Her father was bent over his workbench when she walked in the door. It was situated in the middle of the living room, atop the ancient television they never bothered to turn on. In the years she had been away at college, Moe had let the house grow wild. Offices that had once been pristine and neatly organized, thanks to Jolee, were stuffed to the ceiling with paperwork and blueprints thrown about helter skelter. She was afraid of opening the several guest bedrooms. Even Moe’s room was locked up like a hazardous waste site. Most nights he slept on the tattered living room couch. Otherwise he slept slumped over his work, a blanket thrown lovingly around his shoulders by his daughter.
The only rooms that were considered ‘safe’ were Jolee’s own room and the kitchen; the latter of which threatened to succumb to her father’s clutter more and more each day. At that moment, the table was covered in bills for the current and previous months. When she had the time, Jolee would have to sort through them and pay off the most important ones: utilities, electric, the interest on the credit cards and her student loans. Her father hadn’t been able to help with bills much since she had been home. Due to the economic downturn, the investors had gotten tighter and tighter with their spending, especially on the inventions of unpredictable geniuses like her father. The stress of the constant stream of funding drying up, in turn, made it harder and harder for her father to finish a project, much less invent something useful. For months he hadn’t even left the blueprint stage. He just kept drawing and cursing and scrapping and redoing every last sketch until Jolee couldn’t even clean up after him anymore. The basement that had once served as his work room for models and initial mock ups lay silent and untouched beneath them like a graveyard of ambition.
“I’m home, Pa,” Jolee called as she hung her scarf and hat by the door, “have any luck today?”
Blinking from behind his large round-rimmed glasses like he was emerging from the depths of a cave, Moe looked up at her as if startled by her presence. He had always looked like a balding baby owl to Jolee.
“Just got some details to work on, some kinks to iron out,” he replied jovially, a wide smile spreading across his white-whiskered cheeks. It was the answer he had given her for several months now, and as always she pretended that it was the first time she was hearing it.
“Sounds promising, Papa,” she responded cheerily, hugging him and planting a happy kiss on the top of his shiny bare head.
“Oh it is ma belle,” her father replied in the thick accent that was a mixture of Italian and French, “We’ll be back on our feet in no time.”
“Of course, Papa. Have you had dinner yet?” she asked, changing the topic.
Moe shook his head, his bushy brows furrowed. “Haven’t been hungry,” he replied honestly, “But I’ll eat anything you make me.”
“No problem,” Jolee called as she went to the kitchen to rummage through the fridge, “But it’s probably going to be frozen pizza again.”
“No one makes a better frozen pizza than you, R[O1] osebud,” he chuckled, putting his pens and rulers down so that he could join her in the kitchen. He was a round man, built like a ball, and it took him a fair amount of time to waddle over to the table to sit down while Jolee preheated the oven.
“So, how was your day?” her father asked, pushing the envelopes to a far end of the table.
“Same old, same old,” Jolee replied, pulling the plastic from the cardboard-esque pizza.
“Did that Aristade boy visit again?” Moe asked.
Jolee gave her father a long look. By now, Moe had memorized Gage’s scheduled visits to her work, and looked forward to them way more than Jolee ever had. Her father had a bit of an antiquated notion about women and marriage. He and her mother had married shortly after conceiving her eldest sister at seventeen. Even though that hadn’t worked out the greatest logistically, Moe swore by the process (‘I still love your mother.’ “It works out,” he would say during some of his more eccentric fits). Jolee suspected that deep down he had been disappointed when she had returned from college without a ring. Every year she remained single was another year distancing him from his dream of grandchildren. His two joys in life—inventing and seeing his daughter become a wife and mother—were being crushed; one by the government and the other by Jolee herself. No matter how hard he guilted her, though, she wasn’t about to give up and roll over.
“Yes, Gage stopped by. No, we are not going out anytime soon,” she said, popping the pizza in the oven.
“You’re not getting any younger, Jolee,” her father said, with large hand gestures to match, “When I met him he seemed like a nice boy. Polite, handsome, successful, and all eyes for my little princess.”
“But Papa, he’s just—not for me, all right?” Jolee responded, arms folded.
“Why, did he hurt you?” Moe asked concernedly, “Do I have to have a talk with his father?”
Jolee shook her head. Though she had Gage in her books as selfish, materialistic, showy and full-of-himself, she would never lie and go far enough to call him downright abusive. But she didn’t need him to be abusive for him not to be right for her, either. How could she make her father understand without disappointing him?
“He’s just not my type,” she said, shaking her head and joining her father at the table.
“No one’s ever your type,” Moe laughed[O2] .
He reached across the table and grabbed Jolee’s hand, rubbing her thumb comfortingly. The hope and kindness sparkling in his otherwise dim gray eyes nearly broke her heart. He had so little to look forward to in life anymore and most of his former joys were being taken away from him day by day. How could she reconcile taking away yet another of his dreams with the uncertainty of her own?
“Ma belle,” he continued, “you are such a beautiful young woman. Any man would be lucky to have you on his arm. Oh, and so smart! So funny and so organized. So kind!”
“I don’t need a man to tell me that,” Jolee responded with a playful squeeze.
“It wouldn’t hurt!” Moe said, “Who is going to take care of you when I’m gone?”
“Don’t you play the guilt card with me, Papa,” Jolee smiled, “I can very well take care of myself. You know that. If I find a man who loves me that I’m not disgusted by, I promise that I will marry him on the spot.”
“I’ll never be a grandfather,” Moe said with mock exasperation.
“Grandfather or no, your pizza is going to be done in about ten minutes. I’m going to go put on some pajamas and get comfortable, okay?”
With a dissatisfied grunt Moe gave up his battle as Jolee left him to rifle through the papers on the table.
Her room was up the stairs and down at the end of a long, white-walled hallway, the door painted a bright robin’s-egg blue. It had been a present from her father for her eighth birthday, after she had cried about the plainness of their walls. Her father had always been too busy and focused on his projects to take the time to ornament the rooms. To this day, every room but hers had plain white walls. But after she had thrown a childish fit over it, Moe surprised her by having the door painted by the time she came home from school. Before the weekend, the walls of her room were finished in a buttercream yellow. She reached out to touch the door, like reaching out to an old friend. Her father had never been the most attentive man—always too involved with his work to attend her softball games or parent-teaching meetings—but he was there when it mattered. But could she really live up to his high expectations of her?
Her door opened up to a full-length mirror propped against the wall. Objectively, she had to admit that she was beautiful. Her full oval face was neither too pointed nor too round and was unmarred by acne scars or freckles. Her skin was an even olive tone which made her appear always faintly tan, even in the winter. She had her father’s genes to thank for that. Her highly arched brows were a bit thicker than she herself preferred, but they defined her almond eyes and thick lashes. Her daily walk to work kept her lean and fit, but retained her generous curves. If she had any grudge against her appearance, it would be with her lips and hair. In her opinion, her lips were too thin to be sultry and her brunette hair too wavy to be sleek; too tame to be curly. Despite that, she had never needed to expend much effort to be noticed for her looks.
But who wanted to be known simply for the luck they’d been born with? She’d no more wanted to be known as ‘beautiful’ Jolee as she would have wanted to be known as ‘crippled’ Jolee or ‘penniless’ Jolee. She hadn’t earned her looks. They said nothing about the real her. Everywhere she went people seemed to think it did, though. If she was beautiful, she couldn’t be smart. She didn’t have to work hard. She’d always get chosen first—not because she deserved it, but because she looked pretty. It was maddening. It left her bitter and distrustful of anyone who wanted to get close to her. The only people she truly trusted were her father and Babs. To everyone else she was just the ‘Beauty’ that they’d either try to use or blindly hate for her good fortune.
She quickly shimmed out of her khaki pants and black polo and threw on a pair of lumpy sweats that had once belonged to her father.
“Papa, is the pizza ready?” she called.
“No, Jolee,” her father said, “you still have about ten more minutes.”
His voice had sounded oddly strained. Curious, she walked back over to the staircase and listened. From the kitchen came an unmistakable rustling noise—he was trying to hide the bills again! Jolee shook her head exasperatedly. Moe had been so angry and ashamed when she had come home to find him swimming in debt. She had had to all but steal the statements from him in order to pay them off. Though most the time he was too absorbed in his work to really notice what Jolee did anymore, he still fought vigorously to be the ‘man of the house’; when he remembered to.
Hmm. Ten minutes, Jolee thought, just enough time to check some listings.
It wasn’t like she could do anything about the bills if she didn’t have any extra money to help Moe pay them. She returned to her room to fire up her years-old Gateway laptop and clicked into the Favorites tab to pull up Craigslist. For the past couple years, through college and now at home, she had checked the ‘Jobs’ and ‘Gigs’ sections almost religiously for freelance writing stints and calls for submissions. To be honest, it had been a kind of hit or miss thing in her experience. She’d get a hit here or there, but a majority of them would ‘fall through’ before publication or refuse payment, or would offer ‘exposure’ as the only compensation. She really didn’t know any better way to do it, between her day job and caring for her father. She could always hope for any extra income, though, and the constant challenge to keep writing was always welcome.
As soon as the page loaded, Jolee noticed that there were three new listings under ‘jobs’. Two of them claimed to be ‘telecommuter’ jobs, but she recognized them as reworded scams she had gotten hopeful over two months ago. The third one, however, seemed different.
Tutor in literature and poetry,
to work in-residence with[O3] an adult male student in Aspen, Colorado.
Room and board provided for.
Compensation: $4,000/ month stipend.
Must have own transportation to site, transportation provided within area.
Preferred BA in English or higher
Experience with ‘customer service’ or ‘bedside manner’ etc. (Hospital, Sales, Teaching)
No special skills required
To begin IMMEDIATELY
Please respond with a headshot (for identity verification) and a resume.
Only serious applicants need reply.
Jolee sat back in her chair, reading and re-reading the listing several times. What, was she in a Jane Austen novel? No one paid this much for a live-in lit tutor, especially not for an adult student. Who would…
She could really use that money. If there was any chance of it being real, she would be crazy to pass up the opportunity. She would send her info and request that further specifications be sent back to her in return. No harm could come of that, right? Before she could talk herself out of it, Jolee drafted a brief general cover letter and attached the all-purpose resume she had created in college to the message. Like touching hot coals, she clicked the ‘send’ button quickly. It sent a thrill of anticipation through her. She was not, by nature, an impulsive woman, but she had always longed to be. Though all she’d done was send an e-mail to a prospective employer (that was more likely a hoax) she was filled with a giddy self-satisfaction. Who knew? It could work out after all and she’d be able to send the money to help her father while decreasing her own financial burden on the house. Even if the job was only for a year, a year could be all the time it could take for her father to catch some inspiration and get back on his feet.
“Jolee! Jolee, the oven’s beeping!” Moe hollered from the kitchen, “I’m taking it out! Come get it while it’s hot!”
Reluctantly Jolee returned downstairs to eat with her father. The anticipation building in her stomach bottled up, making her imagine wild things. She wanted there to be legitimacy to the advertisement so bad that it hurt her stomach. Sure, Aspen was still in Colorado, but Jolee had never been further away from home than Denver, and that was less than an hour away. To be able to live in the majestic mountains instead of this sterilized stale suburban mess of a town? To be just a breath away, all the time, from real nature, and not just the fenced in kind that was sickeningly manicured and maintained? Sure, she could be just romanticizing the whole thing, but didn’t she deserve something to look forward to?
As soon as she finished her half of the pizza, inhaling each slice as if she was a champion food eater, she kissed her bewildered father on the forehead and bounded back up the stairs. The chances of the original poser already replying in a span of thirty minutes were unreasonable, but it could happen. She was full of hopes tonight. Getting paid to teach her own passions somewhere in the mountains where she could learn to ski on the weekends? Count her in.
She shook her mouse impatiently, clearing the photo-montage screensaver and pressed refresh. Nothing. She stared at the screen for another breath and pressed refresh. Nothing. She went, brushed her teeth and cleaned her face, swearing that this time was going to be the last time that she pressed refresh.
There was a new e-mail waiting in her inbox, bolded as if it hadn’t already captured her attention. The subject read: “Re: Concerning the tutoring position in Aspen, Colorado.” With a sense of reverent awe, Jolee clicked the e-mail open.
Dear Jolee[O4] ,
Thank you for your interest in the tutoring position. Due to circumstances, I cannot at this time disclose to you the identity of your potential client. As his caregiver, however, I can give you mine. Attached to this e-mail you will find a list of my credentials, letters and contacts for reference, and my own headshot. I assure you this advertisement is very serious, and compensation remains as listed. The job would last two full years, with very little vacation time, for a high-maintenance student—which we believe justifies the pay.
We have read over your materials and can tell you that you are the most promising candidate by far. Would you be willing to visit us this coming Sunday to see if you fit the position? An e-mailed response would be fine.
Immediately, Jolee downloaded the attached materials. The first was his headshot. The fact that it was professionally done was promising. He was a scraggly guy, somewhere around his late twenties, early-thirties, with a wide dimpled grin on his round face. With freckles liberally dotting his nose and cheeks, his close-cropped straw-yellow hair, he seemed like a farm-boy in mid-transition to a city-boy. He had bright baby-blue eyes that sparkled. There was no way this could be the face of a Craigslist prankster or pervert.
His resume pegged him as a live-in nurse, graduated from Regis University only two years before Jolee herself had from CU Boulder. So that would make him—twenty-four? Twenty-five? Same age as Gage but clearly very different. The letters described Chip as having a ‘bubbly’ personality that just ‘overflowed’ with a ‘deep warmth’ and a determinedly compassionate touch in all aspects of his life.
So the lister was a nurse. That had to mean that the client was extremely ill or mentally infirm. Ashamed as she would be to admit it out loud, she was relieved. It meant that she could be in a hospital-like setting doing good with her work without being threatened by able-bodied people who only appreciated her for her. Perhaps someone who had been shunned or kept away all their lives because of their looks would be able to sympathize with her. This was looking more promising by the minute.
But did she really want to be away from home that much? ‘Two full years, very little vacation time.’ How little was little? She’d never really gone a full year without returning home for a couple of months in the summer and winter. Was she really up to being apart from her dad that much?
‘This coming Sunday’. Well. That didn’t give her much time to choose, did it? She had all of Saturday, and then she’d have to be ready to do a personal interview. She could still decline the position, though. It wasn’t as if she was being asked to decide anything tonight. She would reply, asking for a time and address and tell her father about it in the morning. She was a grown woman, wasn’t she? She didn’t need to ask permission to make something of her life—but she would ask him to escort her to the interview all the same.
Reply sent, Jolee leaned back in her chair and let go of a pent-up sigh. This could really be another dead end, she told herself. A build up to a let-down, like most of her life. She really shouldn’t let herself get so emotionally invested in something that might not turn out to be the ticket to her dreams.
But what if it was?
*copyright 2013 Elizabeth Rose, ‘Till The Last Petal Falls forthcoming from Mockingbird Lane Press in 2013. Sample chapters may or may not undergo changes before final print.