This was what she knew: this venture had to be a success. Out of nowhere, she knew that as surely as she lived and breathed. Her mother had not lived long enough to see what had become of the remnants of her old store, and Calisto questioned whether it ever would have fallen into such a state of disrepair had she been around to keep it afloat. Somehow, the idea of her mother's legacy crashing and burning hit her harder even then the knowledge that she was truly dead, never to return. She could only imagine the pain she would feel if she were to piss away her inheritance, the one thing her mother worked all her life for and left to her, on something that failed like seemingly everything else she had ever put her mind to in her lifetime.
Halfway through her walk back to the office, her melodramatic mood seemed to pass. It helped that it was a beautiful day outside, just breezy enough to keep the sun's rays from feeling lethal at midday. She decided that it would not be the end of the world if she and Monte failed. They could always try something else if this didn't work out. It seemed strange that she was already thinking of him as a partner on any future business endeavors she might have, but the idea of working with him, on anything, was appealing to her. Although at 31 he was four years older than her and had been through more life experiences (marriage and kids), he seemed to regard her as a peer, or at least recognize that he was just as much of a mess, even now, than she had ever been. The few older people she associated with over the years always seemed to cop a condescending attitude about life, a sort of "wait-til-you-see" mentality that registered to her as bitterness and resignation. Strangely, her mother had never been one of those people. Her attitude had been more along the lines of "Just hope and pray this doesn't happen to you." Which was what made her final advice so contradictory.
She floated through the remainder if her workday in a thoughtless daze and then met up with Monte at a small coffee bar nearby called Totally Wired. They had planned earlier to convene and check on each other's progress. He had finished work an hour earlier and was waiting at a table for her, a laptop on front of him, when she walked in.
"Aye, Calypso!" he called to her. He liked to pretend to mispronounce her name this way, and sometimes he liked to do it in this weird pseudo-preachery voice. She could tell it was an allusion to something but had no idea what, and wondered why he persisted in this little inside joke that she would obviously never get, as if after a while it would just click one day.
"Sorry to keep you waiting." He'd changed out of his work clothes and she saw him out of those turquoise scrubs for the first time. He had changed into what looked like workout gear (striped tank top, basketball shorts, sporty sneakers) but there was no indication that he had gotten any exercise whatsoever. The clothes looks pristine, like they'd never been sweated in. Plus, it was hard to picture a smoker as chain- as he was having much physical tolerance or endurance anyway. Maybe this was just what he wore to get comfortable.
"You want to get anything?" He had stood up as soon as he saw her.
"No, I don't like coffee."
"Come up with me anyway. At least check out the menu." They were the only people in the place besides the baristas and a few headphones-wearing sulkers spread out on the various pieces of antique furniture.
"Can I help you?" A youngster with two mismatched hairstyles on either side of his head came up to the counter.
"Yeah, I'll have a cappuccino and a green herbal tea bag."
He didn't look at them, but punched something into the register and reached under the counter. "And her?" As he asked he plopped an eighth of weed on the counter, wrapped in tinfoil. Calisto looked in every direction, all at once.
"Jesus," she said.
Monte slipped a few bills to the two-different-haircuts kid and said "Get her a Vanilla Bean," as he pocketed the eighth. The kid placed two paper cups on the counter and walked away from it, without saying anything. A girl came from the other end and took the cups, presumably to make their orders in. Monte and Calisto sat back down.
"I thought you were done with that stuff," she said to him. "You were gonna try my ritual for a change."
"I am done. It's for my mom." She didn't know how seriously to take him, especially since he started rolling up a joint right there in their table. But for all she knew, he could be telling the truth, it wasn't like he talked much about his mom or anybody else.
"So," she began as he sprinkled little green flakes all over a white piece of paper, "I got a line on our funding. It'll be less than I expected, at least to start, but it should be enough to get us moving. We should act soon, though. I think it might be disappearing."
Maybe it was the concentration on the fat j he was rolling, but Monte didn't seem to react or even hear her words at all. In fact, in the two-and-a-half hours they'd ultimately kill that night, he didn't seem very interested in talking shop with her at all. They would always come back around to the topic, but in the meantime he seemed more interested in just sitting and shooting the shit. She wondered how she could ever have thought he'd be a serious person to do business with. On the brighter side, it was the first time she ever saw him so loosened up and carefree. He normally walked and carried himself like the force of gravity was abnormally strong for him. He had a way of sitting down fast, essentially dropping himself into his seat, which made him exhale sharply and startled her every time. Tonight, he was actually relaxed and well, just present. She had guessed that his normal intense manner was just the burden his personality took on during working hours.
Unfortunately, she would come to find out that this seeming casualness would typify their entire working partnership. He only took it seriously when doing so suited him. Whenever it seemed like their plans were getting somewhere, he'd change the subject or just lose interest.
Once he was finished with the joint he tucked it behind his ear, and what followed was a typical sequence.
"Did you talk to your programmer friend?"
"You said you knew a guy, and he would -"
"Just kidding, I know who you're talking about. Relax, have an espresso with me." Their drinks had just arrived, two-haircuts having dumped them on their table without saying anything and walked away. "You look all tense, your eyes are doing this twitch thing."
She picked up her Vanilla Bean. "This isn't espresso," she said. "Anyway, how is it supposed to relax me?"
"Just, take it easy. He said he'll work for us on a per diem basis. He works full time in IT though, so it may take him a while."
"How hard can it be anyway? Maybe we can find somebody else."
"Whoever we find, they're not going to be better than this guy, trust me. Anyway, what's the hurry? We got our whole lives ahead of us." He took a noisy coffee-sip, blowing into his cup as it went down.
"I don't get you. Earlier you acted like this was all urgent and important. Now it's like you don't care."
"I do care. I care at all. I just have other things going on."
"Like buying weed for your mom? What is that about?"
"I was just kidding. It's actually for my mom's dog. Anyway, that's not what I was talking about. Here's what I want to know: if you could do anything you want for a living, what would it be?"
"Jesus, what are you, my guidance counselor?"
"No, for real. Tell me yours."
Calisto hadn't ever told anybody this, probably because no one had ever asked. Her mother assumed she would want to be a fashion designer too, and Naomi had about as much curiosity about other people's ambitions as she had empathy for guys like Monte. So in a way it was flattering to be asked this for the first time, to feel like someone was truly interested. At the same time, it was also frustrating he was trying to make this into the subject in the midst of what was supposed to be a career planning session, and the answer had grown against its own will into a closely guarded secret. After a while she said "I don't know if I still want to anymore, but when I was younger I wanted to be a marriage counselor."
"Holy shit, why?"
"People in relationships are interesting to me. I like seeing how they bond or fracture as a couple. Everyone I know comes from a broken home and I wanted to help people like them. Hell, I don't know, you asked."
"I just wasn't expecting such a good answer. I've never heard anyone say they wanted to do that before. Here's a case in point: my thing was, I always wanted to be a musician."
"You mean like Yo-Yo Ma or like a real musician?"
"Like a real one. A pop group. I wanted to be in a boy band when I was a kid. It looked like fun. I am in a band now, or we have been off-and-on in a band together for the like the last 15 years. We're called Trick Questionz." He pronounced the last syllable in a way that left no doubt it ended with a z and not an s.
She had never heard of them. "What do you play?"
"I guess we're like fusion-rap, or not really rap, more like talky-folk, like Dylan style vocals? "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-style? But really diverse, funky backing music like The Roots."
"Yeah, but I mean what do you play?"
"See, that's why we never really got very far as a band. Our roles weren't clearly defined. I did some guitar and vocals, and my two friends, who are both lawyers now, by the way, played keyboards and drums. But then I wanted us to have some basslines so I switched to that, and the drummer took over guitar because the keyboard guy couldn't play, so he moved to drums. Then one of us got a turntable --it was the fucking 90s, ok? So we took turns fiddling with that. And someone else wanted to incorporate horns, probably just because he couldn't play them and by then we sounded like total shit.
"Now, whenever we get together to jam some old stuff, we spend more time figuring out who does what and on whose song and how does this go again to work on any real practice time. We have to keep starting from scratch. We didn't want to define what we were at the beginning. We wanted it to be democratic and free. But that just turned into chaos. We were too free."
"Why do I feel like I know where you're going with this?" Calisto realized suddenly.
"Let's define our roles first, before we do anything with the business."
"And you have some ideas what those roles should be, I'm guessing."
"You can be Chief Financial Officer. I can be Chief Operating Officer."
"Does it have to be so, well, official?"
"Trick Questionz," he said. "Chaos."
"All right, fine," she said. She would regret this, along with a lot of other things she agreed to.