Nowhere but Home A Novel - By Liza Palmer


Bottle of water, Fig Newtons (snack size)

My mother was an unwed teenager from the Texas Hill Country. As it turned out, her parenting was questionable at best, criminal at worst. But as she stared into my squinty eyes on the day I was born, she vowed to do right by me. She’d name me something that would instantly give me social standing.

She blamed the fact that she was a pariah on her name: Brandi-Jaques Wake. It was just too easy to shorten her name to BJ. BJ Wake. She was a laughingstock, the town slut . . . and our mother. On that brightly lit morning, she did what she thought was right for her new baby girl. She gave me a name that would guarantee me entry into any castle.

“Queen Elizabeth,” she whispered. “You’re going to be famous.”

“Name?” the girl at the concierge desk asks. I see her every day. I know her name is Keryn because she wears a name tag, just as I do. I have built entire narratives around the spelling of her name. It’s her way of reinventing herself in the Big City, I muse. She’s not just Karen from Small Town, USA! She’s Keryn taking a bite out of the Big Apple one sassy mouthful at a time.

“Queenie Wake,” I say, pointing at the name stitched on my dark blue chef’s coat.

She doesn’t look up.

“Have a seat and I’ll let him know you’re here,” she says, typing busily.

I look around the hotel lobby for a place to sit and the tiny kiosk selling snacks catches my eye instead. It’s past two PM and I have yet to eat besides nibbles and the occasional scrap from the kitchen. I buy a bottle of water and a pack of Fig Newtons. I sidle back into the lobby, hoping that Sassy Keryn will tell me it’s time to see the boss. She doesn’t, so I try once again to find a place to sit. I’ve walked through this lobby a thousand times, but never once sat down. I find a seat near the bar as the smooth jazz wafts through the 1980s once chic décor. I take a swig of my water and a big bite of my Fig Newton. I settle in, watching as the harried tourists push their way through the revolving door as if they’ve just run a marathon. As they make their way to the quiet of their hotel rooms, I can see them decide that New York is no place for “normal people” to live.

Which is exactly why I came here in the first place.

“Hey . . . yeah—he’s actually at the main office over in the West Village. He wants you to meet him there.” Sassy Keryn is standing directly over me as she hands me a business card. I look up at her and take the card that is just centimeters from my face.

“You’re in the service industry, correct?” I say, standing. I glance down at the card. Keryn’s swirly handwriting is sprawled all over the card, as if an eight-year-old girl with a can of pink spray paint and a bad attitude went rogue somewhere in an American Girl store.

“My job is to cater to the needs of the people who stay at the hotel, not the people who work at the hotel. The address is on the back. He wants you there in thirty,” Keryn says, walking back to her station. I follow her, winding my way through a pack of German tourists weighed down with souvenirs.

“Did he happen to say what this meeting was about?” I ask, hoisting my backpack on both shoulders as I hunker down for a dash to the F train, just by Rockefeller Center.

“We had another complaint about the continental breakfast,” Keryn says, smiling wide for another couple of tourists.

“About the food?” I say, stopped in my tracks.

“No. About you,” Keryn says. A Japanese businessman steps forward as Keryn welcomes him to the hotel.

“About me?” I ask, nudging in front of the businessman. Keryn ignores me. I continue, “Am I about to be fired?”

“Probably,” Keryn says with a smile. The smile is not for me, it’s for the Japanese businessman. I wrench my fingers around my backpack straps as the Japanese businessman averts his eyes.

“That’s just perfect,” I say, flipping the business card back in Keryn’s face.

“You’ll need th—”

“I know where the head office is. He’s my boss, too. I don’t need the address,” I say, turning away finally.

“You’re welcome,” Keryn says, her voice