Sandy walked down the road alone. It was the middle of the day and the air was hot, which added to the tension that Sandy was holding inside herself like a tense rubber band. Her mind was full of the things Maxine would say when she failed. Sometimes she’d catch herself with a moment of comfort, feeling her imaginary Maxine was too harsh. But no matter what, she couldn’t escape the pull of her own anxieties. She wasn’t in control anymore and she worried about life again.

Near the end of her journey down to Pageturner ranch, she had calmed just enough to wonder about how she felt that way. To most, today wouldn’t be something to worry about. Mora and Reiko were having so much fun at Kemono Café that they ate Sandy out of house and home. That normally would be something to be proud of. But Sandy was very sensitive to the discomfort of others thanks to her upbringing. If someone else was unhappy, she’d go hungry. The invisible leash of control that employers had over her grew tight enough that Sandy couldn’t breathe. Even if Maxine had never pulled on it before, it was still there. She didn’t want to find out what kind of person Maxine was in this way.

She took several deep breaths to calm herself before knocking on the door of Pageturner ranch. The home was immense. It was a two-story long building with a very high roof. When no one answered, she awkwardly looked back to the large sign to see if she’d missed some signal that people were gone today. The T in Pageturner was a deep red tie across an immaculately painted bright white background. Sandy was reminded of Maxine’s simple green leaf pattern when she saw it. Sandy would never do what she was about to do, but she was scared, and started walking across the windows hoping to find someone to wave at. No one was on the first floor of the house.

Sandy felt the shivers of panic start. She felt her toes curl in her shoes as she imagined telling Maxine there was no backup and her meeting was ruined. She felt the invisible collar draw tighter and started to breathe more deeply by instinct. There were people here… but all in the fields. She’d have to ask them where Elizabeth was.

Excuse me… She’s back at the forest edge. How’d you know? Because I’m pretty sure you’re not here to see me! ! Oh, look at her go. That wasn’t smart. It was just a joke… Guess it wasn’t a good one, huh?

Sandy was surprised she felt as bad as she did. That tiny conversation felt exactly like someone touching a bruise. Slowly, as Sandy walked all the way across Pageturner’s fields, she felt her stomach sink further and further into panic. Sandy was embarrassed, depressed and confused. 

A woman Sandy first thought was Miko was out at the forest’s edge with a small brush, cleaning a cute little statue of a cat biting down onto a scroll. Sandy vaguely remembered Miko describing the owner looking like her. So Sandy dared to call out.

Are you Elizabeth? Hmmm…

The woman turned to look at Sandy and her face positively lit up. She had a square, fixed expression like she was concentrating and Sandy just brought her out of it. She had a delicate white dress on with the same blazing red for trim that the tie on the sign had, yet didn’t give the impression of being delicate at all. She looked tough with a large leather belt over her red skirt and a red bandana holding up wild looking long hair. Sandy took in that she was also wearing a red tie similar to the one on the sign. Sandy immediately liked her.

If you had to ask, you must be the new girl. Sorry I haven’t got out to the new café yet. But my workers talk about it a lot. H-how’d you know I worked at the café? Really? *giggle* As if the hat wasn’t enough of a hint? *sob*

And that’s when it hit her. Sandy felt that pulling sensation inside her rip so hard that it felt like the bottom fell out of a bucket of water. All she did was lose a good first impression, but it cascaded into something far worse, breaking the last straw. Elizabeth moved on instinct and dropped the brush on the way, taking hold of Sandy’s shoulders as she started to break down.

Easy, easy… Chin up. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry… I d-don’t- Stand up straight. Look out in front of you and take a deep breath. Okay… I’m looking at you right now and I see a long day behind you. And it’s only noon! Hah! But that’s why I want you to stand up straight. We’re not going to let a bad day get to us, are we? Tell me. Are you in danger? No… Is anyone else in danger? No. Then that means we’ve got this. Square your shoulders and tell me your name, new girl. Sandy! There we go. Now tell me all about your bad day. I don’t want to take too much of your time. Oh, you’re not. You’re doing me a favor. Because if there’s anything I love more than my job, it’s kicking a bad day’s ass!