| Vacancies |

Vacancies: Chapter 13

Those three women and their perfect stores, perfect lives, and a dance studio, it’s perfect, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before!



The conference building was a maze of mirrors.

Twice, Talia turned down corridors that seemed promising, twice she nearly stumbled into silvery glass depths, before she noticed herself, unfamiliar in a chic black-and-white dress, knotted gold chain, patent heels. She’d last worn this get-up at another real estate conference, two years and a lifetime ago.

Talia slid her eyes away from the mirror. Ugh. And now she was late, much too late. She hoped Ann wasn’t tracking her.

She consulted the conference brochure again. There was the event she’d planned to attend. More than houses: What are we selling? Auditorium A.

She looked up. Auditorium A — there was the door. She slipped inside, found an empty seat. John H. Warden was already speaking.

She breathed, fingered the zipper of her purse, tried to relax.

This is your chance, Ann had said, not a little condescendingly. Make connections, get to know the market. Maybe it will help with that vacancy.

The vacancy. A twinge of panic ripped through her. Last night she’d even dreamed about it.

She didn’t have time for this.

Talia opened her brochure again. It split in half. Great, now she looked like an idiot. Everyone else seemed to be nodding intently. A white-whiskered gentleman with a flashy Rolex sat in front of her, taking copious notes.

Somewhere in the crowd, she spotted the two women sporting prim, tailored suits and perfect, fake-looking curled hair — sisters, ran their own agency. She’d spoken to them at the networking breakfast earlier, over a cup of too-acidic orange juice. They’d made up to meet later on, one of them thought she might have a contact for Talia.

What was she going to do about the Shoppes? She felt that twinge again. Esti had begged for another dance class this afternoon, but the conference only ended at eight. So instead of dancing, Esti would be waiting miserably by the neighbor.

Instead of dancing, I’m stuck here, too.

John H. Warden was droning on about the psyche of the customer, but all Talia could think of was Sakiya and her haunted, empty storefront and the storeowners, oh, the storeowners.

Those three women and their perfect stores, perfect lives, and a dance studio, it’s perfect, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before!

Bile rose in her throat.

“And then you approach your client, armed with this knowledge!” Warden was saying dramatically.

The room breathed with anticipation. What knowledge? Talia wondered. She sneaked a glance around. Everyone else seemed to know. She felt like a fraud.

The room was dim; spotlights set the stage aglow. The speaker seemed to be winding down. Talia shook her head, trying to clear it.

John H. Warden leaned forward. “You’re not just selling houses,” he concluded, slowing impressively. “You’re selling dreams.”

Someone clapped loudly. A moment later, the room burst into applause. Talia put her hands together mechanically, the words echoing in her ears.

She was supposed to be selling dreams.

Instead, she’d sold her own.

When the speech ended, Talia did three things.

She apologized to the bottle-curl-suited sisters. The property was no longer available, she said.

She drafted a letter of resignation for Regal Realty, stopping just short of hitting send.

Then she slipped into a side room and called Chaykie.

When she pulled into the parking lot, she expected to feel different, but all she felt was an odd sense of déjà vu.

There were two cars there already, parked at right angles. She recognized Naomi’s Camry and Laya’s sleek silver Chrysler. When she pulled up alongside the empty storefront (her storefront?!), she noticed the two women talking near the doorway.

They saw her and the conversation stopped abruptly.

“Hi,” Naomi said finally. Her voice was a little cold.

“Hi.” Talia tried to smile. Should she apologize? Explain? They were going to be neighbors. She had to do something. “You’re all working late today.”

Naomi shrugged. “End of the week always means late nights for me.” She held up a muffin. “I’m clearing up the leftovers.”

Laya didn’t say anything.

Talia wondered how to tell them she was going to be running the dance classes, after all. Would she sound pathetic?

Naomi looked back at Laya. Inexplicably, she laughed. “This is ridiculous. We should make it a nightly thing, these uncomfortable after-hours meetings. No?”

“Chaykie didn’t get the memo then,” Laya said.

“Oh, but she’s coming,” Talia blurted. “She should be here any minute.”

Laya and Naomi stared. Talia nearly stepped back, but then she stopped. How many weeks had it been since she’d moved to Bayton? How many times had she actually opened up and shared anything with anyone?

She took a deep breath, licked her lips. “About Chaykie... I’m taking her up on her offer. It was... it was a good idea you all had. Thanks.”

“What was a good idea?” Chaykie jogged up behind Talia, breathless but chipper.

Talia tried to loosen her tight shoulder muscles, to relax. So what if Chaykie was still a bit of a mystery? They’d work together. Maybe they could be friends.

“The dance studio. Talia just told us.”

Chaykie squinted, as if she’d only just noticed Laya’s presence. “Wait, what are you doing here? Since when do you work late nights?”

“I don’t.” Laya shifted from one foot to another. “I just — I ordered a couple of catalogues and they arrived today. I was looking through them. I’m… I’m thinking of placing some orders, starting a new line.” She glanced at Chaykie. “Sneakers, actually. I’ll make sure there are some you can dance in.” She smiled.

Chaykie pumped a fist in the air.

Naomi frowned. “But is that your style, Laya? What about your upper-crust designer heels?”

“Oh, they’re still there.” Laya shrugged. “But I figured that the Shoppes are attracting this kind of clientele, what with the gym and all, and I may as well cash in on it...”

Naomi sighed. “Well, I guess if I’m selling carrot juice these days, you can sell sneakers.” But she didn’t sound too upset.

“Don’t worry, there are always the customers who stay loyal to the old and familiar,” Chaykie reassured her.

The others nodded, but Talia was thoughtful.

“Sometimes,” she said, speaking up for the first time since Chaykie joined them. “Sometimes old is best. And sometimes it’s time for something totally new.”

Chaykie chuckled and gave a brisk nod. Laya hesitated, then nodded as well. And Naomi smiled at them all and handed out the last of the mocha chip muffins.

The studio was empty.

Talia walked from wall to wall, making a list in her mind. A paint job, carpeting, what else would it need? Mirrors, maybe some wall décor near the entrance. A clock. A desk in the back room?

The thought of filling the storefront exhilarated her. It wouldn’t just be filling a room, it would be filling her world with everything new.

She angled her legs, stretched toward the ceiling, crooked her fourth finger. The space was perfect for a dance studio. Why had she never seen it before? She thought of the podiatrist, of Laya’s face when she’d seen him. Now that it was over, it was almost comical.

Talia laughed out loud. The sound echoed in the empty space, bounced back at her.

It would be hard to remember that they were all on the same side now. Not the same — she didn’t own her store, she was still the new girl on the block — but the same side. She’d have to tread carefully. But she could handle that.

Maybe Bayton wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

Talia stepped outside, took one more look at the room swathed in shadows. Nothing had changed in the past hour, but somehow, it didn’t seem so empty anymore.

The End

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 665)

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