Elaine looked at the email her supervisor Bree sent. Her palms were sweaty as she maneuvered her mouse over the text. When she reached the end, she sighed with relief and resumed her work. Elaine was focused on being the best intern Washington Lifestyle ever had and making her mark on the magazine she’d grown up reading, but it was the end of the day and Elaine was too tired to give much thought to the email containing an application for a full-time position. She shut down her computer and headed home. Elaine’s ballet flats allowed her to speed-walk to the Metro, only to stand in the stuffy subway car in a hurry to get home and as far away from work as possible.
“How was your day, honey?”
“Hey Mom. It was okay,” Elaine said. She hugged her mother who was seated in front of the television with a bowl of fresh green beans in her lap and a knife in her hand.
“Why just okay?”
“It was long, tiring and to top it off, Bree sent me another application for the art editor position…”
“That woman is persistent, huh? I don’t know why she tries so hard with you. It’s not like you’re going to make a career at the magazine. There are better paying jobs out there.”
“Right,” Elaine said low.
“I mean, come on. You could be anything. A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. Why does she think you want to play around with websites all of your life?”
Elaine’s shoulders slumped, her chin now closer to her chest and she felt her head beginning to pound with pain.
“A real job- that’s what you need.”
“Sure,” Elaine said as she walked past her mother and the family portraits along the wall over the couch. She eyed her sister’s smiling face. Wes’ eyes always followed her throughout the room, seemingly happy to see her little sister, despite how Elaine felt.
Elaine went to her bedroom, took her flats off slowly and sat on her bed rubbing her feet. The lack of arch support left her heels sore, but it was the ballet flats or nothing. Money was scarce, her internship didn’t pay and until Elaine figured something out, she’d have to accept being 24, broke and living at home. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and dialed.
“Hey, babe. How are you?”
“Elaine, wassup? I’m kind of in the middle of something right now…”
“Trying to figure out where I’m going to spend my residency next year. Not sure if I want to go where it’s warmer, or go north. You know, next steps.”
“Right. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No worries. I have a couple minutes to spare. What’s going on? Tell Dr. Cedric.”
Elaine hated when Cedric referred to himself as doctor having recently completed medical school. “Oh nothing much. It’s been a crazy day. The beta site for the magazine is coming along… Got another application from Bree…”
“Interesting,” he said.
“How you keep getting these applications with no desire to fill them out. Why don’t you quit and find a normal profession. Something stable like…”
“Like government work. You’re in D.C. It should be easy. You make things harder on yourself by working for free for some magazine that’ll probably go under like the rest.”
“But I actually enjoy what I do…”
“Elaine, I gotta go. Let me call you back in a bit.”
Elaine hung up first. She looked at her phone and thought about what Cedric and her mother said. She banged her palm against her forehead trying to shake loose whatever had her stuck in this complacent space. She turned to her dresser and stared at a framed picture. Her sister’s arm around her shoulder. Wes was making her laugh so hard her face turned red. They were teenagers, wearing skinny jeans and crop tops, showing off their washboard stomachs, and bone-straight flat-ironed hair, bangs swooped over opposite eyes. Next to the picture was Wes’ sweet young face alone. The words surrounding her face blurred, overlooked over time, but Elaine knew what they were. How could she forget? “Our Beloved Wesley James- Gone Too Soon”
Elaine lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. It was two years ago that she’d gone to the hospital with chocolate dipped Oreo cookies, Wes’ favorite. She scurried through the hospital halls excited that her sister would get to enjoy the one dessert she was allowed, but when she’d arrived to room 305b, she saw Wes still, eyes closed, her mouth slightly open, and her demeanor peaceful, surrounded by nurses preparing to cover her face with a white sheet.
Elaine wiped the tears from her eyes and reached under the obituary into the dresser drawer and pulled out a recorder that Wes used to save messages for her. Elaine listened to her sister’s clear, soft voice that was slow to form words but adamant about each sound and syllable.
“Elaine…You are my sister and best friend. You are beautiful and gifted. The way you draw, the way you paint, the way you design, it is like magic. No one can do it like you. Believe in yourself as much, if not more than I believe in you. My body may perish, my soul will ascend but let my words remain in your heart. Listen to them over and over again until it sinks in. You…are…amazing.”
Two days later Elaine filled out the application Bree sent her for the new position but the following week Shaina Edwards, a younger, less experienced, less talented version of Elaine arrived as the art editor.
“I told you you’re wasting your time at that place, Elaine. And what the hell they send you applications for if they’re gonna hire someone else?” her mother asked, flipping through television channels.
“Get a good government job, Elaine. If you were a good enough artist, they’d have hired you a long time ago. Give it up,” Cedric said.
Bree walked away from her mother, hung up the phone on Cedric, laid herself on her bed and pressed play on her recorder. Her sister’s words eased her to sleep. The next day Elaine left at her usual time but instead of heading to work, she walked to the library, sat on the computer and submitted ten applications to art editor positions throughout the city.
It would be a week before she heard anything, and another before she was invited for a single interview. None of the jobs panned out, leaving Elaine feeling destined to be a career intern.
After another long day day at the magazine, before Elaine turned the key to enter her home, she decided not to engage in conversation with her mother about the recent losses and that she wouldn’t call Cedric. She’d go into her room and listen to her sister.
The next day, Elaine knocked on Bree’s office door with complaints.
“I’m sorry, Elaine. Yes, Shaina is less qualified, but you didn’t apply. I sent you the application three times and I got nothing back,” said Bree.
“I know. I was scared.”
“Well, now it’s too late. Sorry. There’s nothing I can do for you.”
Elaine got up to leave Bree’s office, head low, eyes watery, when she felt the warmth of love cover her body and she heard her sister’s voice, “You are amazing.” Elaine stopped and looked at her supervisor with tears in her eyes.
“I’ve been working here for two summers, Bree. I know the magazine like the back of my hand. I spend every day making sure that it is the best publication it can possibly be…”
“And yet, you’ve stood in your own way, Elaine,” said Bree.
“Well, not today. I’m not afraid any more. I’m educated and experienced. Now I want in. I want to be the art editor. I deserve it and you know it.”
Bree smiled with squinted eyes. “I’ve always known it, but I’m certainly relieved that now you do too. I’ll see what I can do.”
Elaine headed home ignoring the fiery sensation her flats ignited on her feet. She smiled silently at her mother and decided not to call Cedric again. Elaine listened to her sister until she opened her email to find another application from Bree. She sat with crossed legs and her laptop in front of her on the bed. She cracked her knuckles, shook the kinks out of her neck and took a deep breath.
“Ma’am, I’ll try these pumps in a 7,” Elaine said. “And I’d like to wear them out of the store.” Elaine tossed her cheap flats in the trash after paying the saleswoman and walked back to Washington Lifestyle. It had been three weeks since she applied for art editor and two weeks since she was promoted to work alongside Shaina. “For you, Wes…” she said as she straightened her new nameplate hanging outside of her cubicle wall.