, teams of three or four people will be working in the studios to help students still receive that collaborative experience that we want from the internship. And that’s when you’re going to be there. You’ll be at the studios more than anyone else because your job is to Read each intern and make sure they’re working together well and that everyone’s mental state is still optimal. We want to watch out for homesickness, anxiety, depression, frustration – all the usual culprits of workplace dissatisfaction. Our interns should be happy and energetic, and we want to do what will help them stay that way.”
“Got it,” Elle said, suddenly very glad that she wasn’t going to be the one being Read. This kind of Reading was different from what she’d done before; normally, Elle tried to ignore the thoughts in everyone else’s heads. What people thought was their own private business, and just because Elle could pry didn’t mean she should. But Rosie’s explanation of the internship sounded like intentional, analytical Reading. Elle would be prying and delving deep into the interns’ thoughts to make sure they were okay.
No one was ever okay, though. Which made Elle almost certain she was going to step on some toes.
To prepare for her new duties, Elle went shopping. She bought new pens, a notebook, and earbuds. She’d take notes by hand first, she decided, and maybe, since she’d be surrounded by artists anyway, she’d finally learn how to draw and put Readings down on paper. Or she’d just transfer the information to a spreadsheet. She had the feeling Rosie would be fine with either one.
Ericka was waiting when she got home from the store that night, tears all over her face. Elle dropped the bag at the door and Read for signs of injury or heartbreak. “What happened?”
“It’s the last night before school starts,” Ericka sniffled. “Which means today was the last whole day we could have spent together for like four months. And I wasted it doing homework.”
Elle wasn’t good at hugs, but she tried. “It won’t be that long,” she promised as Ericka sniffled into her shirt. “And we can video call like every other day. Besides, you’ll be too busy being awesome at school to even notice I’m gone!”
“Yeah,” Ericka quavered unconvincingly. “You’re right.”
It would be better, Elle thought to herself. The next four months. Mom would step up and take care of Ericka when Elle was gone because Frank was taking care of Relish. Maybe Frank would make food for Mom to take home to Ericka. Maybe Ericka could take her homework to Relish and Frank could help her with her physics problems.
It would be better.
She let go and looked down at Ericka. “I still have a few days to be here. We’ll just hang out during the nights, when you’re back from class and practice. Wanna watch a movie tonight?”
Ericka nodded. “Can Mom watch with us?”
“Sure,” Elle said. “She can join when she gets home.”
Mom didn’t get home until past midnight, but Ericka didn’t notice; she’d fallen asleep against Elle’s leg on the couch. Elle waved at Mom from the living room.
“I brought dinner,” Mom whispered, holding up white plastic bags.
“From Relish?” Elle asked in surprise. Mom never brought home food.
Mom nodded with a smile. “Frank made extra.” She shook the bag. “There are some potato wedges in here, and some schnitzel…he has this new sauce we’re trying that his grandmother used to make, and it tastes amazing when you pair it with the potato wedges, but we’re still tweaking it to go with the schnitzel….”
Elle leaned back against the couch and smiled at the movie. It was really going to be better. The next day, after a hearty breakfast of leftover schnitzel and potato wedges (and a sauce that tasted fine on both), she began to pack for Boston.
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!
CHAPTERS 15-19 will be available in August!
ELLE AND THE LOVE INTEREST WILL MEET AT THE END OF AUGUST!!
The Kindle Cover Contest (see my Instagram for details) is an exciting opportunity for illustrators/artists looking to get their name out there! Sooo, if you know anyone...you should send them my way!
The Cover Contest ends August 22!