Cabin Fever

By: Elle Casey

Chapter One

MY FINGER HESITATES OVER THE buttons of my phone as Leah Carmichael’s contact information floats on my screen. I haven’t talked to her in over a year. Or has it been two already? I’m ashamed that I let so many of my friends slip away.

Everything I own is in the process of being packed up in boxes around me. Most of them have a big red X on them, signifying that they’ll be going to a storage unit I’ve rented. The remaining few will get stuffed into my car to start my adventure with me — the trip I’m taking to get back to basics, to find myself and figure out where I went wrong with my life… basically how I got to be thirty years old and completely clueless about what I want to be when I grow up. Turns out, being an art teacher isn’t it.

Not renewing my lease and giving notice a couple months ago seemed like a great way to kick-start this necessary process, but right now as my last days in this apartment loom large, and I realize I have exactly nowhere to go, I’m wondering if I didn’t just give myself a kick in the ass that I’m seriously going to regret.

I look up and catch my reflection in the mirror. My red hair could stand an intervention. The ends are split and way past my shoulders where I used to wear it all the time. Bangs, a bad idea at any age for me, are finally growing out to the point that I can see again and don’t have to flick my head to the side all the time to move them out of the way. Maybe when I finally land somewhere I’ll get a decent haircut and end my ponytail days forever. Some golden highlights could help perk my amber eyes. Right now this flat, dark copper color I was born with makes everything look muddy. My pale complexion isn’t helping any, that’s for sure. I need some sun. Some time outdoors, maybe. I should get back to nature or something.

I turn away from the mirror, sick of looking at myself and trying to find ways to look more interesting than I feel. The only thing I should be concentrating on now is my living situation, since I kind of boxed myself into a corner and haven’t found a way out yet.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid making any more big decisions concerning the rest of my life when under the influence of anything alcoholic. But in my own defense, that tequila I was drinking fifty-seven days ago went down really smooth. I hardly knew I was tipsy and then all of a sudden I was drunk and dropping sixty-day notice, lease-quitting letters in the post office’s mailbox and imagining my grand adventure, living the life of a newly single girl: painting, creating, being free of responsibilities and the pressure of a nine-to-five job… eat, pray, love and all that jazz.

I check my laptop again to see if anyone’s answered my emails asking for a place to stay, temporary gigs that might offer some privacy so I can work in peace. Unfortunately, my inbox is empty, save for the new message I’ve just received from a Russian girl named Tatiana looking for a good time. She has pictures, should I feel like opening the attachment. How did I get on that spam list, anyway? I don’t even know how to say hello in Russian.

Leah is my last real hope, the one remaining person who I can reasonably hope will say yes to my plea. We were close once, back in high school, both of us more the creative type than the hard-driving, business types that we were surrounded by. I just pray she doesn’t hate me because we lost touch so long ago and I did nothing to fix that until I needed a place to stay. I hate that I feel like a user right now. A user loser.

Hopefully her circumstances have changed a little since the last time I talked to her. If I remember the rumors correctly, she was living in a crappy little studio in a not-so-great part of New York City and she was barely scraping by. I have enough savings to pay rent for a while, but if she’s in the same bad shape as before, what I have won’t be enough to make living with her comfortable, and I need a relaxed atmosphere to create.

I press the call button on my phone, forcing my misgivings to calm down so I can focus on being contrite. Please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me…

Her voicemail picks up on the first ring, her message just as perky as ever. “Hi, this is Leah! Please leave me a message and I’ll call you back. Unless you’re that jerk who mugged me, and in that case, I will not be calling you back and no you are not forgiven, so stop calling me. Bye!” The phone beeps and I’m supposed to leave a message, but I’m temporarily stunned by her greeting. She was mugged? I guess she’s still living in Manhattan … and probably not in a good area. Should I just hang up? Ack! I don’t know what to do! But I really need a place to stay…