The bus was late.
Lenore's breathing quickened at the thought. If the bus was late, then she would be late. Her boss had scheduled an early meeting with him, an employee review. She couldn't be late for that!
She fiddled with her bus pass, twisting the thin card between her fingers. There were people waiting for the bus with her; two men and five teenagers. Lenore was careful to keep a slight distance between her and the men, and winced whenever the teens spoke to each other. They didn't really speak, she thought. They yelled as if they were all deaf.
The bus finally pulled up. Lenore hurried up the stairs, flashing her pass at the driver. She took a spot near the front, by two old women gossiping while knitting what looked like socks. She didn't think two old women would be dangerous, unless they stabbed her with one of the needles and gave her blood poisoning…
At that thought, Lenore leaned away from the old women slightly.
She waited, stomach climbing up her throat as the bus eased its way back into New York traffic. She checked her watch several times, worried anew at how long the trip was taking.
Finally, she saw her stop and pulled the bell cord. The bus eased to a stop and Lenore hurried off; she was starting to feel the slightest bit claustrophobic on the crowded bus.
She hurried the two blocks down to her work. The tiny newsletter catered to the car fanatics who went to the shows; she knew nothing about it, apart from a few simple things she'd been taught once upon a time, but the enthusiasm of the staff reminded her of an old friend.
"Apollinaris! You're late." Lenore's boss stood by the door; the number of staff was so small he was on first name basis with most of them. Lenore was new.
Lenore ducked her head, cheeks heating. "I'm sorry, the bus-"
"Get in my office, would you? I don't have time to listen to excuses."
Lenore nodded, and dropped her purse on her desk before walking into the only office. It was covered, floor to ceiling, in pictures of cars and pretty women.
Her boss, a huge man with an enthusiasm for cars rivaled only by his appetite for food, waved her to the only other chair. He was already eating a sandwich, and it was only ten-thirty.
"You're a good editor, Apollinaris," he said. Lenore looked up at him through her bangs.
"But you don't have the passion, the drive, we need for this place." Her boss waved a hand at the pictures on the walls. "You have to have cars in your blood, and you don't. You've got books."
Lenore looked down, blushing. She should have gone to some of the shows. She had thought they might be fun, but looking at some of the pictures at work was painful. Actually seeing the cars on display might have reminded her a little too much about an old friend.
"Sir?" she asked, not entirely sure what he was getting at.
Her boss colored. "What I'm trying to say is… I mean… You're great at what you do. You're a wonderful editor, good eye and all that. But… You're not happy here. And… Well, I think you could do better then a tiny little newsletter."
Lenore sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Look, will you be okay?" He leaned forward, face creased in concern.
Lenore looked up and forced a smile. "I do have options, sir. There's a publishing house I spoke to earlier, before I took the job here. They were very interested when last I spoke with them. It hasn't been that long…"
Her boss- ex-boss, Lenore reminded herself- leaned back. "Yeah?"
Lenore nodded. "I'll go clean out my desk," she said, standing up and preparing to leave. She wanted to get out of the office before any offers for further help were given.
"Oh, Apollinaris. Your pay." Her boss held out the check. "And don't worry, use me as a reference. I'll give you a good one."
Lenore smiled, a genuine one, took her paycheck and left.
Once back in the safety of her apartment, Lenore considered her options.
New York had plenty of publishing houses. Such places were always looking for drones to work for them; she'd worked in a smaller one, before the place burned down and went bankrupt, almost on the same day. She'd taken the editorial position on the newsletter to keep her landlord happy. Now that she was out of a job, he'd be clamoring at her again.
Still… Lenore couldn't help looking over at the letter tossed down on the couch. It was from Jump City, V Books. Despite her polite rejection, they were still trying to get her to take a position with them. They were new, and though they couldn't offer her much money compared to what other editors made, they were offering her an actual position that had a little respect tied to it.
She just… didn't know. New York might have been famous, criminally, for its muggings and street gangs, but Jump City was far more famous for its meta-crime. New York was mostly filled with normal, powerless humans; no one was sure what the number of meta-humans was, but far higher then anywhere else in the states.
Really, Lenore was safer in New York then she would be in Jump. The chances of being squished by a falling building were much, much less.
Still, she thought, glancing at the letter again. Still… she knew Jump. She knew the streets, every police station in the entire city, where the major landmarks were, and she knew a little coffee shop that was friendly to people who showed up, bought one cup of coffee, and stayed for three hours.
She shook her head, and turned her attention to her money problem. She had money tucked away, but she didn't have enough if she wanted to continue living in her apartment for much longer. Only the lucky fact that she was never sick enough to see a doctor had enabled her to hang onto as much money as she could.
She also knew where low rent, safe apartments were in Jump…
Lenore shook her head, more violently that time, and sighed. She'd just noticed a strand of her hair that had fallen forward. The brown was faded, and wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny. Or even the slightest of scrutiny.
Where had the brown dye gone? Lenore wondered. She went to the bathroom, intent only on dying her hair brown again.
Five minutes later, towel around her shoulders and hair gunked up with what looked like melted chocolate, she was studying the letter from V Books again.
It was a higher position then she'd ever held before. She'd been moving up the ranks fast before, it wasn't a surprise they'd check up her work history and be impressed.
The fact that one Erik Hart had written her, personally, and admitted running a background check was a little odd, but…
Lenore closed her eyes and sighed. This was just too difficult. He gave her an e-mail address, if she wanted to send an e-mail with her current resume… or to tell him to leave her alone.
None of the other publishing houses she'd looked at would have as good a possibility as this one.
Lenore looked out towards the window. In New York, her surroundings were all sky scrapers and concrete. In Jump, at least, she'd be able to see trees…
Lenore almost jumped to her feet. What was she thinking? New York was… it was…
She looked out the window, and sighed. Would she be able to go around without dying her hair in Jump City? Surely people had odd colored hair, there. Not many meta-humans would be willing to pretend to be something they weren't?
Lenore brightened at the thought. Hair dye was expensive and the smell was wretched.
She would take this position in Jump. There was always the possibility that she could leave if it didn't work out, after all. There was no law that said she had to stay.
Pleased, Lenore returned to the bathroom to finish the dye job.
When she came back out, hair freshly scrubbed and a dull brown, she felt… calm. Once she'd made her decision, some of her old poise had returned.
She had a laptop and internet, one of her few indulgences. Lenore put her internet to good use and sent Erik Hart an e-mail, her resume, and expressed her desire to see what came of working at V Books. She mentioned that she would take a greyhound bus to Jump City, California; she would let him know when she would be available for an interview.
Once the e-mail was sent, she looked up a schedule for a greyhound bus to California, Jump. The earliest bus was leaving the next day, driving for six days, and arriving in Jump City terminal early morning.
She could order a ticket on-line. Lenore hesitated, and then shook her head. She had all day to prepare. She could take a bus down to the nearest New York terminal to buy a ticket in person.
Lenore tugged the hat further onto her head. Until she reached Jump and found out just how people dealt with purple hair, she was hiding hers.
Her backpack was filled with what she'd need for the six days. Her few boxes, mostly clothes and books, were tucked away in the baggage compartment in the bus. She kept the small jewelry box in her backpack; knowing her luck, it would be stolen otherwise.
Lenore checked her ticket again, and filed onto the bus with everyone else. She was lucky to get a window seat, and settled down. She had an MP3 player that still played after much abuse, iced tea in a thermos, bottled water, a few snacks, and enough books to keep her happy.
She was also lucky in that a young woman, also more interested in music then talking, sat down next to her. Lenore allowed herself a small smile, and readied herself for the trip.
Lenore dropped the last of her boxes on the floor of the motel room. She locked the door, closed the curtains, and yawned.
She wanted a shower, and a change into pajamas. She wasn't leaving this room for anything; she was going to bed.
The next morning, she used the coffee maker to heat water for tea. She had three hours before her meeting with Mr. Hart, and she was going to spend them well.
It had been several years since she meditated, but the moment she sat down on the floor, cross legged, it all came back to her. Deep breathing, in for a count of three, out for a count of five… back straight, shoulders back, hands palm up…
Lenore finished her meditation with an hour until her meeting. She got dressed, pulled on a coat, and left the room to start walking.
It was a good thing she knew Jump. The streets were more confusing to an outsider then New York City's alphabet district. NYC's Alphabet City at least had something of a reason behind it; no one was quite willing to explain the much smaller Jump City's road map.
Lenore walked through the suburbs to the downtown residential area, and from there to the commercial sector. She was five minutes early when she walked into V Books Publishing, and then only because she had been in heels.
Her hair was purple. Lenore but her lip, and then stopped herself. She'd put on lipstick, and she hadn't brought the stuff with her when she'd left the motel. She didn't need to chew the color off her lips. Purple hair was enough.
Lenore reminded herself of the many people she'd seen with oddly colored hair. She'd seen five people with purple hair, and only one had his natural hair color. The other four had chosen purple dye, for some reason.
Lenore walked to the elevator, pressed the button for the fifth floor, and then walked through the cubicles to the offices at the back. She knocked on the fifth door to the right, and wondered just what the deal with the number five seemed to be.
"Come in," someone called, and Lenore stepped in.
Mr. Hart stood up and extended his hand across the desk. "Ms. Apollinaris, delightful to meet you. Sit down, sit down."
"I'm sorry if I'm late, sir," Lenore said. She arranged her skirt carefully across her knees, and glanced up once at Mr. Hart. Almost the same moment, she was looking back down at her knees.
"You're not late. Oh, come on, look up, I won't bite."
Lenore looked up through her bangs, and smiled. "Sorry," she whispered. "Just a little shy."
Mr. Hart grinned, and waved one hand. "Well, Ms. Apollinaris, shall we begin? I'll just start by saying I called Mr. Cooper, of Automotive Fanatic's Newsletter, and he said that you're, and I quote, 'the best damn editor he's ever had the honor of working with'."
Lenore's cheeks burned. Mr. Cooper had said that? "I… I'm flattered that he thought so, but I don't…"
"Nonsense. I respect Mr. Cooper's opinion, you know, and your record speaks for itself. Only twenty-one and you were already moving quite fast up the career ladder."
Lenore hesitated, then shrugged. "If there hadn't been a fire, my resume would have been much more…"
"Yes." Lenore sighed. "However, there was a fire, the company did go bankrupt…"
"Do you dye your hair, Ms. Apollinaris?"
Mr. Hart leaned forward. "Do you dye your hair?"
Lenore shook her head.
"Do you have a problem with meta-humans, then?"
Lenore couldn't help herself. She rolled her eyes and tugged on a purple lock of hair. "What do you think?"
Mr. Hart leaned back and smiled. "I've already looked over your resume, Ms. Apollinaris. I had just hoped to ask a few questions."
Lenore frowned, and laced her fingers together on her lap. What was he getting at.
"Welcome to V Books Publishing, Ms. Apollinaris. Would you like to see your desk now?"
Lenore blinked. "You mean I'm hired?"
"Of course. Your credentials and recommendations are stellar. You will be an asset in the company. I have no doubt," Mr. Hart said, smiling and leading the way to the door. "That you will have an office in a few years."
Lenore shook her head, more bemused then denying what her… new boss was saying. He led her to a cubical, but one that was bigger then any she'd ever had before. It even had a nameplate near the 'door'.
Lenore glanced in, and then looked back at Mr. Hart. "But I'm-"
"An editor's assistant's assistant. That means you get your own office of a sorts. Computer, fax, printer, phone, the works. One day you might even have actual walls."
Lenore ducked her head to hide a smile. "Maybe," she said, reluctant to disagree.
Mr. Hart nodded his head. He took her hand, and before she could react bowed over it. "Our company is honored to have such a beautiful employee. Good day, Ms. Apollinaris. I expect you in tomorrow, bright and early."
Lenore shrank back against the cubical wall, and watched with wide eyes as Mr. Hart walked back to his office. What had he meant by that?
"Erik's not interested in you. Well, unless you have a penis."
Lenore almost choked, almost swallowed her tongue, and turned to face a young woman.
"I beg your pardon?"
The young woman smiled. "Erik Hart. The company queer, no matter what he says. I saw him checking out Henry's ass. It's a nice ass, too."
Lenore blinked, and opened her mouth several times to speak. She finally managed to squeak something. The young woman chuckled, and waved one hand.
"Sorry, I forgot. Ann Myles, editor's assistant. Guess you'll be working with me. So you have a name, or should I just call you 'Squeaky'?"
"Where on Earth did you get 'squeaky'?" Lenore shook her head.
"You squeaked," Ann answered.
"Oh. I'm Lenore Apollinaris. Nice to meet you?" Lenore held out her hand. She didn't like the way Ann tucked her own hands behind her back.
"Sorry, I don't touch people. Hazards of my genes." Ann tossed her head. Lenore looked up at her hair. It was a color of green you might get if you electrocuted grass. Lenore winced, and looked back at Ann's eyes. Almost white.
"I take it that's not a dye job, and those aren't contacts?"
"I take it that's the same with you?"
Lenore nodded. "Hazards of… well, my mother looked like I do, so I guess I can just blame her." Lenore felt her stomach twist at the thought, but forced a smile. "I'm sorry, but… I'll be back tomorrow. I have apartment hunting to do."
Ann nodded. "I never get in before ten. It won't be an emergency if you're not in much earlier."
Lenore shrugged and turned away. She had work to do, pavement to pound, and an apartment to find.
But tomorrow, she'd be in by nine. That way, she'd avoid rush hour traffic.
Once in the elevator, Lenore allowed herself a smile. It really was fortunate that she knew Jump City.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans. I'm just screwing with them. I'll return them, slightly damaged, once I'm done having my fun.