Vested Interest

By: Bethany Jadin

1



Emma





I always regret it the morning after.

Three of the six meatloaves have already made their way into the trash — one burnt to a near unrecognizable char and another two were inedible thanks to my not-so-successful flavor experimentations. I’ve given the best two of the batch to our neighbor, Mr. Zapata, to take to his church’s Hungry Helpings program. The remaining meatloaf, which is passable but nothing to write home about, is in the fridge. Zoey and I will be eating meatloaf for breakfast, lunch, and dinner this week.

I survey the progress I’ve made so far.

Over the four years my roommate Zoey and I have lived here in this little apartment on Keswick Street, I’ve accumulated enough cookware to outfit a small restaurant. Roughly half of it is piled into the sink or sitting on the countertop, filled with water as the crusty bits soak.

Zoey would say I had a lot of stress to work out — but I just need something to do with my hands when I’m thinking through programming problems. The final layer of heuristics for the security software I’ve created is giving me a hard time, which means I’ve ended up in the kitchen a lot lately. There was a crazy good sale on ground beef at the store this week, so I went to town with making meatloaf.

I have all the spices back in their respective places in the cabinets, and I’m scrubbing at the drizzles of egg white which have dried into a hard shellac on the countertop when the apartment door opens and closes. Our apartment is small enough that I can hear the telltale clicking of the lock even from our bathroom, cluing me in whenever Zoey comes home from her shift at the hospital. She bounces into the apartment in pale pink scrubs, dropping her purse and grocery bags on the only two feet of counter I’ve scrubbed clean so far.

“Look! You have mail! You never have mail.”

I straighten my back with a wince, not realizing how hunched over I’ve been for the last hour. “Well, Zoey, this thing called the internet was invented back in the last century, and I know you’re slow to pick up on modern trends, but now days you can have your bills sent to you online, and there’s this nifty new way to communicate with people called email — you don’t even need a stamp. I should tell you about Facebook and Instagram sometime.”

She waves me off. “Yeah, yeah, maybe one day I’ll let you teach me all about that crazy futuristic stuff. But this—” she thwaps me on the forehead with a large, black envelope “—is not just any mail. Check it out!”

Now she has my attention. I take hold of the envelope. There is no To or From address, simply one line in gold lettering scroll. Selsford Institute Technology of Tomorrow Gala. My heart skips, stutters a beat, and begins to race. Dropping my scrub pad, I brush back a lock of hair that’s come out of my ponytail and tuck it behind my ear. I don’t dare to open it yet. I flip it over, inspecting the back, and still see no address for the postman. This envelope was hand delivered.

“How did you get this? There’s no address?”

My roommate kicks out of her Dansko Clogs with a sigh of relief. “It was in our mailbox.”

“But who put it there?”

“Who cares?” Zoey is staring at me with wide eyes. “This is the thingy, the event you’ve talked about, isn’t it?”

I nod, dumbfounded.

She squeals in delight and claps her hands together. “Are you going to open it?”

Part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me just wants to put it on a shelf, in a display frame, all nice and pretty. Since its inaugural conception, the SI Technology of Tomorrow Gala has been attended by only the most prestigious heads of industry and carefully selected up-and-coming innovators. It’s the kind of event that launches careers. Members vote on each and every invitation. How one of the famous black envelopes landed in my mailbox is a mystery.

I eyeball the soaking pans. “Well, it’s probably safe to assume they aren’t requesting my catering services, right?”

“Oh my God, open it already!” she squeals.

“Don’t get too excited; it’s probably a mistake. Or they’re doing some kind of charity fundraiser this year and want donations.”