Just a shout out to announce the upcoming release of the second Emmaline Waters book–The Mrs.–scheduled to hit Amazon and other online retailers on April 3rd!
[ETA: The Mrs. is now available for preorder at an introductory price of $0.99!]
Here’s a sneak peek at the cover, blurb, and first chapter:
Emmaline Waters has everything she never knew she wanted:
- a supercool (if low paying) food-critic gig for the Boston Sunday Times, a job that could—fingers crossed!—launch her career into the stratosphere
- an adorable (if moody) seven-year-old daughter, with whom she’s finally hit cruising altitude after a bumpy parenting takeoff
- a sexy, doting (if slightly work-obsessed) boyfriend, who just so happens to be the father of her once-upon-a-time secret love child
To complete the package, Emmaline only needs a ring on her finger. But a skeleton in her boyfriend’s closet (or, well, a skeleton-like French bombshell known as his crazy ex) has other plans. . . .
It’s amazing how long a girl can spend in a jewelry store on a Tuesday afternoon. Alone. Gazing fondly at engagement rings.
“Would you like to try that one?” asks an exceptionally patient saleswoman, as I nibble my pinkie down to the bone in front of yet another rambling glass case. She motions at a ring with a pear-shaped solitaire stone. “It’d be great on you.”
I know she’s only buttering me up for a sale, but I can’t help myself. “Um, okay,” I reply with a shrug. I mean, why not? It’s not like I’m actually going to buy the thing.
She fumbles with a tiny key, gets it stuck in the lock and frowns. “Jeez, I wish they’d oil these things once in a while. You wouldn’t believe how often . . .” She twists the key with both hands and . . .
The universe is trying to tell me something, I fear. “Oops,” I say, my hand covering my mouth.
She picks at the stub of the key. “Oh, heavens. That’s not good,” she says, waving at the next case over. “Maybe we should look at something else?”
My exit cue is flashing like a neon sign. “Um, I have to get back to work,” I lie. “But my boyfriend has Saturday off. Maybe we can come back then.” Forget the fact that said boyfriend hasn’t the slightest inkling of my desire for lifelong wedded bliss. I smile reassuringly and, to seal the deal, ask, “Do you have a business card?”
Every three feet across the maze of countertops are sparkling silver business-card holders, making my question as transparent as the 3-D rectangle of glass between us. “The more I think about it,” she says, ignoring my inquiry, “that ring”—the pear-shaped one, I assume she means—“wasn’t right for you at all. You’re a princess, if I ever saw one.”
Me? A princess? That does sound right.
I follow along as she sashays to the princess case—I’m feeling rather royal already!—and gingerly turns a backup key. This time the lock pops open, allowing the security panel to glide away and her hand to drift inside. Like a mechanical claw, her fingers snap shut around my prize.
“Here we go,” she says, projecting a Good Housekeeping cover-model smile. She slips the quite large (and way-out-of-my-price-range) ring over her finger and models it for me. “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful,” I drone, unable to play it cool like a financially savvy consumer would. She offers me the ring and, with a flutter in my stomach, I slide it into place, my ears whooshing.
Mrs. Mark Loffel.
If I could hear right now, these three words would be tumbling around in my brain like a drunken hamster.
The saleswoman holds an expectant pose. “So . . . ?”
Again, my emotions betray me. “I love it,” I gush, tears spilling into my eyes. “It’s perfect.”
With a nod of agreement, she locks the case, the ring still fixed on my finger. “We have the matching bands over here, for you and the lucky groom,” she says.
Groom? Mark hasn’t even popped the question yet. “Actually, um, I think I should wait until my boyfriend . . .” I try tugging the ring off my finger, but—egads—it’s stuck!
The saleswoman, who has a gleaming chrome nametag pinned to her blouse identifying her as “Imogene,” pretends not to see my face morph from white to red to green at the thought of having my finger amputated (worst-case scenario) so that a giant diamond-mining corporation can rake in a tidy—I glance at the price tag jutting between my fingers—$5,000?! from my obvious emotional insecurity.
Slyly, Imogene says, “He hasn’t done it yet, has he?”
She looks both pitying and hopeful. “Proposed.”
“We’ve talked about it,” I answer vaguely, which is technically true. Mark and I have discussed marriage, like when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie tied the knot, and I said something like: “Wow, it’s about time, huh?” And he responded with a resounding: “If you say so.”
Imogene leans over the counter, and I try (inconspicuously, I swear!) lapping my finger, in hopes of loosening the sparkly bauble that has started to feel more like an orange jumpsuit than a symbol of eternal love. “You should ask him,” she tells me in a reverent whisper. “After all, it’s the twenty-first century now.”
She can’t be serious. I should propose to Mark? How desperate does she think I am? I give the ring a forceful twist. “I wouldn’t want to steal his thunder,” I say. “For all I know, he’s planning something already. Maybe he’s just waiting for the right time to do it.”
Please, God, let this be true. Not just for me but for our darling daughter, Angie, who deserves a mommy and daddy bound together in every way possible, including legally.
“Yeah, maybe,” Imogene replies, sounding iffy on the idea. “The nicest young man was in here this morning.” She looks me up and down. “He was about your age, I’d say. Tall, rugged, with the kind of soft puppy-dog eyes that melt your heart.”
She’s telling me this why? “Okay . . .”
“He picked out that exact ring,” she informs me, nodding at my hand, from which I’ve given up on trying to remove the offending jewelry. “That’s some lucky lady, wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, I’m sure my boyfriend . . .” I begin in a tone that, even to me, sounds defensive.
She flaps a hand through the air. “You’re right,” she says. “Your boyfriend probably has something fabulous arranged: a Times Square flash mob; a horse-drawn carriage through Bourbon Street; hot-air ballooning over the Sierra Nevada. . . .”
“Do people really do that stuff?” I ask.
“It depends on the couple.” She shrugs. “If you ask me, though, a simple, heartfelt proposal beats the razzle-dazzle every time. And if you don’t mind my saying so, you seem like just the right kind of person to pull off something sweet and thoughtful.”
“Really? I mean, thanks. I’ve always considered myself sort of a romantic.”
“See!” She slaps a hand on the counter. “What did I tell you?” she says, quickstepping for another case. She opens it and snatches out the most spectacular set of diamond wedding bands I’ve ever seen.
“Oh my God,” I say, my mouth gaping. “Those are unbelievable.”
“They go quite nicely with that,” she says, hawking my hand. “Don’t you think?”
My head is too full of chirping bluebirds and squirrel seamstresses to do anything resembling thinking at the moment. “Do you offer financing?” I find myself asking. “Or, like, a layaway plan?”
Her face flashes from pleasant, helpful professional to jackpot winner. (If I could read minds, I’m sure I’d catch a vision of her lounging on a tropical beach with a fruity umbrella drink.) “As a matter of fact, we do!”
At cheetah speed, my new best friend pulls together the financing paperwork and, in a blur of psychosis, I debit a five-hundred-dollar deposit and agree to fork over another five hundred per month for the next eighteen months, which I definitely cannot afford.
Yet I feel fantastic! Jubilant! On top of the world! “Erm, I’m going to need that back,” Imogene tells me, referring to the ring, which has yet to leave my finger and really doesn’t want to now that it’s mine.
“It won’t come off,” I admit sheepishly. “I tried to move it, but . . .”
“Oh, don’t worry,” she says. She ducks down and rifles through a low cupboard, popping back up with a tube of something called Orange Goop. She squeezes a mound of the stuff onto a paper towel and gestures for my hand.
“Is that, um, safe?” I ask. “Because my skin is sort of sensitive.”
She grimaces in a way that says I’ve worn out my welcome, a convenient turn of events considering that I’ve already swiped five hundred big ones from my bank account. “It’ll be fine,” she assures me. “This happens all the time.”
I have little choice but to turn over my hand, which she’s aggressively massaging with the Orange Goop, when . . .
Mark saunters past the jewelry store on his way to . . . the food court, maybe? “That’s good!” I blurt, yanking my hand from her grasp. “I’m sure it’ll come off now.” I give the ring a sharp pull and—hallelujah!—it releases.
With the ring safely in Imogene’s possession, I beat a hasty retreat, my hand still dripping with Orange Goop, my heart juddering around in my chest.
What I should do now is exit the building, burn the financing contract Imogene shoved in my bag on the way out the door and scour the Internet for get-rich-quick schemes that are more get rich quick than scheme-y.
But something is nagging at me, namely: Why is Mark cruising the mall, instead of hard at work behind the grill at The Olive Branch?
I trust him, I tell myself, trying to force my feet off his trail. I do.
So why am I traipsing after his rapidly vanishing silhouette?
One word: insecurity. And now that I’ve stalked him all the way to the cusp of—dat-da-da-da—the food court, I’m committed to seeing that insecurity through.
As I conceal myself behind a cluster of garbage cans, it dawns on me what Mark is doing here: ice cream. Truth be told, he’s addicted to the stuff, especially anything from Ben & Jerry’s, which just so happens to have a storefront across the way.
Yet . . .
He breezes past the ice cream stand and—please, God, let me be seeing things!—takes a seat across from a raven-haired beauty who, from my obstructed viewpoint, bears an uncanny resemblance to his ex-fiancée, Dominique.
But it can’t be her, because (1) Dominique is thirty-five hundred miles away, clear across the Atlantic Ocean and (2) Mark would never keep something so monumental from me.
I watch transfixed as the woman greets him with a cordial handshake (definitely not a Dominique move) and then flips her hair flirtatiously (a Dominique trademark). Ugh. Can’t this woman have to pee or something, making it necessary for her to pass my hiding spot?
The woman reaches into a zebra-printed tote bag, withdraws some papers and sets them on the table in front of Mark. As she sips on what looks like a red-berry smoothie, I begin inching my way toward the scene of the crime. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Why the hell do my heels suddenly sound like ball-peen hammers? I switch to scuffing along—sort of sideways, with my head turned, in case Mark spots me—my peripheral vision scanning for the slightest hint of anything Dominique-esque (or a foggy clue as to why the father of my child is meeting a gorgeous stranger behind my back).
I’m almost at the right angle to solve the mystery, when my purse erupts with the Pink Panther ringtone my darling daughter has selected for my phone.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Mark cannot catch me here, skulking around in the bushes—or, well, behind a bank of grungy garbage cans—stalking him like a psychotic . . .
I snatch the phone out of my purse and gasp, “Hello?” Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Mark looking up as I turn away.
Phew! I outfoxed him!
“Emmaline?” my boss’s far-too-recognizable voice says in my ear.
“Yes, um, yeah,” I respond, scuttling out of the food court with a number of nosy eyes boring into me. “What’s up?”
Mitch sounds slightly less irritated than usual when he asks, “Where are you?”
Who does he think he is, the leisure police? “Just running some errands,” I say.
“Can you stop by the office?”
I check my watch and realize that—ugh—my built-in excuse (namely Angie’s many social engagements and after-school activities) is a bust for the next few hours, Mom and Dad having swept her off for dinner and a movie. “Sure,” I agree, my curiosity piqued. Since my fifteen minutes of fame expired, Mitch has hardly acknowledged my existence. And don’t get me started on my other boss, Sharon “Wonder Woman” Fleming, who promised me a promotion at the height of my notoriety and then never so much as mentioned the idea again. If I had any self-worth at all, I’d quit the food-critic gig at The Times and—I don’t know—start an organic farm or something. “How about twenty minutes?” I say.
“That’ll be fine.”
If you missed the chance to request a FREE ARC of my new novel, Emmaline Waters, This Is Your Life…
Good News: the book will be featured on ebooksoda.com and freebooksy.com on Thursday, July 31st and will be free to download on amazon.com that day. This is a one-day offer, so grab a copy while you can.
This announcement is a little late coming, but I thought I’d let everyone know the details of my latest novel’s belly crawl toward publication. On that front, there are two exciting new developments!
First, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, I should explain that every year I submit a book to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition, a cutthroat (kidding, sort of) Hunger Games-esque battle to the death — or, well, the contest finals — for a publishing contract with Amazon.com. Mostly, I enter for fun, but — shh! — I’m also secretly in love with Amazon Publishing and want them to have my book baby.
Back in March my (finally titled!) book — Emmaline Waters, This Is Your Life — advanced to the second round of the contest based on a pitch similar to a blurb I posted here a while ago. Then, on April 14th, the book advanced to the quarter-finals based on a +/- 5,000-word excerpt that was positively reviewed by two of Amazon’s expert reviewers. Since the book is still in the running for ABNA, I have decided to delay publication until if/when it is cut from the contest. (Look for an announcement here in mid-June either way.)
The stroke of luck described above will henceforth be referred to as Pixie Dust #1 — which leads me to Pixie Dust #2.
Pixie Dust #2 is pretty much self-explanatory, so …
Once again, the lovely and talented Karri Klawiter has designed a gorgeous cover that perfectly captures the heart of my book. Huge, huge thanks and good karma to her! There’s a reason her schedule is booked months in advance.
That’s it for now, I suppose — other than praying for Pixie Dust #3, which could (please?) take the form of a contest win and/or a wildly successful book launch. (Really, I’m not picky: either one would do!)
Wish me luck …
In the meantime, follow this blog for info on book giveaways. When the time comes (closer to publication), I will be offering up some signed paperbacks. It’s kind of quiet around here most of the time, so your chances of snagging one are quite good.😉
See you soon …
I’m thrilled to report that–finally!!!–I’ve finished the first draft of my new novel! The title and blurb are still a work-in-progress, but, as promised, I’m going to share a sneak preview (Chapter 1 & part of Chapter 2) with you today. Like most of my other works, the novel is a romantic comedy with a heart. Unlike my other works, the book has an adult protagonist (though I hope teens, especially older ones, will enjoy it too!).
As always, this draft is subject to change. Enjoy the show …
[Note: rated R for language. Read at your own risk. ]
“Okay . . . begin,” instructs the human-resources assistant—a clever-looking brunette with sculpted calves and a knee-strangling pencil skirt—a stopwatch the size of Manhattan cupped in her palm. With a click of her thumb, she gets the meter running.
Fifteen minutes. This is how much time my fellow applicants and I have to devour a mystery meal, judge its palatability, and draft a thoughtful critique worthy of printing in the Arts & Leisure section of the Boston Sunday Times. In my case, the task must be accomplished while holding my breath to the point of asphyxiation, thanks to the (very) little black dress I’ve worn for the occasion.
Before putting fork to plate, I scan the competition. There are six of us hunched around a conference table in a sterile, windowless room. We are the cream of the crop, the last men (four) and women (two) standing, the swimsuit portion of the competition complete, our fates resting on the interview.
Good thing this isn’t a beauty pageant, I think. Or we’d be in a shitload of trouble.
As a newly minted graduate of Boston University, I am the youngest contender by far. The other woman is midfortyish, with an I’ve-given-up-caring aura. The men have outlasted my father by a solid decade, at minimum.
I draw the deepest breath I can manage and concentrate on the plate in front of me, silverware clanging as my competitors get to work.
Hmm . . . which of the three gummy masses shall I sample first?
The greenish-yellow lump looks interesting, in a regurgitated baby food sort of way. Or maybe the neon-orange glob would taste better. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve ingested nuclear waste.
In the end, the beige mound prevails, its neutrality screaming: I will not send you to the emergency room at 3 a.m. with gut-twisting stomach pains.
The assistant excuses herself, leaving the stopwatch face-up on the table, the seconds sneering as they zoom by. Focus, Em, I tell myself, dipping the tines of the fork into a foodstuff (suddenly, I understand that word: foodstuff equals not quite food) resembling chunky wallpaper paste. You’ve got this. I mean, sure, you’re no gourmet connoisseur. Heck, you’re a New York mile away from being a foodie, even. Come to think of it, your favorite meal is SpaghettiOs with hot dogs and, to jazz things up, extra hot dogs. But at least you’ve got that English degree to fall back on, and—
Shut the fuck up, self! I must taste! Think! Write!
The fork is halfway to my lips when, out of the corner of my eye, I spot the spindly guy next to me fiddling with something under the table. Please, God, don’t let him be a sex pervert who gets aroused by pureed squash (I’m guessing that’s what the neon-orange glob is) and creamed spinach.
He is not a sex pervert, however—as far as I can tell, anyway. He’s something worse. Much worse.
“Ahem,” I say out of the side of my mouth, shocked at what is going on in the man’s lap, “what do you think you’re doing?”
Unbelievably, he doesn’t look up.
“Psst,” I try, drawing a hairy eyeball from the woman, who is slumped in the uncomfortable plastic chair across from me, “we’re not allowed to . . .”
The leggy assistant was quite clear on this point: no electronic devices, i.e. NO CHEATING!!!
The man pulls a confused face. “Huh?”
He’s kidding, right? I can clearly see that he’s accessed the New York Times’ restaurant reviews on his phone. It can only be a matter of moments before he starts lifting passages verbatim in an attempt to steal this job out from under my inexperienced fingertips.
I seethe with rage, but a glance at the stopwatch throws a wet blanket over me. I shake my head and, after a mouth-readying gulp, insert the first forkful of . . .
Beige is delicious, as it turns out. Much tastier than greenish-yellow (or so I suspect). Delicious what, though? I can hardly pontificate on the merits of beige without specifying the food source from whence it sprang.
Chicken, I think. Or duck. Maybe rabbit. Whatever it is, it’s bathed in the most heavenly gravy ever to grace a ladle.
Aha! I’ll use that in the critique: The succulent chicken/duck/rabbit was bathed in the most heavenly gravy ever to grace a ladle! If I do say so myself, it’s a good enough line to leave Cheater Dude’s New York Times drivel in the dust.
Okay, back to work.
As much as I’d like another taste of the beige chicken (I’m now convinced it is chicken and not duck or rabbit), I have no choice but to forge ahead. And with only eleven minutes left on the clock, I’m going to have to move quickly.
The youngest of the four men, a stalker type with a crudely dyed beard, severe corrective lenses, and a concave chin, picks up his pencil and starts scribbling away. Of course, Cheater Dude is right behind him.
A huff/sigh squeezes out of my pursed lips. With effort, I refocus, giving both the greenish-yellow and the neon-orange blobs a chance to wow me.
Nine and a half minutes to go.
IneedthisjobIneedthisjobIneedthisjob. I mean, otherwise, what am I going to do? Sprout roots in Aunt GiGi’s shagarific basement? The offer’s always there, Mom tells me once a week, to ease her guilt over the fact that she and Dad can’t put me up anymore, what would’ve been my room in their new brownstone occupied by my baby sister, Angeline. Mom’s own baby sister, GiGi, lives alone twenty miles outside the city, in a decrepit little bungalow she pried away from her ex-con husband in their rancorous divorce.
Ooh, rancorous! There must be a way to squeeze that into a sentence: The creamed spinach was a rancorous addition to the otherwise sublime mélange of earthy butternut squash and drool-inducing chicken piccata.
The stopwatch ticks below the eight-minute mark and someone—the woman, I’m guessing, or maybe No-Chin Man—starts tapping their foot in a distracting fashion. “Do you mind?” I mumble, glaring across the table. “People are trying to think here.” I wait for someone to back me up, but instead I get shushed—SHUSHED!!!—by the cheater beside me.
The rat-a-tat-tat continues like some sort of Chinese water torture. What I wouldn’t give for the grungy pink earbuds that are rolling around under the passenger seat of my new boyfriend Trent’s Lexus.
I bet he’ll dump me if I don’t get this job, I think. Not because he’s an asshole (I’m almost sure he isn’t), but because a hotshot real estate mogul—which he’s on track to becoming in the next few years, thanks to a generous five million dollar investment (ahem, gift) from his billionaire grandfather—cannot, in good conscience, hitch his star to the wagon of a woman who doesn’t own so much as a matching pair of socks.
Cheater Dude gulps down the last of the water in his Dixie cup and promptly goes into a coughing fit. If he turns blue, I’ll intervene—or at least get someone else to, my emergency medical skills a bit on the rusty side. Otherwise, I must concentrate.
And concentrate, I do. In the sevenish minutes remaining, I hammer out the first few paragraphs—they can’t expect the critique to be finished, can they?—of what is sure to be the winning submission. I mean, I used the words lugubrious, quiescent, feckless, and jejune! All in the same sentence! Surely, no one has managed that before!
The woman, who has beaten me to the finish line by a mere thirty seconds (I know this because she slammed her pencil down to emphasize her temporal superiority), eyes me with contempt while I carefully—and quietly, like a normal person—place my number two on the table, parallel to the junior-size legal pad on which I’ve recorded my masterpiece. I give her a smile that, I hope, conveys the message: I am sorry that you are alone. Disappointed. A mere feline or two away from full-blown cat-lady nirvana. But don’t expect me to roll over and hand you this job, because I am a human being too, and I have needs, and my needs are as valid as yours, and . . .
The door swings open and in struts the human-resources assistant, a minute past “time.” Luckily, Cheater Dude has failed to disgorge a lung, and everyone else is on their night-before-Christmas behavior. “So,” she says, already scooping up the notepads, “how was it?”
“Great!” I blurt, getting the jump on the competition where it counts: with the secretarial staff. “Was that food from Utopia? It tasted very familiar.” Dropping the name of Boston’s trendiest restaurant can’t hurt, I figure, even if I’d have to add a few zeroes to my net worth to afford a meal there.
Cat Lady rolls her eyes.
“I couldn’t tell you if it was,” the assistant says with a laugh, “but the budget for all of this”—she flails an arm through the air—“was a hundred bucks. Take from that what you will.”
One of the two quiet guys, who look enough alike in their plaid button-downs and wire-rimmed glasses to be brothers, speaks up. “When will we hear back?”
The assistant tucks the notepads under her arm and finishes piling up the dishes, which she cradles unevenly to her chest. “Oh, we’re not done yet,” she says, sounding gleeful. “There are two more screenings: a language-mechanics test and a personality inventory. The editors should be done with your critiques by then.”
They’re going to put us out of our misery today? “You mean, we’ll know before we leave?” I ask, trying to tamp down the jitter in my voice.
She stops dead to inspect me, her pupils cutting through my sixty-dollar haircut (thanks, Mom), the fancy makeup job I’ve cribbed off YouTube, and, of course, the aforementioned little black dress. “The column’s due Thursday,” she explains, “so the opening really is as ‘immediate’ as the ad professed.”
Today is Tuesday. If my mouth weren’t as dry as the Mojave, I’d gulp.
With a perky shrug, the assistant exits to deliver our creative lambs to the editorial slaughter. While she’s gone, I think about using a Jedi mind trick to encourage my competitors to au revoir right along with her.
Instead, I settle on a different tack.
“This is such an amazing opportunity!” I gush to no one in particular. “I mean, can you imagine? Being the food critic for the Boston Sunday Times? I’ve dreamed of this job since I was five years old.” I scan the faces around me for evidence of pity but find only steely masks of indifference. “And it would mean so much—so much—to Uncle Phil, if he could live long enough to see me make it.” I drop my voice to a whisper. “He’s being eaten alive by a blood-borne pathogen. Ridiculosis, it’s called. Nasty stuff.”
Of course, there is no Uncle Phil. And ridiculosis is as dire as it sounds. But I’m feeling so upbeat about my fabrications—you have quite the imagination, Em, I hear my father’s proud voice exclaiming—that, should the food-critic job fall through, I might just spit shine that novel I’ve been penning since the seventh grade.
“She’s coming,” Cheater Dude warns.
My heart leaps into my throat.
The assistant bounces back through the doorway. “Okay, here we go,” she says, her sharp, clear voice competing with the muffled clack of her high heels on the carpet. She hands out the tests and, without bothering to go over the instructions, abandons us once again.
The six of us hunker down, the language-mechanics exam a pleasant surprise (to me, anyway) with its fill-in-the-blank homonyms, multiple-choice vocabulary, and open-ended sentence corrections. I am elated to be the first one done.
The personality inventory is another story, however. I mean, how should I know which adjectives people would use to describe me? And should I really run screaming to the nearest loony bin with a toothbrush in one hand and a comb in the other, just because I see myself as shy while others might label me as outgoing?
Pull it together, Em, I think, hoping to coach myself out of a panic attack that is poised to turn me into the puddle of crazy the personality inventory wants me to be.
I power through the last few questions and, with a literal sigh of relief, drop my head in my hands. Whatever happens next is . . .
“Emmaline Waters?” a disembodied man’s voice calls from the hallway.
For no explicable reason, it escapes me that I am Emmaline Waters and, as such, I should respond.
“Emmaline?” the voice tries again, starting to sound stressed. “Miss Waters?”
A confused look volleys around the conference table. “What?” I say, feeling the heat of five simultaneous stare downs.
“Isn’t that you?” asks Plaid #1.
How would he know?
In a last-ditch-effort tone, the hallway voice pleads, “Miss Emmaline Waters?”
I spring to my feet and rush the door, coming out of a shoe in the process. A flash of uncertainty freezes me: Should I backtrack and retrieve my footwear, or press on unishoed? “Coming!” I yell, opting to salvage what remains of my dignity. When they inform me later that they’ve chosen to “go in another direction” with the food-critic position, at least I’ll be able to walk out of here fully shoed, with my head held high.
I grab the shoe out of Plaid #2’s hand (thank you very much, kind sir), pop it on and lurch for the hallway, where I lay eyes on the owner of the voice, an attractive male specimen with dark, brooding eyes, the physique of a gladiator, and the fashion sense of . . . well, whoever is considered fashionable nowadays. “Emmaline?” he says one last time, his eyes landing bracingly on mine.
What is it with this place and the penetrating peepers? “Uh, yeah.” I extend a hand. “I’m Em. Nice to meet you.”
His grip is firm. “So you prefer Em?” he asks, jotting a note on his legal pad.
“Yes,” I answer. “No one calls me Emmaline—except, well, my aunt GiGi.” I laugh nervously. “She never got the memo, I guess.”
“I’m Lance,” he says, taking off down the dingy corridor.
Of course, he is. “Hi, Lance.” I hurry after him, but even with two shoes, I struggle to keep up as he snakes around one corner, then another, and another still. Finally, he rears to a stop outside a glass-doored office. On the face of the door, in bold black letters with a hint of gold outlining, are decaled the words: Mitchell Heywood, Editor-in-Chief.
Is this where dreams go to die? “Excuse me, but . . .” I’m saying as Lance twists the knob and pushes the door open.
“Go ahead,” he says, bobbing his head toward an enormous antique desk (the scrollwork on this thing could give Louis XVI’s bathtub a run for its money). “Mr. Heywood wants to meet you.” I’m about to register a weak protest when he adds, “Thanks for coming in today.”
Thanks for coming in today? If that isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is. “Sure” is all I get out before Lance does an about-face and marches off, leaving me loitering hesitantly at the cusp of Mr. Heywood’s office.
Within a second or two, a booming voice orders, “Come in! Come in!”
Apparently, Mr. Heywood is concealed somewhere in this mysterious lair, which, I note as I proceed cautiously inside, is adjoined by two other rooms—one on each side—to form a commanding editorial suite.
The main office is empty, so I take a seat in an emerald-green leather armchair and wait with my back strait, my hair meticulously smoothed—well done, Pantene!—and my eyes . . . ready to fall out of my head over what I see teetering across the keyboard of an open laptop computer: my critique, zealously marked up with red pen, including several spots where the underlining—or crossing out, it’s hard to tell—has gone so awry it’s torn through the page, leaving feathery-looking holes behind. And don’t get me started on the exclamation points! Even the second coming of Christ wouldn’t elicit this many!
I push aside a mountain of disorganized paperwork and grab the critique, which I’m about to shove into my purse, when . . .
The unmistakable sound of footsteps.
I hasten the critique back into place and brace myself for humiliation. I mean, what made me think I was qualified—much less skilled enough—for a job like this? I should be happy to sling rum shooters (in another life, I’m a bartender), scribble down a bad poem every now and then, and pray that news of my incompetence falls short of reaching BU, lest they repossess the English degree that swelled my head in the first place.
The footsteps stop. I don’t dare look up.
“Um, yeah,” I mumble, folding in on myself.
A man’s hand reaches into my peripheral vision. “Mitch Heywood. Good to meet you.”
I give a limp, clammy shake, my gaze glued to his belt, a sturdy woven number that is partly obscured by a potbelly hangover. “Hi.”
His hand twirls excitedly through the air, as if he’s whipping up a cyclone (though, apparently, he’s only summoning a colleague to join us). Another set of footsteps clip-clops our way. I shift my focus sideways eight inches, to where someone—a woman, judging by the polka-dotted blouse and pin-tucked skirt—has assumed a Wonder Woman stance. “Oh my God, this is her?” she asks, sounding dumbstruck.
My stomach boils with nausea. I have been at the newspaper no more than ninety minutes, and already tales of my ineptitude are legendary?
Mr. Heywood reaches for my critique, and I make a command decision: I will look him in the eyes while he crushes me.
“Honestly, I don’t know where to start,” he says.
My gaze crawls up his discount-bin maroon-and-gray-striped shirt, skips over his scruffy chin and comes to rest on the puffy bags under his eyes.
The woman, who hasn’t bothered introducing herself (probably because we’ll be in each other’s rear view mirrors soon enough), pipes up with: “We’ve hired three food critics in the last year”—they have?—“and we’ve never seen anything like this before.” She stabs a purple-polished fingernail at my critique, just so it’s clear what—or who—she’s maligning.
“How on earth did you come up with this?” Mr. Heywood asks, leaning conspiratorially close to Wonder Woman. They share an inside look that says: Can you believe the amateur bullshit this flake tried to pass off as journalism?
Wonder Woman takes my critique and starts reading it aloud, her voice like dull razor blades on my eardrums. My hearing goes in and out, catching only snatches of the performance, which unfolds between bouts of wild laughter from both Wonder Woman and Mr. Heywood.
I want to die.
“Listen, uh, this was all very last minute,” I say, unsure which version of “the dog ate my homework” to pull out. “I should’ve worn something different—I know I should have—because my dress is too tight, and I can barely breathe! And that stopwatch! It was like a bomb ticking down!” I puff my cheeks full of air and simulate an explosion. “You can’t expect people to work under that kind of pressure! Then the guy next to me starts choking on his tongue, which was probably some kind of cosmic payback for all the cheating he was doing! I mean, the assistant specifically told us to PUT AWAY ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES!!! She couldn’t’ve been clearer, really, so . . .”
Instead of calming down and apologizing, my tormentors roar even louder.
“I’m sorry,” I hear myself saying, even though they don’t deserve it. “But I have to . . .” I grab my purse, swing it over my shoulder and dart for the door.
The cackling follows me into the hallway, but my tormentors’ spasming lungs are no match for my fully shoed feet, which take me to the Boston Sunday Times’ reception area, posthaste. I’m about to storm out the door in jilted-lover fashion when I remember that I’ve parked in the garage at a cost of ten bucks an hour. For the nearly two hours I’ve been here, I’ll owe a cool twenty I don’t have to spare—unless, of course, I reduce myself to groveling for parking validation.
I fish the parking stub out of my purse and slap it down on the graffiti-laden counter. “Excuse me,” I say to the receptionist, a rotund man with greasy blond hair and a pencil tucked comically—I mean, how cliché!—behind his ear. “Can you stamp this?”
He grumbles as he bats around in search of whatever office supply is required to save me from living off Ramen noodles and tap water for the next two weeks; meanwhile, I stare out the window, the sidewalk busy with pedestrians rushing to and from jobs more meaningful than anything I am ever likely to do. What is taking this guy so long? I wonder, the receptionist digging around with such determination that, if he’s not careful, he might just unearth Jimmy Hoffa. I go back to staring at the street, where a tow truck is backing up to a flaming-red BMW. Douchemobile, I think, imagining the fake-tanned, hair-plugged, capped-teeth jerk who’d drive such a hideous, look-at-me symbol of materialism.
The receptionist clears his throat. “Here,” he says, thrusting the parking stub at my palm.
It’s none of my business, but . . . “Whoever owns that midlife crisis on wheels out there might want to move it.”
“That’s the one,” I confirm, forcing a smile. “It’s about to be towed.”
He scrambles for the phone. “Shit.”
As much as I’d like to stick around and witness the douchebag melting down (the tow truck has already winched the car off the pavement, making a reversal of fortune unlikely), I have to be to work.
“See ya,” I say to the receptionist.
He’s too busy babbling into the phone to reply.
Despite the dismal state of my postcollege existence, I got lucky with one thing: my apartment, the cozy space above a two-car garage in a leafy neighborhood of wide streets, joggers, and recycling bins. My landlord is a cardiac surgeon who adorns his lab coat with a sheriff’s badge—he’s some sort of eccentric genius, apparently—and works up the street at Beth Israel Deaconess. The apartment I share with a grad student named Jung Lee, who spends nearly twenty-four hours a day rotating among the various MIT libraries and/or slaving over research studies for her PhD.
I tuck my reliable little Chevy Prizm—twelve years old and still humming—into its spot between the garage and the stockade fence and, with my purse clamped under my elbow, shimmy out, my dress acquiring a lovely coat of grime as I hug the clapboard siding on my way to the mailbox.
Why do I even bother? I wonder as I sift through a stack of bills, credit card offers—yeah, right!—and a record number of scientific journals to which Jung subscribes in supplementation of her microbiology course load. Truth be told, I thought about grad school myself, but when I couldn’t muster the energy to fill out the application, it seemed smarter to wait out my undergrad burnout by getting some on-the-job experience . . . if anyone would sink low enough to hire me, that is.
It’s not exactly true that I’m unemployed, though. In fact, I’m stuck in a spectacular state of being known as underemployment, loosely defined as working a shit job (at a dive bar, in my case) for peanuts, while the student-loan police billy club your door down for the five hundred bucks a month you must now bleed out of your eyeballs to pay off that sparkly new degree you just HAD TO HAVE TO GET A DECENT JOB NOWADAYS!!!
I unlock the garage and plod upstairs to the second-floor landing, a four-by-four alcove with a generous window and a scraggly geranium (thanks again, Mom) I have resurrected too many times to count.
I nudge my way inside, drop the mail in our “incoming” basket and kick off my shoes. I’m just about to shuffle into the kitchen, when . . .
The ticklish feel of insect (or—oh, no!—arachnid) legs skips across my bare shoulder and, before I can react, scurries down my cleavage.
Holy mother of GodJesusMaryJoseph . . . SOMEONE, please help me!!!
Blindly, I slap at my stomach, my arms, my chest, hoping to head the critter off before it starts circling my belly button like it’s a shower drain. Please, oh please, don’t let this disgusting creature sink its fangs into my terrified abdomen—or worse: my bikini line.
I throw an arm behind my back and start tugging at the zipper of my dress, getting it momentarily stuck. Eventually, the teeth cooperate, allowing me to unzip to waist level and wiggle out, not a moment too soon.
This is not happening. I am not standing—or, more accurately, hopping around—in the living room of my apartment in my bra and underwear, my feet bare, my hundred-dollar interview dress crumpled in a ball on the floor, its fabric smeared with filth and a GIGANTIC SPIDER scoping it out as a new home.
Of course, this is when my cell phone chooses to start ringing.
Kill me now.
I take a few steps backward, keeping one eye on the spider, my other eye roving for just the right annihilation device. Too bad the only things within reach are a pen, a pad of sticky notes, and a basketful of mail—unless I crouch down and reach ever-so-slightly around the corner, to where one of my high heels has landed. As ludicrous as I must look, I have no choice but to do it.
But now what? I mean, the smashing surface of a high heel is minimal. And a rough glance tells me it would only take five or six of these Incredible Hulk-size spiders to overwhelm my shoe-weapon.
Shit! The spider is on the move! IT’S MOOOVING!!!
I do a little freak-out dance, emit a scream only dogs can hear, and then . . . smash!
I miss completely.
The spider scuttles dangerously close to my toes, then swings around the leg of a mosaic table I snagged a few months ago at Goodwill.
I have no idea where my purse ended up, but I wish it would smother that goddamn incessantly ringing phone! I take a breath and chase the spider along the baseboard toward the kitchen, because the only thing worse than a steroidal arachnid in your dress is one loose in your home sweet home, plotting and scheming against you.
Motherfucker, why won’t this bastard die?!
We’re at a crossroads: either I splatter the thing before it hits the stove, or it will be forever lost, the cracks and crevices around our French-style cabinets the perfect spot for an army of diabolical spider-warriors to entrench.
I summon my courage and wait. And wait some more. I’ll lumber around the apartment in my underwear all night if I have to, for the opportunity to squash this beast dead.
Luckily, I don’t have to, because soon the spider abandons its tricky course behind our wobbly dining set in favor of a wide-open expanse of linoleum.
I tiptoe in and, with a little mental geometry, figure the exact spot (based on the spider’s current direction, the crumb distribution on the floor, and the inevitable reverberations of my footsteps) to strike. When the beast wanders into “the zone,” my arm is already in motion.
IT’S A HIT!!!
As I bring the shoe back up, dozens of baby spiders scatter. If I had the time to think—which I don’t, if I’ve any hope of escaping Spidergeddon—I’d question whether that creamed spinach was laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms.
I drop the shoe and sprint for the bathroom, where, if need be, I can subsist for days on strawberry-flavored lip balm until Jung finally sees the need for a shower.
Huh, that’s weird. The bathroom door is closed.
Without a moment to spare, I fling the door open and lurch inside. I’m irrationally shoving the hook through the eye latch when the shower curtain ripples open.
Oh. My. God.
“Wha— Wha—” I stammer, the impending spider doom erased from my mind at the sight of my slippery, sudsy neighbor, Dex, who is STARK RAVING NAKED IN MY SHOWER!!!
He grabs a handful of rubber-ducky-printed fabric (the shower curtain was here when I moved in, I swear) and covers his—how do the Brits say it?—naughty bits. “Oh, Em, what are you doing here?”
I need a cigarette.
Copyright © 2014 by Tara Nelsen-Yeackel. All rights reserved.