Katherine’s apartment was a frenzied clutter of miscellany. There were nearly two dozen countertops, bureaus, and desks overflowing with books, letters, and bills. The kitchen counters were overcrowded with colorful post-its and handwritten notes, which seemed to spread like a fungus across the front of the refrigerator, as well. Nearly every wall had been converted into overstuffed bookshelves. The only immediately visible furniture were a pair of office chairs and a gargantuan Lay-Z-Boy in chocolate brown, its dusty surface giving it the air of true age.
“I didn’t expect you quite so soon,” Katherine said as she waltzed across the apartment. “I haven’t prepared at all. Hold on,” she dug through the drawers of an old armoire and came back with a pair of scented candles, lighting them with a bright orange Bic. “It should all smell much better in a moment.”
“It’s okay,” Nicole said, closing the door behind her. “Really.”
“No, no, I insist,” she dug out another candle from a place Nicole didn’t see, “it smells like musty old books all the time. It’s like I live in a library, but there’s alcohol stashed everywhere. It’s like I live in Ernest Hemingway’s library.”
Nicole felt a smile spread across her face. “I don’t see the point in living in anyone else’s.”
Katherine opened a cupboard, revealing an absurd number of glasses ranging from champagne flutes to mason jars. She plucked a pair of thin-stemmed goblets from the cupboard and rested them on an arts magazine laid out by the dish-cluttered sink. “I bet the Fitzgeralds had some good supplies around their library, too. Brandy and snuff,” she sniffed delicately, “the simple joys.”
“What are we having?” Nicole stepped into the small partition of the room still free of literary detritus.
“Well, like I said, the good stuff,” she pulled a bottle from a booze-filled cupboard above the sink. There was a wide variety of wine bottles layered on top of each other, and one bottle of scotch, as per Katherine’s usual. “This one set me back fifteen dollars, a small fortune.”
Nicole chuckled, feeling a grave heaviness lift from her chest. “Don’t let anyone ever say you’re a bad hostess.”
“I wouldn’t stand for such an insult. Why don’t you take off your coat and stay a while? The coat rack is behind you.”
“What? Where—oh…” Nicole turned in a sharp half-circle and saw the man-sized conglomeration of coats lurking by the door. Presumably, somewhere beneath, they were supported by a long-vanished coat rack. Nicole took off her father’s old jacket and rested it on top of the Lay-Z-Boy, instead. “I’ll just put it here.”
“So, what’s been new with you? Ghosts and goblins? The spider baby?” Katherine flicked her bright, green-hazel eyes over her shoulder at Nicole as she asked. She’d fished a wine key out of the dish rack and was already uncorking the first bottle of the evening.
“Ugh, no. There hasn’t been much since the werewolf, at least until yesterday…”
“Oooh, the wild and weird life of Nicole DuPond. Do tell.” Katherine was perhaps the only person in the world who could make the existence of monsters and spirits seem somehow droll. She’d believed it almost too easily, when Nicole finally told her, and her attitude hadn’t changed, since.
Nicole shrugged as Katherine began to pour the wine. “I, uh…I don’t really know, yet. Did you hear about the animal attack down near Coney Island?” Nicole sat on the enormous chair, sinking into the old, comforting cushions. “I guess it might’ve been something…”
“Otherworldly?” Katherine asked.
“Something like that.” Nicole thought back to the pool of dry blood crusted in the rear of the alleyway, the ringing in her head. She made a small, dismissive hand gesture. “What about you?”
“Oh, who cares about me?” Katherine waved her off and set the wine bottle next to the sink, mostly empty. The two glasses were filled to the brim when she was picked them up and drifted over to Nicole, offering one to her. “How’s the fashion thing coming along?”
“Well, we’re breaking even, which is good…a little stalled, right now, with everything else going on and, um…” she took a sip of the wine. It was a low, rich flavor with a snappy aftertaste. Not much of an improvement over a six-dollar bottle, really, but she wasn’t exactly a cheap wine connoisseur. “It’s coming along. How’s everything with the arts fundraising and everything?”
“I quit,” Katherine said, taking a longer draught off her glass and letting her head fall to one side. “The whole thing is just ughh, you know? Just wretched people, really wretched people.”
“You quit?” Nicole sat up straight in her seat. “Really?”
“Really,” Katherine answered. “I’m getting my first funemployment check this week.”
Nicole hesitated before asking, “What happened?”