Mia looked up from the Facebook feed on her phone and met the spectacled gaze of the receptionist sitting behind the church office desk. She gave a thin smile and nodded.
“Pastor Cam will see you now,” the woman said with a kind smile that showed off yellowing teeth.
“Thanks,” Mia said, her voice unusually high. Dismissing the stab of nerves that bubbled up in her stomach, Mia got up from the hard church pew she’d been sitting on for the past fifteen minutes and tucked her cell into the back pocket of her jeans. Her hand went to the thin strap of her purse and fidgeted while she waited for the receptionist-Martha if the name plaque was correct-to extract herself from behind the meticulous desk.
“In here dear,” Martha smiled and opened the door to the pastor’s office. Standing back for Mia to pass, the older woman watched her through the red-rimmed reading glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. Mia smiled and brushed past her into the small office.
“Mia!” Cam pushed back from the cluttered desk with a big smile on his face and edged around the furniture to pull her in for a quick hug. “How are you doing?” he asked, holding her at arm’s length as the door closed behind her. “How are your parents? I haven’t seen them in a while.” Mia smiled at her pastor with genuine fondness; Cam was the kind of person you couldn’t help but feel good around. He had the sort of energy that lit up a room and made you feel as if he really saw you. That was probably how he’d managed to stay the pastor of Times Square Church for so long. Everyone loved him.
“They’re doing good!” Mia said, “Dad is super busy with work and Mom’s still teaching, so yeah, good. Busy but good.”
“That’s great,” His green eyes were bright in his tanned face as they stood staring at each other. “Well, come take a seat,” he said after a pause, “we have lots to talk about.” He turned his back to her, edging his large frame around two uncomfortable looking chairs to get behind his desk.
“For sure,” Another flutter of nerves kicked up as Mia lowered herself onto a cushioned seat and looked around the small room for the first time. Cam’s office was plain compared to the rest of the building’s extravagant decor. Natural light poured in through two small windows on the back wall; a potted money tree stood in the corner, soaking up the sun. Every inch of available wall space was covered with book-stuffed shelves and artwork. The small space smelled of “church,” like old musty Bibles.
“So,” Cam said, drawing her attention back, “how have you been Mia? What’s new?” He sat across from her, elbows propped on the desk, pointed chin resting on his knuckles as he regarded her with keen eyes. Mia couldn’t help but smile back. Cam was ten years her senior and married with three kids, but he had the open, eager expression of someone much younger.
“Um,” Mia began, at a loss, “Well I’m still working at Starbucks. I’ve had to pick up some extra shifts lately. That’s why I haven’t been at service for the past few weeks.” She grimaced. Cam didn’t seem to notice.
“So you’re still planning to go to Canada then?” He asked, sitting back in his chair with a creak of old springs.
“Yeah,” Mia answered, grateful for the change of topic. “I mean, I hope so,” she amended quickly, “I’m still waiting to hear if I got in at UBC.”
“For engineering, right?”
“Yeah,” She was surprised he remembered the detail at all. It had been a long time since Mia had last spoken to Cam about her plans to move to British Columbia. The University of British Columbia had an excellent engineering program, and it was far away from New York, which was exactly what Mia wanted. “That’s why I think this trip to Africa would be a really good experience for me,” She said, meeting Cam’s eye, “building sustainable housing is a huge part of what I want to do and I’d get to give back, you know?”
Cam was smiling, flashing his perfect “pastor” teeth. Deep dimples appeared in his cheeks when he smiled like that, lending to his youthful appearance. “You know this whole meeting is just a formality, right?” He said, sitting forward.
Mia didn’t dare speak; her heart lodged in her throat, waiting for him to elaborate.
“Yep,” Cam bobbed his head, his smile widening. “I knew I wanted you on the team from the moment I found out you were interested!”
“So what are you saying?” Mia had an idea where this was going but needed to hear it out loud to believe it. Cam seemed to understand and obliged her with a grin.
“I’m saying you’re going to Africa.”
“Oh my gosh!” All the air in her lungs felt like it had been sucked out. “Wow!” She jumped to her feet, “Thank you so much!” Her skin flushed with relief and excitement. Mia couldn’t believe it. She was going to Zambia in a few weeks time and off to Canada soon after if all worked out. Things were starting to fall into place, as she’d hoped they would. Mia couldn’t wait to tell Jake.
“Don’t thank me,” Cam said, getting to his feet, “I think you’re going to do great things in Africa, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Mia blinked to clear the sting of tears from her eyes; her heart felt like it would burst with gratitude. “Oh man, this is so exciting.” She ran a hand through her long auburn hair and took a deep breath. “Wow. Thank you for giving me this opportunity,” She said as she picked her way around the desk to give Cam another hug.
“Glad to do it,” Cam gave her a good squeeze before letting go. “Pack your bags kid; we leave in two weeks.”
Outside, a few feet away from the church doors, Mia stopped on the sidewalk and pulled her phone from the back pocket of her jeans. She powered on the screen and saw there were three messages; one from her mom and two from Jake. Mia couldn’t help the goofy smile that settled on her face upon reading first Jake’s message of encouragement and then his demand for details. She tapped out a text and hit the send button; then she read the message from her mom.
Can you pick up some milk on your way home from work?
Mia rolled her eyes and looked up from the phone, taking in her surroundings. It was a beautiful spring day, and 51st street was bustling with its usual volume of people rushing this way and that. A steady stream of cars inched down the one-way street, moving ten times slower than Mia could walk. Why anyone bothered with a car in Manhattan was beyond her. Looking back down at the screen of her phone Mia sighed and hit the lock button before slipping it into her pocket. She shouldn’t get irritated; it wasn’t like her mom meant to forget, she probably had a lot going on. As always.
Mia started down the street towards Broadway, doing her best to avoid getting bumped and jostled as she made her way to work. Her mom was a drama teacher at her old elementary school, Sacred Heart. She’d been teaching there since Mia was old enough to go to Kindergarten. Everyone loved Sarah Astor, at least that’s what all Mia’s school friends had said. Her mom was one of those super bubbly artsy types, the kind of person most people seemed to like. Mia was not.
Mia stepped to the side, dodging the cyclist who came whipping around the corner as she turned down Broadway. She kept walking, letting the flow of foot traffic pull her along. She was in no hurry to get to work. Mia had banked on this meeting with Cam taking at least half an hour, not the fifteen minutes it had taken for him to let her know she was going to Africa. A grin stretched her lips, and Mia ignored the weird looks she got from people as they passed by in the opposite direction. She was actually going!
For the past year since graduating from high-school, Mia had been trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Getting a job at the Starbucks by Columbus Circle had seemed like an excellent way to start; no matter what she decided, money was going to be necessary. Mia balanced her job with volunteering at the homeless shelter on 41st most Mondays and Fridays. The rest of her time was spent drawing or hanging out with Jake. Her phone buzzed once, then twice more in rapid succession; then it started vibrating in earnest. She pulled it out and accepted the call, “You looking for me?” Mia smiled, pressing the phone to her ear.
“Hey gorgeous,” Jake drawled over the line, and Mia giggled, ignoring the somersault her belly did at the sound of his voice. “Congratulations! I told you you’d get it.”
“Thanks!” Mia joined a group of people waiting for the lights to change. “I still can’t believe it.”
“We should celebrate,” Jake suggested, and Mia had to plug her other ear to hear his tinny voice through the phone. “Ruby’s?”
“Sure, I work till six, and I have to pick up some milk for my mom, but I can meet you there after?”
“Screw it,” He said. “I’ll get the milk for Sarah, and I’ll meet you at work when you finish. We can go for a walk in the park, and you can tell me all the details about your meeting.”
“I already told you everything there is to know,” Mia argued, but she couldn’t hide her amusement. The light changed, and the people around her surged across the intersection, carrying her with them.
“What time did you say you’d be done? The usual time?” Jake said, ignoring her.
“Yeah the usual. Oof!” She exclaimed as someone rammed into her shoulder.
“Nothing, just some jerk,” Mia turned her head to look after the man in the business suit who kept walking without a backward glance.
“Okay. I gotta go, Mee,” Jake said using his nickname for her, “I’ll see you at six?”
“Yup, see you then!”
“See you.” The line went dead.
Mia looked down at her phone, noticing the time. Ten thirty; she still had half an hour to make it to work. It would only take her ten minutes to get there. She stopped by a window display full of pharmaceuticals and fished her earphones out of her purse. The reflections of countless people passed by on the sidewalk behind her, all of them with a purpose, all with somewhere to be. Her gaze flicked to her face as she pressed the buds into her ears. Her hair was a bit of a mess, tousled by the light breeze. Mia patted at it, squinting her brown eyes in exasperation when the thick auburn locks refused to be tamed. Giving it up as a lost cause, she made to turn away, but something in her peripheral vision stopped her. Were her eyes messing with her or had the glass just rippled?
She stared at her reflection in the pharmacy window and frowned. When the glass surface stayed smooth, Mia shrugged. Maybe she had more in common with her mother than she thought. The idea made her smirk, and Mia stuck her tongue out at the serious girl staring back at her and walked away.