Reese’s phone buzzed in her purse and she pulled it out, shoving it right back in with a squeak when she saw it was her mother calling.
Oh God, what was she going to tell her?
Of course, she’d kept Lorna posted about the travel delays, but they’d hung up with the understanding that she would beg, borrow and steal to get there on time. If she’d only splurged and rented the car, she could have made it.
Numb down to her toes, Reese shouldered the royal blue duffel bag with her name embroidered on the side and walked blindly into the fray of humanity, Times Square flashing with moving advertisements and color in the distance. She hadn’t eaten since scarfing down a bag of chips on the flight, but she wasn’t sure she’d even consume food again, considering her stomach had turned into a crime scene. Sick. She was going to be sick.
I missed my last chance.
And might as well admit it. That’s what this audition had been. She had no college degree or any other useful skill to fall back on. Since graduating high school, she’d been assisting her mother part time at the Cedar-Boogie Dance School, working night shifts at Dairy Queen. Using all of her spare money to attend dance classes in Milwaukee on her nights off. Appearing in community productions where she could as an ensemble dancer. Her plan since childhood had always been to see her name in lights. To succeed at the one and only thing she loved. On three separate occasions since high school, she’d saved up enough money to travel to New York for open casting calls, but she’d never gotten a callback.
Was this a sign from the universe that it wasn’t meant to be?
The next time Reese glanced up, she was in the thick of Times Square.
She slumped down on a stone pillar, bag in her lap, and watched the electronic stock market ticker tape fly left beneath a Calvin Klein billboard. And she tried to gather enough courage to take the phone back out of her purse and call her mother with the devastating news.
“Rough day, honey?”
Reese looked around for the source of the raspy voice, but none of the people currently zooming in both directions appeared to be speaking to her.
“Over here.” Again, she looked, but there was no one paying her the least bit of attention. “The Pikachu, honey. I’m literally sitting right next to you.”
“Oh.” She shook herself, doing a quick once-over of the man leaned up against the neighboring pillar. Indeed, he was well over six feet, dressed like the bright yellow Pokémon character, with a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. “Er…hello.”
“Don’t feel bad for overlooking me,” he said, taking a long drag. “In my experience, not getting excited by a grown man in a costume is a good sign you’re a well-adjusted adult. We’re more for the kids, you know? It’s uncomfortable when grown-ups get excited over a Pikachu.”
Reese ordered up a smile, though it felt nothing short of sickly. “Well. If you were SpongeBob, all bets would be off.”
“Ouch. You really went there.” He clucked his tongue. “There’s a lot of competition between us yellow guys, you know.”
“I sincerely apologize.”
“Ah, I’m just fucking with you.” He offered her a yellow…paw? “I’m Link.”
“Reese.” She shook the cushioned felt. “And yes, you could say it’s been a rough day.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You sure? I’m dressed as Pikachu in Times Square.” He blew out a jet stream of cigarette smoke. “I’m the undisputed king of bad days.”
What would it hurt to unburden herself to this stranger at the crossroads of the world? There was virtually no chance that she would ever run into him again. Besides, she could see through the face hole of his costume that he was roughly nearing the end of his forties and the lines on his face gave him kind of a fatherly vibe. Or what she imagined might be one. At the very least, telling Link what happened would delay the phone call with her mother by a few minutes. “I missed my audition. It was a huge one, with the king of musical theater.” She swallowed, the reality of the situation washing over her again in a hot wave. “I had some…no, a lot of travel issues trying to get here with one day’s notice and it was my only chance. I can’t keep pretending I’m going to make it one day when that is becoming less likely by the minute.”
“Can’t you call and tell the king dude what happened? Plead your case?”
“No. The thing about dance is…there are zero excuses. It’s unforgiving—and getting in front of this guy in particular is like winning the lottery. I can’t ask them to let me win twice. In this world, you show up. You perform. No one cares about your reasons for failing, you know? You just failed.”
“So you’re just going to give up? Like that?”
She removed the rubber band from her long, dirty-blonde hair and scrubbed at her scalp. “I don’t see it as giving up. I see it as being realistic.”
“No way.” He tossed down his cigarette and stubbed it out with the foot of his costume, which couldn’t possibly be safe, but she didn’t feel compelled to point it out. “Based on your accent, I’m guessing you’re not from around here.”
“You got all the way to New York on a day’s notice and you’re just going to pack it up and go home to friggin’ Wisconsin? At the first sign of an obstacle?” He gestured to himself. “Do you know how many guys I had to beat out to land Pikachu?”
“None. Are you serious? That was a joke, honey. Here’s my point…” He shifted his stance. “When a door is closed in your face, you have to at least look for a side door. Or an emergency exit. Or a window. And try to get in.”
“That sounds a lot like breaking and entering.”
“That’s exactly what it is—and I should know. Breaking and entering is why I have to battle Captain America and a Smurf every morning for sidewalk space.”
Unbelievably, Reese had to fend off a laugh.
“There we go. Now you’re coming back from the dead,” he said, cuffing her lightly on the shoulder with his paw. “Don’t take what I’m saying literally. What I mean is, you have to find another way to get in front of the man. It’s easy to blow someone off over the phone, but face to face? Especially with a young kid like you? Not so easy.”