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Adams Morgan froze. Cars stopped. People stopped. Only the moon hummed—and not a sweet hum, either. More like the unnerving near-song of a refrigerator at 2 a.m. Paige bit her nail and peeled the crescent from her pinkie.
“What a shit show,” she mumbled, staring at the Excel sheet dominating her computer screen.
Exactly a year ago, Paige had been in the same position, hunched over her laptop at the kitchen table. She feasted on Fiddle Faddle and pili nuts while her roommate slept. First she'd pop a piece of Fiddle Faddle into her mouth. Then she'd eat a pili nut. It went like that for a while until she put the pili nuts back in the cupboard. When Paige's roommate wandered in for a snack—wearing her signature “Save the Ta-tas” T-shirt and boxers left by an ex—the Fiddle Faddle was gone.
“You ate it all,” her roommate hissed and knocked the box from the table. Then she went back to bed.
Like the junk food box, Paige's spreadsheet was empty.
For hours, Paige had read and digested and read some more. At some point, all mental digestion ceased. Gastroparesis of the brain. Officially, she began work at 8:30 a.m. Unofficially, her boss would dirty his diapers if she didn't haul her ass in at 7:45 a.m. Then she'd have to fetch clean diapers from CVS. Consequently, Paige had become the master of the five-minute shower. She had never wanted to work in Courthouse, and by the grace of General Robert E. Lee, she was never going to live there. Paige had thought about Clarendon for about two seconds until she imagined the rest of her twenties thrown away at Spider Kelly's.
“But one life to live,” Paige muttered as she shuddered at the shiny 'For Rent' sign she literally ran into the summer after she graduated from Kenyon.
And so the jog to Woodley Park followed by a tight ride to Metro Center and then a transfer to the Orange line had become part of her anxious morning rhythm. It evolved into something more frenetic in the evening. Easy living but a naïve dream in an undergrad's heart.
The computer smirked at her. Paige typed a single letter in the spreadsheet and stared at it for a spell. Then she deleted it. She typed in a number. She deleted it. She typed in a letter and a number. She deleted those, too. When her computer started to buzz and whir, Paige unplugged it. The fan quieted and the computer cooled down. Paige saved the spreadsheet under a new title: “FML,” coincidentally also her boss's initials. Francis Miles Labelle.
Paige pulled her hair out of a ponytail and ambled toward the shower. This year's roommate—different from last year's—would not wake from the sound of water hitting the porcelain tub at 4:43 a.m.
“This one's gonna last 20,” Paige said as she undressed herself and stepped under the cold stream. When she stepped out of the shower, Paige wrapped herself in an orange towel and returned to the kitchen. She pressed the power button on her laptop. No response. She pressed it again. Nothing. She connected the computer to its charger. A few minutes later, she pressed the button once more. Nothing still.
“Delightful, Francis,” she whispered and went straight for the mattress that had not seen more than six hours' continuous use in ten months.
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