I read the email again for the third time, the disappointment sinking into my chest and sticking like glue.
Dear Ms. Caldwell,
Thank you very much for giving us the chance to consider you. We have reviewed your application and the supplemental materials you sent, but we are sorry to say that we are not able to offer you a position at this time.
Please feel free to continue checking our website so that you may apply again if another position becomes available.
The Essex Foundation Recruiting Team
P.S. We very much enjoyed meeting with you this past week. Please give our best to your father.
I don’t understand what’s happening here. I walked out of that interview feeling amazing. I connected with my interviewers, and they seemed genuinely interested in me. They also seemed really intrigued by my insistence on working in low-income areas. Plus, I rocked the test they gave me—hypothetical plans for a neighborhood square. What could have possibly gone wrong?
I guess it doesn’t really matter why. Once someone turns you down, that’s it. I sigh, grabbing a pen and crossing off The Essex Foundation from my list of applications. That’s my twenty third rejection in the last three months. It’s only the fourth time I even got an interview. I try not to take it personally anymore, but it feels personal.
I glance down at my list of outstanding applications. It’s getting thin now. I’ll have to take some time tonight to send some more out because I’m running out of time.
Wandering down to the kitchen, I grab a sleeve of Oreos from the secret stash that our chef Gregory keeps for me. It’s definitely cookie time. I get a glass of milk and a fork and dig in, pushing the fork through the cream and dunking. I watch little air bubble pop up as the cookie absorbs the milk. Whoever thought of this combination should be added to the list of saints.
I’m halfway through the sleeve when my mother comes into the kitchen. “Uh-oh,” she says, “I know that face and I know that snack.” My mother pretends to understand my obsession with Oreos, though she doesn’t. To her, processed food is the devil and all evil springs from it. But she tries not to judge too much. I shove another cookie in my mouth.
“Another rejection?” she asks.
“The Essex Foundation.”
“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. I know you wanted that one.”
I glance at her out of the corner of my eye, trying to gauge whether she’s being sincere. Neither of my parents agrees with my professed choice of career, but just like the Oreos, my mom tries to give me as much support as she can. From the look on her face, she’s actually a bit sad for me. That’s nice.
She pours herself a glass of water and perches on a bar stool across from me. “What happened?”
The last thing I want to do is rehash everything I’ve been thinking about for the last hour, but I know better than to not answer. She’ll just continue to ask me pointed questions until I do. I shake my head. “I honestly don’t know. That was the interview I felt best about. The interviewers and I really had a great conversation, and I thought we connected. I was really confident about the sample materials I sent in. I just…I don’t know.”
“Well,” my father’s voice cuts across the kitchen, “If they didn’t hire you, it’s obviously not the right place for you. Time to move on.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. My father is Timothy Caldwell. Yes, that Timothy Caldwell. Architect to the stars, builder of half the celebrity homes and high rises in L.A., and number one on the list of people who disapprove of my life choices. “I am moving on, Dad,” I say, “I thought maybe I’d just take an hour to regroup.” I dunk another Oreo a little too forcefully, causing some milk to spill onto the counter.
Dad comes into the kitchen and stands in front of my mother, who helps him fix his tie automatically. This has been one of their routines for as long as I can remember. Whenever my father goes out to meet a client, my mother gets the final polish. “How much longer?” he asks.
My stomach drops. I know exactly what he’s talking about and I don’t even want to think about it because it makes me nauseous. “A week.”
We made a bargain. Well, I say we made it, but it was basically my father dictating the terms. He said he’d give me till the end of the summer—the actual calendar day at the end of the summer—to find a job on my own, doing whatever I wanted. If it didn’t happen, he’d draft me into service at his company. I think the phrase he used was, ‘you’ll come work for me,’ but being drafted is probably more accurate.
Now, I’ve got only one week left until the deadline, and then I get swept against my will into the high-end world of luxury real estate. That is nowhere near where I want to be. I’m grateful for the money that I’ve grown up with, but I have no interest in building a millionaire’s fourth home. I’ve been given a lot, and I would much rather try to pass what I can on to people that need it instead of serving the people who can afford more than enough.
“Thank goodness for that,” my father says, opening the fridge and grabbing a bottle of his favorite green tea to go with him. “I’d much rather have you learning the ropes with me. I didn’t build an empire just to leave it to no one.”
I sigh pointedly. “Dad, your empire is very impressive,” I say dutifully, “but building the fourth house of some pop star is the furthest thing from what I want.”
“Vera, you’re twenty-two,” he says, his face darkening. “You don’t know what you want. And since you don’t have a job or a house or money of your own, I would think you’d be grateful that I paid for the entirety of your education and that I’m willing to give you a place at the company. Not all fathers would be willing to do that.”
I glance over at my mother, and she nods encouragingly. I know she agrees with him, but she doesn’t want to pile any more stress onto me. I appreciate that at least, but the anger boiling up inside is too much not to let out. “You did pay for everything, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m thankful that you have allowed me to be debt free. But up till now you also let me choose. So why does everything I’ve worked for go out the window just three months after graduation?”