Morning has no chance to break through this fortress into my room, so I am at the mercy of my old-school alarm clock. My phone will be issued on my way out the door, checked in upon my return, and promptly analyzed in ways I don’t begin to understand. No melodic good morning for me. Still, when the ringer sounds, I am instantly and fully awake.
Stipple waits in the grubby office of the warehouse, the only open section of our operations. The light does no favors and the smell does even fewer, but I get my phone and that could well be the best thing to happen all day. Only phone numbers pertinent to others on the Hill are allowed to be programmed. In case of emergency, other numbers are programmed to call my apartment phone, forwarded here to Stipple. No one listened when I said apartment dwellers (and everyone else) skip the whole land line thing. Another phone number pretends to call Mom, a number with a middle America area code and a ring that reaches Cindi. When I suggested friends, Cali laughed, saying, “Beige girl has no friends.”
He had a point.
“You ready?” Stipple dons his best fatherly tone.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I can barely believe the words came from me. But it seems to sell him on my courage because he rises and walks me out.
A few blocks get me to mass transit, my new best friend, the long-time friend of beige girl, I’m sure. As taught, I make no eye contact. I stare unseeing into an obscure book with a beige cover. Blessedly, no one speaks to me and I hear the signal to disembark.
Walking the remainder of my journey, I silently thank E, my patron saint, for boring, sensible, beige shoes. I fumble with my thick eyeglasses, not yet accustomed to their weight. My ill-fitting bra wills its straps off my shoulders over and again. My no-brand purse hangs limp and lifeless while my dishwater hair catches the wind in what I can only assume is a perfect storm of forgettable.
Birch meets me at security, guiding me through my initiation. I want him to be on our side – on E’s side – because he’s sharp and kind and treats me like a person. The first time I met him, he escorted me to my interview. He told me he’d only let me know his quirky, family name if I got the job. When he called me with the news, he said, “Hey, it’s Birch Bellamy. Like the tree, plus some vaguely familiar singer from days of yesteryear. Yes, I know that is a sad, sad name. Feel free to donate to my renaming fund.” Then he told me when to show up and what to expect, sort of.
I don’t dare ask, even peripherally. For now it’s enough that he’s here and not a total jerk.
“Your hiring flew,” he says.
“Yeah, almost like nepotism, but I looked you up and found you’re nobody.” His voice carries the joke. I sidestep every natural inclination to flirt, instead pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose. It occurs to me that I never planned my beige laugh to match my new beige self.