Happy Lesbians (working title)
Winter trudged heavily through the piles of dead leaves lining the gutter, the lynx’s broad paws crunching through them. There was a sidewalk, but this wasn’t a mood for sidewalks. This wasn’t a mood for keeping clean, staying out of the way. This was a proper sulk.
She pulled her phone out for the umpteenth time and thumbed at the screen, tapping out yet another message to Katrin that she wouldn’t send. Deleted message. Put phone away.
A low growl started in her chest, rose, crescendoed, and she let out a brief yell. No words, just a vent of frustration. Birds startled from the tree beside her.
It didn’t help.
“Making a damn fool of yourself,” she grumbled. “Twice over.”
She hesitated on the corner of Linden and 18th, stopping mid-stride and staring down the street. She should turn. She should turn left and walk the next two blocks. She should head up the stairs. She should open the door, set her phone down, change out of her clothes — clothes she’d now have to return to the market — clean up, start cooking.
She should tell Katrin what happened. She should look for a new job.
“Shit,” she repeated, this time aloud, and kept walking straight. Five blocks to the plaza. She’d grab a coffee, sit on one of the benches. Watch the early afternoon crowds putter along the mall.
Or maybe she shouldn’t grab a coffee. Maybe she should be saving her money.
She kept walking.
She got her coffee.
She sat, and she watched.
Katrin and Winter stood still heads bowed, both searching through their thoughts.
Winter couldn’t guess at her wife’s thoughts. The fox was always so inscrutable. Winter would sometimes watch her face while the vixen worked, the blank mask of pure white, punctuated with only the pitch-black nose, those darkest-brown eyes, and try to decide if the inscrutable part was the white fur or some sort of Scandinavian magic.
Today, she couldn’t tell. Katrin’s matte-white fur reflected light so well that there were no shadows to reflect her emotions. And yet, there was still something foreign to those features. The almond-shaped eyes, the blunt muzzle, the ears almost hidden in thick fur.
Perhaps another Swede would be able to read that face, to say what Katrin was feeling, but not Winter. Not right now.
“And they didn’t give any recourse?” The fox looked up to Winter. “Just come pick up your last paycheck and drop off your shirts?”
The lynx nodded. “Just that. Mr Stevenson just said he couldn’t keep both managers on board, and, well, Kayla’s his daughter.”
Katrin nodded and slid her paw across the countertop to twine her fingers with the lynx’s. “I understand. I’m sorry, love.”
“It’s okay.” Winter sighed and gave those fingers a gentle squeeze in her own. Even with the flour still clinging clinging to her wife’s fur, even with the coarseness of her pads, worn from so much kneading of dough, they seemed so delicate in her thick-furred mitts. “I’ll start looking tomorrow.”
“Okay. Let me know if you need any help, I’ll do what I can.”
The lynx nodded.
“It’ll be okay, love. I promise.” Her smile was tired, but warm all the same.
(A week goes by of job hunting, Katrin suggests Winter try contracting, Winter decides on gig economy)
Gone were the days of sitting up at the kitchen table, circling help-wanted ads in the newspaper. Hell, gone were the days of the newspaper, it felt like.
Instead, Winter grew addicted to job posting boards, both local to her town and some that ran on a wider scale. Once she got her résumé all fixed up, she started flooding local stores with it, starting with all of the local grocers — as Stevenson’s had been — and then broadening her search to related retail outlets.
And then unrelated.
Then non-retail positions.
She would work in shifts, spending an hour prowling through postings, then spending five minutes making sure her files were in order, then another two hours applying. The act of uploading a résumé to a site that promised to read all it could from it, then required her to fill in all that information again in form fields became rote, numbing.
There were a few calls back, but more often than not, the response was silence. It was starting to feel futile. It was starting to feel like hollering into the void. She would click submit on yet another application, and it would just…go away. It would go nowhere.
She had set herself a week to exhaust all of the usual application channels. On the third or fourth day, she started driving around to stores and dropping off paper copies of her applications as well.
It was on one of those outings towards the end of her timeboxed week that she first noticed the ride share sticker in someone’s window.
(Honeymoon phase with driving and odd jobs) “Winter? For Malina?”
“Yep, that’s me,” the lynx replied cheerfully.
“Great!” The badger hauled a few sacks of groceries into the back seat and slid in after them. “Thanks so much for the ride. Car’s in the shop and all.”
“Oh, no worries.” Winter waited for Malina to get herself buckled in before tapping at the GetThere app on her phone to set the satnav to navigate to the badger’s destination. “Hopefully nothing expensive?”
Malina laughed. “Shouldn’t be. One of those warranty things. A part recall or something. I’m out a car for a day or two, but at least I don’t have to pay for it.”
“No loaner, then? Do they even still do that?”
“I’m not sure, honestly. They might. But either way, I’m within walking distance from work, so I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.” With a wry smile, she added, “I just wasn’t counting on having to do a grocery run for work. Starts getting cold out, and we start mowing through milk.”
Winter slid the car back into traffic — mercifully light today — and started down the road back toward 13th. “Fair enough. Where do you work, that you go through milk so fast?”
“A coffee shop. The Book and the Bean, on the plaza. There’s a few shops within walking distance that sell dairy, but none of them sell the more exotic milks, so I have to head further out. Easy enough to walk there, but I’m not hauling all of this back.”
“Oh, yeah! I know the one. My wife’s restaurant is just down the block.” She grinned. “I doubt those bags are light, though, yeah.”
Malina laughed and shook her head. “Not at all.”
There were a few moments of silence as Winter negotiated a left turn and the badger in the back seat thumbed through her phone.
“How about you?” came a distracted voice from the back. “Is this your full-time thing? Driving?”
Winter shook her head. “Not exactly. I just started not too long ago doing this and random gigs on Simpletask. Wasn’t really my first choice, but it’s turning out to be way more fun than I thought it would be.”
“Oh yeah? What about it do you like? Setting your own hours?”
“I try to work pretty standard hours, though for me that means working morning rush hour driving, doing some tasks, driving during lunch, more tasks, and then evening rush hour.” Winter thought for a moment, then continued, “No, I think the thing I like about it is that it gets me a lot of the best things I liked about retail without the standing all day or dragging boxes around.”
In the rear-view mirror, Malina nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense. Just the meeting people sort of thing?”
“Mmhm. Meeting people, being helpful. People are generally kinder here than they are in stores, too. Most folks are grateful for the rides, and those that aren’t having a good day are usually pretty quiet. I don’t get many people hollering at me.”
Malina laughed. “Oh, I know that one. I used to work in finance, but got sick of it. I figured moving to where I saw people instead of numbers would be easier on the soul. I was mostly right.”
“Yeah. A lot of people are grateful for coffee, but like you said, those who aren’t tend to holler.”
Winter took her turn to laugh. “Yep, that’s the type. I guess that’s what I mean, though. I got good at the sort of happy retail mask that one puts on around them, but I haven’t needed it here.”
As expected, the drive was a short one. Once they made it to the loading zone at the end of the 13th Street Plaza, Winter helped Malina unload the bags of milk and other sundries from the back of her car.
“Thanks again, Winter,” the badger said, loading herself up once again. “Stop in any time.”
The lynx nodded and waved before hopping back in her car and turning off the hazard lights.
While the biggest benefit to this new form of employment was the free-form nature of it, that very benefit worked against it. It was up to Winter to schedule her day around the best times for driving, and the best times for working on projects on Simpletask.
However, when Sawtoothians needed rides was unsteady. Sure, there were times when rides were more likely: rush hour, some time over lunch, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. She started keeping track of sporting events, concerts, and conferences.
Some days, Winter would be flooded with rides, and the lynx would dart all over town, picking up passengers of all stripes and driving them to some concert venue or the UI-Sawtooth campus stadium.
And some days, she would be stuck on her laptop at The Book and the Bean — Malina having convinced her to become a regular — waiting for either a ride to crop up or a task she was qualified for. Warm days were usually slow, as folks would be more willing to walk or bike. Some days, she’d make seventy percent of the income for the week, and some days, she wouldn’t make a thing.
And then there were the customers.
Her experience of folks being grateful for rides held true, as did her experience of folks having a bad day generally simply being quiet. Those types were both easy enough to deal with, if not outright enjoyable. Over time, though, she began to see a wider variety.
Around Thanksgiving, she started making trips too and from the airport and bus station, and families getting off longer trips were rarely happy. She got snapped at more than once by upset fathers trying to wrangle children, and on one occasion, played therapist along with a coyote to a frightened weasel having a panic attack, in town to visit her family and have some complicated-sounding interaction with her ex-husband.
The worst of all were the drunk folks. When she first started driving folks home from bars, it felt good. She was doing a sort of service by keeping tipsy bar-hoppers or plastered sports fans off the road. The first time someone vomited in the back seat, however, her opinion of the task began to sour. It may be nice to keep drunks from driving, but cleaning vomit out of the foot-wells — thankfully, the dog had managed to miss the seat — was hardly a pleasant task.
Football games became a source of dread. She wasn’t even safe before they began, as she’d haul thoroughly pregamed fans from parties to stadium, groups of students hollering painfully loud, nigh unintelligible, whether from drink or simple in-jokey camaraderie.
The tasks from Simpletask, while a break from the enforced social interaction that was an integral part of driving, were riddled with their own problems. People generally expected that someone driving for GetThere knew what they were doing enough to leave them alone.
Not so with someone performing data entry from scanned documents or making brochures for events. She discovered a particular brand of cruelty that seemed unique to the role of small business owners, which they held in reserve for menial labor.
The lynx lost track of how many times she was called an idiot.
Still, she had to pay the bills, didn’t she?
(An argument over something big that happened while driving. Maybe someone said something gross to Winter?) Winter don’t know how long she sat in the car, forehead resting against the steering wheel, before there was a soft knock at the driver’s side window.
“Love?” Katrin’s voice was muffled from outside the car.
(Winter splits time between looking again and gigs)
(Two weeks after figuring things out, the lesbians are cute again (as if they ever weren’t))