Saturday, April 30, 2011

Part Eleven: In which "Anne shows up", because that got unanimous votes!

Melissa and Katie started towards the elevators, when Natasha the intern stopped them. "Katie? There's ah...someone in the lobby to see you."

"What? Who is it?'

"They didn't say."

Katie's heart stopped, for just as second.

"Maybe it's a cute guy!" Melissa's voice was happy, silly. "Or that Publisher's Clearing House guy!"

"I don't think so," Katie said, her eyes on Natasha's face. Natasha wouldn't look her in the eye. "Do they want me to come down there?"

"I think you should go, yeah." Natasha's voice was quiet.

"Okay..." Something about this felt wrong. Off.  Katie headed towards the elevator, Melissa close behind her. Katie appreciated her friend's support. Unlike Melissa, she had a pretty strong feeling that she knew who she would find down there in the lobby.

The elevator ride took forever. Would they make it in time? Katie knew how she operated -- she was scattered, skittish, and Katie worried that maybe it was too late, that maybe she'd've left by now.

And then the elevator doors slid open, and Katie saw her sister, Anne, for the first time since Christmas.

Anne was sitting on the big, brown leather couches in the lobby, beside the giant glass windows. She was sipping a coffee from a paper cup Katie knew came from the dispenser by the front security desk. She was staring out the giant windows, and hadn't seen her sister, who was standing only twenty feet away.

"Isn't that..." Melissa started, her voice soft, no longer giggly-girly.

"Yep." Katie started towards her sister, when Marco, the security guard, walked towards her. Shit. That was all she needed -- for Anne to see her talking to security. She'd bolt for sure, now. Katie ignored him and started towards her sister; out of the corner of her eye she saw Melissa head Marco off. Thank God for intuitive friends, thought Katie, and she tried to put bounce in her step and light in her eyes. She tried to feel positive. Anne was here. Anne was here. This was something good.

"Hey, Anne!" Katie's voice was loud, echoey in this giant glass lobby. Anne looked up, her eyes a bit hazey. Her hair was longer than Katie had ever seen it, a bit scraggly, pulled into a pony tail. It looked washed, though Katie could see her sister's grey hairs clearly. This snagged at her heart, a bit. The old Anne would never let anyone see grey hair. Her face was starting to get that tanned, tough look that people get when they spend long stretches of time outside, farmers or road crew workers, or the homeless. She was wearing jeans, ratty around the hems, a soft, baggy, red-striped cotton cardigan, and a plain grey tshirt. Her feet were in a pair of cheap white sneakers, nondescript, scuffed up, with knotted laces. All in all she looked pretty good. She looked okay. It was the sneakers, and the greying hair, that gave it away.

"Hey, Katie," her sister said, smiling wide. "Have a seat!" She gestured at the couch across from her.

Katie hesitated. "What's up, Anne? How've you been?"

"I'm doing good. I'm doing well."

"You look good." Katie looked closely at her sister's face. Was she drunk? She couldn't tell. Maybe? She slid slowly on the couch across from her sister. "Where're you living now?"

"Oh, here and there. You know." Anne waved her hand around the lobby, sloshing coffee onto her jeans, onto the floor. "So this is pretty fancy, Katie. Pretty impressive." She raised her cup of coffee at her sister in a toast. "Remember when I worked down here? Just down the street, at Faber-Collinge? You used to come down and meet me for lunch. You were working at that terrible gallery in Kensington, and you'd show up in your stupid overalls and peasant blouses. You swore you'd never sell out. You lectured me on being the man. And now...." she lay back on the couch, and Katie grabbed the coffee out of her sister's hand before she dropped it, " you're the man."

Katie knew her sister was drunk. And she knew that Marco would be over here any minute to get rid of her. "Anne. Annie. What are you doing here?" Katie leaned in towards her sister, whose eyes were closed, whose breathing was deeper, louder.

"I didn't know you'd be here." Her voice was low, sleepy.  "It's a Saturday. I was just going to leave a note. But you're at work on a Saturday." Her eyes snapped open, suddenly no longer tired. "You, working on a Saturday! Instead of sleeping, or shopping, or painting. It's a fucking miracle!" Her voice was loud, louder. Marco was coming towards them; Melissa tried but she couldn't keep him away.

"Ma'am, I told you before," he started, and Katie stood up, blocked his way.

"Marco, I'm sorry. She's my sister. I'll get her out."

"You'd better. She came in here ranting about how she used to work here, she wanted to leave you a message, but didn't know the name of the company, your title, nothing. She stole my pen, Katie. And she tried to get up the elevators. I managed to settle her down but she has to go. I would have called the police but since you were upstairs ... She's just lucky you guys had that workshop today." Marco's voice was quiet, but his arms were crossed. He was looking at Katie as though this were her fault.

"I'm sorry, Marco. I'll get your pen back." Katie tried not to roll her eyes at Melissa, who was standing behind Marco. She was holding rabbit ears over his head, like a little kid in a class photo. Katie felt such a rush of love for her friend.

She turned back towards Anne, who was standing up, her hands in her pockets. She was so thin. Katie had always been the skinny one, and now ...."Look, Anne, I have to get back upstairs. Do you want to come by on Monday? Around noon? We could grab lunch, or something."

"Yeah, okay, I get it." Her voice was hard, and she pointed at Marco. "If he weren't such an asshole..."

Katie took a step towards her sister. "Anne, where are you living? Can I call you? I'd like to be able to get in touch with you. To plan our Monday lunch." To tell you about your family. To tell you about your son. To tell you about me. I need my big sister, Annie. I need her. Where have you taken her? Where has she gone?

Anne shook her head quickly. "I said. I'm around. I'm good." She moved towards the door, and Katie followed. There would be no lunch on Monday.

"See you sometime, kid," Anne waved at her sister. Katie noticed both her sister's wedding ring and her engagement ring, the one that had belonged to Jason's great-grandmother, were missing. Katie waved back, and then Anne was gone.

Katie slumped against the door, her back to the outside. She felt her throat get thick, heavy. She knew she would cry. She hoped she would cry. Melissa came towards her, her arms out, and Katie folded into them. "That was horrible, Melissa."

"It looked horrible. And she's right -- Marco is an asshole." Melissa's voice was quiet, a whisper, but Katie laughed loudly, and it echoed through the lobby.

After a while, Katie said, "We're really late for the workshop, aren't we?"

"Yeah, I guess we'd better get up there," said Melissa, but on their way to the elevator Marco stopped them.

"She left you a note, Katie." He held out a piece of paper; it was letterhead for the building. Thick, creamy paper embossed with The Richardson Building in elegant burgundy script. Katie opened the note, and saw a message written across it in a scrawling version of her sister's usually neat handwriting:  You were going to be fantastic.

"What's that mean?" asked Melissa.

"I don't know," said Katie, but she did. She totally did.


Return to the improv workshop
Skip ahead in time, when Melissa and Katie meet up with some friends for dinner.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Part Ten: In which "The Improfessionals" humiliate a shy, nervous girl. Or do they?

"Okay!" said James. "On your feet, everyone! We're going to get started." Katie stood reluctantly, and looked at the floor. This was so not her type of thing. "Okay, everyone, we need a volunteer! A brave soul who's ready to dive right in and make magic!"

Luis began pacing in front of them, staring into their faces. Katie looked down, knowing that eye contact would be the death of her. "No one wants to volunteer?" James shook his head. "This is terrible!" His voice was loud, comical. "I guess we'll just have to go with...."

Not me, not me, not me.... Katie knew it would be her. She just knew it. These things always happened to her and she .... "This lovely girl!" Katie heard Luis' voice coming from across the room. What? It wasn't Katie? "And your name is....?"

She looked up and saw Erica. Poor, sweet, Erica standing, trembling, in the front of the semi-circle. Her eyes looked bright and wet. She was literally shaking in her wolf sweatshirt. (The wolf, set on a dark blue background, was pictured on a rock, and was braying at a full moon. It was as though he was sending a distress call about Erica's plight.) "Erica..." Erica said, quietly, resigned.

"I'm gonna have to get in there...." Katie muttered to Melissa, at the same time as Melissa muttered back, "You're gonna have to get in there...." The far-reaching responsibility of being someone's supervisor weighed heavy on them both.

"So." James addressed the group.  "How often have you had someone turn down an idea that you've brought to a meeting or a planning session without even considering it? I mean, I bet lots of you have lots of good ideas, and your managers or bosses just dismiss them without even considering them. Am I right?" James' arms were crossed across his skinny, vegan chest, his pale legs open in a "power stance". "Well, in improv, our first rule is that we never say no! To anything! We agree with whatever our friends bring to the table!"

Katie wondered if James had ever worked in an office. She figured that he hadn't. If he had, he'd know that people often had terrible ideas at work. If she agreed to all of them, Katie's department would have its own "best places to nap" wiki. Not that she objected to such a wiki. But Katherine had to. And recently, Melissa's department was trying to get Katie's department to compete in a pedometer contest, which Katie, Paul and Mike were actively trying to shut down. Imagine if they said yes? They'd all have to take the stairs just to win free salads for a week! Never.

"So the first game we're going to play is called Yes, And." Luis stepped forward and stood next to Erica.  "So, Erica, here's what we'll do. I will say something, you'll agree to it, as well as build on it with another suggestion. Here it goes." He looked brightly at Erica, whose face was festooned with a wide, false smile. Oh, dear. Katie knew that face. It was the face she made whenever Katie asked her to do something out of her comfort zone. Which was pretty much anything.

"Hi, Erica!" Luis' voice was suddenly loud, and enunciatey. Katie realized he was now Acting. "Let's go for a walk."

Erica's smile widened, tightened. She was silent. Katie felt her heart constrict. Yes, and. Yes, and. Yes, and. Katie prompted silently.

"Yes, and..." Erica squeezed her eyes shut. "...and let's take our dogs." She expelled an enormous breath. It was as though she had just given birth.

"Yes! And let's go to the park." Luis began strolling, his arm through Erica's. No! Don't touch her! She hates to be touched! thought Katie. This is it. Erica will fall apart. Right? 

Katie watched anxiously at the unavoidable breakdown. "Yes, and let's get ice cream cones." Erica stopped walking, and closed her eyes. Katie held her breath, and began to step forward. This was it. She would step in and save her now.

But then something happened. With her eyes still closed, Erica began miming like she was eating an ice cream cone. "Yum! Strawberry," she giggled (she giggled!?). Luis giggled back.

"Yes, and let's see aliens coming towards us!" He looked up and pointed at the ceiling. Reflexively the entire office looked up but all they saw were water stains on the ceiling panels. Clearly, though, Erica, her eyes now open, wide and staring, saw something else.

"Yes! They're coming!" She screeched, mimed dropping her ice cream, and pulled on her dog leash. "Come on, Rex! We've got to get out of here!" She fled to the other side of the circle, and crouched down. "Luis! Over here! Under this park bench!" she hissed over at her scene partner.

Luis looked a bit taken aback, but shrugged, grinned at the assembled audience in a "what're you gonna do?" kind of way and ran over towards her. "Yes, and here is my laser gun!" Luis held up his hand in a gun shape.

Erica, now lying on her stomach in a commando pose, seemed to have weaponry of her own. "Take that, aliens!" And then she was rat-ta-tat-tatting like a gangster, gunning down the aliens, all the while holding tight onto her imaginary dog leash.

"What is going on?" Katie, her anxiety long since morphed into a frantic sort of laughter, clutched at Melissa's arm.

"I don't know!" Melissa sounded like she was choking down laughter as well. Across the semi-circle, Paul and Mike were shooting looks of horrified surprise at Katie, who found herself mimicking Luis' "what're you gonna do?" shrug.

"...and Scene!" James, rushing into the centre of the circle, shut the scene down. Luis and Erica stopped shooting their laser guns and climbed to their feet. "Let's hear it for our brave volunteer, Erica, who showed us just what can happen when we accept even the most preposterous ideas!" Erica was suddenly bright red; she hung her head forward and her hair covered her face, but Katie could see that the girl couldn't stop grinning.

"Thank you Erica!" Luis and James began clapping, and Erica's coworkers followed suit. Mike wolf-whistled at her, which Katie hoped the wolf on the sweatshirt appreciated.

"Did you see that? Can you believe what just happened?" Melissa whispered to her friend.

"No, I really can't." Katie whispered back. It had been remarkable. Like watching someone break open and a whole new person stepped out. Like there had been a whole other person inside Erica just waiting to be set free. Did Erica know that person was even there?

(Katie had moved back to Toronto from Vancouver because of Bobby. Because she hadn't loved him. But more than that. Bobby wanted a wife, Bobby wanted someone who wanted what he wanted and Katie didn't know what she wanted but she knew she didn't want dinner parties, she didn't want weekend visits at his parents' place, she didn't want a shared email address, she didn't want to wear his grandmother's engagement ring, he'd loved her so much, he'd've done anything for her and she'd walked away.

She had come back to Toronto because this was where she'd been an artist, this was where she'd made her best pieces, where she'd made all those collages, where she'd been in some group shows. And so she wallowed for those Terrible Four Months, but she had woken up, eventually,  and so she bought that house, with the basement, because that was going to be her studio, she was going to work part time and make art in the basement.  She'd had a show set up within months of arriving back in the city, but the basement started to leak, almost to flood, that spring, and her new job was so much more demanding than she'd imagined, and she was distracted by television and there were always dishes to do and the art never got made and she lost the show, and that was that. That was this. This was that.

This was her life. What?)

"Yes, and...Katie?" Melissa was poking her in the ribs. "Katie? Yes and?"

"And what?"

"Are you paying attention at all?" Melissa's eyes showed real concern. "Katie? We're supposed to be playing this stupid game."

"Oh." Katie looked around the room, at her coworkers who were standing in partners, "Yes And-ing" their hearts out. "Sure. Sorry."

"Okay?" Melissa didn't seem ready to drop this.

"Okay, yes. Yes and!" Katie forced a smile. "Yes and...let's get a drink after this!"

"Yes, and we can decide on my wedding attitude for next weekend!"

Katie laughed, and played along. This stupid game. Yes, and. And here she'd always thought it was enough just to agree to things. Now to realize she had to come up with the next was exhausting.

Two hours later they'd mastered "Yes And", progressed onto Copying the Silly Walk and Conveying an Idea Without Language.

"So, miming?" Paul had asked when that particular skill was introduced.

"No. We don't teach mime. This is different." James had said, but five minutes in, after Luis had shown them how to use only their bodies to demonstrate baking a cake, Paul had asked again. "So, this is miming?" Katie knew his voice, and knew he was being just a bit of a dick. He probably thought James was cute.

"No, this isn't miming, this is silent expression," James stressed, and Luis, quietly, murmured to Paul, "Back off, man. We're not licensed to teach mime."

After that they'd progressed to trust falls, during which a lot of people got dropped.

"Okay!" James was helping Judith the office manager off the floor. Katie wasn't surprised Judith had ended up on the floor. No one trusted her, either. "So we'll take about a twenty-minute break, and when we get back to it, we'll learn about how to make the most of your emotions."

"Learn to make the most of our emotions?" Melissa snorted. "Obviously that man was never a teenaged girl."

Katie slipped her hand through her friend's. "Want to hide in the washroom on 3rd?" All this sharing with her coworkers was getting to be a bit much. Katie just wanted to disappear for a while.

"Sure," Melissa and Katie started towards the elevators, when Natasha the intern stopped them. "Katie? There's ah...someone in the lobby to see you."

"What? Who is it?'

"They didn't say."

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE TIME: Is it Katie's long-lost sister Anne or her eccentric, well-traveled Aunt Angela? OR maybe it's Bobby, the boyfriend she left behind in Vancouver?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part Nine: In which the author appeases you all.

"Hello! I believe you have my phone," said a familiar Irish voice, and Katie's heart did a little jump. Eoin. The art project! This was exactly what she needed.

Katie was about to speak, about to announce herself, and beg him to let her find him, let her in on his project. But suddenly, she froze. She knew how she'd like this to happen. She would like to say, "Oh, hi, Eoin, this is Katie. How's the project going? I've been thinking about it a lot!"

And then she'd like him to respond with, "Oh, hi Katie! How nice to hear your voice, everything is going well, why don't you pop by the studio and help me with it." But she knew he might not say that at all. She knew that he might say, "Who? What? I have never heard of you. I have no idea what you're going on about, I have never spoken to a Katie," and the thought that Option A might not happen, and she would likely end up with Option B made her tongue thick, her throat dry. She couldn't deal with his rejection. She couldn't handle not mattering.

"Hello? Do you speak English? Habla espanol? Parlez-vous francais?" Oh, man. Now she really did want to meet him. He spoke three languages. (Four if you counted Irish slang, which she was sure he undoubtedly knew.)

"Uh--" Katie made her voice low, slightly guttural. "I'm here." She added a bit of a southern accent, and imagined she sounded like a butchy lesbian from South Carolina, or someplace.

"Terrific!" Eoin was so enthusiastic. "And you do speak English, right? You sound like you do....Do I detect a bit of an accent?"

"Yes, ma'am." Oh, damn. She'd just called him ma'am. It was instinct -- she'd learned her southern drawl watching Westerns with her Aunt Angela on Sunday afternoons. John Wayne always said Ma'am.

"Err, okay," Eoin was being polite and not mentioning it. "What's your name?" Name, name, name.....Katie looked wildly around the bathroom for clues. The brand on the toilet paper dispenser was Kimberly Clark.

"I"m Kimberly Clark!"

"Hello, Kimberly. I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Eoin, and I am an artist. I have been working on a project in which I have set this phone free -- it has been traveling around the city for about a week now, and every so often I call it, someone answers it, like yourself, and then I have that person tell me wherever they are, and I am creating a map with the data about it's adventures. After we talk I'd like you to deposit the phone somewhere interesting, and then I'll call it again in about twelve hours and I'll see where it's ended up!"

"Okay," drawled Katie, trying to say as little as possible.

"So where are you now?"

"I'm in the restroom at Eggstacy. I found the phone in the trash can." She was pleased with herself for remembering that Americans say "restroom" instead of "bathroom", and "trash can" instead of "garbage". The little details were always so important in situations like this.

"Oh, how cool!" exclaimed Eoin. "Now, if you could just take a photo of yourself, text it to ..." Eoin kept talking but Katie felt her heart sink. She'd forgotten about the photograph. What could she do? She couldn't just take her photo. What would he say? "Oh, Kimberly, good news! It turns out you have a long-lost twin named Katie! She lives in Toronto, too!" Katie thought about marching out to the dining room and asking Melissa to pose for the photo, but how to explain this situation to Nick and Melissa? Melissa would probably understand, but Nick? What if he gossiped?

"Um, Kimberly?" Eoin's voice was kind. "If you don't want to take the photo, that's okay. I can just..." Katie was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at herself, the phone held tightly to her ear. What was she doing? Standing in the bathroom, pretending she was a John-Wayne style lesbian named after a toilet paper dispenser? Lying to this man she'd never met because she was afraid he wouldn't remember her? Was she that dependent on other peoples' validation of her? What did it matter if he knew her or not?

"Eoin," Katie reverted back to her normal voice. "It's, uh. This is awkward. My name is Katie, and I answered your phone a few days ago. And then I found it again in the garbage can today."

"I'm confused," Eoin said.

You and me both, thought Katie.

"I remember you call," said Eoin. "You were in a taxi cab."

"Yes, that was me!"

"Why pretend you were someone else?"

"I don't know. I just ... did." She couldn't explain it to him. It wouldn't make any sense to him. It barely made any sense to her.

"Okay, well. You're telling me the truth now. Right? You're not really some teenaged boy named Dave who's been putting me on this whole time, are you?"

Katie laughed. "No, no, I'm really Katie. Here, I'll send you the photo as proof."

"Good, Katie. I like your photos." Katie blushed a bit, and took a photo of herself, hoping she looked serene and cool, not frantic and panicked, which is how she was feeling.

"Thanks," said Eoin when he got it, but didn't mention her smile this time.

"Well, Katie, you know what to do."

"Yup." Katie took a deep breath. "And thanks for not thinking I'm a freak for making up an identity," she said, and she heard Eoin laugh a little.

"Listen, I'm a professional artist. I meet way freakier people on a daily basis in this business."

"You've got a point." Katie wanted to keep talking with him. She wanted to ask him more questions about his work, about living as a professional artist. Was it really living in a basement apartment and eating Kraft Dinner every night like her parents had warned, keeping rats as pets and working night shifts on the hospital mental ward to pay the bills? But Katie knew that Melissa and Nick were waiting, and the improv classes were starting imminently. "Well, good luck with the project, Eoin."

"Thanks for your help again, Katie. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"Okay," said Katie, and the hung up. She wondered if they really would talk again. She hoped so.

Thirty minutes later (after dropping the phone off in a free newspaper box) Katie, Nick, and Melissa were seated in a semi-circle, on the floor, legs crossed, with twenty other members of staff.

Katie waved at Erica, who was sitting in between Mike and Paul, the Secret Lovers. In front of the semi-circle were two tall, gangly men in their twenties, and both were really enthusiastic.

"Hi there!" One of the men, wearing loose-fitting cargo shorts and a pair of flip flops, stood up and began pacing in front of them, his flip flops flapping as he moved. Just looking at his bare, pale feet made Katie shiver. "My name is James! I'm 27, and I spent the past three years in South Korea teaching English to children. I love dancing, cooking spicy foods with my girlfriend, and travel. Oh!" He laughed, and smacked himself on the head playfully. "And I love improv!"

"Sweet Jesus," Melissa muttered beside Katie.

"And I'm Luis." He got up and stood next to his friend. He was wearing a pair of sensible sneakers, jeans, and an American Apparel cardigan. Much more respectable than his counterpart. Also much cuter. "I have spent the past four years studying the art form intensely. I am a graduate of both the Second City Improv Intensive program here in Toronto, as well as the Annoyance in Chicago. I am originally from El Salvador, but my family moved here when I was twelve to escape the tyranny of the El Salvadorean government. I believe in the power of theatre to change lives. That is why I am here."

"Marginally less obnoxious," Katie muttered to Melissa, who whispered back, "You only say that because you like his dress sense."

"Okay!" said James. "On your feet, everyone! We're going to get started." Katie stood reluctantly, and looked at the floor. This was so not her type of thing. "Okay, everyone, we need a volunteer! A brave soul who is ready to dive right in and make magic!"

Luis began pacing in front of them, staring into their faces. Katie looked down, knowing that eye contact would be the death of her. "No one wants to volunteer?" James shook his head. "This is terrible!" His voice was loud, comical. "I guess we'll just have to go with...."

Choose your own adventure time! Does James pick cynical, reluctant Katie? Or does James pick poor, timid Erica?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Part Eight: She ditches the boss and tracks down the cute guy....

"Important message?" Don Juan asked. Katie jumped a little. She'd forgotten about him. "From the look on your face I'd say it's good news?"

"Oh." Katie felt like she was blushing. "It's .... " she couldn't get off the street car. She had this opportunity to schmooze with the boss. She knew how these things worked -- it wasn't what you knew, it was who you knew, and who knew you. She knew that if she wanted to get the sorts of opportunities to get ahead, (did she want those opportunities? truly?), to get her designs really seen, to get her art taken seriously by the company, she knew she had to get in tight with the boss. And this was the perfect chance.

Her phone beeped again. She glanced down. This time it was a text from Nick. Are you coming? M has already ordered yr latte....

"Katherine?" Katie looked up. Don Juan was looking at her expectantly. "Is everything alright?"

Katie knew that Katherine would stay on the streetcar and schmooze with her boss, but Katie wasn't ready for that. Katie had a breakfast to eat, a boy to flirt with, and an Improv seminar to be late for.

"Yes, fine, everything's fine. Those texts are just ... my mother. Reminding me that I have to pick up her dry cleaning, actually, and the shop is just up ahead here. So I'm afraid I'm going to have to squish past you...." Katie stood up and grimaced as her boss scrunched himself up into a tiny, awkward hunch to let her past. "Thank you, sir."

"Oh, no trouble, Katherine. I'm just sorry we won't have a chance to chat."

"Another day?" Katie smiled broadly. "I'll see you at the seminar," she added, and Don Juan laughed.

"Oh, no, I don't attend those things. I'm just headed into the office to get some paperwork done."

"Ah." Katie was a bit disappointed, actually. She would have liked to see the company's founding father attempting mime or doing trust falls, or something equally inane. "Well, here's my stop!"

She practically ran off the streetcar, texting madly as she went. I'm coming! Get me a brkfst muffin!

The breakfast place was where Katie and Melissa often met up before work. It was about two blocks from the office, and just sketchy enough that no upper management would ever show up there. It was run by some hippy-types, and everything smelled and tasted vaguely of patchouli and earnestness. And yet the coffee (fair trade, roasted on premises) was really tasty, and if you could get beyond the tie-dyed table cloths and the Gandhi slogans on the take out cups (instead of Please Recycle the paper cups read Action Expresses Priorities, with a cartoon of Gandhi next to a blue box), it wasn't a bad place. And the eggs were free run, which Katie approved of. Katie knew about the eggs, because beside the cash register was a donation box instead of a tip jar which read, "All proceeds go to purchasing chicken wire to expand the chickens' pen." Katie had laughed the first time she'd seen this, but the dread-locked girl behind the counter had crossed her silver-cuff-laden arms and declared, "There is nothing funny about freedom."

Katie found Melissa and Nick sitting at a small table at the back. They were both drinking from take-out cups, and there was a latte and muffin waiting for Katie. "Hey guys," she said, sliding into the vacant chair. She felt suddenly awkward. Nick and Melissa had worked at the agency for a couple of years, so knew one another fairly well. Katie was suddenly the odd one out. (Suddenly? Wasn't she always?)

"Hey Katie," Nick's voice was thick, deep. Dark. Oh, man. This crush, germinated in the odd greeting in the elevator and a few company-wide lunches, was certainly in full bloom this morning.

"Eat up. We've got about ten minutes until we have to get to that workshop," Melissa said.

"Is that all?" Katie sighed. She picked at her muffin. "I really do not want to do this. We could go to a gallery, or down to the waterfront, or anything but this."

"You're not looking forward to improv?" Nick asked.

Katie rolled her eyes. "Oh, of course I am. I think it'll be amazing. In fact, I want nothing more than to play theatre games with my coworkers."

"Me too!" Nick exclaimed, seemingly missing Katie's voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Really?" Melissa took a thoughtful bite of her muffin. "I never would have pegged you as a theatre nerd. Katie on the other hand...."

"I'm not a theatre nerd." Katie and Nick said it in unison, and he hit her playfully in the arm and said, looking out from under heavy dark lashes, "You owe me a beer," which nearly made her underwear fall off. Only nearly, however, because she was still a bit put off by his apparent enthusiasm for improvisational theatre as a business training aid. As far as Katie was concerned, theatre should stay where it was meant to be. Like in theatres, or on the sidewalk in Amsterdam. Or anywhere, for that matter, that didn't require shy, anxious girls to participate.

"I just like the idea of challenging ourselves in the workplace. You know, looking for new ways to engage with one another, and our clients, in meaningful ways." Nick's eyes were bright.

"You mean that?" Katie asked.

"Absolutely," Nick nodded his head vigorously. "In today's difficult market, it really only makes sense to try creative ways to approach the business model. Thinking outside the box, you know?"

Oh, no. Katie felt her underwear adhering firmly to her body. She couldn't be into a guy who talked about "thinking outside the box". She just couldn't.

"Yes, that is how I've asked my staff to look at today. It's certainly outside my comfort zone, as well, but I know that in order to make the most out of today I am challenging my staff to..."

Katie took a savage bite of her muffin while Melissa droned on. This was a side of her best friend that was at times both fascinating and repellent to Katie. Melissa loved to talk shop. And once she got started...Now both of them were off, talking about how improv comedy would save the company. Katie got up and went towards the bathroom, glancing over her shoulder at the beautiful man with the deep, strong voice, which was now waxing poetic about the value of Toastmasters.

Katie shut herself in the tiny bathroom of the coffee shop, and stared at herself in the mirror. Her hair was in a loose, messy pony tail, and her pale pink cardigan sweater (from the bargain rack at Club Monaco) had a coffee stain on the front. Her jeans were too loose. Her eyes were tired. When she'd left her house that morning, she hadn't thought she looked quite this bad.

Katie did not look like a professional. She looked like she didn't care.

Suddenly, the opening bars to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" was playing, only it was slightly muffled. "What the--?" Katie realized it was a ring tone. There was a phone in here.

Katie glanced around the small room, and deduced the sound was coming from the garbage can. She pushed up her sleeves and plunged her small hands into the debris. She remembered the fun the last time she found a phone, and Katie needed some fun in her life.

At last! She felt her fingers closing around a small hard thing she could only hope was the phone. She pulled it out, and gingerly held it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Hello! I believe you have my phone," said a familiar Irish voice, and Katie's heart did a little jump. Eoin. The art project! This was exactly what she needed.

Choose your own adventure time: Does Katie tell Eoin who she is, or does she keep her identity a secret?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Part Seven: She goes to work for a team-building exercise

"But she can't help herself. She needs us. She needs me." Katie took a few steps towards her mother. "Can't you see that?"

"What I see is that you are delusional about yet another aspect of your life, dear. Please just let this one go."

"I can't."

"Fine." They stared at one another for a long while. Finally, her mother smiled this bright, wide smile. "Shall I wrap up the leftover chicken for you to take home?"


Sunlight came crashing into Katie's bedroom far earlier than anyone should experience on a Saturday morning. She'd forgotten to close the curtains the night before, and the sun was so bright it blazed a trail through the room and landed right in her eyes.

"Man...." Katie pulled her red-and-white-checked duvet up over her head (she'd bought the duvet online, thinking in the photo it looked fun, cheerful, like the table cloth at a picnic or an Italian bistro. The trouble was that when it arrived in the mail and she spread it out over her Queen sized bed, she realized that it looked like the table cloth at a picnic or an Italian bistro -- cheerful? Certainly. But also absurd) and burrowed deeper into her pillows (they also had matching pillow cases that she'd bought on the website, as well. These were plain red, thank goodness. If she'd opted for the checked version she was pretty sure she'd have gone crazy by now, driven mad by her picnic-themed bedding).

And then the alarm went off. This was also an unusual event for a Saturday, but Katie knew for her that this wasn't really Saturday. This was Improv Day.

Apparently, once a year the advertising firm organized some sort of team-building exercise. One year it was First Aid (actually useful, with real-world applications), one year it was a canoe trip (complete with an after-canoe beach bonfire with catered snacks), and one year it was Make Your Own Wine (though it was over three years ago, they were still trotting out bottles of Grape Works of Art--from the Graphics team--and Nectar of the Gods--upper management's contribution--at staff parties). Katie liked the sound of all of those.

What she didn't like was the sound of Improv.

She'd only been with the company for a short while when she got the memo. It had come in an email, and she'd actually thought it was one of her team playing a joke on her. Sort of like a hazing ritual.

Never say no! Listen to your colleagues! No idea is a bad idea! Respect the process! Trust in others! No one left behind!

These are the rules of Improv acting. Why aren't they the rules of your daily life at work? We're going to spend a few hours together learning the basics of Improv and discover how to apply the theories of this ancient art form to our jobs. This innovative workshop will be led by qualified Improv instructors from Improfessionals. Lunch will follow.

Katie had stared at the email. Ancient art form? Improv professionals? Katie had seen a few episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway. She knew that this email had to be a joke.

But here she was, mere months later, waking up at 7am on a Saturday to attend a four-hour Improv class with her colleagues. As if her life couldn't get any more enviable.

A quick shower, then a trip down her basement stairs to check out the leaks (her nickname for her basement was Sieve) and to rotate the dehumidifier so that it faced the biggest puddle. She put on a load of laundry, grabbed a couple of granola bars, and was out the door before she could change her mind and crawl back into her cozy bed.

She was settled on the street car when her phone beeped. It was a text from her mother. KT. I am srrie u left inn such a her-ee. I get upset abut yer sister. luv mum (Katie's mother had not yet mastered the art of texting shorthand).

Katie sighed. She was sorry, too. Anne was such a touchy subject for all of them. Her father wouldn't even acknowledge Jason or Jonah. It was as though he was trying to pretend none of it had ever happened. It's okay. Don't worry. We'll figure this out. Katie texted back (using full words to show her mother that texting with real language was okay, too). I am going to work. We can talk later, she wrote another text, and then wondered, after she'd sent it, if they really would talk later. She didn't think it very likely.

"Katherine. Do you mind...?" Katie looked up and saw Don Juan standing beside her seat, gesturing as though he'd like to sit down. Damn! She wasn't ready! Katherine wasn't available yet -- Katie hadn't had any coffee. But what could she do?

"Sure!" she said, and pulled herself up into a less-slouchy position. Great. She had 30 minutes left to go before she got to the office. What the hell would they talk about for 30 minutes?

"I'm glad to have caught you," Don Juan said, as he slid into the seat. "I really haven't been able to spend any time with you since you started with us. This ride will give us a good chance to get to know one another." He gave her a wide, old-man-sexy smile. "For instance -- do you enjoy your work?"

"Err..." Katie felt trapped. Her back pushed against the seat and her feet were pressing hard into the floor, but the streetcar wouldn't give. She was trapped. She was about to answer something about the "challenges" of the work, when her phone beeped again. "Excuse me," she said to Don Juan, and glanced at her phone, expecting a message from her mother or maybe from her aunt Angela, who was in Spain on some sort of pilgrimage and was sending out mass emails every couple of days about the "inspiring landscape and kind-hearted Spaniards who'd made such peace with their Moorish ancestry" -- seriously, that was one of her email's subject lines.

But it wasn't her remorseful, overly-emotional mother or her determined, eccentric aunt. It was from Melissa. Am at Eggstacy for brkfst. and NICK is here. Come Now! We'll all go to wrkshp tgthr.

Nick. Nick Rossi was definitely the best-looking accountant that she'd ever seen. (Not that she'd seen many accountants, of course). She'd only ever spoken to him in the elevator, and she knew he wasn't into Melissa, because she'd asked him out and he'd said, no, that she was cool but no thanks. But he couldn't be gay or against dating in the office because he'd had a pretty serious romance with this woman who'd worked in accounting a few years ago. Or so he rumours went.  AND he'd once told Katie he thought she had pretty cool dress sense. And she was pretty sure he wasn't being sarcastic.

"Important message?" Don Juan asked. Katie jumped a little. She'd forgotten about him. "From the look on your face I'd say it's good news?"


Does Katie stay on the streetcar and schmooze with the boss
Does Katie make her excuses and get off the streetcar so she can meet up with Melissa and Nick?

You decide!