After dinner and another brief chat with her father Irene leaves and drives across town to her new place. She moved most of the stuff earlier that day via a key stashed in the mailbox, but her roommate was not home at the time and she has not met her in person yet. Pulling up to the condo, Irene sees the warm glow of lights spilling out onto the front lawn, announcing her roommate’s presence. The houses here are not as elaborate as her parents, but still nice, the sort a couple wanting to start a family could afford and be proud of buying.
With her hand on the door handle she has a split second of doubt and thinks maybe she should ring the doorbell, before concluding that would be foolish, after all she lives here now, at least for the next three months. A gale of laughter peels from the dining room and Irene mounts the stairs to greet her new roommate and guests.
"Hi," she states as she rounds the top of the stairs.
"Hey there," a brown haired woman, her own age or a bit younger calls back, assuming her feet, "You must be Irene, I'm Rita." She extends her hand and Irene accepts it noting the other three people gathered around the dining room table and a fourth and fifth in the kitchen.
Noting the direction of her eyes Rita continues, "This is Johnny, Jackson, Emma, Kelly, and Angela, they all work at the hospital too. We were going to head out to a bar in a bit, you're welcome to come if you want." Each person raises a hand or a drink to Irene as Rita travels around introducing them.
"Is it close by?" Irene asks.
"Yeah right around the corner." One of the guys, she thinks Johnny answers, "Totally walking distance if you want to come out for a bit and then leave."
Irene grins, "I think you just read my mind. I might do that."
The guy grins back, "Do you want a beer?" Rita offers, "You can have one of mine, I'm sure you'll get me back for it at some point."
"Thanks," Irene slides past the two in the kitchen to get at the refrigerator. She would have been perfectly happy to stay home and unpack her stuff or relax that night, but experience told her making friends sooner would help her out later.
Everybody chats amiably and Irene begins to understand this group of co-workers and surmises their relation to several other factions within the hospital infrastructure. The people gathered in her house are similar to Irene herself, relatively young, optimistic, and unattached, not surprisingly she enjoys all of their company. The group leaves for the bar, Irene drinks sparingly and plays a few rounds of darts (which she is terrible at) with Johnny, Jackson, and Rita before calling it a night. As it turns out Johnny and Emma have shifts the next day and want leave about then as well.
The chill night air swoops out to envelope Irene as they leave the bar, freezing her through in seconds, she huddles under her coat and contemplates buying a sturdier one in the future. The near dark of a city at night closes in around them and snow drifts, cars and lawn ornaments lurch out of the night at the small party.
"Why did you decide to be a temp for so long, Irene?" Emma asks as they are walking home.
Irene shrugs, "I didn't really find a place I wanted to settle down in, I guess. I still wanted to see the country; I still do want to see the country."
Emma glances back at her, "The money though, you get paid so much less. I feel like I'd rather go see parts of the country on vacation."
Irene forces a laugh, "Yeah, I guess I didn't get to see as much this way, I've always been working, but it's still different to live in a place for three months than to visit it for three days. I still managed to save some too, not as much I know, but ITG is a good employer even if the hospitals are sometimes shady." Emma's statement masks another question which Irene sought to partially answer. When Irene started travelling, the positions she held were all legitimately temporary, covering a shortfall from a retirement or illness or pregnancy, as years ware on however, most hospitals in the country had taken to hiring temporary nurses as a cost cutting measure. Able to pay a temporary nurse less money in base salary and provide fewer benefits, many hospitals would continue to hire new temporary workers long after a nurse’s retirement or recovery form illness. Permanente nurses had no problem with temporary nurses as auxiliary, but they did not smile at the idea of being completely replaced by them. Other problems arose from the temps as well, many are immigrants and while most are hardworking and well trained there every hospital has experience with one nurse that was under qualified or had such poor English skills as to be a burden to bring down the reputation of all the others, and of course the prejudice of immigrants stealing American jobs did not help the situation either.
"I'm not a tweaker either." Irene adds into the tiny silence that has elapsed.
Now Emma and Johnny laugh with an unnatural tightness, "No one said you were." Johnny pipes up in a cheerful voice to clear the mood.
"I know," Irene amends her statement, "but a lot of people think it. I worked with a tweaker on my first assignment named Gina, she was from ITG too so I know they happen everywhere, even in my own company. Anyway, I didn't know she was a tweaker, I'm not sure she was at that point either, but I saw her like four years later and it wasn't a pretty sight." Tweakers were probably what brought the biggest prejudice against travelers, drug addicts who hid their addiction by stealing from store closets and unwitting patients. Three months was a short enough period of time that it was difficult to catch an offender, and then they just moved on to a new place.
"We've all seen it at one time or another I think." Johnny says without the false cheerfulness, "In patients or in professionals, and anyway it's not just a problem with temps, we had a nurse get charges pressed against her six months ago, and she'd been working there ten years. It's a nightmare for the hospital all the same."
Emma nods, "It's a sad case that. This is my car, I'll see you tomorrow, Johnny, and you whenever, Irene." Emma points at a car Irene barely notices than saunters off.
Johnny scowls at her back, "That was smart of her. She parked halfway between the bar and Rita's place." his eyes shift to Irene, "I mean your place. I'm parked on the other side, I still have like four blocks to go, and it's getting colder out here. I hate winter, I'll never get used to it."
"You're not from here originally than?" Irene inclines her voice to make it a question at the last second.
"Naw, I'm from near San Diego, I came here for school. It was the best and worst decision I ever made. I'm entrenched here now though I suppose, but I do miss the weather. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to it."
Irene smiles at him, "I thought I would be like that, go to a warm place and forget about how to deal with winter, turns out you don't though, I think it's mostly psychological."
"Bah, live in San Diego as long as I did and you'll be just as weak I guaranty it. Also that's your house, you just walked past it."
Irene switches her face to study the houses in shock, the street is a different world in the dark at night, "Um, which one?"
"That one," Johnny points with a giggle, "You have key right?"
"Yeah, and I was totally just testing you." Irene peers at the dark house indicated on the side of the street, it does look familiar.
Johnny busts out laughing, "No you weren't I was testing you. You're in the next block over, that one just happens to be the same layout. Rita tried to get in their one night and the owner came out with the lights on and threatened to call the cops on her, it was near Easter and she sent them a fruit cake to apologize, not that that's much of an apology, come on I'll show you the right one."
Irene chortles, but cuts it off with a frown at Johnny as they continue down the street, "You wouldn't have let me do that right, walk up there?"
"No, I just wanted the opportunity to tell the story, it's a good story. Rita hates it though, don't tell her I told you." Johnny adds, glancing over his shoulder a with a mischievous grin.
Silently, Irene concludes he is not the most trustworthy person she has ever met, but still harmless and pretty funny as long as the jokes not on you. He drops her off at her actual house and continues on to his car, she is relieved all the same when the key turns in the lock and she finds her possessions arrayed on the floor where she left them.