Ready Or Not
Janel Gradowski
Micah has been homeless for a over year, by choice. Marketing herself as a temporary artist in ... Show More
Genres:
Chick Lit
Tags:
artist, art, culinary, foodie, women's fiction,

Chapter 1

“Turn left onto Long Lake Road in one hundred feet,” instructed the monotone voice of the GPS unit.

That’s easier said than done. Micah glanced in the rear view mirror. No cars were visible, just a white curtain of snow. The fact that she hadn’t seen another vehicle in over half an hour was a testament to her insanity. She should have stopped hours earlier, but a night at a hotel wasn’t in the schedule or budget. So what if the stress from the terrifying drive took five years off her lifespan? At least she wasn’t a day late. Punctuality was a pillar of success. She pressed on the brake pedal when the reflective green road sign materialized among the swirling snowflakes. The Jeep slowed for a few seconds and then jerked forward again.

“Damn it,” she said as the rear end of the vehicle swung to the right. She sucked in a breath and held it as she turned the steering wheel, aiming the two ton automobile, turned tobaggon sled, toward the road sign. The slow motion spin came to a neck-wrenching stop.

“Continue straight ahead for half a mile. Destination is on the right.”

She was pointed the correct direction, but she was also sitting sideways in the middle of a main road during a blizzard. Fantastic. Micah checked to the left and right for oncoming headlights. There weren’t any, so she stomped the gas pedal. An ominous snow bank, built from the frozen debris plowed off the road she was on, guarded the entrance to Long Lake Road. The Jeep bucked when it hit the icy mound. The engine roared. It was not the time to take things slow and easy. The four-wheel drive vehicle shivered through the barrier of deep snow then shot forward as its tires gained traction on the other side.

“Good job,” she said as she patted the Jeep’s dashboard. “We’re almost there.”

An hour later a savory aroma drifted into the bedroom. Micah’s stomach grumbled as she transferred a stack of neatly folded t-shirts from her suitcase into a dresser drawer. The last thing she had eaten was a stale doughnut and a bottle of Coke, bought at a rundown gas station, over six hours earlier. A road warrior’s snack...a vagabond’s feast. No matter how she rephrased it, the junk food was unglamorous and unsatisfying, just vehicles for getting sugar and caffeine into her body so she could stay alert while driving on the snow-covered freeway. A blustery storm was huffing and puffing its way across the entire mitten of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It was the middle of March, but winter was still pummeling the state with icy snow. Hard, knife-edged drifts formed at the corners of buildings while open areas were scoured bare by the relentless wind. A drive that should have taken four hours stretched to eight while she crept across a shifting landscape that looked like it belonged in a surreal, post-apocalyptic movie set in the Arctic Circle. Her fingers ached from gripping the steering wheel so tightly, but now she was in a warm home and the impending dinner smelled wonderful.

Staying with good cooks was a perk. Her tour was officially called The Detailed Journey of Micah Warner. Away from the galleries it was often more like a journey through the world of delectable food. Sure, some hosts had folders overflowing with takeout menus and pristine stoves that looked like they had never been used, but those experiences were rare. It seemed that many people in the art world were also talented cooks. She had a manila envelope full of recipe cards, culinary mementos from the most exciting time of her life so far. Her cooking skills had definitely improved after spending so much time helping with meals. She was even toying with the idea of writing a cookbook detailing her foodie adventures over the previous year. Another income stream to help keep her out of the starving artist ranks. Every trickle of cash helped.

Micah washed her face in the guest bathroom, then applied fresh powder and lip gloss. No matter what, she never let her hosts see her completely without makeup. It was a rule she had imposed on herself early in the tour. She was staying with strangers week after week. Very nice strangers, but still people that she had to maintain a business relationship with. Running around without makeup was almost as bad as letting them see her naked. It was unprofessional and embarrassing.

She headed downstairs, stopping every few feet to examine a piece of art hanging on the bright, white stairway wall. Serious black and white photographs of derelict buildings mingled with playful folk paintings of animals that looked like they could have been made by a child. The staircase was old, probably original to the rambling farm house, but surprisingly the treads never creaked once during her descent. In the kitchen her employer and housemate for the next two weeks, Kerrie, was standing in front of a large, stainless steel stove. Steam formed puffy, shifting clouds over a stock pot.

“It smells wonderful in here,” Micah said as she looked around the spacious kitchen. The smooth cupboard doors were slicked with shiny, white lacquer and accented with handles made of faceted, silver metal balls. White marble counter tops gleamed in the bright lights cast from fixtures hidden under the upper cupboards. “Can I help with anything?”

“No thank you, everything is ready. I just whipped up a quick chicken noodle soup,” Kerrie said as she ladled straw-colored broth studded with tiny cubes of colorful vegetables into clear bowls. She set the bowls on placemats arranged side by side on the kitchen island. She nodded at one of the high stools tucked under the counter’s overhang. “I hope you don’t mind an informal meal. Please sit down.”

“I love chicken soup. I can’t wait to try your version...and I actually prefer eating in the kitchen instead of a formal dining room. It just feels more comfortable and homey.” The thick, leather cushion on the stool sighed as Micah settled onto it. She sighed herself, in contentment, as she inhaled the steam from the soup. There was nothing better on a cold, stormy night. Hopefully it would help restore her stressed out body a bit, too. Starting off an exhibition feeling like she had been flattened by a semi truck wasn’t pleasant.

 “I would love to learn more about you and your adventures, if you aren’t too tired. I think your life must be exciting, but maybe you have a different view.”

“I’m never too tired to talk.” She was exhausted, but talking was a job requirement. Better to suck it up, paste on a smile and chat than offend a client. “As far as my tour goes, almost all of the people I’ve met along the way have been great, but the excitement has definitely wore off. What would you like to know? The good, the bad or the strange?”

Kerrie poured fragrant mint tea into mugs. Golden silhouettes of leaves were painted on the matte gray ceramic glaze. As she slid one mug, adorned with an oak leaf, toward Micah she asked, “Could you start with how you came up with the idea for your tour? I’ve seen a lot of artists visiting galleries when they have a new collection to promote, but you’re the first one I’ve heard of that actually creates art at the galleries and travels full time.”

Why do you willingly live on display, like a monkey at the zoo? The question everybody asked in one way or another. The tour was like an avalanche. One exhibition had started it all. Before long her life was sliding over unexplored territory, collecting fascinating experiences and leaving behind a trail of destruction. Recently the momentum of the tour had slowed and she could physically feel the toll of the self-inflicted chaos. Insomnia was a frequent companion, leaving behind puffy eyes and a rampant caffeine addiction. Expensive eye creams and triple-shot lattes were eating up increasingly larger chunks of her profits. The gnarly bits of life weren’t what most people wanted to know about, though. Better to begin with the sterilized, happy parts.

“It started with drawing at art shows to help attract people to my booth. A guy named Connor Reese asked me to come up to his gallery in Traverse City and act as a short-term artist in residence. I sold out of prints during the week I was there. I made twice as much money as I would have during an equivalent amount of time at weekend art shows. So, I started contacting other galleries and some high-end gift shops to see if they wanted me to come and do the same thing. The response has been incredible. I’ve been traveling for over a year now, mostly in Michigan, but I have been to Ohio and Wisconsin, too.”

“It all sounds exciting and interesting, but also a bit terrifying for a homebody like me.” Kerrie took a sip of her tea. She tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “Do you go home in between stops?”

Micah stirred her soup. Slices of mushrooms and wisps of spinach mingled with curly ramen noodles. “No. I’ve scheduled everything so closely there are usually only travel days, when I stay in hotels, in between stops. About two months into the tour, after I realized how busy I was going to be, I moved most of my things into a storage unit in Grand Rapids and let my apartment lease run out.”

“Amazing. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t have a nest to land in.”

“I’ve never looked at it that way. I’ve been so caught up in the excitement of constantly meeting new people and watching my work sell, I hardly ever think about no longer having a home.” There were a lot of things she tried to avoid thinking about by staying busy. The fact that she was indeed homeless was one of the situations she hated to ponder. The thought always made her feel like she had ingested concrete. A weight that would drown her if she didn’t fight its pull. The milestone of her thirtieth birthday was less than a year away, but she was nowhere near settling down. Like it or not, there was some kind of psychological clock inside her. It wasn’t looking for a husband or babies, yet, but it did want a nice place to call home before she hit the third decade mark. “My rented, generic condo was nothing like your home. Maybe that’s why it has never mattered much to me that my only address right now is a post office box.”

A gust of wind blew gritty snowflakes against the window. The storm wasn’t letting up. Micah shivered despite the heavy, wool sweater she was wearing. The eerie scratching sounded like an animal was outside in the dark, trying to get in to gnaw at the delicate web of excuses she hid behind to keep from freaking out about her life.

Kerrie got up to refill the almost empty soup bowls. “It can take some time to find a home. The thing is, home isn’t just a dwelling. It depends on the community and the people you choose to be part of your life. Some of the best homes would make an interior decorator blanch in fright, but the people that live there have chosen to surround themselves with wonderful, passionate friends. Home truly is where the heart is.”

The two women finished eating the meal as the conversation died down to polite chit chat. Yawns from both of them were liberally sprinkled among the words and laughter. Balancing on the invisible conversational tight wire, constructed from unfamiliarity, was tiring.

After she helped load the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen, Micah retreated to the sanctuary of the guest bedroom. She had expected to be surrounded with floral print wallpaper and antiques when she pulled into the driveway of the Victorian farmhouse, not staying in a room that looked like it belonged at a luxury resort. The outside of the house was painted in a riot of colors. Lilac siding with cotton candy pink shutters. Ornately carved brackets, painted an acid yellow, adorned all of the peaks and valleys along the edge of the roof. Despite the ecstatic paint scheme, the exterior of the house still showed its age, like an old woman made up with blue eyeshadow and scarlet lipstick. The sleek, modern rooms inside were a startling contrast to the cheerfully shabby outside. Dark woods, glass, metal and a soothing color palette of grays, whites and light blues dominated the remodeled interior. There wasn’t a piece of ornately carved furniture or gilt framed portrait anywhere in the house. Everything from abstract paintings to macro photographs adorned the walls, injecting shots of color into the otherwise sedate decorating palette. The effect was eclectic, yet elegant.

Micah flopped face-first onto the bed. The sheets smelled like lavender. It was time for her marketing routine, wrangling emails and checking social media accounts, whether she felt like it or not. She slid back off the end of the mattress and retrieved her laptop. It was nestled in a padded pocket on the front of a gigantic wheeled suitcase. The grime from moving every one to two weeks for over a year had settled in gritty patches on the luggage's red fabric. She arranged the bed pillows into a fluffy nest and settled back onto them while the computer booted up. The pillows were soft and squishy. Perfect. It would take every ounce of willpower she had to force herself out of bed in the morning.

She twisted a lock of hair around her index finger and sighed. The platinum blonde color, far from her natural walnut brown, still startled her every time she caught a glimpse of it. About a month into the tour a customer told her she looked like Marilyn Monroe. As an experiment, she decided to wear a blonde wig at the next tour stop. Every person that walked into the gallery commented about how she resembled the dead movie star, while they were snapping up her prints. The extra sales from that week funded the trip to a salon to make the change permanent. As a blonde she wasn’t really having more fun, but she was making more money than ever before. There was nowhere near enough in her savings account to buy a house like Kerrie’s yet, but the sum was growing steadily.

The profitable tour was coming to an end though, ready or not. Interest in hosting her was dying down. If nobody scheduled an exhibition within the next two weeks, when her time with Kerrie was over, she would have nowhere to live and no money coming in. Was fate telling her it was time to stop bouncing around and settle down? Maybe live like a normal person again? That was a novel idea. Before starting the tour she worked at a small marketing firm, designing logos and advertising campaigns. A normal, vanilla-flavored life. Now that she was a celebrity-impersonating nomadic artist, strange was the new normal and life was like a rich fudge sauce with an addictive secret ingredient.

A list of new emails filled the computer screen. It had become a ritual not to look at emails on her phone when she was traveling to a new venue. Every time she checked while she was on the road, there weren’t any booking requests in her inbox. Apparently the phone had bad business juju. Micah scrolled through the correspondences that had come in since she started driving at 8 a.m. It was going to be another long night.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 9/10/2013 3:58:45 PM
  • annah brown commented on :
    3/31/2016 4:40:44 PM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (annh1brown@hotmail.com), ... Show More
  • Kimberly McKenzie commented on :
    2/1/2014 7:28:27 PM
    I am very interested in Micah working out her situation...I will have to keep reading to find out. Please visit my series "The Rest Room" on JukePop if you have a few minutes to read.
    • Janel Gradowski Hi Kimberly. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you liked Micah.
      2/19/2014 9:19:15 AM