Today's Reading

Rose doesn't want Liddy to hang around, because she might get suspicious if Marta comes in. But she senses Liddy has something to share, and because Rose can't resist a good share she asks if Liddy wants a cup of coffee. Liddy hesitates, then asks for tea. Rose rummages around in a cabinet and finds a tea bag and two mugs. She's a coffee drinker herself, and although she tries to keep it down to four cups a day, she always drinks more. This will be her third so far this morning.

Still standing, Liddy asks awkwardly, "How goes the new school year?"

Rose thinks this is a weird question because it's got to be the last thing Liddy wants to talk about, what with this being the first year her kids are away. Liddy told her that it was her husband who made the decision to send the two of them to boarding school and that she didn't like it one bit. So this must be the thing Liddy says before she's ready to say the real thing she wants to say.

Rose wants to hear the real thing, but sometimes you have to wait until the other person is ready to spill the good stuff, so she says, "Charlotte hates her teacher and Emma says none of her friends are in any of her classes, which is something I know isn't true. Michael slinks out of the house every morning without saying a word to anyone. Who knows if he's even going to school?"

"Sorry about Michael, but he's just a kid. He'll come around." Liddy stares into her mug as if there are leaves to read instead of a tea bag floating like a dead goldfish on top of the yellowy water. "The world is so crazy. Oppressive, even. "

"You okay?" The world is crazy, but Rose thinks Liddy must be talking about the husband, the great and terrible W. Garrett Haines the Third. On top of sending the kids away, he sold their house in Weston and made Liddy move into the city with him. Not that Rose would mind living at Millennium Tower—"The Tower," as everyone calls it. But Liddy once said that she'd rather her twins had a home to come back to. And why would she have stashed all their old stuff in her unit unless Garrett wouldn't let her keep it?

Liddy puts her half-empty cup next to the coffee machine and hands Rose her envelope. "I'm fine," she says as she walks out the door. Which Rose doesn't believe for a second.

Fortunately, Liddy is long gone when Marta shows. The young woman steps up to Rose's desk but doesn't sit. "I cannot thank you enough for what you are doing for me," she says in her perfect but fake- sounding English. "If it were not for your many kindnesses—"

Rose raises her hand to stop the girl with the sad puppy-dog eyes because Marta's gratitude makes her feel even worse than she always feels on rent day. Marta is from Venezuela and she's pretty in the way girls from South America are with their dark hair and skin that looks like they're tan all the time. She has the most beautiful smile, which she doesn't use much, and she's really smart and used to be really rich like those people in soap operas with maids and swimming pools and bars in their living rooms.

When Marta was trying to convince Rose that she would be no trouble if Rose let her live at Metropolis, she said she went to some school in France and then to college at Cambridge. The one that's in England not Massachusetts. This must be why she talks like she's stuck-up but she isn't. Just like Liddy isn't. Marta is also brave about facing a whole bunch of really bad stuff that she hasn't told Rose about. But Rose knows enough of Marta's story to get why she's not going to share her problems. "It's okay, Marta. Really," she says. "You don't have to thank me, hon."

Marta hands her an envelope and slips out of the office without another word. Rose puts Marta's envelope on top of Serge's.

WITH CHECKS AND cash in her pocketbook, Rose locks the office door and heads to the ATM. The students are back with all their noise and hustle-bustle. She imagines their summers in Maine or Cape Cod with them riding around in those fast little boats her Vince is always mooning after. She stands at the corner of Mass Ave and Vassar Street, right across from MIT, where all these smarty-pants go, and where she hopes her smarty-pants Emma will go someday—with a full scholarship. The students ignore the light and jaywalk like the cars aren't even there. Like they're the president. And they're everywhere, crowding every sidewalk, and now they're all at the machine where she needs to make her deposit.

Rose crosses the street and goes to the back of a line snaking into the gas station parking lot and presses her pocketbook close, itching to be done with it because she wants to put the whole business behind her for another thirty days. Shifting on her feet, she turns and looks back at Metropolis, a bulky six-story brick building with crazy round windows and castle-like towers sticking up at the top.

It's so different from the rows of garage doors you see on the self- storage places along the highway, and she wonders what they were thinking back in the olden days building it in such a fancy way. A renter who looked up a bunch of facts about the building said it was one of the first storage places in the city, like in the late 1800s. Railroad tracks ran next to it, and men would unload their wares for only short periods of time, just as long as it took them to sell them.

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