“Tidy Up”- A Short Story I Wrote


By Emmi Lu

“And the winner of this year’s Overall Academic competition is… MEGAN PARKER!” The 53 students in our school sat there in the old gym where our assemblies took place, clapping for me. I couldn’t help but notice the looks they were hiding beneath their smiles, looks of disinterest and boredom. Our school assemblies were always the same, teachers almost asleep and students staring at the dim, outdated light fixtures surrounding the stage. Unlike my classmates, I was always motivated to do my best in whatever I did. I was like a sunflower in a field of weeds. Weeds. When it came to academics, that’s just how our small town in Montana was.

Most people grew up to be farmers, growing wheat, but those who did not spent their lives working at local shops or being teachers. I didn’t see anything wrong with those things, but I wanted something more. I wanted to become an engineer; to become something great. My parents always believed in me. They believed that I could exceed the status quo. But, that was back in 2005 when I was only in 8th grade. Now I am 26, looking to pursue the dream I had when I was younger. I have finished college with a PhD. in engineering, and I plan to move out of the quaint little town I still live in. It is hard to be an engineer in a town where people don’t want anything engineered. They are content with what they have. I like that about my little town. However, as much as I love it here with my family and all, I have always felt I don’t quite fit in.

I board the airplane to New York City, where I am going to apply for an engineering job. As I sit down in the uncomfortable seat, I wonder what will become of me. I wish I could see my family just one more time before taking off to begin my new life. 

“Passengers, please prepare for take-off. Make sure all seatbelts are fastened,” I heard the pilot’s voice throughout the speakers.

I pick up a newspaper tucked deep into the seat pouch in front of me and start reading it. It doesn’t look very normal. There isn’t a name of the newspaper; it just has the front-page headline at the top. It says, Tidy-up Hiring Engineers in New York City.

An opportunity already for a job in New York City! I didn’t think I’d find one on the airplane! I will find more information online when I get to New York. However, the name of the company seems a little weird. ‘Tidy-up?’ Really? 

A deep, hoarse voice from the seat behind me startles me, “That’s mine.”

“Um,” I say, “What?”

He snatches the newspaper out of my hand with a grunt. “This. I own that company,” he grunted.

“Oh. Sorry, sir,” I say as he gives a little ‘humph.’ I do not want that man as my boss. I think to myself.

I arrive in New York City to bright skies and sunshine. I can tell that this is where I belong. As I take a taxi to my apartment, I am surprised at how many cars crowd the streets. There are buses, cars, trucks, and I see the Subway go by, too. 

I hear a little buzzing sound, which is my ringtone. I know it’s a boring ringtone, but, whatever. When I pick up my Android when I see it is my Mom calling me. We talk for a little bit. She says she misses me and say I miss her. 

When I arrive at my apartment, it is kind of run down and old, but that’s okay, I guess. I wasn’t expecting anything great. 

Time passes quickly, and suddenly I find myself at my first job interview with a company called “Carlson Engineering.”

“Hello Ma’am. I am Mark Zunchuali,” says a middle-aged man sitting in front of a tall desk. He has brown hair that looks very perfect, but he has this big nose that is distracting from his nice hair.

I am currently seated in a padded chair that is plain black in color. 

“Do you have your résumé with you?”

‘Right away?’ I think to myself. “Yes,” I reply.

“Mhm… yes… ok…” Mr. Zunchuali mutters to himself as he skims through what I typed. 

I wait in anticipation for him to finish.

“Impressive,” he says, quite frankly not sounding impressed at all.

I turn around in my chair as a young, friendly man steps into the doorway. He looks happy as he says, “Oh, Mr. Zunchuali, I am sorry for the disturbance. I need to discuss something with you. Shall I come back later? And I am Alex to you, miss,” He smiles at me. “Do you-”

“Now will be fine. Make it quick,” Mr. Zunchuali interrupts. I see an annoyed look on his face as he walks over to the man. 

“Sir… government… choice… experience… engineers… information… ” I can’t hear much of what they are whispering, but what I can hear is strange.

Mr. Zunchuali clears his throat as he returns to his desk as Alex walks out the door.

Mr. Zunchuali continues, “We have just discussed your résumé, and we don’t think you’re ready for the job. You have everything but experience. Goodbye.” 

What kind of interview was that? It took, like, 15 minutes! Also, I just heard them talking about someone or something else! Not me! He even said I was impressive. He said I had everything they wanted. And last time I heard, engineers didn’t have to already have had a job engineering before they took a new one. I guess that’s his decision, though. I have more job interviews lined up, anyway.

I call my mom to tell her about my day, “Mom, my first job interview was awful . . . ”

I spent the next 9 weeks job interview after job interview, listening to people say no to me, barely affording the rent for my apartment. However, there was none as crazy as that first interview of mine.

Finally, I got a call from Carlson Engineering. From Alex, actually. He exclaimed that I had gotten the job!

“Wait a minute. Mr. Zunchuali already said I wasn’t ready for the job!” I replied.

“Mr. Zunchuali tends to make decisions without consulting his boss. He told you that you weren’t hired before he even talked to anyone about you. Mr. Zunchuali kept your résumé and showed it to me when I asked about you. I knew you had potential from the second I met you, or tried to meet you,” Alex cheerfully said on the phone.

Ok? I thought to myself. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day.

“I look forward to working with you in the engineering department,” Alex exclaimed.

“There’s another department?” I questioned.

“Oh yeah. That one’s called ‘Tidy-up’,” he commented.

Oh great. No. Please no.

You see, our department is ‘Carlson Engineering’, and the other one is ‘Tidy-up’,” Alex clarified.

“Wow. Um, what does the other department do?”


“But you said, “I look forward to working with you in the engineering department.” I have so many questions.

“Huh?” Alex sounded confused, but it was hard to tell completely because we were talking on the phone.

“Huh?” I said right back.

“What did you say?”

“Never mind,” He obviously didn’t want to answer my question.

“Um, so, you’re hired,” said Alex awkwardly.

We continued the already long phone call while Alex clarified exactly what I would be doing in my new job.

I show up for work on that first day; it is not what I am used to. Everyone is hardworking and focused on their own task. There isn’t much communication, except during the lunch break.

I go to work for another couple of months, liking it more and more as I work.

A tall man’s shadow appears on my desk. I turn around, frightened. It is the man from the plane: the owner of ‘Tidy-up.’

“Please come with me for a minute,” he says.

“I’m sorry, I am busy working. I will be free at noon.”

“There is no time for this. I’m your boss,” the man demanded.

“You own Tidy up, not Carlson Engineering.”

“I own both.”

“I have 10 minutes,” I reply as I get up from my seat.

As I enter his office, he explains to me how Tidy-up is a group of spies for the US government. Also, the name is in place to confuse people about what the company really does. 

Alex had been working as a spy for the government through Tidy-up. He was unfortunately sent from a group of terrorists to try to shut down our spy agency. They had just realized it about 5 minutes ago, and something needed to be done. Alex had known many things about the US that he shouldn’t have known, and he almost told the other terrorists. Thankfully, the police caught him before he was able to do so.”

Why am I working as an engineer here if this is a spy agency? And Alex? He seemed so honest and nice! Was he just tricking me?

The man continued, “Carlson Engineering, like Tidy-up, also performs tasks for the government. However, these tasks have to do with engineering. This is why we’re so specific about who we hire. Long story short, we need your help. You need to become the lead engineer for our company in my place while I fulfill Alex’s duties as well as tend to some other important matters. We have seen your motivation, inspiration, and passion, as well as how incredibly smart you are, and hope you will be up for the job. Of course, it would only be for a week or two, but eventually, you may get a promotion to have the job as a permanent role.” The man walked out of the room.

I stood in the same spot for about 5 minutes, just trying to comprehend what had happened. Suddenly, Mr. Zunchuali walked into the room. He smiled at me as he lifted his arms and took off a wig to reveal hair like the man’s on the plane. 

No wonder it always used to look so perfect! Then, he removed his nose only to reveal the entire face of the man from the plane. Eww! Wait. He is him, or he doesn’t exist! What?

“I am Mr. Helpey. The man from the plane,” he explains.

“May I discuss this topic further with you at, maybe, at noon?” He gave me a break.

“Of course,” I answered.

At noon, I walked into Mr. Helpey’s office, just a regular engineer, and came out the lead engineer for the company! From then on out, I served as the lead engineer for Carlson Engineering.

I feel happy and special. I never thought this would happen to me in New York.

There is someone I have to call. 

Ring, ring, ring. “Mom, guess what just happened to me…”


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