“November’s going too quickly,” I muttered, my phone wedged between my cheek and my shoulder. I stuck a pearl-headed pin into a cork and added a layer of silvery glitter glue, half way done one of many ornaments I was making my coworkers and friends for their winter holiday of choice. Thanksgiving and my birthday had come and gone, as had my interview with Steph about whether my internship would become a job.
Talk about a stroke of bad luck.
“In barely over a month I’ll be jobless, homeless, and out of school for good.” Another pin, more glue, and Em’s sympathetic whine in my ear. “I get that theatre is an expensive career, and Steph is running it to the best of her ability. She was honest with me. She can’t afford to keep so many employees. She’s not even taking interns for at least a year, maybe more.” I sighed. “She did suggest I audition for shows if I was dead set on a job here, but you know as well as I do that my audition skills are trash.” It was true. I was terrible at auditions. The anxiety that haunted me took over, and things I did on a daily basis– singing, dancing, talking– became monumental tasks. I was downright awful at auditions. So bad, in fact, that I was slowly becoming convinced that I didn’t have any actual talent, just years of wasted training and a few strokes of good luck during high school.
“You really should audition,” Emma agreed. “Even if it’s not at Chance.”
“I know.” It was an easier answer than word vomiting all over Emma about how much of a waste of time auditioning anywhere would be. “I just… I can’t afford to continue school, and there’s no chance in hell I’m asking my parents for help.”
“I thought your dad was supposed to pay for your college?”
It was still weird to hear her say my dad, when she’d been all but legally adopted into the family. She was, as far as I was concerned, my sister, and I referred to her exclusively as such. Sometimes I wondered if my parents liked her better than they liked me. Considering they divorced shortly after my birth, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d been a burden on both of them for over two decades, anyway.
“He thinks my theatre major is a waste of time and money,” I said, tying string to the ornament for it to hang from, “and honestly, he’s probably right.”
“Piper.” Em’s tone wasn’t patronizing, or irritated, but some third thing that firmly put a stop to my wallowing. “You’re talented, and creative, and you’ll be successful at whatever you set yourself to.”
The words were meaningless, echoes of things shouted at elementary school assemblies. The phrase mediocre at best darted through my mind, but I shook it off. “Thanks, Em. I know. I’m just… disappointed I guess. I was really banking on having this job.”
“I know, princess.” There was a pause, and I started a new ornament. “What about your Mo–”
“Absolutely the fuck not,” I interrupted. “I want as little to do with my mom as humanly possible.”
“But maybe moving home–”
“I wouldn’t go back there if you paid me a million dollars, unless I was allowed to take that money and promptly leave.” Irritated, I stabbed the cork a little harder than necessary, wedging the needle in too far. “Visiting is one thing, it’s temporary, I don’t have to go to sleep there every night knowing my mother’s throwing money away to keep me alive and fed.” I yanked the needle back out and got a new cork, ready to start over. “I work for my freedom. The idea that I’m such a fucking parasite to her makes me sick. And I was working two jobs last summer! Two! One was even in my major!” I was more careful this time, but not by much. Huffing, I glued the needle in and moved on, even though it wasn’t perfect, and it would bother me later. “I’ve got you and my high school friends up there but honestly? If it weren’t for my grandparents, I’d have changed my name and moved to Albania or some shit, just to keep my damn parents from hounding me about what’s your fallback and why don’t you just teach English you’re so good at it and when are you going to get a real job and move out.” And now I was tearing up, frustration bubbling in my throat, making my face hot. I set my ornament down before I broke it and had to start over again. “Just once I want them to be proud of me. Maybe even say ‘hey Piper, we found you some paid theatre opportunities! Go audition! Send in your resume!’ Or you know. Be supportive of me and help me do the one thing I’m really good at.”
Emma was quiet for a long time. I sniffed, smearing the tears that had started to fall across my cheeks, and then resumed making my ornament.
“So how’s Dakota?”
I smiled. She was good at distracting me from the hell that my family had created for me. “Not so good, honestly. His great-granddad is in the hospital. Apparently it’s complications of late stage alzheimer’s.”
“Oh, the poor thing!”
“I know,” I said. “I don’t know how to help. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries.”
“Have you asked?”
Leave it to Em to be practical in the face of my ridiculous social anxiety. “No. It’s not my place. He has a girlfriend, remember?”
We went quiet again. I finished a third ornament, then a fourth, just listening to Em hum and talk to her puppy, then whatever cartoon she had on in the background. “So Kimmy and I had an interesting Thanksgiving.”
“We ended up having a potluck for our closer work friends,” I said. “It was nice meeting some of her coworkers I hadn’t met yet. They’re nice.”
“Good to hear.”
This was what friends were, I mused as we chatted idly and I finished more ornaments. The people who knew when you just needed to hear someone else’s voice in the inescapable circus of your own mind.