Home > With Love, from Cold World

With Love, from Cold World
Author: Alicia Thompson




   Lauren Fox had the most boring job at the coolest place. Literally, the coolest—it said it on the website and everything. If you felt the sudden urge to build a snowman or ice skate in Central Florida, Cold World was the place to do it. Lauren was Cold World’s bookkeeper, meaning that she was mostly holed up in her office, which was kept just as frigid as the rest of the place, reconciling bank records and paying vendor invoices and making sure the Zamboni didn’t get repossessed.

   She loved her job, though. There was something so satisfying about entering numbers into spreadsheets, sorting the data into different permutations, and keeping her filing cabinet like a finely manicured garden of color-coded folders. And there was something just a little magic about stepping into a blast of winter every Monday through Friday, no matter how humid and gross the Florida air was outside.

   Like today, the first day of December, clocking in at a muggy eighty-three degrees. Lauren had dressed in her usual uniform of skirt, tights, button-up, and cardigan, holding her arms slightly away from her body in hopes of staving off the sweat until she could reach the relief of a central air-conditioning system that set Cold World back four figures a month in the dead of summer.

   It hit her in a wave as she walked through the front door, the air frigid with a slight whiff of cinnamon. They’d been decorating for Christmas since before Thanksgiving, because it was obviously their biggest holiday. The front ticket counter was draped with garlands, and giant ornaments hung from the ceiling. Life-sized reindeer statues, spray-painted with glittery silver and gold, stood watch in one corner, and the finishing touches had almost been put on the twelve-foot tree they put out in front of the gift shop every year.

   The converted warehouse building opened up to the right of the ticket counter, holding the Snow Globe, an enclosed area kept even colder with real, actual snow on the ground. (It was a little icier than people expected, and not the best for snow angels, but hey, it felt miraculous when you could drive an hour away and be at the beach.) Then there was the small ice skating rink, and Wonderland Walk, a lane flanked by stands selling hot chocolate, warm cookies, and various artisanal goods.

   Lauren didn’t have much reason to go right. The administrative space was to the left—the Chalet, as they called it for the decorative faux ski-cottage front that hid the entrance to the offices, the break room, and the storage space. That was where she spent most of her day, and thank god, because it was at least moderately warmer than the rest of Cold World.

   It could never get too warm, though, or it threw the whole balance of the building off, hence Lauren’s ubiquitous cardigan. Even thinking about it made Lauren superstitious that the unit would fail, and as she entered the break room she kissed her fingers and pointed at the ceiling, a tribute to the air-conditioning gods.

   “You find Jesus last night?”

   Lauren startled in the act of reaching for coffee, dropping the K-cup on the floor. Normally, she had a couple hours to herself before most of her coworkers showed up to begin their shifts. But from the low, sardonic voice behind her, at least one person had decided to make an early morning of it.

   “If Jesus is certified for commercial HVAC work,” she said, bending to pick up the small container filled with lifesaving coffee grounds. “Then yes.”

   She liked the people she worked with. She genuinely did. Except . . .

   Asa Williamson just got under her skin for some reason. Like now, he was leaning casually against the supply closet door, his eyes crinkle-smiling at her over his coffee mug, and she knew, she just knew that he was laughing at her.

   He was tall and lean, lanky in a way that should make him seem awkward. But instead he always seemed easy, effortless, and comfortable in his own skin. His arms were covered in tattoos, which she couldn’t help but notice because he wore short-sleeved shirts even when everyone else on the floor layered long sleeves under their baby blue Cold World polos. He was always doing something different with his hair—it had been long when she’d started two years before, down to his shoulders, and now it was short and dyed a bright aqua blue.

   He’d been there ten years, longer than anyone else who wasn’t the owner, Dolores, or her son Daniel. Maybe that was why he always felt like the Cool Kid around the place, or maybe it was because he was genuinely friendly with everyone. He was even housemates with Kiki, one of Lauren’s closest friends at Cold World. Not that Lauren had ever gone to their place, which they shared with another couple of people she’d only heard about. It was important to have boundaries at work, she thought.

   Of course, that was probably one reason why Lauren had never been one of the Cool Kids. Not back in school, not anywhere she’d worked, and definitely not here.

   She resented that about Asa, just like she resented that little pinch he got at the corner of his mouth, like he was always thinking about some inside joke. He didn’t take anything seriously, and that was something Lauren couldn’t stand. She took everything seriously.

   “Why are you here?” she asked now, the question coming out more churlish than she’d intended as she slammed the top of the Keurig over the K-cup.

   “The meeting?” he said. His eyebrows shot up at her confused frown. “The first of December. Holiday season. The planning meeting. Did you forget?”

   She had actually forgotten. Which was totally unlike her. Lauren lived her life with lists and systems and plans. Three months ago, she’d Googled “best skincare routine” and clicked through the results until she found one that was numbered and affordable and easy to follow, and now she did it every morning and night. She updated her Goodreads page religiously, not to leave reviews but just to ensure that she had some kind of record of every book she’d ever read. It annoyed her to get the biannual postcards from the dentist’s office about her next cleaning, because she’d already put a reminder on her Outlook calendar at work to follow up.

   “Shit,” Asa said, squinting at her. “Is there a problem with your programming? I knew we’d see the effects of Y2K eventually.”

   “I didn’t forget,” Lauren muttered, even though by now it was obvious she had. She’d already hit the button to brew a cup of coffee, but it wasn’t lighting up, so she hit it again. She could hear the churn of the machine as it started to heat the water, but still no coffee. If she was actually a robot like Asa loved to tease her about being, shouldn’t she have more proficiency with the stupid thing?

   “And you saw all the extra cars in the parking lot and thought, what?” he continued, ignoring her denial. “Maybe it’s overflow from the Waffle House?”

   She hadn’t even noticed the extra cars. She’d been on autopilot, lost in her own thoughts. Scarily, she only had vague impressions of the twenty minutes it took her to get from her apartment to Cold World. She had a volunteer engagement after work, and even though she’d been preparing for it for months, planning for it, now that it was here it still tied her stomach in knots.

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