The Last Rae of Hope
After years of planning, Mama Perez finally opened her café. She would always set aside two slices of her now famous cotton cheesecake for our weekly meetups. I had just started on my slice when Nora walked in.
“You’re late, you know.” I watched Nora take the chair across from me.
“Fashionably so,” she agreed cheerfully, calling attention to her new watch. I gave her a thumbs up for her tasteful choice. Only Nora could pull off an accessory covered in both hearts and dragons.
“Since I got here first, that means I get to share my news first, right?”
“Enlighten me. I’m all ears,” Nora smiled.
I took a deep breath. “So, after applying to forty-seven different entry level college graduate positions, I finally have my first face-to-face interview tomorrow!” My struggle to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration was finally going to pay off. Well, maybe I would start to pay the degree off, at any rate.
“Same!” she chimed.
“Well, not the forty-seven part, but I too have an interview tomorrow!” Nora smirked.
“When?” I asked curiously.
“Me too! Where?”
“Cooperative Universal Publishing.”
The smile I had been sporting slowly slid off my face. “Project coordinator, special projects division?”
“Yeah, wait, how did you know? Did mama spill the beans?”
She gasped and half-jumped from her seat. “We’re interviewing for the same position! Oh yeah, we’re rivals! This is gonna be awesome!”
“What are you talking about? This is bad! We’ll be in direct competition!”
“No way. Now we’re twice as likely that one of us will get the job! When that happens, we just open the door for the other!” She gestured as if opening a door like a trained butler might, complete with a sitting yet somehow respectful bow. Trust Nora to see the positives.
“I wonder why we’re scheduled for the same time, though. Don’t they usually stagger these things?”
“I heard some places do group interviews.”
“Aren’t those usually multi level marketing scams?” I was skeptical now.
“I’m sure this isn’t the case with CUP.”
“Cooperative Universal Publishing. CUP. Honestly though Rae, I’m a little surprised you applied there.”
“What do you mean? I’ve been applying everywhere!”
“Yeah, but you know, your promise to yourself?”
Nora blinked several times. “You have absolutely no idea, do you?”
“Obviously I don't…?”
“Bring up DivinitEpub.” I unlocked my phone and launched the app.
“Look at the bottom of the homepage.”
The words 'Cooperative Universal Publishing' were printed in the tiniest font at the bottom. “Ah. It sounded familiar, but it’s such a generic name. But what’s this promise you’re talking about?”
“You didn’t see the second splash banner yet, I guess. CUP recently bought the rights to…” Nora stopped and gave me an awkward look. “Maybe you shouldn’t swipe right.”
So, of course, I swiped right and read the banner aloud. “Coming soon to DivinitEpub, over 300 of your favorite stories previously only available on WebNovela.” Wait, WebNovela? The defunct platform that had hosted The Last Rae of Hope back when we were in high school.
“What a coincidence.” I said calmly.
“That’s all you have to say?” She looked a little nervous to me.
“Yeah. I’m over it, for real.”
“Yep.” I truly believed I was. I had avoided all conversation, posts, fanfics, and whatever-happened-to web articles for half a decade now.
Nora glanced at my phone and pulled us off track, probably intentionally. “You’re reading I Fell in Love with a Vampire Cowboy?”
“Look, the premise isn’t all that bad. I mean, cattle are pretty big right, so they have a lot of blood and it would just be a waste if–”
“Too many abs,” she criticized.
“No, I mean really, someone drew too many abs on those vampire cowboys. What is that, a sixteen pack? Ridiculous. The guy would be sixty percent stomach. It’s not anatomically correct.”
“Technically, it takes place on another planet so they’re alien vampires.”
“Oh, that makes perfect sense, then. Props to the artist.” Nora approved, swiping through the image gallery.
“I’m telling you, I’m in it for the story, not the eye candy.” Maybe she would have believed me if I had used a phrase better than ‘eye candy’. Nora raised an eyebrow at me.
I coughed delicately. “Anyway, back to our interviews.”
“Sure.” Her tone indicated I had not heard the last about my latest guilty pleasure.
“What do you think the job entails?” I asked. The posting had been pretty generic.
“Who cares? We’ll be working for CUP! Do you realize half of my disposable income goes to them as it stands? If we end up working for them then, we’ll probably be able to read our favorite stories for free!”
“We might get an employee discount, but even that only happens if one of us gets the job.”
“Between the two of us, we have it in the bag. They’d be crazy not to hire professional fans of the genre.” Nora took an aggressively large bite of cheesecake.
“I thought you didn’t like cheesecake,” I remarked.
“I don’t, but mama’s watching.” I looked over at Mama Perez. She was waiting for feedback, like always. Her desserts were never less than perfect and today was no exception. I smiled and showed her my empty plate. She seemed satisfied and went back into the kitchen.
“So how funny would it be if we end on a project to bring it back from hiatus?” Nora asked with her mouth still full.
“No way,” I shook my head. “CUP publishes thousands of titles monthly. Nevermind the fact that DivinitEpub is just one tiny part of them. They also publish books, videos, art prints… I mean, what are the odds?”
“Big enough that I’m going to reread the series tonight before bed. What about you?”
“Me?” I didn’t really have plans. “Uh, I’m gonna look up more information about CUP to prepare.”
“I’ll send you a list of websites.” Nora opened her phone and began texting me.
“Hey Nora. If we’re competing for a single opening…”
“Don’t you dare. You better do your best.”
“I didn’t even say anything yet!” I protested.
“I know you. Don’t you dare tank the interview for my sake! I’ll never forgive you!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about... I was just going to say good luck to you.” I folded my arms and pretended to be wounded by her observations. Truth be told, she had been absolutely right, but calling me out like that made it clear I had to act otherwise.
“Good luck to you too, then.”
“Friends forever?” I asked for reassurance.
I spent the rest of the day pretending I was educating myself about CUP while puttering around my room. I was still living with Mother, who continued to work odd hours, and yet again, she wasn’t home.
We had another resident of the household keeping me company though, an awkwardly adolescent American shorthair cat named Chester. Chester had a silver tabby coat that darkened down his back to his solid black tail. He always had one of his eyebrows half-cocked, like he was just a little confused about everything. He was a sociable cat, and he put up with my affectionate hugs as best as he could as I came and went from the house. Chester never failed to greet me, and I never failed to give him a treat. It was our thing.
“Nora and I are interviewing for the same job at CUP.” I placed him in my lap and spoke to him as if he understood everything, acronyms and all.
“Mrow?” He questioned.
“I know, right? She brought up that story again, too.” Chester nudged my hand.
“I mean, there’s no way, right? It’s just magical thinking.”
Chest stared at me for a moment, then put his paw in my hand. “Right. The treats.” I put him down and gave him a few cat treats.
“If I get the job, I’ll be able to afford you those top shelf treats you’ve been seeing on TV. I heard they even use real meat in them. So wish me luck, okay?” Chester didn’t answer. He almost never did. I got up out of my chair and got ready for bed.
Post Chapter Omake
Nora: Nothing about our years spent in college?
Rae: I was going to classes, working retail, and studying all the time! Boring.
Nora: What about our spring break in Vegas?
Rae: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!
Nora: ... Absolutely nothing happened in Vegas. You could barely handle walking through Madame Tussauds!
Rae: Uncanny valley!
Nora: You said the same thing about the Blue Man Group, too!
Rae: Just to be clear, it's the eyes, not the blue skin. It's always the eyes.