Her car coughed twice and cut off. Out of gas. In the middle of nowhere. Again.
“Keep rolling,” Maven said. “Just keep rolling.” She willed the van to roll on, though it went slower and slower until she pulled off the road into the strip mall parking lot.
Silence surrounded her. Six store fronts, most boarded up and with peeling paint, faced the parking lot. Even the homeless avoided this place—too remote for walking, no dumpster for diving, no passersby for panhandling, no local owner who might pay for a torch job. Kudzu vine embraced the building like a tattered grey shawl, waiting to take it home to its red clay roots. An abandoned car rusted just outside the kudzu's reach.
Bump of Direction itched again. Maven jumped as if someone tapped her shoulder. Urban legends about stranded women crept across her memory. She should just sit still, put on her flashers, and hope the cops came by before the battery went dead. She had no gas can, no cell phone, no way to contact anyone.
Maven warmed up to berate herself completely until she noticed a sign on one storefront. It was small, lavender, and lettered in silver script—FGM, Inc. She dug in her pocketbook to retrieve her notes. If Fate had brought her an interview in this derelict parking lot, it certainly possessed a wicked sense of humor.
The agency looked wrong, like an expensive skinny boutique or maybe a greasy thong bar. She hesitated, looking for signs of life before she faced the cold. No lights shone inside the building, but the temperature dropped in the van as the wind slithered between worn doors and windows.
Might as well meet trouble head on. She patted her hair and licked her lips, but skipped the mirror check, once a day being once too often. She chanted the mantra of her youth. “I think I can.” She slid her feet back into her low heel pumps and carefully stepped from the van, avoiding the broken spring. Smoothing her skirt over her hips, she pretended her shark-gray suit made her look professional and a bit slimmer.
A sudden gust swirled paint flakes and dried leaves around her. Even the weeds poking through the cracked pavement shivered, their dried stalks golden against the gray asphalt. Maven shuddered. Then she gritted her teeth, imagined she was six feet tall and bulletproof, and strode toward the door.
She stared at the sign, her hand on the doorknob. Below the logo was the inscription. “We make wishes come true.”
A real job, her own home, her own place in the world instead of scrounging under the banquet table of life waiting for the scraps to fall—it hurt her pride to think of such a wish. She swallowed hard to clear her throat. “No wishes. No dreams. No lies.”
At least it'd be warm inside, and they'd have a phone. She opened the door.
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