Instead of a job in publishing, as her Life Map suggested she would have, Claire Chevalier took a boyfriend at Stark & Sons Publishing Group and a night position at Anita’s Diner. A smart woman with a degree in marketing had too much dignity to turn up homeless at the mercy of one Sebastian Cortez, otherwise known as Acquisitions Editor at Stark’s, as well as the Man Who Never Left the coffee counter.
Ostensibly, Sebastian lingered over ever-whitening coffee because he was in love with Claire. This should have flattered her, but it didn’t. She cleaned away his stack of empty cream cups, and then he, having nothing to play with, stared at her while she filled salt and pepper shakers.
“Your map just told me you need to go home and sleep,” she said, unable to temper the ragged tone in her voice.
“Your map told me you shouldn’t turn down love when it’s offered to you,” he said.
“I want my map back,” she grumbled. “And in return, you can have yours.”
“Fine, I’ll take yours back to the Cartographia and tell them they made a mistake. They’ll deprogram the one you have and give me a new one. And then no map for you. You won’t have your future or mine.”
“Our futures belong to each other. The maps said so.” He hung his head over the counter with his hangdog way and finally pulled a few bills from his wallet and tucked them squarely under the brown mug.
Claire watched him disappear into the early morning, his pointy vaquero boots leading him to his actual apartment, away from his default coffee-bar bedroom.
“No seas cruel, chiquita! No seas cruel con mi corazón,” sang the cook.
When did she turn into a cruel woman? The late nights did it, the lack of sleep combined with Sebastian’s overt caricature of himself as he hovered over her every night. Before Sebastian, she had wanted love. Since Sebastian, she wanted love with a different sort of man, the kind not wrapped up in his own special identity. No, scratch that. She wanted the true Sebastian to emerge from his beautiful soul. Deep inside, Sebastian was sweet and refined, and the sweetness shone from his warm brown eyes.
Outwardly, he put on rugged airs. He was a Mexican! He was a cowboy! He was a manly editor who earned three times what she made as a waitress, only to procure historical romances about cowboys! who were often Mexican! and when they were square-jawed Anglos! they purchased mail-order, spitfire Mexican brides! And everybody participated in shootouts happily ever after. He thought so highly of his literary taste, too.
After her shift, she crumpled her apron in her bag, which didn’t contain Sebastian’s map. She didn’t care to study the life steps detailed on it these days because they always led him back to her. It had seemed so cute at first, when the map store, the Cartographia, had accidentally sold her his map, and vice versa. Their map steps led them to each other, and so they kept the wrong maps with the understanding that their chosen Life Paths would intertwine until death did them part. As interactive and scientific as the maps were, the magic of fate enticed them.
Your map is telling me to buy you roses. Your map is telling me to kiss you. It wasn’t cute any longer. Claire wanted out, wanted a new map that would advise her to find a different job and, possibly, a different man who lacked Sebastian’s dewy, romantic eyes. Scratch that. She didn’t want a different man, just a new map.
At home, she attempted sleep, Sebastian’s hangdog image caught in her head. Sleeping in the day was impossible. She ate a peanut butter sandwich because she was poor, and braved the rainy spring day outdoors, if only to walk to the downtown Cartographia store.
She plunked Sebastian’s map and her receipt on the counter. “I want a new map. You sold me the wrong one.”
The salesman studied the receipt. “You should have brought this back three months ago.”
“So? It’s your fault for selling me somebody else’s map, and you should fix it.” Yes, lack of sleep made Claire snappish.
“I can give you a discount on a new map, but the problem is your warranty ran out last week.”
“I can’t afford a new one. Don’t you understand? You sold me a man’s map. It’s your fault.” She unfolded Sebastian’s map and pointed to all the information that didn’t pertain to her.
The last step on the map lit up at the renewed activity. Go to the downtown Cartographia on your lunch hour, it said. The salesman made a funny coughing noise, and the door censor buzzed. Claire felt Sebastian’s fateful presence, and she turned to face him.
Sebastian didn’t smile. “I decided to bring your map back,” he said.
“It’s too late. The warranty’s expired. Did my map tell me to come here?”
“No,” he protested, but then gave her a sheepish look. “Yes, actually it did.”
She grabbed his map off the counter and shoved it at him. “I thought so. It’s time to make the trade.”
He didn’t argue. The sadness in his eyes was terrible, though. He shuffled back out the door with his own map in hand.
“Fine,” she said, and followed him out.
The tile outside was slick with rain, and her heels slipped on it. She might have fallen, but Sebastian caught her. Her map, however, fell in a puddle and immediately blanked–her life a big, black nothing.
She seethed. She hated Sebastian. This was his fault, and to make matters worse, he lowered her to the wet sidewalk rather than helping her up.
She looked up at his face, at the warm eyes peering down at her and blinking away what might have been tears. She pointed to her map.
“That’s all right,” he said. “At least we still have mine. Maybe it will tell us what to do.”
He unfolded it. Recommend your fiance to the marketing department.
She felt betrayed. Maybe she was always supposed to have a job at Stark’s. “You’ve been tricking me into a relationship, haven’t you? Just admit it.”
He shook his head and pointed to the word fiance. “I can only recommend you if we’re engaged,” he said, and offered her his hand.
Against her better judgment, and not knowing what her map would say, she took it.
For the first part of this story see MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case One.