A week ago, I didn’t intend to buy my Life Map. But here I stood outside The Cartographia, clutching a gift certificate in my new Christmas mittens. Mom gave me the mittens—Granddad the gift certificate.
“You used to be the brainy one,” he gasped on Christmas morning, oxygen tube snaking from his nose. “It’s time you took a definite path. Buy your map, Claire.”
By Christmas evening, he was dead. And I was torn up. Brainy or not, my job history was appalling. What was more, I didn’t care. I would’ve taken a man to marry over a mindful pursuit any day. Maybe the map could help me find a man.
But that was a problem, wasn’t it? Life Maps didn’t foretell the future. They predicted the best possible courses based on databases of information limited to exterior facts: social and intelligence quotients, family histories and genealogies, personal histories.
My personal history was lacking, especially in the realm of love. I was a blip on any map. And I was cold, inside and out. The snow that had melted to slush in the sun yesterday had frozen over during the night. I reached for the shop door, but a man hurrying up behind me grabbed the handle instead. Love dunce that I was, I didn’t move quickly enough for his chivalry, and the door smacked me in the nose.
“Um, after you,” he said—no apology.
I obeyed, but with my hand over my nose.
The Cartographia shop had modular stations for programming maps on older or newer systems. My certificate entitled me to MapWriter 7.0, not the latest, but still expensive. I’d called my order in ahead of time and, presumably, my map was ready. But life rarely worked smoothly for me, and I suspected a wait.
“Claire Chevalier,” I told the salesman. “I called earlier.”
“7.0? We’re having trouble programming those. If you’re willing to wait a few minutes, we’ll get it set up for you.”
Of course—it was as I’d predicted. I stepped aside for the less-than-chivalrous stranger, and the salesman gave him the same runaround—the 7.0 maps were causing trouble. I glanced at the stranger, and he fidgeted nervously with his order slip. I felt badly for him, with his stiff posture that began in his torso and ended at his feet, stuck in a pair of yellow, pointed Duranguense boots.
I braved a look at his face, which was tense, but still pleasant. He winked at me, or I might have imagined it. Maybe he had a random eye twitch.
“Miss Chevalier?” The salesman said. “Your map is ready. You’ll need to read the disclaimer and sign the waiver form, and then you’re as good as gold.”
I was as good as gold. I’d see about that, wouldn’t I? I signed the paperwork and, with my new map folded up in its sleek carrying case, I smiled at the vaquero before exiting the store.
Alone in my duplex, I was still good as gold. I unwound my winter gear, turned up the wall heater to sixty-five, and measured out a shot from my Christmas bottle of Jack Daniels. I thanked my cousin Jean for the whiskey—my aunt Shelby for the sausage-cheese gift basket.
Feast in hand, I sank to a comfortable position on the carpet. Gently, I unfolded the map and watched the pathways appear. As with most maps created from the 7.0 model, mine bore three lines: an inclined path, a middle path and a lower one, the last being the path of least resistance. The inclined one was risky and difficult, but worth it if you were the type who enjoyed skydiving.
With a mustard-free finger, I traced all three paths, marked by major life events. Because it was interactive, the events in between the majors would appear as I took steps toward them. Only the middle path gave me a possibility of marriage and children. My finger hovered over the family icon, and my insides clenched in longing. I traced the path back to its beginning and pressed the red X at the gate. That was the path I wanted.
Immediately, a sign glowed at me: JOB INTERVIEW 9:30 TOMORROW AT STARK & SONS PUBLISHING GROUP. Thank you, Granddad! But why did the map choose an interview in publishing? I had a degree in Marketing and no experience in publishing, or marketing, for that matter. At my first internship with an ad agency, I lost my boss three accounts due to my truth in advertising campaign: This toilet paper wipes your behind as well as the other leading brands offering two-ply quality! Antibacterial fibers! No need to waste thirty seconds of your life washing your hands! Or: This toothpaste has the same list of ingredients as the other fifty brands on the shelf! Studies show that adults who brush their teeth frequently have more dates with other adults who brush their teeth frequently!
What in my history would prompt such an interview? I imagined my style of book write-up for the prairie romances Stark’s published: East meets West when King Solomon unwinds Mary from the Prairie’s Braids. Solomon Braves the Prairie has 10% less romance and 80% more prairie than other books of its stature. Somehow, I didn’t think I was cut out for publishing. Along the edges of the map, I highlighted my statistical information in search of answers.
What a confusing mess. The map seemed to think I’d held numerous positions in publishing. At the bottom right corner, I ran my finger over the basics—my age (31), my degree (Marketing), and my name (Sebastian Cortez). Sebastian Cortez? The store had sold me a man’s map. Even with my bad luck, how could I have predicted such an error?
I should have immediately called Cartographia to explain the mix-up, but with his career in publishing and potential for family, Sebastian’s life was too enticing. Even if I couldn’t produce a family in the same way as Señor Cortez, the map would eventually discover my femininity. Why wouldn’t it?
The next morning dawned bright, sunlight sparkling on muddy snow patches. I rode the downtown bus to Stark & Sons, and I wasn’t nervous. Instead, I was cynical. Chances were that I wouldn’t get the job because I was Claire, after all, or because Sebastian Cortez wasn’t meant to have it, either.
Once in the posh lobby, I informed the receptionist I had an interview.
“Name?” she asked.
I shoved aside my doubts. Sebastian was a perfectly acceptable girl’s name. “Sebastian Cortez.”
“Oh. You’ll find his office on the second floor. Good luck.”
During the short elevator ride, I tried to work through this new mystery. Sebastian Cortez already worked here. Maybe Sebastian had an interview for a promotion. That was it—and, obviously, I was a fool. But the elevator stopped, and the doors slid open, and I was faced with yet another receptionist.
“May I help you?”
“I have an interview with Sebastian Cortez.”
Behind me, a door opened in a rush and smacked me on the head. I swiveled around, and there he stood—the vaquero with the Duranguense boots. Of course, he was Sebastian Cortez. I had his map, and he had mine.
“Excuse me,” he said to me, and then to his secretary, “Adele, did you call upstairs to see if they’re ready for my interview? Didn’t I tell you it was a great idea to buy my map?”
Adele slowly tapped at her keyboard, as though unperturbed by Sebastian’s excitement. “Did the map actually say you had an interview with Mr. Stark? Because Mr. Stark’s secretary insists you don’t.”
Sebastian’s nervous but pleasant face fell into a scowl. “It said, job interview 9:30 tomorrow at Stark & Sons Publishing Group. What other interview would I have here? I’m telling you, it’s my turn for a promotion.”
Adele cocked her head in my direction, an unsubtle attempt to refocus his attention on me. Finally, he looked at me, his brow creased in confusion.
“She has an interview with you.” Adele leafed through her desktop calendar. “What did you say your name was?”
“Claire Chevalier,” I said.
Sebastian snapped his fingers. “The map store. I saw you at the store, didn’t I?”
“Yes, I think so.” How could I forget those canary yellow boots?
“Well,” he said, and he looked me up and down, a thoughtful expression softening the lines around his mouth. “I guess you’d better come in if you’re supposed to have an interview.”
I smiled at him, relieved that he managed not to smack me with the door again. When I sat down opposite him, I knew there was no error. We looked at each other, ready to begin.