At Loose Ends by Prudence Macleod by Prudence Macleod - Read Online

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Summary

The terrorist attack of 9/11 had far reaching effects, disrupted lives in many countries.  Kassidy Wells, an upwardly mobile young woman was one such unexpected victim.  This is her story, a story of success, loss, and love in the wake of disaster.

Published: Shadoe Publishing on
ISBN: 9781974089031
List price: $6.99
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At Loose Ends - Prudence Macleod

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content.

The Bubble Burst

Kassidy Wells yawned and smiled as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and searched for her slippers with her toes.  She reached over to shut off the alarm before it had a chance to ring; she wouldn’t need Wagner to get her going this morning.  With a contented sigh, she looked at the empty side of the bed and smiled. 

Oh yeah? she said aloud, to the man who hadn’t been there for months.  A loser and failure am I, Jerky?  Oops, I mean Johnny.  Well buddy, you’re looking at the naked form of the newest senior ticket agent in the fleet.  That big TV set you wanted so badly?  Well, I bought it yesterday to celebrate my new raise.  It took every cent I had, but I did it just to spite you.  Laughing, she headed for the bathroom and a hot shower. 

Enjoying the feel of the water on her slender five-foot-two-inch frame, Kassidy tried to forget those bitter thoughts of her cheating boyfriend.  She had thrown him out and continued to maintain the expensive apartment by herself.  Common sense had told her to look for a smaller place, but she wanted to prove that she didn’t need him to live well, and somehow, she had managed. 

It was a payday to payday life, but she was making it, and now, with the new promotion, things would begin to change.  Kassidy could feel it in her bones as she toweled herself off and dried her shoulder length dark brown hair.  Today would be the first day at her new job and there were great things in store for September eleventh, two thousand and one.

Kassidy blew her hair dry and dressed in her neat navy uniform.  She made a last-minute adjustment to her makeup, polished her glasses one more time, then left the apartment and caught the airport bus to work.  Everyone she met brightened up as they returned her dazzling smile with a shy one of their own.  With the easy strides of someone who is supremely confident, she marched into the small office and punched in her card.  Looking every inch the picture of total efficiency, she sat to her new desk and began to set out the new work schedules.  Kassidy Wells was having a wonderful day.

* * * * *

Several hours later, Kassidy and her co-workers were glued to the small TV screen, as they watched the terrorist’s attack.  Again, and again they watched as the huge plane full of passengers and crew slammed directly into the World Trade Center towers.

Somehow, Kassidy got her people back to their stations, and went herself to help reassure the sudden overflow of passengers who were going nowhere; all flights were grounded.  What should have been quitting time for Kassidy became the middle of the day, and she finally made it home just before midnight.  The horror of what had happened that morning hit her as she came through the door of her apartment.  Kassidy stripped off and went straight to bed where she cried herself to sleep.

Several days of inactivity followed, and Kassidy often found herself the only one at the airport, when she actually was called in to work.  Head office was keeping her updated pretty closely, and she was passing the information along to stranded passengers as well as her own people who had been sent home with no work at all.  Finally, they were back in the air, but a few days showed her the omens of doom.  The passengers were few and far between, and it was becoming a dogfight for every ticket sold.

Weeks went by and it was into October when the bomb fell.  The government had bailed out their competition, but had left her company to file for bankruptcy.  Two days later every plane was called home to Toronto, and grounded. 

She tried to remain upbeat through it all, fully expecting, as everyone else did, that the government would finally get on the ball and save the five thousand jobs that were on the line.  They didn’t.  Just a few weeks after celebrating her promotion, Kassidy Wells was going home without her final paycheck.  She was now on the dole, and in deep trouble.

Never a woman to give up, she tried to make a plan.  She sold most of her furniture and jewelry, keeping only what was necessary to survive.  Several attempts to find work or a cheaper place to live all proved fruitless.  The job market was flooded and housing in the city was at a premium.  Kassidy had an apartment, but she wasn’t going to be able to hold it for long, and she knew it.

With tears streaming down her face, she made up a survival box.  In it she put one change of underwear, one good outfit, her spare glasses and her last few pieces of jewelry.  With sinking heart, she gave it to her minister to keep for her, just in case.  Another box with all her very special personal things, photo albums, trinkets, keepsakes and such was mailed home to her mom in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, with a letter explaining her situation; begging her to keep the box safe just until Kassidy could get back on her feet.

Carrying the huge purse she’d bought, Kassidy continued to roam the streets looking for any kind of work at all; there was none to be found.  The purse contained spare underwear and her essentials.  Kassidy fully expected to return to the apartment to find the doors locked against her, and an eviction notice on the door. 

The first week of November it happened, her key no longer fit the lock.  What little furniture she had left had been seized, and, until the two months overdue rent was paid, she couldn’t get it back.  Kassidy spent that night in a cheap motel.  She spent the next in an overcrowded shelter, and the next in an alleyway, huddling behind a dumpster, out of the wind and trying to stay warm.

* * * * *

The door to the small, neat, apartment swung open and a tired Teagan Marie Wallace stepped through. Throwing her keys on the table, she kicked the door closed again.  Tossing her purse after the keys, Teagan slipped out of her coat and boots and into her slippers.  She yawned and stretched her tiny five-foot-one-inch frame as tall as she could.  Tall enough to smack an elf on the knee, her brother had often said.  Gods, how she wished he would call right now, just to tease her again.  Ah well, no point going there, not after all this time.

I’ve definitely got the blues, she thought, as she padded to the kitchen.  I really need to eat.  Pulling a frozen dinner from the fridge, she stuck it in the microwave.  Pouring herself a glass of skim milk while she waited, Teagan started toward the TV but stopped herself short.  Do I truly want to watch the news tonight and get even more depressed than I am? she asked herself.  She turned back to the kitchen and her solitary TV dinner.

Glancing at the clock, Teagan sighed and dropped the food tray into the garbage.  It had been a long evening; she just wanted to soak her body in a sea of bubbles and let it all wash away.  Teagan headed for the bathroom, stripping off as she went. 

Immersed to her chin in her bath she smiled for the first time in hours.  There are advantages to being petite, she thought.  You can at least have a good soak in a regular sized tub.  Slowly the hot water and the scent of the candles that lit the room eased the gloom that gripped her heart.

Teagan had begun to volunteer several nights per week at the local shelter for the homeless.  She’d seen a program on the TV about all the people thrown out of work after the terrorist’s attacks, and how many of them had become homeless.  One woman had stuck in her mind, a young ticket agent from a now defunct airline.  Do I look like a homeless person to you? the defiant girl had asked the interviewer.  Not quite yet, Teagan had remarked at the time, but you’re getting there, you poor soul. She’d wanted to take the tearfully defiant young girl in her arms and carry her home to a warm bath and a hot meal.  She’d started volunteering the next evening.

Teagan toweled off her tiny one-hundred-pound body and pulled on her warm fuzzy robe and slippers.  She blew out the candles as the tub drained and headed straight to the bedroom.  Propping herself up on a pile of pillows, Teagan took out her diary.  Each year she bought herself one for Christmas and started it at New Years.  It was late November now and soon it would be time to buy another.  Sighing deeply, Teagan opened the book to the very first entry she’d made.

Dear Diary, well, another Christmas alone; that makes five in a row.  Still no card or call from Mom and Dad, Jimmy, or Carla.  Man, those guys can really hold a grudge.  All I did was tell them I was lesbian, for Christ’s sake; I didn’t shoot anybody’s grandchildren or anything.  It seemed natural to tell them since I was living with Judy at the time.  Now Judy has been gone for over eight years and so has my family.  Three other lovers have come and gone as well and I fear I will be alone forever now.  No, forget that, this year will be different, 2001 will be my year you will see.  Teagan.

A tear ran down her cheek as she read that entry so full of despair and hope.  Ah well, sighed the eternal optimist, the year isn’t over yet.  Time for another entry.

Dear Diary, I was late getting home from the soup kitchen again tonight.  I know I stayed longer than I should have, but they needed the help and I had to stay.  My heart breaks for those poor people.  I get so depressed I have no desire to play or sing at all.  Maybe I’ll take a break tomorrow night and start singing again.  I’ll go down Saturday afternoon instead. Teagan.

Laying aside her diary, she settled down in the bed and sought for sleep and escape.  She dreamed of a deserted airport and a defiant woman with deep brown eyes; she was dressed in a ticket agent’s uniform.

True to her word, Teagan stayed home the next night and dusted off her harp.  She played and sang songs of joy and laughter until she was floating on the best mood she’d been in for a long time.  Two evenings in a row she played and sang, and her natural bubbly personality was returning.  Friday, her co-workers remarked that she must be in love; she was so full of smiles. 

I wish.  She’d laughed at the suggestion, but she dreamed of the defiant brown eyed girl again.  This time she saw her reaching out, but Teagan’s hands fell short and the girl was whisked away into the mist.

Saturday morning Teagan arose and made herself a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.  It looked like a cold day outside and she knew it would be many hours before she’d eat again.  With a chuckle, she grabbed a handful of chocolate chips and downed them with the last of her coffee. 

Why not? she asked herself with a guilty grin.  It’s the first of December today and I’m in the spirit.  How can I help those folks feel better if I’m such a downer myself?  God, what a funk a month’s worth of TV news put me in.  It’s Christmas time now and I’m going to get with it.  Maybe later today I’ll put up the tree.

Dressing warmly, she headed down the stairs and warmed up her old car.  She waited for a few moments until she was sure it was running smoothly then hit the button to raise the automatic steel door.  Driving out into the cold clear light of a winter’s day, she drove to the parking lot behind the mission where she volunteered.  There were several people lining up there already as she went inside.

Teagan, so glad you’re here with us, smiled a rather frazzled looking older woman.  Can you serve today?

I’m there, Jean, Teagan replied brightly, as she hung up her coat and tied on an apron from the hook.  It was far too large for her and she had to wrap the strings around her tiny waist twice.  It was several hours later of standing, serving hot food to freezing, down on their luck folks, and now the food was nearly gone and so was Teagan’s stamina.  She was tired, hungry, and desperate for a washroom break. 

Teagan made her escape, but was soon back at the counter.  She had just returned when she heard the older woman’s soft apology.  I am so sorry, Kassidy, but it is all gone, there’s not even a single crust of bread left. 

Teagan looked up to see the girl from the TV show a few weeks past.  Oh gods, honey, she thought as her heart broke for this girl, you look like a homeless person now.

I knew I should have been here earlier, the girl sighed, but I had a job interview.

Oh, Kassidy, that’s so wonderful, exclaimed Jean, how did it go?

They took one look at me and asked me to leave, the girl replied with tears in her eyes.  I tried to clean up a bit at the gas station, but not enough I guess.  Are you sure there’s nothing left, Jean?

Sorry honey, but there’s not a single scrap.

It’s okay, I’ll survive, she sighed softly, is there room for me tonight?

Honey, I’m so very sorry, replied the woman shaking her head sadly.

Don’t sweat it, Jean, I’ll be first in line tomorrow, I swear.  She dropped her head sadly, and, pulling her coat closer around her thin shoulders, she headed for the door.

Kassidy, wait, called Teagan.  The girl turned to see who had called her name.

Do I know you? she asked defensively.

Not yet, smiled Teagan, I’m Teagan Wallace, I’m dead on my feet, and I’m hungry as a bear.  There’s a small coffee shop nearby where we could get a meal.  Would you like to join me?

I can’t pay my share, said the girl, both embarrassed and angrily defiant.  I’m not only homeless, but destitute as well.

I wasn’t suggesting that you should, said Teagan, I just wanted some company.  It’ll be my treat.

I don’t do any more interviews for writers or reporters, and if you’re some kind of lesbian trying to pick me up, I’m not interested.

I’m neither a writer nor reporter, Teagan replied stiffly.  I live alone and have for years.  I don’t drink, and because of that, and the fact that I’m so small, I’m very careful who I socialize with, so I have few friends.  I just wanted some intelligent company for a meal, and you looked like you could use a few minutes in out of the cold, as well as being small enough to be no threat, that’s all.  I’m really sorry I offended you.  She turned away toward the back of the building.

Miss Wallace, please wait, called Kassidy.  I apologize for my outburst.  I guess my manners are in worse shape than my clothes.  If the offer’s still open I’d love a hot meal and some polite conversation.

Teagan turned back with a bright smile and approached her.  Hi, I’m Teagan Wallace, she said brightly, holding out her hand, want to do lunch?

Kassidy nearly cried to be given a second chance like this; she mustered up her best smile to match Teagan’s.  Kassidy Wells, she replied as she wiped her fingers on her coat before shaking Teagan’s small delicate hand, and I’d love to do lunch.

Alright then, Kassidy, smiled Teagan, as she hooked her arm through the slim girl’s, let’s be on our way.

In From the Cold

––––––––

They walked the half block to the coffee shop with Teagan chattering about feeling the cold more each year.  She continued to make small talk as they entered the warm restaurant.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was clean and warm.  The waitress shot a disapproving glance at Kassidy, but seeing Teagan’s glare, dropped her gaze and blushed.  She indicated they should sit wherever they chose, and Teagan steered Kassidy to a spot where she was right beside a heater.  Smiling her gratitude, Kassidy cuddled up to the warmth.

The special looks filling, mused Teagan.  What would you like, Kassidy?

I’ll have whatever you’re having, replied Kassidy softly.

Two specials, lots of coffee with loads of cream and sugar, smiled Teagan, as she placed the order.  With a soft yes, ma’am, the waitress disappeared and returned immediately with their coffee.

Warming up yet?

Getting there, replied Kassidy, as she took another sip of the steaming liquid and cupped her delicate hands around the mug.

I saw you on television a few weeks ago, said Teagan gently.  I was so impressed by your spirit.  That interview made me realize the people I’d been walking past each day were real human beings.  I started volunteering at the shelter the next day.

Oh?  I haven’t seen you there until today.

I’ve been going in after work a few times each week.  I do what I can and give where I am able.

The world could use a few more like you, replied Kassidy.  May I ask where you work?

I work for the post office, grinned Teagan.  I’m your quintessential middle manager.

So was I, sighed Kassidy, for a few weeks anyway.  I got promoted and September eleventh was my first day at the new job.  My airline was gone within weeks and here I am.

God, Kassidy, that really sucks, observed Teagan, and it was clear she meant it.  Kassidy was warming up to this tiny woman quickly.  Teagan wasn’t trying to get her life story or display a lot of insincere sympathy.  She wasn’t being condescending or anything, she was treating Kassidy like a friend who’d just had a bit of bad luck. 

The food arrived and they ate in silence for a while.  Finally, Kassidy noticed that she had finished her meal completely, but Teagan had actually eaten very little.  I thought you said you were hungry, she said suspiciously.

I am, or at least I was.  I’m only small you know, it really doesn’t take a lot to fill me up.

You’re not that small, for Pete’s sake, stop saying that.

Maybe not to you, but you’re an elf like me.

Am not, laughed Kassidy, I’m way bigger than you.

Are not, replied Teagan with mischief in her voice.  You just have a thicker coat.

Stop it now, responded Kassidy who was laughing heartily now.  You said you wanted intelligent conversation.

Oops, right you are.  You know, you have a wonderful laugh.  You should use it more often.

Thank you for that, but I haven’t had a lot to laugh about lately.

Want to talk about it?

Not so very much to tell, sighed Kassidy.  In a way, I’m the author of my own demise.

In what way?

Well, I have a tendency to be a bit of a bulldog, replied Kassidy ruefully.  "I hung onto a bad relationship much longer than I should have.  We rented a far nicer apartment than we could afford considering our combined income at the time.  When we finally parted right after last Christmas, I got my stubborn streak wound up and refused to let the apartment go.  By September I was a month behind on the rent, but, with the promotion and the big raise that went with it, I was so sure I was on my way. 

"I spent all my reserves to keep that place, then the bottom fell out of my world; I was unemployed and on the street.  If I had only swallowed my pride and found a cheaper place to live much earlier, I might have been able to hang on and not be kicking around the streets at loose ends.

As it is, I pick up my check, spend a day or two in a cheap hotel trying to get cleaned up and apply for jobs.  This time I got robbed just as I cashed my check, and I couldn’t get the hotel.  Besides, nobody wants to hire you if you have no address or phone.

You were robbed?

I did something dumb, sighed Kassidy.  I took my money out of my purse to count it; a street kid knocked me down and took it.

Did you go to the police?

They didn’t believe me.  They just didn’t want to believe me.  They threw me out saying they wouldn’t even put me in a warm jail for the night.  The bastards.

Bastards indeed, Teagan agreed softly.  Kassidy, thank you for sharing your story so freely with me.  You’re giving me quite an education here.  It seems that our society likes to kick those who are down, rather than give them a helping hand up.  I’m ashamed for us all.

Don’t carry the load for everybody else, Teagan, said Kassidy.  You do what you can, and maybe no one’s told you lately, but some of us do appreciate it.

When we met you sounded a bit defensive and angry.  Can you talk about that?

"Well, after the TV interview thing, I was quite hopeful.  I was so sure that people would see what was happening to us, and that some of the empty buildings around town would be opened up as temporary shelters for the winter.  I assumed that the government would start some kind of re-training program for those thousands of us who were thrown out of work.  Absolutely nothing happened.

"I had a few wannabe writers come around looking for some kind of sensational story or something.  Most were too damn cheap to even buy me a coffee.  One woman suggested that if I cleaned myself up a bit she would take me home for the night, provided I was friendly and adventuresome enough.  When I said I wasn’t interested in a one-night stand with a man or a woman, she stomped away leaving me with the lunch tab. 

It took every cent I had to pay it and I went without food for two days until my next check came in.  That was two weeks ago and this time most of the check money got stolen.  Sometimes I think that if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.  Look, Teagan, thanks for listening without all the fake sympathy.  It’s so very nice just to vent a bit and have somebody just sit and listen."

So, tell me about Kassidy Wells, smiled Teagan.

I just did.

No, you’ve told me about the post-September Kassidy.  I want to know about the pre-September Kassidy Wells.  Where is she from?  What things does she like to do?  Has she traveled extensively?  Would she like to?  What are some of her favorite things?

Whoa, whoa, laughed Kassidy.  "The full biography would take quite some time, but I can give you the Reader’s Digest version.  I’m a Nova Scotian by birth, but I grew up in Prince Edward Island where I loved to walk on the lonely beaches at every chance I got.  I like small dogs, science fiction movies, Chinese food, Celtic music, I haven’t traveled as much as I had planned, not by a long shot, but it isn’t over for me yet.

Now how about you give it up a bit.  Just who is Teagan Wallace really, and what dread secrets does she hide beneath that enigmatic elfin smile?

Okay, fair is fair, laughed Teagan.  She signaled for more coffee, and, after the waitress had left, took a sip before continuing.  "Teagan Marie Wallace was conceived in Scotland and hatched in Canada, as my father likes to put it.  I grew up here in Ontario, the eldest daughter of a very strict religious family. 

"Upon graduating from U of T, I went to work for the post office and I’m still there.  I play the harp, I sing, I love Chinese food and Celtic music as well as all small furry animals.  I hope to continue in my position to pension then retire to someplace where I can walk the long lonely beaches of sand and be cozy inside in soft snowy winters.

I live alone by choice now because of too many failed relationships.  When I find someone who’s willing to dedicate the kind of energy to a relationship that I am, perhaps I’ll try again.

And your family?

I have had no contact with any of them in eight years, replied Teagan, dropping her gaze.  They can’t reconcile one of my darkest secrets with their version of religion.

Care to share? asked Kassidy softly.

I’m a lesbian.  Relax girl, the princess’s virtue is in no danger here.  I just wanted the company.

Oh dear, oh my, oh goodness me, exclaimed Kassidy, batting her eyelashes and fluttering her hand over her breast.  Teagan was laughing so hard she was holding her sides.  Oh, whatever shall I do?

Stop, for the love of god, stop, gasped Teagan.  You’re killing me.

Sorry, about your family, I mean.

Their choice, sighed Teagan as she regained her breath.  What about your family, Kassidy?  Is there no help there?

Not really, they sent me a few hundred but that was all, replied Kassidy.  They say they have no more money to share so they say I should move home, but I can’t go home like this.  I just couldn’t move back in with my parents, not now; some fates are worse than death.  See what I mean?  I’m my own worst enemy.

Or strongest ally, smiled Teagan.  I really admire your spirit, girl.  Even under extreme circumstances, you have that defiant determination.  You will rise above this, you’ll see.

Thank you, Teagan, I sure hope you’re right.

So do you have any prospects?  Oh shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.

No no, it’s alright.  It’s just the way it looks on the surface.  I have no prospects, no future except to slowly fall from the Employment Insurance to the welfare.  My only plan is to survive the winter and hope for a hot summer.

Hot summer?

I can’t function now in the cold, being homeless and all.  If I can save a bit of money and survive the winter, things will surely be better.  The airline industry should be recovering by then, and in the warmer weather I can stay clean and wash my clothes easier.  I might even be able to make myself presentable for an interview that way.  That’s the plan anyhow.

There’s that defiance again, smiled Teagan.  Even in the face of all this adversity, you still make a workable plan and take steps on your own behalf.  I love the fact that you just don’t quit and give up.

Giving up’s just not in my nature.  Defeat’s just not an option I’m willing to consider.  Circumstances might force me to alter my plans, but I will never surrender.

God bless your courageous heart, my little warrior princess, Teagan smiled.  May your luck change soon.

Thanks Teagan.  I guess I just need a chance, that’s all.  I need someone to give me a real chance to prove myself worthy.  I really don’t care at this point what it is, or how bizarre it might sound.  I just need something that’ll provide for my basic needs and give me a bit of a challenge.  I swear to any god who will listen; if I’m given a chance, I’ll devote all my energy and abilities to making a success of the tasks, whatever they may be.

You truly mean that, don’t you?

Yes, I do, Kassidy replied emphatically.  Just give me a chance, I’ll succeed or die in the attempt.  What is it, Teagan?

Huh?  Oh nothing, Kassidy, just a random thought, nothing more.

No no, you had an idea, what was it?

"No Kassidy, I’m truly sorry, please just let it go, it was