The Cinderella Deal(2)

By: Jennifer Crusie


“I’m not kidding.” Julia followed her to the sink. “I’ve known you for twelve years, and this is the first time I’ve heard you say you can’t do something.”

Daisy was so outraged at the thought that she pulled her head out of the cupboard without giving herself enough clearance and smacked herself hard. “Ouch.” She rubbed her head through her springy curls.

“I’m not saying I can’t make it as an artist.” Daisy stuck her head back into the cabinet and shoved aside her cookie sheets long enough to find her teakettle and yank it out. “I believe in myself. I just may have moved too fast.” She got up and filled the kettle from the faucet.

“Well, it’s not like you ever move slow.” Julia took down canisters one by one, finally finding the tea in a brown and silver square can. “Why did you put the tea in the can that says ‘cocoa’? Never mind. Constant Comment or Earl Grey?”

 

“Earl Grey.” Daisy put the kettle on the stove and turned up the heat. “This is a serious moment, and I need a serious tea.”

“Which is why I’m drinking Constant Comment.” Julia waggled her long fingers inside the canister and fished out two tea bags. “I have no serious moments.”

“Well, pretend you’re having one for me.” Daisy sighed, envying Julia’s optimism. Of course, Julia hadn’t quit a safe and solid teaching job to become a painter, or spent the past four years living on her savings until she didn’t have any. Daisy felt her head pound. “Julia, I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m tired of scraping to pay my bills, and I’m tired of trying to sell my paintings to people who don’t understand what I’m doing, and I’m tired—” She bit her lip. “I’m so tired of worrying about everything.”

That was the thing, really; she was worn down from the uncertainty. Like water on a rock; that was what the edge of poverty did to you.

“So what are you going to do?” Julia asked, but somewhere there was a faint sound, half screech and half meow, and Daisy cocked her head again instead of answering.

“I swear I hear a cat crying,” she told Julia. “Listen. Do you hear anything?”

Julia paused and then shook her head. “Uh-uh. Your water’s starting to boil. Maybe that’s it.”

Daisy took the kettle off while Julia took down two mismatched cups and saucers, plunking her Constant Comment tea bag in a Blue Willow cup and Daisy’s Earl Grey in the bright orange Fiestaware. Daisy poured the hot water over the bags and said, “Pretty” as the tea color spread through the cups.

“Forget the pretty tea.” Julia picked up her cup and carried it back to the table. “You’re in crisis here. You’re out of money and you can’t sell your paintings. How’s the storytelling going?”

“Budget cuts.” Daisy sat down across from her with her own cup and saucer. “Most libraries can’t afford me, and it’s a slow time for bookstores, and forget schools entirely. They all say I’m very popular and they’ll use me again as soon as possible, but in the meantime I’m out of luck.”

“Okay.” Julia crinkled her nose as she thought. “How else were you making money? Oh, the jewelry. What about the jewelry?”

Daisy winced with guilt. “That’s selling, but Howard won’t give me the money until the end of the month. And he owes me from the end of last month, but he’s holding on to that too. It’s not that much, about a hundred, but it would help.” She knew she should go in and demand her jewelry money, but the thought of Howard sneering at her wasn’t appealing. He looked so much like her father that it was like every summer she’d ever spent with him condensed into two minutes.

Julia frowned at her. “So how much do you need? To keep the wolf from the door, I mean.”

Daisy sighed. “About a thousand. Last month’s rent, this month’s rent, and expenses. That would get me to when Howard pays and then maybe something else would turn up.” That sounded pathetic, so she took a deep breath and started again. “The thing is, I quit so I could paint, but I’m spending all my time trying to support myself instead of concentrating on my work. I