Arranged

By: Sara Wolf



“Sweetie, how are you? You’re studying hard down there? Be sure to play every once in a while. Too much work does one of two things – makes you insufferable or makes you drink.”

I open and close my mouth a few times, trying to form the right words. “Betsy? Can I ask you something in confidence?”

“Why sure. Just get it right out in the open, honey.”

“Is the company doing alright?”

Betsy sighs. “You know, I wanna say yes. I really do. But with these new competitors we just haven’t been functioning on the level we used to.”

“So, the company, is it -?”

She leans in and whispers. “Don’t tell anyone. But your father and I are thinking about going into discussions with a Chinese company. They want to buy us out and frankly, that’s the best option we’ve got right now.”

“So the company is closing, one way or another.”

“Unless a good chunk of money falls out of the sky, hon, yeah.”

Mom and Dad’s dream company – the one they built from scratch – is going into the toilet. I still remember when I was little and they’d make herb soaps in the bathroom, the sink filled with fresh rosemary and clean lard. I still remember how happy they were when they got their business license. I grew up helping them sell their soaps at craft fairs on the weekends. Betsy must notice how sad I look, because she pets my hand.

“Don’t you worry about your parents. We’ve got everything under control. You just study hard and get that degree, you hear?”

I worry. That’s all I do. I get so wound up sitting in my room, reading old books and messing around on the computer, that I feel like throwing up. Every smile of Mom’s and every laugh of Dad’s feels so rare and special – and if the bankruptcy happens, they’ll get even rarer. And I won’t be here to see it. I’ll be back at college where I can’t see their pain. I’m selfish. Asking Mom and Dad for the money that isn’t covered by my scholarship while they’re struggling to stay afloat is completely selfish. I’m not fixing the problem, I’m just making it worse.

I need to get out. Jen’s band is playing today at the Blue Eclipse in L.A. It’s a pretty long drive, but I could use the time alone. I tell Dad and he smiles and hugs me.

“You have fun, okay? You’re looking too serious lately. Don’t age so fast.”

“Right back at you,” I joke. Riley begs to come with. I point out he’s underage.

“So are you!” He argues.

“It’s eighteen and over.”

“All the fun things happen when you’re old.”

“Thanks for calling me old, young whipper-snapper.” I punch his shoulder. He rolls his eyes.

I pick out a red blouse and skinny jeans, and pull my hair into a side ponytail. With a bit of lipgloss and liner, I look halfway decent. The drive is quiet and easy – not many people on the road in the days after Thanksgiving. The sky is overcast, and by the time I make it to L.A, it’s dark and moonless. I park in the school lot and walk to Blue Eclipse – club parking is expensive. I join the long line around the building. There are tons of people with ripped-up jeans and heavy eyeliner and hair dyed all colors of the rainbow. There are some people like me, dressed less extravagantly, but we’re the minority. By the time I get past the bouncers, the club is full. The bar is packed and the stage is alight with red and purple spotlights, the music throbbing as a band that isn’t Jen’s plays. The lead singer is a boy with bleach-blonde streaks and a raspy voice. The crowd toward the center of the stage packs tight. They headbang and flail a little, and while it isn’t violent, I make a note to stay towards the back of the crowd. I feel a hand grip my arm – Jen. Her stage makeup is caked on but she looks no less beautiful.

“You came!”

“Yeah!” I yell over the music. “Needed a break. I’m so excited to see you guys finally play!”

“We’ll rock your world,” She winks. “There’s a VIP room backstage. I’ll tell them to let you in. Just say my name to that big guy in the corner, okay? We’re on in thirty, so I gotta go.”

I smile and nod and she’s gone in a whirl of chains and black lipstick. I feel a little out of place, but the music is great. I let it wash over me, blare out all the tangled thoughts in my head. When I get tired of standing I head over to the VIP bouncer.

“Hi,” I shout. “I’m Rose, Jen’s friend. She said I could –”

The man steps aside and opens the door for me. I nervously duck under his arm. It’s cooler and quieter back here – hardwood floors and the walls packed with sound equipment. The narrow hall is lined with doors, one of them says “VIP”. I feel way too special as I open it. A black carpet contrasts with purple walls, blacklight turning everything white a bright blue. A few people sit on the couches and smoke. A man I recognize as Jen’s sort-of manager, Tom, paces the floor as he shouts into his cell.

“I told you, we can’t come up there tonight, there’s no way – fine! Then tell them we cancel.”

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