I wrote only the first chapter and thought it might be interesting to kind of publish as a serial. Then go back and edit it all at the end for the final short story. If you’d like to just read the final result skip this. The title is just a working title, so don’t get attached if I think of something better later on. I also may change Mel’s name, as it is too similar to another “character”
Chapter 1: Me
“Brian,” my voice said. “Cathy wants to meet you for Starbucks today. I had to tell her you can’t make it because of our meeting.”
“What meeting?” I asked Me as the apartment door gently shut behind us. I descended the painted, cement stairs to the landing. With the soft echo of my sneakers in the partly-exposed, beige stairwell.
“We are interviewing a new candidate, Mel, for an internship at —”
“Oh! Right, right. Thanks.” I rolled my eyes a little for forgetting this little thing. One always forgets things these days. Having a Me is barely tenable at all under the circumstances, but it was still under contract. An i was obviously the only thing worth having now. I should never have bought another Me so late in the cycle.
My Way was parked where it always was, in the back of the apartment building, in the alley, next to all the others. The white LEDs did their little dance when they detected the Me and my Way disconnected from the others. I noticed the neon, anisotropic, paisley-print finish of the Way next to mine and winced. The new neighbor wasn’t just loud, so was his Way. “Me, tell the manager about the noise last night.”
“We already have, and I sent an audio clip, with decibel rating, to his Me.” There was a brief pause here, I’m not sure why. “We did that last night, remember?”
I stood on the Way and it was off, down the alley. “Oh, right,” I lied. I did not recall.
We passed a few other early morning commuters on the way to my Starbucks. But it wasn’t crowded at all for San Francisco. Everyday there seemed to be less and less. The arranged work schedules really helped to space out commutes. As did working from home. I preferred my Starbucks. The only downside of the shorter commute is that I had less time to watch my YouTubes.
“Oh, Me, play that thing from last night. You remember, the one with the comedians.” I might have had a little more excitement in my voice than was probably reasonable.
My field of view filled mostly with the 3 minute episodes of Parker’s Pizza Place with just the periphery showing road, grass, trees, and buildings zip by. This was a funny one, but I suppose they were all funny. Ads showed new fragrances, and new Ways, and I made sure to stay engaged with them. It was hard to focus on the ads as we went up and down some hills. The Way never tilted, but it was still easy to get a little motionsick. I wasn’t going to be able to afford my i if I wasn’t on top of everything.
We arrived at the Starbucks office mall pretty quickly. I only got to watch two, or three episodes of Parker’s. “Pause it for later,” I instructed Me.
My Way glided to the large rack if Ways and I stepped backwards, off of it. It looked like today would be a pretty large shift at the Starbucks. Surprising, given the nice weather.
I passed a couple people talking, not to each other, and found my rented seat at crowded Communal Table Amalfi, but before I sat, I noticed the guest spot on the opposite side of the table was occupied by a young woman in her early twenties, or late teens. I paused, hopefully out of earshot and asked Me, “I thought my meeting was later?”
“No, your meeting was on for first thing. That is your potential intern, Mel.” The voice was almost too cool.
I turned and walked over to my seat. I purposefully did not make eye contact with Mel. Eyes are money, and I wasn’t about to give them to her for nothing.
I pulled the metal chair out and slid back in with it. For the first time, I made eye contact with her. Red hair, milk-white skin flecked with red and brown freckles, and pale lip gloss beneath two emerald-green eyes. She was either a boring naturalist, or very poor; perhaps both.
She returned the eye contact, awkwardly drinking it up. I greeted her, “Mel, is it?”
“Yes, Mr. Grayson.” Her voice was a little high, but not squeaky. I judged she’d do poorly on anything other than thought, or sight.
I looked down slightly, breaking eye contact with her, as anyone aught to do, before proceeding, “I appreciate your interest in the position. Your demo seems to show some pretty keen observations on your part.”
“Thank you sir,” she gushed.
I started to play with the table’s primitive touch menu. The kind of thing you do when you’re in a conversation, as it would be rude to appear undistracted. “Just so you understand,” I continued. “I have very strict rules about sharing face time with other people. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about this arrangement.” I circled a few items on the menu with my index finger and have it a lingering glance until my interest in those products was recorded. “What I look at is what I show the world. I’m a tastemaker. My views go to my followers, their views to their followers, etcetera. You might say I get my living from my looks.”
I paused for a laugh but there wasn’t even an awkward pity-chuckle. I picked a half-caf, mocha, Mmm’Santoberry©, with a double-shot, and a Starbucks Classic II™ No-Butter Croissant. I watched my analytics in the very edge of my view show a spike at a few other Starbucks. Social tracking showed matching items being talked about in GLounges.
“Mr. Grayson, I know how valuable your time is,” she timidly confirmed. “That is precisely why I want to intern with you.”
“Yes, but just know, you can’t expect my interest. I give it if I feel like it, which means you must either earn me money, or be interesting. You are, if I may say so, nice, but a little plain. Why would anyone follow you?”
I could see her shift her weight in her chair, her right hand unwrapped itself from her left wrist and then her left hand grabbed her right wrist. Fidgeting is only endearing to a point. She spoke calmly, “I happen to be from Clearwater, Florida. Just on the lower border of the Southern wastes.” Now that had potential. “I have personal stories, anecdotes, about life on the fringe. I also happen to be a skilled nature photographer. Even with my old contact lenses, I got shots in the news.” She cleared her throat and went on, “The most interesting is my training in spreading social news.”
Now that last one was disappointing, and I didn’t mask it in my voice, “I’ll give you this one piece of advice, free of charge, news doesn’t make much money here. Sure the media companies do, but a Mom and Pop operation, like I have, is all about personal appeal. If you had done research in to me, you’d know you should talk to me about products. Referrals that can actually make money.”
Now she was moving her fingers up and down on the table, like insect mouthparts busily trying to eat the glass and polytexture surface. Her next words had some real passion, “Look, Mr. Grayson, I spent my savings on flying out here, getting an i, and sending out demos to anyone that would have me.” She had a little too much passion. “Look around, we’re at one of thirty tables in here, and that’s just this floor. Five floors of people talking about products, engineering mini-word-of-mouth campaigns, sub-lingering on coffee cups. You just happened to be the guy that took my interview this morning.”
I looked up at her and made eye contact again. My analytics showed that people were doing facial searches for her. I didn’t stop to look away though. Her verbal punch really dislodged something in me. She was interesting, the metrics confirmed it. Mel’s follow count had increased by three. They might not stay, but it was something. Then the barista came with my breakfast and we both broke eye contact.
Chapter 2: Us